"This is useless," Marriott Griggs growled at the oil-stained berber carpet covering the late Drayton Marshall's hallway.
"Uh-huh," Charlie Putnam mumbled from the nearby darkened bathroom, where he was crouched beside the toilet, scrutinizing the area behind the fixture with an ultraviolet flashlight in search of any clues that might have escaped notice during the initial investigation; a pitiful few of such had surfaced during this second investigation, the kinds of seemingly insignificant bits of human detritus, hair and skin and dried fluids, that make such impressive appearances in television crime dramas but don't do much to further a real-life investigation. A small heap of plastic evidence bags and swabs had already been sealed and labeled, the niggardly reward of looking under every cushion, behind every picture, around the edges of every rug, and within every book and dish and box in the apartment.
"Damned inconsiderate of him," Griggs complained of the dead man, "putting a flat woven carpet right next to a crime scene. But I suppose if you plan to have a lot of vegetable oil trailing around, you don't want to put down a deep pile that's hard to clean."
"Uh-huh," Charlie repeated, reaching a long swab into the crevice between the baseboard and the tile floor under the toilet, a spot most people neglect in their cleaning; but it yielded nothing, not so much as a speck of dust, thanks to the maddeningly thorough Mrs. Espinosa.
"But here’s something odd," Griggs stood up creakily and examined the wall, first with his eyes and then with a camera, "there’s a smudge in one of Vandervere’s handprints on the wall… like two fingertips, but no print, just a smudge. One of those flatfooted cops might have done that yesterday, but it looks like a gloved fingertip."
"Mmmm," Charlie crawled into the bathtub and started spraying the drain and fixtures with Luminol, but found nothing, "Damn that cleaning-woman! I’ve never seen such a sterile bathroom!"
"Did you Luminol the toilet bowl?" Griggs appeared in the bathroom doorway, switching out the memory card in his camera.
"The toilet bowl?" Charlie sat up and stared at the fixture in question, pushing his glasses up on his nose, "Why the toilet bowl?"
"We've been going about this all wrong, groping about for evidence of any other persons in this apartment," Griggs crouched down beside the toilet and peered at it inquisitively, "So let's take a different tack, let's create an alternate theory and see if we can make it fly."
"Okay," Charlie crawled out of the bathtub.
"Let us posit, for the sake of argument, that Vandervere was telling the truth, that he didn’t kill Marshall; it would naturally follow that someone killed Marshall, because the man is dead; therefore, there had to be a second visitor that night, and it appears that this second visitor did not leave any obvious clues behind. To achieve such a dearth of evidence, the second visitor would have to want to leave no clues to his or her identity behind."
"I see,” the young man followed the train of thought while turning off the water supply and draining the toilet bowl, "So we try to think like the second visitor, and wonder how best to avoid leaving evidence that anyone would find, looking for a pattern in the method."
"Precisely. So say this Second Visitor managed to get into this apartment, sneaking up on the victim without leaving any bits and pieces behind, or even disturbing the numerous bits and pieces Vandervere left behind — which can't have been difficult, they were so plain; but when he or she drives a knife into the victim’s chest, some blood will undoubtedly spray out, staining the killer’s knife-hand at the very least. There are no serious bloodstains anywhere in the apartment except in the vicinity of the victim, so that blood had to go somewhere. The techs tested the sink yesterday, that’s the obvious place, but nothing in the drain, just the same tiny traces Vandervere left all over the apartment after breaking Marshall’s nose. You just tested the bathtub with no result at all. The only place left, the only logical place to wash off blood without taking a chance of dripping it anywhere else, would be in the toilet."
"Well, I’ll be damned," Charlie breathed, delighted by the dim green-blue glow emerging in the toilet bowl, "Blood. But very faint… and it’s not solid, it’s in streaks down from the rim."
"The blood came down from the tank!" Griggs exclaimed, "Now, that is clever! Who would think to look for evidence of blood in a toilet tank? Get that lid off… gently, and spray it before we get into the tank… hmm, nothing on the lid at all. Let’s see if our Second Visitor left anything in here! I suppose a bloody glove would be too much to ask."
"A bit," Charlie agreed, peering into the tank. It was quite clean, as he had come to expect, and smelled strongly of bleach; but with the water drained, the Luminol revealed that there had been a fair amount of blood in the tank.
"Is that a hair beside the drain?" Griggs reached out with a long tweezer and plucked an almost invisible thread away from the pipe and held it up under his flashlight magnifier, "It looks like it’s been bleached all to hell, no chance of DNA. But it appears to have some color left? Gray? Blond? I can’t quite tell."
