DARKNESS ON THE EDGE OF TOWN
J. CARSON BLACK
Copyright © 2005; Margaret Falk. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or retransmitted in any form or by any means without the written permission of the publisher.
Published by Breakaway Media
Tucson, Arizona (USA)
First published by Signet, an imprint of New American Library, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., mass market edition / 2005
Published in Germany by Blanvalet, an imprint of Random House Publishing Group GmbH, Munich, mass market edition / 2005
To the memory of my father:
A stray breeze on a hot day
The sun gentle on my face
Francis X. Entwistle showed up in Laura Cardinal’s bedroom at three in the morning, looking world-weary.
“Don’t get up, Lorie. Just wanted to give you a heads-up. A bad one’s coming.”
Frank’s complexion was pale and there were shadows under his eyes. In life, his face had been dull red from the high blood pressure that had killed him. A bottle of Tanqueray gin sat on the window table and the tumbler in Frank’s hand was about a quarter full. Laura didn’t own any tumblers and she didn’t drink gin.
Laura wasn’t entirely surprised that her old mentor was sitting in the straight-backed Mexican chair in her bedroom four months after his wife had buried him. Maybe because she knew she was dreaming. Or maybe because he was her last link to her parents, and she didn’t want him to be gone for good. Frank Entwistle leaned forward, the nightlight from the bathroom illuminating the scroll of white hair above his side part. “You’re gonna have to pay attention and keep on paying attention.”
He stopped to scratch the tip of his nose. Laura Cardinal realized the absurdity of the situation: Sitting in her bed at three in the morning, watching a dead homicide cop scratching his nose.
“I’m talking about the kind of thing, you aren’t careful, could come back around and bite you in the ass. The key word here is vigilance.”
She wanted him to clarify what he meant by that, but he was starting to fade.
He held his glass up in a salute. “Watch your back, kiddo.”
When she caught the case the next day, there was no doubt in Laura’s mind that it was the one Frank Entwistle had alluded to.
It was the weekend, and she was at her little house on the guest ranch where she lived rent-free. The owner, a friend from high school, liked the idea of having a criminal investigator from the Arizona Department of Public Safety living on his property.
The dream about Frank Entwistle remained with her, vivid and unsettling. It didn’t feel like a dream. When she got up this morning, she sleepwalked into the bathroom. In the dim glow of the nightlight, she saw a ring on the table left by a sweating glass. Instantly she was wide awake, her heart rate going through the roof, until she realized the real culprit was Tom Lightfoot. Tom never remembered to use a coaster.
It was Tom who had been on her mind all morning, Tom who had preoccupied her since he left two days ago on a packing trip to New Mexico.
This was because of the note stuck to the refrigerator: “Maybe we should live together - T”
Not “Love, T,” she noticed. The word “love” scared her anyway, so she wouldn’t hold that against him. What she did hold against him was the fact that he had blindsided her, leaving that note on her refrigerator and then creeping out of town. She couldn’t reach him in the back country. She couldn’t say they’d only been together two and a half months, that his house was just over the hill, that just because he spent every night with her anyway, he shouldn’t think he could move in. Living together was a whole different proposition from sleeping together. The last man she had lived with had been her husband, and that had not turned out well.
What bothered Laura most, though, was the part of her that leaped at the thought.
Restless, she went outside to water, the day already hot enough she had to run the hose awhile to avoid scalding the plants. Her mobile rang and she retreated into the shade with the phone.
It was Jerry Grimes, her sergeant. “You busy?”
“What’s up?” Knowing that whatever plans she had for a quiet weekend were about to be blown out of the water.
“Bisbee PD has asked for an assist on a homicide.”
As she listened, Laura forgot about Tom’s note. Frank Entwistle had warned her it would be bad, and it was. A fourteen-year-old girl had been found dead in a small town south of here.
“Mike’s talked to the chief down there, and we all agree,” Jerry said. “You’re the lead investigator on this. So don’t take any shit.”
He always said that, although Laura had never taken any shit yet. She knew the pep talk was just his way of showing support for her, a woman doing a man’s job. But being called in to assist on investigations in other jurisdictions—mostly small towns—Laura knew that petty politics were far more obstructive to an investigation than any effect her gender might have.
“Victor will meet you there as soon as he can. You know where the ADOT yard is this side of the tunnel?” Jerry said. “They’ll have someone from Bisbee PD there to escort you in.”
Fifteen minutes later, Laura turned her 4Runner onto Interstate 10 going east, dread pressing into her throat.
Fourteen years old.
Once on the road, Laura punched in the Jerry Grime’s number to get some background. Now she’d have time to absorb what he had to say.
“A girl named Jessica Parris was abducted yesterday from the street near her house. They think that’s where it happened; there weren’t any witnesses.”
“What time yesterday?”
“After school. She didn’t come home for dinner. Place is kind of out in the sticks. According to Bisbee PD, she lives—lived—at the end of West Boulevard.” Jerry paused. He reminded her of an old-time union boss, tough and gruff. This case, though, would get to him; he had three daughters of his own.
Jerry said, “A girl fitting the Parris girl’s description was found this morning in City Park. You know where that is?”
“On Brewery Gulch.”
“That’s right. Tourists went to see the bandshell and got a big surprise.”
She thought of how the tourists must have felt, that sudden drop in the pit of the stomach. “She was in the bandshell?”
“Propped up against the back wall. Kind of like a doll on a bed, the woman said. The witness’s name is Slaughter.” He paused to let the irony sink in. “Doris Ann Slaughter. Said the girl was dressed up in some way, I don’t know, like a doll dress.” He paused again—this was hard for him. “Victor’s coming from Marana. Should be a half hour behind you.”
Laura signed off and pushed the 4runner up to eighty, mesmerized by her own thoughts as the freeway unraveled before her. She hoped the storm would hold off until she got a look at the crime scene. The day was sunny, but the sky to the south and east was an ominous leaden blue.
The monsoon season had started July 4. They’d had a thunderstorm every day this week—uprooted trees, downed power lines, roofs torn off, the north-south streets of Tucson turned into flooded canals. A whole city held hostage by rain-swollen streets, many of them uncrossable. Ask a man who has been plucked by a helicopter from the roof of his pickup in a Tucson intersection just how quickly nature can trump progress.
This morning, the heat hadn’t yet built up sufficiently to produce the cumulonimbus clouds necessary for a thunderstorm, but Laura could feel the electricity in the air. She stopped at a fast food place in Benson for a breakfast sandwich—fuel—then drove south into the gathering gloom that seemed to press down on the mountains like a weight.
She felt both dread and anticipation. Needing to get there, see it for herself, but knowing that when she did, the image would haunt her for the rest of her life. The sight of the dead girl would be imprinted on her eyeball as if it were caught in the flash from a camera.
It would have plenty of company.
Laura reached the ADOT yard, where the Arizona Department of Transportation kept road machinery, at a little after ten a.m. A Bisbee PD Crown Vic was parked just outside the Mule Pass Tunnel. The officer, female and twenty-something, leaned against the Crown Vic’s door. When she saw Laura’s unmarked 4runner pull in behind her, she walked up to the window. “I have to advise you that you are not allowed to park here.” Her face was peeling from a severe sunburn.
Laura showed her badge and told the officer—her nameplate said Duffy—that she would follow her. They drove through the tunnel and down into town and parked in a lot populated by law enforcement vehicles from four different agencies. Everybody and his brother was here.
Officer Duffy was out of her car in an instant. She strode across the lot without looking back, headed toward the staging area set up outside the mining museum across the street. Laura was used to this kind of rudeness. A state agency, the Arizona Department of Public Safety could only assist small town police departments if the chief requested it. The chief usually asked for help either because his force was too small or they weren’t equipped to do the job. Laura encountered resentment every time she set foot in one of these small towns.
Sometimes she thought her job description should read Professional Pariah.
She opened up the back of her vehicle and took out her camera bag, wishing she hadn’t worn dark clothes that absorbed the heat. The sky above was an unrelenting blue; no sign of the storm clouds she’s seen on the way down. The mountains above the town were so high, they probably hid them from view. Laura entered the park and introduced herself to the cluster of men in the roped-off area.
Rusty Ducotte, who served twenty-five years with the DPS before his current stint as Bisbee Police chief, spoke in the subtle Arizona drawl that Laura had grown up with. He was long-faced with receding hair and red-rimmed eyes that reminded her of a rabbit’s.
Ducotte made it clear that she was the lead, that it was now her scene. “I’d like Detective Holland to walk the scene with you, though, if that’s okay.”
Although the chief put it in the form of a request, Laura could sense steel behind it. He wanted his detective to work the case with her. Laura didn’t see why not, as long as he didn’t get in the way. She couldn’t depend on Victor; his wife had just had a baby, and he’d already told everyone who would listen that he wanted to stay close to home.
As she listened to the first officer at the scene describe how he had secured the area, Laura assessed Buddy Holland. He had the cop look: hair clipped short, razored whitewalls, mustache. He also had a grim jaw and watchful eyes. Wary.
He didn’t say much. Just kind of sat back and waited. Figuring out with those small narrow eyes which way to jump?
Officer Billings, the responding officer, paused in his dissertation. Looking at her for approval.
“You’ve made my job a lot easier,” she told him. He deserved praise. By her standards, a lot of street cops weren’t careful enough at crime scenes, mostly because they weren’t trained well. Officer Billings had probably trained himself.
“I plan to be a homicide detective someday. That’s my goal.”
Buddy Holland smirked.
Twenty minutes later, Victor breezed in, trailing expensive cologne behind him. “I guess you’re wondering why I called you all here today,” he said, crisp white shirtsleeves already rolled up. He walked up to Detective Holland and held out his hand. “Victor Celaya.”
The Bisbee PD detective straightened up from the tree trunk on which he had been leaning, his face instantly animated. “Buddy Holland.”
They shook hands like long-lost brothers. Victor had an unerring sense for which person in a crowd needed to be won over. Now he paused and shot a glance at Laura, just to be sure she was still charmed by him. Impossible not to be.
It was decided that Laura, Detective Holland, and Officer Billings would walk the crime scene, and Victor would interview the two female witnesses detained in a conference room at the Copper Queen Hotel. Victor usually did the interviews. He was the best interviewer/interrogator in the unit.
Laura glanced up the street lined by two-story brick buildings: Brewery Gulch. From their vantage point on OK Street, news photographers aimed their telephotos down the hill at the park. OK Street marked the eastern boundary of Bisbee; after that, there was no place to go but straight up. This odd topography had the effect of making the corner of Brewery Gulch and Main Street both the city center and the edge of town.
They walked up the Gulch, Officer Duffy leading the way. The narrow canyon seemed to telescope until Laura’s gaze was trained solely on the blue uniform of Duffy ahead of her, twenty pounds of duty belt, service weapon, flashlight, and handcuffs shifting from side to side on her compact girl-body. Duffy seemed sure of herself, as if she knew exactly where she was going. Laura got the impression it wasn’t just Bisbee the officer was sure of, but her future as well. Laura envied the girl’s certainty. Her own future seemed to disappear somewhere up ahead in the mist; she’d suffered too many body blows to take anything for granted in her personal life. Or maybe her personal life and her professional life were one and the same. The only thing she seemed to be good at was this job.
Ahead, yellow crime scene tape blocked the road, leaving space for people to turn their cars around. Their little group passed the open door to a bar. The beer smell billowed out, enveloping Laura in a dank, underworldly current.
The closer she got, the greater the dread she felt. The game of push-and-pull went on full force inside her: the urgency to see the scene, the equally strong desire to turn away. Whatever Jessica Parris had been thinking, feeling, or doing—stuff as simple as hanging out with a friend or planning what to do for the weekend—all of it had been cut short like a snipped thread.
At least nothing could hurt the girl anymore. Her family was another matter. In the aftermath of the tornado that took their daughter’s life, their entire world would be blown apart, shattered into tiny pieces. Laura knew from experience that you could pick up the pieces, but you could never put them back together. She was here to get Jessica’s family the only thing left that had any meaning: justice.
A knot of people had gathered at the edge of the tape. A uniform held them back, unassailable as a block of granite. She saw he had been assigned to keep the crime log.
Laura took photographs of the people crowded near the tape, making sure to get every face. You never knew who would be there, thinking they were invisible.
A hot wind spiraled up the canyon, bringing with it the smell of impending rain.
She let the camera hang down from the ribbon around her neck.
Her stomach tightened.
Time to begin.
When she was in grade school, Laura’s parents took her to the Tucson Metro Ice Rink for ice-skating lessons. She remembered walking gingerly on her blades across the black rubber apron to the edge of the rink. The delineation between rubber and ice was inviolate, a law of nature. First you were clumping, and then you were gliding.
Like an ice rink, a crime scene was something apart. City Park had been transformed forever from what it had once been. The evil that had visited here would linger in the hearts and the minds of the people who frequented it, long after the body was carted away and the crime scene tape taken down. Legends would grow up around it. The crime scene was hallowed ground.
Laura was about to step across the threshold into a new world with new rules, and she saw what she did there as a sacred duty. Mistakes could never be recalled, so she had to take her time and do it right. She ducked under the tape, followed by Holland and Billings. Officer Duffy followed suit.
“Officer Duffy,” Laura said firmly, “it will be just the three of us.”
Duffy blushed furiously and stepped back. Laura didn’t bother to explain something the officer should already know: The fewer people inside a crime scene, the better. Cops were the worst offenders when it came to trampling evidence, drinking from water fountains, or flushing toilets at a crime scene.
Now they were standing at the entrance to City Park, which was actually one story above them and accessed by a flight of dingy brown steps climbing up to the street above. Bisbee was built on hills, and concrete stairs like these were everywhere, connecting to the winding roads above and below like a game of Chutes and Ladders.
According to Officer Billings, there was an entrance into the park halfway up. The witness had led Billings up this way. The place made Laura think of the inner city, Chicago or New York—a park made of concrete, suspended above the street on the backs of three locked-tight shops, their windows blank.
She looked up and saw the finials of a wrought iron fence and some treetops. Wondered how trees could grow there. She glanced at Officer Billings. “That street, where does it go?” Laura pointed to a street that curved up the hill around the edge of the park.
“Opera Drive? It makes a half-circle around City Park, doubles back up there.” He motioned to the road above, high on the mountain. Houses were strewn down the hill like items in a jumble sale.
“Let’s start here and walk the perimeter,” Laura said. Behind her, Buddy Holland snapped on latex gloves and young Billings followed suit. Buddy looked over at Laura, then pointedly back at his hands. Laura crossed her arms, tucking her hands under her armpits. She didn’t wear gloves until it was time to collect the evidence; wearing them tended to make her complacent.
They walked north on Brewery Gulch and followed the curving street up the hill, Billings filling them in on the witnesses’ discovery of the body and his subsequent trip back with them to the bands hell—any and all observations, large and small. Halfway up the curve, they came to an entrance into the park. From here Laura could see a long concrete oval with a basketball court, a playground, cement bleachers cutting into the hill on the right, and the band shell.
Billings’s voice trailed off into silence.
Inside the band shell, propped up against the back wall, was a tiny, forlorn figure. At first glance, it looked like a doll. From where she was, Laura couldn’t see features or details, but she could see the figure’s static nature, its lack of life. She felt the shocked presence of the men with her. The whole canyon seemed quiet, insulated from the world like a soundproof room.
She wiped sweat out of her eyes. Suddenly she wished the storm would come, bringing with it cool rain.
After a moment that seemed like a prayer, they continued up the hill. Sunlight glared off silver-painted roofs down below on the Gulch. Laura realized how thirsty she was. When they got back down, she’d ask for someone to send up some bottled water. They followed the wrought iron fence, looking at everything, paying particular attention to the ground. She could hear her own ragged breathing; they were up at five-thousand feet. They could see into the band shell, the horror closer now. It was unsettling how much the girl looked like a doll. Still too far away to be sure if she was real.
At the top of the road, they reached the flight of stairs that descended the hill along the south side of the park. If they walked down these stairs they would have gone full circle. In the corner, next to the steps, the tarpaper roof of the band shell gleamed in the sun, a shallow puddle from a recent thunderstorm in the center. Beneath, unseen, was the girl. The stench of death condensed in the humid air, cloying and undeniable.
The three of them stood at the top of the concrete steps, looking down at Brewery Gulch below.
A breeze touched Laura’s face and she smelled wild fennel. Behind her Buddy said, “I don’t think he came from up here. He’d block the road. It would be hard to get in and out. He’d have more of a chance of being seen.”
Laura thought he was probably right.
A cicada buzzed, hard and violent.
She was aware of the two of them looking at her. “Let’s go down the stairs.”
As they entered the park, Officer Billings headed for the band shell steps.
“Officer,” Laura said, “stay with us.”
He blushed at his lapse of judgment. “Sorry,” he said, quickly rejoining them at the entrance.
Laura stood still, facing out into the park. The body of the little girl would wait. Wordlessly, the two men stayed with her. She could see Detective Holland out of the corner of her eye. She hated dividing her attention between two people she didn’t know and the crime scene. If she had it her way, she’d be here alone.
Looking at the park with her back to the band shell, she measured with her eye the distance to the other end—approximately two hundred feet, maybe a little more. Inside the long oval of the park, the basketball court formed a smaller, concentric one. Near the wrought iron fences, there were cookie-cutter scraps of dirt, where the trees grew. She realized that she was in a natural amphitheater, houses all around, many of them looking down from the tall hills—a ready-made audience.
Laura closed her eyes, trying to summon the thoughts of a killer. Sometimes, if she narrowed her field of vision enough, she could see things from his perspective.
Laura knew he craved an audience, knew it from the evidence he’d left behind. Even as she tried to draw him in, think like him, her analytical mind ticked away underneath, logically picking up and discarding theories—the easiest way for him to enter the park, if the girl was dead or alive when he brought her here, and what he did last, just before he left.
The reason he had to dress her up like a doll.
A scrape of shoe on cement—Holland or Billings. Whoever it was, her concentration broke. The killer had something to say to her, but she couldn’t hear him. Maybe it was Detective Holland, his disapproval of her jamming the frequencies.
She would come back later, alone.
She turned and faced the band shell.
The 1916-era band shell was small and shabby with stuccoed-over cement. The stage apron stood a little over waist-high. Under the arch, the shallow interior had been painted pale blue—to represent the sky?—but was now overpowered by graffiti.
The body of the girl had been placed in the center, propped against the wall, legs out. Flies zoomed around her.
Finally, Laura looked directly into the girl’s face. Shocked, she thought, I know her.
The barriers of time and place dissolved, and she saw the grainy newspaper photo of the two-tone sedan and the headline above it: CAR USED IN ABDUCTION OF LOCAL GIRL FOUND.
It wasn’t Julie, though. Of course not; it couldn’t be. And now that she really looked, she saw that the girl was not an exact match.
Laura owed it to this girl not to get sidetracked. Her resemblance to Julie Marr was just a coincidence. Looking for a distraction, she glanced at Buddy Holland.
His face had turned deep crimson. He stared at the child, eyes fixed, a vein pulsing in his jaw. For a moment, she wondered if he was having a heart attack. She opened her mouth to ask him if he was all right.
He turned his head to look at her. For a moment, the bleakness in his eyes reminded her of Frank Entwistle staring across the hospital bed at his own death—what one guy in her squad referred to as the thousand-yard stare. Then his eyes turned stony, unreadable.
Laura looked at the girl. She was barefoot and dressed in an old-fashioned white dress. A little girl’s dress, babyish. Something a seven-year-old would wear to First Communion. If this girl really was Jessica Parris, she was fourteen years old—far too old to wear a dress like this.
“I wonder where he got the dress,” Laura said. “Who would sell dresses like that for a girl that age?”
“It looks small on her,” Buddy Holland said. His voice was thick with emotion. She liked him better.
Laura took inventory. The girl’s hands had been placed neatly in her lap. Her fingers were clasped together. Her hair had been brushed. Her legs had been slightly but not overtly spread. This last could indicate sexual motivation. Dressing her up was also most likely sexually motivated.
She had been arranged in a tableau.
Buddy’s voice echoed her own thoughts. “He staged this—put her on display. I’ll bet you dollars to doughnuts he’s done this before.”
“Probably.” Either the bad guy had killed before, or he had worked his way up to this, probably with rape.
God, she wished she had some water. She led the way to the band shell steps on the other side farthest from the street, the ones she believed the killer did not take.
She was pretty sure the guy had come up from below. That would have been easiest. He would have come up the steps from the Gulch, entered the park, and headed right up the steps to the band shell.
Up on the concrete stage, Laura scanned the inside walls. There was a door opposite, probably a storage area, padlocked closed. On the padlock someone had written FTW—Fuck the World. Bad guys, but likely not the ones she was looking for.
The floor was so clean it might have been swept. Clearly, he was an organized offender. He made very few mistakes. The guy she was looking for had probably read the same books she had, books on criminal investigation and forensic science. Laura stared across at the entrance to the park, just down the steps from the band shell, already picturing him coming up from the street. It would take him ten minutes, tops, and that included clasping the hands.
Arms still folded, she hunkered down next to the girl in a catcher’s stance.
The girl looked nothing like Julie from this angle. Her eyes were too close together. Her hair was a lighter blond. It looked dyed. There were holes in her earlobes, but no earrings. Did he take them? There was a tiny butterfly tattoo on the fleshy part of the right hand, just below the thumb. At odds with the dress. The dress itself was white but appeared shop-soiled, as if it had been packed away for a while. She could see the creases. She leaned to look at where the girl’s back departed from the wall. The dress had been zipped up only halfway. No tag.
Laura took a deep breath and looked into the girl’s eyes.
She had seen many people who had died violently. It seemed to her that the eyes of a large percentage of these victims had been stamped with fathomless terror, as if they had seen their deaths coming for them.
But in this girl’s eyes Laura saw no emotion, just broken blood vessels in the whites—petechiae—which hinted at death by strangulation. Brown and brittle as acorn hulls, the girl’s eyes showed nothing at all.
Laura hoped it meant she hadn’t suffered, but the petechiae told her otherwise. Either way, she would never know the truth for sure.
She stood up and walked around to the other side, looking at the girl from that angle.
Laura always felt the victim could tell her something. There was usually some evidence that the dead kept to themselves, a secret they had taken with them, a secret the killer forgot. In every homicide case she’d investigated, there had been something that the dead had held back. She just had to find it. To recognize it when it looked her in the face.
“I figure the lividity points to the fact that she was moved,” Officer Billings said behind her. “Down by her ears, the bottom of her neck, see?”
She tried to block him out, concentrate on the girl.
“Looks to me like she was prostate when she was killed.”
“Prostrate,” Laura said.
“Prostrate, sorry.” He laughed nervously. “That’s funny, prostate. Anyway, I knew it the minute I saw her.”
“Would you shut the fuck up?” Buddy Holland snapped.
Hurt, Billings said, “Hey, I was just—“
“I don’t fucking want to hear it.”
Laura was aware of Buddy’s legs, spread in a fighter’s stance. She thought he was very close to the edge. When the chief introduced them, he’d mentioned that Buddy Holland had been with the Tucson PD a long time before coming to Bisbee. Why did this death affect him so much? He must have seen his share of corpses—even young girls.
He squatted down beside her. She could feel his breath as she studied the girl’s hair near her ear.
That was when she saw it.
You slick son of a bitch, she thought.
You missed something.
After Musicman logged on at the Earthling Café, the first thing he did was check his mail.
There were two messages from CRZYGRL12@ synerG.net.
Fingers tapping rapidly on the table, he tried to think it through. Hard, because his mind was rushing a mile a minute. Although his rage had not abated one bit, he felt the overwhelming need to know what happened.
Out front, another police car went by, this one from the sheriff’s department.
He tapped his fingers some more and then brought her picture up on the screen. Maybe he could find a clue in her eyes.
The waitress, a scarf-haired girl wearing heavy white linen tied around her waist, set his iced tea down. She glanced at the picture. “That your daughter?”
He lowered the laptop lid so she couldn’t see. “Uh-huh.”
He nodded, acknowledging but not friendly. She took the hint and threaded her way back through the cramped cafe to the stand-up counter. Only then did he push the laptop’s lid back up.
She smiled out at him—his girl.
Like a tidal wave, the desire—the need—came rumbling up from deep inside him. He could feel it in the trembling of his hands, the prickling saliva in the corners of his mouth. The adrenaline rush, the beating of his heart, the answering chime in his groin.
If she was his girl.
He had to know. No way could he leave it like this—not when he was this close.
He opened the first message.
Where wer u? I waited 1 hr. I thought for sure this was the day and I walked 3 Miles. Did I get the wrong day? Let me know. Luv, Your Muse. PS I looked it up, it’s really cool to be your muse.
He closed the first email without replying and opened the second one.
Y haven’t I heard from u? Write me!
The same. She was the same. Or at least she seemed the same.
Another cop car went by, lights on but silent. That was seven, total, since he’d been here. He poured two packets of sugar into his glass and stirred, having to use a regular teaspoon because they didn’t have the long ones.
Suddenly, he wanted to throw the goddamn spoon across the room.
His girl. Who was he fooling?
He wasn’t stupid—far from it. He knew he couldn’t dismiss what he’d seen. There came a time when you had to trust your instincts. He had always been fully aware of the dangers, and that was why he was so careful. He’d always had a sixth sense for trouble.
Dusk had fallen by the time one of the lab techs, Danny Urquides, motioned to Laura from the band shell stage. “The ME’s gonna take her now.”
For the last half hour, Laura had been waiting for the crime scene techs to finish their work. Now she realized how dry her lips were—a chronic problem. She fumbled in the pocket of her slacks, momentarily afraid she’d left her lip balm in the car, relieved and grateful when her hand closed around the small tin. When she worked a crime scene her field of vision narrowed so much she forgot about things like thirst, hunger, and dry lips.
It had been a very long day. There had been so much to do, and she trusted no one else to do it—even the stuff some might label scutwork—because this was her case and she had to build it painstakingly. In her mind she thought of it as a Popsicle-stick house, placing one piece of evidence atop another until she had a case so tight no defense attorney could knock it down.
One thing Frank Entwistle had drummed into her: Think about the end game. In police work, the end game was a conviction. Whatever she uncovered would have to stand up in court.
Since this morning, she had walked the crime scene twice. She had marked and collected evidence, measured and drawn the crime scene to scale, and shot seventeen rolls of film from the ground and an additional two from the DPS helicopter. Laura hated flying in general, and flying in helicopters—where the world tilted crazily—in particular. But it was part of her job and she white-knuckled it.
Laura dropped the lip balm into her slacks pocket and went up to supervise the removal of the body.
A tech from the medical examiner’s office was in the process of gently moving the girl away from the wall. Laura photographed the part of her that had been concealed until now, from head to heels. Other than residue from the dirty wall, there was nothing new. The one thing the killer had missed—a mesquite leaf Laura had found on the girl’s neck—had already been photographed, bagged, and removed.
By this time, they had made a positive identification: The girl was indeed Jessica Parris. Victor Celaya had made the notification earlier in the afternoon.
A familiar twinge started in the small of her back. At five feet nine, she was on the tall side and had a long waist. A car accident during her time at the Highway Patrol had weakened her back despite the doctors’ assurances to the contrary, and she felt it every time the job required long hours and standing around. She couldn’t even lean against a wall until they were done with the crime scene.
It had rained scantily off and on for about an hour—not much of a storm. The air smelled of wet earth and wet cement, nothing like the seductive perfume of the creosote desert where she lived. But it had cooled her down, blown some fresh air into her.
As they lifted the girl, Laura looked at her face. Despite the deterioration already beginning to erode the hopeful image of youth, the face that once belonged to Jessica Parris seemed unconcerned with the indignities of death—as if she were already an angel.
Laura thought of the parents, glad they could not see her now. How did you deal with the death of your own child?
Anguish stormed up into her chest, the wanton destruction getting to her. Why? Why take this girl’s life? She knew the conventional wisdom, the explanations given by psychologists and FBI profilers, the charts and statistics and probabilities, but at this moment they rang hollow.
The firestorm of emotion took her unawares, blowing up through her soul like a crown fire. Just as quickly, it burned out, leaving only cold, bitter anger.
You think you can get away with it, she said to him. But you won’t.
I will find you. I swear to God I will.
I will make you pay.
Going back down Brewery Gulch, she passed the bar she’d gone by this morning, what seemed like a hundred years ago. Heavy metal music spilled out along with the beer smell. Several Harleys were parked out in front of the bar. Bikers, tourists, and stray dogs populated the shadowy street, flickering in and out of lights from open doorways. They were joined by hippie types who seemed at the same time flamboyant and insubstantial, slipping through the night like ghosts of a long-gone era.
Laura was tired, dirty, drained, and hungry. Earlier today she’d seen the sign in the Copper Queen Hotel lobby for prime rib. She hoped the restaurant would still be open after the briefing at the Bisbee Police Department. Maybe grab a bite with Victor. She hadn’t seen him since this morning. He’d spent most of his time canvassing the streets around the park or up at the Copper Queen Hotel conference room, doing what he did best: talk. Interviewing witnesses, being interviewed himself by the news crews from the Tucson and Phoenix network affiliates. He could have them.
Laura was almost past a red brick building when she saw something in the store window, partly shielded by an old-fashioned canvas awning, its candy-stripes faded to pink. A doll, propped up against a metal trunk, legs splayed, hands together on her lap. She wore a Victorian-style little girl’s dress. The dress looked like it had once been white, but had been faded by the sun.
The sign above the door said: COOGER & DARK’S PANDEMONIUM SHADOW SHOW AND EMPORIUM. The antique shop sold twentieth-century kitsch. Melmac, Buck Rogers space ships. A dim light came from the back of the store.
Taped to the door’s window was a faded poster depicting whirling leaves on a dark sidewalk. Laura remembered it from her childhood, the cover of Ray Bradbury’s book, Something Wicked this Way Comes.
Evil had visited Bisbee in the middle of the night, like the locomotive in Bradbury’s book, bringing the dark carnival to the edge of town.
She knocked on the door and it rattled in the frame. No one answered.
The shop next door was open, though—a tattoo parlor. Laura asked the proprietor about Cooger and Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show and Emporium.
The heavyset woman looked up from tattooing the Virgin of Guadalupe on her customer’s forearm. “Oh, that place. Guy doesn’t show up much, kind of like a lot of shop owners around here. No set hours, just every once in a while the door’s open. Name’s Ted.” She shrugged. “That’s all I know.”
Laura could find out who owned the shop tomorrow. All it would take was a look at the city records. She was about to walk out when another thought occurred to her. “Did you do the tattoo for Jessica Parris?”
“Hold her steady, Ramon.” The woman put down a tool that looked like a dentist’s drill and bustled over to a filing cabinet behind the counter, handed Laura the file. “She wanted the butterfly—very popular with young girls. Turned out real nice.”
“Don’t you have to get parental permission to tattoo a minor?”
She gave Laura a look. “In this case, her mama brought her in. Her mama and her boyfriend.”
Jessica had a boyfriend? “You know his name?”
“Cary Statler. He lives with them. They took him in when his own mom left town.”
“So what do we know about this guy?” Chief Ducotte said.
Laura, Victor Celaya, and the eight members of the Bisbee PD were crammed around a table in the Bisbee Police Department conference room, an airless cubicle smelling of microwaved pizza.
“The creep likes to play dress-up,” muttered Sergeant Nesmith.
“I bet he’s done it before,” said someone behind Laura. Sandwiched as she was between a young police officer named Noone and Detective Holland, she’d have to turn herself inside out to see who had spoken. Holland had thrown his weight around, literally, making the most of his space and practically pushing Laura into Noone’s lap. The molded plastic chair didn’t help her back much either.
She didn’t mind the chair so much as the feeling that this briefing was an exercise in futility. Chief Ducotte had asked that the briefing include all of the Bisbee Police Department. Laura remembered his exact words: He wanted “to foster an inclusive atmosphere” and make sure that everybody “was on the same page.”
Bottom line: He didn’t want his people to feel left out. Even though they would be.
Laura was well aware of the pressures the chief faced. The safety of a city dependent on tourism had suddenly been breached, and logical or not, the chief would be blamed. His job was to keep the town running smoothly, bring in revenue in the form of traffic tickets and fines, and maintain a comforting presence in the community. These were his priorities, and he needed to get the town back up on the rails as quickly as possible. That meant he had to get his cops back out on the street.
But he also had to think about morale.
In Laura’s opinion, this briefing was unwise; it would raise expectations in the rank-and-file that they would be integral to the case, and other than helping in minor ways, that just wasn’t true.
Officer Billings, one of the few here who had seen Jessica Parris’s body, was enjoying his three minutes of fame. “You know what she looked like?” He paused dramatically. “Judy Garland in the The Wizard of Oz. The girl was too old for a baby-doll dress like that … damn, it was spooky.”
Sergeant Nesmith leaned back and folded his arms over his considerable bulk. “Haven’t heard of nobody dressing ‘em up like that. Sounds like something you’d see on Most Wanted.”
What no one said but everyone thought: This guy might be a serial killer. Either there had been other murders before this, or Jessica Parris was the first. Everyone here had some knowledge of FBI profile techniques. They knew as well as she did that when a person employed ritual in his killing, he would do it again.
Victor said, “The dress was too small. He must have had the dress first. Why’d he have the dress first?”
“Maybe that’s all he could find,” said a scrawny cop with a rust-colored, handlebar mustache like Wyatt Earp’s. His nameplate said Danehill.
Laura said, “We need to check the resale and antique shops in the area.”
“He could have gotten the dress anywhere,” said Victor. “Also, there was no tag on the collar.”
“Maybe he tore it off.”
“Or it could be homemade.”
“What, you mean like sewed? From a pattern or something?”
“My wife sews,” Sergeant Nesmith said. “If I could get a look at the dress, I could probably tell. I could get on the Internet, check out dresses like that, see if there are any patterns.”
Laura shifted in her seat to relieve the pain in her back, caught Officer Heather Duffy’s eye. Duffy was glaring at her.
Victor crossed his leg at the knee, played with the tassel on his Italian loafers. “We’ll get photos of the dress and pass them around to everyone. I wonder what he did with her clothes?”
“Took ‘em for a souvenir?” suggested Officer Billings. “A trophy?”
“Or threw them away.”
Chief Ducotte said, “You have someone on that? Checking all the garbage cans around here?”
“We’re on it,” said Nesmith.
They discussed the mesquite leaf found on Jessica Parris’s neck, stuck like a piece of confetti behind her ear—something the killer had missed. This pointed to the possibility that the girl had been killed outside of Bisbee, since mesquite trees were rarely found above five-thousand feet. Unfortunately, the surrounding valleys—some of them only a mile or two away—were thick with them.
Then they came to the doll at Cooger & Darks. “I’m going by there tomorrow and talk to the owner,” Laura told them. “Maybe he saw somebody, someone too interested in the display.”
Chief Ducotte nodded, blinking his rabbity eyes.
Victor said, “Another thing, we’re all agreed he took her up there after she was dead. That means we have three crime scenes. The one where she was abducted, the one where he killed her, and the band shell. Any ideas on that?”
“A motel, if he isn’t from around here.”
Laura glanced in Duffy’s direction and noticed she was looking at Noone with an odd expression. She tried to pigeonhole it: Longing? Anger? Something in between? Duffy’s short, compact body looked like it was about to explode.
Something between Duffy and Noone.
Buddy Holland, who’d seemed preoccupied throughout the proceedings, followed Laura’s gaze. One corner of his mouth came up. Whatever was going on with Duffy and Noone, he knew about it.
Victor was saying, “Motels, bed and breakfasts, apartments, what else?”
“If it’s his crib it’d be pretty much impossible to find,” said Danehill.
“I got some photographs of the crowd by the crime scene tape this morning,” Laura said. “Our guy might not have been able to stay away. As soon as we have them, I want to canvass the neighborhood again. Maybe somebody noticed something unusual, maybe someone they knew did something outside their routine. That is, if he’s local. But I have my doubts about that.”
Detective Holland picked at some invisible lint on his sleeve, stretched his long blue jean-clad legs out and stared at his feet. “I think he is local.”
“You do?” asked Noone. “From here in Bisbee?”
Holland shrugged. His watchful eyes scanned the room, landed on Laura. “Why would he come here? We’re a little off the beaten path. It just doesn’t compute.”
Officer Duffy spoke up. “I think Buddy’s right.”
Chief Ducotte looked at Holland. “Go on,” he said.
Buddy Holland paused, waiting until he had their undivided attention: When E.F. Holland talks, people listen.
