A Fallen Bird
The wind cut across the black infinity in ferocious bellows. In the darkness of a cold winter’s night, an ashen silhouette of a hand slithered over the glass-hard snow. The figure of a girl’s head thudded consistently into deep depressions created by the boots of the man whom tugged and heaved the naked body onerously by the shins. The man struggled in the contrast of the dark grey snow. He brought the girl to the edge of land where a black river flowed softly against the embankment. The man’s breath feathered white in the air as he hooked the girl’s underarms and tossed her into the black currents. The floating mound disappear into the night.
Weeks later upstream on a warm winter’s day, a truant boy plowed his boots through a pulpous layer of melted snow over the walking path of a bleak city park. Two buildings ascended into the cloudy sky above the unvarying row of the park’s skeletal like treeline. Adjacent to the park a widespread river flowed languidly to a highway bridge built before the small city. The boy looked to where a breeze had gone west through the park and past the river to an assembly of bare poplar and dark pine beyond the far shore. Light pluming breath. In the mounds of ice conveying in the current, the boy noticed a strange figure roll along the riverbank and he stepped off the sidewalk into the deep and sodden snow and went to the figure he leered. At the embankment, he stood with an unsettled expression as he studied the lumping form. A web of black strains swirled in the navy-blue water like a grim and aberrant flower among crystal bricks. Pale shoulder blades protruded and, seconds after, the lower half of a naked female emerged from beneath the broken ice. The boy was stupefied and shaking. He finally pulled out his phone and took a picture and dialed 911, watching and trailing the corpse floating along the riverbank.
An hour went by as emergency personnel and eager reporters arrived at the river. Curious pedestrians chattered in low speculation as they gathered on the walking path up to where the yellow barricade tape waved lightly in the breeze. The disquieted city brimmed with dissonant traffic as drivers studied the scene from the filling parking lots and busy streets. From a distance, they watched the emergency units scampering in the heavy snow as if waiting for something to happen. They’d heard a girl had drowned or something of that nature. The bystanders took photos of the commotion with their cellphones like independent reporters of their own online social profiles.
Meanwhile, at the riverbank, two men wearing diving suits walked chest high out into the frigid water and grabbed the girl’s body and brought her back to shallows where investigators stood by and snapped pictures. The divers carried her out of the water and handed her to the paramedics who placed her on a stretcher. The entire response unit collectively stood in silence at the unfortunate sight of a young and once beautiful native girl who lay pale blue and bare among the pondering bystanders. Her cataract-like eyes stared vacantly into the grey void above. Her face and body were disfigured and swollen by the moisture and bruises and lacerations littered in her flesh. A lifeless daughter lay the focal point of sombre examination.
They covered and strapped her body in a white sheet and hauled her away through the snowy park. Reporters took photographs and shouted questions to the RCMP passing through the crowds. The public appalled in the distance. A native RCMP corporal by the name of Jori Cardinal was selected to stand before the handful of local news reporters as they shoved their phones and mics to his face like an electronic bouquet. He cleared his throat and looked to the gather with an expressionless face.
“I’m Corporal Jori Cardinal,” he declared, “I, along with my partner, were first to arrive on scene. Questions?”
“Who was it?” one voiced shouted through.
Another called immediately after. “Who found the body?”.
The reporters inquired near the same time, one after the other. Was she aboriginal? Who committed the murder? Was it a suicide?
Jori expelled a deep plume and he brought up his hands and waved to dim the banter. “Okay—okay,” he broke through their voices, “look, this is going to be brief. Here’s what I could tell you. Unfortunately, we do believe the victim to be a young girl. We don’t know anything in regards to the victim. So don’t ask.”
“Was she aboriginal?” one inquired, regardless.
The corporal shook his head and scoffed. “We believe so. But, look, we don’t know anything. What happened, who she was… but I can guarantee both the city police and the RCMP will work diligently so we could answer these questions.” He looked at the ambulance her body went. “It is unfortunate.”
