- Author's Note:
Though this story is primarily a "detective mystery", it is unavoidably interwoven with the topic of abortion. I do not intend this tale to be either an endorsement or an indictment of either position or of the people of good conscience on both sides of the question. Nor should this fictional story be interpreted as a "position paper" or a statement of my own closely held beliefs.
This story is a sequel to "For Lisa...." posted elsewhere on this board. To get the full sense of this story, "For Lisa...." should really be read first.
Once again, this story simply would not have been half the work it is . . .whatever quality work you perceive it to be . . .without the indispensable contributions of Brandy Dewinter.
"Hey guys. Looking to party?"
I put my hands on my hips, leaned over from the waist and peered inside the Porsche that had nosed in to the curb. My unrestrained 36C breasts pressed against the thin cotton of my tank top, my nipples forming two absolutely fascinating little irregularities in the otherwise flawless curve.
A pair of wide-eyed stares above two goofy grins greeted this display.
Pimply-faced preppy pups.
I mentally added " . . . in Porsche".
I doubted that they could tally 35 years between them. Oh brother. A juvenile bust, what a paperwork nightmare. Add to that the fact that they probably both came from some blue-blood 'old money' family . . . which meant a whole armada of attorneys on retainer . . . and this was one bust I was not interested in pursuing. I was about to shine 'Fric and Frak' on when a mindless little giggle and a cooed "Oh, they're cute!" informed me that Stef had other ideas.
My partner had wiggled up beside me and was making a big show of flicking her wild mane of ash blonde hair behind her shoulders. With her arms raised and her hands behind her neck, the material of that enticingly masculine button-down shirt she wore over a lacy pair of leggings stretched impossibly taut against her own lovely pair of breasts. Breasts that I found all the more beguiling for being the ones Nature had blessed her with.
More wide-eyed stare, more goofy grin from inside the Porshe.
I mentally shrugged. Fine. If Stef wanted the bust, she could do the bulk of the paperwork.
I turned the wattage on my smile up another notch and moved along to the next bit of the "zoom". "So, what do you say? Two big, handsome studs like you boys shouldn't be alone tonight."
As 'Mutt and Jeff' favored each other with the broadest goofiest grin yet, I quickly reviewed that last line in my mind. Nope. Not entrapment. The elements for the bust were; an offer of money for sex. So long as neither Stef nor I did or said anything that could be construed as creating the idea for consummating that particular transaction it was still a good bust. (Of course, what else the two of us could be construed as doing . . . standing here on a downtown street corner at 9 PM wearing less than a yard of fabric between us and brazenly flaunting some pretty opulent feminine charms . . . I had no idea. But then, that was the way the game was played.)
I could always defend the 'alone tonight' line as a completely innocent offer to spend the evening playing Twister or pulling taffy or something.
Finally the driver of the Porsche sniggered, "How much?"
I straightened up, still smiling. Out of the corner of my eye I could see Grim and Tucker casually climbing out of the backup van across the street. I gave my shoulders a little shake just to make sure 'The Bobsye ('Boobsie'?) Twins' attention stayed focused on this side of the road. Stef assisted by running her hands down her sides in an apparent attempt to hike the shirt tail down a little lower over her legging-clad thighs. (And, just coincidentally, again pulling the material taut across her breasts.)
At this point, a herd of plaid zebras could have galloped right down the center of the street and our two customers wouldn't have noticed. Time to wrap this one up. "Well, that depends, doesn't it?"
Zippy behind the wheel looked perplexed. "What depends on what?"
Lord, what an idiot. He must be the product of several generations of inbreeding. Two marks this dumb and easy needed to be protected from themselves far more than society needed to be protected from them. Well, maybe I could count getting these two off the street and out of danger as my good deed for the night. I tried to keep my sultry smile plastered on my cherry-red lips. " 'How much' depends on what you want. See how it works?"
They exchanged another mindless, lust-fogged grin and then the passenger turned back to me and slobbered, "How much just to get laid?"
Stef chimed in with, "Both of you?" She followed that with another little air-head giggle and added, "On both of us?"
Vigorous nodding from the Porsche. I was about to prod for some figure, (monetary figure that is), when the apparent brain trust of this duo, the driver, saved me the trouble by blurting out, "We'll give you $100 apiece. Is that okay?"
I performed a quick mental review . . . 'How much just to get laid' coupled with 'We'll give you $100 apiece.' . . . yep, that met the test. I looked up to make sure that Grim and Tucker were close enough to smother any trouble before it started and then reached into the hip pocket of my ragged, denim, very cut-offs (I had panties that covered more flesh) and pulled out the badge. "We have two winners! Sorry boys. Looks like your first foray into the land of the happy hooker isn't going to go quite the way you planned."
Fortunately for Stef and me, we could ride down to Central Booking in our unmarked Dodge. Grim and Tucker had to put up with twenty minutes of crying and wailing from the back of the van. By the time Stef and I had parked the Dodge and sauntered in to the booking area, our two young miscreants had moved from the 'We're so sorry. We'll never do it again.' to the 'Wait till our fathers hear about this! We'll have your badges!' phase.
'Ooo . . . I'm like . . . so worried.' It's not as if I hadn't heard that line in some form or another about a thousand times in the year and a half that I've been working Vice.
Stef had plopped down in the chair across the desk from our two latest additions to the C.C.I. database. She rummaged in her purse long enough to find a cigarette and her Bic. She blew the first lung-full of carcinogens at the ceiling and in a tough growl demanded, "Okay . . . let's start easy. Name and address." With her hands on her keyboard, she pointed her chin at the former driver, the cigarette dangling out of the corner of her mouth.
The sudden change in Stef's demeanor, from giggling blonde air-head to tough as nails Vice cop, took Zippy by enough of a surprise that he blurted out both his name and address before he could remember he was too indignant to cooperate with this outrageous infringement on his Constitutional rights. I tried to suppress a smile. He didn't need to know that Stef's 'cast iron bitch' persona was as assumed as the 'air head' had been.
Well . . . almost as assumed.
She began to type the information into the appropriate blocks on the booking form, but twice she had to pause to flick a lock of that over-the- shoulder mass of blonde hair out of her eyes. Finally, muttering a few choice words, Stef reached up, grabbed the wig in both her hands and tugged it off. It landed in a tangled blonde heap in the middle of the desk leaving Stef gratefully scratching her regulation just-over-the-collar-length light brown hair and sighing happily. As she went back to typing, Zippy whimpered "Hey! You're not a blonde! That's . . . you can't do that! You were pretending to be something you aren't. That makes this all . . . no good! Illegal!"
Instead of defending herself from that inane observation, Stef turned and favored me with a wicked grin. Then, that grin becoming positively evil, she turned back to her two victims and cackled "Kid, that ain't nothing. Wait till you see how much of Tony comes off."
By the time we'd finished the mountain of paperwork I had been dreading it was already after midnight. Tomorrow was both Grim and Tucker's day off. Since we didn't have any cases pending that Stef and I could work without backup, I'd decided she and I would spend the day in the office catching up on all the administrative details that form the bulk of police work. I was a sergeant now, and nominally in command of our team so I could pretty much set our hours. I sent Grim and Tucker home, reminded Stef about being in no later than seven (which is to say; 'be back here in just over six hours, ready to go'), and then debated whether or not to slip out of "Toni R".
Of course, by now everyone knew about the NuGen suit that I'd used to impersonate my female alter ego "Toni" during the K-Bar Kid investigations. It had all come out during the media circus that had passed for a trial. Angel, the psychotic prostitute, had ruined that suit. As far as I knew it was still in a big plastic bag down in the Evidence Holding Room marked as "People's Exhibit 83". It could stay there forever as far as I was concerned. I had figured that Angel's conviction marked the end of Tony Chan's life 'en femme'.
But the Department had other ideas.
On the surface, I suppose you could believe they saw my acquired skills as a unique asset. (Though why it was preferable to have a male in a perfect female disguise acting as a prostitute decoy over a real woman was something nobody had ever bothered to explain to me.) But beneath that comfortable surface explanation, I knew there were deeper reasons.
There's a . . . call it a 'macho ethic' . . . among the male (and most of the female) members of The Job. Everyone understood why I'd done what I'd done. Everyone approved. It had served to bring a cop killer to justice and for everyone on the Force any means would have justified that end. Nor do I think anyone ever doubted my masculinity.
At least, not consciously.
But you couldn't help notice . . . heads turned when I walked down the station house corridor. Locker room conversations came to an abrupt, embarrassed halt when I walked in.
It was no better out on the street. I'd be trying to be cool and professional while handling some routine bit of police work when suddenly some civilian would notice my name tag and I'd hear that old refrain, "Hey, you're the cop from the K-Bar murders! You're the one that dressed up like a whore!" There'd be the knowing smiles and the speculative stares.
After a while, my transfer to Vice was kind of a foregone conclusion.
It wasn't all bad. I did get a promotion to Sergeant along with the boot out of Patrol.
And the Department, in a rather typically bizarre bit of bureaucratic spending, had sprung for three new NuGen suits, all custom fitted to yours truly. I guess somebody figured that they could get what amounted to three decoys for the price of one cop. There was "Tony R", the green eyed . . . (how I still hated those contacts!) . . . red head. There was "Tony BB". Nominally the "BB" stood for "Bleached Blonde". In my mind though, it always stood for "Big Boobs". They really were a little overdone in my opinion. I went home every night with a stiff neck. And tired eyes . . . more damn contacts, hazel this time. And finally, there was my personal favorite; "Toni CW". It stood for "Cheating Wife". Instead of a bouncy little sex kitten designed to lure in the johns, this devious costume was aimed at the gigolos. After careful consideration we'd come up with a rather plain, (though by no means unattractive . . . at least I didn't think so,) middle aged woman with a slightly less than perfect figure and just a hint of gray-at-a-few-of-the-roots dark brown hair. Exactly the kind of woman the 'boys for hire' would expect to see sitting at the bar in some little 'meet market'. The folks at NuGen even thought to include a pale ring of flesh around the third finger of her left hand. Toni CW looked so little like a cop we figured to get a lot of use out of her in a lot of different situations, not just Vice busts. Besides, though she required a good deal more subtlety than either of my other two personae, she also required less physical effort. (Wiggling and teasing and strutting up and down the block could get to be quite a workout after a while . . . particularly in four-inch heels.) Nor did Toni CW spend most of her time hanging out on dark, dirty street corners. Much more often she could just perch on a barstool in a nice little "fern bar" smiling wistfully and letting guys buy her drinks.
I stood there in the Squad Room debating whether or not to use the Sergeant's shower (rank had it privileges) to effect my metamorphosis from "Toni R" back into my male form, or to wait till I got home to jump into the shower.
I decided to head home. I still had about an hour of "voice" left. (In other words, the chemical that tightened my vocal cords and produced a believably feminine voice to go with my distaff body wouldn't wear off for another hour.) If I changed out of 'the body', 'the voice' was always too hard to explain. And there had also been that not too subtle hint from some of the other Sergeants not to use the shower facilities when any of them might be around. This hint followed the infamous 'Incident'. (After my first shift en femme, I'd come bouncing into the shower right after shift change, Toni BB's impressive mammary apparatus positively demanding attention. I'd waited till I knew the three other sergeants currently enjoying the hot, soapy water were all gaping at me and then I'd flung one hand over my breasts and one hand over my 'maiden's treasure' and in an outraged soprano I'd shrieked "What are all you men doing in the women's shower?!" Two of them had actually begun to bolt for the door before the truth of the matter had sunk in.)
My decision made, I headed out to the parking lot and fired up my old Chevy. An hour later I was snug under the covers of my bed, just dozing off. I'd intended to get a good night's sleep in anticipation of an upcoming long day of paperwork.
I had no idea that this would be the last untroubled sleep I'd have in a good long while.
If you watch cop shows on TV you're bound to get the idea that crimes are solved by a bunch of guys in deer stalker caps with magnifying glasses in hand, ferreting out minute details then using them to make these wonderfully intuitive leaps of insight.
I'm not going to say that deductive reasoning and logic don't have their place in crime solving.
But most of the time, crimes are solved because of a fluke.
