It’s Monday and you just woke up with the dire need for coffee. On your way to the kitchen in a pre-caffeine haze you trip over a dead body. Welcome to your life Laura Hamilton.
Dead On arrival—Prologue
May 15, 2005— Delivering the Goods
“C’mon man can’t we just leave the package on the balcony?” The short stocky youth was trying to drag an item off the rental truck.
“Nope!! We have specific orders to deliver the ‘goods’ right to the apartment –I have instructions right here, Dawg.”
“How we gonna get in there without getting caught?” He was anxious about this aspect of his initiation exercise. “Rebo, brother, man, you know I can’t do more time if we get caught. They said the next time I go in the joint they’re not letting me out for twenty or so. I can’t do it. Scar nearly skinned me alive the last time.” Rebo, whose full moniker was actually Reboot-due to his considerable savvy in moving hot computer parts, looked at his less intelligent brother. “C’mon Walter, ya big pussy, help me with this package. I have to deliver this as instructed or I’m dead meat. That’s the word from the Man!! I’ll keep ya out of the joint. Don’t worry we just have to convince the management of this here building, that we got to get in there.”
“Ray-man” he said as Ray came across the back parking lot, “I got a quick job for you…. Bidding starts at fifty and mum’s the word. Interested?” Ray, who knew the two boys loosely, was known to turn a blind eye when a business opportunity presented itself, even if the opportunity was of a spurious nature. Money talked, in his book.
“Show me the colour of your money and we’ll talk. I don’t need details, its better I don’t know, makes lyin’ to management that much easier.”
“I thought you were management?” spouted Rebo.
“Word got out that I did time, and the best I could get from this gig is Assistant Super, with no cash handling.
But hey let me worry about Gerry, I’ll get around him. Now what do ya need?”
May 16, 2005— Finding the Package.
What was I thinking as I got up that Monday morning? I had impulsively quit my job. I was on benefits for chronic health problems. However, I was employed part time as an office temp. The placement I had been on just didn’t work out. I guess I am just too soft- hearted to deal with all the deadbeats calling in begging for mercy at the collection agency I had been assigned to. I woke up with the sudden fear, that despite my best efforts in budgeting, that I would have to do something to keep my financials afloat.
All those worries were put on the back burner, when I tripped over the dead body in the middle of my living room.
“What the hell?” I exclaimed as I went flying over a lump of something. As every red-blooded girl would do in this situation, I screamed.
When I managed to pick myself up off the floor, I realized I knew the dead body. The deceased was none other than Anthony “Velcro” Hodges. He was aptly nicknamed Velcro as he attached himself to his prey until the debt in question was collected upon or the asset in question was repossessed. He was said to be fairly hard-nosed and not well liked in general. In short, he was an aggressive bully, and had been arrested for harassing people he attempted to collect from. He probably deserved to be fired for questionable practices; but murdered?
As my sniffer doesn’t usually work properly first thing in the morning, until I get the first pot of coffee going, it didn’t really occur to me that something smelled bad. Well not bad per se, more like something rotting. What I had assumed was fermenting overripe fruit—perhaps I’d left my bananas out too long, was, in reality, Anthony.
I went around opening windows and the balcony doors, just as my gag reflexes were kicking in. Too late and, I hurled my first cup of coffee out onto my patio. Maybe it wasn’t just the smell, but the shock of seeing a body in the middle of my living room and the realization that my personal space had been grossly violated. The only two people that had keys besides me were Gerry and Ray the building supers. I immediately thought this was one of Gerry’s’ practical jokes, but where did he get the stiff?
Before I get too far into the scenario, I should introduce myself. My name is Laura Hamilton. I live in Toronto, Ontario in a small apartment building in the heart of what was formerly known as Scarborough prior to the annexation of the Greater Metropolitan Area.
I am an Office Clerk for hire when the need to pay rent and eat arises. My most recent assignment had been at Handy Debt Collectors as a receptionist/skip tracer.
My job was to field calls from frightened and often disgruntled persons calling to negotiate, threaten, and beg their way out of collection of their favourite, yet unpaid for, assets. So, I direct them to the appropriate collections officer, depending on the size and type of debt owed. I doubled as a skip-tracer researching the whereabouts of dislocated parties who owed us money. This is basically how skip tracing works. If a debt collector cannot find the person who owes the money, the account first goes to a skip tracer, who uses any legal means possible to track the person down, even if it means calling neighbours, and generally being a pest. I generally take a lot of abuse throughout a day. The reason I had quit, was because I am too nice a person to want to harass people who didn’t want to be found and my trace quota wasn’t close to netting the results the agency expected. So to save myself the humiliation of getting fired, I volunteered to find something more in my comfort zone.
So here I was unemployed, and to add insult to injury, standing over a smelly dead guy. As I was squelching the urge to hurl again, there was a loud banging at my door. I skirted around the body, and ran to open it. It was Gerry, the building super. Gerry had slammed into my life for the second time, after a car accident involving his cab and my car, resulted in him getting fired and needing a job. We had gone to high school together. We hadn’t been friends, but he had played football with my ex Louie. I felt partially responsible for Gerry losing his job, so I managed to wrangle a gig for him as the super for my rent-controlled walk up.
