My book “Soul Makers” is published! Time to break out the Champagne – or at least the soda! If you’re into crime and murders, check out chapters 1 – 2 of the story. You might just like it 😀
An ordinary twenty-one-year-old college student wouldn’t have taken an online crash course on lock-picking. An ordinary sophomore wouldn’t even be sneaking into a young man’s apartment in the middle of the night.
But tonight, it was more than just her obsessive-compulsive disorder that set Sabrina apart from most young women she knew. Her best friend was in trouble. Ergo, she had a very valid reason for trespassing.
“Bart,” she called, breath ghosting over the darkened window.
A tricycle roared by, and she ducked behind the potted plants that dotted the entrance to Bart’s apartment.
She pressed her lips together and pushed open the door, glad her picks worked, yet frustrated that Bart hadn’t installed two more locks. How many times had she told him to make sure all his locks could keep out criminals? What if she were a thief? A cold-blooded murderer?
Cagayan de Oro wasn’t exactly a safe place, despite its golden name. Sabrina was about to call Bart again, when she slipped on something. Her first thought was of killing her best friend. Didn’t he know what a mop was? What if someone had slid on this and broken their neck?
But when she brought her wet hands to her face, she recoiled. It smelled like rust, like iron…
“Oh my God.”
She closed her mouth, gritted her teeth, and fished for her cell phone. She flashed a light down her front.
Her hands, her jacket, her jeans, her sneakers – all drenched in scarlet. Her eyes followed the trail of blood, and just a mere inch from her was the open-mouthed, wide-eyed corpse of a man.
Lyla Dixon gulped down an Advil tablet with the bottled water she’d bought at the closest 24/7 store. She capped it and tossed it on the passenger seat before stepping out of her red Toyota.
As expected, the crime scene was surrounded by half-asleep neighbors and passers-by. She approached uniformed officers, who tried to back the onlookers away from the apartment.
“NBI Special Investigator Lyla Dixon.” She flashed her ID at the stunned officer.
“FBI?” He asked, eyes wide, and head bobbing up and down to look at Lyla from head to foot. She sighed. Everywhere she went, her African-American features garnered confused, curious, and astonished looks.
“NBI,” she repeated. “Attorney Bernardo Torres sent me to help.”
The younger man shook his head. “We haven’t even identified the body yet. Why’s the NBI interested?”
“Just a small favor,” said a voice from behind.
“Chief,” the young man greeted.
The older man, Chief Felipe Ramirez, patted the officer’s shoulder. “I’ll take it from here, Renz.”
The chief, his wrinkled face marked with spots, extended a hand towards her. “Lyla. So you drew the short straw, huh?”
Lyla shrugged, then grinned. “Good timing, I guess. So, what happened here?”
The older man hefted his potbelly, as if his back had grown strained carrying the weight of his stomach. “Homicide.” He gestured at the second floor of a duplex, where police officers were walking in and out of, making sure no one else could disturb the scene.
“Middle-aged Caucasian man. Stabbed multiple times. Ligature marks on his wrists, legs, and neck.”
Rope burns. “Strangled and stabbed. Who found him?”
“That girl over there, Sabrina Eugenio.”
Lyla turned to where the older man pointed. A young woman, probably in her twenties, was clutching an older woman who turned tear-stricken face at one of the officers.
“What was she doing here?”
The chief sighed. “According to her, her best friend wasn’t answering her texts and calls, so she wanted to check if something happened to him.”
“Her best friend’s a middle-aged Caucasian man?” Lyla folded her arms against her chest in confusion and in an effort to ward off the cold that seeped into her bones despite her dark denim jacket.
“Her best friend’s Bart Sia, the one who rented this apartment.”
“Where is he?”
Lyla sucked in a deep breath. “He fled?”
The chief’s eyes darted from side to side, before pulling Lyla a few feet away from the crowd and the building. “We’ve no clue who the victim is, and we can’t move the body till SOCO arrives. But I don’t think it’s homicide. I think it’s murder.”
