By Sam Unwin
There was a man on the bed. Except he wasn’t breathing.
Can you still call someone a man if he’s dead? I’m not sure when you are supposed to switch to using terms like “body” (more clinical), or “corpse” (more … gross). In any case, he was being a pain in my arse. I’d been just about to leave for the night when the call had come through.
I hung back in the dim, shabby room, avoiding the bustle of activity around the man/body/corpse. Photographers clicked madly, like he was a red-carpet actress instead of the sad, mottled individual he actually was. Forensics prowled around the room, examining, prodding, poking. The medic was looking at the fingernails, which were a bluish shade of awful.
And I stood in the doorway, trying not to dry retch.
Don’t get me wrong. I love my job. Homicide detective – it’s quite a pick-up line, let me tell you. All I need at a party is a few vodka sunrises, a pair of sunglasses to make me look aloof, and those words – “Jasper Shields: homicide detective” – and I usually have to fend my way through the girls to get to the hors d’oeuvres.
But the actual doing of my job is not nearly as fun as the perks that come with it.
There are dead guys. And sometimes girls. That’s a real killjoy for the next few days, let me tell you. There’s pus, blood, vomit and other bodily stains I don’t want to think about. And there’s paperwork, filling my brain until I feel like tedious forms are dripping out of my ears.
All this is punctuated by the occasional fun chase scene, however. Which I retell, in excruciatingly tense detail, looking out from underneath those sunglasses, handing a vodka sunrise to the pretty girl at the party.
So that’s why I was standing in the doorway, looking at a man/body/corpse, trying not to throw up.
The medic, Poller, flicked her eyes towards me. “Shields,” she said, “if you’re going to vomit, do it somewhere else.”
I swallowed down bile. “I’m not going to vomit,” I said. “Your mum is.”
Poller looked back at the bloated disgustingness in front of her. “Mature as always, Shields. Victim has been dead for at least three days, maybe four, based on the -”
I held up my hand. “Spare me the details.”
Poller ignored me. She stood up, taking off her gloves. “No sign of external trauma. I’ll need to do an autopsy before we can determine cause of death.”
“Maybe it was living in this crappy apartment,” I said, looking around at the cracked ceiling, the 1980’s casino carpet, and the mustard yellow countertops in the kitchenette. “Maybe he died of shame.”
“Or maybe he was murdered, and you should take your job seriously.”
“I take it very seriously.” I backed away another step. “I just do it from all the way back here.”
Poller snorted. She stood up, stretching, and as she did I couldn’t help but admire her. Despite the no-nonsense clothes and boots, Poller is long and lithe with creamy dark skin, and has a sexy-librarian-thing going with those glasses.
But I know where her hands have been over the years. No thanks.
* * *
The next day I was nursing a slight hangover over a cup of almost-acceptable cappuccino, trying to avoid eye contact with anyone who might ask me to do anything.
The station looks like most of the places you see on TV, except messier. I keep my desk untidy just to blend in. A messy desk makes it look like I’m busy. Coffee in hand, I can grab any stray piece of paper and stare at it intently as the captain comes past. Jasper Shields, hard at work.
A shadow fell over the paper I was gazing at with bleary eyes, and I looked up to find Poller leaning against my desk.
I winked at her. “And what can I do you for, lovely lady?”
Poller rolled her eyes. “Come on,” she said. “Briefing in five.”
“The Carlisle case?” I said.
Solomon, the detective at the next desk, stood and hitched his saggy pants up over his saggy bottom. “It’s murder, then?”
“Autopsy confirms poison,” Poller said with a shrug. “Unless he willingly drank arsenic …”
We walked down the corridor to the briefing room, skirting a haphazard stack of cardboard boxes. The captain was already in the vinyl-floored room, his arms crossed and a scowl on his face.
The captain’s face is pale and perfectly circular. It never ceases to amaze me. I can spend an hour staring at his moon-like face, wondering if someone drew it with a compass. On the plus side, it makes me look interested in briefings.
Poller spent the next ten minutes giving us far too many details about the autopsy. I think she enjoyed watching me squirm in my seat as she went into excruciating specifics about the weight of the victim’s liver. That’s more information than I’m comfortable knowing about anyone.
