Chapter 1

The florescent light lit room housed more desk than the room could comfortably sustain. The occupants, tired and bleary eyed from too many hours of overtime, sat slouched in their heavily worn down chairs. Slack faced, they squinted at their computer screens as their hands cramped from endless writing. A cork-board was positioned on the far wall, plastered with colorful glossy photos of lackluster faces and hand scribbled notes as red twine cobwebbed around the pictures.

"Maclay, Wallace. Go take a look at this." Lieutenant Virginia Gordon ordered as she tossed the case file she was holding onto the desk in front of her. As the papers slid toward her, Tara slammed her hand on the top of the file, stopping the dossier before it slid off the desk. "The GSA has already sent someone down there."

"Let me guess. Rosenberg." Tara spat out the name distastefully. Ever since they had worked together for the first time nearly two years ago, they had never been on each other's good side. "Why the hell do they keep sending her?"

"Because, Maclay, she's the best damn medical examiner in the entire west coast, never mind Los Angeles. Get over it." Julian Wallace, her long-time partner, responded with a smirk. Tara shot the athletically built rusty haired brunette a stern glare from her side of the conjoined desk.

"I think you're the one who should get over it, Julian. She's not interested." Tara snapped back. Julian had been trying to get the grade A medical examiner to go out with him for the past year, but his effort had been shot down each time. He twisted his mouth to one side in annoyance at being reminded of his repeated rejections.

"Oh, will the two of you stop it? You're worse than my children. Just get your asses down there and do your damn job." Lt. Gordon barked as she turned away to head back to her office. Tara and Julian shared an amused look before gathering up their stuff and then moved to leave the precinct.

*

After a leisurely thirty minute drive, filled with friendly banter, they reached the crime scene.

Parked along the side of the road were several police cruisers and an ambulance with its lights flashing. Several feet ahead, just past the sidewalk, were several police officers trying to push curious onlookers and the occasional reporter back, not wanting them to get too close to the crime scene.

"Detective Maclay and this is Detective Wallace from Homicide." Tara uttered to one of the officers as they flashed him their respective badges. The officer nodded his head slightly as he lifted up the yellow tape that sealed off the crime scene; inviting them to go through.

"What have we got?" Tara asked the officer-in-charge, a pudgy middle aged Sergeant, as they walked deeper into the alley, where the body lay. At the back of the cramped alley, surrounding the victim's prone form were half a dozen investigators from the evidence collection unit, diligently collecting samples and snapping pictures.

"Daniel Osbourne; thirty-three year-old Caucasian male. He's a street musician. His body was found just a couple hours ago by the kitchen help from the restaurant next door. The poor fella came in here to dump the trash, but came across this instead." The Sergeant gestured towards the body. "Whoever did this is one hell of a psychopath."

"Did he touch anything?" Julian question as he eyed the body.

"No. He said he nearly peed in his pants. So if you find a urine sample, it'll probably be his." The officer joked. Tara and Julian laughed a little, as appropriate as the current situation allowed.

"Thanks Sergeant …. Patterson." Tara said, after taking a glance at his nameplate.

When they reached the back of the alley, the two seasoned detectives cringed at the ghastly sight. The victim's front was sliced wide open with most of his internal organs spilled out onto the garbage caked asphalt with a large, nearly congealed puddle of blood surrounding the majority of his body. Kneeling beside the body, careful to avoid contaminating the scene as she examined the wound, was a petite redhead in navy blue medical scrubs.

"Dr. Rosenberg." Tara greeted monotonously as she stepped up next to the medical examiner.
Willow raised her head up slightly to see Tara and Julian standing over her and the body.

"Detective Maclay, Detective Wallace." She greeted back with equal enthusiasm before turning her attention back to the bloody mess.

Tension was heavy in the air as silence loomed over the three of them. Julian cleared his throat awkwardly. "So … what can you tell us, Dr. Rosenberg?" He asked, deciding to break the silence. "If I didn't know better, I'd say he was attacked by a wolf."

Tara fidgeted around, getting rather impatient at waiting for Willow to answer. She placed her hands on her hips and clenched her jaw in irritation. "Well?" she asked, raising the volume of her voice a little.

Willow shot her a displeased look. "You think this is easy? If you're so impatient, come do it yourself," she snapped. The lackadaisical attitude that Detective Maclay always seemed to have towards her, pissed the redhead off tremendously.

"What's your problem?" Tara growled as she took an intimidating step forward but was stopped by her partner before she got any further. Willow scowled at her from her crouched position in response.

"Come on, Maclay. Calm down." Julian whispered into her ear as he pulled her back by her arm. "Take your time, Dr. Rosenberg. Whenever you're ready." He said reassuringly to Willow, giving her a polite smile. Tara shrugged her partner's hands off of her fiercely and stood a few paces back from the body with her hands folded across her chest, a frown on her face. There's just something about the redhead that seemed to always get on her nerves.

Willow let out a long, forceful puff of breath. "Well, based on the temperature of his body, he's been dead for at least eight hours. And the angles of the slices on his body indicate that the killer is most likely left handed." She explained calmly as she indicated the direction of the blades movement with her fingers. "The slicing patterns the blade made are very unique, not like any typical knife. The shape of the blade may be curved or at the least, tipped with a hook. When the killer pulled the knife out, the organs got pulled out along with it."

Tara grimaced in disgust at the description while Julian nodded thoughtfully. "Thanks. Is there anything else we should know?" He asked.

Willow shook her head in the negative. "That's all I've got for now. I'll take the body back to the morgue and see what I can find under a more thorough examination, "she replied as she stood up. "I'll call you when I find something."

"If you find something," Tara said under her breath, earning her another disapproving glare from Julian.

Willow narrowed her eyes at Tara before picking up her medical examination kit. "I know you don't like me, Detective Maclay. But could you at least show me some respect?" She question with a trace of hurt detectable in her tone.

Tara dropped her head in shame. She chastised herself mentally for being so short-tempered with the medical examiner. "I'm sorry," she mumbled like a petulant child.

Willow turned and walked away without so much as a response, clutching the handle of her kit tightly. She pursed her lips into a straight line, keeping up her appearance as she headed in the direction of her car.

"What is wrong with you?" Julian scolded as soon as the redheaded pathologist was out of sight.

"I don't know! It just came out of nowhere," Tara protested lamely. "There's just something about her."

"I don't think it's her who is the problem. Maybe there's just something about you," Julian retorted, frowning deeply at his partner.

"Can we just stop talking about this? There's a psychotic killer to find," Tara said exasperatingly.

"Fine. But the two of you need to work out your issues. Seriously. There's only so much drama I can take," Julian stated. He loathed being stuck in the middle of the two women. There wasn't one case that he could recall in which they didn't snap at each other, effectively cutting the other down with snarky remarks.

"Let's just solve this damn case first, okay? We should pay a visit to Osbourne's family, tell them the bad news." Tara rubbed her temples to relieve the pressure in her head. She hated this part of her job the most.

Julian nodded and they walked in silence to the car.