“You know who that is, don’t you?”
My partner was testing me again. One year together. And I’d saved his pudgy life twice, but he still thought I must be too young to know about certain things, like what “real” music is and who the gangster lying dead on the floor was. Anyone else and I’d have copped an attitude. But Teo Riley is worthy. And he’d saved my lunatic life four times over the past year.
“Sylvio Milan. Verona Strand’s most notorious crime boss. They call him ‘The Gentleman’ on account of how he doesn’t believe in torture and treats friend and foe alike with honor and dignity in all of his dealings, even the ones that go south.”
“Yeah, he’ll make sure you’ve had a taste of his thousand-dollar wine and imported caviar before he lops your head off.”
“I’ve also heard tell the name is ironic.”
Teo took a deep breath. “Calling a big guy ‘Tiny’ or a bald guy ‘Curly’ might be cute. But there’s nothing cute about calling a murderer, drug dealer, and human trafficker a gentleman.”
The crime scene technicians were still gathering forensic evidence. Speed and Lance were taking witness statements from the neighbors. And the medical examiner knelt above the body, frowning.
“What’s the good word, Doc?” Teo asked as we stopped before the body.
As Doctor Lucy Roumalge rose, she gave me a warm smile. “Hey, Val.” And an irritated smile to my partner, who also happened to be her brother-in-law. “Detective.”
Teo held up his hands in a “what did I do?” gesture. Teo and Julie had a fight the night before, a meaningless one that the two of them would be laughing about before the end of the week. But in the meantime, I had to suffer through Teo’s rants about what happened and Lucy had to suffer through her sister’s grumbling. Ah, true love.
The large man was lying on his stomach with his face turned to the side. The left side of his face was visible. That’s why I knew who it was. Aside from his distinctive sharp features, Sylvio Milan was known to have a scar on his left cheek, from his ear to the corner of his lip. Supposedly, someone had tried to cut his throat and missed.
“The time of death is between one and four in the morning,” Lucy said. “I should be able to narrow that down later. The cause of death is a single gunshot wound to the head. The gun was found near the victim’s right hand, but it’s highly unlikely this is a self-inflicted wound. There’s no exit wound, so I’m guessing someone shot him from a distance.”
“Highly unlikely, but possible?” Teo asked.
Lucy shook her head. “Anything is possible. But I’d call this one a murder. There are signs of a struggle, and he’s got a fresh scratch on his other cheek. And we found a bullet that was likely fired from his gun as he tried to defend himself.”
Teo glanced around the apartment. There were some things that were knocked over, books, a trash bin. And there were some strange melted plastic sculptures on the floor that he realized were not sculptures but recently melted plastic. The odor still lingered in the air now that he noted it.
“What’s the deal with these?” he said, pointing to the plastic.
“I don’t know,” Lucy said. “I found something else that was strange when I was searching his pockets for identification.” She held up a thin scrap of scarlet fabric. It was shiny like silk or satin. “There are bits of this fabric underneath his clothes.”
“What? Was the guy wearing long johns in the middle of summer?” Teo quipped.
“Silky long johns?” I asked. Teo shrugged.
Lucy flipped the fabric over. “We’re almost done here. Once we get the body to the morgue, I’ll have more for you soon enough.”
Speed and Lance approached. “We’re done for now too,” Speed said. “Neighbors heard the gunshot and called 911. Some people reported they thought the building might be on fire.”
“Fire?” I frowned and looked at the melted plastic. But there were no scorch marks, no smell of smoke, no indication of a fire.
“Yeah, there was a guy taking out his garbage and a woman getting home late from a night shift. They were both in the hallway and heard the gunshot. Right around the same time, they said they felt waves of heat. They didn’t see any smoke or fire, but it felt hot enough for them to sound the alarm. People even started evacuating.”
Lance nodded. “The fire department came out but there was no fire anywhere in the complex. I’m thinking maybe someone just yelled ‘fire’ to get the people out of the apartment after the gunshot was heard.”
“How many gunshots?”
“That’s the weird part,” Lance said. “Lucy says she thinks there were two shots the way the crime scene looks, but the witnesses we spoke to just remember hearing one.”
“No one we spoke to so far remembers hearing any arguments from the apartment or seeing anyone flee,” Speed continued. “No one saw when Milan entered. There’s no door man, so we don’t know how long Milan was here. No forced entry, but this is definitely not his place.”
