Meg Brown #5: The Ice Cage (sampler)

“Come on. You know you’ve thought about it.” Meg said, as if speaking to the corpse at her feet.

“What’s that?”

She made a sharp gesture at the corpse with her forehead, bobbing her hair out of shape and forcing her to pull her already frozen fingers out of the pockets of her parka. Her partner, Albert Riggins, blinked stupidly at her as she swept it back into place, behind one ear and under the tight wool knit hat. He blinked stupidly at her, then blinked stupidly at the corpse and then blinked once more to hammer his idiotic point home.

Not getting the enthusiastic reaction she’d been expecting, she blew out a steady stream of crystalline steam at him then crunched her eyebrows together in childish frustration and tried the head gesture again.

Another dumb blink. It was as if he was silently saying ‘not only do I not know what you’re talking about but I’m not even sure what language you’re speaking.’

She made her famous look of somewhat feigned disgust (widely mimicked but never equalled in the Minneapolis Police department) and gradually sank down onto her haunches near the corpse. It lay on a gleaming sheet of ice inside a room made of polished transparent ice. Through the frozen translucent walls she could see the strobes from the patrol cars swimming weirdly through the competing densities of the ice. Brilliantly lit tents and the grounds of the nearby winter festival rode the surreal walls as if on a rollercoaster designed by a dedicated shroom addict.

She looked at the ruined face of the corpse.

“I’ll bet… that you were all of 7 years old the first time you thought of stabbing your brother with a sharpened candy cane. And don’t lie. I’ve met your brother,” She said.

“What if I told you I actually did stab my brother with a sharpened candy cane?”

“It wouldn’t surprise me in the least.” She shrugged. “What happened?”

“The tip snapped off.”

“A common problem with men.”

“It drew blood, though. I was satisfied. Until dad got home.”

“Guess that means a steady and cool hand must have done this.”

Blood pooled out from under the victim. It looked like he’d slipped on the ice with a bottle of merlot in his pocket, except for the very obvious fact that there was a candy cane jutting from his right eyeball. The remains of his cornea, if they saw anything, would see the striped crook hooking over his nose at an angle that was much much too close for comfort.

Four years at war, two walking a beat, two more in SWAT and approaching her first anniversary in Homicide had given Detective Megan Brown a complicated relationship with horror and gore. More than anything else, what bothered her about it all was how little she was bothered by it. Intellectually, she knew that the constant litany of grotesquerie would – and should – send the average citizen screaming helplessly into the night. But she’d been fairly young when she saw her first horror and she’d kept up a steady inoculation against it since. But it wasn’t just seeing, of course. The thing with awful things was that they were easy to frame in a box and take in by the eyes. TV was full of that stuff, which made her infinitely more horrified by Television than anything in real life. It was the everything else that got to you: the zero degree air stinging your cheek, the smell of the victim’s rancid aftershave, the vivid slickness of the minty green candy cane, the slight skew to the man’s heart printed, fire engine red bow tie. It was the way her hands were going numb from absorbing the cold ice as she tried to support her weight on it to get a closer look. It was the way she could hear the sounds from the festival dimly through the ice walls like something coming from underwater (and the thought that in one strange and somewhat silly way that’s exactly what it was).

Real people, the people she swore to protect and serve, had a right to freak out about the truly horrible. She made jokes. It didn’t bother her. Not much anyway. Sure, there was the occasional body mauled beyond anything recognizable that would have her angry on some level – knowing the type of person who would have to do something like that. But what really really bothered her was waking up alone in the middle of the night with the realization that she’d just seen something no human being should ever see and walked away from it clean, happy and – for the most part – well balanced.

Normal people could debate the ‘well balanced’ part amongst themselves.

He was somewhere in his mid forties, she guessed. He had an average complexion which had blanched a little in the frigid air of the winter festival but which also meant that he was tanning somewhere in the Minneapolis winter. It was the only way to keep a complexion looking average, particularly if you descended from the cities large scandinavian population – which the victim clearly had. He was somewhere between athletic and not, somewhere between tall and not with a 24 hour shadow on his mediocre chin down which some of the viscera from his eye ran like runny egg white before friction from his stubble impeded it. Just beyond the stubble were the still red, unmistakable traces of a recent razor shave. And yet the soft almost feminine quality of his bluing lips suggested a ridiculous averaging of gender along with the rest of his averages. A quick check of his finger nails showed they had been professionally polished and manicured.

“Another stabbing, Brown?”

She pivoted from her vulture like perch over the body and failed to shoot laser beams from her eyes at the speaker – an aging flatfoot who had taken, and failed, the detectives test so many times that parts of it had to be permanently imprinted on the insides of his drooping eyelids. The parts that were wrong, of course.

“Another stabbing, Zep?” She mimicked testily.

“What is that, four for you this year? You oughtta be an expert by now. So whodunnit?”

“Yer mom. In an elf costume. Go get her.”

She turned back to the body and resumed looking at the mans immaculate fingers and shortish fingers.

Officer Zeperelli hummed tonelessly in the doorway. One long note of dull impatience.

“Stabbed with a Candy Cane,” he opined in the same dull tone. “That’s gotta be a first.”

Meg picked up the stiffened fingers in her glove. They were hard to move without breaking. They hadn’t turned purple but bluish.

“Still,” Zep continued. “You should be able to get some DNA off the stem. Isn’t that right, Rig?”

Riggins shuffled around to the other side of the body.