Some unsuspecting slob of a cop just happens to be in the right place at the right time to notice the one fact that ties it all together. He's just minding his own business, standing there eating a doughnut under some window when the crook drops the bag of stolen jewelry out of it. Or . . . and this is a true story . . . his partner has just gone into the bank to deposit his paycheck when the bank robbers come charging out the door and jump in the back of the squad car mistaking it for the get-away vehicle that was supposed to be parked there instead.
That was how it went down in this case; a fluke. I just happened to be the right person in the right place at the right time.
It was a little after eight the morning after our "Porsche Bust" when I finally reached the bottom of my first stack of "Cases to Close Out". I rubbed my already strained eyes and opened the folder.
The first thing that greeted my tired eyes was an 8x10 black and white photo of a dead woman . . .
Yeah, I guess Silky was mature enough to be considered a woman. Lord knows her childhood, (if she'd ever had one,) had probably ended years ago. At seventeen she'd seen more of life, at least the darker side of it, than lots of people three times her age.
Her memorial was this 8x10 photo.
Item: one photograph, black and white, depicting body of one deceased female. Approximate age of decedent: 17 years. Street name: "Silky Sheets". True name: unknown (believed to be "Sarah Shetley". Search of N.C.I.C database inconclusive. No further leads.) Next of kin: unknown. Residence: unknown (transient). Occupation: prostitute. Cause of death: self-administered intravenous injection of tainted heroine (strychnine). Disposition: death by misadventure. Status: inactive (memo to Missing Persons).
Stef and I had been working that night. We'd been running our prostitute sting just down the block from the littered tenement hallway where Silky had gotten her last fix. Maybe if Stef and I had set up shop in the middle of the block that night . . . if we had just been paying a little less attention to the street and more attention to our surroundings, we might have . . .
You can go nuts playing 'what if' when you're a cop.
I closed the folder and used a black felt-tip to write "File Inactive" across the cover. I flipped the known total of Silky's life on top of the stack in my "Out" basket and then stood and stretched.Stef glanced up from her own pile of drudgery. We'd really only started with the day's work, but Silky's face . . . blank . . . peaceful (perhaps for the first time in a long time), was stuck in my mind's eye. I just didn't feel like dealing with any more of this death and destruction for a while.
I needed a break.
"Come on partner. I need a cup of coffee. Let's go down to Mantini's."
Looking back, I guess you could say it was Silky that caused me to be in the right place at the right time..
Mantini's was a drive-in down at the west edge of Exposition Park, just a stone's-throw down the road from the Space Needle. It was a favorite of the cops. Not only was it open 24 hours a day. Not only did it have . . . well . . . if not good, at least tolerable food at reasonable (read "cheap") prices. It also had the blackest, bitterest, most dangerous coffee available anywhere in Seattle, a city known for its addiction to java. It was an amazing brew; Mantini's coffee. Folks said Mantini never really emptied the pot. He just added water and grounds whenever either seemed to be running low. There was a rumor that the pot itself had last been cleaned in preparation for a party celebrating the end of The War in Europe. (It was a matter of debate as to just which "War in Europe" that was.)
When it was three in the morning, when the only things moving on the streets were other cop cars and garbage trucks, when your partner had nodded off an hour ago and your own eyelids were starting to get heavy . . . just head over to Mantini's for a cup of "mid-watch mainline" and you were good to go till the end of your shift.
I was just getting ready for my day's first sip of paradise. Stef, (that pansy-waist) was dumping her third container of creamer into her cup (and still not making an appreciable dent in the pitch-black color) . . . when the three beeps of the "all cars" alert went off on the two-way radio.
"Any unit in the vicinity and units K-29 and K-43 . . . report of possible four-five-nine homicide. Pacific Women's Health Center, 228 Olympic S.E. Response is Code Three."
As the two assigned patrol units acknowledged the call I picked up the radio's microphone. "This is Sierra 18. We're twelve blocks from that location. We'll backup 29 and 43."
The dispatcher's dispassionate voice replied. "Roger Sierra 18. You will be supervisor on scene. All other supervisory units engaged."
As Stef piloted our unmarked Dodge in a wild slalom through Mantini's parking lot I switched on the siren and the grille mounted blue lights and remembered that being a sergeant had its disadvantages too.
The Pacific Women's Health Center was a mid-sized clinic located in a nice business neighborhood on the fringes of downtown. Nestled amidst several other professional buildings it was an unremarkable structure. The kind of place you passed every day and never looked at twice.
I don't know why, but I always thought an abortion clinic should look . . . "different" . . . somehow. But most of the time, as I say, it was just another doctor's office.
Today, it was chaos on roller-skates.
The two patrol units had beaten us there. Both blue and whites were sitting nose to nose outside the front entrance, light bars flashing. Stef parked the Dodge behind the south-facing patrol car and we trotted inside.
Jerry Sorrell (a.k.a. "K-43") was looming over a matronly looking woman in some kind of nurse's uniform sitting on one of the waiting room couches. There was blood all over her hands and arms and she was obviously on the verge of a real emotional meltdown. From the way Jerry was quietly trying to calm her down I guessed that this was either a victim or a witness, not the perp. He glanced up from the sobbing woman and nodded at the door separating the waiting room from the examining rooms. "Hey Sarge. Hey Stef. Back there. End of the corridor on the left."
I turned to Stef. "Nobody leaves. Nobody comes in but cops." She nodded and took up position by the front entrance. I headed off down the corridor that Jerry had indicated.
Blood, in large quantities, has an odd, metallic smell. It's something you never forget once you smell it.
The air at the end of the clean, bright corridor was heavy with that odor.
Jo Shavley (a.k.a. "K-29") was standing with her hands on her hips just inside the door to some kind of examining room. She was staring at the floor, her face set in a mask of non-emotion. She heard me coming down the corridor and looked up. "Hey Charlie Chan. In here. Looks like Seattle's short one abortionist."
I peered around her at what she'd recently been looking at and felt my own mask of non-emotion slide into place.
The Job teaches you, rather quickly, to deal with scenes of carnage and destruction. "Familiarity breeds . . ." No, not "contempt". I hope it never comes to contempt. Familiarity breeds a lack of passion.
Still, you can't be human and not feel a moment's shock and disquieting emotion when you look at the bloody form of what just moments before had been a living, breathing person . . . now lying on her back, staring up at the ceiling with vacant, sightless eyes.
She had been an unremarkable looking woman. Late 40's. Neither heavy nor slender. Average height. Average brown hair styled in an average, 'professional woman' cut. Average features . . . average navy blue dress beneath a once-white lab coat, average shoes . . . average . . .
Her only unusual feature was the ear-to-ear grin. The extra one. Below her chin.
That, and the blood.
It still amazes me how much blood the human body contains.
I finally tore my gaze away and turned to Jo. "This is the doctor, I take it?"
Jo nodded. "Yeah. 'Alcorn' if I got it right."
I looked around the room then spotted the bloody footprints leading out the door and into the hallway where I stood. Several sets of foot prints. Shit. "Who all's been in here?"
Jo nodded back toward the reception area. "The Office Manager . . . uh . . . Pearson . . . was in here trying to do C.P.R. when Jerry and I rolled up. We had to drag her off the body." Jo glanced back down at the still form of Dr. Alcorn. "Like thumping on her chest was gonna do her any good."
I tried to keep the note of disgust out of my voice. "Crud. The Homicide dicks are gonna blow a fuse at having the scene messed up."
Jo shrugged. "Won't matter."
"What do you mean?"
Jo turned that cold, emotionless mask on me. "This one's gonna be 'dead- bang'. The perp ran right past Pearson and out the front door, covered with the Doc's blood."
"Pearson saw the perp?"
Jo nodded. "Better yet, she knew her."
" 'Her'? The perp was female?"
Jo nodded again. "Yep. One of the staff. Guess the Doc just hired her. Some nurse named . . . Loughton. Imagine that . . . hiring your own murderer."
It was Stef who found the evidence confirming what all of us were already thinking of as the motive for this murder.
Several more blue and whites had shown up and Stef had assigned the officers to a more thorough job of access control than she could have accomplished on her own. Her assigned task covered, and being the good cop she was, she'd begun a tour of the other parts of the clinic.
Now, technically . . . that was a violation of procedure. Supposedly, once we poor, dumb beat cops had done an initial walk through and secured the scene we were just supposed to stick our hands in our pockets and wait for the much more "experienced and knowledgeable" detectives.
But like most good cops, Stef had a finely developed sense of curiosity.
To her credit, she didn't touch anything. She didn't go prodding and poking. She pretty much just stuck her nose into each room and looked around.
Actually . . . it was her nose that led her to the clue.
I was still standing there with Jo Shavley staring at Dr. Alcorn's rapidly cooling corpse when Stef's shout of, "Hey, Tony . . . come-mere and look at this" broke my reverie. I followed Stef's voice down two rooms and peered into a side door I'd passed on my way to the end of the hall.
Almost immediately I smelled it . . . the pervasive odor of wet paint.
Stef was standing in some kind of record storage room. Filing cabinets lined the walls, floor to ceiling.
One set of drawers in one of the filing cabinets was standing open.
A thick, viscous, red fluid had been splashed against the cabinet and was running in rivulets down to a large puddle on the floor. I couldn't help but think of another large puddle of thick, red fluid I'd just seen, but the smell of paint quickly freed me from the vision.
Stef nodded to the far corner of the room.
Two, five-gallon cans of red enamel . . . empty.
"And there's something else." She pointed to something sitting on the saturated files in the top drawer. Because of her height advantage, I had to stand tip-toe to see what she'd noticed.
There, lying atop the files, in a puddle of slowly drying crimson paint, was a Bible . . . King James Edition.
We were looking at each other and pondering the obvious significance of this clue when a voice from the doorway interrupted our deliberations.
"Well, well . . . look at this. The 'Tits and Ass Patrol'. What brings you two down here? One of you having 'female troubles'?"
Detective Joe Kearney and his partner Tony Ghiraldi were standing out in the corridor, Kearny staring at us with a sly, condescending grin.
I have no problems with Tony Ghiraldi. He just got his gold detective's shield last year. I don't know him that well, but from all accounts he's going to make a good detective. From what I've heard, he's intelligent and disciplined. He knows that crimes are solved by being thorough and methodical and by doing a lot of boring, uninteresting, detail work. He's also got a good imagination. He'll do just fine . . . or so I've been told.
Kearny on the other hand was a troglodyte pain in the ass. If ever a cop had been born in the wrong decade, it was Joe Kearny. He would have been so much more at home back in the 20's when all you needed to solve a crime was a suspect, a bunch of bright lights and a rubber hose.
I was searching for some scathing retort when Stef beat me to it.
She stood face to face with Kearny and growled, "Nah. In case you haven't noticed, until the great minds that run the Force see fit to change it, being a 'dick' is purely a male problem. Fortunately, it's one problem I can just walk away from."
And she promptly did.
I couldn't help but snicker at her clever play on the term "dick". Since it was true that Seattle's entire detective force was male, Stef's use of the word could therefore be understood in that, not technically disrespectful, context. But all four of us knew what she'd just called Kearny to his face.
Having had my laugh I followed my partner out the door, leaving Kearny standing there glowering at my back.
It was now well after the nine o'clock opening time for the clinic.
The uniforms on access control were turning away the patients showing up for their morning appointments, but were allowing the staff as far as the waiting room where their statements were being taken.
Stef apparently felt the need for some fresh air so she made a bee-line for the front door. I followed her, glancing for a moment at the assembling clinic staff.
They were, for the most part, young women ranging in ages from late teens to mid-thirty's. I did notice one slender, blonde male wearing a male nurse's uniform, his upper lip sporting a really disappointing wisp of moustache. He was standing off to one side, gazing into the distance with a troubled frown and haunted eyes. I remember thinking, "Kind of a strange place to find a male nurse . . . in a women's clinic."
Stef was outside, lighting up a cigarette and glaring at the news crews setting up their cameras just beyond the yellow barrier tape. When I walked up to her she nodded at the 'newsies' and growled, "How do those vultures manage to get to a story so fast? The damn Coroner's boys aren't even here yet and there they are, all ready to get '. . . film at eleven'."
I could only shrug. I knew Stef was going to be in a bad mood all day. Investigating murders had that effect on her.