Thankfully, it was eventually over, and Poller bowed out in favour of the captain.
“This is Vanessa Emilie.” The captain whacked a ruler against the whiteboard, a tangent to his round head. A photo of a gorgeous, Scandinavian blonde goddess was tacked up next to half-scrubbed off crime stats in green marker. “She is the last known sexual partner of Robert Carlisle, and apparently she owed him several thousand dollars. It wasn’t an amicable split. She’s our best lead in this case so far.”
I whistled. “She’s hot.”
Poller rolled her eyes again, and I stuck out my tongue at her.
“Shields!” snapped the captain. “Pay attention.”
“Sorry, cap,” I said. “But the suspects you usually send me after look like they’ve crawled out from under a bridge. It’s a nice change.”
“She’s not under enough suspicion to bring in – at least not yet. We need someone to go scope her out.” The captain looked from me to Solomon, who was discreetly picking his nose, and then back to me. “Can I trust you won’t stuff this up, Shields?”
I put on my sunglasses. “You can trust me to scope her out, for sure.”
The captain didn’t look convinced at first, but my breezy confidence must have won him over because eventually he shrugged. Admittedly, it was a resigned shrug, followed by a long-suffering sigh, but I still got the gig.
* * *
Vanessa Emilie was sitting at the business hotel bar, perched up on a stool that did justice to her long legs. I raked my eyes over her, appreciative of her not-so-business length miniskirt.
“Hi,” I said, sliding into the seat next to her, whipping off my sunglasses. Sometimes taking them off in just the right way works wonders, too. “I’m Jasper.”
She looked me up and down. “Vanessa.”
“And what’s a beautiful girl like you doing in a dive like this?” An oldie but a goodie. Never over-think things, lads.
“I like it here.” She shrugged. “And it’s not as crappy as the bar next door.”
Lord she was hot. Like, damn. She had curves a race car driver would lose control on, and I itched to lose control all over them too.
The captain’s voice slammed into me. Dammit, Shields, stop getting distracted!
I thrust his voice away. Surely seducing a suspect would count as checking them out. I inwardly grinned. Maybe I could claim it as overtime.
It took just over an hour of buying her drinks (strawberry margaritas, no less), a handful of flirtatious glances and a few idle strokes down her thigh, but eventually we bundled into a cab and then up into my apartment. I didn’t ask her about Robert Carlisle, dollars owed or murder – seemed like a bit of a mood-killer, to be honest, and we were getting along just fine.
She giggled, and stumbled a step inside my front door. “This is where you live?” she said, sounding suitably impressed.
I can barely afford a penthouse apartment on my shitty detective’s wage, but I’ve made some good investments over the years, too. Enough to get the nicest apartment in the not-nicest area. Unlike the mess back at base, I keep my apartment immaculate. I’ve learnt the hard way there isn’t much of a faster turn off than dirty socks, or a sour-smelling fridge. I clean to get laid, man.
“Want a tour?” I asked, gesturing at the open living space, with its polished concrete floors and expansive windows overlooking the city.
She looked at me with those wide blue eyes, and smiled. “Only of the bedroom.”
Excellent. I escorted her across the living area to the bedroom like a true gentleman, her high heels clicking on the floor.
She didn’t bother admiring the immense four-poster mahogany bed, which was disappointing as it had taken six removalists and a small crane to get it in. But then she turned to kiss me, her hands drifting to interesting places, and that bed could have fallen back through the window for all I cared. I pushed her gently towards the bed, but she was moving around to the chair where I’d thrown my belt and handcuffs last night.
I nearly groaned – those handcuffs made it obvious that I was either a policeman, or I was a dude who thought it was cool to leave them out for a one-night stand. Usually not a good move, if you’re wondering.
But Vanessa lifted my handcuffs with one finger and winked at me.
“Get naked and lie down,” she said. She moved in until her lips were next to my ear. “I want to use these.”
Oh, man, she was kinky? This was going to be awesome. I tore off my clothes faster than I ever had before, flinging them to the floor, and scrambled onto the bed.
