At 0500, Konan and Lilly hopped a bus and rode into town. They walked into the squad room and pulled out the information they had so far.
It was the worst part of the job for Konan. Going back and asking questions of people who had their world upended seemed unnecessarily cruel. But it was the job. At 0800, they set out for the Watson family home.
Jim Watson, father of Kylie and Jayce, husband of Tamara, sat outside of his home working on a lawnmower. He looked up when Konan and Lilly walked up. He wiped his hands on a red, greasy rag.
“Can I help you, folk?”
“Yes, sir. I’m Detective Sergeant Lilly Thompson, this is Detective Thermopolis Konan. We need to ask you some questions.”
Jim nodded his head. He became teary-eyed. Konan looked away. Lilly sat on an overturned bucket.
“We’re sorry to have to ask, but it may give us a clue who killed your family, sir.”
“I understand.” Jim said. “Ask your questions, ma’am”
“Tamara and your children went to the store. Why were they there?”
“They went to see Talia. They loved her. Tamara and Talia became good friends. She refused to go to the grocery stores when she could buy from Talia.”
“Did your family have any enemies?”
“No. We stayed to ourselves.”
Lilly nodded. Konan watched her question the man. Lilly struggled with her emotions. Her voice cracked every time she asked a question. “She’s kind. Look at her, Jim couldn’t wait to tell her whatever she wanted to know.” Lilly patted Jim on the knee and stood up.
“Thank you for talking to us, Jim. Call us if you remember anything that might help us, okay?”
Konan started for the car. Lilly ran to catch up.
“How do you do that, Konan?” He looked over his shoulder at Lilly.
“Do what exactly?”
“Remain emotionless. Jim cried; I was emotional. You stood there like a statue. Don’t you feel anything?”
Konan stared at Lilly. His lips peeled back and revealed his teeth. He wiped at the corner of his eye and scrunched up his nose.
“You seemed disconnected from Jim’s grief.”
“Why? Because I didn’t beat my chest? Because I didn’t punch the walls and scream at the sky?”
“No, I just…you didn’t shed a tear, didn’t get misty-eyed, you just waited for me to finish asking questions.”
Clearly, his detachment posed an issue with Lilly. Konan did not know how to fix it. He shrugged.
“I’m sorry, Lilly.”
“It’s okay. I thought you might have a reaction from you. I guess I expected too much.”
They rode in silence to the home of Talia Omar. The Muslim community had settled in the southeastern part of the city. Talia lived in a small house near the bustling part of the community. The mosque stood in the center of the busy neighborhood. It stood separate from the businesses and homes.
Konan turned on the radio as Lilly drove. The local news came on, the announcement of ‘breaking news’ interrupted the regular programming.
“Councilman Ted Wright Jr. stepped down as Councilman for District 2. He departed today under the suspicion of corruption. He stands accused of issuing building permits based on the who offered the most money. Many minority groups tried to build within District 2 but never received a permit for one reason or the other. Stay tuned for further developments. We will update this breaking story as details come in.”
The regular programming returned, and Konan listened to it and stared out the window. Two announcers debated and compared some modern basketball player turned activist to the greats of yesteryear. Konan soon lost interest in it and shut off the radio.
“Do you think that the new guy is as good as the old players?” Konan shrugged.
“I don’t think it matters. The game has changed and not for the better.”
“I didn’t know you kept up with sports, Konan. I figured you for a bookworm.”
“I am. I’m a bookworm that keeps up with sports.”
Lilly laughed. She nodded to the market.
“Wanna grab a bite to eat and then hit Talia’s home?”
“No. Let’s go there first. Then we can eat and not have to rush through it.”
“Okay. You take lead. I struggled with the last one.”
Lilly pulled the sedan into the driveway. She shut off the engine and sat behind the wheel for a moment. Konan waited until she opened the door and then got out. Konan walked with her to the door. He knocked.
An elderly woman opened the door. She stared at Konan; he gave her a small smile and showed his badge. She turned from the door and said something in Arabic.
A tall, slender man came to the door. He had a black beard and wore the traditional garb of his culture. He nodded to Konan.
“Hello. Good afternoon. How may I help you?”
Konan touched his heart with his right hand and said hello. He showed his badge to him.
“I’m Detective Thermopolis Konan. This is my partner, Detective Lilly Thompson. We are investigating the death of Talia Omar. I have some questions, if you do not mind.”
“Certainly. Please come in. Talia was my sister. I am Ahmed.”
He led Konan and Lilly to the living room. Ahmed motioned for them to sit. The elderly lady brought in a teapot and poured each a cup of tea.
Lilly blew on her cup and sipped it. She sighed and smiled. Konan smiled at the elderly lady and thanked her. Ahmed whispered to the woman, whom Konan decided must be his mother, and she disappeared into another room.
