"Uniform" - by Elizabeth Bear, Emma Bull, and Leah Bobet
There is nothing on earth that does not contain the seed of a possible Hell; a face, a word, a compass, a cigarette advertisement, are capable of driving a person mad if he is unable to forget them.
--Jorge Luis BorgesAct I | Act II | Act III | Act IV | Act V
"Half Angel Half Eagle" © Jane Siberry & Sheeba Records, used with permission.
Los Angeles, CA, April 2, 2010
Samantha Fujiyama pushed slipping glasses up her nose. She needed to get to her optometrist and get the frames tightened, or maybe a new pair, or maybe--hell--just spring for Lasik. In her copious spare time. Between autopsies. And paperwork. And child care.
Or maybe she'd just keep pushing the damned things up until they wore a pressure sore on the bridge of her nose. That would really complete her look. The push turned into compression against her greasy forehead. Every time she shut her eyes against the glare of her monitor, she felt like she was scraping them across the bulge of her headache. Memo to me. Check blood pressure.
It would have to be later, after she left the office. She had the M.D. All she was missing was the blood pressure cuff and stethoscope. Her patients didn't require the use of either instrument.
They did, however, require a significant amount of paperwork. Pixelwork. Whatever. And some of them weren't even her patients. Part of her job as a medical examiner was going over routine death paperwork, the kind that usually didn't result in an autopsy--or if it did, one performed at the hospital rather than by the Coroner's Office. The decedents whose files she was reading now, for example--she'd never seen their bodies. These were routine deaths--deaths by misadventure or illness or overdose, deaths from alcoholism and auto accident. Influenza, cancer, hemorrhage. Heroin overdose. Heroin overdose again.
Her hand moved the wireless mouse as she skipped back. Three heroin overdoses in the space of a few days was not particularly unusual; heroin use had been back on the rise for the last five years or so, after losing ground to methamphetamine. But three heroin overdoses suffered by middle-class professionals with--she popped open a different window and checked--no known history of drug use--
"Huh," Samantha said, headache momentarily lost in a rush of adrenaline. "That's funny."
She reached for her phone. It rang twice before a tired-sounding woman picked up. "LAPD, Homicide. Nield."
"Hey, Marisol," Samantha said, full of female solidarity. "I've got one here that could be a career-killer or a commendation. You want it?"
There was barely a pause. "Hey, Sam. Can I get a little more detail?"
"Potential serial," Samantha said. "Emphasis on the potential, for now."
There. She'd said it, and saying it made it real. On the other end of the line, Marisol's held breath whooshed out.
"Let me grab a pen," said Marisol.
Samantha smiled at the receiver. Attagirl.
J. Edgar Hoover Building, Washington, DC, April 2, 2010
Arthur Tan had his headphones on, because Jethro Tull played painfully loud was the only thing keeping him halfway awake. His eyes burned and his feet ached and he felt faintly nauseated with exhaustion. In short, a typical day in the life of a new parent.
He'd promised, when bargaining with Padma, that he'd get out of the bomb school and that he'd take the midnight feedings. He hadn't quite known what he was letting himself in for, but nobody would ever be able to say that Arthur Tan had backed out of a deal. He smirked slightly, remembering when the hangover and sleep deprivation would have been from partying late and raising Cain. Or raising Naima Morgan Parvaaz-Tan, which--it turned out--was infinitely more satisfying (and infinitely more exhausting) than he'd ever anticipated.
In his ear, Ian Anderson sang, Hey mister policeman won't you come on over, hook me up to the power lines of your love?
Maybe that was what he needed. An electric shock. Car battery. Right to the temples. Bzzt!
Or the red light flashing on his phone, the double-flicker of an outside line that always gave him a little thrill of adrenaline. Half the time it was routine business--but if Padma or his parents called they'd call his cell. Which meant it really was business.
He yanked his headphones down and grabbed the phone, slinging it between his shoulder and his ear with a practiced motion. One-handed, he tabbed up an empty notepad file to scribble in. He put on his best phone voice, with the crisp Midwestern accent. "Special Agent Arthur Tan," he said, "Behavioral Analysis Unit. How can I help you?"
"Hello," said the woman on the other end. "This is Detective Marisol Nield. I'm a homicide investigator with the LAPD, Rampart division. We're working a real octopus of a multi-jurisdiction case and--well, frankly, I was hoping I could get a profiler consult on a weird thing."
Tan said, "They sent you to the right place. I'm a behavioral analyst. How weird is weird?"
"Well," she said. "To be honest, we're not even entirely sure there have been any murders--"
Half an hour later, Tan had a list of seven dead--bankers, prosecutors, a crime reporter, a police detective--and a grim expression. He looked up from his computer screen to make sure Murchison was nowhere in sight, and caught Marshall's eye across the bullpen. "Hey, Doc. Got a minute?"
She nodded and put her pencil down with an expression of relief. "Consulting with Interpol," she said, as she ambled over. "Seventeen possibly-linked murders in eleven countries. Eight languages. Only three of which I speak. God bless the European Union, and I'm ready to stab myself in the foot to escape."
"Well, I don't know how much of an escape this will be." He tipped the monitor for her convenience as she leaned over his shoulder. "I've got seven equivocal deaths in L.A. County since the beginning of February. All heroin O.D.s, all weird."
"Weird how?" Her breathing quickened a little. She was on the scent.
He took a breath and waved a hand. "No history of substance abuse in any case. All of the victims are professionals, which doesn't rule out drug abuse, but--frankly--suggests alcohol or cocaine. No track marks on any of the decedents; just a mark from the deadly shot. Fatal dose consistent with somebody who had not built up a tolerance. No metabolic signs of drug addiction, except one banker who was apparently a pretty dedicated weekend drinker. They're various races and ages, both sexes, which is inconsistent with most types of serial killer. But no reason for suicide, no suicide notes. Each found dead in his or her own home. And--here's the kicker. These were all connected people. They had friends, family, colleagues. So the bodies were located quickly. Every single one of them was discovered in advanced rigor."
Her gaze dropped from the monitor to his profile. He turned to meet it. She said, "How advanced?"
"Inconsistent with possible times of death, based on timeline and forensic reconstruction. I mean yes, time of death is shaky in the best of circumstances, but in one case we're talking about somebody discovered dead in his workshop forty minutes after dinner. In full rigor."
"Cadaveric spasm," she breathed. "Full-body?"
Cadaveric spasm, the phenomenon commonly known as a 'death-grip,' was a form of accelerated rigor commonly found when the victim had engaged in violent activity right at the moment of death. Usually it would be found in, say, an arm clutching a gun discharged during a struggle.
Tan stretched his stiff back and nodded. "Indicating a violent struggle. And normally rigor would be retarded by cool weather, such as inside an unheated backyard workshop. In March. Even in L.A."
She straightened up and folded her arms. "Houdini clause, then."
She tipped her head, lowering her voice as Murchison came back from his bathroom break, or snack trip, or whatever. "If there's something consistently and inexplicably weird about it? It goes Down The Hall. That's why they get their own coffee pot and photocopier."
Tan made printouts and gathered up his things before picking up the phone to dial Nikki Lau's extension. She answered on the second ring. "Your Majesty! What can I do you for?"
He heard typing, and the muffling caused where her cheek pressed the phone against her shoulder. "I think I may have caught one of yours," he said. "Can you come down, or shall I port it over?"
"Let me have a look," she said. "Mom and Dad will decide if we chase it, but it won't hurt to go over it first. If it is one of ours, it's best to come to them with as complete a file as practical. Give me five?"
"Take ten," he said, grinning as he dropped the phone. She reminded him somewhat of his sister Bilqis, though Nicolette had done a lot better in the name lottery.
She got there in seven, and she brought him a slice of coffee cake. Odds were, Villette had been baking again. Tan wasn't sure where all the calories went, because the tall kid made Vincent Price look a bit on the fleshy side, but Tan also never complained when the odd cookie or slice of pie made it down the hall to him. "Blueberries?"
Lau nodded. There was a crumb stuck to her chin. She brushed it away and took a swig of the coffee she had also carried over "He should quit the Bureau and open a bakery. So, what have you got?"
He put on John Wayne and drawled, "Well then there cowgirl, what you want?"
She didn't jump, the way she had the first time he'd uncorked Inigo Montoya on her, but she did grin. "Three weeks leave someplace where a sarong is considered dress formal. But I'm going to get a series of messy murders, I bet."
"Pretty tidy ones, actually." He let himself fall back into his own voice, and started showing her the case.
Three deaths in, she was nodding. "Yeah. Yeah. Good catch, Tan. Can you zip it up and send it over?"
His fingers moved over the keyboard. "Your email awaits!"
As she left, he skated the napkin with the coffee cake a few inches closer, and broke off a bite. An agent's trained situational awareness told him somebody was coming up on his left: Stanley Murchison, curse the luck. Tan had never called him Blaze, and as far as he knew, neither had Victor Celentano. Tan figured they were probably alone in that, and he figured it wouldn't be too long before he gave in to temptation.
It was a good thing Murchison was as blind to irony as he was to social niceties.
"Hey." A mouth full of cake would keep him from saying anything inappropriate, he figured.
Unfortunately, Murchison wasn't eating anything. He took a breath, as if nerving himself to say something unpleasant but necessary. "Look, Tan. She's hot, I grant. But--friendly advice. Don't get too close to the WTF. It's a career-limiting move."
Tan abruptly wished he didn't have that mouth full of cake, because suddenly everything he wanted to say was roundly inappropriate. Before he could hold up his hand and gesture to his gold wedding band, though, Pete Pauley looked up from his desk on the other side of the half-height partition. His eyes, steely inside their nests of squint-lines, could have belonged to an actor sent straight out of central casting to play the hard-ass G-man. "Stan," he said softly, "did I just hear you make a sexually charged comment about a female co-worker?"
Murchison blanched. It didn't take a genius to see that there was something there between Pauley and Lau, even if it was ancient history. Tan wouldn't have liked to be on the receiving end of that glare. "I misspoke," said Murchison.
Pauley nodded. "I guess you did."
He didn't glance down until Murchison was back in his chair, head bent over his keyboard. Then he looked at Tan, and raised an eyebrow. Rookie profiler or not, Tan wasn't sure if that look boiled down to What an embezzle! What an ultramaroon! or This town ain't big enough for the both of us, and keep your cotton-pickin' hands off my girl, Tan. But he made a note anyway.
Pauley wasn't a particularly big guy, being a spare, rangy six-footer. Tan had two inches on him. But Tan had to admit--his John Wayne wasn't a patch on Pete Pauley's.
No one is entirely certain what causes psychopathology, sexual sadism, or any of the suite of disorders associated with serial murder--but we have a full bouquet of theories. The reasons one child in a family grows up a rapist, a molester, or a murderer while another does not are as mysterious as the reasons one child grows up alcoholic, asthmatic, or athletic while his sibling is abstemious, anorexic, or schizophrenic. We just don't know.
And not knowing, we're full of explanations. Some of these theories are deductive, carefully reasoned, and emergent. Some are little better than cargo-cults, arising from a combination of projection, conflation, and magical thinking. And some are truths arrived at as the result of brilliant flashes of induction.
The art and science of law enforcement is determining which is which.
Rupert Beale, Ph.D., Murder in the Second City, St. Martin's Press, 2001
George Washington University, Washington, D.C.
Tricia Andreoli's cell rumbled against her hip through her jacket. Like one of those gag hand buzzers, she thought. But we zap ourselves on purpose.
Wilson Porter, sitting on the front edge of her visitor's chair, couldn't have heard it. But he must have spotted a change in her attention. He hunched a little forward and turned his head like a bird, as if he didn't trust his binocular vision. "That's what I want to do, anyway. Just, see the strikes from the families' point of view."
At forty-seven, Porter was one of her oldest students. She knew he'd been in the Navy, and from fragments he'd let drop, she'd gathered he had a wife and a son with a disability. Sometimes she wanted to make an example of him for her nineteen-year-old survey class denizens: Pay attention to this guy. He studies history because he can see it reflecting off every facet of his life. That's what history is.
She hooked a ballpoint out of the cup on her desk and smoothed the paper that topped the neat sheaf before her. An interdepartmental studies project required the approval of an advisor in all the relevant departments. Kaiser had signed for Sociology. Tricia found herself nodding. A good scholar and a smart cookie, Kaiser. He was just the guy to help bring this project home.
She signed on the second line, for the History department. Then she grinned up at Porter. "Thanks for letting me in on this."
He smiled back, pleating his black-brown face along the lines scored in his cheeks and around his eyes. "Now, who else would I be asking?" He took the form she handed back to him. "I'll let you return that phone call now."
"How'd you know about that?"
He raised one shoulder, then rose from the chair as if the gesture had pulled him out of it. "Same look I get when my wife calls me during class."
"We share the secret married people knowledge. Same time next week?"
Porter bounced the fingers of his right hand off his temple in a casual salute and strode out her office door.
Tricia retrieved her phone and checked for missed calls. Then she thumbed 3. (She'd told Daphne she'd have to stand in line behind her mom, who was 2 in the speed-dial directory. But really, Daphne was 3 because that was the top half of a heart.) Somewhere on the other end of the call, Daphne's phone would be singing a tinny version of "That's Amore."
Instead of "Hi, honey," or "Hey," or any reasonable greeting, Daphne coughed furiously.
"You called me because you're dying," Tricia suggested.
More coughing, until at last Daphne said, "One thing at a time! Remind me! Coffee plus phone equals tracheal encaffeination."
"Did you just make that up?" Tricia snugged the phone closer to her ear and propped both elbows on her desk.
"Yeah, and Chazzie just thumbs-upped me for it. Bet he's gonna steal it and pretend it's his."
"Hey!" Chaz objected somewhere in the background.
Daphne's tone changed. "Sweetie, we're off to Los Angeles." Serious but positive: the hero riding into honorable battle.
Involuntarily, Tricia sucked in a breath. Every time they went out, every time she got this call from Daphne, she felt the same jolt of alarm. She didn't hide it from her, because Tricia knew the impulse to soldier on stone-faced was one of the things that broke so many law enforcement marriages. Still, she tried not to hang it too heavily on Daphne's shoulders when she most needed to focus on the job.
So Tricia only asked, "Is it an icky one?"
"No, more of a sneaky one." Daphne spoke slowly, as if the case was in the rolling-around-her-brain stage. "And with a medical geekery component, so I may be useful."
"You are useful." But Tricia knew Daphne didn't really need the pep talk, not the way she had when she joined the ACTF. Now she was saying, The team may need the knowledge they carry in me.
"Sorry about the chicken," Daphne said.
For an instant it made no sense. "Oh, hell, is that defrosting? Damn, poor chicken. I'll try not to destroy it."
"Should I put Chaz on with instructions?"
"What makes you think I can't destroy a chicken without Chaz's help?"
Daphne giggled. She looked so sensible and solid, but when she did that, she sounded about twelve. It still gave Tricia's heart an involuntary sweet pang. "That sounds like an episode of Mythbusters. You and Chaz, wearing goggles and gas masks, testing a chicken to destruction."
"That's it. I'm ditching academia and going into showbiz with Chaz. We'll call it 'Kitchen Concussion.'"
"He's looking at me funny. I'm going to pass on the news about his new career. Okay, hon, time to head for the elevator. Anything I can bring you from L.A.?"
"Just you." Tricia fixed her gaze on the print across the room of the Scott Towels "Is your washroom breeding Bolsheviks?" ad. "I love you," she said.
"I love you, too. Give Tiger an annoying hug for me."
"Will do. See ya when you get here."
It wasn't until the call ended that Tricia let her eyes leave the print. Whenever Daphne called to say she was headed out with the team, Tricia found something to focus on, to keep her anchored in now while she told her wife she loved her. She had regrets, but none of them had anything to do with Daphne. She planned to keep it that way.
Los Angeles, CA, April 3, 2010
Marisol Nield shifted in the early chill, watching the small, sleek white government plane describe a long arc around to its parking spot. It stopped tidily, and in under a minute a rolling staircase glided up and the door behind the crew cabin opened with an unsealing pop that carried clearly through the floodlit calm of the morning. If it was two a.m. in California, it was five back East, but she didn't think the team that was about to start piling off the plane had gotten any more sleep than she had.
She counted as they came down the stairs. The lithe, petite Asian woman must be Nikki Lau, who she'd spoken to on the phone. Marisol had figured out that Lau was a local from way back, and she liked the way Lau descended the stairs--physically and mentally out front. Behind her, a trim black man in a suit that seemed improbably well-pressed for a guy who'd just spent all night on a plane. Silver sparkled in his close-cropped hair like glitter under the floodlamps.
Then, in a clump, four more: a narrow, fortyish woman of ambiguous ethnicity with a slicked ponytail, her cell held up to her ear. She wore a black-handled gun at her hip; the edge of her jacket was caught behind it, and from the ease with which she carried it Marisol knew she didn't want to wind up on opposite sides of a shootout with this one. Marisol made a note to ask her where she'd served, and compare war stories.
Another woman descended beside her, light-complected and light-haired, with a pronounced jaw. Her broad shoulders pulled the sleeves of her gray pantsuit up a little high. She was talking over her shoulder to the fifth member of the team, a cadaverous Latino whose eyes looked sunken with exhaustion. His wavy hair was flat on one side, as if he'd been sleeping on the plane. The last one down was a big--no, a really big--white guy handsome enough for Hollywood, who carried himself like an athlete. Marisol caught the cautious appraisal of his surroundings as he descended and thought, ex-cop. The set of his spine said, ex-military. She hoped he wasn't just another pretty asshole, because she was already determined to like him based on those two data points.