“This is a local guy, been working up to this a long time, peeping in windows, maybe caught masturbating outside some little girl’s house. I see it as opportunistic—nobody was around, he saw her, he grabbed her. Maybe it got out of hand. He’s fantasized about this for a long time.” He pushed his chair back, almost pinning Laura’s arm between them. “I think what Ms. Cardinal here said was telling. The doll shop. He could have got the idea from the doll. A local would know the park really well, know how easy it’d be to get up and down with a DB without being seen.”
“How many people from out of town know where West End Boulevard is?” demanded Heather Duffy. “Nobody.”
“He could’ve grown up here and come back,” said Danehill.
“It’s one theory,” the chief said. “But I’ve been thinking there might be an Internet connection. It could be what drew the guy here, like maybe he met her on the Internet. Buddy’s been raising concerns about this—his daughter—” He looked at Holland. “You’re the logical choice, why don’t you look into it?”
“Okay,” Holland said. “We have to cover all the angles.”
Laura knew she should say something before the chief took the briefing over and started making assignments. “Looks like we’ve got a plan.” She looked at the chief. “I know you’re short-handed, but if you could spare an officer to help canvass the houses facing the park once I get the photos from the scene, that would be helpful.”
Chief Ducotte stood up. “No problem. My people are your people. You want Detective Holland to coordinate that?”
Code for: He wanted Detective Holland to work closely with her.
“No,” she said. “He’ll have more important things to do.”
If she’d expected Holland to be grateful, she would have been disappointed.
As the briefing broke up, all of them crowding around to squeeze through the door of the conference room, Heather handed Laura a tampon still in its package. “You drop this?” she asked.
Her voice had the exaggerated sweetness of a bully.
Laura became aware of men shuffling, coughing, some of them amused, no one looking at her. Mention a tampon and you’re back in second grade, never mind most of these guys were married and had umpty-ump kids.
Laura took the tampon, thought briefly about stabbing Duffy in the eye with it. “Thanks, Duffy. I never turn down anything that’s free.”
It took the drive back to the Copper Queen Hotel to get her heart rate back down. Hard to not show how humiliated she was. It took her right back to grade school.
It had been her experience that there were certain women who knew just where the soft underbelly was—an instinct they were born with. A toxic form of cunning. She supposed there were men like that, too, but she hadn’t met any.
Victor didn’t help—reliving the scene more than a few times. “Jesus, I bet you haven’t been razzed like that since you were a rock at the Academy.”
“Fuck you, Victor.”
They ate in the dining room at the Copper Queen just before the kitchen closed, then headed for the bar. She wanted to talk about this guy, bounce some things off Victor. This was a bad bad guy. He was on a roll, and she knew he wouldn’t stop with Jessica Parris.
A man was playing the upright piano in the bar, “Rhapsody in Blue”. On the table next to him was a jar for tips. Laura loved Rhapsody in Blue, so she put some cash in the jar. He nodded to her as she and Victor went out onto the terrace.
The moment they sat down, Victor produced the photographs. Laura had been expecting them. Victor’s daughter Angela had been born a week ago, his fifth child.
Laura oohed and ahhed over the baby, who looked like a red thumb wrapped in a bandage. The baby did look cute in her little green blanket with the yellow ducks.
The rest of the roll was from the “get-acquainted barbecue” at Lieutenant Galaz’s a couple of months ago. There was Let’s Go People! himself, holding a meat fork and wearing an apron emblazoned with the words GOT CARCINOGENS?. Detectives and their wives playing volleyball, chowing down on burgers and dogs, holding plastic cups of beer and smiling hazily at the camera. A couple of group photos, Laura conspicuous by her absence, Richie Lockhart’s fingers forming bunny ears behind Let’s Go People!’s head.
“A great time had by all,” Laura commented.
“You should have been there,” Victor said. “It was fun.”
“I was busy, remember?”
She had been working the most disturbing case of her career. A Safford man had shot his wife, his mother, and four children. At first they thought he had taken the youngest—a little girl—with him. But it turned out she had crawled under the house and died of her wounds. The little girl had been alive for at least a day.
“How did the notification go?” she asked Victor, not wanting to think about that case.
“You know it’s never good. On a scale from one to ten, maybe a seven. No hysterics.” He took a drink of his Chivas Regal. “The mother was pretty weird. Too busy kowtowing to her husband, making sure his dinner was still hot—can you believe it? When I did get her attention she seemed embarrassed. Like the kid made her look bad. Could be just shock. She kept saying stuff like, ‘I told her something like this would happen,’ and ‘that’s what happens when you don’t listen,’ as if the kid skipped school or something. Almost like she expected her daughter to turn up dead.”
“They’ve been living with it since yesterday afternoon,” Laura said. “If they’ve been watching cable at all they know the drill.” Hungry for filler, the cable news channels had blown stranger abductions up into epidemic proportions, the experts drilling it into the American psyche that children abducted by strangers were killed within three to five hours after being taken.
One cable TV network had labeled this “The Summer of Fear.” The spotlight had moved on in recent months to three separate grizzly bear attacks, and a reasonable person might assume that the child abductions had ceased altogether.
“Did you meet the boyfriend?” she asked.
“According to the tattoo artist next door to the doll place, Jessica’s boyfriend lived with her family. His name is Cary Statler.”
“Nobody mentioned him, and I didn’t see anyone matching a boy her age.” He took out his notebook and wrote the name down. “He lives with them?”
“Cozy—just another modern American family.” Victor sipped his Chivas. “There’s someone else we should look at, just in case Sherlock Holmes in there is right and it was a local. A neighbor—a friend of the family. Chuck Lehman. Guy was over there in the role of concerned friend, but there was something … I dunno, avid, about the way he was tuning in. So I checked him out. Two DUIs in the past three and a half years—one in Colorado and one here. Also, he broke into his ex-wife’s house, tore up some of her dainties. Felony trespass and criminal damage, both DVs. They pled the felony down.”
“How old is he?”
“Early forties. I know, I know. He skews old for this.” He lit a cigarette, even though he knew Laura didn’t like it.
Victor turned his head and blew out the smoke, and also held his hand away—his try at meeting her halfway. “It’s a lead. Don’t worry, we’ll get a match on this creep somewhere, you’ll see. Jesus. Dressing her up like it’s her first fucking Communion.”
The pianist had finished Rhapsody in Blue. Even though they were outside, Laura applauded with the rest of the bar patrons, Victor following suit. The door was open and it was possible the pianist might hear.
“With Lehman, there are some serious stressors,” Victor said. “Guy’s divorce was finalized a month or so ago, just around the time he got laid off from work.” He saw the question in her eyes. “He worked at the mine—well, what’s left of the mining operation out here.”
“Where’d you hear this?”
“I asked around. Danehill was the one popped him for the DUI and the DV. I’ve got the number for his probation officer if you want it.”
“Sure. We have to look at everything.” The story depressed Laura. “How’s Elena doing?”
“Fine now. At least she’s not cursing my name anymore. There was about eight hours there where she seemed a little pissed off at me.”
“Come on, it’s not all my fault.” Victor showed her his most irresistible grin, no doubt the one that had snagged Elena into motherhood five times. “She was the one who wanted another one.” He took a sip of Chivas. “Some women actually want kids. It’s the maternal instinct, something you’d appreciate if you ever grew up, found a nice man, got married—”
“Hey, I put in my time.”
He laughed. “Seven months? That’s a slap on the wrist.”
“I got time off for good behavior.” Laura realized that she’d never told Victor the whole story about her marriage. Maybe because, logic to the contrary, she still felt embarrassed.
“One of these days you’ll find the right guy and you’ll know what I’m talking about. I got the impression you didn’t agree with Buddy back there, about the guy being a local.”
Laura sighed. It didn’t feel local to her, but her gut could be wrong. “Who knows? Maybe there’s an Internet connection, like the chief said. In that case, it could be someone from anywhere. Buddy Holland says the guy wouldn’t know Bisbee, but it’s not that big. It wouldn’t take much to figure this place out.”
“But why here?”
Laura shook her head.
Victor left for Tucson soon afterward, wanting to get home to his new baby. Laura would stay here and go directly to the autopsy in Sierra Vista tomorrow afternoon. The Copper Queen Hotel was full up, but after calling around, she found a place on the main drag through town.
The storm that had been threatening all day finally unleashed its fury during the short drive to the motel. Rain hit the windshield like a fire hose, but she managed to spot the neon letters spelling out THE JONQUIL MOTEL. She got out and ran through the downpour to the office.
The Jonquil Motel was a white-stuccoed motor court, circa 1930, situated on what was once the main highway through town. For Laura, it was love at first sight. In her job as a criminal investigator, she’d spent many nights on the road, and the motels often stuck out in her memory. After a long day she’d close the door to her room and give herself time to unwind. Many times she’d find the answers that had eluded her when she was on the job—something would just click. She remembered asking a maid for towels at a Holiday Inn in Flagstaff and abruptly remembering a piece of evidence essential to the case.
The motels also reflected the peripatetic quality to her job—always starting over, working with someone new. She was invariably seen as an outsider, but Laura didn’t mind that. She liked working her way into the warp and woof of a town, picking up its easy rhythm, slowing down for the odd yellow dog crossing the street.
Every small town had its own personality.
She got into bed without bothering to change out of her clothes and lay there thinking about Jessica’s killer. When she wasn’t thinking about the killer, she thought about Tom and the idea of living together, her mind going around like a carousel.
TRAFFIC STOP ON 92
Rain tapped on the roof of Officer Duffy’s patrol car as she sat in the Safeway parking lot, keeping her eye on the blue BMW Z4 through the streaming windshield. She’d already run the plate; it came back to a Darrell Lee James, 2452 E. Silver Strand Drive, Gulfport, Mississippi. No wants, no warrants.
Duffy glanced down at the laser-printed photograph on the seat beside her. In the orange light from the sodium arcs, raindrop reflections from the windshield crawled across the picture like ants. The photo showed a good-looking man leaning against a blue BMW Z4. Hard to believe he could be a child-raper, a great-looking guy like that. Still, when she’d spotted the Z4 on her way out to Tacho’s Tacos for a late dinner, she’d had no choice but to check it out. If it was him, and she was the one who caught him—oh, man. That would show them all up.
Her thoughts turned to that stuck-up detective the chief had saddled them with. Imagine being kept out of the crime scene, like she was a first-year rookie. She smiled at the picture on the seat and said, “You stupid bitch. You don’t know everything.”
If this was the guy, she’d be a hero. She pictured how impressed Randall would be if she and Buddy ended up on Today.
This daydream kept her occupied until she spotted a man carrying a grocery bag in each hand splashing through the parking lot toward the Z4. She couldn’t see much of him; he wore a hooded raincoat. When he drove out of the parking lot, she pulled out right behind him.
He made it easy for her by speeding. Couldn’t blame someone with a car like that for putting on the afterburners. She stopped him on 92 just south of Tintown.
The rain was coming down hard now. Mud sucked at Duffy’s shoes as she walked up to the driver’s side, careful to approach him from an angle. Safety first. Darrell Lee James buzzed his window down.
She flashed her light on his face. It wasn’t him. This guy was fifty if he was a day.
Duffy kept her face impassive, but her disappointment was deep. She knew she should feel more than disappointed. There was a monster on the loose. The problem was she didn’t feel things deeply the way other people did, with one exception. Love was the most important emotion on earth, and that she felt in spades. Everything else paled in comparison to what was going on between her and Randall—even catching a killer. Love could be sweet torture, or a burning agony, and she couldn’t live without it.
“Sir, put both hands on the wheel where I can see them.”
“Officer, I know I was speeding—“
“Reach down with one hand and remove your wallet. No quick moves.”
Carefully, Darrell Lee James reached into his coat and produced his wallet, holding it high and away from his body. The move was automatic; he’d been caught speeding before.
“Slide the license out of your wallet, sir.”
He did so, and handed it to her, then put both his hands back on the wheel.
“Do not remove your hands from the wheel, sir. I’ll be watching.”
She took her time walking back to her unit. Since she had already run his license, she sat there for a couple minutes, looking at the photo on the seat.
Now that was a good-looking man. A total fucking creep, but good-looking.
When she felt she’d waited long enough, she got out and trudged through the mud, handed him back his license, and opened her ticket book. “I’m going to give you a warning this time. But keep to the speed limit from now on, okay?”
“Thank you, ma’am.” Eyes like a Pekingese, shiny and moist in his fat pink face.
Duffy watched him pull back onto the road, driving like a little old lady.
A shame to see a Z4 being driven like that.
At two a.m., the clock radio came on. Laura got out of bed, pulled together what she needed, and walked through the rain-slick streets to City Park.
Ducking under the crime scene tape, she stopped on the sidewalk below the park and looked around.
The light from a sodium arc lamp tinted the street and buildings apricot. This had a flattening effect, making it harder to see. Most of Bisbee was sleeping, but she saw a few rectangles of light in the old buildings up and down the hills.
She looked up the tall flight of steps to the street above.
Laura had always thought it was most likely the bad guy had parked down here on the street and carried the girl up the stairs. She pictured him driving up around the park once to make sure no one was around. On the second pass, he parked right in front of the steps, the passenger door only a few inches from the curb and five feet from the bottom of the steps.
Were his lights on? Would he leave the engine running?
Yes to the lights, no to leaving the engine running. The best way to hide what you were doing was to act normally. Drive down the street with your lights on, park, turn off the lights along with the engine. If anyone happened to be awake and looking out the window, they would see nothing suspicious in someone parking a car. People worked night shifts.
It was doubtful that he had been seen at all. At the briefing, it came out that there were very few houses from which you could actually see the band shell. This had surprised her. There were a couple of houses right on the road facing the park, maybe one or two across the way up high on OK Street, although the trees blocked the band shell from view.
Laura stood in the street where the driver’s door would be, pantomimed walking around to the passenger side, leaning down and picking up the girl. He could be up the steps in less than five seconds.
One step into the park. Three more steps to the band shell stairs. Four steps up. Set her against the wall, clasp her hands together, stand back to look at what you’ve done. Admire your still life.
Water from rain earlier tonight dripped from the band shell arch.
Just the act of carrying Jessica up here and placing her against the wall would cause him to shed fibers, hair, skin, and some of that would stick. How would he deal with that?
Would he sweep up?
Or could he have used one of those sticky rollers, the one people used to pick up pet hair? Lab techs now preferred the sticky rollers to vacuum cleaners when they looked for trace evidence.
Water dripping from the band shell roof: tap tap tap.
Where are you tonight? Holed up in a motel or have you moved on already?
The wind rose, whipping the treetops. Their restive shadows danced on the band shell wall beside her. Rain started up, speckling the concrete.
Where are you tonight?
As if in answer, notes from an alto sax trickled down from a window somewhere up the street. Pure and sweet; a soulful, lonely sound.
All the buildings in that direction were dark. The music stopped almost as soon as it had started.
The rain came down harder, a curtain of clear beads in a doorway. Laura stood under the arch, feeling the chill draft as rain blew inward. With the rain came the stench of death.
Suddenly, she could feel him, his essence leaking out of the wet cement, the air around her. Controlled rage. A predator. For a moment, she knew what it was like to be a rabbit in the shadow of the hawk.
Was he watching her now? She looked around, but saw nothing. Imagined she heard footsteps, but it was only the rain.
The wind blew harder. The tree shadows lashed back and forth on the wall of the band shell in tortured shapes, as if they were being strangled.
She stared out at the park.
Something caught her eye in the gleam of the streetlight, wet and shiny at the edge of the stage. A matchbook.
Laura had been over every inch of this stage earlier today, and she knew the matchbook had not been there when they removed the body. The crime scene had been clean. The matchbook could belong to anyone; kids, tourists, curiosity seekers. The morbid.
Donning latex gloves, she hunkered down beside the matchbook. The words “The Copper Queen Hotel” were stamped on the front. Holding the edges with her fingertips to avoid smearing any prints, she pried it open.
On the inside cover, someone had written a message in block letters with a roller ball pen. The cardboard was so soggy it threatened to come apart in her hands, the letters starting to blur where the raindrops hit them.
Laura scooted back under the overhang. Holding the matchbook open against the concrete, she aimed her flashlight at the block letters.
The rain hissed, chortled, murmured.
CRZYGRL. Short for crazy girl? The twelfth in a line of crazy girls?
She caught a movement in the corner of her eye. Suddenly, a bright light shone in her face and a voice demanded, “What are you doing?”
Laura squinted into the glare of a MagLite.
“What are you doing?” Detective Holland repeated. The MagLite steady on her face.
She wondered if he was keeping it on her purposely. Letting her know she was the trespasser here rather than the lead on this case? It made her angry, but it also goosed her heart up a notch. What did he think—she was planting evidence?
“What’s that?” he said, motioning at her hand with the light.
She stood up and brushed off her slacks. “What are you doing here?”
“Checking on the crime scene, same as you.”
“Earlier today, did you see anything like this?” She held the copper-colored matchbook up to the light.
“Take a look.”
“I don’t have gloves.”
“I’ll hold it for you.” She opened the matchbook as carefully as she could. “CRZYGRL12. What do you think that means?”
He stared at the letters on the matchbook, his gaze stony. But she could tell that something was going on behind his eyes, the cogs turning.
Laura said “I need a paper bag for this.”
He just watched her.
“I have plastic evidence bags but no paper. This thing’s falling apart and it’s wet. If we’re going to put this into evidence, I’ve got to have a paper bag. I’ve got some in the 4Runner. Would you mind running down and getting me one?”
She tossed him the keys and he caught them. But he made no move to go.
“I’m parked outside the Jonquil.”
“Is that an order?”
“It’s a request.” She added, “Don’t you want to catch this guy?”
He stood there for a moment. Drawing it out—that she needed a favor from him. Then he shambled down the steps, in no hurry.
Way down the block she heard the big engine of his Chevy Caprice start up.
Laura wondered how long Buddy Holland had been up here. She would have heard him if he’d just driven up. If she could have planted the matchbook, so could he.
The rain kept coming down. After a while, her back started to hurt, and she needed to sit down. She sat against the bandshell wall as far away as she could get from where Jessica Parris was. She tried not to look at the spot. Breathed through her mouth and let her mind wander.
She remembered someone telling her that before the citizens of Bisbee built City Park, this place had been a cemetery. Where did she hear that? On a trip down here a few years ago? Probably. She used to come down overnight with her boyfriend, a member of the Pima County Sheriff’s SWAT team. Mostly they came down to cool off from the Tucson summers and make love. It didn’t work out because he had an ex-wife who kept tabs on him even though they’d split up years ago.
Counting Tom Lightfoot, that made six serious or semi-serious relationships since college, if she included her ex-husband Billy, who was before, during and after.
Suddenly she flashed on the night two months ago at the Vail Steak House, going off to the bathroom with Karen, who did the books for the Bosque Escondido. They’d run into each other in the bar on Laura’s first foray out into the world with Tom. Tipsy, blundering into the vinyl-walled cubicle, verging on conspiratorial giggles, Laura asking: What do you think? Like asking someone off the street to tell her if she ought to buy a certain car. On cue Karen said what Laura wanted to hear. He’s so good-looking, and he can’t keep his eyes off you. You guys make a really cute couple.
It doesn’t bother you that he doesn’t have a real job? Laura asking this as if Karen’s opinion was more important than her own.
Who cares? You earn enough for both of you.
A car cruised up the street and the engine died. Buddy appeared at the steps to the band shell a minute later. He pulled a folded evidence envelope from his pocket and handed it to her.
“Sorry it took so long.” He didn’t tell her why.
She placed the matchbook in the envelope and marked it with a pen. “To preserve the chain of custody, I’ll keep it with me tonight and take it to the crime lab when I get back to Tucson.” Looking for a reaction. He didn’t give her one. “Do you have any ideas who CRZYGRL12 is? Is she a local?”
“Not that I know of.”
“Anything come to mind at all?”
At first she thought he wasn’t going to answer. Then he said, “It could be something to do with the Internet.”
“What, like an e-mail address?”
He rubbed his nose. “Or a nick.”
Looking at her for some sort of reaction. All she could offer was confusion. “Nick?”
“Nickname. In a chat room.” He stared out at the park. “Are we about through?”
“Why did you come up here tonight?”
“Same as you. I wanted to see the place how he saw it.”
She didn’t get back to the Jonquil Motel until a quarter of four. The rain stopped on the walk back.
A fluorescent bulb sizzled above the yellow and green door to her room. The glare of the light was so harsh she had to blink. When she stuck her key in the lock, it didn’t turn.
She jiggled the key in the lock, cursing under her breath. Stared down at the stubborn lock. Funny: Her hand didn’t look like her hand. It looked strange, but she couldn’t figure out why.
Brain fart. She’d gone without sleep for long periods before—the job required it. Forty, sometimes sixty hours straight. She was young, she was healthy, but tonight she felt every one of her thirty-one years bearing down on her like a weight.
Abruptly, the lock turned. She got the door open, stripped off her clothes and crawled under the covers. But even when she closed her eyes the light from above the door seemed to sizzle behind her eyelids, little fireworks popping in the dark.
THE BIRTHDAY CELEBRATION
Musicman bought a cupcake and a box of birthday candles, even though the box of candles was a waste of money because he used only one. He chose a blue candle because blue was her favorite color. He set it down next to the present, even though the present was not for her. He’d wrapped it with care, beautiful eye-catching paper with a bright golden bow.
While waiting at the checkout counter, he’d picked up a paper. Jessica Parris’s death made the front page. Lots of strokes and attaboys. He was disappointed, though, that cable hadn’t picked it up.
Back inside with the shades drawn, he lit the candle and sang Happy Birthday, surprised when it made him cry. She would have been thirty years old today. He remembered the last time he saw her in 1998, two years before her boyfriend beat her to death during a drunken binge. Musicman liked to think she had provoked the cretin into killing her because she could not live with herself.
It still troubled him, her ending up like that. He hated thinking about what had happened in Alert Bay, but sometimes it just reached up and grabbed him, pulling him down into that bad time.
He had been surprised how warm the village on the west Canadian coast was in midsummer. While browsing through the drugstore on the main drag, he’d even had to take off his jacket and wrap it around his waist.
Alert Bay was about as far away as you could get from where he lived—so far away it was even in another country. It was almost as if she had drawn a line on a map. He didn’t blame her, after what she’d been through.
There were plenty of knickknacks on the half-empty shelves. Most of them had a native or marine theme, which was fine except Misty had lived here awhile and none of it would be new to her.
Who are you trying to impress? It didn’t matter what he bought. He knew that. She would know what was in his mind, and that was what counted.
He glanced at his watch. If he was going to surprise her, he’d better get a move-on. She got off work at two. Hurriedly, he picked out a ceramic orca and a card, one of those soft-filtered ones showing two cute little kids together. He also grabbed a roll of breath mints.
He walked fast, worried he might miss her. As he rounded the bend, he saw the yellow clapboard building housing the Midnight Sun Hotel and Restaurant. He’d just started up the steps when a woman pushed the door out, struggling with a kid in a stroller. The woman looked used-up, your basic white trash—stringy hair, tattoos on her bare arms.
He waited for her to get through the door. She made a big show of wrangling with the stroller, but he refused to help. She gave him a dirty look and he returned her gaze serenely, not letting her know what he was thinking. What he was thinking: She looks like a hype.
“Thanks for your help,” she said.
He ignored her and went inside. The place was empty except for a woman he presumed worked there sitting at a table by the window. He asked her pleasantly if Misty Patin was there.
“She just left.”
“Could I get an address?”
The woman parted the curtain and then looked at him. “She’s still there. Didn’t you see her when you came in?”
He felt his heart drop, the funny feeling you get when an elevator goes way up. “I didn’t see anybody.”
The woman looked at him as if he were crazy. She shoved back the curtain again and pointed. “She’s right out there.”
He leaned down and peered out. He saw the hype and her kid across the street. A brand-new navy pickup pulled up. The driver looked like an Eskimo, although that wasn’t what they were called around here. He wore a tank top, shorts and flip flops. A little girl, maybe ten years old, hopped out right behind him. She was blond and didn’t look anything like the man or the kid in the stroller. The girl ran down to the rocky beach and threw rocks into the water.
Looking at her, he knew it was true.
She looked just like Misty.
He felt a wall in his gut give way, the dam he had carefully built up over the years. He could feel something dark and toxic seep out, the resentment and anger that had always been there, but that he had managed to control up until now.
The woman said, “You better hurry if you want to catch her.”
“No one talks to me like that. You’d better go, mister—“
“Shut the fuck up or I’ll make you shut up, you dried-up old hag!”
For a second, there was quiet. Then the woman catapulted to her feet, her chair screeching across the floor and ricocheting against the wall as she made a beeline for the kitchen. “I’m calling the police. Nobody talks to me like that.”
He ignored her, pulling the curtain back and staring out the window. He watched the little girl, the delight she took in picking out stones and hurling them into the bay. She was fruit of the poisoned tree, but still innocent, like an angel. The way Misty used to be.
He let the curtain drop. Looking down, he realized he had crumpled the paper bag holding his recent purchases. Also, he’d forgotten to take a breath mint.
It didn’t matter now.
When Laura arrived at the Bisbee Police Department the next morning, she looked for Buddy Holland, but he wasn’t at his desk. She’d planned to divide up the phone work, but that didn’t look like it would happen now.
Chief Ducotte had scrounged up a phone and phone jack for her computer and given her the table by the window where they kept the coffee urn. Fortunately, the coffee urn had been moved so she’d have some privacy. She sat down in the folding metal chair, thinking that if she sat here very long, her back would be in agony. She scanned the list of contacts at other law enforcement agencies in the state. Might as well get started.
In the next hour, she reached close to a dozen of her counterparts in other jurisdictions, but none of them had encountered a similar crime.
She knew this wasn’t this guy’s first kill. Dressing the victim up was the killer’s signature—something he’d do every time. It would have taken him time and practice to perfect a ritual like this one. Unfortunately, looking for one piece of information in the staggering wave of data from VICAP was a daunting task. VICAP—the Violent Criminal Apprehension Program—was only as good as the agencies entering the data. The FBI database cross-referenced violent crimes nationwide, but participation was voluntary and many smaller jurisdictions didn’t use the system.
Somebody standing at her elbow— Officer Noone. “Ma’am?”
She straightened up, felt a twinge in her back. Smiled at him.
“I heard you were looking for a saxophone player? My sister dated a guy who played the sax. I heard he lived on the Gulch, so I asked around and I found him. Name’s Jeeter.”
Through the window Laura saw Buddy Holland and Officer Duffy approaching from the parking lot. Duffy looked pissed. Laura got the impression that was a permanent condition.
As Buddy approached the window, he ducked his head to look in at her. No, not at her. He was looking at himself.
“Jeeter doesn’t have a last name?” Laura asked Noone.
“Apparently not, ma’am.” He looked chastened, as if Jeeter’s not having a last name was a reflection on him.
“What’s Jeeter’s story?” she asked.
“Guess you could say he’s a night owl. Itinerant musician, takes up the slack with odd jobs.”
Laura glanced at Buddy Holland’s desk, at a faded but eye-catching photo of Buddy, a woman, and a little girl posing in front of Old Faithful at Yellowstone. “Did Jeeter happen to look out his window?” Laura asked Noone.
“As a matter of fact he did. He likes to sit next to an open window when he plays. Feel the night air.”
“Great for his neighbors. Did he see anything?”
His broad handsome face lit up—what he had been building up to. “He saw a motor home.” He consulted his memo pad. “He noticed it for a couple of reasons. Almost nobody drives down the Gulch in the wee hours of the morning. And this motor home went up and back on the Gulch twice.”
“What time was that?”
“Between two and three.”
“Did he notice anything else?”
“Just that it went slow. He wasn’t thinking make, size, anything—just noticed it driving down the street a couple of times. Here’s his number.” He handed her a While You Were Out slip, the name Jeeter, his phone number and address neatly printed on it.
“Yes?” Wishing he would go so she could think.
“If there’s anything else I can do—“
She glanced at her watch, thinking she should get out to see the Parris family soon or she’d have to wait until early afternoon—and that would be cutting it close. She was meeting the owner of the Cooger & Dark shop at eleven and the autopsy in Sierra Vista was at four. She looked at Noone. “As a matter of fact there is something you can do. I want you to look up motor homes—you can do it on the Internet. Go back at least fifteen years and get a representative sample. Go show them to Jeeter and see if anything jogs his memory.”
“Yes, ma’am. I’ll do that right now.”
“When does your shift end?”
“Three o’clock, but—“
“You’d better ask your sergeant if he can spare you; otherwise, it will have to wait.”
After he was gone, she thought about the motor home. Saw it in her mind’s eye, cruising down the Gulch in the early hours of the morning.
It made sense. A motor home was an ideal vehicle for a sexual predator. Portable, self-contained, window shades so no one could see in.
She glanced at Buddy Holland’s desk. He must have come in and gone again while she was talking to Noone. She powered down her computer and went looking for him, catching Officer Danehill at the coffee urn, which had been set up outside the bathroom. “Have you seen Buddy?”
“Buddy? He just left.”
Laura decided that could be a good thing. She doubted Buddy would be a help and might be a hindrance. She headed up canyon to see Jessica’s parents.
David and Linda Parris lived on West Boulevard, the last house before vacant land. Three hundred yards up, West Boulevard bottomed out in a hairpin turn before slanting up the mountain. According to Laura’s map, this road, old Route 80, switchbacked up to the top and then down again to connect up with the main highway on the other side of Mule Pass.
On the left side of the road just before the hairpin turn were a couple of houses. It might be worth talking to the owners of those houses, to find out if they saw anything. She’d do that after her interview with the family.
It was going on nine in the morning. She’d debated calling first, but decided it was better to just show up. In her job, Laura always looked for the upper hand with everyone—victim or perpetrator—so she could get a better read on the personalities involved.
The Parris house, a craftsman bungalow, had a three-foot-high base of dark volcanic rock with red brick above that. The porch, windows, and doors were painted white. A picket fence flickered in and out of the shadow of a massive sycamore tree, and an American flag hung dispiritedly from the porch roof. Blinds in the front windows were shut tight.
The day was steamy after the rain and the sun blindingly bright. Laura was grateful for the shade of the porch. She used the deer-head knocker, preparing herself.
No answer. A breeze shuttled a few oak leaves across the floorboards. She knocked again, scanning the street while she waited, then tried the doorbell.
Laura looked up and saw a bare-chested man watering his plants next door. Was this the neighbor Victor had told her about?
“You with the police department?” he asked.
“Laura Cardinal, Department of Public Safety.” She held her wallet badge up for him to see and approached the fence.
She studied him as he looked at her badge: Five-feet-nine, average build, tattoos on his arms, head like a bullet. Intense eyes.
He shook her hand over the fence. A grip like a mountain climber. “Chuck Lehman.”
“Do you know where they went?”
“Dave mentioned making funeral arrangements yesterday, so I’m guessing they’re at the funeral home. You just missed them.”
Laura tried not to show her disappointment. “Do you mind if I ask you a few questions?”
He picked up the hose and started watering again. “Sure, go ahead.”
“Did you notice Jessica coming home from school day before yesterday?”
“Nope. I was in the back room on the computer. Stock trading.”
“You didn’t hear anything, see anything? Maybe earlier? A car you didn’t recognize, maybe going slow? Someone hanging around?”
She was plowing old ground; Victor had already asked him questions like this, but she wanted to hear his answers for herself.
Chuck Lehman was willing. He gave her a thumbnail sketch of the family (father, authoritarian; mother, a pretty doormat; boyfriend, probably will end up being gay; Jessica, a “cute kid”; younger brother, a little shit). He pondered at length how her agency could use its resources to better advantage, they needed to get the media involved “on a national level”, put up roadblocks. “You don’t even have the Amber Alert.”
“You sound like you’re in law enforcement.”
“Me? No. I’m a carpenter.” He touched his forehead. “But I have good powers of observation.”
She noticed the tautness in his face, the slight trembling in his body—he seemed to be on an adrenaline high. Was he excited about being included, or covering up something?
“Did you talk to Jessica much?”
“Me? No.” He waved at the air vaguely. “Hardly ever saw her.” Mister Amiable, suddenly closing up.
“You know of any of her friends I could talk to?”
“How would I know that? If you haven’t noticed, I’m a big kid.” Confident smile.
“All the days she’s walked home from school, nobody, nothing stuck out in your mind?”
“I don’t notice who comes and goes. They’re just kids.”
He seemed increasingly uncomfortable. It occurred to her that he could be hiding an interest in young girls.
Something not right about him. She remembered what Buddy Holland had said, that CRZYGRL12 could be an e-mail address or a chat room name. She lowered her voice, her inflection friendly: You and me in his together. “You said you have a computer. Do you know anyone with the e-mail address CRZYGRL12?”
He blinked. “What?”
“CRZYGRL12? Maybe Jessica’s e-mail? You wouldn’t know if she had a computer, would you?”
“Why would I know that?”
Angry. Offense was the best defense.
Without conscious thought, Laura shifted her weight to her back leg. Aware of the gun under her jacket. She made her voice even quieter, non-threatening. “Sir, could you tell me about your conviction?”
His eyes turned hard. “You can call my probation officer.”
“Criminal damage,” he said, his voice as hard as his eyes. “I broke into my ex-wife’s house and tore up her clothes.”
“Her underpants,” Laura said, sounding as if it was something that happened every day.
“Right. Her underpants. Satisfied?” Anger radiated from him, making him seem bigger.
She stepped back, hand near her hip. “Sir—“
Suddenly he crossed the space between them, so quick she had to back up another couple of steps. His chin thrust out like a drill sergeant. “I said, are you satisfied?”
“Yes,” she said. Keeping the calm in her voice, though she was anything but.
He glared at her, his eyes like twin blue flames.
“Good.” With a jerk of the head for emphasis, he walked into his house and slammed the door.
Laura stood there for almost a minute, shame and anger riding a river of adrenaline. She had reacted in an acceptable way—stepping back to allow space between them so that she had room to draw her weapon—but couldn’t help feeling she’d looked weak. Would Victor have retreated like that?
Lehman got a big charge out of intimidating her—in his mind, he had won. She looked back at the Lehman house. One of the blinds moved in the front window. He was watching her. She straightened her back, trying to ignore him. She’d planned to do something. What was it?
The houses at the hairpin. That was it. Someone there might have seen something.
She started up the road, careful to stay to the asphalt, scanning the ground on either side. She doubted she’d find anything; the general consensus was that Jessica had been picked up coming home from school, which would mean she didn’t get this far. But Laura looked at the ground anyway, trying to concentrate. Trying not to think of Lehman staring at her back. A hundred yards up, she noted a clearing on the left side of the road, and another turnout on the corresponding side. Several cars had turned around there.
A dog barked at her from behind the redwood fence of the first house. She knocked and got no answer, stuck her card in the door with a request that the homeowner contact her when they got home.
The second house was set back from the road, a faded green cinder block. The drapes were closed. A swamp box cooler rattled like a cement mixer. She thought she heard a TV set going, but no one answered her knock. Many people these days didn’t answer their doors—a safety issue. She left another card.
On the way back to the car, Laura stopped at the turnout and examined the tire tracks. Many of them overlapped. One set of tread marks in particular caught her attention. A heavy vehicle, judging from the way the tracks sank into the ground. She could see corresponding tread marks on the other side of the road; he’d had to back and fill.
The mud had dried, hardening into bas-relief. They’d make excellent plaster casts.
She squatted down and stared at them. Double wheels. From looking at both turnouts, she thought the vehicle had a big wheelbase.
Like a motor home.
The sun bore down on her neck like an iron and flies buzzed around, lighting on her face and arms, tickling her. No telling if the tracks here belonged to a motor home at all, let alone the one Jeeter had seen on the Gulch. She knew what Frank Entwistle would say. When in doubt, be thorough.
She walked back to the 4Runner and got a spool of yellow crime scene tape and blocked off the area around both turnouts. She called the station and asked to be patched through to Officer Noone.
“What are you doing?” she asked him when he answered.
“Looking up motor homes.” He added hastily, “The chief said I could.”
Laura glanced at her watch. She had to be at Cooger & Dark’s in ten minutes. “I’ve taped off some tire tracks up at the end of West Boulevard,” she said. “I want you to come up here and keep an eye on them until I get back. Can you do that?”
“Yes ma’am. I’m on my way.”
Ted Olsen, the owner of Cooger & Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show and Emporium, looked nothing like his Viking name. He was a short, balding man with a ZZ Top beard that had been buttoned into the neck of his short-sleeved shirt, as if he wanted to keep it out of the way.
