Guilty by Association
Erik knew that it wasn't going to be a good day when it started before dawn, only a few hours after he'd finally managed to fall asleep.
"What?" he growled into his ringing cell phone, too sleepy to bother checking the Caller ID to see who it was. The phone had almost hit the floor before he'd caught it, fumbling around in the dark to find it where he'd laid his cell on his nightstand.
"Sorry," he heard through the phone, immediately recognizing his partner's voice. "But I just got the call. They want us to come in."
"Any reason why?" Erik grumbled, groping around to flick on the bedside lamp. He squinted against the sudden intrusion of light and cursed under his breath. Thankfully, his partner knew to ignore it.
"Why they called me?" Darwin asked. "Maybe because they didn't want to deal with your sparkling personality."
Erik snorted into the phone. "Why did they call us in, Muñoz, instead of letting whoever is on duty handle it?"
"Oh." Darwin sighed, a sound that carried through the connection. "There's been another murder. It looks like it might be related to the Tabram case. I'm on my way to the scene now."
It was Erik's turn to sigh, his mind shaking off the last vestiges of sleep as he climbed out of bed, untangling himself from the covers. "Text me the address and I'll meet you there."
"Will do," Darwin said. "And bring coffee."
There was a dial tone in his ear before Erik could growl at Darwin's parting request and he dropped the phone on his rumpled sheets as he searched around for something clean and presentable to wear to yet another crime scene. He eventually found a pair of slacks and a mostly clean button-down, which might've been the ones he'd just shrugged off a few hours before. Erik didn't bother to do more than run a hand through his hair before he pulled his gun from the bedside table, grabbed his keys and badge from the kitchen table and headed out the door, just as his phone beeped a notification that he'd received a text.
He did stop for coffee, but only because he wouldn't be able to function himself without a jolt of caffeine, not when he was running on less than three hours of sleep. Once he had a cup in his hand, Erik checked the address Darwin had sent and pointed his car toward the Bronx. The intersection that was his destination was familiar to him, if only because it was less than five blocks from where they'd found Martin Tabram less than two weeks before, a murder in his case load that still remained unsolved thanks to a paucity of evidence that drove Erik insane. While Erik wanted to catch whoever had cut the kid open and left him lying in an alley, he didn't like the fact that his chance might come because of someone else's death.
Once he got within the vicinity of the crime scene, the flashing lights and loitering uniforms led him the rest of the way. As he got out of his car, he noticed Darwin standing at the edge of the police tape, obviously waiting for him. Despite the late -- or early -- hour and the unexpectedness of the call, Darwin looked as collected as ever, hands buried in the pockets of his long coat.
"Here," Erik said in lieu of an actual greeting, shoving the second Styrofoam cup of coffee at him.
"Hey, you heard," Darwin said, accepting the cup. "Thanks." Erik's mood must've shown on his face because Darwin rolled his eyes as he took a quick sip of the hot brew, wincing a little as if it might've been a little too hot. "Don't give me that attitude. You weren't the only one unhappy to get yanked out of bed. Alex wasn't exactly thrilled about it either."
"Alex?" It took Erik a moment to place the name, frowning as he did so. "Oh, yeah. I keep forgetting you're dating that flack."
"Well, it's only been a year," Darwin said dryly, his sarcasm so faint someone else might've missed it. Erik knew that, too, but it didn't seem like particularly pertinent information at something close to 4AM. "And that 'flack' is heading up a pretty prestigious re-election campaign, especially for someone his age."
Erik ducked under the police tape and motioned for Darwin to follow him. He was about to tell his partner that he didn't really care about his boyfriend's job before curiosity got the better of him. "Which campaign is that?"
"Governor Shaw's," Darwin replied, which brought Erik up short.
"Shaw?" he asked, in the same tone someone might've said "the devil," which wasn't a bad comparison in Erik's mind. "Really?"
"I'm not dating him for his political beliefs," Darwin said.
"No, I'm sure it's for his keen legal mind," Erik shot back, recalling another conversation where Darwin had referred to his boyfriend as pre-law.
"Among other things," Darwin deadpanned, which brought a grin to Erik's face. "Anyway," Darwin continued. "Do you want to know about our vic or not?"
Erik nodded, taking another gulp from his coffee. "Let's hear it."
