Copyright© 2020 by Lumpy
The trip back to the medical examiners’ office seemed to take a lot longer than it had just that morning. Taylor spent the entire time in the back of the cab alternately, fearing Whitaker was gone and denying it could be her.
When he arrived at the offices, he wanted to just push past the receptionist at the front and rush back to find Graf, but the security guard upfront would have probably stopped him. Dealing with that would have been enough of a headache that he opted to just sit and wait while she called back. After a few interminably long minutes, the doors to the back of the offices opened, and Graf came through.
“I just want to prepare you it isn’t going to be pretty. They’ve covered her face since the damage makes it impossible to identify her, but the rest of the body is pretty bad.”
“I’ve seen bodies before,” Taylor said. “I’ll be fine.”
“Okay, I just wanted to prepare you.”
Graf led him through the winding halls into a medical suite that smelled strongly of disinfectants. In the center of the room was a metal table with a body on top of it. Graf hadn’t been joking about the damage to the body.
As he’d said, the face was covered with a sheet. The woman was still wearing the remains of a light tan suit, and no autopsy had been conducted yet. There were some burns, but most of the damage was cuts and abrasions all along the body. Several missing fingers and the rest were damaged enough that prints were probably not an option. Taylor could see bits of metal sticking out of some of the cuts, which suggested a lot of the damage had been caused by shrapnel.
Taylor looked at the body hard. The suit wasn’t something he recognized that Whitaker wore, but it wasn’t that far off either and she could have bought it after they split. Even with the damage, it was clear the woman had been athletic, and the body seemed to roughly match Whitakers.
Something caught Taylor’s eye, and he turned to the medical examiner who was standing off to one side.
“Can we lift her leg and pull the pant leg up a bit? I think I see something on her right ankle.”
The ME came over and carefully rolled up the pants leg, clearly trying to not damage the skin before his autopsy. As soon as he exposed the skin on the ankle, exposing an area that had managed to go undamaged, Taylor saw what had caught his attention.
He felt a rush of relief paired with frustration as soon as he saw the small tattoo on the woman’s ankle.
“That isn’t Whitaker. I’m pretty sure it’s a woman named Grace Sharp, who currently consults for your government.”
“Who? How do you know?”
“I just got a file on her earlier today. She’s roughly the same build as Whitaker with the same hair, but one of her distinguishing marks is a small butterfly tattoo on the back of her right ankle. Of course, that probably isn’t enough to identify the body, but she was helping Whitaker on her investigation before Frieda Wissler’s murder.”
“Can you send me her file?”
“I have to check with Joe Solomon, but I don’t think it will be a problem. It was limited, more informational than anything else. Since she contracted with you guys, you probably have more on her than I do.”
“So now we have two deaths connected to agent Whitaker.”
“Hold on a second. There’s nothing to suggest Whitaker had anything to do with causing her death. Hell, considering we were jumped at the storage locker, doesn’t it seem likely that this may be the same people who were behind that?”
“No. We finally got the information back on them. They were common criminals with long records for robbery and armed assault.”
“They could have been hired by someone to wait at that particular storage locker for whoever came back to retrieve the files. Hell, they didn’t try to rob us. They just started shooting as soon as they were close enough.”
“First, you’ve looked at the files, there was nothing there. Also, there have been a whole series of break-ins and several strong-arm robberies in that area. I know it seems like a coincidence, but those sometimes happen. The only evidence we have anywhere is the connection of your Agent Whitaker to two homicides.”
“What about the other bodies, you said there was a shootout?”
“Yes, there were two other men, but both had prints on file and are known to us. Again, common criminals.”
“You have to admit that isn’t right. So first you have just random guys trying to kill us, I guess to rob us, and now more people you’re saying are street criminals involved with the death of someone connected to this. I just don’t buy it.”
“I get you’re having trouble with this. More, I agree with you; this doesn’t add up for me either, not yet. I’m not saying I’m ready to place the blame of either murder at Agent Whitaker’s feet, just that we really need to talk to her and see if she can help us make sense of all this. I need to go to Mrs. Sharp’s home and see if there’s anything there that explains how she ended up in an unrented apartment in a gunfight. It’s against procedure, but why don’t you come with me and see if for yourself. That way, you can see what happened and if your friend was involved.”
“Is there any chance we can see the place where the shootout happened too?” Taylor asked.
Graf stopped and considered for a few minutes, clearly weighing having someone outside of his agency at a crime scene.
“We can do that,” he said after a moment. “We’ll stop at her apartment first since its closer, and I’ll check to make sure my techs have finished with the scene. If they have, then we can go.”
