Structural Damage – Chapter 23

As Coleman disconnected the call, she noticed one of the detectives making his way toward her. She put her phone back in her pocket and prepared herself for the conversation; knowing it would probably turn contentious.

The Homicide Detective stepped forward, dressed in khakis and sports coat, extended his hand, “Hi, I’m Detective Tom West, I take it you’re FBI?”

She took his hand, returning the handshake, “Yes, Special Agent Cherie Coleman.”

“So, you told your Director this is a CI that you’re working with? You can identify his body?” He motioned back to Kyle’s body, uncovered and being photographed on the shoreline.

“Yeah, Kyle Chapman. Despite the fact that he’s dead, I can’t give you any details about the case we were working on,” she moved past the Detective and toward Kyle’s body. She squatted down beside him, wanting to see if his watch was still on his wrist. Seeing that it was, she had to work to suppress a smile. This meant she should have the audio of what transpired; she would have Kyle’s murder on audio. She stood back up, looking at Detective West, “I don’t want to take your glory, but I’ll tell you I’ve got a good idea of who killed him. You know how this works, right? There are things I can’t share, but I’ll need everything you find out.”

Detective West let out a laugh, “Not sure if you know this or not, Coleman, but there are a shit ton of murders in Chicago right now. So, we have our hands full with plenty of cases. If you want this one, I’ve got no problem giving it to you.”

Before she could respond, the Medical Examiner took the opportunity to insert himself into the conversation, “Before you two whip out your dicks to measure, do you care if I take the body to the morgue? I’ve got work to do, and since my job isn’t blurred by departments, I don’t give a shit which one of you will end up with the investigation.” He realized his words were caustic and vulgar, but he was tired of being caught in the middle of the pissing contests between the divisions of law enforcement.

West and Coleman both laughed at his remarks, but Coleman was the one who decided to respond. “Go right ahead. I’ll need to stop by for his personal effects, is that an issue?”

“Nope, you know where the morgue is. He’ll have no need for his clothes and effects for what I need to do,” The ME stood up and dusted off his pants, then straightened his glasses. He took a few steps back while his technicians loaded Chapman’s body into the body bag then onto the gurney for placement into the van.

Coleman pushed her luck in asking another question, “I know you’ve got other cases, but do you have any idea when you might have the autopsy and results back on this one?”

The ME let out a huff and shook his head, the cops, no matter what division, were always wanting to rush the process. “I should be able to start on him today, can have preliminary results this afternoon, full results in a day or so.”

“Great, thank you,” she said with a nod to show her appreciation. If she could at least get the watch and listen to the audio, she could begin to piece things together. Once she had the official autopsy results, well the case would be a slam dunk as far as she was concerned. She turned back to West, “So, what do you know so far?”

“Unfortunately, we don’t know much,” West admitted, “A couple was out walking this morning and said the body washed up with the tide. You saw the condition of the body, that’s all we know. He was wearing a tux, looks like he’s been beaten, and there is no apparent gunshot wound or stab wound.”

“He could have been shot or stabbed and bled out enough for the injury to be clear of blood stains,” Coleman offered, “The water could have washed the blood out of his clothes as well.”

“True, we don’t know how long he was in the water. The ME wasn’t able to give us the time of death yet. Does Chapman have family that can formally identify his body? Someone we need to alert?”

“No, not really. There is one person who could identify him, but I need to look into something before I’m willing to contact them,” she thrust her hand into her jacket pocket to fish around for a business card. Finding them, she took out two and handed one to West and one to his partner. They responded in kind, providing their business cards back to her, “Thanks for your help, I appreciate it. I’ll be in touch.” She walked away, heading back to her car and trying to process what might have happened last night with Kyle and his visit with Vinnie Saldonna.

