There are some secrets the snow won’t hide, no matter how deep deception has buried them. In the cold heart of Janus City, beneath the Downtown Bridge, another corpse proved there is no exception. The corpse was found, caught near concrete pylons where ice was thin and black currents flowed. Pounded into a new shape, it was barely recognizable as once living. It was more iceberg than human, blighting the base of the bridge.
High above on the parliament building, a golden statue of Janus was first to behold the body. Crowned and robed with crusted snow, she stood with hard eyes, one hand clutching sword hilt, the other curled around a chubby marble infant. Her unsmiling gaze passed over the workers as they freed the frozen remains. The dead body was unworthy of her interest. She left it to the humans and the living hand of the law.
A policeman shivered in the bustle by the bridge. No matter how many layers Officer Sonny Merrick had on beneath his jacket, he was still numb. His parka was police-issued, made of stiff fabric that creaked as he braced against the wind. The inside label listed a company which had gone out of business long ago due to defective products. “We warm you” was stitched there with cheap, tattered thread. We warn you not to buy this, Sonny thought as he shifted foot to foot.
Earlier at the station, as they sat with coffee, Officer Roy Fletcher read the wind chill warning out loud to Sonny.
“Exposed skin may freeze in two minutes. Take appropriate precautions.” Roy glanced up with a smirk. “Two minutes. Takes you that long to get your goddamn gun safety off.”
Sonny winced and ignored the jab. “Geez that’s cold. Shift’s gonna suck tonight.” “Hell no,” Roy corrected. “It’s to our advantage.”
“Simple. We’re always yelling ‘Freeze! Police!’ Now they’ll actually do it. We’ll be arresting popsicles left, right, and center.”
“Still not comforting.”
“Nothing here ever is.” Roy lifted his mug for another sip.
Sonny crumpled a napkin and tossed it in a neat overhand at a nearby garbage can. “Two points.”
“Easy, tiger. Save it for the shift. The city paid good money for that arm.” Roy leaned back in his chair. He watched the other officers file out to the duty room. “Jesus, those bastards are too eager.”
“We should go get our assignments.” Sonny stood and stretched. “I need to move to stay awake tonight.”
“Not me. Let’s go babysit some fucking freak show at the Emergency. It’ll be the perfect send-off before you join the suits in Homicide.”
Sonny sighed. “Don’t you ever get tired of sitting on your ass? It takes no brains to do that.”
“That’s exactly why I like it. And I’m good with crazy-sitting,” Roy grinned. “With you for a partner, I’ve had plenty of practice.”
Sonny balled up another napkin and threw it at Roy, who only grinned wider as it missed.
The duty room was full when Sonny and Roy finally entered. They slid in to the last two seats as the night roster manager began to speak. Duties were assigned, mostly. Rarely were some duties volunteered for. Several officers grimaced at Sonny and Roy’s assignment; a corpse was found embedded in river ice the night before. It still needed police presence during recovery. Sonny grimaced too, remembering another body he and Roy had found in late spring: Caroline. He glanced at Roy, who lifted a questioning eyebrow. Sonny shrugged, and turned his attention back to the room.
Most officers avoided taking on outdoor crime scenes. There was no adrenaline kick other than rolling out yellow tape: less criminal sacks, more freezing ball sacks. At least crime scene duty was better than years ago, to hear Roy tell it. During the Aging virus epidemic, any suspicious body also carried the risk of contagion. Despite their protective equipment, police never knew if they’d suffer a quick run through the aging cycle, then death.
Sonny watched Roy now hunched in the wind, gloved hands crammed deep in his parka pockets.
“Fuck this weather.” Roy’s words rose in a foggy mist around him.
Sonny rolled his eyes. “I’d like to remind you who picked this assignment.”
Roy squinted as another flurry of snow caught him in the face. “I deny everything.”
“Uh-huh.” Sonny cupped a gloved hand to his mouth and said no more. It was too cold to argue.
“Cold bitch of a night, huh? Makes you wish for a nice, long report to file,” Roy said. “I wouldn’t mind getting a few ass splinters back at the station. At least the pain would keep me warm.”
“I thought you didn’t like paperwork.”
“Fuck off. You hate it as much as I do.”
Sonny shrugged. It wouldn’t do to dig up another corpse between them while they stood watch over this one. He and Roy had spent enough time this summer arguing over not filing a report when they should have. “Ah, your butt’s too callused for splinters.”
Roy grinned at the welcome return to bantering. He peered at the workers nearby. “At least we’re luckier than those poor bastards.”
The city workers were exposed to the worst of the weather down by the riverbank. Just beyond their snow-clearing machines, half embedded in sheets of ice, lay the corpse. Bowling ball shaped, the head was too smooth to be a natural jut of ice. Wind had wrapped a blindfold of frost around the form, leaving strands of long dark hair streaming out like a flag.
“I wonder what condition the body’s in,” Sonny said.
“Stiff as a fucking board, I bet.” Roy’s teeth chattered as he huddled closer for warmth. “It’s just begging for us to dig it out and get it on the coroner’s table. I might join it. It’d be a helluva lot warmer than out here.”
“No, really. How long do you think the body’s been there?” Sonny waved a hand at the leaden sky. “It wasn’t that cold until this week.”
Roy shrugged. “A day? A decade? Who knows?”
“Aren’t you at all interested?”
“Shit, Sonny. I am interested, more than interested. But right now I’m just focused on staying warm.”