“Thank you for the tea.”
Ahmed smiled and nodded. Konan sipped his tea and waited to ask his questions.
“You were in the service, yes?”
“I was,” Konan said. He sipped his tea. “It’s been a while since I had Black Tea and mint.”
“You will be honest with me,” Ahmed asked quietly. Konan nodded yes.
“As far as I can be, yes.”
“Do you think my sister was an honor killing?”
Ahmed waited for Konan to reply. The problem was that Konan had no answers. Silence filled the moment; it grew more awkward the longer the moment lasted.
“I don’t know, Ahmed.”
“Of course, you don’t,” Ahmed muttered bitterly. “What do you know of my culture? Besides thinking we are all extremists?”
“Did your sister have any enemies?”
Ahmed shook his head no. He scratched his beard before he answered.
“No, everyone loved my sister. To know her was to love her.”
“Was Talia married?”
“No. My parents promised her to someone, but the marriage hadn’t taken place yet.”
“Who was she promised to?”
“That’s not important…”
“It might be. We can’t find your sister’s killer if you handcuff our hands behind our backs.”
“They promised her to Rasheed Mohammed before he went to—”
“Before he went to what?”
“Are you a soldier?”
“I was. I am now a cop.”
“Did you fight?”
“Rasheed is a soldier.”
“He turned away from the extremists. He became an informant. Then he moved back here for protection.”
“Okay. I need to know where to find him. I need to talk to him.”
“You will kill him.”
“Not if he complies. I bear no ill will. If he is decent, I will be decent.”
“Okay. I will have him meet you.”
“I need his address. In case he doesn’t show. Just in case something delays him.”
Ahmed shook his head and wrote the address on a sheet of paper. He handed it to Konan.
“He will resist. His past is murky.”
Konan and Lilly thanked Ahmed for his help and walked out to the car. The weather was raging, the skies a dark, gruesome black. Konan got behind the wheel and started toward the last known location of Rasheed Mohammed. Lilly looked at Konan.
“You seemed genuinely emphatic back there. I’m impressed.”
Konan sighed. It was always the same thing. ‘You’re not emotional enough.’ What was the big deal about emotions, anyway?
“Well, thank you.”
“Your profound emotional development should impress your lady friend.”
“I don’t have a lady friend.”
“You don’t. Wow! They must not know you’re available. Why don’t you have one? Don’t you believe in true love, Konan?”
Lilly made a pouty face and pinched Konan on the cheek. He cut his eyes to her, and she winked at him.
“No wonder you’re such a curmudgeon.”
“I don’t want to talk about it, Lilly.”
“Come on, Konan. Show me yours and I’ll show you mine.”
“Fine. I thought a woman cared for me once. I thought. She upped and left, and I tried to salvage the friendship. In the end, I should’ve burned the bridge and gone on about my life.”
“But you didn’t.”
“They did not give me a choice, Lilly. I thought we had something, but I was the only one who thought so. In the end, we couldn’t even be friends.”
“That’s sad, Konan.”
Konan bit down on his upper lip and shrugged. Lilly stayed quiet for a while and Konan focused on the road.
“You know, you could try again. Not everyone is hurting or recovering from a traumatic experience.”
“I would rather cut my throat with a dull knife. The problem isn’t that people are busy, or that life is hectic. The problem is that no one knows if the person you’re interested in is really what they show you. How do you know that they’re genuine? That they’re not wearing a mask?”
“You don’t. You take it on faith that they’re being genuine with you.”
“Yeah, that’s stupid. People can’t be honest with themselves, much less anyone else.”
Lilly tapped Konan on the shoulder until he glanced at her. She pointed her finger at him and said, “you’re a curmudgeon.”
“Your turn, Lilly. Are you married, dating, or single?”
“I was married. Now, divorced. We had a good thing until it soured.”
“I see. Did you have children?”
“We did not. It’s one of my biggest regrets.”
Konan guided the vehicle in front of a ramshackle factory. It had long been closed, but squatters used the place.
“Because having children is a privilege not everyone gets to have. If I have children, my memory lives on in them.”
“You want to be remembered?”
“Yes. You don’t?”
“Nah. I’m good with passing like a whisper in the night.”
“Of course you are.”
Konan pulled out the paper Ahmed gave him. They were in the right place. There was no sun to speak of. The overcast skies gave way to long shadows. Konan and Lilly walked into the building. Broken windows and leaky ceilings made the place musty. Konan took point.
“Hello? Rasheed Mohammed? Are you here?”
The long shadows held only silence. Konan motioned for Lilly to stay quiet and took out his flashlight. He shined it around. Workbenches and various factory equipment stood in the middle of the building. Stairs led to the second floor.