Her eyebrows nearly jumped off her head. As one of the major cities in the Philippines, Cagayan de Oro was in the top five of total index crimes. But murder was wasn’t the highest crime on the list. That spot went to theft.
“Is it because of the rope burns?” She hadn’t even seen the body yet.
“There’s just something about the entire thing that’s familiar. And aside from the marks and stab wounds, it’s almost…” He shook his head. “Know what? It’s better if I show you. SOCO’s just arrived.”
Lyla turned around to see black-clad Scene of the Crime Operatives stepping down from their van, carrying their equipment.
“While they set up, why don’t you talk to the girl? Then come see the crime scene.”
Lyle approached the girl and the crying woman, who stood a few feet away from the crowd and the building. Thankfully, it seemed that the few police officers who manned the onlookers were enough to stop the witness from getting harassed by the local gossip.
“Excuse me,” Lyla began. “Sabrina Eugenio?”
The girl looked up, red eyes quick to assess Lyla’s face.
“Lyla Dixon. I’m an NBI special investigator.”
“NBI?” the woman beside Sabrina asked, her dark, narrowed eyes widening as fresh tears started to fall. “Have you found my son? Do you know why that man is in there?”
“I’m Bart’s mother.” Pale hands clutched Lyla’s dark ones. “Please, tell me what happened to my son!”
Lyla looked at Sabrina, then at the woman. “I promise we’ll find out, but right now, I need to talk to Sabrina.” Lyla nodded at the young girl. “Privately.”
“I’ll be back, Aunty,” she said to the older woman, who nodded, sniffling into her hand.
When they were a few feet away from everyone else, Lyla wasted no time.
“I heard that Bart Sia was the one who rented this apartment?”
Sabrina nodded as they both eyed the beige-colored second floor abuzz with officers.
“And you were the one who found the body?”
“How old are you again?”
“And Bart? How old was he?”
One-word answers. Sabrina looked at everywhere but Lyla, her hands rubbing against each other. Lyla noticed the dried blood on her pants and her hands.
“You and Bart are close friends, right? Best friends?”
Sabrina nodded, hands now clasped together in front of her.
“Why’d you go to Bart’s apartment?”
This time, she looked at Lyla. “He wasn’t answering my texts. I called, but I couldn’t reach him. I was worried.”
“So you decided to pay him a visit in the middle of the night?”
“He always answers my texts and calls,” Sabrina said, brows furrowed.
“And how’d you get inside?”
The younger woman gulped and wet her lips. “Spare keys.”
Best friend, huh? Maybe the girl’s parents didn’t want her to have a boyfriend.
“You in college?”
Sabrina nodded. “San Lorenzo University.”
Lyla placed her hands on her hips, drawing Sabrina’s eye. Her gun. Lyla cleared her throat and folded her arms again. “Do you know the victim?”
Sabrina shook her head. “I’ve never seen him before.”
“All right -”
“Lyla!” the chief hollered from the second floor. He waved her up.
“Call me if anything else comes to mind.” Lyla handed Sabrina a card just as several people with cameras and mics shoved their faces at the police officers. “Here we go again,” she muttered. “Took them long enough.”
“Nobody really expects murder on a Sunday,” Sabrina said, clutching the card.
Lyla raised her brow at the girl’s flat response, but the chief called again, and Lyla found herself up the stairs to one of the most disturbing crime scenes she’d seen.
“Shit indeed,” the chief said, nodding in agreement.
“Forgive my French,” Lyla amended. She knelt down beside the body as the SOCO boys and girls took pictures and dusted for prints all over the place.
The body, facing up, seemed almost translucent, the pale skin showing dull blue eyes, and faint blue veins on his arms and neck. What kept Lyla from moving closer, though, was the heavy rustic smell in the air, mixed with –
“Is that urine?” she asked, scrunching her nose, before covering it with her hand.
