By the time Eric reached the scene, a team of patrol officers had cordoned off the area with fluorescent yellow police tape. At least a dozen uniforms were crawling the site holding flashlights. He’d been on the other side of campus when the call, alerting “All units,” had blared through his two-way radio. He’d had to run all the way to the northernmost section of campus, to a trail in the woods between the dorms and the residential apartments, which had taken nearly fifteen minutes. He was out of breath and sweating from his temples when he managed to locate Detective Mario Sosa from the UPD.
“What’s happening?” Eric asked the senior officer in charge.
“What are you doing here?” the detective snapped back.
Eric was stunned by Mario’s response. Normally patient and genial, his tone was brusque and accusatory. The thirty-four-year-old officer looked different, too; he appeared to have aged. Worry lines crossed the high forehead beneath his thick brown hair, and his usually large, brown eyes were narrowed into concentrated slits. There were dark hollows beneath his prominent cheekbones, and the skin surrounding his pursed lips was tight from tension.
“I was on escort duty. I heard the call on the radio,” Eric ventured.
The simple logic of his answer seemed to bring Mario to his senses. He exhaled loudly through his nose, and the expulsion of pent-up air restored him to the person Eric knew – his role model, his mentor. “A girl is dead. I’m waiting for a C.S.I. team from downtown to arrive,” he explained, ‘downtown’ referring to the City of San Diego, the municipal branch of the police department.
Eric followed the detective’s gaze and, through the darkness, beneath the trees, he could barely make out a solitary figure, lying on the ground. Since arriving at his decision to become a police officer, he had often wondered what it would be like to see his first dead body, for such an encounter was inevitable in his chosen line of work. He was surprised at how little emotion he felt now that the moment had arrived, earlier than he ever would have anticipated. Perhaps his numbness was due to the distance – she lay some twenty-five yards away – or the fact that he couldn’t see her face. Strangely, all he found himself thinking about was the technical aspect of the situation: they needed more light.
As if reading his mind, Mario barked to his staff, “When are those lights going to be set up? Let’s move it, people!”
“Detective?” Rhonda Sparks approached, wearing a pair of Latex gloves and paper booties. She stopped several feet away and signaled Mario over with her finger.
Before Mario left to join her, Eric asked, “Who found her?”
Mario snapped his head to the left, and then departed.
Eric glanced in the direction he’d indicated. He was shocked to find a familiar, hulking figure seated alone on the ground, leaning against the trunk of a tree with his head hanging between his upright knees. Vince Walker? Eric noticed he was wearing his yellow C.S.O. jacket. He must have discovered the body during his rounds! Eric was anxious to find out find out what part Vince had played in the unfolding drama, but first he wanted to see whether he could overhear any of Mario and Officer Sparks’ conversation. Crossing his arms and staring pensively into the woods, he did his best to appear preoccupied while he eavesdropped. They weren’t liable to notice, anyway, he deduced, absorbed as they were in their duties.
“Blow to the head … no purse or wallet … no signs of a struggle or other violence.” Rhonda Sparks’ report was audible only in bits and pieces.
Mario’s response Eric could hear loud and clear. “Stay with the victim, Sparks. Make sure nobody touches a thing; I don’t want any evidence destroyed. All eyes are going to be on this one.”
“Understood,” Officer Sparks replied.
“It looks like we may have another one.”
Mario’s prediction sent a shiver up Eric’s spine. Another one?