Characters: Dee, Ryo, Chief Smith, OCs.
Setting: After Vol. 7.
Summary: Dee and Ryo have seen some very odd things on the job, but this takes the cake.
Word Count: 3178
Written For: Jae’s Monthly Drabble Challenge 164 - Something Unexpected.
Disclaimer: I don’t own FAKE, or the characters. They belong to the wonderful Sanami Matoh.
As cops, Dee and Ryo were used to dealing with the unexpected; it came with the job. Most of the time it was something beyond horrifying, because crime scenes, especially those concerning homicides or violent assaults, were not the most pleasant places to visit. Once in a while though, they came across something so bizarre, so utterly beyond belief, that it left them speechless and proved what Dee had thought all along; some people were just plain weird.
On this occasion they’d been called to an apartment block by a woman living on the fourth floor who claimed to be having trouble with her upstairs neighbours. Apparently they’d been crashing about day and night, making so much noise she swore whoever lived up there must be wearing hobnail boots. According to her, she’d been up there several times over the past week and a half, banging on the door, shouting at whoever lived in the apartment to keep the noise down or she’d call the police, but nobody ever answered, the noises continued, and there were strange smells coming from inside.
“Whoever lives there is up to no good, I’m sure of it. Suppose they’re running one of those meth labs like you hear about on the news! I didn’t really want to get involved, this isn’t the best neighbourhood as it is and I don’t want to make trouble for myself, but now there’s something nasty dripping through my ceiling, and it’s ruining the living room carpet. D’you think maybe there’s a dead body up there?”
“We won’t know until we take a look. I don’t suppose you know of anyone with a key?” Ryo asked.
“Sorry, can’t help you there, we all keep ourselves to ourselves around here. The landlord probably has one, but he’s not answering his door either. I think he went away. Or maybe it’s him lying dead upstairs and dripping through my ceiling!” Mrs Riley almost sounded hopeful.
After making some enquiries, Dee learned that the landlord was currently in Florida on his annual fishing trip, so he and Ryo tracked down the building’s owner instead and got permission to break down the apartment door if necessary. So now here they were, inside the top floor apartment, staring at the impossible.
It wouldn’t have been the first time they’d discovered a long-dead body, whether a natural death or a murder victim, and for obvious reasons they hadn’t been enthusiastic about that possibility, but that wasn’t what they’d found when Dee had kicked in the lock of the flimsy door.
“Are you seein’ what I’m seein’?” he asked, confusion written all over his face.
“Yes, I think so,” Ryo breathed. “I just don’t know that I believe it.”
The blinds were drawn, all the apartment’s furniture was piled against the walls, and someone, presumably the apartment’s tenant, had thoughtfully covered the floor with plastic sheeting topped with a thick layer of wood shavings and a scattering of straw. Standing there in the middle of the living room, looking so out of place it hardly seemed real, was a horse. Not a little Shetland pony or something like that, but a massive creature Ryo estimated to be at least sixteen hands. It was paying no attention to them, too busy snuffling about among the wood shavings, picking up scraps of hay and straw to eat.
There was an empty hay net hanging from one of the light sconces on the wall, and an equally empty feed bucket on its side near the front door. The whole place smelled like a barnyard and there were dozens of flies buzzing around. The horse snorted, stamping a hind foot and swishing its tail. Ryo supposed that accounted for the banging and weird noises Mrs Riley downstairs had been hearing.
He shoved a hand through his hair. “How did someone get a horse that size up five flights of stairs without anyone noticing?”
“Beats me.” Dee stared at the horse. “What I want to know is why!”
Ryo nodded. “That too.”
Detouring around the horse, he made a quick check of the rest of the apartment, moving the heavy wooden dining table to get into the bedroom. In there he found sacks of feed and several bales of hay, plus a bed that didn’t look like it had been slept in for some time. The closets turned out to be empty of clothes or other personal belongings; whoever had been living there had obviously moved out.
