REVENGE OF THE TAXIDERMIST
Back at the Consulate, the solid wood door of Meg's office burst open and crashed against the opposite wall. The Mountie just managed not to wince. Over the shoulder of the agitated Paterson, she could see Turnbull flattened against the wall, looking terrified. There was a visible handprint pressed into the center of his starched tunic.
"Saddle up, Inspector! They just found Cole." Sam brushed a piece of red hair out of her face, almost hopping with impatience.
Meg had known the American for a little over six months, and there was only one case outcome that could make her this perturbed. "Dead?" she guessed.
"Yup. Stabbed to death."
Med grabbed her red wool coat. Its purchase had had nothing to do with the fact that Fra—some people thought that red suited her. "Where'd they find him?"
"In an alley. Off our beat, but I'm going to stick on this one. Find out who got to the little weasle before me."
They exited the office, and Turnbull retreated into a corner as Paterson passed.
"Constable, I leave you..." Meg swallowed. "...in charge. If any Canadians should arrive, you may take care of their problems. If any Americans, government officials, businessmen or tradesmen--including the plumber you called, should show up before I return, please do not try to help them. Ask them to call me on my cell phone. I will return..." she looked to Sam for input, but she only shrugged, "...later. Good luck, Constable."
Turnbull recovered enough to salute, but shied back when Paterson smiled.
Paterson's car was parked by the curb in front of the consulate. Although 'car' and ‘parked’ may have been over-stating the fact.
"I think Big Red in afraid of me, Em,” Sam commented, unlocking the doors. “What’s his story? Is he just afraid of women?"
From experience, she knew Sam wasn’t interested in Turnbull’s history so much as she was looking for something to take her mind off her dead suspect. Meg complied, pulling on the rusty Mustang's door and breathing a sigh of relief when it didn't fall off. "Well, I think he was married once, or is married, or... well, he has had a girlfriend," she decided. "But he may be mildly intimidated by women in power."
"Huh. Speaking of girls, you hear this baby? Me and my brother tinkered around on her this weekend, and now she's purring like a kitten." Sam patted the dash affectionately while squeaking through an intersection on a yellow light.
"The sound actually reminds me of an asthmatic moose I once came across in basic training," offered Meg. Sam shot her a saddened look.
"Now you've hurt her feelings. Haven't you ever heard of positive reinforcement? You tell a kid how great they're doing and they do better in school and behave and all that. I do that with Nicky all the time."
"Yes, but there are two problems with that argument, Sam. One: Nicky is a child, and two: this car is not. However, if you think that my apologizing will get us there any safer-" Meg broke off to grab the seat while they rounded a corner - surely that rattling sound was a bad sign? "—then I will be more than happy do so," she gasped.
"Nah. She knows you didn't mean it."
Paterson swung the Mustang around one more corner before bringing it to a halt in front of a seedy-looking smoke shop. Just to the left of the storefront was a particularly grimy alley with a small group of cops clustered around the mouth.
"I'm just going to go talk to them for a sec," Sam said, "But while I'm gone, please don't taste anything, okay?"
Meg raised her eyebrows. "Why would I want to taste something?"
"I don't know! It just seems like whenever I turn around you've got something else in your mouth. You're worse than my daughter. One of these days you're going to catch the plague or something."
"Actually Sam, I think 'the Plague', per say, is not something that can be contracted..."
Her partner shook her head and walked off. Meg smiled to herself and walked into the alley.
It was scattered with cardboard boxes, crates and tin cans, as well as other, less mentionable pieces of refuse. Meg stepped daintily over one such item in her heels before coming to halt in front of a high wood slat fence.
"Hmm." Dark droplets of blood had dried, in two distinct fan-like patterns. One to the left, one to the right, with a spattering of large drops and a smear in the center. At the foot of the fence the pooled blood had congealed, making just another unspeakable mess on the pavement. Her brown eyes moved up the fence, noticing the fresh splintering at the top. Perhaps from someone climbing it? Or as if desperate hands had torn at the slats, in a vain effort to escape? She stepped back as Sam rejoined her.
"Not too pretty, is it?"
"Murder seldom is," Meg replied.
"Yeah." Sam was silent as she surveyed the scene. "You know anything about blood splatters, Em?" Sam asked finally. It appeared to be the only physical evidence they had. The cops on the scene said the area had been combed - no sign of a weapon, no witnesses.
