My Edward Abbey reference is of course over the top, but stands for something to me. And Eden was the name we had picked out if we had a girl and since I didn’t get to use it in real life, I’m using it in fictional life 🙂 So here’s the opening chapter – what do you all think?
This was the part of her job that Eden always found unnerving. She would never get used to it, even with all her years as an animal cruelty investigator. At least this time she was called to the police station, so there was no mangled body to examine. Just photos.
“Miss Hayduke? This way, please.”
The station was a flurry of activity. Eden wound her way through metal desks and gray-blue cubicles, following Lieutenant Harold Forrester to the back of the station. He led her to a solitary conference room where Eden would begin the grim task of reviewing images. Eden’s mind, which tended to translate things into music, was like a radio, tuned to Fréderic Chopin’s “Military Polonaise.” The rigid, formal work for the piano fit the mood and aura surrounding the lieutenant. He was all business.
“Cup of coffee? Soda?” asked Lieutenant Forrester.
“Sure. Anything cold and diet would be great.” Eden briefly glanced around as she threw her coat and purse onto the large conference table. The door creaked as Lieutenant
Forrester shut it behind them. Eden walked the perimeter of the faded room checking out the framed pictures, the usual mug shots of mayors and police chiefs.
Lieutenant Forrester brought over a drink and motioned for her to sit down. “So, are we ready to get started?”
Eden accepted the Diet Coke and popped the top. After all of these years, she still felt a rush of emotion when she started a new case. Viewing a dead body would never become routine. Eden’s empathy was both a flaw and a weapon. She took a sip. Procrastination time was over.
“I’m ready,” she said, and took a breath.
Lieutenant Forrester slid an overstuffed brown accordion folder across the table to her. The contents spilled out onto the wood surface worn from years of police use, the ribbed metal edge of the table discolored and cold to the touch. Eden rolled her chair forward and got to work.
The first photograph was always the hardest. This time it was a pug. As she studied the image she couldn’t help but think of her mother’s beloved pug, Farley, bouncing with life around their sun-drenched living room. But this animal had the life beaten out of him. Literally. Lieutenant Forrester, seemingly unfazed by the grisly business at hand, turned to Eden.
“We brought the ASPCA in on this case, Miss Hayduke, because we’re seeing a pattern. This is the third animal that’s been assaulted in the Wakefield Park neighborhood in the last twelve months. If it’s the same perpetrator, two or more attacks would qualify as a felony under the new animal cruelty law. So we sent officers out to investigate. We don’t have photos of the two earlier dogs, but we do have affidavits from the treating vet describing those injuries. We thought you could help us determine if this is a serial perpetrator, or just some deranged kids.”
The lifeless pup hung limply from a tree, just twenty feet off the newly opened greenway trail. A noose. Dried blood covering the dirt below. No matter how many times Eden saw images like these, she was always dumbfounded. How could anyone inflict such harm on a defenseless animal? The canine had obviously been used for batting practice. What kind of monster does this?
“This is the third case? I’m surprised I haven’t seen the stories on the local news. You know animal torture cases are usually great for TV ratings–” Eden tried to lighten up the mood, but struck out.
She hadn’t worked on an investigation before with Forrester. Although she’d been stationed in Nashville for a few years, her expertise pulled her into cases throughout Tennessee and the Southeast. Forrester had recently taken over animal cases after his predecessor left Nashville for bigger and better opportunities in Atlanta. Under prior leadership, the Nashville PD had always worked collaboratively with the ASPCA on their cases. Eden knew she needed to establish some rapport here or else their working lives would be miserable. He wasn’t giving her much opportunity. Their future looked bleak.
“This is the only dog that didn’t survive, Miss Hayduke. The others, both strays, were treated at the animal shelter. I don’t know if they’ve been placed yet, but I assume they’re still alive. We can probably get you more details from the vet over there, but we called the ASPCA in on the pug attack because it resulted in a fatality and we have the body as evidence. We’ll want to prosecute this one.” He paused, then added, “And, Miss Hayduke, if I may, there’s a reason you haven’t heard about these cases. We’re working closely with Councilman Jeff Saunders on this, and he feels it’s in the best interest of his neighborhood to work quietly. A big news story would cause alarm. We’d like to solve this problem quickly, before it becomes newsworthy.”
All-righty then. Most people would think that two tortured animals and one murdered dog were newsworthy. Why didn’t Lieutenant Forrester? And Eden found it strange that he didn’t know what happened to the two surviving dogs. They were walking evidence. Why no photos of those crime scenes? Technically, the ASPCA had been called in to help on the pug case, but these were all potentially related attacks.
Forrester was still waiting for Eden’s response. “Miss Hayduke, I hope you understand this must be kept out of the news.”
Eden refocused her thoughts. “That’s an affluent area, how did you keep residents from running to the media?”
“We attended a neighborhood meeting, hosted by Councilman Saunders, and instructed the residents to keep their eyes and ears open, and their mouths shut. We need to do our job without interference. That’s best for everyone, including the ASPCA.”
