Page 10 of Detective

What he saw were the bodies of an elderly man and woman, gagged and bound and seated facing each other, as if each had been witness to the other's death. The victims' faces had been beaten; the man's eyes and face were burned. Both bodies were a maze of knife cuts. In the background a radio was playing hard rock.

Tomas Ceballos had seen enough. Returning to the corridor, he used a portable radio to call Dispatch; his unit number would appear automatically on the dispatcher's screen. His voice wavered. "I need a Homicide unit on Tac One."

Tactical One was a radio channel reserved for Homicide use. Detective-Sergeant Malcolm Ainslie, unit number 1310, was on his way to work in an unmarked police car and had already checked in with Dispatch. Today Ainslie and his team were the on-duty hot unit.

The dispatcher alerted Ainslie, who switched to Tac One. "Thirteen-ten to one-sixty-four. QSK?"

"Two bodies at the Royal Colonial Hotel," Ceballos responded. "Room 805. Possible thirty-one." He swallowed, steadying his voice. "Make that a definite thirtyone. It's a bad one, real bad."

A 31 was a homicide, and Ainslie answered, "Okay, on my way. Secure the scene. Don't allow anyone in that room including yourself."

Ainslie spun his car around on a two-way street and pushed hard on the accelerator. At the same time he radioed Detective Bernard Quinn, a member of Ainslie's team, instructing Quinn to join him at the Royal Colonial.

His remaining detectives were handling other murders and for the time being unavailable. The past few months had been rife with homicides; investigations were piling up. Today. it seemed, the grim reaping was continuing.

Ainslie and Quinn arrived at the hotel within moments of each other, and together headed for a bank of elevators. Quinn, with graying hair and a seamed, weathered face, was impeccably dressed in a navy sports jacket, immaculate gray slacks, and a striped tie. A Britisher by birth and an American by adoption, he was a Homicide veteran, his retirement at age sixty not far away.

Quinn was respected and liked by colleagues, in part because he was never a threat to anyone's ambitions. After becoming a detective and doing his job well, he had not sought promotion. He simply did not want to be responsible for others, and had never taken the sergeant's exam, which he could have passed easily. But Quinn was a good man to have as lead investigator at any crime scene.

"This will be your case, Bernie," Ainslie said. "I'll stay to help, though. Get you started."

As they passed through the spacious, foliage-lined hotel lobby, Ainslie saw two women reporters near the registration desk. Media people sometimes cruised the streets, listening to police radio, and got to crime scenes early. One of the two, recognizing the detectives, hurried toward an elevator they had boarded, but the door slid closed before she reached it.

As the elevator rose, Quinn sighed. "There must be better ways to begin a day."

"You'll find out soon enough," Ainslie said. "Who knows? You might even miss this in retirement."

At the eighth floor, as they emerged, the security guard, Cobo, stepped forward. "Do you gentlemen have business " He stopped on seeing the Miami Police ID badges that Ainslie and Quinn had clipped to their jackets.

"Unfortunately," Quinn said, ''we do."

"Sorry, guys! Sure glad you're here. I've been stopping everyone who has no "

"Keep it up," Ainslie told him. "Stay on it. Lots of our people will be arriving, but don't let anyone by without identification. And we'll want this corridor kept clear."

"Yes, sir." With all the excitement, Cobo had no intention of going home.

From the doorway of room 805, Officer Ceballos approached, treating the Homicide detectives with respect. Like many young policemen, his ambition was to shed his uniform one day for a detective's plain clothes, and it did no harm to create a good impression. Ceballos handed over the security guard's note identifying 805's occupants, and reported that apart from the two brief inspections by Cobo and himself, the crime scene was undisturbed.

"Good." Ainslie acknowledged. "Remain on the scene and I'll get a two-man unit to assist you. The press is already in the hotel and pretty soon they'll be swarming. I don't want a single one on this floor, and don't give out any information; just say a PI officer will be here later. Meanwhile, no one else gets even close to room 805 without seeing me or Detective Quinn. You got all that?"

"Yes, Sergeant."

"Okay, let's see what we have."

As Ceballos opened the door of 805, Bernard Quinn wrinkled his nose in disgust. "And you think I'll miss this?"

Ainslie shook his head dismally. The odor of death was a sickening, rancid smell that permeated every homicide scene, especially where there were open wounds and seeping body fluids.

Both detectives recorded in notebooks their time of entry. They would continue making notes about every action taken until the case was closed. The process was burdensome, but necessary in case their memories were later challenged in court.

Initially they stood stock-still, surveying the awful scene before them twin pools of partially dried blood and the mutilated, already decomposing bodies. Homicide detectives learn early in their careers that once a human body has ceased to live, the process of decay is extraordinarily swift; when heartbeats stop and blood no longer flows, armies of microbes soon turn flesh and body liquids into rotting offal. Ainslie remembered a veteran medical examiner who was given to proclaiming, "Garbage! That's all a human corpse ever is, and once we've learned what we need to, the sooner we dispose of it the better. Burn cadavers! That's the best way. Then if somebody wants to spread the ashes over some lake, fine, no harm done. But cemeteries, coffins, they're all barbaric a waste of good land."