On me too, truth be told.
Neither of our moods was improved by the cause of a sudden commotion among the 'newsie'.
A limousine had pulled up and out of it stepped good old Morris "Moral Majority" Meyers . . . Reverend Meyers, that is.
Lord knows, I'm not very religious. But I do have respect for religion.
What I don't have is respect for pond scum like Meyers.
This guy worshipped only one god and that was Mammon. It was about making money with him, nothing more. And he was good at it. Very good. I don't know what the actual figures were, but he'd just built a new "Worship Compound" up in the mountains off of U.S. 2. It was aptly situated (in my opinion) just down the road from Goldbar, Washington. It was supposed to have set his congregation back something like twelve million bucks. As I understood it, a big part of the outlay had been for "The Rectory" . . . a nice little summer cabin for Meyers when he wasn't lounging around in his Florida digs . . . or his place in Bermuda . . . or his place in California.
No sack cloth for Reverend Meyres. He led his flock in thousand dollar silk suits. What really burned me was his ability to "fool some of the people all of the time."
Naturally . . . he was staunchly "Pro-Life".
As I say, I'm not very religious. And I'd never hold myself up as a pillar of morality. But that doesn't mean I don't have strong beliefs. For one thing, I know I'm 'Pro-Life'. I know if I was a woman, I just couldn't go through with something like an abortion.
But I also know; despite my ability to sometimes fool you into thinking otherwise, I'm not a woman. Perhaps my quick and easy decision about my choice wouldn't be nearly so simple if my femininity didn't come off so easily . . . if my decision involved something as fundamental as my own body.
And one other thing I know is this: Though there might be other people with insights and opinions that should be considered in making that decision, a huckster like Meyers who probably got his degree in divinity through a mail order college course sure as hell wasn't one of them!
Once he'd made sure his leonine sliver locks were in place he waited until he had the attention of every hand-held microphone and every camera lens before launching into his "impromptu" comments.
"I felt it necessary to come down here today and make very clear the Pro-Life Movement's shock and abhorrence for this brutal attack. I want to make sure everyone knows that we in the Movement deplore and disavow such acts. We are, first and foremost, 'pro-life'. We do not condone killing in any form, be it the murder of the innocent pre-born child or the doctor that would take her life."
He paused for a moment, then with a suitably shocked and saddened expression he continued. "I can't help but think though, that such acts are not surprising when we consider the depths to which we . . . a spiritually destitute and morally bankrupt society . . . have sunk. Is it any wonder that a society that blithely slaughters thousands of its own children every year in the name of convenience should also produce people capable of viciously killing the authors of that carnage? Is it any wonder . . ."
Unfortunately . . . or perhaps fortunately . . . I didn't get to hear the rest of the good Reverend's diatribe.
At that moment, Kearny stuck his head out the clinic's door, spotted us and shouted, "Hey Chan. Are you doing anything right now?" Without waiting for an answer he continued. "They think they just found the perp's car down at the Lamplighter Motel. You and 'Bubbles' go take care of the scene till Ghiraldi finishes up here."
I later learned that the crime had gone something like this:
The office manager . . . Mrs. Pearson . . . had arrived a little after eight. She'd noticed two cars already in the parking lot; Dr. Alcorn's Saturn and an older blue Toyota that Pearson, at first, didn't recognize. As she was walking to the front door she'd remembered that the Toyota belonged to the new surgical nurse, Terri Loughton. She remembered wondering why Loughton was in so early, but then she'd decided that it was probably an attempt to curry favor with Dr. Alcorn. Apparently, the good Doctor and Loughton hadn't hit it off, there being some question about Loughton's competence.
Pearson was inside, walking through the reception area toward her own office when the door to the corridor had crashed open and Loughton, covered in blood, had charged past Pearson and out the door. Pearson had stood there for a second, shocked by this sudden activity. She'd seen the blue Toyota racing out of the parking lot. Pearson had then hurried down the corridor to see what was wrong, had found Dr. Alcorn lying on the floor in Exam 3 . . . blood everywhere . . .
The rest of the story we already knew.
Pearson hadn't known the license number of Loughton's Toyota, but a quick D.M.V. check had provided it and a 'B.O.L.O' had gone out to all police agencies in the Pacific Northwest and the Canadian Customs stations.
Some cop in a blue and white had apparently been paying attention.
The Lamplighter was one of those downtown cut-rate motels popular with businessmen on a tight expense account. It was a two-story frame building arranged in the shape of a "U" with the offices at one end and ice machines and soft drink dispensers at each corner.
When Stef and I rolled in, we quickly spotted the blue and white parked about midway down the wing opposite the offices. We parked beside it and climbed out.
There was some young rookie I didn't recognize, standing with arms folded, staring at an unoccupied blue Toyota, daring it to try to make a break for it. He glanced up at Stef and me and in a very officious voice he commanded, "I'm sorry. There's an on-going investigation in progress here. You'll have to step back and . . ."
A gravelly voice from the direction of the nearest room's door interrupted the rookie. "Relax kid. Don't let his suspicious mug or her dazzling good looks fool you. They're both cops."
Standing in the doorway was my old training officer Max Ducane.
"Hey Max! Que paso, hombre?"
He grinned at me. " 'Nothin' but a thing man'." Then he smiled at Stef. "Hey beautiful. You working tonight? I got twenty bucks my wife won't notice missing."
Stef chuckled. "Sorry Max. You know I charge a lot more than that. But 'Toni' might have a 'blue-light special'. You never can tell."
I beat Max to the punch with "Nah . . . but I do give professional discounts."
While the rookie stood there looking perplexed we three shared a laugh.
When the mirth had subsided I nodded to the Toyota. "So, Max. You getting psychic in your old age? How'd you find the car so fast?"
He shrugged. "Well, I got to thinking. The radio call was for a 'four-five-nine homicide'. That means death by violence and that usually means gore. If the perp was wearing a lot of the victim's blood, he . . . or she in this case . . . would want to clean up muy pronto before some eagle- eyed young defender of justice like Jeff here . . ." (A quick nod to the rookie still guarding the Toyota) " . . . noticed something amiss in her choice of color coordination."
I nodded, already seeing where this line of reasoning was going. Max continued.
"There wasn't much point in heading to the perp's home. That's out of district up in Queen Anne. 'Sides, you gotta figure you can't get into the driveway by now for all the cop cars parked out front."
Stef broke in with, "So, you and junior here started looking into other possibilities for a quick clean-up and clothes change. And a handy, nearby motel sprang to mind."
Max turned his craggy features to her with another grin. "Ah . . . brains as well as beauty. How about if I made it $30?"
Stef gave him her patented air-head giggle. "I'll think about it."
I glanced beyond Max into the room. "I take it our perp isn't in to receive callers?"
Max stepped aside and motioned us in. "Nope. I had the right idea. I just didn't have it soon enough."
The room was absolutely ordinary. It was a standard, $50-a-night, twin bed, one TV with poor cable reception motel room. I quickly noticed that neither of the beds appeared to have been slept in.
Max pointed to the bathroom. "The only noteworthy stuff is in there."
I peered in.
There was a heap of woman's clothing, several large blood stains readily apparent, lying on the floor. I knew it was woman's clothing by the bra lying on what was probably the jersey top of a nurse's uniform. There was a pair of uniform slacks, some kind of stockings (probably sheer, white, 'knee-highs'), the waistband of a pair of panties just visible beneath the jersey, and a pair of crepe-soled, white, lace-up nurse's shoes.
Max stated the obvious. "She must have come in here, stripped out of the bloody uniform, jumped in the shower to get the blood off herself, then changed clothes and split."
We stood there looking at the bathroom for a minute. I had an odd feeling. Something was nagging at the back of my mind but I couldn't make the idea gel.
Stef interrupted my thoughts. "Wait a minute. If she split, how'd she leave? Her car's still here."
Again Max shrugged. "Good question. I was wondering about that one myself."
We stepped back outside to where Jeff was still dutifully guarding the unmoving Toyota. I asked, "Is it possible she was down there at the Coke machine or something when you and junior rolled up, she saw you guys and made a run for it on foot?"
Max shook his head. "No. Jeff and I parked across the street for a few minutes and watched the place, just for that reason."
Stef looked at both of us and ventured, "Cab?"
Max countered with, "Rental car?"
I resolved the debate with, "One way to find out. We suggest to Ghiraldi that he might want to call both the cab companies and the rental agencies."
The arrival of a black Ford Crown Victoria with a surplus of radio antennae brought the discussion to a halt.
Max watched the Ford nose up beside Stef's and my Dodge. "Speak of the devil."
Ghiraldi climbed out and nodded to each of us. "Head's up police work spotting that car Ducane. You guys been in the room yet?"
Max nodded, accepting Ghiraldi's sincere praise. "Nah. We just made sure the perp wasn't in there then secured the scene."
Ghiraldi turned to Rookie Jeff and indicated the Toyota. "Make sure nobody touches that." Jeff nodded and, if anything, looked even more officious now that he had his orders direct from a real-live detective. He didn't notice the small grin the rest of us exchanged at his enthusiasm. God knew it wouldn't last. But it brought some fond memories of our own youthful exuberance.
Leaning back inside his car, Ghiraldi brought out a box of latex surgical gloves and gave a pair to each of us. "Okay, I just heard from Kearny. We got a telephone search warrant from Judge Ivory for both the room and the car so let's take a look."
It didn't take long to ascertain that even our cursory look inside before Ghiraldi's arrival hadn't missed much. The only apparent clue was that pile of clothing. Ghiraldi hunkered down on his heels and stared at it for a moment. Theoretically, he should have waited for the photographers before disturbing them. But it seemed unlikely that the garment's arrangement on the floor held any particular evidentiary significance. He picked up each item while the three of us looked on. The clothing was as I had described it. When he'd finished his examination, Ghiraldi turned to Stef and me and asked, "Do you guys see anything unusual?" Coming from Kearny, my inclusion in a question about women's clothing would have been insulting. When Ghiraldi asked, it was a legitimate request for insight from people who might know more about a subject than he did.
Unfortunately, neither Stef nor I had any insight to offer. Except for the bloodstains, the clothing was completely unremarkable.
Since there was nothing else to see in the bathroom we all filed back into the main area of the motel room. We stood there, looking around, trying to think of something that we might have missed, when I had my first brainstorm. I opened the drawer of the nightstand and then grinned at my own cleverness. Ghiraldi's voice floated over my shoulder. "You find something?"
I turned the smug grin on him. "No. And that's the clue. Remember that bible sitting on top of the file cabinet? No matter what it says on the inside cover, I bet it wasn't placed there by the Gideons."
That bit of cleverness earned me a nod and a wink from Max. Coming from as seasoned a veteran as he, that was high praise. Ghiraldi also nodded and made a note to himself in his notebook.
Satisfied that there was nothing else to find, we went outside to finally relive Rookie Jeff of his vigil on the Toyota.
Stef made the one discovery that was to be made there though I would have noticed it too, given time. Sitting on the floor by the passenger's seat was a large shoulder-bag type purse. Stef spotted it and brought it up to set it on the seat. "Now, here's something strange."
Both Max and Ghiraldi leaned forward to see what she was referring to. Max asked, "There's something wrong with the purse?"
I answered for Stef. "It's wrong that Loughton left it sitting in the car. Women don't just walk away and leave a purse any more than you or I'd walk away and leave our wallet, our car keys . . . hell, everything in our pockets."
Both Stef and I knew Loughton's abandonment of her purse was significant.
But it would be a while before we found out exactly why.
I flicked a strand of Toni CW's hair behind my ear and glanced around the bar again.
Other than Stef and Grim sitting in the corner booth doing a pretty good imitation of two young lovers on a date, and a couple of businessmen slowly getting stoned (as the Billy Joel song said), Finerty's Bar was deserted. Just to make sure I didn't miss a bet, I casually hiked the hem of my airy, red print dress a little higher on my black nylon clad thigh. Then, to make the point clear for anyone watching, (though I suspected there wasn't anyone) I plucked at an imaginary bit of lint off the daring (for a woman of my age) swoop of my décolletage. Hey, when you reached Toni CW's age, you had to flaunt what you had. Thanks to that very lacy (and yet very 'shaping') body briefer I wore under my dress, I couldn't imagine why at least one of those businessmen hadn't offered to buy me a drink yet.