“It belongs to an elderly woman named Rose Stratford,” Lance said, flipping through his pad. “She’s widowed and lives here alone and doesn’t get any visitors, but one of the neighbors mentioned a young woman coming by a few nights ago. Then Mrs. Stratford disappeared.”
Speed gave his partner an irritated look and shook his head. “She didn’t disappear. She’s in the hospital. I spoke to the landlord. He lives on site. He said he took Rose to the hospital a few nights ago because she had a cold that was going on for a while and he was worried it would turn into pneumonia or something. She’s still there.”
“Go visit her, Speed,” I said. “Break the news gently and ask her about this young woman. See if you can find out if there’s any connection between her and Sylvio Milan.”
Speed and Lance nodded and went on their way.
“There’s one more thing, Val,” Lucy said. She pursed her lips. She bent down to reach into the blue evidence collection case she had set on the floor. She lifted up a sealed plastic bag containing a small sheet of paper. The paper had several folds in it and there was a hand-written message on one side. “One of the techs found this on the floor beside that bookcase.”
I took the note and read it. “I cannot abide this any longer. I cannot abide you. This must end. I must end it. I’m sorry. Sylvio.” It sounded like a suicide note.
Lucy shook her head. She pointed at the name on the note. “No, look closer. That’s an ‘a’ not an ‘o’ in the name. Sylvia, not Sylvio.”
I peered down at the note. She was right. I had been expecting one name so that’s what I thought I saw, but there was no doubt of the letter. Like the other ‘a’s’ in the letter, the ‘a’ in the name was written like a newspaper font with an overhang. There was no mistaking the letter for an ‘o.’
I stared at the note. “Who is Sylvia?”
When we returned to the precinct, Captain Anthony called us into his office. There was someone else with him.
Anthony pointed to us. “Detectives Proteo Riley and Louis Valentine.” He introduced us to the captain of the Gang Crimes unit, Crab by name.
“I heard you just found the biggest mobster in the city dead in some poor little old lady’s apartment,” Crab said.
Teo and I exchanged a glance. That news had traveled fast.
Anthony cleared his throat. “The captain here has just briefed me. His people have been working on busting Sylvio Milan for almost three years now. They’re pretty miffed. They were building up a case on this guy and now he’s dead.”
“Isn’t that good news?” Teo said. “Maybe more witnesses will come forward if they’re not afraid he’ll send his thugs after them. They won’t be able to put the guy in jail, but they could shut down his operations.”
Captain Crab shook his head. “Would it were that easy. Some up-and-comer who calls himself ‘Troy’ has been sniffing around Milan’s operations for a while now. He may be looking to fill the vacuum that’s just formed.”
“In that case, he’s our number one suspect,” I said. “Aside from him and Milan’s other known rivals and associates, we have another person of interest.” I looked at Crab. “Do you know anything about a woman named Sylvia?”
“We found a note near the body that was written and signed by someone named Sylvia,” Teo said.
Crab dropped his eyes in thought. “The name doesn’t sound familiar, but I’ve left the brief on our case with your captain, along with the contact information of the lead detectives working the case. We would appreciate it if you keep us apprised of your progress.”
Captain Anthony nodded. “Of course.” He looked at us. “Detectives, we need to find whoever killed Milan and bring them in soon, before word spreads and his men start gearing up for revenge, and before the vultures start circling to dive at the spoils.”
Morning to afternoon, Teo, Speed, Lance, and I tracked down witnesses and persons of interest and possible suspects. Some came forward. Some ran from us. Some we spoke to on the streets or in their homes. Some we brought back to the precinct and grilled in the interrogation room while Captain Anthony watched from behind the glass.
One of those was Troy. His real name was Ronald Avon. And he did not like it when Teo called him “Ronnie.” So I called him “Troy” and coolly gave him the respect that he seemed to be looking for from cop and thug alike.
Teo blustered and asked the questions in an overly loud, I’m-trying-to-intimidate-you tone. I was all business, with my notebook opened neatly before me, asking the same questions that Ronald did not want to answer when Teo asked them. But he answered when I asked.
When was the last time you saw Sylvio Milan? Where were you between one and four in the morning last night? Do you have any witnesses that can vouch for your whereabouts?
By the time we’d found and caught him, unfortunately, he’d already heard that Milan was dead. And while he didn’t admit to murdering Milan, and had an answer for where he was during the time of death, he played coy and danced around his answers about the type of guns he owned.
