A FICTION SPECIAL
ANDY MURCIA'S The LADY in RED
Officer "Lucky" Donavan didn't seem so lucky lately...then he came upon
the body of a dead woman on the lakeshore...and it led him into
the case of a lifetime and the arms of a very special lady.
By ANDY MURCIA
The sun was peeking up over Chicago's Lake Michigan, shining its mighty summer light on the North Avenue beach. The brightness woke midnight shift Officer William Lucky Donavan, who had ducked his squad car behind the public bathhouse for a nap.
It had been a busy night for the uniformed beat cop. As soon as he checked off patrol, hed go to his second job--fixing office chairs. This was a sideline he and another cop built up from scratch. Lucky was good at fixing chairs and the familiar work relaxed him from all the craziness of police work.
Lucky studied the marks
in the sand near her body.
Lucky got out of the squad car to stretch his legs and thats when he spotted something red lying on the sand near where the gentle waves smooth out on the beach. As Lucky approached he could see it was a woman, a redhead in a bright red, tight-fitting dress that was hiked up, exposing a shapely pair of legs. The woman was dead.
Moving closer, he noticed the telling brownish colored marks, semi-lunar in shape, on her neck. Most of the markings were on the right side of her neck, with a thumb mark on the left side. Most likely that meant the murderer was facing the victim while throttling her. This physical evidence signaled the strong probability that the murderer was left-handed. It all pointed to strangulation as the cause of death. There were small abrasions and swelling on her lips, nostrils, mouth and chin--as if someone covered these areas to prevent her from crying out for help.
Her long store bought fingernails were dirty, perhaps holding important evidence as to the identity of her killer or killers. Her shoes were missing, and the low-neckline of her dress had been ripped open, exposing a well-shaped breast with the other breast nearly visible. This woman got in the right line when they were handing them out, all right. Lucky made an unofficial guess at 34-C or D cup.
The sand stuck to her skin, so maybe she was perspiring as she struggled for her life. She looked to be in her early 20s, about 5-5 to 5-7, about 115 pounds, all stacked perfectly in a figure to die for. Why would anyone kill a babe looking this good? What a waste, he thought.
There was one gold colored earring with a tiny cross dangling in her pierced right ear lobe, but the other was missing. Her eyes were half closed. As usual, Lucky wished he knew what those eyes had seen just before the end.
Lucky studied the marks in the sand near her body. He guessed her killer held both her legs and dragged her on her backside to her final resting place. He carefully followed the sand trail back up to the parking lot, where it disappeared once the pavement replaced the sand. It appeared she was murdered elsewhere, perhaps in a vehicle, then dragged down to the beach. Maybe the murderer intended to dispose of the body by dumping it in the lake, which would have made it much harder for the coroner to determine the cause of death. The fish can peck away at a body and destroy evidence all too well.
Lucky got on the radio, getting homicide detectives, the coroners crew, the mobile crime lab and department brass heading for the crime scene. What a way to wake up! And with no coffee!
Luckys immediate supervisor, Sgt. Medow, was the first to arrive. Looking at Lucky as if he was mental he said; What are you doing here; its time to go home!
I know, Sarge," Lucky said. "I needed this like a hole in the head. I got a full day ahead of me. Im doing the Mart today and theres 40 chairs waiting for me.
Medow unloaded two super-sized coffees out of a McDonald's bag and handed one to Lucky.
You know youre in my will, Sarge," Lucky said. "Thanks. I have it taped off. I think its at least two crime scenes--the beach and parking lot. Maybe there was a vehicle involved. Im going to look around until the dicks get here, see what I can find.
Sgt. Medow nodded his approval as he sipped his coffee, then busied himself updating his supervisor's log in his squad car.
Until very recently, Lucky Donavan had been working in the departments elite headquarters homicide squad--the unit that handled the high profile murder cases. Had it not been for his Irish temper getting the best of him, hed still be investigating murders. Instead he lost his detective rank, was put back in uniform, and found himself trying to stay awake on the midnight shift working a one man beat car.
With the arrival of the dicks and crime lab guys, Lucky braced himself for the usual greeting from his former colleagues: So how do you like working in uniform Lucky? When it came, Lucky brushed it off the way he always did, saying, You know, boys, I never knew life could be so uncomplicated and enjoyable. Its absolutely wonderful. It was bullshit. He knew it and they knew it, but it was part of the ritual now. Once it was over, they all went to work.
Lucky decided to slowly walk the parking lot near where the sand tracks left off. He soon found one, then the other red shoe, no doubt the victim's missing footwear. Near one shoe he spotted a round shaped foil like wrapper that held a condom. It appeared to be unused, and he was hoping a print could be lifted from its flat, smooth surface. He directed the evidence guys to the location of the shoes and condom tin. Everything was photographed first before being moved and subsequently inventoried. The fact that this body was found so near the affluent Lake Shore Drive high rent district, would easily make this case high profile. You could bet it would be front page stuff for both the Tribune & Sun-Times, and might lead the local TV and radio coverage.
