Curious Collusion – Det. Cooper Series

“So did you catch him? You’re here for back-up, aren’t you? Coop? Coop?” Brown appeared at Coop’s side out of nowhere when he walked into the station. His grin beaming from ear to ear. Last time he checked, they were inches away from catching a murderer; scratch that, a serial killer with a suicide fetish. Being a homicide detective that was like a home run or a three pointer that puts your team up by one just before the buzzer goes off, and Brown was gunning to be the MVP. It was a big break for this team! But Coop didn’t speak at first, he only maintained a stone-cold look on his face; the face of a man calculating and associating.

“Back at square one, Brown!” Coop sighed loudly as he dropped himself in his chair. Brown taking his next to him. He flipped through the Nursing home’s visitors’ logs as Brown just stared at him. Brown knew to give Coop a moment when he had been let down by a lead; he was prone to violent outbursts of emotion. Brown had to break the silence, he had relatively good news; news that took them to square two at least.

“Not quite. Autopsy report came back.” Coop’s eyes lit up a little, he sat straight and stared at Brown as he flipped through the medical file on his desk. “Turns….. Out…….” He dragged the lead, searching for the page

“Spit it out! Porky Pig!” Det. Coop insensitively quipped. Brown gave Coop a sharp look before he continued.

“It turns out Alicia Doe, 28 was indeed raped by her assailant.”

“What’s the Bad news?” Coop was skeptical.

“How did you know there was bad news?”

“I just know. Now spit out.”

“Well, we run the……. Samples”

“The SEMEN samples?” Coop smiled at how easy it was to get under Brown’s skin. His own personal doormat. He used him to vent and to reassure himself because history had shown Brown to never ever challenge him even when he should have. They were just a team like that.

“Yes. Those samples. And guess what??”

“Brownie!” A nickname Coop used to toy with Det. Brown, “I swear on my mother’s noose…..”

“OK! There are no matches for the sample. Which is weird because…..” Coop cut him off

“It would mean the assailant has never been arrested or even registered in this country. He’s never donated blood or even gone to the hospital for any sort of check-up. He’s a ghost?”

“He is a ghost!”

“Well, spank me and call me pretty, we just uncovered the tale of the serial killing ghost.” The middle-aged men burst into loud hearty laughter; even though they both knew they were no closer to finding Alicia’s murderer than they were when they found her dead in a stranger’s house with her wrists slit.

Three minutes of hearty laughter later, Coop went back to the Visitors’ Logs, chroming each page for something that would blow the case wide open. Even a little inkling pointing toward the killer would have been enough at this point. As he ran through the names in the Visitors’ Log, he couldn’t keep his mind from straying to the thought that he may be wrong. Every few years, a girl kills herself in a strange place, so what? How could that mean there was a serial killer? What if there was no ‘serial killer’ and these ladies just killed themselves as some people are often prone to do? Why did he have this feeling deep in his stomach every time he thought about it? Or talked about it? Why did it bother him so much when he had seen it himself? The arrival of a human being to their breaking point and their choices thereafter were nothing new to Coop. This is something he knew all too well. He was only 22 years old when he came home after a few months away and found his mother hanging from the rail of the staircase. She hadn’t been dead long, maybe an hour or two. He must have still been on the drive there. They had just spoken that morning. She had mentioned a break-up from one of the countless random men she’d seen after Coop was born but she didn’t seem bothered or even torn up about it. She knew he would find her, she did it anyway. She was aware of his character and inability to open up to anyone but her, she did it anyway. She knew he loved her more than anything, she did it anyway. Coop only shed tears while he cut her down. Seeing her body fall from the first floor to the ground with an enormous yet lifeless thud, then covering her with a white sheet, unable to fathom moving her any further, Coop never shed another tear after that. Not at her funeral, not when he spoke about it, not even when he thought about it. He just knew he had lost a large portion of himself when she died, he had cried for the lost parts of himself. He would never cry about it again. He would never be the same man again. He joined the Police Force soon after that and the rest was history. Till he met Jill. Jill! His mind screamed. Cooper gathered the remaining unexamined Visitors’ Logs and left suddenly without a word.