There was a knock on the door and I left Ronald Avon with Teo while I went to answer the phone. It was Lucy calling with some fresh findings. There was gunshot residue on Milan’s right hand, and the bullet we found in the apartment matched the gun we found in his hand. The torn pieces of red fabric she’d found underneath his suit was from a dress, a whole dress, torn up and scattered all over under his shirt and trousers. That was likely some ritual or symbolic thing the killer had done. Strangely, she hadn’t found the bullet in Sylvio’s head either. The wound looked atypical and she guessed that the killer may have removed the bullet. Another ritual.
She found DNA from two individuals on the gun, the bullet found lodged in the apartment’s floorboards, and on the scratch on Sylvio’s right cheek. Sylvio’s own DNA, of course, and that of someone else. Someone who was related to Sylvio, a first-degree female relative. The dress and a female relative.
“Sylvia?” I asked.
“Maybe,” Lucy said. “No match in our databases for the DNA. But I found a picture for a Sylvia Floran that is probably our person of interest.”
“What do you mean by ‘probably’? How did you find the picture?”
“Long story. I’ll explain later. I’m sending it to you now.”
I returned to the interrogation room with the new information.
I sat down and flipped open my notebook. I looked at Ronald Avon. “Troy,” I said. “Do you know this woman?” I slid the photo towards him.
Troy took it and as he looked at it his face relaxed and his expression softened. A small smile played upon his scabby lips and touched his rheumy eyes until they didn’t look so beady.
“Flora,” he said, so softly that it sounded like a sigh.
“Does Flora have a last name?”
Ronald Avon glanced up, almost shyly. “Avon, it would have been.” Then he did sigh and set the photo down. “But I lost her.”
“What do you mean?”
His eyes still looked dreamy but guarded. “He took her. I never had her last name. He kept it from me. He kept her from me.”
Ronald Avon’s gaze flicked between Teo and me. “You know who,” he said. “Milan.”
“Where is she now, Troy? We’d like to talk to her as well.”
He shrugged. “I haven’t heard from her in days. He’s got her locked away. I would have helped her get away from him. But she got scared, I guess. She went back to him.”
“When was then? When did she go back to him?”
“A week ago maybe.”
“What’s so special about this girl?” Teo asked. “What was she to Milan?”
Ronald Avon sniffed and frowned at Teo. “What do you think?”
“Too easy?” Teo asked when we got back to the whiteboard to add notes and rearrange a few things.
“Sometimes the obvious answer is the right answer,” I said tacking Sylvia Floran’s picture to the board. “Though I have a hard time picturing Ronald Avon managing to get the drop on a pro like Milan.”
Teo looked at the picture. “Yowza.”
“Don’t divorce your wife just yet, tiger. She may be a murderer, remember?”
But Teo was right. And ‘Troy’ was right. Sylvia Floran, or Flora, was stunning by any name. Long wavy black hair, dark blue eyes, pale olive skin. In the picture, she was smiling, kind of a smirky smile that complimented the come-hither look in her eyes. Ronald Avon seemed to think he was Sylvio Milan’s romantic rival for “Flora.” He didn’t know that she was Sylvia, that she was Milan’s sister. She had to be that. She was too old to be his daughter. Too young to be his mother. I didn’t know why she’d want to hide that from Avon. Maybe she wanted as clean a break as possible. Maybe the poor kid wanted to get away from her monstrous brother. She was getting ready to change her name, run away with Avon, only I figured she would ditch him as soon as she could. Maybe she realized how much influence she really had on Ronald Avon and she used it to get him to kill Milan. Or maybe Avon decided that bit on his own.
I looked at her picture again and couldn’t help but feel for her. Poor sweet Sylvia. Femme fatale? Maybe. Or maybe she was just some innocent kid who got snared between two evil men.
We checked Ronald Avon’s alibi, and it held up. So did the alibis of other associates and rivals we checked. A search of Avon’s apartment and even his station at the body shop where he supposedly worked turned up plenty of interesting things, but nothing connected to Milan’s murder. We held Ronald Avon in lock-up anyway for as long as it was legal to.