They proceeded to the second floor. Scattered rolls of fabric and unclothed mannequins littered the floor. Konan and Lilly stayed quiet and moved through the room. He signaled Lilly to move to the far side of the room. He went right as she went left.
A backpack sat on the table. Konan shined his light on it. Everything in the room had dust on it, except for the backpack. Konan heard a noise and turned to face it. Lilly stood by a mannequin. An average man held a pistol to her head.
Konan watched as the man pushed the pistol into Lilly’s skull. They stepped into full view.
“I think this is Rasheed.”
Konan waited. The man looked at him. Konan stared back.
“Who are you? What do you want?”
“I’m Thermopolis Konan. I’m with the police, and I am looking for Rasheed Mohammed. Are you him?”
“Why have you sought me?”
“I need to ask you some questions about Talia’s murder. You need to put down the weapon.”
“So, you can kill me? I don’t think so.”
“I will not kill you, Rasheed. She might when you move that gun from her head. You have nothing to fear from me.”
“Are you a soldier? A killer of men?”
“Give me your word as a soldier that I will come to no harm from you.”
“I give you my word.”
Rasheed removed the gun from Lilly’s head and handed it to Konan. Lilly punched Rasheed in the mouth.
“That’s for putting a gun to my head, idiot!”
Rasheed wiped at the blood from his mouth and nodded. Konan watched the scene play out. Lilly walked off to calm down. Konan motioned to a chair for Rasheed to sit in.
Rasheed nodded toward Lilly. “She is fierce.” Konan nodded and said, “yeah.”
“You had questions?”
“Why would anyone kill Talia?”
“I don’t know. She was an excellent woman.”
“Whoever killed her made it look like an honor killing. You know that, right?”
Tears welled up in Rasheed’s eyes. He stared at the floor. Lilly walked up. She looked like she wanted to throttle Rasheed, but she kept her cool.
“My sins have caught up with me. They will not let me live a peaceful life,” he muttered quietly.
“What sin? Who will not let you live a peaceful life?”
“When I was, um, extreme in my beliefs, I performed honor killings. You must understand, my faith needed protecting. Those who turned their backs on the faith needed to be punished.”
“They hired you to kill those who left the faith?”
“And now, you say that your sins haunting you.”
“Who would kill Talia to strike back at you?”
“I don’t know.”
After more questions, all of which Rasheed answered, Konan and Lilly had no more insight into the murders than when they first showed up.
Lilly had told Rasheed not to leave town. They left the abandoned factory and stepped out into the humid blanket left in the storm’s wake.
Across town, Khalid Abbas sat outside a café and waited for his guest. His day to ascend had come. It began with the news that Ted Wright had stepped down. This would now propel him to the political heights he had long sought after. He stroked his beard and smiled. “Things are coming together just as I have envisioned,” he thought.
A hand touched his shoulder. He turned to face who dared to touch him. There was no one there. He turned back around. Across from him sat his guest.
“Good afternoon, Khalid. I trust the news has comforted you.”
“Yes. My ascension to power draws nigh. Of course, your efforts on my behalf made this all possible.”
“I did it for the money,” the man said. He stared at Khalid through his mirrored shades. His mouth was a flat line, and Khalid could feel the intensity of his gaze upon him.
“Right, the money. It’s in the bus locker that you requested.” William ‘Deadeyes’ Blankenship forced a smile. Khalid squirmed uncomfortably in his seat.
“The key,” Blankenship asked in a quiet voice that barely moved the wind.
“It’s under your placemat.”
Blankenship lifted one corner and pulled out the key. Khalid smiled. Blankenship took the key and put it in his pocket.
“Enjoy your meal, Khalid. I have things to do.”
Khalid nodded his head and thanked him for his help. He watched as the large black man walked away.
Khalid wiped his hands on the tablecloth. He pulled out his handkerchief and dabbed at the sweat on his brow. Dealing with Blankenship made him nervous. Of course, the man had come with a sterling reputation for getting the job done.
And he had done the job.
Still, Khalid wanted nothing more to do with Blankenship. His master plan was underway, and nothing would stop him from achieving his goals.
Konan and Lilly sat quietly outside of the police department. Neither had said much on the drive back into town. Lilly had kept her cool about her experience with Rasheed and the gun, but she was still irratated that Konan had not blown Rasheed away.
“What do you think? Do you think Rasheed committed the murder?”
“I don’t know. What do you think?”
“He could kill her. He held a gun to my head for God’s sake.”
“Yeah, but do you like him for it?”
“I don’t know. Let’s ride over and see Allie. She might have dug up something else.”
Konan drove to the morgue and pulled close to the door. Lilly and Konan walked in. The same security guard sat at his desk. He handed Lilly the clipboard, and she signed them in.