Whitney Houston was belting out notes perfectly in Cooper’s car. He drove out of the station to the apartment complex with one thing on his mind. “Jill can fix this. Jill can fix me.” He parked his car close to the one he bought her about a year before. He could tell it hadn’t been driven in a while, he could tell by the layer of dust he had distorted when he ran his finger across the car’s top.  However, It didn’t bother him; at least not as much as it should. When he bought it, he knew she wouldn’t drive it. It was just another gift he used to dissuade his guilt from forcing him into doing what he knew he had to do. Jill was a patient woman, more patient than he knew people to be. He couldn’t believe it at times. For five years, this woman stood by him, with her budding youth, no real title or recognition and even less in terms of respect. He was an old stubborn man, he knew it, he carried himself the way he did because of it. He had always expected her to leave him, walk off into the proverbial sunset rendering him just a messy part of her history. And she did, over and over again. She also came back over and over again too, holding no grudges, asking for no apologies.

The bond that held them was deeper than marriage he thought, it was pain. His pain which caused hers and her pain which caused his. Still, she brought herself back, she waited for him to get over himself even if it was for a second. It’s what she lived for; the few seconds when Coop opened up and revealed Denny to her. He didn’t bring her a gift this time; he knew that was not what she wanted. He brought her what she needed; Him unraveled and conflicted enough to open up. He smiled to himself. This could be it! This could be the moment that solidified their bond and erased their painful past. This was their metaphorical wedding day. Coop winced as he stared at her door. Another line of thought emerged. Did she want to get married? Would she really be as open to him when he came undone? Could he really give her what would satisfy her? She was older now, probably less hopeful, maybe less forgiving. Was this a bad idea? He did need her, but did she really need him? Coop’s mind screamed insecurities and possibilities at him. He knocked anyway.

The heavy door flung open seconds later. Jill stood there smiling, genuinely just happy to see him. He saw no grudges, he saw no resentment. All he saw was the sparkle; the one he had grown to call his sparkle. The sparkle that came to her eyes whenever she saw him. The sparkle that reassured him of her forgiving nature and her pure heart. His sparkle. Even though she was dressed down for a day indoors, her beauty still took his breath away. In old sweats, no makeup and that smile, he saw through the grime that life had accumulated on her face, the subtle wrinkles, and chapped lips. He saw the love that she had yet to give and the care she was yet to share. This woman was his woman and she understood him enough for him to never have to have him say it out loud. Looking at her face, he was overwhelmed. He suddenly had the urge to do what he didn’t believe in. It was only right.

“Look! I’m an ass……… a jerk. I’m sorry.” She did not say a word, she just hugged him then let him in.

“We shall not linger about in the past.” She said as she offered him a seat, “What’s up?”

“Nothing’s up. I just came to see you and apologize.” Coop lied

“You’re lying. “ She knew.

“I am.” Coop admitted, “It’s the case.”

“What about it?” Jill leaned in inquisitively.

“Well, I thought I’d cracked it. I really did and you know I’m never wrong when it comes to such stuff.” Coop hesitated then tried to change the subject by touching her face. She held his hand against her face before putting it back down, she knew what he was trying to do

“Then??”

“I was wrong.”

“The problem is that you were wrong for the first time in your career?” Second?

“No, that’s not it.”

“Then what is it, Coop? You can tell me. You know you can” He pulled her across the sofa towards himself so that her legs crossed over his thighs. He looked at her and hesitated. She smiled, reassuring him that his weaknesses did not matter to her. She was ready to listen even more so to help.

“I think I’ve been compromised, emotionally. It feels like I only went after this case cause of my mother and how she died.” He paused, looking straight in her eyes, “Like I didn’t want it to be a suicide so I convinced myself it wasn’t. “

“I get it.” He gave her a look that said you do? She nodded. “You didn’t want her to die that way, by her own hand. So you juxtapositioned that onto the girls. “Cooper burst out laughing

“I juxtapositioned it?? Where the hell do you get this stuff! I’m pretty sure that’s not the word you want. You mean…….”

