Detective Third Grade Anastasia Duvall wandered over to the coffee maker and swore. Whoever had been there last had committed two cardinal sins, at least as far as the squad room was concerned. Not only had they almost, but not quite finished the last pot without starting a fresh one, they’d also switched off the warmer underneath it so that what little was left had been growing cold.

She jerked the filter basket free, dropping the sodden paper and grinds into the industrial sized trash can beside the counter. She placed a fresh filter paper into the basket, dumped a new packet of coffee into it and got a new pot going. Then, with a sinking feeling about what she was about to do, she poured what was left of the previous pot into her mug and took a sip. “You’d think one of these days I’d learn patience.”

The squad room was quiet for now; just the distant rumble of the old building’s heating system. It was one of the few, if any, benefits of working the midnight to noon shift. That and the fact that the city was knee-deep in winter, literally in some areas. Anyone who had the option was staying indoors lately, trying to keep themselves warm. Those that didn’t have the option; well, chances were she’d come across them one way or another. Two nights ago she’d been called out for a body; a homeless guy, blue and frozen stiff. There’d been some bruising on the corpse but the M.E. had signed off on it as a natural death. Most likely he’d been driven away from a trash fire or maybe rolled for a blanket he’d cadged from a shelter. With the chill of winter settling deep into the city’s bones, shelters and the like were beyond capacity and out on the streets, any kind of warmth was fair game.

She was heading back to her desk, still sipping at her lukewarm coffee, when she spotted her partner. Detective First Grade Ray Krantz was looking at the board again. She sighed, then wandered over to join him.

The large white board dominated one wall of the squad room. All the squad members were listed, their last names written across the top of the board in blue blocky letters. Underneath each was a string of other names, some in black, some in red; all with a five digit case number beside it.

She gave Ray a sideways look. She knew that he knew she was there. He had ten years worth of homicide experience on her and his peripheral awareness, either on the street or at a crime scene, always impressed her. But, rather than interrupt his thoughts, she stood there quietly, waiting for him to let her know what was bothering him.

“Lot of red up on that board.” He said, without turning to look at her.

She made a nominal sound of agreement. By the standards of the squad room, the two of them were ahead of the game. Somewhere between a half and two-thirds of the names under each of theirs were in the black. Well, if she was honest, she was closer to the half and he was closer to the two-thirds but still, both of them had more cleared cases than anyone else in the squad. They were certainly better off than Ellis, who had only a trio of black names amid a dozen or more in red, and who started sweating any time the Watch Commander looked in the direction of the big board.

“Too much damn red.” He said, as much to himself as to her. He rubbed at his chin, and she heard the slight rasp of the stubble against his fingers. At last, he turned to her. “You ever wonder if it’s worth it?”

She hesitated. She knew Ray could have his dark moods, especially during this time of year, but this was the first time she’d ever heard him sound so… disheartened. She looked at the red ink on his list, trying to work out which one triggered this particular episode. The list went back to the beginning of the year, although the first in red wasn’t until March if she remembered right. Some dealers gunned down in the street, those were common enough throughout the city, too common to engender this. She found her answer when she got down to August.

Doveson. Laura Ann Doveson.

Six years old. Beaten to death for god knew what reason.

The galling part was they knew who had done it. Her own father, struck by some savage impulse, had bashed the child’s head in. They had everything they needed for a conviction. Everything, except a subject in custody. Doveson had rabbited, with no trace of him in the past four months, despite everything she and Ray had tried.

And, in the meantime, the phones hadn’t stopped ringing; names had continued to get added to the board. She checked some of them off in her head. An elderly woman killed in a purse-snatching gone wrong; hers. Some dumb kid fucking around in the street, hit and run, his. Another dozen unsolved cases between them. They all needed to be worked when she and Ray could, but whenever he had any free time it was the Doveson case that he kept coming back to.

She put a hand on his shoulder, gave it a sympathetic squeeze, then let him be. She crossed to the window and looked out. Fresh snow had fallen, gleaming under the streetlights, giving the city a beauty she knew was false.

Behind her, she heard a phone start ringing. She swallowed the last of her lukewarm coffee and said. “I’m up; I’ll get it.”

She grabbed the phone, drawing a notepad and pen towards her as she did and said, “Homicide.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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