There is something about the smell of blood — it never leaves the memory. When blood is experienced in mass quantities, there is a smell, and it smells like no other airborne emanation, except blood. It is the essence of life, but it emits the stench of death; it smells warm, even when it’s cold. It isn’t red, it isn’t maroon, it isn’t vermilion, it isn’t burgundy, it isn’t crimson, it isn’t scarlet — it’s blood. And blood in mass quantities, especially in an unfamiliar crime scene, casts a dark shadow from the floor upon the entire room, upon the entire building, upon the entire world.
This is not how Emily Johannsson hoped to spend her Saturday, but she also was not surprised.
As a 22-year-old college senior (second-year senior, to be exact), Emily was intelligent, accomplished, classy, elegant, and ambitious. Her double-major in criminal psychology and criminal justice seemed (at the beginning) like a bit too much to handle in her five-year goal of completion. However, she worked, she worked hard, she worked relentlessly, and after her current internship, she would only need one class (a mindless degree capstone class) to graduate with her coveted double-major.
Her future was a galaxy of possibilities.
Part of her success as a college student hinged on her determination to prioritize her academic career over her social life. Because, as anyone who met her could easily infer, her culpability in social circles would have been every bit as successful as her academic endeavors. She was an elegant and beautiful young woman, standing just under six-feet tall with deep green eyes, streaked with black lines like a mysterious forest on a moonless night. Her hair flowed thick and straight to the middle of her back; its hue varied from light brown to deep auburn, depending on how the sun or light gleamed in the foreground. The depth of her hair and eye colors contrasted perfectly with her fair pale skin. The occasional freckle dotted the otherwise perfect landscape of her facial features.
And yet, this gorgeous, brilliant, accomplished, ambitious young woman had very few friends, never had a boyfriend, and focused the bulk of her energy on honing her academic prowess.
She held her breath as she walked into the apartment behind the Crime Scene Investigation supervisor, Pat Simkowski of the Oklahoma City Police Department. She stepped carefully (in fact, trying to step exactly where Pat stepped) as they entered the vacant apartment at the midscale complex along the river.
At first glance, the apartment seemed like a common empty apartment (with the exception of that unforgettable smell). There were a few sporadic unexplained bloodstains on the floor, and (for some reason) there was Ajax powder sprinkled along parts of the bathroom and kitchen counters. But the only thing Emily could smell was the blood.
It was an ordinary and unremarkable first-floor one-bedroom apartment; it looked like every other one-bedroom apartment Emily had ever seen — an open living room area with a patio door on the side, a small kitchen, a small dining area, and a short hallway with a closet and a bathroom. The apartment’s only bedroom was at the end of the short hallway — the room fluttering with activity. As Emily continued through the apartment, it felt like everything was moving in slow motion as she followed CSI Simkowski into the scene of the crime. The occasional camera flash flickered through the doorway as they grew closer, but once she walked in, she saw the entirety of the scene, the body, and the blood.
There were lights mounted on stands positioned at each corner of the room, casting a bright white illumination upon the scene. In the back of Emily’s mind, it occurred to her that this was completely different than the TV shows. On every episode of CSI or CSI: Miami or CSI: New York she’d ever seen, it seemed like the investigators always investigated a dark (or at least dimly lit) scene. The contrast had never occurred to her until she saw the bright lights of a real crime scene.
The lights poured their beams upon the empty carpeted floor where Emily saw the decapitated body of an unidentified woman. Part of her skin was burned and the carpet within a few feet of her body was melted.
The woman’s body was completely naked with the exception of a diamond wedding ring on her left hand.
“I’m pretty sure we can rule-out suicide on this one,” Pat Simkowski said in his signature sardonic tone of voice. The status quo of his unique personality was an amalgam of dark comedy and snippy sarcasm. Oddly though, it seemed to work for him.
“I think you’re right,” Emily replied. Her voice was unsteady; the words crept from her pallet with awkward discomfort, like each syllable was trying to walk with its shoes on the wrong feet.