Cooger & Dark’s shelves were cluttered with fringed lamp shades, art deco radios, and old lunch boxes. A gas pump from the early part of the century stood in the corner. But Laura’s attention was on the dolls suspended from the ceiling. They made her think of trapeze artists caught in mid-swoop.
They reminded her of the Cabbage Patch craze years ago, only bigger. Much bigger, their long flour-white limbs like sausages. They were dressed in gingham pinafores, dotted Swiss baby-doll dresses, gunny-sack dresses. White, pink, yellow.
“You’ve got a lot of dolls,” she said as Olsen went through the shop turning on lights.
“You like them?”
“Very nice.” Actually, they creeped her out.
She wondered: Could this be the guy? She didn’t get anything from him except matter-of-factness, but she wasn’t psychic.
“Where did you get them?” she asked.
“My girls? I make them.”
“You do?” Her next question would naturally be Why? Instead she asked him if anyone had shown interest in the doll in the window.
“She’s not one of mine. She’s plastic. I use only natural materials.”
“But has anyone asked about it? Or any of your dolls?”
“Men?” He stroked his beard. “Usually the men are interested in stuff like that gas pump. I can’t recall anyone …” He coughed up something into a handkerchief that he kept in his gray pants, pants that reminded Laura of the custodian at her high school years ago. “There was a guy interested in a dress. Wanted to buy it.”
“People never cease to amaze me. Been in this business for twenty years, and you never can figure out what they’re gonna ask for. He wanted to take that dress up there right off Daisy, but I told him no.”
Laura’s gaze followed his long crooked finger.
The doll wore a pale pink tulle dress with baby-doll sleeves.
“If I sold him the dress, Daisy would have been left in her birthday suit,” Olsen explained. ‘I couldn’t do that. When I explained it to him, he got mad.”
“He didn’t make a scene, but you could tell he was steaming. Like he was counting to ten.”
“Can I see the doll?”
“Sure.” He grabbed a long pole with a hook on the end of it and pulled at a rope hanging down behind him. Laura realized that it was a pulley system, kind of like at a dry cleaner’s, from which the dolls were suspended. He pulled the doll around, then expertly hooked her off by the neck and set her down on the counter. She noticed he had a US Marines tattoo on one arm.
Laura eyeballed Daisy, thinking she was approximately the same size as Jessica Parris—one big damn doll. “What size dress is that?”
“Size 3, junior.”
“What age would that fit?”
“Thirteen, fourteen years old.”
“Tell me about the guy.”
According to Ted Olsen, the man was white, average-looking except for a black mustache, and he had blue eyes. Olsen remembered the eyes because the guy was so mad. Asked to describe his clothing, Olsen thought he might have been wearing a ball cap and “probably jeans.”
“Nothing seemed unusual about him?”
“When he first came in, he didn’t seem like somebody who would get so mad.”
“So how did he strike you? When he first came in?”
“Well, see, I didn’t really notice him until he found me. He was the kind who blends in—just a regular guy.”
“When did he come in?”
“Day before yesterday. I was open that night, which I do sometimes when I’m working on a doll in back. Stayed open until nine o’clock.”
Nine o’clock: three to four hours after Jessica Parris was last seen.
Laura told him she’d be back with a photograph of the dress Jessica Parris had worn, in case he recognized the style. “In the meantime, if you remember anything else about this guy, please call me.” She handed him her card.
As she crossed the street to her car, she finally got hold of Buddy Holland.
“Where are you? I’ve been looking for you.”
“Running down some things on my own.”
And avoiding her, she thought. “We need to compare notes. I’m headed up to take some plaster casts on West Boulevard right now, but—”
“I’ll meet you there. I’m going up there anyway.”
“I just talked to Dave Parris. Thought it would be a good idea if we took a look at the girl’s room. Unless you’re too busy.”
The window to Jessica Parris’s room was open, sunlight pouring in along with the warm summer air. It was clear from the posters on the wall that Jessica favored Josh Hartnett, Shakira, and Nelly. Laura had done stupid things in her teenage years, but worshipping a guy who wore a Band-Aid on his cheek wasn’t one of them.
Someone had written all over Jessica’s sheets with permanent markers: “Stay cool!” “You’re my best friend ever.” “You and Cary are the coolest people I know.”
“Her friends wrote those things,” Mrs. Parris said from the doorway. “We had a slumber party and they helped her decorate her room.” She hugged herself as if by doing so she might hold herself together, her nervous gaze straying to Buddy Holland, who was poking around the room as if it were a garbage dump. “Do you need anything else?”
Laura said, “I notice she doesn’t have a computer. Do you or your husband?”
“No. We’re not computer literate around here. Excuse me. I have to check the cookies.”
A dresser drawer screeched as Buddy opened it with latexed hands.
Laura looked up sharply. Holland returned her look, eyes devoid of all expression. She’d seen that look before, had used it herself. Cops who detested each other still had to work together, so they did it with as few words possible, just enough to get the job done. No one did cold as well as a cop.
Laura said, “No computer in the house, but she probably has access to one at school. You really think CRZYGRL12 has something to do with the Internet?”
“Could be.” Then he did something she didn’t expect: volunteered. “Let me check it out. I know my way around the Net pretty well. If she’s there, I can probably track her down.”
It was the longest speech she’d ever heard from him. “What would you do?”
“Check out Internet Relay Chats, see if I can find her there.”
Laura seized on the one word of the three she understood. “You mean chat rooms?”
“Uh-huh.” He didn’t elaborate. “You want me to or not?”
She nodded. “I think you should.”
A photograph on the dresser top caught her eye—Jessica and a young man she assumed was Cary Statler. Jessica was pretty in a short denim skirt and halter top. Statler was a skinny, sleepy-looking kid in a black t-shirt and dirty-looking jeans. His hair looked like a pineapple top.
Buddy had gone back to searching, rummaging through a make-up caddy, then moving on to a velvet-lined box holding her earrings, bracelets, and anklets. A tinny sound as an anklet hit the floor. Doing it to annoy her.
“Why don’t you interview Mr. Parris?”
Shrug. “Fine with me.”
He snapped off his gloves and left the room.
The stillness contrasted with all his banging. Now maybe she could get a feel for the girl.
Jessica had a thing for girly stuff: Flavored lip gloss; smiley-faced colognes with names like Cool Diva and Cha Cha Chica; and at least a dozen tubes of Sungirl—sun care products with glitter.
Laura looked at the photo again, wondering what about it nagged her.
It would come.
She looked through the dresser drawers and closet: Blue jeans, peasant blouses, halters, clogs. Jessica’s underwear was neatly folded in her dresser drawers. Bikini underwear in pastel colors, a couple of bras—Victoria’s Secret type stuff. They looked sophisticated for a fourteen-year-old girl, at least the fourteen-year-old girl Laura had been. A different era. She found a few homework assignments jammed into a bookshelf, most of the answer spaces blank. Round handwriting with hearts to dot the ‘i’s. No diary, unless Jessica kept it in a secret place. No books other than schoolbooks and the Harry Potter series, which was lined up in the bookcase like those leather-bound classics people displayed for show. Laura couldn’t say for sure, but she doubted that Jessica had cracked one of them.
Lots of stuff. Laura had read somewhere that tweens—eight to fourteen-year-olds—had so much discretionary income and expensive tastes that they drove the whole economy. Not just the US economy, but the world’s.
She noticed a newspaper clipping from a modeling agency tucked into the frame of the dresser mirror. Mrs. Parris had told her Jessica had wanted to be a model or a rock star.
Now she would be neither.
Laura walked into the kitchen, where the smell of baking cookies was overwhelming. Mrs. Parris fluttered back and forth through the sunny kitchen like a bird trapped indoors, her movements increasingly frantic.
“How are you doing?” Laura asked.
Mrs. Parris checked the heat on the oven. “We’re okay. I mean. It’s horrible, but …” She wiped a strand of red hair from her eyes.
“I’m sorry, but I have some more questions.” Laura set her mini-cassette recorder on the kitchen counter.
“I know you have to ask your questions. We want to find the guy who did this.” She said this last brightly.
“Mrs. Parris, do you know if she used a computer at school?”
Her brow wrinkled. “I think so.”
“She never talked about it? You know, texting her friends?”
“I wouldn’t know email from a hole in the wall. I’m not the least bit technical.” She stared at the oven. “Jessica loved to bake cookies. That’s why I’m doing it today. Kind of in her memory.”
“Cary?” Linda Parris looked stunned.
“Her boyfriend. Doesn’t he live here?”
“Oh.” She floundered for a moment, as if she’d dropped a thought and had to consciously pick it up again. “We’re kind of like his foster parents, even though there’s nothing official. You must think that odd, but it really isn’t. He needs us. We love him as if he’s our own son.”
“He and Jessica were boyfriend and girlfriend, though?”
“I know what you’re thinking. We had very strict rules, her father did. Cary lives in our travel trailer out back. Not in the house. But he’s a nice boy.”
“Were they sexually active?”
Defiance. “Yes. I found out about that a couple of months ago. And you know what I did? I marched her down to Planned Parenthood and got her birth control pills. You might think I’m a bad mother, but I did what I had to do, and I didn’t want our child having a child.”
“I’m not judging you, Mrs. Parris.”
“Please don’t say anything to her father. He’d have a fit if he knew.”
Laura thought that he probably did know. “I see no reason to tell him. So you don’t know where Cary is?”
Mrs. Parris frowned. “Come to think of it, I haven’t seen him for a while.”
“Since Jessica was missing?”
“I’m not …” She didn’t finish her thought.
“You don’t know when he was here last?”
“He comes and goes. He has an uncle in Tucson—sometimes he stays there weeks at a time, especially after—“ she stopped. Her eyes widened slightly.
“After a fight.” Linda Parris looked past Laura, out the window.
Laura took note of the present tense and decided to stick with it. “With Jessica? Do they fight a lot?”
“No, no, nothing like what you’re thinking. Just arguments. Jessica can be—she could get dramatic. Cary just stayed out of her way, let her cool down. That’s all it was.”
“When was their last fight?”
“I know they weren’t talking earlier in the week.”
“And you haven’t seen him since?”
“It’s not like that. David and I would never bring someone into our home that we thought would be dangerous to our daughter.”
“Mrs. Parris, I have to know. When was the last time you saw him?”
“I think it was … two, three days ago. But it’s not what you think. He keeps to himself a lot, likes to go for long walks. Sometimes he stays with friends. That’s what Jessica loves most about him, even though it drove her crazy sometimes. She said he was a free spirit. I know what you’re hinting at and you’re wrong. We would never put our own daughter in danger.”
“I understand that, but it’s important I talk to him. It’s very likely he doesn’t know Jessica is gone. Don’t you agree he should know?”
She nodded reluctantly. Laura asked for the uncle’s address and phone number, and Linda Parris found it in her address book and copied it on paper from the memo pad stuck to the refrigerator, a flag at the top above the phrase “United We Stand”.
Linda moved back to the sink and carefully washed the mixing bowl and set it in the dishwasher. She stared out the window again. “We had so many good times. Last Saturday we spent the morning weeding. Jessie and her dad went to the Arctic Circle for hamburgers. She got mine with mustard, but not ketchup—she knew I didn’t like ketchup. That was a great day.”
She continued to stare out the window.
Something brushed Laura’s ankles. She looked down. A Siamese cat rubbed against her trouser legs.
Laura was attracted to animals the way some people were attracted to babies. She hunkered down and stroked the cat.
“That’s Princess, Jessie’s cat,” Linda Parris’s voice broke. “Jessie found her in a dumpster at the school. Half-starved, sick. Her father told her Princess was her responsibility—she couldn’t keep her unless she did everything. Feed her, clean the cat box, use her allowance to get her spayed …” She was rambling.
The cat climbed up into Laura’s arms and onto her shoulder. It felt natural to Laura; the small vibrating body, the warmth. Comforting.
Holding the cat, she thought of Jessica. Jessica, who liked Josh Hartnett and Nelly. Jessica, who took such good care of her cat. Something crumbled in her chest, and tears pricked the corner of her eyes.
She turned away so the mother couldn’t see and set the cat down.
As Laura left through the front door, she glanced up the street at the roped-off area where the turnouts were. Officer Noone stood in the road, hands on his waist above his heavy duty belt, the yellow crime scene tape quivering behind him. When he saw her he waved. If he was bored by his new duty— waiting for the tire cast to dry—he didn’t show it.
Buddy appeared from around the corner of the house, where David Parris, Jessica’s father, was hammering away at something.
Buddy nodded toward Noone. “You about done up there?”
“Might be another half hour. How’s Mr. Parris?”
“Wouldn’t talk to me. We put up three sections of rain gutter, though.”
“Wouldn’t talk at all?”
“The only thing he said was, if Cary Statler ever showed his face around here again, he’d kill him.”
As Laura reached the turnout, Noone said, “They’re almost dry.”
Beside the metal-framed cast lay a couple of sticks, all that was left of a sampling of twigs, grass, and debris Laura had instructed Noone to collect from around the site. These Laura had used to reinforce the plaster. Not only would it make the cast stronger, but it would also supply a soil and debris sample for the crime lab. Laura picked up a stout twig and wrote her initials onto the cast, along with the case number.
“I never saw anyone take a tire cast before. It’s pretty interesting,” Noone offered. “Too bad there weren’t any footprints.”
It was clear Officer Noone had made the leap from the motor home sighting on Brewery Gulch to the abduction of Jessica Parris on West Boulevard, concluding that the killer had used a motor home.
“These tracks could belong to anyone. I wouldn’t get my hopes up if I were you.”
“But it could be his.”
“Could be.” Emphasis on the could.
Musicman wrote: “D—Your shipment has come in.”
Immediately, a reply popped up.
DARK MOONDANCER: Hello, friend.
Musicman’s fingers flew over the keys.
MUSICMAN: I have that special order you requested.
DARK MOONDANCER: Same price?
MUSICMAN: Two thousand more.
DARK MOONDANCER: Verification?
MUSICMAN: Turn on the local news.
DARK MOONDANCER: That one? You’re in my jurisdiction! Let’s meet.
MUSICMAN: I never meet my clientele. It’s not good to mix business with pleasure.
DARK MOONDANCER: You do it all the time, mix business with pleasure. LOL. But seriously, we are an exclusive club, you and I. Please come visit. Bring a friend.
MUSICMAN: My plans are fluid at the moment.
DARK MOONDANCER: Fluid? There’s a pun. So you are still here. I would have thought you’d be a thousand miles away by now.
MUSICMAN: Parting is such sweet sorrow.
DARK MOONDANCER: Don’t be cryptic. I’d love to know what’s going on in your mind.
MUSICMAN: Shall I make the shipment or not?
DARK MOONDANCER: By all means. As before, payment is forthcoming. But if you’re planning an extended stay, do give serious thought to my invitation. You might not come this way again.
Musicman thought: We have less in common than you think.
Dark Moondancer’s desires were base, his enthusiasm clumsy. He didn’t get the subtle distinctions; he was just another cretin saturated with blood lust, looking for a vicarious thrill. The guy reminded him of a comic book character—way over the top.
Still, he paid the bills.
Musicman pulled up the photograph he intended to use: baby ducks following their mother across a lawn. Beautiful, the play of sunlight and shadow on their soft yellow down. So innocent. And yet beneath the surface resided a dark secret.
A secret that, truth to tell, shamed him.
He wouldn’t do it if he didn’t need the money. So far he’d ignored Dark Moondancer’s hints about escalating the violence—it just wasn’t his way. Even with this one—who’d made him so fucking angry!—he’d stopped short of fulfilling Dark Moondancer’s requests. Partly because he didn’t like the sight of blood (although he’d proven that he could deal with it if he had to), and partly because he didn’t like Dark Moondancer or anybody else calling the shots.
This was his show.
Musicman knew, though, that Dark Moondancer was getting impatient. The gravy train wouldn’t last forever.
Utilizing a user-friendly software program he had downloaded from the Internet, Musicman embedded the first photo into the picture of the baby ducks. He pulled up another scenic from his photo library—boats in a marina.
He would send four pics in all. Each pic would be encrypted and require a password to open. Dark Moondancer would have the baby ducks, but he would not have the real picture underneath until Musicman got his payment. Only then would he send back the encrypted password.
He pictured Dark Moondancer looking at the little duckies, wishing he could see what was underneath.
“Water water everywhere, nor any drop to drink,” Musicman intoned. He hit the SEND button, consigning the ducklings and their invisible cargo into the ether.
“Her hyoid was broken,” Cochise County ME Carmen Sotomayor said as she snapped off her gloves and dropped them into a BIOHAZARD container.
The smell of sawed bone clung to Laura’s nostrils, almost as bad as the odor of death. The last thing Carmen Sotomayor had done before sewing Jessica Parris back up was to use an electric saw to open up her cranium to examine her brain.
Laura thought the killer had been crafty, but now she knew to what extremes he had gone to avoid detection. He’d bathed the girl’s body and washed her hair, clipped her fingernails, even given her a douche.
The douche was necessary. He had sexually assaulted his victim after death, not before. Postmortem sex was another indication that the killer didn’t want to risk abrasions to Jessica and to himself. Whoever he was, he knew something about the collection of evidence.
She looked at Jessica Parris, small and forlorn on the stainless steel autopsy table. Gutters running around the edge of the table gleamed in the light, still holding the residue of blood from the autopsy. The girl who had reminded her yesterday of a Victorian doll now looked more like Raggedy Ann, big ugly stitches forming a Y down the length of her body.
“When you measured her—you said she was small for her age?” Laura asked.
“You mean more like a little girl than a teenager, anatomically?”
“There’s a phenomenon we’re just beginning to see in the physical development in girls. They’re maturing at a faster rate than, say, when you and I were their age. But this girl is on the immature side, although it appears she had enough pubic hair for him to shave.”
“He shaved her so he could think of her as younger,” Laura said.
“And to destroy evidence—her pubic hair and his.” Carmen Sotomayor stared at the girl, her eyes sad. Laura noticed she had bitten her lip, a little gash, dark lipstick edging her teeth.
Carmen added, “If he did it to make her seem younger, it wasn’t too much of a leap—she’s pretty flat up top. She wasn’t wearing a bra. You’d think a fourteen-year-old girl would wear a bra, whether she needed to or not.”
Laura thought of the bras in the top drawer of Jessica’s dresser. “He took it.”
“But he left the bikini underwear.”
Laura said, “I wonder if he had a replacement pair and they didn’t fit.”
“What would he replace them with?”
“Maybe something more modest.”
Two vertical lines appeared between Carmen’s dark brows. “You think so?”
“Who knows? It was just something that occurred to me.” Laura divested herself of the paper booties, gown, the gloves.
She knew not to jump to any conclusions. Her method had always been to disprove a theory, rather than prove it. That way, she avoided making leaps in logic just to bolster a theory that might not pan out. She liked to look at evidence as if it were a disassembled car spread out on a tarp, making damn sure that whatever parts connected weren’t forced into place.
Something didn’t fit here. Maybe it was the girl herself. She seemed out of place, although Laura couldn’t figure out why. Maybe it was her age; maybe it was more than that.
“That dress is homemade,” Carmen Sotomayor said. “No tag anywhere, and those darts looked like they were from a pretty simple pattern. So that ought to narrow it down.”
By the time Laura left the ME’s office in the Sierra Vista Community Hospital, it was going on six o’clock and looked like it would storm. She rolled down the window, inhaling the scent of the impending rain on the dense air. The area had greened up a lot since she’d been down here a couple of weeks ago—johnsongrass lined both sides of the road, lush and green, soaking up the runoff. Ocotillo on the hills looked like dark green pipe cleaners.
The evidence for the DPS Crime Lab resided in the back of the 4runner, each piece packaged separately and bearing her initials: head and pubic hair samples from Jessica, fingernail clippings, scrapings from under her fingernails, swabs from her body, and her clothing. And of course the tire tread moulage and the matchbook in its paper evidence envelope.
He had been pretty sure of himself to go back and leave the matchbook—another taunt. He was playing with them. In a way, that was good. Laura knew that when you got cocky you made mistakes, and she intended to be there when he did.
The dress intrigued her, the idea of it having been run up on a sewing machine from a pattern. Did that mean he could sew, like Ted Olsen? Did he have someone in his life who sewed for him—a girlfriend, wife or mother? He’d tried to buy a dress that would fit a fourteen-year-old girl because his own dress didn’t fit.
It would be time-consuming to locate the company that produced the pattern and backtrack from there to the outlets. Laura was even less optimistic about tracing the material, the zipper, the thread, the lace, and the ribbon.
If he didn’t purchase those in the area, you could forget about that.
The storm hit just as she reached Tucson. She took the Valencia Road exit and drove west to the Department of Public Safety on Tucson Boulevard down the street from the Tucson International Airport.
Lightning sizzled across the sky as she turned into the parking lot. Built in the sixties, the DPS building reminded her of a grain elevator. In the blowing rain, the concrete building darkened to the same slate color as the sky. US and Arizona flags whipped in a wind-driven frenzy, their chains rattling. Laura waited for the automatic gate to roll back and drove in, taking note of the cars in the inside lot. Victor’s truck wasn’t there. She doubted she’d see anyone at this hour.
She booked the tire moulage, the matchbook, Jessica’s clothes, and other items from the autopsy into evidence, filled out the paperwork, and requested the types of tests she wanted from the crime lab. On her way to the squad bay, she passed Mike Galaz’s office and noticed something new—two rows of photos on the wall by his door. Mostly of the Tucson social scene, Let’s Go People! and his wife standing in groups of three or four at various fundraising events. Expensive coifs, more expensive smiles.
Laura had never been part of that social circle, and knew by now she never would be. Fortunately, she didn’t need an expensive evening gown to send her check to the Hermitage No-kill Cat Shelter.
Everybody had gone home except for Todd Rees, the youngest and newest member of the squad. His desk was catty-corner to hers, facing the other direction. She liked that, because it kept their interaction to a minimum. He looked up and then back at his computer.
Her plant was looking a little dry. She prodded it, filled a coffee cup with water from the bathroom sink, and gave it a drink before checking her messages and her voice mail.
One message had been placed on the center of her desk in Rich Lockhart’s handwriting: “Call Myra Maynes at the medical examiner’s office.”
“My remains. Very funny,” she muttered, tossing the note into the wastebasket.
A California detective named Barry Endicott of the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department had left a message on her voicemail, “regarding your child homicide in Bisbee.”
She didn’t recognize the name. One of her contacts at another agency must have made some calls. As she picked up the phone, Todd Rees slipped on his suit jacket, picked up his briefcase, and ambled past her. He always dressed in a suit and tie.
Tall and thin, he reminded her of a praying mantis. Now he craned his neck over her shoulder, looking at her notes.
She put her hand over the mouthpiece. “Watcha need?”
“Nothing.” He slouched past her, but she could feel him lurking in the doorway. Todd had a reputation for keeping his mind on other people’s business, always looking for a way to ingratiate himself with the brass. “You have a good time in Bisbee?”
The phone started ringing on the other end and she broke the connection. “’Good’ is not the way I’d describe it.”
“The lieut kind of wondered why you didn’t come back with the techs.”
So that was it. What, he thought she turned it into a vacation?
One of the new rules Galaz had instituted was financial: He wanted to see a justification of every expense over a hundred dollars. This affected overnight stays. If at all possible, he wanted his detectives to drive back rather than stay the night.
“I used my own money,” Laura said, mad at herself for letting Todd put her on the defensive.
“Did you use your own time?”
It was a parting shot; he was already out the door and halfway down the stairs. Todd had a habit of sniping at people and then running for cover. Still, she knew she’d have to smooth it over with Jerry Grimes, and he in turn would smooth it over with Galaz.
She wasn’t going to worry about it. Jerry knew she got results. Maybe her methods were a little unorthodox, but that had always been the way she worked.
Lieutenant Mike Galaz had been here for five months. Other than his watchful eye over the budget, he was an unknown factor, generally considered to be a good (if political) administrator who left the sergeants to run their own squads.
His first official act was to institute weekly briefings where everyone in the criminal investigation division got together and discussed their cases. Galaz himself didn’t take part, but stood at the front of the room listening intently. At the end of each meeting, he’d give a short speech about the importance of their mission, ending with a phrase he must have picked up from a TV show: “Let’s go, people!”
Laura punched in Detective Endicott’s number, but got his voice mail—gone for the day. She looked at the clock: seven-thirty. Next she called Cary Statler’s uncle. No answer, no machine.
Where was Cary Statler?
It nagged at her, even though Laura’s instincts told her he wasn’t Jessica Parris’s killer. Strangling a person face-to-face showed rage, which would fit a domestic abusive relationship. But Laura worked under the assumption that the killer was older. Dressing her like that didn’t fit with a boyfriend-girlfriend relationship. And the way he’d cleaned her up; so careful not to leave evidence. It was possible Cary could have done all that, but unlikely.
Still, she wished she knew where he was.
When she looked at the clock again it was eleven thirty. By this time there were stacks of papers all over her desk, some on chairs, some on the floor. Transcripts of interviews, autopsy results, her own notes torn from a yellow legal pad. A sea of information, including a printout of City Park drawn to scale. She had looked it over three times now, worrying that she was missing something. Now she was staring at it without really seeing it.
Time to go home, and sleep—if she could.
The 4Runner’s tires rumbled over the cattle guard marking the entrance to the Bosque Escondido Guest Ranch. The storm had gone, leaving a few luminous clouds and a full moon that turned the dirt road white, a chalk line through the desert.
The moment she drove onto the Bosque Escondido, Laura felt something give in her chest. She loved her job, but it wasn’t natural to have to look at so much ugliness day after day. The evils people visited on one another, the unspeakable cruelties she saw almost daily, had the cumulative effect of a house of cards—one insult building up on top of another until over time the whole thing threatened to come crashing down. She was almost to that point now. She could feel it, tiny cracks running through the wall she’d put up.
Tonight she had nothing to go home to except the flat-roofed Mexican adobe in the middle of the desert.
Normally she liked being way out at the edge of Tucson, in a shallow indentation in the desert where she could not even see the city lights, but tonight she didn’t want to walk into an empty house. Putting it off, she drove past the main ranch house, the guest bungalows, the cantina, then turned onto the short loop road that took her by Tom’s place—a tin-roofed adobe with a screened-in porch. The place was dark—no welcoming light. She wondered if he was thinking about her.
Right now—at this moment—she wanted him to move in and never leave. It was almost physical, this need she had. She wondered how she had managed to go so long without someone. When you had someone, everything was better. You had a mate in a world where most people had mates. You went more places, and there was an aura to being in love, like you had God’s blessing. People saw you differently.
She thought of all the places she wanted to go with him. Just overnight stays because she worked so much. But good times. Good times piling up one on top of the other, photos in an album.
She wished he was here right now. She wanted him to hold her, she wanted him to make love to her, see if that could wipe out the image of Jessica Parris, dehumanized and left like a piece of meat on display in a shabby band shell in a concrete park. Obliterate it from her mind. Tape over it with something good.
She didn’t want to be logical and look at the long run. She wanted them to live together. Hell, if he asked, she’d go to Las Vegas with him right now. Why not just abdicate responsibility, do something for the pure thrill of it? Like getting married to a man you’ve only known for a few months.
The two of them against the world.
“Good thing you’re in New Mexico,” she said to the dark house.
She followed the road back into the desert, the road dipping down into the Agua Verde wash and out again. A quarter-mile to her place. Just where the dirt lane right-angled, there it was, Mi Nidito. It looked like a hacienda in Mexico, white-washed by the moonlight, almost hidden by mature mesquite trees.
Mi Nidito. My little nest. Laura didn’t know who’d named it, spelling it out in Mexican tile by the door. Someone else who had lived here for a while? She saw it as her house, but she knew it wasn’t, that someday she’d have to move on.
Stepping out of the car, she was careful to avoid the cow pies; the ranch cows went where they pleased. She did step on plenty of mesquite bean pods, though, soft, yielding crescents on this hot humid night. The old metal gate creaked as she went through.
Laura was serenaded by cow-like crying—spadefoot toads. She smiled, remembering how her mother had told her that the noise, which always came after a summer storm, came from rabbits who’d lost their homes. Now she knew better, but she loved the sentimentality—the Irishness—of her mother’s story better.
She walked up onto the deep porch and stopped to listen, hoping the bobcat kittens who lived on her roof were back. They hadn’t been around for at least a week.
The place was quiet.
She had it all to herself.
Looking at the cemetery and sky was like peering through a sheet of bright yellow cellophane. Laura knew where she was: the Mexican cemetery on Fort Lowell Road down the street from her parents’ house. The cemetery belonged to los fuertenos, the community of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans which grew up around the abandoned fort on the rich bottomland of the Rillito River. Laura used to walk by here every day on the way to school.
The graveyard was both stark and beautiful, an anthill riddled with plaster and iron crosses, statues, and heaps of flowers both plastic and real. Graves alternated with cactus and creosote bushes.
Julie Marr was standing outside the wire fence by the curve in the road, looking at Laura. From where she was, Laura could see the old car coming. The picture in the paper was black and white, but in this bright yellow world she knew the car was orange over ivory. She knew the make, too, thanks to her experience with the Highway Patrol: a 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air sedan. Primer on the rocker panels, a crucifix hanging from the rear-view.
Laura sat up in bed, her pulse hammering in her ears. Her dreams had always been vivid and easily recalled. In recent years, she’d had one recurring dream—going home to show off her DPS Crown Vic to her parents, just a few weeks out of the Academy. It always relieved her to see that they’d come through the months of intensive care, physical therapy, and countless operations with flying colors. Dad didn’t walk so well, and Mom was forgetful. But they’d made it through.
Except it wasn’t true.
Laura’s mind veered back to the dream. She remembered how her parents had freaked out when they heard about Julie Marr on the news. “But for the grace of God, it could have been her” she’d overheard her father say about his only child. Julie’s kidnapping had affected Laura’s mother strangely, leading to an obsession with true crime—the grislier the better. It sent her to a journal-writing group, which she attended faithfully, and a year or so later she started receiving letters with New York postmarks. Laura’s mom never told her what was in them, but she guessed they were rejection letters. Maybe writing about crime was Alice Cardinal’s way of facing her fears.
The car—the 1955 Bel Air—had been stolen specifically for the purpose of abducting Julie Marr on that terrible spring day in 1987. Julie had never been found, but there had been blood evidence in the car.
Lots of it. That didn’t show up in black and white either.
She got on the road early the next morning. The faded moon hung in a clear indigo sky as she drove off the ranch and through the little town of Vail, over the railroad tracks and onto the freeway going east toward Bisbee. Ahead, there was a blush over the far mountains. Julie Marr’s death faded from her mind like an old photograph in a scrapbook.
OFFICER NOONE INVESTIGATES
Randall Noone—he hated the name “Randy”; people might as well just go ahead and call him “Horny”—parked a little way down and walked up to the turnout on West Boulevard. He’d just started his shift and wanted to check on the tire tracks and see if the same vehicle had come back. He was sure those tire tracks had something to do with Jessica Parris’s death. Otherwise, why would Laura Cardinal bother to take casts of them?
At seven in the morning, this part of the canyon was still deep in shadow. There was a hushed feeling to the air, which was actually cool for once, thanks to the overnight rain.
His favorite time of day.
Even though he’d enjoyed the thrill of working nights, he never could adjust completely to the night. Working the day shift in Bisbee wasn’t big on excitement, but he enjoyed talking to folks—the place was like Mayberry. He was good at giving speeding tickets, too; he made people feel so good about getting a ticket that they were practically thanking him before he was done. Randall thought that if he’d really wanted excitement, he could have joined up with the sheriff’s department, which had become a war zone in the last few years. With the Feds clamping down on the border crossings in California and Texas, Arizona was a hotbed for illegal aliens. One of his friends in the sheriff’s department had personally discovered three decomposing bodies in the desert just this year, and had nearly been run down during a routine traffic stop when a vanload of illegals jumped out after putting the van into reverse, right at him.
Nope, he liked Mayberry just fine. Especially with the baby on the way. He and Marcie had picked out the name already: Justin. A good strong name.
The only bad thing about days—Heather Duffy was on days, too.
The Duffy trouble began when his wife had a cold and couldn’t make it to the year-end party. After downing five Tabasco shooters, he’d ended up making out with Duffy, and she’d never let him forget it. She sank her teeth into him like a gila monster. When one of them clamped onto your fingers, you might as well get used to having a new clothing accessory.
He reached the yellow tape and looked at the area. He’d made a mental note of exactly how it had looked the night before and was happy to see that the area had not been disturbed.
Glancing back at the Parris house, he said a brief prayer. Man, that was tough—imagine losing your kid like that. The chief had mentioned a possible Internet connection. That was bad stuff, the way some freak with a computer could reach right into your house and lure your kid right out the front door. When Justin grew up, he’d have to watch him like a hawk. He’d get AOL. They had safeguards for stuff just like that.
He walked across the road to look at the other turnout. A raven flew over, making a nut-cracking noise deep in its throat.
As he reached the road’s shoulder, the smell hit him.
He realized that off and on yesterday afternoon he had smelled it, too, had thought it was coming from the dumpster. But it wasn’t really a garbage smell.
It was a death smell.
He looked up and down the road, but saw nothing. Probably some poor animal had been hit by a car and crawled into the underbrush.
A thick screen of trees ran along the east side of the road. His Uncle Nate called them cancer trees because they spread like a fast-moving tumor. He stepped to the side of the road and peered between the trunks. No animal that he could see, but there was something—a solid patch of gray through the trees. Couldn’t be more than ten feet from where he stood.
An abandoned shed? No, it had a pitched roof. It looked like a little cabin. Suddenly he remembered something else Uncle Nate told him, that there were some old tourist cabins around here from the twenties, back when this road was the highway through town.
As he recalled, it had an Indian name. Cochise? No. Geronimo. The Geronimo Tourist Camp.
Randall Noone squinted at the shack, holding the tree limbs away from his face. The trees made him feel claustrophobic. They gave off a cloying odor, like peanut butter, that mixed with the death smell and made his stomach queasy. Breathing through his mouth, he made his way through the underbrush, the limbs springing back like boomerangs when he let go of them, until he was standing outside the shack.
The doors and windows to the cabin were gone, leaving it open to the elements—just a shell with a rusted stove pipe lying in the corner across floorboards pretty much rotted through. Place couldn’t be much bigger than a roomy bathroom.
He noticed another ghostly square to his left, maybe fifteen feet away, and went to investigate.
This cabin looked like a kids’ hangout—there was a candle, an old rug, throw pillows, rolling papers, and a boom box. A faint odor of pot.
This was interesting.
He spotted another cabin, this one farthest away from the road and backed up against the hill. He picked his way along a faint trail littered with junk—a roll of hog wire, broken glass, a sink with a hole in it.
Darker here, shadowed by the ridge and oak trees. Damp. The raven flew to an oak and chortled at him as he approached the open doorway.
The stench hit him with almost physical force.
He stepped back, his mind reeling. Something dead here. Steeling himself, he breathed through his mouth before peering in.
At first he thought it was just a pile of black rags. No, it was jeans and a T-shirt. Naturally, his gaze wandered up the t-shirt toward the face.
His disbelieving eyes registered the green fright mask for just an instant before he reeled backwards out the door, gulping for air.
Officer Randall Noone found himself on all fours, the scrambled eggs Marcie cooked for his breakfast ending up in a steaming pile on the grass.
“What do you think?” Laura asked Victor. Early afternoon now, and the crime lab techs had finished collecting evidence and the ME’s people were on their way to remove the body of Cary Statler.
Victor sighed. “Whoever killed Jessica probably killed him.”
Laura knew what he was thinking: more trouble. Just seven hours ago he’d been making arrangements for a studio portrait of his family, including his new daughter, and now he’d been dragged back here in this heat to look at the corpse of Cary Statler, which in his view only complicated the case.
Laura agreed with Victor that there was a high probability that Jessica and Cary had been attacked at the same time. With a body this far gone, it would be impossible to fix a definitive time of death, but Laura didn’t believe in coincidences. The fact that Cary Statler and Jessica Parris had both been victims of homicide was just too big a coincidence to ignore.
Detective Holland said, “He wanted the girl and this poor sad bastard was in the way. So he bashed him in the head and took the girl where he could have his fun without being rushed.”
Laura kept her gaze on Statler, although it was hard to do. He was riddled with maggots. One eye had been pecked out, and several fingers had been torn from one hand, probably dragged off by animals. It was fortunate he had ID on him, because skin slippage and a hardening and darkening of his complexion made his features unrecognizable—his face was marbled lime-green and black.