Returning to the living room, Ryo found the bathroom door had been taken off its hinges and shoved behind the tattered sofa. The cabinets had been cleared out, but the bath was half full of water with bits of straw and feed floating in it; obviously that was the horse’s water supply.
In the kitchen he found the cabinets there were empty too, the refrigerator turned off.
“Anything?” Dee asked when his partner returned to the door.
“No. Looks like whoever lived here has left, taking all their stuff, except… that.” Ryo gestured vaguely at the horse, a handsome if slightly bony looking chestnut… He made a quick check underneath; it was a gelding by the looks of things.
“Unless they never lived here at all and just rented the apartment for the horse,” Dee pointed out.
Ryo threw his partner an odd look. “Why would anyone do that?”
“How should I know? Maybe it was cheaper and more convenient than rentin’ a stable.”
“That doesn’t seem likely.” Ryo glanced around the apartment. “I know this is a run-down neighbourhood, but still, you know as well as I do people will charge whatever they can get away with for rent.” He shrugged. “Either way, doesn’t look like anyone’s been back here for a while, otherwise they would’ve fed the horse.”
“D’you wanna call this one in or should I?” Dee didn’t look enthusiastic.
“I’ll do it.” Ryo pulled out his radio and called dispatch at the precinct, reeling off his name, badge number, and present location. “I need a crime scene team and… a vet I guess, one that’s familiar with large animals. There’s a horse.” He listened to the crackling voice of the police dispatcher. “Yes, that’s right; a horse. No, it’s not outside; it’s in the apartment. I know it sounds crazy, but this isn’t a joke! Can you check whether a chestnut gelding, approximately sixteen hands, has been reported stolen in the last week or two and get back to me? Thanks, I’d appreciate it.”
“Waddaya want a crime scene team for?” Dee asked. “We don’t even know for sure if a crime’s been committed!”
Ryo gave his partner that look again, shaking his head. “Dee, a horse has been left, apparently abandoned, in an apartment. That can’t be legal. At the very least we need to find out who put it here, whether or not the horse belongs to them, and why they haven’t been back to feed it. There’s food in the bedroom but not out here, and the horse’s ribs are starting to show, so whoever put it here is guilty of neglect, maybe even mistreatment. From what Mrs Riley downstairs said, we know it’s been here for at least a week and a half.”
“Okay, point taken. Maybe the crime scene guys can lift prints and we can find our culprit that way.”
“If they happen to be in the system.” Ryo wasn’t holding out much hope on that score. “The horse might have an identifying mark though, a brand or a microchip, that can tell us who he belongs to. Looks like the poor thing’s been gnawing on the furniture, and he’s been eating the straw used to stuff that old armchair too.” The piece of furniture in question had been ripped open in several places and most of the stuffing consumed.
“Really gotta be hungry to find that tasty.”
“Yeah.” Ryo chewed on his bottom lip for a moment. “D’you think it would be okay if I gave him some hay?”
“How should I know? I don’t have a clue about horses.”
“I know that, I just meant… would I be contaminating potential evidence?”
“Doubt anyone can pull fingerprints off hay. Might be best to feed it somethin’ though; it’s lookin’ at me funny.” Dee eyed the horse warily.
Ryo snickered. “I very much doubt he wants to eat you; he’s just curious. You want some hay?” he addressed the horse, who snorted and took a couple of steps towards him, abandoning the stray bits of straw it had been chewing on, its ears pricked forward with interest.
“You’d better hurry up, babe,” Dee warned. “It might charge.”
“It’s a horse, not a bull.” Ryo went back into the bedroom, got an armload of hay, and squeezed back through the narrow gap between door and table. Seeing the hay, the horse surged towards him, so Ryo just dumped the hay on the tabletop and got out of the way to avoid getting accidentally flattened between table and wall. He needn’t have worried though; the horse simply snatched a mouthful of hay and started chewing. It seemed to be a good-natured animal and not easily startled despite its unnatural environment.
“Why don’t I go tell Mrs Riley there’s no dead body, before she decides to come up here and see for herself?”
