The Girl on the Billboard

Here’s the first part of the manuscript I’d adapted from the Standard killing. I haven’t looked at this in about three and a half years, but here goes:

Detective Diana Siddall could see the asynchronous flashers of the crime scene long before she could see anything that looked like a bar. But as they pulled to a stop, she could see a nicely renovated building that had clearly once been a garage and service station; these were surrounded by a patio with a fountain and a stone wall. “Somebody built a hipster microbrew pub here?” she said. “That was brave.” She craned her neck to look further down Memorial, but the strip of bars and restaurants across the street from the Civil War magnificence of Oakland Cemetery, and that represented the nearest tendril of gentrification in this part of intown Atlanta, was another half mile down the street and invisible beyond a hill.

They walked through the ring of emergency vehicles and into the glare of klieg lights belonging to the crime scene truck. A beautiful ebony man in a beautiful olive suit detached himself from the shadows and walked over to them, a big grin on his face. “You guys are my ticket to beauty sleep,” he said.

“And you’re our ticket to a long and ugly night, “ growled Mustapha.

“Hi, Duane,” said Diana. “Why are we taking your case?”

“Because you’re the best, Dee,” said Detective Duane Peterson. “We leave Grumpy the Dwarf here at home, we can work together, just like old times.”

“But your boyfriend will be so jealous.”

“I regard that as a feature, not a bug. The reason you’re here is because Chief Purcell said that you needed to be here. Beyond that, I don’t know: the it could be because a pretty little white girl got herself shot closing down the bar in this neighborhood full of solid citizens.”

“And you think there’s something more than that?” said Mustapha.

Peterson pointed over to where a different set of lights, from a television truck, illuminated the sidewalk on the far side of the restaurant. “Ask him yourself. Word travels fast around here, and half of the yuppie pioneers who bought houses in this neighborhood before the market started to tank are already up here in the middle of the night demanding justice.”

Diana could see a familiar figure, a tall white man with curly hair that was shifting from red to gray, standing on the curb with his back to them, addressing a crowd of about a dozen white people in their 30s and 40s. “No, thanks,” she said. “Let’s go in and take a look at the scene.”

The inside of the Scrapyard was more or less exactly as Diana would have guessed: exposed ductwork, the smell of stale cigarettes and beer, large abstracts in acrylic by local artists. Half a dozen uniformed officers stood at parade rest around the larger section of the L-shaped room. In the smaller section of the L, around the corner from the bar, a further ring of lights indicated the presence of crime scene officers. Diana could see shadows moving around in the kitchen, on the far side of the bar, as well.

As she followed Mustapha around the corner of the bar, she flinched as a shadow darted toward her from above. She looked up to see a big white bird flap its wings to settle among the pipework overhead. “What the?” she began.

“It’s a cockatiel, ma’am,” said one of the uniformed officers. Diana focused in on him; he flinched in embarrassment. He couldn’t have been more than twenty-five. “My sister has three of them,” he said sheepishly.

“He’s like the mascot here,” said a familiar gravelly voice. Dave Keller, chief of Crime Scene, walked out from behind where a few dozen bar tables were stacked in pairs, one table upside down on top of another. Keller peeled off the hair net he wore and shook his long, grey locks free to dangle below his shoulders. He then indicated a large, baroque iron cage that lay on the floor near the edge of the bar, its doors swung open from one side to lie on the floor. “We came in and he was flying around squawking; he practically herded us over to where the body is.”

Diana looked up at the ceiling above the cage and saw a large iron hook with a broken piece of chain dangling from it. “Who pulled the cage down?”

“Shot it down, we’re pretty sure.”

“Nice shooting.”

“Wait til you see this. “ Keller walked over to Diana, then behind and past her. “Take a couple of steps this way,” he said.

Diana was right in front of the part of the bar nearest its left end. Behind an antique cash register was the passageway into the kitchen. The brightly lit hallway was blocked by a pair of flimsy-looking chest-high swinging doors which looked much worse for wear after having been shot up a few times.

“What’s that, four shots?” She pointed over to her left, into the rafters and ducts over the smaller end of the dining room. “So why is the bird over there?” She followed the line of her case, then looked downward onto the floor. Underneath a warren of stacked tables and chairs was the corpse of a woman or girl with short, dark hair. The body was slumped over, half concealed among the cruciform metal of the tables’ leg assemblies. The wall behind it had a painting leaning up against it: a pooled pattern of yellow and ochre rectangles now had an even bolder splash of red, pink and gray across its lower half.

She dropped her hand, made a gun with her thumb and forefinger, pointed it at a point in space two feet above the girl’s hips, then sighted along it. She whistled. “Now that is some nice shooting. Were the lights on or off when you got here?”

“On. But that’s because the manager came back after the perps left and started looking for her. She says she’s pretty sure she turned them on. But she’s pretty shaken up.”

“Wait,” said Mustapha. “We have a witness?”

Keller nodded. “Curtis is back there sitting with her. I heard it all secondhand, so I won’t bother telling you anything.”

Diana kept her finger gun extended, and visited toward the kitchen doors. “One, two, three, four,” she counted, then pivoted quickly so that she was pointing toward the dead girl. Diana had been firing pistols since she was nine years old. She shook her head. “That’s about a 4 inch square maybe 20 feet away.”

“So, no way?” said Mustapha.

Diana shook her head again. “Not no way. Just awfully good or awfully lucky.”

“And was it before or after the birdcage?”

“I don’t know,” said Keller. “No way to tell.”

“Two guns?” said Diana. She sighed. “Not enough information.”

“Tell us about the victim, Dave,” said Mustapha.

Keller reached into his pocket and handed Mustapha a Georgia driver’s license inside a plastic evidence bag. “Danielle Mason, age 26. Duane was going out to run her name when I guess he ran into you.”

“Just the single gunshot wound?” asked Mustapha.

“Can’t tell. Haven’t moved her yet. Nothing else is obvious.”

“Thanks, Dave,” said Diana. “Come find us once you’ve examined her.” She turned to Mustapha. “I bet the manager is a cute girl, too; I can’t think of any other reason why Captain Jenkins would babysit a witness.”

“He would say it was his civic duty,” said Mustapha.

“He sure would,” said Keller.

But the manager was pushing fifty, and was the sort of square-jawed, no-nonsense lesbian who would bristle if you suggested there was anything cute about her. Her eyes were red rimmed and teary, and her hands shook as she clasped them together on the needs of her faded blue jeans. “I’m very sorry,” she was saying. “I don’t… deal well with being upset.”

Captain Curtis Jenkins took her hands in his enormous ones and looked her in the eye. “Don’t be ashamed,” he said. “Nobody deals well with something like this.” He looked up at Diana. “Where have you been?”

“Sir? We were off duty, and my daughter had the car. Mustapha had to come and get me.”

Jenkins nodded. “Okay, then. Ms. Osborne here has had a heck of a night: maybe you too can give her time and space to tell her story.”

“Uh, sure. Sir.” Diana took her tablet out of her satchel and opened a file.

Mustapha sat down next to the manager. “We’re sorry for what happened to you, ma’am,” he said.

Jenkins nodded at Diana and walked back into the kitchen. Diana looked at the manager for an instant, then turned her head and followed Jenkins inside. “Sir?” she began.

Jenkins just smiled. “Ms. Osborne is Chief Purcell’s sister, Dee.”

“Whew,” Diana said. “I was thinking you had suddenly been replaced with one of those thoughtful, caring policemen.”

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  1. Update on The Standard Killing | Julian Cage

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