Death of Freedom
by Christopher W Gamsby
Joe sat in his office with his feet on his desk, drinking boiling hot coffee. He read the autopsy and crime scene report of Chastity Gregory in between loud slurps.
Deceased: Chastity Gregory
Location of Death: Summer Orchard Hotel, room 214 in the Old Towne Area of Benton.
Officer's Notes on Scene: Deceased was found lying on a bed in lingerie. No signs of a struggle or forceful encounter. Deceased drank from a glass of wine. Officer requests coroner examines the body for signs of violence, especially around the neck or heart, examine body for signs of sexually transmitted diseases, and check for signs of poisoning. In the case of poison, please check wine bottle for foreign substances.
Coroner's Response to Officer: No evidence of violence, proximal or long-term. No indications of sexually transmitted diseases. Signs of botulism toxicity in deceased. Matching botulism toxin found in wine bottle.
Official Cause of Death: Acute cardiac and respiratory arrest and ataxia due to botulism toxicity
Coroner's Notes: The level of toxicity could not have occurred naturally in the bottle of wine found at the scene. Death likely occurred in less than 10 minutes.
Coroner's Prognosis: Murder
So, she was murdered. This wasn't revenge for getting someone sick, or a random act of passion. The only thing I'm not sure of is which of the two put the poison in the bottle.
Joe grunted, and Tracey turned in her seat to watch the childish display. Joe loudly slurped his coffee, and Tracey rolled her eyes.
"Is something wrong, Joe?"
“We are a lot alike, you know, Chastity and I.”
“You sleep with people for money?”
Joe spat out coffee and laughed at the insinuation. He wiped coffee beads from his gray necktie.
"Ha ha, no, of course not! I mean our jobs are very similar in the sense that we are whatever our 'clients' need us to be. For the businessman, Chastity was a lost flame who reminded him of a simpler time in his life. For the artist, Chastity was a chance just to have a normal relationship with someone who didn't want him for his money, or fame, or connections. The weatherman found the dedicated and loving partner that he thought he was going to find with his wife.
In some cases I've been a bully who coerces criminals into confessing. I've been a witness's or criminal's friend in order to have them confide secrets. I've been the fool who criminals thought was incapable of solving their crimes, so they let their guard down. I've been a sharp eye who forced a criminal into making a mistake in the rush to hide evidence.”
“So what? Is that what you think Chastity was doing this whole time? Just playing some part for whoever needed her?”
“I wish I knew. I have the advantage of stopping after a case is finished. People who know me outside of the squad house know what I'm really like. Chastity didn't have that advantage; her work was intricately tied to her life. Really, it was her life, if we're honest. Everyone I've talked to says she's genuine. Just a regular, sweet, country girl-next-door making it in the big city, but I don't know. If she was acting, she's very, very good."
“I think the way you live has made you cynical. You see your work in everyone and everything. She can't be a good person because you need to be a bad person so often. It's surprising to see you wondering so much about such an irrelevant aspect of the case. It's really not like you.”
“Not relevant?? It's actually the only thing that matters right now. If she was truly in love and willing to move to the far reaches of the world to study weather, then the killer is obvious. If she was a fraud, just baiting her clients along for some reason, then the killer is also obvious.”
“So then you just need to find out which is right?”
"I wish it were that easy. We've searched her apartment and haven't found anything like a journal that outlines her inner thoughts. Her family in Bradley described her very differently than the people here. They claim she was a very shy and reserved person who could barely talk to anyone, let alone could they believe she was selling herself. The city obviously changed her, but I don't think I'll ever know how much."
“If you can't focus on her, what about the killer? What could the killer tell you about her death?”
“...maybe, but the question is how to get the information....”
Joe silently stared at the television; lost in thought. Tracey saw him act this way enough to know he wasn't going to hold up his end of the conversation. She turned back to her paperwork and Joe watched the end of a drama about a shifter who's breaking the Trans-World Accords and trying to manage lives in two worlds at once. A small news segment interrupted the show.
"This just in! Another child's body was found laying outside of the Brushfire town hall in Monarch Province. Even though the crime was committed hundreds of kilometers north of here, residents still feel shockwaves emanating throughout the city. We'll have an interview with the boy's parents, local police, and more details about the mysterious deaths during the afternoon news, starting at 2 pm! Also, come by for the five-day weather forecast by our very own Harry Winterman!"
Joe stroked his chin, and a smile crept over his face.
“I think I'm going to visit the news station. I have some news that he'll want to hear personally.”
- - -
Joe approached the main entrance gate to the KTAM station in the Metroplex District of Metroplex City. Cables crisscrossed the building's exterior, leading up to a five story tall antenna that reached for the sky. Turquoise windows covered the building's exterior, and Joe admired the imposing vestige as he approached a guard sitting inside a small shack at the station's main access point.
"Stop there! This entrance is for cars!"
“Oh, I'm so sorry about that, where is the pedestrian entrance?”
"I'm sorry, there are no tours at the station. Please leave."
"I think you have me wrong, my name is Detective Joe Freedom, and I'm here to talk to Harry Winterman about a personal matter."
The guard queerly glanced over Joe. The detective pulled open his coat to display his badge.
“Sorry about that detective, you don't really look like police...”
“You know, I get that all the time. It makes me wonder what people think makes an officer. They probably watch too many shows, like the ones they make here.”
The guard laughed and waved Joe on.
"You man not want to enter if that's the way you feel. Once you see in the back of the butcher's shop, the magic dies forever."
