Detective Stanford stood over the cheerleader. If those marks on her neck were covered up, she'd look like she was sleeping. He placed the purple butterfly comforter back over the nude body.
"What can you tell me, Finch?"
The coroner stopped taking pictures of the room from a low angle. "Marilyn Gayle, nineteen, cheerleader for the basketball team. Going by the core body temperature, she's been dead over eighteen hours." Finch, still kneeling, looked up at the detective. "Looks an awful lot like your daughter, Detective. I called you in before I realized it wasn't Caroline."
Stanford grunted in agreement. "You scared the shit out of me, but I appreciate you calling." He pulled out a small black notebook and a grubby stump of a golf pencil. "Who found the body?"
Finch pointed towards the door. A scruffy old janitor, green uniform stained and threadbare, shifted nervously while holding on to the doorknob. He was staring at the lump under the comforter, his face red from booze or fear.
"Come with me," ordered Stanford. He steering the janitor through the clogged dorm halls and outside the back door.
The detective wrote a preliminary description of the old man in the book, followed by a question. "How did you find the young lady?" The pencil hovered, waiting to record the interview.
The janitor cleared his throat. It had rained the previous night, and the clouds were threatening more. Stanford noted the janitor might have flu symptoms.
"I was s'posed to fix the leaky faucet in her bathroom. I was goin' to try Friday, but she was havin' a big fight with her boyfriend." He puffed his chest out. "I would'a put a stop to him, but he stormed out past me. He was goin' on about her cheatin', and when he burst out of the room, I could see her standin' there nekkid. I closed the door for her, and he left."
Stanford's pencil glided over the page, recording the words and the mannerisms. "About what time was this?"
The old man looked up at the ceiling and wrinkled his brow in thought. "Must'a been ten at night."
The detective's pencil paused. He looked up at the old man's face. "Bit late for fixing faucets."
The janitor blushed even more. "No, I always putter around. I live in a basement room. I promised her I would fix it last week, and I felt obligated to get it done when I had the time."
The pencil resumed its dance. The janitor put his shaking hands in his pockets.
"OK, so let's get back to the original question. How did you find the young lady?"
The old man jerked his hands out of his pockets and began wringing them together. "I tried to find her on Saturday, but she didn't answer the door. Yesterday, someone sent flowers. Probably her boyfriend, tryin' to act like he was sorry. I have a master key, so when she didn't answer her door, I opened it to put the flowers in." He stopped wringing his hands and looked at the floor. "She was just lyin' there, like she was sleepin' nekkid on the rug."
Stanford shook his hand, trying to relieve the cramp from writing. "What was the time?"
"About nine this mornin'. I was over in the student union building, fixing a dishwasher all day. I stayed over all Saturday 'cuz I didn't want to get soaked by that big storm. Had to watch some kids play Dungeons and Dragons, stupid nerds. When I got back, I saw 'I'll Kill You' written with shaving cream in front of her window, on the cement walkway, but I paid it no mind. Kids were always pulling pranks. I called the campus cops first when I found her. I was –"
"YOU OLD SHIT!" Stanford jumped at the shout behind him. A tall, lanky student was stomping towards the janitor. "You killed my girlfriend, you old perv!"
The janitor backpedaled into a bush and fell over. His face showed genuine fear, and he pointed a shaking finger at the young man. "That's him! He done killed her!"
Detective Stanford placed his hand on the revolver at his side. "Hold it right there," he bellowed.
The student seemed to finally notice the burly officer and stopped short. Stanford watched the instinct to run and to fight wrestle for control of the young man's body. Neither won, so he just stood there, glaring at the janitor.
"What's your name?" asked Stanford, glancing at the old man.
"Watkins. Jerry Watkins," said the janitor. "Can I go to my apartment now?"
The Detective nodded, and then turned back to the youth. The kid looked like he wanted to beat Watkins, but he didn't move. The janitor slunk off through the doorway, muttering to himself.
"What's your name, kid?" Stanford's pencil began scribbling again.
"Jon Mayers, but everyone calls me Big Jon. I'm on the team." He seemed to relax slightly.
"Are you Marilyn's boyfriend?"
"Yeah, but we were about to break up. She was sleeping with the team captain, my best friend."
"What's his name?"
"Bob McKee." The line of questioning began to agitate him again.
"OK, can you tell me where you were Friday?" The pencil recorded the student's anger and frustration.
He looked almost embarrassed. "I found her and Bob in bed. I think I broke his tooth when I hit him."