Aware of her own situation--and, after watching the FBI agents descend from their shiny, expensive plane, self-conscious about it for the first time since her new uniform still itched--she started forward, determined to meet them out in the light instead of lurking in the safety of the shadows. Still, her stomach roiled. These were accomplished, professional, manifestly busy and important people. What if they thought she'd called them out here for nothing? She'd expected a phone consult, maybe a profile delivered via email from some agent's government computer if that agent even thought she had a case. She'd expected, frankly, to be told that the case needed to go back to the Gangs and Narcotics Division, and who did she think she was, anyway?
Basically, the lecture she'd already gotten from her lieutenant, without the bit about did she have any idea what seven dead was going to do to their clearance rates?
She did. She really did. But that didn't make the bodies go away.
And now, the day before Easter, the full force and majesty of the FBI was arriving in their nearly-supersonic jet and their shiny shoes, leaving Marisol feeling just a little bit like the girl who'd pulled the emergency stop cord on a speeding train because she saw a kitten beside the tracks.
But as she met Lau five feet from the bottom of the metal stairs, Lau just smiled and extended her right hand, though a moment before she had been stifling a yawn behind the left. "Detective Nield, I presume?"
"I am. I want to thank you all so much for flying out here in the middle of the night. On a holiday weekend, no less."
Lau shrugged it off, one-shouldered with a head-tip that made Marisol think Oh my god, she's a Val and breathe out a more relaxed breath than the one she'd just pulled in. The special agent turned to open their tete-a-tete to the man in the beautiful suit, and Marisol reflexively extended her hand. His grip was warm, impersonal. He didn't smile. He let Marisol extract her hand first.
"Senior Supervisory Special Agent Stephen Reyes, this is Detective Marisol Nield."
Marisol felt a little faint. "Buenos días, Doctor Reyes. ¿Cómo le fue en el vuelo?"
"Muy bien, gracias," he said, brow crinkling slightly. "Doctor Reyes? You know my work?"
"Your reputation precedes you," she said, as the others came up. Yes, of course she'd read his work. She'd read everything technical on homicide investigation she could get her hands on, and a lot of that came from the FBI. As a new detective, she was acutely aware that she was substituting research for experience, and she tried to be as conscientious about it as humanly possible. She was also acutely aware that the man in front of her was older, better-respected, and had all the authority in the world behind him. That awareness choked her voice off in her throat, even as she reminded herself, Not everybody with power is a predator.
Lau grinned at the two of them, which made Marisol think that maybe she'd gotten off to a good start despite fan-girling one of the Bureau's legendary behavioral analysts. "Detective, the rest of our team--Esther Falkner, Daphne Worth, Chaz Villette, Daniel Brady."
Marisol shook each hand in turn. Nothing about Falkner or Brady disabused her of her initial assessment of them as ex-military. Especially when Falkner looked her up and down and asked, "Sandbox?"
Profilers, Marisol thought. Even creepier than on TV. She nodded. "National Guard."
"Me, too," Falkner said. "Army. The first go-'round. Lau said you got handed the case by a smart M.E.? She'll be the first we want to talk to. And I assume you've drawn up some preliminary lists of victim associates?"
"I've got them in the car," Marisol said, fervently glad she'd stayed up all night seeing to it. Well, at least if she was missing Easter at her mom's, she wouldn't be the only one. Though if anybody else could guilt like Cecilia Nield--
As they turned en masse to follow her into the building and from there to the parking lot, she nerved herself and said, "You should probably be aware that there's some departmental politics going on. GND thinks this is their case, and I don't have a lot of authority in the Division."
"Don't worry," Brady said. "When this pans out, you will."
"When?" She was so busy craning back over her shoulder to gauge his reaction that she nearly walked into the glass door. Lau had swooped ahead and opened it. Damn, he was pretty. It put her back up. Guys like that tended to think they could have anything they wanted, and that could get ugly fast. But maybe he wasn't interested in her, to judge by the way his eyes stayed levelly on hers and did not stray. "You sound pretty certain."
"You've got a case," said the woman with the light brown hair. Worth. Marisol was determined not to have to ask names again. She didn't look much older than Marisol, but her tone was full of authority and competence.
Brady tipped his head at Villette, the tall quiet one. "If Chaz says there's a pattern, there's a pattern. We'll probably want to have him go over your M.E.'s records and see if he can pull out any more."
"Not that we doubt her ability," Falkner added hastily.
"They make you sound like a savant," Marisol said to Villette, directly, because it bothered her to talk about him as if he were not there.
More than it bothered him, apparently. Because he grinned a sharp-toothed, unfriendly coyote grin and said, "When it comes to seeing patterns, more or less. I've got a thing. So yeah, it's nothing on Dr. Fujiyama. I just might spot one she missed."
He was so unassuming about it, she had to believe him, even while every line of his posture screamed don't touch. She didn't miss the look he and Brady shot each other over the top of everyone else's heads. Brady looked down first, at Marisol, and shot her a wink she didn't think anybody else noticed. Crap, she thought. Maybe there was going to be a problem.
"Detective Nield." Something in Agent Reyes's tone, crisp enough to have an edge and firm enough to land heavy, gave Marisol a reflexive jolt of dismay and resentment. She swallowed it, as she always did; but, as always, it stuck partway down her throat.
"What I'm going to ask will go against your instincts as a good police officer. But it may be essential to catching this offender."
Marisol stiffened. "I won't break any regs." Rampart Division had learned that one the hard way: no short-term collar was worth the long-term damage to the integrity of the force, the respect the uniform should invoke.
Reyes lifted his chin, but not as if he was making up for his height. She had the feeling he was looking up to her physically and intellectually. Easy, Grasshopper, she said to the rush of pride and excitement. Reyes had to know how much power he had to manipulate a green Homicide cop.
"I wouldn't ask it of you," he answered gravely. "How many people know about the rigor the bodies displayed?"
It took her a moment to review. No, that hadn't been part of her argument that the seven deaths were connected and should be worked as murders. "Just the medical examiner, Dr. Fujiyama, and myself. Unless she's mentioned it to someone." Then she remembered. "And Detective Tucker. We've been partnered on several cases." The habit of sharing info with her partner had led her to grumble about the lieutenant's reluctance to add the deaths to Homicide's caseload, and she'd gone on to mention the rigor. "Extra-stiff stiffs?" Tucker had said, and she'd laughed in spite of herself.
"I need you to keep it that way, and to ask Dr. Fujiyama and Detective Tucker to do the same. We believe it's related to the killer's signature. It's unusual enough that it's likely to be mentioned as a curiosity, and even police officers can't always resist the temptation to talk to a sympathetic journalist."
As if the FBI were temptation-proof. Marisol gritted her teeth as Reyes turned away, apparently assuming she'd have no objection to following his orders. Then Brady caught her eye again across the tarmac; he grinned and rolled his eyes. She halfway returned the grin before she caught herself. "I've got transport for you out front," she said instead to the team at large, and made for the terminal.
FBI trumped LAPD in jurisdiction and resources. If the big blond agent decided his inclinations trumped hers... Knowing she'd called them in herself was sure as hell no consolation.
She worried about it all the way through the airport, until she was getting in the Division minivan she'd borrowed for the occasion and overheard a murmured conversation between Villette and Worth, heads leaned together in the row behind her.
"Harpy? Was the Cowboy just... flirting with a woman?"
The woman snorted, pulling her hair back into a slick, professional ponytail. She lowered her voice even further, but Marisol had pretty good ears. "Oh, please. When he was in the Army, he gave his rifle a boy's name."
Marisol bent over the steering wheel to hide her smile, and kept her sigh of relief subvocal. All right then. As she turned the key, Brady slid into the front seat beside her. "So," he said. "Rampart Division. As seen on TV."
"Still trying to live down the C.R.A.S.H. scandal," she said, so he wouldn't.
He glanced at her, light eyes shadowed by the streetlight from above. "I was thinking of Adam 12."
She snorted. "Of course you were."
He laughed and pulled his seatbelt across. "Relax, Detective. We're here to make you look good, if you'll let us. And I can already tell we're going to get along just fine."
It was practiced charm, and she knew it. But he had charisma like a wall, and it worked. As she put the car into gear, she already felt herself breathing easier.
Even if shift sergeant Carroll Reed hadn't had his radar out in anticipation, he would have known when Nield walked in with four FBI agents in tow because the copshop bustle hushed perceptibly. Only for a moment, but it was enough to let Reed know his detectives felt themselves under observation. They were pretty obviously FBI agents, too, two fit men and two fit women in pressed suits with tidy hair and hip holsters. He came out from behind the glass partition of his doorless office fixing his own jacket selfconsciously, raking a hand through his hair.
"Nield," he said, by way of acknowledgment, and waited while she introduced him to Reyes, Falkner, Worth, and Brady. Thank God they had name badges, or he'd never get them sorted out. "I thought there would be six?"
"Our colleagues are on their way to the M.E.," Falkner said. She was spare and raw-boned and just like her name. Reed caught her scanning the bullpen with an appraising eye, and he waited until her attention came back to him.
"You're over here," he said. "I hope you don't mind sharing desks--"
"We probably won't be using them much," Brady said from the back of the group. "But it's good to have a place to work from."
Over Worth's head, Reed saw the broad shoulders and drawn face of Gangs and Narcotics' Hector Person closing, as if he'd been lying in wait. Odds were pretty good he might have been, actually: Person had a sneaky head for politics. He was a hell of a cop, though, and in large part responsible for making sure Gangs and Narcotics hadn't following in the footsteps of the ill-fated C.R.A.S.H. program, an initiative so legendarily corrupt Hollywood was still using it as an inspiration for Bad Cop movies.
Reed didn't miss the glare Nield gave Person. He'd have to have a word with her about that; he understood she was a new detective and fiercely territorial, and Person wasn't immune to pissing a circle around any case he considered his bailiwick. But there wasn't room for jurisdiction fights within the same station house, as far as Reed was concerned.
Person didn't wait for Reed--or Nield--to handle an introduction. Instead he stuck his hand out to Reyes and said, "You guys are the FBI team."
"That's what it says on the box," Reyes said. "And you are--?"
"Person. Hector Person. The O.D.s were my case before they got transferred to Homicide. We were working them as potential tainted goods before Fujiyama came up with her theory."
"You disagree?" Worth said.
Nield stuck her hands in her pockets.
Person shrugged. "If the serial thing doesn't pan out, it comes back to us. I'd like to liaise with your team--share what we know, and vice versa, so if my guys wind up back on this I know what's been done."
Reyes glanced at Reed and at Falkner. Reed gave him a tiny chin bob, ignoring the daggers in Nield's gaze. She'd learn to play nice eventually, he figured. Or she'd move on to a different career, which Reed thought would be a shame. She had the grit and the observational skills to be a hell of a cop, if she hung on that long.
There were two FBI agents: a striking pocket-sized Asian woman whose haircut was on the trendy side for a government employee, and a very tall, brittle-feeling guy of about thirty who had hazel eyes, or maybe light brown, and cheekbones to die for. Very tall meaning, in this case, that Samantha was looking him straight in the chin, and she wasn't exactly little.
Daria ushered them into Samantha's office while the tall guy was still cramming the tag end of an energy bar into his mouth. Despite his aura of prickliness, she felt sympathy: all the glamor in the world didn't pay for running so hard you wound up skipping meals. She was already standing to greet them; after they introduced themselves as Special Agents Lau and Villette, she finished coming around her desk. "How about we have this confab in the cafeteria? I haven't had breakfast yet, and I bet I'm not the only one."
Villette--the tall one--blushed hard enough it showed through his skin tone.
"Thank you, Dr. Fujiyama. That'd be kind," Lau said, without so much as glancing at her partner. "We're not squeamish."
They were, apparently, hungry. When they settled at a corner table in the small cafe, Villette had two bananas, two orders of whole wheat toast with peanut butter, and three helpings of oatmeal. Lau just had the oatmeal, in a standard serving size, and an orange. The coffee came by the carafe--and, between the three of them, vanished by the carafe as well.
"Dr. Fujiyama," Villette said between bites, "Detective Nield informs us that you were the one who caught the pattern?"
She nodded, dissecting her eggs over easy so the creamy yolk pooled on the plate. Because she was eating in front of strangers, she tore bits of toast off and dropped them in the puddle, swishing them around with her fork. "As I'm sure you appreciate, due to the time factor, the bodies of the decedents have been released to their families and either cremated or interred."
"What would it take to have the bodies disinterred?" Villette asked. He apparently hadn't overestimated his appetite, as oatmeal was disappearing at a rate that would have impressed Fujiyama's Great Dane, Molly. She eyed his bony fingers and stark jawline and wondered where he put it. Maybe he ran marathons; he had the frame for it, but there was so much muscle in his upper body she suspected cross-training. Triathlete?
"Court order," she said. "They'll have been embalmed, anyway, which complicates a chemical analysis. Because these were investigatable deaths, however, we've been able to obtain tissue samples that were preserved in several cases. We're doing some additional testing on those--"
"Not complete yet," she said. "But they do show a consistent chemical signature--lactic acid and fatigue poisons, which suggests to me that the rigor does result from the victims' complete perimortem exhaustion. How they can fight or run that hard without bruising themselves, I don't know, however."
Lau looked at Villette. Villette remained expressionless. Chilly son of a bitch.
"If any more turn up--current ones--" Lau said, "--we've got a pathologist at Johns Hopkins we'd like to have look at them. This is not a vote of non-confidence in you. But we have special needs even as investigative units go, and she's familiar with them."
Samantha sat on her resentment. Somehow, the fact that Lau had anticipated her so accurately made her ashamed to demonstrate it, as if she had been caught out. She cut off a bite of sausage. "Who's your doc?"
"Madeline Frost," Lau said. "I don't know--"
"I've read a couple of her papers," Samantha admitted. She chewed the sausage slowly. Grease and salt, the base of the food pyramid. "In The American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology. And The Journal of Clinical Path, I think. Obviously, if she knows your needs, you should use her. But I think I can be of help."
"You can," said Villette. He looked to Lau for leadership, Samantha noticed. Just the occasional glance. So she was the senior agent, and he was okay with that. That made her like him a little more. "You already have been. We're concerned there might be cases that have slipped by. I'd like to review your files for the past couple of years."
Her back went up. She put the fork down. "Oof. Do you have any idea how many autopsies are carried out in Los Angeles County in a year?"
"Thousands," Villette said. "I know you can't review them all--and I also know that the majority of deaths do not result in an autopsy. But if I can borrow a computer for a few hours I should be able to get through them all."
Samantha raised her eyebrows at him. He met her gaze for a few seconds before glancing away, that blush even brighter across his cheeks.
"I'll be looking for a couple of very specific patterns," he said. "I just have to scan."
Just because she found him unsettling didn't mean he wasn't good at his job. "All right," she said. "Let me clear it with Dr. Sathyavagiswaran, the Chief Medical Examiner. But I don't think it'll be a problem." She set her knife down on the edge of the plate. "After all, you are the FBI."
There's an aphorism in biology that runs, "Under any given set of conditions, any given organism will do as it damn well pleases." The physical sciences are fortunate in their reproducibility. That is to say, if you are an experimental physicist or a chemist, you can be pretty well assured that whenever you recreate an experiment, assuming you control the variables tightly, you will get equivalent results. If you are standing on the surface of Planet Earth, every time you open your hand and drop a rock, the rock will fall to the ground at your feet unless some outside force intervenes.
It is much harder to control the variables when we're talking about the conception, gestation, birth, and upbringing of a human child. We are lousy experimental animals: we take too long to mature, we breed too slowly, and we're notorious for lying to ourselves and others. Also, the world we live is famously nonuniform and spongy.
But if we could make a thousand clones of one serial killer and raise them in a variety of tightly controlled environments, uniform except for their variables, we might see which ones express their trauma through psychopathic sexual sadism. We might have the beginnings of an experimental protocol.
The only problem there, aside from the sheer unwieldiness of the operation, is that we would have to be psychopathic sadists ourselves to carry it out.
So the nearest thing we can accomplish is the in-depth study of the serial killers we have on hand--in their native state, as it were--in an attempt to pick out the patterns from the noise.
Rupert Beale, Ph.D., Murder in the Second City, St. Martin's Press, 2001
Philomena Szczepanski knew something interesting was about to happen before she answered the bell. She'd peeked at the bicycle mirror Gene had mounted beside the door and seen a tall woman and a not-very-tall African-American man, both well-dressed. She might have thought they were from the Publisher's Clearing House if it weren't for the holstered guns on their hips. More detectives, she thought with a little thrill. Maybe something's finally broken.
She had to choke up on her excitement as she opened the door. Dazzling fantasies floated through her head anyway: they had finally decided to investigate Gene's death as a murder; they had a suspect in custody; Gene's death was going to bring down a major political figure who'd had him killed in a cover up. She knew it was just her desire for his death to have meaning, and she tried desperately not to invest in any of it.
But it didn't stop some foolish part of her brain from offering the images up.
"Dr. Szczepanski?" the woman asked, holding up a gold badge that didn't say City of Los Angeles on it. "I'm Esther Falkner; this is Stephen Reyes. We're with the FBI, and we need to ask you some questions about your husband."
That suppressed thrill matured into nauseous excitement. Hope bloomed, though she already regretted it bitterly. "Come in," she said. "I've just made tea."