When Speed and Lance came back to the precinct, they reported that Rose Stratford was not in the hospital. She had family out of state, it turned out. A son and daughter-in-law who heard she was in the hospital and came to get her. The young woman whom neighbors had seen in Rose’s apartment matched the description for the daughter-in-law, who had come to get some things for Rose. They managed to get Rose on the phone, but she claimed she’d never heard of Sylvio Milan or any of the other names that Speed and Lance had on their list of people who might have arranged Sylvio’s encounter with fate. Most likely the apartment was a random choice, someone had learned through informants of informants that it would be empty that night.
We were back to square one. But I had a gut feeling. As we gathered our coats at quitting time, I glanced at the whiteboard, at the picture of Sylvia. I had a gut feeling about her.
The next morning, we set about trying to flesh out the timeline, figure out what Sylvio Milan was up to in his last days. Maybe he’d done something new and different that got him killed, like going into an old lady’s apartment without any of his bodyguards. He had to be meeting someone there. Who would he trust enough to leave his men below? Or who would he fear enough to do so?
We traced his movements. Night clubs. Evening meetings. Poker games that went till early morning. He was high up enough to be far removed from the daily workings of all his criminal undertakings. He seemed to have spent the last few days living the high life.
We found one strange story. The only intersection between Milan’s life and that of the mysterious Sylvia Floran. The story came from a homeless man, who while admitting he was drunk and sleepy at the time, said he saw Sylvio Milan rush into the back room of one of his night clubs early one morning. It was still dark, but the man saw Milan’s face under a bright street lamp. Sunrise woke the homeless man and as he was stretching, he saw someone come out of the same back room. Only it wasn’t Milan. It was a beautiful, dark-haired woman. And when I showed the homeless man her picture, he confirmed he had seen Sylvia. That was a few weeks back. He swore he sat there almost the whole day since he was feeling ill and he never saw anyone else come out of that door.
But no one had managed to find Sylvia or any trace of her lately. Speed, Lance, and a team of uniforms canvassed and questioned until we found a few people who had seen her. A young mother remembered being in front of her in a coffee shop. She remembered thinking Sylvia was kind because she paid for the woman’s coffee when the woman realized she had left her wallet at home. And there was the cabbie who rushed her home before dark one night. He remembered pitying her so terrified did she seem. He asked her if she needed help. She looked at if she were running from someone. She paid double the fee and leapt out of the cab before it came to a complete stop. There were a few other accounts of glimpses caught by people who noticed her vivid beauty. Nothing of substance. No one could we find who was a friend or a colleague. No one who saw her regularly.
Sylvia Floran looked sweet and good. My mother always told me not to judge a book by its cover. But the stories seemed to support my notion that Sylvia was indeed an innocent.
I was staring at the whiteboard when Teo came over with two more coffees. It was late afternoon. We’d been reviewing evidence and case files and notes for hours after lunch.
“Remember what the captain said about the vultures circling?” I said. “From what the Gang Crimes guys are telling us, Milan’s operations were going full steam ahead, expanding even. The bigger his operations, the more powerful he gets. But the more vulnerable he gets too. He had to trust others to help him run things. We thought the most obvious answer was that he was killed by someone looking to take his place as the big cheese.”
Teo nodded. “We already looked at all those people.”
“What if we missed someone?” I pointed to the picture of the dark-haired beauty. “Look at the patterns of movement. We hardly see either person. Sylvio because he’s a secretive crime lord with a lot of targets on his head. Sylvia supposedly because she’s the sister he’s trying to keep hidden so she can’t be used against him. We find no evidence of other women in his life. He’s never been married. No girlfriends. Hell, no evidence he’s ever even hired any company. So he had no weaknesses. No ties, except the sister he had no hand in making. Hell, he doesn’t even come out in the daytime. The few times he’s been seen, it was always in the evening or late at night. Criminal’s hours, one might say.”
“Vampires’ hours, others might say.”
I held up my hand to stay my partner’s snarking. “Sylvia, the rare times that this rare orchid ever bloomed in the sight of men and women was during daylight.” I took the picture of Sylvia from the whiteboard. “Brother and sister, they’re supposed to be. But we dig and we dig, and we find that never the twain are seen together.” I tacked the picture below Milan’s. “One seems to be evil and the other good. But what if we’re wrong about that? What if they were partners? They stayed apart from each other so no one could take them both out at once. And what if Sylvia seemed to live an honest life so law enforcement wouldn’t suspect her? What if she was the only person he would feel comfortable being alone with? And what if she killed him, not to get away, but to be the new crime lord over all the Milan’s operations?”