After several questions, he waved farewell and left to the panel, ignoring further inquests. His partner, Constable Donovan Garth, sat waiting on the driver side of the ’06 Chev Silverado. Garth knew not to bother the older officer who crawled in scoffing and grumbling beneath his breath. Not that Cardinal hated to be in front of cameras, it was the loath of repeating himself. To ask him anything at that moment would be out of line, as a friend.
The door slammed shut at Jori’s side. “Why do you white people have to ask so many questions?” he said.
Garth smiled. “Hey, there was that cute little thing from APTN in there. She’s native. And she was the one expecting a confession out of you.” He pointed to her somewhere out through the window. “Her.” They stared at the cute reporter about a minute… “And I’m not white, I’m Metis, I told you.”
“At least, I’m half right.”
Garth shook his head. “Detachment?” he asked, palm over the automatic shift.
Staff Sergeant Theresa Healy stood at the end of the detachment’s meeting room, her eyes watching over her reading glasses. Behind her cream, coloured walls shine luminously from the many fluorescent lights humming above. She pursed her lips and licked her fingertip before sifting through the papers in a clipboard. The women, in her fifties, sighed and dropped the clipboard on the wooden table surrounded by officers. The slapping snap breaking the silence.
“Well,” Healy said, looking to each officer, “that poor girl is in the labs as we speak. Once we identify who she is, first thing we do is contact the parents. Ask them what they know. Who she was last with, where she goes, who she was. Obviously, what we could tell was that she was in the river for quite some time. So we’ll have to keep our eyes peeled from here to who-knows-how-far-up that river. Georgie,” she called to a heavy set officer eating a sour cream doughnut.
“Yeah?” he replied, crumbs falling beneath his chin.
“Georgie.” She wiped her mouth in suggestion.
And he wiped his too. “Thanks.”
“Georgie, I’ll have you get dispatch to send word of this case federally. Tell every detachment from here to North Battleford. I’m sure they’ll figure it out sooner or later, but just to be sure. So after this meeting, let them know what’s going on.”
“Yes, ma’am,” he said, smiling. Good old Georgie wasn’t ashamed of his eating habits. He grabbed another baked good.
“Jori,” Healy addressed.
He looked to the short women standing stern in her soft blue uniform. “Yes, Sarge?”
“You were first on the scene. We’ll just cut to chase. You’re now detective on this case, corporal. If anyone in this room digs up any information, you report it to Corporal Cardinal here, immediately. Okay? So that means you too, Garth, will take lead on this. To investigate this case within the city perimeters, Graham and Bartley will take care of it. Okay?” She looked to Sherry Graham and Ron Bartley. Two young cops who the older members of the detachment thought to be inexperienced. A few were surprised with the decision. “You four are the brains and brawn behind this case,” Healy continued. “Any questions?” All were quiet. “No. Okay, good. Oh,” she realized, “and until we know for sure, no one here is talking about this case with the media, okay? These missing and murdered cases are fucking loud and contrived so let’s not blow it out of proportion.”
Jori nodded, content with the thought of not having to deal with the public. The staff sergeant walked out of the meeting and Jori watched as the officers gathered their papers and followed her out. Corporal Graham and Constable Barkley were last to get up and leave. The four assigned officers looked to each other in a silent initiation. The humming of the fluorescent lights above.
Later in the detachment, Garth stood at the coffee brewer and prepared for a fresh pot. As the black liquid filled, he looked about the office. The other officers chatted around their desks. Telephones rang. Fax machines dialed. Printers inked in clangour. When the pot spewed the last bit, he filled two large foam cups and stirred in a few sugar cubes and brought the steaming drinks through the office and to the desk where Jori sat typing in the case report. Garth set the streaming cup next to the keyboard and rested his hip on the desk. “Enjoy,” he insisted to the busy man.
“You should be doing this right now, Don.”
“Yeah, true. But I think I’m getting carpal.”
“Quit jerking off so much then…And done,” Jori said, punching in the last few letters convincingly. “For now.” He sipped the coffee and smacked his lips afterward. “Not bad. The wife wants me to quit drinking coffee in the evening.”
“Losing too much sleep?”
“No, not really. I just get too hyper. She can barely handle it these days, if you know want I mean,” he laughed, his tongue protruding.