"Dark blond, I’d say, but faded out from the bleach," Charlie suggested, leaning over the ME’s shoulder.
"And perfectly straight, it can’t be Vandervere’s, it must be the victim’s. The second visitor didn’t leave any hair anywhere else, there’s no reason to believe he or she would leave one here. There’s no reason to believe that anyone would leave a hair in the tank, except maybe a plumber or the maid. We know it's not the maid's hair, hers is quite black, I guess we'll have to check and find out if any plumbers have been in here."
"The post-mortem indicated that the killer grabbed Marshall’s hair with one hand and stabbed him with the other. He would be bound to have hair on that hand, which would be washed off in this tank along with the blood."
"He or she, Putnam. Let’s not jump to any conclusions yet, even if only semantic. You start calling the killer ‘He’ and you start believing that the killer is a man; then you start subconsciously excluding the possibility that the killer is a woman," the Medical Examiner took a round of photographs of the toilet and then gestured to his trainee to replace the lid, "This is becoming very interesting, indeed. So we can posit now that the theoretical unknown killer washed his or her hands, which we can readily assume were gloved in surgical latex (hence the complete lack of prints), in this toilet tank; he or she must have known that there would be blood to wash off after the murder, and so removed the lid in preparation, as there was no blood trace on the lid. Then he or she threw in some bleach, maybe flushed a few times to get rid of the visible traces…such a clever and far-thinking person would have brought the bleach, no?"
"Or more likely just took it away with him…or her," Charlie corrected himself, "There are no bleach bottles in this bathroom, nor do I recall seeing any in the kitchen; a place this ridiculously clean would be bound to have at least one bottle of bleach in the cupboards."
"That's very suggestive," Griggs sat down on the edge of the bathtub, "Let’s think about why someone would take the bleach away. Aside from possibly leaving blood evidence on the bottle."
"Perhaps it was needed elsewhere?" Charlie hazarded.
"Perhaps, perhaps. But where? And why? Let’s say that the killer, after washing his or her hands in here, scampered out of the apartment, being very careful to not touch anything on the way. What need would he or she have for bleach after that?"
"To clean up someplace else? Someplace where he or she might have left evidence behind? Perhaps the area where he or she waited for the opportunity to enter the apartment?"
"Of course!" Griggs jumped up and started towards the front door, Charlie trailing him closely, "Let’s say the killer knew that Vandervere was here, knew somehow that the boy would leave at some point and the door might be left open. Or suppose that he or she had been staking out this apartment for some time, waiting for an opportunity to enter. If he or she is as clever as we are being led to believe, there would be a need for the bleach to clean up any evidence of lurking. So let’s look for a good lurking-place and see if we’re right about the bleach. If I were waiting for an opportunity to enter this apartment, where would I lurk?"
"That service door," Charlie pointed to the narrow door with a frosted-glass upper panel just past the bend of the corridor, which if left ajar commanded a clear view of the apartment’s front door as well as the kitchen entrance around the corner.
"Perfectly placed, isn't it? Let's have a look," the ME and his trainee entered the the service area, an odd-shaped hallway with concrete floors and walls, a plain sash window leading onto a fire-escape at one end, a laundry room and janitor's closet on the right, and the straight narrow service stairs along the left wall, "One could lurk here for hours, all you'd need for a cover-story is a load of laundry."
"It stinks of bleach," Charlie sniffed the air.
"And rather more than the adjacence of a laundry room can account for. Unfortunately, this scene has most likely been contaminated," Griggs sighed, "Though this wasn't the stairwell used in the general stampede yesterday morning, it's still a public space… there's no way of knowing how many people have traipsed through here since our mysterious Second Visitor might have mopped the place with bleach."
"But that makes it easier…anything with bleach on it will predate the bleaching."
"A very good idea… unless, of course, bleach is routinely used to clean these service areas. I'm inclined to doubt it, but we'll have to consult the maintenance staff. Still, we may as well have a look around and see what's here. My old knees can't deal with this cement, so I'll take the high road and you take the low road, and we'll both get to Scotland sooner or later."
The next half-hour passed in relative silence as the two men scrutinized the hallway's surfaces, first with the unaided eye, then with ultraviolet flashlights, and then with fingerprint powder. Griggs was uncharacteristically quiet, only grunting occasionally with disgust, unable to find anything; Charlie found a few things of interest but, accustomed to speaking only when spoken to, he didn't mention them.
