“Morning,” Briscoe said brightly as he joined Green at the coffee maker.
“Hey, Partner. How’s it going?” Green asked as he picked up his steaming styrofoam cup.
“I woke up this morning, so I’m not complaining,” Briscoe answered.
As they headed to their desks, Van Buren spotted them from her own and motioned them into her office. “I heard you two put in some overtime last night,” she noted as they entered.
“A couple of hours,” Green said. “Just wish it had done some good.”
“As usual, everyone was deaf, dumb, and blind. No one remembers seeing anyone coming or going from that house in the last month. One man did think he remembered seeing an old Chevy Impala in the driveway a few times. Otherwise, we came up empty,” Briscoe informed her.
“We left business cards at almost every house on the block, so maybe we’ll get lucky and someone will remember something,” Green added. “In the mean time, we’re going to try to track down the landlord to see who was living there.”
Van Buren nodded. “Somebody, somewhere has to know who this man is. Check with missing persons, too.”
When the detectives reached their desks, Briscoe picked up the phone and asked, “What’s the number for the landlord?”
Green pulled the slip of paper from his shirt pocket and read off the number while Briscoe dialed.
After a few seconds, Briscoe hung up. “No luck; not even an answering machine.”
“I’ll check the reverse directory for the number and see what comes up,” Green offered.
“I guess that leaves me with the missing persons’ files,” Briscoe observed.
A short time later, Green reached for a notepad and pencil. “I’ve got an address for Landmark Management.”
“Good, because I’ve got nothing. In the last couple of weeks, no one has reported as missing anyone fitting our guy’s description,” Briscoe replied as he stood up. “Let’s go see what the landlord has to say.”
***Green knocked on the door a second time then leaned toward it, listening intently. “I heard the television volume go down. I know someone is in there.”
He straightened at the sound of the deadbolt being unlocked.
The door opened a crack, as far as the safety chain would allow. “Yes?” an elderly woman asked.
Green held his badge up to the opening for her to see. “We’re police detectives, Ma’am. I’m Ed Green and this is my partner, Lennie Briscoe. We’d like to ask you a few questions.”
After she had studied the identification carefully, the woman closed the door, removed the chain, and then reopened it.
“I’m Hannah Thomas. Please come in,” she said, standing to the side to allow them entrance. “What can I do for you nice young men?”
Briscoe gave her a smile. “We were wondering if you knew anything about your neighbor across the hall. No one seems to be home and that address is one we were given for a company called Landmark Management.”
With halting steps,
the small silver-haired woman slowly made her way toward a floral covered sofa.
“Come and sit down,” she invited. Once the detectives were comfortably seated
in chairs across from her, she continued, “Mr. Novak lives in that apartment.
Landmark is the name he uses for his rental houses. But he’s taking a vacation
right now in
Green leaned toward her. “Do you know where we can find his office? We’re trying to get some information on the tenants in one of his houses.”
The woman shook her head. “He works out of his home since he only has a few rentals left. He hasn't had an office for over three years.”
“Who collects the rent money when he’s gone?” Briscoe asked.
“He told me once that he arranges for his tenants to have the rent taken right from their bank accounts and deposited into his. He said it was safer and easier that way.”
Briscoe nodded. “Would anyone else know about his business dealings?”
“I don’t think so. He doesn’t have any family here and the man he used to do business with died several years ago.”
“Do you know how to get in touch with him?” Green asked.
“No, I don’t. But if he calls to check on his cat, I could tell him you want to speak with him.”
Green stood up and handed her a business card. “If you or your husband hear from him, we would really appreciate it if you would give him our number or find out where he can be reached and then give us a call.”
She took the card from his hand. “I will do that.”
Briscoe stood up. “Thank you for your help, Mrs. Thomas.” He held his hand out and helped her to her feet.
“Thank you,” she said, then followed them to the door. “You boys are welcome to come back and visit me any time you like. Next time I’ll make us some tea and we’ll have some cinnamon rolls.”
Green smiled warmly. “We might have to take you up on that one day soon.”
***Van Buren looked up from her work as the detectives came to a stop in front of her desk. “Did you find the landlord?”
“He works from his home, but he’s out of state for the next few weeks. No one else knows anything about his business,” Green explained.
“We stopped by the D.A.’s office to try to get a search warrant for his apartment so we could look through his files,” Briscoe added. “But Abbie said no judge would allow us to invade someone’s privacy without their knowledge just to help us identify a dead body. That is, unless we have good reason to suspect the person had something to do with making that body dead.”
Van Buren handed him a file folder. “While you were out, Latent sent over a report. There were almost a dozen sets of fingerprints found throughout the house, some of them from children. They found partial prints under some of the others, so it looks like a lot of them are old. Two came back with previous records. We don’t have I.D.’s on any of the others, including the victim.”
“Anybody check these two out?” Briscoe asked, scanning a sheet from the file.
“This is your case, remember?” Van Buren reminded him with a smile. “You can get started on them right after lunch.”
***“Well we know it wasn’t Hector Guzman,” Briscoe noted. “He’s been in Riker’s for the past three months.”
“You can scratch the other name as well,” Green replied, clicking off his computer monitor. “Paul Lewis was shot to death in a drug deal that went bad.”
“Maybe John Doe was involved with him. Or it could have been a case of mistaken identity if someone came looking for Lewis.”
Green shook his head. “I don’t think so. Lewis was killed four months ago; plenty of time for anyone interested to read his obituary.” He watched Briscoe finish his fourth cup of coffee. “Why don’t we go back over to the neighborhood and see if anyone remembers seeing anything unusual or can tell us something about the former tenants? We can pick up those last couple of houses where no one was home last night.”
Briscoe nodded. “Sounds good to me. But first I need to make a pit stop.”
