"C'mon, Diana." Mark Welsing called. "Come and get it, girl. Bring your brood with you, too." He put the can on the opener and pushed down on the handle. Within a few seconds, an adult calico and five various colored smaller versions of the mama cat came padding into the kitchen accompanied by a cacophony of meows and assorted trills, burbles, and hisses. He portioned the contents of the can into six bowls and set them on the floor. Immediately six pink tongues began devouring their dinner.
That's when the doorbell rang.
"You guys eat up while I see who's at the door." Mark wiped his hands on a towel and headed for the hallway. "I've got it, Ms. Compet." He shouted.
"Well, Dr. Lambert, now that you've gotten your things put away in your office, let me be the first one to welcome you to the night shift here at Toronto Metro." Dr. Nathan Calazarri said to his newest coroner. "I'm going to assume that the time you spent on the day shift during your orientation gave you the basics of how we operate around here."
"Yes, sir, they did." Natalie Lambert said.
Things were moving at their usual fast pace for her. While things usually came easy for her … she had an IQ of borderline genius … she had thrown herself into her studies, almost literally, after the death of her parents when she was 13. Her Grandmother, her legal guardian, cared for her, of that Natalie was positive, but the woman had a difficult time showing affection. Added to that, Narinchka Zdrojefski was a strict taskmaster. Nothing less than absolute perfection would satisfy her. At least where her granddaughter was concerned. Excelling at her studies was the one way Natalie could find acceptance, if not love.
She had started college at 16, combining her first year of pre med with her senior year of high school. She graduated college two months after her 20th birthday by doubling up on most of her classes, and still managed to carry a 3.7 average.
This was the culmination of five years of hard work. She had completed her four years of medical school in three. After that, there was one year of internship and a year of residency at Toronto General Hospital in Forensic Pathology. She could have stayed at Toronto, but when she heard of an opening at the County Medical Examiner's Office, she applied for it, and to her surprise, she was accepted
For the past six weeks, she had been assigned to the County Morgue on the day shift 'learning the ropes' as it were. She had requested the night shift. She always worked her best during the evening hours. Now, she was on her own. A full fledged coroner at age 25.
"Come on, honey." Dr. Grace Balthazar said after the chief medical officer had left. "Now that you've had the official tour, let me show you where the really important things are. Like where the chocolate is stashed, and best places to hide the CD player and the trashy novels from prying eyes. Here on the night shift, we're a lot looser than they are on days."
Just then, the phone rang. Grace answered it. A few minutes later, she came to Natalie.
"Well, Dr. Lambert. You ready to get your feet wet? This is a report of a homicide at 5493 St. James Place." She handed the new coroner a sheet of paper and returned to her desk.
"Aren't you coming, too?" Natalie asked.
"Nope. You're on your own. Larry, your chief technician, has been on field detail for thirteen years. Any problems, ask him. He probably knows more about the nitty gritty aspects of this job than all the rest of us combined. Even Dr. Calazarri asks his advice when he goes to a crime scene."
As Natalie went out the door, the mahogany skinned woman traced a hasty sign of the cross in the air at her back. "And may God go with you." She whispered.
5493 St. James Place was definitely in the socially acceptable part of town. The impressive cream colored stucco Tudor style house sat on at least an acre of ground. In the rear was an in ground swimming pool and a tennis court. To the side and slightly behind was a huge garage with living quarters above it, presumably for servants. The complex had the look that said custom built. And very expensive.
Detective Donald G. Schanke looked at the body again. He had seen messier homicides in his nine years on the force, but nothing this bad in a long time. The victim, one Mark Gerald Welsing, had been shot at least twice in the head with what appeared to be hollow point high caliber bullets. They were the type that were commonly referred to as cop killers. They had blown off most of his skull and scattered his brains over a three foot area of the peg and groove oak floor of the entryway and spattered the bottom of the large terra cotta terrarium planter that lined one wall of the foyer. The plants in the terrarium received their sunlight through a floor to cathedral ceiling textured glass wall that surrounded the double doors. There were also a few pieces of tissue in the living area off the hall. The red blood contrasted sharply with the alabaster white deep pile of the rug. "My whole downstairs could fit in this hall." Don said to no one in particular.
He watched as the coroner's van pulled up in the semi circular driveway and a very young chestnut haired woman got out. Oh, no. That must be the new ME. Don't let her be a total rookie. Please. He thought. She'll blow her cookies for sure.
A uniformed officer put her hand on the ME's shoulder as she started up the walk to the entryway. "First one, Doc?"
The Coroner nodded. "How'd you know?"
"I can tell because your bag is still shiny and new looking. After you've been to a few of these, it gets pretty scuffed up. Just thought I'd better warn you. It's really bad in there." The officer said as she opened the screen door for the Coroner.
"Thanks, Officer ... " Natalie looked at the name tag. " ... Riley. I appreciate that. But, I think I can handle it."
