Saturday, June 9, 2018 <> San Francisco

By any definition you choose, the young woman was definitely pretty. She was also definitely dead.

That seemed a shame—like a waste of natural resources—but then I always think that when I look at a young person whose life ended too soon. Unfortunately, a big part of my job Is looking at dead people, young or otherwise.  I am Homicide Detective Sergeant Bailey of the San Francisco Police Department. And before you ask, yes, I have a first name, but it's none of your business.

Getting back to the business at hand, the pretty dead woman to whom I refer was in the headquarters offices of Marshall Health Services on the twenty-fifth floor of the First Bank Building at 460 Montgomery Street. Marshall Health Services is a major HMO, which seems somewhat ironic given the dead woman's current state of health.

So what am I doing on the twenty-fifth floor of the First Bank Building? Mostly, I am not looking out the  window at the Hobart Building across a block or so of very empty vertical space. Okay, so I'm not a big fan of heights.

A more appropriate question would be, what am I supposed to be doing on the twenty-fifth floor of The First Bank Building? The answer is I am supposed to be figuring out how the pretty young woman met her untimely end. For me, the first step in that process is taking a good look at the murder scene and the victim to pick up whatever initial information I can, which further explains why I spend more time than I would otherwise choose looking at dead people.

Of course, our forensics experts will go over the body, the crime scene, and everything else in sight with a fine tooth comb, but that takes time. Meanwhile, I use my powers of observation to record the obvious details so we can begin looking for the killer. For example, I observed specific marks on the victim's neck leading me to speculate that, when the coroner finished his autopsy, the cause of death was likely to be strangulation.

Further observation told me she was sort of blonde, blue-eyed, and according to her driver's license, she was about the same age as me, twenty-eight. Also according to her drivers license, the victim's name is Jessica Tomlin and she lived at 1475 Fillmore in apartment 1218.

From the way Ms Tomlin was positioned on the office floor, I could not help observing she had a preference for skimpy black underwear. She also had a fondness for Movado Heritage time-wear. Based on the labels in her black blazer and stylishly short black skirt, she apparently didn't mind spending a few bucks extra on Brunello Cucinelli outfits at Wilkes Bashford on Sutter Street, The City's most fashionable clothing store. My guess was the outfit and accessories she died in probably added a few grand to her Amex card.

How did I learn so much about the price of fashion on a cop's salary? In San Francisco, the cop shop actually holds periodic "fashion seminars" for detectives so we can tell real class from the wannabes and cons. You think I'm kiddin', right? I promise you, I am not.

From her coworkers I learned Ms Tomlin did not seem to have any family in the area and shared a rented apartment with a female roommate at The Skyline, one of The City's very up-scale condominium complexes. I know the place, and a typical two bedroom condo rents for more than $4,000/month. Without giving away any specific numbers, Ms Tomlin's boss assured me she could comfortably afford to live there on her Marshall Health paycheck.

I also knew The Skyline was another damned high-rise. Preparing myself for more vertigo-inducing aerial views, I climbed behind the wheel of a pale blue Ford Taurus Interceptor of the sort the department lavished on its detective officers and pointed it across town toward the Fillmore District.

Something I have learned, although not at the expense of the SFPD, is there are definitely different kinds of physical beauty. For example, the dead blonde I'd just left on the floor of an office at 460 Montgomery Street had been what I classify as the "flashy" sort.

The brunette now giving me a friendly, but questioning look through the doorway of unit 1218 at The Skyline was a different sort entirely. I would describe her as "smoldering." Her dark eyes flashed sparks keeping a blaze aglow just below the surface of the lithe, lean body she clothed in jeans and a black tank top.

My immediate reaction to the woman was in the form of a memo from my brain to all departments, "Watch it, Bailey. This kind of gal doesn't play around. With her it's all or nothing at all."

I flashed the badge and ID the City of San Francisco gave me to prove I'm legit and said, "Good morning, Ms Bryant, I'm Detective Sergeant Bailey, SFPD."

Of course, Kristina Bryant already knew who I was. If she had not known at least that much about me, I never would have gotten past The Skyline's concierge down in the lobby without a warrant.

Miss Bryant stared at me intently for what seemed a very long time—long enough to make me glance toward the unit number to be sure I'd knocked on the right door. Then, as if a switch was flipped somewhere behind those dark eyes, Kristina Bryant turned on a soft smile that damned near sucked me right through the doorway.