Teo was frowning at me in confusion, but his frown melted away into bewilderment. “And how the hell is she going to run it? If it’s true that her involvement is so secret, Sylvio’s men wouldn’t know her or trust her.”
“That’s where our friend Troy comes in. They know him. He tried to convince us that she had gotten scared and gone back to Sylvio. But he could have faked that. What he didn’t fake, in my opinion, is his feelings for her. She was setting him up to be a figurehead. Why be her brother’s partner when she could rule through her lover?”
“Where’s your proof? Yesterday you thought she was a sweet little flower, trying to get away from her mobster brother. Today she’s a dragon lady, scheming behind his back.”
“We have to find her, Teo. Wherever she is. She’s got the answers. We’ve hit a wall or a dead end on every other lead we have.”
“She’s not a lead. She’s a ghost.” Teo rose and grabbed his keys. “And I say we’ll think better on full stomachs.”
Detective Speed was answering the phone on my desk just as Teo and I returned from an early dinner. We were looking at a long night ahead. He spoke to and hung up on the person on the other end before he saw us.
“That was Lucy,” Speed said. “She said to tell you that there was something weird about the body.”
Teo frowned. “Weird, how?”
“Uh…she didn’t say. She just said to send you there if you got back in the next few minutes.”
I held up both my hands and crossed the first two fingers as we head back out.
The body on the slab was a woman. A woman with waves of black hair pooled around her head and pale olive skin.
“Holy gods,” Teo whispered.
“Sylvia,” I said. “You found her.”
Lucy was looking at her watch, her brow furrowed. “Two minutes till sunset. Just keep watching the body.”
I frowned. “Watching the body for what?”
The white sheet was pulled up over her chest, but her arms lay outside and as I walked around the body, I saw the bruises on the lower part of her right arm. I circled around until I could see her face. There was a bruise on her beautiful face as well, along the right side of her nose and just under her right eye. Someone had backhanded her. Sylvio. It must have been. I glanced at the diagram that Lucy had marked with all the wounds and abrasions she’d found and saw she had marked a head wound. I put on a pair of gloves and gently turned Sylvia’s head. Lucy had shaved the hair off in the area of the wound. A gunshot wound.
“This is how you knew,” I said, with a sudden realization. This was the long story behind how Lucy found the name and picture of the mysterious Sylvia. “When did she come in? Where was she found? Why weren’t we called out?”
She looked up at me and frowned. “Don’t look at me. Look at the body. And wait. Just a few more seconds and you’ll see.”
It was hot in the examination room. That was strange. Lucy usually kept it cool if not cold. For the bodies.
The white sheet over Sylvia Floran shifted. Suddenly, before our eyes, the body began to grow. The white sheet billowed up as the flat belly grew into a dome up past the chest which widened into a barrel shape. The arms thickened and so did the neck. Pulses of heat came off the body. The face became bigger too, but not just bigger. It changed shape. The features sharpened. Dark hair sprouted from arms and face alike. But the hair on her head shrunk until it was only a cap.
No, his head. The body on the slab was Sylvio Milan.
And just like that, our simple mob-boss-got-murdered case just took a hard left onto science fiction lane.
“Detectives, you saw it, didn’t you? You saw what just happened?”
“Lucy, honey, that’s a neat trick and all. Good enough for Vegas even. But I don’t think you should be practicing your tricks with actual corpses,” Teo said. He gulped. “We haven’t even solved this one yet. Your boss…your boss won’t like this.”
“Touch her, Teo. It’s no trick.”
Teo didn’t look as if he wanted to do any such thing. He’d taken a few steps back from the corpse as it started transforming.
So had I. I stepped back toward the body. “Metamorphosis.”
“That’s what I thought at first,” Lucy said. “That it was a transmutation. I found this strange mass in both bodies. I thought it was an organ, but it’s more likely a piece of technology. I was too afraid to remove it. I only just scanned it. I thought it was one body changing form. But if that were so, I would expect them both to have the same wounds, the same gunshot residue on their hands, the same scars. But they don’t. Then I thought maybe it’s because the body is regenerating as it transforms but that’s not so either. Milan still has his scar. Sylvia still has those bruises. She was in a struggle before she was killed. It’s not metamorphosis. It’s more like displacement, transition. Two bodies, not one. Two bodies, but they’re occupying the same space, and they have to take turns being here.” She shook her head and stared at the body. “I think that’s so, but I’m not sure. If that were so, and only one of them got shot, the other one should still be alive, don’t you think?”
