He'd seen many, many dead bodies, and Detective Syd Patterson knew he'd see many more. Homicide was a foul and ugly business, after all. Patrol Officer Street had given him the details - the husband had discovered that the kitchen entrance was locked, and when he tried to open the window, it was locked too. But he could his wife lying on the floor. The kitchen door had been propped open when the husband had left to run an errand - at least according to the husband.
It was a shame. According to the husband, they had just been married four months before and were expecting a kid in another six. Robin Barnes, the housewife's name was, just twenty-four years old and widowed before. It was not impossible that it was a suicide, but he'd know more about that when he looked at the scene.
The police officers had at least been careful not to touch anything until the coroner came, apart from the door they'd touched, and a quick feel for the pulse. Syd was aware of the new ways of doing things, and he approved. After all, if they missed a clue, the case might never be solved.
"Let me speak to the husband," Syd said. "Get a bit more detail."
The husband, Fred - "Short for Frederick," Street had told him - was standing a short distance away, clearly shaken. Syd knew grief showed up in many forms, and it was a relief to see the husband that way. Made it less likely that he was the one who did it - though not impossible. Realizing one killed one's wife might make one shake too. He'd seen suspects who had done just that.
"Sorry for your loss. Got a few more questions for you," he said, without much preamble.
"I'll answer... as best I can, at least."
"Do you know who might have a grudge against your wife?" Syd asked. "Bad enough to want to kill her?"
Mr. Barnes shook his head. "Robin knew the neighbors better than I did. She was a sweetheart, so I can't imagine anyone would. She has been a bit melancholy lately, though. Maybe she killed herself, though she knows that you don't go to heaven if you do that...."
That was how things went. The victims either had too many enemies, or none, and some of them were suicides despite religion and law. "Just in case it wasn't suicide, where were you during this time? Can anybody say that they saw you?"
"The clerk at McCrory's could vouch for me, as could their supervisor. They couldn't find my wife's order at first. I don't know if the bus drivers would remember me, though maybe they remember me lugging the box on the way home." Mr. Barnes motioned at a box with the McCrory Department Store's name on it. "It's heavy - don't try to lift it. I didn't want to."
Syd decided that was a good idea. "Thank you, and sorry again for your loss."
It was going to be a long investigation, he could tell, unless they got lucky and found a lead quickly. He headed over to Street and another officer - nametag said Harrell. "Street, you go up and down the neighborhood. Maybe someone heard or saw something. Harrell, go down to the McCrory's Department Store and see if there's any record of Mr. Barnes picking up a parcel. Who else is available?"
"Officer Pond and Officer Callahan, sir," Street told him. "Officer Tatum's waiting for the Medical Examiner."
Jenkins, their medical examiner, was good and Syd liked him. "Let me know when he gets here."
Coming back to the crime scene, Syd pulled on his gloves before examining the room. There was newspaper scattered around from the door from when the policemen had to force it open, and the door into the house was also jammed with newspaper - they'd have to see if it was from the same newspaper, just in case. Maybe for weapons there was a heavy rolling pin, and they'd have to see if there were any fingerprints that didn't belong to the victim, the same for the iron sitting there. There was a glass on the butcher board - was it the victim's, or did Robin have a visitor? If she'd let them in and was chatting with them, that meant that it wasn't a stranger.
There wasn't blood pooling around the victim, nor were there bloodstains on the walls as far as Syd could tell. The iron and the rolling pin didn't seem out of place, so maybe the perp had brought the weapon with them and taken it from the scene. The tablecloth was askew on the table, which meant that whoever did the crime probably climbed through the window on the way out. There was a pin sitting on the windowsill, but the husband had said it was locked - he'd check it later, after any fingerprints were lifted.
All the immediate clues pointed towards someone who had known the victim, and that the victim had known. If they'd clubbed her from behind then they would have had to catch her fall as well. Probably a visitor, because the husband would have known that you put dirty dishes on the counter, not the butcher block. That was the way Syd's wife worked, anyway. He'd have gotten an earful if he'd left a glass where it wasn't supposed to be.
Dr. Jenkins arrived as he was examining the room. Syd stepped aside so that he could look at the victim. "No blood," the coroner said after lifting the victim. "Looks like there might be some blunt force trauma to the back of the head - I'll know more when I do the autopsy."
"Thanks," Syd said. "Look like carbon monoxide poisoning to you?"
"It's likely, given the gas. Could be suicide, could be homicide. As I said, I'll know more after the autopsy."
Jenkins was always reserved with his opinions, but that meant that he didn't jump to them. As they stood there, Dr. Jenkins' assistants came in to remove the body. There would soon be someone in to dust the area for fingerprints, too, and then the iron, the glass, and the rolling pin could be removed for evidence.