Natalie Lambert stared at the victim. She had seen some pretty gruesome corpses during her residency in the morgue at Toronto General, but this was worse than any of them. At least at Toronto, they had all their body parts more or less inside their bodies, and not splattered all over the hall floor. "I am not going to get sick. I am not going to get sick." She repeated silently as if it were a mantra. "I am not going to ... " Suddenly, she ran for the door.
"Yep ... Rookie." Don Schanke said smugly.
A few minutes later, Natalie returned to the scene of the crime, a green tinge around the edge of her face that wasn't there five minutes ago.
"You okay, Dr. ... ah ... " Schanke asked.
"Lambert. Natalie Lambert." She held out her hand to the detective. "I'm the new coroner. And yes, I'm okay." She hoped she sounded better than she felt. "It's just that this is my first solo case, and I guess I ... "
"I know what that's like." Don said, taking her hand and shaking it politely. "My first case on homicide detail was pretty tough, too. I upchucked for over an hour. By the way, my name is Don Schanke. 27th precinct. I'll be the Officer in Charge of this one."
Schanke ... Polish, I'll bet. Natalie estimated he was about 30 to 35, with a wide pleasant face. His wavy black hair showed considerable thinning, but he wasn't exactly bald. Yet. Probably in another three or four years, though. He was pudgy, but not overly so.
Natalie knelt beside the victim and gingerly began her examination.
"Victim's name is Martin Welsing. Founder, President and CEO of TransNational Enterprises Limited. Age 35. Single. No immediate family. No known enemies, but you don't run a multinational conglomerate like TransNational without stepping on a few toes. Time of death was about two hours ago. At least that's when the housekeeper, one Ms. Bedilia Compet, heard shots and called the police." Don pointed to a thin silver haired lady in a plain gray dress with a white collar and cuffs.
"Are you sure you aren't the Coroner?" Natalie said.
"Sorry, Doc." Don answered. "I guess I got carried away."
Natalie smiled softly. "That's okay." As she continued her examination, she became aware of something against her left leg. She looked back and saw a small ball of gray fluff with a white blaze down the middle of its face bumping its head against her calf.
"Mew?" The ball said.
Natalie stripped off her exam gloves and picked up the kitten and held it up to her face. "Well, little ... " She turned it around and lifted its tail. " ... fella, where did you come from?"
"He came from the kitchen." Officer Riley said. "It seems that Mr. Welsing has ... or rather, he had a cat. And the cat has kittens. We've got them in a box in the kitchen waiting for animal control to come and get them. This one must have gotten out somehow."
"Why are they going to animal control? Can't Ms. Compet can take care of them?" Natalie asked.
"Oh heavens no!" Bedilia Compet exclaimed, a horrified look on her face. "I wouldn't have those filthy things around me for all the tea in China. They were Mr. Westin's responsibility, not mine. I made that perfectly clear when he brought that flea ridden calico beast into the house two years ago. And then she had those despicable kittens. Making weird noises all hours of the day and night. They're into everything. It's enough to drive a body crazy, it is. I, for one will be glad to get those nasty animals out of here." She stuck her nose in the air. "Always clawing the furniture and shedding everywhere. Disgusting creatures!" With that, she huffed out the door.
"You'd better take him back. I wouldn't want him contaminating the crime scene."
The Coroner handed the kitten to Riley. "There you go, little fella. While you're cute as you can be, you don't belong out here. Better go back with your brothers and sisters."
"Well, Doc." Don Schanke said as Natalie finished her exam. "What else can you tell me about the victim?"
"You were right about the time of death. Judging by the degree of cooling, it was probably about two hours ago. I don't know if it matters, but he was right handed and recently sprained his left leg." She pointed to an ace bandage around his left ankle. "He was obviously shot at close range, and he was also in a fight recently." She pointed to a purplish spot on a piece of skin that was still clinging to what was left of his right cheek. "Anything else will have to wait until I get a chance to do an autopsy on him."
"It would be nice to have a bullet or two to work with." Schanke said. "But according to the Forensics people, there weren't any lodged anywhere around here except maybe in the dearly departed. Hopefully, you can dig one out of him. But seeing the condition of his head." He swept his arm to the grisly blood and tissue spattered floor. "That doesn't seem very likely."
Just then, the gray kitten came bounding back into the room. He bumped Natalie's leg a few times and then something in the back of the terrarium caught his attention. Immediately, he squeezed himself into the almost miniscule space between the huge planter and the wall. A few moments later, there was the sound of something rattling and the kitten reappeared, batting a small gold colored metal object in front of him. He would push it away and then pounce on it. Then he'd bat it again and repeat the sequence once more.
"Well, well, well. Hello there, kitty!" Don said. "What have you got there?" He put one of the Doctor's exam gloves on and attempted to pick up the object.
"M-R-E-O-W-E-L!" The kitten screeched and bared his little fangs at him. Schanke tried again and was rewarded with another hiss and the kitten swatted him across the knuckles with his paw. His sharp little claws tore the back of the glove and brought a rivulet of blood to the surface of his hand. The kitten pulled the thing under his abdomen and laid on it, hissing and screeching loudly.
Don got down on his knees. "C'mon kitty, kitty, kitty. Give the nice object to Uncle Donny."
