The Profane Series: Medium Rare: Chapter 1c
May 2009 – Julie Hobbes’s Apartment
Lachlan shook his head to clear it and threw his empty cup in the trash bin next to the front door.
Inside, the building was dark and quiet, cold in the same way buildings got when management set the air conditioning unit too high, leaving everyone to freeze in the summer despite the fact it was only late spring.
He shivered and glanced down at his hand. The words had begun to smudge from the combined heat of his coffee cup and his own nervous sweat but the unit number was clear enough. He took the elevator up to the sixth floor and got out on another empty hallway.
Julie’s door bore the first evidence he had seen that indicated the police had been there: yellow DO NOT CROSS tape criss-crossed her front door to prevent unauthorized access.
Lachlan glanced around but no one was present to witness him jimmying open Julie Hobbes’s lock and sliding awkwardly through the tape to get inside. A really careful eye might have been able to detect the scratches he left behind but if the police had already ruled the scene a suicide, he wasn’t too worried about an eagle eyed detective coming back around here after him.
Her apartment looked like any other apartment he might have opened the door to on this floor, in this building, in every apartment building on this block: a young woman’s messy, comfortable sanctuary. There were clothes hanging off the sofa, dirty dishes in the sink, an empty mug on the coffee table next to a wireless Xbox controller.
He tripped over one of her sneakers, abandoned in the middle of the short hall that led from the front door to the combined living-dining room.
Lachlan stuck his hands in his pockets to keep himself from giving into the urge to touch, to poke through her belongs with ungloved fingers, ferreting out her secrets and shames. Again, not that there would be anything new there. Everyone had a collection of secrets off the standardized list, and he’d seen most of them working for SPD’s Vice department.
He didn’t care about Julie’s secrets anyways, not if her grandmother was wrong and this was nothing more than a suicide—likely. It was Amelia’s job to believe the best of her grandkids. Let the girl’s shames lie unexposed a little longer, however inane they may turn out to be.
A narrow multi-pane glass door on the far side of the living room opened onto a postage stamp sized balcony. The door was shut but not latched. He used the edge of his henley to push the door open, hinges creaking. The balcony faced out to the street and below he could just see the glint of broken glass missed by the police’s hasty clean-up. She must have jumped from here.
Lachlan barely fit out on the balcony with both feet planted close together and his back bent to keep from barking his head against the eave of roof. (If you could call it a roof when it was just the structural underpinnings bracing up the floor of the balcony to the apartment above him.) Julie lived in an older brick building built as a multi-tenant residence sometime before the 1960s and only modestly kept updated over the intervening decades.
He leaned over the wrought iron rail, head cocked. A few people passed by underneath, their boots crunching periodically against the twist of broken glass. One young man’s loud “what the fuck?” filtered up over the sounds of the city and made Lachlan’s lips curl into a wry smile.
His empty hands yearned for a second cup of coffee as the sun rose higher. Something cool and iced to combat the heat he could feel creeping under the edges of his shirt.
Time passed, maybe half an hour, and Lachlan couldn’t have said why he waited that long, until his back ached a little from the uncomfortable position and his skin tingled against the rusting metal under his fingers.
A shiver raced down his spine and Lachlan jerked away from the edge of the balcony.
“God damn it,” he exclaimed, banging his head against the roof. His cell phone vibrated in his back pocket from a text message. He ducked back inside Julie’s apartment to check the message—hand slipping against the wet door knob—but it was just Alan asking him
what the fuck, man, u get lost? Bring subs i’m starving
Lachlan wiped his hand off on his jeans before typing out a badly spelled reply to let his friend know that he’d be there in an hour and Alan could cool his heels. The guy was probably raiding on his own anyway.
Lachlan took a second glance around Julie’s living room, looking for something, anything, that screamed suicide or murder, but life wasn’t like that. Death didn’t tie itself up into a neat little bow and present itself to the harried detective in a flash of brilliance.
He shivered, cold all of a sudden, and reached for the game controller. When he touched it, his thumb woke the TV from its sleep, displaying a pause screen for some FPS game he didn’t recognize. It looked like Julie Hobbes had stopped in the middle of a campaign mission.
“Paused to go jump off her balcony, weird.”
