First thing in the morning is not the best time to be greeted by a dead body.
Okay, in all fairness no time is a good time to be faced with having a corpse on your hands, but somehow on that particular day having it happen first thing in the morning just made matters even worse. Perhaps it was because this would be the third such body in less than a week, and because I was growing more and more weary with our proven inability to catch the swine responsible. Or perhaps it was because I hadn’t really slept since this whole case started.
Well, actually, that wasn’t quite true. I had taken a sleep aid the night before and had finally managed to catch a decent night’s sleep. As a point of fact I had been in the middle of the single most satisfying dream I had had in years, only to be awakened by the trilling of my emergency pager. The details of the dream escape me now, but I remember something about tall dark and handsome, a houseboat, sunset, and whipped cream.
Thus, I was not in the best of moods when I pulled my speeder up to the large congregation of police and emergency vehicles and climbed out. But as I climbed out of my speeder and pulled my black denim jacket tighter around me (it was a chilly morning) I made a conscious decision to set aside my frustration and deal with the matters at hand. Professionalism, you know.
My partner was a perpetually gentle and kind fellow named Alan Morris. He was tall and lanky, with strong arms and a chiseled face that looked older than it actually was. I had seen him almost immediately when I grounded my speeder and had watched as he had meandered his way through the crowd of bystanders and investigators to meet me as my feet hit the duracrete.
Alan smiled as I pulled my jacked tighter around me. “It is a bit cold this morning, isn’t it?”
“Just a bit,” I answered as I yawned. Cold weather always makes me tired, even more so when I had taken a sleeping pill the night before. Hell, I was still trying to clear the mental fog.
I will admit that it wasn’t my best morning. The call to work had come as such a surprise that I hadn’t even had a chance to take a shower, much less put on any makeup. So there I was, barefaced and shivering in the cold, with my auburn hair tied back into a loose off-center ponytail, wearing the same black jeans and tight black sweater that I had been wearing the day before.
“What have we got?” I asked before Alan could make any kind of comment about how I was looking.
Alan grimaced as he took my arm and lead me through the massed congregation of rubberneckers and emergency crew. “What we’ve got isn’t pretty,” he explained. “One of the kitchen staff at the local all-hours restaurant was taking out some garbage when he spotted something suspicious in the dumpster. He took a closer look and realized that what he had discovered was a dead body.”
My head came up as I meandered my way through the crowd. “How was the victim killed?” I asked.
Alan shuddered. “Let’s just say that it wasn’t pretty. I’ll let you read about it in the Medical Examiner’s report; he’s with the body right now.”
I shook my head disgustedly and bit back a curse. I was becoming weary unto death of viewing brutalized bodies, but our division lieutenant had told me himself that I was the best investigator he had, and that it was imperative that whoever was responsible for what was quickly becoming a string of killings be apprehended as quickly as possible.
So Alan and I had gotten the case and we were no closer to figuring out who was behind this than when we started. Oh, we had a lot of clues and a lot of information. We were starting to get a pretty good handle on the types of people the killer was going after, and we had come up with a fairly good, if somewhat barebones, profile of the murderer. We also had a pretty good idea what kind of weapon was being used. But every time another one of these bodies came up out of the woodwork the forensics teams were able to come up with not one single shred of physical evidence that could link these killings with a specific person or persons.
It was like we were chasing a ghost.
Of course, the way things turned out I would have preferred it if we had been chasing a ghost.
So I stopped in front of the barrier that had been erected to shield the scene of the crime from prying eyes and folded my arms across my chest in a comforting self hug. “So, we’re looking at the same kind of killing we’ve been seeing for the past week.”
“That’s what it looks like,” Alan agreed.
I grimaced and curled my arms a little bit tighter around me. “Normally, I would want to view the body,” I said, “but I really don’t think that’s such a good idea today.” I looked up at Alan. “Besides, I don’t think there’s anything here that we haven’t already seen at all of the other murder scenes, do you?”
Alan grimaced. “No, there isn’t,” he admitted. “It’s pretty much the same thing we’ve been seeing for the last week: a dead, brutalized body and no sign that this was accomplished by a living being.”
