Detective River Mallard turned off the siren of his 57 Chevy as he pulled up to the crime scene. Easing off the accelerator, he slipped smoothly into a space next to a police cruiser. Stepping out into the muggy night, he hailed a fellow detective.
"Hey, Bernie! What do we have?"
The other detective, a German Shepard, looked up from taking witness statements.
"It's bad, River," he said, shaking his head. "We have a very young, very dead prostitute."
"Is there ever a good one, Bern."
Replied River, starting for the yellow taped area. Bernard fell into step next to his partner.
"No, I don't suppose there is, but I don't think I've ever seen one this brutal before."
Ducking under the tape, River approached the body, now covered by a white sheet, slightly stained pink, in the dark alleyway. Gerald, the city coroner, was already there. The old raven's pen scratched quickly across the pages of a weather worn, leather bound journal.
"Evening Gerald, so tell me what have you got so far?"
Gerald finally looked up, adjusted his glasses, and then gently lifted the sheet. River had been a homicide detective for close on fifteen years, he had seen bodies many times over, but even he had to turn his head. Taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly, he looked back, Bernard had been right when he choose the word brutal. The girl's throat had been viciously slashed, but the killer hadn't stopped there. The chest and stomach of the small girl had been stabbed multiply times and she was now lying in a cooling pool of her own blood.
"My God!" Breathed River, removing his hat.
Gerald nodded, "Yes," he said quietly, "It's a real mess. So far I've counted twenty-six stab wounds. I'll know for sure, just how many, when I get her back to the morgue." He pointed to the wound on the girl's throat.
"As you can clearly see, her throat has been slashed, whoever did it used such savagery she was practically decapitated."
"My God." River said again. "And the stab wounds?"
"Almost certainly done post mortem, the slash to her throat was probably the first wound as you can see by the spray pattern on the opposite wall."
River looked to where the coroner was pointing; he could just make out a deeper shade of red, splotching the red bricks of the building.
"As I said, I'll know more when I get her back to the morgue."
Gerald straightened up, letting the sheet fall back over the body, hiding the young girl's terror contorted face.
"Any signs of a struggle?"
Asked Bernard, his head still firmly turned away.
Gerald shook his head, sighing, "None that I can find, seems like the killer had her right where he wanted. As far as I can tell, she either felt that she was in no danger or else the killer attacked so quickly she did not have a chance to defend herself."
"Well," said River, "given her profession, it would have been very easy for the killer to get her in an isolated situation. Any witnesses?
"Nothing useful," Replied Bernard, shaking his head. "The only witnesses we have are those two homeless gentlemen over there." He jerked a thumb over his shoulder toward the two felines dressed in shabby, mismatched clothes. "But, they only found the body, in fact, they are the ones that called it in, but they didn't see anyone or hear anything."
"With a neck wound like that," interrupted the coroner, "I highly doubt she would have been able to scream."
Bernard nodded slowly, continuing, "If anyone did actually see anything, no ones come forward yet."
River studied the two homeless men. They were both much older than he, perhaps in their sixties or even seventies, it was hard to tell, they were well worn with the burden of a rough life. Placing his hat back on his head, he turned to his partner.
Bernard shrugged, "Nope. No finger prints and as far as footprints go, there's so much traffic in and out of this alleyway it will be impossible to tell. Seems the owners of the Restaurant, The Lily Pad Hop, give their leftovers to the homeless every night. That's what these two gentlemen were here for."
"Do we know who she is?" Asked River quietly, eyeing the mound under the sheet.
"Not at this time."
"Well then partner, let's hit the streets and see what we can find."
Gerald leafed through his papers, fishing out a Polaroid and handing it to River.
"Here you go, Detective, you may need it."
"Thank you, Gerald." Replied River, glancing at the photo, before placing it into the inside pocket of his jacket. It was a shot of the victim's head, but you could still make out the very edges of her gaping wound. River had an eleven-year-old son and this girl looked only a few years older than that.
Who was she? How had she come to this? Was there a mother out there, waiting for her to come home? Would there be anyone looking for her?
River let out a long sigh, patting the inside pocket of his jacket.
"Aren't you hot in that?"
Asked Bernard, as they walked over to River's car. "It almost hit one hundred degrees today."
"A little, its not like I've been wearing it all day. I just like to look professional."
Bernard rolled his eyes, smiling. "I say we check over on Rose Avenue and Triangle Street. Most of the city's hookers do their business there."
River unlocked the car door, nodding. "That's what I was thinking and its only a few short blocks from here, we could easily walk it."
"Let's take the car."
"Alright, lazy bones."
The engine roared to life and the car pulled out of its parking spot. Bernie rolled down his window to let some air in.
"I don't think I've ever seen one like that in all my years on the force." He said becoming serious.
Keeping his eyes on the road, River replied, "Neither have I. I don't think I even want to imagine the kind of person who would do such a thing."
"Neither do I."
"But," continued River, his blue eyes hardening, "I will get this monster off of my streets!"
Bernie nodded, "Yes we will!"
As the car rounded a corner onto Rose Ave, River and Bernard could see a handful of women, young girls really, prowling the far end of the street.
"It's a good thing we took your car instead my police cruiser. I think it would have been a bit of a turn off. Look, they're approaching us."
"Yeah, they think we're potential customers."
River brought the car in, rolling to a stop just in front of the curb where most of the young women stood.