"Good morning, Detective Bailey, although I can't think of much good about it right now. Please come in."

I knew that a homicide detective already told Ms Bryant about her roommate. It wasn't a formal notification because those are reserved for family members. He would have told her about Jessica Tomlin's death because it was difficult to ask questions about her dead roommate without first mentioning that her roommate was dead. Sensitivity in all things is the SFPD's motto.

"Thank you, Miss Bryant."

She led me into a narrow living room area with the inevitable high-rise view windows overlooking the city. I was happy to see, however, they were covered by adjustable blinds so you couldn't see the twelve-story drop beyond them without deliberately going over and looking.

"Please sit down, Detective Bailey, and call me Kris. I have to stop and remember you're talking to me every time you call me 'Miss Bryant.'"

With a natural grace of movement that put me in mind of a dancer, she floated into a chair upholstered in some sort gray nubby fabric. I sat on a black couch facing her chair. Looking at Kris Bryant's face in the brighter living room light I saw that what I thought I observed at the door was correct. There was no redness to her eyes or any other sign she'd been crying over the loss of her roommate.

"Kris, as you probably guessed, I'm here trying to learn a little about Jessica Tomlin."

She tilted her head and put on her questioning look again. "Learn what, Detective Bailey?"

I shrugged. "I don't know. Anything that will help me get a handle on who killed her and why."

"I'll gladly tell you anything I know about Jessie, but I'm afraid it won't be much help. Despite being roommates, we hardly knew each other and shared very few interests."

Now it was my turn to cock my head to one side with a questioning look.  "Oh?"

If it's possible for a simple smile to express unbridled contempt, Kris's smile did so. "Why? Did you have us figured for nymphomaniac lesbian lovers or something? That's what most of the creeps in this town think when they encounter a woman living with another woman."

I raised my eyebrows a notch or two and said, "I'm sorry to hear you think I'm a creep."

That earned me the jarring reaction I knew it would. "Oh, no! I didn't mean I think you are a creep. I'm sorry that came out wrong, Detective Bailey. I just meant the assumption that two women living together are lesbians is so common I encounter it everywhere I go."

I gave her a sincere smile intended to tell her I didn't hold a grudge and added some words to go with the smile. "Apology accepted, and as far as nymphomaniac lesbian lovers are concerned, I dismissed that as a possibility in the first sixty seconds of our conversation."

Her expression switched to curiosity. "You did? What made you so sure?"

"Kris, a big part of my job is learning about people through observation. That is a very crucial skill in my line of work. For example, I immediately observed a couple of things about that told me you and Ms Tomlin were not close in any way."

She was leaning forward slightly in the posture of a person genuinely interested in what I was saying. "Like what things, Detective Bailey?"

"For one, your eyes. Usually, it's fairly easy to tell if a person has been crying. If you and Ms Tomlin were close, you most likely would have cried upon hearing of her death and you have not been crying."

"Gee, you are good at this stuff. But what if I killed her? That could mean we weren't close, but a clever killer would intentionally cry because not crying about a dead roommate would be a dead giveaway, wouldn't it?"

I chuckled. "Only on TV, which brings me to something else I observed about you."

Tina was eating this up. With a big grin, she said, "What?"

"I knew Ms Tomlin's death meant little to you emotionally because you feel things that matter. You feel them deeply."

Her grin faded. Frowning and a bit flustered, she asked, "How . . . what . . . what makes you think that?"

"Your facial expressions and especially your eyes. I'm sorry this is getting so personal. None of this has anything to do with my reason for being here."

Tina shook her head emphatically. "Please don't apologize! You haven't . . . I mean I've never known anyone who could do that . . . who could read a person like  . . . like a book."

My cell phone chose that particularly inopportune time to ring.  I looked at the screen to see who was calling, and then said, "Excuse me, Kris. I need to answer this. It's the boss."

Walking back toward the entryway so Kris wouldn't have to make a show of not listening, I tapped the "answer" icon and said, "Bailey."

"This is Jacoby, Bailey. I've got some good news for a change. I thought you might want to hear it."

"I'm all ears, Lieutenant."

"Well, it seems this morning's Montgomery Street murder is solved. We have an eye witness."

"We do? Who?"

"Not a who, a what. A hidden security camera caught the whole thing. You can look at the tape when you get back to the office, but it seems Ms Tomlin had a boyfriend—a guy named Austin Turner—and she was trying to dump him. This Turner is a psycho who figured if he couldn't have her, nobody should. He copped to the whole thing when he realized we had video tape of him strangling the Tomlin dame."

