Warning: This work has been rated 18+ for language and mature content.
Detective Smith took his lighter from the pocket of the trench coat laying over his arm, lighting up a Chesterfield to calm his nerves before stepping into the crime scene. New Year’s Eve had not been a good day for the the former Army captain - the continuing fireworks were hell on his symptoms of shell shock. The memories could not be washed away with a shot of whiskey or driven away by a cloud of smoke, but Winslow kept trying as he took the flask from his pocket. He rubbed his thumb over the worn inscription, knowing that he would never be able to bring himself to replace the dented container.
“Fuck, it’s hotter than inside of a cow’s ass out here.”
Winslow turned to see two patrol officers leaning against their vehicle, both smoking with their hats off while the group of observers on the lawn grew larger. It wasn’t necessarily Smith’s place to tell them what to do, but that wasn’t going to stop him tonight. He walked over to their car, flicked ash onto the first officer’s shoe and responded to the one who had decided to describe the weather in a creative fashion.
With his first puff of smoke, Winslow asked, “Now which one of you was the genius who decided to describe the temperature with comments about bovine anal cavities instead of doing the job the city pays you to do?” When no response came from them, he blew the new cloud of smoke directly into their faces. Their coughing had barely subsided as he said, “Get back out there and make sure none of these gossiping hens see the crime scene, or you’ll be working as night watchmen down by the docks.”
The detective walked away from the two frozen officers, inhaling as much of his cigarette as he could before he had to step inside. There were officers and detectives and other investigative personnel who would smoke at crime scenes, but for Smith that was bad taste. They weren’t only contaminating the crime scene with the ashes of twenty different brands - it was disrespectful to the dead to have a coffee chat right around their body. This careful analysis ran through Winslow’s head as he walked up the stone path, taking sideways glances at the people in the crowd and searching for those suspicious expressions. If this was anything like the string of stranglings he had dealt with during the Thanksgiving season, the murderer could very well be lurking in the crowd.
One of the officers standing by the door looked far chipper than the rest, waving to Winslow and excitedly asking, “How are you doing this morning, Detective Smith?”
Smith looked down at his watch, double checking that the time was still somewhere around 4 o’clock, and then back to the young officer looking him dead in the eye. After searching his memory for a moment, Winslow greeted him with, “It’s not the worst New Year’s Day I’ve ever had, Officer Morgan. They called me in the middle of my glass of warm milk, so would you mind briefing me on the situation?”
“Oh, of course not, sir.”
Morgan followed him into the house, stubbing his own cigarette out in the flower pot after Winslow went through the familiar action. Damned if this kid didn’t remind Smith of himself as a young recruit in the Army. While they moved through the first few rooms, memories of the past 11 years flashed through Winslow’s head. He couldn’t believe that he was only going to be 30 years old this time around - the war had felt like centuries added on to his age.
The sound of pencils scratching on pads and mild gossiping of investigators was interrupted by Reilly’s signature laughter. Smith followed the sounds through the halls until he came to the base of the stairs, and face to face with the crumpled form of Mr. Daniel B. Johnson. Reilly and his assistants were standing around the body, making crude jokes as the clearly visible distraught widow sat in the kitchen with the maid and the butler.
Winslow quickly pulled Reilly to the side, pushing them both into the empty, dim parlor room. It took much of Smith’s sanity not to hurt the coroner right then and there. In a hushed manner - but still clearly angered - he asked, “What the hell is wrong with you, Reilly?”
The coroner shook free of his grasp, stepping away from Winslow and lighting up a cigarette of his own. After Winslow gave another sideways glare, the doctor opened up one of the bench windows, settling into one of the seats and motioning for the detective to join him. Smith kept his position in the entry way and waited for what the coroner had to say.
“Oh come on now, Winslow. Are you telling me that the OSS boys never made a couple of crude jokes about the shit that passed over your desk?”
Winslow’s fingers tapped a steady beat against his legs, remembering the song that had been playing on the set at home. Of course he had made crude jokes in his past career - as a captain in the United States Army. A very different position than that of the coroner for Mobile County. And certainly a different environment than making implications about a dead man’s sexual preferences while poking at the man’s liver, and as the man’s widow sits crying in the next room.
Instead of saying any of this, Winslow simply smiled and admitted, “Yes, we did use to make those jokes on the occasion. I just don’t think you should be making them in front of his wife.” Smith stepped across the room, standing tall in front of Reilly and noting, “And I don’t think you should be encouraging your assistants to make such snide comments. You and I grew up in an age where we have to make fun of people like ourselves, but those graduate students might survive to see a new age.”
Winslow stepped back from the coroner, seeing the shock in the man’s face, took the hanging cigarette from Reilly’s lips and threw it out the window. As he turned to leave, Reilly stood up and pulled Smith’s sleeve. He quietly asked, “How did you know, Smith?”
“Well, like you said, I was in the Office of Strategic Services.”
Detective Smith pulled his arm free and returned to the main hall to seek out the crying widow.