Water slapped against rocks at the base of the slope, but Kadash couldn’t see the river, or the corpse that floated in it, through the fog. He walked along the bike path at the top of the bank, breathing the cold, moist air. A band of fine drizzle swept by, but he hardly noticed. He heard movement ahead, footsteps on gravel and the rattle of equipment. He made out flashing lights through the thick air. He’d parked his car further upstream than he really needed to, but that was okay. He wanted to walk in on this one, clear his head of sleep. He dug inside his overcoat for his cigarettes, shook one into his mouth. Dug around for his lighter, then remembered he’d loaned it to Owen.
“Can you friggin’ believe that?” he grumbled. He stopped and sucked air through the cigarette, tasted the sweetness of cut tobacco. Searched through his pockets again. Gotta be some matches, something.
He shook his head, gazed toward the lights. Lot of people up there already, looked like. He was dawdling, and he knew it.
God, how he hated pulling stiffs out of the river.
He took the cigarette out of his mouth and continued toward the lights. Another tepid squall swept past, plastering what little remained of his hair to his head. When he reached the police tape, he leaned over and scooted under. Don’t bend like you used to, Skin. Seemed like he’d been thinking that a lot lately. As he straightened up, he saw a uniform materialize out of the fog.
“Hey, Sergeant. Wondering if you were ever gonna show up.”
“Don’t give me any shit, Mickey. I’m an old man. Can’t move like you smart-assed pups.”
“You beat Owen. Maybe there’s a little life left in you.”
“Owen?” Kadash took a moment to absorb the news. “If he’s on this one, what the hell am I doing here?”
Mickey shrugged. “Who called you?”
“I don’t even know.” Kadash shook his head. “Must’ve been drunk at the time.”
“Well, sober up. We got a stiff in the drink.” Mickey turned and headed into the lights.
Kadash grunted and followed after him, fingering his unlit cigarette. “Hey, Mickey—you got a light?”
“Sorry, Sarge. Don’t smoke.”
There were two cruisers parked on the upstream side of the Hawthorne Bridge, both aimed toward the river with their headlights on, bubbles rotating. Kadash heard their radios crackle and sputter through half-open windows. High overhead, traffic noise from the Hawthorne Bridge competed with the radios and the sound of the river. The Willamette along this stretch was high-banked and Kadash didn’t look forward to scrambling down the rocky slope. Maybe he wouldn’t have to. If Owen showed, he could stand back and watch. Maybe hustle his lighter back. That, at least, would make the trip out at five in the morning worth something.
Mickey started down the slope toward the cluster of activity at the water.
Kadash hesitated. “So what do we got?” he said. “Floater?”
“Afraid so. Half-dressed, drifted against the bank.”
“Like Moses in the reeds. He’s a jumper?”
“Looks that way. From the Ross Island or Sellwood Bridge, unless he climbed up there.” Mickey gestured toward the Marquam Bridge just upstream. Kadash twisted and looked up. I-5 crossed the Willamette River on the Marquam. It wasn’t a jumper’s bridgemdash;high-speed traffic, no pedestrian walkway. The Ross Island was the next bridge upstream, the Sellwood a mile further.
“Maybe he floated upstream,” Kadash said.
Mickey smiled grimly and shook his head. “He’s pretty fresh, I think. The water’s cold enough that he’s not ripe at least. Not much of a Christmas present.”
“Lucky I’m a Jew. Who found him?”
“Fire fighter. There’s a sub-station down there under the east end of the bridgemdash;”
“I know where it is.”
“Yeah. The guy was out walking, smoking actually, I think he said.” Mickey rolled his eyes. “Fog broke and he saw the body at the bottom of the bank.”
“Where’s this fireman now?”
Mickey pointed down toward the water. “Down there. He’s helping set up the lights.”
Kadash peered down the bank, rolled the cigarette in his fingers. He made out the red coal of a lit smoke bobbing at head level among the human forms at the foot of the slope. He felt an itch at the back of his throat and without thinking stuck the cigarette back in his mouth. “Okay,” he said, “let’s go have a look.”
The slope was easier than he thought it would be. Most of the rocks were big and provided enough footholds. He took it slow, and not just because his knees protested every step. He’d taken a fall off a lava rock wall the year before when one of the boulders suddenly rolled out from under his foot. Broke an ankle and damn near broke a hip.
There were three other uniforms at water’s edge, plus the fire fighter with the smoke in his mouth. The four of them were setting up battery-powered spotlights on tripods, all aimed in a big half-circle at a spot at the water line. Kadash caught a glimpse of the body as he came to the bottom of the slope, but he wasn’t ready to give it his attention yet.
“Skin! Good to see you, buddy.”
“Hey, Jefferson,” Kadash said, taking the proffered hand of the uniform who greeted him. “You back on night shift?”
“I take what I can get, these days, and glad for it.”
“Ain’t that the truth.”
“What’s your story? I heard Owen was in line for this one.”
“So did I. So did everyone, except, apparently, dispatch. I’ll bet a week’s pay against a nickel they didn’t wake Susan up.”