But Laura knew who it was the moment she saw the Megadeth tee and the yellow pineapple hair.
She straightened up, feeling the twinge in her back. The shade, which had stayed with them most of the day, had given way to full sunlight coming in through the southern window. The air was stifling; the stench almost unbearable. Victor and Buddy had shared dabs of Victor’s jar of mentholatum to block out the smell, but Laura had made it a policy not to use the stuff, since she knew from experience that the stink would linger in the mentholatum long after she had left the scene. She breathed through her mouth, but could still feel death lying on the membranes on her tongue, in her nostrils, on her skin.
Victor cocked his head. “Man, that was some hit he took.” The force of the blow had broken Cary Statler’s neck, even though the wound itself had been higher up to the side of the head. One blow. It had come close to separating his head from his body.
“Had to be someone who knew about this place,” Buddy was saying. “You can’t even see these cabins from the road.”
“Could be.” Laura kept her voice neutral.
Buddy had the ball and he ran with it. “I think he knew them. He wanted Jessica, she fit his fantasy. My guess is he followed them, or knew about their little hangout—“
“If it was their hangout.” Laura could feel sweat trickling under her hair. She wanted out of this cabin now. She desperately wanted to go back to the car and get to her purse, scrub her face and hands with hand sanitizer, and salve her dry lips.
“If it was Cary’s hangout, this guy would know they hung out there. He’d be able to keep tabs on them, look for his opportunity. I think he planned it,” Buddy said.
“What I still can’t figure out though—why the dress?” Victor asked. “Why did he do all that? He leaves the kid here, like so much garbage dumped out by the side of the road, but he’s careful about the evidence with her.”
Buddy said, “He didn’t think anyone would find the kid. That’s why he brought him to this cabin, farthest from the road. Nobody comes out here. That’s also why I think he’s local. He knows this place. He had to act fast and move this kid, and he knew exactly where to put him.”
“And then what?” asked Laura.
Buddy looked at her and his eyes narrowed. “He takes her to his place.”
“So he’s parked up on the road?”
“I guess he would be.”
“Wouldn’t he be afraid that someone would see his car? Or see him come up to the road with the girl?”
“He’s pretty bold—you said so yourself, dressing her up like that and putting her in City Park. If you don’t like him taking him somewhere, he could have killed and raped her up here, came back later that night, cleaned her up and planted her in City Park.”
“To taunt the police. To show us up.”
Buddy’s theory was logical. Still, something about it bothered her. She had spent a large part of yesterday talking to various law enforcement agencies in Arizona. No one she’d talked to could even remember a case like this one, but there was the phone call from that detective—Endicott—in Indio, California. She’d tried him twice today, would have to keep trying.
If he was a local, she guessed that he had not lived here long. A year or two at the most. She knew he had done this before. He had built up to this.
The mesquite leaf, too, bothered her. She didn’t recall seeing a mesquite tree anywhere up here; it was too high up.
And there was the matchbook she’d found at the bandshell, CRZYGRL12 written in block letters on the inside cover. “Why would he leave the matchbook behind?”
Buddy stared at her. “We don’t know for sure it was his.”
Gauging her reaction.
“No, we don’t know he was the one who put it there. We have to consider it, though. We have to consider everything. This might have something to do with the Internet.”
“That’s how he could have met her.”
“But you think he knew her from here.”
“He knew her from here and he knew her on the Internet. They were probably e-mail buddies.”
She could tell he was getting steamed. She saw Victor grin—the first time today. Victor understood Buddy’s frustration, maybe even sympathized. He’d often said she was too even-handed.
“Besides,” Buddy said, “I talked to her teachers. She was carefully supervised and never left alone on the computers. No way someone could have reached her—they’d know. I think CRZYGIRL12 doesn’t have anything to do with it.”
Laura didn’t bother to reply. Instead, she stepped outside the cabin. She couldn’t stand the stench in there, and she couldn’t stand Buddy Holland’s attitude. His barely-veiled belligerence. His hints that she’d planted the matchbook.
She walked out beyond the crime scene tape. From here, she could see the dumpster near the road. The lab techs had removed the dumpster’s contents and already taken it to the crime lab in Tucson, even though they had found nothing overtly related to Cary’s murder.
What Laura hoped for was a blood-stained towel or T-shirt. There had been evidence that Cary’s head had been wrapped in something to keep his blood from getting all over. This dovetailed with her theory that Cary was moved to the cabin from the spot where he’d been killed.
The killer had probably taken the shirt or towel with him. Maybe he knew that it was possible to get latents from cloth. Or maybe it was his natural neatness.
He was still being careful.
She did agree with Buddy on one thing: Cary had been in the way, and the killer had not foreseen this. He had taken some pains to hide Cary’s body, but had been too much in a hurry to clean up.
He had made a big mistake.
She caught a movement down below: Chuck Lehman walking in the direction of the crime scene tape stretching across the road. An unleashed Rottweiler accompanied him.
Officer Noone walked down to meet him. Reporters zeroed in on him like ducks after bread. Voices drifted up, but she couldn’t hear them. She didn’t need to—Officer Noone was telling Lehman he couldn’t go past the tape.
Lehman whistled to his dog and turned on his heel. He walked back in the direction of his house, but didn’t go far. Arms folded over his chest, he watched the ME’s van pull up behind the other vehicles. Laura couldn’t see his expression, but she could sense his excitement even from here. It was evident in the tense way he held his body, pitched slightly forward, as if he were absorbing everything about the scene with all his senses.
She thought about the word Victor had used to describe him.
After the body was removed, Laura,Victor, and Buddy headed down to the road. As they reached the crime scene tape, a female reporter thrust a microphone in Laura’s face.
“Is it true the body you found belongs to Cary Statler, Jessica Parris’s boyfriend?”
“We don’t have a positive ID yet,” Laura said.
“But you’re pretty sure it’s Cary Statler?”
“We won’t know that until we get a positive ID.”
“If it was Cary Statler, can you comment on what they were doing in here?”
Someone else shouted, “Did he die trying to save Jessica’s life?”
“We don’t know what happened. We’re just beginning this investigation.”
“But Jessica Parris was here?”
“It’s too early to tell that.”
She finally got past them and walked to her car.
It was going on three o’clock when the news vans pulled out, following the ME’s van down the road. Laura scrubbed her hands and face with hand sanitizer and applied lip balm to her lips. Then she reached into the back seat and tore open the plastic covering on the case of water bottles she carried there, grabbed a new bottle, and drank. Water never tasted so sweet. Ducking into the back of the 4Runner, she stripped off her shirt and replaced it with the blouse she kept on a hanger for emergencies. She ran a brush through her hair, hoping she was respectable enough to meet people.
Victor took the houses on the east side of the street, and Buddy took the houses on the west. Laura headed up to the two houses at the bend in the road.
Again, she got no answer at the first house. But a man answered the door to the green house. Frail and thin, he was bent over a walker. It was clear he was not going to invite her in. The house smelled of boiled cabbage and unclean cat boxes. A TV set blared in the background. She asked him if he had seen or heard anything unusual the last few nights.
He looked at her blankly. “I’ve been in bed all week with a septic throat.”
He hadn’t heard anything and didn’t know Cary Statler or the Parris family. Laura asked him her whole list of questions, but it was clear he didn’t know anything and didn’t want to know anything.
“Does anyone else live here?”
“Nope. Have a girl comes in three times a week.”
Laura finally nailed it down: The “girl” worked on the day Jessica had been kidnapped. When Laura asked for her name and phone number, the man sighed and clacked his way into the darkness, returning with a slip of paper that had been torn off the edge of a TV Guide, one inch by one-half inch.
“Is that it?” he demanded. “I’m not supposed to be out of bed.”
“Have you noticed any unusual vehicles drive this road in the last few days?”
“I keep my drapes drawn. Don’t want to fade the furniture.” The door closed in her face.
From her vantage point in the 4Runner, Laura watched Victor get in his vehicle and drive off, and then Buddy. Neither one approached her, even though she was in plain sight. She assumed Victor was going back to the Copper Queen Hotel for a swim and to call his wife. They would meet later at the hotel restaurant and compare notes.
Buddy—who knew what he was going to do?
Laura took out her camera and stepped onto the road. She wanted to be in this canyon at the time of day that Cary died and Jessica was taken.
She guessed that Cary had been killed somewhere between five and seven o’clock in the evening on the day Jessica disappeared. This would fit the timeline for Jessica’s abduction.
The shadows stretched down from Mule Pass, coming from the opposite direction they had been this morning. The trees on the left side of the road were all in shadow now.
Laura stepped into the wood and worked her way over to the cabin that had contained the drug paraphernalia.
She pictured herself sneaking up on them. Tried to move quietly, but it was impossible given the leaf litter underfoot and the whiplashing limbs.
They would hear an intruder, but would they care? They might not be afraid of strangers. Mellow on pot, Cary and Jessica might not see the danger until it was too late. Would he lure them up to the other cabin farther away from the road?
Or did he arrange to meet them here?
She leaned in through the cabin door and inhaled the smell of pot, which to her smelled like a cross between a burnt-out campfire and old grass and gym socks in a school locker.
The lab techs had removed the pillow, the boom box, the rolling papers, the rug, soil, and debris samples—everything—as possible evidence. They’d also vacuumed the cabin for fibers and hairs, to see if they could place Cary or Jessica or both of them here.
If he did encounter them here, how did he overpower them? Two young, strong kids—that would be hard to do.
She retraced her steps back to the road, looking for any sign where the killer might have come in, and nearly walked right over a couple of divots in the sand north of where she thought he would have gone in.
She squatted on her heels and examined the shallow impressions. They could be drag marks—the divots could be a sign of heels digging in. She followed the trajectory of the marks down into the trees, feeling more excited the more she saw. The leaves on the ground were scuffed, a broken line running in roughly an east-west direction. Not, she noticed, in the direction of the hang-out. Plenty of broken limbs and branches—the kid had been dragged by a whirlwind. And swipes and spatters and smears of blood.
Eventually the scuffmarks led to where she thought they would: the cabin on the hill.
She was now sure he did not meet Cary and Jessica at the first cabin.
Laura absorbed the warm stillness of the canyon, thinking. Cary had been dragged down from the road. That meant he had met the killer up there, or at least gone to his car. But where was Jessica during all this?
A raven flew over and settled in a tree farther up the hill, chortling at her.
She returned to the 4Runner for latex gloves and evidence envelopes and retraced the killer’s steps up the hill. She was nearly to the cabin on the hill when she spotted something red on the ground—a rectangular plastic tab. She recognized it as one of those savings cards people used at grocery stores—a Safeway Club Card. It fit on a key ring; the hole punch looked as if it had given out from use.
These cards had a bar code and a number, one reason Laura had never signed up for one despite the savings. She didn’t like the idea that her purchases could be tracked by someone she didn’t know.
She bagged the card. At the edge of the road where Cary had been dragged into the woods, she took several soil samples and marked them as evidence.
Some of the soil looked dark, almost black. It could have been oil spots from a car.
Or it could have been blood.
Back at the Bisbee Police Department, Laura photocopied both sides of the Safeway Club Card, then looked up Safeway in the phone book. There was one in Bisbee. She took the photocopy and drove out to the strip mall where the Safeway was located.
She asked to speak to the manager. A sallow young man with a few thin hairs on his upper lip came to meet her and they walked back to a dingy, fluorescent-lit office at the back of the store. She guessed he was a manager, not the manager.
“Is it possible to get a name and address from this card?” she asked, handing him the photocopy.
The young man, whose nametag said “Gerald,” looked dubious. “I don’t know … that information is confidential.”
Sure it was. Laura knew these cards were used to track shoppers’ purchases, and that they shared this information with other companies.
Laura had to be careful here. She wanted Gerald to give her the cardholder’s name without tipping him off that it involved a homicide. She didn’t want it getting out what kind of evidence had been left at the scene—information like that would make a defense attorney’s day. She cleared her throat.
“I could really use your help. The person who dropped this is an important witness to a serious crime—“
The boy leaned forward. “What kind of crime?”
“A missing person’s case.” Technically, that was true.
“Do you think it’s connected with those murders?”
“This concerns someone we just need to talk to. You’d really be helping me out.”
She could see the wheels going around in his head. “I think it’s against regulations, you know, unless you had a search warrant or something like that.” He drummed a pencil on the desk blotter and looked tortured. “Are you sure it doesn’t have anything to do with that girl getting killed?”
“We haven’t ruled that out—tangentially.”
“I thought so.” Pleased with himself. “So you really need to talk to whoever owns this card because he might have witnessed the killing?”
“Gerald, I can’t really say.”
“Damn, that’s scary. Two people getting killed like that. I saw it on the news.” His eyes turned regretful. “I wish I could help …”
Laura glanced at her watch. “Damn.”
“I’m just thinking, I’ve never run into this kind of situation before. I can get a warrant, no problem—I just hope nobody gets hurt because we took the extra time to hammer this out.” She shook her head. “I just can’t believe this is happening.” She stood up. “I hope I can find a judge at this time of day. If this turns bad, I sure don’t want this on my conscience.”
Gerald squirmed in his chair. “Maybe I should look it up, just in case. I can’t remember if there’s a hard and fast rule.”
“That would be a big help.”
Five minutes later, she emerged from the Safeway into the parking lot with the name and address. She didn’t need the address, though. She already knew where Charles Edward Lehman lived.
Victor Celaya showed up at the Jonquil hours after their dinner at the Copper Queen Hotel. He leaned against the doorjamb, gamma-rayed by the fluorescent light above the door to her room, waggling a six-pack of Bohemia.
Well, almost a six-pack. One was missing.
“Can I come in?”
“Sure. Just let me wake up.”
“You were in bed already? I’m sorry.” He walked past her and put the six-pack on the table.
She glanced dubiously at the sixpack.
“They’re cold. Just got it from Circle K. I’m sorry I woke you up, but I had to tell you my idea.”
Laura sat on the bed, trying to focus. She’d just made it into deep sleep when he pulled her out of it. “What idea is that?”
“Kind of stuffy in here. You want to go outside?”
“Sure.” Why not? She wasn’t going to go back to sleep now.
Laura went into the bathroom and changed out of the long shirt she wore to bed. Back into today’s clothes, wrinkled as they were. She could hear Victor whistling a familiar-sounding corrida, pure and sweet. Wondered what his idea was and why it couldn’t wait until tomorrow.
Whatever he’d come up with, he was excited about it.
They crossed a bridge over the narrow channel that ran through Tombstone Canyon and sat down at one of the outdoor tables. Laura was almost glad he’d awakened her; it was a beautiful night. Cool compared to Tucson. The sky full of stars. Runoff from the rains tumbled through the canal, catching the glow of the streetlights.
He quickly spoiled the mood. “I thought of a way to get in Lehman’s house. We go through his probation officer.”
“We could do that,” she said slowly. As a probationer, Chuck Lehman did not have the rights regular citizens had. Probation was a substitute for prison, and there were a number of restrictions on him—what he could do and not do, who he could associate with. If his probation officer suspected he was violating his probation, his house could be searched. Usually it required concurrence by the chief of probation, but essentially, Lehman’s house could be searched without a warrant.
Laura didn’t like this for a couple of reasons. One, Chuck Lehman’s link to the crime scene was tenuous. He lived right near the vacant land. He had a dog and probably walked around in there often. The key tab could have come off any time. She’d bagged it because she was thorough, because if their investigation pointed to Lehman, she’d have other evidence to back it up.
And two, going through the probation officer could cause problems down the line. She could just hear the defense attorney: overeager cops, abusing the privilege—using a probation officer to gain access to a house when they couldn’t get a search warrant through regular channels.
That could cause problems if this ever went to trial.
Frank Entwistle had always taught her to think of police work as a pool game, always setting up the next shot and the shot after that. Thinking about the end game—the trial. The ultimate shot should land the bad guy in prison.
This strategy made her a lousy pool player, but a good investigator.
Victor was talking, excited about the case for the first time. She knew he had a pool game of his own in mind: Getting home to his wife and family.
This was not the first time Victor had cut corners. He saw everything in terms of exit strategy—close the case, boost the solve rate.
Laura said, “We can’t do that, Victor. We don’t have enough evidence.”
“That’s the beauty of it. We’ll get the evidence, once we’re inside.”
“You really think he’s the one?”
“Don’t you?” Suddenly his mouth flat-lined. “Shit! You don’t. You don’t think it’s him, do you? You’re still fooling around with that motor home idea. Nothing can be easy for you, can it?” He stood up and walked around in a circle. “I knew you were gonna do this.”
“What, afraid you’ll lose your membership in the ACLU?”
She tried not to lose her cool. “It just won’t work.”
“Of course it’ll work. You just don’t want it to.”
Suddenly, it dawned on her. “Did Buddy Holland have anything to do with this?”
“Oh, that’s great. You never give me any credit, do you? What, I can’t think for myself?” He set the bottle down on the table so hard that beer sloshed up—a sharp yeasty smell.
“Victor, I don’t want to say this, but—“
“It’s my case. Like it or not, I’m the lead. I say we’re not going to do this.”
He smiled at her sadly. “Too late.”
“What do you mean?”
“It’s a done deal. We’re meeting Sylvia Clegg over at Lehman’s tomorrow.”
It shocked her so much, for a minute she couldn’t speak.
He stood up. “Sorry you’re not happy about this. I came here as a courtesy. We’re meeting the probation officer over at Lehman’s at eight a.m. See you then—if you want to be there.”
Driving up West Boulevard the next morning, Laura resolved to do the best she could to hold her case together.
She knew when she was beat. The probation office had agreed to this search, and if she objected now, it would only send a signal that the right hand didn’t know what the left hand was doing. That in turn would be communicated to other jurisdictions on many levels and would affect her ability to get things done.
Perception was reality.
Victor and Buddy had made an end-run around her. She had to salvage what was left of her case and go on.
When she reached Lehman’s house, the first thing she saw was a new black Suburban parked two houses down. The vanity plate said RICOPRZ. She knew it: The Suburban had been seized from a Mexican-American drug lord under the RICO laws. It was driven by Lieutenant Mike Galaz.
What was he doing here?
Laura remembered a difference of opinion she’d had with Victor about the new lieutenant. Victor insisted that Galaz was a control freak. But as far as she could tell, Galaz seemed detached from the job, letting the sergeants run the day-to-day—which suited her fine.
She suspected that Victor resented Galaz for other reasons, more ephemeral stuff, like his expensive home in the foothills; his constant talk about his golf game; his breedy-looking second wife, a high-powered Anglo lawyer.
Laura glanced at Galaz. The fact that he was here really didn’t surprise her. An important case like this, it wasn’t unprecedented that the lieutenant would want a piece of the pie—especially since this one was already unofficially running for mayor of Tucson.
The Suburban, a Bisbee PD patrol car, and Buddy Holland’s Caprice were all parked on the street half a block from Lehman’s house. A small group had collected near Victor Celaya’s shiny black truck. Laura recognized everyone except a skinny bleached-blonde in Guess Jeans that molded tightly to her ass, and an older Hispanic male: Sylvia Clegg and the chief of probation, Ernie Lopez.
Victor leaned against the front fender of his new GMC, the window open so he could get his last few minutes of Rush Limbaugh. A Mexican ditto-head—who’d’ve thunk.
Galaz nodded to her, his brown eyes assessing. She wondered why he was so interested, put it down to the fact that he hardly knew her. He explained that later today he was speaking at a law enforcement seminar in Sierra Vista, and he decided to come by and see how “his people” were doing.
Those inscrutable eyes, weighing her. Laura turned to Ernie Lopez.
“Is he home?”
“His car’s there.”
They headed up the street, the Bisbee PD officer, Chambers, leading the way. Galaz hung back—not sure of his role? He’d come up through the administration side of DPS, with a long stint in Internal Affairs. Not a cop’s cop.
Laura glanced back, uncomfortable that her lieutenant was walking behind her. When he saw her looking back he transferred his gaze from Clegg to her and flashed a smile. Galaz was one of those people dirt didn’t stick to. Manicured nails, expensive suit, immaculate white cuffs crisped to a razor edge, micro-managed haircut. With his patrician good looks and Spanish elegance, even at eight a.m. he looked ready for a thousand-dollar-a-plate fundraiser—a world Laura knew existed, but would never in her life see firsthand.
She could smell the products that went into him: shampoo, cologne, mouthwash, body wash, hair spray. His expensive shoes clicked on the sidewalk behind her like a metronome.
Officer Chambers rapped on the door.
Laura was aware that Lieutenant Galaz remained near the curb. Was he worried there might be shooting? Laura’s own hand hovered near her weapon—automatic.
Lehman came to the screen. Shirtless again.
He took one look at them and said, “Oh shit.”
Sylvia Clegg said, “Chuck, I’m informing you that I am here to do a search.”
Lehman glared past her at Laura. “This is your doing. You trying to get back at me?”
Unperturbed, Sylvia said, “Chuck, you know that under the terms of your probation, you have to allow me in to search.”
For a moment it looked like there would be a stand-off. Chambers shifted his weight slightly, his hand near his gun.
Lehman stood in the doorway, arms folded, looking like an angry Mr. Clean.
“What did I do?” he demanded. It took Laura back to the other day when he’d yelled at her like a drill sergeant. “What did I do?”
A powerful engine started up on the street. Laura looked back to see Mike Galaz pull out and drive away. Why had he bothered to come at all?
Clegg said quietly, “Chuck. May I proceed with the search?”
“And if I don’t, you’ll arrest me.”
“Come on, Chuck, this isn’t such a big deal,” Clegg said. “Take a deep breath and—“
“You’re gonna arrest me, am I right?”
“No one’s going to arrest you. If you just let me take a look around, we’ll be in and out in no time. You know I wouldn’t—“
He shoved the screen door open so hard it slammed against the wall of the house. “Go ahead. I have nothing to hide.”
“First you need to secure your dog,” Clegg said.
“Oh for Christ’s sake!” He whistled for the dog and took him outside, returning a few moments later. “I put him in his run, that good enough?”
Clegg smiled like she’d won the lottery. “That’s great, Chuck.”
They traipsed in: Laura, Victor, Buddy Holland, and Sylvia Clegg. The rest remained out on the street.
Buddy Holland cruised the room, eagle eyes taking in everything. Laura was worried that he was going to piss Sylvia Clegg off, but it appeared they were friends. Buddy must not have seen anything incriminating, because he joined them and stood there with a bored look on his face.
Chuck Lehman lived well. Blond hardwood floors, oriental carpet, Danish furniture. Doggie bed in the corner, near a river stone fireplace. Colorful kites hanging from the walls.
Sylvia Clegg, gloved in latex, started a low-key but thorough search. Her movements were deliberate and efficient. Laura noticed she had a calming effect about her, which was well-appreciated.
Victor said to Lehman, “Mr. Lehman, we’d like to ask you a few questions.” He glanced in the direction of the sunny kitchen. “Why don’t we go in and sit down, while your probation officer looks around.”
“Am I under arrest?”
“Then I’m not answering any questions.”
Victor smiled. “We’d appreciate it if you would. We just want to clear up a couple things.”
“I can’t believe this! I’m calling my lawyer.”
“You’re not under arrest. We’re only asking for a little cooperation.”
“You can fuck that.” Lehman picked up his cell phone from the kitchen table and turned away from them.
It was a short conversation. When he was through, he closed the phone with a snap and slapped it on the table. “Lawyer’s on his way.”
“Can we at least sit down?” Victor asked him.
“I can’t stop you, can I?”
They sat in the breakfast nook. Lehman leaned against the refrigerator, arms folded.
Victor set his mini-recorder on the table. He spoke into it, giving the time and date and Lehman’s name.
Lehman ignored him, staring straight ahead, his eyes like two holes in his face. She could feel his rage under the surface—he hummed like a powerline.
“Did you know Cary Statler?” Victor asked Lehman.
Lehman didn’t answer. He was in his own zone, his breathing short and rapid. Staring so hard at a spot on the wall, she thought he’d go cross-eyed.
The way he’d tried to bully her …
“When was the last time you saw Statler?” Victor asked.
Lehman transferred his gaze to the ceiling.
“Do you remember where you were the evening Jessica was kidnapped?”
It went on like that for a minute or so before Victor gave up.
Usually he could charm people with his easygoing nature, his sympathetic ear. But Lehman was immune.
Laura looked around the kitchen. Everything was spotless, gleaming. The stove, refrigerator and cooking island were all stainless steel and modern. There was not the usual clutter you’d see on shelves or near the sink; in her house the dishwashing liquid sat next to the sink, but here, the kitchen counter was cleared of everything except a bowl of fruit.
Not much in plain sight.
Buddy leaned in the doorway, looking at her. A self-satisfied smirk on his face. Laura ignored him and concentrated on the kitchen.
Place reminded her of a model home. She thought of the way the bad guy had washed the girl, washed her hair, clipped her nails. This guy was that neat. Would there be trace evidence in the shower? She knew that the probation officer’s search wouldn’t extend there, but if she found something else incriminating, they could get a search warrant.
What would that be? Dress patterns for little girls?
Sylvia poked her head in the doorway. “Can I get in here?”
Lehman shot her a virulent look and launched himself away from the refrigerator like a missile. He went out the kitchen door into his yard, letting the screen door slam behind him. Laura, Victor, and Buddy followed.
Out into the steaming summer heat. Brick patio. Immaculate propane grill. Lehman turned on the hose and began watering the potted plants. The smell of the water mingled with the scent of wet earth.
Laura knew that Clegg could not do a comprehensive search. She’d noticed how Victor had worked certain words into his conversation with Clegg as they’d walked over here. He asked her if she knew how to sew. Mentioned his own mother’s sewing machine. Asked her about actors, too, what she knew about makeup, wigs, dress-up. How as a kid one Halloween he’d gone as Snidely Whiplash, twiddling his big black mustache.
Broad hints. Clegg had gotten it.
Now Clegg spoke through the screen door. “All I have left is the bedroom.”
Laura glanced at her watch. Victor would have to leave soon; he had Cary Statler’s autopsy in Sierra Vista. She wanted to get out of here, too. She needed to go to Tucson to notify Cary’s uncle about the death in person. The man might know already, although the police had not yet given Cary’s name to the press.
She glanced at Lehman.
His intensity scared her. All this time and his anger had not abated. A hard smell to him—could you smell testosterone?—mingling with the smell of water and earth.
This was Victor’s show. Victor’s and Buddy’s.
“I’ve got to go,” she said to no one in particular.
Neither Buddy nor Victor said anything.
Laura let herself out the gate just as a Lexus pulled up to the curb. An ugly little man in an expensive suit emerged, holding a calfskin briefcase.
Tucson-Saguaro Auto & Body, near the corner of Palo Verde and 29th Street, was a cinder block building with three roll-up work bays, a parking lot surrounded by a ten-foot-high chain link fence, and a corrugated iron shed that served as the office. The traffic here was a six-lane river of cars and SUVs flowing past a median on which a person dressed like a chicken waved a sign for a fast food place called El Pollo Grande. Every car window was up, the air conditioning going, people with cell phones attached to their ears. All of them isolated from one another in their speeding steel-and-glass capsules.
The chicken looked jaunty, even though he must be smothering from the heat—a real trouper. Laura wondered how much he was paid.
As she stepped onto the curb, she felt that familiar tightening in her stomach whenever she notified people that their loved ones were dead.
She knew what it felt like. The memory was always close at hand, a penance of sorts. A counselor at the University had explained to her the concept of survivor’s guilt. It ran through her head like film: drifting off to sleep, her thoughts on Billy and the fun they’d had in Nogales, turtle soup at La Rocca’s, coming home late and not feeling like going to her parents’ house for dinner. Making love, Billy having to leave because he had to be at work early tomorrow. The stutter of the sprinklers outside the open dorm window. The bedclothes smelling of sex. That Last Happy Day.
Someone knocking on her door. She opens it to two men in suits, who look as if they’ve been lurking in the hallway trying to get their stories straight.
Knowing right then something is wrong.
The older one with the florid complexion clearing his throat—
She walked along the weedy curb to the shed. The heat was like a convection oven. The door to the shed was open and a table fan blew sporadically in her direction. It took her a moment to adjust her eyes to the darkness of the shed after the blinding desert sun.
The man sat at a metal desk facing the door. Graying ponytail, a red T-shirt washed so many times it had faded to pink. Behind him, a Tecate poster of a sweaty girl with a bare midriff and cutoffs was tacked to the faded wall.
The minute he saw her, his smile faded. She realized that he had been expecting this visit.
“Are you Beau Taylor?”
There was still a hopeful quality to his expression, as if there was a chance that there had been some kind of mistake. Laura remembered going through the same thinking process when detectives Jeff Smith and Frank Entwistle came to her door. It went like this: As long as nothing was said, you were all right. But the moment the words spilled into the air, there was no way to call them back. So the thing was to try and stop those words.
“If it’s about the Coupe de Ville—“
“No sir.” Best to tell him flat out, no ambiguity. “There’s no easy way to tell you this, sir, but your nephew Cary Statler was found in Bisbee yesterday morning, dead.”
His face crumpled. “I thought it was him. The news said they found a body, but they didn’t identify him.”
“Why did you think it was him, sir?”
“Jessica was killed and he disappeared. If he was missing, he was either hitchhiking his way here or someone got him, too. He didn’t show up, then they find a body right near her house. You might as well tell me what happened.”
“Do you think he suffered?”
She went for the white lie; for all she knew, it was true. “I don’t think so. It was a massive head injury.”
“Poor, sweet kid. He wanted to be a vet. His grades were piss-poor, he dropped out of school, but he was always talking about getting his GED and then trying to get into vet school.” He snorted. “Like he could get through a science degree in college. Didn’t talk about it so much lately, though. I grew up in a time when drugs were cool, but I tell you, I’ve seen more kids lose their ambition smoking pot …” He trailed off, looked down at his club-like fingers. “Probably never would have gotten anywhere.”
“Did you ever hear him talk about a neighbor, a man named Chuck Lehman?”
“Sure. He and Cary made kites. Kind of strange, a forty-year-old man and an eighteen-year-old kid.”
And a fourteen-year-old girl, Laura thought.
“Cary was a funny mixture of a kid. Never could stick with anything, had that attention-span problem, what do you call it? ADD? Plus, he got put off easy.”
The shack rattled—the thundering whistle of two A-10s from Davis Monthan on final approach. Laura glanced out the doorway and saw one of them over the strip mall across the way, a giant mosquito looking for a place to alight.
She wondered how Cary’s uncle could stand it, here in the flight path of the A-10s and C-130s—and worse, the F16s—just an iron shed between himself and the stifling heat that killed one or two illegal aliens a day a few miles south of here. He noticed her discomfort and aimed the fan in her direction. Must have been a floor model; it still had the streamers.
“You said he was put off easily?” she asked him.
“Say if somebody hurt his feelings, he’d withdraw. I think it was because he was shy. Somebody said one wrong thing to him, he’d just clam up. Just up and leave. That’s why he was always bouncing around between Bisbee and here. He didn’t like being criticized, took it to heart.”
“He ever get in fights?”
“Nope. When something bothered him, he’d pack up his stuff and take off.” Beau Taylor stared at the shimmering white heat beyond the open doorway.
“You’re sure he was friends with Chuck Lehman.”
“Oh yeah. It was always Chuck this and Chuck that. Guy knew everything. Nobody else knew shit. But that all changed a couple of weeks ago.”
“They had a falling out?”
“Kid wouldn’t talk about it, but you should’ve seen the look on his face when I asked about him.”
“This was a couple of weeks ago?”
“Last time he came down here.”
“Could you pinpoint the date?”
“I think it was a Sunday. We’re closed Sundays, plus we go to church.” He rolled his chair over to the counter under the window and consulted a greasy-looking desk calendar. “Sunday. End of June.”
“Did he fight with his girlfriend much?”
“They had their set-to’s. But he was in love with her and in love with her family—couldn’t say what he loved more. His mother wasn’t worth much, and he always wanted a family.”
“Cary was eighteen. An adult. How come he wasn’t out on his own?”
“He attached himself to people. He was needy and a loner at the same time.”
“Was Jessica a friend of Lehman’s, too?”
“I’m pretty sure she was. Cary mentioned a couple of times they did things together.”
“Didn’t it seem strange to you? A man that much older hanging out with kids?”
“I didn’t have a say in it. As you said, he was an adult.”
Laura opened her mouth to say that Jessica wasn’t an adult—and that was when her cell phone chirped.
Sylvia Clegg, standing on a chair in the closet, felt hard plastic behind the piles of folded blankets stored for the summer.
She pulled down a videotape just as she heard the toilet flush.
The tape was called Pubic Enemy No. 1. The heart-warming story of a gangster who finds love in a hot sheet motel with two vertically-challenged girls.
“What’s that?” said Detective Buddy Holland from the doorway.
“Buddy, you didn’t use the bathroom, did you?”
He held up his hands, gloved in latex. “You gotta go, you gotta go. What’s that? Porno?”
“You’re in here now, you might as well come and look at this.”
She held the tape out to him. He didn’t touch; just looked. “What do you think?”
“Girls could be twenty, or they could be sixteen. Hard to tell these days.”
“Definitely not little girls, though.” She stepped back up and reached into the closet, pulled out more of tapes.
Buddy remained in the room, hands on his hips, watching her.
“Where’s Chuck?” she asked him.
“He’s still out back, stewing.” He added, “The DPS guy left, has to witness the autopsy.”
“You really aren’t supposed to be in here.”
“I know.” He made a slow circuit of the room, peering at things without touching. “Anything besides the porno?”
“Not that I can see.”
“Too bad.” Buddy shone his MagLite at the back of Chuck Lehman’s dresser.
“Buddy, what are you doing?”
“There’s a gap between the dresser and the wall.”
He looked at her. “Did you look to see if anything fell back there?”
Sylvia felt a twinge of embarrassment. “I’m not done yet.”
Buddy continued to stand over the dresser. He was looking at something.
Sylvia got down off the chair and set the videotapes down on the floor. “What is it?”
Buddy pointed his flashlight behind the dresser. She came to stand next to him and peered down. Something there. A cylinder.
She went and got a videotape, which was just narrow enough to fit behind the dresser. She caught the thing with the corner, scooting it toward her.
“Bingo,” Buddy said as a lipstick tube rolled across the floor.
They served the search warrant for Chuck Lehman’s house at six o’clock the next morning, pulling Lehman out of bed. He slept in something that looked like a karate gi, and for a minute Laura wondered if he was going to launch an assault at them. He looked mad enough to bust a brick with his hand.
Anger boiled out of him, his eyes burning pure hatred, like twin gas flames.
Nudging the red line.
A lot had happened since Buddy Holland found the lipstick. Most notably, a partial print on the lipstick matched Jessica Parris’s index finger from the print cards taken by the Sierra Vista Medical Examiner—an eight-point match. Laura, Buddy and Victor had spent most of the night hashing out what they wanted on the search warrant, which Laura and Buddy would get from a judge in Bisbee. It was important they didn’t leave anything out—any area not spelled out by a warrant would be inaccessible to them. And so it became a name game: books, diaries, computer disks, the computer itself. Anything in the sewing line. Makeup, hairpieces, spirit gum and false mustaches. Kites. Indoor and outdoor trash. All cleaning products. Personal grooming products and grooming products for the dog: shampoos, soap, nail scissors, pet-grooming equipment. Financial records, receipts, check books, credit card information. Tools. His car, his yard, his garden shed.
Victor remained in Tucson, catching up on the paperwork they’d accumulated so far.
Buddy took the bedroom. Laura started in the living room and moved on to the kitchen.
The stainless steel appliances would show fingerprints, smudges, if they had not been wiped clean with glass cleaner. She didn’t know if he had cleaned everything recently to cover up Jessica’s presence in his house, or if this was just the way he was. The place had been neat when they’d come here yesterday. Maybe he was just a neat kind of guy.
She got on her hands and knees, looking for hairs or other evidence. Found several graying hairs and some dog hairs but nothing long or blond. She took them as evidence.
Now for the refrigerator.
Lehman favored health foods, green leafy vegetables, white wine. A healthy guy. A neat guy and a healthy guy.
Expecting to move on pretty quickly, she slid out the crisper.
A chill crept up her back. The only occupant of the crisper was a screenplay. CANDY RIDE.
She hunkered down on her heels and aimed the MagLite at the script. After fixing its position in the crisper, she reached a gloved hand in and lifted it out.
She felt breathing on her neck. Buddy.
