8:32 AM; CLINSTONE EMERGENCY ROOM, ALLEYWAY
Admittedly, Bo found himself shocked at the crime scene alleyway. He’d ducked under the yellow tape at an uncountable number of Los Angeles back alley homicides, and there was always an unmistakable feel to them. In Los Angeles, even before you saw the body or the blood, you knew this was the perfect kind of alley to kill someone in. They were poorly lit, even when the sun was out. They came to a dead end to make escape impossible for the soon-to-be victim.
But the alley behind Clinstone’s ER was… different. The back door to the ER was well-labeled, and a motion-activated light sat above it. No camera, of course—it was never that easy—but the place didn’t exactly feel like a death trap. It felt almost… safe.
However, given that there was a woman dead in the dumpster with a slit throat, safe was certainly an incorrect assumption.
Camera in hand, Bo stepped up on the bottom lip of the dumpster and leaned over the top. The lid had most likely been open ever since the body had been found. It allowed him a good look inside, but it wasn’t a great angle for pictures. He lowered his camera. The left side of the dumpster was still closed. Surely he could get up there without too much trouble.
He swung a leg over the dumpster and climbed onto the lid, his camera pinned to his shoulder.
Jacob raised an eyebrow as Bo leaned down to snap a picture of the victim. “You are far agiler than Misty.”
Bo snorted. It had far more to do with balance than agility of any kind. It was more about figuring out how far apart his knees had to be so he could lean forward without falling into the dumpster and onto the body. But that knowledge could stay inside his head. He knew more than most how much others hated genuine explanations about ‘complex’ abstracts and ideas.
So he settled for a simple, “Thank you.”
“What’re you seeing in there?” Jacob asked.
Bo preferred keeping assumptions and guesses to himself, only giving the detectives absolute facts once he had completed an autopsy and thoroughly examined the crime scene. But unless fate or god or whatever the hell there was struck down the detectives with a freak lightning storm, he’d always be expected to list things off as he saw them, to make educated guesses based on those same sights. Though he didn’t enjoy it, he was used to it.
“Our victim was most likely killed by a throat laceration. There’s a substantial amount of bruising and blood around the cut, so it happened before her death rather than after. She was alive when it happened, just not for long afterward.” Bo held out his camera. “Detective Mason? Can you take this?”
Jacob walked up to the dumpster, but he made no move to grab it. “I don’t know much, but I know I’ve never been allowed to touch Misty or Gwen’s cameras. You sure you want me to do that?”
Bo offered a smile. “I have faith that you can handle it.”
“Well, if I drop it, it’s totally on you.”
“That’s fine. I have no intention of suing you over a broken camera.” Bo gave the body of said expensive camera a light shake. “So?”
Jacob grabbed it and quickly lifted the strap over his head. “This is fucking heavy, man. How the hell are you toting it around while you’re balancing on a dumpster?”
Calculations of what it took to balance with the extra weight of the camera weren’t hard for Bo to run through. He knew how much his camera weighed with the addition of the external flash and his lens. He knew the force of gravity and what kind of angle he needed to help counteract it. Most importantly, he knew the width of the base–how far apart his feet were–he needed to balance. For Bo, it was practically second nature.
“I’ve had my fair share of practice,” Bo said. He pulled his phone from his pocket and dropped to his stomach on the garbage lid. He grabbed the victim’s hand and pressed her thumb against the home button on his phone. Slowly, he rolled her thumb across it, left to right. He carefully lowered her hand to rest against her stomach and pushed himself back up. He swung both legs over the dumpster’s edge, balancing himself on the thin lip of the dumpster.
“Austen, be careful. Please.”
Bo glanced down at Jacob. “I’ll be okay, Detective, I promise.” His eyes shifted back to his phone. “This here is Tess Brown. Five-eleven, blonde hair, green eyes, turned forty-four on the fifth of November.”
Carter raised an eyebrow. “Did you just do that on your phone?”
Dammit. Bo closed his eyes for a moment. This wasn’t Los Angeles. This was Clinstone. This was his fresh start. And he’d already ruined it. “Yes,” he finally said.
Bo held up his phone and offered a quiet, “The home button has a fingerprint sensor.” That wasn’t quite it. It did have a sensor, but only because he’d modified it to, only because he’d programmed it to send the fingerprint data to an app he’d created years prior. It took the readings and rifled through the fingerprints in the police database, working overtime to sort through those that held the same loops, scars, deltas, ridge endings, islands, and bifurcations as the one that had been scanned. It had taken years to get right, just like his portable DNA identifier and his phone’s facial recognition scanner.
But that answer was long and offered an inside look straight into his brain, and he didn’t want to do that. He’d already screwed up by using the fingerprint reader now instead of once Tess Brown’s body had arrived at the morgue. He didn’t intend to mess up his fresh start any further.
Clearing his throat, Bo jumped down from the dumpster’s edge. “There’s an app that takes the data from the fingerprint scanner and runs it against those in the system.”
Jacob cocked his head to the side. “ ‘There’s an app’ because you created it. Right?”
Bo let out a breath, shoulders falling. “Yes, sir.”
“Christ, dude. Don’t be ashamed of that shit. That’s amazing.”
“Theoretically,” Bo said after a moment. He shoved his phone into his back pocket and took his camera from Jacob. “I’d like to document the scene further while we wait for the coroner to arrive. Then we can get her back to the morgue, and I can see what I can get from there. It’ll be easier to get an idea of what happened once she’s… not in a dumpster.”
Jacob watched him for a moment, but he didn’t ask any further questions as Bo had feared he would. Instead, he nodded. “Okay. Lemon and I will head to the barricades and let you work in peace.” He jerked a thumb over his shoulder, toward the end of the alleyway. “If you need anything, holler. Sound good?”
For the first time in what felt like years, Bo’s shoulders relaxed. “Sounds perfect.”
Once Carter and Jacob had relocated to the other end of the alley, Bo felt at peace, in his element. What felt like a lifetime ago, he had worked almost exclusively surrounded by people. A detective, a beat cop, the chief, another analyst. It had always felt like someone was looking over his shoulder, waiting for him to mess up, waiting for their chance to prove he didn’t belong there. But here, even though he’d screwed up and used his fingerprint scanner out in the field in front of the detectives, they had simply… left him alone. Unsupervised. Heck, they were so far away that Bo could only just barely make out what Jacob was saying about lunchtime. Maybe Clinstone, Minnesota was far enough away from California to be different. Maybe it still had a chance to be the breath of fresh air he needed.
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