“I bet. Can you tell me where I can find Mr. Winterman?”
The guard picked up a manifest latched to a hook on the wall.
“Well, he's probably in his dressing room preparing for the afternoon news.... that's.... in .... room... 307 of the main building.”
“I think I can guess which is the main building, thank you.”
Joe walked past a series of small trailers that flanked wide open lots. Life-sized building facades blocked the trailers so cameras could record actors in scenes of towns and cities. Joe reached the main building after passing through the filming lots and entered a set of plain glass double doors. He reached the elevator, rose to the third floor, exited, and found room 307. Joe knocked on the door, and after a moment a woman wearing a stained blouse answered.
"Hello ma'am, my name is Detective Freedom, and I was under the impression this was Harry Winterman's office. Is that correct?"
“That's right, but he's busy getting ready for the show. Is there anything I can help you with?”
“I'm afraid not. I need to speak to Mr. Winterman on a personal matter. Is he almost finished?”
The make-up artist looked into the room, and Harry's voice drifted from inside.
"It's fine, Susan, Rachael is done. Send in the detective, and I'll see you again this evening."
Another woman joined Susan at the door, and the two departed. A brown desk sat next to a filing cabinet on the far wall. Harry sat in a barber's chair in front of a make-up counter. Joe stepped into the room and approached Harry.
“This room is a lot less... glamorous than I thought it would be.”
“Ha ha, well, the station isn't too concerned about keeping a weatherman, so they only give me exactly what I need. How can I help you detective?”
"Well, I came with news of Chastity, and I thought I should be the one to tell you, in person. I hope that's alright."
"Thank you, Detective, that is very kind of you. What news do you have?"
“Well you see, the crime scene unit at the hotel found a gas leak and I just want you to know that she painless drifted away while you were parking the car.”
“Ok... thank you.... that has been bothering me since...”
A realization flashed in Winterman's eyes.
“How did you know?”
"Chastity wasn't working, and you were the only person receiving free 'visits.' Plus you are a terrible liar. It doesn't suit you at all."
“No it doesn't, at all. I guess there is no point in denying it now. You can imagine it was very hard to keep Chastity a secret from Mary. I'm actually amazed she never figured it out.”
“I'm sorry, something is bothering me. If you just parked the car and came back to the room, was Chastity dead when you arrived?”
“I actually went to the wrong room at first. I misread the key and I thought we were in 219. My key wasn't working in the door and so I kept knocking but no one answered. It took me almost ten minutes to figure it out.... oh no.... you don't mean... if I went to the right room, she'd be alive now?!?"
Harry sunk in his chair and Joe waved his hands in denial.
“Oh no! I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to put that thought in your head. If you had parked the car and headed straight for the room, I'm sure the gas would have killed you too. You wouldn't have saved Chastity, you would have died too.”
Well actually if he's not the killer, he might have been able to save her. Probably not, since she couldn't have got the antidote in time.
"Oh, ok, never mind, you're right detective. The thought that this could have been avoided was almost too much to bear. Can you imagine what it was like? I finally made it to the room expecting to have a laugh with Chas about my stupid mistake, but when I opened the door, she was just lying there. I went up and put my hand on her neck, but she was gone... I panicked and fled back to work. I just, didn't know how I could face Mary ever again if she knew the truth and I knew I didn't kill Chas, so I just left."
“So what are you going to do now?”
“Well, I'm not sure. Now I know this is just some terrible accident, I think I might actually have a future again.”
“How about your marriage? Is that over now?”
"I don't know, if anything good came from this whole ordeal, the floodgates opened up. When I went to talk to my wife about Chastity, her secrets just spilled out. She's been having affairs for years, ever since we got married by the sounds of it. We fought and griped, but I feel like all this guilt just evaporated. I'm not even mad about her... indiscretions because that would make me a hypocrite. There really is a good chance we'll end up reconciling."
"Were one of her recent lovers a doctor? A cosmetic surgeon, maybe?"
“That's right! You really are good at guessing things. How did you know?”
“Oh that just seems very cliche, so I thought I'd ask.”
Harry laughed at the whole situation.
“Tell you what, Detective, let me get you a new coat as a thank you gift. If that's alright.”
“A new coat? What's wrong with this one?”
“That's a model x1a, it's made for heavy rains at the end of fall or early winter. You have to be burning up wearing that here! A model z1b looks very similar, but you won't be sweating all the time.”
“Oh, angels don't really feel discomfort like that, so I don't notice when I sweat that much. How do you know so much about coats?”
"Oh, right, my real name is Henry Trent. My father is the CEO of Trent Coats, and my mother is the COO. I've worked with making coats ever since I was a child. Maybe that's where my interest in the weather comes from."
Right, I keep forgetting Winterman is just a stage name. Trent is his real last name. Probably not even in the top ten richest families in Metroplex, but number 11 is good enough for most people.
“How do your parents feel about that? You becoming a weatherman instead of a corporate man?”
"I'm one of 5, Detective. They've been nothing but supportive since my siblings have all taken an interest in running the company. The only time my parents have disapproved of me is when I married Mary, but they got over it eventually."
"That reminds me. I think I should come by later, after you're home, of course, and tell her the news. I think she will be more comfortable if a detective tells her for sure the investigation is over. Give her piece of mind."
“Thank you. I think that would be for the best.”
If you liked this short story, you should consider reading the Shift World novel.
Please do not reproduce this short story without my explicit permission.