It was just before nine a.m. when the toddler’s mother saw his little hands and cheeks covered in a sticky substance mixed with crumbly white particles. She shuddered, then walked to where the little boy had been looking for the neighbor’s kitty under a juniper bush and saw the nearly headless corpse. The woman picked up her son, ran into their apartment, then frantically washed the debris off him, first with soap and water, then with rubbing alcohol. After repeating the routine with peroxide, she called 911.
About ten minutes later, a CPD police cruiser arrived on the scene; two officers approached the woman, as she held her child and pointed to the juniper bush. Adams, the younger officer, took out a notepad and stayed with the woman as Sergeant Morales slow-walked toward the hedge, carefully scanning the area. White tennis shoes quickly caught Morales’s attention. The body lay just off the grass border, barely concealed by the shrubbery. Morales crouched, then used his flashlight to trace the outline of the body, starting from its feet up to a tangle of blood, hair, tissue, and bone fragments where the head should have been. Although Morales was a veteran officer who had seen his share of big-city brutality, the shock caused him to stumble backward and slip on the dewy grass. From his knees, he reported the gruesome discovery to his superior over the radio.
After Morales got back to his feet, he directed Adams to secure the area with crime-scene tape, then began to scan the immediate surroundings, where he found a patch of grass covered with blood and debris that Morales assumed had once been part of the victim’s head. From this spot, a trail of fragments led to the body. Soon, another cruiser arrived and then two homicide detectives. Morales called Adams over to make sure he got a good look before the medical examiner did his survey and zipped the corpse into a body bag. Adams tried not to appear shaken as Morales moved the flashlight over the mutilated remains of the human head.
“So what does the condition of the body tell you?” Morales said.
“He got whacked in the head pretty good with a metal pipe or something.”
“It’s not easy to kill someone with a single whack to the head.”
It took a moment before Adams realized Morales was testing him. “So he got lots of whacks. Somebody was really pissed off or sending a message.”
“Yep,” Morales agreed before noticing three men walking toward them. “Okay, why don’t you go over to the crowd and start asking questions? See who lives here, if anyone saw anything, et cetera. I’ll start briefing these guys.”
At first, Morales didn’t recall anything about the detectives other than their names—Calvo and Baker—and that they had been on the force long enough to have garnered reputations for having once been good cops, and having once been physically fit. Instead, on this morning, one might be known as tall and fat, the other as short and fat. They appeared happy, giggling like kids on a school outing. Morales also recognized Dr. Irvine, the medical examiner, who appeared appropriately somber for someone about to evaluate a victim of brutal violence.
Morales met the three halfway between the sidewalk and the bush. The two detectives breezed past. Dr. Irvine stopped to talk.
“It’s pretty bad,” Morales said, “but I guess I don’t have to tell you to prepare yourself.”
Dr. Irvine offered a knowing smile and was about to respond when the two detectives broadcast their disgust and started retreating back the way they had come.
“Looks like a case of old age,” Calvo said to Morales.
“The result of a bad migraine,” Baker said.
With Adams in pursuit, a young, dark-haired woman came running toward the group. “Hold on, ma’am,” Morales said, grabbing the distraught woman’s arm. “This is a crime scene.”
“My cousin didn’t come home last night!”
Adams and Morales looked at each other. The two detectives stepped away. Dr. Irvine headed over to the stiff.
“Wait here,” Morales said, then returned with a wallet in a plastic bag. “What’s the name?”
“Oh, my god! His wallet!”
“Please, miss, what’s the name?”
“Gelashvili. Bagrat Gelashvili.”
Morales looked at the driver’s license and then back to the woman. His expression said it all. “I’m sorry—”
She screamed and tried to run to the mangled corpse. Adams grabbed her from behind in a bear hug. “No, no, no. You don’t want to see him. Please, trust us.” She continued struggling and began screaming in a foreign language. Morales radioed for a victim’s advocate, then joined Adams in trying to console the woman. Eventually, she sunk to her knees and sobbed.
“What will I tell Deida?” she said several times, then, “How can I tell her? How can I tell her?”
Adams and Morales stayed with the woman until a member of Crime Victim Services arrived, put her arm around her, and led her away. Morales approached the detectives, who stood on the sidewalk with the other onlookers.
“I’m Sergeant Morales. Let me give you the few details I know.”
Neither bothered with their own introduction. “What’s to know?” Calvo said, and chuckled. “That kind of message only comes from one place.”
“He pissed off somebody pretty bad,” Baker said.
“You wanna try to talk to the woman?” Morales said. “She’s his cousin.”
The two detectives glanced at each other. “Not now,” Calvo said. “We’ll find her later, after she’s had a chance to calm down.” Morales watched as the two men turned from him and shuffled a few steps away. Apparently, the briefing was over.
Adams got on the radio and cleared them from the scene. In silence, the two cops drove away in their cruiser. Then Morales detected a small laugh from Adams.
“Those two detectives.”
“What about ’em?”
Adams laughed again. “I don’t know. They seemed kind of—”
“You know what a stereotype is, right?”
“Yeah, but that neighborhood. You don’t expect that kind of crime there. And I doubt two fat-slob dicks acting like they were at a backyard barbecue gave the residents a reason to sleep better at night.”
“Yep,” Morales said and the two were silent again until Morales said, “Just focus on being a good cop. Everything else—that’s out of your control.”