The evidence is not what Kathleen expects.
She pats her pockets for evidence bags, anything, but comes up empty. She finds a plastic knife and a sandwich bag in one of the drawers of the kitchen and leaves the damaged apartment, heading for the chalk outline.
She crouches down, hearing her knees crack a little, and she makes a face at how old her body acts after a long day. Time was she could have done all this standing on her head. She puts one hand out, to the side, for balance and leans forward, scraping a little at the dark stains on the blacktop, coming up with a soft residue that curls like chocolate ganache on top of a cake. She shakes it into her sandwich bag and seals it shut. This is just insurance; tomorrow morning she’ll have the crew out here again, but she doesn’t want to take a chance this stain will disappear like John Doe’s disintegrating body. And who knows – maybe the crew was sharp enough to catch this the first time around; she still hasn’t heard back from them, but to be fair, she hasn’t made herself easy to find. At some point tomorrow morning, she expects to hear a full report of the findings.
This has been the longest day she can remember since the one that changed everything forever, when she finally found Riley in that house of horrors. And it’s only the beginning of the week.
She steps into her apartment with a sigh, unstrapping her holster and laying it on the kitchen counter next to the coffee machine. A long, hot bath is all she can think of at this point, and she scarfs down some leftover pasta straight from the fridge while she waits for the tub to fill. She soaks for nearly an hour, feeling lassitude wash over her, and her sheets smell like bath oil when she draws them up over her and falls asleep.
Tuesday dawns bright and beautiful, fierce pink streaks slashed across the sky visible through the windshield as she drives to work. There’s no point waiting, she decides as she sifts quickly through the papers accumulating in her inbox and checks her email briefly. She pushes her chair back and heads for the stairs, wandering the hallways for a little while before she finally finds the set of double doors with “Ballistics” stenciled on them, the name “Roger Dawes” underneath in smaller but equally faded letters.
She knocks once and enters. Despite all of the images displayed on the walls, her eye is immediately drawn to the sole occupant of the room, a tall, lean man dressed in belted khakis and an old, thick button-down shirt. He’s peering into a microscope but he lifts his head when he hears her footsteps. He smiles in welcome, friendly wrinkles settling into place as if he’s not used to be serious. “I’m Kathleen Hudak,” she says to start things off.
“I know who you are, young lady,” he assures her, waving her to a seat. “You’re the one who dropped this dilly of a puzzle in my lap.” He sounds positively delighted, not frustrated, and she’s thrown enough by that to lose her train of thought. He takes the time to jot down some notes and then turns his whole attention back to her.
“The John Doe?” she finally remembers to ask, and his patient gaze gives way to pleased nodding. “I came here for the preliminary findings, but . . .”
“Then say no more and you shall have them,” he says. He gets up and shuffles behind her to turn out the lights, and she swivels on her stool to face the screen that descends with a loud whirr. The first slide is of the empty alley, only the chalk outline betraying the timing of the photograph. The second is of the body lying sprawled on the blacktop, and the rest of the sequence creeps closer and closer to the corpse until it zeroes in on his face and nearly all that’s visible on the screen, magnified almost unbearably, is the perfect circle in John Doe’s temple, pitch black against the yellowy-peach of the surrounding skin. The last shot appears to be the same mark, but the photograph has been reversed, or the slide has been flipped. She turns again to point that out to him, but he merely holds up his hand and flips the lights back on, leaving the last image up.
“First things first,” he says, blinking against the fluorescent glow once more invading the room. “John Doe was shot once through the head. The person firing the gun was very skilled, very lucky, or both. That’s not an easy spot to hit from anything further than point-blank range, particularly if the victim saw the assailant and was therefore in motion.” He smiles at her again, revealing small white teeth. “But if you were to ask my opinion, I would say luck had nothing to do with it. This was the work of someone with a sharpshooter’s eye and a hand as steady as Gibraltar. Someone who knew what he was doing and could do it from about ten or fifteen feet away.” He pauses again, to let her ask any questions, but all of hers will keep until he’s done; he nods approvingly at her silent attention. “Now, as for the nitty-gritty stuff, I would say you’re looking for a male shooter. The angle of penetration is straight on, and the victim was just under six feet tall.” That takes care of her question about the possibility of a sniper lurking in the empty apartment. “And the area simply isn’t big enough for the shooter and victim to have been more than a dozen or so feet apart.”
Now is the time to ask him what could possibly be puzzling him about this case, since from where she’s sitting it looks like he’s wrapped everything up quite neatly for her. All that’s missing are the names of the gunman and John Doe. “So . . .” she says, letting him keep the lead and tell her in his own way.
“So,” he repeats, “here’s where it all falls apart. The Cleanup Crew – have they checked in with you yet? – recovered the slug.” He picks up a bag by its sealed edges. Inside is a bullet, gleaming pristinely, glittering even under fluorescent lighting.
She frowns, confused. “There was an unused bullet in the vicinity too?”
“No, Kathleen,” he says. “This is the bullet that went through your John Doe’s head.” He holds the bag out to her and she grasps it by its edges from long habit. She holds the bag up to the light and sees markings all over the slug. “These grooves,” he continues, gesturing to what she holds in her hands, “though they look like striations, they’re not. They couldn’t have been formed by firing the gun; there are inscriptions in each one, though the writing is too fine to make out even under the microscope. That suggests that the bullet was matched to its weapon, made for a particular gun.” He looks at her to make sure she’s following his train of thought. She nods dumbly before realizing that a weapon like that must be unique; she might just have found a way to narrow the search for the gunman. “But the bullet itself has more to tell us than just that,” Dawes continues. “It should not have retained its shape once it hit a target. But, as you can see, it did. I haven’t had a chance to analyze it fully yet, but it appears that the bullet’s makeup allowed it to preserve its integrity. And, even more peculiar, the exit wound is identical to the entrance wound.” He gestures at the image still up on the screen, and she blinks confusedly at the neat little hole in John Doe’s head.
“Do you have any ideas about how all of this is possible?” she asks, her brain reeling from all the revelations. She hands back the bullet.
He takes it back and says, “The bullet is what I’ve been working on since yesterday morning. All I’ve found so far is a thin layer of sulfur lying evenly over its entire surface area. And that makes no sense either.”
She nods, still a little confused, and heads for the door. Sulfur again. “Thank you. You know where to reach me if you find out anything more?”
He sends her off with a wave and turns back to his microscope. “Like I said, this is a real dilly of a problem.”
Still gen, still R-ish.
Word count (today): 1436
Word count (total): 10,756 (35.85%)