Her mind began racing, if he had been wearing the watch all evening, his meeting with Vinnie was recorded. This meant she potentially had what she needed to finally put Saldonna away. There was no telling what else she had on that recording, but she needed to get it and listen to it. She figured she would let the Chicago PD finish up the scene at the shoreline; Kyle’s body had washed up there, but he wasn’t killed there. No evidence would be found that would help break the case. She knew they were only wasting their time. No, what she needed most was on Kyle’s body, then she could figure out where he was killed and break the case open from that point.

She pulled into the parking lot of the city morgue and took a deep breath. She hated this place; the idea of dead bodies made her skin crawl. She was okay with the crime scenes, but autopsies were a different story. She decided to delay the inevitable by calling the agents who were stationed outside Chapman’s apartment. Now that she knew he was dead, she wanted to know if there had been activity there and have the agents search the place. She dialed the number and waited for an answer.

“Diaz,” the gruff voice answered the phone.

“Morning, John,” Coleman offered, “Any activity there?”

“Nope, nothing since Chapman, left last night. Bastard hasn’t even come home, must have gotten lucky or something.”

She let out a slight laugh, “Not quite, Chapman was just found washed up on North Shore Drive, still in his tux. Can you go in and take pictures of his apartment, see if you find anything interesting?”

“Poor bastard,” Diaz responded, “Sure thing. I’ll tape up the place and meet you back at the office with what we’ve found. Where are you now?”

“I’m at the morgue, about to collect his personal effects and see if the medical examiner has any preliminary findings. I’ll meet you in the office later. Thanks, Diaz,” she disconnected the call and opened the car door. She figured she might as well pull up her big girl panties and get this over with.

The entry to the morgue was a secured foyer, she had to present her badge and sign in with the security guard to gain access. As the door buzzed, she flung it open and walked down the hall towards the main lab where the autopsies were performed. The smells were overwhelming, she took deep breaths to maintain her composure and to keep from having a panic attack. As she looked through the large window, she saw Kyle’s boy on the table. He was stripped naked, with a towel over his hips to cover his genitals. She guessed the dead deserved a little dignity.

She pushed opened the door, “Hi Doctor Sanford, I hope I’m not interrupting.”

Barton Sanford looked up from the autopsy table to see Special Agent Coleman walk in, “I haven’t started so I have nothing to give you.” His words were clipped, and his tone was terse. He hated to be rushed by law enforcement, they had their timelines and understood that, but he was not going to be rushed.

“I know, I’m not here to rush you, I promise. I just wanted to see if I could get the personal effects of the victim. Do you have an issue with me taking them right now, are you done with them?”

“Oh, yeah that’s fine,” he was surprised by her request. “I’ve got them all in a basket on that shelf over there. Just make sure you sign it out at the security desk. Chain of custody and all of that, you know how it works.”

Coleman looked down, realizing that no incisions had been made, she approached the table to look at Chapman’s body. The markings made it pretty evident that he had been beaten. Not just on his face, but his torso as well. In her unprofessional opinion, he had most likely been kicked quite a few times in the ribs.

“Looks like he took one hell of a beating,” she offered quietly, “Can I ask that you let me know when you have the results? I’ve got a vested interest in this one.”

Sanford watched her carefully, “Sure, I can do that. He was your informant, right?”

“Yeah, he was an asshole, but he didn’t deserve to be killed that’s for sure. I’m pretty sure I know who is responsible, though. Thanks for your help.”
Coleman picked up the bag of Kyle’s things and left the room. She wanted to get out of there before she got sick. She signed the property sheet with the security guard and made a beeline for her car. She wanted to get back to the office to see if she could get any audio from the watch before Diaz got back from the apartment. She had to hope that Kyle wasn’t in the water long enough for the recording device to be damaged. She said a silent prayer and headed to the FBI office.

~ * ~Monday Morning~ * ~
Chris had already showered and was now busy packing his bag so that he could leave for the airport. He would be flying down to Dallas to film a small, independent movie. As he packed, Sabrina sat up on the bed, her knees pulled to her chest, and watched his movements carefully. The two of them had not been intimate the night before, but they were not fighting and had no unresolved issues between them. They had at least taken the time to discuss the upcoming schedule that Chris had and how it would impact their relationship.