She led them into the kitchen, which was tolerably clean if you ignored the stack of research texts covering two-thirds of the table, and told them to make themselves comfortable. While Gene was alive, she'd done a better job of keeping her "academic eggs" (as he called them) confined to the study and the library. And beside the sofa, and on her side of the bed. She busied herself with the whimsical china teapot (it looked like an unmade bed, littered with breakfast tray and newspaper) and three mugs. "Do you take cream and sugar?"
"Black is fine," Reyes said. He had a deeper voice than she'd anticipated. She admired the mirror polish on his shoes and the knife-crease in his trousers as he pulled out a chair. She set two mismatched mugs on the table and went back for the teapot, tea cozy, and her own mug. As she sat, he sniffed the steam from his mug appreciatively and sipped the hot fluid with great care. "You make a good pot of tea."
"Thanks," she said. "It's a green tea with mint and ginger. It's hard to get wrong." She blew across her own. "I never believed that Gene died of an O.D."
The FBI agents glanced at one another. Like an old married couple, Philomena thought with a pang. She wondered how long they'd been partners.
Falkner turned her blue pottery mug with her fingertips and looked Philomena in the eye. "Sergeant Person mentioned that. We were wondering if you could give us an idea of what Gene was working on when he died."
Open-ended questions. Good interview technique. She noticed Reyes turning his head slightly sideways to read the titles of her books and journals, letting the silence hang until she filled it.
Philomena said, "He shared everything with me. A linguist and a reporter might seem like a weird match, but he was interested in my work and I in his. When he was killed, he was investigating some alleged misappropriation of funds at City Hall. Before then, he did a series on the infrastructure of Los Angeles County--budget issues, where the money comes from, what it gets used for, how important things like fire and garbage are and how they're organized."
Reyes looked up. "Did that involve any concerns about organized crime?" He pulled a reporter's notebook from his breast pocket and fumbled with the cap of a rollerball pen. That gave her a pang, too. She noticed that he was left-handed.
"He was a crime reporter for years," she said. "But he was always interested in investigative reporting, and he finally broke a big enough story that his editor let him specialize out of the murder beat." Her eyes stung, suddenly, but she refused to sniffle. "The cops were always so mad when he uncovered something they wanted to keep secret. I used to call him Kolchak."
Falkner laughed lightly. "Would you say you had a good marriage?"
Her throat was too tight to drink the tea, but Philomena cradled it for comfort. "We had our ups and downs," she said. "Especially when our son went away to school and we were alone with each other again." She shook her head.
"You had your ups and downs," Falkner said. "But you were a team, weren't you?"
She had a gold ring on her wedding finger, and large, plain, capable hands. Philomena liked her reflexively. "We were a team," she said. "I would have known if he was using heroin. Thirty-four years. We both worked from home as often as not. You get to know a person."
Reyes shifted, looking around her. Into the living room, she thought. She had a peculiar sense that he was riffling through the contents of her skull. "Tell us everything you can about Gene," he said. "You never know what tiny detail may click with something else. Where he went, who he saw, the regular patterns of his day. Where he bought coffee. Where he bought gas. Anything at all."
Philomena kept her hand loose around her stoneware cup, but she had a sense that this Reyes had seen right through her. They're looking for a serial killer, she thought, and hid her nervous swallow with a mouthful of tea. "Sure," she said. "If it helps, I can give you a copy of his calendar. He gave me access to it."
Micaela Kane couldn't stop feeling a kind of fuzzy surreality--unreality, even--about having two federal agents in her living room. The woman was solid and dark blond with a character actor's jawline; the man looked like a young Robert Redford, sized up twice. The woman--Special Agent Worth--perched on the edge of Micaela's couch. The man--Brady--moved gently around the room, examining her family photographs, the glamor shots from her acting days, the girls' school and pageant photos. He spent extra time over Cleon's Police Academy graduation shot. He'd been so lean and handsome in his dark dress uniform--
"Ma'am?" the woman said.
Micaela realized she'd closed her eyes. She opened them again. "I'm sorry," she said, feeling the shiver in her voice and wondering why, even now, she couldn't summon up an emotion without analyzing it. She couldn't just feel anything. She had to set it up, contemplate it, and let it run.
Maybe that was why she'd never made it big as an actress.
"Cleon," Micaela said. She dabbed the corner of her eye. "I was thinking of when we were young." She waved in the direction of the photos. Now that there were strangers examining them closely, she was embarrassed by the shrinelike nature of the display.
Her unease doubled as the big man set the photo down again and turned his attention to her. "Something I wanted to ask you about these, actually." His sweeping gesture gathered them all up. "I notice in these photos, you have the ones of your husband separated out. Off to the side. And when there's a photo of you two and your daughters, you're always between him and them. Was there some reason for the girls not to feel safe around him?"
Micaela felt the accusation like a punch in the solar plexus. She doubled forward before forcing herself to sit upright. "I think you'd better leave," she said, trying for quiet dignity.
The man was watching her face. "I thought so," he said. "Worth, I'll be in the car. Ma'am, I'm very sorry about that, but I had to know."
"Of course Rosa had enemies," said Anton Lenardi. "Everybody hates on the baby-snatcher."
The little Asian Fed, Lau, kept up the professional deadpan that all cops used to cover up surprise. The tall brown one, who'd been introduced as Villette but who'd probably been born Villa, frowned like a nun with a ruler. "We're looking for a motive for Ms. Rios's murder, Mr. Lenardi, not for the murder of every social worker in Los Angeles."
Hot Agent Lau gave her partner a look, and maybe her deadpan, too, because he stuck it on his face and wore it like he meant it. Then she asked, "Mr. Lenardi, when the people in her office heard Ms. Rios had died of an overdose, were they surprised?"
Anton shrugged. "My job would be easier if I could read minds."
"Were you surprised?"
"We have to work with junkies and meth-heads and drunks and dopers all day. They think they've got mad fronting skills, but that's just part of the bullshit. We spot 'em the second they walk in."
Agent Lau shifted her weight, and suddenly she was less hot and more pin-you-out-in-a-box-like-a-dead-bug. "Does that mean you were surprised, or you weren't?"
"I don't know," Anton admitted. "At first I was surprised. Then I thought, if I was shooting smack, I'd know what not to do. And so would she."
"Part of her job was to get her clients off drugs and into treatment," Villette said, with about as much expression in his voice as a big rock.
"We tell 'em to stop gambling, to stay on their meds, and eat five to eight servings of fucking vegetables a day, too. Want to know how many Powerball tickets get bought in this office?" Anton wondered what the two Feds would say if he asked them if they'd ever broken a goddamn law.
"Look, Rosa could be a pain in the ass to work with. Her desk was a mess, she spent half the day on the phone to her sister, her mama, and her ex, she didn't always file her case docs on time, and she wasn't a shining example about maintaining confidentiality. Sometimes she fucked up. But sometimes everybody fucks up. She wasn't any better or worse than the rest of us."
"Fucked up how?" asked Villette, with no sign that the bad word made him uncomfortable. Anton had to admit that he mostly knew FBI guys from television.
"Pretty much everything we do makes somebody miserable. Sometimes for life. If we're lucky, it makes somebody else safer, or less sick, or maybe even happy. If you go home from this job every day feeling great about yourself, you're an idiot. Rosa'd had cases where things turned out more bad than good. So does every counselor in this office. We try to fix things. But we're starting with some pretty screwed-up human beings. It doesn't always work."
Something in Villette's expression and the set of his shoulders suddenly made Anton want to roll his chair as far back from the Feds as possible.
"Let's talk specifics, Mr. Lenardi," Agent Lau said cheerfully. Maybe she was a little worried about his safety, too. "Tell us about the cases Ms. Rios didn't fix."
He wanted to gnaw his cheek, or maybe his knuckles. Something to ease the pressure of Villette's laserlike stare. Maybe he could give them enough to get them to go away.
"There was one a little before she died," he said. "A kid died. Rosa--the mom was an addict."
Villette wasn't looking any easier. If anything, the metaphorical thunderheads gathering behind him had started to throw lightning bolts.
"And?" Lau said, as Villette bounced to his feet and stationed himself five feet back, next to the gap in Anton's cube wall.
"Rosa gave her the kids back," Anton said. "The little girl fell out the window while the mom was checked out." He spread his hands. "Rosa was really broken up about it. It made the papers."
Hot Agent Lau sent her partner a worried look. Anton gave in to the urge to chew his cheek. Maybe there was something more going on here than an overacting bad cop. "Thank you," she said. She put a card on his desk. "Call me if you think of anything else, please."
The Feds came and went throughout the day with more urgency than pattern, but Marisol would have had to be a pretty lousy detective indeed not to have noticed the firmness of Villette's step when he came back in around eight, or the restraint with which he closed the conference room door behind him. Bad interview, she guessed, and resolved to give him five minutes before she went in to bring him the results of her seemingly endless string of phone calls.
Tucker, however, was not known for his sensitivity and tact. She saw him shuffle papers together and shove them into a manila folder as he stood, and wasn't quite fast enough to intercept him before he made it halfway across the bullpen. After that, it would have been obvious, and she could see Villette through the glass, arms folded, shoulders hunched, watching them come. So she followed Tucker into the conference room, desperately trying to think of some useful scrap of information from her afternoon to justify her presence there.
When the door opened, though, Villette lifted his chin, straightened his spine, and regarded them with a chilly professionalism that made Marisol swallow her worry with a chaser of embarrassment. Of course you didn't get to be an FBI agent if you couldn't maintain a facade.
But as Tucker started spreading paperwork out on the table and Villette met his comments with brittle reserve, she couldn't help but wonder what exactly had happened out there today.
"It's simply impossible that Mr. Clay was using heroin," Sara Clawson told the mismatched pair of Federal agents seated on the other side of her desk. "We're talking about a Bank of America regional manager, a respected community figure, successful at work and at home." God damn you, Bob, she thought as she recited the mantra for the who-knew-how-many-eth time. If you weren't already dead, I'd kill you myself. "I'm sure the employees in the county coroner's office work hard, but with all the budget cuts, it's much more likely that some mistake was made."
She tried again to figure out which of the agents was in charge. The tall, austere woman had a lot of authority in her face and voice and bearing. But Sara doubted a woman would be placed over a man in a government law enforcement job, Janet Napolitano aside. On the other hand, the man in question was black and Hispanic, which changed the equation.
The black agent, Reyes, leaned forward and clasped his hands between his knees. No, he had to be the ranking agent. Either that or he made his money elsewhere, based on the cut of that suit. "Ms. Clawson, I think you've misunderstood our reason for coming. We're investigating Mr. Clay's death as a murder."
Sara's son Michael worked for a special effects company, and was hell to watch a movie with. He was always complaining about the way Hollywood showed the effects of gunshots. "People don't fly backwards when they're shot," he'd growl. "They just drop, like their strings are cut." The word "murder" was like a bullet, then. Sara felt as if she couldn't have lifted her body from her desk chair if her life were at stake.
"Did Mr. Clay have any enemies?" the tall woman asked. Falkner--her name was Falkner. That question was probably one of her mantras, but she made it sound as if she really cared about the answer. Well, that was her job, wasn't it?
Enemies: the word made Sara think of unsigned threatening letters or middle-of-the-night phone calls or horse's heads left in beds. Not real life. "Mr. Clay was well-liked. A respected member of the business community."
Reyes straighted sharply in his chair. "Robert Clay had direct or indirect control over millions of dollars of bank transactions and thousands of employees. No one who fits that description is universally loved."
Falkner added, "We need more than the corporate press release version of events, Ms. Clawson." She turned her head slightly, as if she were an eagle and Sara were a mouse she was thinking about catching.
"He was..." Sara swallowed, and caught her breath. She wasn't stupid enough to think she couldn't be fired for being honest with the FBI.
"And we're not reporting to banking regulatory agencies," Reyes said, drier than a martini. She met his satirical gaze and wondered how the hell he'd read her mind.
"BoA was hit as hard as anyone in the mess at the end of 2008. Bob Clay was brought in to tighten the tourniquet. He pushed everything from zero tolerance on overdrafts to pulling out of investments in marginal neighborhoods." Sara realized she'd been gripping the arms of her desk chair; she let go and massaged her fingers. "The business community is conservative even in an expanding financial environment. Right now-- The more of a crocodile Bob was, the more confidence corporate investors had in the company."
"He was respected for being a son of a bitch," Reyes summed up, almost gently.
Sara nodded. "It was his job. You understand. He wasn't a bad person."
"Do you know if he was acquainted with Judge Corinne Aster, or Esteban Alcarez in the L.A. County prosecutor's office, or Gene Szczepanski, the journalist?" Agent Falkner seemed relaxed--and why not? She had the whip hand here--but Sara felt the intensity radiating off her, even so.
"I don't know. I don't think-- I can't think of any kind of professional relationship. He might have known them outside of work. Fundraisers, maybe; he and his wife were something of a fixture at those hundred-dollar-a-plate candidate dinners."
Sara couldn't read anything from the way Falkner and Reyes met each other's eyes. She still couldn't tell which of them was in charge.
Marisol's stomach was letting her know she'd skipped lunch and dinner when the last FBI interview team reported back in. She was wondering if she should go join them when Worth appeared at the door of the conference room they'd been ceded for their maps and charts, waving her in.
She rose from her desk in the humming station house as Agent Worth's broad gesture scooped her up. She shot a glance at Tucker: he was already on his feet, unearthing a notepad from a pile of clutter. She beat him to the aisle by a couple of steps, sacrificing her lead to hold the door for him when they got to the conference room. Inside, all six FBI agents were arranged around the long table--Villette standing up at the front of the room, and the other five seated. She walked to the back of the room and dropped into the chair beside Reyes, to prove to herself she wasn't afraid of him. Tucker sat down more carefully across from her.
Villette carefully shut the door. Marisol noticed that the blinds were drawn.
"I have a preliminary victimology," he said. "Based on the first two dozen or so interviews and the three new potential victims I unearthed in the coroner's reports, the one consistent trend is that most of them were somehow linked to law enforcement. We have Gene Szczepanski, a crime reporter who was known for his somewhat antagonistic relationship with the department. We have Cleon Greene, a police officer who took the job out on his kids. We have Corinne Aster, a judge with a reputation for hanging 'em high, who oversaw several high profile cases and handed down more than one controversial decision. We have a prosecutor, Esteban Alcarez, most notable for his work on the Joy serial killer case five years ago. But then we have the oddies, such as Robert Clay, banker. Rosa Rios, social worker. And not yet enough information to see how they might link."
He looked tired. When he picked up his giant Starbucks cup, Marisol caught a whiff of chocolate. A long pull seemed to perk him up.
"However, there's something that does link the Clay and Rios cases. Rios returned a child to her mother. The mother was an addict, and the kid, Stephanie Baxter, died in a fall while unsupervised. Clay allowed a collections agency to clean out the bank account of a customer, Hal Fienemann, who later killed himself."
"Two deaths," Worth said. "Revenge motive?"
"Wait. What does the law enforcement angle tell us?" Marisol asked.
"Not too much, unfortunately," Reyes answered. "That the killer may also have a relationship to law enforcement--a lot of serial killers are cop groupies. That he or she has been keeping very close tabs on the investigation, and may already have been interviewed--or may have volunteered help with the case. But that's such a basic part of the profile it's almost a given. He's likely to be intelligent, and know it--he's organized and meticulous, and the elaborate, symbolic method of murder suggests arrogance. He wants us to know he's smarter than we are."
Brady laced his hands together and leaned forward over the table top. "We also know he wants his victim's reputations destroyed," he said. "Which suggests that he's an injustice collector--somebody who holds grudges for all kinds of slights, real or imagined. He may be a drug addict himself, or he may have been close to somebody who was addicted."
Marisol noticed Villette's wince, and didn't think it was because his chocolate was too hot. Since everybody on his team very carefully ignored the reaction, she figured she probably should, too. Everybody had trigger issues.
"So where do we go from here?" Tucker asked.
Worth sighed. "More interviews. We need to find the threads that link all of these people. Somewhere, somehow, each of them crossed the killer's path and drew his or her attention. These murders are not random."
On the night of September 28, 2005, Herman Toleschak and his wife Gina watched The Tonight Show together. Then, as usual, Gina went upstairs to bed while Herman went out to the ham radio shack he'd built in the backyard of their suburban Wichita home.
Toleschak had been a ham radio enthusiast since he was a boy. Now he was 89, afflicted with arthritis and heart disease; amateur radio was the last passion of a long, active life. Gina Toleschak often came downstairs in the morning to find her husband had been at his radio all night, and when she'd go out to fetch him, she'd find him asleep, his head pillowed on his crossed arms on his desk, his headphones still cupping his ears.
On the morning of the 29th, Gina came downstairs to find Herman still in his shack. In her housecoat and slippers, she crossed the yard to the building's unlocked door and found Herman in his chair at the desk. She couldn't wake him.
Gina had often said to neighbors that she expected Herman to pass on there at his radio. She was grieved, but not surprised.
Until she looked closer. Her husband hadn't had a heart attack or a stroke. Herman Toleschak had been strangled with a thin wire, yanked with such force that it nearly severed his windpipe. The only thing missing from the little building, besides Toleschak's life, was his radio logbook, in which he had recorded the contacts he'd made with radio enthusiasts all over the world.
Toleschak died alone, but his death, it turned out, wasn't isolated. Eighteen people, most elderly, all but two male, had died as he had in the past two years. The victims lived sometimes hundreds of miles from each other, in Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas.
All were ham radio hobbyists. All had died within steps of their broadcasting gear. And all their logbooks were missing.
