Price Reduction $1.99 From 10/24/2013-10/30/2013
Price Reduction $1.99 From 10/24/2013-10/30/2013
Nestled below the skyline of Detroit is Greektown, a few blocks of colorful bliss. In spite of growing up in the traditions of her family, Jill doesn't fit in. A homicide detective, she keeps one foot in the traditions started by her grandparents, while the other navigates devastated neighborhoods. She's workaholic with no girlfriends, an odd boyfriend who refuses to grow up, and an uncanny intuition that acts as her secret weapon to crime solving success. Her story winds around tales of family and their secret laden history, while she investigates the most despicable murder of her career.
Detective Jill Zannos stood in a darkened corner of the morgue at Detroit City Hospital, waiting for the autopsy of her latest homicide case to begin. She took a notebook out of her shoulder bag and read the facts, starting with the early morning call she’d received from the precinct. When her cell rang, she’d been sound asleep next to the body of her lover. She reached across the giant, snoring Alex in order to get the phone.
“Let it ring,” he grumbled.
“I can’t. I’m on call at seven; it’s probably work,” she said, as she climbed over him to get her cell phone out of the charger. “Zannos,” she answered.
“Jill, it’s Jan Grant,” the police dispatcher said. “You have a body en route to DCH.”
“Okay, on my way,” Jill mumbled. She hung up the phone and curled her body against Alex’s side. “You better get up too, before Wasserman calls.” Sam Wasserman was the medical examiner at Detroit City Hospital.
“He can get started with the night shift.” Alex didn’t officially start work until eight.
“Well, you can’t stay here so you’d better get up,” she repeated. It was a sore point with Alex; she wouldn’t give him a key or let him stay in her house alone, and the dialogue had been a recurring one in their relationship for many years. “It’s a matter of privacy,” she told him. “What if my dad wants to come by to work on the plumbing? If you’re here, it’ll cause all kinds of problems.” Her dad wouldn’t understand. At just fifty-eight, he was old country Greek in spite of having been born in Detroit. Unmarried women didn’t have overnight male guests, let alone live-ins, no matter how old they were. “No, I’m sorry, get up.” She smacked his arm. “If I have to get up, you have to, too. It’s not fair, sleeping in without me.” She rolled back to her side of the bed. Alex sat up on his side and scratched his head. He loved her and respected her relationship with her father, but he was also lazy and liked to stay in bed until the last possible minute.
“I’m up, I’m up,” he grumbled. “I’ll make coffee. Just for the record, your father would never leave that store of his in the middle of the day. You’d better find another excuse.”
“You’re probably right,” Jill said absently as she got her clothes together, thinking about what was waiting for her. Alex pulled on the sweatpants he had let drop to the floor the previous night. “C’mon, Fred, let’s go out,” he said to their English bulldog, the closest thing to a child either one of them would have as long as they were together. Fred got up and stretched – first his hind legs with his head in the air, then his front legs with his rump up. By the time the two of them went into the hall and down the stairs, Jill was already in the shower.
~ ~ ~
Jill walked to her car, looking up between skyscrapers. The sun was just starting to come up to the east over the Detroit River, the silhouette of the low buildings of Windsor inky against the turquoise sky. The two story buildings of Greektown with their brick facades were nestled at the foot of the glass skyscrapers of Jefferson. Detroit was a city of contrasts. She stayed alert as she unlocked the door to her cruiser. Although this neighborhood was safe, it only took one desperate person looking for money to ruin your day. She drove to the hospital under bright streetlights casting an eerie glow. Autopsies were Jill’s least favorite part of being a homicide detective, but she liked going to the hospital. The details she’d need to begin investigating a death would originate there.
The city’s dead came to the morgue for their final examination. Considered the gold standard of hospital morgues in its prime, now the only thing Detroit City Hospital spoke of was decay and unintended neglect. Since the riots of 1967, the neighborhood had steadily declined to its present, nearly derelict state. Although the mayor and city officials did all they could to protect the one place citizens were guaranteed equal access to health care, for the last few years money was so tight that cuts reached every department, including the morgue. Even so, it was an equalizer; if you were murdered in Detroit, you got the best autopsy available. If the family of the victim could be located immediately, the autopsy wouldn’t start until after the body was viewed. Because of the backlog of bodies in the coolers, this unlucky victim couldn’t wait. Either it was now or two days from now, and by then it might be too late to gather crucial information.