"Uniforms found the body a little after 3AM, then called it in," Darwin said, not even bothering to check his notes. "It was those two over there -- Hanson and Penhall. Anyway, Azazello responded but when they saw how much it looked like the Tabram case, the Captain told him to call us in."
Erik nodded again. "Can we take a look around?"
"Yeah, CSU said to head over whenever," Darwin said. "Come on."
One of the things Erik liked best about having Armando Muñoz -- Darwin, as the nickname went -- as a partner for the last three years was that he had quickly come to understand that there was only so much bullshit Erik could take on any given day, and Darwin had seamlessly set himself up to deal with as much of it as he could to save everyone from Erik's explosive temper. It was a good system, one that had earned them a lot more goodwill from the rest of the precinct, even where Erik had thought he'd lost it long ago.
It also kept the Captain off Erik's back just that much more, something he was certainly grateful for. They had enough problems when he wasn't pissing off the rest of the department.
The scene he found was eerily reminiscent of the last one: the body was messily sprawled out far enough down the alley that it wouldn't attract immediate attention from passers-by, on its back so that the messy array of stab wounds to the stomach was clearly visible even as Erik approached. The victim was still clothed, like Tabram had been, wearing jeans and a wife-beater. His own practiced eye told Erik that their victim wasn't quite as young as Tabram had been, probably closer to his mid-20s than his late teens.
"Any ID?" Erik asked, the question directed at Darwin.
It was the young ME, Dr. McCoy, who answered, however. "None of that I found upon cursory examination," he said, not even bothering to look up from where he examined the body. "His pockets are empty and CSU didn't find anything in the immediate vicinity."
"Same as Martin Tabram," Darwin noted.
"Hopefully, fingerprints will help with that," McCoy said. He finally glanced up at Erik. "If it's all right with you, Detective, I'm ready to get him out of here."
"Just give me a minute, McCoy," Erik said.
The ME shrugged, straightening to stand next to Darwin and give Erik the room he needed to make his own perusal of the scene. He heard Darwin's low "Thanks, Hank" to McCoy, but he ignored it, his entire attention focused on the unfortunate young man who ended up on the wrong side of a knife.
All the broad details read like the Tabram case, a fact that Erik didn't like one bit. If the smaller details lined up as well, there was a chance that this was someone who might keep killing and that was the last thing he wanted to see happen. He knew some other cops didn't necessarily feel that way about the prostitutes like Tabram and maybe their new victim, but Erik didn't make that kind of differentiation in his head; victims deserved justice, no matter who they were.
"Thanks, McCoy," he said after a moment, moving away. "He's all yours."
Erik didn't wait to see what McCoy did next before he headed off toward the uniforms that Darwin had pointed out earlier. "Let's see if we can get something out of these guys," he said, nodding toward Hanson and Penhall.
Officers Hanson and Penhall, it turned out, weren't very interested in being helpful when they'd already made up their minds about the victim and dismissed his murder as just "one of those things." It took every ounce of patience Erik had to grit his teeth and make it through the interview with them.
"Just start from the top," he ground out. "How did you find the vic?"
"We were doing a sweep for prostitutes," Hanson said. "There's usually some activity out here about then, you can usually find a few to cite. I flashed my torch down the alley, saw him lying there."
"It looks like we found one, just not the way we'd planned," Penhall added.
"Do you have any reason to assume the vic was working the street?" Erik asked.
Hanson shrugged. "Everyone on the beat knows about the boy you found a few weeks ago right down the street. Then we've got this guy, young, barely dressed, kinda pretty? It makes sense. He probably got rolled by a john, just like the last one."
"If you think of anything else, give us a call, okay?" Darwin cut in before anyone could say anything inflammatory. "You know where to find us."
Erik shot them one last dirty look before he walked off, Darwin on his heels. "What do you think?" Darwin asked.
"I think it does look a lot like Tabram, enough for Azazello, those bozos and Frost to notice," Erik admitted. "And I don't like that one damned bit. We're one pattern or victim from a serial and that's the last thing we need on the streets."
"We have even less to go on than we did with Tabram at the moment," Darwin added. "Hopefully, we'll get a hit on the vic's prints in the system and at least get a name."
"Yeah." Erik scrubbed a hand over his face. "I really wanted today to be better than yesterday."
"I had some plans that didn't involve freezing my ass off at a crime scene, too," Darwin said, half-humor, half-commiseration. "Them's the breaks."