Allie saw them coming and waved them into her office. She nodded to them and put on her glasses.
“I was going to call you guys.”
“You found something,” Konan said.
“Yeah,” Allie replied. Lilly walked over and sat at the desk. Allie pulled up images of the cuts on Talia. She motioned for Konan to come over.
“You see this right here,” she said as she pointed at the cuts. These are normal for the garrote. “You see though how these cuts differ from these.”
“Yeah, they aren’t as deep as these,” Lilly answered. She leaned closer to look at the image.
“He let off the pressure,” Konan said. “The killer asked her something and when she wouldn’t answer he tightened the wire.”
“Exactly,” Ally said. “That’s why there are various degrees of cuts. Whoever did this was looking for something. The victim suffered tremendously.”
“Exactly how did she die,” Konan asked. Lilly leaned back and watched Allie.
“The garrote didn’t kill her,” Allie began. “When she struggled against the garrote, her arteries tore, and blood entered the arterial wall. Layers of the arterial wall splintered, and she had a stroke.”
“Jesus,” Lilly whispered. Her face turned pale, and she shook her head.
“I also found coagulated blood in esophagus. The oxygenated blood could not reach her brain, and a blood jam occurred. This woman suffered before she died. She lost control of her bowels as well.”
Konan nodded and said ‘thanks’ to Allie. He tapped Lilly on the shoulder, and they walked out to the car. The humidity was thick enough to cut. Konan drove back to the abandoned factory.
“What are we doing here, Konan?”
“I want to ask Rasheed something to verify what I think I know.”
Lilly nodded. They found Rasheed on the second floor, staring out the large window. He had a foot on the desk. He looked up when Konan and Lilly drew near.
“You’re back,” Rasheed grunted. Konan forced a smile. “You’ve discovered something?”
“Not yet,” Konan said. He walked over to where Rasheed sat and pulled a metal bucket to him. Konan sat down. Rasheed watched him closely. Experience was a cruel teacher. One could never be too aware, especially when people did not appear dangerous.
“You carried out honor killings, right?”
“How did you carry out these executions?”
Rasheed stared out the window. Konan watched him; Rasheed seemed truly remorseful.
“Different ways. I shot some, others lost their heads.”
“What is the preferred method?”
Konan pulled out a picture of Talia’s wounds and laid it on the table. He pointed at the wound.
Rasheed sobbed and put his forehead down on the picture. His tears wet the image. Konan leaned forward and touched Rasheed’s shoulder.
“Was it like this?”
“No. I made one smooth cut.”
Rasheed’s words caught in his throat. He wiped at his tears with the back of his hand.
“Let me tell you what we think happened, Rasheed. My partner and I think Talia knew something she shouldn’t have known. Someone found out that she knew it and hired someone like you to end her. If they could not hire you, who would be next on the list?”
“I don’t know. I turned away from that life.”
“You see these cuts? The killer put so much pressure on her throat that the arteries tore. This has nothing to do with your religion. Someone who enjoyed their work caused this brutality.”
“I don’t know,” Rasheed muttered. “I don’t know…”
Konan flung the bucket he had been sitting on at the wall. He jammed a finger into Rasheed’s chest and shouted, “I don’t believe you!”
Lilly pulled Konan back, shocked at his anger. Konan put his hands up and walked to the window. He punched through the glass.
“I wouldn’t be hiding in an abandoned factory if this had happened to my girl,” Konan yelled. He slammed his injured hand on the table. “I would be out there hunting the person who killed her. Who did she cross? Tell me you sack of goat dung!”
Lilly stepped between Rasheed and Konan. She put her hand on Konan’s chest. “You need to calm down,” she whispered. Konan waved his hands dismissively and walked back to the window.
“Talia knew everybody. She helped everyone. One day she had a visit from one of the local men. He wanted her to do something for him. She refused. I don’t know nothing more than that.”
“What was his name,” Lilly pressed. Rasheed sighed.
“Khalid. His name is Khalid Abbas.”
Lilly squinted at Rasheed. “Khalid Abbas, why does that sound familiar,” she muttered.
“Khalid ran for governor a couple of years ago, and narrowly lost,” Rasheed responded. Lilly snapped her fingers and shook her head.
“That’s right. People said his views were too extreme,” Lilly said.
Konan continued to stare out the window. He’d found a dirty rag and wrapped it around his injured hand.
Lilly walked over to Konan. “Come on,” she whispered. “Let’s go ring Khalid’s doorbell.”
Khalid Abbas lived in the richest neighborhood of Fredericksburg. The elite of the town lived in Briar-Stone. Metal fences protected the backyards. Every house had a driveway. The driveway had a gate at the entrance.
Compared to the luxury homes built throughout Briar-Stone, Khalid’s home seemed paltry.