Stanford looked up from the book. "Did you hit her?"
"Fuck no, man. I don't hit girls." He folded his arms, tense but leaning back on one leg. "Even though she deserved to get smacked."
"So, after you hit Ben, you..."
"Bob, not Ben. I yelled at her, and I left. I ran into that old fart, trying to peep into the little window by the hall door. He got an eye full, but I chased him off." He looked at Stanford's face for the first time. "He's always looking through windows and cracks at the girls. People have complained; ask the campus rent-a-cops."
"Campus police officers," corrected the detective. "I will follow up on it. For now, I have to let you know you're a suspect, so let me read you your rights."
A few minutes later, Stanford turned the young man over to the campus police.
+ + +
"Talk to me, Finch," said the detective around a sandwich. The body had been placed on a stretcher, and the campus police began to clear off the crowd. The open door let the heat from the early afternoon waft in.
"Body temp shows she's been dead since late Friday or early Saturday, but an autopsy will be more precise. The shaving cream threat outside the window was made with Edge gel. It was barely foamy when I saw it, but several witnesses said the foam was thick when it was raining." Finch shrugged. "Open and shut case. You going to arrest the punk?"
The detective grinned, handing half of the roast beef on rye to the coroner. "No such thing as an open and shut case. Besides," he nodded towards the body, "she deserves better."
+ + +
Stanford went to retrieve the young man from the campus police car. He stopped a pimply junior officer from yelling at the student.
"He's innocent, Officer, until proven guilty. Don't badger him." The officer scowled and wandered off.
Big Jon unfolded from the rear seat. "You gonna arrest me? I didn't kill her."
"I may have to; just answer a few more questions for me."
The kid nodded in reply.
"What brand of shaving cream do you use?"
Raising an eyebrow, the student looked confused. "I use an electric razor. What kind of question is that?"
"Just following up on a theory. Sorry, but I'll have to cuff you." He made the kid sit on a graffiti-covered bench next to the police car and handcuffed him.
Detective Stanford walked over to the window of Marilyn's dorm room. The faint outline of the threat was still visible. He placed his hand on the window glass, and then felt the pane for the room next door. It was colder; the air conditioner was keeping the closed room at a comfortable temperature.
He drew his weapon and entered the building.
+ + +
"Let the kid go," Stanford told the policemen glaring at Big Jon. He pushed the janitor towards them. The old man stumbled, but kept his footing despite being handcuffed. "Here's the murderer."
Finch had followed the detective out of the building. He looked incredulously at his friend, someone he had worked with for years. "You gotta be kidding me. He has a solid alibi."
The big detective grinned. "Not for the time he was killing the girl. She's been dead since late Saturday night, not Friday."
The campus officers crowded around the janitor and the detective. "This I have to hear," said the pimple-faced cop.
Finch shook his head. "Her body temp was too low."
"Yes," said Stanford. "That almost got me. The thermostat in her room was set to forty degrees, but it was turned off manually. You needed a key to turn it off, and the janitor has one. He let the room cool down to lower her core temperature, then turned off the air conditioner early this morning to let the room warm back up."
Pimple-face pointed at the ground outside the dorm window where the murder took place. "Wait, the message was foaming early this morning when Watkins was in the student union. I saw him there, he never left until a little after eight. The gamers say he was there since eleven last night."
"Yes, that reminds me." He tossed a can of Edge shaving gel to the cop. "Watkins wrote it early last night. When it rained, it made the gel foam, which attracted attention. Watkins killed Marilyn when she told him to get lost. I guess seeing her naked sent him over the edge. No pun intended."
The campus police placed the janitor in a car and drove off. Stanford uncuffed Big Jon, who looked bewildered as he rubbed the red marks on his wrists.
"What made you suspicious of the old man?" the youth asked finally.
"Well, first off, when I stressed him with questions about fixing faucets late at night, his voice change from a hayseed to a sophisticated Midwesterner for a minute. He seemed more worried than shocked. You reacted properly when I questioned you." The detective lit a cigarette and inhaled. "That wasn't enough for a jury, but it was enough to make me wonder. The rest just fell into place."
Big Jon shook his head. "I owe you my life; they would've given me the chair."
"Well, Jon, sometimes police do the right thing. Next time, give 'em a fair shake before you disparage them with 'rent-a-cop' labels."
Jon looked up as Finch's assistant wheeled the gurney from the doorway towards the coroner's truck. "Yes, Sir, I will."