Authors: K. A. Lange
Pulling off Wisner Avenue onto the service road I was reminded why City Park was such a popular attraction. Large old oak trees ladened with Spanish Moss made grandiose appearances throughout the landscape. This particular area had been part of the golf course before Katrina’s devastation. Now the rolling greens were unkempt, overgrown and slightly brown. The wide paved path once used by golf carts was empty and buckling. Even so the place still had a majestic feel to it as if its former self couldn’t be lost to something even as powerful as Katrina. Passing Pan Am Field I admired the wooded area just before Diagonal Dr. (Can we guess why it’s called Diagonal Dr.?) Passing several cruisers I finally found a place to pull off into the grass that was being used as a makeshift parking lot.
Popp Fountain according to most sources was built in 1937. However that is wrong. It was designed in the twenties by the Olmsted brothers for John F. Popp who died a few years earlier. It was actually dedicated to Mr Popp in 1934 and finally ‘officially’ recognized by the state in 1936, so I have no idea how anyone ever came up with the year 1937. It is some sixty feet wide with twenty-six Corinthian style columns which nicely represented the art deco style of the day. Created by Mexican master sculptor Enrique Alferez, he sculpted a bronze base depicting dolphins leaping out of the water, spraying water some thirty feet in the air. The fountain itself contains secrets that few people knew about when it was built and still fewer know today. Needless to say the wisteria only adds to the entire sacred feel emanating from the area. Given the fact that to some people this area is basically a holy site I found it disturbing on many levels that this particular spot was chosen for a murder.
A crowd of NOPD and state police officers were busy trying to secure the area with crime scene tape. Showing my ID to one of the officers at the edge of the tape, he nodded at me before lifting the tape allowing me to proceed. As I looked down at the red clay brick walkway that lead to the east entrance of the fountain I took a deep breath and steadied myself before continuing on. The columns around the fountain had a new addition of long strips of white cloth between each one shielding the scene from view. Maybe the park services wanted to ‘upscale’ the Roman columns? My foot no sooner hit the first step of Popp Fountain when I heard Gregory call my name.
"Viktor, we’re over here." Gregory waved at me to join him center stage.
It didn’t take long for me to pick him out of the crowd. At six foot four inches tall and two hundred and thirty pounds of solid muscle Gregory stood head and shoulders above most men. His dark brown skin stood out against the bright white perfectly pressed oxford while his black slacks we obviously tailor made. He always looked as if he had just stepped off the cover of GQ magazine. He was a cross between Omari Hardwick and his better looking older brother.
I acknowledged him as I made my way through the opening created by the columns. Glancing to my left I caught my first sight of the horrific crime. Ms. Summers was suspended several feet off the ground by ropes on either wrist. They were tied off around the stone topper which encircled the fountain and her legs hung limply below. The smell of iron and blood hung thick in the air from the large pool staining the concrete floor below her. Her ribs had been broken and pulled out of the gaping wound in her back to make it appear as if she had gruesome bloody wings.
Looking back at Gregory I shook my head as I let it all sink in. "It looks like whoever murdered her took their time.” The glare of the CSI’s artificial lights caused me to squint as I tried to see more of the scene. “Did the perpetrators put these sheets up or is this something to do with the park?"
Gregory followed my line of sight. “According to our witness they don’t belong to the park.” He shrugged helplessly. “If I had to guess the perpetrators brought them here for effect.”
Grimacing as I looked back at the long strips of pure white linen, I nodded. “It sure as hell worked!” As I made my way over to Gregory I tried to take it all in. It boggled my mind that they had picked this place out of all the other landmarks in the city. “You say you have a witness?”
Gregory jerked his head back over his shoulder and I saw a man sitting on one of the golf carts used by maintenance workers for the park. He looked dazed and his eyes were red from crying or puking, or both. “He found the body this morning when he was making his rounds.” Gregory craned his neck trying to stretch out the tension. “According to what little we are able to get out of him, he saw the linens and came to investigate and found Hellena like this,” gesturing at the tortured body.