The kitten only hissed and bared his fangs once more.
"What's the problem?" Natalie asked. "What's he got?"
"It looks like it could be a shell casing, but I can't get near enough to tell for sure. He must think it's his, and he's prepared to guard it with his little life."
"Maybe I can get it from him." She took off the crucifix necklace from around her neck and dangled it in front of the kitten. That did the trick. The cat abandoned his prize and made a leap for the cross.
As soon as the kitten relinquished his hold on the object, Don scooped it up and dropped it into an evidence bag. "It is definitely a shell casing, and if there's one around here, there might be more. As soon as you're done here, I'm going to have Forensics make another sweep of the area."
Natalie handed the kitten back to Riley and took out something that looked like a dustpan and a long forceps from her bag. This time, it was Don's turn to run for the door as she collected the bits of brain and other tissues from the floor with the pan and picked them out with the forceps and deposited them in an evidence bag.
"You okay?" Natalie asked as Schanke came back. He too was a little greener than he usually was.
"Yeah. It's just that I ain't never seen that done before. Usually I'm long gone by the time they get around to this part."
She noticed the blood on his hand from the cat scratch. "Let me clean that off and put something on it before it becomes infected. Cat injuries can be very serious, you know. Even little ones like this." She rummaged through her medical bag and found a tube of first aid cream and a bandage. While she was attending to the cut, she was aware that the kitten was back, mewing loudly and winding himself around her legs.
"Riley." She called. "You better come and take this cat back."
Janet Riley came out holding a fluffy longhaired orange kitten. "I think he's decided he's yours. Just like Rusty here has decided she's mine. That's okay by me, though. I think I'll keep her. Ms. Compet said it was all right with her. She's glad to get rid of them. I mean, they're going to the CSPCA anyway."
"But I can't possibly take a kitten." Natalie replied. "I've got a one room flat and I'm up to my eyebrows in student loans. I also have a second job as a cashier at Megafoods to try and pay them off. I don't even have the time or the funds to take care of the cockroaches, let alone a kitten."
"Don't look at me." Don said. "I've got a brand new mortgage, two Chocolate Labs, a hamster, and a two year old baby girl to look after. Besides, Myra'd have me sleeping in one of the doghouses if I even thought about bringing home another pet."
A half hour later, everything was more or less back to normal at the crime scene. Larry and the other morgue technicians had removed the body and the officers on the other details were finishing their work. As Don Schanke had predicted, the Forensics team had found two more shell casings in and around the planter.
No one noticed as a little gray kitten peered into Natalie Lambert's doctor's bag. He attempted to pull himself up over the brim, but each time, he managed to fall a little short, landing on the floor with a soft thud. He'd pick himself up, shake, and try again. Finally Diana, his mother, came behind him and picked him up by the scruff and deposited him inside the case.
Natalie put her bag and purse on the desk. There wasn't much room in her area. Her office, if you wanted to call it that, was in an alcove off the autopsy room. It looked as though it might have been a broom closet, or maybe a storage area at one time. Come to think of it, a broom closet would be bigger. There was just enough room for a desk and a chair and a filing cabinet. Well. This is really starting at the bottom of the totem pole. But then, what did you expect? You are on the low end of the food chain. Fortunately, hers wasn't the only office that opened into the autopsy room. The only difference was that the others were considerably larger.
"How'd it go?" Grace asked.
"I'm not sure. Grisly, but definitely murder. Cause of death, multiple gunshots to the head. Still don't know who did the dirty deed, though. Of course, we'll know more after the autopsy."
"What was that?" Natalie said, looking for the source of the sound.
"Doctor. I hate to say anything, but I think your bag is meowing." Grace said, trying desperately to stifle the smile.
Natalie opened her satchel and immediately, a bright eyed gray head stuck itself out.
Grace picked up the kitten and held it high. "She's absolutely precious!" She cooed. "Where'd you ever find her, and what's her name?" She alternated between nuzzling the kitten and planting multiple kisses on his head.
"She ... is a he. And he doesn't have a name. At least not one that anybody knows about." Natalie said. "This is one of the kittens from the Welsing house. He wouldn't leave me alone there. Officer Riley said that he had chosen me as his pet. According to her, you don't own a cat, the cat owns you. Apparently somehow he got into my bag." She took the kitten from Grace and cuddled it to her shoulder. The kitten immediately started purring loudly.
"Riley was right. I think he has chosen you. Look how comfortable he looks."
"But I can't keep him." Natalie kissed him softly on the head. "As much as I'd like to, he's got to go to the animal shelter."
"Well, he can't go there tonight. They're closed. In case you haven't noticed it's almost one o'clock in the morning. You'll just have to keep him with you until tomorrow."
"But I can't keep him here. Doctor Calazerri will fire me for sure."
"You're gonna have to. There's nowhere else to put him. Unless you want to lock him in your car all night."
"I thought so. Give me a moment." Grace came back with a milk crate and several hand towels. "This will do for a bed." She went to the equipment cabinet in the autopsy room and pulled out an empty instrument tray. She opened a container of Chemsorb and poured the granules into the tray. "This is for his ... business. Now for something to eat." She opened the specimen fridge and took out a can of tuna.