“You know what I mean! My point is; give yourself some credit, Coop! You’re a smart guy and a darn good detective. You had a gut feeling and just because a lead didn’t pan out, doesn’t mean you are necessarily wrong. You know this! You’re just a little thrown off because of personal experience. It’s allowed for some, but not you. You are objective and neutral. I don’t think you should give up just yet.” He hung on her every word, wanting to believe it all. He felt each word touch a part of his broken heart and mend it.

“I don’t know. There’s a lot hanging on this. If I mess it up, I could lose my job and so could Mitch.” She took his face into her hands and looked deep into his eyes as if she was not speaking to him now but to his soul

“What if it was me, Coop? “  He was quiet. “It could be. That’s why I need you to catch that bastard.” He smiled pulling her chin gently towards him to kiss her. Under his breath, he whispered, “I’ve missed you. “

When Jill woke up, Cooper had already made coffee. He was sitting at the kitchen table going through the Visitors’ Logs.

“Morning Sugar……..Ray Leonard. You did some punching in your sleep. Unfortunately, I was the bag.” Coop joked while he got up to kiss her good morning. Jill giggled at herself

“Is that why you’re up so early?”

“No. That case was stuck in my mind. Been up since 3 am. But I think I found something. I also have to leave.” He hastily kissed her goodbye before walking out and shutting the door heavily. Jill’s heart sank with the bang.

Coop took a minute to appreciate his reconciliation with Jill before he sped off to the station. Brown arrived just in time to see Coop arrive and notice he hadn’t changed his clothes since he abruptly left the station the day before. Coop’s face yelled determination and focus. Brown decided against bringing up the walk of shame.

“I found something, Brown” Coop said while they walked into the station.

“Well?? Tell me what it is!” Coop was quiet. He led Brown to one of the interrogation rooms. “Are you going to tell me? Am I the new suspect? Why are we here, Coop?” Coop still did not speak. He peeped around, made sure no one was around then closed the door. He set down the visitors’ logs he had been carrying around.

“It’s big, Brown.”

“How big?”

“Bigger than our pay grade. Bigger than the Homicide Division. Bigger than the Chief”

“That big? Show me!”

“Are you sure? Because when you see this, you can’t unsee it. “

“Yes, Coop! Spit. It. Out.”

“Ok look here.” Coop opened up the logs. “Louis Manning almost always gets one visitor. Only one. The whole time he’s been in the nursing home. This man!” Coop pointed it out on the page. “See his name?”

“Leonard?” Brown answered naively.

“No his last name! Leonard Harris. That’s the mayor’s son. “

“The mayor doesn’t have a son and that last name is pretty common.”

“No. During his first election, he lost, there was a story that broke of his estranged son who had lived with his mother and her husband. They never realized his picture but they did say his name. It was Leonard Harris!! Then look here!” Coop turned the pages so fast, Brown would have sworn they’d tear. “The only other visitor the mayor himself! And he came with his son. Here, Charles and Leonard Harris! ”

“Ok, so they visited him. So what?”

“I know. So, I called the Rookie and had him look into a few things. Like who funded Louis Manning’s years in exile? It was Charles Harris. Who is Leonard’s mother? Martha Manning. Leonard is the lost Manning half -brother! And finally, guess when he changed his name! Oh, you got it! After Estelle Died. How’s that for ‘so what’ Brown?”

Brown stood completely astonished for a few seconds before he belted out gloriously, “We just blew this case wide open!”

“I blew the case wide open. You? Helped.” Coop said as he left the room.