That’s when the barrier parted and a distinguished middle aged man in green medical scrubs stepped through. His face had lost its entire normal ruddy complexion, had become almost the same shade of green as his scrubs. Before Alan or I could speak Doctor Gerald MacGregor, Chief Medical Examiner for the Acheron City Police Force, walked up to us and plunged his hands into the pockets of the white lab coat he was wearing over his scrubs. “You’re right,” he said without preamble. “There isn’t anything here that hasn’t been seen at all the other murder scenes.”
I looked Gerald up and down for a moment, then stepped forward and put my hand on his chest. “You’ve looked better,” I told him.
Gerald smiled a crooked smile at me and then reached out and brushed a stray lock of hair behind my ear. “So have you,” he told me.
I smiled and took my hand off of him. “Is it that bad?” I asked.
Gerald shrugged. “No, not really,” he told me. “You’re still beautiful.”
I blushed and stared down at the duracrete sidewalk for a moment, and then looked back up at Gerald. “I meant the body, flatterer.”
Now Gerald was grinning. “Yours or the victims?” he asked.
I arched my left brow at him. “The victims,” I said testily. Gerald became serious again awfully fast, “I’ve seen a lot of bodies before,” he told me. “Hell, I’ve even seen bodies worse than this one. I don’t think that it’s the level of violence or the amount of carnage, I think it’s more along the lines of the kind of person it happened to.” He heaved a giant sigh. “Tamara, that girl back there didn’t deserve what happened to her.”
My smile and my tone of voice turned very gentle. “None of them ever do, Gerald,” I reminded him.
Gerald shrugged and smiled a wan smile. “No, they don’t, do they?”
I smiled at Gerald and then pulled back a step so that I could see both him and Alan without having to turn my head. “Okay, what do we know so far?”
Alan shook his head. “Not much, I’m afraid,” he answered. “The gentleman who found the body is being held in the restaurant so you and I can question him. I’ve also got every uniformed constable I could lay hands on canvassing the neighborhood but so far we’re drawing a blank. Nobody saw or heard anything.”
I turned to Gerald. “What about the body?” I asked.
Gerald shrugged. “She was bound and gagged when it happened, so I don’t think that anyone heard her.”
“What about the kind of weapon used?” I wondered.
Gerald shuddered. “Judging from my preliminary examination of the wounds I would have to say that she was killed with a weapon with a long blade, probably a machete or even a sword. Oh, one more thing. I don’t think that she was killed in that dumpster.”
My left brow arched at that. “What makes you think that?”
“Because there isn’t enough blood,” Gerald told me. “If that girl suffered those wounds in that alley then there should be blood everywhere, and there isn’t. All the blood there is in a very small puddle under the body.”
Alan whistled. “This guy knows all the tricks, doesn’t he?”
“If that’s the case then she could have been killed anywhere,” I mused. “And when the killer dropped her there he wouldn’t have had to stick around very long. He’d ground in the alley, dump the body, and be gone before anyone knew he was there.”
“Nice and slick,” Alan agreed, “and very intelligent, too. Unfortunately it means that our forensics people are going to find next to nothing in the way of physical evidence.”
Now it was my turn to shrug. “It depends on how many mistakes he made. But to find that out we have to let the forensics people do their job.”
“And I have to finish doing mine, too,” Gerald put in, and he was right. As the Medical Examiner it would be his job not only to determine exactly how the victim died but also to identify exactly who the victim was.
Under normal circumstances once we had that kind of information then we could take a look at the victim’s life and figure out what they were involved in that had gotten them killed. But it was becoming readily apparent to me that this was far from your average murder investigation. We were dealing with someone who was methodical and efficient, crafty and intelligent.
We were also dealing with a psychopath, someone who didn’t blink an eye at the idea of murdering innocent young girls in cold blood.
The first rule of investigation is that things are not always as they seem, and that a good investigator always considers this possibility while she is piecing together the hows and whys of her case. With every shred of information we gathered I found myself coming closer and closer to the conclusion that this was going to be one of those cases.
I had no idea just how right I was.
* * *
I took a moment to have a talk with the poor fellow who was unlucky enough to find the body of that young girl. I really didn’t expect him to tell me anything useful and I wasn’t disappointed. He was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.
After that I decided that I really wanted breakfast, a shower, and a change of clothes. So I told Alan that I would meet him at headquarters and then I went home.
I was feeling itchy and uncomfortable when I padded into my bathroom, but the lack of a shower before I had been forced to leave the house was only part of the reason why. Some of my itchiness was a mental itchiness.