While this parking lot was a popular lovers lane for the romantics, it was also where the peek freaks hung out, watching the lovers in action from the privacy of their cars while they toyed with their own exposed willies for amusement. The condom and shoe were found right about where the tracks started for dragging the body down to the beach. The dragging of the body was important. It might indicate there was only one murderer, who couldn't lift 115 pounds. Two murderers easily could have carried this slim lady. This case was starting to get under his skin, making him itch to use all his skills as an investigator.
Lucky was no rookie when it came to homicide investigation. He knew murder inside and out, as they say at the morgue. Prior to joining the Chicago police force he worked in the Cook County Coroners office, first just name-tagging big toes and wheeling stiffs in and out of autopsies, but soon he was promoted to assisting the coroner in performing the autopsies. Lucky knew almost as much about the interior of a body as he did about the exterior. He knew that a penetrating wound of the aorta from an ice pick in the shoulder could result in a fatal hemorrhage. That was what had happened in one of the first autopsies the coroner assigned him, trusting he'd find the cause of death. Lucky went over the corpse and in minutes he found the tiny pin hole made by the ice pick in the shoulder. He knew all about arcane things like the projectory of bullets, recovering them from the most unlikely places in bodies. He knew about marking them correctly, so he wouldn't destroy any evidence on the head and sides of the bullet. He knew the kinds of different cuts made by everything from knives and hatchets to weed whackers and buzzsaws. He had seen just about every way a person could die. Had he not wanted to arrest murderers so much, he would have likely gone on to become a pathologist.
At 21, he became a Chicago cop and three years later he not only passed the detective exam but also finished No. 1 out of more than 4,000 candidates. He was immediately assigned to the elite homicide squad at police headquarters. He was bright, hard-working, and came from a long line of cops, including his father and uncles, all career cops of various ranks.
Lucky believed that death investigations were an immense responsibility and he would let nobody deter him from getting at the truth. He felt a personal commitment to see that justice was done, not only for the deceased, but for the surviving family as well. He took to heart what veteran homicide boss Vernon Geberth of the NYPD once told his Uncle Henry: Youre working for God. And he took the fifth commandment--Thou Shalt Not Kill-- most seriously, expecting everyone else to do the same.
Lucky lived for bringing in a murderer. He was near obsessed with finding out who did it. The only thing that could make him more happy than bringing in a murderer would be if he brought in two murderers! Fellow detectives who could not compete with his monthly activity sheet, gave him the nickname Lucky. It was their way of saving face. Lucky solved more homicides in three months than they did in 12. He didnt mind giving the other cops a mans way out. In fact, he soon began to like his nickname. That was until the night in the squad locker room when a jealous brother detective falsely accused him of planting evidence to solve a murder. It took three officers to get Lucky off the guy and seven stitches to close the accuser's lip.
He knew he was good at what he did and felt his demotion back into uniform and a beat car were just some penance he had to endure. He was confident he'd soon work his way back to detective rank and the homicide squad. This case might be his ticket back.
Lucky called Detective Vito, his partner in the chair business, and had him handle the chairs at the Mart today, because he wanted to follow this homicide case through. His blood was racing and he could smell a break in the case might be just around the corner. Thats the way things usually went in homicide cases for Lucky, the parts of the puzzle would just somehow fall into his lap. Call it luck if you wished, but he knew that if he did his legwork, he would get the killer.
Just as he was about to head into the station to finish his paperwork, he got a radio call: See building security officer; possible suicide. Lake Point Towers apartment building. Guard will meet you at the front door."
This was a high-rise with a high line address. They were apartments with lake views near Navy Pier, Lake Shore Drive and Chicagos Loop. Lucky advised the dispatcher he was still on the homicide from North Avenue Beach and wanted to stay on the case.
"Youre the only car I have," the dispatcher told him. "Everyone else is in the coop. But if it gets too involved, Ill send the first car out of day shift roll call to relieve you.
Lucky was led to the 25th floor apartment by the building guard, who filled him in on the way. Seems the apartment tenant was Robert, a white man about 55 years old. He was a successful architect. a quiet man, a Casper milquetoast type. He was divorced, but had an on again, off again, affair with a woman at least 20 years younger than him. It was "Patty," the young woman, who discovered his body and called building security, who in turn called the police.
"Patty," the dead man's ex-girl,
was into physical culture and
had more muscles than the
dearly departed dude.