In any normal situation, Emily would have categorized the woman as laying face-down; but she had no face — she had no head — so the best and most appropriate way she could describe it (which she filed-away in her memory for later) was front-down.
“Dumb fu—, I mean, stupid,” Pat Simkowski said. He was a burly man in his late-50s with dark white hair that matched his dark white sense of humor. “And sick.”
Pat Simkowski was the Crime Scene Investigation Supervisor for the Oklahoma City Police Department. Technically, he was a civilian, but he was also still considered “law enforcement.” However, he did not look the part of a highly trained crime scene investigator like the ones on television; he looked more like the kind of guy who would be the #2 guy on the #2 team of a second-rate local bowling league. This is not to say he was fat or stupid or ugly or dopey — he was just an average pudgy older guy.
His paramount downfall was his choice of verbiage. Pat Simkowski cussed like Samuel L. Jackson. So, a few weeks prior to being assigned his new intern — the first female intern he’d ever had — the department’s head of Human Resources had a long and stern discussion with him about how his profane vernacular would put him (and the department) at risk of a sexual harassment lawsuit. And even if his intern did not mind, he was to keep his language at a PG-13 level, or else face severe reprimand.
Subsequently, he often stumbled over his near-profane words, replacing them with innocuous (and often incoherent) substitutes.
“Stupid, why?” Emily inquired.
“Do you smell that?” Pat asked.
“The blood?” Emily replied.
“No, the lighter fluid,” Pat said quickly.
“Oh,” Emily muttered.
“Ha,” Pat said with an awkward chuckle, “I don’t even smell the damn blood anymore.”
“I only smell the blood,” Emily remarked.
“Look at the carpet,” Pat said, pointing his pudgy gloved hand to the floor. “It’s melted.
These apartments are built with flame-retardant carpet. It’s designed to melt itself out, not burn.”
“Oh,” Emily said again, hearing herself sound partly fascinated and partly disappointed.
“Psycho tried to set the body on fire but just ended up melting the damn carpet. Her body didn’t even burn that much. Once the lighter fluid burned off the skin, the flames went out.” Pat shook his head as though he was rolling his eyes the way an old redneck cop would. “Idiot,” he said dismissively.
“And he cut off her head?” Emily said, immediately regretting the fact that she’d just stated the obvious and would likely immediately be ridiculed for it.
“Well, Intern,” Pat said, turning to her with a grim smile, “unless you see a head attached that I don’t see, then I’m pretty sure your observation is pretty accurate. So yes, thank you, Captain Obvious.”
Emily hated it when Pat called her Intern. As a college senior working on her double-major in criminal justice and criminal psychology, she was required to do a law enforcement internship, but in the singular week she’d been there (knowing she had a long semester ahead of her), Emily never regretted her chosen internship. She would be spending the entire Fall semester as CSI Pat Simkowski’s intern, earning double credit for the time as it applied to both of her degrees. Additionally, she was the only intern in Pat’s office, which obviously earned her the moniker of Intern, although she wasn’t the first intern and she would not be the last.
The two of them — Emily and CSI Simkowski — were accompanied by uniformed officers of the Oklahoma City Police Department. Each of them cast their gazes diligently throughout the vacant apartment, looking for anything resembling a hint (or a clue, or something) regarding why there was a headless partially-burned body in the bedroom. And why was Ajax sprinkled heavily on the countertops? And why was there an isolated bloodstain in the bathroom? And why was there an isolated bloodstain next to the front door?
Indisputably, the most obvious “clue” in the apartment was on the wall directly above the decapitated body. Written in (what everyone assumed was) the victim’s blood was the hastily painted phrase, “POST HOC ERGO PROPTER HOC.” Upon entering the bedroom with Pat, Emily stepped to the left of the doorway and paused, staring at the cryptic dried-but-dripping message on the wall.
As she remained stationary to the left of the door, a man in a formal business suit entered the room and stepped immediately to his right. He said nothing, only scribbling the words from the wall onto a small handheld notepad.