Roy nudged him. “Don’t apologize for being curious. I expect it of you. It’s why you’ve been called up to the big dicks’ league. You excited?”
Sonny beamed. “I can’t wait.”
“That’s my man. By this time next week, you’ll be knee deep in all the homicide cases you could want.” Roy dragged a gloved finger across his neck and made a slashing sound. “Blood and guts everywhere.”
“Missing cases, too.” Sonny nodded towards the river. “Like this one. I bet you this body turns out to be one of the missing women.”
Roy shifted in place but didn’t answer. Sonny didn’t expect him to. Probing their shared sore point tended to make Roy clam up. A sudden flush warmed Sonny’s face despite the cold. Last shift together and he was driving the conversation over a cliff. He owed Roy more than just a few asshole jibes as a parting gift.
“Hey, here comes our relief.” Sonny pointed as a black, unmarked car drove up. Steam rose from its exhaust, crystallizing in the cold air as the car parked.
“About fucking time,” Roy muttered.
The figures exiting the car wore dark clothes more suited to an evening out for dinner than a crime scene. Sonny watched as one of the figures straightened her coat. She glided more than strode towards the yellow tape barrier. Two men flanked her as if escorting royalty.
“Officers, how are you doing?” The woman paused as she scanned the scene.
“Cold but surviving,” Roy said. “That’s more than we can say for the fuckin… the corpse, though.”
Sonny bit his cheek to suppress a grin. Holding back blue streaks of cuss words wasn’t Roy’s strong suit. His progression up the police ladder was rumored to have stalled due to his fondness for fart jokes. “We’re surviving,” Sonny said.
“But it’d be nice to have a break from the wind.” Roy smirked.
“I’m sure.” The female detective frowned at Roy, then regarded Sonny. “Are you Officer Merrick?” “That’s me.”
“I met you last week.”
Sonny peered at the woman. “Detective Cho. So we did.”
Harriet Cho nodded with a curtness that cut through the wind. “Interesting that you’re here today, considering it’s now Homicide’s case.”
“Thanks, but it wasn’t intentional.” Sonny shrugged.
“I’ll say,” Roy piped in. “Wonderboy here wanted to go fight real crime tonight before he gets hauled away to the brain lab.”
“Must be hard on your skin, this outdoor weather.”
“Roy…” Sonny hissed again.
Cho frowned, mouth open to reply, but Roy continued:
“I think the body is more than a little chapped, itself. They’re still chiseling it out of the ice.” His voice rose over the wind’s howl and Sonny’s protest.
Sonny added his frown to Cho’s. Usually he was the one to start briefing outsiders, not Roy.
“No one knows how long the body may have been there. The city guys haven’t been at the site most of the day because of the bad weather. Too hot, too cold, too rainy, too snowy… Take your pick.” Roy started to laugh but seemed to think better of it.
“We can’t get close enough for any guess at identification,” Sonny added, “but it might be female from what we can see.”
Detective Cho stepped away to stare at the bridge. “Have you set up a complete perimeter?” It was a redundant question, since the yellow tape was noticeable through the gloom even from where they’d parked.
“Both sides, including the walkways.” Sonny motioned behind himself. “The workers are moving their digger to make room for the spotlights. The River Rescue Team is delayed but coming, and an ambulance will stay as backup.”
“Good job. Sounds like you got things covered.”
Sonny winced at the unspoken warning beneath Cho’s praise. Good job: cop code for “I better not find any mistakes.” The only thing worse was not saying it. That meant she already suspected something. If a civilian made a mistake, it was a learning experience; if a cop did, it was unforgivable. That’s why cops hid their mistakes until they managed to fix them. Sometimes they couldn’t. Sonny flushed and glanced at Roy, who stood expressionless.
“Any ideas on where this body came from?” Cho asked.
Sonny motioned back at the river. “My guess is anywhere up stream. If it was recently in this cold, then…” He paused as he reviewed possible sites. “Maybe somewhere near one of the other nearby bridges.”
“Unless it was dropped off this bridge,” Roy added. “Or it was a jumper. But we don’t get many of those in this kind of weather. They seem to like splash better than splat.”
Cho motioned to one of the men beside her. “Notify me as soon as Rescue arrives so I can fill them in. That thin ice will make body retrieval more difficult.”
“Got it.” The man loped off towards the cluster of rescue vehicles.
And the Russian judge gives an eight. Sonny wondered if the man would do a triple toe-jump when he reached the bridge. Field cops didn’t move like that. Most clumped around the station like Roy or Short Swayzee, grabbing their nuts to emphasize any swear-ridden greetings. Homicide seemed like a well-choreographed ballet team. The detectives worked fast, taking over with ease, not just standing and waiting, low on the authority food chain. Next week, Sonny mused, that would be him.
“As for you two…” Cho turned back to the cops. “We’ll take over from here.”
The officers took that as a dismissal, grateful for the chance to escape the cold. A few steps later, they were in their own police car. Roy put the heater on full blast as soon as he started the engine.
“Wanna get a popsicle?”
Sonny winced out a laugh. “How about we skip the popsicle and go find our next assignment?” He turned to stare out the car window. The detectives stood in conference with the city workers who had paused chiseling the body out of the ice. “Good thing you’re a beat cop for one more shift,” Roy said. “You’d be still out there stuck in the cold. I don’t envy those detectives.”