Bruce pulled alongside the curb in his dark blue Focus. A group gathered around one of the cities many fountains. The waterfall in the back glistened with ice made by the flowing water. A body hung partly in the shallow pond, and partly over the short wall holding back the water. Two officers attempted to keep the small crowd away from the crime scene. What a way to start my week thought Bruce.
He buttoned his wool coat and stepped out of the car. Bruce swore he saw his breath crystallize in the frigid air. All eyes turned to the detective as he walked up to the crime scene.
Bruce reached into his coat pocket and clipped on his id badge. He introduced himself to the officers. “Detective Bruce Sanchez.”
A female officer in her thirties responded. “Officers Jennifer Jones and Frank Green.”
Bruce walked up close to the body and had a cursory look. It had turned blue and ice crystals coated what skin wasn’t under the water. The victim appeared to be a young man. His dirty layered clothing clung frozen to his body. Detective Sanchez recognized the back of the man’s head and his outfit. He was a homeless man Bruce had talked to from time to time when he was in the city for lunch. “Damn.” The detective muttered.
“Excuse me, sir?” asked officer Jones?
Bruce turned to her and said, “I knew him. His name was John. He was a vet with five tours under his belt. Poor guy. He was fighting a lot of demons but making headway. I guess they caught up with him before he could escape. Did you question the crowd to see if anyone saw anything?”
Officer Jones nodded. “We did, but everyone here now is just an office worker on their way into their job. Dispatch got a call around 6 am this morning. Officer Green and I were sent to the scene. We found the victim alone in the fountain at that time.”
Bruce shook his head and returned to John’s cold corpse. Ice had already started to form around the edges of his upper torso and neck where they met the water. There was a small bruise at the base of John’s neck, no larger than a finger.” Jennifer interrupted Bruce’s investigation of the body.
“Excuse me, Detective. Don’t you think he just passed out drunk into the fountain? If he didn’t drown, the hypothermia would have taken him before he had a chance to do anything.”
Bruce had considered that idea the moment he arrived at the crime scene and saw the body. He looked back at John and glanced at his lifeless shell. The detective turned back to the officer and answered. “Normally, that would be my guess, but I knew John. He didn’t drink. John used to say if he drank too much the dead would haunt him all night long. Are you sure there wasn’t anyone else around when you got here?”
“Not a soul.”
“Did dispatch mention who called 911?”
Officer Green looked over his shoulder and answered. “It was anonymous.”
Bruce nodded and turned his attention back to the fountain. The Medical Examiner’s team arrived. The detective stepped back and slowly panned across the area. Inside the shallow water sat children’s statues. Icicles hung from their fingers, noses, and ears. A thin coating of frozen water encased the pond, save where John lay dead. The morning sun broke between two skyscrapers and frozen crystals gleamed in their glory. Bruce nodded. Officers Green and Jones retreated over to a patrol car and prepared to leave now that relief had arrived. Bruce walked back over to the pair.
“Excuse me. Neither of you saw anyone else? John used to hang around another guy. I can’t remember his name, but he had a dog.”
Both officers shook their heads. Jennifer asked, “Is there a reason that’s important? Isn’t it possible he tripped and fell in? Hitting the water in this inclement weather would kill anybody.”
Bruce shook his head. “No. I can say without reservation that it’s murder or manslaughter.”
Frank chimed in. “No offense, but how can you possibly know that? There isn’t a sign of struggle, it doesn’t appear anybody went through his clothing. Personally, I think it’s more surprising we don’t find more homeless people have died on the street. It’s almost never this cold here.”
Bruce responded. “No. John definitely didn’t trip. I think I know where the killer is.”
Jennifer asked. “Do you need backup?”
Bruce shook his head. “No, he won’t be any trouble.”
Detective Sanchez shoved his gloved hands in his coat and walked two blocks to the men’s shelter. The tightly closed door protected those in need against the cold. He turned down the street next to the building and made his way to the rear. The detective found a homeless man covered in a tattered brown wool blanket and huddled against a large mutt. The man sat weeping.
Bruce knelt. “Hey, do you remember seeing me talking to John?”
A muffled voice responded without looking up. “I knew you would find me.”
“Please look at me.” The detective requested.
“No.” muttered his angry voice. “I don’t need to see you, I’m too ashamed. John told me he had made friends with a cop. He said you were helping him fight his demons.”
“That’s right. Want to tell me how you killed John with that statue in the fountain?”
The man’s bloodshot, glazed over eyes appeared above his blanket. “How did you know that? Did John tell you? Is he alive?”
“No,” Bruce said in a whispered tone. “I saw the bruise at the base of John’s neck. The pointing bronze boy near the edge of the pond had ice missing from its index finger.”
The man began to rock back and forth, and he nodded his head. “You are a smart one, John was right, he was right. We were just horse playing. You know, wrestling. John said it would keep us ready should trouble come. It was an accident, just an accident.”
“I know.” Bruce reached over to console the man and a hand flew out from under the blanket and slapped his hand away.
“Don’t touch me! Don’t you ever touch me!”
Bruce folded his hands and rested his arms on his thighs. “Okay. What’s your name? John never said.”
“Herb, folks call me Herb.”
“Okay, Herb. You know I have to take you in.”
Herb nodded his head furiously. “I know. I know. I just don’t want anybody touching me.”
Bruce slid out his cell phone and called dispatch. “I need an ambulance to come to the 2900 block of West Street behind the men’s shelter.”
Dispatch responded the EMTs were on their way.
Bruce spoke softly. “Herb, do you trust me?”
Herb moved his head all the way out of his blanket and spoke. “I suppose so. John trusted you, so I guess you’re okay.”
“Good. Listen to me. I sent for an ambulance. They are going to take you to the hospital and get you checked out. You’ll get a warm bed, some food, and probably some medicine.”
“No!” Herb yelled. “I don’t want nobody touching me!”
Bruce shook his head. “No Herb, it can’t be like that. I know you didn’t mean to kill John, you were just wrestling, but I must take you in. I don’t want to arrest you and things get ugly. I promise to go with you to the hospital, but you have to trust me.”
Herb stopped rocking and nodded his head. “Yea, yea, I can trust you, John did. I’ll do it.”
“Good.” Said Bruce. “One other thing. How did John die wrestling?”
“Like I was saying, we were wrestling. He kicked me in the balls. I hate it when people do that. He was standing there laughing so I shoved him. He stumbled backward and the back of his head or something hit that statue. He fell in the water passed out. I tried to pull him out, but he’s too heavy, just too heavy. So, I ran.” Herb started to cry again.
Before Bruce could stop himself, he put his arm around Herb. This time Herb didn’t fight him.
“I trust you, Bruce, I can trust you.” He quickly muttered between his sobs. “My dog, will you take care of my dog?”
The detective thought for a moment. He remembered his brother’s farm and smiled. “I know just the place, what’s the dog’s name?”
“John” Herb muttered.
The wail of the ambulance quickly increased to its deafening tone and stopped short of the men.
Bruce stood up and stopped the EMTs. “I have this one. We just need a ride. Oh, and the dog comes too. I’ll take care of the animal after we get to the hospital.”
The EMTs looked at one another and the older one spoke. “Okay, but the dog rides in the front.”
The men and animal quickly loaded themselves into the ambulance and then sped off to safety.