"No shit," Erik said, earning a flash of a smile from his partner, white teeth against dark skin in the flashing blue light from one of the squad cars. "Let's head back to the precinct. We aren't going to get much done until we hear more from McCoy and CSU anyway."
"Right on," Darwin said. He might've been about to say more, but his phone beeped and Darwin stopped to check it.
"Anything interesting?" Erik asked.
"Not to you," Darwin told him, tucking the phone back into his pocket without answering the text. Erik noticed that the smile lingered on his partner's face. "Just something from Alex. Like I said, not happy about me slinking out of bed in the middle of the night."
"He'll get over it," Erik said as they reached his car. He started to fish around in his pocket for his keys.
"Yeah," Darwin agreed, "He will." He shot Erik a glance over his shoulder as he walked over to his own vehicle. "At least you don't have anyone waiting to bitch you out at home tonight."
Erik knew Darwin meant it as a positive, but Erik couldn't stop the pang it gave him to think of a time when he had had someone waiting at home, even if it was just so they could have yet another screaming match. Then he shook his head and decided he was definitely sleep-deprived if he was missing Magda.
"See you in a few," he called after Darwin before he drove off, his mind already turning away from his own dismal personal life and focusing on what was important: figuring out who had murdered Martin Tabram and what looked like a second young man as well.
At least Erik could be certain of one thing: it definitely wasn't going to be a good day.
When it looked like it would take the CSU team a few hours to get anything useful back to them, Erik caught a quick nap stretched out on the sofa in Frost's office, despite the fact that she often reminded him that her office and her furniture weren't there for his benefit. However, she didn't say anything to that effect when she woke up him mid-morning by smacking him over the head with the report he'd been waiting on from the crime scene guys.
"I think there's been enough sleeping on the job, Detective," she said, sliding around him to reach her desk chair. "Why don't you try working instead?"
Erik let out a little groan as he pulled himself into a sitting position, cracking his neck a little. "Damn this thing is bad on the joints."
"Probably because it's not made for detectives to use as their bed away from home," Frost reminded him as she opened a file on her desk.
"Cut a guy some slack, Emma," he said, standing up and stretching the kinks out of his back. "You gave me a whole three hours off duty before you called me back in."
She gave him a measuring look over the edge of the folder. "I know you'd want this one if it ends up related to the Tabram case," she said. "And I didn't want to hear you go off on Azazello if he worked the scene and did something you didn't like. Believe it or not, this was the best option."
"I know, I know," he said. "Just give me a few minutes."
"Exactly two," she told him. "Because I'm expecting an 11 o'clock call from the mayor that you really shouldn't be privy to."
Erik noticed the clock was ticking from 10:57 to 10:58, so he scooped up his report and left her to her call, cutting through the hubbub of the bullpen until he found Darwin hunched over his desk, phone tucked between his ear and his shoulder. He was scribbling as he listened so Erik didn't interrupt him, instead perching on the edge of his own desk to flip through the crime scene report. Its lack of usefulness was disheartening, but it wasn't the technicians' fault that an alleyway made for a messy crime scene. Dozens of probably unrelated prints had been picked up on the brick nearby, as well as footprints, cigarette butts, trash and other pieces of evidence that would most likely be ruled unrelated to their vic's case. It was their first dead end of the case and it didn't bode well for the rest of it.
"Yeah, yeah, gotcha," Darwin was saying as Erik tossed the file down in frustration. "Thanks, man. Let me know if you get anything, okay?" He let the phone receiver hit the cradle with a loud clack.
"That good, huh?" Erik asked, crossing his arms across his chest.
"Nothing so far on John Doe's prints," Darwin said. "It's not hopeful that they'll be a match at this point."
"But doesn't that probably rule out this vic being a prostitute?" Darwin asked. "I mean, Tabram had been brought in on solicitation a few times before, it's why we had his prints in the system."
"John Doe could be new to the game," Erik said. "But yeah, he might not be a pro at all. We just don't have enough information yet. The similarities to the Tabram case might prove to be incidental."
"But you don't think so."
Erik shrugged. "I don't know, but I definitely have a feeling about the crime scene. I can't put my finger on it, but..."
"Hank called a few minutes ago," Darwin informed him. "He's ready for us whenever we can make it down."
"Let's go," Erik said. "Everything else has been a bust. Maybe McCoy will have something."
