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by Paul Kiser

Number One

Thursday, 14 May 2020 11:48 PM MDT
She was on her knees on the cold concrete clutching her arms to her chest. Frozen by fear and guilt, her mind could not focus on anything long enough to decide what to do next.  She could not control her sobbing, which was the only sound that could be heard in the darkness. From behind her she heard him say, “I absolve you of your sins.” Suddenly she felt a sense of calm come over her.  It all became crystal clear.  This was his plan all the time.  Her mind stopped racing.

She didn’t hear the gunshot as the bullet entered the back of her head before the sound reached her ears.  She felt a shock, but she was dead before her face hit the warehouse floor.  Her arms went limp as her body had launched forward from the impact.  The echo of the shot filled the large, empty building and then silence.  The blood oozed from around the back of her head and found the easiest route to the concrete.  The smell of gunpowder now filled the air.

“That’s one” he said.


Friday, May 15, 2020 10:11 AM MDT
“So this is what it feels like to be rich,” she thought to herself. Gwen Ortiz hadn’t owned a new car since high school and now she was driving a brand new chrome with blue accents, class three, triple hybrid heading north on the I-25 just past the Boulder Turnpike.  Fifty years ago this part of the north Denver suburbs was just being developed, but 2020 she was barely out of the downtown area.  The week had started out cold and stormy, but today it was nice enough to open up her sunroof. She hoped it would be a quiet day because she just wanted to enjoy some bonding time with her new wheels.

Gwen was not a startling attractive young woman, but she certainly not unattractive. She was the type of woman that would cause an admiring look from a male observer, but in a business environment her demeanor was all business.  Her shoulder-length brunette hair was not in fashion, but it gave her a look of ageless sensibility.  Today’s style of short cropped hair was not something that appealed to Gwen, nor were the tailored shirts with ties.  She didn’t like pandering to a male look in order to gain respect and she found times when her female charm could be useful in a career dominated by older ex-cops.  Despite Gwen’s opinion, the majority of professional women had adopted a look of their male counterparts. With the exception of prostitution, dresses were unheard of in the professional world.  Even Gwen wore slacks as it would have sent the wrong message to wear a dress on the job, but she liked dresses and skirts and hoped they would come back into favor someday soon.

She was thinking that maybe she should swing by home, change into a skirt and top and take a drive up into the mountains.  It would help her disengage from work and she deserved a break.  She decided to head back home to change.  Gwen guided the new car down the next off ramp and turned left under the freeway and turned left again onto the on ramp heading south.  Then her car and cell phone began to sing. She glanced at the number in display on the dash, hesitated, then finally touched the screen.  Then sunroof began closing.  Gwen thought maybe she had done something wrong, but then realized that it must be a built-in function of the car programming.

“What’s up?” she said, barely disguising her impatience. She knew the voice on the phone.  Of all the policemen on the force, this was the one she trusted.  “Where are you?” the familiar male voice asked.  “I was thinking about leaving town,” she answered half jokingly, “I’m on the I-25, what’s up?”  “We’ve got a new one, and you’re gonna want this one.” the caller told her.  Gwen had thought about turning down a new contract and continuing with her plan, but when Tommy said that she was going to want it, she knew that it was either a high profile case, or a lucrative case.  Tommy was doing Gwen a favor and both of them knew it.  “Anyone I know?” Gwen asked tentatively.  “Not personally, but you remember a mom that drove her car into Chatfield with her two kids, then left them to die?”  Tommy didn’t wait for her response and continued, “Her name was Elizabeth McKay”.  “Wasn’t there something about her on the web recently,” Gwen asked.  “Yeah, the LCI couldn’t prove it was murder, but they got her on manslaughter and she served three years and just got out early.  A lot of people were unhappy about the short sentence,” Tommy said.  Gwen could see why Tommy called her.  The police force and the public would like to see this woman back in prison and she is suspected of doing something illegal.  Her job would be to prove she should be back behind bars. “What did she do now?” Gwen asked.  “She got herself killed….somebody executed her last night.” said Tommy.