Lachlan ran the edge of his shirt across the controller’s thumb pads and set it back on the table. Something hard dug into his thigh and he dug around until he came up with a bright lime green cell phone. The police hadn’t done a very good job of sweeping the apartment if they missed a suicide’s phone—something like this had to be about twelve times more useful than a diary.
A smudgy, worn set of marks on the screen gave him enough information to crack her password after just a few attempts. The background showed a crisp, up close cat selfie of a grown Russian Blue, it’s bright pink tongue sticking out coyly at the photographer.
“Kitty?” Lachlan called out hesitantly. The apartment didn’t really smell like a cat lived here. There was always that smell, from the wet canned cat food and the litter box that was prevalent no matter how clean someone kept their apartment.
“And you weren’t the best at keeping things neat, were you miss Julie Hobbes.” He did a quick sweep of the apartment, looking for any signs of another occupant but there were none.
The texts in her history were equally unexciting. Links to memes on tumblr, something about dinner plans for—
Lachlan squinted at the screen just to make sure he was reading the dates right but there was no mistake: Julie Hobbes had made plans to meet someone named Camden for dinner the day after tomorrow.
“So why jump today?”
He scrubbed his fingerprints off the phone and replaced it between the couch cushions. Lachlan had a weird feeling itching at the back of his neck like he was being watched, but he was running late to meet Alan and ready to get out of the apartment.
Maybe Amelia was right that there was something off about all this but it was going to take legwork to find out for sure.
He detoured into Julie’s bedroom to look for a laptop. If he wanted to know her state of mind he’d have to start with her friends and that meant Facebook. There was no sign of any electronics outside of her phone and her game console, and her backpack was empty so the police must have collected her computer as evidence.
“Boo,” he muttered under his breath. Maybe Amelia could give him access to her profile. His phone vibrated again to remind him Alan was still waiting.
The front door stuck and he had to throw his weight against the knob to make it release. Lachlan eyed the door jamb suspiciously, but chalked it up to being an old building.
The afternoon found Lachlan slumped down on his friend’s couch, already several hours into a Mass Effect co-op session.
“Jesus, what the fuck is wrong with you, man? I’m dying here. Literally, look at this.”
Alan elbowed him in the side to illustrate his point, like Lachlan wasn’t sitting right there staring at the same television screen.
“Look—look, oh fuck, shitting—damn it.” He threw his controller against the couch arm with a huff and slumped back against the faded cushions. “Useless.”
Lachlan bit his lip, furiously punching buttons and firing blindly at the enemy until his screen flashed red and his character slumped over dead. He sighed and bowed his head.
So much for a nice relaxing afternoon off killing stuff.
“Seriously, where is your head? I haven’t seen you play this bad since you, since you know. Since.”
“Just stop,” he muttered and reset the mission.
“Sorry, man, it’s like I said. Useless.”
“Yeah, I know.” Lachlan jerked to his feet and started picking up food containers and sticky, empty cans of Red Bull to throw away in the recycling bin.
“You want to like…” Alan craned his head back to watch over the back of the couch as Lachlan sorted their garbage like a grown ass adult.
“Don’t ask if I want to talk about it,” he warned.
“Ah, hah! So there is something.”
“Nothing that you’re thinking.”
“Oh, really? Then what?”
Lachlan slammed the cabinet lid and leaned one hand against the closed refrigerator weighing the pros and cons of discussing his little B&O earlier.
“It’s nothing,” he said with a shrug.
Alan made a disgruntled noise in the back of his throat. “Fuck me man, way to cop the fuck out.”
“Could you—why do you always have to talk like that?” Lachlan bit his lip the second the question left his mouth but it was too late, already floating in the ether between them and he could see the way Alan’s eyebrows shot up from the corner of his eye.
“Oh, I’m sorry, am I saying ‘fuck’ too much for your delicate ears?” Alan laughed meanly and disappeared back behind the couch.
Lachlan groaned and rubbed at the tension headache behind his eyes. He searched through his friend’s cupboards in vain for a tin of coffee.
“Yo, what’s up with all the racket?”
“I want a cup of coffee.”
Alan appeared in the kitchen scratching at the strip of skin between the bottom of his T-shirt and the top of his sweat pants. “I don’t think I’ve got any. Sorry. ‘Sides, it’s fucking four in the afternoon, it’s Happy Hour man.”
“I don’t want a drink, I want a cup of coffee.”
“That’s your problem. You don’t want it but you need a damn drink.”
