The Face Of The Mutant Menace

November 04, 2014:

Detective Paul Manning is called to the scene of a possible spontaneous combustion. Criminalist Barry Allen arrives to process the scene and comes up with his own theory.

The Queens home of the late Miss Hilda Jennings.

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions:

Mood Music: None.


Fade In…

The house still holds many mysteries, even after Hilda Jennings was found in a crumpled mass of charred flesh. Burned away from the knees up, she seems to be the victim of what people in the last century would call spontaneous combustion.

The apartment has that musty smell and it seems the woman lived alone on account of the same sized jackets in the closet, all of women's styles. It's cramped, a classic one bedroom in Queens, and filled with knick-knacks of about three different types. There are about seven cats, give or take, from what's been seen thus far.

As the detective in charge, Manning will arrive meeting a set of uniformed policemen with anyone else at his beckoning. It's time to get to work.

Paul nods a greeting to the uniformed officers guarding the outside of the apartment and enters, closing the door behind him and some other officers to keep the cats in. His nose wrinkles at the unpleasant odor of chrred flesh. "Animal control been called? Put a rush on finding other family so they can take the cats." After making sure he's unlikely to be walking on any evidence, he slowly circles what's left of Mrs. Jennings. "Criminalist's on the way?"

"Yes sir, new guy should be on his way. We put in a call…" The officer checks his watch, "Well, about 45 minutes ago, now. He should be here soon." He reaches into his pocket to get a cell phone out, "I'll give a call to animal control. Anything else you need?"

"FeBreeze." Paul answers but shakes his head. "No, let's just take a look while we wait for the techie to get here. See if you can find any address books, collect the computers, you know the drill. Holler if you see anything out of the ordinary." Besides the corpse.

"On it boss."

The officers start milling about, following orders and getting work done as Detective Manning moves throughout the crime scene. It's another 24 minutes before the Crime Scene Investigator arrives.

Older than he looks, the young man with neatly parted, chestnut hair, slight shoulders, and a thin frame is allowed in by the officers at the door. "Detective Manning? I'm here from CSI." He fumbles with his coat, looking for his gloves.

"Do you have a name?" Paul asks, returning to the main room when he hears the door open again. "You can make my day by telling me someone set her on fire and somehow prevented her legs from burning." Which might be a strange thing to say unless you're a detective in EI and have to explain spontaneous combustion to your captain.

"Oh, right," Barry says as he reaches a hand out to Paul. "Barry Allen. Just got transferred from Central City, Missouri. First day." He spins on his foot and moves towards the woman in question, "Uhmmmmmmmmmm." The vocalized pause comes as he kneels down to get a better look. "Best guess? The flame was pretty uniform from head to toe. Tall blast starting at about 24 inches to her total height. I'm just guessing here, but between 5'3 and 5'5." He points to the far wall. "And the angle past her carried onward and upward." His hand moves in a motion upward until he realizes he might be looking a bit silly. He's really getting into it.

"Missouri? Welcome to the big city." Paul says, shaking hands. As the criminalist gets to work, he stands back to watch and listen. "Blast? You're saying a gout of fire started about two feet off the floor, hit her, and continued past to hit the wall? And yet didn't actually set anything on fire beyond the initial burn?"

"Thanks," Barry says absently as he runs a finger along the carpet. "Well, it seems like it was a quick burst. Long enough to singe back here, but strong enough to incinerate from where she was standing. I think she was extremely close to whatever it was that killed her." He pauses looking around the room before adding, "I, for the record, don't think it was spontaneous combustion, if that's what you're worried about. Those look similar, but I don't see an ashtray and they never really occurred when someone was standing up…like she obviously was."

"Homicide then." Paul states, suddenly happier than he was two minutes ago. "Albeit with an unusual weapon." Studying where the legs are, he squats down to examine the floor. "Can you determine how far away from her the flame started and how high? Did it start two feet up or could it have been further away and only hit her at that height? How close was she to it?"

