Greg Ionescu stared at the dead woman, searching for anything about the broken body that could reveal something to him. He stood very still in the hot stuffy air looking at nothing and everything, letting the impressions just come to him. He had learned the importance of a clear mind in the midst of chaos. There was no way however to overcome the dangerous indifference he felt when watching her. Someone had finally caught up to this lady. In the back of his mind he could allow himself to think “About time.” But he was a police officer. Newly made detective no less. This was perhaps not what he had wished for as a first case out of uniform but at least he could wear his own choice attire.
He pulled at his shirt collar but it did nothing but stir the bad odours around his face. He had a steel gut but this was getting to him. The body had been left to the heat for too long already. Technicians were finishing up and a bag lay open and waiting. There was nothing more he could accomplish here. He turned to a grimfaced stocky man in his late fifties. Before Greg could open his mouth the medical examiner gave him a sharp shake of the head and a I don’t know yet and you know damn well that I can’t tell you anything look. Greg raised his arms in surrender and took his leave. He was in need of coffee and a tub of ice.
Could this hellish summer not just go away? The air conditioner had bit the bullet Saturday night or possibly Friday, according to the landlady. This was Monday. “I couldn’t get anyone to come to fix it on a Saturday night could I now?” She had explained just a few minutes earlier. Waving a magazine in front of her flushed face. The big woman had bounced up and down, trying to look over his shoulder to see for her self what had happened to Mrs. Morris. She hadn’t managed to meet his eyes once until he had ushered her down the hall and around a corner.
“So you talked to Mrs. Morris Saturday night.” He finally said when her head had stopped swivelling. She was rubbing her hands in front of a formless body wrapped in a shapeless granny dress in pale green with printed flowers. “Miss Eric’s?” She waved air with her magazine, gave up trying to look through the walls and looked up at the handsome officer. She nodded, then instantly shook her head, fanning frantically. Greg sighed inwardly attempting a reassuring smile that felt more like a stiffening rubber mask. Her eyes widened, then narrowed, then crumpled up in thought. He let her untangle her thoughts for just a moment.
“When did you last see or hear from Mrs. Morris?” He asked calmly.
“Oh, I haven’t seen poorVictoriain weeks.” She exclaimed as if it was obvious. Greg clamped his jaw shut.
“But she called you then? About the air conditioner?” She frowned and glanced over his shoulder at the sound of voices from the apartment.
“No, her daughter told me.” Greg paused in a surprise that he covered up fairly well by pulling out his notepad. He gave the notes a cursory glance.
“We have no record of any family here.”
“Oh, but she is such a nice girl. Always friendly and so helpful.” She nodded to emphasize and leaned forward with a glint in her eyes and a hand on her generous front.
“I don’t think she is quite right in the head though.” She said conspiratorially. She glanced around the empty hall and continued.
“I don’t think she understand English so well.” Greg raised his brows.
“You mean she is foreign? “ The gossip loving Landlady waved a podgy hand dismissively and pinched her face impatiently.
“No no, she just… Well, I wanted to ask her about her Grand mother’s funeral. You know the old dear was so terribly ill. There was some kind of cancer I think.” She shuddered dramatically and released a pained sigh. “She had a tank next to her all the time, with a hose. I always wondered what would happen if someone stepped on that silly hose. And I heard that they can explode to!” The voice pitched up and she clapped her hand to her mouth. “And all those pills she had to take every day. And she was so pale and oh, her hair was all gone. It was probably a blessing when she passed the wretched thing. It was Thursday last and I heard it from Peterson in thirteen. He heard it from young Lundgren in thirty…. But he is in the hospital now so you can’t talk to him now. I think it was the appendix or something horribly painful. Mary on the first floor told me there was a terrible screaming and it was a terrible thing anyways. She had heard from old Laura Mason, the butchers daughter-in –law you know? Down the street a ways that….”
Greg couldn’t help it. In another thirty seconds he would phase out.
“Well, the poor thing…“ Greg phased her out.
He knew that for the most part, letting a person talk without interrupting while adding a small sound of sympathy and interest here and there was the easy, albeit the most time consuming way to get information. When this woman’s eyes glazed over slightly he wasn’t so sure anymore that there was enough time in the universe to learn anything from her.
He cleared his throat. He wasn’t sure what thread to pull first.
“Mrs. Morris daughter you said.” He tried.
“Oh yes of course. She wouldn’t answer me. She just stood there and stared. And she used to be so polite and pleasant. But she was just rude. I almost thought she was hard of hearing and I asked her again. I really would like to pay my respects.”
Did she say something else? Besides about the air conditioner?” She stared blankly for a moment, mouth half open.
“No, she said nothing at all. She gaped like a little fishy and left.” Indignation tightened her face and straightened her neck.
“So she didn’t tell you about the air conditioner when you met her on Saturday night?”
“No, that was Friday obviously. There wouldn’t be any point in telling me on a Saturday. I wouldn’t be able to call the repair people on a Saturday. No.” Obviously, Greg thought miserably.
“She left me a note on Friday evening some time. After the party next door. All that thumping and rattle horror music probably shook the walls so the thing clearly vibrated to pieces and those miscreants should really….” Yes, perfectly clear. Greg phased out again. He would have to hand over this marvellous lady to a colleague. Some poor sucker could take her statement down at the station.
“…I thought for sure she was hard of hearing and then she just …. …I couldn’t believe it… Just ….”
The woman was working herself into a proper state of indignation now.
“She was always such a friendly one, didn’t say much. But Saturday night there was something strange.” She narrowed her eyes. “Maybe she was doing that drug thing that all kids seem to do these days. Do you think she might have been …” She struggled with voicing the word. “…high?” Greg decided to diffuse the righteous rant before it got out of hand. He cleared his throat.
“We would appreciate if you came in to the station to make a statement. But I need a couple of things first” He caught her eyes.
“Does this daughter have a name?”
As he wrote the information such as it was, his mind spun. He knew that Mrs Morris had not had children, natural, fostered or adopted. For two reasons. Inability to have children at all was first and foremost. Second, was a ruling in superior court that Mrs. Victoria Morris could not have any contact with children. That was the condition when released on parole after serving 15 years of a 20 year sentence for, among other things, killing her younger sister’s three children. Now the capital punishment had caught up with her and he had a mystery daughter to find.