"What? It's clean in there and the can is sealed." She said at Natalie's look of surprise. "We keep a supply of munchies in here for the times when we can't get out to get a meal. There's also a loaf of bread in the linen closet on the shelf with the table drapes, a bag of potato chips in the file cabinet … under 'O' for opened, and a jar of peanut butter in the medicine cabinet. You're on your own for the jelly." She used a scalpel to open the can and set it on the floor. The cat pounced on it and greedily began devouring the contents.
The cat finished his meal and then used the litterbox. Then he climbed into the milk crate bed and pawed the towels until he got them to his satisfaction. Within minutes he was sound asleep.
"If you're worried about Dr Calazerri finding out about this, he rarely comes around after ten PM. And I sure ain't gonna tell him there was a cat in here." Grace said with the most innocent look on her face she could find. She gathered up the tuna tin and scooped the 'litterbox'. Then she expertly deposited all of the 'evidence' in the biohazard bin.
"Cat? What cat?" Natalie mimicked her co worker's expression. "I don't see any cats around here. Do you see a cat, Dr. Balthazar?" Natalie inspected the ceiling intently.
"You know if we are to be co conspirators in Operation Kittykat, then calling me Doctor Balthazar is way too formal. Why not try Grace?"
"Only if you'll call me Natalie."
"Now, shall we go and see to our guest in room 2D?" Grace said to her co worker and new friend.
"Welsing. The murder victim. He's in row 2, container D in the cold room."
Don Schanke came into the room. The newly installed triangular wood name plate on the desk read 'Natalie A. Lambert MD. Assistant Coroner'. "Anybody home?" He said softly.
"Come on in, Detective ... Schanke, isn't it?" Natalie said. "I was busy in the other room. I take it you're here for the report on the Welsing autopsy. Here it is." She handed him a manila folder. "There wasn't much to work with. I didn't find any bullets, but I did manage to find a number of bullet fragments. It appears that there were parts of at least three bullets still in his brain." She handed him an evidence bag with numerous bits of metal in it. "I've already sent them to Forensics and they have confirmed that they are .9mm hollow point bullets. Which, by the way, is also what the shell casings that were found at the scene are. They managed to lift several prints from the casings, but unfortunately, there wasn't enough of any one bullet fragment to get a good print.
Additionally, from the pattern if the splaying of the brain and tissue at the scene and here, there's an 89 percent probability that the killer was left handed. He is most likely around 5'10 to 6', judging from the reconstruction of the entrance and exit wounds that Grace ... I mean Dr. Balthazar ... and I put together. It's also probable that Mr. Welsing knew the killer. He was shot at point blank range, and there is no evidence of more than a slight struggle.
Another thing. The killer is Caucasian and he might have brown hair. Buzz cut. And a cut and or bruises on the left side of his face. We found human skin and hair fragments imbedded in the knuckles of Welsing's right hand that weren't his. Like he had kit somebody hard. The killer's probably somewhere around 175 to 190 pounds. If he struggled with Welsing, he has to be about the same size as Welsing. They probably fought when Welsing realized what was going to happen. It's doubtful that he did it after he was shot. As near as I can tell, any one of the bullets would have been the fatal one. The killer apparently knocked Welsing down at least once, too. The bruise on the tissue fragment from his left cheek was made at approximately the same time as the time of death."
"That would mean the killer is right handed."
"No, it wouldn't. If you were holding a gun in your right hand, you'd strike out with your left. That would leave the bruise on the victim's right cheek." She tapped his right cheek with her left hand.
"But if he was left handed ... " Don Schanke held his left hand as though he had a gun in it. He swung gently with his right hand at Natalie and connected with her left side "Are you sure you aren't a detective?" Schanke asked. "Too bad you couldn't give me the killer's eye color as well."
"If I could, I would. In a way, I am a detective. It's my job to look for clues in and around the bodies that I autopsy. From these, I have to determine the cause of death, find any mitigating evidence, and other things like that. Occasionally, I might even be able to provide information about the suspected killer as well. Like I did on this one. About the only thing I won't get a chance to do is actually apprehend the suspect."
"Straight out of the training manual, I'll bet. Actually, your little four legged friend did give us a real head start on finding the killer when he found that shell casing. Especially since Forensics was able to lift several good prints from them.
It also seems that our Mister Welsing wasn't exactly the fine upstanding citizen he appeared to be, either. Turns out, from what RCMP Organized Crime Division says, some of the companies in TransNational's portfolio are little more than incorporation papers. In other words, dummies. It gets better, too. According to the corporate account records, some of these so called companies are among the most profitable ones, too. RCMP thinks TransNational might be laundering money for the mob. If that's true, it could put this case in a whole new light. Although we don't have any actual suspects yet, we do have a pretty good laundry list of probables. If any of them match the fingerprints and the hair and skin samples, we got ourselves a murderer. So, you see, you have been a big help in apprehending the killer."
It was at this point that the kitten apparently awoke from his nap in the milk crate and began protesting his confinement. Loudly.