She took off her shirt, and I think I fell in love. With her boobs, I mean. She reached over my head and cuffed me to the headboard with a pair of faint snaps. All I could see now was boob, but I was pretty much in heaven. She stood back a little from the bed.
My gaze drifted slightly to the left – and I suddenly realised she was holding a gun.
My brain ground to a halt.
“What the hell?” I said. “What are you doing?”
Vanessa waved the gun around, a little too casually for my taste. The tipsy giggles had vanished, replaced by a steely glint in her eye. “What do you think I’m doing?” She put on a simpering voice that, in my professional opinion, sounded nothing like me. “I’m Jasper. I want to take you back to my place.” Her voice turned hard. “I know you’re a cop. And I know you’re onto me.”
“What?” I said. I was trying to listen, but her boobs were a bit distracting. I wrenched my gaze back to the gun. Right, focus. Life threatening situation. “Onto you?”
She whirled the gun back to face me. I whimpered a little bit. But in a manly way.
“I killed Robert,” she said.
“You killed him?” I said. Damn. I couldn’t sleep with her now. “Seriously?”
“Seriously.” Vanessa put her shirt back on, swift and business-like. “And I’d do it again in a heartbeat. Bastard.” She regarded me with her head cocked, holding the gun in a steady hand. “And maybe I should kill you too.”
I tried not to pee my pants, which was hard, because I wasn’t wearing any. “Please don’t,” I said, my voice cracking. Even I had to admit this time it wasn’t in a manly way. “I had no idea you did it.”
She laughed, and the gun dropped a little. “I think I can believe that,” she said. “Maybe I won’t kill you.” She started to smile, and there was mischief behind her eyes. “But maybe I will make you pay a little.”
I shut my eyes, waiting for the gun to fire – at my arm, my leg, my balls – who knew with this woman? But all I heard was the click of her heels. I opened my eyes and the room was empty.
“Ciao!” I heard her call. The front door slammed shut, and I was left alone. Naked. Handcuffed to my own bed.
And starting to get cold.
I swore profusely for about ten minutes straight, wrestling with the handcuffs, until I had to admit it was useless. I cursed my sturdily made bed and looked around, hoping for a miracle. The key to the handcuffs was in my jacket, all the way across the room. But my phone was on the bedside table. I looked at it and sighed.
It took a bit of contortionist wrangling, but I finally managed to dial a number.
“Poller,” I said, “don’t ask questions. Just get over here. There’s a spare key to my apartment in my desk.”
It took Poller an hour to find the key and reach my front door. An hour in which I lay on the bed, goose bumps riddling every inch of me, seething and planning exactly what I would do to Vanessa next time I saw her.
I heard the front door squeal open, and then Poller’s boots clomp across the living area, so loud after the subtle clicking of Vanessa’s heels. Her footsteps paused in the doorway to the bedroom. I shut my eyes.
“Jesus, Shields,” she said.
“Just get the key to the cuffs,” I said through gritted teeth. “It’s in my jacket over there.”
Poller had the decency to throw my shirt over my lower half before fetching the key. I kept my eyes closed as she worked on the handcuffs. “What happened?” she said, and I could tell she was trying not to laugh.
“That suspect in the Carlisle case. I … brought her back here.” I cleared my throat. “You know … to interrogate her.”
Poller snorted. “I’m sure there was lots of ‘interrogating’ going on.”
“I got a confession.”
“Was that before or after she handcuffed you naked to the bed?”
I didn’t deign to reply to that.
The first cuff cracked open and I stretched my arm back down, wincing as my shoulder ached. I added it to my list of grievances against Vanessa.
“I’m going to find her,” I said in a low voice, as Poller turned her attention to my other wrist, “and put her behind bars.”
“She deserves it, after killing that guy.”
“She deserves it after what she’s done to me!”
Poller sighed. “You’ll get her, Jasper.” She finished with the other handcuff and handed me the key.
I stood with a groan, still using the shirt to cover myself. “This is one story I won’t be telling at the Christmas party to get in the receptionist’s pants.”
“You might not be telling this story,” she said with a tight grin, “but I sure as hell will.”