A dull silence weighed over the crime scene. Romano stepped back from the corpse, the stench from the blackened flesh starting to cut through him. "Burnt from the inside out? That's crazy shit. Is that shit even possible?" he wondered aloud. He began to walk around the roof looking for signs of a struggle.
Wetherly nodded, "If the accelerant was swallowed, then yes. It's not something you'd knowingly sustain doing. It could burn the throat on the way down. However, it's the most likely scenario given the facts at this stage. I'll have a better idea when I get back to lab and do some tests. You wouldn't need to light it internally either. The fumes would rise up and would be ignited from something as simple as a match held in front of the mouth."
"Might there be traces of the accelerant in the lift?" queried Locklear.
"If we're to presume the victim received the accelerant before being brought up here, then possibly," Wetherly answered, "depending on whether the victim vomited on route. It's more likely to be found wherever the victim first received it. Keep an eye out and swab anything suspicious." She handed her FFK, her Field Forensics Kit, to Locklear. Not being skilled in forensics, Locklear accepted the kit after a little consideration. Swabbing couldn't be that hard to screw up, surely? Wetherly moved off to speak with the uniformed officers about shifting the body downstairs.
"One thing I've learnt from my time in the DEA," Romano continued after his roof survey had turned up nothing, "is where there's money, drugs are involved. Another thing for sure, this body was meant to be found. Maybe as a warning to others, and if we can't get some more info soon, we may end up with a few more bodies around the place."
Sanchez nodded. The last thing she wanted was their first case to be a failure, so it was time to get moving. Pulling out her cell phone she called back to HQ and requested one of the junior officers to start looking for other cases with similar Modus Operandi. "Locklear, Romano, talk to the Landlord," she directed. "Wetherly, follow the body back to the lab. Get us anything as soon as you can that could narrow down our search. Tyler and I will check the access points to the building and look for breaches. If nothing has turned up we'll go door to door and interview everyone. Leave no stone unturned."
"As I've told the other cops, I'll tell you again," Jacques Watson, the Landlord, repeated slowly. "I don't have CCTV. It's an intrusion on the privacy of my guests. Some of them have," Jacques searched for the right phrase, "adult tastes, if you know what I mean? They like to play away from home."
Locklear frowned. No CCTV shot a hole through one avenue of investigation. "So there are no security tapes at all?" he confirmed. They were off to a poor start.
"I'm sorry, I don't know what to say," Jacques spread his hands in hopelessness. "Residents need a digital key card to get in through the front door or the parking garage. Each card is keyed to our server with a refactoring code that changes every nine seconds. Even if the code was copied, it would be useless after that time. If they bring a guest, we don't ask questions. They pay for a quality discreet service here.
Romano leant forward onto the Landlord's desk, "Who is we exactly?"
"Four staff run the front desk; Me, my boyfriend, my girlfriend and my mother."
Locklear blinked, his mind somersaulting as he tried to envelop the nature of Jacques' relationships. He gave up quickly and ran his fingers through his hair to hide his frustration. Romano decided to pursue a different line of questioning, "Who was on duty yesterday? We'd like to talk to them."
Jacques held up a finger and picked up his phone. After a quick yapping to whoever was on the other end, he hung up. "She's coming right in. She was on duty yesterday until I came on at 8pm." Right on cue, the door to the Landlord's office opened and in walked a short redhead wearing an old 80's band t-shirt and wraparound sunglasses. Trailing from the glasses was a cable that went into her gold shoulder bag. As she pulled the shades off, Locklear noticed a video feed in the lenses. Jacques introduced Sara.
"Sara, I'm Detective Locklear, this is Officer Romano. Think back to yesterday's shift. Can you remember anything unusual? Any guests that were new?"
Sara's mouth opened and closed repeatedly. Locklear was about to repeat the question thinking she hadn't understood, when he suddenly realised she was chewing gum. "Nah, we didn't have no visitors yesterday. Oh, a courier delivered a package to Janice Wolf up in 407, that's all. I always call the room after the delivery is done to make sure everything is ok. No problems."
Romano asked to examine the residential list. Jacques was hesitant at first, citing privacy issues, but after a quick reminder about how uncomfortable they could make his life following the murder, he quickly relented. Scanning down the list Romano counted about 40 rooms that were occupied. There was a mixture of tenants and holiday makers. Romano asked Jacques to run through the list and call each resident to find out who was missing under the guise of asking if them if they needed anything. Jacques agreed, happy to keep some illusion of control.
After 15 minutes, Jacques had contacted every room, and all were accounted for except three. "Tsugi Yamato," explained Jacques, "is a businessman out of Tokyo. He's quite regular. The company he works for, Sanja Enterprises, leases the same room for a few different executive officers who are in and out all year round." Pointing at the next name of the list he continued, "Alfrec Tudeo is a poncy French sculptor of some renown. He's in the city for a big exhibition of his work at the Washington Art Gallery. The last one, William Marsh, is a stockbroker who apparently hit the big time a few months ago. He's moderately new here. I've got emergency contact details for all of them." Jacques pulled out a black and red binder from one of his desk's drawers. "Here, the numbers for the satellite office for Sanja Enterprises, the Washington Art Gallery secretary, and the front desk number for Morgan Stanley.
"Gut reaction?" Romano asked Locklear. He shrugged in return.