"Only guessing, really. A foot away maybe?" Barry hrns, and makes his way to a piece of glass on the floor. "Check this out." From his pocket he pulls out a magnifying glass and begins to inspect.

Paul nods as he sees the glass and waits for Barry's conclusion.

"I think there was a nightstand here. Or something to set it on." Barry takes out a pen and lifts it a little so Paul can see it. "It's a clock." It's badly misshapen, contorted and twisted. "It was probably wooden and it's completely gone. Something that warped glass in this way…it—It was really hot. Really hot for a short amount of time and a short amount of space." His voice gets far away almost as if he's talking to himself, now, "If this was a murder, what kind of weapon would do this?"

"A nightstand? But no ash?" Paul asks, looking around in case he missed a pile of ashes hiding in plain sight. "How hot does fire have to be to leave nothing behind?"

"There's ash. It's just blo…" Barry is crawling on his jeaned knees now, really getting into it. "It just blew underneath the couch here. Look…" He's on his stomach now, pulling out a flashlight from his pocket." Just as he's about to put his face underneath, they're interrupted by one of the uniformed police officers, "Detective? Neighbor says that the woman had a visitor this past week. All week. Young girl."

"I'll go talk to her." Paul tells the officer then looks back to Barry. "Blown. See if you can find anything that might have done that." Seems like spontaneous combustion would actually have been the preferable cause of death. "I'll be back." Leaving the apartment, he goes to talk to the neighbor.

When Manning gets out into the hallway, there's an elderly woman with a purple nightgown, and thick glasses. "Like I told the other gentleman, I don't know what happened, but I know she's had a visitor for the better part of a week."

"Yes, Ma'am. Have you ever seen her before this week?" Paul asks. "Did you have a chance to talk to her at all? What did she look like?" He pulls out a pad and pen to take notes with.

"I haven't seen her before, no," says the woman as she puts a finger to her chin, thinking back. "And I didn't speak to her, but she looked to be about 11 or 12 years old with blonde hair. Pretty girl."

"Do you think you could describe her well enough for a sketch artist?" Paul asks. "I know you said you don't know what happened but can you think of anything out of the ordinary over the last few weeks besides the girl? Shouting? Any deliveries? Did she act differently?"

"I could, sure." But then the old woman shakes her head, "I don't think so. I mean, she was a real nice lady. Real quiet. And I've been home all day. I just don't know how something like this could happen."

"Neither do we, Ma'am. But we'll find out." Paul tells her. "If you could get dressed, one of the officers will take you to the station so you can talk to the artist." Though nowadays they're graphic artists with computer programs instead of sketch pads. "When you're done there, we'll bring you back home of course."

"Sure, I'd be happy to," the old woman says and heads back into her apartment. "Detective," Barry Allen exits the apartment and tilts his head at Paul. "I think I have a hypothesis."

"Please take care of her, Harris." Paul tells the uniform who told him about the neighbor in the first place then motions Barry back into the apartment. "Intelligent rats with nuclear flamethrowers?" he asks once they're back inside.

Barry shakes his head looking at Paul as if he just ate a frog, "No. Nothing like that. Let's not get crazy." He shakes his head as if trying to rid the thought from his mind and says, "What if it was a metahuman or a mutant? There's no weapon out on the market that would do this sort of thing and would have been so instantaneous. The proximity could be close and if we're talking about a powered individual, it could make more sense." He nods, happy with himself. "What do you think?"

"Go ask the neighbor how tall the girl was." Paul tells one of the other uniforms then looks back to Barry. "It's certainly a possibility. For the moment, let's say it was a person. Based on where the fire hit her and the angle it took that you got from the marks on the wall, tell me about the person who did it."

"Depends on how close they were. I mean, if they were a foot away, the trajectory would be higher than if they were touching. It'd be higher the farther back they stood, but it looks like the blast, if we want to call it that, dissipated real quickly. Like a …uh. Like a flash." Barry shakes his head, "Not like the hero guy, the Flash, but like a flash of lightning. Which is different."