“Good idea. You can ask her if she’s ever seen the person renting this apartment, and whether she’s seen anyone she doesn’t recognise hanging around.”
“And then maybe I’ll go knockin’ on the other doors, see if anyone knows anything. You gonna be okay up here on your own?”
“I’ll be fine; I’ll take another look around up here, see if I missed anything.”
“Yeah, good luck with that; horse probably ate everything that wasn’t nailed down.” Dee turned and left the apartment, never having gone any further than just inside the door.
“City boy,” Ryo murmured to himself.
“I heard that!” Dee called back.
The crime scene guys were the first to arrive. Dee sent them on up to the fifth floor without telling them what they’d find up there.
“You wouldn’t believe me if I did; this is something ya gotta see for yourself.”
They did see for themselves, briefly, but their strange outfits with the hoods and facemasks spooked the horse so Ryo told them they’d better wait outside until the vet arrived, then set about calming the animal. He’d found a simple rope halter hanging on the back of the bedroom door and managed, with the help of a couple of peppermints from his pocket, to get it on the horse, leading it around the room a time or two until it quietened and went back to eating hay.
The vet arrived about fifteen minutes later. Ryo could hear him talking to Dee as he came up the stairs and along the corridor. “What’s this about a horse in an apartment? This better not be someone’s idea of a joke.”
“I’m not sure what’s goin’ on. All I know is, we got called out because of a possible dead body and instead we found a horse,” Dee replied.
“A dead horse?”
“No, it’s a very much alive horse.”
“You mean a pony, right? I’ve heard some people have started keeping miniature Shetlands as companion animals…”
“I’ll be the first to admit I don’t know a hell of a lot about horses, but I guarantee there’s nothin’ miniature about this one. It’s the full-sized model.”
Entering the apartment, the vet stopped dead. “Good lord!”
“Imagine how we felt when we broke the door down and saw that.” Dee stood beside the vet, arms folded over his chest.
“Hi,” Ryo called from where he sat on the dining table, holding the horse’s halter. “Detective Maclean. You must be the vet.”
“Uh, yes, Frank Matheson.” Shaking himself out of his stupor, Matheson approached, circling so the horse could see him, although it was more interested in the hay it was eating.
“I gave him some hay; I hope that’s okay. There’s plenty in the bedroom, along with oats and stuff, but I don’t think anyone’s been in to feed him for at least a week. He’s had access to plenty of water though.”
“That’s fine, hay will be better for him than oats if he hasn’t eaten for a while, put something in his stomach that he can’t bolt down too fast.” The vet began examining the animal. “Doesn’t look like there’s too much wrong with him aside from being underfed,” he said eventually.
“Is he branded, microchipped or whatever it is people do to horses for identification purposes? We need to figure out who he belongs to; it’s possible he might have been stolen.”
“Could be; he’s a thoroughbred, so I’ll check for a microchip. If he’s been bred for racing he’ll have a tattoo inside his upper lip as well…”
“Good luck checkin’ for that.” Dee had decided to be brave and join his partner. “Looks like his lips are busy right now with that hay… Damn, he’s got big teeth!”
Ryo threw his partner an amused look but didn’t say anything.
“We should get him out of here as soon as possible, this really isn’t a suitable place for a horse,” Matheson said as he scanned for and found a microchip. “Getting him down all those stairs though…”
“Yeah, about that, there’s an elevator at the back of the buildin’ so that’s probably how he was snuck up here,” Dee said. “Found it while I was goin’ door to door talkin’ to the other residents.”
“That makes a lot more sense than a horse walking up five flights without anyone seeing it, and it should be a whole lot easier getting him down that way. I was dreading the thought of trying to lead him down all those stairs in case he slipped and fell.” Ryo smiled with relief. “Dee, could you have the crime scene guys check the
elevator over for prints and… possible evidence? Once they clear it, we can take the horse down and out of the building.”
“On it.” Dee headed for the door.