Gwen’s mind quickly changed gears.  She didn’t need Tommy to describe the wounds.  She knew that she must have been shot in the back of the head, or possibly in the middle of the forehead with two shots to the heart.  “The DA is nervous about this one,” Tommy added.   “M1 or 2?” Gwen asked.  “Neither, it’s a P1 contract,” said Tommy.  Gwen needed a moment to let ‘P1’ set in.  Tommy let her think for a moment before he continued,

“You can hire up to three other LCI’s, and assistant and an Admin, but any travel out of the area or expenses over $100,000 will need to be approved by the District Attorney.  You will have an Assistant DA at your disposal.  The DA wants daily reports and a written report at the end of each week.  In the end you’ll need to file your normal summary report and expenses, but the Admin should do that.  I have a suggestion for the Admin.  He worked on the Bennett case.  I’ll send you his name and everything else you need to know in an email.  The scene is at 4780 Geneva in a warehouse.  Enter from the east side. Don’t screw it up.”

Gwen hit END on the steering wheel.  She had never worked on a P1 case before and Tommy couldn’t have given her the case if the DA hadn’t personally approved her as the lead LCI.  An M1 case would have meant $15,000 to $40,000 net for her, but a P1 case has an unlimited budget plus staff.  This was not just murder and it was more than an execution.  There was something more that the DA and Tommy weren’t telling her, but Gwen wasn’t going to question their motives.  She had a new car to pay for and this one would do that and more.  This case could set her up for life.

Ten years ago Gwen’s business didn’t exist.  Back then a police force had detectives to investigate everything from theft, to rape, to murder. Now a city police force consisted of patrol officers and administration. Everything else was contracted out.  The police did keep pornography and vice in their investigative services, but that was mainly because those crimes are easy picking for cops.  Even if a person were innocent they would plea bargain to keep their name out of the papers, so the conviction statistics were near 99% What muni-government would cut funding to keep ‘perverts’ off the streets?

But theft, rape, and murder were too messy.  Too many hours of investigation with little or no results.  Muni-governments quickly learned that by contracting out investigations to Licensed Contract Investigators, or LCI’s, they could make a budget for investigations and control the costs.  An LCI would have to do their work for a set price and if they didn’t get results, they didn’t get more work.  Everyone wins…at least that was the line of the politicians.  But privatization of social functions has a way of overlooking the negatives.  Negatives like the cases left uninvestigated because the expense and time would likely exceed that payout.  Negatives like the LCI who cuts corners on an investigation to reduce expenses on case where the defendant is too poor to challenge the shoddy investigation.  Still, taxes hadn’t been increased in ten years and nobody wanted to touch that issue.

Gwen had been licensed for three and a half years now. Mostly small cases, but she was given two murders in the past eight months and had done well on both.  Tommy was a Senior Investigative Services Procurement Officer (ISPO) and he like Gwen’s attitude and ethic. Gwen didn’t give excuses, she just worked harder and for that she towered over her fellow LCI’s.  Tommy wouldn’t take a risk on a P1 case.  He knew Gwen would be the person to get the job done, and get it done quickly.  The last P1 case involved the killing of three Democratic candidates, including one running for Governor.  It took eight months, cost over six million dollars and in the end the person the LCI had accused turned out to be in Los Angles on the day of the murder.  The case was so badly handled that the DA asked the judge to dismiss the case.  A lot of people had to find new careers after that one.

The type of case determines the budget for the LCI.  Theft cases are almost always under $1,000 and the theft loss has to be at least 200% of the investigative budget…unless the victim wants to pay for the LCI’s time.  Rape and sexual assault cases have budgets from $2,000 to $5,000, again, unless the victim and/or family want to pay more. Murder cases begin at $5,000, but the ISPO, like Tommy can authorize budgets up to $100,000.  The DA can authorize anything higher, including dipping into a federally mandated emergency fund.  A P1 case, or Priority One case has no limit on the budget, but it does require oversight by a Senior ISPO and the DA.  P1 cases assume that the general public is in danger and that there is a risk of additional murders.

