Conrad Fitzgerald looked at his watch, it was 8:30 on a Monday morning. In his former life, he’d have been drinking a latte with his PhD students around now—catching up on gossip, giving feedback on research proposals, debating the latest theories in criminology. He had fond memories of those days, but no regrets. Because today, after paying his dues on patrol for almost five years, his dream was finally coming true.
He adjusted his Coke-bottle glasses, retrieved a notebook from his tweed jacket, and began sketching a diagram of the room. As a professor he had studied dozens of police files, and had always maintained a certain professional detachment as he scrutinized every detail. Yet that same scientific curiosity—examining an actual corpse as part of the puzzle he was supposed to solve—felt inappropriate, even ghoulish. As if he was somehow subjecting the victim to yet another indignity.
But this was his job now. So he crouched by the body, grounded himself with a silent prayer, and got to work. A switchblade protruded from the base of the dead man’s skull—a single thrust, upward into the back of the head, at exactly the right angle.
Why, he wondered, was the victim dressed like that? Conrad’s left knee crackled as he stood up. The hotel room was small, and the wallpaper was a bit dated, but the antique furniture might have given the place a certain charm under different circumstances. Not the kind of place where bodies were discovered in gritty Harry Bosch novels, more like the setting for a cozy Poirot mystery.
The entrance door was intact, no sign of forced entry, and none of the furniture had been knocked over. On the bathroom counter there was a shaving kit and a single toothbrush. And on top of the desk there was an open metal tool case—packed with face paint, brushes, and jars of cream.
A small woman, easily two decades younger than Conrad, ducked under the police tape. Detective Sergeant DeRosa scanned the room, and raised her eyebrows when she saw the body. Then she looked at her newest detective. “You must be Conrad, I’m Paula. Welcome to the Major Crimes Unit. What can you tell me?”
Conrad straightened his tie and grimaced—his new boss had turned up in track pants and a t-shirt! He ran his fingers through his thick grey hair, and flipped his notebook to the first page. “Mr. Ahmed Mustafa was delivering room service at half past seven. He found the door slightly ajar, saw the body, and notified the hotel manager—a Mr. Claude Moulin—who called us. The room is registered to Isaac Friedman from Regina, Saskatchewan. Of course, that doesn’t mean that our deceased is Mr. Friedman. The victim appears to have a wallet in his back pocket, but I haven’t been able to check his ID yet because I don’t want to disturb the scene before forensic ident arrives.”
“Good call. Have they been contacted?”
“On their way.”
“Any idea why the victim is dressed in a clown costume?”
Conrad shook his head. “Not so far. I’ve asked the Patrol Sergeant to co-ordinate inquiries with guests and hotel staff.”
“This was quick and silent. No evidence of any struggle or altercation. My first impression, this looks like a professional hit. Only …”
“I don’t understand why the door was left open, the murder was discovered a lot quicker because of that mistake.”
Paula nodded. “Right. I have to be in court in an hour, and I still need to shower and change. Everyone else is tied up, so you’re going to have to take the lead on this.”
Conrad wiped his glasses with a cleaning cloth, and bit his lower lip. Working a homicide on his first shift as a detective was one thing, but being placed in charge?
Paula continued, “Look, I’ve read your annual performance reviews. You’ve been the go-to guy for the detectives at every homicide scene you’ve attended. And you won’t be alone. I’ve asked HQ to reassign Deva Hardy from Vice to work on this case.”
“OK. So she’ll be in charge once she gets here.”
“No. Deva’s only been plain clothes for a couple weeks, and, well, I want you to take the lead on this one. Anyway, I’ve got to go.” Paula looked back as she opened the door. “Just a friendly heads-up. Deva’s pretty sharp, but she might take … a little getting used to.”