“I’ll arrange for a horsebox,” Matheson said, pulling out his mobile and moving away from the horse to make the call.
Ryo’s radio crackled and the horse swung its head to look at him, chewing industriously on a mouthful of hay.
“Just my radio, nothing to worry about.” Ryo patted the muscular neck then unclipped his radio. “Detective Maclean.”
“Detective, you were right, there was a racehorse went missing two weeks ago, 16.2 hands, chestnut, white sock on the right hind leg. Does that sound like the one you’ve found?”
Ryo checked out the hind legs; the distinctive sock was there, a bit mucky from the conditions the horse was living in, but still visible.
“I’d say there’s a good chance it’s the same horse. I don’t remember hearing anything about a stolen racehorse on the news though. I would’ve thought that would be a big story, considering how valuable he must be.”
“That’s because it was never reported,” the Chief’s voice came over the radio. “I know a guy out at the race track so I made some calls. According to my source, one of the owners got a ransom demand for his most valuable horse, but when he went to check up on it, he found it still in its stall. A similar horse was missing though, one that was worth a lot less, hadn’t lived up to expectations, so the owner told the kidnappers he wasn’t payin’ them a penny and decided not to bother reportin’ the missing horse. Figured he’d just claim on the insurance.”
“So the thieves, realising they’d screwed up and weren’t getting their big payday, decided to make their getaway while they could and just abandoned the horse?”
“That’s what I figure. They really hid it in an apartment building?”
“Yes, Sir; fifth floor. I guess they thought it would be last place anyone would look for a stolen horse.”
“They’d be right. Must be quite a sight.”
“It is. Hold on, I’ll send you a photo.” Ryo pulled out his phone, moved back from the horse, and snapped off a few pictures, because this was something nobody was going to believe unless they saw proof. He sent one to the Chief of a large chestnut horse eating hay off a dining table, the apartment’s kitchen just visible past its rump.
“Now I’ve seen everything!” the Chief chuckled.
“It certainly isn’t what Dee and I expected to find when we got here,” Ryo agreed. “Perhaps you could ask your friend at the racetrack to tell the owner we’ve found his horse and he can have it back once we complete our investigation.”
“I’ll do that, see if he wants to press charges in the event you manage to track down the horse rustlers. Think there’s a chance?”
“That’s probably going to depend on whether the horse thieves left fingerprints, and if they’re in the system. Aside from feed for the horse, and the horse itself, they didn’t leave much behind when they left.”
“Well, I know you’ll do your best.”
“Yes, Sir, we will.”
Half an hour later, Ryo led the horse out of the apartment and into the elevator; most of the other residents who happened to be home were clustered near the stairs to see it leave, and several of them snapped photos. Ryo didn’t blame them; it was probably the most interesting thing that had happened around here in weeks.
“Gives a whole new meaning to the word ‘neighbour’, don’t ya think?” Dee joked as he stood with Ryo watching the horse being loaded into a horsebox, ready for its journey to more suitable accommodations. “I wouldn’t wanna be the one has to clean out that apartment.”
“Neither would I; it’s going to take a lot of hard work. I was a bit worried the Chief might ask me to collect fertiliser for his roses.”
“I can imagine the looks on people’s faces if we arrived back at the precinct with the car full of horse crap!”
Ryo grinned. “The guys in the motor pool wouldn’t be too impressed.”
“Think we’ll catch the thieves?”
“I doubt it. Maybe if the theft had been reported right away we might have gotten usable evidence from the scene of the original crime, but we don’t have the vehicle used to transport the horse here, and so many prints have been lifted from the apartment and the elevator, the chances that any of them belong to the thieves is slim at best. We probably won’t even get a match for most of them.”
“Can’t win ‘em all I guess.”
“I don’t think the horse’s owner is too bothered either way. At least he’ll get his horse back undamaged. Some food and a good grooming and hopefully he’ll be fine.”
“Yeah. Least it wasn’t a dead body this time. Not a bad day’s work I guess.”
“No,” Ryo agreed, “not bad at all.”