Vessel - Chapter III
Darryl absently moved the remainder of his food around the plate as he watched the news cast on the old TV. He was sitting in the same diner he had eaten lunch in every afternoon for nearly five years. The diner was close to his office and there were always cute waitresses to district him from his daily grind.
The small television that hung from the wall showed an attractive newscaster reporting on the most recent development in sci-natal technology. It seemed that doctors believed they could now locate and eliminate certain genetic triggers that increased a person’s risk of cancer.
The report flashed to a portly scientist dressed in a stereotypical lab coat blabbering excitedly about the significance of this advancement. The scientist was followed by an older clip of a young man in a priest’s collar warning of the dangers of sci-birthing and the loss of God in the process. A roundtable of reporters then began discussing the virtues and pitfalls of sci-birthing.
Darryl smiled to himself. ‘pitfalls of sci-birthing,’ it was a ridiculous concept. Darryl himself was product of sci-birthing. He had never been sick a day in his life, his IQ was far above average and he was in fantastic shape for a man his age. The only danger Darryl saw was the danger of being too good!
A curvy brunette roused him from his thoughts as she walked past him. Nicky had been working at the diner for nearly three months, she had to be Darryl’s favorite. Her uniform fit snuggly in all the right places and she often left one extra button undone. Darryl was confident that this was done to purposefully draw his attention - it worked.
“Was everything alright Darryl?” Nicky asked in her chipper voice. Darryl knew she did not make an effort to know all the regular’s names. She went out her way with him.
“Of course it was,” Darryl smiled, “Now when are you going to let me take you to a real restaurant for dinner?”
Nicky shot him a bashful smile, “You know I live with my boyfriend!” She slapped him playfully on the shoulder and continued on to her other tables. Darryl rolled his eyes with frustration. He’d seen her boyfriend and Darryl wasn’t impressed. The guy was an artist of some sort, far from Darryl’s caliber. Nicky should have been flattered that a guy like Darryl was so interested.
Darryl watched the buxom girl as she tended to another table of one. An elderly man flirted with her openly. The man wore a bright green sweater and medical style beige shoes. Darryl was shocked to see Nicky sit with him and hold one of his decrepitly, gnarled hands. The two laughed as they shared some inside joke. How was this possible, Nicky had never sat with Darryl or held Darryl’s hand. She was obviously just making the old fart feel good, but it was disgusting to watch her fawn over him. Darryl sneered at the sight of the two.
The old man laughed loudly at a few whispered words from Nicky. Darryl fumed. He could not rationalize why he was so angry, but he was. The old man had to be at least ninety, NINETY! This was inconceivable. What did the codger think he was going to do? Pop three Viagra and pray he got it up? Disgusting! The thought of this frail old coot lying on top of Nicky huffing away made Darryl’s stomach roil.
Shaking his head Darryl attempted to clear his rising ire. It was silly, why did this bother him? Nicky laughed once more then rose from the booth seat. The old man stood slowly and gave her a kiss on the cheek. She laughed again and playfully pinched his weathered jowl. Grabbing his coat and cane the man hobbled out of the diner. Nicky walked past Darryl and winked at him. Slut!
Darryl watched the old man walk by the window and head down the block. Throwing a twenty on the table Darryl quickly slid out the door and strode in the same direction.
The dimly lit hallway of the small apartment building was filled with uniformed officers and forensics analysts. Police tape cordoned off an area in front of one apartment door restricting access to the crime scene. Harker pushed past a few cops who nodded amicably at the senior detective. A tattered trench coat stretched across his broad shoulders, an old paisley tie hung from his unbuttoned shirt collar. Harker entered the apartment where more officers were logging evidence from the crime scene. Crime Scene Unit investigators snapped off countless pictures, flashes lit the confined room.
Near the kitchen Harker found his partner. A tall woman in a crisp navy pant suit was speaking Spanish to a smaller, bald man. A badge and sidearm hung from her belt. The bald man was clearly upset as he waved his arms and spoke rapidly in his native dialect.
“What’s the story Ostrich?” Harker asked the female detective. Maureen Ostrowski was a stunner. Tall, leggy with blazing red hair, she belonged on a runway, not at a crime scene. At the sight of Harker and the sound of the unappreciated nickname the female detective scowled. Harker smiled.