The five-bedroom home sat hidden from the main road. The drive snaked around into a hidden corner surrounded by tall pine and White Oak trees. Khalid, an avid collector of old cars, had spared no expense on his garage. Ten cars could fit within it. He was proud of his home, but desired more of everything. More wealth, more power, a bigger house. Nothing was off limits to him.
Lilly pulled the unmarked squad car up to the intercom by the gate. Konan got out and pressed the button. It was mere seconds when Khalid’s voice came through the speaker.
“Can I help you,” he said curtly. Konan nodded at the security camera hoisted above the gate.
“Yep, I’m Detective Konan. We have some questions about Talia Omar.”
“Okay. Follow the driveway down.”
The gate buzzed and opened. Konan got in the car and sighed. Lilly pulled through the gate.
“How did he sound,” Lilly asked. Konan shrugged and cracked his neck.
“He sounded like he expected us to show up. You question him, Lilly.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah. I need to get my hand taken care of. I will be in when I’ve bandaged it.”
Lilly pulled up short of the house. She got out and whistled. It was a beautiful house. Konan got out and pulled out a first aid kit from behind the seat. He cleaned his wound and ripped open the bandage with his teeth.
Khalid met Lilly at the door. He smiled at Lilly; she smiled back. Lilly waved her hand at his home.
“You have a beautiful place here,” she said. He nodded and said, “it will do for now. Please, come in.”
Lilly smiled and pointed at the car. Khalid looked in the direction she pointed.
“My partner injured his hand. He’s cleaning it. If you don’t mind, I would rather wait for him.”
Khalid snapped his finger and a small woman, no younger than 75, conversed with Khalid in their native tongue. She started for the car.
“Your partner will join us in a moment. Grandmother will bring him in when she has bandaged his wound.”
Lilly said okay and followed Khalid into the house.
“So, you have questions about Talia Omar. I heard they found her dead, such a horrible place the world has become.”
“Yes, it is sad.”
Khalid led Lilly to an expansive sitting room. He motioned for Lilly to have a seat, and he sat across from her. Footsteps sounded down the hall as Konan and Grandmother made their way into the room.
Konan nodded to Khalid; Khalid nodded back. Konan took a seat next to Lilly.
“How did you hurt your hand, Detective,” Khalid asked. Konan forced a smile.
“A flash of temper and reaction, I’m afraid.” Konan feigned embarrassment. Khalid smiled.
“How did you know Talia,” Lilly asked.
“She is a member of our community. She helped many during tough times. I sought her help once.”
“Did she help you?”
“She did not have the means to help me.”
“What did you seek help with?”
“I asked her to join my campaign as a financial advisor. She refused. We disagreed on several issues. We went our separate ways.”
“So, you did not have any issues with her refusal,” Lilly said. Konan watched Khalid. He showed no outward signs of stress. “He’s a cool customer,” Konan thought.
“No. I had no problem with her refusal. America’s greatness comes from accepting those we disagree with. We can disagree and not worry that some person is going to behead us for it.”
“Was that the last time you saw her?”
“Yes. I have hired people who do my shopping for me, so I have spent little time in the markets.”
“Okay. I have no further questions, unless my partner thought up some.”
“I have one question, sir.”
Khalid forced a smile, Konan smiled back.
“Did you know the killer made Talia’s death look like an honor killing?”
Khalid said nothing for a moment. He stared at Konan. Then he flashed a quick smile and shook his head.
“No, I did not know that.”
“Ah. I thought you might have some information since you brought up beheadings.”
“I’m afraid not.”
“Many have said you lost your first run because of the extremeness of your views. Do you agree with beheading those who turned on your faith? It’s just between us.”
“I believe those who turned need punishment. Those who make these decisions decided whatever punishment is righteous.”
“That’s not a yes or a no,” Konan said. Khalid smiled.
“No, it is not. It is best to leave the punishment to those in charge.”
“If you were going to have someone killed, for honorable reasons of course, who would you call?”
Khalid laughed. It sounded as fake as the answers he gave. He made a show of it. Khalid wiped at his eyes and put a hand on his belly.
“Oh, Detective, there’s no list of executioners you call to handle such business. Even if there were, I would have no use for it.”
Konan stood; Lilly joined him. Khalid led them to the door. Konan turned and smiled at Khalid.
“Thanks for answering our questions. You’ve been a great help to us.”
“You’re welcome, Detectives. I wish you good fortune in finding Talia’s killer.”
Konan and Lilly walked to the car. Lilly waited. This case seemed clumpy to her, like unformed dough.
“Do you think he did it, Konan?”
“I think he hired someone to do it.”
“He was very calm about the whole thing,” Lilly said. “The only thing that stood out to me was his reaction when you asked him about honor killings.”
