“Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc” — Chapter One

There is something about the smell of blood — it never leaves the memory. When blood is experienced in mass quantity, there is a smell, and it smells like no other airborne emanation, except blood. It is the essence of life, but it is the emanation 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 crimes scene, casts a dark shadow from the floor upon the entire room, upon the entire building, upon the entire world.

Emily Johannsson held her breath as she walked into the crime scene 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 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.

The apartment’s only bedroom at the back of the structure was the room fluttering with activity. As Emily entered, 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 got closer, but once she walked in, she saw the entirety of the scene, the body, and the blood.

There were lights on stands at each corner of the room, casting a bright illumination upon the scene. In the back of Emily’s mind, it occurred to her that this was completely different than the TV show — On every episode of CSI or CSI: Miami or CSI: New York she’d ever seen, it seemed like the investigators always investigated the 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 cast their beams upon the empty carpeted floor where Emily saw the naked and decapitated body of an unidentified woman. Part of her skin was burned and the carpet within a few feet of her body was melted, but it did not burn.

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 shit,” Pat Simkowski said, a burly man in his late-50s with dark white hair that matched his dark white sense of humor. “Sick fuck. Dumb shit.”

“Dumb, why?” Emily asked.

“Smell that?” Pat asked.

“The blood?” Emily replied.

“No, the lighter fluid,” Pat said quickly.

“Oh,” Emily muttered.

“Shit,” 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.

“Fucker tried to set the body on fire, and burn the place down to cover shit up, but just ended up melting the damn carpet. Her body didn’t even burn that much.” Pat shook his head as though he was rolling his eyes the way an old redneck cop would. “Dumb shit,” he said again.

“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.”

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), she never regretted this particular choice. 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 Intern, although she wasn’t the first intern and she certainly would not be the last.

The two of them — Emily and CSI Simkowski — accompanied by uniformed officers of the Oklahoma City Police Department, cast their gazes diligently throughout the vacant apartment, looking for anything resembling a hint regarding why there was a headless partially-burned body in the bedroom, Ajax on the counter tops, an isolated blood stain in the bathroom, and an isolated blood stain 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 Emily 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, paused, and stared at the cryptic dried-but-dripping message.

As she stood motionless, a man in a formal business suit walked into 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 wall, then back at the man. The man in the business suit did not return her glance. He clearly was not a detective. He wore no gun or badge, his attire was too expensive and classy for a cop’s salary, and he seemed to stand there with a sort of Ivy League snob air about him. He was tall, not unattractive, and his dark hair and dark eyebrows seemed overpowered by his dark deep hazel(ish) blue(ish) eyes. The expression on his face portrayed a slight indication of confidence and arrogance rather than interest or concern (considering there was a dead woman only a few feet from him).

“Well, that shit’s 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 was immediately a little intimidated.

“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 seemed circa 2004. “Looks like we got the smart kid,” he said to the man in the suit.

“Indeed,” the man said. He reached his hand across the doorway toward Emily. I’m Dr. Carrick Nichols.” He spoke with a faint (and fading) British accent, indicating his heritage, but he had clearly been in the United States for at least several decades. His tall, thin, and cadaverous frame had a tendency to look down upon people, even if they were taller than his five-foot-eleven frame. 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 shit you do for a living, Nick.”

“My name,” Dr. Nichols said sternly with a pause, “is Dr. Carrick Nichols. Not Nick.” His British accent seemed a bit more pronounced as he spoke. “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 fuck 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 word Fuck. Because although his physical appearance bore a striking resemblance to that of Richard Riehle, his mannerisms, demeanor, and especially his language resembled those of Samuel L. Jackson.

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 Americanized English tends to drop and add words frivolously. American grammar loves to add words where words don’t belong.”

Emily grinned slightly. Dr. Nichols reminded her of Rex Harrison — “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 fucka!

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.

“So what now?” Emily asked inquisitively.

“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 you take all the evidence and data from the scene back to the lab and work with detectives to try to figure out The Three F’s.”

“What are The Three F’s?” Emily asked. She wasn’t sure if she should be writing this information down.

The Three F’s: Who the fuck did it, why the fuck did they do it, and where the fuck are they? — The Three F’s.” Pat grinned.

“But,” Emily said, “wouldn’t that be The Three W’s? Who, why, and where?”

Pat looked up at Emily with an expression on his face which she could not decide was annoyance, frustration, or confusion.

“No,” Pat said. “It’s F, not W.”

Emily glanced at Dr. Nichols. “Is he for real?”

“I’m afraid so,” Dr. Nichols said, nodding with his eyes closed.

“We’re done here,” Pat said. “Call Duckie.” CSI Pat Simkowski had a quip for everything. His expression, “Call Duckie,” was his way of telling the uniformed officers that he was done with the scene and the medical examiner and/or coroner could come pick up the body and take it to the morgue.

Pat was full of movie and TV show references, and it never seemed to get old — or, at least, not to him.

 

FROM THE UPCOMING MYSTERY THRILLER — POST HOC, ERGO PROPTER HOC

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