"Not one single solitary fingerprint!" Griggs finally exclaimed after completing the circuit of the hallway, "Not on the doorknobs, not on the windowsills, not on the railings. Somebody cleaned this place but good, and nobody but us has touched anything since. Anything down there?"
"A couple of hairs stuck behind this conduit pipe," Charlie indicated a small painted-over metal pipe that ran alongside the baseboard, carrying either gas or old electrical wires, "Different colors but similar lengths, so I bagged them separately. Some white fibers caught in the corner of the stair-tread there, I think it's from the mop. And a tiny corner of a black foil wrapper, I can't tell what it wrapped, but it was lodged under the wood of the doorsill. It all smells of bleach, there's no chance of DNA."
"Well, let's see about the laundry room," Griggs shrugged and hauled his kit into the sweet-smelling triangular room, "Luminol that sink, see if anything bloody was washed there. And the insides of the washers, too. I'll dust for fingerprints."
"Nothing," Charlie reported after spraying and examining all of areas where someone might conceivably wash something.
"But there are a zillion prints. Overlapping, smudged, every possible size, impossible to separate. I don't think our mysterious Second Visitor was in here at all."
"So where did he or she get the water for the mop? Not from another floor, surely."
"That's a good question," Griggs went back out into the hallway and looked up and down the open stairwell, "I assume there are laundry rooms on every floor, it wouldn't be too difficult. Let's see how far up and down the bleach-cleaning goes."
Charlie went up the stairs, sniffing for bleach and dusting the railing as he went, and counted three floors without any fingerprints, and a sudden plethora of indecipherably overlapping prints starting on the railing of the last flight of the staircase, rising from the eleventh floor and ending at an access to the roof of that wing. Griggs, however, found fingerprints on the next floor down.
"The cleaning stops at the seventh floor," Griggs shouted up the stairwell as he began his ascent.
"And the eleventh," Charlie shouted back down, "Why farther up than down, do you think?"
"Because he or she came from up there, would be my guess, and was anxious to not leave any evidence of his or her identity. If the Second Visitor holds to a pattern, I would say that he or she entered this stairwell on the tenth floor, and cleaned up one and down one to confuse things. But a truly clever person would have mopped out the entire stairwell, or equal distances in each direction. Perhaps he or she is a trifle lazy."
"Or didn't have time," Charlie suggested, rejoining his mentor on the eighth floor, "Though nobody has been through here since it was cleaned, there's no guarantee that nobody would come through here. Or perhaps he or she was counting on traffic through this stairwell to cover the evidence of cleaning."
"Oh, I don't think so… if he or she knew there was a lot of traffic, that would make this spot undesirable for staking out the victim's apartment."
"But doesn't the cleaning leave more evidence of his or her clandestine presence?"
"I think that our Second Visitor was more anxious to leave nothing traceable behind, rather than to leave no evidence at all. He or she seems to be particularly sensible to the properties of DNA and fingerprint evidence. Perhaps he or she has a police record. Let's have a look at those fibers, I wonder if they came from a household mop or an industrial mop."
"They look industrial to me," Charlie offered the clear plastic evidence bag, "Coarse cotton, more gray than white. Household mops are usually whiter."
"We'd better get the keys and look through all the janitors' closets up and down this stairwell and find out if bleach had been used on any of the mops."
"They're not locked," Charlie observed, opening the nearest door.
"There's no mop in here," Griggs peered into the dark and jumbled space, "Try the floors above and yell if you find a mop."
The Medical Examiner found the light-switch and began examining the contents of the closet while the trainee leapt up the stairs to investigate the other closets. He found several bottles of clear green cleaning fluid that were most likely what the maintenance staff used to mop the building, and wondered briefly why the Second Visitor hadn't used it to wash away the evidence… but then discovered upon reading the ingredients list that it was mild organic cleanser that might not properly break down DNA evidence with the alacrity of bleach.
"Very clever, very clever," Griggs murmured admiringly. He began dusting for fingerprints, but again found none…though it didn't appear that the inside of the closet had been bleached, and hadn't even been cleaned in a good long time. Finding a small stool in the corner, the Medical Examiner sat down to think.
"There are two mops in the tenth floor closet," Charlie reported breathlessly, skittering excitedly down the stairs, "And one of them not only reeks of bleach, but had some hairs in it! And they match one that I found behind that pipe down here! Look!"
"Very good, Charlie, my boy!" Griggs clapped the young man on the back and took the evidence-bag from him, holding it up to the light to see the hair inside better, "What color is that? Blue? Red?"