***The detectives stood on the sidewalk across the street from the red brick house they had visited the prior evening. Yellow police tape was stretched across the front door.
“Welcome to the neighborhood,” Briscoe said sarcastically, nodding toward the house they had just visited. “One more person who didn’t bother jumping on the welcome wagon.”
Briscoe’s focus was fixed on a spot further down the street. “Didn’t Van Buren say some of the prints in the house were from children?”
“Yes, she did.”
“Maybe we’ve been talking to the wrong-sized people,” Briscoe noted, waiting for traffic and then crossing the street with Green.
They waited on the sidewalk in front of the house on the corner. Minutes later, a school bus rolled to a stop beside them. A group of elementary school aged children disembarked and the detectives approached them.
“Hey, wait up,” Green called as the youngsters started down the sidewalk. They regarded him warily as he pulled out his badge. “We’re police officers. Can we talk to you guys a minute?”
A little black girl with a head full of ringlets and flashing brown eyes stepped forward, putting her hands on her hips. “We’re not all guys. Some of us are girls.”
Briscoe grinned as Green looked at her in surprise and said, “I’m sorry, Ma’am. I can see now that you are, with that lovely Powerpuff Girls shirt on. I don’t know what I could have been thinking.”
As the girl’s indignation turned into a smile, he continued, “We were hoping someone could help us out with some very important police work that the grown-ups haven’t been able to.” Seeing that he had the group’s full attention, he gestured toward the house several yards away. “My partner and I have been trying to find out who lived in that house. Do any of you know?”
A boy with spiked hair said, “My mom says I’m not supposed to talk to anyone I don’t know.”
“That’s a good rule,” Green agreed. “My name is Ed and this is my partner, Lennie. We spoke with most of your parents last night. I don’t think they will mind if you help us out.”
The tallest boy in the group asked, “Did somebody die in there?”
Green exchanged a look with Briscoe who asked, “Where did you hear that, son?”
“My dad was talking about it this morning. He said that house has been nothing but trouble since the owner started renting it out. And he said now somebody got themselves killed there.”
Briscoe nodded solemnly. “Someone did die there. And it’s very important that we find out who the person was so we know why they were killed. We want to make sure your neighborhood stays as safe as possible.”
A small girl who was standing close to the tall boy said quietly, “My friend Amanda used to live there. She sat beside me on the bus.”
“How long ago did she live there?” Green asked.
“Not very long. She was my best friend. After we got our pictures at school, she gave me one of hers to keep and I gave her one of mine. We sat beside each other when we ate our lunch and we played together at recess every day.”
“Do you know where she is now?”
The little girl shook her head. “She didn’t get on the bus today, or yesterday, or the two yesterdays before that. My teacher said she goes to a different school now.”
Green bent down. “Do you still have the picture she gave you?” At the girl’s nod, he asked, “Could I look at it?”
She shrugged out of her backpack and began searching through it.
“What school do you go to?” Briscoe asked.
“P.S. 69,” the black girl answered.
“Did any of the rest of you know anyone who lived in that house?”
“There was a boy playing basketball out front one day. He might have been Amanda’s brother,” the spike-haired boy offered.
“And I think they had an older sister,” the tall boy said. “I never saw any grown-ups.”
As a couple of the other children nodded their agreement, the small girl produced a photo and handed it to Green.
He studied it for a second. “Would it be all right if I kept this for a little while? I promise I’ll return it.” When the girl nodded, he asked, “Which house do you live in?”
The tall boy pointed across the street. “We live in that one.”
Green smiled at the children. “You’ve all been really helpful. Thank you very much. We left our phone number with your parents, so if you think of anything else you want to tell us, have them call us.”
As the children continued down the sidewalk, Briscoe said, “Yep. I can see you’re already practicing for the minivan days ahead; had those kids in the palm of your hand.”
“Very funny. At least it got us something we can use.”
Briscoe nodded. “School’s been out for more than an hour. We probably won’t find out much over there today. Let’s go back to the office and see if Gus has a report for us, or if the M.E. has had time to do an autopsy.”
***“Are you kidding me?” Rodgers exclaimed into the phone. “He just came in last night. There’s no way I’ll get to him today. Call back tomorrow after lunch. I’ll try to squeeze him in before then.”
“If you happen to finish him sooner than that, give us call,” Briscoe said. “We’d like to know something about this guy as soon as possible. It isn’t like the rest of your clients are going anywhere.”
“Well if they do, you’ll be the first to know,” Rodgers assured him. “Talk to me tomorrow.”
Briscoe hung up the phone. “What does Gus have to say?”
Turning to the second page of the report, Green said, “Not much more than he did last night. Rodgers will have to pinpoint the time of death. There is something about the murder weapon in here. The knife matched a set found in a kitchen drawer. And the fingerprints found on it were small.”
Briscoe grimaced. “From a child?”
“Gus doesn’t think so. They were narrow, but longer than a child’s. His guess is they’re from a woman.”
“What did I tell you, Ed? You can’t trust them.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Green said good-naturedly, rolling his eyes. “So what do you want to do now, Partner? Take this disgusting photo the coroner sent over, stand on the street corner, and ask people, ‘Did you ever see this man when he was alive?’”
Briscoe checked the clock on the wall. “It’s reasonably close to 5:00. I say we call it a day and start with the school in the morning.”
“Sounds like a plan. You want to go get that steak we were discussing last night?”
“You aren’t expected at home? Don’t you at least need to call and check in with her?”
Green gave him a defiant look. “If I want to have a night out with the guys, I don’t need to ask anyone’s permission. I do as I please.”
As they grabbed their coats and headed for the door, Briscoe said, “She’s working late tonight, right?”
“She doesn’t get off for five more hours,” Green answered with a sheepish grin.