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Robyn Vanhorn

© 2003

Immortality Can Be Fatal
Sunday, June 1
2:02 a.m.

Cole’s black ears shot up and a low growl escaped his throat. The front door brushed open against the carpet. Cole lifted his head from where he’d been laying at the foot the bed. The body above him stirred as a pale face emerged and glanced at the red glow of the clock.

“Not now Cole. You just went two hours ago.” Diving under the covers again, she drifted back to sleep
Cole jumped from the bed and sniffed along the closed bedroom door. He circled the room anxiously. The faint clicking of computer keys down the hall could barely be heard. Cole continued pacing for another minute until the urgency took over. He leapt upon the bed and burrowed his wet nose under the covers until he found a tangled mass of brown hair.

“Damn it. You’re stepping on my hair.”

Cole sprang onto her chest and began to whimper.

“Okay. If it will shut you up.” A nude body emerged from the bed stumbling over a black dress that lay on the floor. After picking it up and frowning she threw it down and wandered over to the closet. Pulling on the first items her hands came across, a t-shirt and sweatpants, she stumbled and stubbed her toe on the closet door.

“Shit! You better appreciate me for this.” Cole continued to sniff and growl at the door. When the knob was turned and the door squeaked open, he shot down the hallway like a bullet.

“Cole!” Then she could hear him- and incomprehensible noises-coming from the office. Entering the office she came face to face with a battle between a black Labrador and a dark figure. She watched in a strange fascination as Cole dug his teeth into an arm. Every muscle in her body tightened and froze. In the war between beast and man, the beast appeared to be winning until, suddenly, Cole yelped and collapsed. Suddenly, the figure turned towards her, picking up a large white object from the bookshelf. She knew she should run, but her legs forgot how to work. The first blow felt more like a toothache. The second cracked her lower jaw and she began to swallow and choke on bits of teeth. When the sixth came, she felt only strange warmth.

Chapter 1
Sunday, June 1
1:30 p.m.

Al collapsed on the couch panting. Our 2.4 mile run around Lake Calhoun left me only slightly out of breath while Al needed a visit to the emergency room. His normally tan face was now tomato red and beads of sweat drenched his lush black hair. For Al, running and a trip to the dentist were tied for first place on his least favorite activities list. However, his pride wouldn’t let him admit that his wife was in better shape. While I keep my thirty-three year old body in fairly good condition, my husband’s love of nachos, ice cream and fried sausages had given him the beginnings of love handles. Many of my friends wondered why I married a social worker who made practically nothing and was, as my Grandma McCrumb said, “almost an inch shorter than you dear!” To me he was the most gorgeous man on earth, or at least in Minneapolis. Al could also make to-die-for lasagna and beef with broccoli.

My name is Mercedes Bloom and no I am not named after the car where my parents “did it”. Everyone calls me Cede, pronounced like Sadie, except for my maternal grandmother. “Be proud of your name. Don’t butcher it!” she demands. I was named after my grandmother, Mercedes Maria Rincon. Grandma Mercedes lived the first twenty-two years of her life in Spain and the rest of her seventy-nine years in Minnesota. Gram acts like she’s lived most of her life in Spain. She can speak English as well as anybody else, but now Gram speaks Spanish most of the time. Grandpa Rincon died before I was born, but Gram occasionally has long conversations with him. Of course, she also talks to an invisible pygmy boy that lives in her closet. Gram now lives in my old bedroom at my parent’s house.

My mother, Elissa, was born in Spain, but came to the United States with Grandpa and Gram Rincon when she was only two years old. Mom is one of the toughest women I know. When she went to school for the first time, she only spoke Spanish. Within a few years she had not only learned a new language, but also excelled. For a while she planned to be an English teacher, but eventually chose a career as a high school counselor.

Dad, Jack McCrumb, is a native Minnesotan born and raised in St. Paul. He’s one of those people who says, “Is it cold enough for you?” when its thirty below zero and your ears are about to fall off. I’m sometimes surprised that he didn’t move to Alaska and become an Eskimo. If it’s above fifty degrees, he complains about how hot it is. Needless to say, my parents are always battling over the air conditioner temperature in the summer. Dad teaches high school social studies. His students grumble that they never study the Amazon River, but spend five weeks on Admiral Perry’s journey to the North Pole.