"I thought you said you were going to take him to the shelter and put him up for adoption." Schanke said as he took the kitten out of the crate. Immediately, the tiny gray creature began to purr and rub his face against the detective's chin.
"I was going to, but I overslept. That stupid alarm clock of mine doesn't always go off at the time I set it for. Then, I had car trouble. Dead battery. To make a long story short, by the time the auto club came and jump started me, I just had enough time to get to work without being late. So I brought him with me. I had no choice. I couldn't leave him in a strange place all by himself, could I? I mean he's just a baby after all."
"Maybe you should keep him."
I'd love to, but like I told you before, I don't have the room, the time, or the funds. Although he does seem to grow on you." She rubbed his chin, which increased the volume of his purrs. "Besides, my lease has a no pets clause. If my landlady found him there, both he and I would be out on our ears faster than you could think. Are you sure you couldn't take him?"
"I'm in the same boat you are. Too many mouths to feed now. In fact, Myra's been after me to get rid of the dogs. I think Detective Lloyd over in Robbery is going to take one of them. He's been looking for a good hunting dog. Maybe I can persuade him to take them both. After all, they are from the same litter. They've been together since they were born. It'd be a crying shame to separate them now. Especially since they're best buddies."
"And you call yourself a big bad detective." She said with a great big smile. "You're just an old softie at heart."
"Don't you dare tell anybody. I got a reputation to maintain after all." He said with a grin and a conspiratorial wink. "By the way, where's Dr. Balthazar?"
"Out on a case. She should be back in about a half hour if you want to wait."
"No thanks. Just curious. All I really came for was the Welsing report. Now to start rubber hosing the suspects."
"What? You use rubber hoses?" A look of disbelief spread over her face. Suddenly her face brightened. "You're kidding, right?"
"Yeah. I'm just joking. We only use the rubber hoses on the hard core criminals."
"Come on, Doc. Lighten up a little. It's just a little jailhouse humor. You'll get used to it. We'd never manhandle a suspect these days."
"I knew that."
"Seriously, though, now that we have something positive to go on, we can start looking for whoever blew Mark Welsing's brains to kingdom come."
Natalie reluctantly put the kitten back in the crate. "Good luck, Detective."
"Hasta la bye bye." He reached into the crate and scratched the kitten's ears. "And a hasta la bye bye to you too, little fella. Gotta get home before Myra puts out an APB on me. Only reason I stayed this long is to pick up this file." He turned at the door. "By the way, the name is Don."
No sooner had Grace Balthazar put her bag on the desk than the phone rang. Several minutes later, she hung up. "No rest for the weary." She said to Natalie. "You might as well grab your toy doctor kit, too. We're gonna need all the help we can get on this one. A tractor trailer went out of control and broadsided a chartered bus. Corner of Gateway and Grenoble. According to the officers on the scene, there's bodies everywhere."
Natalie laid her head on her desk. She would be very happy if she never woke up again. They had spent nearly four hours at the accident scene sorting out the bodies and body parts. The driver of the trailer had a fatal heart attack at the wheel and the semi had sliced through the bus at over 80 KPH. It had literally torn many of the passengers limb from limb. At first, it was ghastly, gruesome work, but after about the third hour, she had become numb to it. After that, it became almost like a macabre jigsaw puzzle, trying to match the appropriate limbs with the torsos. Even so, there were still a few arms and legs and other parts left over. These would have to wait for DNA matching.
Then came the autopsies. Although the cause of death was readily apparent, the law required that every death that was not attended by a physician be autopsied. They had called in every available coroner to help with the backlog. That included two from Mississauga who volunteered to help. The last 'guest' was 'tucked in bed', as Grace had put it, at 4:30 AM. Now it was time to collapse and let fatigue have its way with the exhausted crew.
Natalie became aware of a hand on her shoulder. "Na' now, Daddy." She mumbled groggily. "'S not time to ged up for school yet. 'Imme jus' a few more minutes. Pwease?"
"Dr. Lambert." The chief medical officer said.
She straightened up suddenly. "Dr. Calazerri! I ... ah … I was just ... uh … " She tried to stand, but it was too much of an effort.
"Please. Don't get up, Doctor. We are all bushed." His yawn only served to emphasize his remark. "I just wanted to tell you that you did an exceptional job tonight. Very professional. I'm proud of you. Keep this up and it's possible that in a few years, you may even be doing my job."
"Doctor. I ... uh … I ... ah … I didn't do ... " Despite her best efforts, her face was slowly turning a noticeable shade of red
"I mean it, Dr. Lambert. You're good. One of the best I've ever seen." He started for the door. "And by the way. I fed your ...ah … 'vermin control device' ... while you were at the accident scene." He pointed to the milk crate where the kitten was sleeping peacefully. There was a definite twinkle in his coffee brown eyes. Natalie had forgotten about the cat entirely.
"I thought you were going to take him to the shelter today." Don Schanke said as he came into Natalie's office. The kitten in question was eagerly attacking a piece of crumpled paper that had missed the wastebasket.
