This is an excerpt from my ebook The Pride of the Hills: A Vollie’s Memoir available for $.99 on Amazon until 11/22/13
The circles of light chaotically skipped across the black plain. Occasionally they would illuminate the crumbling red brick wall that acted as the border for the blackness. We moved forward one step at a time, the circles’ pace becoming less frenzied with every foot of ground gained.
Interrupting the silence, the police officer to my right asked, “Are they sure she was up here?”
“Yeah, they saw her go up the stairs,” answered the other officer from my left. “He went up right after her. He came back down five minutes later.”
I silently continued walking in cadence with my comrades. I already knew the answers for which we were searching. I could smell it. Thick as smoke from a wood fire, the smell had permeated everything around us. He had been here.
“Maybe she went down but didn’t use the stairs,” suggested my partner Danny as he aimed his flashlight to a dark corner of the rooftop. He held his light steady for a moment while carefully studying what it had landed upon. “Then again, maybe not.”
We pointed our flashlights in the direction Danny had stopped. She was lying sprawled out on her back. The ebony skin of her legs was significantly lighter than the black tar paper she was lying on. We were able to see up to her blue denim shorts. They were stained a majestic purple.
Silently, the four of us approached. We were a posse of opposites. Two of our members were upholders of the law, gun wielders who placed themselves in the midst of violence attempting to maintain peace. The others were acolytes of medicine, bandage applicators who walked into pain and suffering while vainly trying to heal the self-inflicted wounds of inadequacy.
We surrounded her from all sides. The legs were twisted and separated from each other. They lay still while giving the impression of running forward. Her torso was covered in a crimson blouse. Faint daisy flower patterns appeared beneath the stains in contempt of the rips and tears they had endured. Her arms were limp at her side. Dripping and circular crimson stains appeared along the appendages. Her palms faced upward. They appeared to be reaching out and waiting for a warm embrace.
“What do you think?” asked one of the officers.
Danny knelt down next to her. He was facing the back of her head when reaching down and placing two fingers on her neck. Under the moonlight the tribal tattoos that adorned his arms seemed to blend with the darker splotches on the girl’s skin. He paused for a moment.
“Ten-eighty-three, call the sergeant,” he said, looking up at the officer.
A chill began in the well of my back, slowly radiating up to my neck. I envisioned her as she lay there. The fluid of life was seeping from the broken shell, her soul desperately commanding her arms to staunch the flow. Her attacker had fled from the rooftop. The cries that had driven him away were turning into whimpers. He had left her as quickly as he had been upon her, without warning. She was not alone.
Grim stood nearby, watching her flail about. His breath was creating a cloud of smoke in the humid air that dissipated before him. The hood hid his face from her warm eyes. His bony fingers were gingerly wrapped around his staff. The grains of sand trickled through the shaft, one at a time. He waited patiently to bear witness of her final moment.
She began to gasp. Every breath became harder to take. Her hands were warm and sticky from trying to staunch the flow. They continued to erratically stumble across her chest. The warmth of her life force ebbed away.
The curved blade of his staff flashed in the rising moon’s light. He moved closer. He moved at his own pace until he was standing directly above her, then spread his arms open. His cloak hung motionless in the air. He stood poised like a vulture circling above a carcass of the next meal.
The sound of the city whispered in her ear to let go. The grains of sand had neared the end. The light in her eyes flickered. Her head involuntarily fell to the side. Her mouth opened to cry out one last time. No sound came forth. The last grain of sand had fallen.
Her hands defiantly moved at a lessened pace, slowly becoming cold and stiff. Finally, they fell openly apart to Grim’s embrace. He swooped down at his waist to collect his prize. His arms enclosing her essence. He absorbed her, leaving a useless husk lying cold in the warm night air.
“Be careful where you step,” Danny said as he straightened himself up and jarred me to reality. The officer nodded. He turned away from us and began walking toward the doorway that had allowed the young girl access to the afterlife.
I encircled the girl’s body with my light. Seeping out from around her was a dark pool of blood. It spilled at least three inches from where her body was strewn about. Danny took a step back. He left the edge of the pool perforated with a partial boot print perpendicular to a full imprint of another shoe.
“That mark is mine,” said Danny, focusing on the evidence of his intrusion. The officer looked at it. He reached slowly into his pocket and produced a notepad. Scribbling furiously, he walked in a circle around the body. His eyes darted from one side to the other in an attempt to take a picture of the sight before him without the aid of a camera or film.
I moved slowly around her body. A small pocketbook had been emptied on the ground just out of her reach. Quietly, with the moon at my back I knelt where the items were lying. Material objects that belonged to a child. They were things that had been cherished during happier times.
There on the ground was a gold-encased lipstick. An unopened pack of gum lay across it. Alone they were for entertaining and entertainment. Together they formed a crude cross. Where is the compassion, God? I thought, Why would you deny me the opportunity to save this child?
Beside the empty bag was a strip of five photos. It was the type from a booth at the mall. Life poured off the paper in each one. Five goofy poses with a friend. Thirty seconds of joy and happiness immortalized for less than a dollar. To return to those thirty seconds would have been priceless.
The flash from the crime scene camera startled me. A serious pose with a total stranger. As I looked up, more police officers had arrived. They began to raise the yellow tape as a barrier.
There was another flash of light. Dark spots danced before my eyes. When the spots cleared, just beyond the tape I could see Grim standing against the red brick wall. Although the hood hid his face, I knew his bony mouth was creased upwards. He casually swung the curved blade atop his staff in a circular motion. He was patiently waiting for me to pronounce him the winner of this race. He was waiting for our next race to begin.
I glanced down at my watch. The hands seemed frozen in place. I felt a lump rise in my throat. It threatened to gag me. I coughed slightly to dislodge the bile before declaring, “Time of death twenty-one-oh-five.” I raised my eyes up toward the red brick wall but Grim was gone.
A long sigh escaped from my chest. My one hand removed the baseball cap I was wearing. The other hand ran its fingers through my sweat-drenched hair. I placed the cap back on my head. My wet hand ran itself over my closed eyes to the bridge of my nose. When I opened my eyes again I was looking directly into her bluish face.
Her head was turned toward me. The cheeks were puckered inward. The eyes were wide open. No wrinkles creased the skin around them. I kneeled on the edge of the pool facing her. I looked into her eyes. Any sign of life within them had been replaced by the essence of innocence lost. No matter which way I moved, they were seemingly transfixed on the heavenly body ascending the sky.
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