He would be in Dallas for thirty days, or so, then he would be flying back to Los Angeles to begin the pre-production for his next directorial project. He was working on a major studio project that would have a ton of pressure associated with it. While he had received positive reviews for his directorial debut, this next project would have to be a financial success as well. He tried to use the analogy of Sabrina’s buildings and the pressure for her success, he told her their time together would end up being minimal because of his crazy schedule. No surprise visits, everything would be coordinated. Neither of them liked it, but as professionals, they both understood it.

The anger and hurt over the situation with Kyle was behind them. Chris understood why she had been hesitant to be open about her divorce. He was still shocked she had kept the blackmail quiet, especially from Audrey. He offered to help her get out of the mess with Kyle. Telling Sabrina he had lawyers who could help keep it quiet but get her out of the mess. She said that she thought the situation was now handled, and for him not to worry.

“I arranged for a car to take you to the airport. He should be waiting for you in the garage, keeps you out of the lobby,” Sabrina murmured as she rocked back and forth. “You’ll let me know when you make it to Dallas, right?”

Chris looked up from his bag, “Yes, I’ll let you know when I get there. You’re not going to lay in bed and cry all day, are you?” He asked with a smirk and raised eyebrows. He had enjoyed giving her grief about her reaction to his leaving the last time he had stayed with her.

Sabrina grabbed a pillow and hurled it at him, “See if I ever tell you I love you and miss you again,” she laughed hysterically as he tossed the pillow back at her. “I have plans for the day, once you leave, I’ve got some errands to run. I took the day off, letting the office get by without me.”

Chris zipped up his bag then walked over and sat on the side of the bed. He pulled her to his side, kissing her temple, “I’m happy you have found your balance, baby. I mean that, gives me one less thing to worry about.”

“I made you a promise, I’m trying to keep it. But you know, when I miss you the most, I work more.”

Chris kissed her one more time, then stood from the bed and grabbed his bag. Checking his watch he let her know it was time to leave. Sabrina slid from the bed, putting on her robe and followed him down the stairs. She gave him a deep, passionate kiss and told him she loved him and then watched as he walked toward the elevator. While she was going to miss him, the pain from his leaving was not nearly as deep as the first time.

The two of them were in a much better place. Not to mention, Sabrina’s confidence level in her relationship was stronger than it was when Chris left Chicago after their first weekend together. She padded her way into the kitchen, deciding to make a cup of coffee before heading upstairs to get ready. Chris had been gone about five minutes when she heard a knock on the door. Thinking it was Chris, she ran to the door, flinging it open and asking, “What did you forget?”

Instead of Chris standing in the hallway, she found a security guard from the lobby along with two gentlemen in suits. The security guard spoke up, “Ms. Burnham, I’m sorry to bother you ma’am, but these officers asked to be brought up to see you. I was told not to call first to announce our arrival.” The security guard snuck that last part in the hopes of saving his job. He knew that Sabrina did not like surprises at her door, and with the building being secured, this shouldn’t happen regularly.

“It’s fine,” Sabrina pulled her robe a little tighter, then stepped aside allowing the officers to enter. The security guard nodded and walked toward the elevator. “I’m making a cup of coffee, would either of you like anything?”

“No ma’am,” the first gentleman replied, “I’m Special Agent Edward Diaz with the FBI, and this is Detective Tom West with the Chicago PD. We have a few questions that we’re hoping you might be able to assist with.”

“Okay, sure. We can come in here and have a seat.” Sabrina led them into the dining room, and they each took a seat. She noticed the officers were looking around the apartment, admiring the décor and the view. “So, what kind of questions do you have and how might I be of assistance?”

Detective West spoke up, “Ma’am did you or do you know a Kyle Chapman?”
Sabrina’s blood suddenly ran cold. Why in the world would she be questioned about Kyle?