"Detective Patterson! Got a possible witness for you." Street was standing at the door.
"Thanks. I'll be right there. Doc, anything else you need?" Syd asked.
"No, I'll get back to the station and get started. I'll let you know anything I find out," Jenkins told him.
Letting Jenkins surveyed the scene, Syd headed out and went over to Street. "Where's the witness?"
"Right there. Woman in the brown blouse. Edna Evans, next door neighbor." Street pointed over to where the woman was. The scene had gathered quite a crowd, including news photographers and reporters. Syd ignored the reporters and went up to Edna. Lifting the tape, he said, "Mrs. Evans? Come with me."
Syd took her out of earshot of the crowd and made sure she was out of earshot of Mr. Barnes. "Robin was a sweet woman," Mrs. Evans said without Syd's prompting. "I'm sure Fred is saying that she took her own life. She'd never do that! She wanted to go to heaven."
"I understand," Syd said, opening his notebook. "Officer Street said you had some information for me?" Hopefully more than what she'd just told him.
"Well, Fred and Robin have been fighting a lot lately - or at least Fred's been yelling a lot lately. I barely heard Robin say a thing! He works night shift at the hospital, you know, and he sleeps during the day. Everything's too loud lately for him. I think he should go see a doctor himself! The stress was bad for Robin. My, she was telling me the other day that Fred doesn't listen to her! I don't think she's been even able to tell him about that broken latch!"
"Broken latch?" Syd echoed. If it was the window, and the window opened freely, then Mr. Barnes' story wasn't looking too good.
"Yes! Our windows have this latch like screen doors - you press a button to open the window. The kitchen latch broke last week, but Robin's been afraid to say anything. At least the pin still works as a backup. Did anything I say help?"
"Possibly," Syd told her. "Did she have any trouble opening the window?" Maybe the window had gotten stuck.
"Not that she mentioned to me," Mrs. Evans replied.
"Thank you. Now, did you see or hear anything today that might be relevant?"
"I heard a thump and then someone coughing up a storm about five in the direction of the kitchen door. Could be anything, though."
Could be anything, or could be nothing, though the thump was suspicious. Maybe, if victim had been murdered, the murder suspect had taken the weapon with them. "You sure about that time?"
"I set my clocks every Tuesday to the Time of Day service so I have everything ready for my husband and kids," Mrs. Evans said proudly.
And it was a Tuesday, Syd mused.
"Thank you, Mrs. Evans. Here's my card if you remember anything else." He pulled a card out of its holder and gave it to her.
Heading back to Mr. Barnes, he said, "I'd like to ask you more about what you saw when you returned from the department store. What did your wife order, incidentally?"
"A pickling crock," Mr. Barnes told him. "It's stoneware and she asked me to get it so she didn't have to haul it across town."
"I've never seen one of those," Syd said. Maybe the wife had one, but all he knew was that it had something to do with making preserves.
"Neither had I, before today. But to be honest, it's still in the box it came in." Mr. Barnes said, nodding at the bag. "Guess Robin's not going to need it, is she?"
"No." She definitely wouldn't. "Could you tell me more about when you arrived back home from McCrory's?"
"Sure." Mr. Barnes took a second before answering. "I'd just come home. I took the bag to the kitchen entrance because Robin had propped it before I left. But it was closed. I tried to open it, but I didn't have a key to fit. I called to Robin, but she didn't answer. Then I looked through the windows. Both of them were locked, but I saw Robin on the floor. I tried to get in through the house, but I couldn't, so that's when I called the police."
"The windows - are they tough to open?" Syd asked.
"No, but Robin keeps 'em locked. You can't open them from the outside, either of them. You couldn't really go through the smaller one anyway and I tried the bigger one, but the latch was locked."
Syd thought of what Mrs. Evans had said. "I'm going to have a man take you down to the station - we just have to make sure you had nothing to do with it - have to eliminate the close family in case it's a murder and not a suicide."
"I'd like to, but I've got work tonight," Mr. Barnes pointed out. "I work at Mercy Hospital downtown."
"I'm sure they'd understand," Syd said. "After all, your wife is dead. I will phone them myself when we get to the station." He didn't want to chance Mr. Barnes disappearing, which he might. Syd didn't get the impression that the man was stupid.
And if Dr. Jenkins' autopsy bore out that Robin Barnes was hit in the head, and there were no foreign fingerprints on the iron or the rolling pin, chances were that Fred Barnes was their best suspect. He could be lying about trying to come in the window, but that could just be the man's pride and not an actual indictment. They'd definitely have to test the bag, the box the pickle crock came in, and the pickle crock itself.
It would take time, and first, they'd have to fingerprint both the body and Mr. Barnes, but maybe he had something.