While Jill waited, she noticed a strong dead mouse smell coming from the closet behind her; the pine-scented cleaner generously used to scour all the metal surfaces in the morgue couldn’t hide it. She used her powers of discipline not to comment about the stench while the autopsy got underway. The smell brought back a memory from her childhood in Greektown. She was five years old, and could tell before she stepped over the threshold of the family apartment that her grandmother was cooking lambs’ heads. The heads smelled differently than other lamb meat. All family meal preparation took place in the store below the apartment, but since lambs’ heads were a delicacy just for the family, they were baked upstairs. Jill balked immediately, turning to her mother.
“I’m not going in there,” she complained.
“Get moving, little one, before I call for your grandmother,” her mother warned.
“It smells! Gigi’s got heads in there!” But Christina Zannos pushed her daughter through the door.
“Well they can’t hurt you, so get moving,” she said, once again amused and annoyed that her child was smart for her age but as stubborn as a mule. Jill reluctantly allowed the push, but fled for her room. The vision of the heads propped up on a baking pan, with their long snouts and eyeballs intact, scared the hell out of her. That a dead mouse smell in the morgue would evoke the memory of the severed lamb head brought a giggle up into her throat that she fought by concentrating like mad, writing every single thing about the present scene in the morgue.
Against his will, Alex had given up, going into work early. He enjoyed seeing Jill like this, focused and jotting down notes in a small leather-bound book as the pathologist, Dr. Wasserman, recited his findings. Although a protective mask wasn’t necessary unless you were standing at the table, Jill always wore one as a barrier between her nose and mouth and the morgue. She was very sensitive to smells, and dead bodies smelled bad. This one was no exception, the smell of the body blending with the dead mouse smell.
The stench was a contradiction. The victim lying on the metal table was a petite, young female who had a beautiful face, a muscular, athletic body and neatly brushed thick, blond hair. Someone had taken the time to wash her body off, too. Her mother and father reported her missing on Friday, and now it was Monday morning. A group of young boys looking for trouble found her in an alley off Grand River and Cass, shortly after midnight. Sometime between the missing persons report Friday and late last night she’d been murdered.
When Jill Zannos became a detective in the Detroit Police Department’s Homicide Division, she discovered she had an intense respect for the dead. Once, after walking in on an autopsy where a group of morgue workers were making snide comments about the victim’s body, she exploded, causing a scene but acting as an advocate for the respectful treatment of the decedent. Ever since her arrival, DCH had the reputation of being the most compassionate place to die in the county.
This victim was found nude. The medical examiner collected the foreign matter from her body to examine later, hoping it would help determine the location of the actual murder. Once they got her fingerprints and collected all the evidence from the outside of the body, an external visual exam was done by the medical examiner.
“Help me turn her over, Alex,” Dr. Wasserman asked his assistant. He helped Wasserman roll the victim to her side.
“Whoa!” Alex said.
“Yeah, right,” Wasserman said. “It’s the bullet exit. Come here, Jill.” The detective moved closer to the table, but not too close. The victim’s back had a large, six inch cavity blown out between her shoulder blades. “Good lord!” Jill gasped. No matter how many times she saw the gore of murder, it would always momentarily stun her. “Where’s her back?”
“Not only her back, but the contents of her chest, including part of her heart.”
He reached around the victim’s front and pointed to a tiny spot between her breasts. “See this pinprick? It’s the bullet entrance.” The woman had bled to death, the bullet transecting her ascending aorta. Death had been swift, but other things were done to her before the end, torturous and excruciating.
“Any ideas yet what kind of gun it was?” Jill asked.
“Based on her wound, possibly a 40 Smith & Wesson,” Sam said. “It was something powerful.”
“Did you already wash her off?” Jill asked. “There’s no blood on her.” It was a contradiction: the gaping wound without any blood on her skin.
“Not yet,” Alex said. “Someone got to that before us.”
They returned the victim to her back. Dr. Wasserman bent her left leg up to do a cursory vaginal exam, and swab for DNA. Once the external exam was complete, they would move internally, starting by cutting her chest open and removing her organs. It was at that juncture that Jill would escape. Blood, organs, saws, and the noise they made were not her jurisdiction.
“I’m leaving,” she announced. “Call me if you find anything, okay?” Her cell phone rang. She pulled off her mask and mumbled something into her cell, writing in her notebook.
“She’s been ID’d. Gretchen Parker,” she said, “From Dearborn. Twenty-six years old. Wonder what she was doing in the city?”
“Hang around for a minute, will you, Jill?” Dr. Wasserman asked. Jill replied that she would be in the cafeteria getting coffee. The two often spent time talking about a homicide right after the autopsy; it solidified the facts in their minds.