Apart from the bodies in 805, the room was in a state of wild disorder, with chairs turned over, bedding disarrayed, and the victims' clothes scattered around. The radio, on a windowsill, continued to play. Quinn turned to Ceballos. "That was on when you came in?"

"Yes, and when the security guy got here. Station sounds like HOT 105."

"Thanks." Quinn made a note. "My son listens. I can't stand the noise."

Ainslie was beginning a series of calls on his, portable police phone. Room 805's telephone would not be used until after a fingerprint check.

His first call was to summon a Crime Scene ID detail identification technicians who were part of a civilian arm of the Miami Police Department. The ID team would photograph the crime scene and all evidence, including minuscule items that untrained eyes might miss. They would seek fingerprints, preserve blood samples, and do whatever else the detectives needed. Meanwhile, until the ID crew arrived, the crime scene would remain "frozen in time" exactly as when discovered.

One single blundering individual, merely walking or touching, could destroy a vital clue and make the difference between a crime being solved and a criminal going free. Sometimes even senior police officers, visiting a murder scene out of curiosity, compromised evidence; that was one reason why a Homicide lead investigator had total authority at any scene, no matter what his or her rank.

More calls by Ainslie: a report to Homicide's commander, Lieutenant Newbold, already on his way; a request for attendance of a state attorney; a plea to Police Headquarters for an information officer to handle the media people.

As soon as the ID team was finished with the victims' bodies, Ainslie would summon a medical examiner, whose first inspection should take place as soon as possible after death. ME's were touchy, however, about being called too soon and having to wait while the ID people completed their work.

Later still, after the medical inspection and the bodies' removal to the Dade County morgue, an autopsy would follow, which Bernard Quinn would attend.

While Ainslie was telephoning, Quinn used a rubber glove to unplug the loud radio. Next he began a detailed study of the victims' bodies their wounds, remaining clothing, articles nearby all the while still making notes. He observed several pieces of expensive-looking jewelry on a bedside table. Then, turning his head, he exclaimed, "Hey, look at this!"

Ainslie joined him. Incongruous and bizarre laid out on the far side of the dead persons, and initially out of sight, were four dead cats.

The detectives studied the inert creatures.

At length Ainslie said, "This is meant to tell us something. Any ideas?"

Quinn shook his head. "Not offhand. I'll work on it."

In the weeks and months to come, every brain in Homicide would conjecture reasons for the dead cats' presence. While numerous exotic theories were advanced, in the end it was conceded that none made sense. Only much later would it be realized that an important matching clue was present at the Frost came scene, within a few short inches of the cats.

Now Quinn leaned down, viewing more closely the crudely severed body parts. After a moment he gulped. Ainslie glanced across. ''You all right?''

Quinn managed to say, "Back in a minute," and headed for the outer door.

In the corridor outside, Cobo pointed to an open doorway down the hall. "In there, Chief!''

Seconds later, Quinn disgorged into a toilet bowl the breakfast he had eaten an hour before. After rinsing his mouth, hands, and face, he returned to the murder scene. "Long time since I've done that," he said ruefully.

Ainslie nodded. The experience was one that Homicide officers shared from time to time, and no one criticized. What was unforgivable was vomiting at a murder scene and contaminating evidence.

Voices in the hall signaled the arrival of an ID crew. A lead technician, Julio Verona, stepped inside, followed by an ID technician grade one, Sylvia Walden. Verona, short, stocky, and balding, stood still, his piercing dark eyes moving methodically over the scene confronting him. Walden, younger, blond, and leggy, whose specialty was fingerprints, carried a black box resembling a weekend suitcase.

Nobody spoke while the two surveyed the room. Finally, Verona shook his head and sighed. "I have two grandkids. This morning we were having breakfast and watching this TV news story about a couple of teenagers who murdered their mother's boyfriend. So I tell the kids, 'This world we're handing you has become a pretty rotten place,' then right at that moment I got this call." He gestured to the mutilated bodies. "It gets worse every day."

Ainslie said thoughtfully, "The world's always been a savage place, Julio. The difference now is there are a lot more people to kill, and more who do the killing. And every day news travels faster and farther; sometimes we watch the horror while it's happening."

Verona shrugged. "As always, Malcolm the scholar's viewpoint. Either way's depressing."

He began photographing the dead couple, taking three photos of several groupings: an overall shot, a medium, and a close-up. After the bodies he would photograph other areas of room 805, the corridor outside, stairwells, elevators, and the building exterior, the last including entrances and exits a criminal might have used. Such photos often revealed evidence originally overlooked.

As well, Verona would make a detailed sketch of the scene, to be transferred later to a specialized, dedicated computer.

Sylvia Walden was now busy, searching for latent fingerprints, concentrating on the doorway first, inside and out, where a perpetrator's prints were most likely to be found. When entering, intruders were often nervous or careless; if they took precautions about prints, it was usually later.