Rats. What a boring night.
Tucker, in his role of bartender came by and said, "Freshen that drink up for you ma'am?" I nodded. He quickly placed another "virgin screwdriver" ("orange juice, straight up") in front of me.
I took another look around the room and sighed, perhaps a little too dramatically.
One of the businessmen, a 50-ish fellow with more hair on his upper lip than on his head glanced in my direction. Just to keep up appearances, I offered him a winsome and ever-so-lonely smile.
He responded by tossing a $20 on the bar and leaving.
Screw you too Mac.
Tonight was going to be a bust. The "hugger mugger" preying on Toni CW's sisters (the real middle-aged women looking for a little fling with a handsome lothario) wasn't going to show tonight. But it was too late to head back to the station and change into either Toni R or Toni BB and do a prostitute roust.
I toyed with the little parasol that Tucker had floated in my glass.
Why was I so depressed tonight? For some reason, I kept thinking about that picture of Silky and of Dr. Alcorn lying on her Exam Room floor. Two really senseless ways to check out.
Was there a sensible way?
That got me thinking about Lisa. I hadn't been to visit her in a while. I'd go tomorrow. I'd bring her some flowers and maybe pack a sandwich for me.
I'd pretend that Lisa was there beside me. I'd convince myself that my life wasn't as empty and sad as this fictional female's, sitting here on this barstool waiting for some man . . . any man . . . to come along and give her one last moment's passion before it was too late. Before the last of her looks deserted her and she could no longer attract anyone.
What a miserable night.
I tried to steer my thoughts away from the blue depression that was getting a little too close for comfort. I'd been thinking about Dr. Alcorn so I refocused my mind on that on-going investigation.
For a case that should have been, as Jo Shavely had said, "dead-bang", the inquiry had hit a brick wall awfully quickly.
Terri Loughton seemed to have simply walked out of that motel room and vanished off the face of the earth. The detectives had been to her house. They'd questioned her room mate (who'd been as shocked and surprised as anyone by the sudden violence from the girlfriend she thought she knew so well.) They'd tried to find relatives or somebody Loughton might have run to. They'd started checking into any possible affiliations with the more militant pro-life groups. They kept updating the A.P.B., spreading its dissemination wider and wider.
Three days had passed.
Nothing . . . zip . . . nada.
Whatever hiding place Loughton had found, it was a damn good one.
How had she done it? How had she gotten away from that motel room?
I'd been thinking about that a lot lately.
There hadn't been any cabs dispatched to the motel all day on the date of the murder. There was no record of any rental cars for anyone even vaguely matching Loughton's description. Yet if you included the time it took for her to shower and change, Ducane and Rookie Jeff should have been there at just about the time she would have been walking out of the motel. (She had to be on foot . . . didn't she?) They had her description from the radio B.O.L.O. They were looking for her.
But they hadn't seen her.
A well-built young man came strolling through the door to Finerty's. I went into my 'lonely housewife' routine, again flicking a strand of hair over my ear and arching my back just enough to make sure those still dynamite bosoms pressing against the silky fabric of my too-low-cut dress were in plain sight. Then I smiled coyly over my shoulder . . . just in time to see his knockout-blonde date come strutting through the door behind him.
Man . . . what was the point? This was clearly a case of "all dressed up with no place to go."
". . . all dressed up . . ."
I stared at the dark wood grain of the bar, my jaw hanging down almost to the cleft of those lovely fake tits.
Was it possible?
The nagging doubt that I'd felt standing there in the motel room staring at a pile of woman's clothing beside a shower finally gelled. I'd seen that same scene so many times.
After a hard night as one of my female alter egos.
Had Loughton found a really good hiding place? One that nobody except for one "out on the fringe" Seattle vice cop would think of?
Had Ducane and Rookie Jeff actually seen Loughton when they'd responded to Ducane's clever insight about the motel? Had they just not recognized her as she had walked or driven right past them? Had that been why she'd left her purse sitting in her car . . . because she no longer needed all the personal items it contained? Because they no longer fit her new identity?
And then an even wilder idea hit me and I gasped loud enough to have all three members of my backup team staring in my direction.
Or was it a case of he no longer needing the ID?
"Good morning, NuGen Incorporated. How may I direct your call?"
"Uh . . . good morning. This is Sergeant Chan with the Seattle police. I . . . well, maybe you could help me. I don't quite know who I want to speak to."
"What is you call in reference to, officer?"
"I need to ask someone about the capabilities of your line of . . . oh, what do you call them? Umm . . . 'transgender appliances'."
"Hmm . . . One moment, I'll connect you to our Vice President of Sales. I'm sure Mr. Glade can answer your questions or direct you to someone who can."
"You're most welcome. One moment please."
I sat listening to the "On-hold Musak" play some vaguely familiar tune while the operator put my call through.
I didn't really know what I was expecting to find out. It was still too early in the morning for rational, intuitive police work. (A little after seven o'clock my time . . . a little after nine down in NuGen's Houston corporate headquarters). Too early, particularly after a sleepless night tossing and turning and mulling over the implications of my revelation in Finerty's last night. If what I was thinking was actually possible, the Job may have just become a lot more difficult.
I had to run another gauntlet of secretaries but finally a masculine voice said, "Michael Glade."
"Mr. Glade, good morning. Sergeant Chan here, Seattle Police. I wonder if you might be able to help me with an investigation we're currently running?"
There was an awkward silence within which I could hear Glade's defenses rising into place. "Uh . . . what sort of investigation would that be? I don't really know if I should be handling this call or if it might not be better to refer it to our Legal . . ."
"No sir . . . I assure you, this isn't an investigation aimed at NuGen or anything you might have done wrong. I'm looking for information concerning your line of transgender appliances. The . . ." I struggled for a moment but couldn't remember what they called the damn suits that I spent so many of my nights in. "Uh . . . I can't remember the . . ."
"Are you referring to the 'I-2000'? Or perhaps the 'I-2000S'?"
"Yes! That was the number."
"I see." He was still defensive. Why did people always get defensive around cops? "Well, I suppose it can't hurt to at least listen to your questions."
"Thank you sir. I'm really not looking to hang anything on your company. I really do just need some information."
"As I say, I'll listen to any . . . Wait a minute. Did you say your name was Chan? From the Seattle Police?"
Oh brother. Here it came. "Yes sir."
"Aren't you the policeman who used one of our suits to track down that murderer, the crazy woman who was killing the prostitutes?"
I tried not to sigh. "Yes sir. That was me."
Glade's tone of voice did a complete 180-degree turnabout. "Oh my! Oh, this is wonderful! I can't tell you how much I've wanted to talk to you! Do you know what that bit of police work did for our reputation? How much legitimacy that lent to our product? This is . . . wow!"
Could it be that for the first time this was going to work in my favor?
"I'm pleased to hear that. You know of course that we're continuing to use your products in our undercover work?"
"I'd heard about that, yes. Boy! You just, you have no idea how much that publicity helped us out! We've always been such a 'black sheep' in the corporate structure. When The Board of Directors saw the serious applications . . ." He finally stopped babbling but I could still hear the smile in his voice when he continued. "I'm sorry. Here I am, rambling on. You had some questions. How can I help?"
Son of a gun! It was finally going to bounce in my favor.
"Let's see. I guess what I'm really wondering is; how easy would it be to create one of your suits such that you could impersonate a real person?"
"You mean, could we let you be Madonna or Christy Brinkley? Something like that?"
"Well, not a celebrity per se, but . . . yeah. How hard would it be to step in and take somebody's place?"
"Do you have some one you want to protect? Some one you want to replace with a double?"
"I . . . I really can't say."
But wasn't that an intriguing possibility?
"I understand. Never mind. To answer your question; I'll give you a qualified 'probably not'. To impersonate someone, that is."
"Why is that?"
"You have some experience with our I-2000S, correct? That's pretty much the state of the art today. As you know, it functions by either compressing or padding out a male form to produce a believably feminine physique."
I realized Glade couldn't hear me nodding so I said "Yes".
"Obviously, there are limits on just how much you can alter the form your applying the suit to. For example, our suits wouldn't make it possible for you to impersonate a woman 5'4" tall if you were 6'3". There would be more subtle limitations too. Even if you had a fairly close physical match, close enough for the suit to bring all the measurements into proximity, you'd also have to fairly closely match the underlying bone structure of the face. That's not as big a problem as it sounds, skull structure is somewhat uniform, but still . . ."
"I see . . . so you don't think . . ."
Glade plowed ahead. "Then there's the matter of the voice. What we do, how that voice-altering chemical works is; it takes your male vocal cords and tightens them up. Produces a female version of your voice. I don't know how you'd go about copying an existing female voice. I doubt that's possible."
"So you're saying it would be impossible? To replace someone with a duplicate?"
"No. I didn't say that. I said it would be very difficult. You might be able to do it, but you'd have to have a lot of things working in your favor. A lot of things. You know, maybe a male twin could duplicate his female sibling. There's an interesting thought. It might be fun to experiment with that. Or just siblings in general . . . hmm . . ."
I tried to steer Glade back onto the topic. "Let's say I thought I did have the factors working in my favor. What would be necessary to create the suit?"
"We'd have to have a photograph of the subject to be modeled. At least one. More would be better of course. We'd need complete measurements from both the wearer of the suit and the person to be duplicated. Something for our CAD system to work against. We have had more than one request to try to duplicate a certain 'look', to create a suit that came as close as possible to a specific female. Of course, as I say, lots of times it been Madonna and Christy Brinkley and the like. Not always. I suspect sometimes it someone's wife or old flame. We don't ask. We just do our best. Occasionally folks send us back pictures of the results and often they look pretty good. Not exact duplicates, mind you . . . but pretty good."
"So it is possible? If not to duplicate someone, at least to come close to them?"
"Well . . . again Sergeant, you have to remember that it all depends on the body you start out with, the body you're going to transform and what you want to transform it into. And there's also the matter of the voice. Now, if you could tell us what the male's voice range is, we can select an appropriate formulation of the voice-altering agent to move into whatever female range is desired. Actually, it might be close enough that the giveaway would be sentence patterns, accents, things like that instead of tone. But I'm digressing here. Again, the answer is; I don't think you could ever exactly duplicate someone . . . I mean, to the extent that you could fool people who knew the woman you were trying to impersonate."
I thought about that for a moment while Glade patiently waited.
"Okay. Let me switch topics for just a second here."
"Do you ever get requests for a suit . . . a female suit . . . from real women?"
"Of course. All the time. We're building quite a line of specialty designs made just for women."
That surprised me. "Really?"
"Sure. Society puts a lot of pressure on females to be attractive. If you had the money, why not get a little attractiveness out of a box? Why not surprise you husband some night with Madonna or Christy Brinkley (or as close as you can come) waiting in bed for him? I'm not saying we get a lot of demand for that. I mean, you know how expensive our suits are. But if you've got the bucks . . . why not?"
This wasn't getting me any closer to an answer. Time to be a bit more specific.
"Okay. I'll bear that in mind. Back to duplicating an individual. Can you tell me if you've had any requests to duplicate a certain woman living here in Seattle? I can provide you with photographs and . . ."
Glade's defenses had snapped into place again. "Uh . . . I'm sorry Officer Chan. That would entail violating our clients' expectation of privacy. I won't give out that kind of information."
I tried a bluff. Using my best threatening/officious tone I growled. "Mr. Glade, you've been so helpful and cooperative. Let's not spoil that. I don't want to have to get a warrant . . . unless you make me. This is a serious crime I'm investigating."
Wrong tack. Glade's tone became positively glacial. "Of course NuGen would cooperate with any duly authorized . . . and properly upheld search warrant. But I don't think the information will be forthcoming without such a warrant. And a long court challenge to its validity. We pride ourselves on the anonymity we provide our customers. I'm sure you, of all people, can understand that Sergeant Chan."
"I see." No point in butting heads against this brick wall. "Well . . . thank you for your time and for the information Mr. Glade."
His tone lightened just a bit. "My pleasure. I'm truly sorry about not being able to give you access to our client information. I'm sure you can understand. Can't you?"
