The Kyra Daniels Cases: Death by Chocolate
Chocolate Cake: Delicious Treat; Birthday Symbol; Murder Weapon
“Strangulation is likely,” forensic analyst Anderson says aloud as he photographs the body of Katherine Wilson.
The twenty-four-year-old ballet dancer had been found dead on her linoleum apartment floor, bruise marks around her neck. The chain lock had been torn from the wall: that indicated force entry. What few items had been in the room prior to the break-in were now damaged, perhaps from a struggle. Still, it looks so neat and tidy. The smell of bleach is heavy in the air. The forensics team is busy taking pictures and bagging a small rope that may have been the murder weapon, while my rookie partner, Detective Jeffrey Hayes, speaks with the roommate.
I, meanwhile, am fascinated by this half-eaten piece of chocolate cake that sits on the coffee table.
“Anderson,” I reply, “make sure to photograph and bag the cake.”
I nod to him as I notice a small, wet stain on the couch. It smells like the cake: drool, perhaps? Where are the crumbs? This place is so clean.
“I think this is drool. Likely the victims.”
Anderson nods and photographs both the cake and the stain.
I look to the roommate: she’s burying her face in her hands. Makes sense: your roommate dying is difficult to handle.
Jeff sees that I’m looking over. He excuses himself and walks over to me.
“Her name’s Jessica,” he says. “She was out with some friends, Katherine was like that when she came home. She tried to perform CPR and immediately called the police.”
I nod at Jeff and walk towards the roommate. There’s a particular question I’d like to know.
“Hello Jessica. Can you tell me about the chocolate cake?”
“I’m sorry?” Jessica replies, bewildered.
“On the coffee table? I thought that ballet dancers starve themselves.”
“Katie didn’t. She thought I didn’t know, but… she liked to indulge.”
“Did she indulge often?”
“Whenever I’m not home. She swore she didn’t, but I find crumbs everywhere.”
“Detective Hayes tells me that you were out with friends when the incident happened?”
She just nods.
“Were the two of you close?”
“She’s the leader of our ballet group We became roommates because it was more convenient.”
“Is there anyone who might want to hurt her?”
“River. He’s in the same group as us and he’s always jealous that she gets the leads.”
I jot down the name. “Do you know where I can find him?”
Jessica grabs a pamphlet for the dance studio. It has the address on it.
“Thank you, Jessica. I’m sorry for your loss.” I shake her hand. She winces. “You okay?”
“Slipped at lunch. Why are you taking the cake?”
“Protocol. Everything at the scene must be examined.”
I signal the officer to come and take her statement and for Jeff to follow me as I walk out the front door.
The dance studio is nearly as immaculate as the house: it smells like bleach here, too. The lockers are practically spotless, save for some chalky powder on the handles.
“She’s lying,” I hear River exclaim as Jeff interviews him. “I could never hurt her! She was the backbone of our entire group. We’ll fall to pieces without her.”
“We heard you may be jealous of her fame?” Jeff asks.
“From Jessica, probably? She’s a drama queen. Everyone wants to be the star: that’s life,” River continues. “That doesn’t mean that I want to murder her. Jess probably did it”
“Can you tell me about her relationship with Jessica?” Jeff asks.
“The same with all of us,” River replies. “Katherine was a bit of a perfectionist. Didn’t use a light-touch either. If you were wrong, she could make you feel like you’d just killed someone… I guess, that was inappropriate.”
Jeff gives a curt nod. I walk up beside River.
“May I see your hands?” I interject.
“My hands?” River asks.
I nod. He shows me his hands. Strong, dainty, but chapped and powdery.
“Do you use chalk on your hands?” I ask.
“Keeps them dry so we don’t slip during the dance.”
“One more thing, River.” I conclude. “Did Katherine have any unusual eating habits?”
He ponders the question. Then his face contorts into a puzzled frown.
“No. Nothing unusual. The usual ballet diet: healthy food and water.”
“Not to my knowledge.”
“Thank you, River.”
I shake his hand. It’s a firm squeeze, but neither he nor I wince. He turns back to his group, no doubt to tell them the news.
Jeff and I turn towards the exist and start walking away.
“Why did you want to see his hands?” he whispers.
Jeff shakes his head.
“He didn’t have rope burn.”
“Then, what about the eating habits?”
“To see if she did indulge… and who knew she did.”
“How can someone be murdered next door, and you don’t hear or see anything?” The landlord of the building asks after two hours of door duty. He puts a key into the lock of the door and opens it up into the surveillance room.
“Most people live in their own bubble and don’t want to pry into other people’s business,” I answer.
“I don’t know how much help it’ll be,” the landlord grimaces as he sits down as a modest dual monitor set up, each with one camera angle. “I’ve only got two cameras set up: the front door and the side door.”
“Any little bit helps,” Jeff assures him.
As the landlord operates the machine, I take careful note of each moment in my notebook. I notice when Jessica leaves and when she returns. The landlord clarifies who each person entering the building is. Since the door will only open with a code unique to the person living there, or when someone buzzes up the delivery boy, it’s pretty easy to notice someone who stands out.
“Can we get a copy of the tape?” I ask the landlord.
Graciously, he provides it. No guilty conscience. Nothing to hide.