A smile was pinned to Garth’s shaking head as if he nearly spit out his coffee. He swallowed the liquid. “You’re like almost 100, don’t tell me that.”
“100? Are you calling me and my wife old?”
Jori was forty-two. His wife thirty-three. Jori spent ample amounts of time in the gym, at home and in the public facilities, so the age difference wasn’t so apparent in family photos. Jori was the type to fix his hair eloquently, slick folds defining his barber cut style. He was slightly sensitive to compliments pertaining to age and looks.
“I’m calling you decrepit, old timer,” he punched his shoulder, “you’re wife’s still a fine Pocahontas.”
“That’s better.” Jori took a sip.
“So,” the young cop cleared his throat, “what do you think?”
Jori let out a long, deep sigh. “Bruises. Deep ass cuts. We’ll find out soon if she was raped or if she was possibly molested. I think we could have a girl who was reported missing in the past two, three months, possibly, in our hands. If I were to guess, she was murdered, dragged to the river maybe a few days ago after the killer didn’t know what to do with her. I’ve never investigated a murder, Don. But there’s going to be a number of people wanting answers, and I intend to answer and find out as much as I could. Step by step. I want to know.”
“Do you finally feel like you’re doing something as a cop? That’s just how I feel right now.”
Jori leaned back on the officer chair, his chest pointing to the ceiling. “Don, I wake up every day praying that I do my job well enough so I don’t have to see anyone come out of rivers like that around here. I could of went my last few years as a cop without seeing that and I would of been fine.”
“I didn’t mean it like that,” he apologized. “I’m just tired of handing out speeding tickets and fucking dealing with the same old drunks around here, you know? I’m saying that I feel great going after a real criminal, a real crime. Someone who’s done real detriment. I don’t think I would have signed on to the force if I knew it’d be so mundane as it’s been the past few years. Actually thought about quitting.”
Don Garth was a twenty-five-year-old man who grew up in the southern areas of the province. He played as a first line defenceman on every hockey team he was a part of. And with his 6’5 frame and wide build, he excelled on the ice. Crushing opponent’s who dared enter his team’s end zone, injuring their star forwards with clean, and, sometimes, dirty hits. The type of player you’d rather have on your team.
“You wouldn’t have been a cop if you knew there were no murders, eh?”
“I’m saying I wouldn’t have joined if I knew there were no issues. No fight. No justice to be found. But these missing women, they need us. This city needs us. There is a fight.”
“Oh, God. So justice? That’s your reward? Fuck the money, fuck the benefits. Justice?”
“Justice, my friend,” Garth said coolly.
Jori laughed and cleared his throat with a drink of coffee. “You’re full of shit. You just came for the gun.”
“Oh,” he smiled and placed his fingers over the handle of the .40 S&W, “that’s pretty nifty, too.”
“Jori,” Georgie called to him from across the office, “phone’s for you. They got her.”
Jori and Don looked to each other. The telephone on the desk rang a fraction before his hand snapped to answer it.
“Cardinal,” he confirmed.
It was 7:45 in the evening. Jori and Garth stood in the halls of the morgue watching the forensic pathologist through a wired window on the door as he hovered over the girl’s lifelessly body, pointing and explaining the traumas to the coroners that stood opposite. Jori looked to the floor at the sight of her exposed body and knocked to address their arrival. The pathologist covered the girl up to her neck and after the officers walked into the examination room, looking upon her face as they gathered.
The victim’s swelling had faded considerably since afternoon. Jori disregarded the sombre thoughts—that of the shame in wasted beauty and that of the sadness in a young life taken—and examined the girl’s face thoroughly in a professional mindset. What he could tell of the girl was that she took care of herself before her death. The victim showed signs opposite to that of depression and suicide which were in most cases poor personal hygiene. She took care of herself before her death. Her brows were trimmed perfectly symmetrical. She had her ears pierced numerously on each ear. Her lips showed signs of previous lip piercings, grown in since. Her neck was bruised in such a way she had been choked, however, the marks were faded, indicating that they may have been inflicted before her death. Marks common in abusive relationships.
