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Beginning of the End Excerpt chapter 1

1st Chapter: Excerpt

Tangled Webs

 

The two-story, red brick house had been the home of Charming Advertising for the past eleven years. Red and blue flashing lights atop police cruisers alerted the employees arriving to work at Charming that this would be far from a normal day. They found themselves turned away and told to go home after the police officer obtained their personal information.

The smells created by death permeated the offices.

Unfortunately for Nikki McLoud and her co-worker Mike White, they’d both arrived at the advertising agency early that day. Detective Scott Jackson requested they remain in Nikki’s office until he and his partner returned for their statements. The detective stood protectively in the front doorway to await Detective Canton, the lead detective.

Mike bumped shoulders with Nikki. “What do you think the boss died from? Oh my God, he was naked. And did you see the purple condom he had on?”

Nikki couldn’t believe her ears. She looked at Mike as if he had grown a horn in the middle of his forehead. He was her best friend but sometimes what spewed from his mouth made her question his IQ. She laughed nervously, shaking her head in disbelief, causing her wavy, auburn hair to fall into her eyes. “Mike, he’s our boss! You’re gross. I can’t believe you can sit there?”

Mike cut her off in mid-sentence. “My bet is that his little twenty-something ho was here last night going down on him and that’s when he kicked it. Then his little chick-on-the-side just left him where you found him this morning. I’ll bet you twenty bucks.”

Nikki sat on the corner of her desk, glaring at him. After meeting Mike on her first day with Charming Advertising eight years before, they had, strangely enough, soon become best friends. 

Nikki, though she loved being a graphics designer at Charming, did not like how Mike had been treated ?as the office lackey? and she immediately set about to defend him.

Nikki knew that Mike was intelligent and not a lackey, just immature. And, sure enough, he had confided in her, several weeks after they’d met, that he only acted clueless so his uncle, who co-owned the agency, wouldn’t expect him to take control some day. Mike didn’t want to be tied down to a desk job. He enjoyed the freedom to come and go as he pleased and liked being everyone’s boy Friday, as he called himself.

That true Mike had been the only one to break through the walls she had erected about herself. Her trust issues always affected every relationship in her life, especially the few lovers she’d had. 

Several years ago, after knowing one another a little more than a year, Nikki realized Mike wanted more than just friendship with her. Nikki told him bluntly she wouldn’t date him. She told him she could never feel that way about him. At first, he had thought it meant she thought he wasn’t good enough for her.

He sulked for two weeks before she decided enough was enough.

“Look, you shithead, I love you like a brother. That is all there ever will be. Don’tcha get it? I’m gay. In case you don’t know, that means I only sleep with women.”

Nikki had laughed when she saw the light bulb click on in his brain. 

“Oh,” he had said as a sly grin crept across his face.

Knowing him well enough, Nikki could imagine what he was thinking. “And no you can’t watch, you sicko.” 

Nikki had just shaken her head, knowing it wouldn’t be the only time Mike would suggest such a thing.

“How do you do that? What are you? A psychic?” 

She knew it always drove him crazy when she knew exactly what he was thinking. It was as if he thought she was inside his head looking around.

 

 

“Wow, that was eight years ago and you’re still demented.” She realized too late that she had said the thought aloud.

“What was?” Mike turned to her, but then glanced past her into the hallway. “Damn! Boy, would I like to wake up to that every morning.” 

Nikki turned, wondering what had caught his attention. It had to be good to leave him flustered. The hair on her arms suddenly stood up.

Her office walls were made of glass, which gave her the opportunity to observe everything. Now, Nikki watched as a woman stopped to speak with the waiting detective. Seeing the shiny badge attached to her belt, she concluded the beautiful woman must be Detective Canton. Her stride spoke of confidence and power.

Nikki saw the detective look into her office as she slowly walked by the windows. She felt like the detective was looking right through her. It gave Nikki an eerie feeling. Then she saw it. The corner of the detective’s mouth turned upwards and her eyebrow arched. Nikki watched as the woman’s eyes traveled down then slowly back up her body.

Was she misreading the detective or was she indeed checking her out? 

The thought made her want to bolt from the room and Nikki told herself to get a grip. Not every woman you become interested in is going to break your heart.

She and Mike watched as the detectives slowly made their way down the hall.

“Wow, is she hot! Do you think she’d like to join me and the wife for some bedroom fun?” Mike said, laughing.

“Mike, you are way too much.” Nikki rolled her eyes. “I know you’re joking around, but you’d better not say anything like that in front of her.” 

“Oh come on, everyone loves my sense of humor.”

“I know, but she’s a cop and might not take too kindly to it. I’m so used to it that it doesn’t faze me anymore.” 

Nikki straightened a stack of papers on her desk and sat behind the desk.

“Fine…I’ll behave. She is hot though.”

Nikki gave him a wicked grin. “You’re not her type.”