“Why would he keep a screenplay in the crisper?” Laura muttered.
Buddy shrugged. “To hide it, I guess. I wonder what’s so bad about it he has to hide it.”
Carefully, Laura pushed back the cardboard cover and read the first page.
Buddy, leaning over her, whistled, low.
The scene started with the abduction of a teenaged girl.
Buddy said, “Sick fuck.”
“You could look at it another way.”
“I don’t know.”
“He hid it in the crisper.”
Laura stared at the first page, thinking that it could go either way. People wrote what came from their imaginations; it didn’t mean that they did what they wrote about. “Maybe he’s serious. Maybe he’s trying to sell a screenplay.”
Buddy just stared at her.
“Are you done with the bedroom?” she asked.
“I wanted to tell you. Couldn’t find anything in the bedclothes. He changed the sheets.”
“They were black yesterday and they’re blue plaid now.”
She absorbed this. “He was afraid we’d come back.”
Buddy looked grim, which prompted her to ask, “What else?”
“What do you mean, what else?”
“There’s something else. What is it?”
“I think he vacuumed the bedroom. Place is so clean it’s sterile.”
Laura thought about the appliance surfaces. “He could just be a neat kind of guy.”
“Yes, except I checked his vacuum cleaner. And his hand vac. New bags.”
“So what he did, the minute we left, he vacuumed.” She thought of something. “Why’d he leave the screenplay in the crisper?”
“He didn’t think we’d look there.”
“If it was me, I’d get rid of any evidence of it. He’d have to know we’d look in the refrigerator. He’d have to know we’d be thorough this time around.”
“How else do you explain it, then?”
“I don’t know. Did you find any floppy disks?”
“I found a box of them. Didn’t look at them, though. Some of these guys have a program where they can destroy everything on the hard disk if someone unauthorized logs on. No way I’d turn that puppy on.”
Laura concealed her disappointment. “He could hide e-mails on those disks, right?”
“Oh, sure he could.” He straightened up and she heard his knees crack.
Forensics on a computer would take weeks, sometimes months, depending how careful he was in getting rid of any incriminating evidence. Just deleting files wouldn’t protect him for very long. Most of what was on his hard drive would be retrievable through various means, but it would take a long time.
She wondered if they’d finally find CRZYGRL12.
Ted Olsen stroked the beard lying on his chest as if it were a pet ferret. “I don’t know,” he said at last. “The mustache made a big difference.”
The owner of Cooger & Dark’s Pandemonium Show and Emporium squinted again at the row of six photographs on the table in the conference room at the Bisbee Police Department. He wore a polyester short-sleeved shirt, so thin Laura could see the individual hairs on his back. She noticed his odor, a peculiar combination of chicken soup and pencil shavings.
Buddy Holland alternated between leaning over him and pacing the small cubicle. “You sure?” he asked now. “Do you know any of these men?”
“That’s Chuck Lehman.”
“Think about what he’d look like if he had a mustache.”
Trying to influence the witness.
But Ted Olsen wouldn’t be influenced. His shifted onto one buttock and removed a snot-caked handkerchief from his back pocket, blew his nose. Leaned back and looked. Leaned forward so his eye was close to the photo. Leaned back again and scratched an armpit.
Milking it for all it was worth.
Finally he shook his head. “It could be Chuck. But I can’t tell without the mustache. He has blue eyes,” he added helpfully.
“What about his voice. Did his voice sound like Chuck’s?” Buddy asked.
Laura shot him a warning look, but he ignored her.
Olsen considered this, but finally shook his head. “I’m not sure, and I can’t put a man in jeopardy if I’m not sure.”
“I think we’re done here,” Laura said wearily.
She was surprised at the virulence in the gaze Buddy shot her. He reached down and swept up the photos.
“Thank you for your help, sir,” Laura said.
He looked up at her. “Sorry I couldn’t help.”
“You did the right thing. If you could give me your opinion on these.” She showed him photographs of the dress Jessica Parris had worn in death. “What about this dress? Do you recognize the pattern?”
He stroked his beard, then clasped his hands over his stomach. “Looks familiar … I never made that one.”
“Why not?” asked Buddy.
“Because I don’t like the sleeves. Too puffy.”
“But you’ve seen something like this before?”
“It could be in the catalog. Online.”
“And that would be?”
He marked them off on his fingers. “Inspirational Woman, Satin and Lace, Lynette’s Originals, Darcy’s Dress Shoppe …”
Laura wrote them down. “Must be a popular style.”
“It’s kind of alternative clothing, you know? The stuff girls wear today—kids in thongs, those midriff blouses.”
“You don’t like that kind of thing?” asked Laura.
“Nope. I should have been born in a different era. When women didn’t show everything they had.”
As Laura headed back to Tucson later in the day, she replayed her interview with Ted Olsen. After agreeing with him on the sad state of teenagers today and their lack of modesty, she’d eased into specific questions about his actions on the evening Jessica Parris disappeared. If he recognized that the thrust of the interview had changed, Laura didn’t see any evidence of it. He answered her questions innocently and with painstaking thoroughness, supplying the name of at least one person, a local woman, who had been to his shop that night. Her followup call to the customer corroborated his story.
Even though he made dresses and his shop was close to City Park, Laura found it hard to imagine this man killing Cary Statler and overpowering Jessica Parris. His shop was cluttered and dusty; his personal hygiene abominable. She couldn’t picture him scrupulously cleaning up Jessica with an almost scary attention to detail.
This driving back and forth between Bisbee and Tucson was getting old. Laura got some cheese crackers from the vending machine and headed to the squad bay. On the way, she ducked into the bathroom and gave herself a strip wash, using liquid soap from the dispenser and a half dozen small sheets of brown paper towels. It didn’t do much good. Her blouse was wrinkled and she still felt stale. She salved her lips, combed the sweat more evenly through her hair, and decided that was as good as it would get today.
Victor wasn’t at his desk, but he’d left her a copy of his autopsy notes.
It occurred to her that Victor wasn’t around much at all these days.
He seemed to be disconnecting from the case. She knew he was preoccupied with his wife and new daughter, not to mention his four other kids and the mistress everyone knew about but didn’t acknowledge. But it was more than that. He was acting as if the case were already solved and he had moved on.
Victor had always been a lazy investigator, but his charm made up for it. He was a brilliant interviewer and interrogator—had gotten some astounding confessions over the years. On the cases they’d worked together, his laxness in certain aspects of an investigation had never bothered her. She’d picked up the slack without complaint, not because she was a saint—she sure as hell wasn’t—but because she liked to keep her finger on the pulse of every case. She wanted to possess a case, know it up and down and inside out, the car parts on the tarp, so she could pounce down on any piece at any time. For this reason, she liked being teamed with Victor. He never got in her way.
But that had all changed when he went behind her back and set up the search with Sylvia Clegg.
She’d just started reading Victor’s autopsy notes when the phone rang—Doris Bonney returning her call. It took a moment for Laura to place her, the “girl” who worked for the old man on West Boulevard. Doris Bonney sounded much older, sixty at least.
Accustomed to doing two things at once, Laura skimmed the report as she asked Doris Bonney about the previous Friday. “Do you remember what time you left there?”
“Had to be six fifteen, six twenty at the latest.”
“Are you sure?”
“Mr. Toomey eats at five thirty every evening. I have to be across town for a class I’m taking by six thirty.”
“Did you notice anything unusual when you left?”
“I can’t think of anything.”
Laura’s eyes ran down the report. Cause of death: A blow to the head. Well duh.
“Think hard,” she said to Mrs. Bonney. “People walking their dogs, kids, someone driving by?”
Silence. Laura pictured her thinking. Most good citizens tried hard to please. Talking to cops brought out the bright student in them.
“Sorry.” Bonney sounded sincerely disappointed. “It was just like any other night.”
Once more with feeling. “You’re sure? It could be anything out of the ordinary, no matter how insignificant it seems to you.”
Laura said this as she turned to the next page of the report, noting that the object used to kill Cary Statler was described as heavy and flat. There was a portion of Cary’s scalp where the edge of the weapon had made its mark—a curved indentation. In addition, there was trace evidence of fish, oil, salt, and flakes of metal in Cary’s wound. The report concluded that the weapon could have been a frying pan or skillet.
“Well, there was a motor home.”
Laura straightened in her chair, all her attention now on Bonney. “Motor home?”
“I thought I was going to be late for class. This big motor home was taking its time trying to turn around. I’m sure it isn’t important, but honestly, that’s the only thing …”
“Are you sure it was that Friday?”
“That’s the night of my pottery class.”
“Can you remember what it looked like?”
“Big. Had to be a mile long. It took him some maneuvering to turn that thing around, let me tell you. There were three other cars waiting. You’d think he’d be more considerate.”
“Do you remember which way he was going?”
“When he finally got turned around? Up to the pass.”
“Out of town?”
“Can you remember the color?”
“It was light brown—tan, I’d guess is the better word. I had to sit there staring at it for the longest time. Definitely tan.”
“Did you get a look at the driver?”
“Nope. It was hard to see in—it’s dark up there by six thirty.”
After she hung up, Laura pulled out a pad and wrote.
Motor home sightings:
West Boulevard, approx. 6:15 p.m. July 8
Brewery Gulch, approx. 2 a.m. July 8
After this, she wrote:
She tried to picture Chuck Lehman walking up the road looking for Jessica and Cary, holding a frying pan.
The phone interrupted her thoughts.
“Laura, could you come by my office for a minute?” Lieutenant Galaz asked when she answered. “Any time in the next ten minutes.”
Laura realized this was the first time she’d seen the inside of Lieutenant Galaz’s office since he’d been here.
A big man sat in the leather chair closest to Galaz’s desk. He gave the impression of toughness; blond butch cut, muscles encased in fat under a Big and Tall navy sports coat. The ubiquitous cop mustache, ginger-gray. Square, gold-rimmed glasses tinted rose that went with his square face. One black-loafered ankle rested on his knee. He did not get up when she entered the room.
Galaz, seated at his massive cherrywood desk, did rise. His smile inclusive, as if he shared a joke with her.
“Laura, glad you could make it. This is Mickey Harmon, with Dynever Security. He’s a twenty-year veteran with TPD. We go way back—grew up together.”
Laura nodded to Harmon.
“Sit down, sit down.” Galaz motioned Laura to the other burgundy leather chair. Watching her with interest. As she did so, she thought how different this office looked from that of the previous owner, Larry Tuttle, who had occupied this office for eleven years. The bank of fluorescent lights had morphed into softer, more flattering light. The second-hand furniture, a lot of it cheap office stuff, had been replaced by a thick oriental carpet, cherrywood, and leather. A bookshelf full of books on DPS rules and procedures, one whole shelf devoted to criminal profiling and forensic procedures—not so different from her own library. But the biggest change was on the walls—three nature photos, blown-up big. One of them was a close-up of a hummingbird in mid-flight. The other two were spiders blown up into monsters: A black widow in a glistening web, its eyes magnified to the size of peas; a giant, hairy wolf spider against a shimmering backdrop of green.
Galaz followed her gaze. “Ah, you noticed my photos. It’s a hobby of mine. Well, more of a passion.” He pushed an Arizona Highways magazine across his desk. “Finally made the big time. Page fifteen.”
Laura dutifully turned to the photo spread: More spiders and a scorpion or two.
“Very impressive, sir.”
His smile was quick, as if he were expecting the compliment.
“I called you in here to see how the case was going. Is it true we’re close to an arrest?”
“We’re in the process of collecting evidence now. We’re hoping the forensics on the computer will pan out.”
“But the lipstick with the prints on it? That’s pretty solid?”
“The lipstick had her prints on it. It was found in his bedroom.”
Galaz frowned. “I’m glad you’re taking your time and not rushing to judgment. You remember Walter Bush.”
Walter Bush was a local businessman who had been arrested for a series of burglaries based on one witness’s identification. He was eventually cleared, but not before he attempted suicide in his jail cell. A lawsuit was pending.
Galaz leaned back, hands clasped behind his head. “Laura here is one of the best investigators we’ve got. You remember the Judd murders—guy murdered his whole family? Laura was the one who cracked it. She’s like a pit bull. Grabs on and won’t let go.”
Laura mentally squirmed.
“We’ve been having a little disagreement on what kind of killer this is,” Galaz said. “Mickey’s convinced he’s white, but I’d like him to think outside the box a little bit.” He smiled and spread his hands. “You know—embrace diversity.”
Laura said, “The majority of these offenders are white—“
“What did I tell you?” Mickey said, winking at her.
Laura added, “But it’s a mistake to rule out any one race. Even though there are very few black or Hispanic offenders, I think there will be more as—“
Galaz turned to Mickey, his grin triumphant. “You see, Mickey? She agrees with me. Even though minorities are under-represented, culturally we’re catching up. More of us are joining the ranks of the middle class, are better-educated, we’re succumbing to the same pressures that the average white guy has. We’re developing a taste for it.”
Laura said nothing. It was tantamount to saying how great it was that women were catching up and passing men in lung cancer statistics.
“All I’m saying, Mickey, is it could be anybody,” Galaz said. “We don’t want to limit our options.”
“I agree,” Laura said. “But likely he is Caucasian.” Hoping the lieutenant wouldn’t be insulted in some weird way.
“Oh, I’m sure he is. We were talking theoretically.” Galaz rolled a Mont Blanc pen in his long, tapered fingers. “I understand there’s an Internet connection to this? You think the perp got to this girl on the Internet?”
She wondered if he got the term “perp” from television. Nobody in her squad or any squad she knew had ever used the word. “We think there could be an Internet connection, but so far we haven’t been able to find it.”
“Why is that?”
“It’s like looking for a needle in a haystack. I’ve got someone on it, but with the Cary Statler homicide—we don’t have the resources.”
His eyes were sympathetic. “I was talking about this with Mickey. This CRZYGRL thing. You really think that’s important to the case?”
“It could be.”
“I told you that Mickey here works for Dynever Security. It’s one of the top Internet security companies in the United States. Heck, probably the world.” He glanced at Harmon. “You work with the government on all levels, don’t you, Mickey? State, federal, you name it. Really impressive.”
“We’ve consulted on a number of high-profile cases for them,” Harmon said.
“I forget what all you do,” Galaz said, fiddling with his pen.
“Mostly we’re Internet security. Countersurveillance. One division creates websites and develops networks, another is strictly data management. We also offer Internet security services to small businesses.”
It sounded like a sales pitch.
“The point is,” said Galaz, “You know as well as I do we’re not equipped to handle something like this. If this guy really did lure her on the Internet. You know what our budget’s like.” He turned to Harmon. “Desert Lakes, this little podunk town in the middle of the state? They have three times the budget per capita we do. They get the shiny new cars, the cyber-cops, all the perks. Here we are, the state agency, we’re supposed to be elite, and we’re lagging behind everybody else.”
Laura smiled. There was a joke around the investigative division that “DPS” stood for “Don’t Pay Shit”.
“So we have to improvise.” Galaz leveled his gaze on her. “How sure are you that this is the guy?”
“Lehman?” She paused. Not knowing what to say.
“Go on. We’re nonjudgmental here.”
Laura didn’t like the way this was going. She didn’t like the “we”—this friend of Galaz’s sitting there as if he were DPS. But she had to be honest. “Even though we’re moving ahead with Lehman, we’re looking at other leads.”
“Would it help if we could find this CRZYGRL connection?”
“I suppose so, sir.”
“What if we outsourced this job to Dynever Security?”
So that was what this was about. She opened her mouth to reply, then stopped. Harmon was sitting right here. She realized belatedly she’d walked into an ambush. She couldn’t tell him her real thoughts with Harmon here.
“My guess is, this is going to take some getting used to.” Galaz swiveled in his chair, back and forth, smiling at her. “Tell you what. I’m having a little get-together tonight, just a few people. I’d like you to come by, meet the folks you didn’t get a chance to last time.”
“That would be great, sir.”
“So I can count on you?”
“I particularly want you to meet the head of Dynever Security. Great guy. He’s like a brother to me.”
She nodded, not knowing what else to say.
He glanced at his watch. “I can tell we’re going to get out of here late. Nine o’clock for drinks? You can find my house okay, can’t you? I don’t think you’ve ever been there.”
Laying it on a little thick. Victor was right; she should have gone to the barbecue. She nodded. “I’ll be there.”
“See you then.”
Something in his smile told her that the audience was over.
When the door shut behind her, she felt as if she had been processed through the county jail—her wallet, shoelaces, and belt gone. Folded, stapled, and mutilated.
She found herself staring at the wall of photos again. Noticed that most of them included Nick Fialla, the University of Arizona football coach who had led the Wildcats to a Rose Bowl win two years ago. It amazed her how the prominent people of Tucson, the movers and shakers, flocked to get their picture taken with Nick Fialla.
He should rent himself out, she thought sourly. Like the burros in Nogales that the tourists pose with to prove they’d been to Mexico.
The sun had just gone down behind the Tucson Mountains when Laura reached the Vail exit. The lights of oncoming cars were already snapping on, strung out across the pink-purple hills east of Tucson like a necklace of diamonds.
As she drove across the overpass, she spotted a scrawny woman sitting in the open hatchback of a Chevy Vega parked near the off ramp, holding up a cardboard sign that said BLOWJOBS $2.00.
Everyone had their price.
Laura’s price was giving in to Let’s Go People! Galaz. No way she could get out of going to this party; she’d already missed the barbecue—apparently the only person in the whole department who did.
As she pulled up in front of her house, she spotted something pale in the darkness of her porch. It materialized into a white long-sleeved shirt as she approached.
“Tom?” Her heart quickening.
“When did you get back?”
“This morning.” He stood up from the steel glider near the door. It creaked loudly—sixty-year-old springs.
He was close enough that she caught the scent of his shirt, a combination of starch and the fresh smell of line-drying. Tom didn’t own a dryer. He didn’t own much of anything.
“I heard about the girl who got killed—thought you might need me.”
“Who’d you hear that from?”
“Mina called you?”
“I called her. I was checking on Ali.”
Referring to a famous bareback bronc named Old Yeller. Ten years ago, before Old Yeller took the inevitable downward spiral to the dog food factory, Tom bought him, changed his name to Ali (“because he was The Greatest”) and towed him around from job to job. Ali was twenty-three years old, sway-backed, and deeply suspicious of Laura.
She inhaled the night air, soggy and laden with the odors of creosote and manure. She was glad Tom was here—really glad. “How long have you been waiting?”
“I wasn’t waiting. I was sitting.”
Zen and the Mystic Itinerant Wrangler. He reached out and touched her lightly on her cheek, which sent her thoughts whirling like sparks from a kicked-up fire, her mind buzzing on and off like an old neon sign. He was aware of his effect on her, but had the good sense not to say anything. “I thought we could go by the cantina and get a drink. Mina’s beginning to wonder if you’re avoiding her.”
Mina, the proprietor of the Spanish Moon Cantina on the Bosque Escondido, liked to micromanage the lives of the people who lived and worked here. Laura wondered if she’d weighed in on the living-together issue yet.
“I’d better not drink anything. I have to be somewhere later.”
“A party at my lieutenant’s house—it’s mandatory.”
“For me anyway. I didn’t go to the last one, so I’ve got to go this time.”
“What’ll he do if you don’t?”
She shrugged. “Probably nothing. It’s politics.”
“Sounds to me like he set you up.”
Great insight from a man whose only possessions were a truck, a saddle, a horse trailer, and one decrepit horse.
Here she’d found a man who was perfect for her in every way except one. In the currency she valued most, the currency that defined her life—career—he didn’t even have pocket change. He had no ambition. Thirty-five years old and he wrangled horses on a guest ranch.
He said, “Did you get my note?”
“Of course I got your note. I have to eat, don’t I? Lucky for you, you didn’t leave it in the cleaning closet.”
He had both hands on her shoulders now. “Have you thought about it?”
“I haven’t had time.”
If she thought he’d be heartbroken, she was wrong.
“Okay, I can wait. If you can’t drink, can we at least eat?”
“I was going to have mac and cheese.”
He smiled. “Not much food in those little boxes.”
“I’ve got two of them.”
Laura drifted in and out of sleep, her body one long smile. Naked in the cool swirl of sheets, the boat-oar ripple of the ceiling fan playing over her body, legs entangled with Tom’s long, lean ones, the feel of his skin against hers … times like these, she felt young again. Young in that innocent romantic way before life started cutting away at her. Before Billy Linton blew her romantic ideals out of the water. Before she learned that no matter how strong a bond you had with your family, it could be ripped away from you at any time.
Lying here, she felt like the college kid she once was, infatuated with life, absolutely certain about her future. All she had to do was succumb to her feelings, and she could hold it again, that hope. Allow herself to be swept away by this incredible lover whose touch shot through her like electricity.
Still drowsy, she found herself looking at the length of his body in the light from the bathroom. It was impossible to keep herself from touching him. She reached out and laid a finger on his skin. Felt a shiver, although it was warm. Traced a line down his muscled forearm, down along his rib cage, the bump where one rib had broken during a bull ride, then down into the hollow between his hipbones.
Why shouldn’t we live together?
Because it could go wrong. That was the lesson she had learned from her marriage.
Marriage?, the hard-ass in her said. Whatever it was she and Billy had, you couldn’t really call it a marriage.
The fact was, love could go wrong. All those good times, feeling you were joined at the hip, that you knew the other person so well, as well as you knew yourself, and then something bad happens and all of a sudden you become enemies. You don’t even know how it happens, but one day you meet in the hallway and you skirt around each other, looking away, trying not to touch. Because all of a sudden touching is impossible, you can’t stand to feel him on your skin. How does that happen? Just bad luck? Did it happen to everyone who went through a tragedy? She didn’t know.
Tom stirred and his arm fell across her.
She couldn’t deny how good it felt to be with him. Logically, she knew she couldn’t judge Tom by the Lintons. Besides, Tom didn’t have a rich family.
She pressed her lips to his, and he stirred again.
The sudden thrill of absolute wanting always caught her by surprise. Undeniably needy … and he always responded.
Now he rose up on one arm above her, settled his lips onto hers.
She cupped the back of his head, and they kissed long and slow.
But something not so good insinuating itself into her mind—
“Shit!” She sat up, grabbed the bedside clock and turned it so she could see.
Tom, his dark eyes cloudy with sleep and desire and questions, “What’s wrong?”
“What’s wrong?” Concern etched into two grooves between his eyes. Realization. “You missed the party.”
She hopped out of bed, stumbling in the sheet and having to grab the bedpost to stay afloat. In the bathroom, turning the shower on full spray. Fumbling for her toothbrush. Before or after her shower? What would she wear? What kind of shoes?
Feeling impotent. Unable to make decisions. Duck into the shower, make it fast.
As she scrubbed, she tried to remember. How did she let this happen? The two of them sitting on the porch eating macaroni and cheese. Watching TV, starting on the couch and transferring to the bedroom, hurried and wanting.
Immersed in their lovemaking. Mindless pleasure. Spending themselves, energy dwindling down to a tiny speck, like the dot on her grandmother’s old television set just before it went dark. She remembered thinking as she drifted off, I’ve got time. Just a few minutes and then I’ll get up …
As the hard needles of spray drilled into her skin, Laura thought of something Frank Entwistle used to say.
There are no accidents.
She took Old Spanish Trail, flooring it along the edge of the Rincon Mountains, knowing it was too late. Doglegged over to the Catalina Highway, turning right onto a single lane of blacktop that climbed along the base of the mountains to where Galaz’s house overlooked the city. No cars parked outside the closed decorative iron gate, the house dark.
Driving back, Laura was surprised how bad she felt. She sensed that this time, she’d done the unforgiveable. Victor always warned her that she needed to pay attention to what was going on with the brass. He’d told her on more than one occasion that she was impolitic. She’d always brushed it off, because in her opinion sucking up wasn’t important to the job she did every day.
The moon peeked over the shoulder of the Rincons, a laughing clown.
When she got home, Tom was gone. She was surprised, although she couldn’t expect him to stay. If they lived together it would be different. He’d be there all the time.
Too tired to think now anyway.
She got into bed, was asleep within minutes. Awakened not long after by a loud thump. Hallelujah—the bobcat kittens were back.
Laura sat up in bed, listening to them play on the roof, watching the moonlight and mesquite shadows tremble across the floor. Most ranch houses in the southwest had concrete floors. This one had been deep red for the majority of its eighty years, scuffed and chipped by generations of cowboy boots, spurs, dragged saddles and bridles. Laura had painted it hazelnut brown, a glossy finish. In the moonlight, though, it was hard to tell what color it was.
She wished Tom had waited. The lack of his presence prickled her, like the ghost pain from a severed limb.
She had not had this feeling since Billy—that heart-thumping, nerve-shattering, high-voltage infatuation. Like two electrical wires touching, igniting feelings both visceral and surprising.
Laura had spent some time thinking about it. She’d known sexier men, better-looking men, more powerful men. Maybe it was the forbidden nature of their relationship. The desire for the forbidden had probably been pummeled into her during catechism—kids being prone to absorb the opposite message as they were. By the time she was a teenager, forbidden pleasure as a concept was in full force. It fueled her poor choices in middle school, high school, and college. Beautiful boys who knew they were beautiful and had nothing else to occupy their minds except contempt for those who worship them.
Her mother wasn’t here to disapprove now. But Laura knew she’d adopted her prejudices. An itinerant former bull rider was not the right man for her. The end result was a relationship that tasted and felt illicit—and therefore delicious.
A train horn blared. The railroad tracks ran along the freeway, some five or six miles away as the crow flew. On sleepless nights, which lately had been all too many, she heard every big truck out on the highway and the mournful horn of the trains. Those sounds had been woven into the tapestry of her life, the lonely sounds of people going elsewhere, passing in the night.
If you lived together you’d—
The bobcats, snarling, scuffling, galloping back and forth across the roof. God bless them.
No more sleep tonight. She turned on the light. The chartreuse green walls of her bedroom looked like they had peeled and faded in the sun—she’d taken a course on distressing walls to look old. That and the mesquite mission bed—hecho en Mexico—made her room beautiful, to her eyes anyway.
Her gaze strayed to the photos on the wall opposite the bed, the focal point of the room. Most of them were of good times with her parents and her friends, eight-by-tens of her on her mare Calliope, showing off her ribbons from the Alamo Farm annual horse show. Two Ross Santee pen-and-ink drawings that she had found at a yard sale. A wedding picture of Frank Entwistle and his second wife, Pat.
No wedding pictures of her own, though. There hadn’t been any.
She liked looking at the wall of photos from a distance, the cumulative effect of them arrayed tastefully, the mellow finish of the gold frames catching the light, but the truth was she rarely got up close and looked right at them. She didn’t like how they made her feel.
That was then; this is now.
Those days were as old and faded as the photographs, a half-remembered dream. Someone else’s life. She was not the pretty, shy girl perched on the fifty-thousand-dollar Thoroughbred hunter, the teenager giggling with friends at places as diverse as Dairy Queens and rock concerts.
The girl looking out of those photographs seemed confident of her future happiness.
Laura, looking at it from the perspective of distance, thought that was sad.
She was getting ready for work the next morning when she heard the gate creak out front. She looked out the window and saw Mike Galaz standing just inside the hog wire fence, almost concealed by the large mesquites. He seemed to be looking at her roof.
She came out on the porch. His gaze still fixed on the clay barrel tiles, he said, “Is that a prickly pear growing out of your roof, or are you just happy to see me?”
He didn’t sound mad. In fact, he sounded friendlier than she’d ever heard him. “Like it?” she said. “It’s the latest in home design.” And immediately wondered—was she being too flip? “About last night—“
“Don’t worry about it.”
A compulsion to explain. “I guess I was more tired then I thought. I fell asleep.”
“No problema. You missed a good time, but it’s no big deal.” He removed his coat jacket and folded it neatly over his arm. “You have air conditioning in that shack? I feel like I’m going to melt.”
“Maybe you should trade that black SUV for a white one.”
“Why is that?” He stepped up onto the worn brick paving of the portal and wiped his brow with the back of his hand.
“Black attracts heat.”
He shrugged. “I’ve got good air conditioning. It’s just walking from the car to the house that kills me.”
He didn’t seem to know the basics about living in the desert. Like driving a white car or getting most of your outdoor work done before eight in the morning. She’d seen Galaz go out for a jog during his lunch hour in the middle of the summer.
The Galaz family had been around Tucson since the eighteen hundreds, but the lieutenant didn’t act like an native Tucsonan, except in one way. Tucson had a proud tradition of Hispanic politicos and wheeler-dealers.
She offered him coffee and he accepted while she went through the house closing windows and turning on the cooler.
He held his hand up toward the air vent, grimacing at the fishy smell. “You sure it works?”
“Swampbox,” she said. “It’ll take awhile.” She had no doubt that Mike Galaz had real air conditioning in his expensive home in the foothills.
A hundred years ago, he would probably have lived in a ranch house just like this one. He looked like he belonged here with his elegant Spanish features and aristocratic bearing. A man who would look good by candlelight.
He cradled the coffee mug in both hands. “I hope you don’t mind me dropping by like this.”
“No, of course not.” But she started to feel nervous again.
Galaz sipped his coffee. “A shame you couldn’t meet Jay.”
“Head of Dynever Security. The main reason I had the party, for you and him to meet.”
He was mad after all. What she was about to say would make him a lot madder. “About that.” She took a deep breath. “I don’t know if it’s a good idea to get them involved.”
“Because of the chain of custody? Is that what’s bothering you?”
“You know what a defense attorney might do with that.”
He stared at her, his dark eyes inscrutable. “You’re a good detective, Laura. You always think ahead. I like that.” He took out a handkerchief and wiped his forehead. “But you’ve got to give me some credit. There’s no way I’d jeopardize this investigation. If you’re worried about the forensics on the computer, of course our crime lab does that. No way I’d farm that out. I’m just talking about the cyber stuff. As far as I’m concerned, that’s just air.”
Air that can kill, Laura thought.
Galaz leaned back, and the Mexican chair creaked. “I thought you had your doubts about it being Lehman.”
“I have questions.”
“I saw the autopsy report. That part about the frying pan. I find it hard to believe Lehman would walk up the road looking for those two kids.”
“I can’t speak for Victor, but I bet he’d say that Lehman killed Cary in his house and dragged him up to the cabin at night.”
At the mention of Victor, Galaz’s eyes turned stony. Something between them. She remembered what Victor had called him—a control freak.
He crossed one knee over the other and said, “What do you think?”
“I didn’t see any blood evidence of that, and there would have been a lot of blood. Even when you clean a place really well, there’s always some residual blood. Nothing came up when we used Luminol.”
“CRZYGRL12. That bothers me, too. You said yourself Detective Holland hasn’t done much.”
“To be fair, we’ve been kept pretty busy.”
“But bottom line, you’ve got your doubts.”
He set his coffee mug down. “I think we should try this. Before he gets another girl. Victor and Buddy can work the Lehman angle.” He saw her expression and added, “I promise you, there won’t be any repercussions.”
“You can’t promise that.”
“Yes, I can. I’ll take the blame if it goes wrong, but it won’t go wrong. This guy is good. You’ll like him.”
She noticed his word tenses. Past the negotiation phase. As far as he was concerned, it was a done deal. It would have been a done deal last night, but she’d messed that up by not showing.
She realized that if she had gone last night, this conversation wouldn’t be taking place. He would have asked her in front of this man Jay, and she would have had to agree. In the DPS—as in any law enforcement agency— you never made your boss look weak. Never.
Maybe Victor was right about the lieutenant’s need for control. He certainly had it now. Might as well get it over with. She could make a token effort, talk to the guy, then tell Galaz it didn’t work out. “Okay, I’ll talk to him.”
“Good.” Galaz reached into his wallet and removed a card, set it on the table.
The card said Dynever Security — Michael J. Ramsey II, CEO.
She stared down at the pale gray velum, the embossed letters. Heat suffused her face and her heart started to pound.
“Jay Ramsey?” she said. Her tongue felt stiff.
“You know him,” Galaz said. Not a question.
“No, not really. I only met him once.”
“Met” wasn’t strictly accurate. She’d noticed him plenty.
Watching him whack tennis balls at the Ramseys’ tennis court down the road from the stables. Watching him go from the house to his Range Rover, hanging with his friends, driving by in a cloud of dust.
“He asked about you,” Galaz said. “He thinks of you often.”
Occasionally, he’d look her way and nod.
“But of course that goes without saying,” Galaz added.
Galaz left soon after. Feeling as if she’d been whacked by a two-by-four, Laura walked out onto the porch, wondering what this all meant.
She had no particular objection to seeing Jay Ramsey. She didn’t know the man. But it had been eleven years since she had been in that part of town. There were so many memories …
Mrs. Ramsey, handing her the papers: We wanted you to have her. As a thank you.
A fifty-thousand-dollar thank you.
The phone rang and she jumped.
It was Barry Endicott, the sheriff’s detective from Indio. “Sorry I haven’t gotten back to you,” he said. “I’ve been working a case that’s taken all my time.”
“That’s okay.” Aware of her own breathing.
“I heard you had a girl,” he said. “Dressed up and posed, am I right?”
“So did we, five months ago. Girl named Alison Burns.”
“What was she wearing?”
“She was dressed up like a flower girl and posed on a bed at a motel slated for demolition. It was pure luck we found her at all. It was kind of opportunistic—guy that found her was taking pictures of abandoned buildings. He said he had his eye on the place and as soon as they cleared out, he went in before it could be boarded up. He was our main suspect for a while, but turns out he was in Monterey around the time the girl was killed—at a photographer’s workshop.”
“How old was she?”
“Twelve. How old was yours?”
He didn’t say anything for a moment, probably pondering the disparity in their ages. Laura pressed him for details.
“She was left there after they officially closed the place, but before they removed the beds. The fact the guy found her that early gave us a better fix on time of death.”
According to Endicott, Alison Burns had been smothered. She had traces of Rohypnol, the date rape drug, in her system.
“We figured the guy gave her the Rohypnol, then soft-smothered her, but that’s only a theory. We think from the stomach contents that he held a little party for her.”
Laura said, “What?”
“We think he took her to McDonalds. Happy Meal, soft drink, Baskin Robbins after that. There were balloons in the room and a new teddy bear.”
Stranger and stranger. “Like a birthday celebration?”
“Like one. Her birthday wasn’t anywhere around that time. We think he made her last day a good one.”
Laura was aware how tightly she gripped the phone.
“That’s conjecture on our part, though.”
“He soft-smothered her?”
“We think he wanted to quote unquote ‘ease her into sleep.’”
“Was she molested?”
“Oh yeah. For days.”
“Days? He didn’t kill her right away?”
“We think he had her four days, maybe five.”
Jessica’s killer had kept her only a few hours tops, and raped her postmortem. Maybe this wasn’t the same guy. “Could I see the evidence list?”
“We’ll need a written request.”
“I’ll fax you one, but is there any way we can expedite this?”
“I’ll see what I can do. Go ahead and send your request. Make sure you ask for a detailed list. You’ll want to ask for photos of the dress, the digital camera—“
“The one he sent her.”
“He sent her a camera?”
“Among other things.” He paused. “We think he got to her over the Internet.”
Twenty minutes later, Laura got the first fax: A photograph of Alison Burns’s dress.
According to the accompanying report, the dress pattern came from an Internet company called Inspirational Woman, which sold clothing designed for the “modest woman and girl.” Laura recognized it from Ted Olsen’s list. She looked it up online. The dress, called “Winsome,” was a lot like the one that had been used for Jessica Parris, but there were a few differences. Alison’s dress was plainer, but it had an apron that looked as if it were part of the dress itself.
She scrolled down through the patterns and found Jessica’s dress at the bottom: It was called “Charity.”
This was good. This was really good.
It got better. The faxes came through at a maddeningly slow pace: A photograph of the camera Alison had received in the mail, two photos of jewelry that seemed sophisticated for a twelve-year-old. But the last picture was the best find of all.
Scribbled on top was a notation by Endicott, saying that the original photo had been printed up on an inkjet and taped to Alison’s mirror. This was a black-and-white photocopy, a poor one—but enough to give her a thrill.
The man was in his early twenties. Dark, handsome, wearing casual but expensive clothing. He stood before a clapboard house on stilts. Scribbled across the bottom, barely legible in the photocopy, was a note.
“Forever True, James.”
This was the guy the Riverside Sheriff’s Department believed had corresponded with Alison Burns via the Internet. Unfortunately, they had no more information since Alison Burns didn’t have a computer. Endicott believed she had been contacted by this man during her time on the computer at the public library.