I might add that it is the middle of May and we are in the midst of a heat wave. Everything smelled a bit riper than it would normally would.
“What in hell’s name is that horrible stench?” Gerry stopped short, quickly noticing the dead dude on the carpet. He quickly held the edge of his work shirt over his mouth and nose. I was sorely tempted to gag again. The stoicism I exhibited was slowly dissipating and being replaced by panic. What if the killer came back, and decided to finish me off?
“Okay Gerry,” I said, “cut the crap! How did you get Velcro’s’ body in here?”
“What do ya mean how? You mean you think I did this, thanks a lot!” he said, somewhat pissed.
“This wasn’t your handy-work?”
“No! Why would you think I would do such a horrid thing?”
“Not sure really; maybe because you and Ray have the only keys besides me, and you love practical jokes.”
“Yeah, I do, but nothing this heinous! My practical jokes are more of an April fool’s kind of gag. Besides I don’t even know him.”
“Okay. I’m sorry I’m just trying to figure out how and why he got here. Furthermore he is wrecking my rug! “I know it’s odd to worry about a frigging rug right now but this is how I deal with stressful situations. I ignore the obvious problem, and settle for something mundane and harmless to worry about. Okay so enough about the damned rug. I focused on the corpse once again.
As I don’t do ‘cool nonchalance’ well, I retorted, “Gee good point I practically fell over him on my way out of the bedroom.”
“Didn’t it occur to you at some point during the night, that there was a rotting corpse in the middle of your living room?” Gerry asked.
“For one thing, I sleep with my bedroom door closed and my air conditioning on; and second, I was so tired after this weekend; I just came in and flopped. I didn’t even realize I had a guest, dead or alive.”
“Well regardless of all that, we have to call this in.” Gerry got out his mobile and dialled 911. It was definitely classed as an emergency.
I suddenly realized I probably had a lot of explaining to do. In fact, I was in deeper shit that I wanted to admit to myself. I dreaded facing the local constabulary on this one. Picturing the headline, ‘Local girl kills debt collector in living room’ the guilt was flooding in, and I hadn’t done anything … yet. This thought was followed by what I thought my parents’ obituary might be, when they found out my predicament, ‘Man dies suddenly of a major coronary, directly preceded by death of wife due to gross shame”. The reality of the situation was really starting to get to me. I don’t look good in prison orange.
“So do you know John Doe?”
“UH, yeah I do actually.”
“Did your date go that badly?”
“He wasn’t a date!” In fact I wouldn’t even have classified Hodges as a friend. The shock was starting to wear off, and I could start to feel weak in the knees. Gerry caught me, as I was about to go down. I love a mystery as much as the next person, but not in real life. Gerry guided me to the couch and forced my head between my knees. Shock had truly set in, as well as morbid disgust, and revulsion. This had to be the weirdest situation I have ever been in.
There was a knock at the door again and it was the police.
The lead inspector and the crime scene unit converged on my building at once. Immediately, my home sweet apartment becomes a crime scene, confirmed by the usual crime scene yellow tape. The coroner waited outside until the initial investigation was finished.
The primary detective on the case was Jeff Gibbons. Gibbons was tall, and had a confidence exuded by many in his position. His posture just screamed out cop. As introductions where being made, I instantly noticed the slight accent, a faint down eastern lilt to his voice; Like maybe Cape Breton. It wasn’t strong, but still there just the same. Gibbons seemed to be one of those ’just the facts ma’am’ kind of cops. He was friendly but quickly got to the point. I wondered what he was like away from the job.
Gibbons looked around for a good place to talk. In order to make room for the officers to do their jobs, the detective on the scene directed me to my bedroom to question me. Okay so it looked like a tornado had run through it, but hell I really didn’t care. I sat down on my bed with Gerry next to me. Gibbons positioned himself on a chair across from us. “Can Gerry stay?”
“Absolutely,” Gibbons replied, “I have questions for both of you.”
“Are you okay?” he inquired.
“Not sure.” I answered.
“I imagine you have a few questions.” I say anxiously.
“Are you ready to answer them now? It can wait, you know, until you’re ready. ”
“No, I want to, while it’s still fresh and then I want out of here.”
“I hear you.” He says and takes out his notebook. I had seen this detective on the news. Inspector Gibbons is professional, yet personable in his questioning. He was trying to make me feel at home in the worst of circumstances. It must be that east coast laid back attitude. “Were you home when this occurred? “
I repeated what I had managed to tell Gerry, and then added that I had been with my cousin Vicki for most of the weekend. I had been babysitting her kids from Saturday until ten pm. Sunday. Friday I had been with my friend Elaine. I provided telephone numbers to corroborate my alibi.
“So he could have been dropped of any time between Friday and Sunday and I would not have been the wiser?” I was shaking in disbelief that someone could have gotten in here that easily.
“Likely, we have to determine cause and time of death and the possibility that he was killed somewhere else. Based on evidence of all that and lack of or presence of blood.” This was from Gibbons.