“Oh, come on, how can you freakin’ tell that just by looking at her?” he asked.

Nikki laughed. “Because my gaydar is screaming dyke, that’s why.”

“Then why don’t you ask her out while she’s here?” He wiggled his eyebrows.

“Yeah right, just what I need…to ask a cop out. Especially one working the crime scene concerning my boss’s death. Besides… she doesn’t exactly look approachable.”

There was no way Nikki was going to get involved with a cop. They liked to dig into areas where they were not welcome. Everyone had ghosts in their closets that were best left where they were.

Leaning over her, Mike put his hand on her shoulder.

“Come on, Nikki, it’s the twenty-first century. Ask her out. You’re a good woman and a great catch. Now, dig deep and find that courage, ‘cause I know you have it. You sure tell me off enough, so I know it’s there somewhere.”

She pulled her focus back to her friend. 

“Screw you!” she snarled, even as she secretly found him amusing.

“Anytime, anyplace, baby.” 

He seemed happy that, for once, he got in the last word.

 

 

Detective Alex Canton came from a long line of cops and she had been trained to investigate everything in a habitual, efficient fashion, overlooking nothing. Some of her co-workers even described her as having extreme OCD. Because of this, she radiated arrogance without trying. Officers working with her knew better than to interrupt her train of thought but, if they were foolish enough to try, it took only one contemptuous look from Alex to change their minds. She knew they hated her for her arrogance, but probably hated themselves more for backing down from her. Her ruthless reputation was well known and she was famous for getting answers out of the most tight-lipped suspects, no matter how long it took. 

Chiseled features gave her a hard, aloof air but appearance mattered little to her. Today she knew her blonde hair was in dire need of a haircut and the light streaks from the summer sun would soon disappear, darkening the color once more.

The detective’s clothes hid her physique. She liked it that way. Even though working out every day, alternating between the gym and the dojo, kept her in top physical shape. 

Being fit was important. It paid off when she saw the looks of admiration she received from her numerous female conquests.

Arriving at the scene, Alex was pleased to see her favorite tech already there. Dominic  Mancini had started on the force the same time she had. She liked working with him whenever possible and considered him one of the best in his field.

Dom even knew her routine. He had started snapping pictures from the hallway into the office. Now, stepping into the office, he took more from inside the doorway.  

Alex pointed to a rookie tech standing nearby. “You stay here for a minute.”

Her partner Scott moved next to her. 

“Scott, it’s been what, a year since we had a naked one?” 

“Yeah, I think that’s about right,” he said after a moment.  

“Who was here before us?” she asked.

Turning to look at her, he answered. “The dead man’s assistant, Ms. Nikki McLoud, found him. She says she didn’t step into the room. Another worker, Mr. Mike White, was standing behind her when she opened the office door. Mr. White went in and checked for a pulse. Finding none, he called 911 on his cell phone.”

He checked his notes. 

“Next was Mitchell, the first officer on the scene. He re-checked for a pulse. He also kept everyone else out of the building and made sure the two inside stayed put. When I showed up, I informed Mr. White and Ms. McLoud that we would take their statements shortly.”

“Who was the last one here yesterday?” Alex opened her leather portfolio. 

Alex loathed wasting the time on taking notes. She could remember everything in detail months later. Her photographic memory came in handy when she compiled her reports at the end of each day. She very seldom had to refer to what she had written during the investigation.

Scott consulted his notes once more. 

“Ms. McLoud was. She left a little after eight, locking up behind her. She said the door was locked when she arrived this morning. It’s a keyed entry lock with a panic bar on it and shows no sign of forced entry.”

“Four possible options here that I see right away, Scott….”

Alex ticked them off on her fingers. 

“One, he let someone in. Two, an employee came back. Three, the person is still here. Or four, Ms. McLoud is lying.”  

Alex turned to the young man who had remained standing quietly nearby. “You’re the rookie Dom’s been raving about, right?”

“Yes, Ma’am, it’s Peterson.”

“Well, put on gloves and come in here.”

Alex watched a moment as Dom photographed the body. Pulling on latex gloves, she knelt next to it. Scott followed, kneeling next to her. “Well Scott, not much of a chance of finding a wallet on him. Get extra close-ups of the cuffed hands. No visible wounds on the front side of him. You see anything, Dom?”

Carefully, they rolled the body onto its side. 

“Not a thing,” Dom said as he stood, taking more pictures of the victim’s back.

Alex studied the condom as they laid him back down. “I’ll look at the rest of the office first. I want to leave his desk for last.”

“Okay. I’m finished here. I’ll do some close-ups of his desk and the perimeter. Then it’s all yours.” Dom moved onto his next task.

“Good. Scott, get the medical examiner in here. That’s an interesting condom he has on…did you take a good look at it?” Alex was fishing but Scott wasn’t biting.