These days Alan and I were working solely on this one case. Our division lieutenant had seen to that by dividing our case load among all of the other investigators in the division. And we were becoming more and more uncertain of our ability to solve it.
As of that morning the body count was up to three, and all of those had happened in the space of less than a week. The most alarming part of all, though, was the fact that we didn’t know anything more than we did when the first body was discovered. And I think that’s what was frustrating me the most, what was causing that mental and emotional itch. For the first time we were up against a pro, someone who really and truly knew how to kill someone and get away with it. He was getting away with it, too. He was getting away with it because we couldn’t find him, and with every body that hit the ground he was getting farther and farther away from us.
What worried me the most, though, was that I couldn’t come up with some way, anyway, of fixing things so that we could nail him.
Only one person in Acheron City new who was killing all of these people, and he wasn’t telling.
Sometimes murder investigations just aren’t fair.
* * *
Before I left the house I exchanged my black jeans and sweater for a pair of black leggings and a bulky old fuzzy blue sweater that hung halfway down my thighs. I didn’t bother to tie my hair back; I just combed it out and let it cascade down my shoulders and back. As for makeup, I put on just enough to accentuate what I already had going for me, just enough to let people know that there was a very obvious girl among them.
Now that I felt a little more like something resembling a human female I drove myself back to headquarters just in time to find out that Gerald had a preliminary report on the body ready for us.
As detectives Alan and I had access to the morgue any time we wanted it. So we just walked in and made our presence known. “What have you got for us?” I asked.
“Quite a lot, actually.” Gerald said while Alan was nursing his injured pride. “Some physical stuff first. An analysis of the victim’s blood has shown trace amounts of Anesthezine.”
I whistled at that. Anesthezine is an extremely effective and extremely common anesthetic. It’s used in hospitals as the medical anesthetic of choice because it’s the one anesthetic out there that no one is allergic to. The Imperial Navy uses Anesthezine gas on their warships as an intruder control mechanism because then can deploy it in varying amounts to get the desired effect without spending a lot of money.
The thing about Anesthezine, though, is that you can get it pretty much anywhere. You just have to know where to look. That meant that whoever was behind all of this had connections, and that made him even more dangerous.
“How much was in her system?” Alan asked.
“Not much,” Gerald answered, “just enough to intoxicate her, slow her down a little bit, make her easier to handle. I also found alcohol in her system, so it’s entirely possible that whoever did this to her slipped it into whatever she was drinking.”
“What else did you find?” I asked.
“I also found traces of several different recreational drugs in her system,” Gerald continued. “Our young victim was an addict, but the drugs had next to nothing to do with her death.”
“Okay,” Alan said, “if the drugs aren’t what killed her, then what did kill her?”
“Quite simple, actually,” Gerald told us. “She bled to death.”
Of course it was simple. It was stunningly simple. It just didn’t get any simpler than that. “She bled to death,” I repeated. “Okay, so how did it happen?”
“Well, first she was anesthetized,” Gerald explained. “The Anesthezine she was given would have had the effect of making her easy to handle, perhaps even susceptible to suggestion. As a result her killer would have encountered little or no resistance when he bound and gagged her. Once this had been done it is likely that she was transported by unknown means to an unknown location. She was then stabbed at least half a dozen times about the chest and upper torso, and cut open from throat to pelvis and allowed to bleed to death before being transported to the dumpster in which she was found this morning.”
“You say she bled to death?” Alan asked. “Are you sure about that? With that many stab wounds it seems likely to me that she would have suffered some kind of damage to at least one major organ.”
“She did suffer some organ damage,” Gerald replied. “In fact she suffered quite a bit of organ damage. But the autopsy results clearly indicate that she bled to death. I could go into all the gory medical details with you but you wouldn’t understand a word of it. The non-medical version will be in my full report.”
“Okay,” I cut in. “So we know how she was killed, but do we know who she was?”
“We do,” was Gerald’s answer. “The victim has been positively identified as Dora L’Heureux.”
I leaned back against one of the other examination tables, managed to grab hold of the edge before I fell over in pure shock. “Aw, hell,” I muttered.
Alan pointed at the dead body on the exam table, which was mercifully covered entirely by a white sheet. “You mean to tell me that our serial killer bagged the daughter of the mayor of Acheron City?”