And good for property values. Wakefield Park was a hot spot for mixed-use development and soaring home prices. Although not completely gentrified, many of the Victorian homes had been restored and now tear-downs were becoming common. There were still some elderly residents who hadn’t renovated their homes, but Wakefield Park was one of the better zip codes in Nashville. For new money at least. Old money still ruled the city and occupied several zip codes on the west side of town.
“I understand, Lieutenant. Can I see the affidavits and police reports from the neighborhood interviews?” Another folder appeared and Eden started reading. Forrester continued his monologue.
“There’s an after-school program at a community center nearby, and there’s also the Diamond School a few blocks away. You know teenage truants are sent to Diamond after they’ve dropped out or been kicked out of other high schools. Fits the profile.”
Eden ignored his last comment. She was taking notes on her legal pad, sketching out a rough timeline of the crimes. Forrester kept talking.
“Did you know the high school dropout rate is now at thirty-nine percent in our city? Pathetic. So that’s where we’ve focused our attention. Juvenile delinquents. There’s a list of the students enrolled at Diamond in the bottom of that file.”
How predictable. Police investigators always assume the perpetrators come from neighborhoods other than their own. No way, not from my backyard. Here’s one more lieutenant falling into the classic trap – let’s point a finger somewhere else. Especially if there’s a handy profile to fall back on.
“Thanks, Lieutenant. I’ll look for those names. Do you also have a list of the young males living in the area? I’d suggest a two-mile radius for starters. You know the profile for most animal abusers is a young teenage Caucasian male.”
She paused, for further emphasis, then continued before Forrester had a chance to respond. “Someone with ties to the neighborhood is good, but someone who lives there is even better, given the number of cases in such a short timeframe. The crime log for the neighborhood beginning six months before the first attack would also be helpful. Sometimes you can see an escalating pattern.”
The schools in Wakefield Park are magnet schools, drawing students from all over the county. Parents from surrounding neighborhoods enter a lottery hoping their child will be chosen to attend the prestigious H.L. Monroe Elementary, Stratton Middle or Andrew Jackson High School. Eden hadn’t braved those battles yet. Life as a single woman, or single mother to her Siberian husky Buck, had its perks after all.
Forrester answered without emotion. “We’ll gather the crime log and those names and addresses and get them to you as soon as we can. Anything else?” It was becoming more difficult for him to conceal his irritation.
Indeed, Eden was flipping through the file looking for something else. Something she couldn’t find.
“What about blood and tissue samples? Were there any fingerprints on the rope? On the dog’s collar? Any specs on the weapon used in the killing? I’m just not seeing any forensics in here.”
Forrester shifted in his chair. “Miss Hayduke, that’s not the protocol I follow with this type of case. We take pictures and have the animal examined by Metro Animal Control. Dr. Gunter is the veterinarian. His report is in there. Any crime scene evidence is impounded and stored here at headquarters. We maintain a tight chain of custody to make sure nothing gets tainted. You’re free to examine anything you like, but everything you need is probably in Dr. Gunter’s report.”
“So, the officers didn’t take any samples at the scene? Are there any other test results you’re still waiting on?” Eden tried unsuccessfully to mask her frustration.
“That is the complete file, Miss Hayduke. I’ll have an officer double-check the evidence room, but don’t count on anything else popping up.”
“Okay. So it looks like I’ll start with these files and follow-up with Dr. Gunter. I’ll schedule time tomorrow to review the physical evidence, just in case one of your officers missed something.” As soon as the words left her mouth, Eden knew they were a mistake.
Forrester stared at her. He was not pleased with the implication that his men were not doing their job. “We’ll go through the physical evidence again, Miss Hayduke. Anything else?”
“No. Once I’ve reviewed everything I’ll start my interviews. I guess that’s it for now – thank you.”
Eden grabbed the folders and pushed away from the table. I’d love to stay longer but the company is just too charming.
“One more thing, Miss Hayduke. Please talk to Councilman Saunders before making the rounds in the area. He wants the heads-up. It’s his neighborhood and we need to keep things quiet.” Eden nodded in agreement.
“Contact my assistant if you need anything else.” Lieutenant Forrester headed out the conference room door, eager to work on bigger and better cases. Cases involving two-legged victims.
As she walked to her car, Eden decided impulsively to do a drive-by. It always helped her get a feeling for a new case if she took a drive past the crime scene. And she liked to walk the streets and soak in the neighborhood ambience. Pulling out of the police headquarters parking lot, she headed for the interstate. Wakefield Park was just a few exits away.
OK. Quick review. Why all the secrecy? Eden decided to take Forrester’s advice and set up a meeting with Councilman Saunders. She didn’t know much about Saunders, but she could probably get the scoop from her friend Jillian Gold, a well-connected lobbyist who seemed to know all the politicians in Nashville. She tried to reach Jillian but got her voicemail. Guess I’ll have to do my own homework. First the neighborhood, then Saunders. If his address was listed, she also wanted to drive by his house – sometimes she could learn a lot that way.
She found her exit. Hmm, a drive-by of Lieutenant Forrester’s house might be interesting. For now, she’d focus on Wakefield Park and the pug. She could learn more about Forrester later.