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The Girl in the Park
Detective Kate Spenser reached for her cell on her nightstand. By the ringtone, she knew it was her Captain calling with an assignment.
“Female found in Greenview Park, east of the circle. Park Police on the scene now.”
“On my way, sir.” Why today? Why first thing Sunday morning?
Kate hit the speed dial for Ben Goldstein, her partner. “Morning Ben. East of Greenview Park circle.”
Kate slipped out from under Alex’s legs, and meandered to the coffee maker, pushed the button, and watched the brown liquid fill her cup. She twisted her wet long copper hair with a white scrungie and dressed in work clothes: black pants, white blouse, black jacket, black socks, and black shoes. A homicide detective’s uniform was a simple suit respectful of the dead.
The morning was grey and damp. Mist hung still over the Greenview River when she arrived at the crime scene. A chill worked its way through her jacket as it always did when she first arrived on the scene. She surveyed the area before she approached the body. Four officers interviewed bystanders and collected evidence.
An old man off to the side talked to one of the officers. He pointed with his cane to the victim covered by a tarp, then, to the steps leading to Boulevard East. Kate passed them when the man pointed to the red high-heeled woman’s shoe on the slope of boulders a few feet from the victim.
“Geraldine Armstrong, according to the work ID from Frazer and Company, a New York City law firm. No driver’s license. No home address.”
“Thanks, Ben. Don’t forget to pick-up that shoe.”
Kate was a veteran cop, but she wrenched whenever she met her victim for the first time. She lifted the tarp covering the victim’s face and said a prayer. Geraldine Armstrong’s hair was bleached blonde. She wore a grey wool suit with a sky blue blouse. She had applied her make-up with a heavy hand. She was beautiful except for the blood running from her temple down her face to her neck where it flared out on her throat.
Doc Williams, the coroner, was with the body. His sandy hair was short and spiked out from his head like a brush. “Time of death around 7 AM this morning. See, blood’s beginning to congeal on her hair. She fell and hit her head, but that didn’t kill her. A dull blade cut her carotid. Maybe a small knife or razor. She bled out.”
“Thanks doc.” Kate approached the bystanders. “A man walked past her down the steps to the bus stop before she fell,” said a young fellow dressed in running clothes.
“I saw her put her hand on her collar,” said a girl in jeans and jacket with a cheerleader’s emblem.
“She tumbled down a few steps. I saw the old man over there bend down to help her,” said the cheerleader’s companion.
“Okay, give your names and addresses to the officers. I may have more questions for you, but you can go for now.”
Kate walked over to Ben and the old man.
“Did you know Geraldine, Mr. er…?” Kate asked.
“Acevedo, Orlando Acevedo.” He was obviously upset. Sweating and wiping his eyes with a big white handkerchief. “She lives in my apartment building. Can I go home now? I don’t feel so good.”
“Do you see her often?”
“Sure. I see her here, almost every day. But not last week. Last week. I didn’t see. Maybe she goes vacation. She walks down the steps for the bus and falls. That’s all I know, just like I said. Can I go now? I feel sick. All that blood, all over her hair. Oh, My God, and her jacket. All the blood makes me sick to my stomach. You know, I wanted to climb down there to help her, but these crooked legs hurt too much. Maybe I’d fall too and have blood in my hair.”
“One more question. Someone said a man past her. Did you see him? Did you know him?” Ben asked taking out his notepad.
“No, no. Too far away. Bad legs. Bad eyes. He just walked past her fast like. He didn’t look back or anything. He probably not even know she falls. The bus already there, and he hurry down to it. She was quiet, didn’t cry out or anything, you know. Must have been a point on some rock or other.”
“Thank you, Mr. Acevedo. Nothing more for now.” Kate gave him her business card. His hand was shaking, and he dropped the card on the damp pavement. “Oh, just a minute, please. How do you know the victim?”
“Like I say. She live in my apartment building on County Line Avenue, 2309 County Line. On the first floor, in the back., Number five. I live number 305. Upstairs.”
Kate bent down to pick up her card. The grey morning had changed into a sunny one, and she saw something glitter on the steps.
