I looked over at the black and whites parked nearby. Sure enough, the kids, maybe about ten years old, peered out the window of each car, their frightened gazes watching my every move. Probably scared about being blamed for the murder.
"Let’s get them transported to the Hall, put a couple volunteers with them, hot chocolate, the works." "The Hall" was what we called the Hall of Justice, a one-stop-shopping of county facilities housed in a seven-story building that included not only the police department and most of its investigative units, but the courts, the jail, the District Attorney’s office, and nearly every other county agency you could think of.
I pushed open the warehouse door, stepped into the musty darkness, still harboring the hope that this would turn out to be a simple homicide, something that wouldn’t take more than a couple hours of my time, max. I’d be on the road to Napa by seven tonight at the latest. Plenty of time for dinner and a bottle of wine, preferably something heavy, red. Cabernet sauvignon, reserve.
Above me, timbers creaked from the force of the wind. What little light there was came from the same broken windows the kids had apparently climbed through, that and the beam of the other officer’s flashlight. Fisk, I presumed, eyeing his uniformed figure standing in the northwest corner next to several stacks of wooden pallets in the otherwise empty building. My footsteps echoed across the concrete flooring, and as I neared, I could make out something large and white between the stacked slats of wood. Not until my sight had adjusted to the dim light could I see what the pallets hid, a chest freezer—and any thoughts of dining in a four-star Napa restaurant were replaced by visions of fast food eaten at my desk. In my experience, simple homicides rarely involved corpses hidden in freezers.
"Body in there?" I asked.
He eyed my gold inspector’s star, nodded, and lifted the freezer lid. A fog of cold air swirled up from the interior. It dissipated, and I looked in to see a man curled in a fetal position. I drew latex gloves out of my pocket, put them on, reached in to lift his arm. It didn’t budge. He was either in full rigor, frozen solid, or both. His clothes were covered with ice crystals. Apparently the freezer wasn’t frost-free.
Pulling my mini Streamlight from my coat pocket, I turned it on and took a look around, noticing the cobwebs behind the appliance, the buildup of dust on the enameled surface. I aimed the beam onto the corpse’s face, the ice particles lighting up like diamonds. His hair, whatever color beneath the ice, was short, neatly cut, straight, and parted to the side.
Scolari showed about ten minutes later. I glanced up from my note taking when I heard him enter. At six-three, he towered over me by a good eight inches. As usual, his tan sport coat and navy pants were rumpled, but still he was an imposing figure, even with his slight paunch and graying hair.
We’d been partners for about a year, working together daily, yet never becoming close. At thirty-six, I was the first female homicide inspector SFPD ever had, and although Scolari never came out and said it, I suspected that he resented not only the notoriety I’d received from the position, but also being partnered with me. Even so, I respected him. He was an outstanding homicide inspector—maybe even one of the best. And he’d saved my life once in a shooting incident. These past few weeks, though, things had been even more tense between us, and I had yet to discover why.
"Gillespie," he said by way of greeting, his voice sounding hollow in the cavernous space. "A little overdressed for the occasion?"
Normally I let his comments bounce right off, but I was more than irritated. Had he answered his page in a timely manner, I wouldn’t be here right now. "You getting your calls by carrier pigeon?"
"Yeah. It got lost on the way." He gave a pointed look to the uniformed officer, and I let drop the subject about him being late. Judging by the expression on Scolari’s face, he was in a worse mood than I. "What’dya got?" he asked.
"The lonely repairman." I stood aside to let him view the body.
He put on a latex glove and peered in. "Yeah, he’s lookin’ pretty lonely right now. Sort of like the ice sculpture for the policeman’s ball," Scolari said. He allowed Officer Fisk to have a look, then lowered the freezer lid. Careful not to disturb any possible prints, Scolari inspected the handle and the exterior of the appliance. "Been looking for one of these things. What’dya figure it holds?"
"You mean how many frozen dinners?" I asked.
"Pot pies are real cheap right now. Think it’ll fit in my apartment?"
"Sure. You can stick it in your living room. Use it for a TV stand."
"No lock." He eyed the pallets. I knew how his mind worked, that he’d come to the same conclusion I had. With no way to secure the freezer lid, the guy had to be dead or unconscious going in, unless someone weighted the top to keep him from escaping. The pallets, however, were full of cobwebs, the dust undisturbed. They didn’t appear to have been moved in a while. "How long you figure he’s been in there?" Scolari asked.
"Twelve hours, fifteen minutes and …" I glanced at my watch, "thirty-nine seconds." Fisk’s gaze widened slightly, as though he might be taking me seriously. "Amazing what they teach you in homicide school," I said, since Scolari’s question was purely rhetorical. Neither of us would know until the autopsy was performed, and even then it would be a guess.
The most the pathologist would be able to determine was an approximate time of death before the body had been placed in the freezer, assuming he was dead when he was put in. His fetal position and his closed eyes suggested he may have been put in alive. Hypothermia, suffocation?