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“Manning Murderer”

Det. Brown had been staring into the Chief’s office the whole time, trying to make out how the chief was reacting to Cooper’s actions. He didn’t want him fired or anything, just disciplined a bit. That’s why he called the officers. Brown assumed his life would be safer if Det. Cooper just calmed the fuck down sometimes, checked the boxes and filled his paperwork like the rest of the detectives. Like Brown had done for years, the bare minimum required of a homicide detective. But Brown knew Coop; for a long time enough now, the man had to go that extra reckless mile. He had to kick down the doors and shoot in the air when he arrived and burn it down while he walked away. He came with a certain flair; most days that was the best thing about him, not every day, however; certainly not on the day he threatened to shoot a civilian.  Brown knew he wasn’t scared of the man and his recklessness, just a little intimidated. Cooper was completely detached, an island fully sufficient relying on its own Ecosystem. A bomb could drop around him and he would still act the same. He’d probably start a race of hardened species incapable of weak emotion but they’d probably be miserable with no murders to solve. Brown thought jokingly. The shouting from the Chief’s office stopped. The two men in the Chief’s office now spoke confidentially, keenly. Brown could instantly tell that Coop had somehow managed to rope the Chief in. A skill unique to only Coop and maybe the Chief’s wife. Brown doubted the magnitude of the latter.

Seconds later, Coop was walking towards Brown. He had that look on his face. Brown knew it well. The look of curiosity and thirst for justice was intense. There was something that didn’t sit right with Cooper about this case, about Manning and Coop was willing to go to the ends of the Earth to find it.

“Hey! Rat!” Coop yelled looking straight at Brown, walking intently towards him. Brown was rattled, not sure if he should reply on account of his obvious ‘betrayal’ to his partner when he called the police on him. He resolved to remorse, only slightly genuine.

“Now Coop listen. You were off your loose hinges! You had a gun in her face!” Brown sounded frantic, getting up from his seat to ‘defend himself’.

Cooper began to shout, “This guy thinks it would be amusing if I was impotent.” The station fell silent in anticipation. Brown walked closer to Coop now realizing his punishment for the ‘betrayal’ would be public humiliation. He was almost whispering,

“I can make it up to you, Coop.”

Coop smiled, “Maybe he’s just mad my girl’s prettier than his. Huh? Huh?” He nudged Brown playfully, while the officers in the station burst out in roaring laughter. The ‘punishment’ was over. Coop got serious, wiping the smile off his face like it was never there.

“Tell me you talked to Fischer before she left.”

“Of course I did. She wasn’t very forthcoming about that time.”

“What’d she say then?”

“She said if any one killed Estelle, it was their father. Louis Manning, now about 70. Lives in one of those greasy old people homes. You know, the cheap ones….” Coop nodded, urging Brown on. Brown was the compassionate one. Civilians saw him as the equivalent of a cuddly crime fighting bear. He could get through to anyone, especially children. Coop, on the other hand, was the hard guy. The guy who beat it out of a suspect and knew when you were lying. They made a pretty good crime-fighting team, Soft yet Hard.

“Why did she think that? How bad was he?”

“Well, for one he molested them, all three.”

“Three??”

“Half-brother, youngest. Tell you about him later. So yeah, he touched them, abused them, beat them and a lot of other things that she didn’t need to delve into. She said he ‘loved’ her most. Even slept in her bed almost every night until she and her sister moved out. Even then, he’d show up at their house drunk and well….. Have his way. That’s not even the best part.”

“What is?” Coop played along because he could see Brown’s eyes light up. He could tell Brown was not a believer in the Manning Suicide either.

“Louis, the father. Left town for sixteen years just after they discovered Manning. Didn’t even attend the funeral. Now police ruled it a suicide so no one ever came looking for him but he stayed until the statute of limitations had run out. That’s if he raped her. And she was never given a proper autopsy and no rape test.”

“So our killer may be a rapist. Let’s get the lab to run a full autopsy on Alicia Doe, rape test included. No fucking up this time.” Brown pulled his little brown notebook from his breast pocket and began jotting.

“I’ll get that done. We going to see Manning the Murderer?” Brown chuckled at his own joke. Cooper didn’t laugh with him though, he stared into space thinking.