“Yeah, he was too calm. It seemed like he expected us and knew the questions were coming.”
“Khalid doesn’t seem like the person who is used to being rejected,” Lilly said as she guided the car through the gate.
“I waited for him to crack a joke. You know, something like: This dude on a bicycle fell off and broke his neck. A group of people gathered around, and someone yelled, Please call a doctor!”
A guy runs up and said, “I’m a doctor!”
“What kind of doctor,” the person yelled.
“A doctor of mathematics!”
“This guy fell and broke his neck!”
The doctor looked at the body and said, “Minus one.”
Konan waited for Lilly to laugh, but it never came. Lilly shook her head and said, “that’s horrible.”
They rode back to the station. While Lilly drove, Konan thought of Khalid. ‘The guy is too smooth. He’s greasy, you can’t hold him.’
“Konan. Hello, Earth to Konan.”
“Sorry, Lilly. What’s up?”
“How do you think we should proceed?”
“We need a list of his campaign workers, house staff, and any involved with him on any level, personal or professional.”
“You’re putting all your chips on Khalid?”
“Yeah, I’m going all in.”
Lilly cocked her head and stared at Konan. “Why is he so angry,” she wondered. This case, their first, seemed to have grown into a personal conquest. It would not satisfy Konan until someone paid for the crime in blood.
“You are target locked, Konan.”
“What do you mean, Lilly? I felt Khalid was our guy from jump street.”
“That’s what I am talking about. You didn’t ‘feel’ this way about Rasheed, and he committed heinous acts just like the one perpetrated on Talia.”
“Rasheed was remorseful. Khalid is too smooth. I’m telling you…”
“Remorse is not a symptom of innocence, Konan. Why are you dead set Rasheed is innocent? Where is your evidence that he is guiltless of this crime?”
Konan rubbed his forehead and temples. He shook his head in disgust.
“I have nothing, just what I feel in my guts.”
“It’s entirely possible that both men are capable of committing the deed. Sure, Rasheed seemed remorseful, but he also put a gun to my head. Don’t forget that minor detail.”
“Yeah,” Konan said.
This case was moving too fast, or he was moving too slow. Leads were few, and Konan battled his past and this case.
“Let’s get some coffee,” Lilly said. She drove them to a small café that was on the corner down from the station. Konan got out and sat at a table near the largest window in the building.
“Here you go, partner. Some much needed brain juice to the rescue.”
Konan took the coffee and blew on it. Lilly sat across from him. She stared out the window at the puddles left by the storm.
“I’m sorry, Lilly. It wasn’t professional of me to put all my eggs in Khalid’s basket.”
“It’s okay. I haven’t grasped why you’re so angry. I’m sure you have your reasons, but we need to get the right guy for the crime.”
“Yeah, I know.”
“Why are you so angry?”
Konan rubbed his temples and stared out the window. Tears wetted his eyes. He blinked them away.
“There was a third honor killing that I saw. Her name was Aida. She was born in the Middle East but grew up in America. When the war kicked off, she went back to her place of birth. She and her family moved back because they loved their country. They wanted to help.”
Konan sipped his coffee and stared at a puddle of muddy water. A car passed by and splashed water on the window. He wiped at the tear that stained his cheek.
“They had two beautiful daughters. Aida was our interpreter. She went out on missions with us. One day, she didn’t show. Then, it was a week. Two weeks. We found their bodies in a drainage ditch on one of our patrols. “
Lilly covered her mouth and stayed quiet.
“The insurgents abused, tortured, and then killed Aida’s children. They made her and her husband watch. Or that was what we assumed. The husband received the same treatment, he just lasted longer.”
“We only found her head. The rest of her body had disappeared. We figured they fed her to the wild dogs.”
“Oh my God…Did no one investigate?”
“Investigate? Who had time to investigate? Someone rumored that our side betrayed them, but horrors happened daily in that country. We fought the war, that was our whole purpose. Evil happened so frequently no one could keep up. Sure, it got reported to headquarters. They assigned people to look into it, but the backlog of tragedies were astronomical.”
“Maybe we should work a different case, something less…”
“No, Lilly. I’ll keep my emotions in check. Let’s get this solved.”
“Can you do that? Can you keep your emotions balanced?”
“Did they ever find out who killed Aida and her family? Did they discover who sold them out to the insurgency?”
“I don’t know. The last I heard was they suspected a Non-Commissioned Officer named Blankenship in our unit. I think nothing ever came of it.”
“He was in your unit? Did you know him?”
“They assigned him to my unit to bolster our numbers. I knew of him, met him a time or two between missions. That was it.”
“Why was he suspected of betraying them?”
“Again, I don’t know. Something happened to his squad, I think. It was before he came over to us.”
