It took approximately ten minutes to put out the car fire, and less than thirty seconds for the fire department to discover the body inside of it.
Detectives Molly Fetterly and Jim Biggins arrived at the shuttered Union Camp paper plant on Monday just after 3 am, and saw what was left of the Nissan Sentra in the swirling red and white lights of the fire truck parked nearby. Fire Department Lieutenant Kevin Dobbs stood by the car and shouted to the three younger firefighters with him to “get the pipe racked up” in case they had to “go out on another stretch” that night. Dobbs was a stout man with a face as worn and as creased as the gloves on his hands. When he noticed the Detectives crossing the parking lot he waved one of the gloves at them. “Chewie and Leia, nice to see you again.”
Molly, who barely cleared five foot, looked up at the six-foot-six Jim Biggins and asked, “That never gets old, does it?”
“Oh, not at all,” he deadpanned. “What’s the other thing they call us?”
“Hagrid and Hermione.”
“Yeah, that one’s a hoot.”
“Relax,” Dobbs said. “I’m just busting your balls. Truth be told, I’m glad you got here as quick as you did. I didn’t want the sharks coming out before we had this squared away.”
“Sharks?” Molly asked.
“Anyway, it’s in the truck. You can see it through the backseat.”
Molly activated her flashlight and inspected the charred husk of the Sentra. She aimed her beam at the area Dobbs mentioned, or what was left of it considering the cushions and material were completely gone and only the seat frame remained.
And on the other side of it, from the darkness of the truck, a charred face stared at her.
Her grip tightened around the flashlight. Sweat rose in her palms, uneasiness prodded her stomach, and her heart pounded against the door of her chest. Stop, she told herself. Stop. Breathe.
She shook off the nerves and continued toward the backside of the car.
The license plate, although blackened from smoke damage, was relatively unharmed. The numbers and letters were still visible. Molly dug her cellphone out of her jacket pocket and called the number in. She could hear the dispatcher clicking around on the keyboard. After an eternity of seconds the dispatcher told her who the car belonged to.
And Jim saw his partner’s face. “What?”
“The car belongs to Frank,” she said.
All of the air seemed to leave Jim’s body.
“Frank who?” Dobbs asked.
“Kohler,” Molly said, her words, her body, numb. “Frank Kohler. Former lead detective on our unit.”
“Our old boss,” Jim added. “He retired a few years ago.”
Molly, pulling her gaze away from the backseat, turned and shouted to the firefighters near the truck, “Can you guys pry the trunk open?” She set her flashlight on the ground, shoved her phone into her jacket, and quickly pulled out a pair of blue latex gloves from her back pocket.
One of the firefighters fetched a pry bar from the truck and popped it. Molly picked her flashlight off the ground, aimed it inside and saw the backside of the corpse. The clothes were intact for the most part and on the seat of the pants, she saw a rectangular outline in the denim where a thick wallet sat. She reached in, trying to force her mind off the fact that she was pick pocketing a dead man (a dead man she knew, a dead man that was her boss, her friend, a dead man she … Stop … Breathe …), and retrieved the wallet. She opened it.
Frank Kohler smiled at her from the confines of his driver’s license.
Dr. Gianna Talib phoned Molly the day after the car fire and made plans to meet up with her and Jim Biggins early Tuesday afternoon. The three of them gathered in a small conference room at the Chief Medical Examiner’s office, and in keeping with her reputation of not dallying around an issue and getting to the point, no matter how uncomfortable the point might be, the Doctor put it matter-of-factly. “Frank Kohler was killed three days ago.”
“What?” Molly and Jim said, almost in unison.