This story continues one I wrote for the March FADness competition, for the prompt, “Green.” Enjoy!
“Kenning,” the Captain’s voice sounded from his office, startling Lieutenant William Bissel. He poked his head in the doorway and watch the Captain’s face darken with anger. Kenning looked up and stared balefully at Bissel. “Send it over. Now.” He slammed the receiver onto the cradle without breaking eye contact.
Bissel walked into the room and stood inside the doorway. “What’s up, Captain?”
“Your girlfriend’s shop burned to the ground last night, about two o’clock,” Kenning growled.
“My who?” Bissel echoed, frowning. “Captain, I’m single.”
“Zelyoni,” Bissel corrected automatically, and the stared. “Wait. Her shop burned? Was she inside?”
Kenning raised one eyebrow but shook his head. “M.E. isn’t sure.”
The Medical Examiner had been called in? Bissel felt his heart clench. Granted, he’d only met her the one time, but still. “My God.”
“That’s not all,” Kenning added, something in his voice. His eyes glinted and he got that smile on his face, the one he saved for suspects he didn’t trust.
“Okay,” Bissel said carefully, not sure what Kenning wanted.
“Jaguaro has struck again.”
Bissel stared at him. “The Jades?”
“Indeed. Carter is bringing the photos up now. The Museum is furious. Total lockdown.”
“Yeah,” Bissel agreed faintly. “I don’t doubt it.”
Putin had personally approved the Jades to visit the United States. It was said he was personally fond of them. The pressure on the police to keep the Museum safe was astronomical, and then the word hit the street that Jaguaro wanted them and… Bissel peeked at Kenning. It was a wonder the Captain’s vein hadn’t appeared on his forehead by now.
The phone on the desk tweeted and Kenning grabbed it without even looking, narrowly missing his coffee mug. “Kenning.”
Bissel sat down in the chair across from Kenning’s desk and thought back to his visit with Sage Zelyoni. Her hazel eyes stuck in his memory, so intent and intelligent. He’d had to suppress a surge of disappointment when she’d announced her name, ‘Mrs. Zelyoni.’ All the good ones were already taken, he thought sourly. He was so lost in his thoughts he didn’t notice the Captain’s conversation concluded and jumped when Kenning slammed the receiver down.
Kenning’s vein certainly bulged now, Bissel noted. “What happened, Captain?” he asked.
“Your girlfriend,” he snarled, “is missing. Her flat is empty. Landlord said the rent was paid through to the end of the week, but she’s gone, no forwarding address.”
Bissel sat back in his chair. “Wow.”
“Yeah. Wow. Either she’s in the rubble from the fire, or she’s gone. Out of town.”
Bissel was saved from having to reply by the arrival of Carter with the photos from the museum and from the fire. The Captain took the museum photos, and Carter handed Bissel the others. They were typical. Charred wood and debris, smoke wreathing up from between timbers. The twisted remains of several art objects, made of some kind of metal, stuck out at intervals like hands or fists. He flipped to the next picture and froze.
The body lay under a crossbeam from the ceiling, half-buried under the heavy wood. It was clear even from the photo that the ribcage was crushed. Judging from the size of the wrist bones, it was female; however, the charred remains gave no clue to the identity. He studied the photo and wished devoutly that it was in color. The victim’s hair lay shriveled, curled and smoking, above the scalp.
“We’re not sure it’s her,” Kenning announced from right next to Bissel, startling him. “Dental records are proving difficult to track.”
Bissel looked up at him. “You think it isn’t her, don’t you,” he said heavily, not really asking. “You have from the beginning.”
Kenning sighed. It sounded like it came from his toes. He went back around his desk and sat down heavily. “Yeah, I do.”
Kenning studied him. “Instinct,” he muttered. “I’ve got nothing concrete. But my gut says she’s not on the level.”
Bissel looked down at the photo in his hands. “But this is murder, Captain. Jaguaro’s profile says that she avoids hurting anyone.”
“What if this isn’t Jaguaro?” Kenning asked. “What if this is something else?”
Bissel digested that. Finally, he shook his head. “No. I’ll check it out. Just because she’s pretty doesn’t mean she’s innocent.”
Kenning nodded, compassion crossing his face fleetingly. “I’m sorry, Bissel.”
Bissel stood and collected the photos and the folder sitting on the Captain’s desk. “Yeah. Me too.”
He made his way back to his office, lost in thought. Sage Zelyoni. Are you a murderer?
Nothing answered him. He set the photos down and started flipping through his notes.
“Whatcha got?” Dmitri Levakov asked from the doorway.
“The Jaguaro hit,” Bissel told him. “And the Sage Zelyoni Gallery fire.”
Bissel looked up at that. “You find that funny?”
“Don’t you?” Dmitri shot back.
“What?” Bissel asked, confused.
“Sage Zelyoni,” Dmitri said, like Bissel should understand. After a moment, he added impatiently, “Zelyoni means ‘green’ in Russian, Bissel. I thought you knew that.”
Bissel stared at him, mouth open. “And sage is green…”
It was Dmitri’s turn to gape. “You don’t think…”
“The Jades are green? Yeah, I do think. Dammit! The Captain was right!”
Bissel grabbed his phone to call the Captain and tell him. Maybe the good ones weren’t all taken after all, he reflected bitterly. It was just as well she hadn’t called him for a date. His eyes fell on the picture of the charred and blackened body. It was just as well.