"Hell of a thing to start your day with.” After the dream and now this I tried to keep myself centered. There was a part of me that was hoping I was still having a nightmare. “Think he will be alright?”
“I doubt it.” He glanced over at the man sitting there with sadness in his eyes. “No one should ever have to see such things. The poor man may survive this but I doubt he will ever be the same again.”
Gregory sent off his subordinates before motioning for me to follow him. Once we were on the other side of the fountain and hopefully out of earshot he leaned in to whisper. “What the hell is going on? I was hoping we put an end to this twenty years ago!” He shook his head in disgust. “You don’t really think those crazy bastards held a grudge for this long do you?”
The fact was that we knew that five of the ranking members had escaped that day but it was hard to believe they would still be biding their time. “We warned her that if she didn't stay put something like this might happen.” I pointed at Helena's dangling corpse. “They waited twenty years for their revenge and if I hazard to guess this is only the beginning.” My heart beat faster as the adrenaline rushed through my veins. “Whoever did this was willing to take the time and energy to make a glorified broadway production of the murder scene.” I shivered slightly. “I can’t believe that this will be the only one. They have others that they are angry with. You and me for instance.”
Gregory shuddered at the thought as he eyed Helena. "I was thinking along the same lines.” He reached in his pocket for his phone. “Before I make this call are you willing to work on this case? This is something you should be involved in, don't you think? You saw before what they were capable of then and now there’s this!” Gregory waved back at the body.
“You can count me in.” I found myself pacing in a small orbit around Gregory as my mind raced with possibilities. “I was never satisfied with how things were left back then.” Anger welled up inside me as I stopped in front of Gregory. “It was the Marshals who shut down the investigation last time, citing everything had been done that could be done. Which was a shitty way of saying they just didn’t want to know what really happened.” I took a step closer to Gregory who stepped back instinctively. “Before I sign on officially there are a couple of conditions. First I want full access to everything pertaining to this case, past and present.”
Gregory nodded. “I can do that. It will take some time to get all the old files out of storage but consider it done.” He stood up straight and grimaced. “You said a couple of conditions, that was one. What's the other?”
“I want an unspecified favor sometime in the future.” Its always good to have a federal Marshal owe you a favor, especially one in Gregory’s position. “I’ll do my best not to get you in too much trouble.”
Gregory thought for a moment before answering. “I suspect one day I will regret this but I think we have a deal.” He stuck out his beefy hand and we shook.
“Time to earn my keep then. Can you get someone to bring me up to speed?” I rubbed my hands together as the crisp morning air chilled my fingers.
“Unfortunately yes there is someone.” Gregory sighed. “The FBI was notified since the crime happened on federal property.” Gregory turned and whistled, catching the attention of one his men. “Can you get Smith for me?” The other Marshal looked displeased at the request but left to fulfill it anyway. “The guy is an ass so be ready to jump through hoops.”
About a minute later the deputy that Gregory had sent to find Smith reappeared looking miserable. “Smith said he would be here shortly. In his words he has important things to do.” Gregory nodded and the Marshal vanished into the crowd of CSI’s working the scene.
“You wanted to see me Deputy Marshal Aaron?” I heard a voice drawl as a figure emerged out of the darkness. Smith was a tall good looking man with blond curly hair, with an athletic build that said he had kept himself in shape since his college sporting days. He also exuded douchebag from every single pore of his body. “As I told your lackey I have important things to do.” He blew the steam off a fresh cup of Morning Call coffee.
“I can see that.” Gregory glared at Smith. “Finding a fresh cup of coffee on the side of the park is so very important.” Gregory stiffened as he waved a hand in my direction. “Viktor Warden I would like you to meet David Smith, FBI.”
Smith sneered at me, stepping back when I offered to shake his hand. “I’m sorry as you can see I have my hands full.” He didn’t even try to hide his contempt for me. As he turned back to Gregory he asked“Who the hell is he? And why is he here?”
