The flashing lights of his car refracted off the front of the house as Reed pulled to a stop, the fluorescent flickering passing from the left headlight to the right every few seconds. Given the hour and the lack of traffic on the roads he had opted to run without the siren, letting the front lamps clear away what few other drivers there were on the road.
Parked on the curb, Reed let the strobes bathe the front in neon light a long moment, taking everything in.
The house was a simple ranch affair, the kind filling a thousand neighborhoods in the greater Columbus area. He himself had grown up in something similar on the outskirts of Oklahoma City, had seen the same thing in towns ranging from Atlanta to Portland.
Somewhere inside he knew there was a family room with a connected kitchen and dining room. Two or three bedrooms were spaced off a hallway extended away from the main living area, one and a half baths sprinkled throughout.
The front lawn was nothing more than a dustbowl that had been turned to mud by the passing rains, the outward condition of the windows and front door showing the place was in a state far past disrepair.
Flipping the lights off, Reed took a quick glance down the street, confirming what he knew about the area, even if he had never been at this particular location before.
The house was one in a line of single family dwellings, all equally spaced, all having the same basic design. On the opposite side of the road were a handful of multi-story buildings that looked to have at one time been apartment complexes but now appeared deserted.
Like the houses they stood facing, everything was done in red brick, splashed liberally with aging graffiti.
“Stay here,” Reed said, leaving the keys in the ignition and stepping out of the car. A thin mist enveloped him as he did so, clinging to his hooded sweatshirt, beading up on the badge hanging from his neck.
A single blue-and-white patrol car was parked at the edge of the driveway a dozen feet in front of Reed’s sedan. Halfway down the asphalt drive sat a burgundy Cadillac, make and model appearing to be from the mid-80’s.
Everything he’d seen of the block so far, it seemed to fit in perfectly.
Huddled together in front of the patrol car was a pair of officers, both turning to stare as Reed approached. Neither one seemed enthused to be standing there, neither making a move forward as Reed drew near.
“You guys call in about a possible 187?” Reed opened, closing the gap between them, letting a hint of annoyance show in his voice.
“Called in a definite 187,” the man on the right said, taking a half step forward and meeting Reed just past the front bumper of their patrol car. He thrust out a hand and said, “I’m Officer McMichaels, my partner Jacobs.”
Neither man appeared to be older than their mid-twenties, most likely paired together once their training years with a senior officer were complete. McMichaels was tall and lean, his face clean shaven. Behind him his partner was shorter and a bit fleshier, a thin goatee encasing his mouth.
Reed accepted the shake, noticing it cold and wet from the weather, and nodded to Jacobs. “Detective Mattox.”
“No partner?” Jacobs asked.
It wasn’t the first time Reed had been asked the question, each time drawing the same clench in his stomach, though he had learned to mask any outward display. “In the car.”
A moment later came the second part that always grated him, the two exchanging a glance.
“K-9,” Reed said, answering before they had a chance to ask. “So what makes you say this is a definite 187?”
The two officers exchanged another glance, both of them drawing their mouths into tight lines. They stood that way a long moment, Reed looking from one to the other, before both turned back to face him.
“Just walk a little ways up the drive,” McMichaels said. “You’ll see.”
Agitation continued to grow within Reed as he looked at them. He opened his mouth, prepared to offer a lecture on proper police procedure, but decided against it.
Almost certain was the fact that there was a body lying nearby, quite possibly their first. Not that long ago he was in their position, unsure how to handle it, staring at death for the first time. The last thing he would have wanted then was a senior officer acting like a prick about it, and he’d be damned if he did the same to them.
Not that he gave a shit what anybody on the force thought of him anymore.
“Yes, sir,” McMichaels said. “Nobody is around.”
Rotating on the ball of his foot, Reed unsnapped the flashlight from his waist and drew it up to shoulder height. He clicked the rubber stopper on the end and a cone of white light shot forth, spraying the driveway in a bright hue. Halfway down he paused a moment, listening for the sound of footsteps.
None came with him, both men content to let him proceed alone.
Whatever was lying in wait for him clearly had them both spooked.
Slowing his pace to a half step at a time, Reed came up alongside the Cadillac and aimed his flashlight inside. The interior of the car was in even worse shape than the outside, the seats cracked and peeling, the floorboards covered in garbage. An ashtray sat in the middle of the dash, cigarette butts overflowing.
Shifting the light back to face forward, Reed walked to the front of the car and stopped, his breath catching in his chest. After twelve years working for the Columbus Police Department, he had seen just about all there was to see. Every possible form that evil could take he had encountered at one time or another, ranging the full spectrum of deeds and far exceeding anything he thought human beings capable of.
Even at that, this was a first.
Rooted in place, Reed raised the light, letting it splash over the remainder of the driveway, six feet of cement in either direction rimmed by more muddy yard. In the center of the space, lying flat on his back, was a single male victim. He wore pants and a white ribbed tank top, his head shaved bare.
That was about the sum total that Reed could confidently ascertain, unable to move any further, the combination of blood and rainwater having painted the entire slab of asphalt red.
A bit of warmth rose along Reed’s back as he moved the flashlight over everything once more before retreating a step. After another he clicked off the light and turned back towards the curb, both officers waiting with arms folded across their stomachs, looking at him expectantly.
“How’d you guys find him?” Reed asked, his voice carrying through the silent night.
The two exchanged a quick glance.
“Anonymous call came in,” McMichaels said. “We were on patrol in the area and fielded it.”
“Said it was a DD,” Jacobs added. “We got here and found this.”
DD. Domestic disturbance.
More than once Reed had seen the excuse come in. Somebody out for a run or taking their dog for a walk stumbled across something and made an anonymous call, not wanting to be near the crime scene any longer than necessary, thinking they didn’t know anything that would be of use anyway.
“Any ID yet?”
McMichaels looked down at his feet as Jacobs shifted his weight from side to side. “Not yet. We’d only been here about a minute when we called for you. Didn’t want to disturb the scene.”
It was obvious from his tone that the last sentence was added as an explanation and an apology of sorts. Reed let it go with a nod, conceding that in instances such as these it was better they did less than more.
If the victim did have an ID on him, the techs could pull it in half an hour. If the patrol guys had gone on ahead to check for themselves, they could have destroyed evidence beyond repair.
“What do you need us to do?” McMichaels asked, looking up from his shoes, a bit of color having returned to his cheeks.
Reed turned and glanced over his shoulder, again picturing the scene behind him in his mind. “Cordon off the whole place, yard and all. I’ll call in the crime scene crew. Sit on it until they get here and at first light start canvassing the neighborhood. I want to know everything we can about this guy and if anybody saw anything here last night.”
Both men nodded at the directive, each appearing thankful to have some heading, even more glad it wouldn’t put them anywhere near the body.
“187?” Jacobs asked.
Turning towards his car, Reed was already moving to call in support. “Definitely.”