“Just like you to show up after the work has been done,” Ostrowski shot back.
“If you haven’t closed the folder on this, the work has hardly been done,” Harker barked flatly.
Ostrowski pointed to a body on the floor. An old man in a green sweater lay on his back. Blood pooled around his head. The man’s limbs lay askew where he had fallen.
“Mr. Ruiz,” Ostrowski motioned at the Hispanic man who began muttering angrily, “is the super here. He found our DOA when he heard a commotion. By the time Ruiz got here, the killer was gone and Mr. Phillips here was dead,” Ostrowski explained.
“Blunt force trauma to the back of the poor guy’s head,” a voice behind the two detectives said. Ostrowski and Harker turned around to see a short, pudgy man in a Crime Scene Unit windbreaker.
“The weapon?” Harker questioned.
“It was something big, heavy and no longer on the premises,” the fat man said shaking his head. “The old fella never even saw his killer. From the position of the body and the proximity to the door, the killer probably followed Mr. Phillips in and grabbed the weapon and cracked him in one foul swoop.”
“That all?” asked Harker.
“Not quite,” the CSU Investigator sighed. He rubbed his thick hands over his fleshy face. “Without disturbing the body too much, I was able to estimate that the killer hit him a few more times about the cranium just for good measure. Who ever did this, really did not like the deceased.”
Harker turned back to Ostrowski then pointed to Mr. Ruiz, “He have anything useful to contribute?”
Ostrowski shook her head, “He said Phillips was a quiet, friendly old man. Kept to himself but always had a smile. No relatives to speak of, he had a steady routine that he rarely broke.”
Harker rubbed the few days of brown-gray stubble on his jaw, “A man with a routine is easy to track, let’s follow his day step-by-step and see what we learn.”
Ostrowski presented a sheet of paper. A numbered list was scrawled across it. “Way ahead of you. It seems Mr. Phillips ate lunch at a local diner every day. It would have been the last place he visited before coming home.”
The big detective smiled at the thoroughness of his comely partner. “Well, I haven’t had lunch today, have you?”
The two detectives left building, Harker noticed Ostrowski was quietly studying a small note pad she had pulled from her inner jacket pocket. She must have sensed him watching her because she shot him a sheepish glance then grabbed him by his big arm. The two stopped in the middle of the sidewalk, the tall red head turned to face the hulking detective.
“Just hear me out,” she started.
“Jesus, Ostrich, not this again!” Harker shouted as he raised his hands in disbelief.
“Stacy Harker! I’ve put up with your paramilitary bullshit for five years, the least you can do for me is entertain my wild hypotheses!” As much as Ostrawski loathed being called ‘Ostrich’, Harker hated his first name even more. Most who called him ‘Stacy’ found themselves bruised and beaten, only Ostrich and his mother got away with it. Harker sighed heavily then hung his head.
“All I’m saying is that there have been 8 violent deaths in the past 3 months. We’ve never seen this much action.”
Harker glanced up at the other detective whose jaw was set defiantly. “Each of these deaths have been totally unrelated, totally random,” He groaned. “We’ve beaten this horse to death, now we’re just pissing on its corpse.”
Ostrich wrinkled her nose, he loved disgusting her. “Nice dude, I’ve never peed on any animal, alive or dead. But what I have done is solved murders. We’ve had a 96% close rate up until these murders started three months ago.”
“Nothing started!” Harker shouted in frustration. “There is no pattern, none, zero! If we go back to the brass with some wild theory and start screaming serial killer, they’ll string us up!”
“Maybe the lack of a pattern is the pattern!” She pleaded. Harker enjoyed watching her try to weave her theories together, but she had been chasing this wild goose for nearly three months. “And I’m not saying it’s a serial killer, I’m just saying that where there’s smoke, there’s fire.”
“Now you’re not even making sense,” he whined. “And I am starving...and my head hurts, at least bore me with your Sherlock Holmes act over a greasy cheeseburger.”
“Fine!” She shouted, “But you’re paying.”
Harker shrugged his big shoulders, “anything to keep you quiet for five minutes.”