Laura stared at the man, putting herself in Alison Burns’ shoes. He did not look like a child molester. He looked like a gorgeous, rich, young guy who could fit the bill in the Prince Charming department.
The kind of guy who could lure a precocious twelve-year-old.
Laura looked at the house. The fact that it was on stilts indicated ocean-front property—a beach house? The house was clapboard, a light color, and a saw palmetto grew near the steps. The Gulf Coast? And the man’s tanned beauty, the professional quality of the photograph—this could be a photo from a model’s portfolio.
She grabbed her notebook and jotted these new developments down.
Alison Burns - similars
Dress patterns – Inspirational Woman
Motor home seen at Brewery Gulch
Motor home seen near primary crime scene
Digital camera, jewelry sent to Alison/Internet connection (?)
The man in the photo—beach house?
Serial killer, organized type
Differences between Jessica and Alison: period of time kept, age, manner of death
Postmortem vs. antemortem
There were serious differences. The age difference, the method used to kill the victims, the fact that Alison was kept and raped for days and Jessica was alive only a few hours and raped postmortem.
Jessica Parris’s pubic area had been shaved. The dress the killer brought was too small—the ME saying that Jessica was an immature fourteen-year-old. Laura wondered—could he have realized his mistake after he picked her up? And would the fact that she was older than he expected ruin it for him?
If it did, he might take it out on her. He might strangle her instead of “ease her into sleep,” as Endicott had described it.
Laura was even more impressed by the similarities. She had always felt that the answer to this problem was on the Internet.
If the guy who killed Jessica also killed Alison, it would be easy enough to eliminate Chuck Lehman. All they had to do was verify where he was at the time of Alison’s death.
If it was the same killer.
Despite her doubts about Lehman, Laura added him to her list.
Lehman’s friendship with Cary and Jessica
Lip Bullets lipstick found in bedroom
Vacuumed, change sheets?
Safeway card found nearby
Screenplay about kidnap and murder of young girl
Lehman lied about relationship with Cary.
It was like looking at two different pictures. A strong case could be made either way.
Frustrated, she closed the notebook and stared out at the desert beyond her window. The answer, she knew, was in the cyber world.
She picked up Jay Ramsey’s card and made the call.
Wrought iron gates set into a seven-foot-high stone wall marked the entrance to the Alamo Farm on Fort Lowell Road. The last time she’d been here, the stone wall was waist-high and there were no gates. The trees beyond the wall were the same, though mature mesquite and Arizona walnut. As lush and healthy as she remembered.
As she approached the speaker set into the pole underneath the security camera, Laura buzzed her window down, looking at the wall. She couldn’t tell where the old section left off and the new one began. She did notice the embedded glass across the top.
The speaker crackled. “May I see some ID?” a voice asked.
Laura held up her badge toward the camera. She heard a whirr inside the camera, didn’t know what that was about. She waited for what seemed like eons before the gates rolled back and she could drive through.
The moment the wheels of her 4Runner touched onto the property, Laura’s stomach clenched. She should have known all those memories would come back. Sitting cross-legged on the ground, waiting, the cold seeping up through the seat of her jeans, her eyelids getting heavy.
Starting to fall asleep and not wanting to, because she’d been here three nights in a row and just knew the mare would foal tonight.
The lane headed south toward the river between the over-arching trees. Laura realized the wall and the gate were window-dressing—the property had deteriorated. It looked downright shabby.
The sound of a car engine jarring her from sleep. It scared her. She was safe on the Ramsey property, at least she thought she was, but her parents didn’t know she was here and Julie Marr had been kidnapped not far from here.
Laura noticed that some of the trees on Alamo Farm suffered the same fate as others along the Rillito River; a lowering water table as the city grew put them in deep distress. Bare limbs stuck up through the green summer growth, and the mesquites were snarled with mistletoe. The irrigation ditch alongside the road, once brimming with water, was dry. She’d heard on the news that Betsy Ramsey was killed in a car accident a couple of years ago. Clearly, no one had used the hunt course since then. It had dried up and blown away—the jump rails lying on the ground, their colors faded to the brown of the earth. A dusty halo of grass and high weeds poked up through the threadbare dirt.
The droning of the engine, coming closer.
Laura drove into an S turn bottoming out in a dark copse of mesquites and walnut trees. Now the lane ran parallel to Fort Lowell Road, going west. On one side was a windbreak of Aleppo pines, and on the other, a dry field. The white board fences remained, but the pastures where Thoroughbreds had once grazed were overgrown with more weeds.
Looking toward the end of the lane, she got a shock.
The stables were gone.
The big cottonwood tree—which gave the farm its name—remained, but the stables with their spacious box stalls and paddocks had been ripped out. Knocked down, bulldozed, scrap lumber stacked in a haphazard pile. Weeds growing up around a mountain of torn green asphalt shingles, splintered white wood, pipe fencing.
Headlights appeared at the far end of the lane and barreled up the road, cones of light illuminating the farm trees.
Wide awake now. And scared. Something about the violence of the way the visitors came, flooring the car up the dirt road. Heart thumping, Laura stood up and melted into the shadow of the cottonwood tree beside the mare’s stall, uncertain what to do.
The headlights turned in at the house. Car doors slammed.
Laura listened to the rustling of the night creatures, a cricket chirping. Voices drifted out of the house—angry and male. She couldn’t hear what they were saying.
Two loud cracks came close together—like an ax splitting firewood. Her disbelieving ears told her it was something else. The door banged open and she heard running footsteps. Car doors slammed. An engine roared to life.
The car slewed around in a fountain of dust, headlights pinning the mare in her stall before it rocketed back down the tunnel of trees.
Laura waited a few minutes, but they didn’t come back.
She crept up to the hedge dividing the barns from the side yard of the house, followed the path to the open gate and went through, heading for the back door. Partly open, the door was almost obscured by a cloud of bougainvillea until she was right on top of it. Remembering what she’d seen on TV, she pushed the door wider with her forearm, not her hands. So she wouldn’t leave fingerprints.
She thought about what the foreman, Rafael, had told her. Both Ramseys were out of town for the summer and their son was house-sitting during their absence.
The kitchen light was on. She tiptoed through the house. “Mr. Ramsey? Are you all right? It’s Laura Cardinal. Are you there?”
The carpet in the hallway was surprisingly old, plush and white, and still had vacuum marks. Footprints made deep impressions. She walked around them. The footprints led toward the last door at the end of the hall. Light spilled out from the open door.
Inside the room was a king-sized bed, the rich teal-green and white bedclothes piled up. Two mean-looking black iron dogs glowered at the foot of the bed.
It smelled funny in here. A burning smell.
It felt funny, too. Like the air had been sucked from the room. What she had thought were bedclothes now materialized into a pale torso and arm, hanging down off the bed, mostly covered by a pillow. On the carpet beneath was an irregular blotch, as if someone had stomped a raspberry Popsicle into the carpet:
Not as much blood as you would think.
Laura remembered fumbling for the phone (even now she lamented the fingerprints she had probably covered up) and punching 911.
She didn’t touch him. Not because she had knowledge that moving him could make him worse, but because she didn’t want to touch him. As if death and dying would rub off on her.
All these crime scenes later, the best thing she had ever done in her life was not to do something.
Now Laura let the car idle and stared at the remains of Mrs. Ramsey’s stables.
She remembered the way it was: Everything in its place. The raked breezeway, the whitewashed tack room, the stable colors. Everything was in green or in a combination of yellow and green: the horse blankets, coolers, saddle blankets, buckets, leg wraps, even the rub rags. Everything. Yellow and green.
Now it looked as if the stables had been torn limb from limb like an animal. Ripped apart by a hungry beast and left to rot in the baking sun.
Sadness seeped down into a place she had thought was sealed up tight.
She was sorry she’d come.
She drove on, turning in at the house. The one-story California mission style home built in the twenties looked the same, except there were bars on the doors and ramps and railings for a wheelchair. The grounds were neatly trimmed, the lawn as green and groomed as a billiard table. Bougainvillea, hibiscus, bird of paradise, royal palm, and agave grew in profusion. Mission cactus forming a tall border around the lawn.
The cars out front were different. Instead of Mercedes, BMWs, and Jay’s Range Rover, there was a large half-van half-SUV that Laura assumed Jay drove and an ancient Honda Civic.
This time she went to the front door.
She wondered what Ramsey looked like now. Seventeen years was a long time, and she knew just from what she’d read on the Internet last night that quadriplegics suffered from many side effects, many of them life-threatening. She had thought that being paralyzed meant you couldn’t walk, couldn’t move certain parts of the body. Thought of it as dead wood, but reading the articles made her realize that the body was still living tissue, and because it could not do what it was meant to do, there were grave repercussions.
What was he like now? She remembered him whacking a tennis ball, the sun shining on his blond hair, his lean, muscular body darkly tanned against his white shorts. The few times he looked at her, she thought she saw a spark of interest. Flattering herself that a college boy might be attracted to her.
Laura assumed that after all this time the quadriplegia would have taken its toll. Jay Ramsey was in his late thirties now. Galaz had told her he was a C6-7 quadriplegic, having suffered a break between the C6 vertebra and the C7. According to Galaz, Ramsey had pretty good control of most over his upper body, including use of his hands. His life expectancy wasn’t much shorter than the life expectancy for anyone.
She knew, though, that there were many dangers: dysreflexia, which could lead to stroke, respiratory problems, kidney and bladder problems, muscle spasms, skin breakdown, pneumonia. According to Galaz, Jay Ramsey’s disabilities had not stopped him from starting and building one of the top Internet security businesses in the country.
“He started out as a hacker,” Galaz told her. “Got himself into trouble with the wrong people. After the shooting, he straightened himself out and never looked back. Even if his family didn’t own J.J. Brown, he would have made it big-time. Unbelievable intellect.”
J.J. Brown was a discount department store with high-end products, much like the outlets today, started in the 1920s. The Ramseys had been the beneficiaries of that wealth ever since.
She rang the bell, thinking how much she didn’t want to be here. I’ll make an idiot of myself. I won’t know how to talk to him, I’ll stare …
She heard a stirring inside. The door opened and Laura was hit by a blast of refrigerated air. The man in the doorway wore a white knit shirt, chinos, and bedroom slippers. He reminded her of a plump, soft dove.
“Detective Cardinal?” he asked. He looked vaguely disappointed. What was a lifesaver supposed to look like? Superwoman? He pushed open the door and held it as she walked in. “Jay has been waiting—he’s quite excited. He’s in his study.”
Laura followed him into the hallway that led off the kitchen.
She prepared herself. With all the dangers, all the bad things that could happen—muscle spasms, cord pain, bedsores, bladder problems—she expected he would already be a ruin of a man.
Freddy opened the door to the room.
The sun spilled in shuttered stripes across the Berber carpet. Laura could barely see through the dust motes. A massive cherrywood desk, a large computer monitor, a horse statue from the Tang dynasty. And the shape in the wheelchair.
Hitting the ball backhand, flaxen hair catching the sun—
Her eyes adjusted to the light.
He looked exactly the same.
In a strange moment of déjà vu, she was a kid again with a crush on the privileged, older son of a wealthy family. Suddenly she was that tongue-tied girl, mouth dry and heart beating fast.
Jesus. You’re a grown woman. You have a boyfriend and everything. Grow up.
His hair was the same vibrant pale gold. His face would be angelic if it weren’t for the amusement in his eyes.
The same look he gave me when I was fourteen.
He had the same lean, handsome face, elegant nose, and penetrating blue-green eyes. He wore very expensive, but casual clothing, and it fit his lithe body well. Pushing forty, but he didn’t look it. It was as if he’d been frozen in amber.
Aware she was staring.
“Laura,” he said warmly. “It’s good to see you again.” Not the voice of a sick man.
She wondered if she could unstick her throat enough to talk; tried it. “Hello.” What a scintillating wit.
A click and a buzz, as the motorized wheelchair came toward her.
“Freddy, you finally get to meet my guardian angel. The girl—the woman, who saved my life.” He came closer. “I told you she was pretty, didn’t I? But pretty doesn’t do you justice now.”
Up close, Laura saw that his youth was an illusion. There was a little dip of flesh beneath the chin. His complexion was uneven, the elasticity lost, and there was something brittle around the eyelids. His eyes were bright, but hard too—the driest part of him.
“You know, Laura, I don’t think I ever thanked you.”
Your mother did.
He was studying her—amused? Interested? Could he really be interested? Did quadriplegics have a sex drive? She had no idea.
She stepped back. “I’m sorry.”
“That’s okay. I’m used to that. There’s always that awkward few minutes. Don’t be embarrassed.”
But his eyes pinned her like a butterfly to a board. “Mike said you need help tracking down a predator.”
Laura was relieved to talk about the case. “We think we have an Internet predator.” She started to fill him in on the Jessica Parris case, but he held up a hand.
“I watch the news. You’re very telegenic, by the way.” He smiled. Angelic. “Mike told me all about it. I don’t know what I can do to help. You have anything on this guy?”
From her briefcase, Laura removed the photocopies of the young man, the digital camera and jewelry, and the matchbook cover the killer had left at the band shell. She started to hand them to Jay, hesitated, and was relieved when he took them from her.
“Freddy?” Jay Ramsey said without looking in the attendant’s direction.
The soft-looking man bustled over, took the photocopy, and looked at it.
Jay asked, “This is the man?”
“He could be. It’s possible he killed a girl in California.”
Freddy said, “Definitely the southeast. Probably the Gulf Coast.”
“Freddy was born in Pensacola,” Ramsey explained. “What else?”
Freddy handed Laura the photocopy back. “Guy is almost too good-looking. That looks like a publicity photo.”
Laura said, “I’m thinking that if we could find the general area, we could link him through a talent or model agency.”
Jay Ramsey looked up at her. “Could happen.”
She found herself feeling unusually pleased.
Jay shifted in his chair, winced. “He sent her the camera and the jewelry.”
“The detective in Indio thinks he wanted her to take pictures of herself for him.”
He turned his attention to the photocopy of the matchbook. “CRZYGRL12. That’s interesting.” His chair buzzed around to the computer on the cherrywood desk.
“What’s interesting?” Laura asked.
“How old was that girl—Jessica?”
Jay stared at the computer screen. To Laura’s limited knowledge, it appeared to be state-of-the-art. Ramsey spoke, but did not look at her. “The number 12 after her screen name—that usually means her age. And since it’s human nature for teenagers to want to appear older, I sincerely doubt this girl would lower her age by two years.”
“What are you saying?”
He looked straight ahead at the computer. “Jessica Parris isn’t CRZYGRL12.”
“You think he contacted another girl?”
“That’s the most likely scenario.”
“He came to Bisbee looking for another girl.” Her mind was moving now, all self-consciousness forgotten. “But what happened to her?”
Ramsey’s body flinched, and he rolled his head on the backrest of his chair. “A few things, I imagine. He kidnapped her and killed her. He took her and kept her with him. Or he never got to her.”
“There are no missing children that I’m aware of.”
“Then he probably never met up with her.”
Why? she wondered. What stopped him?
Jay Ramsey said, “I have a question for you.”
“What was it like when you found me?”
She stared at him. “I’m sorry?”
“What happened before and after you found me?”
Laura didn’t like the question. It took her right back to that time, and she didn’t like to think about the past. She shrugged. “It happened so fast.”
“What did I look like?”
“You were unconscious.”
“But what did I look like?”
She wanted to tell him this was a pointless conversation, but already felt she owed him. He had given her real insights into the Internet connection. She had to find Jessica’s killer, and he might be the one to help her do it. Keep your eye on the ball.
You were …” She wondered if he really wanted to hear this. “You were lying in the bedclothes, part of your upper body off the bed. I didn’t see blood on you, but I saw it on the carpet. I think you were naked.”
“I think so. You were partially under the covers.”
“You didn’t touch me. What made you not touch me?”
“I wanted to—“ She stopped. Not touching him had saved his life. The doctors said that moving him might have increased the swelling in the area where the spine had been nicked. She started again. “I was afraid to,” she said.
He smiled. “An honest answer. I appreciate that, Laura.”
“I don’t know why you asked.”
“It was the seminal moment in my life. I wanted to see what it looked like from the outside. I was out of it. I don’t even remember them coming to shoot me.”
Laura knew that kind of amnesia was common.
“You know what happened, don’t you?” Jay said. “I wasn’t a bad kid, but I was heavily into cocaine. Kind of guys I was dealing with, you don’t want to fool around. I thought I knew what I was doing.” He sighed. “When I screwed up, they decided to make an example of me—if it could happen to a rich kid, it could happen to anyone.”
He paused. Waiting for her to comment?
“You want to talk about your case, though.” He returned his focus to the computer screen and said briskly, “This is all we have to start with? CRZYGRL12?”
“Yes. Is it impossible?”
He smiled. “Nothing is impossible. It will take a little time, though. Tell you what. I’m meeting with some people this afternoon and I want to have a rest. Why don’t you come back this evening? In the meantime, I’ll see what I can do with CRZYGRL12.”
Laura felt a strange letdown. “All right.” She was aware of Freddy standing at her elbow. He escorted her out—wham bam thank you ma’am.
At the door, Freddy said, “He’s very excited to be working with you on this. But he had a long night. Give me your phone number and I’ll call you and let you know if it will work out tonight.”
Then she found herself outside, feeling, illogically, that Jay Ramsey had taken something from her. Which was ridiculous. She understood why he’d want to know what happened. It was probably the thing that made him agree to see her at all.
If it would help catch Jessica Parris’s killer, she’d be happy to tell him anything he wanted to hear.
Laura stopped the car on the lane near the ruined stables, letting the engine idle.
She’d campaigned Calliope for three years, winning several working hunter classes in Tucson and Phoenix, placing first in a couple of the big shows. All that time, she thought she owned Calliope. Betsy had “given” her the horse, even providing her with the mare’s Jockey Club papers.
One day Betsy Ramsey told her she wanted Calliope back.
Laura’s parents explained to her that they could hire a lawyer, but ultimately they would lose. The Ramsey family was wealthy, the Cardinal family—a school principal and a fifth-grade teacher—were not. And Betsy Ramsey had donated money to build a new wing on the elementary school where Alice Cardinal taught.
It was Laura’s first lesson in pragmaticism.
Laura remembered how it felt, taking the Jockey Club papers back to Mrs. Ramsey. She’d loved that mare. Calliope had been her best friend. She’d spent hours with her, riding her, grooming her, grazing her along irrigation ditches that were now as dry and dusty as her memories.
Mrs. Ramsey rode Calliope to Reserve Champion in working hunter in the Desert Classic in California that year.
The day Laura left Alamo Farm, she never went back, not until today. She couldn’t even bring herself to say goodbye to her mare. Somewhere along the line she had gotten the notion that clean breaks were best. Laura didn’t remember getting this idea from her parents or peers. But she knew instinctively that prolonging the association, that holding out hope, would only hurt her more in the end.
Maybe there had been a ticking clock inside that warned her she’d need that coping mechanism later on. Something primitive, hinting she’d have to face finality early in life? So when her parents died, she’d know how to accept it.
The moment the gate rolled back, Laura felt a deep sense of relief.
She put on her left turn signal and waited for the traffic on Fort Lowell to clear.
“You should have looked at the fine print.”
The voice came from inside the car. Frank Entwistle’s bulk filled the passenger seat, dressed in a cheap polyester suit jacket and slacks, a brown shirt, and an unfashionably wide tie. He held a breakfast sandwich in one hand. The smell of grease permeated the car.
“You’re not real.”
“So you say.” He leaned over and hit the turn signal lever, switching it from left to right.
“What’d you do that for?” she asked, although she knew.
“Aren’t you going go by your old house?”
“Why not? You’re right here in the neighborhood.” He glanced over at her, shrugged. “Suit yourself.”
“Thanks.” Laura switched on her left turn signal and pulled out, going east on Ft. Lowell Road, watching her old mentor out of the corner of her eye. He’d never learned to chew with his mouth closed and apparently being dead didn’t change anything. “I didn’t know ghosts could eat.”
“I’m not a ghost.”
“What are you? A figment of my imagination?”
“That’s as good an explanation as any.” He reached over and aimed the air conditioning vent toward his face. “Hot in here. Slow down, will you?”
Laura had to slow down anyway. They were approaching the tight curve that bordered the Mexican cemetery.
Frank draped his arm across the seat back. “You ever go in there?”
“No. Why would I?”
“You were a kid back then. You know how kids are, always pushing the envelope, trying to figure it out—about death, you know? When your schoolmate got taken, it would be natural to go there. I know I won’t ever forget the first kid in my class to die.”
“Who’s to say Julie died in the cemetery?”
“Not died. Taken. Why don’t you pull over?”
Although her first impulse was to resist, Laura turned onto the verge at the last minute, tires bumping on the hard dirt, white dust billowing up behind them. “There was nothing in the paper about exactly where she was taken.”
Frank Entwistle crumpled up the grease-spotted paper from the sandwich and shot it at the dashboard. “Then how come you dream about it?”
Laura looked past him at the graveyard. The greasewood and mesquite trees, greener and fuller after the summer rains, mingled with plaster angels, crosses, and graves of heaped dirt and piled rocks. A profusion of flowers—both real and fake—rested on the graves, garish in the unrelenting sun. Laura was parked under a mesquite tree, facing the wrong way to traffic. In the spot where, in her dreams, the orange and white car cruised to a stop, the mesquite tree’s sketchy shade scrolling over the blocky white hood. The girl, hands clasped around the straps of her backpack, leaning down to talk to the man inside.
In her dreams, Laura always heard the car’s rough idling, smelled burning oil, and felt the heat from the Chevy’s engine—details her imagination had conjured from the nightly news and one newspaper photo long ago.
Entwistle said, “No matter how old you get, you always remember.”
“The first kid in your class to die.”
Julie Marr was a transfer student from North Carolina. She had a strange accent, stranger hair, and even stranger clothes.
Laura had known what it was like to be bullied, picked on. But she’d made it to the other side; she had friends. She’d felt for Julie, but face it: She wasn’t about to put her own reputation in jeopardy.
Julie Marr lived in the same subdivision as Laura. Laura hated to admit this, but if she saw Julie walking up ahead of her, she would cross to the other side of the street so they wouldn’t end up walking together. It was her damn stride. Her natural stride was long; she covered the ground quickly. So she’d walk on the other side, her eyes straight ahead.
Like Jessica Parris, Julie Marr had disappeared between school and her house. Laura had Press Club two days a week after school. Otherwise, the orange and white car might have stopped for her.
The stiff old latches sprang back like little mouse-traps. Laura sat cross-legged on the floor of the guest bedroom, the late afternoon sun filtering in through Venetian blinds that came with the house, contemplating the old-fashioned suitcase and trying not to sneeze from the dust.
Inside were stacks of files held together by shoelaces. Most of them were marked in ballpoint ink discolored with age, usually beginning with the word “Laura.” Laura–School; Laura–Artwork; Laura–Swimming Lessons; and so on.
But some manila folders her mother had saved for herself.
There it was, toward the bottom. The word “Crime” in her mother’s spidery writing.
Laura knew exactly where to look, even though she had not seen this file in eleven years. She remembered seeing articles on Tucson murders that her mother had clipped, some of them as early as the forties, including the grisly saga of Charles Schmid, who killed three young girls in the 1960s and landed Tucson in Life magazine as the town with the “Ugliest Street in America”. A killer who wore face makeup and put crumpled-up beer cans into his boots to make him look taller.
Laura had forgotten how serious her mother had been about writing. There were three spiral notebooks full of notes, scrawled slips of paper, photos, phone numbers of detectives and police officers, lawyers and prosecutors, and six chapters of a book titled Death in the Desert: A Comprehensive Account of Tucson’s Most Infamous Murders, by Alice Cardinal.
She didn’t remember this. She had been a teenager when her mom started writing classes, involved with her own life. She hadn’t taken her mother’s interests seriously. “Author” didn’t fit with her image of her mom. Her mom was a school librarian who spent most of her time and energy trying to shape Laura’s life, not her own.
Laura looked at the first page.
Tucson Arizona had seen its share of murders, but none was as mysterious as the disappearance of San Pedro Middle School student Julie Marr.
On a warm day in late September, Julie Marr was walking home from school as usual when she vanished without a trace. Two days later a man named Jerry Lee, out hiking in the Redington Pass area east of town, noticed an old car that seemed to have rolled down the embankment off the road and had come to a stop in some brush and cactus. A curious sort, he bushwhacked down to the car, and was shocked by what he found. The back seat of the old car was soaked with blood.
Six chapters on Julie Marr’s disappearance, then nothing. Laura didn’t know if her mom had quit at Chapter Seven or if she’d died in the midst of writing the book, a homicide victim herself.
Laura decided she didn’t want to look at her mother’s book right now. She put the unfinished book to the side and looked through the clippings of the Julie Marr abduction. Two articles. The first declared,
“CITY-WIDE SEARCH FOR MISSING SAN PEDRO MIDDLE SCHOOL STUDENT”
and was accompanied by a school picture of Julie Marr. Two days later, the front page headline said “CAR USED IN ABDUCTION OF LOCAL GIRL FOUND.” A black-and-white photo of the 1955 Chevy Bel Air, all four doors open, a detective squatting near the driver’s side.
She skimmed the article, jotting down the facts of the case on the inside cover of the manila folder.
The car had been stolen from A&B Auto Wrecking on South Park Avenue. The Bel Air had been in an accident, but was still driveable.
Blood-typing indicated that the blood in the backseat belonged to Julie Marr. From the amount of blood, the detectives were sure she was either gravely injured or dead. The lead detective on the case was Barry Fruchtendler of TPD.
Corroborating her mother’s account, the article detailed the discovery of the car off Redington Pass Road in the Tanque Verde Mountains east of town. It had been pushed off the road at a curve. The way the road was banked made it impossible for it to be seen from a vehicle driving up or down the mountain.
The search had been concentrated there, but no body, no grave, had been found.
Because Julie Marr’s body could be anywhere in rugged, almost inaccessible country, the search was called off the next day.
Julie Marr’s parents, George and Natalie Marr, were quoted as saying that if the police had taken her disappearance more seriously, Julie might be alive today.
Laura put the suitcase away, but took the file, including her mother’s chapters, with her. She dropped it on the kitchen table. An interesting trip down memory lane, but she didn’t see any relevance to Jessica’s case.
It was possible the killer could have lived here in Tucson all those years ago and killed both Julie Marr and Jessica Parris. But that seemed unlikely, given the number of years that had gone by and the fact that Jessica was strangled, while Julie Marr had been killed even more violently. It pointed to a different kind of killer; one organized, the other out of control.
Laura called the Tucson Police Department and asked to speak with Detective Barry Fruchtendler. No one there by that name.
She looked for his name in the phone book and was stymied again. That didn’t mean much; cops usually had unlisted numbers. She’d call one of her friends at TPD tomorrow and see if he was still around.
But not now.
She put on a fresh blouse, locked up, and took the path over the hill to Tom’s house.
Jay Ramsey had almost managed to pull his plate onto his lap when it slipped out of his hands and crashed to the flagstones.
“You see?” Freddy said primly as he picked up the pieces of bone china. “You’ve been out here too long.”
“Don’t worry about me.”
“This was your mother’s favorite pattern. You know when you start dropping things—“
“Fine, if that’s what you want.” Freddy whisked around them, clearing plates and brushing away crumbs from the tablecloth.
Jay had invited Laura to breakfast. She was happy to get out here early, anxious as she was to get Jay on the Internet and see him work the magic Galaz had promised her, but here they sat. She kept thinking about Alison Burns lying on the bed in the abandoned motel room. And Jessica Parris, posed like a doll in the City Park band shell.
She had to admit, it was pleasant here—lush plants and deep shade. Misters on the porch roof cooled the terrace. Across the lane stood the high hedge lining the tennis court where Jay Ramsey used to play. Laura, a kid, a horse groom, walking by, hoping she’d catch his eye.
Now she had his full attention. Strange how wants and hopes changed over the years.
Freddy was back from the kitchen. He nodded at the thermometer tacked to the pepper tree near the pool. “It’s eighty-seven degrees. You’ve been out here well over an hour.”
“You won’t be so cocky if your bladder lets go in front of company.”
Jay saw Laura’s discomfort and grinned. “Freddy’s afraid I’ll get overheated. That can lead to dysreflexia, which—“
“Could send his blood pressure sky-high,” Freddy said.
Jay leaned toward Laura, his voice conspiratorial.
“You know what you have to do if you start to get overheated? Piss your pants.” He laughed. “When quads get overheated, sometimes their bladders can back up. You don’t want that to happen, so you have a little accident. Relieves the pressure. You have to train yourself to do it—it’s amazing how stubborn the mind can be, all that potty training you have to overcome.”
Freddy took his stack of still-intact dishes and retreated into the house with a martyr’s sigh.
Jay said, “The minute I saw you on the news, I knew I had to meet you. Maybe because we never did.” Saw her confusion and added, “Never met.”
The Ramseys had been clear from the beginning: They didn’t want any visitors. “I understood that. Your parents were looking out for—”
“She was never going to let that happen,” Jay said. “Even though you saved my life, she didn’t want a relationship.” He sipped his mimosa. “That’s why she paid you off.”
Told to her this way, it made her angry all over again.
“You should see your face. I don’t blame you for being mad. I would be livid. Especially when she took the horse back. A couple of years down the line, when she saw just how much my condition changed my life—her life—she wasn’t so thankful anymore.”
He shifted in his chair, yawned. Laura wondered if the yawning helped him in some way. “If you want to put it in a charitable light, she was impulsive. Giving you the horse on an impulse and taking it back the same way. Your good deed had outlived its usefulness.” No self-pity, just a statement of fact. “But I’ve never forgotten, and now I’m in a position to help you. I know how important this is to you. It would be important to anyone, but considering what you’ve been through in your own life …” He let it hover, the vague reference to the home invasion.
Laura didn’t like this. He knew too much about her life.
“I want to apologize for my mother. It’s too bad Calliope is gone—I’d give her back to you if I could. Mother sold her foals. For all I know, one of them might be in town.”
“It doesn’t matter now.”
He changed the subject. “Did Mikey tell you about my background?”
“He told me Dynever is an Internet security company.”
“We’ve worked with the FBI on cases just like this. One in New York, a pedophile ring. One of my people pretended he was a fourteen-year-old girl.”
He wiped his forehead. His complexion looked blotchy, and he was sweating. Laura looked around, but Freddy was still inside the house.
“These guys—they build their wholes lives around getting little girls. They marry women so they can get to their children. Go into occupations where they can be around them. It’s the fantasy. They can’t resist it—they don’t want to.”
“It’s sick,” she said. She knew that technically the guy she was after wasn’t sick. He was a sociopath—perfectly sane. But calling him “sick” relieved the pressure in her head, made her feel better.
“You’d be surprised at how many people—doctors, lawyers, beggermen, chiefs—think that doing a twelve-year-old girl is acceptable. The evidence is there, staring you in the face. On the ‘net.” He set his glass down on the table, spilling orange juice and champagne over his long, elegant fingers. He didn’t seem to notice. “The web has changed everything. People used to hide the way they felt, but now there are so many of them and they’re all connected, they have strength in numbers. Now they’re legitimate. They can rationalize it.
“So my question to you, Laura, is this: If more and more people believe something, might there not be some value to it?”
Before Laura could answer Jay called out, “You win, Freddy. I’m coming in.” He backed his motorized wheelchair and deftly sped up the ramp and through the French doors into the house, leaving her to follow.
Freddy insisted that Laura wait in the living room while they “took care of some essentials.”
She waited, feeling uncomfortable. Wondering if he was being cleaned up because he had overheated, wondering if he had, indeed, pissed his pants. Wondering, too, if he thought that just because a majority of people thought something was right, there was an excuse for cruelty. Did he really think that, or was he just playing devil’s advocate?
Forty minutes later, Jay Ramsey reappeared, his hair combed nicely and his color better. “Let’s get down to it, babe,” he said.
Jay situated himself in front of the computer and connected to the Internet. Laura noticed that even with his limited hand motions, he was fast with his two index fingers; they seemed to fly over the keyboard like ten digits.
Laura watched as he pulled up a no-frills site, devoid of graphics.
Ramsey said, “Welcome to WiNX. This is the quintessential Internet relay chat program.”
Laura tried to remember what Buddy Holland had told her. “Does it have something to do with Instant Messaging?”
“That’s the currency. People talking to each other in real time. You’ve probably done something like it on Facebook or Yahoo.”
He twisted in his chair a little, smiled. “The principle is really simple. You put yourself out there and pretty soon someone wants to talk to you.”
He hit a couple of keys and brought up a screen that reminded Laura of her first experience with a computer, back in the covered wagon days. “That looks like DOS.”
“See? You know more than you think. WiNX is a DOS-based system. See these?” He keyed down through several lines of old-fashioned courier print and pointed with a thumb. “These are channels—rooms where people with like tastes can meet. There’re probably 20,000 channels on WiNX right now.” He flinched again, moved in his seat. Looked at her. “Am I confusing you?”
She remembered how Buddy had thrown technical terms at her without telling her what they meant. Enjoying her discomfort. She hesitated to make a fool of herself, but couldn’t help asking, “Are they kind of like TV channels?”
He grinned lopsidedly. “That’s as good a description as any. Imagine a station with unlimited channels on everything you can imagine.” He clicked on another page. “WiNX has been around forever. The thing you’ve got to know is that this is the real underground. There are no controls. Nobody’s watching you to see that you don’t go over the line. There’s nothing to stop you from doing anything you want to do. It’s a no-man’s land.”
Laura felt a kinetic snap in her spine. A no-man’s land. She got the feeling that she was on the brink of knowing something she’d rather not.
He scrolled down what seemed like miles of print. “Ah, here we are.” He clicked on something called Warezoutpost, and a list of titles came up, all after the word “warez”.
“Warez is ‘wares’,” Jay explained. “As in ‘let me show you my wares.’ See? Software for games. Movies, music. This is where the kids are at because they can download stuff for free.”
He showed her how to locate what he wanted, a movie called Ghost Recon. “This is what draws the kids. Free music, movies. I’m next in line if I want it.”
With a few clicks to the keyboard, he moved on.
“The kids are always the first to know. You can get anything you want off these boards. They cater to every taste. This one is general, but there are channels where kids talk to each other.” He pulled up another window. “Let’s see what we’ve got in the Girls’ Room.”
“The Girls’ Room?”
“I call it that. It’s used by lots preteen girls.”
He pointed out the list of names on the sidebar to the right. “Those are the people in the room now. What I’m going to do is …” He hit a key and then typed in a name, erased it, and typed in another. “Gotta have a nick.” He added helpfully, “Nickname.” He typed in “nick1amber/.” This was accepted, and then he typed: “hi.”
It showed up like this:
Laura heard a chime and a message box popped up. Jay pointed to the status bar and Laura saw the name Gitmo.
Gitmo: how old r u?
“He wants a picture.”
Amber: ok were you fro?????????
Gitmo: CA u?
Laura heard a chime. Another person wanting to talk to Amber. Jay hit a key and another instant message box popped up.
“He’s asking her age and sex.”
Amber: alost 13
Jay nodded to the status bar at the top of the screen. Podunk’s name changed from red to black. He was gone. “Wrong age,” Jay said, going back to Gitmo.
Gitmo: where you been?
Amber: My mom calledm e
Gitmo: send me a pic
A flurry of chimes. Four new names lit up the board.
Amber: well see how old r you?
Gitmo: you ever had sex?
Amber: I had a bf last year
“Bf?” asked Laura.
Gitmo: Did bf getta bj?
Amber: You sonud mean!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Gitmo: can’t handle a joke LOL
More chimes, the board lighting up with suitors. Jay opened another instant message box.
Smooth Talk: Amber u a little girl?
Amber: im thrteen how old r u???????????????
Smooth Talk: let me see a pic
Amber: I have 1 at shchol school – not here
Smooth Talk: where d you live
Amber: I live in az
Smooth Talk dropped out. Back to Gitmo:
Gitmo: I want a pic
Amber: not fair if u don send me pic toO
Gitmo: you playing games little girl
Amber: fairs fair my pic for yours
Gitmo: if you don’t want to fuck your wasting m time
Gitmo’s name went from red to black.
Jay sat up straighter, twisted, adjusted himself against the back of the chair. “That’s what you’re dealing with. These creeps are on these boards all day, trolling for kids.”
Laura was about to say that she didn’t think any child would fall for that, and then shut her mouth.
Children would fall for it. Teenagers would fall for it. Because they had not yet developed that distrust life ground into you over the years, like grime into clothing.