"It's a science," Meg replied, squinting slightly at it. "An expert can determine what type of instrument was used, by what person. If the body is present, usually it's merely a matter of connecting the dots."
Sam nodded thoughtfully, picturing the type of attack that would have left that kind of mark. "Care to hazard a guess? Crime Lab won't send results over until this afternoon."
"Judging by this smaller fan, the murderer was left handed, approximately 189 centimeters tall, with good muscle development. And he stabbed Mr. Cole right up against the fence."
"Harsh," her partner observed, wincing slightly.
"And..." Meg's eye caught sight of a slightly crushed cardboard box along the left wall. She stooped to get a better look. "Ah!"
Sam watched in horror as Meg touched something and then stuck her finger against her tongue.
"Augh!! Don't do that! That is so—there could be diseases!"
Meg blinked. "Clay, epoxy, fiberglass and..." The brunette swished it around in her mouth for a moment. "Beaver fur. Interesting."
"Interesting?!" Sam squeaked, attracting the attention of the other police officers. "It's disgusting, that's what it is!"
"Sam," Meg said, rising and brushing her knees off, "Taste is a very important sense. There is no reason to exclude its use from a criminal investigation because you find it, well...distasteful."
"Huh." Sam replied. "Okay, so distastefulness aside - what conclusions can we draw from the fact that there is beaver fur in a downtown Chicagoan alley, Inspector?"
"The killer is a taxidermist," she said to the flummoxed Paterson in that tone of voice she had. The one that implied that the answer was obvious, and it didn't even need saying. The one that always made the Detective feel slightly foolish for failing to connect the penguins and seeing them for the dots they truly were. Sam shook her head and led the way out of the alley.
"There's something wonky here, that's for sure," she said over her shoulder. "How does a guy go from trying to kill two cops in a theme park, to filing a report against them at the station, to getting stuck in a back alley three hours later?"
"I don't know, Sam."
"Not only that, but the cops here said that—hey, what's up, Em?" Meg had stopped at top of the alley and was staring strangely at the brick corner of the smoke shop.
"Yeah, so what? Like I was saying - the guys here," she jabbed a thumb towards the gaggle of officers, "say there was a guy chasing Cole; he almost got flattened by a cab when he ran across the road. The taxi must of swerved and hit the corner there."
Meg followed Sam out, her footsteps heavy. She stopped again on the curb, staring down into the gutter. A handful of quarters twinkled brightly up at her.
"Hey!" Sam exclaimed. "Must be your lucky day. Someone took out a parking meter, I guess. You are now..." she stopped to count. "One dollar and seventy-five cents richer."
Stabbing. Alley. Taxi. Parking meter.
The headache returned full-force. "Oh dear."
To Meg's great consternation, the officers had directed Sam to the 27th Precinct for more information on the murder. It figured.
After another harrowing car trip, the two women climbed out of Sam's car and pushed through a handful of loiterers outside the station house. There were the usual types—questionable characters meeting their bailed-out friends, official looking lawyers, and painfully obvious undercover cops. Painfully obvious, Meg decided, because unlike the shady characters they were trying to portray, they looked perfectly relaxed and comfortable around the police officers that were milling around.
"Paterson!" one 'undercover' yelled. "’Zat you? How's things?"
They looked up to see a swarthy, Italian-looking man approach. "Mansetti! It's been a long time, hasn't it?"
"Sure has. You still working Vice?”
“Nah. Major Case. Been off the street corners for four years, now. But I see you’re still pimpin’?”
Mansetti preened a bit in his too-sharp street clothes. “Always. Hey, if you ever want back in, give me a call. You too, pretty lady,” he said, eyeing Meg. She gave him a stony glare. He coughed and looked back at Paterson.
“We should let you get back to...whatever,” she said.
"Yeah, sure. I'll see you around, Sam. We should grab a beer sometime, talk about the old days."
Sam smiled, a smile of singular sadness. “Yeah, we should.”
Meg waited until they were out of earshot before beginning her interrogation. "You worked with him?"
Sam tucked a piece of hair behind her ear. "Joe Mansetti? That's right. He was arresting back then – I guess they figured he’s better on the street. We were working together when I met Tommy. Actually, Joe introduced us to each other. Look how well that worked out.”