The chief nodded, then looked up. “Dr. Gardo?”
A bespectacled silver-haired man shook the chief’s hand. “Felipe. Bloody, huh?”
“Smelly, too. So, what can you tell us?”
“Nothing you haven’t already seen yourself. Multiple stab wounds. Looks to be about seven, but we can’t be sure till the coroner’s examined it. Ligature marks on the neck.” He pointed to the man’s neck, where an angry red gash stared at them. “And see the marks on his hands?”
The victim’s hands were placed over his bloodied chest like he was merely sleeping, except that his eyes were wide open.
“And here.” The head crime scene investigator continued his tour. “Rope on his ankles.”
“But why was he laid like this?” Lyla asked, standing up to look around. “Why between the kitchen and the bathroom? Why this position?”
Dr. Gardo shrugged. “That’s not the only strange thing. Look around.”
Lyla surveyed the apartment, the harsh light of the place casting a surreal day-like setting. Bed was made. Books, hardbound and softbound, textbooks and novels, were arranged by alphabetical order.
Looking side to side, Lyla furrowed her brows. “It’s clean.”
“Too clean,” the chief said. “Blood’s only where that girl slipped, and over here at the vic’s body.”
“No blood stains on the walls, the chairs, the bed.” It was a studio apartment, where only the bathroom was walled off from the rest of the room, but it was a big space.
When Lyla had stepped inside, she didn’t see the body at first. A small square dining table with three plastic chairs to the right, and the sala set, flat screen TV, a brown leather sofa and a black bean bag to the left. A three-foot-tall bookshelf stood behind the leather sofa, its books facing the foot of the bed rammed into the far corner.
The dining area made way for the kitchen and the bathroom.
It was near the kitchen that the body rested, head facing the wall, and feet where most of the blood had pooled, where Sabrina Eugenio slipped.
But the girl didn’t turn on the lights. Lyla made a mental note to check Eugenio’s story again.
“We’ll need more tests,” Dr. Gardo began, yanking Lyla’s thoughts back to the corpse now at her feet, “but rigor mortis hasn’t set in yet.” He pressed a gloved hand on the corpse’s bruised neck, which didn’t resist the pressure. “The witness found the body at a quarter to midnight, right?”
The chief nodded.
“And the time now is…” Dr. Gardo looked down at his watch. “Twelve-fifteen. The man’s not been dead long. Maybe two hours or less. Can’t say for sure, though.”
Lyla raised a brow and looked around. “How’d the killer clean the entire place up in that time?” Kneeling down, she gestured at the corpse. “He was strangled. He was stabbed. Look at the holes on his chest – this wasn’t done by a small butter knife. And the knees…”
Dr. Gardo picked at the bloodied part of the man’s navy blue slacks. “Busted kneecaps?”
“How could blood not be everywhere?”
“Maybe he didn’t fight back,” The chief said. “The rope marks on the hands aren’t deep. He didn’t struggle against them much.”
“Maybe he couldn’t,” Lyla added.
“Well, you’ll have to wait for the full report.” Dr. Gardo stood up. “See you later.”
“Thanks,” the chief said. He looked at Lyla. “Obviously not something you can conclude in one night, huh?”
Lyla nodded. “It’s strange seeing it here.”
“But not in America?”
Lyla took a deep breath. “Is that the reason I was sent to help?”
“Partly,” the man said. “Many here operate on an Occam’s Razor philosophy. But Bernardo and I…” He pressed his lips in a thin line and folded his arms against his chest. “Sometimes, things just aren’t what they seem.”
“Chief!” a bug-eyed young woman appeared beside the older man. “We found something.”
The young woman opened the door to the bathroom. Instead of the sharp scent of soap and water, they met the familiar tangy and metallic smell in the air.
The chief stepped aside for Lyla.
On the wall, in bold and red letters were the words:
I WANTED TO BE A SOUL.