The FBI's geographic profiling techniques were vital to catching what the media belatedly named the Radio Killer. Because their jurisdiction extends across state lines, and because they are expert at gathering and analyzing patterns of data from reported crimes databases, the Bureau's agents recognized what united the locations of the murders: they were all within ten miles of Interstate 35.
Law enforcement in the four states were instructed to focus on professional travelers: truck drivers, salesmen, seasonal specialty workers. They were looking for someone with considerable upper-body strength, male, neat, pleasant, well-spoken, and with at least a high-school education. He would have radio equipment in his vehicle capable of sending and receiving amateur radio frequency broadcasts. It was possible the killer had taken the logbooks because he had talked to his victims by radio, winning their confidence and home addresses. The logs might have led police to him.
Police departments disseminated the profile through the thousands of small towns along I-35. Ham radio enthusiasts spread the word via their microphones. So it was that the Radio Killer's career was ended by a coalition of professional law enforcement and a savvy amateur.
On January 2, 2006, Officers Gary Schieley and Nola White were patrolling the fringes of Cameron, Missouri when they heard pistol shots. They thought immediately of Samuel Charters, a retired Navy radio operator, whose ham radio antenna rose above his converted garden shed and neighbors' roof peaks.
The officers arrived at the Charters home and heard another shot from the back of the house. They ran toward it to find Charters, on the ground outside his radio hut, struggling with an assailant. Charters had managed to get one hand between the assailant's wire and his throat, but the wire was so tight it had cut Charters's hand to the bone.
In Charters's other hand was a short-muzzled .357 revolver. He had shot his assailant three times.
The officers ordered the unknown man to let go of Charters and lie face down on the ground. Instead he shoved Charters aside, staggered to his feet, and ran for a gray four-door sedan parked down the block. After another warning, the officers opened fire.
Their target, Karl Patchette, was a regional salesman for a company selling commercial irrigation and septic system parts. He had an excellent sales record, and his territory had been expanded repeatedly. Customers liked his warm manner, his easy conversation, his neat appearance.
In Patchette's car, police found the eighteen missing ham radio logs. The profile was correct in every item save one: Patchette's car had no radio at all. The factory-installed unit in the dash had been ripped out, cracking the plastic surround. When FBI agents searched Patchette's tidy bungalow in Kansas City, they found no amateur radio equipment, no stereo system, no clock radio, not even an MP3 player.
Patchette sustained six gunshot wounds to the abdomen. His liver and large and small intestines were in tatters. Still, he lived for three days in the hospital, dying on the table during his second surgery. His mind may have been affected by pain medication. But the detectives who interviewed him at his bedside said he seemed clear-headed, if angry. He insisted he could hear the radio amateurs broadcasting as he approached town. "They said terrible things. I had to stop them."
Karl Patchette was probably delusional. Many mental conditions cause their sufferers to hear voices, and though Patchette was never diagnosed with any of them, that's the most likely explanation for his belief that he heard the ham radio operators as he passed their towns.
What it doesn't explain is how he found his victims. None of them had ever been heard to broadcast their street addresses. And none of their radio antennas were visible from the interstate where Karl Patchette made his lonely commercial pilgrimages through the darkness...
Rupert Beale, Ph.D., Long Haul: Into the Mind of the Traveling Killer. St. Martin's Press, 2008
Los Angeles, CA, April 4, 2010 (Easter Sunday)
Micky Fuentes staggered when Curly lurched forward against the pull of the leash. How the hell much do obedience classes cost? Be worth it to teach the damn mutt to heel. He thumbed the release button on the leash reel instead and let Curly have another couple feet.
He felt a little guilty for bitching when the dog woke him up. Sure, his story was that Curly was Lucia's, and he was sticking to it. But grumbling about midnight walks, vet bills, and the price of dog food was just reflex now, and he was pretty sure Lucia knew it. Truth was, he didn't know what he'd do without the stupid dog.
Now here he was in the grassy-smelling moist night, the glow of the city overhead, the park and the neighborhood quiet on a holiday weekend. Come noon he'd be at Lucia's folks, surrounded by nieces and nephews wired up on Easter candy. But right now, in the cool darkness, he had a few peaceful minutes to be just a man and his dog.
Curly whined and slammed forward against the leash again. Micky tripped over a sidewalk crack and barely got his other foot down before he fell. "Goddamnit, sit--"
He caught an odor--like a wino with food poisoning, vomit and shit and not exactly either--and recoiled. Curly must have eaten rotten meat or a dead squirrel, to poop something that nasty.
But Curly wasn't squatting. His silly black ball-nose was pushed into the grass, snuffling, and he was making little whiny noises in his throat.
Micky tugged the plastic grocery bag off his wrist, pulled the pooper scooper out of it, and squatted beside the dog. That was when he realized the thing in the shadows at his feet wasn't a cluster of turds, but a clenched human hand.
"Hey Nield! You're gonna want to look at this one."
It was kindness, after a fashion, and Marisol tried to embrace it as such. But when her phone rang and the I.D. came up Tucker, she always had to hide a wince. He was big and bluff and had no volume control or social graces. And she thought he might have romantic designs on her.
But he meant well. And he proved it by calling her at home at two a.m. on Easter Sunday to tell her he'd caught a homicide that, while it bore no surface resemblance to her possibly imaginary serial, did have one freaky thing in common. A dog walker had all but tripped over a body in MacArthur Park, and that body displayed complete cadaveric spasm. She'd fumbled for her glasses and said, "Call the FBI guys," and that was that.
The City of Los Angeles had two kinds of parks. The first, which came in a range of sizes for all needs, was flat, grassy, studded with playground equipment, picnic tables, barbeque grills, and conveniently-located trees that provided shade and a few vertical lines to break up the horizon. The bigger ones offered baseball diamonds and soccer fields and basketball courts.
The second kind was mountain wilderness, eucalyptus and oak and manzanita threaded with dusty trails that climbed or descended or disappeared unexpectedly when winter rains washed them out. Locals mostly had the sense to treat them with the respect they'd offer a neighborhood crime boss. Being ten minutes from your back door didn't mean you were immune to a broken ankle and death from exposure.
Every cop in town knew more dead people were found in the first kind than in the second. Which might just mean that in the second, they were harder to find.
MacArthur Park was one of the first kind, its green grass sloping gently down to the lake in the middle. It looked like a decayed relic of the optimism of early-20th-century urban planners, which it was. By day, it was full of mostly black and Hispanic families picnicking, having birthday parties, throwing Frisbees and footballs. By night, its reputation as a drug market and gang battleground kept it mostly empty.
Which made it a lousy market and a quiet battleground. The City Council was right, Marisol reflected: crime has a negative impact on business.
So here she was freezing her toes off in the first pair of shoes she'd grabbed, watching the scene team mill around under the floodlights, wishing she'd stopped for coffee. They hadn't moved the body yet; they were waiting for Fujiyama. And the Fibbies. Marisol had been so intent on not letting Reyes' team beat her here that she hadn't even pulled up to a a McDonald's drive-through for her caffeine, and now she was bitterly regretting it. Tucker was off by the scene tape at the edge of the lake, booming questions at a medium-sized guy with a bored-looking standard poodle on a leash. The dog had flopped down and put his head on his paws. The man, shoulders hunched defensively, looked like he wanted to put his hands over his ears.
The profilers arrived en masse, making her wonder if they got hung up on a rack at night, like robots. Or spat out of a dispenser. Surely, they'd be more uniform if that were the case. Still, as they piled out of the black SUV they had arrived packed into, she heard Brady's unmistakable voice rising above the rest to comment, "Driving defensively does not mean being defensive about your driving, Chaz--" and Villette's "Hey!" in response.
She figured they'd make a beeline for the body, but instead Lau came up to her and held out a white paper bag. Mystified, Marisol took it. It was warm and heavy.
"Figured you wouldn't stop," Lau said. "Didn't know how you took it, so I got those packet things." She shrugged, as Marisol peeled open the crumpled paper to reveal an extra-large coffee and a selection of sugar and half-and-half containers.
She pried the lid up with her thumbs. It had cooled off enough to drink, and she slugged the top inch black to make room for heroic quantities of cream and sugar. Substitute for sleep and warm socks. Which, judging by the sympathetic look Lau was giving her, was obvious.
"Bless you, girl," Marisol said. "How much do I owe you?"
"On the house," Lau said. "What have we got?"
The rest of her team was already moving toward the body, Agent Worth in the fore. She didn't move the body, but Marisol saw her test an arm for rigor and nod, looking up at Falkner with a frown. From the expression, Marisol would bet she had a medical background.
"Male, white, mid-thirties. Looks like C.O.D. was a disembowelment, but of course we won't be sure until the autopsy." Marisol wrapped her hands around the coffee cup for the warmth. "He's got the--"
"--accelerated rigor, yeah. Your loud guy said on the phone. That's not what's bugging you."
Distantly, Marisol heard Brady say, "Dog walkers, God love 'em. Probably solve more damn homicides in a damn year than the entire damn FBI." and Worth answer, "I'll go have a word with him when that cop's done." Her doubtful glance at looming cop and cringing civilian almost made Marisol spray coffee across the lawn.
"This doesn't fit the current killer's victimology."
"But it fits the victimology of another case?"
Marisol said, "We had a serial killer out here five years ago. I was still on the beat. Not directly involved."
"Right," Lau said. "I remember it. You had a BAU consult. They caught the guy, didn't they? Joy. John Mitchell. He's on death row."
"He cut up gay men, lower socioeconomic status. Hustlers, mostly. A few cruisers. This was his comfort zone and his M.O. Except the bit about the rigor."
"How sure are we they got the right guy?"
Marisol said, "Well, he fit the profile"
"You know profiling can't identify a specific offender. All it can do is suggest where to look to find him. When it comes to finding needles in haystacks, it's a filter, not a magnet."
"Yeah. He also had pieces of several of the victims' internal organs in a chest freezer."
"That's a little more conclusive." Lau turned away from her, frowning at her team. Or maybe just staring unseeing across the grass in the direction of the body. "Huh."
"Yeah." Marisol slugged more coffee, feeling her fingertips tingle. "Hey, can I ask you something?"
Lau nodded. Shadows chased across her face, and Marisol thought only some of them were from the scene team walking through the floodlights.
"The reason we got a whole pile of FBI agents for this, when for the Joy thing we got one profiler and a pile of paperwork? It's not just that C.I.R.G. budget got kicked up, is it?"
Lau shood her head without looking away from the activity by the body. "Not exactly, no."
"It's something to do with the nature of the crimes themselves, isn't it?" When she didn't answer, Marisol pushed. "The accelerated rigor."
"We're a subunit of the BAU. The Bureau calls us the Anomalous Crimes Task Force."
"You're the Weird Shit team?"
"We hunt boogeymen," Lau said, and now she looked at Marisol, long enough to make a Halloween monster face. "But that's a secret."
Marisol made a lip-zipping motion. There was still coffee in the cup, and Marisol drank some. "So what do you think a four-year-old serial case has to do with a brand-new one?"
Lau said, "I think we're going to find out."
As she started away, Marisol thought of something. "Hey."
Lau checked her stride. "Yes?"
"The Bureau calls you that. What do you call yourself?"
Lau grinned and shook her hair off her face. Whatever had haunted her before was wiped away. "The WTF."
Shit, Marisol thought. I have got to tell Samantha about this. Out loud, she said, "This is some... damn, what's his name? The ex-cop who writes those weird-shit books. Sam--Dr. Fujiyama--loves them."
"Beale," Lau said tiredly. Then she moved away again, leaving Marisol to hurry after.
"Hey, Lau," she called.
Lau turned her head, but didn't stop walking. That was okay, because her hesitation gave Marisol enough time to run three steps and catch up.
"We're organizing an intensive canvass immediately," Marisol said. "Hunt for the weapon, see if any of the neighbors saw or heard something." Oh, Marisol. The FBI agent knows what to canvass for. With an effort of will, she kept herself from stuffing her hands in her pockets and ducking her head. "Can I count on your guys to provide additional bodies for the house-to-house?"
Lau sighed like she was wishing she'd brought an extra coffee for herself, as well. "Wouldn't miss it."
Kris Pocheta swung her flashlight in rhythm with her slow steps, her gaze following the beam. They were looking for a knife, most likely, or a box cutter. But you didn't look for something. You just looked, so you'd see what was in front of you. Perps left the damndest things in their wake.
The beam that met hers at the end of its arc to her right belonged to the brown-haired Fibbie. Kris approved her technique: methodical, quiet, focused. Kris had kind of hoped to be side by side with the cute Asian one, but Detective Nield had asked her to work the house-to-house. And really, was Kris going to ask her if she wanted to get coffee after the search? So not. Uniforms don't bat their eyes at visiting FBI agents.
The grass at the end of the park needed mowing: four inches high in spots, plenty enough to hide used condoms, used needles, broken glass, or a discarded blade. Damned budget cuts. Well, better the city should put off mowing the parks if it meant no police and fire layoffs.
A shaggy little bush loomed ahead, just left of center. Kris felt as if she ought to know what kind of bush it was. That was what happened when you lived with Vivi. Okay, that and a lot of fresh tomatoes, peppers, and squash. Kris had thought she hated salad before she moved in with Vivi.
She didn't rush; she searched her beam of light back and forth through the grass at her feet, patient. When she got to the bush, she crouched down to illuminate the tangle of--trunks? Stems? She should ask Vivi--and rank tall grass at its base.
Even so, she almost missed it. The handle scales were wood, close to the color of the plant stems, and the rivets were tarnished dark. It had no quillon to interrupt the vertical line. And the blade was thrust deep in the dirt among the stems, the angle of insertion matching the angle at which the plant rose out of the grass.
"Knife!" she called, pitching her voice so it would carry to the searchers, but not to the buildings around the park.
The brown-haired FBI agent was beside her so fast she could have been a genie. "Oh, good work!" she said, in a way that made Kris think it wasn't just what Feds said to local cops to encourage them. She felt a little silly about the warm satisfaction it gave her.
The Fibbie blinked her light three times to summon the crime scene team and crouched again to peer at the knife. "He's a sneaky bastard, isn't he?" she said. "And yeah, he's got mixed feelings about what he did. He kills Torres and transports the body, taking the murder weapon with him. Maybe he thought he wanted a trophy, or just planned to dispose of it away from the crime scene."
"Then he goes and leaves it at the dump site?" Kris said. She'd seen plenty of crazy and stupid in her years on the job, but they still pissed her off.
"Nope, he hides it. He doesn't want it on him anymore. But he's cold-blooded enough to stop and conceal it, rather than just throw it away. Is that a kitchen knife?"
"Looks a lot like the sandwich knife in my girlfriend's big-ass knife block," Kris agreed. And realized what she'd said when the Fibbie turned and smiled at her, not just pleasant, but friendly. Well, damn.
"Until a few years ago, my wife and I had exactly two kitchen knives, and used whichever one wasn't lying dirty in the sink."
Kris chuckled. "If I left a knife in the sink, Vivi would scalp me with it."
She heard the thump and rattle of the scene team arriving from behind them. The Fibbie straightened up. "Unless there's a lot of this going around in MacArthur Park, I think Officer Pocheta's found our weapon."
Peter didn't show up for Easter supper, and his phone went to voicemail without ringing. Karen Torres had known there was no chance of him coming to Mass--ever since he'd told her he was gay, after his friend Joey was killed, he'd refused to go to church. She didn't worry about Peter being gay. God could forgive anything, if you asked Him to, and more and more she was thinking that being gay was nothing that He needed to forgive.
But she worried about him not going to Mass. Because God could forgive anything, but He didn't do it unless you asked. She lit candles for Joey and for Peter every Sunday, hoping it was okay if somebody who loved them asked for them.
She knew Peter did other things that needed more forgiveness than who he loved. She didn't want to know about those, and Peter didn't tell her. And he didn't come to Mass, even on Easter Sunday.
But he always came to supper. So even when the rest of the family sat down without him and Karen led her adult children and their families in grace, she still kept looking out the kitchen window, waiting for Peter to pull up to the curb in his old sun-faded Taurus. Torres's Taurus, he'd joke.
When the sun went down and he still didn't answer his phone, and her other sons and her daughter went home with their families--her daughter with a few sympathetic words for Peter's behavior, as always--Karen knew something was wrong. She knew from the TV that you shouldn't report somebody missing until they had been gone for twenty-four hours, and she knew Peter was probably just being Peter. It wasn't like he was responsible. Or reliable. He couldn't hold down a job and half the time he dodged her calls, even when it wasn't about church--maybe he was spending the weekend drunk or high--but no matter how many excuses she made for him, she kept getting madder and madder.
Until one more compulsive check out the kitchen window to the dim-lit street below showed not Peter, but a police car, with two dark uniforms emerging from it.
Even before the hard, official knock bounced her door against the frame, she knew. She knew, and she refused to embarrass her son by crying.
Peter always hated it when she cried over him.
When Marisol came back to the scene command truck just a little after sunrise, she found Tucker bent over maps with Hector Person, the sergeant in Gangs and Narcotics who'd been so damned possessive of the case when she had it moved to homicide. But now it didn't look like they were fighting. Instead, they were bent together over a map of the city, drawing circles on it with colored markers and sharing a bag of--God help her--pork rinds. Tucker's new Atkins kick was taking the weight off, but it didn't help him smell any better.
Marisol went straight for the coffeepot.
"It's burned," Person said, friendlier than usual.