"I was." Natalie said as she tried to take the wad away from the cat. She had as much success as the detective had when he tried to get the shell casing. "But after that bus accident last night, the only thing I wanted to do today was hibernate. It's a good thing this was my day off from Megafoods. I'll definitely take him tomorrow."
"Afraid you can't do that. He's evidence. The Crown Prosecutor wants a DNA sample from him and all the other from the Welsing house to make sure that the hair and skin you found on Welsing's knuckles wasn't theirs. I've already called the CSPCA."
"Why does he need a sample from the cats?" Natalie said loudly. There was a touch of anger in her voice. "I said in my report that the hair and skin was definitely human. Besides, from what I could see, none of the cats showed any signs of abuse whatsoever. I may be new at this job, but I definitely know 'cat' from 'person'."
Don put up his hands in mock surrender. "Look, Doc. I don't make the rules. The Prosecutor said something about covering our asses. Especially when we're dealing with the mob."
"Okay. I'll get a sample." Her tone was soft again. "I'm sorry I blew off at you. You're right. We can't be too careful."
"Speaking of the mob, it looks like our Mr. Welsing was not working for them exactly of his own free will. It seems he had an acute fascination with the ponies. Unfortunately, the ponies he was fascinated with didn't always finish in the money. According to what we can glean, he was up to his nostrils in hock to the bookies. The 'Family' apparently paid off his debts so they could use his companies to hide their money."
"So it was a mob hit?"
"Don't think that's likely. After all, why would they kill off their cash cow without a good reason? According to what one of my informants told me, the 'Family' was pleased with the arrangement. He also said that Don Constantine, the godfather for the Toronto Family didn't order a hit. If Don Constantine didn't order it, that's good enough for me. He may be a gangster, but he is a man of honor. I tried to tell the CP that, but I don't think he bought it.
There's been a new wrinkle in the case, however. According to one Marjorie Halverston, Welsing's secretary at TransNational, he has been doing the horizontal bop with one of the ladies from the secretarial pool for the past year. And get this. She's married. Also, according to Ms. Halverston, the hubby found out about it and threatened the boss. In public.
According to the secretary in question, a Mrs. Ima Goodwyn ... now there's an fitting description if there ever was one ... I'm a good one ...Get it? ... Oh well. Anyway, she claims she broke it off with Welsing three weeks ago and kissed and made up with her hubby. Furthermore, according to Mrs. Goodwyn, her husband couldn't have done it. Harley Goodwyn has been in Windsor on business for the past week. Of course, Windsor is only a three hour drive from here. He could have made the round trip in one evening. He's supposed to be back tonight. I think I'll have a long chat with him when he returns."
"Look here, cat." Natalie said as she put the kitten on the floor. "I have work to do. These papers are evidence in a murder case. They're not your personal toys."
"So why don't you buy him some toys?" Grace Balthazar asked.
"Because he's not going to be around here that long."
"You've been bringing him in here every night for the past week. Looks to me like he might be here for the duration. You are going to keep him, aren't you?"
"No I'm not going to keep him. I just haven't had the time to do anything about it. Between here and Megafoods, I barely have time to sleep, let alone take him across town to the CSPCA. Besides, you heard Detective Schanke the other day. He's evidence in a murder case. I'm just keeping him here until that has been resolved. Then I'll take him to the shelter."
Keep telling yourself that, girl. Maybe you'll start believing it. "At least let's give him a name. We can't keep calling him 'hey cat' or 'kitty, kitty' all the time."
"No. I don't want him getting used to a name and then having whoever adopts him give him another name. It'll just confuse him."
"What about George?" Grace said, ignoring her co worker. She scratched the kitten behind the ears.
The kitten spat.
"You're right. You are definitely not a George."
"Grace … " Natalie cautioned.
"How about … Felix?"
The kitten hissed.
"Right. No Felix. And you're not a Fred. Or an Alfonso, either."
"Fluffy?" "Rex?" "Mittens?" Each name was greeted with an increasingly negative reaction from the kitten and a louder protest from Natalie.
She studied the cat for a few minutes. "You know, he looks a lot like my second cousin, Sidney. Especially around the eyes. How about if we call him Sidney?"
The kitten licked his paw and started washing himself, purring loudly all the time.
"You like that name, Sidney?"
The cat looked up and mewed his approval.
"Good. Then that's what I'm going to call you. Sidney. I don't care what Mommy says." She planted a loud kiss on the top of the kitten's head.
Donald Schanke opened the autopsy room door and just as quickly closed it. Natalie and Grace were both huddled over a corpse on the examining table. This was the one from the motorcycle accident. It wasn't a homicide. But in Schanke's opinion, it should have been. The victim had been hit by a speeding pickup truck and dragged over a quarter of a kilometer. Every bone in his body had been broken and there wasn't much of his face or chest left intact. The driver showed no remorse and claimed that he didn't even know he had hit the biker. His blood alcohol test was .15 … almost double the intoxication limit. The biker was also intoxicated, but only .9. Barely over the limit. Even so, the maximum they could charge the truck driver with was involuntary manslaughter. Five to seven years max. With good behavior and a good lawyer, he could be out in eighteen months.