Emily looked at this man, then back at the message on the wall, then back at the man. This mysterious gentleman in the business suit did not return her glance. He clearly was not a detective. He wore no gun, no badge; his attire was too expensive and classy for a cop’s salary. He seemed to stand there with a sort of Ivy League snob air about him. The man was tall, not unattractive; his dark hair and dark eyebrows seemed overpowered by his dark deep hazel(ish) blue(ish) eyes. The expression on his face portrayed a subtle hint of confidence and arrogance rather than interest or concern (considering there was a dead, naked, headless woman only a few feet from him).
“That’s pretty unique,” CSI Pat said, pointing at the wall and looking at the man in the suit. “Something Satanic?”
“Latin,” spoke the voices of both Emily and the man in the suit, in unison. The two made eye contact for the first time. Emily felt slightly intimidated when their eyes met.
“Ah, Intern knows Latin?” Pat said, now kneeling next to the body, snapping pictures of the woman’s corpse from multiple angles with an antiquated handheld digital camera (which appeared to be circa 2004). “Looks like we got the smart kid,” he said to the man in the suit.
“Indubitably,” the man said. He reached his hand across the doorway toward Emily. “I’m Dr. Carrick Nichols.” He spoke with a faint (but noticeable) British accent, indicating his heritage. However, the accent was somewhat watered-down and Americanized, implying that he’d lived in the United States for at least several decades. His tall, thin, and cadaverous frame tended to look down on people with condescension, even if they were taller than him. Emily ventured to guess he was in his late 30s or early 40s.
“I’m Emily Johannsson,” she replied, shaking his hand across the opening of the bedroom doorway. “I’m interning for CSI this semester.”
“Interesting,” Dr. Nichols replied.
“You two brains would get along,” Pat said from across the room. “She’s majoring in the same criminal psych mumbo-jumbo you do for a living, Nick.”
“My name,” Dr. Nichols replied sternly with a pause, “is Dr. Carrick Nichols. Not Nick.” His British accent seemed a bit more pronounced as he spoke with frustration. “This is roughly the tenth time I’ve told you this.”
Pat did not acknowledge this stiff British reprimand.
“Yeah,” Emily said, breaking what she perceived as an awkward tension between the two men. I’m double-majoring in Criminal Psychology and Criminal Justice at Merriam University in St. Louis.”
“So, Miss Johannsson,” Dr. Nichols said, seeming to further accentuate his British accent, “are you familiar with Latin, or do you simply know it when you see it?”
Emily inhaled to reply.
“Yeah, Intern,” Pat said, “What the crap does that even mean?”
Within the short time Emily Johannsson had been interning with Pat Simkowski in the Crime Scene Investigation office, she’d quickly grown accustomed to his loose and frequent use of the term, “What the crap…” Because although his physical appearance bore a striking resemblance to that of Richard Riehle, his voice sounded nearly identical to John Goodman; his mannerisms, demeanor, and especially his language typically resembled those of Samuel L. Jackson. But after his little talking-to by Human Resources, he’d managed to clean up his language and find substitutes for his typically used vulgarities.
Emily cast curious gazes upon Pat and Dr. Nichols, wondering if she should speak or simply shrug. She chose to speak.
“It means, After, therefore because, in Latin,” she said, trying not to sound too brainy.
“Correct — or, at least, close enough,” Dr. Nichols said, sounding both surprised and unimpressed in the same statement.
“Close?” Emily inquired.
“Technically,” Dr. Nichols stated with enlightened authority, “it means, After this, therefore because of this. You dropped the word this, probably because your modernized western hemisphere English tends to drop and add words frivolously. American grammar loves to add words where words don’t belong and drop words where words are needed.”
Emily grinned slightly. Dr. Nichols reminded her of Rex Harrison — specifically his role as Professor Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady.
“So she’s right?” Pat said, his inflection indicating surprise.
