Missing Members

by Anca Vlasopolos

copyright © 1990 Anca Vlasopolos

Chapter 1

Detective Lieutenant Sharon Dair lifted her head from the mass of photographs on her desk and passed a hand over her eyes. She gazed vacantly out the window, through many years’ layers of fly specks, rain spots, and city grime.

“What’s a lady to make of that,” Ned grinned.

Ned Campbell was tall, blond, burly, and dedicated to law and order as enforced by the officers, not the courts, of the law; he was a third-generation Detroit policeman, now a lieutenant in the detective division. He occupied the desk next to Sharon’s in the cramped SEX CRIMES office.

“Well?” he insisted, as the toothpick lodged in his gums jutted out aggressively with each word.

“I could ask what a gentleman’s to make of this, but the question would not apply.”

“So, not even a bloody whore cutting off a poor guy’s manhood with god knows what, for chrissake, takes the edge off your tongue. You’re into sisterhood. Maybe you like what the broad did.”

“I may have a sharp tongue, but I wouldn’t dream of getting anywhere near you vital parts, Ned, keeping in mind that your brain is not in that category.”

“Oh, oh,” shouted Ned, attempting vainly to attract the attention of Detective Sergeant Eberhart, the only other person in the room, to the dispute. “You chose the right work, kiddo. Nothing’s fazed you yet. Maybe when the child-murder pictures start coming in from the northern suburbs ... mutilated bodies of little children,” he whispered to Sharon, then added to Eberhart’s corner, “maybe then we’ll see no-fear Sharon shudder.”

Eberhart, a phlegmatic type, regarded the bickering between Dair and Campbell as a constant of the office, like the cracked plaster of the ceiling and the hissing of the radiators, winter or summer. He did not lift his head from his intense study of the sports pages.

“Hmm, I like that. Sharon shudder,” mused Ned, surprised at himself.

Sharon pushed her chair back and announced, “I’m going out for lunch if I can eat. I’ll be at the Cafe Harmonie if you need me.”

“Ice-cold bitch,” grunted Ned when she’d walked out of earshot.

She sat over a meatless, bloodless lunch. She’d decided in her student days to become a vegetarian, and her police work in sex crimes had made the sight of meat, especially rare meat, nauseating to her. This Detroit April morning, cold enough to glaze over the puddles of winter rot, she’d seen enough rare meat, human flesh gaping as if surprised that its covering of skin had been torn from it; the male pubic area, denuded of its organ, looked like a maniac’s perversion of femaleness, raw, bleeding. She contemplated the dish before her: a watercress sandwich half-eaten, coffee almost white through the pyrex glass, a fruit salad from which she had pushed the dark-blood cherries under the bowl, hidden from sight. Even the pink watermelon looked too much like skinned flesh today. She pushed the salad away. Filtered greenish light came in through the plants hanging by the large store-front window of the cafe and salved her eyes, wounded by the pictures of gore that had come from the lab that morning. Under the green light she sank with ease into consoling reverie, girlhood under summer foliage, sun blown, years and minds away from knowledge, forced on her—well, no—forced on her then chosen by her as a way of life.

Chapter 2

Two pairs of auburn braids hopped up and down skinny shoulders covered by ruffled print. Dark curls strayed out of pony tail onto chubby face, sticking to sweaty temple and curling tighter.

I love coffee
I love tea
How many boys are stuck on me

Foliage, sun blown, rustled overhead. The breeze carried a faint taste of salt. The sand beneath the little girls’ feet glittered from large pieces of broken shells their bouncing uncovered. Blond straight hair glittered as it bounced, uncovering lighter strands.

I love coffee
I love tea
I love the boys and the boys love me

On one side of the sandy strip was the deserted afternoon street; Sea Street, leading to the small-boat harbor, sails becalmed.

I love the boys

On the other was the sea flora: scraggly trees, coniferous bushes, thistles, thick, stubborn growths with roots deeper than sand, holding the shore. The huge planted maple shaded the children. Shadows obscured the nearby hedge.

and the boys love me

“Not fair,” she cried, pulling at auburn braid. “Not fair. You tangled me up.”

“You’re mad ’cause there’s no boys stuck on you,” one taunted.

“I’ll go home,” she threatened. “I’ll tell my mommy what you said.”

“Oh, go on, crybaby. We’re going up the street anyway.”

She watched them go, irresolute, tears welling up, the shadows behind her growing… Their voices floated through the growth, muffled.

Teddy on the railroad
Picking up stones

Through the leaves sundering the sun toppled into her wide-open eyes. She felt an immense pain as if her brain were splintered by myriads of broken glittering shells.

Along came a train and broke teddy’s bones
Oh, said the teddy, that’s not fair
Oh, said the engineer, I don’t care

Sharon woke abruptly from her reverie.

“Yes, I’m sorry,” she nodded as the waitress gestured toward the line that had formed near the door. As she walked back from Cafe Harmonie toward HQ, she caught herself marching to the rhythm of her recollections.

I’m the meanest motherfucker on two feet
I fuck everybody on the street

She hastened to change step and with it the awful variation on jump-rope chants. She drew her jacket closer against the April chill. Again she started as the regulation gun jabbed into her ribcage. They say you get used to it—in thirty years, she remembered the commissioner of the Women’s Division telling her that oldie but goodie and laughing until she broke into a cough. Heavy smoker, the commissioner. As she waited for the light to change on Gratiot Avenue, she tried to piece together the bloody puzzle that had exploded first in her ear with a 3:30 a.m. call, then on her desk later that morning. Okay, da capo, she instructed herself, using the words of her mentor at the Institute of Criminal Justice.

Place: Goldennaire Motel, Woodward Avenue; time: between 2 and 3 a.m. Crime: castration of the genital organs (penis and testes); suspect: red-haired, late-twenties early-thirties woman, no distinguishing features, average height and weight, small breasted. Victim: male Caucasian, 41, six foot, 233 lb., known frequenter of prostitutes on the Woodward corridor between McNichols and Eight Mile. Weapon: not found. Victim recalls little else about suspect, no color of eyes, no lipstick color. Oh, yes, clothes: the night clerk who might have seen her, or somebody else, get out of a car said she wore a blue two-piece that “hung nice on her ass.” The Goldennaire is funny, she thought. It doesn’t cater to the Woodward trade.

What’s the most ordinary aspect of the crime, she asked herself, imitating Captain Lorenzo’s intonation. The victim describes the attacker in terms vague enough to fit practically half the population of females in the metropolitan area. In his condition, however . . . . Sharon gave a small shudder, remembering the man’s hollow genital area, a cavity pulsating with blood even in the black and white photos she’d seen. Ned’s such a royal asshole, she muttered as she approached the Police HQ building. And, for the briefest flickering second, she let herself imagine Ned’s large body in place of the victim’s.

“Wanna cup of coffee?” she asked him as she entered the office.

“Are we finally learning our role?” he grinned. “Sure. I like to watch your ass going out the door.”

Sharon gave him the finger and went to her desk. Meeting tonight, the scribbled note from Eberhart read. I need drinkable caffeine, she thought. She phoned Athens grocery around the corner.

“Gus, can you have one of your boys bring me a double Greek coffee in about an hour? And a yogurt chaser,” she added. “Thanks, you’re a prince.”