Knowing how the Bureau worked, he knew they’d throw a conniption if someone like him went to one of their crime scenes. Considering the Germans he’d known in the past and his dealings with them so far during this investigation, they were, if anything, more officious. He appreciated Graf bending the rules for him. However, he couldn’t help the sneaking suspicion that Graf also wanted Taylor there to spot anything that might be connected to Whitaker. He knew it’s what he would have done in Graf’s place.
The pair drove to Sharp’s apartment in silence after Graf called to double-check the address Taylor had for her. While they drove, Taylor considered how screwed he was. If they didn’t turn up anything at Sharp’s place, then Taylor was out of leads. He had no doubt that Sharp’s death was tied into Frieda’s death, Whitaker’s investigation, and the guys at the storage facility.
Despite what Graf said, Taylor didn’t buy the random crime angle. He’d seen that type of lazy police work before by cops, wishing away leads as the most straightforward explanation to keep from having to follow things down harder paths. Sometimes they were right, but very often they’d been wrong.
Even if the gunmen were just local criminals, they could have been hired by someone to do the dirty work. Considering that the dead men found on the scene with Sharp’s body were also supposed to be the same variety of criminals, that seemed even more likely. One coincidence Taylor could buy, maybe, but this many would have required astronomical odds.
Sharp’s apartment was located not far from the historic center of Berlin, which would have put her close to the foreign office and similar governmental buildings. The complex itself was newer and more stylized, not the cement block house style that surrounded it and looked like it would cost a fair amount to Taylor’s admittedly untrained eye.
An officer met them at the building with whatever paperwork Graf seemed to need to have the building maintenance man let them into her apartment. Taylor hadn’t seen Graf call ahead to have the paperwork waiting for him, but it fit in with the man’s personality.
The apartment was tidy, modern, but somewhat bland. The furniture wasn’t the somewhat eclectic mix you’d get from someone who furnished it over time. Everything was almost certainly bought at once, and the apartment probably came furnished. There was very little personalization in any way. No pictures on the mantels and nothing stuck to the fridge with magnets. If it wasn’t for the food in the fridge and the clothes in the closet, Taylor would have almost thought the apartment was unoccupied.
Sharp was clearly fastidious. Taylor was used to living with Whitaker, who was very much a type-A personality that needed everything in its place, and yet their apartment had never looked like this.
Taylor and Graf poked around for a while. Still, despite looking everywhere he could think of, nothing jumped out at him as being connected to Whitaker. Graf seemed to find it notable that there weren’t any documents or home office, but Taylor didn’t think that meant as much as Graf did. Her offices weren’t that far from here, and she probably would have kept most documents there. There was a dock for a laptop, but no laptop, which might not mean anything. Besides her office, she could have taken it with her wherever she went before ending up at the unrented apartment.
Graf checked, and the techs hadn’t found one at the apartment, so if she did have it, she would have dropped it off somewhere else along the way, or someone had walked away from the scene with it.
Eventually, the two gave up their search. If Whitaker had been at the apartment recently, she’d left nothing behind, and nothing suggested Sharp had left anything about what she was currently working on.
The drive to the unrented apartment took longer since it was well out on the outskirts of town. Graf had someone trying to get a hold of the owner of the apartment, but that had turned out to be easier said than done. The apartment was owned by a company with a lawyer listed as the only name on the company’s paperwork. Graf had some people working on finding the lawyer and discovering who actually owned or worked for the company, but so far, they weren’t having any luck.
Taylor noticed the area becoming noticeably seedier the closer they got to the apartment. It was a stark contrast from the sleek and clean buildings surrounding Sharps’ apartment. Stores, single-family homes, and coffee shops gave way to apartment complexes and factories. The well-cleaned sidewalks with their manicured trees and foliage became cracked and broken concrete with the odd dying bush.
Graf didn’t seem bothered, however, so Taylor figured it was just a more blue-collar area of town and not outright dangerous. The apartment was a relatively small complex that couldn’t have more than half a dozen units in total.
Residents and lookie-loos gathered around the perimeter, which was still roped off with police tape and watched over by a handful of uniformed officers. They knew Graf on sight, lifting the tape without him having to flash a badge, waving Taylor in behind him.
Since the coroner had already come and gone, there were no bodies in the apartment. What was left were large brownish stains covered the carpeting; it wasn’t hard to believe several people had died here.
The apartment itself was a wreck. It wasn’t empty, but everything there was temporary. What was left of folding chairs, folding tables, and a few cots made up the room’s furniture. The only thing that didn’t seem temporary was the refrigerator which sat perpendicular to the entry. The whole place was a wreck. The front room was scorched, clearly the place where Sharp had been killed. The walls were riddled with shrapnel impacts, and one of the interior walls was missing a large chunk, letting Taylor see into the other room.