"It used to be dark purple, I think," Charlie squinted at the bag, glowing with pride, "It's faded, but I think it was once dyed a deep violet, maybe a wine color. We'll know once we get it under a microscope. And unless these hairs belong to a janitor, I think this very likely belongs to the Second Visitor."
"Were there prints on either of the mops?" Griggs wondered, thinking again of the dirty but strangely printless eighthfloor closet."
"No, it's the wierdest thing," Charlie explained, "Not one fingerprint on the door, inside or out, nothing on either mop, nothing on the buckets, nothing on the cleaning supplies. But I don't think it was cleaned out, it looks simply as if the person who ordinarily uses the closet always wore gloves."
"Ah, that would explain it," Griggs resumed his stool and thought for a while, "The concierge wears gloves; I bet the janitors wear gloves, too. A building like this would have gloves and well-pressed uniforms and hypoallergenic cleaning solutions."
"I wonder why the Second Visitor didn't just wear gloves as well…why go through all the trouble of bleaching the floors and walls and railings?"
"I don't know. I find it very suggestive that such care was taken to remove DNA evidence, but I can't quite see what it suggests."
"At least it lets Vandervere off," Charlie shrugged, putting his kit back together.
"You jump ahead too far!" Griggs admonished his protege with an impatient stamp of his foot, "All we've proved is that some blood was in a toilet tank, that somebody bleached that tank and that somebody left a hair in it. We can't even prove that they were the same somebody. We've further proved that somebody bleached several floors of this stairwell using the mop from this closet, who might very easily have been an entirely different somebody. We have not proved the slightest connection between this stairwell and Marshall's apartment... the presence of something as common as bleach doesn't prove anything at all, more's the pity."
"But doesn't this show that somebody else was in that apartment? Doesn't anything we found support Vandervere's story?"
"I'll let you crawl the floor between this stairwell and that apartment door and find out if any bleach was spilled between here and there, it's the only way to prove such a thing. You can also take some swabs of this bleach and of the inside of the toilet tank, on the outside chance that the bleach was unusual in some way. Otherwise, there isn't the tiniest connection between these two scenes."
"But why else would anybody mop up and down stairs like this, destroying evidence so well, without having something important to hide?"
"My dear Putnam, there are probably hundreds of different people who have some degree of access to this stairwell... residents, visitors, staff, servants, delivery-people. Any one of them could have a hundred reasons for doing any number of even more bizarre things. Marshall himself might have put blood into that toilet-tank, for all we know. The man was obviously a freak of the first water, and I don't use such terms lightly. Until we know more about the evidence we have, and until we know a lot more about the people who live in this building, all we have is some theories that wouldn't stand ten minutes of outside scrutiny."
"And what about the blood? Vandervere didn't have enough blood dripping off of him to be consistent with a stab wound, you said yourself that most of the blood in the apartment was Marshall's and in very small amounts."
"That doesn't let him off, either. Remember, he was already covered in oil and had already left DNA in the playpen; all he'd have to do is wiggle his hand in the oil to remove most of the blood from the stab-wound, only a little would remain trapped in the oil already on him, and we'd never know the difference. He also already had Marshall's hair on him, we found it in his clothes, he could have gotten it when he pulled the victim up by his hair in the portion of their interchange that was videotaped, and he might have got them while gripping the victim's hair while stabbing him. Both scenarios are equally likely, but the body of evidence still points to Vandervere and no one else."
"Why couldn't the Second Visitor have washed his or her hand in the oil as well?" Charlie wondered.
"Because there would be dripping. If the Second Visitor is a different size from Vandervere, we'd have noticed the difference in oil-stain placement. This Second Visitor is smarter than that. If he or she even exists, which we simply cannot prove."
"Well, fuck!" Charlie kicked the plastic-bagged mop he'd brought down from the tenth floor.
"All is not lost, my boy," Griggs struggled to his feet and helped gather up the evidence bags, "We haven't got any proof of anything yet, but we have opened up a number of new lines of investigation. Who mopped this hallway? Who bleached that toilet? How might a person enter an apartment, commit a murder, and leave no trace behind? And, I think most importantly, why would someone be so sensitive to the possibility of leaving DNA evidence behind?"
"It's a lot more work," Charlie sighed.
"Hard work is good for the soul," Griggs said with mock gravity, "Besides, I feel a lot better about our evidence now that there are more questions than there are answers. Yesterday's 'slam dunk' never really felt right, although it was very exciting at the time. Now I feel fully confident that we have retrieved every possible piece of evidence from this scene. If anything of even the tiniest import has escaped our attention this time, I will eat my lab coat."