Ashley watched as the Coroner wheeled the body off, thinking on the small, frightened girl he had spoken to earlier that day. Now she was yet another speck of dust building on the windowsill of the city, to sit and forever be forgotten. He needed a cigarette.
The hall had since cleared, regardless of how shellshocked they were, the people of Manhattan still needed their sleep. Ashley didn’t blame them. He lit his cigarette, reveling in the familiar taste of smoke on his tongue soothing him into something of normalcy. Emerald had gone quiet, for once in her life, her expression still unreadable. He fancied those few moments when she had first seen the body were the only few moments he had ever truly seen her.
After a moment of smoke-filled silence, Ashley finally spoke. “You can’t stay here, you know.”
“Oh really? I hadn’t considered that, I frequently sleep in the company of blood and gore.” The humor felt hollow. Ashley didn’t point it out. They went quiet again and Emerald rejected his offer of a cigarette, her green eyes focused somewhere in the distance. It was minutes before she spoke again, so soft he almost didn’t hear her. “Why her, Ashley?” She whispered, voice wavering. “Was he covering his tracks? Was it only because of her closeness to his first victim?” She didn’t voice the last question, the most important. By that logic, did that make her a target as well?
“You’ll stay with me, in my apartment, until some other arrangements are made.” He muttered.
She took a step back, eyeing him. “I don’t need your charity, Detective. I can stay with one of the other girls.”
“You’re smarter than that.” He grumbled around his cigarette. “Quit being stubborn. I have a car downstairs.”
“Say, where’s your partner?”
“The young, strapping fellow who was on your heels when you came in the club earlier this morning.”
She raised a fair point, where was Smith? The fool raised such a muck about having nothing to do this evening, and then he goes and finds himself something important enough to ignore a call from the station? Ashley worked his lips pensively around the cigarette. Now because of that dick Ashley had to drive his tired ass all the way out to Brooklyn to fill him in on the new murder. “I gotta make a damn stop before we head to my apartment.” Marvelous.
Noon - 1520 Thornton Avenue, Brooklyn
He had been to Smith’s house many times before, for various frivolous things that a young couple new to the city partake in. He’d been there for almost all of Joey’s birthdays, he was too drunk to go to his third. He’d been there for anniversary parties, barbecues, dinners, promotion celebrations. Nicole had been there for some, too. He remembered those looks she’d always give him, the knowing look, as they both thought nostalgically on their days as foolish young lovebirds.
The neighborhood was a nice one, quiet, with green lawns and kids on bikes. Something Ashley had always seen himself settling in. It was too late for that now, but he still enjoyed them, enjoyed the contained sort of contentment they represented. As they drove by houses, Emerald gracefully consumed french fries from the crinkly, brown paper bag on her lap, seemingly apathetic to their surroundings.
“Ever think you’ll have this sort of life?” Ashley asked after a moment.
“What sort of life?” She countered through a mouthful of french fries.
“One of these houses, a husband, a kid, a dog.”
“I don’t like dogs, hon, they slobber on everything.”
“You know what I mean.” He sighed exasperatedly.
She shrugged. “Never really did see myself in that sort of setting. Perhaps when I first moved here. Why? You offering?”
His response was interrupted by their arrival at their destination.
The first thing he really registered was confusion. Police cars lined the street in front of his partner’s home. Had the station beat him to informing his partner? But no, there were too many. “Stay in the car.”
“Damn it, stay in the car, Emerald!” He barked, slamming the door shut behind him. There were people, lots of people, a crowd huddled around the door, concerned faces. He didn’t understand. Once again he found himself pushing through a thick of people, nothing in mind but his destination.
His eyes calmly searched the center of the crowd for Smith, perhaps there was a break in. Each second he couldn’t find him he became more and more aware of his own heavy heartbeat.Beat.
Red and blue washed over the sea of faces, only vaguely familiar, none of them donning the charming grin he was looking for.Beat.
The front door, splayed open, was wrapped neatly in crime scene tape, tape he had seen so many times before, tape he had overlooked so many times before.Beat.
He felt his surrounding slow down, as if he were examining a scene, as if he were poised over a lifeless corpse. It made his stomach curl tight like a snake wrapping around its prey. Beat.
Two faces, two faces he recognized. Michelle, Michelle Smith, her pale face tearstained and contorted, hands clutched to her chest. Joey at her side, hands wrapped grubbily around her skirt. Beat.
“Michelle!” Ashley called, stumbling over to her. “Michelle, what’s going on?”
The redheaded woman wailed, screamed at him, reaching for him. Her claw-like fingers tangled into the collar of his shirt, her face a painting of grief. “You did this to him!” She shrieked, “This is your fault!” Her hands formed fists and she began to beat against his chest as if it were a cage she could break. “Your fault! How could you, Ashley? How could you?!
” She collapsed into his arms, burying her wet face in the crook of his neck. He felt it all, like sick, cruel puzzle pieces, slip into place. It felt an awful lot like a noose tightening around his neck.
He was smart. He knew, of course he did, the moment he left his car. That was his job
to know. And yet… He pulled away from Michelle, aggressively scrubbing the back of his hand against his face. Anything to not see her look of pure hatred. His hands found his hair, let the locks slip between the fingers, gripped them tight, any pain to bring him back to the moment as he stumbled to the door.
The patrolmen guarding the entrance stopped him with heavy hands. “Sir, we’re going to have to stop you.”
“I’m a cop, you idiots!” Ashley spat, trying again.
“Detective Gallagher,” The other patrolman corrected, his kind eyes vaguely familiar to Ashley. “Ashley, you don’t want to go in there. You don’t want to see it.”
Ashley stopped, staring them down, letting the words sink in. You don’t want to see it. Like hell. “Let me in!” He snarled, “Let me in! Let me in! This is my case, damn it!” He threw his weight against the both of them. “Let me see him! Let me see him!
” His eyes burned, “That’s my partner!”
There was a break in defense, or maybe the men just stopped fighting him, but he managed to shoulder his way in. He stumbled, a drunken step through the hallway, the familiar patterned wallpaper swaying around him. He ignored the busted lock on the front door, it didn’t matter now he needed to find Smith.
The first thing he saw was a rose, a gentle pink rose tucked neatly underneath an unhooked phone, splayed carelessly on the table. He turned the corner and that’s when he found him, them. Smith’s bare body as if it was on fucking display, covered in an array of pink roses, as if the horrific scene was something to be celebrated.
Ashley slapped a hand over his mouth, choking out a sob. “Oh… Oh no.” He slid to his knees beside the body, reaching to caress the petals of one of the neatly placed flowers with his fingertips. “Oh Richard, no.” The last word came out in a hissed whimper. “Please