"Detective." Natalie said as she opened the hall door. She had removed her blood spattered gown, and gloves, and her mask. Schanke was grateful for that. "Is there anything I can do for you?"
"No … well, yeah. I came for the Brockett report."
"It's done. Come on in. It's on my desk. Although she died of asphyxiation, you'll be pleased to hear that there was no foul play involved. It was the result of complications of pneumonia and asthma. A large mucus clot had lodged in the bronchial junction and she was unable to breathe. While it probably was a very traumatic and painful death, it was completely natural. Just as the husband claimed."
Don stared at the door. "I'm glad for that. He seemed like too nice a guy to suffocate his wife. But if you don't mind, I'll just wait out here. Can you bring the report to me?"
Natalie followed his gaze. "I … Oh. Right. The biker. Don't tell me you're squeamish around blood. We're finished with that one. Grace is cleaning up now. She should be done in a few minutes. Why don't we go get a cup of coffee?" She took his arm and led him to the break room.
"It's not that I mind the blood and all that. I mean, I am a homicide detective, after all. It's the … insides… that get to me."
"I understand." She poured him a cup and one for herself. "Have you found anything more about the Welsing case?" She and Don went to an empty table and sat down.
"Yes and no. I talked with the husband yesterday. If your description holds true, Harley Goodwyn's not our man. He's the right size, but he's bald and right handed. Also, no scratches or bruises that would indicate he's been in a fight recently. So-o-o back to square one."
"So. You believe my findings in the case? That those were human hairs and skin and not the cat's."
"I believed you from the start. It was the CP that didn't. Of course, now that he's got the DNA and blood results, the cat is no longer a suspect."
Natalie looked like she had lost her last friend. "Well. I guess that means I can take Sidney to the shelter."
"The cat. Grace gave him that name a few days ago. I tried to tell her that it was useless, but you know Grace … "
"Yeah. I know Grace. She's a hopeless romantic and the original cockeyed optimist. A word of advice. Don't ever let her know you're serious about anybody. Within thirty minutes, she'll have the two of you married, the honeymoon planned, the house picked out, and the first two kids named. That's what she did with Myra and me. Not that I'm complaining, mind you."
"Thanks for the warning, but there isn't anyone special in my life right now. I'm far too busy trying to cope with living day to day to be interested in any relationships. "
"But someday there will be someone special. A beautiful woman like you won't have any trouble finding Mr. Right." He picked up her hand and brought it to his lips. Natalie turned nearly as red as the bottle of ketchup on the table.
"Mail delivery." Natalie Lambert said as she dropped a stack of folders on Don Schanke's desk.
"What brings you all the way out here?" Schanke asked. "Usually, the reports are dropped in the interoffice mail or faxed. Either that, or I come over there and get them."
"I needed to get some fresh air." She sat in the chair at the empty desk beside Don's. "You were right about Grace. She's decided that I'm going to keep the cat and she's not taking 'No' for an answer. She's even bought him a bed and a real litterbox … and a carrier … and a collar and leash. She says if I won't do 'the right thing', as she calls it, she's going to do it for me. She's determined to make it as comfortable as she can for him. At the office at least."
"You mean you're still bringing him to work?"
"Yeah. I guess it's becoming a habit. I have to. As I told you, my place doesn't allow pets and so I have to bring him to work every night. Now that Grace had bought all that stuff for him, it's going to make it that much harder on him when he has to go. I tried to tell her that but she isn't listening."
"So, when are you going to take him to the shelter?"
"As soon as the Welsing case is solved."
"In that case, you had better start making plans now."
"You mean you found the murderer. Who did it? Someone from the mob or was it Mr. Goodwyn after all?"
"None of the above. Actually the guys at Castle Frank found him. Or rather he found them. Seems they picked up one of TransNational's former employees at a place called Crazy Charlies for an unrelated offense. Drunk and disorderly. According to the arrest report … " He opened a folder and scanned several papers until he found the one he wanted. " … James McMillian Fenderson was fired by TransNational two months ago for Pettit Theft. Still nothing to connect him to the murder. Except when they got him to the station, he started hollering about how he … I quote … " He read from the report. " … 'paid back the guys at the top for their humiliation' …
That's when they began questioning him about Welsing's murder. He started singing like a canary. So they called me up there since I was the Officer in Charge on the case.
Fenderson said that he had gone to the Welsing house to see if he could get his job back. He claimed he took the gun just to scare Welsing, but when Welsing refused to talk to him, he knocked Welsing down and they scuffled. Then Welsing ordered him out of the house. Threatened to call the police on him and have him arrested for trespassing. That's when he lost it. He shot him three times in the head and ran out of the place.
According to the bartender at Crazy Charlie's, Fenderson's been in there every night since the shooting getting drunk and staying drunk. Usually he stays by himself and doesn't bother anybody, but last night he went over the edge for whatever reason, and started destroying the bar. The bartender ended up calling the police."
"And you're sure he's the one?"