“Yeah and don’t forget presence or lack of motive on my part.” I added
I stated my occupation, how I knew of the victim, and all the information I could provide at the time.
“I’m not a suspect am I?” I was silently hoping I wasn’t even a material witness. Hapless victim of a random drop would suit me fine.
Gibbons added that I might want to get printed and tested to clear myself. He looked at Gerry and reiterated the same thing. “It’s just a precaution at this point. He turned to
Gerry. “Did you know him?”
“Nope, never seen him before,” as he shot me a scowl…. I guess he was still cheesed off at me for the practical joke thing.
“I know this looks bad, but I barely knew the guy. I only worked at the agency for a month before I left. I really didn’t get to know too many people there.”
“Why did you leave?” Gibbons asks
“Mutual decision, yet it was on good terms. I make a great receptionist, but I guess I am too nice to do skip tracing. I just want to know the same things as you guys, how he got here and why they picked my apartment?” Gerry also explained that he had been off all weekend, working another job as a chauffeur for an airport limousine service. There had been a relief super named Ray, who might know something. I explained that I knew nothing of any deliveries. I hadn’t ordered anything. Gerry provided Gibbons with any additional information the police might need.
“Miss Hamilton.” he replied referring to his notes. “We know no more than you do.
I promise we will at least let you know how he died. And just in case you have anything to fear, we’ll post surveillance outside the building during the investigation. If you get any strange or threatening calls please let us know. All the information you can give at this point is most helpful.”
“We’ll be talking to the manager of the collection agency and will keep you up to date. While I don’t consider you a suspect at this time, I do need you to get cleared so I wrote down instructions as to where to go for GSR testing. Don’t leave Toronto without letting us know as we may have more questions for you. ”
“Thanks, it‘s creepy to think that someone got in here and left a body.”
I made arrangements with Gibbons to go down and be tested for the GSR thingy they wanted, in order to clear me of any wrongdoing. Having never been in trouble with the law, aside from the odd traffic infraction or parking ticket, why start now?
“I just want to get my apartment back to normal, and the furthest I am going is to my parents place in the west end. I’m 34, and mom still hasn’t cut the strings –likes to keep tabs. Well you know.” Oh God I can’t believe I was rambling, talking to keep myself warm. Shock was setting in. I nodded my head towards the living room, “Are they almost done in there?” Once again, the thought of a dead body on my oriental rug was starting to be too much for me.
Inspector Gibbons got up and checked on the progress of the team. Normally I enjoy stuff like this. I am a big CSI fan. This is supposed to happen to others, not me. I never dreamed that being part of a murder would be a reality I would have to deal with.
He came back in the room and said they had the body bagged, but they were still dusting for prints. “We still have to check with the other super to see how he got in here.”
“Do you happen to know where the deceased was heading on Friday?”
“Yeah,” I said, “I saw him leave just before the director called me into his office for our talk He was headed out to do a repo on a car. I am not sure of the make but Hodges implied it was a high end make, and a real asset to his commissions.” I didn’t want to say too much more on that, as I was no longer employed at the agency. “He was practically drooling on his way out the door.” I said. “With Hodges it was all about the money.”
“Do think you’ll get called back?” Gibbons was edging at my relationship with the agency.
“I think so. I just told him I just didn’t think I was cut out for being a blood- thirsty collector. I am still interested in being a receptionist though and told him I’d go back in that capacity for them. I think he’ll keep me in mind.” At this point though, I wasn’t sure if I really wanted to go back there again.
The lead forensics guy came in and told us they were done for now. There were no other prints and the Coroner rolled in to take Hodges body. “Great!!” I thought to myself. I needed a shower and to pull myself together.
My cats Seamus, and Sean came out from out under the bed at this point. They started sniffing around the police inspector.
“I didn’t know you had pets.” Gibbons reached out his hand for the cats to sniff him out.
“Yeah they’re big babies; they hide at the sight of strangers. But they do come out for breakfast.” I shrugged.
“My Dad is Irish, and he named them.”
He looked at me quizzically.” They’re Siamese.”
“Go figure, Dad likes the irony of all that. “
“Okay, well I have some work to do on this Miss Hamilton.” He shook both Gerry’s and my hand saying he’d be in touch and that he would post a guard in an unmarked.
“Call us if you remember anything else or if you need us. Tell Ray we want to have a word with him about this.”
“Just call me Laura.” I tell him hoping the first name status will make me feel better. He didn’t offer his in return, likely wanting to keep a professional distance. He offered his card and followed the team out my front door. I closed the door behind him, and fed the cats. Since I couldn’t hit the shower I got dressed and headed out the door. I would clean up later but for now I just wanted out of there.
As Gibbons headed out of the building, he thought to himself that this was the weirdest case he had investigated in a long while. He didn’t really think the girl had done this. He did have a feeling however that someone was seriously messing with her. He was sure someone had planted that body. There was no blood spatter on the walls, so it was very doubtful the crime had been committed here. The victim didn’t really look as fresh as others he had seen. He wanted to see what the medical examiner had to say about cause of death before he came to any conclusions about the case. He had a lot of angles to work, so he’d better get going.