“We did a survey,” Jay said. “Among parents. They think of computers as just another appliance, like a TV set. They don’t realize it’s like leaving the back door to your house open. Anybody can come in, and some of these guys are really smart. They know how to push the buttons.”
“How do you find someone like this? Can you find his ISP?”
“Doubtful. Guy like that, he’d use one of the big servers, like earthlink, hotmail—it’s easy to be anonymous. There are search engines that you can look on, but I’m pretty sure this guy wouldn’t have a local ISP.”
“But there’s an easier way. That’s what’s so interesting about technology. Sometimes the best things are simple. You know the photo you have of him? We can probably trace him through that.” He hit a couple of keys and a beach scene came up on the screen.
“This is why you need me.” Sounding cocky. “Not many people can get their hands on this kind of software.”
He explained that there was something called image recognition software, which could break up every photograph into its elements, then run each element against all kinds of databases, looking for a match. He zoomed in on a man on the beach. “See this guy’s T-shirt? With the software I’m going to use, I can run a search for exact matches. It’s like a search engine, instead of searching for like words, it searches for images. I’m going to need the original photo, though.”
“From what Endicott said, it was a digital photo, and the only thing we have is an inkjet picture.” She nodded to the black-and-white photocopy. “It’s not all that much better than that.”
Jay looked troubled. “It might be harder, but we can still do it. Where is the original?”
“Endicott’s FedExing it—I should get it today.”
“What we’ll do,” Jay said, “is re-scan the picture using high resolution. Then I’ll compare it to the databases. It might take a few days, though.”
“You sure you can’t find him with the ISP?”
“I’ll try that, too. I’m warning you, though, this guy isn’t your average Internet user. I think you know that.”
“But this image recognition software, it’ll take a few days? That’s a long time.”
“How many days has it been so far?”
Too many, she thought.
“This is what CloneImage came up with,” Jay Ramsey said, rolling his chair to the computer monitor.
It turned out that Jay Ramsey’s image recognition program had been quicker than expected; Laura had gotten the call this morning, not twenty-four hours after she last saw him. Jay had already found two matches to the man in the picture.
Ramsey pulled up a site called TalentFish.com. “For a small fee, actors and models can put their pictures online. Kind of like a rogues’ gallery. Lucky for us that young Petey is up on the latest technology.”
“Peter Dorrance. Actor, model, pretty boy around town. This was a virtual cakewalk.” He laughed at his own joke—virtual.
The TalentFish home page opened up. There were several headings at the top of the page: Actors, Portraits, Head Shots, Actor and Model Composites. Jay pulled up Peter Dorrance’s page under “Actor and Model Composites”.
“CloneImage got this hit pretty quick, since one of these is the same picture he sent that little girl.”
And there it was. The photo of the young man, the house behind him. This was a three-quarters shot, showing his excellent physique, but there were others, including two headshots.
Laura looked at the other photographs, the ones she’d never seen before. Dorrance had three photos taken in front of the house. Two in black and white and one in color. In the color photo, he leaned against a blue sportscar, arms folded over his chest. He wore a cable-knit sweater and looked like a print ad from Land’s End. The house behind him was yellow with white trim.
“Nice wheels,” Laura said.
“Hard to get into,” Jay said, “Unless you’re his age. I also found the house, if you’re interested.”
“In a minute.”
She looked at his resume. Age twenty-two. Six foot three and a half. 40-Regular. Several acting roles in plays Laura did not recognize (she wasn’t a big patron of the theater). Print ads: Hair and Now; Leslie’s Department Store; Eat at Joes. Television ads: Ralph’s Car Sales and Gulf Chiropractic. Not a lot there, but he had gotten a crack at the big time, a cameo as a corpse on CSI: Miami.
“Eat at Joes is in Panama City,” Freddy said.
“Take a bow, Freddy,” Jay said. “The Florida panhandle—just like you said it would be. Prince Charming here lives on the Forgotten Coast, the Redneck Riviera, or—if you’re thinking red and blue states—Bush country.”
Freddy pointed to the bottom of the page. “There’s the address of the Talent Agency.” The Strand Talent Agency, Panama City Beach, Florida.
“So there’s good reason to believe he lives in Panama City,” Laura said.
“Thereabouts. I got another match, though.” Jay clicked through to another site, the Franklin County Home Buyers Guide.
Laura found herself staring at the house. “St. George Island?”
“Down the coast, east of Panama City,” Freddy explained.
“An old listing,” Jay said. “This site hasn’t been updated since 2002.” He zoomed in on a pale plaque near the top of the steps. It was blurry and hard to read, but Laura was able to make an educated guess: “Gull Cottage?”
“Shouldn’t be hard to find. St. George Island isn’t all that big.” He clicked on MapQuest. The barrier island looked like a narrow boomerang, bisected by one main road paralleled by a few ancillary streets. “Twenty-nine miles in length and no more than a mile across at any one place.”
He clicked onto some photographs of St. George Island.
“It doesn’t look like a place Peter Dorrance could afford,” Laura said. “Unless he’s independently wealthy.” Considering the sports car he leaned so casually against, that was a possibility.
“I did a few searches on him. The only times he comes up is in regards to acting jobs—and not very many of them. But at least you’ve got a place to start.”
Laura stared at Dorrance’s headshot. Was this her killer? If she went strictly by the FBI profile, he skewed young for this kind of crime. Usually, it took time to build up to precise ritual-like dressing up of the girl and posing her that way. It took time to develop that kind of self-confidence, time to become a full-fledged sexual predator.
“Something you might want to think about,” Ramsey said, as if he’d read her mind. “You saw how easily I found this site. Could be your killer looked for the best-looking hunk he could find and sent it to the girl to impress her. Easy enough with gullible little girls.”
Laura thought he had a point. But it had always been her experience that most people stayed within their comfort zones—including sexual predators. Even if the man in the photo wasn’t her killer, she was willing to bet they had crossed paths sometime or other.
A call into the Panama City Police Department revealed there was no one by the name of Peter Dorrance in either Panama City or Bay County, Florida. While she had the detective on the phone, Laura described her own case and asked if he had anything similar.
“Nothing that comes to mind, and that one would. But I’ll check around, see if anything like that’s turned up in the other counties up here.”
Next she called Detective Endicott in Indio, the detective who had investigated Alison Burns’ murder. She laid out what she had and asked him if he wanted to accompany her to Florida. He declined, but asked her to keep him updated.
The rest of the afternoon she put her case together, wondering if she should go to Jerry Grimes or directly to Galaz. She didn’t like the idea of going over Jerry Grimes’s head, but she also knew that Mike Galaz would be more enthusiastic. After debating back and forth, she finally went to see Jerry. She couldn’t leave him out of the loop.
He was gone for the day. She tried his cell, got a message and left one of her own. Looked at her watch. She needed to make reservations if she was going to fly out there tomorrow. She went looking for Mike Galaz.
He was practicing his putting. “How’d it go with Ramsey?” he asked her.
“That’s what I’m here to talk to you about.”
She ran it down for him.
Galaz didn’t take his eye from the ball. “Jay has a point, don’t you think? It could be the guy, or it could be someone else who got his picture off the ‘Net.”
“Either way, I think he’s from around there. Other than Lehman, it’s the only real lead we’ve got, and I think I should go and check it out. This guy isn’t going to stop with Jessica Parris.”
Galaz tapped the ball, which rolled up to the lip of the cup and hung there. He frowned.
Laura waited as he adjusted his stance and nudged the ball in.
Without looking at her, he started over. She knew better than to say anything. Lucky for her, the ball made it in right away this time.
He looked up at her and smiled. “Ah, much better.” Then he retrieved the ball and set it up again.
Laura contemplated grabbing the putter and whacking him on the shin with it.
She wondered if he was getting a perverse pleasure out of making her wait. He sure was milking it—the stance, the grip, the way he rocked back and forth before squatting down and stretching the putter out toward the cup before doing it all again. At last she couldn’t take it anymore. “Sir? I’ve got to get moving if I’m going to go.”
He held up one hand: Just a minute.
So she waited, the tasteful cherry and brass mantel clock on the shelf behind the desk ticking out her presence. After another successful putt, he palmed the ball and studied her. “Is this coming from logic or from your gut?”
“But if you had to choose. You think this is woman’s intuition?”
Woman’s intuition? Jesus. She tried to figure out what he wanted, but couldn’t read him so she picked one. “I have a real gut feeling about this, sir. I think Jay does, too.”
He didn’t answer right away, but seemed to be weighing her answer—an answer she had tossed on a fifty-fifty throw. At last he said, “ Go ahead.”
He was setting up the next putt when she left.
Next she called Victor, who had been in Bisbee all day, working the case from there.
“Don’t you think you’re jumping the gun?” he asked.
“I think it’s the guy. Or he can lead me to the guy.”
“Are you sure these killings are connected?”
“The similarities are pretty striking.” Feeling defensive.
“There’s a lot that doesn’t add up.” He enumerated the same dissimilarities that had bothered her. “Shit, a twelve-year-old and a fourteen-year-old. That’s a big difference on the Tanner chart. You know how choosy these guys can be.”
Thought about telling him her theory, but realizing that arguing would get her nowhere.
“There’s something I’d like you to do personally. Check with Jessica’s friends again. I never did get a straight answer from Buddy about whether or not she used the computer at school. If she didn’t use it at school, find out if she used one at the public library.”
“Anything else?” His voice was cool.
“That should do it.”
After he hung up, she stared off into space. She realized she was skating on a very thin edge. Going over Jerry Grimes’s head, working with Jay Ramsey, her less than enthusiastic investigation of Lehman. Working just as hard, putting in the hours, but more and more certain that with Lehman, they were heading down the wrong road.
Laura rented a car in Panama City and drove in the direction of the Strand Model and Talent Agency in Panama City Beach.
Panama City gave Laura the impression of a beach town being swallowed whole by Wal-Mart and shopping malls—a battle of old versus new. Fast food chains vying with mom-and-pop burger stands, bait shops and boat rentals in the shadow of superstores. Colored pennants and tacky signs marked mobile home sales and car dealerships adjacent to tracts of land marked for sale as “unimproved” property.
As if you could improve on quiet two-lane roads disappearing into live oak and stands of southern pine.
The Strand Model and Talent Agency was located three blocks from the beach. Blue with gray trim, the modest saltbox was bordered by a row of immature banana trees and sat in one corner of a parking lot roped off by a giant, sand-encrusted hawser stretching from piling to piling. The plastic sign out front had stick-on letters, like many a drive-by church she’d seen on the way out here.
She was impressed by the pelican statue on one of the pilings—until it flew off.
The Strand Talent Agency must have been a doctor’s office at one time. A partition divided the front office from the receptionist’s window, and next to the window was the door to inner offices. Posters of sullen-faced models lined the gray fabric walls. A blond, equally sullen-faced receptionist sat behind the window, concentrating on her nails. She would be pretty if not for her spoiled expression. Laura asked to see the owner of the agency.
“You’ll have to wait your turn,” the girl said, and went back to filing her nails. Ludicrous. Laura was the only one here. She wondered how talent agencies made a living on the Florida panhandle. She glanced at the stack of brochures sitting in the receptionist’s window and saw the rates for runway modeling and deportment classes. Now she understood.
A young man carrying a portfolio emerged from the door to the inner offices, and Laura took the opportunity to duck past him. If she expected a protest from the blonde, it wasn’t forthcoming. She found herself in a hallway, poked her head into the first room. A heavyset woman with jet-black hair and white sideburns was making photocopies. She wore an outfit that could have looked great on the streets of New York.
“I’m looking for the owner of the agency.”
“I’m the owner. Who are you?”
Laura introduced herself. “I need to get in touch with one of your actors.” She handed Myrna Gorman the composite of Peter Dorrance. She could have found his address in Public Records in Apalachicola, but had another reason for talking to Myrna Gorman.
Gorman led Laura into another room lined with file cabinets. For a big woman, her movements were swift and economical. “Peter. A great look, but we haven’t been able to do much with him. He’s one of those people who can’t act.” She opened a file cabinet and ran Turandot nails over the files, scooped one out. “Here it is. We sent him out on two modeling jobs this year. He lives far enough away that we don’t send him too many places.”
“But he did make it to CSI: Miami.”
“They wanted the most beautiful male corpse they could find. Last I looked, corpses don’t have to act.”
“These headshots … Did he use your photographer?”
“We don’t have a photographer on staff. There are two or three we use. I have their names and phone numbers if you want them.”
“What do you know about Peter Dorrance? Other than he can’t act?”
Mrs. Gorman returned to her office chair and drummed her fingernails on the desk blotter. “He’s one of those with stars in their eyes. I know he’s planning to move to LA.”
“When was the last time you saw him?”
“Months.” She looked inward. “April? I had an audition for him in Tallahassee—a national commercial. He didn’t get it. What brings you here, all the way from Arizona? Did he do something illegal?”
“I can’t discuss that.”
“Well, I think you should tell me what he did. I have a reputation in this town, and I don’t want to be associated with something like that.”
“You sound like you think he’s capable of bad things.”
Myrna Gorman’s stare hardened. “I know he knocked up one of my models. But I guess that isn’t a crime.”
“How old was your model?”
“Are they an item?”
She shrugged. “Who knows? It isn’t very often we get a production company coming through here to film. I landed that girl a good role. The day before filming was due to start, she had a miscarriage and ended up in the hospital. They had to recast, and City Confidential got the commission. You could say that Peter Dorrance has cost me more than he ever made me.”
Laura took Highway 98 going east past Tyndall Air Force Base, past miles of slash pines, then into a pretty town called Mexico Beach. Late in the afternoon, the sky, though clear, had a metallic quality—grayish green down at the horizon. The beach was on the right side of the road. An incoming wave caught the sun, the shape and color of a 7-Up bottle lying on its side, and crashed down into foam. Laura wished she could pull over, buy a bathing suit somewhere, and go for a swim.
She drove through Apalachicola just after six p.m. According to her map, Apalachicola was once a major port city in the south. The place struck her as gracious–neatly gridded streets, live oaks draped with Spanish moss, a fisherman walking down a street spattered by shadow. Following her map, she drove over the Gorrie St. Bridge and across Apalachicola Bay to Eastpoint.
Peter Dorrance lived at the Palmetto Cove apartment complex in Eastpoint, the jump-off point for St. George Island. Two stories, Palmetto Cove Apartments reminded Laura of a Travelodge. She followed the stairs up to a sway-backed concrete walkway and found his room overlooking the parking lot. When she knocked, the orange door rattled in the frame. Cheap. He was probably at work.
On to Bennies at the Beach, where Dorrance worked as a waiter. Laura backtracked to the St. George Island Causeway and drove across to the island. The bay shimmered in the lowering sun, brimming with oyster boats and sparklets of late light. The first thing she saw on the island was a water tower. It looked like a plastic golf tee.
Bennie’s at the Beach was just down E. Gulf Beach going east. Easy to spot: Three stories of weathered wood topped by a thatched roof, colorful surfboards lining the walls. She counted at least thirty cars parked along the road.
Laura was almost to the restaurant when she spotted a house on the right that looked familiar. She pulled over to the side of the road and looked across a vacant lot of sand and sea oats to the pastel-colored houses facing out onto the Gulf.
They appeared to be relatively new. From what she’d seen in the renters and buyers guide she’d picked up at the airport, prices for homes on the Florida panhandle were going up exponentially. Beachfront property was at a premium. Laura guessed these were vacation rentals. The house nearest to her looked like the Gull Cottage from the photograph.
She got out of the car and walked up the road for a closer look. Pale yellow siding, white trim, a red metal roof, widow’s walk. She recognized the steps to one side, the palmetto, and the garage under the house.
What clinched it was the sports car: a blue BMW Z4.
The neighbor must be some nice guy to let an out-of-work actor pose with his car.
Or maybe Peter had waited for the owner to leave, and then had his photo session. Laura glanced at Bennies at the Beach, approximately fifty yards up the road. Every day Peter Dorrance came to work, he would have driven by this house.
She revised her notion that the house was a vacation rental; the publicity photos were at least five months old, yet the Z4 was still here. She debated talking to the owner, but decided that she would talk to Dorrance first.
The sky was turning sherbet colors—flamingo pink, orange, lemon—as she drove the rest of the way to Bennies.
Bennies was a Parrothead paradise. Fish nets hanging from plank walls, sawdust on the floor, middle-aged men in loud Hawaiian shirts. The noisy babble rose to the rafters. A sign above the bar: Oysters - Half Dozen for a Dollar. Exotic-sounding drink specials with names like “Banshee Breeze” written in colored chalk on a blackboard.
A waitress in a white dress shirt and black trousers whipped by, holding a huge tray overflowing with colorful food, making Laura hungry. She pressed her way through the crowd to the bar and yelled over the music until the bartender understood. He pointed to a tall young man with shoulder-length black hair.
Laura waited for Dorrance to finish taking his order and stood in his path. He smiled absently at her.
“Mr. Dorrance?” she asked.
“Yes. Hi. I’ll be right with you.” He expertly side-stepped her and headed for the kitchen. Laura couldn’t follow him—the way he threaded through the crowd could have made him a star on the football field.
She waited at the kitchen entrance. “Mr. Dorrance. I need to talk to you.” She held up her shield.
“Department of Public Safety? What’s that?”
She found herself shouting. “An Arizona law enforcement agency.” She watched him carefully, but saw only confusion. “Is there a place we can talk?”
He looked around doubtfully. Handsome, almost pretty. His hair was thick and slightly frizzy from the humidity. Startled blue eyes, heavy brows, cleft chin, full lips. “A twelve-top just sat down. Can you wait until I get a moment?”
She waited by the bar, watching him in action, tried to picture him picking up a young girl, keeping her with him, dressing her up.
Peter Dorrance was a waiter who lived in a crappy apartment because he couldn’t afford to live on the island where he worked. Even used motor homes cost in the tens of thousands of dollars, especially the long one Mrs. Bonney had described. Peter Dorrance didn’t seem like the kind of guy who could afford that.
Laura stepped up to the bar and caught the bartender’s eye. He made it over eventually and slapped a cocktail napkin down on the bar. “What’ll it be?”
“I’d like to speak to the manager.” She showed him her shield.
A few minutes later, a middle-aged man in a knit shirt and khakis appeared at her elbow. He was solid looking, with dark hair and a face hewn by the wind and sun. “I’m Buddy Gill,” he said. “You were asking for me?”
“Could we go to your office?”
He assessed her, then turned on his heel. “Come on,” he said over his shoulder. He led her to a small room dominated by a Maritime clock of polished brass and teak, a swordfish mounted on the wall, and photos of a woman and four blond boys. He sat down behind his desk in the only chair. He swiveled back and forth, staring at her.
“Eric said you’re a cop?”
“I’m a detective with DPS, the Arizona state agency. I need to know if Peter Dorrance worked here last week.”
He considered her for a moment, then reached into a side drawer of his desk and dropped a schedule on the table for her to see.
“According to this, he was scheduled for four days?”
“That’s right. Tuesday through Friday.”
“What about the week before?”
He produced that schedule, too. Laura saw immediately that Dorrance had worked both Friday and Saturday nights. Friday was the day Jessica was kidnapped and killed.
“This is penciled in. He actually worked these days?”
“I remember him being here.”
She stifled her disappointment. Someone must have used Dorrance’s picture. All this way, and anyone could have picked his picture up off the Internet.
“What’s this about?”
“He’s an investigative lead—a possible witness to a crime committed in Arizona.”
“How could he witness a crime there if he was here?”
“He couldn’t,” she said. She pushed open the door and walked back out into the crowd.
Back in the bar, Laura saw Peter Dorrance was coming her way, a big friendly grin on his face. When he got close he dipped his head near her ear, so close she took a step back and jogged someone’s drink.
“I’m on break,” he said. “Let’s go outside so we don’t have to yell.”
He nudged her through the crowd.
Outside, they stood on the deck overlooking the ocean. The sun had turned into a blood orange, sinking into a lavender sea. A hot wind tugged at Dorrance’s pirate hair, and for a moment Laura felt she was in the middle of a Hallmark card. Especially the way he was looking at her, a cross between “aren’t I irresistible?” and “you’re not bad yourself.”
“I wanted to talk to you about your composite.” Laura showed him the one she’d printed up from the TalentFish site. “Do you remember when you had these taken?”
He leaned close. She could smell his aftershave and a dash of garlic, probably from the plates he handled. Giving her his best smoldering look. “Last year some time. I had some old shots that didn’t really represent what I look like now, so I needed to update them.”
“You worked with a photographer affiliated with the agency? One of these?” She handed him the slip marked “From the Desk of Myrna Gorman”.
He tapped the third name on the list. “Jimmy. Yeah. He gave me a good price. What’s this about?”
He seemed truthful. Impinging on her space, though, trying to make a conquest. Too concerned with his own image to think about anybody else.
She told him how she came across his picture.
He stared at her, his seduction forgotten. “You mean someone used my photograph on the Internet? Pretended they were me?”
“That’s what it looks like.”
“Oh man! If they found out at TalentFish, I could be blacklisted!”
“That’s one of the ramifications, yes,” Laura said dryly. “Besides two dead girls.”
He stared at his feet. “I can’t believe this.”
“This Jimmy. What do you know about him?”
He shrugged. “I don’t know. He was just some guy Strand recommended.”
“Do you remember what he looked like?”
“Average. Kind of … insignificant.”
“He gave you that impression? That he was insignificant? Why was that?”
“I don’t know. He was kind of short. Not good-looking.”
Not good-looking. In Peter Dorrance’s world, that probably had greater significance than the Mason-Dixon line.
“What about his coloring?”
“God, I can’t remember.” He wanted to be helpful, though, so he added, “I think his card said he lived in Apalach.”
“Where’d you take the photos?”
He pointed across the vacant lot. “That yellow house. Belongs to the owner.” He nodded at Bennies. “Good guy, always looking out for his employees. He even drove the car out so I could pose with it.” He shook his head. “Nice wheels. I didn’t even want to lean against it, afraid I’d hurt the paint job.”
“Was that his idea or yours?”
“Steve’s? Oh, you mean the photog. It was his idea. He must have took ten, fifteen rolls.”
“Is that unusual—that many?”
“I thought I was getting a really great deal. He said it was a special because he wanted to make his name as a fashion photog.”
In Panama City? Laura thought.
“I only paid him two hundred dollars. Not that that’s chump change, but for everything he did, it was a great deal. We must have been out there three or four hours. I went through a whole bunch of clothes.”
“This exchange—“ Laura showed him the phone number. “That’s in Apalachicola?”
“I think so.”
“Anything else you can remember about him? What did he drive?”
“I can’t remember … wait a minute. It was an old beat-up truck. I remember because he parked it way down the road so it wouldn’t get in the shots. So this is identity theft, right?”
“I’d say so.” She circled her cell phone number and handed him her card. “If you can think of anything else about that day, or what he said or did, anything at all, please call me.”
She started down the steps.
He called out after her. “You think I have enough for a lawsuit?”
“You’re going to have to stand in line,” she said.
The moon was up when Laura drove into Apalachicola. As she came off the curve of the Gorrie Street Bridge into town, she spotted the massive hotel she’d noticed on the way out. The Gibson Inn, blue clapboard with white trim, had wraparound galleries populated with Adirondack chairs. The inn looked like a riverboat all lit up and ready to steam away.
She parked out front and went in. Cigarette smoke lingered with the potted palms and plush Victorian furnishings of the lobby. A tabby cat lounged on the desk, partially covering the bell with her paunch. Laura stroked the cat and asked for a nonsmoking room. She paid with her own money. The woman at the desk led her upstairs to a nautical-themed room with wooden shutters and a king-sized bed.
For a moment she thought about Tom Lightfoot. Felt this overwhelming desire to have him here with her, a pair of lovers on vacation, having fun.
But this wasn’t a vacation. If the photographer, Jimmy, didn’t pan out, she’d go home empty-handed.
Unpacking didn’t take long—putting away her other suit, two sets of casual clothes, a small makeup case, toothbrush, pajamas. Her gun, her protective Kevlar vest, Jessica Parris’s murder book she had compiled so far.
Then she called Jimmy de Seroux. The phone rang ten times, no answering machine.
She had to make another phone call, which couldn’t be put off. She reached the dispatcher at Apalachicola PD and left a short message, asking for an appointment with the chief.
“Just come by tomorrow anytime,” said the dispatcher. She promised to pass on Laura’s message.
Laura did this as a courtesy, although she had mixed feelings about contacting them. Jimmy de Seroux could be a dead end. Still, she didn’t want word to get back that she had been asking questions around town.
Which it surely would. Laura had lots of experience with small towns.
After dinner in town, Laura took a glass of red wine from the bar out onto the porch. The air, which had been so heavy and hot during the day, was leavened by a breeze from Apalachicola Bay. She could smell the fecund richness of the bay, the sea life.
The waitress came out and asked her if she needed anything.
“Have you lived here long?”
“Grew up in Port St. Joe.”
“Do you know a man named Jimmy de Seroux?”
“Dot would know.” She nodded to the bar. “She’s the bartender.”
There were only a few people inside. The middle-aged woman wiping down the bar looked up and smiled.
“Jimmy? Of course I know him. What’s he up to? Haven’t seen him in a coon’s age.”
“I heard he’s a photographer and he lives somewhere around here.”
“I didn’t know that. Photographer, huh? Must be one of those multi-talented people.” She sighed. “Some people get all the talent. The rest of us have to work for a living.” She flicked a dishrag over the polished bar top.
Laura said, “He does something besides photography?”
Dot pointed at a autographed photo above the bar. “Jimmy used to play the piano here. Pretty good, too.”
Laura peered at the photograph. Hard to see in the dim light. She asked Dot if she would take it down, and Dot obliged, handing it to her.
Laura stared at the picture. She felt the skin of her scalp tighten.
She’d seen many photographs like it, mostly in bars: A black-and-white photo in a black frame, typical publicity shot. But this wasn’t any photo.
Looking into that face, Laura had a bad feeling—a visceral reaction rather than anything based on logic.
If she’d glanced at the photo on the wall in a dark bar, she wouldn’t have looked twice. The guy wasn’t attractive. He wasn’t even interesting. Just an average guy, mid-thirties, pale face and narrow mouth. The distance between nose and mouth was long and simian, like Homer Simpson. Wispy hair on the longish side, combed across a domed forehead. A white short-sleeved shirt that would have gone well with a pocket protector. He looked soft, almost effeminate—harmless.
He looked like a lot of people. The kind of person you’ve seen before, but couldn’t place.
But his eyes were dead.
Dot ducked back behind the bar and snapped down a business card on the bar. “I knew I had it somewhere,” she said triumphantly. “People are always leaving their cards with us.”
The card said “JIMMY DE SEROUX * Photographer * Musician * Piano Lessons * Piano Tuning.” An address, a phone number, and an e-mail address.
“He gives piano lessons to kids?”
“Oh yeah. My neighbor’s daughter studied with him for a while. I went to her recital. They had it at the Elks Hall.”
A pedophile who had access to children through his job. A man who could play a wedding or photograph one. A mild, unassuming little guy.
She looked at the eyes again. Dull. As if she were looking at them instead of into them, not even a pinpoint of light to show the way to his soul.
She had seen him somewhere. Maybe in one of the photographs she’d taken on Brewery Gulch near the crime scene.
“Is this address close to here?”
“Just go west on C, that’s the street right out front, and you’ll run right into 15th Street.”
Laura glanced around. The other two patrons were gone, and she and Dot were alone. “How long since he last played here?”
“A few months ago, at least.”
“Can you remember when the recital was?”
“What is this?”
Laura produced her badge and ID.
“I don’t have to talk to you.”
“I know, but I wish you would.”
“What did he do?”
“Nothing, that I know of. He’s one of many people we’re looking at who might know something about a crime in Arizona.”
“What kind of crime?”
“Do you mind if I ask the questions at the moment? I promise I’ll tell you what I know if you’ll just humor me.”
Dot’s eyes darkened. Definitely hostile.
Laura asked, “At the recital. Did he spend a lot of time with the girls?”
“What do you mean?”
“Did he enjoy their company more than that of adults? Did you notice anything like that?”
Dot’s mouth flatlined. “You’ve got it all wrong. That doesn’t sound like Jimmy at all.”
“You may be right. But why don’t you think it sounds like Jimmy?”
“He’s … it’s hard to explain. You don’t know what he looks like in person. He’s kind of small. You ever read that story about Walter Mitty? He’s like that. And respectful of women.”
“How do you mean?”
“He was raised up right. You can tell. He’s almost old-fashioned—giving up his seat at the bar when the place is full or opening the door, just a bunch of ways.”
“Do you know his family?”
“No.” She took a deep breath. “All I know is he minds his own business, and I can’t see him wanting to hurt little girls. It just doesn’t fit the kind of person he is.”
Laura thought Jimmy de Seroux was precisely the type of man who would go after little girls.
The windows of the twin-gabled Victorian cottage on Fifteenth Street were dark. The yard was overgrown and leaves from the enormous live oak out front littered the roof. Wild vines snarled and matted the screened-in porch, as dark and secretive as the night surrounding it.
Hand near her weapon, Laura stepped into the porch and knocked on the door. She expected and got no answer. Although the place was neat and had been kept up, it had an abandoned feel to it, as if its owner had been gone for a while.
A breeze blew, heavily laden with the smell of the gulf, and a few acorns pelted the walk. Grass grew between the cracks.
He wasn’t here. The feeling Laura had about Jimmy de Seroux solidified. He hadn’t been here in a long time. Months maybe.
She glanced around. The house next door was boarded up. The rest of the street was quiet, a mixture of large houses and small. A few porch lights were on. But nobody looking out their windows, nobody on their front porches, no one driving by. It was too hot, even at this time of night.
Laura walked along the side of the house, peering at the windows. Most of them were draped, but she could see through the back door into the kitchen. She flashed her light, holding her hand over the top to keep the glare down.
Yellow linoleum. Honey-maple cabinets. Very neat. A Felix the Cat clock on the wall.
She closed her eyes. Smelled the fecund earth, growing things. The slight mildew smell of the concrete. She tried to absorb the vibrations of the place, put herself into his place.
She knew he was gone. Traveling.
A breeze shifted the massive oak branches, their shadows playing over the crushed gypsum drive to the right of the lawn, bone-white against lush darkness. There was a cleared space beside the drive, scars on the grass where someone had parked.
An old truck sat inside a carport fashioned from banged-together wood and corrugated plastic sheeting. Parked behind the truck, was a smallish boat covered by a blue tarp. The truck fit Peter Dorrance’s description— a 1967 Chevrolet pickup. Blue, dented, and splotched with rust around the wheel wells.
She walked around and peered through the side window, which had been cracked a couple of inches. Old, but clean. None of the usual detritus you’d find in a car someone used a lot. Rain had gotten in; the seat covers were water-stained and wet leaves had drifted in through the crack in the window, sticking to the floorboards like tea leaves at the bottom of a cup.
Laura walked to the front and then the back of the truck. No license plate. She pulled on the latex gloves she always carried with her, reached through the passenger side window, and pulled up on the door handle. The door squeaked open. She paused, looked around, thinking how loud it sounded. Opened the glove compartment and shined her light in. A tire gauge, a few maps, registration two years old. The maps were for Georgia, Alabama, and Florida. Buried among the change and paper clips was one of those cards where if you get it stamped ten times you get a free meal. A Port St. Joe address. This card was for the Zebra Island Trading Post and Raw Bar in Port St. Joe. It had been stamped eight times.
He was a regular there.
Jimmy de Seroux was a pianist, which could mean he played piano at the Zebra Island Trading Post and Raw Bar. Someone to talk to.
She started back down the driveway and stopped at the place on the grass next to the driveway where someone had parked. Tire tracks that had sunk deep into the ground and dried that way.
They belonged to a heavy vehicle. They looked familiar.
Laura memorized the tread style and walked back to the pickup and looked at its tires.
The treads on the truck were different. Something else had been parked here on the berm. Something bigger, like the tracks on West Boulevard.
Back in her room, she couldn’t sleep. She was worried that Jerry Grimes or Mike Galaz would call her back any time. She had nothing to show for this expensive trip except a gut feeling and a digital photo that could be downloaded by anyone.
Laura turned on the light. The only thing she’d brought to read was her mother’s files on the Tucson murders and the six chapters of Death in the Desert. Laura removed the files from her suitcase and slid out Alice Cardinal’s unfinished manuscript, held together by an industrial-size paper clip. She realized that she never did follow up with the detective on the Julie Marr case. There had been too much going on.
Laura skimmed through the chapter on Julie Marr, still feeling it was strange—almost creepy—that her mother could write about a girl Laura used to see daily at school.
Alice Cardinal’s book echoed much of what Laura had already read in the clippings. The car used in Julie’s abduction had come from A&B Auto Wrecking. Laura’s mother had interviewed the owner, Jack Landis.
Landis told detectives that the car in question, a 1955 Chevrolet sedan, had been one of the few vehicles at the junkyard that was driveable.
Probably he took it because it was parked outside the fence, Landis said, pointing at the tall chain link fence bordering the yard full of twisted, rusty car hulks. Landis explained that he also did muffler repair and that he used the orange and white car as a loaner car to people who needed transportation while they waited.
I guess he didn’t want to face Luke and Laura, he said, nodding to the two Dobermans inside the yard.
Had the killer stolen a car just to use in commission of this vicious and brutal crime? It seems likely that he did. The Tucson Police detective on the case certainly thought so.
Laura found herself drifting off to sleep. Whatever lessons she could learn from the murder of Julie Marr would have to wait.
“I want you to run somebody on NCIC for me,” Laura said when she reached Victor the next morning.
“Can’t you do it yourself? We’re a little busy here.”
“Lehman’s about to give it up.”
“What makes you think that?”
“His lawyer wants a meeting. This whole thing could unravel in the next couple of days. You really ought to be here.”
“I’ll try to hurry it up,” she said. “Do you have the lab report on the tire treads taken up on West Boulevard?”
“Hold on, let me look.” She heard him shuffle papers. “Got a whole shitload of stuff from the lab yesterday. A lot to plow through.”
Hinting that without her there, it was twice as much work.
She waited as the paper shuffled for an inordinate amount of time, thinking that if she was wrong about Jimmy de Seroux and had wasted the DPS’s limited budget on a whim, Galaz wouldn’t back her up. She’d be on her own.
“Here it is,” Victor said at last. “They’re Michelins. XRVs.”
“What kind of tires are those?”
“Big ones. The kind you get on trucks, motor homes.”
“Anything else? Was he able to get the wheelbase?”
“I’m looking,” he said impatiently. She could tell he resented having to do it. “Here it is. Looks like it was a motor home. That narrows it down. There are only thousands of them all over Arizona.”
“I’m sending you photos of some treads I found out here. I’m also faxing you the photo of a possible suspect, his name is—“
“Suspect? Didn’t you hear a word I just said?”
She ignored that. “I’ll FedEx a copy of the original as soon as I can get it done. The guy’s name is Jimmy de Seroux.” She spelled it for him and gave him the registration number of his truck. “Be sure to run him on NCIC.”
“Can’t you do it?”
“I don’t have access to NCIC right at this moment.”
Silence. Then, “I’ve got to get going. Lehman’s lawyer’s gonna be here any minute.”
The Apalachicola Police Department offices took up the second story of City Hall near the Apalachicola River. From its proximity to the water, the building could have been a cotton warehouse when the town was a bustling port.
A giant standing fan dominated Chief Redbone’s office, blowing like a blizzard across the cluttered space.
A large man with thinning blond hair and a strawberry complexion, Clyde Redbone heaved himself out of his chair and held out a hand. In his late forties, more muscle than fat, he looked like a former linebacker.
“Cardinal. I know. Couldn’t forget a pretty name like that. My secretary told me you’d be coming by.” He directed her to a leather couch against the wall that had seen better days. “Sit down, take a load off.”
He skimmed his bulk expertly from behind his desk and aimed the standing fan at her. “How’s that?”
Gale force, but in this heat and humidity, necessary. “Thanks.”
“Something to drink? Coffee? Co’Cola?”
She asked for water and he filled a mug with water from the cooler. He sat down and folded his hands on the green felt blotter. He wore a short-sleeved shirt that exposed massive arms mottled with freckles run together under a nest of blond hair. “What can I help you with?”
“I’m interested in a man named Jimmy de Seroux. Do you know him?”
He leaned back and regarded her through watery blue eyes. Something going on behind them, but she couldn’t tell what it was. “I know Jimmy, but not well. Good piano player.”
