Cara Michaels’ Picture Choice:
An open door in a city apartment didn’t have to be a bad sign. The resident could have just arrived home with arms full. Maybe company was on the way up. Or perhaps a transplanted suburbanite hadn’t embraced the paranoia of city life. Whatever the case, this door had been pushed to, but not closed.
“Aw, man.” At my shoulder, my partner, Dina, unsnapped the holster at her right hip. “Rosie knows better than to let just anyone in.”
“Rose Zimmer?” I rapped my knuckles on the door. “Tampa P.D.”
Five seconds, then ten, passed without a response.
“Rosie? It’s Detectives Angeles and Bailey.” I eased my Sig from its holster. In my mind, the case we’d spent six months building, vanished in a puff of smoke.
“Not good.” Dina shifted from foot to foot, restless. We hadn’t made contact with Rosie in a few days. “This is so not good.”
Another knock and announce went unanswered.
“Looks clean.” Dina inspected the lock and door frame. “If it’s forced entry, they knew what they were doing. Forensics will have to take it apart to know for sure.”
I pushed the door wide, coughing as the stale air stirred and hit my nose.
Death’s bouquet smothered the small apartment. The stench suggested decomposition at least two to three days underway. Rosie’s cat strolled by, well-fed enough to have Dina groaning.
“Shit. I forgot she had a damn cat.” She holstered her gun with a disgusted snort. “C’mon, Puss. Show me to the buffet.” She followed the gray and black tabby down a short hall.
I walked the living and kitchen areas, eyes sharp. A scattering of junk mail covered the pass-through from kitchen to dining room. An opened bottle of cheap red wine, two-thirds full, sat next to an almost full glass. Up close, the print of glossed lips marred the edge of the balloon style glass.
On the side table next to an ancient, olive green recliner, the reading glasses Rosie always wore perched on the end of her long nose, filmy with dust and fingerprints, rested atop a generic bible. From the look of the spine, it didn’t get much use; more set decoration than soul searching. Or perhaps a last minute attempt to reconcile with the universal powers that be.
“Jae.” Dina stood by the door to the bedroom, her face pale. Her knuckles turned white around the grip of her gun, arms stiff and close to her body. She gave a sideways nod. “She’s in here.”
Ten quick steps closed the distance between us.
“What the fuck?” She lay next to a narrow bed, the covers neat, in a broken pool of flesh and bone, little blood evident beyond the cat’s snacking. She looked more like a discarded human suit than a person. Postmortem predation aside, I found no classier words to describe Rose Zimmer in death.
“A human can’t do this to another human.” Dina’s wide eyes met mine.
If humans had drawstrings, we might be able to look like this; bunched up, folded, bent in ways human bodies couldn’t manage with our pesky bones getting in the way. What could destroy the internal structure of a body, yet leave the outside intact?
“Maybe—” The thought stalled, no brilliant follow through surfacing to shed some understanding.
I wanted to promise Rosie we’d find her murderer, but I couldn’t even be sure the M.E. would explain how, much less give us some direction toward a who… or what.
“Let’s call it in,” Dina said. “All we can do is hope the investigation turns up a lead.”
I nodded, remembering the bible on the table, wondering if Rosie had prayed for salvation.
Wondering if she’d understood what Dina and I could make no sense of yet.
Wondering if we’d even recognize a lead if we saw one.
Like what you just read? Have a question or concern? Leave a note for the author! We appreciate your feedback!
Cara Michaels is the author of the Gaea’s Chosen sci-fi romance series and host of the #MenageMonday flash fiction challenge.