If there was ever a person made to work in the bowels of the morgue, he was pretty sure it was Dr. Hank McCoy. Emma continually assured him that McCoy was young and brilliant, one of the most respected doctors in his field, and that they'd been lucky to lure him away from the FBI in the first place. When he'd asked how they'd accomplished that, she'd given him some song and dance about McCoy's personal reasons that may or may not have involved some girl he was in love with, but Erik hadn't been very interested by that point. Frankly, it didn't matter how many accolades the good doctor might have attached to his name, all Erik saw when he looked at McCoy was an extremely awkward and uncoordinated young man who still bore the emotional scars of a lifetime of teasing by his peers.
"McCoy!" he barked as he and Darwin swept into the morgue. "I'm here about my John Doe."
"I figured as much," McCoy said, poking his head out of his office. "I sent the prints up as soon as I could. Any luck?"
"None," Darwin answered. "We're hoping you'll turn that around for us."
"I'm not sure what I have will help without an ID," he admitted. He slipped his labcoat back on and gestured for the police officers to follow him toward one of the exam tables where their vic lay waiting.
"We'll take what you have," Erik told him.
McCoy nodded, slipped on his gloves before he began to point out his findings on the vic's body. "Some defensive wounds on the hands," he revealed, lifting John Doe's right hand. "I scrapped the nails and sent it to Trace for analysis." He gently laid down the victim's arm. "He took about five stab wounds to stomach and chest, although the first one did him in. The others were...overkill, maybe?" McCoy shook his head like he personally disagreed with the sentiment. "So far, I can tell you they were made with a long, very sharp blade, but I'll need more time for something definitive."
"How closely do they match the wounds in the Tabram case?" Erik asked.
"Generally similar, but I don't think the weapon was the same one," McCoy told him. "But there was overkill in that case, too, with closer to ten stab wounds. Do you think it's the same guy?"
"What do you think?" Darwin asked.
"I don't think it's the same weapon," McCoy said after a moment. "Whatever was used on Tabram had a shorter, dull blade. But if it's the same guy, he could've upgraded when it didn't do the job as cleanly as he liked the first time. Tabram had similar defensive wounds so they were both likely attacked from the front, head on."
"Victim shows signs of recent anal intercourse, but there was no semen," McCoy told him. "There is also some contusions and scratches that are more consistent with rough intercourse than a fight. The details are in my report, which I was about to email up to you guys."
"Another point for the prostitution angle," Darwin said. "He might've been working when he got jacked."
"Yeah," Erik agreed. "Which just means we run into that serial problem again." Turning to McCoy, he asked, "Anything else you noticed that might help with figuring out who he was?"
"He's got a star tattoo at the top of his left buttock, which isn't all that distinctive in the scheme of things, since apparently it's fairly common in gay porn circles." When McCoy noticed the looks he got from both Erik and Darwin, he flushed, fiddling with his glasses. "What? I Googled it!"
"Stop reading TheSword," Darwin advised mildly which only made McCoy turn a brighter shade of red.
"I'll need a photo to take around," Erik told him. "Can you get me one?"
"It's already printed out, just in case," McCoy told him, waving toward the printer in his office.
"Thanks, McCoy," Erik told him as he made a grab for the photo. "Let me know if you find anything else."
"Looks like you're going to be working the streets tonight, boss," Darwin teased as they made their way back to their desks.
"Shut up, Muñoz," Erik warned. "Or else I'll send you out to do the leg work."
"Never," Darwin laughed. "It reminds you of the old good days, mixing it up on the streets."
"The good old days working Vice?" Erik shook his head. "I don't remember any of those."
The rest of the day was spent chasing down reports and leads on other cases, as well as further exploring any links that might exist between Tabram and their newest murder victim. Nothing was immediately apparent other than the surface similarities and when no further developments were made on the issue of their victim's identity, Erik resigned himself to a night of walking the streets near the murder scenes and asking the working girls and boys if they recognized the victim. Considering it was his second night spent in such a way in less than a month, he wasn't surprised to see a few familiar faces among the scantily-clad women on the street corners, a few of whom remembered him in turn.
"Detective Lehnsherr," said a tall, thin woman who answered to Amber. She'd been fairly helpful when he'd come looking for information on Martin Tabram and he was hoping she'd be of similar aid on his newest case. Tonight she had added a truly obnoxious faux-leather jacket lined in leopard print over her boots and mini-dress. "Still looking for whoever cut up that boy?"