I took a deep breath and exhaled. I reached out a hand toward the body and hesitated.
“I know what you’re thinking,” Lucy said. “It’s a dead body. Where is the energy coming from for the displacement?”
“Geez, Luce, that wasn’t actually what I was thinking,” I said. “I was thinking, what the hell is this abomination?”
I heard Teo give out a heavy breath. Lucy looked over at him, concerned. She’d looked scared and jittery when we walked in. She probably thought she was going crazy. But now that we had seen it too, she was going logical.
“That’s why I think it might be a machine and not an organ,” Lucy said. “It’s still got some juice left. Or else it’s drawing energy wirelessly from somewhere. This is far, far beyond me.”
“How did you know it would happen at sunset?”
Lucy took a breath. She stepped toward the body and beside me. “I’ve seen it three times now. The first time was an accident. Then I waited and saw it a second time and made note of the times and just guessed and the next morning, this morning, I saw it again. I sat on it, Val. Because I had to be sure. I…okay.” She held out her hands and exhaled as if to calm herself. “I found another note. The first time the body changed, I was getting my instruments ready and I saw the change. It took me a few minutes of trying to figure out what to do, who to call, how to explain that I’d lost Sylvio Milan’s body, how to explain how this strange woman’s body was suddenly in my morgue.” She took a deep bracing breath. “It was wrong not to report it right away, but it was just me in this room the first time. Why should anyone believe me? Without proof? We’re all in the business of finding proof, detectives. So I did my job. I examined the body, found the gunshot wound, found the bruises that indicated she’d put up a struggle with someone, found the note in her stomach. Hers not his. I think she swallowed it on purpose. It was wrapped in plastic.”
She handed me the note, sealed in an evidence bag. It was written in the same hand as the other note we’d found. I read this one out loud. “We found out what we were. And he liked it no less than I did. Man by night. Woman by day. He wanted me dead and himself alive. I wanted him dead and me alive. I found a way to separate us. I told him I could free us both. If you found this, then I have succeeded. Finish what I started and burn this body. Gods be with you, Sylvia Floran.”
“How did they get like that?” Teo asked. He seemed to have recovered himself. “Who did that to them?” Rhetorical questions, of course. If anyone had any answers, it was not we few who were in that room.
“So it was Sylvia,” I said. Suddenly it was all clear. The victim, the witness, the murderer. She was all three. My latest theory about her being a villain collapsed. She did want to get away from him. She must have realized she never could. The monster she was trying to escape, he would always be with her. Until death. But her note said she had found a way to separate them. Was it a ploy? To get Sylvio alone so she could kill him? And had he killed her instead in a rage and doomed himself as well? No, Lucy seemed to be right. They shared the same space but not the same body. What looked like a transformation was only one person displacing the other. What happened to Sylvia, the bruises on her arms, had not happened to Sylvio. Then why did they share the gunshot wound that ended them both?
“She said she could separate them,” I said. “If they were two separate people and they struggled, it would explain her bruises. He overpowered her, took her gun, and he made her face away from him and kneel down…”
Lucy nodded. “Yes, that would explain how she died. He murdered her. What about him?”
“The two people in the hallway said they thought there was a fire it was so hot. And we found all that melted plastic in Mrs. Stratford’s apartment. I’m guessing that the displacement, it always gives off heat like it just did.”
Again, Lucy nodded.
“Well it was hot right now, but not so hot I’d think there was a fire. Maybe whatever happened in that apartment released a lot of heat. It wasn’t just displacement.”
“It was the separation that she spoke of,” Teo said, still frowning at the body, his own body tensed as if he were ready for Sylvia Floran to rise off the slab and attack him.
“If she knew how to separate them, maybe she knew how to bring them together again,” I said. “The bodies share the same space, but not at the same time. Maybe she closed her eyes and waited till she heard that gunshot and she snapped them together again at that instant. And they shared the same fate at the same time.”
Lucy actually snapped her fingers, but her face was pale. “The dress we found under Sylvio’s clothes. And the wounds. Yes, that explains it. Sylvia has the entry wound, but no exit. Milan has an exit wound, but no entry. Gods, Val, what do we call this one a murder-suicide?”