Gregory’s face contorted in anger but managed to keep his voice down. “Viktor was involved with the original case.” Smith’s face turned beet red as Gregory smiled. “He has agreed to consult on this case as well.”
“What is it you want me to do then?” Smith rolled his eyes as he looked at Gregory. “Isn’t it enough that I had to call you in.” Smith sloshed his coffee cup in Gregory’s direction. “Now you're bringing in consultants on my case without asking me?” Smith growled. “You have a lot of nerve!”
I watched in silence as Gregory stormed toward Smith who quickly retreated. “This isn’t your case anymore! You are only here as a courtesy to the director of the local field office.” Gregory’s voice dropped to a whisper as he seethed. “Given our personal history you’re lucky I’ve allowed even that.”
Smith blanched white as he stammered. “Fine... fine. What is you want from me so I can get the hell out of here.”
“You can fill Viktor in on what you have found out so far about the case and then you are welcome to go back to whatever hole you crawled out of.” Gregory seethed.
“Whatever!” Smith snapped. “Look, the lady is dead and her son is most likely the culprit considering he is ‘missing’.” He asked as he gave me one of those I’m so innocent looks. “So did that clear it up for you, ‘Viktor’?”
“I kind of got the fact that she was dead when I saw her strung up with her lungs ripped out.” I snarled. “Do you even have any idea what was done to her?” I stepped forward causing Smith to stumble back. “Let me explain! It’s called the Blood Eagle. The Vikings mastered this type of torture some two thousand years ago. They would string a person up much like they did here. They would slice through the skin and muscle tissue on either side of the spine. From time to time they would pour salt or vinegar in the open wounds for good measure. They would keep their victim alive for as long as possible while they peeled the ribs out one at a time, finally ripping their lungs out and using them to cover the broken bones, completing the image of bloody wings.” I stuck a finger in Smiths chest causing him to stumble again as he lost his balance. “So the lady isn’t just dead, she died hard. Good God man you’re an FBI agent?”
“Get off me!” Smith demanded. “You should consider yourself lucky I don’t charge you with assaulting a law enforcement officer.” Smith turned to leave. “Since you know so much about what happened here maybe the bureau should move you up to our number one person of interest.” His wicked little smile lasted a moment longer as he turned to Gregory. “You can come by the field office to pick up whatever reports you might need.”
“Every scrap of evidence is to be brought to the Federal Building on Poydras!” Gregory growled. “We have already been over this.” Gregory seethed. “If even one piece of paper isn’t sign properly...” Gregory let the threat drop.
“Fine...” Smith sneered as he turned to leave, sulking towards the crime scene.
“I take it you two are close?” I asked.
“Fuck off.” Gregory whirled on me before catching hold of his emotions. “Look, forget about it. I hope his boss Anderson will replace him tomorrow but Smith was the agent on call last night.”
“Fair enough.” I looked around to see if I missed anything. “I don’t think the son could have done this” waving my hand dismissively “and neither do you from the sound of things.”
“No I don’t, but the b.o.l.o. is out because we need to find him. For all we know we will find his dead body next.”
“Any idea why Ms Summers was here?” I asked.
“Bone cancer.” Gregory sighed. “She and her son checked in at some hotel called Brenthouse.”
“It’s not really a hotel. It’s part of Ochsner Hospital over on Jefferson Hwy.” I corrected.
“Well they checked in yesterday. The front desk said Helena and her son left for dinner last night about seven. That is the last time we can account for their whereabouts” Gregory continued.
“It looks like they are going to be a few hours yet.” I motioned at the crime scene techs. “You still need to be here?”
“Jones, the SOG commander, is here somewhere. I can find him if you have a better idea where I should be.” Gregory shrugged.
“I’m starving and I know a place that will be open soon if you would care to join me.” I replied. Gregory nodded and went to find Jones. About five minutes later we were heading for the Lakefront.