"I won't taste it anyway," Marisol said. She crossed the cramped interior of the van to join the men. "What are you doing here, Hector?"
"Tucker called me," he said. "Turns out your vic has a link to a solved case."
A pressure wave of certainty filled her. "John Mitchell Joy," she said tiredly.
"Huh." Person looked at her with something that could have been surprised respect, touched with a faintly patronizing air. Or maybe she was just oversensitive, as more than one commanding officer had insinuated. She didn't actually believe it, any more than she believed she'd deserved anything that had happened to her. But that didn't stop the powers-that-be from trying to make you feel it. "So maybe I'm not bringing you guys any news?"
The daylight outside the van windows was chill and slanted. It was barely morning.
"Maybe you are," Marisol said. "Only one way to find out." She propped her hip against the coffee cart and sucked too-hot, overcooked coffee mixed with cooling air over her tongue. "Possible weapon found at the scene was a kitchen knife, like the one Joy used. Unlike Joy, the killer didn't carry the knife away."
Person grunted and hitched up his gun belt. "Joy used one that belonged to his mamma. Pleasant associations and all that sick shit."
Marisol grimaced in sympathy. "Victim's wallet was missing, no cell phone, but he was wearing a medic alert bracelet for asthma, and his name was on it."
"Peter Torres," Person finished for her. The corners of his mouth crimped down in his sagging cheeks, as if he was holding something behind his lips. Anger? Disappointment? If Person was an open book to anybody, she wasn't one of the bodies. "Torres's boyfriend, Joey Oram, was one of Joy's victims," Person said. "Second or third to last? Torres testified at Joy's sentencing hearing. Look, I heard your federales wanted an interview with Joy?"
"Because of the M.O.," she said. "We hadn't caught on that there was a personal link as well. What, are you flagging Joy's case?"
Person shrugged. "When I was in homicide, I was on it before it went to the task force. When something calls up an old case, you have to take an interest. What brought you in?"
She shook her head. Tucker, still bent over the map, waved her on. Reluctantly, not wanting to engage in another pissing match, she said, "Tucker thought there might be a link to the O.D.s."
But Hector seemed to have changed his tune. "Damn," he said. "Well, if I can help at all, let me know."
He stood. Marisol stepped aside to let him exit the van. As the door shut behind him, Tucker set down a highlighter. "Hey," he said cheerfully. "Only another gazillion square inches to go. You want a pork rind?"
This was not the first time Samantha had done a postmortem before observers, but it was the first time she'd had two FBI agents in her autopsy suite, and one of them was big enough that even when he settled himself back on his heels and folded his arms, he took up an awful lot of psychic space. Sam hoped neither one of them was squeamish. This were considerably more intimidating that Lau and Villette. Samantha had responded by instantly forgetting both their names.
The woman, at least, had a good knowledge of medical terminology, which might bode well. And if not, well, an autopsy suite by its nature was well-supplied with plastic buckets.
She lowered her face shield, pulled on a fresh pair of nitrile gloves, and clicked on the digital voice recorder. Her name, the decedent's name, the date. The case number. And then she pulled the clean white sheet off the subject and began her external examination. The forensics team had already removed his clothes. The body had not been washed, and despite the smells of cold steak and spilt bowels, she leaned close. She'd examine him with a hand lens and an ultraviolet light before she began the dissection.
Or finished it. The murderer had already given it a pretty good start. "White male," she noted, as the FBI agents craned their necks to see over the raised sides of the dissection table. "Mid thirties, apparent good health. Gross injuries apparent include a perimortem incision. Apparent direction of the incision is from pelvic to thoracic along the abdomen, roughly following the center line. This appears at first glance to be the proximate cause of death. Body is in full rigor, positioning consistent with having originally lain on his right side. The body was recovered on its back, and overlapping patterns of livor mortis as well as the blood streaking from the wound confirm the likelihood that the corpse was repositioned after death."
She continued with the hand lens, covering every inch of his body, with special attention to the ankles and wrists. "There are no signs of bruising consistent with restraints, leading to the question of how such a slow method of death could have been accomplished with the victim free to move about. Victim does have a number of piercings, including both nipples and multiple jewelry in the penis and scrotum--"
A low whistle interrupted her. Samantha looked over at the special agents. The big blond guy's lips were pursed, in awe or horror Samantha could not tell.
"Damn," he said. "That's a lot of junk in his junk. If you know what I mean."
She wasn't about to say so, but it was an apt observation. She fixed him with a look that should ensure there were no further interruptions. He grimaced wryly and spread his hands in acknowledgment.
The woman said, "So cause of death looks like the disembowelment?"
Samantha shrugged. "Too soon to tell for sure until I crack him, and there's toxicology--but it's the only apparent injury. And it would be consistent with the M.O. of John Mitchell Joy. But there's the lack of restraints to consider."
"There have been no marks of apparent restraint on any of the O.D.s, either."
"True. It's unclear what this tells us. And also--" she hesitated "--this victim does not appear to have been sexually assaulted. But there's another thing, see here?" Gently, she pried the victim's clenched hand open. "Perimortem burns."
The woman glanced away, then caught herself and leaned forward for a better view. "Those were part of Joy's signature?"
Samantha nodded. "And we never released that detail to the press. Even the book on Joy doesn't mention them. We kept that one very close to the chest."
"Huh. So that's definitely insider information." The big guy was even pretty when he frowned. Sam kept her mind on the job.
"Do you need help turning the body?"
"Eventually." Samantha rubbed her fingers together, feeling the nitrile catch and slip against skin. "It's not unclear what this tells us?"
The woman sighed. She wasn't gloved; she chewed a thumbnail. "It tells us it looks like the manifestation and the means of death are separate."
Samantha switched to ultraviolet examination. With a fine brush and a pair of forceps, she picked out the threads and specks of matter that only now became evident. "Manifestation? I'm not familiar with that term."
The woman hesitated. The man said, "Whatever the UNSUB is doing to cause the accelerated rigor. The as-yet uncomprehended mechanism."
"Ah," Samantha said. She hesitated, because she didn't want to look unprofessional in front of the FBI agents. But she couldn't resist. She shut off the recorder, noting that she was pausing it, and said, "So have either of you read this guy Rupert Beale?"
They shared a look again, some unspoken communication. The woman smiled faintly. The big guy nodded. "Sometimes he consults with us."
A thrill ran through her, the tingling sensation she associated with taut investigations and cop movies with Morgan Freeman in them. Her heartbeat quickened. "I see," she said quietly, proud that her voice didn't shake. "So is there anything in particular I should be looking out for?"
It had been a very long time since John Mitchell Joy had spoken to a woman. Not that he had ever liked them much. And he certainly didn't miss the ones like this one, with her dark hair pulled back in the most uptight ponytail imaginable and hard, contemptuous eyes. He didn't like the way she sat down across from him, either, like she owned the room. If he wasn't shackled--
"Mr. Joy," she said. "I am FBI Special Agent Falkner. I'm with the Behavioral Analysis Unit. Do you know what we do?"
"Sure," he said. "You sent some bitch with dreadlocks out to nail me not too long ago."
She smiled a little. "Dr. Marshall," she said. "Yes, I've spoken with her. She said there was no evidence to indicate that you had a partner. Those men you killed--"
"Faggots," he said.
"Those men you raped and killed. You did that all on your own."
John's stomach knotted around nausea and self-loathing. Bad enough to sit through the trial and listen to that uppity black cunt talk about utter bullshit like repressed homosexuality. He hated fags. And he knew exactly why his mother had burned his hands on the stove when she caught him looking at pictures and touching himself. Those thoughts were evil, and they needed to be pulled out, rooted out, burned away to make him pure.
He steadied his shackled, shaking hands on the chair edge. "I don't need any help to take out some pencil-necked queer."
"No," she said. "I can see you don't."
She paused. He waited. He was a panther: he could outwait any broad with a badge.
Eventually she nodded, trying to make him think his silence had been all her idea. And then she steepled her fingers and said, "So how do you feel about somebody stealing your game?"
Nikki was always on time, except when she couldn't be, and then she called to let you know about it. So Dana Kinney had left the apartment with lots of time to spare, because she didn't want Nikki to sit alone at a table waiting for her.
Of course, that meant Dana pulled into the parking lot behind The Griddle twenty minutes early. The 405 freeway was like one of those vending machines by the doors of supermarkets. You put in a quarter, turned the knob, and hoped you'd get a non-lame prize. Today was a blue sparkly triceratops day, apparently.
The line was short, and the table that opened up was a booth at the back. Dana ordered a large French press coffee and two cups, and told the black-t-shirted waiter with the smiling blue eyes that she'd order when her friend got here. She weighed the evidence as he headed for the kitchen. Wannabe director. Surfs in the afternoons.
God damn living in a town that makes everyone wish they were twenty-five.
Dana wiped her palms on the thighs of her skinny trousers. As soon as Nikki got here, she'd be all right. This awkwardness was temporary and situational.
Even in Los Angeles, jam-packed with Model-Actress-Whatevers and MAW wannabes, Nikki turned heads. Dana saw them turn. Then Nikki squeezed past the six-pack of hipsters consulting their iPhones near the door, spotted Dana, and slalomed between tables at hair-raising speed.
Dana stood just in time to have her ribcage wrapped tight with Nikki-ness, warm and lively and breathtakingly strong. She tried to match that energy and love in the circle of her own arms around Nikki's shoulders.
Nikki popped free at last and skidded her butt into the booth across from Dana. "Thank god you could do lunch, chica." She tucked a wing of her hair behind one ear. An unconsidered fidget, and one Dana associated with Nikki since she'd met her. "We're chin-deep in this case, and the only reason I'm not eating cold takeout at a copshop is that we don't have an event clock to race yet."
A race was Nikki's natural environment. As long as Dana had known her, she'd been on the hunt for things to pit herself against. Things, not people, unless the other party pushed the issue. And Nikki, far from competing with her friends, had always preferred to pull them along with her.
Dana missed living at the eye of Hurricane Nikki. Her friend had given her a sanctuary at the center of a blur of activity, a place both breathtaking and safe. She could make her own safety now, and her own fun. But sometimes she longed for Nikki's strength to lean on.
Right now she had amends to make. "I'm so sorry I missed the funeral."
What crossed Nikki's face was a reverse flinch: an instant of stillness and something stricken around the eyes. Then she reached out and laid a hand over Dana's. "Life doesn't stop, chica. We all understood."
"Even your mom?"
That banished the last tension in Nikki's face. "Even? Dude, she always lets you get away with stuff."
"How is she?"
"Haven't you visited?"
"Sure. But, well..." Dana ducked her left ear and shoulder toward each other. "Family. You know."
Their waiter arrived with the French press pot, two cups, and his order pad. "Veggie chili omelette," Nikki said, without a glance at the menu. "Whole wheat toast. And a large O.J."
"You know you can't eat all that, right?" the waiter said. Dana thought it had been startled out of him.
"Don't worry. If I can't, I've got a friend who can."
Dana ordered multigrain pancakes with strawberries (and real maple syrup). Nikki swatted her hand away when she reached to push the plunger down on the coffee pot.
"Not long enough. Mom's... She hasn't found her feet yet. She doesn't want anyone to find them for her, but I think she wishes someone would show up and make everything okay. Which she knows isn't how it works, so she's mad at herself for wanting it."
"In other words, ouch."
"Oh, yeah." Nikki raked her fingers through her hair--not a gesture Dana recognized--and ended with both elbows on the table. "I'm a professional fixer, man. It's making me crazy that I can't solve anything for her."
Dana felt a twist of fear in her stomach. She squashed it, because it was a reflex, a response to a wobble in her personal universe. That Nikki could solve everything was an article of faith. But if Dana couldn't deal with a wobble now and then, what was therapy for? "The brothers?"
Nikki's mouth pinched at the corners. "Don't bother the menfolk with stuff like that. They've got work to do."
"Like you don't?" Dana said, a little too hotly.
Nikki smiled, and if it wasn't quite as cheerful as she tried to make it, Dana wasn't going to say so. "It's okay. The brothers know better. They're helping." She laid her palm over the ball end of the plunger and pressed slowly. "Coffee is squeezed," she announced, and poured for both of them.
"Anything I can do?" Dana always asked if there was anything she could do to help. Nikki's answer was always some version of "Nope."
So when Nikki instead drew a long breath and rolled her shoulder joints, it was as jarring as a fender-bender. "Just-- Stay in touch with her, I guess."
"Well, what about for you?"
Nikki looked blank. "Me?"
"Yeah, you. Hello, he was your father."
Again, the anti-flinch, as if she'd been thinking so hard about the effects that she'd forgotten the cause. "I don't know. I guess... I don't know."
The world wobbled, then returned to its sensible, predictable course. Dana had faith in that. She would cling to that faith, even in the face of the bleak look she'd caught in Nikki's eyes just before their waiter returned, cheerful and flirting, with their food.
A parking space, for godsake, only a block from the apartment building. And a level one, too. Shania Clark was sure the old Ford's hand brake was going to let go one of these days and smash some poor Mini Cooper flat. But she didn't have a lot of on-street parking to choose from in Los Feliz. She turned the wheel until the tires bumped the curb and got out, remembering to swing the heavy steel door hard. Half the time she didn't slam it, and had to go back and make sure the door was really shut. This time she got it just right, though, and didn't have to fix it with a hip-check.
Her purse over her shoulder, the plastic sack of groceries in her hand, she approached the narrow front door. The cops were swarming, which was never a good sign, and she just wanted to get into her apartment and lock the door, and eat some scrambled eggs in front of the TV. She'd counted at least two prowl cars at each intersection, and a whole bunch of TV news crews, and now there were a couple of cops hanging around her apartment building's door.
She hoped they'd let her in. She'd just have to brazen it out.
One of them did touch her arm lightly as she was moving to put her key in the door. "Miss?" he said, "May I ask your business here?"
She drew back. "I live here," she said. She wanted to show him some defiance, but her voice came out a mumble. She stared at her shoes. She showed him her sack. "I need to put my groceries away."
"What's your name?"
She didn't have to tell him. But if she didn't, wouldn't he think she was hiding something? Everything she'd done wrong in the past twenty-three years flashed before her eyes, and she very carefully tried to blank her thoughts before he could somehow pick the image of Tony, pantsless in a pool of blood, out of them. He had it coming. And anyway, that was almost ten years ago.
"Shania Clark," she said. "I work at the Von's--"
He dropped his hand and nodded. She thought about bolting as he said "Wait just a second," and turned slightly away. He spoke into his radio, and Shania knew that if she was going to run, now would be the time. But she just stood rooted on the spot, feeling water condense on the quart of milk and run down the waxed skin inside the plastic bag that kept it from actually making her skin wet.
When he turned back, he said, "Somebody will be down in just a second to escort you up."
And it was way too late to walk away.
She wasn't expecting the tall woman who came down and introduced herself as Agent Falkner of the FBI. She had a motherly air and a worry wrinkle between her brows, her graying hair slicked back into a strict ponytail. She was as out of place in the front hall with its scuffed plaster and stained brown carpet and faint smell of mildew as a racehorse in a cow barn. "Ms. Clark," she said. "I understand you live in 4B?"
Shania nodded, barely remembering to nod to the cops as the FBI agent led her inside the apartment building. They stopped by the elevator, which was good because Shania's feet hurt from a ten-hour shift. Scrambled eggs and C.S.I., that was all she'd been planning on. And now--
"What's going on?" she asked, as the elevator door slid open, because she had to say something.
"I'm afraid I have some bad news," Agent Falkner said. "Peter Torres?"
"He lives next do--" The fallen look on Falkner's face told her everything she needed to know. The elevator might have left her belly in the basement. "Oh god, did somebody break into his apartment?"
Agent Falkner shook her head. "His body was discovered in MacArthur Park very early this morning. We're going through his apartment now. But I'd also like to ask you some questions."
The elevator door dinged open. Shania stumbled out by reflex. More cops in the hallway, but with Falkner at her side they let her pass.
"Sure," Shania said. "Just let me open this door."
She fumbled with keys, got the door open, and let the woman in--aware the whole time that Shania had her back to her, that the woman was scanning Shania's tiny, cluttered space with a critical eye. It hadn't been swept in weeks, and Shania was painfully aware of the smell of the catbox.
Behind her, the agent shut the door. Vaquero and Vicente came running from atop the daybed, meowing, their little dark feet like thunder. "I have to--"
"Go ahead and feed the cats," Falkner said. "And put the milk in the fridge. Is it okay if I pet them?"
Hands shaking, all-but-mute with adrenaline, Shania nodded. She walked around the half-height partition to the tiny apartment fridge and started putting away milk, eggs, tomatoes.
"Those will taste better if you leave them on the counter," the agent said.
Shania jumped. She hadn't heard her come up behind. "I'm sorry?"
The agent was holding Vaquero, seeming not to care that he shed black hairs all over her white blouse. He headbutted, rubbing her cheek with his head, and Shania could hear his purr across the room. By her knees, Vicente cried his kitten-cry and rubbed against her.
"The tomatoes," Falkner said. "They get plasticky if you refrigerate them."
Shania looked at the red ball in her hand. "You're right." She put it on the counter, retrieved the one she'd already tucked into the fridge, and shut the door as she stood up. "Sorry. I'm just a little nervous about talking to the cops. Do you want coffee?"
"Everybody is," Falkner said. "And coffee would be very nice."
While Shania measured grounds into the filter, Falkner leaned against the wall, arms folded. "Was Mr. Torres seeing anyone?"