Lucky skillfully questioned Patty and learned Robert had called her yesterday, begging her to come to his apartment and talk to him once more before making their separation permanent. Patty advised Robert that she would never be with him again in a relationship, that it was over--this time for good. She then had lied to Robert, telling him she'd met another man, just to show him she meant business. Robert seemed to accept the finality of her leaving, but asked her to return his apartment key. She agreed to turn the key over to him the following morning about 7 a.m. after her work at the bar and breakfast. Robert said he might be taking a shower then, so she should just let herself in. Patty agreed. Patty lived in a low rent area not too far from Robert.
When she arrived at Roberts apartment, Patty knocked, but heard no answer. Using the key, she entered, calling out his name. When she still didnt get a response, she continued walking towards the bathroom, calling his name again. Thats when she saw him. Robert had hanged himself behind his bathroom door with his own belt wedged between the top of the door and the door jam. The belt end was knotted to prevent it from squeezing through when the door was about 90 percent closed. Through the opening crack of the bathroom door, Patty could see Roberts reflection in the bathroom mirrors. The tip of his tongue was protruding from his mouth, and he had the markings that a hard ligature, such as his strong leather belt, would make on his neck. There were also what appeared to be scratch marks on both sides of his face, and one near his left eye. These marks were not consistent with a typical hanging. There also was sand on the floor, but that wasn't uncommon in apartments near the lake front.
If he had stepped off the short stool found near the body, the sudden tightening of the belt from the weight of his body caused sudden interruption of his blood supply and oxygenation to his brain by compression of the large blood vessels.
Robert had scared her before by threatening to kill himself when they were about to break up. So she told Donavan she at first thought he was just faking, trying to scare her again. But if he believed he could free himself from the belt at the last minute, he was obviously mistaken. His immediate unconsciousness once the blood and oxygen was compressed would just not allow Robert to call it off, even if that was his plan.
When Donavan delved deeper into Robert's habits, Patty revealed that Robert had often gone to prostitutes, trying to make her jealous. Robert thought Patty might come back to him if she saw him with other beautiful women.
Lucky already had noticed Patty was pretty good-looking herself. And he sensed she might be relating strongly to him, too, despite the unpleasant circumstances of their meeting. Lucky had always had a way with the ladies. He was 6-1, 170 pounds, with black hair and the kind of Irish blue eyes girls could get lost in. He couldn't resist letting Patty know he'd be off duty shortly. He invited her to join him for coffee if she needed someone to talk with about this awful experience. Patty agreed to meet him at Cartons Coffee Shop at Rush and Delaware Streets.
Before Lucky checked off duty, he called both the crime lab and the coroner's office and learned the Lady In Red was Cookie Foster, a 22-year-old with a few arrests for prostitution. The line on her was she worked on call for Madam Doris on N. Clark Street. The exam showed no sign of sexual activity downstairs, but the coroner found a few minor lacerations on the upper breasts, the sort that might have come from someone trying to feel her up against her will. She had been strangled, all right, and the killer appeared to be left-handed. There was skin under her nails, which they thought came from her struggle with her killer. There also was slight evidence of urine in her mouth. Perhaps she had performed oral copulation before she was killed, but the killer hadn't ejaculated.
The lab also had lifted two prints off the condom tin casing that Donavan had found. One definitely was Cookies, but the other was marked unidentified at this time.
Later, Lucky slid into the booth across from Patty at Cartons. After consoling her again, she told him she'd seen Robert with one very attractive redhead on two occasions. The girl was young and dressed very sexy. Lucky pictured a Cookie Foster type. He asked if Robert was right or left-handed?
Left, Patty told him.
The longer they talked, the more Donavan learned about Patty's strange relationship with Robert. They had met along the beach three years earlier. Robert was recently divorced and Patty was involved with a younger man in a relationship that wasn't going anywhere. Robert seemed kind, well-educated and successful, so she started dating him. Though Robert was considerably older than Patty, it didn't seem to cause them any difficulty at first. But soon Robert started distrusting her whenever men her own age were nearby. She worked as a cocktail waitress at Jays Lounge, so that meant he had lots of reasons to be jealous.
"Cookie" made the big mistake
of asking her kinky john to
wear a condom.
About a year or so into their relationship, Robert became very possessive and she started feeling like a prisoner. Their sexual relationship was also a bit kinky. Patty said Robert could only perform sexually if they went to the beach where they first met. Patty at first thought that was romantic, but she soon tired of it after it became obvious he couldn't perform in a bed and their sex life was exclusively confined to his car. That was just too weird for her, so she decided to leave him.
Lucky perked up when Patty mentioned the beach where she first met Robert: North Avenue Beach.
It was all coming together. In fact, Lucky felt he might solve this case before lunch. He excused himself and phoned the coroner to compare Roberts print for a match with the unidentified print lifted from the condom tin casing from the Cookie foster homicide.