Gerald nodded confirmation. “That’s exactly what I mean to tell you.”
“The news just gets better and better, doesn’t it?” I asked rhetorically. Then I looked up at Gerald. “How positive is that identification?” I wondered.
Gerald smiled sympathetically. He knew that I was hoping that there was some kind of margin for error in the identification. If there was then I could delay having to visit the mayor of the city and explain to him, quite sympathetically and with my deepest condolences, that his daughter had been killed and that I was doing everything in my power to catch a killer that couldn’t be caught.
I didn’t want to have that conversation. I hated having those conversations. I hated having to visit someone and tell them that someone they cared about wasn’t ever going to be coming home again. I hated seeing them sitting there in front of me, weeping and mourning, and knowing that no matter how hard I tried my chances of catching the wanker who had destroyed that part of their lives were no better than fifty-fifty.
This time, the way things were going, I wasn’t convinced my chances were even that good.
This guy had killed three people right under our noses and hadn’t left a single thing behind to tell us who he was or why he was doing this. He had yet to make a single mistake, and I saw no reason to believe that he was going to start making mistakes anytime soon.
Yet I could not shake the feeling that the answer to this whole thing was sitting right under my nose.
Most criminals, especially killers, always make mistakes somewhere along the way. They always leave something behind, be it physical evidence or a calling card or what have you, to tell us who they are, or who they think they are, why they’re doing what they’re doing, and to taunt us by flaunting the fact that they’ve gotten away with it.
However, with this fellow there wasn’t any of that kind of posturing. There weren’t any mistakes. We were up against a pro. I was beginning to wonder if maybe we were up against a rogue cop. Then I dismissed the thought. It was insane. There hadn’t been a rogue cop in Acheron City since the settlement was first raised over four hundred years ago. There had to be some other explanation. There just had to be.
I just had to find out what it was.
* * *
It didn’t take long to determine that Mayor L’Heureux hadn’t been informed of his daughter’s death. The news services hadn’t gotten wind of the fact either, thank God.
It wasn’t that I disliked the local media. Personally I found a number of the reporters to be quite friendly and personable and after several years of dealing with them I had finally been able to reach an understanding with them. They had come to realize that there were times when I couldn’t tell them anything and times when I wouldn’t tell them anything. They had also learned to recognize when it was a good idea for them just to leave me alone. However, over the years I had found that news services in general had a distressing tendency to blow things way out of proportion. And there wasn’t any way I was going to allow them to leak the identity of the latest victim before I had a chance to notify her next of kin.
Alan and I had no problem securing an appointment to see the Mayor. We gave him the news of his daughter’s demise and then waited while he let the news sink in. The Mayor took the news pretty well. He closed his eyes and clenched his hands into fists. I could see tears leaking out of the corner of his eyes. He stayed that way for a moment, and then took a deep breath, opened his eyes, and relaxed his hands. “How did it happen?” he asked.
Any father who cares enough to weep for his daughter deserves to know how she met her death, so I told him. I didn’t go into a lot of detail, just enough that he would understand how brutal and despicable and senseless her murder had been. The Mayor didn’t seem to object to my censorship.
Once we had the formalities over with I was able to start questioning the Mayor about his daughter, and her recent activities. Dora had been estranged from her family for quite some time because of an ongoing addiction to various recreational drugs. Her family had encouraged her to quit, had offered to pay for her rehabilitation and had promised to be there beside her every step of the way. But Dora hadn’t been ready to give up her crutch just yet, so she had left one day and not come back.
Being a prominent public figure with access to all kinds of information sources, the Mayor had done his best to keep his eyes on her. Dora was cunning and resourceful, though, and had an uncanny ability to make herself disappear anytime she wanted to. The reports he received about Dora were few and far between.
The Mayor knew that for a time Dora had fallen in with one of the local drug dealers. He also knew that the dealer in question was a less than savory character who had a distressing tendency to force his way upon the girls who worked as couriers for him. And he also knew that sometimes those girls weren’t just couriers.
But beyond Dora’s time with the drug dealer the Mayor didn’t really know anything about her recent life. To his knowledge she was still a part of the dealers network and had never left, although he did admit that it had been several months since he had last heard anything of her.