I tried to be magnanimous in defeat. "Of course."
I hung up the phone and then sat back and thought about what I'd learned.
What were the possibilities? It seemed to me that there were two.
The first possibility was that Terri Loughton was currently using one of NuGen's suits to impersonate a new individual. She was hiding out, waiting for the heat to die down then . . . what? Escape to another country? Go back to living her own life?
That seemed awkward. Why not impersonate someone else then commit the murder? After, you could just destroy the suit you'd used and make it almost impossible to track down the killer. You could go back to your own life as if nothing had ever happened.
That left the second possibility; that someone had impersonated the real Terri Loughton.
But Glade had said that was a pretty dicey proposition. A lot of factors had to work in the killer's favor to pull that deception off.
He hadn't said it was impossible . . . just improbable.
What had happened to the real Teri Loughton? Why impersonate her? What did the killer gain by that? Why not just create a new persona from scratch? That would eliminate all the "factors" that had to work in your favor to pull off an impersonation.
I sat there thinking for a good hour before Stef came strolling in and I had to get to work.
My 'brain storm' was starting to seem less like a revelation and more like a dumb idea. Still, something in the back of my mind insisted that I was on the right track.
I just didn't know how or why.
I tried to concentrate on my paperwork for a while, but it was no use. The idea just wouldn't go away. I told Stef I was going up to the Homicide Bureau then jumped on the elevator to the fourth floor.
I was pleased to see that Kearny was nowhere in sight, but that Ghiraldi was sitting at his desk. This was definitely something I wanted to bounce off the more open-minded younger man.
He looked up from a file folder as I walked up to his desk near the back of the bull-pen. "Hey, Ghiraldi. You got a second?"
He nodded and I spent several minutes outlining my revelation, the two possible alternatives I was considering, and what I'd learned from my phone call to NuGen. He went up another notch in my estimation when, instead of just blowing me off, he sat quietly and listened attentively to my story. When I had finished he gazed off at the wall and thoughtfully tapped the eraser end of a pencil against his chin.
"Man . . . that's a wild theory, Chan. Still . . . It does fit some of the facts. Let's say for a minute that it's the second of your theories; that someone stepped in and took Loughton's place. You know more about these suits than I do. Would such a masquerade be possible?"
I could only shrug. "Like I say, the folks at NuGen think 'maybe'. It'd be a long shot. He or she wouldn't have been able to fool anyone who really knew Loughton . . ."
Ghiraldi raised a finger. "Wouldn't have had to. Don't forget, Loughton had just been hired. She'd only been working there two days before the murder."
Oh . . . hey! That was right! I'd forgotten about that! Both Jo Shavely and Pearson, the office manager had mentioned that Loughton had just gone to work for Doctor Alcorn. Suddenly my revelation was back to being a hot idea. And I remembered something else. "Remember too; Peason said there was some kind of friction between Alcorn and Loughton because the Doc had problems with Loughton's competence. Maybe it was because who ever was impersonating Loughton wasn't really a surgical nurse!"
Ghiraldi thought about that for a moment then nodded. "Possible. Of course, maybe the real Loughton was just screwing up intentionally. Intentionally botching abortions as part of her propaganda campaign."
I had to concede that, but still . . . "Was Loughton, the real Loughton, qualified as a surgical nurse?"
Ghiraldi pulled a folder out of a stack on one corner of his well-organized desk. He flipped it across to me. It was a dossier on Terri Anne Loughton compiled by the Washington State Medical Association. It detailed her training, all her certifications, and her license to practice as a Registered Nurse. There was also a photocopy of her actual license card, complete with photograph.
"They would have checked this, wouldn't they? I mean, Doctor Alcorn would have checked this record before letting who ever was claiming to be Loughton go to work."
Ghiraldi nodded. "I asked Pearson. Alcorn was very careful about that kind of thing."
I was really starting to get excited. Pieces were starting to fall into place. "That's why you'd impersonate a nurse. So you could get into the clinic."
But Ghiraldi shook his head. "I like the idea that it's Loughton now using an assumed identity better."
"Let's say you're a radical Pro-Lifer. You want to get close to Alcorn, get her alone so you can bump her off. Why go to all the trouble of masquerading as a nurse? Just pretend to be some woman looking for an abortion. As soon as you get the Doc alone in an examining room . . ." Ghiraldi drew his thumb across his throat in a particularly apt gesture. "For that matter, why pretend to be anything? Just stroll in, grab the Doc and do it. If you're gonna commit premeditated murder, a little trespassing isn't going to bother you too much."
I nodded. "But if you're Loughton . . . the real Loughton, you need some way to lie-low afterwards."
"Um hmm. Man . . . while part of me wants this to be the answer so we have a handle to work on this, another part of me really hopes you're wrong."
I bit my lip. "Tell me about it. This could become every cop's nightmare."
A guttural voice broke my train of thought. "What could be a cop's nightmare?"
Kearny had walked up, unnoticed, behind us. Ghiraldi sat up straighter in his chair. "Nothing. Chan had an idea he wanted to bounce off me, that's all."
" 'Idea'? What? You lookin' for a good titty bar or something?"
I struggled not to respond to that. Ghiraldi muttered, "It's nothing."
"Well, if it's nothing, you should be working on those Form 84's like I asked, shouldn't you? And you . . ." He turned his little black pig-eyes on me. "Don't you have pimps to go hob-nob with or something?"
I congratulated myself on the self-control it took to hop off the corner of Ghiraldi's desk and walk to the elevators without making any of the snide comments whirling around my brain.
Back at my desk, any pretense at tackling my own paperwork quickly ended.
Once I'd laid it all out for Stef we began to bounce ideas off each other. Her "thinking mode" consisted of her removing her shoes and putting her sock- clad feet up on her cluttered desk. "Okay. Two possibilities. Seems to me there are good arguments for and against both."
I had to nod. She continued. "So, how do we set about proving which theory is right . . . if either?"
"I . . ." suddenly realized that I hadn't thought that far. ". . . don't know."
"Okay. 'Plan A'; it's some boy or girl masquerading as the real Loughton. Where are they now?"
I sat back and folded my arms. "Well . . . they've gotten rid of the 'Loughton Suit' and they're . . . back to doing what ever it was they were doing before."
"Back to being a Pro-Lifer."
We stared at each other for a second. It was Stef who finally broke the silence. "So what, right? What does that get us?"
"Not much. Kearny and Company have checked into all the militant Pro Life movements. It was pretty much a dead-end."
"But they were looking for Loughton, not somebody pretending to be Loughton."
"So what? That 'somebody' could be anybody. I mean, they'd have to have roughly Loughton's physical dimensions, but that's . . . that's not going to get you too far. What are you gonna do, make somebody a suspect because the could, theoretically, be 36-24-36?"
Stef sucked her lip for a while and then finally growled, "Shit. I can't think of anything more on that line. All right, 'Plan B'; it's the real Loughton now wearing somebody else's face. Where is she? What's she doing?"
"Obviously. But what's she doing for groceries? Where's she living? How's she getting around without a driver's license? Modern society, Charlie Chan. You don't just plop down out of the clear blue sky with out a handful of credit cards and three forms of picture ID and expect to last too long in this world."
Good point. "What if you had somebody helping you?"
Stef nodded and grinned. "Bingo! And it ain't gonna be the Pro-Lifers because they've been under a microscope since the murder."
That excitement was returning. "Who else does Loughton know? Where can she go?"
She opened the door right after the first ring. Deep blue eyes set in a heart- shaped face peered with slight suspicion from the partly opened door.
"Mary Badnerak?" I held up my badge and ID. "I'm Sergeant Chan." I nodded to Stef standing beside me. "This is Officer Iaway. We'd like to ask you a few questions."
Mary, Loughton's room mate, took a quick glance at my ID then opened the door, motioning us inside. "Uh . . . sure. Please, come in."
She led us into the main room of the two-bedroom apartment she had . . . until recently? . . . shared with a murderer. "I suppose this is more about Terri?"
A little grin curled the corner of her full lips. "You sound like Dragnet. 'Just the facts ma'am.' Please. Sit down. Would either of you like something? A cup of coffee, tea?"
Stef shook her head and I said, "No. Thank you." Stef and I sat, side by side, on the sofa while Mary perched her rather charming little beige-cotton- shorts-clad tush on the edge of an over-stuffed chair opposite us. "I don't really know what more I can tell you that I haven't already told the other officers."
I started off with some standard questions. "How long have you and Ms. Loughton lived together?"
"Terri and I shared this apartment for a little over a year and a half. Before that we were room mates in college . . . University of Washington."
"I see. So you'd say you knew her fairly well?"
"I thought I did. Look, I'm sorry, but I've already answered all these questions."
"Yes ma'am. Sorry, but I need to clear this up in my own mind."
She sighed and folded her hands in her lap. "Fine. But please . . . if you have to call me anything, please call me Mary. That 'ma'am' makes me think you're talking to my mother."
I gave her what I hoped was a winningly masculine smile. "Okay . . . Mary.
Stef took up the questions. "Did you notice anything odd about Terri before the murders? I know you've already answered that for the detectives. I'm looking for something not necessarily related to what she did. Just . . . something that seemed strange or out of character."
Mary thought about that for a moment, her brow furrowing in the cutest little display of concentration. "Umm . . . no. Not really. Of course, I was out of town for two weeks before . . . before she . . ." Then she bit her lip. "God, I still can't believe she did it. It's just so . . . I mean . . . Terri wasn't like that. She just couldn't do something like that."
I leaned forward. "You were out of town for two weeks?"
She nodded. "Um hmm. I had a series of job interviews down in Tucson. I got back the night before . . ."
Stef asked, "Was Terri all right that night? Did she act normally?"
"She was just fine. We sat and chatted about my trip. Perfectly normal. Then we went to bed. I slept in. I was tired after the trip. The next thing I knew, the police were banging on my door."
Stef stood up. "Do you mind if I look around Terri's room?"
Again Mary bit her lip. "Well . . . if you promise not to mess it up I suppose that's all right. I was all day putting things away after the other police . . ."
Stef smiled. "No. I just want to look around. I won't make a mess."
When Stef had gone Mary turned to me. "Why did she want to know about Terri's behavior? 'Not necessarily related' to the crime. What did that mean?"
I didn't want to get too deeply into my theories, but I saw no other way to proceed with the questions without at least hinting about what we were thinking of.
"Well, as you say, it seems to us to be so far outside Terri's character . . . to do what she did . . . there's been some thought that it might not have actually been Terri . . . umm . . ."
Mary was frowning. "What do you mean? 'Not Terri'? Didn't Mrs. Pearson see her? I mean, with all the blood . . .?"
"Uh, yes. Mrs. Pearson saw someone she thought was Terri, but . . ."
Mary had been staring rather intently into my face. Suddenly her eyes lit up. "I know you! You're that policeman, the one from the prostitutes getting killed. Aren't you!"
I hoped my smile was less rueful than it felt. "Yes. That was me."
Mary tried to hide her giggle behind both hands over her mouth, but she couldn't cover the sudden twinkle in her eyes. "I'm sorry. Please. I'm not laughing at you."
I waved a hand. "That's all right. I understand. I'm kind of used to people . . . uh . . ."
She again folded her hands in her lap and tried to suppress her impish grin. "I'm not laughing at you. I'm really not. I think you were very brave to do what you did. I read all about it in the papers." Then her expression softened. "The policewoman who was killed . . . you and she were . . . close . . . weren't you?"
I wanted to change the subject but couldn't think of a polite way to do it. "Yes. Uh . . ."
"Oh, Sergeant Chan. I'm so very sorry."
"Please, call me Tony." Lame, but all I could think of.
She gave me a beautiful, sympathetic smile, her eyes large and shining. "Tony . . ."
I cleared my throat. "Anyway . . . We were wondering about the possibility of someone impersonating Terri to commit the murders."
" 'Impersonating Terri'? How could you . . ." This time, her hands flew to her mouth to cover a gasp of shock. "You're not thinking . . . that someone used the same thing that you used to . . . that some man was here that night. That I slept in the same house with a man pretending to be Terri so he could murder Dr. Alcorn?! Oh God!"
