Spacer Death of a Three-Time Loser312
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    "Was an autopsy done on Christmas?"
    The captain spoke up. "Autopsies were done on all of them, standard in these cases. The Turnbulls were handled by—we have two medical examiners in our central office—the Turnbulls were both handled by Dr. Gold, and Christmas was handled by Dr. Drake that evening."
    "I'll need to see those autopsies."
    "That's... that's fine. Are you convinced there's something more going on here?"
    "Not yet. I don't have any scientific proof, and until I do I don't want to open my mouth. It may be that everything is as it appears to be, I'm just crossing the T's and dotting the I's."
    "Understandable. And your interest in this case...?" He was clearly curious.
    "Wherever there is injustice, we mystery men are interested." In other words, None of your business.
    Bow resumed his story. "Like I said, I went inside and they... they had both been killed. Peter was in the dining room and Hazel was further in."
    They had something, he thought. Christmas went in and shot them. Whatever it was, came down and got him. How did it get out of the house? "Officer Bow. Are you sure you didn't see anyone else fleeing the scene? Hear any commotion within the house as Christmas was coming out?"
    "Christmas came out of the house. I yelled for him to stop. He pointed the gun at me and everything slowed down and I shot him, and he fell down and I ran over. I was focused on him, I don't think anyone could have gotten out. The door was still open the same width, and then I turned back around, there was no one on the street.... Unless he somehow came out through the front door and flew away, or went out through the back.... In the time before I turned around no one could have gotten away."
    He nodded. "I'll need to see those autopsies now."
    "We do have a file on Christmas. There were things in the house that were worth stealing, but most of them were fairly heavy objects. He didn't even have a getaway car, or at least there wasn't any sign. Must have just been some foolish, ill-timed attack of opportunity."
    "It could very well be," Astro-Man replied noncommittally.
    Not a medical man, he read the reports carefully, not certain what he was looking for besides signs of wounds on Christmas other than the bullet. Gold's reports were clear but much thinner than Drake's. The Turnbulls had clearly died of a single bullet wound each, Hazel shot in the heart, Peter through the head. There was no sign of struggle on either of them, certainly nothing that would have caused such damage to their killer's clothing.
    Drake's report was far more detailed, though it seemed Gold was the lead investigator. Christmas had clearly been in an altercation with someone of considerable strength to have torn the leather of his jacket like that. Scratches on his body resembled fingernail damage, though there were no signs that it had been inflicted by either of his known victims. The only theory that seemed to fit was that in the midst of some kind of adrenaline surge, Peter had grabbed Christmas, Christmas had backed away, the coat gave, Christmas took a couple of steps back and fired the gun.
    Ridiculous, and from the report's conclusion he gathered that Drake thought so as well. The facts indicated that another person had been present. That was not something the police wanted to hear, solved cases being so much better than mysteries.
    There was no doubt at least that the Turnbulls had been killed by bullets from that gun, and that Bow's shot had killed Christmas; the bullet had struck him in the throat and death had been almost instantaneous.
    Before he left, the police informed Astro-Man that if he wanted to speak to Dr. Drake he could do so at eight the following morning.
    Dr. Drake had the late shift at the central office again. Slow evening until 11:30, when the wagon pulled in and a couple of cops he knew to be sloppy got out.
    "Here you go, doc. We got an anonymous call, picked this guy up out in Queens." They got the body out of the back. "Tip said a couple of people dropped this body off in Queens, looks like a three-time loser, still wearing his prison grays." One of them dropped a thin file on his desk. "Some photos were taken by the guy in the meat wagon, they'll be added in as soon as they're developed. Figure this is just an in-and-out, something for you do in the next, ah, fifteen minutes before you're off. See ya later." The guy waved casually.
    "Good night," he muttered at their backs. And got to work.
    From the man's pallor as well as the clothing, which was the cheap general-issue type given to those who arrived at their release date without money or wardrobe, he did indeed seem to have been freshly released from the gently corrective embrace of the state. Eighty-five cents in pocket change, no wallet or identification.
    He had been battered to death. His clothes showed that he had been kicked in the abdomen, but there was no bruising, so it had probably been done after death. The actual cause of death had been a single blow to the face by someone with a hand one and a half to twice the size of Drake's own and superhuman strength. Severe fracturing of the skull and several teeth, and his flesh had been virtually pulped.
    Well. Won't be getting out early tonight.
    He had been dragged for some distance over uneven, dirty ground. There were spots of mechanic's grease on his face and only his face. He'd been a relatively large man, well-fed—his last meal had been a hamburger—and in decent physical condition. Traces of alcohol in his system, but not enough to have impaired a man his size. His hands showed no sign of a struggle. There was an anomalous fiber stuck in his shoe, where the heel connected to the sole. Drake had seen its like before, something that might have come from a Persian rug.
    With an anticipatory wince he opened the crime scene folder, which told him nothing he didn't know already except the location of the pickup, George's Auto Graveyard. The geniuses who went out had managed to reach the conclusion that the man had not been killed there.
    It was 1:30 by the time he finished. He filed his own report and headed for the crime scene. He changed his clothes after he got to Queens, as even at that hour there were other subway riders who would no doubt be startled to share a car with the man called Gravedigger.
    The chalk outline was still on the scene, and a minimal amount of blood. He noted the same mechanic's grease he had seen before. Someone had left the body here with a rag over its face, a rag which was no longer in evidence, although one of the idiots who had gathered the body might well have tossed it aside as irrelevant. It was clear enough to his trained eyes that the body had been moved through the auto graveyard. One person, male from the footprints. He followed the trail back to where the body had actually been left.
    Two people, one male, one female, and then the third who had moved the body. Not killed here either, it seemed.
    He heard a car start. Well, that was hardly suspicious.
    Having gotten the Packard started, Stevie gave a little whoop, quickly stifled. He'd done a fair job so far of distracting himself from the evening's earlier events, but they were starting to press in on his mind again now as the night wore on.
    Gravedigger followed the tracks toward a giant mound of cars; whoever had left the trail had realized at some point that maybe he shouldn't be walking on the ground, but Gravedigger found the signs regardless. The entrance to the mound that the person had used was both closed, the window of the old car being rolled up, and inaccessible to a man his size in any case. He began a slow circuit of the mound and found a van, nose buried in the heap, the back doors suggesting steady traffic. He opened the back; there was no front end of the van, and he was looking into the hollow interior of the car mound.

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© 2002 Rebecca J. Stevenson