Scott seemed to notice that she had inspected it closely, but he obviously couldn’t figure out why.

When he didn’t respond, she continued. “Bag it and I want those results as quickly as possible.” 

She had noticed something interesting on the condom, but didn’t want to mention it. For Alex, being a good detective meant constantly learning. She was trying to teach Scott to keep his eyes and mind open to all possibilities. 

Scott motioned for the medical examiner to give them an estimated time of death with his thermometer. Afterward, the techs put the body in a bag on a gurney and removed it from the room.

“All right. Peterson put on fresh gloves. Put your old ones in this bag,” Alex said.

This was one of Alex’s quirks. She insisted that anyone who touched the body put on fresh gloves when finished. The contaminated gloves were then sent with the body to be examined on the off chance one of them had picked up any trace evidence.

Slipping on fresh latex gloves, Alex went through the room with Peterson, leaving the desk for last. Fast food wrappers were strewn around the room. She also noticed candy wrappers in the trash can along with more condom wrappers.

“Bag each of those separately. Understand? Separately,” Alex said, pointing to the wrappers on the desk. “Put the trash can in one of the bigger bags. Scott…we have an awful lot of candy wrappers here. You find anything interesting?”

Knowing Alex’s line of thought, Scott was already looking for particular evidence. He didn’t mention aloud what he was looking for because he knew Alex was testing the rookie’s knowledge. “Nope, I haven’t seen any at all.” 

Alex turned to Dom. “You see any evidence?”

“No.” He never stopped clicking his camera while talking to her.

Peterson had a puzzled look.

“Drugs, Rookie Peterson, drugs. Study up on them tonight. Certain drugs cause sugar cravings. That could be one of the reasons for so many candy wrappers here.”

Dom patted the rookie on the shoulder. “Don’t worry, kid. These two talk in code. Once you’ve worked a few cases with them you’ll know exactly what they’re talking about. It can sometimes be scary. Ms. Big Bad there is especially scary.”

“Dom ….” Alex glared at him.

Dom smiled. He had known Alex for years and she knew he would do anything for her if she requested it.

Alex, standing at the decedent’s desk, flipped through his day planner, looking for any names, initials, numbers or strange notes. Anything that repeated itself. “Peterson, don’t forget the time, date, and initials, and get it back to me once it’s photographed.”

Scott picked up a cell phone that was lying on the desk. Flipping it open, he made notes of the numbers called. “Looks like the final call was at 9:32 last night. There’s no name attached to the number.”

Alex looked at the number as well. “We’ll call it when we’re done.” 

She wiped her glove-covered finger across a dusty lampshade. “You can leave this alone. No one’s touched it in months.” 

Seeing the tube of lip balm, Alex pointed it out to the rookie. “Peterson, bag it and mark it priority.”

Scott glanced at it. “Curious. True Shimmer Botanical Berry. Young girl?”

Alex raised an eyebrow. “Maybe….” 

Opening the top drawer of the desk, Alex called out and asked Dom to take a picture. Then she pulled a bottle out, holding it up for Scott to see. 

“Nitroglycerin…looks like he already had a bad heart. Add other factors and boom, the Reaper’s a-knocking on your door.”

Scott studied the lamp on the desk. “Looks like this guy wasn’t much for cleanliness.”

“Yeah. Look at this,” Alex said after opening the bottom drawer. ”Obviously the old man entertained here often.”

Looking at the contents, Scott laughed. “Oh, yeah, dirty old man. Hey, isn’t that like the strap-on your ex bought for you the year before last?” he asked, low enough so that only Alex could hear.

“Looks like it. It was the best thing I got out of that relationship,” she replied, laughing. “I made sure she left it behind.” 

For that brief moment, Alex had let her guard down. Then the wall was back up. Scott was the only person she allowed to see those rare moments.

Alex stood, surveying the room one more time before turning to Scott. “Okay, where’s the woman who found him?”

Relationships. All it took was a simple reminder and thinking about her last girlfriend to bring back the loneliness. Alex knew what she needed. A night of good sex was all it would take. It had been a year since the Donna fiasco. The blues still settled around her at the thought of Donna. Wondering if the hurt would ever go away, Alex tried to control her thoughts, envisioning a bloody crime scene.

Unfortunately, her mind wandered down the path on its own. Alex thought back to her latest failed relationship. Alex had known it was finished for some time. She just couldn’t bring herself to send Donna packing. That was, until she came home very early one day to surprise Donna with dinner. Immediately she spied someone else’s clothing strewn across the living room floor as she entered the apartment.

Walking quietly down the hall, she looked into the bedroom. There was Donna in bed with a woman Alex had never seen before. The next thing Alex knew she had her gun muzzle pressed to Donna’s head.

Donna was obviously so terrified she couldn’t move her head from between the other woman’s legs. “Alex, I?” 

Alex had looked down at her. “I suggest you both get out now!”

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