Part one of an ongoing series.
Kiko liked the smell of disinfectant.
It was reassuring. Cool and clean, like breathing out before a shot of vodka. Her mind wandered through myriad passages as the smell settled crisply in her nostrils.
Jones stood by, watching the medical droids sweep over the bed – gun-barrel grey on gleaming tracks, their narrow beams of light investigating and drawing useless conclusions. Kiko could tell that Jones was anxious; he was picking at his jeans, whistling slightly.
“Got somewhere to be?”
Jones shook his head. Kiko stepped over to him, joined him in watching and waiting.
On the hospital bed, a young man – nineteen years old, according to the droids – was dying. The sheets were stained all manner of red, colours awfully familiar to Kiko.
Kiko studied his face. Eyes shut, calm and distant. Clean, but gaunt, increasingly empty, as if something was slowly being sapped away by the clean air. Below the kid’s shoulders, a mess loosely held together by cotton. Hardly a body at all. He’d been found like that, on the side of the road, by a young couple on the way home from an engagement party. When Kiko and Jones had arrived, the man who’d made the call had held his girlfriend’s hand and asked if it was okay if they went home.
When they eventually go to that wedding, Kiko thought, they’ll smile, still clutching hands, and thank theirs hosts for inviting them. Light will catch on their faces, and they’ll think about something else entirely.
“You’ve seen worse,” Kiko offered.
“I need a shower.”
Kiko nodded. “We’re running the sample. ID should come in soon. Then we can make the call, let someone know.”
“I’ve got to sleep. Been trying to shake this fucking cold all week.”
“I’ll do it.” Kiko had known she was going to be the one to do it ever since they’d pulled over three hours earlier. Something about the way Jones had switched off the engine, the timbre of his voice. He wouldn’t be able to make the call, not this time. This one probably hit too close to home.
“What do you think happened to him?”
“That kind of trauma? Had to be someone on something, crystal maybe. Probably rolled him, looking for a fix,” Kiko shrugged. “We won’t find them. Don’t worry about it. We just gotta make the call.”
“All his money is still in his pockets.”
“Yes it is.”
Jones went back to tuneless whistling.
Kiko didn’t care much about the money, or what it meant. She was wondering who the kid was. What his name was. What his friends called him. Why he wore his hair like that. What he would be whistling right now, if he could. Whether he knew, somewhere in that unconscious wreck, that nobody but two police officers and a young couple desperately in love knew where he was and what had happened to him.
The droids were keeping an eye on his vitals, taking measurements, looking for toxins. Slowly, slowly fighting against a plodding clock that would eventually have its way with them all.
Kiko caught herself looking at the back of Jones’ neck. A small scar, long healed, licked up from behind his collar.
She stepped back out into the hall. It was quiet, as it had been when they had arrived. Doctors had accepted their package with grace, moved it into a surgery, full of vigour. But once they saw what they had to deal with, they quickly let any of their best laid plans return to the back of the cupboard.
The doctors had taken the young man to a palliative care room, and then disappeared, sinking into hidden recesses of the shadowy complex that now engulfed Kiko’s focus: the silent building with its neon lights and shiny floors. Sharp, brilliant smells.
Kiko and Jones had gotten a call out. A man had been found on the side of the road, unconscious and wounded. It was Saturday night. This was normal. What they had found was a smear on the sidewalk, a man whose insides had fallen out of him and scattered across the glistening concrete, his hands marked with the effort to hold it all in. But it had fallen. Definitely fallen. Defiantly fallen.
Jones had vomited. He didn’t mention it, and Kiko didn’t ask him about it, but she could smell it on him when he returned to the car. They had trailed the ambulance back to the hospital with ease. Spoken about shift times and pay loadings and pulled into the car park in a professional daze.
Kiko had only twice, in six and a half years, solved a murder. Both times, it still hadn’t felt like enough, but it was better than the alternative.
She knew that this one wouldn’t be solved. That they’d talk to the right people, write down all the right things, and then chalk it up to horrible mystery. And go to bed. And sleep it off.
How did someone melt, become so porous that they fell into misshapen confusion like that? Kiko stepped back into the room, saw Jones had taken a seat by the window and was pretending to be asleep. Kiko wasn’t going to sleep. She was going to turn those terrible images around in her head, and she was going to run, run, run, until her lungs burnt through her chest and her legs felt weak and she could stop and watch television.
Tonight, a nineteen year old man had fallen apart all over the side of Seventh Street.
Kiko remembered the smell of disinfectant, and immediately felt better.
Jones opened his eyes and started to whistle. He cut himself short as the droids started to blink red, beep, communicate as clearly as they knew how.
Doctors rushed in, as if they’d just emerged from behind forgotten doors, bled out of the shadows. They quickly remembered what they were dealing with, and stepped back.
As the young man died, Kiko checked her flashing pocket.
His name was David.
Words copyright Matt Vesely. Image copyright David Keen.