He leaned far over the steel-and-concrete edge of the bridge, breathing deep of the cold, dank scent of the river. At this time in the early morning, the traffic was light. He’d dressed in dark clothing and hugged the shadows to avoid the eyes of the drivers, because pedestrians didn’t belong on the Fremont Bridge. He closed his eyes as the metal rail dug into his gut, and he lifted to his toes, stretching out as far as he could.
If I lean a bit farther and give a good push . . .
He opened his eyes and stared down through the night at the water, imagining what it would feel like to fall that far, knowing it’d most likely end in death. It was a 175-foot drop to the water. He’d checked. He’d read everything possible about the bridge before he’d set one foot on it. And standing where someone shouldn’t be standing at two in the morning made his head swim.
Cold. Alone. Powerful.
Would it feel like flying?
He could end it here. Toss his intricate plan to the wind.
There was something soothing about the thought. To never worry about anything ever again. Suddenly he understood the appeal of suicide to the people who struggled; they simply wanted everything to stop. Everything.
Still leaning over the edge, he raised his head and looked at Portland’s skyline.
Beautiful. Colors and lights.
He had no desire to end things now. He was just getting started.
Will I feel the same way in a week?
He knocked the niggling doubt out of his brain and straightened, losing the dizzying rush from the danger of a moment ago. This wasn’t his fault. He’d been given no choice.
He had a job to do. Grabbing the rope, he tied a practiced knot around the thick metal railing and checked for traffic.
He grasped the heavy bundle in the vehicle behind him and awkwardly heaved it over the edge of the bridge.
Part of his brain expected a splash, but the rope around the body’s neck held strong.
A distant motor signaled someone was crossing the wide span. He raced to grab the orange cones and tossed them through the side entrance and slid the door shut.
He hopped in the van, checked his mirrors, and merged into the lane.
“How can they be sure it’s not a suicide?” Mason Callahan heard a cop mutter behind his back.
He turned to eye the cop in the navy uniform. Young. “Because it’s hard to tie a noose around your neck and crawl over the side of a bridge when your hands and feet are bound.”
The cop had the grace to flush. Mason turned away and focused on the victim behind the temporary screen that blocked the view from passing vehicles.
“Not everyone has the keen eye you do, Callahan,” Ray Lusco joked beside him. “Takes decades to spot the stuff you do.”
“Screw you,” Mason replied pleasantly. Ray had been his partner for most of a decade during his time with the Oregon State Police’s Major Crimes division. Mason could say anything to Ray. Not that he curbed his mouth around anyone.
Dr. Seth Rutledge pulled a thermometer out from a slit he’d cut into the flesh under the corpse’s ribs and studied it. “Well, at least someone made it easy for me,” Seth quipped. “No clothes to work around.”
The victim had been hanged buck naked.
Mason watched the medical examiner poke and prod at the extremely white body on the shoulder of the freeway over the Fremont Bridge. A boater had called it in two hours ago, saying someone had hanged themselves from Portland’s most gorgeous span. Portland police had hauled up the corpse and then promptly called for OSP’s Major Crimes. Portland’s own detective division was overloaded and had nearly been shut down by a virulent flu bug.
Because the body had been found on a state freeway, Mason figured the case belonged to the Oregon State Police, anyway.
“How long, Doc?” Mason asked. He liked Seth Rutledge. The doctor had smoothly taken over the medical examiner’s office last fall, filling big shoes.
Seth wrinkled his nose. “What’s the temp out? Thirty-six?”
“I don’t know, but it’s too damned cold. Especially up here in the wind,” added Ray.
“Yes, definitely some major wind chill. Going by his current liver temperature and assuming he’s been outside the whole time, I’ll say he died twelve to eighteen hours ago.”
“No one noticed he’s been hanging here all that time?” Mason asked. “That’d put him out here before last night’s rush hour.”
“He didn’t die from hanging,” said Seth. “He was dead before that. Someone hung a guy who was already dead.”
“What?” asked Mason and Ray in unison.
The medical examiner rolled the man onto his side and showed the pair of detectives purpling streaks down the man’s back and buttocks.
Until this moment Mason had only seen the man as he lay on his back. The victim’s hands had been tied in front of the body. It’d made the man look peaceful.
Seth pointed at the streaks. “He was on his back for quite a while after he died. Lividity is fixed. If he’d been hung, the blood would have settled in his feet and lower legs. After the heart stops pumping, gravity pulls it—”
“—to the lowest point in the body,” finished Ray. “So this is not our murder scene.” He sighed loudly and made a notation in his notebook.
Mason squatted next to the medical examiner. “How long would he have been on his back to keep the color from developing in his feet when he was hanged?”