He steps around the body and its shadow of blood. The head, where's the head? He leans closer; some kind of mashed in. Pulverized. But it's all here. Kneeling he sniffs, pokes, prods, guesses, wonders. A bit of brain like putty dried on the oven door. One of the cops whistles. The detective stands. Peeling off gloves, giving orders, pages of notepads flickering. Making the usual jokes. He turns his back on the other guys, rubs his eyes. Somehow he is expected not to go crazy. Blood even on the flowered wallpaper. He squints. The flowers and the blood compete for white space. He is sure a woman was here. Circles of blood on the linoleum left by a pair of pumps. Either she did it or she watched it and didn't make a call and that makes her a bad lady.
Detective, someone says. He is leaning so close to the wall he can smell the grease and blood breathing from it. Bouquet. He shuts his eyes, thinks of something far away. Fields. Humanless. Green.
What, he says.
You better take a look at this.
He opens his eyes. The fields vanish.
After his shift he sits in his car. He's looking at a house and thinking what kind of person would leave their living room window open so late at night in this crazy neighborhood and then he realizes this is not a house he's casing, it's his actual house.
What he knows is that it happens to anyone. Sometimes he gets a shock if it's a kid, or some kind of sex thing. But a beautiful woman being dead never surprises him. Murder looks less cheap on a pretty woman: It can look like a million bucks. She could be flung across a bed, hair a flame on the sheets. Curled somewhere, dainty, maybe in the back of a car, blood drawn by the pinch of a knife, or a necklace of bruises high and dark on a slender throat. It never looks like an accident. The eyes are never closed. If she is beautiful, she sees it coming.
The detective tells his wife these things after dinner. He says it while tapping ash on the tablecloth and moving his hands to conjure these women, to show her, see, this one and this one and this one, all beautiful, all dead: but not you, I never worry about you because of the fact of your missing beauty.
The wife hugs her elbows across her chest.
I want a divorce, she says.
Maybe I'm getting confused, he says. About the women, I mean.
Confused? his wife's voice rises as he tilts his plate, causing the unfinished steak to slide in its skin of blood.
Okay okay. I'm sorry.
You don't even know what for, she says, and then she's gone.
He is called in to a scene where a boy is hanging in his father's closet next to a rack of pants and a lot of laundry piled on the floor. The detective eases sideways into the closet to get a look at the face drifting away from him: ears cheek chin, silk of tie and tongue, and then the wide green eyes. The detective jerks back and says Aw shit.
What? his partner asks. The detective is pinching the bridge of his nose, hand on one hip, shaking his head.
Oh fuck, you know him? his partner says.
Sort of, the detective replies. Used to mow my lawn. Justin somebody.
No shit, his partner murmurs, fingering the tie the kid hung himself with. They rummage through dressers, beneath beds, in coat pockets, but everything is missing. No note, no drugs, no foul play, no reason why. The detective looks so hard for the clue that his eyes hurt. A photographer comes in and the flashes go off like slaps.
You know it wasn't my fault, the mother says. The detective doesn't know that, not yet, but he scribbles on his notepad and makes a noise that means, of course.
The man with the mashed-in head didn't have a girlfriend. Ex-wife accounted for two hundred miles away. No sisters, no nieces, no internet or credit card or cell phone history of contact with suspicious persons—hookers, drug runners, best friend's woman. The house is clean of condoms. No history of his knowing anyone who would wear such fancy shoes. Size eight. Too small for a cross-dresser and the only other shoes that made prints are on the dead guy's feet. Weary blob of blood on the welcome mat and after that, nothing. Leading to nowhere. Would have been blood in the shoes, down the legs, all over her. No sign she ran the shower or even used the sink. No witnesses reporting a woman going inside the house then coming out drenched red. The detective got on his knees near the stove, measured the prints next to his hand.
Pointy toe. Smooth sole. High heel.
The detective keeps a photo of the dead man's head; there it is, intact, smiling, on his desk, under the lip of glass. You're going to die, you're going to die, the detective thinks every time he looks at the normal happy face. By this time his own house is officially empty of family, as clean as an old crime scene. He watches all the shows with cops in them so he can remember how to act. He frowns, he drinks coffee, he tells dirty jokes. He taps his fingers on the glass over the head and thinks of all the parts there are inside a person, all the meat inside a man: more than you can imagine.