The pathologist removed the glasses that were barely on his nose. “Her name was Alexis Bird,” he broke the silence. “She would have been 20 yesterday. Originally born in the city here. She grew up on a reserve most of her childhood. According to her file, was arrested numerous times during her teens here in the city, so she must have moved away from her home here during those years. Something I’m sure her father will know more about.”
Jori looked up to him. “Father?”
The pathologist coughed. “Well, unfortunately, her mother passed away some years ago. Her father’s name is Kenneth Wiever.”
Jori’s jaw slanted. “Shit,” he muttered.
Garth winced. “Kenneth Wiever? No…”
Jori nodded in dismay.
Kenneth Wiever was a homeless man who they often found in the jail’s drunk tank for misdemeanours and causing mischief. If he wasn’t in holding cells, he had been roaming about the streets or at the mall panhandling for his next drink, possibly drugs. He had been arrested on a number of occasions shoplifting mouthwash and robbing houses. A pure, nonsensical nuisance. Jori recalled the time he had to pepper spray Kenneth and his friends for refusing to get in his panel after trying to steal from a gumball machine.
“I take it you know who Kenneth is,” the pathologist said.
“The poor girl,” Jori said. “He’s always out of his head. Stealing and panhandling around the mall. I wouldn’t have thought he’d have a daughter.”
“Terrible.” The pathologist looked at the girl. “Shall we?”
Garth put his hand over Jori’s shoulder in assuring manner.
“Yeah,” Jori said.
The pathologist slid the sheet off Alexis’ body and twirled his thumbs over the tips of his index and middle fingers and scanned over her pale stature as if to decide where to begin. He explained quickly she had been struck over the head but it was mostly likely a superficial wound. He put the tip of his finger over the light bruises on her neck and explained that she was in fact choked, though, as there were no blood clots in her eyes, she would have likely died by bleeding out rather than being choked or drowned. He drew his finger over the gaping cuts, clean and smooth like flesh coloured sedimentary diagrams. Her lacerations were a result of an assault with a sharp weapon, a blade, he explained as the rubber finger followed the slit flesh running down over her breasts. The white fat bubbled beneath the salmon tissue. The pathologist speculated that she may have been carrying a weapon at the time of her death as if the suspect was wary of getting in distance to stab the victim and thus instead slashed. The purple bruises over on her arms and scattered throughout her body were as a result of a struggle, that she was apprehended, and likely occurred at the time of her death.
“So, she was attacked,” Jori reiterated. “Slashed, at first, bleeding out. She would have run at that point. Was more than likely chased down, grabbed, and, as she was weak from the blood loss, the suspect was able to hold her down…” he pointed to the bruises on her thighs and on her ankles. “And?”
Weeks before her body’s discovery, in a grimy, unkempt room, Alexis reached for her phone from in her pocket. Ennui among the room stacked with dusty, old boxes and ripping garbage bags. A clock ticked in tempo on the poorly lit walls. She looked at the phone screen until suddenly she was struck over the head with a blunt object. Footsteps thud softly at her backside as she regained consciousness. She stared at the granular, widespread floor, her cell phone laying flat a few feet away. Before she reached for the device, she screamed as a man’s hand grabbed her hair and lifted her to her feet. She cried in distress and mercy as she looked upon the three men standing ominously side by side, staring at her as she helplessly tried to tear away from the man’s grip. With a bright, flaxen light shining directly at their backside, their faces were contrasted in shadow. She begged for her life to the man in the middle, pinching at his unrelenting hand fastened in her hair. His face was riddled in foreboding, dark resentment. He tilted his head as if to ponder his next move. She pleaded and apologized consecutively as moisture excreted from her every orifice. The men had not spoke a word…
The pathologist sighed. “We did a test, and the result came back positive. We did find traces of DNA and the bruises are indications that she was raped after the initial attack. We sent the data out for matches but it could take a few days, maybe weeks, to find out if there is or isn’t any.”
“Okay,” Jori nodded, “well, doc?”
“Cause of death… Bled out. Raped. Murdered.”
Jori pulled the sheet over Alexis’ face. “I noticed no track marks in her arms. Find anything?”
“Traces of cocaine and marijuana. No alcohol.”
“Well, doc, if you find anything else, let us know.”