“Alone?” Ben continued with Mr. Acevedo. Kate gave Ben a nod, she went to pick up the knife, and back to Acevedo.
“Yes, I live alone.”
“What about Geraldine?
“I don’t know. I hear many people. I see many people. I look out my window. I sit outside. I know she have a little dog. One night I saw a man take the dog outside. Must have been her brother or cousin or something.” Acevedo took a moment. “Maybe it was her. Maybe not. She maybe looked like a man in jeans and sweatshirt,” Acevedo paused and wiped his face again. “Not like a twin or anything like that, but still look like her face.”
“Ben, will you give Mr. Acevedo a ride home? While you’re there consider everyone a suspect. Find out what you can about Armstrong from other residents.”
Mr. Acevedo left leaning on Ben’s arm and his cane as they walked to the car. The old guy was pretty shaken up for someone who didn’t know the victim well. Was he the old man checking the victim the bystander saw? Did Acevedo lie? Was there another witness? Was another old man the killer?
Kate’s cell rang, and she turned away. It was the best possible ring.
“Kate? Where are you? Sorry I missed breakfast.”
“Oh, good morning to you too. Breakfast? What’s that? Meet you for lunch in a half hour. I’m almost done here.”
Kate was at the diner before Alex and took a booth in the back corner. It had a 180-degree view. The torn pleather seat poked the back of her leg. Damn! She sat at an angle where she has a view across the street to the park and south to the apartment building. Ben had parked his car at the curb and he was talking to a group of senior citizens sitting outside on weathered green benches.
Kate looked up as Mildred; the waitress, placed a glass of ice water on the paper placemat. She said, “Tough morning?”
“I hate meeting the dead. It does something to my sense of immortality. Know what I mean?”
“No. Too highbrow for me. Try not thinking so much. You’ll feel better. Will it be the early lunch special: Grilled Cheese and Cream of Tomato soup?”
“What’s happening in the Park?”
“Homicide.” Kate pulled out the victim’s work ID and showed Mildred. “Do you recognize this woman?”
“Could be… Maybe it’s um… er. No, Not sure. Hmm, Could be Gerry Armstrong. Gerry Armstrong sort of. Sorry, not much help, am I?”
“Isn’t Gerry Armstrong a man? My victim’s a woman. Thanks, anyway.”
Alex pulled into the rear parking lot of the diner, and walked around to the front door. He wore a tan suit, lighter shirt, solid brown tie, and loafers. His straight dark hair set off his light brown eyes just right. Just right for Kate, anyway. Alex sat next to her and pecked her cheek with his lips before he brought the menu up in front of their faces. He whispered, “I’ve been assigned to your case.”
“Really? What does drug enforcement have to do with this?”
“The coroner called us. Our victim was high before he bled out. He was dying anyway.”
“You mean she, don’t you? She overdosed. We are talking about the same victim, aren’t we? The one in the Park on the rocks next to the steps?”
“Here’s the thing,” Alex continued as if he didn’t understand me. “He had smoked oxycontin. An empty prescription bottle filled by a pharmacy in Denver was in his pocket with a baggie of twenty more. Doc says he had surgery two weeks ago and ended up with bad pelvic infection causing a lot of pain.”
“Wait a minute. Why would she go to Denver? We have good hospitals here.”
“Let me finish. This morning about six o’clock Armstrong not only smoked but ingested a good dose of the oxy. Anyway, when Armstrong approached the steps this morning in the park, it was barely daylight. He must have become disoriented and fell, cracking his head.”
“What about the knife wound? Doc said that was the cause of death. Oh, my God. Alex. The cause of death was not the fall or the blade. Do you think it was suicide and why do you keep saying he?
Kate’s cell rang. Alex stood. He’s leaving already?
“Gotta go,” he said pecking her on the cheek again.
She scowled at him. Pecking was nice, but she adored more body heat.
“I promise. We’ll go out for dinner tonight. Romeros? Wear something hot.”
Kate’s cell rang again. “Hey, Ben.” Kate listened as she nodded and blew Alex a kiss. She glanced towards the apartment building. Ben was not outside, but his car was still there.
