“Mrs. Jesi! Mrs. Jesi! I think someone needs to come up here. Oh my God, it’s horrible! It’s horrible! Oh God!”
“Calm down Esmerelda. Show me what you’re talking about.”
“We should call la policia!”
“Just hold on. Let me see first. Where is the problem?”
“In little Max’s room! Pictures of dead people! Horrible pictures, Mrs. Jesi! Please, call the police.”
“Just show me first.”
Jesi was tired from the harrowing funeral of the night and only had a few more minutes left on her shift at the hotel, but she was pressed into action by the mention of little Max. The maid ushered her upstairs to the room where Private Detective John Bernos and his son lived. As she walked through the door, her pupils dilated with horror by an environment that could only have been a result of a maniac. Her stomach dropped like she was in the front car of a roller coaster as she was surrounded by roughly thirty 10X13 glossies of a woman who had been shot multiple times with a large caliber gun. The woman was lying flat down on a sidewalk in a large pool of reddish-black blood. Her body was sprawled awkwardly with her waitress uniform covered in gore from her grizzly murder. There were photos from every angle. One depicted her black Payless pumps on the sidewalk after being cleaved off their owner. Beyond these were smaller photos of footprints, shell casings, a bloody hand-print, and one of a barely visible shoe print in the dirt that was blown up to the size of a movie poster. Newspaper clippings, high school yearbook photos, court documents, and scratchy black and white surveillance photos covered every inch of the walls of the apartment like murderous wallpaper.
Jesi felt her knees go weak and she put a hand on the couch, knocking over a briefcase, spilling out hundreds of pictures – pictures she recognized; pictures that made mere sickness turn to anger. They were all photos of the hotel, namely, of the boys, herself, the ice cream vendor Fahad AlGhamdi, and Cara.
“What are ya’ll doing in my room?” John Bernos announced with indignation.
Mrs. Jesi recovered and said, “The maids bring new linen every morning. What the Hell did you do to this room?” She scooped a handful of the photos and threw them at the private eye. “And what the Hell are these?!”
Jesi pushed past him. “Let’s see what the police have to say about this.”
“W-Wait! I can explain,” the detective stammered as he grabbed her by the arm.
She whirled on him and busted his lip with a right cross.
The big man stepped back wiping blood.
Esmerelda grabbed Jesi’s other arm to cool her rage as Jesi yelled, “Don’t you ever touch me!”
He relaxed his grip, loosing Jesi into Esmerelda’s arms. “Please, just give me one minute. I deserved that. Please, it isn’t what it looks like.”
The surge of adrenaline that had filled Jesi had begun to recede. Her hands still shook but her brain was starting to think clearly.
Wiping blood from his lip, John said, “Let me show you what you were looking at. Give me a chance to explain.” By that time, Mr. Angus, the maintenance man at the hotel, had joined the group of onlookers. Angus was a gentle giant with red hair who looked like an extra in a viking movie.
“I don’t think it’s going to do any good, but,” she turned to Angus and Esmerelda, “I’m going to give him 5 minutes to explain. Please stand there and if there is any funny business, call the cops.”
“Thank you.” The detective led the way and began picking up the pictures. Jesi sat in a wicker chair beside the door. He explained how before he became a homicide detective he had worked as a domestic abuse sergeant. He told how sometimes in a large city like Chicago the detectives would become swamped with cases. They would see hundreds of victims of domestic violence. After so many years in a job like that he felt he had become numb to the plight of the victim. They would remove women from an abusive environment, arrest the perpetrator, and issue restraining orders, only to have the women return to the man, or even fail to come to court for prosecution. Then after hundreds of man-hours and legal work the abuser would get off scot-free. Even worse, the victim would find themselves in the same position a few months down the road. His overall feeling of helplessness and apathy towards the very people he was sworn to protect had reached critical mass in the case of Mrs. Zahava AlGhamdi.
Mrs. AlGhamdi was not a beautiful woman, but she was a very normal looking woman of average everything, including plain mousy brown hair. Everything except her eyes. It was the eyes he remembered. They were a golden brown that when the light hit just right, shone like a sparkling new wedding ring. Those were the eyes that haunted John Bernos’ dreams. Those eyes gave him nightmares.
The first time he had seen those eyes, one of them was purple with a prize fighter-sized black eye. Remembering back, he didn’t know if it was the fact that he had just been promoted and was awaiting transfer as a homicide detective, or if he was just so accustomed to disappointment that it had caused him not to help her. He wasn’t criminal in his negligence, he gave her the forms to fill out and the number of the women’s shelter and a social worker who dedicated her life to helping women like her. But the one thing John did not give her, the thing that caused those golden-brown eyes to curse him, was that he did not give her hope. Three months after that first black eye when he saw her again in the precinct with fresh bruises, he felt vindicated. She must have been just like all the rest. She was poured from the same mold as all the other victims who had left him high and dry and robbed him of hope.
