Bruce’s tire rubbed the curb as he parked his faded blue Ford Focus. A group gathered around one of the city’s many ice-encased fountains. A body slumped over the short wall at the fountain’s base. 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 leather wool-lined coat and stepped out of the car. The vapor of his breath shimmered in the pale morning light. 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 brunette in her thirties responded. “Officers Jones and Green.”
Bruce walked up and gave the blue and ice-covered victim a cursory look. His dirty, ragged clothing clung frozen to his body, but he 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 veteran 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 answered. “If anyone saw anything, they were gone before we got here.”
Bruce shook his head and returned to John’s cold corpse. There was a small bruise at the base of John’s neck, no larger than a fingertip.” Jennifer interrupted Bruce’s investigation.
“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’s body 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. Are you sure there wasn’t anyone else around when you got here?”
“Just the gawkers.”
“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, statues of children stood frozen in time. 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. 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 with another guy. I can’t remember his name, but he had a dog.”
Both officers shook their heads. Jennifer asked, “Is there an important reason? 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. I’m surprised we don’t find more homeless people that are dead in this weather.”
Bruce responded. “No. John didn’t die from the elements. I believe I know the killer.”
Jennifer asked. “Where is he?”
Bruce answered, “Nearby.”
Frank asked, “Should we call for 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, dirty mutt. The man’s matted hair was hard to decipher from the ragged brown quilt that covered him. His face remained hidden; his sobs muffled.
Bruce knelt. “Hey, do you remember me? I used to talk to John.”
A muffled voice responded without looking up. “I knew you would find me.”
John asked, “Do you mind looking at me?”
“I don’t want to.” The man’s angry voice muttered. “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 do 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 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 horsing around. 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 John’s hand away.
“Don’t touch me! Don’t ever touch me!”
Bruce pulled back his hand. “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 handheld radio. “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. An ambulance is 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 have 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. John kicked me in the balls. I hate it when people do that. He was standing there laughing, so I shoved him. He stumbled backward into the fountain and hit the 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 ambulance arrived. 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.”
As the ambulance doors closed, Herb muttered, “I need to tell John I’m leaving.”
Bruce answered, “It’s okay, he knows.”