While the damage looked bad, whatever killed Sharp hadn’t been particularly large, at most a hand grenade or pipe bomb, since it hadn’t broken through the outside wall of the apartment. The refrigerator door swung open loosely hanging from a single hinge, the outside covered with both shrapnel impacts and bullets. The door opened out, facing the rest of the room when opened, effectively working as a shield to the explosive for anyone on the other side. Looking around the other side, only a few seemed to have gotten through the metal and thick insulation.
Looking at the walls around where the fridge, which stood perpendicular to the front door of the apartment, there was an absence of scorching or damage that roughly corresponded to the shape of the door itself. If Taylor had to guess, someone had opened up the door of the refrigerator and used it as makeshift cover. Considering how open everything was and the lack of furniture, that had probably been a good idea.
The explosive damage wasn’t the only damage. The wall around the front door and the opposing wall were riddled with bullet holes, along with a scattering of impacts in other parts of the room. From what Taylor could see a group from outside the apartment had assaulted people inside the apartment, culminating in a small explosive being tossed into the room at some point while at least one person, maybe two, inside the apartment, had used a makeshift shield to protect themselves.
“Is there anything on who anyone here was, besides Sharp?” Taylor asked.
“No. We wouldn’t even have identified Sharp if you hadn’t known who she was. I’m sure we’ll get information back on them soon, but it’s a process and takes time.”
“Nothing else that would tell us what was going on here?”
“No. Beyond some clothes, personal grooming items, and weaponry, we found nothing here. Certainly, no documentation that would tell us who anyone here was. None of the victims carried anything beyond currency on them. If I had to guess, from the cots and other temporary furniture, I’d say this was a flophouse. Whoever these people are with, they weren’t local and needed a place to stay.”
“That’s what worries me.”
“Think about it. These guys are outside muscle brought in on a job, and they’ve been set up with an empty apartment. I bet we’re going to find that the apartment is owned by a dummy corporation that we won’t trace back to anyone, otherwise you would already know who owned this place.”
“We know they’re working for someone, and clearly involved in some kind of criminal activity. The fact that they’re covering their tracks shouldn’t be that surprising.”
“It’s more than that. If you add up the pieces we have, it suggests that there is something bigger going on here.”
“What do you mean?”
“Look at it. We know Sharp was helping Whitaker with her investigation into Fredrick Wissler’s death, an investigation during which the person who asked Whitaker to investigate it was murdered. Now the person helping Whitaker has also been killed in an apartment owned by a dummy corporation and being used as temporary housing for well-armed men, judging by the damage here. It’s a safe bet that the reason Sharp was here was because whoever was in this apartment was connected to Whitaker’s investigation.”
“We don’t know that. This could have been connected with something Sharp was working on separate from the death of the Wisslers.”
“Maybe, but I doubt it. Sharp was consulting with your foreign services, not law enforcement. Plus, your government wouldn’t be sending a contractor out to situations like this, at least not without back up. If she had been here on official business, you’d have a record at least of her using law enforcement assets, and you would have known who she was. No, everything about this suggests she was doing something outside of her day job. I guess she could have been working on two separate cases outside of her day job, but that seems to be a stretch.”
“Put it all together. If Sharp ended up here, in an apartment with out-of-town muscle owned by someone or someones prepared enough to have an unlisted apartment for them to use registered under a dummy corporation, then those someone or someones were involved in Fredrick Wissler’s death, since ultimately everything ties back into that initial event. Which means Whitaker was on to something.”
“I’m not a hundred percent sure yet. My gut tells me it has to do with Fredrick Wissler’s Alzheimer’s. He was starting to become erratic, and we know he was beginning to write things down. There was that box of his notes in the storage locker Whitaker had. He was beginning to keep records on something.”
“We looked into the box it was nothing.”
“It wasn’t nothing. Whitaker put that stuff in a storage locker and hid the evidence of it for a reason; we just don’t know how it fits into the entire puzzle yet. Like I said, we’re missing something, but it’s all connected. Fredrick Wissler was involved in something worth killing him for once he was no longer able to keep things together. His wife didn’t believe the official autopsy, and when she brought in an outside investigator, she was murdered. The investigator she hired is now on the run with hired muscle repeatedly showing up in her wake. The piece I’m missing is what Fredrick was working on or who he was working for before his mind went. My first guess would be it has something to do with the Wissler family since they’re the only people Fredrick seems to have worked for his whole life, but I can’t figure out how an old-money family like that would be involved in something like this or what they’d need to hide so badly, that they’d kill multiple members of their family.”
“That’s quite the fantasy you’ve dreamed up, none of which has any kind of proof backing it up.”