Of course. They always looked at family first, didn't they? "He lost somebody a few years ago," Shania said. "Before I lived here. I don't think he ever got over it."
She ran water into the pot. As she poured it into the machine, the agent said, "I notice he didn't have a land-line in his apartment."
"He had a cell," Shania said. "Prepaid, I think. Most everybody does."
"Do you have the number?"
"I think so. In my phone. I'll check as soon as this is on." She hit the switch and went to get her purse off the counter. A moment later, she had it, and the agent was writing it down.
"Thank you," the agent said.
Falkner lifted her pen from the paper and looked up. "Yes, ma'am?"
"Can you tell me what happened to him?"
She knew he was dead. Of course he was dead, and it must be in some horrible fashion, because the FBI didn't come around for nothing. But that wasn't what she was asking, exactly. What she was trying to find a way to ask for was reassurance.
And the FBI lady didn't have it to give. But she did smile grimly and gesture with her phone. "Just let me call this in and I'll have a few more questions for you."
Shania nodded, trying to decide how much to share and how much to hold back. Should she let the agent think she and Peter had barely known each other? Or tell her about the times they'd stayed up all night, with a little beer and a little reefer, and all the things Peter had told her in confidence.
Except that might lead them to wonder what she had told him. Blood all over the floor--
No. Best to keep that to herself. Surely it wasn't important, was it?
The coffee tinkled into the pot, and the woman turned away. "Hi," Shania heard her say. "No joy from Joy. I don't think he knows who the culprit is. But I'm at Torres' apartment now, and his neighbor just gave me his phone number--"
For the canvass, Marisol had wound up paired with Stephen Reyes. She wasn't sure if this was because he'd angled for her or because everybody else had ducked him. She still found him intimidating as hell--he had the habit of saying short, incisive, tactless things that laid a problem open to the bone.
But Marisol found she didn't mind. He kept his hands to himself and never so much as raised a flirtatious eyebrow, and that was good enough for her. Whether she'd actually managed to soften him up in those crucial first moments, she was uncertain. Whatever the cause--chemistry or lack of significant history--they worked well together, and if she'd expected to find herself condescended to she was pleasantly surprised.
Tucker still had the command center, so she was free to pound the pavement. And there was a lot of pavement to pound. They were looking for Torres's phone, which should have been in his surprisingly spare and--except for the messy manner of death--tidy apartment, since it wasn't on his body or anywhere else in MacArthur Park that a damned good search could turn up. And they were looking for witnesses to the movements of a stranger in the neighborhood, for anyone who'd heard an argument or a struggle in Torres's place--and Marisol was pretty sure you shouldn't be able to burn somebody's hands to the bone on the electric stove, or slice his belly open, without him making some kind of noise--
--basically, they were looking for what the Scooby team would call clues.
She must have chuckled to herself, because the sidelong glance Reyes shot her spoke volumes. She'd been watching him--and watching the way the female members of his team interacted with him--but that didn't stop the rising thread of unease that followed his attention. "Ruh roh, Raggy," she said, apologetically, leading him up the walk to a ramshackle block house all but overgrown with neglected palms and bird-of-paradise, glimpses of peeling white paint barely visible through withered greenery.
He snorted. "I don't actually eat people, Detective."
She didn't look over. "Never hurts to be too careful. Are you Good Cop or Bad Cop?"
"You start the interview," he said. "Sometimes people are more willing to talk to a woman."
He stayed behind her, too, as she pushed the doorbell--no sound emerged--and rapped hard on the door. She knew what a cop's knock sounded like from the inside, but she hid her cringe. Behind her, a pair of uniformed officers started going through the trash on the curb, while a prowl car rolled slowly up the street. Great. That would make everybody inside the house extra cooperative.
The door jerked open with as much aggression as she'd anticipated, but the person holding the handle was a skinny, shirtless brown boy who couldn't have been over sixteen. "Whaddaya want?" he growled.
"Hello," she said. "I'm Detective Nield and this is Agent Reyes. We're murder police: we're not interested in drugs or immigration. We'd like to ask you a couple of questions--"
Officer Anita Delgado hadn't really wanted to get paired up with one of the Fibbies. But if she had to, she guessed the young one--Villette, cadaverous and unprepossessing--was the one least likely to cramp her style. There wasn't much she loved less than a good dumpster dive seasoned liberally with busted bottles and hypodermics, so she was just as happy that her partner seemed wrapped up in his own world.
He worked hard, though. If she'd been worried that some fancy back-East G-man wouldn't pull his weight, she'd reckoned without his willingness to crawl under a tarpaulined boat on his elbows. He didn't talk much, though, and she got the impression that he wasn't much interested in talking. Maybe he was shy. Or maybe he was just kind of a prick. It was hard to tell.
She left him shoveling garbage back into a trashcan with gloved hands and stepped down the driveway to report the results of the search--nada--and scan up and down the block for other officers. There were dozens within line of sight, plainclothes and uniforms both, the detectives and the feds all out peeking under cars, checking storm grates, and rummaging through trash bins alongside rows of midnight poly-cotton-clad cops.
It was a full-scale neighborhood search, here and near MacArthur Park. Delgado knew the MacArthur team had found the weapon, which threw her. She would have said that her team had a better chance at it. She'd heard through the grapevine that there was blood in Torres' apartment--a lot of blood--and she knew how unlikely it was that a perp would hang onto the murder weapon any longer than necessary. There was a human urge to get rid of the things, the way she figured it: the incontrovertible evidence of a monstrous act. The sooner you could get the bloody knife out of your hands, the sooner you could get on with pretending it never happened.
People were really good at pretending, when it suited them.
Finding the weapon, though, didn't mean they could stop looking for the phone. The things were gold mines when it came to murder investigations. Photos, personal information, who called or texted whom and what they said when they left a message. Gold mines. And a smart perp might dump phone and weapon in different places, or even sell the phone, mess up the backtrail with some third party's data.
She had just checked off their grid square--she could have done it by radio, but the sarge was standing right there--and was walking back to Villette with their next assignment when the ground grated and pitched under her feet like a shaken blanket. She fell forward, got her hands up in time to protect her face, and reflexively curled into a ball and rolled. Glass shattered nearby. Something heavy and metallic landed with a hollow clang, and what sounded like flower pots smashed on pavement. She was out in the open, away from a structure--she'd be okay until she got to her feet.
She wasn't expecting somebody to crouch beside her while the ground was still moving, hands touching her gently--skull, ribs.
"Officer Delgado?" Villette's scratchy tenor, barely audible under the wail of car alarms all along the block.
"Okay." She lifted her face from her arms to see him rising from a crouch, one hand still extended to pull her up if necessary. "Just managed to be off-balance when the roller hit."
"I saw you fall," he said. "I was afraid you'd hit your head."
She showed him her stung palms, scraped and bleeding. "It was pretty close," she admitted. Then she grinned. "Hey, did the earth move for you, too?"
He rolled his eyes, taking her by the wrist to lift her to her feet. "Come on. Let's get those hands disinfected and get back to our canvass. People will be out in the street for a while."
"Small blessings," she said ironically and led him back to the R&P, where she kept her first aid kit.
Benjamin Cronfeldt was enjoying the unexpected company of a nice young lady who said she was an FBI agent--he hadn't caught her name--when the ground kicked against the soles of their shoes and dropped hard. They fell a sudden few inches.
Benjamin caught at the railing bordering his low stoop. It creaked under his grip. The young lady put her hand on his shoulder to steady him, her dark blond ponytail flopping forward. She had made a startled noise when they first fell, but quieted herself quickly. "Sorry," she said.
"No problem," he answered. He blinked, staring about himself. "Was that a quake?"
"I think so," she said. "Maybe we should step out from under the roof, Mr. Cronfeldt--"
"Maybe we should go inside," he said. His bottle was inside, still mostly full. He could use a drink after that. He stopped, frowning at her. "What did you say your name was, Officer?"
"Agent," she said. "Special Agent Worth."
Two uniformed cops hustling down the block caught his attention. There were police everywhere. Dragnet, he thought.
"Hey." He reached out and put his hand on her shoulder. She ducked a little, trying to hide that she'd flinched from his breath. He stepped back, face burning. He knew his breath was bad. His teeth hurt all the time. That's why he drank.
"Women FBI," he said, as she led him out into the sun. "What will they think of next?"
She moved his hand gently off her shoulder and let him go. "Mr. Cronfeldt, if you could just try to focus for a moment."
"I am focused," he said. "Officer Worth." He grinned. "My name is Friday. I carry a badge."
"Just the facts, Ma'am. Isn't that right?"
"That's what I'm aiming for," she said, pinching the bridge of her nose.
The motherfucking car would not motherfucking start. And Dante Barrington had about had it with the whole fucking mess. Best of all, all the cops in the motherfucking world were at the end of the block and all the way around the neighborhood, cars blocking intersections, uniforms stopping anybody walking down the street, fucking city workers in orange and white hard hats pulling up manhole covers and climbing down under the street.
He knew what was going on. Somebody was dead, and LA fucking PD was going to bust any asshole they found on the block while they were out here looking for the murder weapon or the bloody clothes. He felt the crinkle of plastic behind sweaty balls, where he'd slipped his stash, and tried to figure out how not to attract attention. Or any more attention than he already had with the high grinding whine of the starter.
Too late. Two tall guys in suits, one white and one maybe Chicano, maybe something else, were coming over to him, with a woman cop in uniform two steps ahead. He knew the cop: Delgado, who'd grown up around here. He knew her sister. Maybe he could work that and not give them probable cause, keep their hands off his junk.
He resolved to be polite and cooperative.
Delgado leaned in the window. "Hey, D-Bar," she said. "Engine trouble?"
"The motherfucker won't turn over," he said. He kept his hands on the steering wheel.
"You need a ride?" she asked.
"Not downtown," he answered.
She laughed. "Hey," she said, "Agents Brady and Villette have a couple of questions they want to ask you about last night. You mind stepping out of the car?"
Some female cops got brassy and extra tough, and you knew you didn't fuck with them because they had the world to prove. Delgado was polite and disarming, and Dante wouldn't fuck with her for the world. Fuck her, maybe. She was a fine piece of ass in those uniform pants.
She stepped back, and he got out of the car into the puddle of light under a streetlamp, hoping you couldn't hear the plastic in his boxers crinkle. "Happy to help," he said, fear sweat sharp on his palms. "What you want to know?"
Just then, Delgado's radio crackled. It was that cop squawk you had to have pig's ears to understand, but he saw Delgado's face change. She looked at the feds. "Torres had matching kitchen knives," she said. "One missing."
"So he didn't bring it with him," said the Chicano guy.
"Does that mean I can go?" Dante asked. The sweat was running down his thighs, too.
"Just a couple of quick questions," said the white guy. "Did you see anybody last night or this morning on the block you didn't recognize? Somebody who seemed out of place?"
Dante breathed a small sigh of relief. He knew how to answer these questions. He'd done it a thousand times before. Everything was going to be just fine.
Shania looked at the business card on the kitchen counter for the thirty-second time. For the thirty-second time she pushed it away. Was it worth it to go to jail forever, to give the FBI one tiny clue about Peter that probably wouldn't help at all?
They probably wouldn't look into her past. They probably wouldn't notice anything weird if they did.
What if they found out she knew something and didn't tell them? Then they'd look for sure. Then they'd look for a way to hang her.
She picked up her phone. She dialed the FBI lady's number.
"Agent Falkner?" she said. "It's Shania Clark. I just remembered something Peter told me one time that might not be important...."
"Any little thing might help," Falkner said. She sounded bone-tired.
"You know his boyfriend, that got murdered by that serial killer."
"I do," Falkner said.
Shania imagined her held breath, her hand scrabbling for a pen. Shania said, "Peter told me one time that he lied about where they'd been the night Joey got killed. Because they were maybe dealing a little coke, and he didn't want to go to jail. He said they were out in MacArthur Park."
"Oh," Falkner said. "Thank you. That might be important, yes."
As they walked away from the car, leaving D-Bar holding his pants up with one hand, Villette made a sound that snapped Anita's head around.
"Joy," he said, when she looked at him funny.
"I assume you mean the guy rotting in San Quentin, and not tidings of comfort and?"
He nodded. "Joy's the common denominator," he said. "Not for all of the victims. But for a significant minority. Szczepanski made his career on leaked details about the case. Torres was the boyfriend of a victim, and he didn't come clean with the task force when they first interviewed him. And Torres got killed the way Joy's victims did, except no rape and no signs of a struggle." Villette's expression looked like he was reading text off the backs of his eyeballs. Anita prepared to grab his arm if he tripped over a rough patch of sidewalk. "No sign of forced entry at Torres's apartment. Torres knew the killer. He let him in." Villette's eyes focused again, on Brady. Maybe it was a handoff; maybe he was saying something Anita couldn't read.
Brady said, "We know the UNSUB has access to a private vehicle, because the victim was transported. We know he felt remorse about Torres. He wouldn't have tried to tidy him up, or been so eager to get rid of the knife otherwise. He would have carried it away and ditched it somewhere safer. He didn't just pitch it because he was scared--he hid it smart. We know he's careful, methodical. Organized. He brings a murder kit. Heroin, a needle. But not this time."
Villette was nodding. The partner mind-meld would have pissed Anita off, except it was fascinating to watch them break down the series of events.
"This time--I think he didn't plan to kill Torres. I think he got mad at Torres while he was meeting with him for some other reason, and the, ah..." Brady glanced at Villette, visibly editing what he had been about to say.
"He lost control of his temper?" Villette said, dryly.
Brady laughed. Anita felt like the joke had gone high and wide, but she wasn't going to interrupt. Not when she'd realized something else.
"Not just Joy," Anita said slowly. "People who screwed something up, who delayed resolution of the case. Or people who screwed with other people's lives, right? That banker, the whole city knew he was an asshole. This is a goddamned Dirty Harry vendetta, isn't it?"
She looked from one to the other, watching what their faces did when she said Dirty Harry. Her stomach lurched as she realized they already knew what she'd just figured out--just blurted out. It's a fucking cop.
"Yeah," Villette said. "Hang on to your horses. I have to make a call."
Tucker wasn't intimidated by Special Agent Brady, and he thought that threw the big Texan for a bit of a loop. Even here, pulled aside behind the incident command truck for a little man-to-man, he was not going to let the bastard loom over him. Tucker was just as tall, and he had ten years experience on Mr. FBI.
So when Brady said, "Tell me what you know about the Joy investigation. Everything you know about it," Tucker wasn't about to give him the satisfaction of wiping his palms on his legs.
"I worked it," he said. "So did most of the department, at least at first. Once your Dr. Mitchell got here, she recommended we separate off a dedicated task force, and send most of the district back to their regular jobs."
Brady nodded. "It seems like it took a while for you guys to catch on you had a serial killer."
"Homosexual males," Tucker said, "have a high rate of domestic violence. Usually involving knives."
"And when they're hustling, things happen?" Tucker couldn't miss the anger in Brady's voice. He took it personally, Tucker realized.
"Look," he said. "We treat a murdered prostitute like any other victim--"
Brady snorted. He made a hatchet-handed gesture. "Don't stand in the goddamned rain and tell me I'm pissing on your leg, Tucker."
"All right," Tucker said. "Yeah. Yeah, we could have figured it out sooner. But once we figured it out, we gave it the same attention we'd give any high-profile case. And we got the right guy. The physical evidence was overwhelming. And Marshall cracked him. She got a confession."
"I know you got the right guy," Brady said. "But I'm getting a sense that somebody doesn't think you got him fast enough."
April 5, 2010
The canvassing wasn't over just because they'd found the murder weapon and the abduction site, but apparently the Federales thought they had enough to go on, and shortly before sunrise Marisol got included in the party bus when Lau swung by in a black Suburban with Brady and Chaz in the back seat to pick up Reyes and bring him back to the cop shop. She settled into the rear middle seat with a sigh, sucking her shoulders in so they wouldn't touch the men on either side. Reyes, of course, rode shotgun.
Villette looked at her weird. When she looked back, he handed her a Snickers bar and a cup of coffee. "I hope you don't mind black."
"I'm this far from being a beat cop," she said. "I'll drink diesel fuel, if it's hot."
"Do you miss it?" he asked. "Something a little less complicated?"
She shrugged. "You don't have to wear a uniform to serve."
In the front seat, Lau made an unladylike noise. "You think you could explain that to my mom?"
Villette laughed and leaned forward to talk to Reyes over Reyes' shoulder. "What are the odds that the UNSUB hung onto Torres' phone? As a trophy?"
"You're the statistician," Reyes said, already opening his own phone. "Falkner," he said, by way of explanation, while it rang. Someone answered, and he said, "No sign of the phone. Call Worth in. I want everybody back at the house for a council of war."
"You have a plan," Villette said.
Reyes turned his head, just enough to smile mysteriously.
On Marisol's other side, Brady shifted and snorted. "Crap. Well, that's the end of that conversation."
"What else do you want to talk about?" Lau said. She hit her turn signal and changed lanes smoothly, without lights or sirens. Marisol saw Villette twitch and bite his lip. She recognized the symptoms of a jonesing back-seat driver.
She said, "I'm still pissed off that it took so long to get attention to the Joy case."
"Cruisers," Brady said bitterly. "Who cares what some homo gets? He was out there looking for it--"
"Sex in public parks is illegal," Marisol said. "But it shouldn't carry the death sentence."
Brady nodded. She watched the streetlights move across his face in the darkness. He gasped and held it, making her think of the last breath you cram into the balloon before it explodes.