“Yes, my ex-husband is named Kyle Chapman. Why?”

“Does he have any family? Parents, siblings, children? Anyone for us to reach out and speak with?”

“Um, no, I guess I am his only family, as sad as that seems. When Kyle was in high school, his father died, and while he was in college his mother died; you could say he’s an orphan. He was an only child and had no surviving grandparents. What is going on? Is he in some kind of trouble?”

Detective West leaned forward, his voice was soft, and he was trying to be consoling, “Ms. Burnham, there was a body that washed up on North Shore Drive on Sunday morning. The identification the body was that of a Kyle Chapman. We need to have a relative come to the morgue and formally identify the body. Based on your previous comment, it sounds as if that person would be you.”

Sabrina felt the air leave her lungs and was unsure if she could catch her breath. She sat quietly for a moment, the Detective had said Kyle was dead. She had just seen him on Saturday night, so if he was dead on Sunday morning, what happened after she left him on the pier and went back into the gala?

Agent Diaz decided to speak, “I know that is asking a lot for someone you were no longer married to. I can also imagine this is a bit of a shock to hear that your ex-husband might have passed away. But, we need to investigate this death and need to verify the victim. Are you willing to help us?”

Sabrina began to nod her head slowly, “Sorry, yeah, yes, I’m ready to help. I think I’m just in shock at the whole idea that it might be Kyle. My boyfriend just left, and I hadn’t gotten ready for the day yet. Can you give me ten or fifteen minutes to get ready and then I can go with you?”

Both men nodded in agreement and watched as she walked through the apartment and up the stairs. In their conversation amongst themselves, they agreed she seemed surprised to hear of his death. But that could be an act. They would watch her carefully during the visit to the morgue and then take her for an informal interrogation. Diaz quickly called Coleman to let her know that they would be bringing Sabrina into the office once they were done identifying the body. Coleman was giddy with delight over that prospect.
Sabrina had walked up the stairs to her bedroom and quickly pulled on a pair of jeans, a t-shirt, and a cardigan sweater. She looked pulled together, but was less than dressed up, she simply needed to hurry and didn’t have time to primp. She went into the bathroom and ran a brush through her hair, then pulled it back into a messy bun, so she didn’t have a bad case of bed head. She only put on some eyeliner, mascara and lip gloss then rushed back downstairs. She didn’t want to keep the officers waiting.

The officers escorted her to their vehicle to drive her to the morgue. She wasn’t excited about riding in the back of the car, it felt as if she was a criminal. She didn’t do anything wrong, but yet it still made her nervous to be in the backseat of a police vehicle. The car had been on the road for a few minutes when Diaz broke the silence.

“Isn’t Kyle Chapman the guy who worked on the building that collapsed and killed all those people?” His question was aimed at Tom West, not really at Sabrina.

“Yeah, I think so. I didn’t read the file on him, but that sounds about right,” both West and Diaz knew full well who Chapman was. They wanted to see if she was going to defend him or whether she had venom and distaste for him. She had guessed they were trying to trap her, she wasn’t planning on taking the bait.

Sabrina just stared out the window. She knew from conversations she had with Audrey in the past, most people get in trouble because they just can’t keep their mouth shut. They start talking and don’t shut up. She figured they expected to lull her into a false sense of security and then they would trap her. She wouldn’t let it happen, she just wouldn’t volunteer any information and then she couldn’t get in trouble for saying something she shouldn’t.

~ * ~
Sabrina was led down a long hallway and into a small room with a large viewing window. In the adjacent room, she could see a body on a table, covered with a white sheet. A mix of emotions coursed through her body. She was uncomfortable with the idea of looking at a corpse, for one. She had trouble watching certain types of movies, so the idea of seeing it for real was not settling well. She was also feeling relief, if this were Kyle, her nightmare would be over. No more blackmail and the pictures would not come out, she wouldn’t have to tell Chris, and she could relax once and for all. But there was a small part of her that actually felt a tinge of sympathy. This is the part that bothered her the most. She hated Kyle Chapman and everything he had done to her over the last ten years. But no matter how much she hated him, she never truly wanted to see him dead. At one time in her life, she loved him. Bitterness and jealousy had distorted who he was, but he was a good man at one time; she wanted to hold on to that belief. Her hands began to shake, and she felt as if she might get sick.