“That would seem to be the least of our problems,” I said. “What if we’re wrong about the whole thing? What if somebody else killed them both? Someone hired by whoever put that thing in them? It sounds as if they didn’t know about each other until recently.”
“How the hell could you not know that you turn into somebody else every morning and evening?” Teo wiped the bottom of his mouth with one hand and put the other on his hip. “What do we do about this?”
“Now do you see why I was afraid?” Lucy gazed at the corpse, shaking her head. She didn’t look scared. Her gaze was steely. But the controlled way she was breathing gave her away. “I sat on this, for a day and a half. I thought any minute that men and women in dark suits wearing dark glasses indoors would come barging into my lab and confiscate the body and all my samples without so much as a how-do-you-do.” With the back of her wrist, she wiped above her upper lip. “I was afraid they would come. And then I was afraid they wouldn’t.”
“What else have you found out, Luce?” I asked, hoping that it would calm her to focus on facts and not on what those facts meant. “What other tests did you run?”
Lucy shook her head. “No other tests. But I found a few small tumors in each body. It made me think that maybe the object is emitting some kind of radiation. I didn’t detect any alpha or beta radiation. So it might be the energy from the displacement, or something else about the object. I’ve kept everyone else away just in case. The only other thing I found was this.” She pointed to the diagram of the wounds on Sylvia’s body. There was a cut indicated on the right hip. “I didn’t make that cut. Sylvia did. That’s where the object is. I think that’s how she figured out how to separate them.”
“I think we should do as the lady suggested in her note,” Teo said, “and burn the body, foreign object and all.”
I took a breath, thinking of Captain Anthony. “How will we explain that to—?”
The door to the morgue suddenly swung open and a flood of four or five people in dark suits entered.
They weren’t wearing dark glasses indoors, but it seemed the people they had been fearing would come had come. They didn’t bother introducing themselves, though the one in charge flashed her badge at us. I remember focusing on what a coincidence it was that her first name was “Flora.” I should have focused on her last name. So I could look her up later.
“I’m sorry Dr. Roumalge, but we’ll have to take custody of this body and all of your collected forensic evidence,” the agent named Flora said. “And detectives, my apologies to you too, but we’ll be taking over the case and will need you to hand over all your files as well.”
They were late, these agents. I wondered why they only now took over the case. Now when it seemed we had just solved it.
“If you’re taking over the case, agents, then you know it involves the death of a major crime lord. Gang Crimes has been working on a way to catch him, dismantle his operations, clean up our city.”
“We understand there will be fallout if a person isn’t found responsible for the murder.”
“You’re not going to pin this on some patsy, are you?” Teo said. “That may calm things, but it’s dirty.”
The agent smiled at us. A serious and understanding smile. “No, Detective. We are going to tell the truth. They killed each other.”
It was the truth. An internal struggle would give Milan’s people no cause to seek retribution. They were only going to have to struggle to keep the carrion-eaters from devouring them and taking over their operations. And maybe the Gang Crimes could exploit their weakness too and bring them down.
And what of Sylvia?
I had a feeling that these agents would not heed her wishes. They would not burn her body and Sylvio’s body.
As if she could read my thoughts, the agent looked at me and said, “The body is being sent to an academic institute for study. If you’d like to learn some limited information about what the researchers find, you can sign our non-disclosure form and I’ll put you on a list.”
That was a surprise. I thought the whole thing would be top-level classified or super-secret confidential. I was suspicious, but I signed. So did Lucy. And they made all three of us sign a document forbidding us from discussing the details of the Sylvio Milan investigation with anyone. She gave us a brief with the information that we were allowed to share. It was one page long.
After the agents left, taking even the tools that Lucy had used on the body, and replacing them with new ones, Teo called the precinct. Speed answered and told them the agents had come and spoken to the captain and cleaned out their files, making everyone there sign their forms as well. The captain gave Speed, Lance, Teo, and me the next day off.
“Come on, you two,” I said, putting a hand on Lucy’s shoulder. “Let me buy you drinks or something.”
“Good idea,” Teo said. “And maybe we should stay up long enough to make sure we’re really us.” He looked downed at his meaty hands.
I resolved to cheer up my friends with talk of happy things, but first I made a toast to Sylvia. I found out little enough of who she was. But I believed now that she wanted to be good. Her life had been usurped. And now her death had been too. But I hoped her soul at least had escaped. I hoped she was finally free.
Copyright © 2014 by Nila L. Patel.