Gently, not letting herself think too hard about what she was doing, Marisol put a hand on his arm.
The air came out of him with a rush. "Ah, shit," he said. "Why does every fucking thing have to be so complicated? I think of sex as being like steak. If it's any good, why bury it under a lot of crap? And if it's lousy, piling mushrooms on top is not going to help."
From the driver's seat floated Lau's snicker. "Good. I'll take your mushrooms."
Marisol felt the tension go out of Brady's stone-hard forearm. He breathed in again, normally this time. "They'll have meat germs."
Villette took a long pull of his own coffee, a transparent substitute for whatever his reaction had been.
Until Lau said, "Tell the cook to put a condom on the steak," and Villette started choking, hard and thick, until Marisol reached over and slapped him between the shoulders.
As a cop, it's very easy to get jaded. Cops see people in extremes. While it is true that sometimes people under pressure are forged into something better than what they began as, it's unfortunately even more true--and more common--for them to fail spectacularly. Law enforcement officers are far too familiar with the very nadir of human action. As a police officer, I worked very hard to hold on to that good, to find ways to reaffirm my faith in humanity. I suspect most cops do.
We find it in the damnedest places.
It seemed at first glance like a perfectly normal--if particularly heinous--crime of passion. January 10th, 1986 began with a bitterly cold morning in Brooklyn. Around 3 am, residents in a lower-middle-class brownstone neighborhood heard Moses Warren, age 26, and Sheila Giansanti, age 27, both of Brooklyn, fighting on the sidewalk.
Voices were raised. Accusations of infidelity were shouted.
There were no eyewitnesses, but a number of residents heard the shouting metamorphosis into screaming. The young man had apparently been set aflame by his enraged girlfriend. Burning, wailing, he ran into the lobby of a nearby apartment building.
One of the building's residents, a former Army Ranger named Solomon Todd, responded heroically. Despite suffering second-degree burns himself, he attempted to extinguish Mr. Warren and restrain Ms. Giansanti. In the ensuing struggle, Giansanti apparently suffered a massive coronary. The autopsy found that she was severely underweight, and suggested that she may have been emotionally unstable as a result of anorexia nervosa, which could also explain her heart failure.
You may want to keep that little item in mind as we explore further incidents.
Unfortunately, Mr. Todd's intervention occurred too late. Not only was he badly burned himself, but Mr. Warren never emerged from the hospital.
This incident took place in New York, and I was in no way directly involved, except in that it suits the scope of the book. I include it here, however, as an example of the way you have to choose your focus when you deal with murder, rape, assault, and so forth on a regular basis. I could focus on Mr. Warren's infidelity, or Ms. Giansanti's overreaction, or on the indifference of literally thousands of bystanders to a murder taking place right under their noses. Or I could focus on the failure of Mr. Todd's efforts to save Warren.
But I choose instead to focus on the fact that one man did attempt to intervene, at great risk to himself. When I was a cop, it told me that something in humanity was worth protecting, no matter how much evidence accrues to the contrary.
Now, as a reader, I can hear you asking--sure, this crime is grotesque, even gruesome. But what makes it enigmatic, confounding, or bizarre?
Well, you see, human bodies don't burn that easily. They're very wet, for one thing, and it takes a fire of great intensity to make one burn--as innumerable murderers have discovered to their sorrow. And there were no traces of accelerant recovered from Mr. Warren's body, nor any source of fire recovered from Ms. Giansanti's. I've interviewed Mr. Todd, and found him to be a reliable witness--as you'd expect from a seasoned reporter--and according to him, only the timely arrival of the NYFD and the fortunate happenstance of its being of masonry construction kept the apartment building from going up in flames.
And then there's the curious coincidence of Ms. Giansanti's physical condition, on which more in chapter 3...
Rupert Beale, Ph.D., Enigma: A Brief History of Bizarre and Confounding Crimes in 20th Century America, St, Martin's Press, 2004
Marisol sat on her hands to keep from twisting them nervously. She was the representative for the LAPD in a conference room full of FBI, but what should have been an honor felt like betrayal. She thought she could feel the rest of Rampart on the other side of the wall, and beyond that every beat cop, detective, and desk jockey in the city. One of our own. One of them had done the unforgivable, then kept it secret from his fellow officers. Now Marisol had to keep the hunt secret, too. All her training and instinct cried out against it.
"We found Torres," Reyes said when the door was closed, when his team was settled and attentive around the conference room table. "We identified him, we found the murder weapon, we found his apartment and identified it as the scene of the murder."
Where Torres was overpowered without a struggle, Marisol reminded herself. She didn't say it out loud, because everyone in the room took it as a given. They knew something she was probably never going to be told. More secrets. WTF, no shit.
Reyes continued, "The host knew we'd track him that far. He's confident we can't get any closer to him than that. Because he carried away the clue that would connect him to Torres."
"The phone," Lau said, with a nod. "He knows we can get a warrant for Torres's call records, so he doesn't care about that. It's got to be about Torres's saved contacts list."
"So just how cocky is this bastard?" Brady leaned back in his chair and made it creak. "We think he hasn't wiped it?"
"Detective Nield," Reyes said, and made her jump in spite of herself. "If you have no objection, I'd like to get our local field office techs to try to locate the phone. If the killer has underestimated us, he's left the battery installed."
Some current of discomfort rippled through the FBI team: not an exchange of glances so much as a refusal to meet each other's eyes. Why would a tower triangulation make them all twitch? "Go for it," she told Reyes.
Falkner already had her phone to her ear.
Marisol went to the squad room for coffee, not because it was any better than what the FBI team had, but because she found she couldn't sit waiting with them for the results one more minute. That twitchy undercurrent of discomfort and frustration in the Feds got closer to the surface the longer Agent Falkner's phone was silent.
She poured burned-smelling tar-colored liquid into a styrofoam cup and wondered if it was worth wasting half-and-half on.
Marisol turned to find Hector Person stumping in the door with an empty mug. "Hector. I bet this stuff tastes better without extra styrofoam."
"Oh, not enough to notice. How are they doing in there?"
"Waiting," Marisol said. She stopped herself before she said what for. Damn. Does instinct always try to sneak past good sense? Pay attention, girl.
Hector crumpled his mouth as if he already had a mouthful of bad coffee. "They're used to sitting at their desks plugging our legwork into their formulas. This shit gets solved walking, not sitting."
"The big one, Brady, worked Homicide in Dallas." Why did she leap to defend the Feds? It was the "them" versus "us" that Hector used, Marisol realized. She remembered what being a "them" was like. And the Feds were on the same job she was, working it hard.
Hector nodded. "Yeah, he's all right. All of 'em, really. But I've got manpower I can throw at this thing, and I'm itching to do it."
"Because of what happened in the Joy case?"
She saw his shoulders hike up stiff under his baggy suit jacket. "Because I don't like seeing a scumbag get away."
Brady filled the doorway of the squad room, as if talking about him could materialize that much human being in a blink. He met Marisol's gaze and tipped his head sharply back toward the conference room.
She dumped her coffee down the sink; she knew her stomach was jumping too much to put up with it. "I gotta go."
Hector nodded and stepped aside.
When she walked in the conference room door, the Feds turned to her; her stomach got worse by a factor of ten. It was Reyes who spoke when she'd closed it behind her.
"Our techs were able to place the phone within a few yards. It's inside the Rampart station."
Villette's mouth went crooked, and his eyes were sympathetic when he said, "The WTF goes all the way down."
Here. She was stunned into silence; and she wasn't surprised at all. "The first victim tells you the most," she said through numb lips. "It's someone who worked the original serial." Suddenly information gushed and roiled through her brain like the river after a cloudburst. Arrogant, proud of his own cleverness. "I think... I think I know where to look."
Luis Mendoza unlocked the evidence room door for the two plainclothes and pushed the log toward them. Homicide, he saw, peering past the girl's scrawling fingers. Little girls in Homicide, Luis thought. Hijo de puta, I'm getting old.
"Detective Nield," she said, with a nod as crisp as a captain's. Luis felt his spine straighten in spite of himself. "And this is Special Agent Villette of the FBI. We need access to the evidence from the John Mitchell Joy investigation."
Luis slid his readers down his nose. "A lot of that going on lately."
The FBI agent practically went on point like a hunting dog. An underfed wolfhound kind of hunting dog. Didn't Feds have to comb their hair anymore? "Who, and when?"
The detective, Nield, was already on the log, sliding her finger down looking for a date. Apparently she found it; her hand stuck at a line, and her face went dirty gray. Luis had learned to read upside down years ago. Tucker.
Nield locked eyes with the FBI guy as if she didn't much want to. "There's no... He left the case number off."
"A lot of 'em do," Luis said in his own defense.
Nield's jaw stuck out suddenly. "In the Joy case-- Who was the victim after Oram? The one they might have saved if--"
"Yes. The Brody Kaufman murder," the FBI guy snapped at Luis, and rattled out the case number. Nield blinked and stared at him as if she hadn't expected that.
Luis led them to the shelf and to the carton, corners bashed and lid dusty. Except, of course, the cop, Tucker, had disturbed the dust when he'd opened it. He handed it down to the two suits and waited. FBI or not, nobody handled stored evidence without him standing witness.
He was surprised when Nield put on her gloves to dig through the files and bags. The FBI guy asked, "Do you remember the officer asking for this box?"
Luis shook his head. "My day off."
Nield made a funny noise and held up an evidence bag. It had a crappy pay-as-you-go cellphone inside. "No phone on the inventory list for this box."
The FBI guy gave a big wolfy grin. "Ten points for you. Hand it over," he said, and proceeded to glove up.
"You know we don't kick about contamination in solved cases, right?" Luis said, because Jesús y Maria, did these brats learn the job by watching TV?
Neither the chica nor the wolfhound paid him any attention. The latter powered up the phone and started scanning stuff on the little screen as fast as it would scroll. And stopped, and held out the display to Nield.
"Son of a bitch," she breathed. "Son of a fucking bitch, he gave a fake name. Because he knew if I found the log entry it would goddamn hurt me."
She was so fired up Luis wanted to ask, "What, what?" But nobody ever told him the ends of these searches.
The FBI guy dropped the phone into the bag. "Let's go hurt him back."
Patrolman Jimmy Kandinski shifted from foot to foot inside the station's front door. "So I'm supposed to tell the Captain he's not allowed to leave? What the fuck, pardon my French, do I do if the Chief decides to drop by?"
Sergeant Morrissey grinned. "Tell him he's not allowed to come in."
"Yeah, I'm all over that one. Would you mind very much, sir, if I left that to you?"
"If I'm around."
Jimmy felt that sand-draining-out-his-ass sensation that meant he was about to get stuck holding the bag. "I thought the deal was, we have two officers on each door. The Feds were pretty serious about the danger this guy poses."
Morrissey rolled his eyes. "We've got a perp loose in the station--you think he's going to try to jog out the fucking front door? All you gotta do is stand here and look like a cop."
Yep, here he was, bag in hand. Time for a transfer, damn it. Or the sergeant's exam, so he could learn to be an asshole just like Morrissey. "I'll do that, sir."
"Look, I'm not leaving you alone with this. I'm gonna go take a piss and come right back. So don't start composing that letter to Internal Affairs just yet, all right?"
"No, sir." Jimmy knew he'd turned brick-red by the heat in his face. He'd take a lot of crap from a superior, but Morrissey had just halfway called him a snitch. Jimmy was pretty sure he'd never done anything to deserve that. He wore the suit, he did the job, and he stood by his brother officers.
Unlike Morrissey, who was already halfway down the hall.
At the corner of his eye, someone closed fast across the open space of the lobby. He recognized Kelly Henson from Dispatch, her wild red spring-coiled hair knotted on top of her head and her uniform blouse covered by a black hoodie. She smiled at him. "Kandinski, right?"
Jimmy nodded. "What can I do for you?"
"I know we're not supposed to leave the house. But my kids are going to be home from school in twenty minutes, and their dad can't leave work to pick 'em up. I really have to be there."
Morrissey, I fucking hope you've got hemorrhoids. "Sorry. I can't make that call."
"Jesus. Do you seriously think--"
"Hell, I don't think at all, seriously or otherwise. I just do my job. Sorry," he said to her retreating back.
"Why is it when you say, 'Nobody gets to leave,' everybody hears, 'Oh, except you, Snowflake?'"
Jimmy turned to find one of the Gangs and Narcotics squad had ambled up to him, hands in his pockets. Whatsisname--there was a joke the beat cops made behind the guy's back, and the detectives made to his face. Person or Persons Unknown, they called him. Maybe he was an asshole, but he'd never been one to Jimmy. "Why ask me? You're the detective." Jimmy couldn't help smiling. "Crack that one and they'll make you Captain."
"That's one for the G-men psych heroes upstairs. Wonder how they'd like being locked down in the Hoover Building?"
Jimmy could imagine. "Wish they'd come down and guard the place."
Person scowled over Jimmy's shoulder toward the glass doors, and sounded as if his pension had just been cut when he said, "Hey, who the hell is that?"
Jimmy turned fast. Somehow he managed to get his right foot hooked with one of Person's. Momentum carried his face toward the door, and he had time to think, This'll look great on my record, before he felt Person's grip on his forearms.
"Jesus, you okay?" Person asked.
"Yeah," Jimmy said. Except he wasn't okay. His legs shook like he'd run a couple of 10Ks back-to-back. Then they gave up, and he went to his knees on the rubber-backed carpet runner. In boxing, when a guy was hit hard in the liver, he'd stay up for two seconds, maybe three. Then he'd drop like his whole lower body had gone into shock. Jimmy wondered if this was what it felt like.
He clutched at Person's wrists, trying to pull himself up. But his fingers slid loose, and he couldn't lift his arms anymore. He was too tired to hold up his damned head. "What the fuck--" he began, but he couldn't get any push behind it; it wasn't much louder than a whisper.
Person lowered him to the floor. He'd call for somebody now. There had to be EMTs somewhere in the building.
But Person didn't call out. He stepped over Jimmy, toward the doors. The doors no one was supposed to leave by.
Jimmy heard a shout from across the lobby. I can't let you pass, he tried to say, even as he knew it was bone-stupid. He felt running footsteps through his cheek where it lay on the tiles. He saw light flash, reflected off the glass of the front door as it swung closed behind Person.
Two shadows rolled over him as two officers pursued Person out the door. Someone else picked Jimmy up from behind, propped him to about half-sitting. He could see the ceiling past the faces of strangers in business clothes. They were cop faces, in spite of the suits. The Feds.
One of them, dark-skinned with gray in his hair, straightened up suddenly and said, "His manifestation requires contact with bare flesh. Glove up, all of you. Tell all the officers to glove up. Bottle him up but do not approach."
Someone was taking Jimmy's pulse. He wondered what it was like. Every word the Fed said was in English, but made no sense.
And all he could think, for no good reason, was, If the perp's out of the barn, someone should tell Henson she can go home.
Marisol pounded across West Sixth dodging cars like T.J. Hooker, watching Villette jump up and slide across their hoods before they could tap him and Brady stop them cold, by sheer force of personality. They were way out ahead. Lau was only a few strides in front of her, and Marisol was determined that she, at least, wasn't going to beat her down the block. Behind her, she heard sirens, and knew the R&Ps were rolling and the uniforms were on their way, responding to a call of officer down. That was a comfort. A prowl car made a pretty good hand to hand weapon.
Hector was lucky she wasn't driving one. She would have run it up on the sidewalk and squashed him.
Right now, she just ran.
"I got him," Villette yelped from the front of the pack. He screeched to a halt and pointed as Brady and then Lau drew up beside him. "Empty storefront next to the Thai food place. He busted out the window and went inside."
"Well," said Marisol, stopping behind Lau as a phalanx of cruisers swept down the road like sharks, closing it to civilian traffic, "he's gotta know we're coming."
"We need to contain him," Brady said. He spoke into his radio mike. "Suspect has entered 1440 West Sixth. We need to send the patrol cars around back to keep him contained."
"Acknowledged," somebody said back. Kelly in Dispatch, probably.
Marisol watched as several of the cruisers peeled off and encircled the building. She said, "It used to be a video store."
"We've got to evacuate that Thai restaurant," said Lau. "And clear the street."
Behind them, other police were arriving, uniforms and plainclothes, and the rest of the Fibbies except Worth. Reyes and Falkner were both out of breath. Falkner tapped her face shield. "And find some cover. We don't know what he's packing."
"Son of a bitch," Tucker breathed. It was the softest voice Marisol had ever heard him use.
She popped the trunk and handed him his vest. "We're sure he's still in the bottle?"
"Fool me twice, fuck me sideways. Anybody who gets the shot has already been ordered to take it. And Agent Brady said to me, kind of off the record like, that it might take more than one shot to put him down. What the fuck is this?"
WTF, Marisol thought, but didn't say it. It felt like holding out on Tucker, but it also felt like something Lau had told her in confidence, and she couldn't betray that. Besides, she was just so damned giddy, dizzy, happy to have Tucker back she didn't trust herself to say anything. After this was over, she decided, she'd take him out and get them both drunk and tell him about Iraq, and apologize for the sickening ten minutes when she'd thought he'd turned out just like her dad, and Captain Billings, and every other goddamned man she'd ever looked up to.
She'd never told anybody about Iraq. Maybe it was time. Maybe she could trust Tucker.
You never knew until you tried, right? "You okay?"
"No," he said, quietly. "Shit. I feel like--you don't do what he did to Torres unless you're carrying around something twisted up in your gut, you know what I mean?"
