“I knew we’d find this guy with a cut throat sooner or later. Sometimes I wished I could do it myself.” The young cop enjoyed having his elbow out the window of the squad car on the way to the crime scene.
“You got the warrant to enter the house?” The older guy didn’t want any mess-ups on this one, even though the real criminal was the victim.
“Sure do.” A long pause. “I’m kind a worried about what we might find.”
“It would be good if we could close out our missing boy cases.”
No one was around when they reached the house — nice enough but not something that attracted attention. They had the victim’s keys. The radio was on, tuned to NPR. It was a story about an ancient flute. The reader intones, “The flutes are the earliest record of technological and artistic innovations characteristic of the Aurignacian period. The Danube River was a key corridor for the movement of humans and technological innovations into central Europe. Neanderthals as well as modern humans may have lived in this area around the same time.”
The younger cop really liked NPR. He was one of those college degree cops, but he was hip, even played in a garage band. “I heard this story this morning.” He began pulling out drawers, turning over sofa cushions, pulling out books and fanning their pages while his partner turned back the rugs on the hardwood floors. “You know, a flute works the same as a rifle barrel. You want a spiral of air instead of a spiraling bullet, and you control the air flow with your mouth at the end or side of the end.”
“That so,” said the older cop, going into the kitchen to look in the freezers and the bins of flour and boxes of corn flakes. He made a mess. It was a necessary mess, even if mostly what he found was nothing.
The young cop went up the stairs, puffing a little. His instrument was a flute in high school, but now he went for guitar or even keyboard. “You know, music is the closest they can come to describing the universe. The harmonic chords, that’s what string theory is really about.” The bedrooms looked normal. Everything was neat and dusted. No blood. The victim’s body had not been found here. No effort to hide it, as though the perp or perps wanted it known that he was gone.
No stash of erotica, not even a stack of “Hustlers.” No dirty DVD’s in the bedroom media center. The older cop joined him and the younger one turned to look at him with a puzzled face. “Do you think he had a secret place? Some subterranean cellar, some rented space, some ceremonial clearing in the woods?”
“No idea.” Losing patience, he pulled out drawers and dumped the contents onto the floor. Found nothing unusual.
In the bathroom the young cop’s voice echoed. “This guy’s stuff is so normal it’s scary. Are we sure this is his house?”
“What’s the case against him? Any material clues?”
“Direct testimony of a dozen surviving victims, marks of torture confirmed by docs, plus a half-dozen bodies of less vigorous victims who never survived. Some of the bodies with missing legs.”
“The young ones, the ones whose long bones were still growing.”
The men were silent, Then they began to look high for trapdoor access to the attic, the tops of curtain valences, the backs of pictures. The young cop was never silent long. “They say that ancient flute they found was made from the wing bone of a vulture. I’m betting it was a condor.”
“There are no condors in Europe. That flute came from a cave in Europe.” The young cop was surprised that the old cop knew this. He always soaked up more than he let on, which is why he liked partnering him. It would be even better if he played an instrument — maybe a clarinet — and . . . maybe not.
“How do they know it was a vulture? Why couldn’t it have been an eagle?”
The old cop shook his head, grinning. “You’re such a romantic. Think you could play that ancient flute?”
“Oh, sure. Serenade the girls. Picture me sitting in the entrance to the cave, toodling away in the moonlight while a little campfire flickers back inside. It’s just a cylinder, you know. The principles are the same no matter whether the source is bamboo or the inside of a paper towel roll or whatever.”
“What’s this?” On a high shelf in a closet, the older cop lifted down a long narrow case.
“Looks like a musical instrument case. Speaking of flutes.” The younger man opened the case. “Flute it is! But unusual. Made of ivory or something.” It was fitted into a blood-red velvet niche, as such cases usually cushion their contents. He lifted it to his mouth and blew, almost kissing it. The notes were high but clear. He thought of a boy choir, which led to another thought. He looked more closely and blanched. “We may have found what we’re looking for.”
“We were looking for musical instruments?”
“We were looking for bones. This flute is not made from a vulture’s bone.”
Back at the station an expert was called in who confirmed the suspicions. This bone came from the leg of a boy still growing, maybe seven years old. He wasn’t absolutely sure of the gender until they did more tests.
“Where are the OTHER missing leg bones?” the cops asked each other. They began to compile a list of people who could make flutes as sophisticated as this one, but it was a long list and there was not a lot of money for overtime. The main suspect was dead.
When they started out for a new day’s shift, the young cop drove, and as their shorthand rule went, he chose the station, NPR. A boy choir came on. The older partner turned it off before he even saw the tears rolling down his buddy’s face. Gently he said, “You didn’t play that boy’s leg — you kissed it. Respectfully.”
“Probably the killer kissed it, too. Before it was a flute.”