I always hated visiting Lindsay at her work. There was always a creepy vibe to the coroner’s office, no matter how many bodies I had seen.
“It looks like she died around noon,” Lindsay tells me.
“Anderson thinks she was strangled,” Jeff says.
“Nope,” Lindsay replies. “These marks were made post-mortem.”
“After she died?”
“That makes sense,” I interject. “I’m guessing that you didn’t find any of the perp’s DNA on the body, particularly under the fingernails.”
“Nope,” Lindsay confirms. “Clean as a whistle.”
“Then how did she die?” Jeff asks.
“My money’s on poison,” I answer,
“Almost correct, Kyra, as per usual,” Lindsay says with a smile. “See this tissue damage? Consistent with ingestion of sodium hypochlorite.”
“You have the report?” I ask Lindsay.
She nods and hands me a slim file.
“One more piece of the cake to go,” I say to Jeff, who stares at me incredulously as I leave the room.
“What exactly are you looking for in the cake?” Anderson asks me as I lean on his desk.
“Bleach,” I say plainly.
“Katherine ingested bleach?” Jeff asks incredulously. “Wouldn’t she have thrown up? Wouldn’t there have been a big mess when Jessica got there?”
“Most definitely,” I agree.
“So…” Jeff ponders, “why wasn’t there?”
Anderson looks towards me, with a smug look on his face. “He’s better than your last partner.”
“I also need to know what you found on the rope,” I add.
“That report is already done,” Anderson says as he hands me a sheet of paper.
“Good.” I take the report from him and glance over it. My suspicions are all but confirmed. “Please get me the report on the cake ASAP.”
“Also,” I add. “I need the photos you took of Jessica.”
“What’s this about?” Jessica asks, sitting across from me in the interrogation room.
“I’d like to share a theory with you, Jessica,” I state. “I think you killed Katherine.”
A pregnant pause. Silence fills the air. Suddenly, Jessica bursts out laughing.
“I killed her?” she snorts. “I thought you were smart.”
“I am. I had my suspicions right away. There’s a lot of evidence that points to you,” I reply.
“What could you possibly have?” she asks, with a hint of worry in her words.
“For starters: Did you know that your landlord, like most, has a security camera watching the front and side entrances to the building?”
“Then you’ll also know that we saw you leave at eleven thirty and return at one thirty on the day of the murder.”
“Yes, because I was out with friends.”
“And yet, upon your return, it took your forty-seven minutes to call for help. Care to explain?”
“I had a chat with the widow next door, Mrs. Jenkins.”
“Funny, because she didn’t remember talking to you at all. That day or any other day.”
“Because she’s an old woman who can barely remember to feed her cats, let alone conversations with me.”
“Convenient. But what about the rope we found on the scene?”
“The murder weapon?”
“The rope was covered in chalk dust. Doesn’t your group use that to prevent slipping?”
“Yes. But that could be anyone in the group. Namely River.”
“River was very helpful, in fact. He told us that Katherine was quite the perfectionist. Based on the cursory glance of your apartment, I’m guessing that she had plenty of cleaning supplies on hand.”
“Tons. But what does that have to do with anything?”
“Did you know that a coroner’s report can tell us all about a murder? For instance, it tells us that Katherine was killed around noon that day.”
“Well, that proves it. You said it yourself, I was out at the time.”
“And yet you failed to call us until much later.”
“I was in shock. My roommate was strangled in our living room.”
“Strangled implies that she was killed by being choked by the neck.”
“Well, wasn’t she?”
“No, she was poisoned.”
Jessica’s smile disappears. “Poisoned?” She whispers. “How can you tell?”
“Tissue damage consistent with ingestion of bleach, which had been baked into the chocolate cake. The secret that only you seemed to know about.”
“I don’t believe this,” Jessica says, raising her voice. “That place was probably a breeding ground for bleach, it was so clean.”
“Is that why you did it?” I ask, getting to the heart of her motive. “Was she such a perfectionist that no amount of cleaning was ever good enough for her? Did it drive you crazy to have to clean and reclean things until you couldn’t stand the smell anymore?”
“Where is the vomit?” she shouts, getting on her feet. “If she ate or drank bleach, wouldn’t she have thrown up everywhere?”
“Linoleum floors and you just confirmed that she had plenty of cleaning supplies. Probably wouldn’t have taken you very long to clean. That’s why there were no crumbs from the cake.”
“I DID NOT KILL KATHERINE!” Jessica shouts as she slams her hands on the table. She immediately winces and rubs them.
“Your hands hurt?”
“I just hit a metal table. Why? Gonna tell me that my hands are the answer?”
“I want to show you something from the forensics team,” I reach into the folder and hand her a photograph. “What are these?”
“A picture of my hands,” she confirms. “So what?”
“If I may, I’d like to read the report.” I clear my throat. “’Bruising and rashes on hands is consistent with rope burns.’”
“Dead or alive, someone struggling to drag a body with rope is going to take a toll on the hands. Any one of your group has chalk on their hands, but you were the only one who had rope burns.”
Jessica stares at me.
“You’ve got nothing.”
“Motive, opportunity, methods, and means.”
“No one else knew about her snack time. No one else would know where it was hidden. Only you and she knew.”
Jessica slumps down in her chair. Case closed.