The alleyway had been cordoned off.
It was easy enough to do, though the alleyway passed behind a dozen buildings, there were only two entrances, one to the north and one to the south, and there were less than ten doorways that actually led into the alleyway proper and those could be taken care of by a couple of uniforms standing guard.
A homeless man looking for shelter from the elements was the one who discovered the body, if you can call it discovery. He was trying to construct a shelter using cardboard he had scavenged to keep the worst elements of the night away when the man landed barely ten feet from him.
He was currently shivering under a blanket in the back of an ambulance on the main street and cuddling a cup of hot soup, barely able to speak a word. He had come running out into the street, splashed with blood and screaming at the top of his lungs and it had taken a minute for anyone to make sense of his words, but the sight of him meant that the police had been called within seconds.
The first responding officer looked at the scene for barely a second before realising this was well beyond his pay grade and called in backup and crime scene operators. The homeless man had calmed a little by the time the uniform approached him, but was still in an agitated state, so the officer had to put him in custody or at least the back of the car, until help arrived.
The detectives took their time when they arrived, taking in as much as they could as they walked down the alleyway, looking up to the high rise buildings on either side. The floor was a mess of waste and filth and detritus, but they were sure a few hundred photographs would be taken of every can, cigarette butt and footprint so that the wealth of information would add up to precisely nothing in the investigation.
They approached the body warily, though they could see little at this range with all the white jumpsuits around poking and prodding what they could. It was only when they got up close did they get a full view of the body.
What lay on the ground in front of them has a shattered mess of a corpse, and it was unlikely that many of the bones had survived the impact, and yet that was barely noticeable.
The body was that of a hugely fat man, and the grim sensibilities in the alleyway wondered whether the impact made more of a splash than a splat, and he was nearly nude. The only clothing was of a large cloth nappy tied around the crotch, though the feet were clad in big woolly socks and sturdy hiking books and these still weren’t the most outrageous details.
The head was bagged by a black cloth bag and tied with a bow around the neck, but there was a face. A huge face had been painted on the belly of the corpse, with crossed eyes over the nipples and a big smiling mouth under the navel, with a protruding tongue painted coming out of it.
Black turned to his companion, who had taken time out to revisit his lunch in a corner. “You know you’re contaminating the crime scene over there?”
The younger detective coughed the last of it away and chose not to respond beyond a brief waving of his middle finger.
“I take it this is your first weird one then?”
“I won’t say you get used to them, but eventually…”
His partner finally joined him, though holding a handkerchief over his nose and mouth. “….Eventually what?”
“Eventually you stop vomiting everywhere.”
“I look forward to it, sir.”
“Plus you also learn to skip supper.”
“I’ll make a note”
Black looked up from the body at the buildings around him rising up into the sky. He paced from one side of the alley to the other then looked up at the opposite building.
“Right, we’re off.”
“But the scene has barely been processed yet.”
“And you feel that us two hovering over the body is going to get that done any quicker?”
“Ah, of course I was forgetting the identity of the victim.”
“Tell you what, you find the guy’s wallet and catch me up.”
The younger man smiled and turned to the body again. He paused for a few moments as he pondered where a large nappy-clad naked man might be carrying his wallet, then scurried after his superior.
It didn’t take long.
“So where are we going, sir?”
“Well, there’s two buildings overlooking that spot. Of those two buildings there’s at least a dozen floors on each, but the impact means that he must have dropped by at least half of that. So while the scene of crime boys play with the crime scene, we have our own to quest?”
“Which is, sir?”
“To find the wall that humpty dumpty fell from.”
One side was a hotel, so that seemed to be the obvious place to start, though Black could only guess as to the actual floor the victim fell from. His initial investigations were to start looking at the rooftop and work his way down, though getting the staff to allow him access to the roof at this time of the very early morning was tricky at best.
They were reticent at first, due to the lack of a search warrant, and the staff were unwilling to check the alleyway for verification. They were also unwilling to wake the manager due to repeated dire warnings about what would happen to their career prospects in any circumstance less than the hotel burning to the ground.