“No Brown. I have a feeling about this. Not a good one. Let me go see him, shake the trees before we brand him.”

“Alright, Coop. But it’s right there in front of you. ‘Man abuses and murders his daughter and four other women.’” Brown said resigning to the fact that the case could not go on until Coop was sure.

****

…Young girls they do get weary, wearing that old shaggy dress, yea……… Coop anxiously listened to the dial tones from his phone as the radio played calmly in the background. He loved Otis Redding, so did…..

“Yes?!” The voice on the other end was smooth, sweet and composed. It made Coop think of ice-cream, creamy, cold, relaxing.

“Jill? Hello.” He managed to get that out sounding a little like himself. He wanted to scream at the top of his lungs how sorry he was or how he felt his heart sink far past his stomach when he heard her voice for the first time in a long time, but he didn’t. He just said hello.

“Denny? Is that you? Oh, thank God! I thought you were dead, shot in the line of duty or something. I buy the paper every day to be sure you aren’t. How are you?” Jill’s voice remained calm, almost excited even. There was no shred of anger or remorse just concern. Pure wholesome concern, the kind Coop needed a whole bowl of. He trembled at the thought that she might have just forgiven him, just like that. He didn’t deserve it. He never did.

“I’ve been… I’ve been…. I’ve been good, Jill. I just wanted to hear your voice. How are you?” He struggled to sound like himself, strong and unweakened by her. Because he was, weakened, even miles away the sound of her voice sufficed to tear his hardened shell down.

“You didn’t call, D”

“What?” He heard her but he couldn’t muster the courage and maturity he needed for this conversation.

“I said bye forever and you didn’t call. I really thought you would. I thought I’d break Coop, get Denny and ride off into the sunset. But you didn’t call.

“Jill…. Wait….” She cut him off

“You know I knew you wouldn’t. You couldn’t. Your mind wouldn’t let your heart be.” Cooper was confused, speechless to say the least, “It’s my fault.”

“What? Jill, No!” She cut him off again.

“I know what you’re going to say, Denny. I’m a good girl, I deserve better. But I fell for you, that’s my fault. God knows you kept telling me not to. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have left. You need me more than I need some of these things from you. “

“I’m working this new case.” He deflected the emotional

“Oh jolly! What’s it about?”

“Young girl, little younger than you was found with her wrists slit for her. Everyone wants a suicide but when I see murder baby….”

“It’s murder, baby.” They laughed. The tension had passed, they were Oh Kay! “But seriously D. isn’t it hard?”

“Nope. I mean I already roped it the Chief and……”

“Not that, baby!! Cause of your mum! She…..” Cooper froze, he was five minutes from the retirement home. He knew he had time to talk about this but….

“Hey Jill, Got to catch a bad guy. I’ll call you later.” He hung up. He pulled into the retirement home parking lot.

He sat at the reception for fifteen minutes before Mr. Manning wheeled himself into the room. It gave him too much time to think. He knew that Jill still wanted an apology, even though she acted like she didn’t. He also knew he was not in the position to give one, not if he wanted to keep seeing her. He also knew that it was at least a little unfair to keep her like that; waiting for crumbs of his affection. Why did she do this to herself! It was all very complicated, to say the least. He didn’t want to be distracted so he couldn’t let Jill and her his feelings distract him. He snapped back to reality as Mr. Manning ‘parked’ in front of him.

“Mr. Manning? I’m Detective Cooper. I’d like to ask you some questions.”

“Sure, Officer.”  It’s Detective, scumbag. “Let’s talk in the garden.” Walking behind this foul human being, Coop winced. A man like this, a demon, evil everywhere worst of all deep in his soul. Evil enough to molest his children. His own kids! The devil himself!

“This is a good spot. So what’s up, Cap’? “

“It’s Detective, Sir. I’d like to talk to you about your daughter.” Mr. Manning’s wrinkled face lit up and his lips curved as far as they could.

“Lynette? I haven’t seen her in ages. What’d she say? How’s she doing?” Doing better far away from you scumbag!