It was still early in the morning; she would need a lot of coffee to get through the day. Jill walked to the elevator and pushed the Up button. She never started obsessing about a homicide until after the autopsy. The scene investigators’ report would make the murder come alive for her, even if the murder itself took place at a different location. She would imagine the scene as it was upon discovery. A group of young boys found this victim. She closed her eyes for a second, visualizing them as they found the naked body of a beautiful, young girl. Were they shocked? Titillated? It would be her responsibility to question the boys. Remembering her dad, she got her phone out again as she stepped off the elevator.
“Papa?” she said, when Gus Zannos answered the phone. “I’m going to be late for breakfast this morning.” She listened to him speaking, his voice raised, excited. “Yes, it’s mine alright,” she answered. “I’ll tell you about it when I get there.” Her father had heard about the discovered body on the morning news. She said goodbye and hung up. She had breakfast with her dad every morning at the family grocery store in Greektown, just five minutes from the precinct. But right now, she would get coffee from the hospital cafeteria, find a secluded place to wait for Sam Wasserman, and look over her notes from the autopsy.
A strange jittery feeling was beginning in Jill’s body, starting in her abdomen and spreading through her chest and neck. When she tried to talk, her lips would quiver. It was her standard reaction at the beginning of a new case. Someone had met the end of their life at the brutal hand of another. It was her job to find out who committed the murder and, just as importantly as far as she was concerned, why. She’d make sure the prosecutors had all the evidence they needed to put the guilty away for as long as possible. Michigan had abolished the death penalty in 1846, and Jill was happy that killing defendants was not the part of the equation she had to work with.
Standing on the coffee line, she did isometric exercises so she wouldn’t explode with anticipation. She’d tighten her ass muscles alternately with her thighs and if she wasn’t careful, she’d look like she was jogging in place while waiting for her turn at the cash register. If she were outside she could do a cartwheel if she wanted, but here she exercised self-control. Around the hospital, they referred to her as the strange one. Employees saw the dark-haired detective walking from the morgue, often talking to herself or worse, paused in the middle of the hallway with her eyes closed. Best not give them any more ammo. Her hands were shaking as she tried to stuff her notebook into her shoulder bag; she steadied them by holding her elbows in close to her body. The cardboard coffee cups were stacked precariously next to the pot, and one wrong move would send them scattering all over the place. It had happened before. Fortunately, she was able to get her coffee and sit down before anything catastrophic took place
Excitement about a case grew gradually for Jill. When the first call came, her curiosity was merely piqued. The dispatcher said a body was waiting for her. Nothing more was offered. Not the race, sex, or location. There were early facts about a case that qualified it as a homicide. If a missing person report was filed with the police department and a dead body fitting the description was found, it was deemed something for the homicide detectives until proven otherwise. If there were obvious indicators of a murder, such as visible bullet or knife wounds or signs of a beating, strangulation, or dismemberment, the homicide division got involved. It was an assumption made without repercussions.
It wasn’t until the scene was visited that the events surrounding the murder would come totally alive for her. She sometimes visualized the crime taking place, the murderer standing over the body, either with his hands around the throat of the victim or wielding a knife, stabbing repeatedly. She often saw the make of the gun if it was a shooting. If the victim was raped, the man in her vision would begin to unzip, but she would shake it away before he could reach into his pants. There was a period of anxiety Jill would fight with meditation and exercise, or succumb to nausea and insomnia.
Despite the anxiety they produced, her visualizations often guided her toward solving her assigned homicide cases. Her boss asked confidingly that if she had any ideas about other cases, to please speak up. She used caution, however, looking at her ability to visualize the details of a murder as a gift and not exploiting it; she’d pretend when he asked that she didn’t know what he was talking about. She didn’t like admitting that she consulted her psychic intuition to solve cases. Despite her discretion, however, some of her colleagues viewed her with suspicion. One let it be known that he thought she must have an in with organized crime in order to have successfully closed all the cases she had. Her partner said they were secretly in awe of her, and jealous of him for having landed a partner who had such amazing crime-solving skills.
The department recently acquired a panoramic 3D camera that would give the team a detailed record of the area. Rather than relying on memory or notes, all an officer had to do was pull a video tape out of the file and get a renewed sense of the crime scene. Although Jill would memorize the video, there was nothing like being the first on the scene. Unfortunately, she was not with the team who first saw this body and investigated the area. Their department was too busy to allow the luxury of a start to finish investigation; they often overlapped cases so the few detectives available could sleep occasionally. She had to settle for the scan and the report, which she would view as soon as she got back to the precinct. And, although it wasn’t necessary, she would go to the location where the body was found later in the morning.
Finally, Sam Wasserman arrived with a tray holding two large coffees and a plate of chocolate covered donuts. Alex would finish the autopsy.