"Positive. And you're the one who gave us the clues. He's 5'11, weighs 180, has sandy brown crew cut hair, and has several nearly healed cuts on his left cheek, and a bruise the size of downtown Guelph. And he's left handed to boot. You were right all the way down the line on this one.
Castle Frank did a search of his house and found a .9mm automatic and a box of hollow points. The test shells match the casings from the scene. And as icing on the cake, his prints match the ones taken from the casings that the cat found.
Good work, Doctor. If it weren't for your expert evidence collection, we'd never have solved this one. Fenderson wasn't even on our list of suspects. By the way, he has hazel eyes." Schanke concluded with a grin.
"I can't take credit for this. You are the one who … " Natalie blushed.
"Yes you can take credit and you're going to get it, too." Don said. "I've asked Captain Stonetree to put in a recommendation to the Board of Commissioners that you get a commendation on this case. He agreed wholeheartedly."
Natalie's blush deepened to nearly scarlet.
Natalie pulled into the parking space at the Toronto CSPCA building. It had been almost a month since the kitten had climbed into her medical bag. Finally, the Crown Prosecutor had released him as evidence and now it was time to take him to the shelter.
She would miss him, that was a given. She had set up a place in the tiny kitchenette of her apartment with a makeshift milk crate bed for him, but every morning, she woke up to find him curled up beside her in her bed.
She had brought him to the shelter on her way to work today, since the shelter didn't open to the public until one in the afternoon. The minute she took him out of Grace's carrier, the cat began purring.
"Well, cat." She said, holding him close. "I guess it's time for you to find a new home." Her voice quivered considerably and a tear began to form. I'm not going to cry. He's just a cat, after all. And he's not even mine. I can't have a cat. "You'll like it here. These people will treat you real good and in no time at all, you'll have a loving family to call your own. Maybe even one with kids."
The receptionist directed her to the intake desk. The lady there took all the pertinent information. Unfortunately, all Natalie could answer to most of the questions was 'I don't know'.
"How soon do you think it will be before he finds a home?" Natalie asked.
"I wish I could give you an answer." The lady, Patricia Lakeland, replied. "For the last three months, there has been sort of a kitty population boom around here. Right now, we're overstocked with kittens of adoptable age. If you are correct about his age, he's almost four months old. That would put him at the upper end of the adoptability scale. Most people want a kitten between eight and ten weeks old."
"You mean he'll probably be … "
Pat sighed. "We don't like to euthanize unless it's necessary, but yes, if he isn't adopted within two weeks, he'll most likely be humanely put to sleep."
"But you can't do that. He's not sick, or injured, or anything like that." Natalie could feel the anger starting to build inside her. "In fact, he's probably the healthiest cat you're going to find anywhere. With all the doctors and medical personnel at the Coroners Office, if he so much as sneezes, he gets a complete checkup. And he's sweet and loving and friendly and playful to boot. Anybody in their right mind would be insane not to want him as their pet."
"I understand what you're saying and I agree with you wholeheartedly. But, with the economy the way it is and the budget cuts, we just don't have the space or resources to take care of all the animals we get. As much as we hate to do it, we have to draw the line somewhere, and I'm afraid this cat is on the wrong side of that line."
"He doesn't deserve that." How dare they even consider putting this sweet little thing to sleep!
"Then maybe you could take him."
"I can't. I … " Sidney rubbed against her chin. "I don't …" He licked her cheek. "I shouldn't … " He began to milk tread her shoulder. She held him up. "What the hell. Why not. You win. Sidney. Come on. Lets go home."
She practically danced out of the building.
"You softie!" Grace exclaimed as Natalie came into the office carrying the carrier with Sidney in it. The cat was loudly protesting his confinement. "I knew you couldn't do it. Do you want me to say 'I told you so' now or later."
"Later, if you don't mind. I was all set to take him in today. But according to Pat Lakeland, the intake director, they are up to their eyeballs in adoptable kittens. She said that it would be likely he'd be put to sleep. I couldn't possibly let that happen. So ... I adopted him."
"But you said you didn't have the time or the room for a kitten."
"I guess I'll just have to find time. And since I've got some of my loans paid down, maybe I can start putting a little cash aside every week so I can start looking for a larger apartment than that walk in closet with a thyroid condition I'm living in now. I'll just have to find some way to keep hiding him until then."
" … And maybe this will help a little." Dr, Calazarri said from the doorway. He handed her a large envelope. "It's a commendation from the Board of Commissioners for your work on the Welsing case. There's also a fairly good sized checque that goes with it. Courtesy of a grant from the De Brabant Foundation. It should be more than enough to put a down payment and a security deposit on a decent apartment."
"And I know just where there happens to be one available." Don Schanke said as he came into the room. "Myra's best friend Betty is getting married in a few weeks and moving to Ingersol. She's been looking for someone to sublet her place. And they allow pets, too. I'll have Myra call you with the details."
"You guys are the absolute best." Natalie said trying desperately to hold back the tears that were forming. "What am I going to do with all of you?'
Grace smiled a silly lopsided smile. "Love us?"
(Catspeak for "This is only the beginning.")