"Mary, it's just a theory. A pretty far-fetched one at that."
But she was already ahead of me. "No. That can't be it. The person in this apartment was Terri. I'm sure of that. I'm just sure! I mean, we sat right there at the table and talked for hours. Oh no. No, I would have known." Then her confident tone faded and again I could hear the fear and uncertainty. "Wouldn't I?"
I tried to allay her fears. "I'm sure you would have. We're investigating this possibility and we don't think the . . . well, the same disguise I used . . . that it could be used to fool someone who actually knew the person. Being impersonated, that is."
She seemed to take comfort from my reassurance because some of the fear left her eyes.
At that moment Stef came back from her investigations and gave me a small shake of her head.
I stood. "Well . . . Mary. We've taken up enough of your time. If you think of anything that might fit with what we were talking about you can reach either Officer Iaway or myself at this number." I handed her one of my business cards and then Stef and I let ourselves out. My last sight of Mary that day was of her perched on the edge of her overstuffed chair, hunched forward, elbows resting on knees tightly pressed together, that same little frown of concentration furrowing her brow.
Stef and I stopped off at Mantini's for lunch before heading back to the office.
Stef glared at her Styrofoam cup, wondering how that last container of creamer could have had such a little impact on the dark, slithering mass within. "I don't think there's been anyone in that room. It looks just as Badnerak described it; a room that someone had spent all day straightening up and then leaving alone. I mean, all the hangers in the closet were facing the same way. All the shoes were lined up perfectly. There was a little dust on everything. No. Loughton isn't hanging out there."
I took a tentative sip. Oh yeah . . . better than electro-shock therapy. "I didn't really expect to find her just sitting on her bed waiting for somebody to come by and take her off to the pen. I was more interested in Mary's reactions."
Stef cocked an eyebrow and gave me a sly, side-long glance. " 'Mary'?"
"Nothing . . . nothing." There was a pause as we each sipped our coffee. "I think she's cute too."
I turned in my seat and glared at my partner staring innocently out at the parking lot, a little smile playing around her lips. "What the fuck's that supposed to mean?"
Her "What?" was delivered with such round-eyed innocence I had to grin.
"It's business, that's all. So keep your innuendo to yourself."
Stef went back to smiling out the window. "Of course."
There was another pause.
"I still think she's cute."
I had made a resolution to myself that this afternoon I really would finish all that delinquent paperwork sitting on my desk. Stef and I strolled into the office and there, sitting on top of my files was one of those little "While You Were Out" notes.
It said to call Ghiraldi as soon as I got in.
He picked up his phone right after the first ring. "Homicide, Ghiraldi."
"Hey man, it's Chan."
"If you got a minute we really need you up here. It looks like at least part of your theory was correct."
I debated taking Stef along but then quickly decided she could do a little penance for that innuendo back at Mantini's. I left her staring at the Herculean pile of files and headed for the elevator.
When I got up to the fourth floor I found Ghiraldi and Kearny in Captain Hopkins' office. Hopkins was the Chief of Homicide Detectives. He was a twenty-year man and well respected. He saw me standing out in the bullpen and waved me into his office.
I got a nod and a smile from Ghiraldi and a glower from Kearny. Hopkins pointed me to a chair. "Thanks for coming up Chan, we were just getting started. I know you're busy with your own fish to fry, but it seems like that wild theory of yours might be starting to pan out. If you've got a moment, I'd like to get your input on something." He nodded to Ghiraldi. "You want to fill him in on what you found?"
Still smiling Ghiraldi said, "I got to thinking about your idea and I remembered something that seemed a little odd to me. The autopsy report on Dr. Alcorn mentioned that they'd found traces of latex and some blood under her fingernails."
Evidently Kearny hadn't been in on this because he shrugged and interrupted. "So what? She's a doctor, she was probably wearing exam gloves. Loughton and she struggled. The Doc clawed Loughton. Typical cat fight. Being a dame her long fingernails went right through the gloves leaving some residue under her nails along with Loughton's blood."
Ghiraldi didn't look up from his folded hands. "That's what I thought at first too, why I didn't pursue it at the time but . . ."
This time I interrupted him. "But Alcorn wasn't wearing exam gloves." Again Ghiraldi glanced at me and smiled.
Kearny sounded disgusted and smug at the same time. "Cripes Chan, if you wanna play detective you might mention seeing stuff like that; like blood under fingernails or the fact that somebody's wearing exam gloves. We can't do this job without a little support from you beat cops . . ."
I'd had just about enough of Kearny for this month. I made no attempt to keep the snarl out of my voice. "I didn't notice anything. I wasn't even looking. That's supposed to be your job."
Hopkins soft tone was oil on troubled water. "Then how did you know she wasn't wearing exam gloves?"
I shrugged. "Well, because she had blood under her fingernails."
Kearny wasn't through. "Weren't you listening? I just said, long fingernails . . . would have gone right through the gloves when she clawed Loughton and then she could get the blood under . . ."
I growled, "She didn't have long fingernails . . . At least I bet she didn't. She was a surgeon. You can't do delicate, precise work with long fingernails. Believe me, I know."
Now both Ghiraldi and Hopkins were smiling and Kearny's expression was almost thunderous. He was only making himself look more and more dense and he knew it. Give him credit. He was finally wise enough to shut up and just sit there.
Hopkins nodded. "You're right of course, Chan. They didn't find exam gloves on her hands when they did the autopsy, but nobody at the Coroner's office thought to mention that fact. Ghiraldi picked up on it after talking to you. And that led him to the real clue here, the one that made me call your boss and ask him to let you work this case with Kearny and Gharildi . . . when you have some free time from your own workload, that is."
"Uh . . . I'll do what I can Captain. What's this 'clue' that Ghiraldi found?" Before he could answer, I figured it out for myself. "The blood sample . . . from under Alcorn's fingers . . ."
Ghiraldi's smile was getting wider by the second. He nodded in confirmation of the sudden understanding on my face. "Exactly . . ."
" . . . it was male blood."
"Hey stud, wanna go back there in the alley? We can play 'show and tell'. I show you what I got and you tell me what to do with it."
Rookie Jeff reared back in stunned amazement at this brazen breach of propriety while Stef slowly slid her hands up her sides, coincidentally hiking the skirt of her red mini dress perilously high on her thighs.
I had to bite my lip to keep from laughing when Jeff finally found enough voice to splutter, "You . . . why you . . . You're under arrest for solicitation! Of all the brazen . . . propositioning a cop! In uniform!"
Finally Max couldn't take it any more and started laughing which, of course, also cracked me up. "Hey kid. Didn't I tell you to not let her dazzling good looks fool you? Picture that little cookie with short brown hair instead of the yellow haystack."
Rookie Jeff looked a little more closely at Stef as she stroked and fondled herself all the while uttering little whimpers of barely suppressed passion. You could see the recognition finally dawn. "Oh Christ. It's you, the detective from the motel."
She continued to shimmy and stroke and with her eyes still closed she moaned, "Not detective you putz. I work for a living. And another thing . . ." Now her hands were low on her stomach, slowly moving lower and even I was starting to enjoy the show. Stef could indeed be outrageously brazen and 'hot' when she wanted to. "You don't have the elements for a solicitation bust. Mmmm . . . The elements are . . . oooh . . . 'sex for money'. I'd have to have said something like . . ." The next was delivered in a positively sweaty, throaty purr. " 'Give me a hundred bucks and I'll fuck your brains out'." And then just like that, just like turning off a light switch, she was suddenly the 'cast iron bitch' as she growled, "Got it?"
Rookie Jeff just stood there, eyes bulging, mouth hanging open.
Max was still chuckling. "Why don't you quiz him on the finer points of a vice bust while I talk with your partner, okay gorgeous?" Stef nodded, leaned against the nearest telephone and began rummaging in her purse for a cigarette while Rookie Jeff tried valiantly not to stare at dazzling expanse of her openly displayed cleavage. As the lesson began, Max sauntered over to where I lounged with one leg bent at the knee, the foot pressing against the brick wall I was leaning against, still chuckling in my bewitchingly feminine voice.
I got a quick head to toe inspection and then a rueful shake of his head. "Christ Chan, I've seen you a dozen times in that blonde getup and I still have to force myself to remember I'm really looking at a devious yellow devil and not some hot little honey I'd hock my soul to bang."
I shrugged, unintentionally setting Toni BB's massive tits bouncing in the process. "It's a living. Besides, I get to hang out in women's cans and get as many free peeks as I want."
Max smiled. "Aren't you supposed to be out there protecting society from people like you? What's so important you had to drag me all the way down here at this time of night? What you got that's worth interrupt two hard- working members of Seattle's Finest in the midst of their duly appointed rounds?"
Toni BB's contralto made my snort of disgust too light to be effective. "Please. With you on the job the only place that's truly safe is Dunkin' Doughnuts."
I smiled so that I could claim the last laugh, then got down to business.
"Listen. The day you and junior were at the Lamplighter, you said you parked out front for a while, right?"
Max nodded. "Yeah. We pulled up across the street and sat there for . . . oh, like five minutes just in case, as you said, Loughton had gone to get a Coke or something."
"While you were sitting there, did you see anybody else?"
Max didn't know quite what I was asking, but he tried to answer anyway. "Uh . . . there was . . . this guy came out just as we pulled up. He was driving a silver Taurus. There was some woman up on the second deck unlocking her door . . ."
"The guy in the Taurus, can you describe him?"
Max shrugged. "He was a guy."
"But what did he look like?"
"Jeeze Charlie Chan, I didn't look that closely. I mean, we were looking for Loughton, not some guy."
"Try and remember Max, it might be important."
Max sighed and looked down at the pavement, then closed his eyes as he tried to recall the mental picture. "Light brown hair worn short . . . Umm . . . No glasses. Pretty average face. Dark polo shirt . . . I'm sorry man. That's all I remember. Why is he important?"
I lowered my voice. "Keep this under you hat for now, but . . ." Then I reached up and flicked the nipple of the fake left breast readily visible beneath the sheer material of my top. " . . . It seems I'm not the only one who's found a practical use for this technology."
Max's features darkened and his voice was a worried growl. "Son of a bitch . . ."
I unlocked the door and then stepped back waiting for him to be a gentleman and open it for me. My handsome companion readily complied then stepped aside to allow me through the door first. For a hugger-mugger . . . No, don't jump to conclusions . . . for a suspected hugger-mugger, he had good manners.
I gave him a hot, sultry smile and then made sure the swing of Toni CW's hips left no doubt about her expectations regarding this little motel- room tryst as she proceeded him inside.
Once through the door I let him take me in his arms and give me a long, 'active' kiss. His lips worked against mine and of course, being the hot, horny woman I was, I replied in kind. But when it looked like we were going to get to 'tongues' I pressed a hand against his chest and forced a break. He could slobber all over the suit, including the lips, but he wasn't going to stick his tongue in my mouth. My $2100-a-month sergeant's pay didn't buy that much dedication to duty. I used setting my handbag down on the table (in plain sight) as my excuse for the break, then ran both my hands over his chest. Damn, this guy really was 'cut'. He must work out. Now wonder he had so much luck with the ladies. He took the hint and began to fondle my butt, rubbing the silky material of my red print dress against the equally silky lace of that old, reliable body briefer.
"I want you . . . I want you so badly Carol."
I raised a pair of limpid brown eyes and hoped my parted lips spoke loudly enough. Then again, I pushed him gently away till I was free of his arms. "Give me just a minute." Then with a reprise of that smoky smile I stepped into the bathroom and closed the door.
The bottle of intimate feminine moisturizer and the saline spray were right were I'd left them when I'd prepped the room this afternoon. I removed them from the drawer beneath the sink. I had a few minutes now. I wanted to give him the opportunity to rifle my purse and split (right into Stef, Grim, and Tucker's waiting arms) without the need of actually letting him hump me. I had little expectation of that occurring though. His M.O. indicated this guy liked to wait till he'd finished fucking his victim before making a grab for the cash. He must have figured out that no policewoman would actually let herself get screwed just to make a larceny pinch. He must think he was so clever, figuring out a way to make sure he'd never get busted by an undercover sting.
Boy, was he about to get a rude awakening.