“We need to find out what happened. We also need to see if he knew Rasheed or Khalid, and if they had any dealings with each other.”
“Yeah, I agree,” Konan said as he wiped at his eyes. “Maybe we can put both cases to bed with one swing of the bat.”
Konan and Lilly strode into the police station together. They now had a purpose and multiple leads to check out. Tia Mathers waited for them at the elevator.
“What do you have to say for yourselves?”
Lilly shrugged and stayed silent. Konan waited for the other shoe to drop. There’s always another shoe waiting to drop, he thought to himself.
“What part of your investigation led you to Khalid Mohammed? Do you know who he is,” Tia screeched.
“Yeah, we know who he is,” Konan said. “He is a person of interest in this murder we are investigating.”
Tia Mathers drew close to Konan, close enough he could smell the cheap vodka on her breath, and whispered, “I told you I would get you. You’re done.”
Lilly stepped to her partner’s side. She met Tia’s hateful glare with one of her own.
“He ain’t going nowhere, Tia. If you fire him, you fire me. Khalid is a person of interest; we will work to clear him as fast as we can. He answered our questions. We have leads that need following, if you’ll excuse us.”
Lilly pressed the button and motioned for Konan to come to her side. Tia licked her lips and glared at Lilly.
“I’d be careful who I hitched my wagon to, Lilly. If he goes down, so will you.”
The elevator dinged, and the doors opened. Lilly turned to face Tia. She locked eyes with her.
“I’ll remember that, boss. You should probably take your own advice.”
Lilly and Konan rode the elevator to the second floor. They walked into the murder room and sat down at their desk. Manson and Rankin came over.
“I heard y’all going over and bugging innocent people,” Manson said. She curled her lips at the sight of Konan.
“Understand, Manson. That’s the Thermopolis Konan method. Instead of looking for the killers, he goes off and looks for someone to blame for his inadequacies.”
Manson snorted. “Sounds about right.”
Konan smiled. Lilly never looked up.
“Speaking of inadequacies, Rankin, how’s your wife and my kids,” Konan asked. Lilly giggled. Rankin flushed red.
“Why you piece of…”
Konan leaned back in his chair and waited for Rankin to finish his sentence, but it never came. Manson stepped between Rankin and Konan.
“You know, Mason. When you curl your lips up in scorn, you look like you’re prepared to kiss a hog’s rear end. Or maybe just Rankin. Either way, it’s a bad look for you. Now that you know, do better.”
Manson’s veins protruded from her forehead as she dragged her partner from Konan. Lilly laughed and looked up.
“Are you through antagonizing the children,” she asked. Konan smiled.
“Yeah. You know Mason is so ugly you’d have to tie a pork chop bone around her neck to get the dogs to play with her.”
Lilly giggled and said, “she probably says the same thing about you.”
While Lilly dug into Khalid’s financial data and relationships, Konan placed a call to the Department of Defense. They answered on the third ring.
“Good afternoon, this is Tiffany. How may I direct your call?”
“Hi, Tiffany. I am Detective Sergeant Konan. Could you connect me with Personnel Records, please?”
Three rings later, Tiffany transferred Konan to Personnel Records. A grumpy voiced person answered the phone.
“I’m Detective Sergeant Konan. I am trying to get a copy of Staff Sergeant William Blankenship’s records.”
“For what end?”
“He is a person of interest in a murder investigation.”
“You need to fill out several forms before I hand over a copy of a soldier’s record. Do you have the forms?”
“This is the first I’ve heard of needing forms. What forms do I….”
“You need the forms, period. There’s no way around it. Get the forms filled out and notarized. Send them in and it will take up to five weeks before we send them to you. IF your request is approved.”
“Maybe you miss…”
“GET THE FORMS FILLED…”
“STOP INTERRUPTING ME!”
Quiet filled the airwaves. Konan cleared his throat.
“You’re about the rudest idiot I’ve dealt with today. This is a murder investigation. I’m not waiting five weeks for you incompetent people to remove your head from your butts. Send the records to this email.”
Konan rattled off his email and hung up the phone. Lilly stifled a smile and continued her search. Konan leaned back and stretched. ‘No wonder the world is in the shape it’s in. Between the bureaucrats and red tape nothing gets done.’
“Have you found anything, Lilly?”
“Yeah, check this out.” She handed a slip of paper to him. Konan put his glasses on and read it.
“Well, how about that,” he muttered.
“Wanna go see what Rasheed has to say now?”
“Yep. Let’s ride.”
The sun had shined briefly after the rain ceased. Between the wet asphalt and the blazing sun, the humidity rose quickly. It felt as a wet blanket had descended upon them and weighed about their necks. The sun was out only for a moment. It disappeared behind the darkened firmament.
