The body of the teenage boy lay face down in the gutter, his bandana, his colors, still clenched in his fist, floated in the water beside him. Blood mixed with rain raced in a gurgling stream down the drain, splashing noisily as it made its way to the river.
What had it gained him? What had he proved? These were a few of the questions that flashed through Detective Nate Richards’ mind as he studied the crime scene. Summer rain washed over Richards’ lean frame, soaking his loose brown curls to the scalp. Flexing a muscle in his jaw, he lifted a hand to wipe water from his face. The street light reflected off of his cocoa-colored skin, twinkling in the early morning darkness. “Who’s calling the scene?” Nate asked the group of four uniformed officers standing near a row of patrol cars, their overhead lights casting a rainbow effect on the wet pavement.
Three of the four uniformed men walked toward Nate. He looked between the men and, finding the corporal stripes, directed his comments to them. “What d’ya’ got, Benson?” he asked, reading the nametag that went along with them.
“Another one down; one less to worry about shooting me in the back,” Corporal Chad Benson muttered under his breath while using his hand to squeegee rainwater from his short blond hair. He chuckled to himself as he walked past the body headed for his patrol unit. He glanced at Nate as he passed.
“Does the phrase crime scene integrity mean anything to you, Benson?” Nate said.
“What’s your problem?” Benson said in a harsh whisper. “It’s not like it means anything. They breed like rats down here. Who cares if they kill each other off? We’ll have two more by week’s end. Mark my word. And it won’t even make a difference.”
The two uniformed officers, with Benson, smiled at their team commander’s remarks. One of the men stared at Nate, holding his gaze for an extra heart beat longer than necessary before turning away. Nate made a mental note to remember the men’s names.
“Stow it. Now!” Nate cut his gaze to a woman sitting on the curb rocking and hugging herself. The dead teen’s mother. Grabbing Benson by the shoulder, Nate pulled him off to the side. “You can’t see?”
Benson snatched his arm from Nate. “What?”
“You okay, Bens?” one of the other officers called and stepped toward Nate.
“Johnson, right?” Nate asked, making sure he had the man’s name correct. “Is this the way you run a crime scene?” Nate had directed the question to Benson.
Looking down the desolate street, Nate pointed to the nearest intersection. “Block that off and get some cones out in the street to keep paramedics and everyone else from driving through my crime scene.”
Johnson looked at Nate but didn’t move.
“You got a problem with that, patrolman?” Nate asked.
“Go ‘head,” Benson said, stepping between the two men. “Look, Detective, we do just fine. You take care of your stuff, and I’ll take care of mine.”
Without responding, Nate turned away from the officer and approached the woman, hoping she hadn’t overheard Benson’s comments or noticed the patrolmen’s cavalier attitudes.
Shielding his notepad from the rain with his arm, he checked the comments he’d recorded there. He cleared his throat. “Mrs. Fuentes? I’m Detective Nate Richards, Treasure Valley Metro Police Department. I need to ask you a few questions.”
The woman raised her dark eyes like dead pools, lifeless and cold, to meet Nate’s expectant gaze. “What does it matter? We breed like rats anyway, right?” She pulled her jacket collar tight around her neck and turned away from him.
So much for her not having heard, Nate thought. He stooped to meet the woman’s gaze. “Mrs. Fuentes…”
“Miss. I’m not married. But I guess that’s okay when you’re only a Cricetomys emini, huh?”
Struck by the woman’s beauty, Nate thought she didn’t look much older than a teen herself. “Miss Fuentes,” he began again, “A what?”
“A pregnant rat,” she said, anger coloring her voice.
Nate broke eye contact for the briefest of moments but watched her gauging her movements. “I apologize for the officer’s crudeness. There’s no excuse for his behavior. I also assure you that his is not the general attitude of the police department.” Nate was sincere in his response but knew avoiding an officer complaint was a good idea as well.
The woman stood abruptly. She looked again at her son lying dead in the street, took a breath and seemed to gather herself. “Can I take him now?”
“I’m sorry Mrs.—Miss Fuentes, but the body can’t be released until the coroner has been called and finishes his examination.”
“You gonna cut up my baby? You gonna cut him open and play around inside him? For what? We know what killed him. The bullets killed him. Just let me take him and put him to rest.”
Nate looked over the woman’s shoulder at Officer Benson sitting in his patrol unit out of the weather and wished that it was Benson standing in the rain having to explain the bad behavior instead of him. Benson sat leaning back in the passenger’s seat stuffing the last of something into his mouth.
“Miss Fuentes, I’m sorry, but certain things have to be done and then—”
“I don’t care. You want to assure me you don’t see my son as some kind of second class citizen? You find the man who killed him, and you make him pay.” She walked away, her shoulders heaving as she struggled against the sobs shaking her entire body. Stopping a short distance away, she leaned against the wall and stood there absorbed by the shadows.
Nate stormed over to the patrol car and pulled open the door. “Benson, you’re a pig.”
Benson looked up, a smear of mayonnaise stuck in the corner of his mouth. “What? What’d I do?”
Nate looked in the direction the woman had disappeared. “You couldn’t see the mother sitting not fifteen feet from you? What were you thinking?”
“NHI, man. Why should I get all bothered over nothing?”
Nate clenched and then relaxed his fist. He inhaled and blew out his breath in one explosive sigh, water vapor springing from around his lips. Without speaking, he turned and walked away. Kneeling beside the body, he began his investigation while fighting to control his anger at Benson’s callous behavior.