“That’s Nicole’s father?”
“Yeah. He was a cop, too. Working Homicide on the South Side.”
"I’m sorry," Meg said, feeling vaguely guilty for dragging the story out in front of a busy public building. “I didn’t mean to pry.” The other woman shrugged.
"Nah. It’s ancient history," she said, pulling open the front door. "I knew what happens when you date a cop, much less marry one. Especially when you're one yourself."
"It doesn't have to be that way. Maybe you just need to find the right cop."
"There is no 'right cop'. I'm thirty-five. It's time for me to realize that and go find myself a really sexy green grocer. And it’d be nice if he’d waltz into my life sometime before I retire." Sam shrugged off her sadness and went to speak to the Desk Sergeant.
Meg wanted to say something to her friend, but even after knowing the other woman for months, it was hard to adjust to the whole “friends confide in each other” aspect. She couldn’t bring herself to tell Sam that as far as doomed relationships went, Meg understood perfectly. But not only had she not told Sam that, she hadn’t even mentioned Fraser to her by name.Sam, meanwhile, was marveling over how little the precinct had changed. It still smelled like sweat and coffee and vague desperation, and the scuffmarks on the walls were familiar. The cappuccino machine being rolled down the hallway, however...that was new. She looked at it curiously before strolling up to the desk. "Hi!" Sam said to the man sitting behind it, with more energy than she felt. The previous late night was beginning to take it's toll. "I'm looking for the Detective in charge of this case number—“ she said, showing him a page from her notebook. "Is he in right now?"
The middle-aged black man nodded wisely. "Oh yeah. That'd be the monk murder. Kowalski's handling that." He pointed her towards the double doors to his left. "Just look for the guy with the hair. Can't miss 'em."
"Thanks." The redhead turned to find Meg. To her surprise, she found her partner standing half-hidden behind a large plastic potted tree.
"Em, everything alright?"
Meg jumped. She couldn't help it. "Um, of course. Why wouldn't it be?"
"You tell me."
"Tell you what, Sam?"
"Why it wouldn't - oh, never mind. C'mon. Desk Sarge says they've got a Detective Kowalski handling the Cole murder - Meg, are you sure you're okay? You look kinda pale."
"I'm fine," Meg assured her, swallowing loudly. "Just - maybe I'm coming down with something."
"Do you want to wait in the car? I can take you home after I see this joker."
"Joker? I thought we were looking for a monk?"
Sam closed her eyes briefly in exasperation. "Meg."
"I'll go with you," Meg said with more decisiveness in her voice. "Besides, you wouldn't taste the box. Maybe I could be of some assistance."
Was that a joke? Sam had known the Mountie for a while, but Meg's sense of humor still caught her by surprise. "I'm sure we can use whatever you've got. Major Case is right through here."
"Yes. It is," Meg replied.
"Been almost five years since I was back here," Sam mussed, side-stepping a handcuffed miscreant. "I wonder if anyone I know is still here?"
"Mansetti is," Meg offered.
"Yeah. Mansetti. Surprised he even remembered me."
They were approaching the bullpen. Meg's palms started to sweat.
Mercifully, the desk ordinarily occupied by Francesca Vecchio was empty. She continued, passing Huey and Dewey in mid-joke.
"And so the duck says--" Huey was saying.
Neither of them recognized her. She had let her hair grow out after returning from her undercover assignment; it shielded her face, and her plodding steps were nothing like her usual business-like stride. Of course, she knew from experience that once the two of them got started on a joke, it would take a large explosion to get their attention. That meant she'd already dodged one bullet - so to speak.
Fifteen feet from Kowalski's desk. His back was facing them, and he was talking on the phone while tapping out a hyperactive beat on his desk with a pencil. Fraser was nowhere in sight.
Ten feet. He seemed to be wrapping up the conversation. Meg took a deep bracing breath and then locked eyes with a large white wolf, which had cornered a man holding a box of milk duds.
Eight feet to go and the Mountie lost her nerve. Not only was she certain that Kowalski would make hell over her being here, he would tell Fraser. And then she would have to admit to her behavior of the last few months. Sure, Fraser would understand - but he understood everything. But as for the rest of her acquaintances...it would never be the same. Sam, for example, would always be watching her for signs...
Meg abruptly changed direction and fled, Diefenbaker hot on her heels.
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