Miguel took a sip of his coffee before pushing open the door to the interrogation room. The man seated at the steel table lifted his head. “Morning, sir,” Miguel greeted.
“Morning,” the man said quietly. “I-I can’t believe what happened at my shop.”
“I can imagine. It’s hard to think about a homicide in your town in general. Thinking about one in a place you own is even worse.” Miguel set his coffee cup on the table and pulled a chair out across from the man. “What’s your name?”
“Jordy. Umm, Jordan.”
“Jordan,” Miguel echoed. “I’m Detective Pareja. I just have a few questions, and then you’re free to go for the day. We might need to bring you back in for questioning throughout the duration of this case, but that doesn’t mean much. I don’t want you to panic about it or worry about it. We want this closed as soon as it can be, get some justice for this victim, get some closure for the family, and get your shop back open. Sound good?”
Jordan nodded. “Yeah, sounds good.”
The interview with Jordan hadn’t given Miguel much to go off of. No one else had keys to get into the shop, and all of the doors were locked every night as the man closed the shop before heading home. He had two cameras in his butcher shop, but both were in the main area of the building, not in the actual butchering part.
Miguel hated that he considered himself thankful for that, but when it came right down to it, watching that kind of footage in hopes of catching a glimpse of the killer sounded like the kind of thing that would drive a cop into–at the very least–alcoholism.
After refilling his coffee for what felt like the millionth time, Miguel headed back to the butcher shop to meet up with the forensic analyst from Los Angeles. He waited in his cruiser for just under half an hour before a black car pulled into one of the parking spaces at the front of the shop. Jamal Pitman slid out of the back of the car, and a moment later, a short blonde followed. Jamal closed the door and smoothed his hands over his suit jacket.
Miguel couldn’t believe it. Pitman was, by far, Los Angeles’s most daunting figure–a police chief accused for years of corruption but still in the position of power. A police chief rumored to have a hand in mobs, cartels, and gangs throughout the United States. A police chief with more power hidden in the snap of his fingers than most people could gather in their whole body in an entire lifetime.
And he had showed up to Illinois to escort his lab geek to the crime scene.
Miguel climbed out of his cruiser and stuck out a hand once the pair was close. “Detective Miguel Pareja.”
Jamal grabbed his hand. “Jamal Pitman. Pardon his silence, but this is Bo Austen, my forensics guy. If he reads you as polite enough, he might be willing to speak to you, but otherwise, his information will be given through notes, reports, and me. Sound good?”
Miguel nodded. “Whatever it takes to get this boy back to the morgue. The sooner he can be buried respectfully, the better.”
“I’m glad we agree. Where is he?”
“This way.” Miguel led the way into the butcher shop, ducking under the yellow crime scene tape stretched across the broken glass door. “That door there leads to the freezer. It’s pretty bad in there. You’re just about our last hope on this one, Mister Austen.”
Blue eyes focused on the floor, Bo offered an ‘okay’ symbol with his hand and walked to the door. Before Jamal could follow him, Bo came back out and held out a hand.
“You don’t want me in there?” Jamal asked.
Bo shook his head. “Very bad,” he whispered.
Bo only nodded.
“Okay. I’ll be out here if you need me.”
Bo disappeared into the room without another word.
Miguel cleared his throat. “Has… your guy always been a selective mute?”
“No. I’m sure you saw what happened in Minnesota. The midwestern states seem to report on each other more often than elsewhere.”
“The homicide?” Miguel asked. “Yeah, I heard bits and pieces.”
Jamal nodded, crossing his arms over his chest. “I’m sure you can imagine how difficult watching the murder of your girlfriend is. Healing has been quite the task.”
“Jesus,” Miguel whispered. “Yeah, I can, uh… I can imagine. Can’t believe he’s still willing to work.”
“Sometimes, neither can I. But I can understand it. It gives him something to do. It keeps him sane. Working a murder will always be better than sitting in silence, listening to and rewatching the one in his head,” Jamal said.
“I… Yeah.” Miguel shifted his weight between his feet. “My little boy–I, umm, don’t know how much he saw, and I don’t really know all the details, but I know he was found in the backseat of my ex-wife’s car parked outside of where she was found dead. Don’t know if he saw it. Don’t know if he heard it. But I know he I don’t remember him having nightmares beforehand.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. How old is he?”
Jamal nodded. “That’s rough. For him and for you, but you might luck out. If he did see it, he might not remember it. They say the majority of memories we form are implicit until we’re seven or so. That’s what that childhood amnesia thing is. Being unable to recall even important events from your childhood.”
“I pray for that luck every damn night.”
“Can’t blame you there. Two of my children witnessed the death of a parent, and I still hope their luck will turn and they’ll simply forget about it.” Jamal nodded to the freezer doorway. “I wish his luck would turn, too. I pray for that boy to be able to forget what happened in Clinstone every damn day.”
Miguel couldn’t believe it. He was practically having a heart-to-heart with Jamal Pitman.
Jamal. Fucking. Pitman. What kind of crazy person gave Jamal Pitman information on their life?
“I’m going to go check on your analyst. He’ll be okay with that?” Miguel asked.
“Yes, he’ll be fine. He’s pretty used to it.”
“All right. Back in a few.” Miguel shoved his hands into his pockets and walked back to the freezer. Seeing the boy’s body wasn’t any easier the second time, but at least he was prepared for it. That was almost a positive. “Hey. You managing okay?” Miguel asked.
Bo lifted his head. After a moment, he nodded.
“Do you mind telling me if you’ve found anything yet?”
Bo cleared his throat. “He died quickly. His throat was slit. I won’t have measurements until… I get to the morgue, but it appears to be quite deep. I have no doubt it was the first wound, and it would have killed him before the rest of… this began.”
“How long do you think he would have been alive for?”
“Both carotids have been cut. He would have lost consciousness within seconds. His heart stopping would have followed within a minute or so. Knowing he didn’t suffer is something his parents will most likely take comfort in.”
“Yeah,” Miguel whispered. He raked a hand through his hair, taking a step back toward the doorway. “Thank you for being willing to talk to me. Given Pitman’s introduction, I wasn’t so sure.”
“You’re welcome.” A pause as he went back to taking photos. “There was a time where I didn’t speak at all following… the event. I’m still warming up to people again. You’ve made the list because your body language is more relaxed than some of the detectives I have worked with.”
“Well, it’s appreciated. Based on what Pitman said, I don’t blame you for needing to ‘warm up’ to people again. I don’t know that I’d ever be able to again.”
Bo snapped another picture of the boy before lowering his camera. “Eventually, I suppose one has a choice to make. He either warms up to people again, or he lives in isolation. Strangely, I still know which of those I believe I prefer.”
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