Homicide committed by a strange suspect
Detective Nick Bell’s phone rang at 10:45 on a hot Monday morning. He reluctantly put his jelly filled donut down, dripping gooey substance across his desk as he reached for the phone.
“Homicide, Detective Bell,” he answered in a monotone voice.
A twenty-five year veteran on the Dallas, Texas police force, the last nineteen in Homicide, Bell had seen it all. The atrocities men and women rendered upon one another in the name of revenge, greed, jealousy and a bewildering array of other reasons, only the diabolical mind could understand, didn’t surprise the cop any longer.
Bell hung up the phone, turned in his chair and called to his partner.
“We've got one, Junior, a single body…male…found in his apartment.”
Mark Smith, called Junior by his peers, was the new kid on the block. A decorated street cop for ten years and Bell’s partner for the last year and half. Junior hadn’t become a hardened homicide detective yet, but he had the tenacity it took to solve the tough ones.
“I’m ready to go, Nick…I need the fresh air, but…”
“Right there,” Junior pointed..., “You have a clump of red jelly on your chin.”
Nick fumbled with his crumbled handkerchief. “Never mind, get us a car; I’ll meet you out front, wise guy.”
The apartment building was nothing out of the ordinary. The 15 story building built of Austin stone sat back from the street in a low crime neighborhood. Not the kind of area the detectives typically found themselves in. From experience, Bell knew murder committed here could be solved in a few days, sometimes in hours. The obvious suspect in most cases was usually a close friend, relative, co-worker or a scorned lover. He was already thinking jealous girlfriend as they took the elevator up to the 15th floor, but left his mind open and would follow the clues.
They were met by two uniformed cops at the doorway of apartment 15B.
“What do we have, gentlemen?” Bell asked as he searched his pockets for a notebook. “Take notes, Junior. Who discovered the body?” he asked the officers as all four men entered the apartment.
“A neighbor smelled a foul odor coming from inside and reported it to the property manager. The manager looked in, slammed the door shut and called it in,” Officer White explained.
“Forced entry?” Junior asked.
“Nope! Apartment was locked tight…manager used his pass key to get in, windows are painted shut and…we are 15 floors up.” White shrugged his shoulders and continued talking. “Victim lives alone, last seen Thursday evening entering his apartment carrying Chinese take out.”
“Damn it stinks in here,” the young detective complained.
Bell cautiously stepped toward the corpse. “Smells like death. A decaying body in an enclosed space for a few days never smells good…so much for the fresh air you wanted, Junior.”
The seasoned detective looked around the room, his trained mind taking in every detail. The fully clothed victim was lying face down in the center of the living room with a steak knife in the middle of his back, buried up to the ebony handle. Except for the uneaten Mu Shu Pork laid out on a table in the kitchenette, the room was immaculate. A black wallet, car keys and a pair of designer sun glasses were lying on the kitchen counter. Bell prematurely ruled out robbery as he continued to survey the room’s contents.
“This guy kept some strange company.” Junior laughed as he pretended to put an arm around a mannequin, standing in a corner. “How many dudes keep a plastic broad around as a house guest, Nick?”
Junior stopped laughing and quickly stepped away from the mannequin. “Holy crap!”
“Find something, Junior?” Bell asked, from the kitchen.
“I swear, Nick…she…it…pinched my ass.”
“Maybe you need that fresh air; you’re looking a little pale. She doesn't know just how charming you are.” Bell chuckled.
Visibly shaken, Junior said, “I’m going to go knock on a few doors,” and hurried from the apartment.
Bell studied the place settings on the table. It had been set for two. An unopened bottle of expensive wine was bathed in a bucket of water. Candles, in silver holders, and never lit had been placed as a center piece. A romantic interlude perhaps, Bell wondered.
White interrupted Bell’s train of thought. “Detective…the victim’s father is in the hall, he insists on coming in.”
“If he’s got the stomach for it, let him in.”
“I’m Detective Bell,” Nick said, as he extended his meaty hand. “I’m sorry about your loss…Mister…?”
“Nelson…James Nelson…that’s my son,” he explained, as he glanced down at the body and quickly looked away. “Who could have done this, Detective Bell? My son was a good man with a gentle soul…Ronnie would never harm anyone.”
“We'll find the person responsible for this, Mr. Nelson. Are you up to answering a few questions?”
“Did your son have any enemies? Was he involved in illegal activities?”
“What are you implying? I told you he was a good man; he had no enemies. His mother and I told him over and over he needed to get out more and make friends.”
“And who is Natalie and where can I find her?”
Nelson nodded his head toward the corner and stepped back toward the open door. “That’s Natalie.”
“Yes…may I go now?” Nelson asked, as he continued to work his way to the door.
Bell recognized fear. He had seen it often on the faces of victims and loved ones left behind. Nelson was definitely afraid of something, but his fear was different in some way. “Yes, you may go, but leave your number with Officer White.”
Nelson gave the mannequin one last fearful glance, turned his back on the detective and anxiously made his way to the doorway.
“Yes,” Nelson answered from the hall.
“Where did the mannequin come from?” Bell asked, following the frightened man into the hall.
“Ronnie insisted on going to New Orleans and doing what he could to help the Katrina victims. Like I said, detective, he was a good man.”
“Yes, you did…go on.”
“After a few days he returned, acting strangely, but excited about meeting a woman by the name of Josephine Broussard. He said she was a Priestess, practicing in occultism.”
“Yes…rambling on and on about the occult, reincarnation and there was Natalie.”
“What about Natalie, Mr. Nelson?”
“She was a gift from Broussard. Ronnie insisted she had a soul and he was in love with her.”
Detective Bell resisted his laughter, turned away from Nelson, hiding his impatience.
“In love…with a mannequin!”
“I know it sounds crazy, detective. On Wednesday evening, I convinced Ronnie this was not a normal relationship. He finally agreed and said he would get rid of Natalie.”
“Did you see your son on Thursday?”
“We briefly spoke on the phone…around noon. He said he was telling Natalie it was over that evening. We never spoke again. That’s all I know, detective.”
Tears began to run down the father’s cheeks. He turned away and disappeared into the elevator.
Alone in the apartment, Bell loosened his tie and slowly walked to the corner. He stopped a few feet from the mannequin. Again, he pulled his crumpled handkerchief from his back pocket, this time he wiped sweat from his forehead.
What happened here, Natalie? What did you witness? Who was expected for dinner? Why were there candles and wine? What is Nelson afraid of? If you could only talk...my job would be easier.
For a moment the detective thought he saw her lips slightly curl into a smile.
She’s made of plastic…this is insane, mannequins don’t smile.
Overcome with emotions he was unfamiliar with, Bell forced himself to turn away.
Flushed and confused the veteran detective didn’t feel his weapon being removed from its holster, but he felt the cold steel of the barrel placed against the back of his head.
Mark Smith, called Junior by his peers because he still clung to some innocence, heard six gunshots come from apartment 15B.
Sometimes things happen; sometimes you just don’t have a choice.
Now, Junior didn’t have a choice. He had two murders to solve.