She's about the age he guessed—thirty, thirty-five. Young people, unless they are on drugs, don't have enough rage to do what she did. And the shoes, four inches, the dress, white: He just gets a feeling sometimes. In the guts. Halter strap cutting into her neck as she turns to look at who walked in and then turns again when she sees it's just him. His badge burns in his jacket pocket. He hitches a hip onto the stool beside her and she concentrates on squeezing a lime into her beer. He looks and looks at her. Big beautiful face, cheekbones, no makeup and she doesn't need it. She looks back: cutting eyes. Cruel eyes. Capable.
Don't, she says.
She leaves the dry lime in a fetal curl on her cocktail napkin.
I'm surprised you haven't left town, he says.
She rolls her eyes. The bartender asks him what he wants and he says Martini and when the woman snorts he says No I mean beer, sorry, did I say martini?
The bartender chips the cap off on the edge of the bar and the steam that rises from the bottle is like the smoke from a lazy fire.
I just want to know one thing, he says, but she gives him nothing, no sign she can even hear him. He reminds himself he's been here before: take it slow. Smile, lean in, get cozy. Approximate admiration. A perp leaves a body like that, you better pretend you're impressed.
Helluva job, he says with a chummy smile: What you did. Really first-rate. Must have been a real asshole for you to do it like that.
I know, I know, he says, You have your reasons. But there are simpler ways, right? Why the thing with the head?
Her neck stiffens. Is this some kind of joke?
He shows his palms. Easy, easy, I'm just asking you an honest question.
Jesus, you're drunk already.
I'm a cop, he whispers.
She smirks. Next you're gonna tell me I'm under arrest, right?
He imagines cuffing her strong wrists. Steel jewelry jangling against her white skin, chafing the blue veins. The flowered paper, the blood already dry. Flowers used to make him think of perfume. Not anymore. He misses a beat. Comes back.
You didn't leave a single good fingerprint, he says, and then, with some satisfaction, wagging his finger: But you forgot about the shoes.
What the fuck, she sighs, lips pillowed against the mouth of her beer.
We learn in school, he continues, What marks all the different types of shoes make. I recognized yours right away. Not definitive proof, but I always trust a hunch.
She drains her beer, asks for another. He hasn't tasted his own drink, or if he has, he doesn't remember. She is peeling the label from her bottle, the glue and the paper scratched from the glass with her thumb. He imagines her hands stroking a weapon, though he can't remember what the report said it was: a bat? A knife? A gun? There was more than one thing she used, though nothing was ever found and he ended up feeling like a fool, running out of ideas, case gone cold, freezing. He watches her, hoping she can at least melt the edges off.
I never saw anything quite like it, and not from a woman. He thumbs his nose, sniffs: That's the thing. I admit it got to me. Is still getting to me.
So I killed him, huh, she says, and suddenly he's changing direction, hot shot just like in the movies, keep it cool, you got her where you want her.
I don't know. You tell me, he says, leaning back on the stool, wiping the bar with his hands, a glimpse of himself in the mirror behind the bartender; he looks okay, if a little thin on top. He runs his hand over his hair.
Let me guess, she says, her hand falling hard to the bar. Out of work? Health troubles? Bad luck? Nothing nice happens to you or what?
I've seen a lot of bad things, he explains.
Well I've seen things too, she says, offended, like he's trying to keep all of something valuable to himself.
That's no excuse in the eyes of the law, lady, he says.
She gets off her stool, gathers her purse from the floor. Her heel makes a cracking sound on the tile. He flinches.
I don't really have time for this, she says.
When she comes out of the ladies' room he is there; she has to step back to keep from running into him.
I don't want to fuck you, she says. Get it?
I know, he says humbly.
Then what do you want?
He kneels to grip her skirt with a half sob. The whiteness of the dress baffles him, saddens him: the man had been splashed all over that kitchen. There should be a trace, some mark on her, a scar, and yet: this dress, its whiteness, the woman's strong legs.
Do you think I feel sorry for you? she says, not unkind, looking down.
Why can't you? he says.
Why should I?
The skirt wrinkles, folds in his hand.
How did you get it out? he says: All that blood.
She makes a sound, disgusted, as their hands fumble in the field of her skirt, hers trying to get him off, his trying to hold on. Crouched on his knees he is begging Please, please, I've seen enough, just do it to me too.