I seem to fall in between my parent’s battles of the thermostat. I can stand the frigid Minnesota winters and the hot, humid summers. Dad says I have a lot of ‘gumption.’

I did, however, go through a temporary “pushover” phase in my early twenties. I dated big, tough guys whose idea of a fun Saturday afternoon was pumping iron. When I hit twenty- six years old I began to realize that all the men I dated fit the same mold. Most had blonde hair, were taller than my 5’10” frame, and carried a chip on their shoulder as big as the Metrodome. Another unfortunate characteristic that many of my romantic interests held in common was their career. They were cops.
Cops aren’t bad people. I’m a cop.

Mom and Dad freaked when I first revealed my career plans after college. I think my father assumed that since I majored in history as he had, that I’d follow the same career path into teaching. Cop families breed cops while teachers breed teachers. My family created a middle school science teacher with my brother Jack Jr., a professional student in my sister Anita who had now accumulated her second master’s degree and me - a cop. Maybe I watched too many episodes of Starsky and Hutch when I was a kid.

After being an officer for eleven years, five as a sergeant, I had finally gained enough experience to apply to homicide. When I applied to homicide a few months ago, I knew that I had an advantage over the other applicants. I was female and half Spanish. The department had been receiving a lot of flack about the lack of women and minorities in leadership positions. Some officers believed that I did not deserve the job. That’s their prerogative. All I knew was that tomorrow, for the first time in eleven years, I wouldn’t be putting on my blues.

A low moan rose from the couch beside me. Al was sleeping like a baby. I picked up a blue/green plaid pillow from floor, quietly crept up to my poor exhausted husband and slammed him in the head. A small piece of stuffing puffed into the air. Before Al knew was happening, I sprinted towards the bathroom.

“I get the shower first.” I heard a thump and turned briefly to see a dazed Al picking himself off the floor.

I tore off my clothes and dove under the water that dribbled weakly out of the showerhead. Note to self. Call Carl about the water pressure. Carl Lupovich was the twenty something year old son of our landlady Mrs. Lupovich. Mrs. Lupovich occupied one of the four-plex brownstone’s main level apartments. Directly above her was a strange elusive creature who I called Mouse, a woman of undetermined age who scampered about in the shadows and never spoke to anyone. A new tenant lived in the other downstairs apartment, but before her it was the novelist Jessica Herman’s apartment. Jessica’s second novel, Lost Souls was currently near the top of the best sellers list. Last weekend we helped move her to the fancy Tower Plaza apartments. After a small group of us finished hauling her boxes to the 15th floor of the Tower, we sprawled across the wall-to-wall carpeting and devoured three large pizzas and a case of beer. Terry Wilks, Jessica’s best friend, managed to taunt and tease her buddy by flinging slices of pepperoni to Cole, Jessica’s black lab. Jessica ran faster than Cole simply to protect her beautiful new carpet. She assured us that we would be kissing her feet after she made her first million.

Al and I moved into the brownstone six months ago. Our residence in the brownstone is only temporary while Al works on restoring our newly purchased dream house, only a few blocks away. Our dream house was a hundred and twenty year old condemned two story that neighborhood children feared more than the Radley house in To Kill A Mockingbird. Al and I had hoped to be settled in by now, but the repairs were more extensive than we first believed.

While I lathered my mass of thick, dark hair I heard voices coming from the living room. A few minutes later when I was toweling off, the door to the bathroom opened. Al leaned against the doorframe and looked down at the floor.

“What’s wrong?” It didn’t take three years of marriage to tell me that there was bad news coming.

“Cede. . . Jessica’s dead.” He paused for a moment to let the news sink in before continuing. “She was found this morning in her new apartment. The police think there was a break in . . . and. . .” His voice trailed off.

I clutched the towel in my fists and glanced at the fogged mirror. As the mist cleared my hazy image began to appear. I realized that my mouth was hanging open. A film reel flashed through my mind. Jessica and Cole playing on the front stoop. Jessica leaning on her windowsill waving as I set off on my morning run. Jessica joyfully walking through the door to her new apartment. Jessica signing her novel for me.

I closed my eyes for a moment. “What happened?”