“I’m trying to locate him.”
“Think he lives over on Fifteenth Street.” He reached for the phone book.
“I know where he lives. I thought you could give me assistance.”
He stood up and reached for his hat, hooked on an old-fashioned hat stand beside the desk. “Why not?” He checked his watch. “Tell you what. It’s lunch time. I was just going to go down to the park and have my sandwich. We could talk there. I try never to miss my half hour outdoors.”
Girls’ voices from the stairwell, giggling and strident.
A couple of teenage girls—twins—clattered into the office on tall sandals. One blonde, one redhead. The blonde wore her hair long and straight, parted in the middle. She wore a short, flouncy skirt. The redhead wore short shorts, much more makeup, and enough chains to pass for Marley’s Ghost. Identical twins, but each of them had developed her own look. Laura guessed it was a way to maintain their individuality.
Redbone looked stricken. “Holy moly, you walked down the street like that?”
From the looks the girls gave him, Laura had the feeling he’d said words to that effect before.
“Can we take the car?” asked the blond one. “Graham wants us to help him look at boats.”
“You think that kid can afford a boat?”
Gum snapped. “Dad. We’re just looking.”
“Graham should be studying for the SATs, and so should you. By the way, this is Laura Cardinal from Arizona. That one who thinks she’s in the navel academy is Amanda, and this is Georgette.”
Georgette lifted her hand in a tiny, lacquered wave, Amanda rolled her eyes.
“Please? Can we have the car or not?” asked Amanda, for all her makeup and chains sounding like a southern belle in training.
“Yes, you can have the car. But you gotta be back by five. Your mother’s cooking roast chicken. Got that?”
They were already out the door, their thank you’s banging off the walls behind them.
Redbone shook his head. “Don’t ever have girls,” he said. “They’ll give you an ulcer, then break your bankbook.”
“There was a girl,” Chief Redbone said, in response to Laura’s question. He had to talk loud over the riding mower negotiating the lawn at the far end of Battery Park. They sat at a picnic table under a canopy of oaks, eating sandwiches bought from a deli on Market Street. Laura had asked the guy at the deli for a hoagie, and he’d looked at her as if she’d come from another planet. Chief Redbone interceded and got them over the language barrier. Next time she’d ask for a sub.
Laura looked out the little marina at the edge of Battery Park, enjoying the sight of the sailboats drowsing in the paint-peeling Gulf sun. Watching them rocking gently in the hot light had a soporific affect.
“Linnet Sobek,” Clyde Redbone said. “Thought she was a runaway.” He took a bite of his sandwich and chewed thoughtfully. “She ran off twice before. Got herself in all kinds of trouble. You know. Boys, drugs, getting drunk, fighting.” He shook his head, his eyes sad. “Only thirteen years old.”
Thinking about his daughters?
“Couldn’t really blame her. She had a rotten home life. Mother was a meth head. Lots to run away from.”
The aroma of cooking meat drifted across the park in a smoke haze. Laura glanced over at a large family group taking up two tables across the park. Kids, dogs, overweight adults in shorts and tent-like tees. She remembered Victor’s pictures from Lieutenant Galaz’s cookout. “When did she disappear?”
“2002. Early summer—June, I think. I’ve got the file back at the office. She was last seen hitchhiking on C30-A near the turnoff to Indian Pass. Telephone repairman up on a pole saw her go by.”
“You questioned him?”
“What do you think I do here? Trot myself out for the Fourth of July parade every year?”
“No offense taken. Man’s got to stand up for himself, especially when the big guns from Arizona come callin’.” He grinned, his expression saying no offense. “Humility is a southern trait, since we have so much to be humble about. You’re gonna choke, you scarf down that sandwich so fast.”
“It’s good.” She wiped her mouth with a wispy napkin from the deli. “Those times she ran away. Did she come back voluntarily?”
“Nope. Her brother found her both times.”
He nodded to the cold thermos at his elbow. “Sure you don’t want to try a little of the local brew?”
Sweet tea. “No thanks. What did she look like?”
“That’s the funny thing.” He balled up the butcher paper his sandwich came in and threw it into the garbage can nearby: three points. “Those photos you showed me of your victims? She looked a lot like both those girls. Pretty and blond.”
After lunch they took a tree-lined rural road, C-30A, out to Zebra Island Trading Post and Raw Bar at Indian Pass.
Laura glanced at Redbone. He drove in a desultory fashion, the seat back all the way and one freckled hand steering from the bottom of the wheel.
“Zebra Island Trading Post?” she asked.
“This is the turn-off for St. Vincent Island. St. Vincent was owned by a rich man who thought it would look good with a bunch of zebras on it.”
Before they left the park, the chief suggested that he take the lead, since he knew the owners and probably knew the clientele as well. Laura agreed; she was a fish out of water here.
Redbone swung the wheel and the patrol car slewed into a sandy parking lot, nose in to an old-fashioned country store. Under the pitched roof were a collection of weathered murals depicting an Indian chief’s head—complete with warbonnet—a pastoral scene of zebras grazing, and a giant oyster. A GONE FISHIN’ sign hung in the window.
“Well, that’s strange. I didn’t know Gary was going fishing,” Redbone said. “Guess we should’ve called first.”
They were still thinking what to do when a dull red Blazer of indeterminate age pulled into the lot. KC lights up top, jacked-up wheels. A sinewy man in a black T-shirt and camo pants emerged from the Blazer and went to the newspaper vending machines out front.
The chief buzzed down his window and cocked his elbow on the door. “Ronnie! How you doing?”
“Hey.” Ronnie came over and bent his head inside the driver’s door. “How’re you?”
Chief Redbone nodded Laura’s way. “This pretty lady here is Criminal Investigator Laura Cardinal from Arizona. You know Jimmy de Seroux, don’t you?”
“Jimmy? He photographed my sister’s wedding.”
Redbone turned to Laura. “Ron’s cousin owns this place. Where is Gary, anyway?”
“Went down to St. George for a couple of days of R and R. I’m keeping an eye on the place.”
“Was Jimmy a regular?”
“Sure was. Came in at least once a week.”
“He tell you he was going anywhere?”
Ron rubbed the bristles on his chin. “As a matter of fact, he did. Said he was taking a trip to see the country.”
“When was this?”
“Long time ago. It was still cold—I remember talkin’ to him outside, and as I recall, there was a hard frost from the night before.”
“He say anything else?”
Ron thought about it. “I don’t think so.”
“You know Jimmy very well?”
“Just, he likes his burgers. Every time he come in here he ordered a burger medium rare. Ron don’t cook medium rare anymore. They’d go round and round on that.”
“Jimmy have a girlfriend?”
“Never saw him with anybody. I don’t remember him socializing with anybody, male or female. Real quiet guy, kind of kept to himself.”
“How come he told you he was going on a trip?”
“I don’t remember how that came up. Is it important?” He peered in through the window again. “Did he do something in Arizona?”
“That’s what we’re trying to figure out,” Redbone said. “Somebody still breaking into those vending machines?”
“Nope. But it don’t hurt to check.”
Laura asked, “Do you know if he had an RV? Camper, motor home?”
Ron shook his head. “Heck, I was surprised when he told me he was going on a trip. Must have been feeling talkative that day.”
Back at Apalachicola PD, Redbone showed Laura the file on Linnet Sobek. It was a thin file because she was considered a missing person. The photograph attached was eerily similar in appearance to that of Alison Burns. Same heart-shaped face, big blue eyes, child’s small nose. Blond hair.
They could have been twins.
Scanning the file, Laura saw nothing that Redbone hadn’t already told her, but she asked for a copy of the file anyway.
“I’ll just run him on NCIC and see what comes up,” Redbone said.
There were no wants or warrants on a Jimmy de Seroux. No previous convictions. If he was who Laura thought he was, he had been very successful as a criminal, sailing under the radar all his adult life.
Next, Redbone checked the Motor Vehicle Division records. Jimmy de Seroux owned only one vehicle, the blue 1967 Chevrolet pickup.
“So much for the motor home theory,” the chief said. “You ask me, it’s pretty thin.”
“What’s pretty thin?”
An Apalachicola PD officer appeared in the doorway and the room decreased in size by twenty-five percent.
“Just helpin’ out a fellow peace officer run down a suspect.” Chief Redbone introduced Laura to the officer, Jerry Oliver.
Oliver took off his hat and Laura saw the sweat line in his hair above his moon face. She also noticed that his brass was unpolished, his nameplate so filmy,she couldn’t read his name.
“So who’s the guy?” Oliver said. “Maybe I know him.”
“It’s none of—“
“Jimmy de Seroux,” Laura said.
“Jimmy?” Oliver snorted. “No way. No way he’d do anything violent, considering what—”
“Jerry, did you go by Mrs. Darling’s?” Chief Redbone said. “She’s mighty agitated about that Buckner kid and his loud music.”
“I’ve talked to her three times. The kid doesn’t play that loud.”
“Well, go talk to her anyway. See if you can work it out. Use your negotiating skills.”
Oliver’s face turned stubborn, and he rested his hand on his nightstick. “Let me at least get a drink of water. It’s hot as Hades out there.” He crossed over to the water cooler. “Arizona, huh? How’d you get a line on Jimmy?” he asked Laura, pouring water on his hands and rubbing his face.
“Jerry, I want you to get your butt out there now.” Redbone’s voice boomed. Laura looked at him. She saw a hard light in his eyes.
“I’m goin’, I’m goin.’”
Chief Redbone watched him leave.
“That boy is the laziest sonofagun I ever saw.” Back to his easy-going, affable self. Smiling, expansive. “Can’t do a thing about it, though. His daddy’s on the city council.”
When Laura got back to the Gibson Inn, she checked at the front desk for messages. Victor still hadn’t called back. She called him and got his voice mail. Left her own and paged him, too.
She wondered if Lehman had confessed. There might already be a deal in the works. And here she was in Florida with nothing.
Tilting at windmills.
She looked at her list again.
Alison Burns - similar
Dress patterns – Inspirational Woman
Motor home seen at Brewery Gulch
Motor home seen near primary crime scene
Digital camera, jewelry sent to Alison/Internet connection (?)
The man in the photo—beach house?
Serial killer, organized type?
Differences between Jessica and Alison: period of time kept, age, manner of death
Postmortem vs. antemortem
She had added five items to the list:
Dorrance – J. de Seroux photog
Tire treads at J’s
Linnet Sobek – last seen near oyster bar
J.S. regular at oyster bar
Linnet Sobek looks like Alison and Jessica
Chief Redbone was right: Pretty thin.
De Seroux had no criminal record. He didn’t own a motor home. And as Victor had pointed out, anyone could have downloaded Dorrance’s picture from the Internet.
Laura stared at the picture of de Seroux she had photocopied. The deadness in his eyes didn’t translate to the dark photocopy, or it could be that she had attached too much significance to it. A lot of people looked dull. Her conviction that he was Jessica’s killer was starting to evaporate.
To cheer herself up, she went out and treated herself on her own money to a good dinner. Oysters, crab cakes, and Merlot at the Owl Café. The place was small and intimate. The rest of the diners were all couples.
Usually, she wasn’t bothered about dining out alone. But tonight she felt self-conscious, as if people were looking at her. That wasn’t true—one glance at the other diners told her that. They were too concerned with each other.
Maybe that was it. She pictured Tom opposite her, their heads bent together over wine glasses. Pictured them walking out on the marina dock set in a plain of marsh and sawgrass, holding hands and watching the sun set on the water. Or on the porch at the Gibson Inn, listening to the night sounds, making out if no one else was around.
In the king-sized bed.
His presence, the way he looked at her, the quiet way he talked. Never, ever in a hurry. His life just the way he wanted it. Something to be said for that.
Except his life wasn’t exactly the way he wanted or else he wouldn’t want her.
As a cop, she always worked with a partner. Someone to watch her back, an ally. Not being alone …
It always came as a surprise to her that she didn’t have any family. There were relatives back east, people she hardly knew. She doubted they would welcome her intrusion and she didn’t want anything from them. She was used to being alone; only children were, as a rule, self-reliant.
Still, she’d always thought she would find someone. She had thought that Billy Linton would solve all her problems, that he could wipe out the idea of her parents dying by gunshot at close-range. Of course that had not worked. She and Billy didn’t have the stuff to sustain even a normal relationship, let alone one that was that had been banged up from the beginning. Ever since, all she had to show for a personal life was a string of failed relationships.
Now Tom was asking her to give it a try one more time. Living together wasn’t marriage, but it was a commitment. She couldn’t even think about getting married again, but she could think about sharing her house.
She paid her check and walked back to the Inn, decided to prolong the night by having another drink out on the gallery. She walked into the bar, glancing up at Jimmy de Seroux’s publicity photo.
She’d seen him before … well, of course she had. She’d studied that photograph more than a few times in the last two days. But there was something else.
Then it came to her.
Where she had seen him.
“What a day,” Victor said when he finally got back to Laura that night. “We really thought he was going to take a plea, but he backed out at the last minute.”
“Lehman? What did he say?”
“Nothing. He demanded to talk to his lawyer in private and that was it, man. Never came back. Is Cruller pissed!”
Roger Cruller was the county attorney.
“I knew—knew—he was going to confess. Why else did Glass call this whole fucking dog-and-pony show? And then, nada.”
Laura wondered about Lehman’s attorney, Barry Glass, who had a reputation for winning big cases. Why had he called the meeting if he didn’t want to work out a deal? Only if Lehman himself got cold feet.
“And the bad thing? We don’t have enough to arrest him at this point. The forensics on the computer could take months. You should hear the lame shit his attorney tried to feed me—like the screenplay? He said it was in the refrigerator because, get this, he wanted to protect it in case there was a fire.”
She let him rant for a while before changing the subject. “Did you run my guy’s name through NCIC?” she asked.
“I’ve been so busy, I must’ve forgot. You still want me to do it? I’ll get to it first—”
“That’s okay, we ran him at the PD here. He doesn’t have a criminal record.”
“Well, I guess that’s it.”
He ignored that. “I have some news you might be interested in. Timmy Judd’s in intensive care. He tried to kill himself today. Drank some drain cleaner. They don’t know how he got it. But you know he’s gotta be suffering.”
Laura thought about Shannon Judd, only seven years old, having the presence of mind to make her way into the crawl space underneath her house—the house she had lived in all her short life—to hide from her own father. The pain and fear she must have experienced as her life drained away along with the blood from two gunshot wounds.
“Hope it destroys his throat, his esophagus, his digestive tract—I hope he gets cancer.”
“He’s feeling it, that’s for sure.”
They were both silent for a moment.
Laura sensed that whatever rift had been between them was healing. She might as well make him even happier. “I’m thinking about coming back soon.”
“I want to get into his house, but I don’t have enough to get a warrant.”
“Come on, do you really think he’s the one? I’m telling you, Lehman was this close to telling it all.”
Laura mentally shrugged. “I would like you to do one thing for me. The photographs I took at the crime scene that first morning—of all the people hanging out there? Could you FedEX them to me?”
“I came straight home from Bisbee. I’d have to go back to the squad bay to pick them up, then Fed Ex—“
“I know he was there, in Bisbee. I saw him. You did, too.”
“He was the pianist at the Copper Queen Hotel.”
MUSICMAN. HOT WHEELS. WARLOCK. SMOOTH TALK. TRAVELER.
It was like having a wardrobe full of costumes. You could change your clothes whenever you felt like it. You just decided what person you wanted to be that day—whatever fit your mood—and donned the name like a favorite shirt or jacket.
His favorite right now was “Traveler,” for a couple of reasons. One, he had always loved the open road, loved to drive. Just pick a route—back road or freeway, it didn’t matter—and follow it. Go where he pleased, always looking for what was beyond the next bend in the road. But the most pertinent connotation of the word “traveler” came from the books the profilers used, those books about people like him. Men who killed—serial killers—had a tendency to go from place to place so they wouldn’t get caught. They were called “travelers,” and he thought this the height of irony to use that for one of his e-mail names. It was a hint, even though no one had ever picked up on it. A clever nod to fair play.
He had not done much traveling lately, although he had moved ninety miles to the north. Tucson was an easy town to disappear in. He had melted right into the Tucson melting pot. He was careful, though, staying close to the freeway in a Motel 6, only venturing out of the neighborhood to a UPS Store to pick up the money Dark Moondancer had sent him.
He was in the Motel 6 now, doing what he loved best—trolling the net. But even that paled in comparison to what was on his mind: the e-mail from LVRGRL@livewire.com.
Intrigued, he’d opened it—and knew right away it was her.
She told him what happened—how her parents had discovered the camera and jewelry he’d sent her and demanded to know where she got them. She’d refused to tell, and her father, the son-of-a-bitch, took away her computer privileges.
But his girl had spunk. It took her awhile, but she managed to talk her mother into letting her use her computer for school, and immediately she set up a new e-mail account.
Kids these days.
I was scared but now I know how much I really luv U and I know its right. They cant keep us apart
Reading that, Musicman couldn’t help experiencing a tiny kernel of hope.
He had to be sure, though.
He went through all his CRZYGRL12 messages, starting with the most recent and going backward. He read the messages which had lured him to Bisbee, messages he now knew were false:
I have to go visit my dad in the poduk town. Boriiiing. Theirs nothig to do there.
I’ve been thinking. Your right. Its time we got together.
Lie, lie, lie.
I know a park were we coud meet
I want to do it now
I luv U
Musicman went back through each e-mail, scrupulously, trying to figure out when the imposter had taken over. Looking for changes in syntax and content. He couldn’t see anything different. She used “lay” instead of “lie”, a common grammatical mistake. Lots of smiley faces and sad faces, depending on her mood. The same misspellings: “their” for “there”; “coud” for “could”.
He printed everything up; sometimes you could spot stuff on hard copy that you missed on the screen. Went through the e-mails again, starting with the most recent, going backward in time.
And then he saw it.
Theirs nothig to do there.
He rummaged through the twenty-seven pages of correspondence he had saved to disk, scanning rapidly, pulse thumping in his ears. Did she use “their” and “there” indiscriminately?
No. Thirteen times she’d written “their”. Never “there”.
Whoever intercepted their e-mails—and pretended to be CRZYGRL12—had slipped up. A common mistake; it’s hard to misspell on purpose. Spelling was a habit like anything else. Like if you tried to change your handwriting. As careful as you were, you had a tendency to revert to what you were.
How had he missed it?
Now he had to figure out if this latest e-mail came from the girl or the imposter.
Back in Chief Redbone’s mildew-smelling office, Laura removed the top two photographs from the envelope Victor had FedExed her and spread them out on his desk beside the photograph of Jimmy de Seroux.
“Kind of looks like him,” Redbone said. “If you take away the mustache.” He was in the process of eating a slice of apple pie from a styrofoam box.
“I saw him myself. Playing piano at a bar in Bisbee.”
He sat back and folded his hands over his stomach. “That may be, but you’re not what Judge Lanier would call an impartial witness, and he’s who we gotta get around if we want a warrant.” He sighed and pushed the photo back across the table. “Sounds pretty circumstantial to me. Judge Lanier doesn’t like circumstantial evidence. Honestly, I don’t think he’s gonna bite.”
“The tire tracks outside his house are the same make and type as the ones found near the primary crime scene—Michelin XRVs.” She pushed the lab report that Victor had faxed along with the photos across the desk.
Redbone picked it up, holding it out in order to read it. “Says here it’s the same kind, but there must be millions of these things all over the country. There’s no anomaly to show these are the exact same tires.” He put his hands behind his head. “Lanier’s not going to like that.”
Laura had experience with recalcitrant judges. She always sought out the toughest judges because if they okayed a search warrant, the defense attorney would be left with one less piece of ammunition. “I’ll take my chances.”
The chief shook his head. “I can tell you right now he’ll dearly love tearing this apart. Lookie here, the dress—the link to that Alison Burns killing. How many people use those patterns? They’re on the Internet. And how many people could’ve downloaded this boy’s picture? He’s got it out there for everybody to see.”
He scooped up some melted ice cream, licked the plastic spoon.
“Nope,” he added morosely, “I don’t see Judge Lanier liking this at all.”
Judge Lanier had them in and out in ten minutes.
“He’s got a golf game at ten,” Chief Redbone explained as they were ushered out by the judge’s white-haired bailiff. “He sure as heck shot us down. I’m sorry about that.”
“Whatever happened to Southern hospitality?”
Redbone held the door open for her. “He’s a transplant from Rhode Island.”
Laura tried to think if she could have done anything different, but it had all happened so fast. Judge Lanier had said few words to them inside his stuffy, smoke-filled chamber, but the ones he did use were scathing. “A waste of the court’s time.” “A snipe hunt.” And: “I don’t know how you do it out in the southwest, Miss Criminal Investigator of the DP of S, but here we have laws and we have precedence. You will not turn this court into a Star Chamber. The de Serouxs have been through enough, and I will not permit this witch hunt.”
“What was that about the de Serouxs?” Laura asked Redbone as they walked down the steps of the courthouse.
Redbone said, “The Judge doesn’t like extra work, and this qualifies. He doesn’t want to come under any scrutiny. He just keeps a low profile so he’s retained every few years. Well,” he patted her arm, “I’ve got to be going. Gotta keep the streets safe for posterity.”
He got into his unit and drove sedately down Market Street. She saw him turn in the direction of the police department.
Laura realized he never answered her question.
Hungry, she walked up Market to the Cloud Nine Coffee Shop. Taking a red vinyl booth by the window, she pulled the photos of Jessica Parris, Alison Burns, and Linnet Sobek out of her briefcase and spread them out on the formica surface.
There had to be a way to get into that house. Her conviction was growing—this was the guy. She just had to look harder, find something she’d missed.
She stared at the photographs. All three girls looked alike. The same type. Similar hair length, if not style, same pert nose. A dusting of freckles. Innocent, wide blue eyes.
Jessica was the anomaly. Brown eyes. Light-boned, small for her age. Jessica was the mistake. The abduction of Jessica Parris was an act of impulse after de Seroux failed to get the girl he wanted.
The waitress appeared and upended a brown ceramic mug. “Coffee?” she asked.
Laura nodded. The blond waitress looked to be in her sixties. Laura was mesmerized by the woman’s upper eyelids, the color of purple grapes and almost as puffy, ending in eyelashes heavily lined in black. Her nameplate said “Marlee”.
She glanced at the photograph of Linnet Sobek. “I sure hope she landed someplace good.” She gave Laura a searching look. “You a reporter?”
Laura just wanted to be left alone, but the waitress was friendly. “You don’t sound like you’re from around here,” the waitress added.
“I’m from Arizona.”
“Well, isn’t that a small world? I lived with my daughter and her husband in Phoenix up until a year or two ago. Where you say you were from?”
“Tucson.” She wished the woman would leave her alone to think.
“I grew up here, never wanted to leave, but my daughter wanted me to come live with her and I wanted to be near my grandchildren … now the kids are grown, and I just couldn’t stop being homesick for this little town. So I finally made a break and came on back. One thing I’ve got is really good feet, that plus stamina, so I figure I can work until I’m seventy at least. Plus, I like the work, being around people.”
Laura could appreciate that, but she just wanted to be left alone with her blue funk.
“What’ll it be? The biscuits and gravy are good.”
She remembered how when she was a kid she always ordered a BLT on white toast with a side of pickles. She hadn’t eaten white bread for years, but suddenly craved it. Must be the influence of the south.
The waitress pushed back a strand of brittle hair and said, “Sure thing, honey.” She whisked away with the menu and headed for the kitchen.
There was some kind of heating vent near the back wall and Laura could feel it on the back of her neck, steaming her clothes. The place looked none too clean either—a greasy spoon. Her dad loved greasy spoons. She’d forgotten about that.
Laura replaced the photographs of the girls with the picture of Jimmy de Seroux. Maybe she was wrong—what if it was Lehman?
She reached into the wooden bowl of dried olives in front of the table jukebox, suddenly starving, took one and bit. It wasn’t an olive—the thing was salty and kind of mushy. She had no idea what it was.
“Never had a boiled peanut before?” asked Marlee coming by with a fresh pot.
“Who’d want to boil peanuts?”
“You just keep on eating them, and sooner or later you’re gonna be addicted.” She set the plate with the BLT down on the table with a plastic click and glanced at the photograph of de Seroux. “You know Dale?”
“Dale?” Laura was confused.
“Dale Lundy. That’s got to be Bill Lundy’s son. What’s that say?” she added, craning her neck to see the writing on the bottom. “Best Wishes … Jimmy.”
Laura said, “Jimmy de Seroux.”
She frowned, as if she were trying to access something on her hard drive. “No. That just can’t be.”
“This is Jimmy de Seroux. He plays piano at the Gibson Inn.”
“No, that’s got to be Dale Lundy. He looks just like his daddy.”
Laura felt as if she’d just slipped down the rabbit hole. This woman obviously didn’t know what she was talking about. Everyone she’d talked to had assured her that this guy was Jimmy de Seroux. He’d signed his name Jimmy. It was Jimmy de Seroux. Laura reiterated that.
“Nope, that’s Dale Lundy. He looks so much like his daddy.” The woman’s conviction was unshakable. “Maybe you’re getting them confused because they were neighbors.”
There was something about the way she said it. As if she were holding back an unsavory detail. Laura remembered something Judge Lanier had said: The de Serouxs have been through enough.
“The de Serouxs and the Lundys were neighbors?”
“Next door neighbors.”
“You knew the de Seroux family?”
“I surely did. They used to come in every Saturday. Henry always ordered biscuits and gravy. Never ate anything different. That could have been a warning sign in itself.”
“Henry de Seroux. More coffee?”
Laura put her hand over the mug, natural curiosity getting the better of her. “What did you mean by ‘warning sign?’”
Suddenly, Marlee looked uncomfortable. “It was a long time ago. You don’t want to hear about that.”
Something bad—Laura could feel it. The judge’s statement, Chief Redbone’s evasions. He hadn’t told her anything about the de Serouxs. “What did he do?”
“I guess it’s no secret. He killed his own family.”
Laura stared at Marlee’s mouth, the net of wrinkles moving. Now that Laura had finally pried it out of her, Marlee was happy to share the gory details. “Slaughtered his wife and two little girls one afternoon, then turned the gun on himself. Shotgun—heard he had to use his big toe.”
“What about his son?”
“His son? Oh, the little boy. He died when he was younger—had leukemia. Can’t remember his name.”
“Then who’s Jimmy de Seroux?”
“Well, he could be a cousin. But that’s no de Seroux.” She tapped one long, lacquered nail on the photocopy. “That there is Dale Lundy. I know that because his daddy died must be eight, nine years ago, and he’s the spitting image of his father.”
Laura was having trouble absorbing this. “Dale lives here?”
“He might’ve come back, I don’t know. When his father died, an aunt took him in. She lived in Alabama.”
“You knew the father well?”
“Just to say ‘hi’ to. Not that he was what you’d call friendly. Bill was an oysterman.”
“And this Dale—did you know him?”
“Not hardly. I don’t think anybody saw much of that kid.”
Laura couldn’t make sense of what she was hearing, but she asked anyway. “Why was that?”
“His mother home-schooled him. Nothing wrong with that, plenty do, but there was more there than met the eye.” Marlee refilled Laura’s cup. “That’s a story in itself. She ran off and left the boy and his father to their own devices.”
Laura was still trying to reconcile the one man and two names.
Marlene continued, “Alene Lundy belonged to some religious group. These days you’d call it a cult. Everybody knew she was a little strange and she seemed to get worse, keeping to herself, keeping that son of hers away from other kids, and you know that’s not natural. If any family was going to end in tragedy, I’d a bet it would have been them, not the de Serouxs.” She nodded to the photo. “I don’t know who’s been pulling your leg, but that’s Dale Lundy.”
Laura caught Redbone as he was coming down the stairs of the police department. “Why didn’t you tell me about the de Seroux family?”
He paused in the stairwell, a Co’ Cola in his hand, the heat making his proximity stiflingly close. Laura saw little lumps of ice on the bottle. A Co’ Cola would really hit the spot right now, but for once he didn’t offer her one.
“Can’t talk now. I’m on my way to a meeting,” Redbone said, continuing down the stairs. Laura followed him out into the heat haze.
“I want to know why you didn’t tell me about the de Seroux murders.”
“Holy Jesus Lord, it’s hot today.” He pressed the Coke bottle to his sweating cheek. Perspiration like giant inkblots soaked his shirt. Looked at her. Good ol’ boy with eyes of steel. “That de Seroux story was a long time ago. That’s why.”
“Maybe so, but it could have affected my case.”
“And how would that be?”
“Whether it did or not, you should have let me know. At least then I’d have some idea what I was dealing with.”
“He’s a cousin from the outside,” he said, stressing the word “outside.” “He had nothing to do with any of that.”
“You had to know I’d find out. A mass murder in a small town isn’t—“
“That’s all water under the bridge. Folks here don’t like to talk about it. We don’t like to even think about it.”
“So the piano player is Jimmy de Seroux.”
“He is to the best of my knowledge.”
“What does that mean?”
He shrugged. “I know the family had cousins somewhere. He showed up and said he was a cousin. He owned the house. That was good enough for me. People here mind their own business.”
“But didn’t you wonder about his resemblance to Lundy?”
“I thought that wasn’t any of my business either.”
“What? Oh.” She got the inflection. “You think Bill Lundy might have—”
“I think we’ve aired enough dirty laundry for one day.” He unlocked his car.
She persisted. “How would that happen?”
He took off his straw hat and placed the Coke against his forehead, smearing his dripping coils of hair. “The way it always happens, I guess.”
“You’re saying Bill Lundy and Mrs. De Seroux had an affair?”
“Look, missy, I don’t know. Could be a lot of things happened. Henry had a sister, a real spinster type, if you’ll excuse the saying. She lived there for a while. Don’t ask when because I don’t remember. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m late.”
“I want you to run Dale Lundy for me.”
“When I get back I’ll do it first thing,” he said, hefting his bulk into his unit.
The doors to the Apalachicola Times were locked—closed, even though it was the middle of the day. So Laura went looking for the library.
The library was located on a quiet Apalachicola street; a red brick, one-story building with white trim. Laura asked the librarian if she had newspapers or microfiche dating back to the time of the de Seroux murders.
The librarian looked at her, a vague uneasiness creeping into her deep violet eyes. She was a pretty woman, powdered and small, somewhere in her thirties. “The de Seroux murders?”
“That’s what I heard. Someone named Henry de Seroux killed his wife and daughters here in Apalachicola.”
The librarian looked shocked. “When was this?”
“A long time ago. It’s not something that people would forget, though.”
Definitely flustered. “Excuse me, let me take a look, see what I have on the database.”
She went into the back room. Laura waited.
At last she returned. “I couldn’t find any references on the computer, but that doesn’t mean anything. We have back issues of the Times going back to the mid-seventies.”
“So you never heard that story? Have you lived here long?”
“I guess it would be before that then.” A mass murder would appear on the front page, so all she’d have to do was look for the headlines. She’d start with 1990 and work her way back from there.
The librarian took her to the little alcove where the microfiche machine was. She showed Laura how to wind the tape on the spool, and Laura let her, although she’d done this many times before.
There was no reference to a mass murder in 1990. Or 1989, 1988, 1987.
By the time she got to 1983, her neck was beginning to ache.
And then she saw it: Page One, June 12, 1983.
“LOCAL MAN KILLS FAMILY, SELF”
She read quickly, getting more excited as she read.
Henry de Seroux, a respected dentist and family man, had cancelled the newspaper subscription, the water, the electricity, and the gas; gave his golf clubs to his surprised receptionist; and went home to kill his family and himself.
No mention of a young man who could be a cousin. No mention of any other family at all.
There was a picture of the family, though. A studio portrait with a gauzy, blue background. The two girls were pretty and blond. One of them, sitting on her mother’s lap, was five or six. Her name was Carrie. The other, standing, was older—eleven? Twelve?
She looked familiar, and Laura suddenly realized why. Marisa de Seroux looked a lot like Linnet Sobek.
And Alison Burns.
And Jessica Parris.
Laura hit the button to photocopy the page.
Back in her room, Laura started a fresh page of her legal pad. Looking for links.
1) The XRV tire treads in de Seroux’s driveway were the same make and type as the ones found up on West Boulevard.
2) The resemblance among Alison Burns, Jessica Parris, Linnet Sobek, and Marisa de Seroux was uncanny.
3) Jimmy de Seroux might or might not be a man named Dale Lundy, the son of the next door neighbor.
4) Dale Lundy/Jimmy de Seroux—whoever he really was—had access to the original proofs of Pete Dorrance’s publicity photos.
5) Laura herself had seen him at the Copper Queen Hotel.
She stared at the list. A couple of things occurred to her immediately.
Punching in 1411, Laura requested the number for the Copper Queen Hotel in Bisbee, Arizona, then called the hotel. The front desk answered.
“I wonder if you could help me,” Laura said. “I was in the bar last weekend when you had the pianist there. I liked him so much I asked if he could play for my wedding. We exchanged cards, but I can’t find his anywhere, and the wedding is in three weeks. Could you help me out? I think his name was …” She looked at her notes. Jimmy or Dale: Pick one. “Dale.”
“Let me take a look,” the woman replied. “Hold on.” The phone clattered.
A minute passed before the woman picked up again. “Dale Lundy, right? He’s playing this weekend, too. All I have is a cell phone number.” She recited it.
“Thanks so much! This will make all the difference.”
“Just make sure you have a good photographer. I stinted, and it was the worst mistake we ever made. Good luck!”
Laura loved small towns. People still saw strangers as human beings.
Next, Laura opened her laptop and connected to the Internet. She’d already bookmarked TalentFish.com. She opened it up now and compared the Talentfish photos of Peter Dorrance to the one Detective Endicott sent her.
One of the Talentfish photos, the three-quarters shot in front of the house, was almost identical to the photo from Alison Burn’s computer. Laura held the five-by-seven digital printout up near the computer, eyeballing one and then the other.
In the Talentfish photo, Laura could see half the saw palmetto fronds behind Dorrance, but in the Burns photograph, she could see only one-third. Dorrance’s smile was different, too. Just a millimeter this way or that.
Laura had been to photo sessions before. A photographer took many shots of one pose. The Talentfish photo and the Burns photo were in the same sequence, but slightly different.
She reached Myrna Gorman at the Strand Talent Agency on the first try. “How many different photos do you have of Peter Dorrance?” she asked.
“I’ll have to look to be sure, but usually we get a headshot and a composite.”
“How many in the composite?”
“Three or four.”
“Did he send his photos to Talentfish.com or did you?”
“We did. We have an agreement with them. You want to hold? I’ll get his file.”
When she came back she said, “It’s what I thought. We sent the composite. Four pictures.”
“Can you describe them for me?”
They corresponded with what she saw on the screen. Laura found Chief Redbone’s card and asked her to fax them to the Apalachicola Police Department.
She didn’t need any more convincing, though.
The digital photo that had been sent to Alison Burns did not correspond to any of the photographs up on Talentfish.com. That meant that no one could have downloaded the photo and sent it on to Alison Burns. Either Peter Dorrance had placed publicity shots on another site, or the person who sent the photo had access to all the rolls of film they shot that day.
That meant either Peter Dorrance or Dale Lundy sent the photo to Alison Burns.
And Peter Dorrance wasn’t playing at the Copper Queen Hotel next weekend.
“He’s not gonna like seeing us again so quick,” Chief Redbone said as he turned onto Avenue B. “If we get the warrant, let’s do it tomorrow. That old house hasn’t been lived in for a long time. It can wait till morning.”
Thaddeus Lanier lived in a large, Federalist, red brick building with a gracious white portico and two tall live oaks dressed in widow’s weeds.
Laura was feeling good—especially after they ran Lundy on NCIC. Unlike Jimmy de Seroux, Lundy had two arrests for sexual offenses: peeping and masturbating outside a grade school, both in Dothan, Alabama. One when he was twenty years old, another when he’d just turned twenty-one.
Nothing since then, but if he was the man she thought he was, Lundy had learned to fly under the radar, graduating from peeping and masturbating to taking young girls. His crimes fit into a predictable time line, a clear trajectory. He had been given time to develop predilections and rituals—like dressing girls up in his doll dresses.
He’d learned his craft.
Laura had no doubt he kept a rape kit in his motor home with all the tools he needed to capture, subdue, and kill his victim.
She had been right about the motor home. Dale Lundy owned a 1987 Fleetwood Pace Arrow. He also owned the house next door to the de Seroux house—the one she’d noticed because it was boarded up.
The Lundy house had been empty and boarded up since Bill Lundy