“Thanks for waiting, Jill.” Sam sat down and offered her a donut. She took one without hesitating. “She’d had intercourse,” he began. “Or maybe I should reword that. She’d had something shoved into her vagina. There wasn’t any semen as far as I could tell; the microscopic report may show differently. But she had a large tear in the posterior introitus.” He crammed half a donut into his mouth. “Something bothers me about her, besides the obvious. I can’t put my finger on it. She didn’t have one scratch on her, not one mark, outside of the bullet hole. And then this enormous laceration of her vagina. There was no blood present; she, or someone else, cleaned it up. It appeared like a recent injury, maybe yesterday, but it definitely happened several hours before her death. The edges of the wound were already beginning to granulate.” He looked thoughtful, finishing his donut and taking a drink of coffee.
“So, she wasn’t dead when it was done to her.” Jill’s anger rose to the surface, increasing at the notion that someone would torture this young woman in such a brutal way. It deepened her determination to find Gretchen Parker’s killer. Wasserman could see the transformation, and stifled the impulse to comment. Jill’s eyes narrowed, her jaw set.
“I better get back. I’ve got a backlog. The report should be dictated by this afternoon,” he said.
“Thanks, Sam.” Jill got up, too.
“It’s such a waste,” he said, putting his tray on a shelf and taking his second cup of coffee with him.
“Twenty-six years old,” Jill said. They got to the elevator, and Jill said goodbye to Wasserman. The fact that someone would brutalize Gretchen Parker, but then take the time to comb her hair and bathe her, would fester in the recesses of her mind.
She’d go see her father before she went to the precinct. It would make things better for a few minutes. They would sit in the back of the grocery and drink the strong coffee he made for her. It took her less than five minutes to get there from the hospital. Greektown was in the middle of everything. When she pulled into the alley behind the store, he was waiting for her at the back door. He watched her get out of her unmarked cruiser, and she could see the smile slowly spread across his face. She’d been an officer for almost fifteen years, a detective for ten, yet he reacted as though he had just found out whenever he saw her in that car. He was so proud of her. Anyone who would listen heard the story of his cop daughter. But she worried for her dad. It wasn’t always a popular thing to have someone so close to you in the police force.
Jill grew up in Greektown. Other Greeks moved to the suburbs of Grosse Pointe and Saint Clair Shores, but not Jill’s family and the Nickopoloses. The Nickopolos family owned a gun store next door to Gus’s Greek Grocery. Frank and Estelle Nickopolos, their son little Frank, and Frank Senior’s mother, Dido, lived above the shop, just like the Zannos family did. Dido was blind and looked like a gnome. She stood about four feet six inches tall and was just as wide, wore black shirtwaist dresses that strained across her ample bosom, with a black babushka on her head, a caricature of Greek womanhood. Frank placed a stool for her outside of the main door and Dido sat on the stool all day, spitting at people as she sensed them passing by her, shaking her cane in their direction. Only serious gun shoppers dared to cross the threshold of the store because it meant an attack by Dido. Once inside, they then had to tolerate the screaming voice of the family’s parrot, who spoke only Greek. He was actually reciting Scriptures, but it sounded like the worst vileness. In spite of, or maybe because of, Dido’s presence and that of the bird, this made life more difficult for Jill when she was small girl. Those people and their damn bird were also Greeks and therefore clumped together.
She never felt accepted, even by her own people. Going to school in Corktown didn’t help. Originally populated by the Irish who fled their homeland during the potato famine, now it was a mixed community of Germans, Arabs, and Mexicans. In late summer, Jill and her mother would walk the few blocks to the Woodward Avenue J.L. Hudson store to buy clothes for the new school year. Her classmates wore clothes from Sears and other discount stores, but her mother wanted something better for her daughter. Jill could still see the pretty dresses, patent leather shoes, frilly slips, and underpants her mother bought her. She’d have everything delivered. Jill remembered the confused look of the deliveryman when he pulled up in front of the grocery store, their apartment right above it. She saw him thinking, how did these gypsies afford all this merchandise from Hudsons? She might be the best-dressed little girl in her elementary school class, but she was still a Greek. Her parents spoke a foreign language, their food was different, and she looked different from the children she went to school with in Corktown.
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Suzanne Jenkins is the author of the Pam of Babylon series, The Greektown Trilogy. Alice’s Summertime Adventure, The Savant of Chelsea and Atlas of Women. Her short story Vapor appeared in Willow Review, Spring 2013. A retired operating room nurse after living in New Jersey, USA for thirty years, she’s now a resident of the west Michigan lakeshore where she lives in the woods with her husband, dogs and sheep.