I quickly unzipped my dress, dropped it around my ankles then slid the briefer down around my knees. I used two drops of the feminine moisturizer, thought about it for a second, then used two more. I figured it had been a while since Carol had been this passionate and she might as well show it. Then, just in case "John" out there liked to use his tongue, I sprayed a thin coat of the saline over my torso, paying particular attention to my breasts. A nice, 'salty' tang to her flesh would be much more believable than a suspiciously plastic 'after-taste'. A quick spritz of perfume to cover the odor of the saline, a quick re-donning of my briefer and my dress. A check to make sure my stockings were smooth and my hair was still 'all right'. A little water running in the sink to cover the flush of the toilet. (Carol didn't want to spoil the mood and I wanted to make sure "John" had sufficient warning to finish up with my purse if that was what he was doing.) And then I was opening the bathroom door, that same sultry smile on my lips.
Nope, he hadn't gone for the purse. Instead he'd already taken off his shirt and was sitting on the edge of the bed, giving me a smile that, coupled with his really buff body, probably justified my decision regarding the moisturizer.
I took two slow steps, winding up standing in front of him. He just gazed up at me. I ran a hand lightly over his chest, then reached behind and unzipped the dress, again letting it fall around my ankles. I stepped out of it then started to reach for the clasps holding up my right stocking. "John" beat me to it. He gently disengaged my fingers, then finished the operation himself, slowly sliding the stocking down my leg and then off the foot I obligingly raised for him. Then he repeated the procedure on my left leg. By now, my hands were caressing my face . . . my neck . . .my fingers running through my hair as my eyes closed and my neck arched with passion.
Jeeze . . . practice did make perfect. I was getting good at this. I hoped the video camera behind the mirror was working. I wanted a copy of this tape.
Once the stockings were off, "John" wasted no time in moving on to the briefer. He slid the straps down my shoulders, then the briefer down my sides till both my breasts sprang free of the lacy cups.
I'd guessed right about him being a 'licker'. He brought his head close and planted a big, wet swipe of that tongue across my right nipple. I grabbed him by the back of the head and pressed his face against the boob and then, since I'd thrown my head back, I had to watch out of the 'bottom' of my eyes to see what he was doing. Sure enough, he was going to oblige my hint and give me a little suck. My, my . . . how polite. What a gentleman.
I moaned when I thought the time was right and arched my back a little to show he was scoring big. Finally he pulled back and again gazed up at me. I made the next step clear by sliding the briefer off the rest of the way.
Pretty soon he was banging away and I had shifted to autopilot. I'd done this so many times it really was becoming automatic. As was my habit, I turned my mind to something else while still remembering to throw in the occasional gasp or whimper.
A light-haired male with an average face.
He was the killer? Ghiraldi and Kearny were looking into all the possibilities with respect to the militant Pro-Lifers now that they had a new suspect to work. I'd been tasked with trying to come up with any other possibilities . . . to see if my brainstorm with respect to the suit had been a 'one-shot' or if I could be insightful on a regular basis.
So who was he . . . if not a Pro-Lifer?
There didn't seem to be any other reason for the attack. Certainly not if you took into consideration the lengths to which the killer had gone to disguise himself. I mean, you didn't go to that exotic a disguise just to break in and steal drugs or something. There'd been no indication whatsoever that that had been the case either.
No, the motive seemed pretty clear.
"John" seemed to be getting pretty close to coming. I figured we'd make this magical and have simultaneous orgasms and I started to gasp and moan accordingly.
Still . . . something seemed 'wrong' about the whole thing. Ghiraldi's words came back to me. "Why disguise yourself at all? Just saunter in, grab the Doc and do it."
Speaking of 'doing it' . . .'sky rockets', 'trains slamming out of tunnels', 'roses bursting open in time-lapse photography' . . . in other words . . . "John" came. Good. That was over. I gave him a few more pants and whimpers, just to show how marvelous he'd been, then he grunted once and rolled off the top of me.
We had a few moments of 'after glow' I could use to finish this train of thought before I had to go back to concentrating on my character.
Could there have been another reason for the attack? Was the bit with the paint on the files just a diversion? Something to get us looking in the wrong direction?
If so, what was the real reason for the murder?
"John" seemed to have caught his breath. He stroked my cheek then slid out of bed, gathered up his clothes, and then headed into the bathroom. Pretty soon I heard the shower running. Oh ho . . . "slam, bam, thank you ma'am", huh? And here I thought you were a gentleman. Should I make a scene when he came out . . . beg him for more? "Oh Johnny, take me away! Make mad monkey-love to me every night!" Nah . . . I wasn't in the mood. Let's just let this be an acknowledged one-night stand, let "John" get to the purse then get to the door and we could all go home. Well . . . except for "John" that is. He had a room waiting down at Central Booking if I'd figured him right.
Maybe it would be a good idea to do a little more research into the good Doctor. And into her staff. It was probably nothing, probably a dead end. The motive seemed so obvious. It was just the method of the attack was out of kilter.
I stretched enjoying the nice drowsy fatigue that my workout had provided. Hey, it was a real workout even if it wasn't real sex. No less so than doing about fifty sit-ups I once figured. I idly stroked my left tit and let my eyes wander around the room. They finally came to rest on the nightstand beside the bed.
And I had another 'epiphany'.
Scrambling over onto "John's" side of the bed I quickly pulled the top drawer open. Sure enough, inside was a copy of the Bible. And this time the Gideons really had placed it there.
Son of a bitch! I'd been so proud of my cleverness when I'd found the drawer empty in Loughton's room, (or who ever it was who had replaced her), I'd missed the real significance of the clue.
If the killer really had been a zealot, a real "Christian soldier", why did he need to swipe the copy of the Bible in his motel room? Was I to believe he didn't have a few dozen to spare? That in planning out his big "statement" he'd forgotten to bring a Bible along?
Was Dr. Alcorn's murder really a political statement?
Or was it something else entirely just made up to look like a political statement to throw the cops off the trail?
The bathroom door opening forced me back to the task at hand. I'd go back to the puzzle tomorrow morning.
"John" obliged me by making a beeline for my purse. He wasn't even subtle. He just picked it up and began to rummage through it. I'd made the checkbook, the credit cards and the roll of cash . . . three hundreds, three fiftys, six twentys and five tens . . . $520 all told . . . $20 more than necessary to make this a felony . . . all the serial numbers recorded, all the bills carefully marked for future reference . . . all very easy to find.
I sat up in bed and hugged the sheets against my chest.
"What are you doing?"
He ignored me and kept rummaging. I had to make sure he didn't dig around in the side pockets. I let a note of alarm creep into my voice. "What are you doing?!"
He finally snorted, looked over his shoulder and sneered, "You don't think you were that good do you?"
Hmm . . . what to do . . . what to do? Did I play this helpless and sobbing or furious and screaming? Good ol' "John" probably would just ignore tears so I had better make it anger. I flipped the sheets back and bounded up beside him, grabbing his arm. "Leave that alone! You have no right . . ."
The big bully put a hand flat against my chest, (getting a good bit of my poor, fragile boobs in the bargain,) and shoved me backward hard enough to land me on the bed. Good. Let's add battery to the charges. Having found what he considered everything of interest in the purse he strode of the door leaving me sobbing on the bed.
The door shut, I turned off "the waterworks" and grinned. I began softly counting aloud, holding up a finger for each count. At "six", I heard the commotion start up out in the hall. At "thirteen", the door banged open and John came flying back into the room, closely followed by the aptly named Grim with Tucker and Stef close behind. I recovered my purse from the floor, unzipped the side pocket, and as "John" looked wildly from face to face trying to figure out just what was going on, I calmly pulled out the badge and snickered, "You weren't that good either . . . just for the record."
We were going to go back to running prostitute stings the night after our 'hugger-mugger bust.' I'd been very pleased with our work on that matter and I'd told the rest of the team that there was no need to be in till five PM. Just for a change of pace from my subtle "Carol" persona I had again selected Toni BB for tonight's work. I was in a particularly playful, light- hearted mood. Some johns were in for a real treat tonight as I played a game that I sometimes played with Stef; seeing which of us could be the most wanton and sleazy while trying to lure in our prey and still stay within the bounds of probable cause and entrapment. I always won. Stef wasn't completely shameless. There was a line of modesty across which she wouldn't step. I didn't have any such limitations.
My outfit for tonight consisted of those 'ultra cutoffs' and my sheer, lemon yellow blouse. The one that didn't quite let you see the breasts that bounced and jiggled behind the translucent fabric . . . unless the light struck the material just right.
I really turned some heads walking into the station house that afternoon.
I'd come in half an hour early to co-ordinate with the Patrol shift supervisor, to let him know where we'd be working so he could warn the blue and whites away from the area and thus not frighten off the johns. As I bounced into my office, I was surprised to see Ghiraldi leaning against my desk.
He glanced up, his eyes widened . . . and then his jaw dropped when he realized who . . . or rather what . . . this blonde vision had to be.
Still, there was a note of uncertainty in his voice when he asked "Chan?"
As I say, I was in a playful mood. I glanced over my shoulder to see who he was speaking to, then in (a not entirely successful attempt to copy) Steff's air-head giggle I replied, "Who?" I folded my hands against the shorts I was almost wearing and stood there, smiling . . . wiggling my shoulders in an attempt to get the room's lighting to hit the material of my blouse "just right".
Ghiraldi swallowed once then peered a little closer. As often happened, he seemed to be wondering if getting a closer look at my marvelous camouflage would finally give the trick away. I knew it wouldn't. I also knew he had to be here for a reason . . . a serious reason . . . and I finally relented. Besides, this would be a good opportunity to tell him of my own discovery concerning the real meaning of the Bible clue.
"Yeah. It's me man. Pretty good, huh? See why I think one way or another one of these suits has to be the key here?"
He shook his head. "That's . . . unbelievable! I mean, even your voice . . ."
"So. What brings you down to the den of iniquity, as Kearny would call it?"
"I . . . Oh . . . uh . . . I had an idea I wanted to bounce off you for a change."
I sat behind my desk and motioned him to Stef's vacant chair. "Sure. Whatcha got?"
"Well . . . I . . . Man, it's really you right? I mean, this isn't a gag or something?"
I couldn't help but chuckle . . . and was distinctly annoyed to hear the sound, as rendered by 'Toni BB's' voice, come out as the air-head giggle I'd just tried for and missed a moment ago. "Yeah. Swear to God, it's me Tony Chan. What idea did you have?"
"If you're right. If the bad guys are starting to figure this gimmick out . . . jeeze Tony."
Suddenly, a lot of the fun had gone out of the evening. "Tell me about it." There was a thoughtful, worried pause. "Uh . . . your idea?"
"Oh . . . yeah. I went down to Alcorn's clinic today. Just to look around. See if there was anything that would 'click' now that we had all this new stuff to work with."
He was going to make a good detective. That was a clever notion. "Did something? 'Click', I mean?"
"It sure did. Remember that filing cabinet? The one with the red paint?"
"They were just wheeling it out when I arrived. They couldn't get all the paint out before it dried and the whole cabinet was pretty much ruined. And that got me thinking."
I just sat there, nodding and waiting for him to go on.
"Let's say you're zealot. You're out to make a point . . . a really bold statement. You've got ten gallons of nice, thick, red paint."
The discrepancy hit me as he was finishing the sentence. "Why just one cabinet? Why not spread all that lovely paint around and really foul things up?"
Again he was nodding and grinning at me. I took that as a prompt to see if I could duplicate his insight. "So . . . why?" And then I had the answer and it fit very nicely with my own insight. "Because it wasn't a political statement. You weren't a zealot. You were somebody trying to hide something in one or more of the files and not let people know that's what you were doing."
To punctuate my point I'd stabbed a finger at him. Of course, Toni BB's massive boobs took that as their cue to start more jiggling. Ghiraldi wouldn't have been male and been able to sit there ignoring the display. But this time, his grin wasn't just in appreciation. "It really is you under there, isn't it Chan?"
I tossed my head flipping BB's wild mane over her left shoulder. "Bet your ass it is detective. And I've got something for you too." I quickly filled him in on my own insight with respect to the purloined Gideon's Bible.