Lilly drove them to the abandoned factory. She darted masterfully between her opponents, who shared the road with her. Konan put his hand on the roof to brace himself. Between her sudden lane changes and tailgating, Konan was having a hard time remaining upright.
They finally arrived. Konan exited the vehicle and bent at the waist. Lilly grinned.
“You can’t hack it, eh?”
“I can hack it,” Konan muttered. Lilly giggled and scrunched up her nose.
“No, you can’t.”
She’s right, Konan thought. He wanted to admit his defeat, but he wasn’t a quitter. ‘I’ll power through.’
They walked into the abandoned factory. Long, dark shadows lurked in the building. Konan pulled out his light. They made their way to the top floor. The mannequins appeared sinister in the low light.
Rasheed sat in the open, his handgun was to his left. He stared out the window. He never moved. Lilly approached him from the side.
Rasheed was dead. His color was gray.
A blood-stained piece of paper was on the desk. There were no empty casings from the pistol. There were no wounds on his body, and someone crossed his hands.
It was the prettiest ‘suicide’ scene Konan ever saw. He called it in. While they waited, they observed the scene.
“Konan, listen to this.”
“The police came today and told me that my one true love had died in the fashion of an honor killing. I was powerless to stop it. There is no way I can bear the thought of her suffering; I can’t bear the shame.”
Konan took the letter from Lilly. The copperish smell of blood was strong on the letter. The handwriting was neat. It was too tidy.
“He knew the killer,” Lilly said. Konan nodded.
“Rasheed knew how and when the murder would occur. He lied to us, and I never saw it.”
“Khalid must have known we would discover that he, Talia, and Rasheed came to the States together. There is no other explanation.”
“Maybe, but it is all too convenient, dontcha think?”
Lilly shrugged and sat down next to the body. The wail of the ambulance announced its arrival. Allie brought her bag with her, two men shoved/carried the gurney up the stairs.
Allie stared at Lilly and Konan and then the stiff. She knelt beside Rasheed and tested his temperature. She glanced up at Lilly and said, “y’all visit the nicest places.”
“It’s not by design, Allie. Do you have a time of death?”
“About two or three hours ago. Did you guys find him like this?”
“Yep,” Lilly said. Allie nodded. Konan stared at the desk. Everything had a place and nothing seemed disturbed.
“How soon before you can tell if it was a suicide or murder,” he asked Allie. She squinted at him.
“Do you think it’s a murder?”
“I’m not sure, Allie. He was a person of interest in our investigation and suddenly he is dead. It makes a guy wonder.”
Allie shook her head and sighed. It seemed she would never catch up with the backlog of cases she already had on the table.
“Everybody wants to be first,” she muttered. Konan’s eyes grew narrow and his mouth tightened into a hard line. Lilly put her hand on his shoulder.
“We don’t mean to add to your workload, Allie,” Lilly said. “It’s important that we know if it is a suicide or not.”
“Give me some time and I’ll run up a full battery of tests. You’ll know something tomorrow.”
Konan and Lilly departed from the factory after ensuring that any potential evidence got gathered. He still carried the note in his hand. Konan pointed at it.
“You see the blood, yeah?”
“Yeah,” Lilly said. “I see it. What about it?”
“There is blood on the paper, but none on Rasheed. So, if it’s not Rasheed’s blood, whose is it?”
“The killer’s,” Lilly gasped. “It’s not a suicide.”
“Yeah. They killed Rasheed. By whom remains to be seen. His weapon and the blood need testing. We need to know what killed Rasheed.”
“They staged the entire scene.”
“Like cheap theater,” Konan said.
As they walked toward the car, the rain started to fall again. Konan turned and looked at the abandoned factory. It looked like something from an old black-an-white film. “What a horrible place to die in. It’s like being discarded like some unwanted thing.”
He knew a thing or two about unwanted things.
Lilly drove them back to the station. They said goodbye to each other, and Konan walked to the bus stop. It was a quiet night. Per usual, the rain brought out lots of drivers. The bus pulled up to the stop, Konan boarded it. He walked to the back and took a seat in the last row. Few people were on the bus. An elderly woman sat up front. A man wearing a hoodie, with the hood up, sat midway on the right.
Konan leaned back against the seat and shut his eyes. The day had tired him out. Air hissed when the driver tapped on the brakes. Konan opened his eyes. The old lady had got off the bus. Only he and the hooded man remained.
The driver started toward the next stop. A few moments later, the brakes hissed again. Konan stood and made his way down the aisle. As he passed the hooded man, he spoke.
“Have a nice evening, Konan.”
Konan muttered, ‘you too,’ and got off the bus. He started down the dirt road that led to his house. Long shadows cast by hanging branches played out on the road.
He made it to his mobile home and unlocked the door. Konan stepped in, shut the door, and reached for the light.