“Get out of my face,” Lachlan said pushing Alan away but the guy had half a foot and twenty pounds on him and he just pushed Lachlan around, bullying him out of the kitchen. “What—?”
“We’re going out.”
“You’re not even dressed.”
“Oh, fuck off, give me a minute.”
“I don’t want to go out! It’s my day off, we’re supposed to be relaxing.”
“Dying cuz you’re too distracted to watch my back is not relaxing. We’re going round the corner.”
(“Round the corner” of course referring to the dank little pub around the corner and two blocks north of Alan’s apartment that reminded Lachlan uncomfortably of the Winchester from Shaun of the Dead.)
“Ta da!” Alan made an elaborate gesture at his fresh pair of jeans. He perched on the edge of the couch to pull on socks and shoes all the while extolling the virtues of Happy Hour beers.
“I don’t feel like getting wasted. Are you even listening to me?”
“Nope.” Alan laughed. “Like I said, this’ll be good.” He leapt up, grabbing his keys in one hand and Lachlan with the other. “You can be as distracted as you want and I’ll be safe with some ice cold hoppy goodness. No one dies, everyone’s happy.”
One and a half beers later, Alan turned to him, setting his glass down on the scratched oak bar, and said, “Fuck you know what we should do?”
“No, and I doubt that I want to either,” Lachlan muttered. His own glass sat untouched and weeping moisture onto a disposable cardboard coaster while he played CandyCrush on his iPhone. He was waiting for Alan to notice and throw a fit about it but so far his friend had been happy enough to ramble about his hot redheaded co-worker and drink his own pints without too much direct input from Lachlan. He could have asked for a worse afternoon even if he didn’t feel like drinking.
“We should get you laid. Fuck, I can’t believe I didn’t think of it earlier. God it’s perfect.”
Lachlan huffed and stared harder at his phone’s tiny touch screen. Maybe if he didn’t argue, Alan would argue himself into a new topic and drop it. That particular strategy had worked well enough for him in the past.
“Don’t give me that look.”
“I wasn’t giving you any sort of look,” he snapped back and winced. So much for not engaging, darn it.
“How long’s it been? Since like…” Alan trailed off, tapping his finger against the bar and frowning. “I don’t remember. Do you remember?” A beat, then, “You don’t, do you? That means it’s been too long. Okay, come on have a look around. Tell me what you think.”
Lachlan ignored the elbow digging into his side and doggedly kept swiping colored candies into position. There was something inexplicably satisfying about the way the screen burst into confetti anytime he managed to trigger a special combo. Too bad it looked like someone had poured ants down Alan’s pants because he wouldn’t quit it with the elbow, crowding right up into Lachlan’s space and breathing warm testy breath against the back of his neck until he broke and slammed his phone against the bar.
“Fucking quit it,” Lachlan snapped.
Alan grinned at him, all wide, crooked white teeth and golden beard. He grabbed the side Lachlan’s face and shook him, getting too close and personal for the other man’s comfort. “Aw, there it is. You going to tell me what the fuck your problem is now? Or do I have to start playing fuck, marry, kill with those old farts over there,” he said, gesturing at the table of retirees drinking out of bottles at a round table in the corner.
Lachlan shoved him away and grabbed his phone, holding it between them like a shield.
Alan sighed, the amusement draining out of his face. “Sorry. Just trying to help.”
“Stop being so pushy.”
“You want to talk about it? Seriously. Did something happen at work?”
“No, it’s nothing. My neighbor got some bad news, that’s all.”
His friend frowned into his beer.
“Sorry. Look, I’m sorry. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. Just got my head in a weird space. And you joking around about—you know—”
His friend groaned into his beer. “What’s that saying, ‘if you can’t say the word, you shouldn’t be doing the deed’? I can’t believe you were a real cop.” Alan bit his lip and shot Lachlan a furtive glance out of the corner of his eye before the word “cop” even had a chance to properly land between them.
Lachlan ignored the look and said, “Besides, this isn’t really the place for me to find…” He made a furtive little gesture at the other patrons. “To find that.”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right.” Alan knocked their glasses together in the mimicry of a toast and grinned wryly. “Just want you to be…fuck, I don’t know man, happy I guess.”
Lachlan pushed his fist into Alan’s shoulder. “Thanks, man,” he muttered under his breath.