“You been reading again Zep?” She said to the bluish fingers. “Didn’t that not work out too well last time? Stick with Juicy Lucy’s. That’s more your speed… And girth.”

A Juicy Lucy, in case the dear reader is not yet savvy, is a fairly large burger filled with molten cheese.

“I’m just trying to be helpful.”

“It would be helpful if you vacated my crime scene and make sure the guy who found the body doesn’t get the bright idea to go home or get baked or both.”

Meg was well known to be a little overprotective of her crime scenes. Even driving up to them she shuddered at the sight of the squad cars and frequently counted them, multiplying them by two to get a rough estimate of how many ‘helpful’ idiots had been at it before she showed up. Anybody who wasn’t a detective, and even some who were, was just another insufferable soul with the potential of making a disaster of things. A few months back she’d hit on a well chewed toothpick at a close range gunshot victim and followed that lead around for three days asking witnesses, acquaintances, relatives of the victim if they knew anyone who habitually chewed on toothpicks. She’d even subjected herself to godawful pickup lines at one of the victims favorite bars, looking for signs of the toothpick chewer. When she finally discovered that it was nothing more than a twenty five year old officer with a chip on his shoulder and a flair for the overdramatic she gave him a serious empathy for his well worn fetish in chewing him out.

“The next time you get a call about a body somewhere what are you going to do?” She’d said to him. He had a ‘pick in his hand and wriggled it around in his fingers the whole time. Every time he even shifted his hand to put it in his mouth she looked at it.

“Check the body.”

“Then what?”

“Stay away.”

“Right. And the next time you see me where will you be?”

“Not within eyesight, ma’am.”

“How far away is not within eyesight?”

“Fifty yards at least, Ma’am.”

“Fifty yards. And if you’re not the first responder what do you do?”

“Stay away.”

“Right. Stay away. If your sergeant asks why are you staying away what are you going to say?”

“By the orders of the primary detective, sir.”

“I don’t want to see you within fifty yards of a body unless you are that body, you get me Officer? If I come up on a scene and you aren’t riding the rail you’ll be riding a little jeep in circles around the university until you’re old and gray. You’ll be using those fucking toothpicks in a pyre to keep you warm in the winter. You’ll be working your autograph hand and flatfooting all of Dinkytown until you know when a goddamned leaf has blown out of place. If I come up on a scene and you happen to be hovering around a recently departed soul with that fucking pick sticking out of your teeth I guaran-goddamn-tee you I will use said toothpick to send you off to join the recently departed and you can personally explain it to them why the detective was not able to close their case. Are we clear?”

She’d done it during roll call. In front of the entire assembled shift. She guessed the officer nursed a fine hatred of her for that, but she’d been hated before. It wasn’t much once you got used to it and just a little more worrisome once the shooting started.

“Hey, Zep.” She said, throwing the old man a bone. “Who found the body?”

Zep sighed and eased behind her.

“Funny you should mention that. An elf. One of Santa’s own. Was sneaking off. She says for a cigarette I says to chief up but who’s counting?”

“She’s still around, yeah? I mean you got her somewhere where we can get to her?”

“Yeah. She’s cozy in the little bar tent.”

“Any word on when we can expect the M.E.?”

She was beginning to suspect something about the man’s injuries but was hoping to confirm time of death or at least nail it down a little. That, of course, would be no small feat given the temperature and the fact that the guy was – quite literally – on ice. Liver temperature wouldn’t mean much. Rigor and lividity would be a bit off too. But there would be something. An estimate at least.

Zep miked his radio and got an answer for her, happy to be helpful and glad that her venomous protection had lifted a little.

“Fifteen minutes Brown. He had another body over in St. Louis Park.”



“Elf, you say? Ooh. Wait till I tell Spike. She’s got a thing for elves. She’s been trying to put the moves on one in that new video game her girlfriend got her for Christmas. You know the one, Rig? Dragons and all?”

Riggins looked at her like a confused aging hound from his side of the corpse.

“Seriously. No fun at all. And Santa? Where’s he at?”

“You think he had something to do with this?”

“Don’t know yet but I’ve got a list for him. Naughty and nice – you know. That’s my job and all. Thank’s, Zep. Could you get the Evidence Tech’s in here? We’ve got to roll this guy and I think that might be a chore.” She finished over her shoulder and waited until he shuffled out.

“What are you thinking?” Riggins said when he left.

“I’m thinking the cane didn’t kill him.”

“I’m thinking you’re right. There’s no way anyone could stand still long enough to have a candy cane go through their eyeball.”

“‘Zactly. I’m thinking we need to talk to the guy’s ex. He hasn’t been divorced long by the looks of it. Either that or it’s been a long time and he just didn’t take the ring off until recently, which tells me there was some anger to it.”

“How do you figure he was even married?”

“Come on, Rig. You’ve been a detective how long again? Ring finger. Combine that with the tanning and the fact that he’s been tanned at least once after taking it off that says it’s been a week or so. So something pissed him off in the past week enough to take it off. But there’s something else wrong here.”

“What’s that?”

“Does he look like the bow tie type to you?”

“How am I supposed to tell what type he is?”

“Well. For starters it’s December. Not February. And if I’m not mistaken that’s a Valentines day tie. People who wear bow ties are generally very specific with their fucked up little seasonal bow tie neurosis. Makes me ill just to think about it.”

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Categories: Meg Brown Mysteries, Writing Samples | Leave a comment

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