"Damn! We actually got a break on one for a change. Assuming some judge doesn't throw the evidence out, your psycho just saved the taxpayers a bunch of money, but keep a copy of the tape for me to look at tomorrow. I came on at midnight and I'm beat."

"Okay, Bailey, get some rest. See you tomorrow."

Kris was standing next to her chair when I returned to the living room. A small frown of concern troubled her pretty face.

I said, "That was good news. You know a guy by the name of Austin Turner?"

She thought about the name I threw at her for a moment, and then said, "I never met him, but I think he was Jessie's boyfriend."

"That's the way I heard it. Seems she tried to dump him and he didn't want to be dumped, so he strangled her. Did she say anything to you about this guy?"

Kris shook her head. "Just in passing now and then. Strangulation must be a horrible way to die. I'm  sorry Jessie went through that."

There was no drama or outpouring of emotion in what she said. Kris was simply stating a fact about how she felt. I nodded my understanding and said, "Okay then, I guess we're done here, except I have two more questions for you."

Tina leaned her trim butt against the back of the chair she sat in earlier and said, "All right, ask away."

"When I came back into the living room a few minutes ago I got the definite impression something was bothering you. Care to share?"

After I sensed embarrassment as Tina shook her head. "You really don't miss a thing, do you?"

"Well, assuming you pay taxes in our fair city, I want to make sure you know you're getting your money's worth out of the police department budget. What concerned you?"

Kris looked up at me and smiled. "I shouldn't tell you this, but I was afraid the call you got meant you would have to leave. That made me a little sad."

"I see. I should think getting me out of your hair would make you happy."

She shook her head slowly without commenting on my observation. "You said two questions."

"Oh, yeah, I did. I almost forgot the most important one. Are you free for lunch?"

Obviously surprised, Kris laughed an honest and hearty laugh. "Lunch? Do you ask all your murder suspects out on dates?"

"Only the special ones. Besides, you were never a suspect."

Now she was playing with me, putting on an exaggerated suspicious expression. "So what makes me so special you want to have lunch with me?"

I tried a slow curve ball. "Hey, you're kind of a pretty. Why wouldn't I want to have lunch with you?"

Kris shook her head and grinned at me. "Two can play your game, Mister Detective, and I bet there's more to this than me just being 'kind of pretty.'"

Sighing as if owning up to a secret admission, I said, "Okay, I'll tell what more there is about you. Something most men--and women, for that matter--don't realize is real beauty on the outside is a reflection of something even more beautiful on the inside. You can tell the difference because, if there is no beauty on the inside, the beauty on the outside is just painted on."

Keeping me on the spot, she stared me in the eye. "And?"

"And there is absolutely nothing phony about your beauty, Kris. It's all completely natural and honest."

Still looking me in the eye, Kris actually blushed. When words came to her, they were, "Nobody ever said anything like that to me before, Bailey. I want to say something in reply, but I'm literally speechless."

I smiled. "How about just saying you'll have lunch with me? Westlake Joe's okay?"

Now she was smiling, too. "Just slow down a little there, Detective. I might enjoy having lunch with you, but there is a condition you must meet first."

"Oh? What might that be?"

Looking me squarely in the eye again, Tina said, "I make it a hard and fast rule never to have lunch with anyone whose first name I do not know. If you want me to accept your lunch invitation, you have to tell me your first name so I don't have to call you 'Detective Bailey' all the time."

"I see. And I take it this condition is nonnegotiable?"

In an exaggeratedly defiant posture complete with fists on hips, Tina nodded emphatically. "You take it right, Detective."

I sighed a long sigh expressing resignation and quietly said, "Horatio."

Startled, Kris said, "What?"

A little louder, I said, "My first name is Horatio."

In a gesture that was now so familiar to me I could predict it, Tina cocked her head to one side again and was silent for several suspense-filled seconds. Finally, she nodded slowly, gave me a big smile, and said, "I see. Okay, Detective Bailey, just let me grab a sweater. Westlake Joe's will be fine."


Story and design © Steve Eitzen
Header graphic & HPO logo © HPO Productions
San Francisco office and character images © 123RF used by license
Original Joe's of Westlake image © Original Joe's
All rights reserved by copyright owners

This story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, locations, and incidents are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.