“Of course. We’re still going to run further tests. More toxicity tests, and with permission, look for potential internal injuries she may have sustained. Could tell us more down the line.”
Outside the hospital in the dark parking lot, three reporters approached Jori and Garth and pointed their devices to their face and followed them through the parking lot, asking similar questions simultaneously. Bright camera lights glared in the officers’ faces as they squinted toward their panel.
“Officers,” said the female reporter from APTN, “were you able to obtain further information regarding the body?”
The officers stopped in the midway to the panel. “Yes,” Jori admitted, “at this time specific details are to remain private for the sake of the girl’s family.”
“Who was she?” a reporter blurted.
“The victim found earlier this afternoon was 19-year-old Alexis Bird.”
“So it’s confirmed, she was of aboriginal descent?” the APTN journalist inquired.
“Yes, she was aboriginal. Look, I’m tired. It’s been a long day. I’ll have our team set up a conference this weekend, but for now, we just want to go home. You get enough?”
The reporters didn’t. They wanted to know who her parents were. Who her boyfriend was. What school she attended. How tall she was. If she was an addict or in college. Questions he had asked himself a thousand times in the span of just a few hours since discovering the boy. Aside from the fact he was ordered from Staff Sergeant Healy to stay away from the media, he was genuinely annoyed by their repetitive questions and thus wanted nothing to do with them.
He pushed his way past the bickering and slammed the truck door in their faces.
Constable Garth came in after him, turning the ignition. “You okay, chief?”
“Yeah. I just hate goddamn, snoopy ass reporters.”
“I didn’t mean that.”
The image of Alexis’ ghost-like body intervened Jori’s nameless thought. Eyes without pupils staring up at him. His jaw clench, effacing the thought. “I’m okay.”
“Look, I don’t mean to be so clingy. Just making sure it’s not like the last time.”
Jori stretched his neck by moving his head in circles. “No, I’m good. I guess I’m getting used to it.”
They called dispatch and updated the detachment of the information they obtained from the medical examination. After an hour of filing the pathologist’s report and the case report and as well as a frugal attempt to call Alexis’ aunt, Kenneth Wiever’s sister, Jori’s shift ended and he began his quiet, twenty-minute commute to his house in his ’99 GMC Sierra. A slow country song played lightly through the tinny speakers and he tapped his finger on the steering wheel to its rhythm. Dark-green spruce towered into the night sky, their piney tips ascending like a wicked, black picket fence guarding the full moon. He pulled into his long driveway. Behind a handful of scattered pine, his two-story house sat quietly. The interior lights lit the yard where he looked to the impressions of his young daughter’s footsteps in the snow. He stopped as the garage door opened.
Later that night Jori sat on the couch in the living room with his laptop. The light from the screen beamed to his tired face, eye sockets shaded. The television quietly played a movie for his wife, Beth, and daughter, Tiffany, who sat in the dark next to him. But Beth’s attention was on her husband. His scrolling eyes, his busy index finger. He didn’t blink in the past hour. In that hour, he read that the news stations had already broadcast the discovery of a young aboriginal female’s body in the city’s renown river. Alexis’ name was every page, every headline. The story was littered throughout all social media news feeds. Residents of the city and beyond shared the featured image of the girl’s body floating in the water. Aboriginal Teenager Found In River. Boy Finds Dead Teen. Alexis Bird—Another Murdered Aboriginal Victim. Little detail in each post. To fill in the blank space, the public told their version of what happened, along with their opinions. As if they already solved the case. Of how they knew her. Public suggestions in forensics. Rumours that the RCMP had no intention of investigating her death because she was native. How she was a relentless drunk and probably killed herself. Regardless of the gossip, there was no definitive truth. The comment sections of Facebook and Twitter and news media outlets were, unsurprisingly, merely cesspools of pretentious speculation and unhinged ignorance.