Al explained that our landlady, Mrs. Lupovich, had knocked at the door. “Mrs. Lupovich just left for the morgue with Detective Bennett. He asked her to identify the body. The manager at Jessica’s new building told the police that he had no idea what any of his two hundred tenants looked like. Mrs. Lupovich’s name was on the apartment application form as a reference so they called her.” Al reached his hand out, but I was already grabbing my brush and deodorant. He continued. “I remembered Ronnie Bennett from that party two weeks ago when you were introduced to the homicide department. He and Mac McNulty have been assigned the case, but Ronnie said he’d like your assistance since you know. . uh. knew. . Jessica.”

I stormed into the bedroom and pulled on the first clothes that I could find, jeans and a Ribfest t - shirt. More images flashed through my mind. Jessica throwing a frisbee to Cole in the park. Jessica and Terry sitting out back trying to get a suntan in April when it was only 58 degrees. Jessica holding her latest novel as she posed for pictures. I tore at my thick mane of wet hair with a comb until I finally gave up and pulled it back into a pony tale. Al didn’t try to stop me. He knew when to keep quiet.
“I’ll call you later. I’m going over to her apartment.”

I drove the two miles to Jessica’s apartment as fast as my red jeep would take me. I had only known Jessica for six months. She certainly was not my best friend. However, she possessed a spark. A talent. A creativity that was rare. Two squad cars and the Bureau of Identification van were parked out front. The security guard studied my badge carefully looking over my damp hair and blue jeans. The guard finally decided that the badge was real and buzzed me in.

The elevator ride to the fifteenth floor took forever. When the doors slid open, a small crowd greeted me. The other tenants on the floor had surrounded the officer that stood outside of Jessica’s apartment. I recognized him as Tom Doley. Tom had been with the 5th precinct for only four months. After an officer is hired, his or her first 5 months were spent with five different Field Training Officers. I was Tom’s FTO during his first month on the job. He was twenty-three years old, but barely looked seventeen.

“Why can’t you tell us anything?”

“Are we in danger?”

“We have a right to know what’s going on.”

Tom held his ground.

I politely pushed my way through the crowd. Tom smiled as he opened the door.

A tall, wild haired man shouted “Hey, why does she get to go in?”

When the door closed behind me, I sighed with relief. The sunlight streaming in the windows down the hallway gave the apartment an eerie look. The furniture and walls were coated with a thin layer of dusting powder. Bill and Ted, the BI guys, were lifting prints from the closet door. The Bureau of Identification team was in charge of gathering trace evidence such as fibers and fingerprints from a scene. After the medical examiner released the scene the BI guys took over. Bill looked up when he heard me.

“I heard that you were on homicide now. Welcome to the club.”

“Is Mac around?”

Bill shook his head. “Ronnie left to do the I.D. on the vic and Mac is in the building somewhere questioning security.”

“Any prints?” I asked.

“Most of the prints have been wiped clean. Little chance of getting anything there, only some partials. But we hit the jackpot with the dog.” Bill reached for his bag and began replacing his tools.

“Cole. What about him?”

“You know the dog’s name?”

“I knew Jessica Herman. She used to live in my building until last week.”

“Shit. I’m sorry. Well, the dog attacked the perp. We got blood and skin samples. If we ever bag the guy, it will be an easy conviction assuming some dumb slob from the D.A.’s office doesn’t screw it up.”

“Where is Cole?”

“He’s down at the ME’s office. Had to bag the poor thing’s paws and muzzle him. He was none too happy. The dog was found in the office closet; we got quite a few samples from the carpet in there. You should know the dog’s front right leg was broken. He put up a hell of a fight to save your friend Jessica. We found her in the office.”

“Ronnie stopped by and asked me to assist on the case. Is the scene clear?” I asked.

Bill nodded and waved his hand, “We’re done processing the scene. Just need to finish checking our inventory.” Bill went back to labeling the paper evidence bags.

The destruction in the office was extensive. The computer monitor was smashed. Someone had also opened up the hard drive and crushed the circuits. Broken disks were scattered on the floor. The cream carpet turned red in the room where Jessica planned to write her next best selling novel. The largest part of the stain covered a three square foot area. More blood spatters could be seen up to seven feet away.

How the hell can something like this happen? She moved into this place to feel safe and secure. After everything that had been happening lately… I dabbed at my eyes, refusing to let a tear drop. Security. The brownstone wasn’t secure. The library wasn’t secure. Now, this extravagant building with a guard and cameras couldn’t keep Jessica alive. I had failed. She asked me for help and I had failed.