Alan and I returned to headquarters after our meeting with the Mayor. There wasn’t any new information waiting for us so Alan and I decided to take the rest of the day to go over what we had and see if we could develop anything new. We decided that the best venue for our endeavors would be my place, so that’s where we went.
I put on a pot of coffee and Alan helped me make up a platter of sandwiches, which we set up in the middle of the kitchen table. With food and drink at hand we sat down at the table, cracked open our data pads, and started going over everything we had.
For a time we compared notes, making sure that both of us had exactly the same store of information to work with. I also made sure that we had pulled everything we would need off of the central computer system at headquarters. Then we went over all of the conclusions that we had drawn up thus far, just to make sure that both of us were on the same page.
Satisfied that we were as synchronized as we could be we then sat down on opposite sides of the table and began our individual work in silence.
It was a strategy that had worked for us before. The two of us would go over the same store of information separately and each draw our own conclusions from the information before us. Then we would trade notes and go over the other persons work, flag what we did and did not agree on and then discuss all the reasons why. We had solved quite a number of cases this way, as almost invariably one of us would come up with something that the other had missed.
The advantage of modern computer technology lies in the ability to view and edit many types of information all at the same time. Home computers had perfected this art and enabled even the most technologically illiterate of us to access and view thousands of gigabytes of data available off of the public data nets. Personal data pads were an extension of this technology, allowing us to do the same thing using a much smaller platform.
The police forces had modified the traditional data pad, though, adding in circuitry that would give the user, if they were equipped with the appropriate clearance codes, access to all kinds of information contained in restricted data banks, including criminal records and notes from ongoing investigations.
I called up all of the files for the ongoing investigation and opened up all of them as well as a blank file into which I would enter notes. Then I set to work.
First order of business was to list everything that we knew.
Fact: All of the victims killed thus far were young girls in their early twenties who had been living and working on the streets for most of their life and often had ties to prominent city drug dealers.
Fact: All of the victims had been killed in much the same manor, using the same type of weapon. However the death of Dora L’Heureux marked the first time the killer had used Anesthezine on his victim.
Fact: All of the killings had taken place in the dead of night, when no one was about and when no one would miss those girls when they suddenly disappeared.
Okay, that brought us to the profile of the killer. According to the expert systems programmed into the computers at headquarters, our killer was a male between the ages of twenty and forty Earth years with a record of past military service. I had questioned the notation of past military service when I had first read it, but the technicians who maintained the expert system went back into the logs and told me it was due to the type of weapon used. According to the computer the handling of those types of weapons was taught in basic training all over the Armed services.
Supposition: Our killer had access to some truly secure property where no one would notice him coming and going with the bodies of young girls. Most importantly, this property would be so isolated and secluded that no one would be around to hear the sounds of struggle those girls must have made, even through the gags in their mouths.
Fact: We still did not know where that location was.
Random thought: How do we know that the killer wasn’t one of the johns? All of the girls had turned tricks at one time or another, including the nights on which they were killed, and some of those guys were less than gentle with their purchases. We couldn’t dismiss the possibility that these murders were the result of a bad transaction.
We had been working for hours and I was beginning to grow weary. We had gone through at least three pots of coffee and had long since run out of sandwiches. I was beginning to toy with the notion of calling it a night, retiring to bed. Maybe things would look clearer in the morning.
Then I felt hands on my shoulders, strong fingers kneading the tension out of my muscles. I felt myself go limp at the touch, felt a slow smile spread across my face as I closed my eyes and sighed contentedly. “It’s been a long time since you did that,” I told Alan.
I could hear the smile in Alan’s voice. “It’s been a long time since you needed it,” he told me.
“You know, you’re very talented,” I said. “Have you ever considered hiring yourself out?”
“On occasion,” Alan admitted. “But I don’t think that the department would be too happy with one of their detectives becoming a masseur for hire.”
“Probably not,” I agreed. Then I rose from my chair and turned to face Alan, curled my arms around his neck and settled myself against his chest. I buried my face against him, felt him curl his arms around my waist, felt his hands kneading up and down my back as he nuzzled my hair.
I don’t know how long we stood like that. Time seemed to stand still for us, as if the world had stopped turning. All I know for sure is that some incalculable time later both of us were naked and I was collapsing onto my back on my bed, pulling Alan down on top of me. Some short time later I stopped thinking clearly.
* * *
To be continued...
Copyright © 2003 by Michael J A Tyzuk