“Yes she is,” Nichols replied, casting his gaze upon Emily, not Pat.
“Look at the big brain on Brett!” Pat said with a smile. “You a smart mutha fu—!” He stopped short, looking at Emily with a sardonic (yet apologetic) smile.
Everyone in the room with the exception of Emily and Dr. Nichols immediately recognized this as a quote from Pulp Fiction — not-so-coincidentally Pat’s favorite movie.
A few chuckles were sprinkled into the heavy dark air in the room.
“Where did you learn Latin?” Nichols asked, giving Emily an inquisitive look.
“Well,” she replied, sounding oddly cautious with her words, “in high school, I sang in the Concert Choir and Madrigal Choir.” She paused, shifting her head from person to person, seeing that they needed more explanation. “A lot — actually most — of the songs we sang were in Latin. So I got a Latin/English dictionary and just read through it.” She paused again. “I guess I just picked it up from reading it and performing the works of Mozart, Fauré, Rutter, stuff like that.”
“Interesting,” Nichols replied with mild surprise in his voice.
“So,” Emily said, changing her tone, “what now?” She was hoping to change the subject.
“Third letter,” Pat replied.
“Third letter?” Emily asked.
“Yep,” Pat said matter-of-factly. “C-S-I — Crime Scene Investigation.” He paused. “Crime, which you can clearly see from the headless broad on the floor. So first, a crime has to occur, and clearly it has. Her head didn’t just fall off. She’s not the bird from Dumb & Dumber.”
A few more light chuckles from the surrounding officers could be heard. “Our pets’ heads are falling off!” one of them said, quoting the film.
“Scene,” Pat continued, “which is here, where you’re standing; secure and document everything here without disturbing anything. Investigation, for when we take all the evidence and data from the scene back to the lab and work with detectives to try to figure out The Three W’s.”
“What are The Three W’s?” Emily asked. She wasn’t sure if she should be writing this information down.
“The Three W’s: Who did it; why did he do it; and where is he? — The Three W’s.” Pat grinned.
“But,” Emily said, “why are you saying He instead of They?” She paused. “How do you know it’s a man?”
Pat looked up at Emily with an expression on his face which she interpreted as either exasperation, frustration, or confusion — or all three.
“Because, Intern,” Pat said. “a fact I figured you would know, seeing as how you’re studying the brain stuff as well as the crime stuff, is the fact that between 85% and 90% of serial killers are male.” He paused. “And, this particular killer murdered a woman. Do you know how rare it is for a female serial killer to kill a woman?”
“You might as well buy a lottery ticket,” Pat said with a smug grin.
Emily glanced at Dr. Nichols. “Is he for real?”
“I’m afraid so,” Dr. Nichols said, nodding with his eyes closed.
“But how do you know it’s a serial killer?” Emily inquired with skepticism. “This is just one murder.”
“An excellent question,” Nichols chimed.
“Because, Intern,” Pat said, emphasizing the word Intern again, this time in a mocking tone, “this broad’s head is missing and there’s a creepy message in blood on the wall.” He paused. “I’ve been doing this a long time. There will be more of these.”
Emily glanced at Dr. Nichols, shrugging her shoulders.
“I’m afraid I must agree,” Nichols said reluctantly, as though agreeing with Pat Simkowski was something to be avoided.
Emily brought her perfectly trimmed eyebrows closer together as she contemplated this revelation, but did not reply.
“We’re done here,” Pat said. “Call Mad Dog.” CSI Pat Simkowski had a quip for everything. Mad Dog was his nickname for the department’s Chief Forensic Pathologist.
“Mad Dog?” Emily replied, confused, glancing toward Dr. Nichols again.
Nichols rolled his eyes.
“She’s our Duckie,” Pat replied.
“Duckie?” Emily replied again. Her confusion grew.
Haven’t you ever seen NCIS?” Simkowski said, sounding bewildered. “Never mind.” Pat was full of movie and TV show references, and it never seemed to get old — or, at least, not to him.