Finally, his promotion went through and he didn’t even remember the golden-brown eyes as he clipped on his shiny golden detective’s shield. This was the answer, the homicide victims couldn’t get him emotionally involved with their case only to betray him in the end. A murder victim couldn’t say they changed their mind only to get murdered again. This was his way to leave Zahava AlGhamdi and all those golden-eyed defendants in someone else’s department – on someone else’s desk.
The detective’s reprieve from the problems that plagued him should have been complete, until the first day at his new desk. He opened the file of his first case as a detective and his world came tumbling down as he stared into the golden-brown eyes of homicide victim Zahava AlGhamdi. He buried his guilt with the fervor in which he investigated Fahad. He left no stone unturned, no lead unfollowed, and meticulously began to build a case against her murderer. The justice he had denied her in life, he would give her in death.
Fahad had a flimsy alibi, he was alone at home working on some broken 35-millimeter cameras he intended to sell on ebay the night she was murdered. There was no direct evidence. No fingerprint, no smoking gun, and since she was shot on a dark side street leaving work, there were no witnesses. However, the detective found a shoe print that matched Fahad’s shoe, even though the defense claimed it was inconclusive. He also found a minute amount of gun powder residue on Fahad’s jacket, but the defense’s expert witness proved the same amount of residue could have accumulated by brushing against a policeman on the subway. The most damning evidence was a bookie named Moshe Rosenburg who claimed Fahad owed somewhere close to fifty thousand in gambling debts. Fahad’s wife was insured for a hundred thousand dollars. By the second week of the trial, John could feel the vibe from the jurors. The way they looked at the defendant in disgust when he would smile or in any way seem ambivalent. Four women jurors wouldn’t even make eye contact with him. They had the case won and he knew it. Finally, he would have been something he longed to be, an instrument of justice.
On the last day of the trial, before the lawyers gave their testimony, the defense asked the permission of the court to allow a newly discovered item into evidence. Fahad claimed that had been home working on some cameras. One of the cameras was a Minolta Qtsi that had a faulty timer. While testing his repair of the auto-timer, he had taken several pictures of himself. Upon first look, the pictures seemed useless as evidence, but Detective Bernos felt every dream he had of justice evaporate when the picture was blown up to poster size to reveal a television in the background tuned to CNN Headline News with the time reading 10:45 PM February 14th, Valentine’s Day. Within minutes of the time, Mrs. AlGhamdi had been murdered, over forty-five minutes away from her home.
“So, he didn’t do it?” Jesi inquired.
“Of course he did it!” Bernos replied incredulously.
“Then how, if he had the picture?”
“I’ll show you.”
The detective pulled out a huge dry erase board from behind the couch covered in timelines. “This is what he did. He left his house around 9:30 and waited for his wife to get off work. Her coworkers said he would normally pick her up, but on this night she was going to take the subway. Mr. AlGhamdi was waiting here.” He pointed to a dumpster behind her body in a picture that made Jesi cringe.
“When she came into view, he shot her four times with his 45 caliber handgun. He then fled down the alley where he left part of his footprint.”
“What wasn’t there powder residue?”
“Yep. I used hundreds of things but a hockey glove firing a forty-five gave me almost the same pattern. Plus, the shots were a point-blank range so aim wasn’t a factor.”
“But what about the photograph?”
“The work of a diabolical killer. This is what he did.” Bernos leaned over the couch and dumped out a suitcase full of photographs. The man rifled through them feverishly until he pulled out a 10X13 blow-up of the television image. “There it is. See it?”
“What am I looking at?”
“The lines. See those lines on the TV screen? They are from a VCR tape not being tracked perfectly. The photo was taken with a 35-millimeter camera with a timing issue, so there is no time signature.”
“Was there a VCR in the house when you searched it?”
“No further proof.” He rifled through another stack of pictures and pulled out an ebay ad. “See? Right here he had five VCRs for sale on ebay February 10th, but no one ever bought them. Where are they? Gone. He got away with it. It’s everywhere! Anyone can see it!” The detective had reached a fever pitch but was interrupted by a knock at the front door. Apparently, Esmerelda had taken it upon herself to check on the rest of the hotel. Jesi hadn’t noticed her leave. She seemed worked up again.
“Mrs. Jesi, Angus just saw Mister Justin, Mrs. Cara’s no-good brother just go in room 97.”
“Where are the boys?”
“Miguel is working at the brujo’s in the Quarter.” The maid pointed to the empty lot where the treehouse used to be, “And little Max and Tex are skateboarding on the ramp. Tex is teaching him how to skate.”
“What about George and Buddha?”
Detective Bernos chimed in, “I just saw Mark Jenkins and George Rothering in the waiting room of Dr. Hughes’ office all the way on Napoleon.”
“Oh yeah, they have to go there every other Saturday. What were you doing there?”
“Look, it doesn’t mean I’m crazy because I see a shrink. Sometimes everyone needs someone to talk to.”
“Good point. I’ll go make him leave. I’m off shift anyway.”
The detective started picking up pictures when Jesi asked him, “Would you like to come in case he gets angry?”
“Actually, I’m just a P.I., not a real cop.” He touched his fat lip. “Besides, I think you can handle him.”