Outside, Sanchez and Tyler had started their walk around the building. Their first circuit was just to get an idea of the size of the place. On the second circuit they started to look for detail. They stopped near the western fire escape to have a closer look. The ladder was some way off the ground, connected to the first floor. There was a counterbalance weight which lowered the ladder as people were coming down. After they had, the weight would return the ladder to its horizontal position preventing anyone going back up.
"That looks pretty secure," commented Sanchez. "Even if you could get up there, you've got to get through the windows. They look well maintained too."
Tyler nodded his agreement. There was nothing in this alleyway. No trashcans, all the dumpsters were in the garage and were fed from refuse chutes throughout the building. They were too narrow to climb up anyway. "So tell me Lieutenant," he changed the subject, "a special task force from the mayor. What's that all about? And why you?"
Ella's mind wandered back to the briefing she'd received the day she left 3rd Precinct. Adrian Fenty, the mayor of DC had called her to a meeting with the Chief of Police. She remembered standing to attention so rigidly he had to at-ease her 'in case she sprained something.' The Mayor had explained that he was setting up a team to investigate a variety of crimes that could span across the precinct boundaries - Something that would encourage inter-precinct efficiency. A team that would be based in first precinct but ultimately be responsible to the police chief and him. A particular phrase had stuck in her mind. "A unit unstrapped from bias and untainted by split loyalties," he had said. What did that mean?
Sanchez just smiled and gave the quick answer, "He's standing to be tough on crime. He's up for re-election this year and wants some high profile busts made as quickly as possible."
"Huh," Tyler replied.
They circled the building again. This other alley also laid bear. They stood under the fire escape and looked up to the roof. Other than the fire escapes and the lift there was no way to get up to the roof, unless you were Spider-man. Tyler looked at Sanchez, wondering what the next move was. He saw her eyes focus on something. "What is it?" he asked.
Sanchez was looking at the fire escape ladder. "It has dirt on the feet," she answered. Looking to the ground, she quickly pointed to a hardly visible imprint in the mud that covered most of the alley. "Here," she claimed, "that ladder has been touching this spot recently."
"Both fire escapes go right up to the roof," Tyler observed, "so the perp could have climbed his way up. That's a piece of the puzzle, but it doesn't explain how they got inside."
Sanchez sighed. Every other case had been won through hard work, so there was no reason to think this was going to be any different. "Let's find the others and see what they've learnt," she said, leading the way back inside.
Standing up from the micrometer, Wetherly blew out a low whistle. The facts didn't lie; she had checked the results twice. An accelerant had been used. It was kerosene. Nothing else would have generated high enough temperatures to cause such rapid incineration. That was one part of the puzzle solved. Kerosene, however, was widely available. The public transport trams used a blended low sulphur version, and many of the poor or homeless out in the slums used it as cooking fuel. At 15 cents a litre, it wasn't hard to understand why. Even Locklear probably used a variant for his supercharged Dodge Viper.
Her desk phone bleeped the tone of an internal call. Picking it up, she heard one of her technicians report on the bracelet. They had a match; the spectroscopic analysis had been successful and now they had a name. Wetherly was fortunate enough to have a moderately skilled team working for her. Nothing like the legends who worked at the Smithsonian, but they were competent nonetheless. This was good enough to go on without needing to wait for the dental reports.
She pulled out her cell phone. It was time to update Sanchez.
"Acknowledged," Sanchez spoke into her handset and hung up. "It's confirmed. William Marsh is our victim."
"Don't we need a warrant?" asked Tyler, sliding his sidearm out of his holster. He held it to his side as the four of them took up positions outside Marsh's apartment.
"Not when the victim is dead. And what the bloody hell is that?!" Sanchez gestured to his pistol as she reached for her much more modest Glock. "Are you expecting to face an army?"
"It's not often I'm envious of another man's weapon," smirked Romano.
"It's not my weapon of choice," countered Tyler.
Romano's eyebrows shot up. Visions of an even more hi-tech instrument of death filled his mind. Maybe a laser sight, armour piercing rounds, extended mag... He wasn't just envious, he was a bit jealous. Like Sanchez, he had a Glock. Reliable even under water, but man, it wasn't half as sexy as Tyler's piece. Joining in the 'I'll show you mine if you show me yours' Locklear put the FFK down and drew his. It was big, it was heavy, it was a Desert Eagle. He just grinned lopsidedly when the others noticed it.
"Right then, boys," Sanchez teased, "I'm hoping we won't need all this firepower." She slid in a key that Jacques had given them and then stepped back, looking at Tyler. Taking the hint to lead, Tyler nodded and stepped forward. He crouched down by the door handle as the others took up flanking positions to either side. Gently turning the handle, Tyler pushed open the door and crouch-walked inside, all the time his sidearm covering left and right, near and far.
Marsh's apartment was open plan, so it was soon confirmed as clear. The team stood down and holstered their weapons. The whole left wall was glass, allowing plenty of natural light into the room. A large LCD television hung along the far wall and in front of it was an expensive black leather sofa. On a shelf under the television was Sony's latest games console, the Playstation VR, complete with visor and other peripherals. To the left of the television, a fancy looking computer hummed away on a desk. A large double bed covered in a plum coloured duvet and contrasting white pillows was on the right. Above the bed was an impressionist painting, and to either side were bedside cabinets. The state-of-the-art kitchen was spotless and clean. The appliances were tidy and each accessory was neatly in its place. A walk in cupboard just past the bed was half open showing a variety of smart office wear. By the door there was a coat stand with two overcoats and two umbrellas.
"Seems quiet enough," thought Tyler.