Novel 3: Act II, Chapter 1, Scene 1d

TOC page here.

We ended the last excerpt with our detectives about to find the second body in the series of murders. Here we go:

Diana handed him the thermos, then followed the light. The heap resolved itself into a figure of a man, face down, the tips of his kinky hair a faded magenta. She broke protocol, grabbed the man’s shoulder through the army jacket, rolled him to see his face. “Oh, shit,” she said aloud. “It’s Mario.”

“That ain’t all,” said Mustapha. He lit a cigarette, began to walk toward her, keeping the light trained on Mario’s corpse. “Go on, pull up his shirt; I already did.”

With a sense of dread, Diana rolled Mario all the way onto his back. He’d been strangled, with something at least superficially similar to what had killed Alex Dawson. She reached to his belly and pulled up his cheery Coca-Cola T-shirt—and there it was, the calligraphy with its swirls and dots.

She stared at it for a long time, then pulled the shirt the rest of the way up, uncovered her tablet and zoomed in on the writing to photograph it. Then she pulled the shirt back down and rolled Mario back onto his face. “Is it the same verse?”

“How should I know? It’s the same style. You know we’re going to get blamed for this.”

She walked to the window. “Not if I can help it. Were Slaughter or Brown up here when you rolled him over?”

“No. And I don’t think either one peeked. He’s obviously dead, they took it upstairs like they’re supposed to. It’s just you and me, for now.”

Through the decades of grime on the window, Diana could see all fourteen lanes of the Downtown Connector directly below her, with the Peachtree bridge crossing it right below her. On the other side of the highway was the pocket park where they had found Alex Dawson; and beyond that, the hospital complex, with the corner of Peachtree-Pine visible on the other side of the street. “Okay,” she said. “Let’s kick it upstairs again. You want to guard the body or call the Chief?”

He exhaled, crouched, stubbed out his cigarette on the floor, placed the butt on the windowsill. Then, “Oh, that was a serious question?”

So it’s Mario, who helped them out before by drawing the right kind of van. Is this a coincidence: is Mario just the latest victim? Or did he die because he helped them? This is what’s going through their heads right now, but we needn’t actually state it. But Diana’s “not going to get blamed for it”. How and why not? Clearly, it’s going to involve a call to the chief, and if she’s concerned about Slaughter and Brown not seeing it, it’s probably not all that ethical. And that’s something that I want to be clear about in my fiction: Diana and Mustapha are intended to be likable characters, but not perfect ones. This would be boring.

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