Returning to Patty, he asked her if Robert had any other sexual likes or dislikes. Patty said the one thing that made Robert absolutely furious was a condom. Robert become violent when she asked him to use them and on one occasion he started to choke her, but she fought him off. Patty demonstrated how she broke his grip on her neck, by hitting him on the head with a flashlight from the cars glove box, and then judo chopped him between the nose and his top lip. This made his nose bleed profusely and that ended the fight.
So much for safe sex, Lucky thought. A simple no usually did the trick for him.
Lucky now theorized that Robert must have driven Cookie Foster to his beach, for his kind of bareback ride on the front seat. Maybe Cookie performed a little oral sex on Robert, which would explain the traces of urine found in her mouth, but when she asked him to wear a condom before driving her home, so to speak, Rob-boy flipped out and started throttling her, taking out all his disappointments in life on poor Cookie--until she died.
If Patty's tale was accurate, Robert wasn't a very robust guy. That's why he probably had to drag her body over the sand towards the lake. If he planned to dump her in the water, he must have spotted Luckys squad car when it arrived, got scared and left her on the sand. Robert then drove back to his apartment, sinking into a deep mental depression. Patty was leaving him for good. Now he'd committed a murder and it was only a matter of time before hed be arrested for it. So, he hanged himself, knowing he'd have his ultimate revenge on Patty because she'd surely be the one to find his body.
Even though "Patty" could probably
break your arm like a dried-out twig,
she also was one sexy lady.
Lucky asked Patty if she had taken judo lessons. She said she had for about six months now, but that she always worked out and enjoyed lifting weights. It showed. She was a sturdy woman with well-developed biceps, squared shoulders and a well-defined neck. She was about 5 8 at a trim 135 pounds and bragged she could lift her weight with ease. While body building chicks were not Luckys first choice, she did have a fine body, a cute face and a blouse full of goodies. He couldn't help thinking that if push came to shove with this babe, he had better get the first punch in or be prepared to take a beating.
Lucky always felt when a case was falling into place too easily, that perhaps he had better back out and look at it all again. More legwork, more digging.
He phoned an old pal in vice control division, prostitution unit, and got the number of Madam Doriss call flat on N. Clark Street. He told Doris that Cookie was dead, and unless she wanted to see her flat turned inside out by angry coppers, she had better cooperate. He wanted to know if Cookie had a date with a Robert of Lake Point Towers apartments, who had also turned up dead. Doris was very experienced in her trade. She knew a break when she heard one being offered, so she told Lucky all he needed to know: Yes; Cookie had booked such a date. She also told him that Cookie had a family that loved her in Germantown, Wisconsin. Lucky notified Cookies mother of her death. This was the worst part of working a homicide. Hearing a mothers love crying out is something that will never be routine to him, and once youve heard it, you will never be able to forget it.
Another call to the coroners office put the end on it, as Roberts print was a match on the condom tin, and the fingernail scrapings from Cookie contained DNA from Roberts scratched face. Lucky searched Roberts car and found a gold earring with a tiny cross dangling, which matched Cookie's other earring. The tiny cross-reminded Lucky that he was indeed working for God. The car was impounded by the Chicago PD and a coroners seal placed on it.
Heroes come in all sizes, shapes and colors. Lucky Donavan knew there was no way he could ever out-shoot Michael Jordan in b-ball, but it was gratifying to know that there also was no way Michael Jordan could have solved this case like Lucky just did it, with his own version of the slam dunk.
And there was a payoff for Lucky, too. He was reinstated with his rank of detective and reassigned back to the homicide squad. The night he learned that, he couldnt get his uniform off quickly enough. After thinking about it all in the shower, he crawled into bed knowing that tomorrow hed be doing what he loved best, and that made him happy. A knock on his apartment door broke this happy moment. Lucky looked through the peephole and there was Patty.
She had helped him crack the case, so the least he could do was show her what a real bed felt like. He opened the door and she splashed up against him like double malt scotch in a clean glass. As they kissed, he was surprised how soft she felt. Soon they did the undressing, endurance-kiss, side-step dance all the way to his platform bed, where Lucky got lucky and pinned her before she even knew what was happening. She might want to make this a two out of three falls event, but, heck, that was all right with him.
She was nice, very nice. One more deep kiss that closed her eyes and Luckys hand flipped on the stereo with Miles blowing low and slow as he opened the night stand drawer and, in one smooth motion, pulled out his heavy duty flashlight and quickly hid it behind the headboard where he might find it handy as a makeshift weapon. He was an experienced cop and you never know when these things could turn ugly. They might call him "Lucky" for good reason, but it never hurt a guy to hedge his bets a little.
© 2002 by Andy Murcia. The illustrations are from IMSI's Master Clips Collection, 1895 Francisco Blvd. E., San Rafael, CA, 94901-5506, USA.
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