There was a web page that created in her honour. RIP Alexis Bird—God’s Angel. It was open to the public so Jori took it upon himself to find out what he could. There were numerous condolences from friends and family. Friends reminisced much of how they had met or of their favourite memories. One of her friends spoke about how Alexis was around during hard times and for that, she was thankful thus deeply heartbroken of the loss. She was often described as funny and honest and beautiful. The pictures of which she was posted revealed the beauty that was taken away. Her face was flawlessly adorned in make-up as she posed frequently with a soft grin exposing her long dimple. The orbital of her cheeks darkened by a light, beige blush. Thin, dark liner vivaciously trimmed her sharp, brown eyes. Her dark, silky hair straightened smoothly in each photograph. Perhaps what flaws he noticed was that she met most of those who posted at parties. After profiling what he could he closed his laptop and placed it gingerly on the coffee table so he did not disturb the movie.
Having noticed his wife’s gaze at the corner of his eye, Jori looked to her as she brought her feet up off the floor and put them on his lap, her feet rubbing his inner thigh where his boxers had ended. On the love sofa, their daughter was sound asleep. Beth bit her lip and slid her foot further up his thigh, softly, until her toes snuggled under his boxers. He ran his hand over her smooth, bronze legs and felt under her loose night shorts. Even with her face hidden in the dark, he saw the beautiful girl he married. Memory alone gave light to her image. She was near a decade younger than he was and he often wondered how he got so lucky as to marry such a beautiful, smart native girl. She was magical in such a way that, with her sincere eyes alone, she could quell the anxieties that hindered his morale from within.
Over a decade ago, Jori took upon himself to work for abs. At thirty years of age, countless nights of drinking had taken a toll on his waistline. In lieu of going up a jean size, he went to register himself at a local gym. At the counter was a beautiful, young girl, sitting on a stool with her head fixed on a book. A Time To Kill was the novel. He remembered because he had to eventually read it to pretend he knew something of John Grisham so he could maybe impress her. Every day he attended and jogged a short while before taking to weights, hoping her eyes would wonder to him as he struggled with his arm curls. One day he had nearly killed himself in an attempt to do 500 sit ups. The girl had put down her book in annoyance and walked up to Jori as he struggled with his fifty-fifth rep. She told him that he could do as many sit ups as he’d like but he wasn’t going to get abs. Afterwards, he asked if she could help him achieve his goal and so, in the span of six months of her forcing Jori to run a minimum of 5 kilometres each followed by rigorous core workout routines, he had finally achieved the results he longed for. To celebrate the proud, young officer had taken her out for a drink at town’s lone bar and near a hundred bucks worth of diet cocktails later, the girl had admitted having liked Jori since he signed up and that she did, in fact, check him out. She teased him for not having the gull to ask her out. In no time at all, Jori took Beth’s hand, circled around the table, put his fingers lightly over her lower back, and they kissed among the quiet bar scene. The jukebox playing 80s music in the background. Since that night, the two have been together. He managed to support her with his police salary throughout her college years until she obtained a degree in dental therapy. During a vacation in Rome, he asked her to marry him, and nine months later their daughter was born and they wed shortly after. Beth was still as gorgeous as the day he saw her reading on that stool…
He leaned to her and they locked lips.
Four am. Just making sure it’s not going to be like the last time. Garth’s words repeated in Jori’s head subconsciously as he lay awake in bed. Like the effect of terribly overplayed radio hits. The light from the moon illuminated through the window. The feather pillow below shaped to his head. He looked at his wife to check if she had noticed his restlessness but she slept sound. He stared back to the ceiling...the last time. The last time he saw a dead body was of his niece who died years ago in a drunk driving incident. He responded to the scene of a chaotic wreckage. A truck lay in the ditch on its side. In the distance others, cars were thrown off the road. Scattered among the roads were coroners and paramedics carrying out the bodies that flew out the windows. The officers escorted Jori to the suspected culprit of the accident, a car laying on its roof. In it, he saw the driver. The lifeless girl tangled and hoisted upside down by the seat belt, her arms hanging past the side of her head. Nose broke. Blood draining into her peered eyes. Her hair thick and soaked dark red. The memory was haunting. Jori sighed slowly and turned to his side away from his wife and stared into a shadowy corner where he saw his niece’s face dwell angrily, eye sockets hollow and draining a darkness which streamed past her caved cheekbones. Or perhaps it was Alexis. He stared blankly at the image, prepared for a sleepless night.