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Chapter 1

Emma looked around the room and sighed. Yes, it was all there. The knocked over lamps, upset coffee table, and the slashed sofa cushions. "How jaded I've become," she thought to herself. "All this is becoming ordinary - right down to the bloodied body in the middle of the room. Still, I wonder if the rubber chicken means anything?"

In spite of her resigned thoughts, all of her observation skills were immediately in high gear. Without even thinking about it, her mind was calculating, logging and analyzing all the details she could see, hear and smell. Somewhere in all this mess was the reason for this latest death.

It was quite obvious it was murder. No accident would have left the gutted cushions and opened drawers in the hotel suite. No suicidal despair could have left such a...mess.

“What have you got?” Emma asked the young Medical Examiner. Jake was fairly new to the job, but had already shown his worth. He proved that the young, recently trained mind and fresh eyes, had a few tricks over some of the more experienced personnel who now took everything in stride. “And don't tell me “a body”. That much I can figure for myself.”

“Drat! You beat me to it!” Jake replied. “OK, we have a mid-forties male, with a few defensive wounds and also some ligature marks around the wrists and ankles. There are multiple stabs wounds but none of those were life threatening.”

“O.K. So I would gather that the cause of death was the gaping hole in the back of his head?”

“That would be my guess, Sherlock,” replied Jake, “although nothing is absolute until I've done the post-mortem of course.”

“Of course,” answered Emma as her eyes wandered around the room. She had never wanted to do anything else, but work on a police force. As a child she had done the usual ballet and piano lessons, but she had much preferred the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles over Barbies. She got into the police training program as soon as her age ticked over to make her eligible. She was now the hot shot detective with an excellent solve-rate. Even she sometimes wondered if it was just dumb luck rather than raw talent. She was respected enough though, to have been given a new, imaginative partner to mentor, after the retirement of Abby from her team. The new, imaginative partner, who had better imagine himself on to the scene in pretty short order, or there would be hell to pay.

Emma noticed that the pillow cushions looked like they had been cut, not for random vandalism, but for a calculated search of some sort. The same was true for all the ransacked drawers, and the gutted kitchenette. The perpetrator had been looking for something, and it was a good guess that the victim was tortured for its whereabouts. Whether the death was intentional or the poor guy had just run out of life to sustain him prior to the gunshot it was has hard to tell. Emma closed her eyes and breathed in – nothing untoward there. There was the smell of the leftover room-service meal, the open wine, and of course the smell of blood. She listened intently, and heard... nothing. The room was quiet and well-insulated. There was the slight hum of the ventilation system. There was no sound coming in, which meant it was unlikely that there was sound going out. That partially explained why this hadn't been reported until the poor maids had come in to service the room.

“Detective Starr, we've the I.D. from the hotel manager.” A member of the CSU team interrupted Emma's contemplations. “Our vic is Travis Hodinutt. He was supposed to check out this morning.”

“Yeah, will it appears he did anyhow,” replied Emma cynically. The CSU technician rolled his eyes, but knew that Emma was known for her dark humour. It kept them all sane in particularly ghoulish settings.

“And look who's just checking in. You're a little late getting to the scene, aren't you?” Emma asked of her protege, as he ran panting up to the doorway of the hotel room.

“Other end of town when the call came in. How did you get here so fast? Do you have a teleportation device or something?” Iain asked.

“No, my young padawan, I just pay attention. As you should.”

“Stop mixing sci-fi genres. That's horrible. But not as horrible as this...” replied Iain as his voice trailed off when he took in the scene in front of him. Repartee was gone and both investigators silently immersed themselves in the scene.

“What's with the rubber chicken?” Iain asked.

Neither of these investigators looked like the stereotypical police detective. They were more like the stereotypical TV police detective with Hollywood good looks. It was a great source of teasing back at the station, mainly because the pair of them didn't believe it. They were focussed on the job and tried to avoid the limelight as much as possible. They made sure that someone else was responsible for media relations on all cases. The higher ups knew it was dangerous to let the pair in front of a camera anyhow, in case some of their gallows humour sneaked through while reporting on the most heartbreaking or horrifying cases.

Emma was petite but her personality made her appear to have a statuesque figure. Her shoulder length blonde curls made her look vulnerable to the uninformed. Everyone on the force knew not to be misled by her appearance. When it came defending herself or others, there was nothing sweet and pixie-ish about her, and most people wanted her on their team. The brains under that mop of blonde hair were a formidable power at every crime scene. She was anything but a vacuous, “dumb blonde” but could play the role well in undercover situations when needed.

Iain's tall, athletic figure was more often than not leaning over the evidence table as he pored over clues. He had the high cheekbones and chiselled appearance wanted by many a fledging actor. His head of dark, slightly-too-long hair was a shocking contrast to his baby blue eyes. His head would bob up over others when he stood up to stretch, and women and men alike would admire his physique. Iain was totally oblivious though. He was actually a few years older than Emma, but his recent switch from vice to homicide, had made him the newbie on the team.

At this moment the pair was crouched down over the body, the dark head and the blonde head close together as they stared at the knife wounds.

“Jake,” started Emma, “what was going on here? Are the knife wounds in Mr. Hodunitt post-mortem? For the number of wounds there is a remarkable lack of blood from the wounds.”

“We had a very clever perpetrator here. These wounds were inflicted to cause the maximum of pain, with the least damage. This person had to have known a lot about human physiology, to manage to insert the knife and miss major veins and arteries.”

“What do you mean by “insert”? asked Iain. “The way this guy is Swiss-cheesed, wouldn't “stabbed” by more appropriate?”

“No,” answered Jake, “These wounds are slow and deliberated. This wasn't an act of passion, but an act of deliberate, malicious intent. The knife was slowly pushed in. My guess is that Mr Hodinutt was tied to this chair here and slowly tortured for some reason or other.”

“That doesn't make sense with the end game though,” Emma said. “Why switch from knife to gun.”

“You're the detectives,” Jake replied. “It looks like to me that the guy just gave up and lost his patience, and ended it. Completely.”

“Maybe got his info and went through on a promise to finally end it quickly,” observed Iain.

“Yeah, well, we have a lot of conjecture going on here. We need more background and facts before we can even begin to sort this out. Jake, let us know when you've finished to the post-mortem. What's the workload at the moment?”

“Not bad – they're not stacked up like cordword at the moment, in spite of the horrendous weather out there. This cold gives a new meaning to the stiffs I have to deal with. So far, people have been dealing with the icy roads, or maybe they are just staying home. I should be able to get to Mr. Hodinutt right away.

“Good,” replied Emma, “In the meantime, let's get more background on this guy. Why was he here? Where was he going next? Rick -” she said, turning to one of the other detectives on site, “Could you and Mal and track down people in the neighbouring rooms on the off-chance that they did hear something, or saw the comings and going from this room? While you're at it, talk to the maid again and see if you can get any more details out of her. She had “first eyes” on the scene after all. Iain and I will talk to people at the front desk and see what we can find out about this dude.”

During this speech Iain had wandered off and was poking around at the various things in the crime scene, much to the irritation of people from CSU. He never compromised a scene, but was so close to the limits all the time that he managed to keep the analysts on edge all the time. Iain had noted that his main irritation on the site had been numbered and photographed, so he gingerly poked at the rubber chicken.

“ I need to know why this is here,” he whined. “Did you notice that poor Charlie the Chicken here, is stabbed as well? He stuck a pen into one of the slits, and gingerly lifted him up. “Ah, Charlie! What are your secrets?”

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