"I am," he told her. "But now I'm trying to find out about this man as well." He showed her the photo of the John Doe that McCoy had taken in the morgue. "Do you know who he is?"
"No," she said, leaning in closer. Her eyes widened. "Is he dead?"
"Unfortunately," he answered. "And I think who killed him might've killed Martin, too."
"Hey, Amber!" They both turned as another woman came from the shadows, her face dark and thunderous. "What the hell you doing, talking to that cop? And don't try to act like he ain't one because he looks it up and down."
"He's just asking some questions, Lexi," Amber told her. "He's not trying to make us."
Lexi looked younger than Amber, but harder, too, like life had been more unkind to her than it ought to have been. She had a mass of heavily teased red hair that haloed around her face, its artificial color even brighter under the orange glow of the streetlights. "Are you sure he ain't just sniffing around for some action and then he's going to slap the cuffs on us?" she demanded to know, with a glare in his direction. "He wouldn't be the first cop to come down here looking for a date."
"I'm just trying to find out if anyone knows this man right here," he told her, holding out the photo again. "Someone killed him last night and that's the only person I'm looking to slap into cuffs at the moment."
Lexi looked at him long and hard for a moment, until Amber hissed, "He's one of the nice ones, Lex, I promise. I told you he came around right after that other boy was killed."
"I just want some information, Lexi," Erik promised. "That's all."
"I don't know nothing," she finally said, her features softening. "But a few lights down -- there's three or four boys who work together, ever since the Martin kid got stuck. He might be one of them or they might know him."
"Thanks, Lexi," he said, hoping what passed for a smile on his face softened his features enough that she'd know she had nothing to fear from him. He pulled one of his cards from his pocket, just like the one he'd given Amber when they'd first met. "If you think of anything or see anything or just need some help, you call me, okay? Either me or Detective Muñoz."
He left the girls to their corner and headed in the direction that Lexi had pointed him, down a few blocks from where she and Amber plied their trade. He passed other suspicious girls working the street, and he noticed several cars slow down once he'd passed them by. He still hadn't seen any young men working and he was about to give up on Lexi's information when he finally spotted a pair of them in the dim light of a streetlamp. One was definitely dressed for action -- tight jeans, tight shirt, shivering in the cool air with nothing but a flannel over it -- but the other was better dressed, a heavy coat over slacks and a button-down. Erik would've taken him for a customer if not for the fact that, as he approached, the young man was doing something rather obscene to his own finger with his mouth in what Erik only assumed was some kind of mimicry of the skills he was offering.
"Is that how you advertise?" he asked before he could stop himself, and both young men whipped their heads around to look at him.
The first boy looked frightened, but the other one just gave him a flirty smile as he pulled his finger from his mouth, something bright and shiny clenched between his teeth, which he spit into his palm. "Can't say I've ever thought of it like that," he said, surprising Erik further by revealing a soft British accent to his words.
"You know there's been two murders in the area in less than a month," he told them, discreetly flashing his badge from where it was clipped to his belt.
"I've heard," the first one said, his eyes jumping between Erik and the second young man. "Just last night, right?"
"Right," Erik said. He pulled out the photo. "Do either of you know him?"
"No, never seen him," the first one said quickly, eyes still darting over to the second one whose gaze hadn't left Erik since he'd walked up. He was, in Erik's estimation, unusually brash compared to most of the hookers he met on the streets.
"And you?" Erik asked, holding the photo out to him.
The boy leaned in as if to study the photo more closely, bringing his face from the shadows and into the light. He had nice features, young, with tousled brown hair; his mouth was slick and red from his little finger-sucking stunt and it seemed ready to quirk up in another grin. "I don't know him, Officer," he said cheerfully. "Sorry."
"Detective," Erik automatically corrected him. "Do either of you know anything?"
The second one shook his head. "I'm as eager to find out something as you are."
"It's dangerous to be out, after what happened to this guy last night," Erik told them. "Why don't you both take the night off?"
"You're out here," the second one pointed out.
"I'm a cop," Erik reminded him. "I've got to do my job."
"So we're all in the same boat, then," he said, tugging the first one away from Erik with a hand on his arm. "My friend and I have some things to talk about, so if you'll excuse us?"
Something made Erik want to protest as he watched the pair head down the street together, but he knew that he couldn't save them all. With a sigh, he tucked his photo of John Doe back in his jacket and doubled back toward his car.End of Part 1