“I ain’t got a nickel to spare,” Jefferson said. “Hey, I’d like you to meet Eddie Baker,” he added. “Eddie, this is Skin Kadash. Eddie found the body.” Baker, the fire fighter, shook Kadash’s hand uneasily. Kadash saw Baker’s eyes flicking up and down, checking out the red patch on Kadash’s neck, but trying not to be obvious about it. Kadash smiled and said, “Nice to meetcha. Sorry about the circumstances.”
Baker shrugged. “What are you going to do?”
Kadash waved his cigarette. “Think I can get a light?”
“Sure.” Baker fumbled in his pocket and pulled out a lighter, then spun the wheel and held the flame to the tip of Kadash’s cigarette. Kadash drew deeply and slowly exhaled the smoke. Already he was glad he’d climbed down the bank. Whatever happened next, so be it.
“You going to check out the stiff?” Jefferson said.
Jefferson nodded. “Ident too. But you’re the first authority figure.”
Kadash snorted. “Not my case. Don’t expect too much from me.”
“Skin, I never expect much from you.”
Kadash didn’t know the other two uniforms. They ignored him as they worked on setting up another spotlight.
“Long as I’m here,” he sighed, “you might as well give me the picture.”
He learned little new. Mickey had covered the basics, at least until the Deputy Medical Examiner and Crime Scene Identification had their go at it. Baker didn’t offer any additional details on the discovery. Hell, Kadash thought, let Owen pump him. His case, his and whoever didn’t know him well enough to agree to be his partner this week. It boiled down to a probable jumper. Stiff was male, thirty-five to forty. Height was a guess at five-nine, weight pushing two hundred. Pot belly, dark hair, bald on top. And then what? “You want to take a look at him?” Jefferson said.
“No,” Kadash grumbled. Jefferson laughed and turned toward the body. Baker drifted away behind Mickey. Kadash looked, was relieved that it wasn’t as bad as he expected.
“C’mon, Sarge,” Mickey said, “what’s your take?”
“Who the fuck am I? Sherlock Holmes?”
Jefferson smirked. “Why not? Was Moriarty involved?”
“Chronic depression is probably the only thing involved here.” But Kadash drew on his smoke and kneeled down. A quick once-over wouldn’t hurt. He wouldn’t tread on Owen’s turf, just take a look. Like he gave a shit what Owen thought anyway.
Mickey was right. No smell, thank god. Kadash slowly looked the stiff over. Nothing remarkable, really. The body lay face-up in a foot of water, one arm hooked on a head-sized boulder sticking out of the water near the bank. Stiff was wearing a t-shirt and a pair of jeans pushed down around his knees. Briefs intact and in place. Belly-flop off the bridge the likely culprit with the pantsmdash;Kadash doubted the guy had dropped his drawers before jumping, though you never knew. Maybe he fell while taking a piss. The feet hung deeper in the water and Kadash couldn’t see them in the light of the spots, but he didn’t think they’d reveal much anyway. Hopefully there’d be a wallet in the back pocket and a note somewhere to tie it up all neat and tidy.
“How long you think he’s been in?” Jefferson said.
Kadash shrugged, and took another look. “He looks pretty damn good, actually. He’s kinda thin, wouldn’t you say, except for that beer gut?”
Jefferson nodded. “Yeah, now that you mention it.”
“The water’s cold, but hell, he coulda fell tonight from the looks of him. He’s still hairy.”
“From Sellwood or Ross Island. He wouldn’t be here if he’d jumped off the Hawthorne.”
Kadash gazed upstream. “Either bridge, long way, don’tcha think?”
“Makes you think he ought to be on the bottom, don’t it?”
“That it does. Frankly, I’d expect a man who jumped tonight’d be unlikely to surface before Valentine’s Day.” Kadash turned his hands over. “Course, I’m not the M.E., am I?”
“Thank God for that.”
“I don’t get it,” Mickey said from over Kadash’s shoulder. “What’s the big deal?”
“Jumpers tend to sink,” Jefferson said. “And this time of year, they stay down a while. Water’s too cold for ’em to gas up.”
“Oughta leave it to Owen.” Kadash muttered. He started to straighten up. As he stood, he caught sight of a discoloration on the corpse’s skin along the neckline of the t-shirt. He bent down again for a closer look, but couldn’t make anything out.
“What’s up, Skin?” Jefferson said.
“Probably broken neck. But, all things considered, makes me wondermdash;” He twisted around for a better angle, but the light reflected in confused patterns off the rippling water. “Jeff, why don’t you give me a hand here. I wanna turn him over.”
“The D.M.E.’ll give us shit.”
“He won’t know the meaning of shit till he tries giving some to Skin Kadash. Come on. I just wanna have a look.”
Jefferson shook his head and joined Kadash at his left. Together, they bent down and grabbed the corpse by the shoulder and side and rolled him over onto the rocks. Kadash noted that the back jeans pockets showed no tell-tale bump indicating a wallet. The t-shirt was ripped across the back. In between the man’s shoulder-blades was a small black hole surrounded by star-like striations in the skin. A second, larger hole down around the right kidney appeared almost torn open. Jefferson grunted and rolled back onto his haunches. Baker and Mickey crowded closer.
“Well, well, well,” Jefferson said. “Looks like a coupla contact wounds to me.”
“Yep,” Kadash nodded. “And I’d bet my pension against a nickel that neither one was self-inflicted.