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Privileged Witness (Excerpt)
By Rebecca Foster
February, 2006, 17:28

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he half-naked woman came from the penthouse - she just hadn't bothered to use the elevator. Instead, she stepped off the balcony eleven stories up. Her theatrics kept Detective Babcock from a quiet evening with a good book, a glass of wine and some very fine music. Detective Babcock didn't hold a grudge long, though. One look at the jumper made him regret that he hadn't arrived in time to stop her.

Beautiful even in death, the woman lay on the hot concrete as
if it were her bed. Her arms were out, one crooked at an angle so that the delicate fingers of her right hand curled toward her head; her other lay straight so that her left hand was open-palmed at her hip. On her right wrist was a diamond and sapphire bracelet.  A matching earring had come off at impact and was caught in her dark hair. Her slim legs were curved together.  Her feet were small and bare.  Her head turned in profile and her eyes were closed.  The wedding ring she wore made Horace Babcock feel just a little guilty for admiring her.  She carried her age well so that it was difficult to tell exactly how. . .

"Crap, I think I felt a raindrop."

Babcock inclined his head. His eyes flickered toward Kurt
Rippy who was hunkered to the side of a pool of blood that haloed the jumper's head.  It was the only sign that something traumatic had occurred here. It would be a different when the coroner's people turned the body to take her away.  When they cut off the yellow silk and lace teddy at the morgue, lay her face up, naked on a metal table, they would find half her head caved, her ribs pulverized, her pelvis broken from the impact.  Her brain might fall out and that would be a sad sight, indeed.  How glad Babcock was to see her this way. Elegant.  Asleep. An illusion.

Raising a hand toward the sky, he checked the weather. Even though the day was almost done it was still hot and he could see that the thunderheads that had hovered over the San Bernardino Mountains for the last few days were now rolling toward Long Beach. Pity tonight would be wet when the other three hundred and sixty four days of the year had been bone dry.

"Are you almost done?" Babcock asked knowing the rain would wash away the blood and a thousand little pieces of grit and dust and things that Kurt needed to collect as a matter of course.

"Yeah. Not much to get here. I bagged her hands just in case but she looks clean."

Detective Babcock bridled at the adjective. It was too pedestrian for her. Hardly poetic.

She was pristine.

She was beautiful.

She was privileged.

She was a lady who was either going to or coming from something important if Babcock read it right. Jewels, hair done up, make-up just so. She was going or coming alone because no one had run screaming from the penthouse distraught that their loved one had checked out of this world in such a manner. The traffic on Ocean Boulevard had slowed but not stopped as the paramedics converged on the site, sirens frantically wailing until they determined they were too late to help.  With a huge grunt, Kurt stood up and rolled his surgical gloves off with a delicate snap.

"That's it for me. I'm going to let them bundle her before we all get wet. I hate it when it's this hot and it rains. Reminds me of Chicago. I hate Chicago. . ."

He took a deep breath and stood over the woman for a minute as his train of thought jumped the tracks. His hands were crossed at his crotch, his head was bent, his eyes were on the victim. He seemed to be praying and his reverence surprised and impressed Detective Babcock. Finally, Kurt drew another huge breath into his equally big body, flipped at the tie that lay on top of his stomach instead of over it and angled his head toward Babcock.

"How much you think a thing like that costs?"

"What thing?"

"That thing she's wearing?"  Kurt wiggled a finger toward the body and Babcock closed his eyes. Lord, the indignity the dead suffered at the hands of the police.

"I believe that type of lingerie is quite expensive." A sigh was the only sign of Babcock's irritation before he moved away.

Just as it began to rain, as the last vestiges of blood were being diluted and drained into the cracks of the sizzling sidewalk, Detective Babcock walked across the circular drive, past the exquisitely lit fountain of the jumper's exclusive building and went inside. There was still so much to do, not the least of which was to talk to one Mr. Jorgensen, the poor soul who had been making his way home just as the lady leapt. Old Mr. Jorgensen, surprised to find a scantily clad dead woman at his feet, made haste to leave the scene as soon as the emergency vehicles arrived. He probably couldn't offer much, but a formal statement was necessary and Babcock would take it.

He rode the elevator, breathing in the scent of new: new construction, new rugs, new fittings and fastenings. Babcock preferred the Villa Riviera a few buildings down. The scrolled fašade, the peaked copper roof, the age of it intrigued him in a way new never could.  He got out on the third floor and knocked on the second door on the left. He waited.  And waited. Eventually, the door opened and Babcock looked down at the wizened man with the walker.

"Mr. Jorgensen? I'm Detective Horace Babcock." He held out his card. The old man snatched it.

"It's about time you got here," he complained and turned his back. The carpeting swallowed the thumping of the walker but the acoustics of the spacious apartment were impeccable. Babcock heard the old man's every mumble and word. "I should be in bed by now but can't sleep. Damn upsetting at my age. Have you told her husband? Bet you can't even find him to tell him. He's in Los Angeles somewhere. Giving a speech or some such nonsense. Should have been all over the news by now so I figure you haven't told him yet, have you?"


Deferentially slow, Babcock followed the old man but something in his voice seemed to annoy Mr. Jorgensen who stopped just long enough to flash a look of pure disgust over his shoulder.

"You don't even know who she is, do you?"

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