The smell was stronger in here. I suspected that whoever this guy was, he was no longer among the living. His arms and legs were splayed at angles that weren’t normal. This room also was where the vomit odor came from. It looked like he’d been sick for days in here, so sick he couldn’t clean up after himself. I covered my mouth and nose with my hand, but it didn’t help much.
I scanned the room: a round king-sized bed, a dark walnut wardrobe, and, at the far side of the room where there were no windows, a workbench of sorts, with a couple of Bunsen burners and a tray of test tubes, like a do-it-yourself chemistry kit.
I couldn’t linger here anymore; the stench was too much. I didn’t see Charlotte anywhere. A door to the back of the bedroom probably led to a bathroom, but I wasn’t going to walk through this room to see whether she was in there. Instead I called, “Charlotte?” one more time before heading back out into the living room.
Who was that guy, and what had Charlotte gotten me into?
All I knew for sure was that I had to call the police, or, rather, Tim.
I hesitated, glancing back toward the bedroom. I wanted to go in and see who it was, but I couldn’t stand the smell any longer. He’d still be dead in ten minutes, so I went out into the hall, closing the door a little behind me. It didn’t do much good. The smell was wafting out here now.
I flipped open my phone and punched in Tim’s number.
“I know, but I’m in a bit of a situation.”
Silence, then, “What is it now?” he asked, like I was always in trouble. It was only some of the time.
“I found a dead body.”
A quick intake of breath, then, “You making a habit of that?” He was referring to an incident a few months back.
“It’s not on purpose,” I said. “Do you want to hear about it or not?”
I told him.
“Do you know who this dead body is?”
“Then how did you happen upon it?”
“Just get here, okay?” I said, ending the call because I really didn’t quite know how I was going to approach answering that question. I knew there would be another chance later, but later rather than sooner appealed to me at the moment.
I needed to let the security guard downstairs know that Tim and the cavalry were on their way.
I was just making excuses not to go back inside that condo, regardless of my curiosity about who that man was. But my gag reflex had kicked into full gear and I couldn’t stand the thought of it.
I punched the button for the elevator a few times, like it didn’t register the first time. Finally, I heard the whirring, and the doors opened a few seconds later. Within a minute, I was back among the plant life and humidity that was the lobby of the Windsor Palms.
The security guard was playing a game on an iPod.
“The police are coming,” I said.
His eyes grew wide. “Why?”
“That condo? The one I went up to? The guy in there is dead. Looks like he was pretty sick before he died, too.”
Alarm flooded his face. “Dead?”
As he said it, I heard the sirens getting closer. Tim didn’t waste any time.
The guard started toward the elevators, but my little knowledge of police procedure made me say, “You might want to hold off going up there until the cops arrive.”
He didn’t have to wait too long.
Four uniforms arrived with paramedics. I didn’t want to burst their bubble as they crowded into an elevator, guided by the security guard. I figured I’d wait down here for Tim, who arrived only about five minutes later.
He ran a hand through his short red hair, looking exasperated as I told him what I had found.
“Lots of vomit,” I said, trying not to remember too vividly, but it was impossible not to.
“Charlotte called me. That’s why I’m here,” I volunteered.
Tim’s eyes grew wide. “Charlotte Sampson?”
I told him how she’d said she needed my help. “She’s sort of been in hiding. Frank DeBurra told me last night that she might be in danger. And when I showed up here, there was this dead guy, so maybe he’s not off base.”
“So where is she? Obviously she must have known about this guy, knew what you’d find when you got here.”
“And she knew I’d call the police.” I nodded at Tim as I realized this. “She didn’t want to call you herself. She couldn’t risk it.”
Tim frowned. “I think you better explain.”
“DeBurra came to my shop yesterday to tell me she’s wanted for questioning in an incident at a pawnshop.”
“What kind of incident?” Tim asked.
“She was in there asking about a brooch, and some guy came in and they had some sort of argument. Bad enough so the pawnshop guy called the cops.” I paused. “DeBurra’s been on my case about where she might be.”
Tim had a puzzled look on his face. “I hadn’t heard DeBurra was looking for her. And I don’t know anything about the pawnshop, so I really don’t know what the deal is. I can find out when I get back.”
“You mean they don’t tell you everything, Mr. Detective?” I teased.
He smirked. “It’s more like DeBurra doesn’t want to let me in on things.”
I told him how DeBurra had shown up outside the Mexican place last night. “I think he’s stalking me,” I ended.
“Obviously not; otherwise, he’d be here now, wouldn’t he?” Tim said flippantly, although I could see that perhaps he was a little pleased that DeBurra was falling down on the job.
I thought about that a minute, how DeBurra wasn’t following me today. Why not? Charlotte’s call this morning had come so out of the blue that I’d completely forgotten about DeBurra.
Maybe he’d slept in.
Or maybe something else was going on.
By now we’d gotten up to the twelfth floor. The doors slid open and we heard the pandemonium down the hall. Tim started walking toward the condo now, and I followed.
“It’s pretty gross in there,” I said, although my adjective didn’t even come close to what we were smelling. I plugged my nose and tried to breathe out of my mouth, but it didn’t help.
“Wait here,” Tim said at the door, putting up his hand to indicate I shouldn’t go inside. I wasn’t exactly upset about being excluded. “You’ve already contaminated the scene. I don’t want you to add to that.”
I started to say I hadn’t touched anything except the outside of the door, but he didn’t wait around to listen.
I hovered in the hall, listening to the voices murmuring in the back of the condo. I tried to hear what was being said, but everything was muffled. A couple of uniforms were checking out the living room, neither of them speaking. One of them picked something up off the floor, and when he showed it to his colleague, I could see what it was: a pink Hollister hoodie.
I caught my breath. That was Charlotte’s.
It seemed like just seconds since he’d been gone, but suddenly Tim rounded the corner and shouted, “Everyone out!”
The paramedics were on his heels, and the uniforms almost plowed me down. I jumped to the side of the door, waiting for Tim.
“So who is it?” I asked when he emerged.
“You didn’t see his face?” Tim asked. He’d come outside now and pulled the door so it was almost closed, but not all the way. The uniforms were already down the hall, banging on doors.
I was distracted, but Tim asked again, “You didn’t see his face?”
I stopped watching the hallway and turned back to Tim. “No. He was looking the other way. And I didn’t spend a lot of time in there because the smell was so bad.” I paused. “What’s going on?”
“I thought you would’ve recognized him,” he said, his voice barely above a whisper.
“Why?” I asked.
“Because you sketched him the other night. It’s Wesley Lambert.”