“I’m with Acevedo.”
“Yes, stay put. I’m coming. His story doesn’t add up.”
“You’re telling me? Right now he’s looking for his penknife.”
Kate left the diner after finishing her soup and sandwich and walked to Armstrong’s apartment house. She took her cell and hit his speed dial to find precisely where Ben was. As it turned out, she needn’t have bothered. The after lunch old-timers crowd taking up the benches on either side of the walkway informed her Ben was on the third floor. Friends inside the building kept the outside group up to date.
“He’s on the third floor, next to the elevator.”
“Is something wrong?” asked a woman with red blotches covering her swollen legs.
“Must be something bad,” moaned a man connected to a portable oxygen tank.
“Somebody must have died,” whimpered another lady.
“He cried when he came back from his morning walk with that young fellow. I never saw Orlando cry and I’m his brother. I should know.”
“Once, last year when his wife died, he cried when they closed the coffin,” lamented the lady with the snug fleece cap cuddling her head down to her ears.
“What would make him cry today? Kate asked.
“Maybe the guy who brings the oxy hurt him,” sniffed the lady with the bottle bottom eyeglasses.
Kate stopped short, “What did you say?”
“About the oxy guy?”
“Yes, You know oxy’s a controlled substance, right? You could die using too much. If you don’t die, you might end up in jail.”
“Yeah, well, that’s the thing. We are all about to go anyway. Jail cell or wooden box. What’s the difference?”
“You know, I may have to arrest you,” Kate sputtered in disbelief. “Don’t anybody go anywhere?” She laughed to herself because this crowd couldn’t get to the end of the walkway without help.
“Go ahead. Do your job and take care of Orlando. We’ll wait here.”
The door to the Acevedo’s apartment was open. He sat on the sofa with his elbows on his knees and his head in his hands. He was hyperventilating. Ben was applying a wet cloth to Acevedo’s neck. Kate nodded to Ben and spoke to Mr. Acevedo.
“Hey, what’s going on Mr. Acevedo? Are you still feeling sick?”
Kate knelt in front of him and tilted his chin upwards. Tears streamed from his rheumy eyes.
“I called for an ambulance,” Ben said as he lifted the cloth.
Kate picked up the bottle of Tequila. Did you drink with Gerry Armstrong last night?”
“Sure. We drink every night. Is that what killed him, bad Tequila or was it the pills?”
“Wait a minute. You mean it killed her, don’t you?”
“I knew he was sick. I wanted to help him feel like his old self.”
“Pills? What kind of pills did you give to Gerry?”
“The ones left from my shoulder surgery. I wanted to talk him into forgetting about more operations. He wouldn’t listen. He said October would be the last.”
Mr. Acevedo remained quiet. Kate allowed him to take his time. Then he said, “Gerry suffered a lot. Pain across his stomach and between his legs since the last operation. He told me the pain was unbearable. Even with the pain, he had to work. No more sick days. I gave him my bottle of oxycontin and came up to bed.”
“In the morning, I woke him like I always do to make sure he was on time for work. I took care of him. I made him eat before he left. He swallowed a couple of pills. He dressed in the ladies’ suit I bought him last at Klein’s on the Square…no Macy’s. Yes, it was Macy’s Misses department. Size 12.”
Kate patted Mr. Acevedo’s hand, and he said, “Imagine going to Macy’s to buy ladies’ clothes for your boy. Macy’s Missies department for your boy? Mierda. (Shit).”
He reached for the Tequila, but Kate took it away from him and turned his hand over to get a better look. “You did this morning, didn’t you?”
“How did it happen?”
“I sliced it with my penknife when Gerry lost his balance on the step. It was my chance. I didn’t want my boy to live like a girl. I nipped his neck to scare him. I went too deep. My Gerald would go to heaven. I sliced my thumb and rubbed my blood on his neck. Gerald, my only son. Since he was a little boy, he wants to be a girl.” Acevedo put his head down and wept. “I shouldn’t have cut her. I should have loved him more. I should have loved Geraldine, too. I don’t understand. I struggle with this word trans.”