"You can't guess how close she was to the origin?" Paul asks, frowning slightly as he thinks. "The blast traveled low to high, right? So assuming it was a person, where could it have logically come from? Hands are an obvious possibility. Eyes. Mouth? I've never heard of someone shooting blasts of fire from their belly button. So given the obvious ones, how short would this person need to be?"

"I think it was the whole body. Like a whole explosion. Because if it was the hands it'd be up here and down here," Barry leans to the side and has one hand low and one hand high. "I mean, if you have a power like that, you just go for a head shot in a room that small. Or a chest shot. You don't play pretzel." A thought comes to him, "Do you happen to have a pen and a piece of paper?"

"Could have been on the ground." Paul suggests, pulling out his pad and pen and handing them over to Barry. "But for the moment, let's go with some kind of body blast. Obviously, if it came from me, the mark on the wall would be different given my height. So can you estimate a maximum height for this person assuming they were standing?"

"I'm thinking short. And I'm thinking close," Barry walks back into the room to show Paul what he means. "I'm thinking like maybe 5 foot? That'd put the trajectory right, but that would mean that the person was nearly right up against the victim. And it was hot. To bend glass like this you're looking at 1300 degrees Celsius, easy. Maybe even hotter if it rapidly decreased temperature as it expanded."

"Short. And close." Paul muses. "Like, say, a child giving someone a hug? Would that fit in with your measurements?"

"Be about perfect, Detective Manning," Barry says with an earnest nod. "Manning," says one of the officers, "Girl was a bit shorter than the victim. Maybe 2 or 3 inches."

"Thank you." Paul tells the officer then turns to look at the legs. "Okay, Allen. Best guess at the moment… Based on the legs, how tall was Mrs. Jennings?"

"Five foot 3, I'd say, Detective," Paul might notice that there's a whole lot of evidence bagged and tagged during the time that he left the room. Must take a long time to get down to business, but he works quickly, this Barry Allen.

"Which would make the girl five foot tall." Paul turns to the uniforms. "See if you can locate the super or the owner. Find out if there's any cameras covering the entrance and, if so, we'll want recordings. Also the building opposite this one and any cameras on this block that might have views of the sidewalks. Unless she was with an adult, she didn't drive. If we can't spot her walking away, we'll need to contact the taxis." That last is mostly to himself.

"Sure thing," Barry says with a smile and a nod. and moves to make off. All of the sudden he stops, "There is a convenience store across the street. One with an outward facing ATM. I bet a call to the ATM company might be good too."

"I was talking to the officers." Paul tells Barry. "You need to get all that evidence back to the lab and maintain the chain of custody. Good memory about the ATM though. That's exactly what I was hoping to find. We'll definitely be getting the recording."

"Oh, I uh….right." Barry looks embarrassed but ducks back into the room and begins to collect the evidence. For him, his work is pretty much done here; he'll be doing some more work in the lab with some of the evidence. "To be honest, I'm not even sure where the lab is. I literally just got in and got sent out here. I imagine they'll show me."

"If you find out anything else once you give it all a closer look, let me know." Paul tells Barry. "If you're done here, we'll call the medical examiner to come get the body."

"Yeah, I'm done," Barry says with a nod. "Hey, it was nice to meet you, Detective Manning. I'll send a text in for the wagon."

"Good meeting you, Allen. And welcome again." Paul follows Barry out, letting the uniforms keep watch on the apartment till all the various departments finish and the cats are taken away. He'll go look into that ATM.

Days of investigation and waiting later:

A recording of the girl shows her leaving the apartment building scared. Though her prints and DNA are found in the apartment, the girl has no record. She is however related to the victim. Jennings has a sister upstate who has a daughter, Kayla Erickson. Kayla ran away from home about a week ago and she loves her aunt dearly. And the Ericksons are taking in the cats.

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