"The Joy case fucked everybody up," she said.
Tucker yanked his strapping tighter and checked his gun. "Not like Hector."
He was silent for a minute. Marisol almost said No, apparently not, but Tucker took a breath and continued, "He took it really personally, you know? He wanted to be in on the kill real bad, and instead he wasn't even on the team anymore when they brought Joy in. And he told me once he promised Torres he was going to find whoever killed Joey Oram. Torres's boyfriend."
Marisol waited. Yeah, she was going to tell Tucker all about Iraq. She had to.
Tucker said, "He was too green to know better."
"He shouldn't have made that promise." You told the family you were moving heaven and earth. You told them you were doing everything. You never made a promise that might be a lie.
"No," Tucker said. "He shouldn't. But he did. So he, what, he lifts part of some dealer's stash and goes vigilante with it?"
"Stranger things happen." Marisol slammed the trunk lid. "You ready to go in?"
There was a scratch of Velcro. Tucker nodded and unsnapped his gun. "Let's go find those Fibbies."
They went in like a SWAT team, and Marisol didn't really understand why it was her and Tucker and the Fibbies--all six of them now--and not a real tactical unit. But here she was, sweating into her ballistic vest, slinking along behind Reyes and Falkner like she knew what she was doing. The back door was barred, the restaurant next door evacuated. Hector was in here somewhere.
He stepped out of the doorless lavatory the instant the group's footsteps started crunching over broken glass, in fact, and stood there visible from the mid-chest among the empty video and DVD racks. He had his Colt in his left hand and a quiet, confident smile on his face.
Shit, Marisol thought. He's really going to make us do it.
Until Reyes moved around Falkner, nitrile-gloved hands wide, weapon holstered at his hip, and stepped in to Hector and his gun. Marisol heard Brady under his breath--"Reyes, Reyes, no!" but then Reyes was clear and forward of everyone else, in her line of fire, in everybody's line of fire. Including--and especially--Person's.
Ixnay on the eroics-hay, Marisol thought, aware that it was the single dumbest thing ever to cross her mind.
"One more step," Hector said, "And I'll splash your brain all over that wall."
Reyes's hands just went higher. "Take me as a hostage," he said quietly, tipping his head to indicate the wall of law enforcement behind him. "You know as well as I do that it's the only way you're getting out of this building alive."
"Reyes," Falkner said. Her tone of command would have stopped Marisol in her tracks, but Reyes took another slow step forward.
Hector stared at him, the thin bands of his irises ringed with white in eyes dilated by adrenaline. Despite herself, despite the sweat-warmed grip of her sidearm trained, shuddering, on her fellow officer, Marisol's thoughts still ran in fragmented circles. Wide-eyed, wild-eyed, staring mad--
"No closer," he said.
"Hostage," Reyes answered. "You know it's the only way."
Marisol heard somebody's sharp intake of breath. Villette? Lau? Herself?
"Hector," Marisol said. "If you walk out of here with a hostage, it's a situation for the snipers. Don't do this."
She knew she was working at cross purposes to Reyes, but Reyes was crazy.
Hector's chest rose and fell with heavy gasps, and his gaze fixed itself on Reyes. "Take out your gun," he said. "With two fingers. Lay it on the shelf and slide it to me."
Quietly, with small gestures, Reyes did as Hector instructed. Except when his gloved hand touched the gun, Marisol saw him take a quick, desperate breath. Hector might have missed it. Hector's eyes were on the sidearm.
Reyes shoved it away, hard enough that it skidded across the empty shelf with a harsh scraping sound. And Hector's eyes followed.
Marisol knew what happened next. She knew what had to happen next, but though she understood the sequence intellectually, it happened so fast she also knew she was reconstructing what happened by what she knew must have happened.
Reyes crossed the distance in one quick lunge. He didn't grab Hector's gun hand. Rather, he stuck cross-body with his left hand, forcing the gun off-line. Then he grabbed Hector's left wrist right-handed and stepped in with a hard, straight left to Hector's jaw. Hector's head snapped back, a line of blood spraying from his open mouth. He didn't sag, though Marisol knew from her experience that that blow would have put her on her knees, and knocked a few teeth loose as well. But Reyes' left hand was already pulling back, grabbing the gun by the top of the barrel, twisting up.
Hector shouted and quick, red blood covered both men's hands. Marisol knew Reyes had broken the finger caught inside the trigger guard and driven the sharp top of the grip into the web of Hector's hand. Marisol's chest cavity jumped and her ears rang from a sound so loud it was a sensation. Reyes, she thought, moving forward now, aware that fragments raining from the ceiling overhead meant that maybe the Special Agent wasn't shot. Brady was right beside her, Lau on the left as Reyes pistol-whipped Hector across the face.
Hector staggered but caught himself, and somehow, impossibly, was still standing, moving on Reyes. Marisol froze where she was and slid her finger inside the trigger guard. She didn't have time to aim and pull before Reyes moved, toward Hector, not crossing her line of fire but still too fucking close for comfort. Reyes had Hector's gun in his right hand, some other metal object in the left. He raised the sidearm; Hector grabbed for it.
Hector grabbed for the strip of Reyes's naked wrist visible between his glove and his shirt-cuff.
The agent swayed on his feet, a lunge converted to a stumble. He went to his knees, the hand--with gun--in Hector's grip still lifted. His other hand hit the floor and bounced open, spilling a black plastic object--a hand taser, small and seemingly inoffensive--onto the rug. It bounced twice, end over end, and landed.
Damn! Marisol was closest. Without thinking--if anything, her conscious mind three steps behind, yelling at her to slow down--she lunged for the taser. Hector was bending Reyes backwards, about to reclaim the gun. The whole world stank of cordite and fear-sweat.
Marisol felt her knees hit the floor.
Reyes screwed up his face like a man making a superhuman effort and swung his left hand, flailing wildly. He slammed his fist into Hector's floating ribs. Hector let go, and Reyes fell back, rolling heavily aside.
Marisol got her hands on the taser and shoved it into Hector's underarm.
There was a sharp crack and Hector screamed. He fell forward, rigid, arching, arms locked across his chest. Marisol smelled burned hair, burned fabric, ozone. His scream stopped when he hit the floor, interrupted by a meaty thump. He thrashed for a second and fell still.
Reyes heaved himself up and dropped atop Hector, one knee in the small of his back. Marisol kept the taser handy, her gun still in her off hand. She could shoot off-handed if she had to.
"Worth!" Reyes shouted. "Brady!"
The agents lunged past Marisol, who stepped forward slowly, her firearm still trained on the back of Hector's head. Lau was right beside her, doing the same. Neither one of them dropped their stance as Brady wrenched Hector's arms behind his back with nitrile-gloved hands and Worth crouched beside his head. She groped along his collar with blue fingers, grimacing. Then she turned and stared at Reyes, her expression smooth and unreadable.
"He has a pulse," she said. "Are you...?"
"Feel like I just went fifteen rounds with Muhammad Ali," Reyes said. He heaved a limp sigh and stood--more or less--staggering back on rubber legs to allow Brady room to finish handcuffing Hector and patting him down. Marisol could see Reyes' hands shaking, his chest bucking in and out from across the room. He was still breathing like a man who'd just finished climbing a mountain when Brady stood and turned to him, head shaking.
Brady blew air out between pursed lips, too out of breath to quite manage a whistle. He straightened his spine and loomed down at Reyes while Worth attended to the prisoner. "Respectfully, sir? You are a flaming, batshit nutbar."
Reyes gave a shaky laugh. "No argument." He sat down on the edge of the counter behind him with a thump that spoke of profound exhaustion. "Guess it's definitely skin contact, huh? Falkner, tell the transport team."
Marisol almost moved toward him, but she thought she saw him catch her eyes and shake his head before he leaned back on his elbows. And then Worth was there, stripping off her own gloves to take his pulse. "You're going to the hospital too."
"I just need a minute--"
"You need an I.V.," she said, no-nonsense. "I'm not going to have you dying of exhaustion the first time Todd's not here to babysit you. I'd never live it down."
"Fine," he said. "But I don't think I can walk out of here."
Worth caught Marisol's eye and nodded. Marisol was already pulling her radio to her mouth. "We need medics in here with a stretcher," she said. "And we have a prisoner for transport, too."
Lau jerked her chin at Hector, who lay moaning softly on the floor. "Why the hell did he do it?"
Reyes barked laughter, short and harsh, but didn't answer. Instead, he looked at Villette.
And Villette looked at Brady.
Holstering his sidearm, Brady said, "Law enforcement, you know? You get so fucking tired."
...seems likely that Hakes drew his inspiration as much from horror films and games (Andromeda Strain? Resident Evil?) as from the medical literature. However, under the influence of his mother's obsession, he did grow up absolutely steeped in medical terminology, etc. Compulsive behavior (hers/his). Attention-seeking (hers/his). He talks to us because we're literally the only contact he has.
Contrast McCain. No need for public recognition. Entirely internalized--despite the fact that the motivating force arises from his rejection by his father/brother. Attachment disorder? Profoundness of lack of self-worth: he thinks he is a poison so he becomes one. (attached file, notes and photographs of supporting documentation. Newspaper reports, missing persons, his brother's 'miraculous' cures. Power of suggestion. Power of self-suggestion.)
McCain's medical knowledge much less than Hakes, though general knowledge base broader.
(attached documentation, Hakes childhood medical records, reports of sessions with Reyes, others. Reyes post-incident medical report. Hadn't seen that knee x-ray before. Ow, Steve. Ow.)
Conclusion: some jammers know what they are doing and how they are doing it. Some just do it. No help there. Except the ones who have that detachment/alienation/externalization--McCain, Villette--also seem better able to adapt their manifestation to changing scenarios. Grow new powers. Conscious competence v. unconscious competence? Hakes thinks of himself as the virus (in fairness, so do I). McCain thought of himself as a channel for a higher power. Q--if Greenwood can alienate her power, can she gain better control of it?
--Solomon Todd, unpublished notes, April 2010
Betty Lau stood in the slate-flagged front hall of her house, watching out the open door as her only daughter said good-bye to her oldest son in the driveway. She assumed the two were saying good-bye, at least. Nikki was leaning in the passenger-side window of Robert's Tacoma, talking and gesturing, and Robert had said he was due home for dinner in half an hour, so how much more needed to be said than, "Good-bye, see you soon"? It wasn't as if Nikki would never be here again.
At that, the bottom dropped out from under Betty's feet, and she clutched at the doorknob. It was almost like the earthquake they'd just had, except this was inside her, a personal upheaval.
Wasn't that what anyone would have said about Robert Senior? "It's not as if we won't be back." "It's not as if we won't see you again."
And then he was gone. And Betty was left to go through the subsequent weeks and months and, likely, years in a way utterly different from the one she'd envisioned whenever she'd considered the future.
The place you meant to set your foot or your hand could shift, or even vanish. Every time she was reminded of it, the earth of her courage gave way.
Nikki stepped back at last, and Robert's truck rolled forward, and Betty waved from the door as if everything were all right. As if she didn't feel her heart begin to hammer whenever anyone she loved disappeared from view. Nikki didn't stand and watch the Tacoma out of sight, the way Betty needed to; she turned her back on the road and walked to the front porch with her too-long boy's stride.
"So," she said when she reached the door. "Want me to be your sous-chef for dinner?"
"I don't even know what that is." Betty heard the petulance in her own voice. You're not a child, she scolded herself. Don't act like one. But her daughter stood before her, so fearless and full of energy; for all her cleverness she hadn't realized that life and happiness could snap like a dry stick. Then she'd regret every hour she took lightly, every happy, heedless minute her memory offered up in the dark when she couldn't sleep.
Nikki's smile widened and stiffened. "Sure you do. I chop, you cook. You know if we try it the other way, we'll end up having to call for takeout."
She's humoring me. As if I can't control my own emotions. "You know, if you didn't want to learn to cook from me, you could have found someone else to teach you."
"I guess that proves I just didn't want to learn to cook."
"A woman should know how to feed people." It was the wrong thing to say. She knew it by the sharpening of her daughter's jaw.
Nikki patted a pocket of her cargo pants. "Smartphone. I know the address of every pizza place in a twenty-mile radius."
That was the heart of it, the thing that made Betty want to cry and shake something. Nikki always had a solution. It was always the wrong solution. And it still fixed the problem.
Betty's mother had left China at sixteen because she had to. When she'd died in February of 2001, she was still Chinese, an exile, not an American. It drove Betty nuts. Betty was an American woman, damn it, smart and modern and independent. She ran her home while her husband was on deployment, flying missions, risking his life. If she were her mother, she'd have gone to pieces.
Except this time Bob wasn't coming home. And she felt as if she'd become her mother after all.
Here was her daughter--smart, pretty, and capable as a whole quartermaster corps, born to run her own career and house. Betty was proud of her. So why could she think of nothing except, A daughter should stay home and be a support to her mother. A widow has nothing to lean on but her unmarried daughters and her daughters-in-law. Her daughters-in-law were being leaned on by her sons. Who was left for her?
"I'll make rice and beans," she said briskly and a little too loud. One made noise to drive out the demons of fear and melancholy. "You can do the salad."
"All over it," said Nikki, and they trooped past the living room into the long, narrow kitchen.
Awkward, trying to work around someone else in that space. Bob and the boys would dash in, zigzag around her to the refrigerator, and escape with whatever they'd come for. If Nikki had wanted to learn to cook, there wouldn't have been room for it. Guilt poked Betty in the ribs like a finger.
She started the rice cooker as Nikki turned a tomato into deliberate wedges. "How are things at work?" Betty asked her.
"Same old same old, really."
Betty was used to cheerful circumlocution and people who kept secrets that weren't theirs. "Any promotion on the horizon?"
"Man, I hope not. That would mean something had happened to the three people senior to me."
"I thought you said one agent retired."
"Yeah, but nobody can take Agent Todd's place." This time Nikki's grin was whole-hearted.
Betty poured a little olive oil into the cast iron bean pot and turned up the flame under it. "What about another unit?"
"You might be more visible in a field office."
Nikki laid down the knife and turned, her hip bumping the base cabinets. "Like Los Angeles."
Betty ignored the thread of warning in her daughter's voice. She reached down the dried oregano from the cupboard and shook a tablespoon's worth into the oil. "It would be a good assignment."
It would. Betty had made an effort over the years to fill in her knowledge of her daughter's career. She knew from talking to people who weren't Nikki that the Anomalous Crimes Task Force was anything but high-profile. She added, "In L.A., the Justice Department might notice you exist."
"We do good work. Work that needs doing. I'm happy where I am."
In the moment of silence, in the meeting of their eyes, Betty felt a moment's vertigo. She stood on one side of a crack in the earth just too wide to step across, miles deep. And Nikki stood on the opposite side, where others lived who were like her, who saw the world in the same detail.
The gap that had always lain between Betty and Bob.
"I am, Mom," Nikki said, so gently, as if breaking bad news. "You don't have to wear a uniform to serve."
"If you're happy, that's all that matters," Betty said, and swept chopped onions and garlic into the pot. She was proud that her voice didn't wobble.
They sat in the kitchen to eat, at the table crammed in the end of the room with only space for two. When Bob was alive and the kids visited, they'd had to use the dining room.
When Bob was alive, he and Betty ate dinner in the kitchen often, and drank their breakfast coffee there together.
As if Nikki could read her thoughts, she said suddenly, "I miss him."
"I know you do, honey," Betty replied, because she could tell there was more, and that it wasn't easy.
"I wanted... It doesn't matter. You guys taught me to do my best for my sake, not for anyone else. But..." She shrugged, tucked her fork into her rice, and lifted it. Then she put that scoop back on the plate and forked up another. That one didn't make it to her mouth, either.
"But what?" Betty asked, expecting cheerful negation.
"I wanted to impress him." Nikki's voice was thin and tight. She put food in her mouth as if using it to keep words from getting out.
"Oh, honey." Betty dropped her fork. Nikki flinched, but Betty put her hand over her daughter's anyway. They all tried so damned hard. When had she given her kids the idea they had to be perfect every minute? "He was so proud of you. He told me once the boys had turned out great, but you were something special."
Betty thought at first that Nikki was choking. But it was tears, the kind of crying that sounded as if it was torn out of the flesh of the lungs and throat. A man's tears.
She closed her fingers tighter over Nikki's hand. "So there's nothing to regret. It's all right."
But those weren't tears of relief.
Nikki drew a hard, sharp-edged breath, wiped her eyes with the paper napkin, and blew her nose. Betty filled a glass with water at the sink, and set it before her. Nikki nodded and drank.
She looked up, her eyes pink and swollen, and smiled crookedly. "Smart mom. You're right. It's okay now."
"You can still miss him," Betty said, and took her hand again.
Nikki turned her palm up, so she could grip back. "So can you. I've been thinking about ways to help, actually."
Betty felt her brows draw together. Afraid to breathe, she made herself ask anyway, "What have you been thinking?"
"Well, you know. It seems to me as if the best thing would be for Tim to move home. He's already on the West Coast, and he's not making a lot of money as a starving artist traveling road show. He might be grateful for the excuse. And it would be good for both of you."
Tim. Betty wondered why she hadn't thought of that. Because I'm a widow with an unmarried daughter "I think that would be good, if Tim doesn't mind living in the Valley with his mother."
"Hah. We just have to figure out how we're going to make him feel like a returning hero for coming home."
Betty smiled, and thought, It's not okay. The crack in the earth still lay between them. She hoped the people on Nikki's side of the chasm understood her daughter, and loved her enough to help.