There might not be enough proof to convict Mr. Barnes of the crime. He was hoping that maybe there would be something the D.A. could use. He didn't want this to be a case where there just wasn't enough evidence to even try, because letting the perp get away was worse than anything else.
He summoned Street with a yell, and the officer came over. "Escort Mr. Barnes to the station - take the bag with him. I want it and its contents tested so that the D.A. can't say we weren't thorough."
"Right away, sir. Mr. Barnes, if you'll follow me?" Street asked.
"But the box? It hasn't even been in the house," Mr. Barnes said. "And remember to call my employer!"
"I'll handle that sir," Street said. He managed to escort Mr. Barnes into a cruiser, and then got in, driving off.
Syd watched them disappear, and then reentered the crime scene. The crime scene boys were working on it, and he approached the nearest one, Edwards "You dusted for fingerprints on the windowsill yet? I need to open it."
"Smith just did, sir," Edwards said, shrugging a shoulder at his partner.
"Free to open, sir," Smith added.
"Good. I'm going to open it from the outside," he said, as Edwards bagged the rolling pin. The iron had apparently already been bagged.
Syd went outside. If Mr. Barnes was the perpetrator - and assuming it wasn't a suicide - then his fingerprints would be on the windowsill anyway. Syd still was careful to stick his fingertips into the edges so that he wouldn't wipe any fingerprints off with his gloves accidentally.
It opened easily, Syd only raising it an inch or two before letting go.
The autopsy was definitely going to be interesting. And critical. He headed to the morgue and to Jenkins. Hopefully there weren't too many cases before his, and Robin Barnes' autopsy would proceed quickly.
By the time he arrived, however, Mrs. Barnes' body was just on the table. "I can tell you that the victim was struck with something that fractured the skull," Jenkins said. "I won't be able to file a formal report - we've just taken photography of the victim - but if you feel the back of her head, the skull does not feel solid. We have yet to get her medical records, however."
"But it might be a homicide," Syd said. He knew he was leading Jenkins on, but it would give him more ammunition - especially if Fred Barnes was the killer.
"It's not impossible. The skull shows no signs of healing."
"Thank you, doctor." Definitely he'd have to talk to Fred. It would be interesting to see if he'd try to squirm out of it.
With that in mind, he headed back to the office. There was nothing preventing him from exaggerating things a little to get the husband to confess, and he intended to use that to his advantage.
He sighed. Maybe he’d get lucky. Maybe he wouldn’t. But he intended to keep going, because Robin Barnes deserved justice. Even if he couldn’t get it that day, he would get it someday.
Once Street had told him that Mr. Barnes was in interview room one, he headed inside. “Thank you for waiting, sir,” he said, folding his hands.
“It wasn’t like it was like I had a choice. My wife maybe kills herself and-”
“I know you’re grieving, Mr. Barnes,” Syd said, interrupting him. “And this isn’t easy. But we have to eliminate you as a suspect.”
“Who could have killed Robin? Everybody loved her! I love her! Loved her.”
“Someone didn’t,” Syd said. And maybe it was the person in front of him. “Someone hit her pretty hard – didn’t break the skin, but broke the skull.” Even if Jenkins hadn’t exactly said that, Mr. Barnes wouldn’t know.
Mr. Barnes rubbed a hand over his face.
“We believe they stuffed newspaper into the doors, and then left her to die of carbon monoxide poisoning after they escaped through the window. By the way, apparently your window lock is busted; your wife was supposed to tell you but she didn’t get a chance.”
He noticed with satisfaction that the man was paling.
“Divorce is easier than murder, Mr. Barnes. Trust me on that.”
“I- I- You can’t accuse me of murder like that! You have no proof!” Fred Barnes stood up and slammed his hands on the table. "Besides, I'd never kill her! She's my wife."
“Oh, you left enough clues for me to talk to the D.A.” He doubted Mr. Barnes would know that he didn’t. “I’m sure that the trip downtown doesn’t take that long, does it? And you didn’t know that the window wasn’t locking. So, why would you kill the mother of your unborn child?”
"Damn it, the kid's not mine," Fred Barnes said. "She's been unfaithful to me."
“Ah. And that was why you killed her?” Syd asked. "Because she was carrying a bastard?"
“I want my lawyer,” Barnes said. Of course he did; they always did. Some of them were innocent, some were not, and he was willing to bet that Mr. Barnes wasn't one of the innocent ones.
“Fine, but you're under arrest." He signaled for Mr. Barnes to put into handcuffs, and the still-protesting husband was cuffed and led away.
There was still so much to do. The autopsy had to be done, and the dusting, and Mr. Barnes hadn't actually confessed, much the pity. But Syd would find justice for Robin Barnes, and her unborn baby, no matter who the baby's father truly was.
It would just take time.