“No, Mr. Manning. Estelle.” Louis’ face cringed and his smile completely disintegrated. “Her body was found, wrists slit, in her apartment……”

“Twenty years ago!” Louis cut him off. Coop could see the man was getting irritable so he was going to keep poking.

Aha! Now we’re talking. “Tell me about her.”

“Why? Can’t you get the old case file? It’s been twenty years, Officer and she killed herself. You said it yourself.”

“I didn’t say she killed herself. I said her wrists were slit.” Coop sat on the bench near him. “We found a girl like we found Estelle. Then another and another. It is now our belief that Estelle was murdered. And no doubt by someone close to her, cause she was the first victim. “

“And you think I did it?? I did nothing but love that girl. It hurt me deeply that she passed away like that.”

“Hmm…. Nothing but love, eh?” Coop paused, staring into the man’s eyes, hoping to catch a glimpse of his blackened soul. “Mr. Manning, we know you molested your daughter and the other daughter too, oh and we also know your molested your step son. “

“Suicides are very hard, especially for families.” Especially when you stage them too. The man stared at his fingers, a remorseful look on his face. Coop was not buying it. “I do NOT appreciate you dredging up old pain after twenty years, Officer.” Coop’s patience was waning. Here’s this brutal killer, scratch that, serial killer; one who would rather the victim’s families believe that their loved one killed themselves. This guy was as foul and evil as they come. Yet here he sat whining about how sad he was twenty years ago or how sad he still is about it. He belonged in the abyss of the worst prison this country has and Coop would be responsible for putting him there, locking the door and throwing away the key.

“For the last time, it’s De-Tec-Tive! And something else Mr Grieving Father, I don’t believe you for a second. I can smell crocodile’s tears miles away, Manning. You killed that girl! And now you don’t want to talk about it? Ah-ah Murderer Manning! You’ll talk, you’ll sing like a bird by the time I’m done!” Coop was raising his voice now, bearing over Louis Manning like an eagle going in for the kill. “Why did you leave only a day after her death? Only to return sixteen years later?” Manning dropped his head, “Your other kids. They needed you and you ‘loved’ them. So why the 16 year vacation, huh? Statute of Limitations? ” Coop gripped his weapon ready to subdue the suspect as soon as he confessed. But he didn’t confess, he began to weep instead and continued to weep for several minutes. Coop stared at him, waiting for him to peep the wrong way; then he’d be sure the man was faking. A few more tears in, he couldn’t take it. The devil was pleading mercy in front of him, and he wasn’t buying it.

“Come on! We’ll take a ride to the station.”

“What??” Manning choked on his tears, utterly confused about what the Detective was talking about.

“Answer my questions then. Or we have to do this at the station in cuffs and your favourite colour jumpsuit. They don’t clean anything in that holding cell, least of all….”

“Ok ok ok!” Manning caved, Coop smiled. “I left because I thought that I was the reason she…..” He sniffed loudly. The man was broken. He seemed to have taken a lot of time rebuilding himself too. Coop didn’t like how this sat. This feeble old man, can’t leave his retirement home, needs a full time nurse and worse still he’s in a wheel chair. It would take him a whole lot of energy and an accomplice to pull this off. Cooper began to walk away. He could still hear the man’s frantic sobs. He made his way to the reception. A young attractive lady sat there reading a backless novel with her spectacles worn low. She ignored him at first. He began tapping his fingernails against the reception desk. She looked up, uninterested.

“Detective Cooper,” he flashed his badge. “Can I see all your visitor logs for the last four years?”

Looking back into her book, “No. Those are confidential, Sir.”

“De-Tec-Tive! To you! I can always come back with a warrant and a SWAT team. Bet you’d all enjoy seeing all these old people having a collective heart attack.”

She rolled her eyes before reaching for a handful of hardcover books under her desk. Cooper nodded in appreciation before he took them with him to his car. “Asshole.” She murmured under her breathe as he shut the door behind him.