Agent Diaz noticed the subtle changes in her, from strong and fearless to tentative and unsteady. He walked over, standing at her side, “I’m right here if you need me. I know these things aren’t easy and I’m sorry we had to bring you down here for this.” Sabrina looked up at him, she said nothing but her eyes conveyed a thank you. “Are you ready?” He asked, and she nodded slightly.

A young woman in a lab coat stepped forward in the adjacent room and folded back the white sheet to reveal the face of the body. Sabrina’s legs buckled slightly as she saw him. She said nothing, didn’t even raise her hand to her mouth, just stared for a moment before turning away and taking a seat in the row of chairs behind her. The young woman covered the man’s face once again and stepped out of the room, switching off the light as she did.

Agent Diaz took a seat in the chair next to Sabrina, “I assume you recognize that to be Kyle?”

Her voice was quiet as she responded, “Yes, that’s Kyle.”

Detective West stepped forward, taking a spot directly in front of Sabrina. This would allow her to look up to speak but block her view of the adjacent room. “Ms. Burnham, we’d like to go ahead and take you to the FBI District Office to ask you some questions about Kyle, if you’re up for it. We need to piece a few things together.”

This had now piqued her interest, “Why are the FBI and the Chicago PD looking into this? You said his body was found on North Shore Drive, do you think he was murdered?” She had a hard time holding back the surprise in her voice, the idea that Kyle could have been murdered was not something she would have ever considered.

“Let’s just say his death is a little suspicious,” Detective West chimed in, “We want to get some information from you, see if you can help shed some light on a few things.”

“Okay,” her voice was shaky as she responded, “I’m not sure what I can help with, but I’ll do what I can.”

Sabrina stood up and was led out of the room, back down the hallway and out of the building. She was placed in the car and driven the few short blocks to the FBI building. For as much as she felt like a suspect in the back of the car, the feelings were worse when she was escorted into the building and placed in an interrogation room. She started to wonder if she needed a lawyer, but she didn’t kill Kyle, so, why would she?

Sabrina started thinking of the murder mysteries and cop shows she had watched on TV and began to catalog things she shouldn’t do. They offered her something to drink, she politely declined. She knew if she took a drink, they would want to keep the bottle, can, or cup and run DNA to see if it was on Kyle’s clothes or on his body. Since she knew she did touch him outside the gala, she wasn’t falling into that trap. Score one for Sabrina!

She also tried to figure which one was going to play the good cop and which one was going to play the bad cop. After all, every scenario on TV has that. She was keeping her breathing calm, not tapping her foot, not trying to seem anxious in the least. Sabrina Burnham had turned on her work persona, calm and level headed; damn, she hoped it worked.

“Ms. Burnham,” Detective West started out, “You’ve been divorced from Mr. Chapman for how long?”

“Ten years, almost eleven. Officially separated for twelve, though. It just took some time to get through a settlement.”

“I see, and do you know where he has been living lately?”

“I believe he lives and works in Texas, Austin more accurately. I don’t have his address; not like I send him a Christmas card or anything.”

Detective West gave her a smile; he could appreciate her sarcasm. “Right, well, did you know he had an apartment in Chicago?”

Sabrina’s eyes widened, “No! I had no idea.”

Agent Diaz was watching her closely, and he believed her reaction. The fact that he was living in Chicago was news to her, and she looked a bit terrified. “Ms. Burnham, did you have a violent relationship with Mr. Chapman?”

Sabrina was stunned by the question, “Why would you ask that?”

