Assuming that the uniforms, upon arriving at the scene, were sharp enough to grab anyone within sight and send them downtown, you then go back to your office and throw as much streetcorner psychology as you can at the people who found the body. You do the same thing with a few others who knew the victim, who rented a room to the victim, who employed the victim, who slept with, fought or fired drugs with the victim. Are they lying? Of course they're lying. Everyone lies. Are they lying more than they ordinarily would? Probably. Why are they lying? Do their half-truths conform to what you know from the crime scene, or is it complete and unequivocal bullsh--? Who should you yell at first? Who should you scream at loudest? Who gets threatened with an accessory to murder charge? Who gets the speech about leaving the interrogation room as either a witness or a suspect? Who gets offered the excuse -- The Out -- the suggestion that this poor bastard needed to be murdered, that anyone in their circumstance would have murdered him, that they only killed the bastard because he provoked them, that they didn't mean it and the gun went off accidentally, that they only fired in self-defense?
If all goes well, you lock someone up that night. If all goes not so well, you take what you know and run with it in the most promising direction, kicking a few more facts loose in the hope that something will give. When nothing gives, you wait a few weeks for the lab work to come back with a positive on the ballistics or the fibers or the semen. When the lab reports come back negative, you wait for the phone to ring. And when the phone doesn't ring, you let a little piece of you die. Then you go back to your desk and wait for another call from the dispatcher, who sooner or later will send you out to look at another body.
Because in a city with 300 murders a year, there will always be another body.
Television has given us the myth of the raging pursuit, the high-speed chase, but in truth there is no such thing; if there were, God knows the Chevy Cavalier would throw a rod after a dozen blocks and you'd be writing a Form 95 in which you respectfully submit to your commanding officer the reasons why you drove a four-cylinder wonder into an early grave. And there are no fist fights or running gun battles: The glory days of thumping someone on a domestic call or letting a round or two fly in the heat of some gas station holdup ended when you came downtown from patrol. The murder police always get there after the bodies fall, and a homicide detective leaving the office has to remind himself to take his .38 out of the top right desk drawer. And most certainly, there are no perfectly righteous moments when a detective, a scientific wizard with uncanny powers of observation, leans down to examine a bloody carpet, plucks up a distinctive strand of red-brown caucasoid hair, gathers his suspect in an exquisitely furnished parlor, and then declares his case to be solved. The truth is that there are very few exquisitely furnished parlors left in Baltimore; even if there were, the best homicide detectives will admit that in ninety cases out of a hundred, the investigator's saving grace is the killer's overwhelming predisposition toward incompetence or, at the very least, gross error.
More often than not, the murderer has left behind living witnesses or even bragged to someone about the crime. In a surprising number of cases, the killer -- particularly one unfamiliar with the criminal justice system -- can be manipulated into a confession in the interrogation rooms. On rare occasions, a latent print taken from a drinking glass or knife hilt will match up with someone's print card in the Printrak computer, but most detectives can count on one hand the number of cases made by lab work. A good cop goes to the crime scene, gathers the available, talks to the right people and with any luck discovers the murderer's most glaring mistakes. But in that alone, there is talent and instinct enough. If the pieces do fall into place, some unlucky citizen gets a pair of bracelets and a wagon ride to an overcrowded tier of the Baltimore City Jail. There he sits as his trial date is postponed eight or nine months or however long it takes your witnesses to change addresses two or three times. Then an assistant state's attorney, who has every intention of maintaining a better than average conviction rate so he can one day come to rest in a better than average criminal law firm, calls you on the telephone. He assures you that this is the weakest homicide indictment he has ever had the misfortune to prosecute, so weak that he cannot believe it to be the work of a legitimate grand jury, and could you please round up the braindead cattle you call witnesses and bring them downtown for pretrial interviews because this thing is actually going to court on Monday. Unless of course, he can convince the defense attorney to swallow manslaughter with all but five years suspended.