Cherry Gin & Tonic by W.C. Gordon
“Huh, no kidding.” I think back in my mind’s Rolodex of cases worked and can’t remember having one of these before. I click ‘add to cart.’ “The hose draggers already come in with their little machines and meters and make sure the air is good to go?” As I say it, I figure the officer on scene wouldn’t be alive to have this conversation with me if they hadn’t. I click ‘add to cart’ again. “Alrighty, I’m on my way.” I hang up the phone, select the free shipping option, and hit ‘place order.’
“Whatcha got?” Perry says as he walks into my office with a fresh cup of coffee.
“Suicide by the sounds of it. Did you bring me a cup?”
“You know, I was going to.” He takes a sip. “Then I realized I didn’t want to make the effort.”
“Same as working your cases then.”
“Exactly! Guy blow his brains out or something?” Perry asks; never one to let tact get in his way.
“Nope. Sounds like he did the running car thing. Carbon dioxide poisoning.”
Perry raises an eyebrow, “You mean monoxide?”
“Yeah, that too.”
I arrive at the front of the residence and find no one. No crime scene tape. No police officer maintaining the crime scene log. Nothing. I double-check the call notes that I printed out and confirm the address.
I key up on the police radio, “Delta 6, 10-55 any unit on-scene.”
A static-filled transmission comes back and says, “Go ahead.”
I key up again, “I’m 97. Can you advise your 10-20?”
“97 with the decedent.”
“10-4. Where exactly is that?”
“On San Remo. 122.”
I look at the house that I’m parked in front of. Number 122 is on the red door in black letters. I thought this road was Valencia though. I key up and say, “I’m at 122 Valencia.”
“10-4,” the static-filled voice says.
Not 10-4. Not 10-4 at all. You said you’re on San Remo. I’m on Valencia. This is a row house. No garage. This suicide allegedly happened in a car inside of a garage. I key back up on the police radio and advise that I am at a different address.
“10-54, same address.”
With that, I am tempted to turn my police radio off, put the car in drive, take myself to an early lunch, and forget that I was ever dispatched to this nonsense. The back-and-forth radio traffic continued for far longer than I wish to admit to before I realize that 122 Valencia and 122 San Remo are, in fact, the same address. This is one of those new neighborhoods that have the front of the residence facing a road, with one name, and the back of the residence, where the garage is, on an alley that they gave its own name for some unknown reason. I am confident that I have never been so annoyed with an investigation before the investigative part has even begun.
I finally park, duck under the crime scene tape, sign into the crime scene log, and assess the situation. The garage door is completely up, presumably to allow the carbon monoxide to ventilate. It is also allowing for an unobstructed view for the neighbors who have decided this is a far better way to spend their Monday morning than watching soap operas. Don’t these people have jobs?
I make contact with the initial responding officer, Shauna, and get the facts. “Ok, Detective, this is what we have. 51-year-old white male. Garage door was closed. Vents on the lower portion of the garage door were covered with cardboard and taped into place. Windows of the car were in the down position.” “Naturally,” I say. Shauna looks up and says, “What?” I tell her not to worry about it and to continue. “The car was in drive with the e-brake on and still running. There was about a quarter tank of gas left when it was turned off by Fire Rescue. Not sure why it was in drive.” I explain to her that this model of BWM will turn itself off if left running in park for a while. This guy probably learned by trial and error. “House was locked up and nothing suspicious was found. Lots of valuables inside.” With that, she closed her notepad.
“Who found him?”
“The realtor. I guess the house is for sale and there was a showing scheduled for today.” Shauna said.
“Looks like the price just dropped by about ten grand. Okie-dokie, let’s have a little look around.” To my surprise, Shauna followed me as I started taking stock of the surroundings. Most officers walk the other way when the detective shows up, knowing that the investigation is being turned over and their burden has come to an end. It’s nice to see an officer wanting to learn a few things. The decedent had a black tank top on, tan shots, and Reef flip-flops. That was handy as a lot of skin was exposed.
“See this discoloration in the lower parts of his body?” I ask. Shauna nods. “This is lividity. When a person dies, the blood pools in the lower areas of the body as it’s positioned and is typically dark. However, you’ll notice that this guy’s lividity is a bright pink color. That’s good.”
“Good? Why is it good?”
I look at Shauna and explain to her that carbon monoxide poisoning causes a cherry-colored lividity and that so far, the lividity color and location is consistent with dying in the car and not being murdered somewhere else and placed in this car to look like a suicide. I say that’s good because a murder would be far more paperwork. I push his body off of the seat and pull his tank top up.
“See where there’s no cherry color?” I ask Shauna.
“Lividity won’t develop where the body was in contact with something. This adds to the good column.”
“Cause he wasn’t murdered and placed here?” she says with a smile.
“Bingo! Cause that would be what?”
“More paperwork!” we say in unison. We smile in unison too. I wonder how old she is. You have to be 19 to be a cop in Florida. Our agency won’t hire anyone under 21 in an attempt to lower liability. She’s been here about a year. It doesn’t take a great detective to put her in her early 20s.
“So,” I ask Shauna after realizing I’ve been staring at her too long, “How long do you think this guy’s been dead?”
“About 24 hours,” she replies with confidence.
“Very good. What brings you to that conclusion?”
“Complete guess. Sounded reasonable.”
I tell her it’s a damn good guess. I explain to her that rigor is still set and that in this temperature and humidity, it will probably begin to release around the thirty-hour mark. I explain that there is still a quarter of a tank of gas left. This car will probably idle for about thirty-five hours before running out of gas. I explain that his Rolex is still running. Stillness will stop an unwound Rolex after about forty-eight hours. I tell her that a search of his cell phone will probably give a more accurate timeframe but twenty-four hours was a damn good guess.
“Pretty impressive,” she says. I think she may actually be impressed.
“Impressive? What’s impressive are those Yeti tumblers. Did you notice his beverage?” Shauna glances at the cup holder by the gear shift lever. I grab the Yeti and remove the top. “It’s still full of ice. These things can really keep drinks cold. This would be a morbid sales pitch but still an effective one.” As I give the drink a sniff, Shauna makes a slightly disgusted face. Ok, a completely disgusted face.
“Gin and Tonic,” I say.
“How do you know?” She asks.
“The smell. Quinine. The botanicals of the gin.” I pause for effect. “The bottle of Tanqueray in the recycling bin.” I smile as I point over to the recycling bin. “And, I’m a G&T drinker myself.”
“Aren’t they old man drinks?” The seriousness of her face as she asks the question cuts me deep. I immediately recognize our age gap. With my left thumb, I twist my wedding band around my ring finger and force a smile.
“Put in your report the cause of death as carbon monoxide toxicity with likely acute ethanol intoxication. Put the manner as suicide.”
“Sure thing, Detective. Thanks for the info. Have a good day.” With that Shauna turns around and walks away with her ponytail bouncing. I take myself, and only myself, to lunch.
W.C. Gordon is a cop, veteran, and author of the novel The Detective Next Door. His writing is influenced by his personal experiences in the military and in law enforcement, which he then mixes with bourbon and dark humor. He lives at his home in South Florida with his wife and dog.