“You were visibly stunned to learn he was living in Chicago, almost as if that scared you. Tell us, when was the last time you spoke with Kyle?”

Sabrina swallowed hard, she didn’t want to answer this question. She really did wish she had an attorney at this point. As she was struggling to find her voice, the door opened to the interrogation room. She couldn’t see who was standing there, but Diaz and West stood up and excused themselves. They left the room and a moment later a woman walked in.

“Ms. Burnham, my name is Special Agent Cherie Coleman. I’m going to take over the questioning for Diaz and West,” she took a seat and closed the folder that had been left on the desk. “Actually, I’m not going to question you as much as tell you a story and ask you to fill in a few blank spots, okay?”

“I’m not sure if I understand,” Sabrina answered honestly.

“Fair enough, but here is what I know. Kyle was a low-life who had been blackmailing you for the last ten years since your divorce. Every month you were paying him a significant amount of money for him to keep private the sex tapes he had made of the two of you when you were married.” Sabrina blanched, she didn’t realize anyone knew this information, much less the FBI. “Don’t worry, the tapes are secured, and you’ll get them to burn or do whatever you want with them. They aren’t in jeopardy of being released.”

Sabrina let out the breath she didn’t realize she was holding, “How did you know about those?”

“Kyle told me. He was my CI for a case, I knew he was doing something to you, and I said I was investigating him and planning on bringing charges against him. He came clean and said he would stop blackmailing you if I would not press charges. We were drawing up the paperwork, he was going to go into witness protection as soon as this case we were working on was over.”

“Oh, I see,” she bowed her head.

“He told me how much you hated him and honestly, I don’t blame you. So, it begs me to ask, did you kill him?”

“What?” Sabrina came up out of her chair, fire in her eyes and anger rising in her voice. The calm demeanor she fought so hard to keep in place with Diaz and West was gone. “Hell no, I didn’t kill him. I didn’t know he was dead until this morning.” She sat back down and tried to calm herself; she hated that she had the outburst, but she had never been accused of murder before.

“You know in the conversations you had with Diaz and West, and so far, with me, you haven’t asked how he died. So, it leads one to think that you already know.”

“Well, you said his body washed up on North Shore Drive. So, that means he was in the water, and since the motherfucker didn’t know how to swim, I’m going to guess that he drowned,” her voice was oozing with sarcasm and bitterness, but no sympathy.

“Oh, playing detective I see,” Coleman’s sarcasm was just as biting. But she had to hand it to Sabrina, she was using deductive reasoning in figuring out what happened. “The full autopsy report isn’t back yet, but drowning was just part of it. He most likely wasn’t conscience, he was beaten pretty badly,” Coleman took pictures out of the folder and put them in front of Sabrina. They showed the bruises on his chest, ribs, face, and hands. “Some of the wounds are defensive, so he tried to fight back. Fair to say he wasn’t fighting you, but I’m not convinced you didn’t have someone do it on your behalf.”

“I think I need an attorney, evidently you are trying to find a way to pin his murder on me. Are you planning on arresting me right now?”

Coleman sat back in her chair, crossed her arms and stared at Sabrina. “No, not today, I’m not. I’m not ruling it out, though. This is where I tell you to not leave town and all of those fun clichés you hear when you watch the cop shows on TV.”

Sabrina pushed away from the table and made her way to the door, she turned back and looked at Coleman. She thought she looked like a smug agent trying desperately to get under her skin. Unfortunately, it was working. “I didn’t have a reason to kill Kyle. He might have been blackmailing me, but he’d been doing it for ten years, if I were going to kill him, I’d have done it years ago.”

She turned the knob on the door and took a step forward when Coleman spoke and stopped her cold, “Oh, I think you had about ten million reasons to kill him, Sabrina,”

Sabrina elected not to respond, although she wanted to. She just walked on out the door and out onto the street in front of the FBI building. She hailed a cab to go back to the apartment. During the drive, she sent a text message and then tried to hold back the onslaught of tears that were pricking her eyes.


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