Gwen was mulling over why this case would justify P1 status as she took the Havana Street exit.  A P1 case typically involved terrorism or a serial killer, but someone killing a killer hardly seemed worthy of an unlimited budget.  Maybe this was not the first vigilante type killing and they saw a pattern, but even still, calling a P1 case would mean committing money that would bring the attention of state and federal authorities.  There was a real danger that the feds would step in and take the case away from her.  Gwen suddenly felt a heavy feeling in her stomach.  This case could set her up for life, or end her short career.

The warehouse was your typical industrial type building.  A large building that covered almost a block running north/south, and a half a block running east/west.  It was probably two stories high, but with no windows, you couldn’t really tell.  It was probably built more than twenty years ago, but the outside had been painted sometime in the last five years. Three police cars were in the parking lot, plus an ambulance, and a few other official looking unmarked cars.  He saw an officer standing by a door and figured that was the entrance point. The officer was a typical patrol type.  He looked to be about 250 lbs. with a shirt that was stretched over his bulging muscles.  Steroids may have no place in sports, but in law enforcement they are an unwritten requirement.

She nodded at the officer, flashed her LCI license and badge, and the man opened the door for her.  She had been an LCI for less than a year before she learned that there is no purpose served in making conversation with a patrol officer.  They can’t do anything for you but open the door, tape off a crime scene, and bust heads.  Beyond that they stick to themselves in their own cult.  Asking them a question will generally result in a condescending look and a shrug of the shoulders. Gwen noted that this one must be new to the force.  Experienced officers make the rookies guard the door, and this officer almost smiled. Real patrol officers have a stone face that never changes. Police officers usually don’t like LCI types. Probably because they think LCI’s are overpaid private detectives that get to do the easy work.

As she walked in from the bright light of the morning sun her eyes adjusted to the dimness of the warehouse.  The lights were on, but it wasn’t very well lit.  She walked a few steps straight in and then saw a group gathered to her left.  One man broke away from the group and came to meet her.  “That didn’t take you long,” said Tommy.  “I was just north of the Turnpike,” replied Gwen.  “Has CSI been called?” she asked.  “Not yet,” Tommy nodded.  “I prefer Reese’s group,” Gwen said. “You make the call…you’re the P1 Lead Investigator,” Tommy reminded her.  Gwen dialed her cell phone as they walked toward the group.  She hesitated as the Rocky Mountain CSI dispatch answered.  She gave them the needed information, ended the call, and then continued to head toward the group of men.

As they met the group Tommy made the introductions.  There were four patrol officers, three other police administrators, two paramedics, and one other person who was described as an aide of the DA.  Gwen knew two of the police administrators and had interviewed one of the patrol officers as the first on the scene her first murder case.  She didn’t know the others.  After a few pleasantries she quickly turned her attention to the crime scene.

The body was of a young woman, maybe 30, lying on her stomach. Gwen could only see the right side of her face and the arms were along her sides.  The pool of blood was mostly near her head and upper body but the floor must have been sloped because it had slowly flowed away from her head and to the left.  It was a single shot to the back of the head.  Likely she was on her knees, but the autopsy would determine the bullet angle.

“Who found her?” Gwen asked.  “Officer Rodriguez was first on scene, but we had received an email,” said Tommy.  He handed her a folded page from his pocket.  She opened it up and read it.  It was addressed to the Denver District Attorney:

My first kill was to atone for the sins of the mother.  She killed, and kills, but maybe her greatest sin was in not killing.  You will find her body at 4780 Geneva St.  There will be 13 more.

Now Gwen understood the P1 status. A serial killer had made his first kill.

(Note: All rights reserved. All characters are fictitious and any resemblance to a real person(s) is coincidental)