Black offered to set a fire in the reception area if they would find that helpful.
Eventually the staff were motivated into action by threats of being arrested, but were more moved to action by the presence of a couple of uniformed officers, the more usual presence seemed to comfort the staff enough to let Black do what he needed to.
First stop was the roof, though it took four efforts to find the right side after they had been turned around so much inside.
“You get the fun job, now”
“Erm, ok. What do you need me to do”
“First you look over the edge, and try not to throw up again.”
The younger man did as he was bid.
“Can you see the body?”
“Right, well now you’ve got to move one way or the other to get as close to being directly over it. We need to get to where he fell from, or directly above it, if we can.”
“Alright” He started shuffling to his right, occasionally leaning way out over the roofline so he could periodically check his progress. “Can I ask why you’re not doing this sir?”
“Two reasons. One of which is that if someone’s going to look like a prat leaning off a roof, it might as well not be me. Second is that if I look down that far then I’d probably be sick myself, and I didn’t think the crime scene boys would appreciate the extra evidence.”
“Ah. Right, sir.”
It took a minute of shuffling backwards and forwards, but eventually he stopped moving
“I think I’m as close as I’m going to get”
“Right, don’t move.”
Black walked up to him, with his eyes fixed on the ground around his feet. He walked around a few steps then came right up to the younger detective and pushed him gently to one side. He inspected the railing closely then got down onto his haunches and checked the floor right where they had been stood.
“Worth a shot, but he wasn’t pushed from here. Must have been from a floor below here. Have another gander over the top, see if you can see any suspiciously open windows will you. Preferably with curtains billowing out into the frosty night.”
Again, the young man did as he was instructed.
“Alright, plan C. Count how many windows there are to the left and right. I’m willing to know on doors to wake people up, but the less pissing around the better.”
“I … I think I can see eight windows to the left …. And six on the right.”
“Right. I think you’re done.” He turned to the unfortunate staff member who had been volunteered to chaperone him. “Eight windows that way, and six the other. You know the layout of the place, what room are we above, right now?”
The receptionist looked like a rabbit caught in the headlights, petrified at being put on the spot in exactly this way. “I’d need to check, but I think that would be the rooms ending in one four. The first numbers of the rooms are the floor numbers, the last two are the rooms themselves, so your after room fourteen.”
“Good enough. Time to start waking people up.”
It can be hard to predict the reaction of people that you wake up in the early hours of the morning. Mostly you would expect anger, but that only shows up in about half the cases even when waking them up at their own home. Dismay often comes forward, and when the subject discovers that it’s the police at the door there’s often a sense of dread and anxiety.
1714 was home to an elderly couple who were used to being up in the middle of the night due to natural pressures, and so were more than happy to help a pleasant young policeman in the course of his duties and would they like a cup of tea?
1614 played host to a business man milking the expenses for as much as he could get was currently on his third bottle of wine and fifth adult film on the television. He opened the door hurriedly in the expectation of a room service steak sandwich and a fresh box of tissues.
1514 was home to a young family, who were irate at the thought of the baby being woken and so refused to turn the lights on or talk above a whisper. An angry, angry whisper.
1414 didn’t answer the door, and after a quick check with reception was supposedly currently hosting a single man by the name of William Buxton. The front desk had no clue as to whether the man was currently in or out, but after some hurried discussion and another bout of threats a master key was forthcoming.
The room was as empty as you could get, and the windows were wide open, plenty wide enough to get a body through. Everything had been removed, the bed, bedside cabinets, table, chairs, even the TV and phone had been disconnected and removed. A quick glance inside the en-suite bathroom showed where all that had been moved to.
In the very centre of the floor there was a silver tray, upon which was a fine china teapot and two cups, still standing in their saucers, both obviously drank from. There was another addition to the room, one that Black was certain wasn’t a feature of many of the rooms in the hotel.
Enscribed on the wall opposite the window, in large red letters was a message.
RUN, RUN, AS FAST AS YOU CAN
“I was afraid of this.”
Black immediately got on his radio back to the central station. The message was brief and to the point.
The Gingerbread Man was back.