By the time I was done, there was an excited gleam in his eye. "Yeah man . . . yeah! We're on to it now."
I had an idea. "Which files were destroyed?"
"Last half of 'O' through the first half of 'T'."
"Any chance of recovering the files?"
He shook his head. "Pretty small one. Forensics is gonna try to salvage what they can but . . ."
"But we have to figure out another way to do it, to figure out what the killer was after."
Ghiraldi shrugged. "Looks that way."
"Okay, what's the plan?"
"I figure the next step is to start looking a little closer into Doc Alcorn's affairs. Check around and she if she's done any high profile abortions lately. I'm gonna dig a bit into her employees too."
I had my third epiphany. I don't really even know where this one came from.
"She had a blonde, male nurse working for her."
Ghiraldi nodded. "Yeah. Guy named Yanders . . . Mike Yanders. He's a P.N. 'Practical Nurse'."
"Ducane saw a blonde guy . . . well, a 'light haired' guy leaving the Lamplighter when he rolled up to check out Loughton's car."
Ghiraldi arched an eyebrow. "Really? Could be a coincidence . . ."
I smiled. "But you don't believe in coincidence . . . do you?"
"No. No I don't. Okay, we'll take an especial look at him. Thanks for all these leads Chan. You've really earned this month's paycheck on this one. Oh, before I forget. Hopkins thinks we've finally got enough for a search warrant on NuGen's client data. We're gonna have the Governor's Office serve the warrant on the Texas Attorney General tomorrow. We ought to have the reply in three or four days."
"Outstanding man! Things are starting to come together."
He nodded. "I think they are. I think we're really on the trail now."
At that point Stef and Tucker showed up and I had to head out for the night. The fun was back and as I say, before the night was over there were some very disappointed johns sitting down in Central Booking.
There was another "While You Were Out" message form sitting on my desk when I came in the following morning.
It was a note to call Mary Badnerak and her phone number.
Glancing at the clock and deciding that ten in the morning wasn't too early to be calling someone's home I picked up the phone and dialed.
"Ms. Badnerak . . . Mary . . . this is Sergeant Chan returning your call."
"Oh, good morning Tony. Um . . . I've been thinking about what you and Officer . . . uh . . ."
"Iaway." I prompted.
"Yes, Officer Iaway. I've been thinking about the questions you were asking and I do remember something unusual. It wasn't something out of character for Terri, it was something she said."
"Oh? What was that?"
"Well . . . she said there seemed to be a lot of 'tension', that was her word, a lot of tension down at the clinic. That folks were acting . . . you know . . . like there was something 'going on'."
"Did she say specifically who was acting strangely? Did she mention anyone by name?"
There was a long pause, and you could almost hear her concentrating. "Oh . . . gosh, what did she say the name was?" There was a delightfully cute, exasperated, little sigh. "I'm so bad with names."
"Was it perhaps Mike? Mike Yanders?"
"Yes! That was it! I remember thinking it so strange that there'd be a man working at a women's clinic. Particularly a clinic that did . . . well, you know."
"Was there anybody else that Terri mentioned? Any other names?"
"Umm . . . let me think. Uh . . ."
"Did you get the feeling she thought there was . . . I don't want to use an overly dramatic word here, but did Terri think there might be some kind of conspiracy going on?"
" 'Conspiracy'? What kind of conspiracy?"
I didn't want to alarm Mary any more than necessary. "I'm not saying there was. In fact, I'm kind of trying to eliminate possibilities here."
"So you think this Mike Yanders might have been the reason for all the tension? That he was up to something? Is he behind Dr. Alcorn's death, do you think?" Then, despite my attempts to accomplish just the opposite, that note of fear crept back into Mary's voice. "Tony, do you think he might have done something to Terri? Something terrible? That that's why she hasn't come home?"
"Mary, please . . . I really can't say more. It's an ongoing investigation."
Her voice was small and tremulous. "Oh . . . sure. I understand."
"Look, it will be all right. You just stay away from the folks at the clinic, particularly Yanders, and you'll be okay. And you keep trying to remember anything else. This is a good clue."
She tried to sound reassured. "Okay Tony. Thanks for . . . well . . ." Then she gave me an embarrassed little giggle. "I don't know what, but thank you."
I hoped she could hear the smile in my voice as I said, "Any time."
I didn't even hang up the phone. I just punched the intercom line and dialed Ghiraldi's desk.
"Hey man, it's Chan."
"Charlie Chan. All right! Just the guy I wanted to talk to. I got a really strange bit of info that you might want to see."
"And I got another hot clue for you."
He chuckled, the first time I'd ever heard that from him. "Was there ever a . . . like an Inspector Lestrade in any of the Charlie Chan mysteries? I sure seem to fit the role if there was."
"Not that I know of. Never watched a Charlie Chan flick. I'll be right up."
When I arrived in the Homicide bull pen, again, Ghiraldi was seated at his desk and Kearny was nowhere in sight and that suited me just fine.
The younger detective glanced up when I approached his desk and smiled. "Thank God you're wearing pants today. I don't know what I'd have done if I had to sit here and try to be brilliant and deductive with that big set of hooters staring me in the face."
I chuckled and hopped up on my familiar corner of his desk. "So, show and tell. What you got?"
He handed me about twenty pages stapled together. I quickly figured out it was a compilation of phone records for Alcorn and her staff.
Ghiraldi said, "About half-way in. Check Yander's records."
Yanders again. I flipped through the pages, found his records and quickly ran my gaze down the list of outgoing calls and their recipients. Almost immediately I found it.
"Switzerland? Yanders made three long distance calls to Switzerland? I don't suppose he's got relatives there or something?"
Ghiraldi leaned back in his swivel chair and folded his hands behind his neck, a smug grin on his face. "Not unless they work in a bank. That's where that number leads."
It was a clue all right . . . but damned if I could figure out what it meant. "Why would he be calling a Swiss bank? I mean, it's obvious he had some money he wanted to hide. But where'd the money come from? What was it for? Who gave it to him?"
The young detective shrugged. "Damned if I know. It has to tie in to all this, but I don't see how or why."
I filled him in about my call from Mary and then we just sat for a while in silence trying to make this new piece fit.
But try as we might, we couldn't make it.
Ghiraldi finally sat up straight in his chair and summed it up. "Okay. There's something somebody's trying to hide at Alcorn's clinic. They pay off Yanders to do it. He gets one of those suits and . . . But why get a suit? Why impersonate Loughton?"
Again, the question brought me up short. "A disguise. So we wouldn't know it was him."
"Why Loughton? Why not just some woman looking for an abortion? That would have been simpler, it wouldn't have pointed us, eventually, back to the clinic. It still doesn't fit.
I thought about it for a second. "Okay, maybe he isn't the killer, just somebody helping. Then the payoff's to keep him quiet too. Or for whatever he did to help. Or . . . or some reason we haven't figured out yet."
Again he shrugged. "We're still missing an important piece."
I nodded. "I guess so. What now? Pick up Yanders?"
Ghiraldi shook his head. "I took the phone records to Captain Hopkins as soon as I found them. He doesn't think we have enough yet to pick up Yanders, and I have to agree. I mean, it's not a crime to call Switzerland and set up a bank account. It's suspicious, yes . . . but not enough. We need something more."
"How do we get it? That 'something more'?"
He shrugged. "We keep digging and thinking and trying to make more pieces fit. And we keep an eye on Yanders. Other than that . . ."
I stood to leave. "Okay. Keep me informed." "And you. We'll put it together yet Charlie Chan."
I grinned. "Elementary, my dear Ghiraldi."
The next day didn't see any developments in the Alcorn case. I couldn't get the investigation out of my head, but I'd apparently exhausted my supply of brainstorms and epiphanies.
Then, a little after eleven the following morning, two weeks and a day after the murder at The Pacific Women's Health Clinic, it all blew wide open.
I was sitting at my desk. Stef was sitting at hers. The mound of paperwork that we'd finally reduced to manageable levels last week seemed to have regenerated. It was like fighting the Hydra. The more files you closed out, the more that seemed to appear to take their place.
I was trying to figure out how to justify my latest manpower requests when the phone on my desk rang.
"Vice . . . Chan."
It was Ghiraldi. "Hey, Charlie Chan. The records are back from NuGen. Come on up and help us sort through them."
"Be right there." This time, since Stef hadn't done anything lately to fall from my good graces, I took her along.
When the two of us got up to Homicide, we could see there was a conference going on in Captain Hopkins' office. Ghiraldi, the Captain . . . and unfortunately Kearny . . . were all in there, looking at something on the Captain's desk. Again, he heard us approach and again he waved us in.
"Chan. Good. You're our expert on this." I ignored a snort from Kearny. The Captain did too and continued. "Here are the customer records from NuGen. We really had to pull teeth to get these things. Take a look. You too Iaway."
We were just getting started on our analysis when the phone on the Captain's desk rang. He picked it up and listened, a frown spreading across his face. "Okay. We'll have a team right down." He hung up the phone and then turned to us. "Looks like this case just took another left turn." He nodded to Kearny and Ghiraldi. "Head down to the Tacoma docks. There's an abandoned warehouse by Pier 29. Meet Sheboya from Tacoma P.D. down there." Then he turned to Stef and me. "If you two can spare some time, you might want to go too."
Ghiraldi asked the question for all of us. "What's up Captain?"
Hopkins sighed. "Watchman found two dead bodies when he did his round this morning. The condition of one of the bodies just about gave the old man a stroke."
I had my next-to-last epiphany. "Yanders."
Hopkins nodded. "And then it gets really peculiar. The other body . . . It's Reverend Meyers."
We didn't get back to the Station House till a little after six.
It hadn't been pretty.
Yander's body . . . he hadn't just been murdered. He'd been . . . disassembled.
The Coroner's boys had said who ever had done it had had at least a working knowledge of anatomy and medicine. Yanders hadn't died quickly.
On the other hand, Meyers had simply been shot twice in the back and left to bleed to death.
Captain Hopkins had gone home for the night so we all gathered around the now mostly empty bull pen and sat staring at our toes.
What did it mean?
If Yander's had killed Dr. Alcorn, then who had killed him? And what did Meyers have to do with any of this?
I was idly leafing through the NuGen reports trying to take my mind off the image of that warehouse and what we'd found in there.
As I say, so often crimes are solved by the right guy being in the right place at the right time.
The NuGen records had been broken down by state based on the shipping destination for the suit. Of course, we'd concentrated on Seattle. There were no suits shipped within the last three months that would have matched Terri Loughton's description. We had been widening the search to the rest of Washington State when the phone on Hopkins' desk had rung interrupting the analysis.
Now, as I say, I was just idly glancing down through the list.
And there, five customers down on the very first page was a suit that would have made its wearer the spitting image of the woman I'd seen peering back from the photo copy of Terri Loughton's nurse's license.
It had been shipped to somebody in Tuscon, Arizona.
Tuscon? Why did that suddenly ring a bell?
I looked a little closer.
There had been two suits shipped to that particular customer.
I read the description of the second suit.
And had my last epiphany.
The phone was ringing when we broke down the door.
Since she was closest, Stef picked it up. She listened for a moment, her expression going cold, then she handed the phone to me.
"It's for you."
Mary's bright, smiling voice sounded in my ear.
"Tony! Oh good! I've been calling every half-hour. I have to catch my flight in just a little while and I was afraid I'd miss you."
There was that charming little giggle. "Oh come on. You're smarter than that. You know Mary won't be making any more phone calls."
"What did you do to her?"
"Feeling protective? Aww, Tony . . . that's so sweet. You're worried about a woman you've never even met."
God, the voice in my ear was so disarmingly feminine . . . so perky and happy.
"It was you all along?"
"Why what? Why impersonate Mary?"
"That's a good place to start."
There was another giggle. "I don't feel like explaining it all to you, but if you want to make guesses and tell me your theories, I'll tell you when you're right or wrong."
"It has something to do with Meyers, doesn't it?"
"Of course. He's the center of the whole thing."
There was a hushed flurry of activity going on behind me as Ghiraldi pulled out his cell phone and began to set up a trace. I struggled to put the pieces together, to keep "Mary" talking as long as possible. "Okay . . . Meyers and Alcorn. Alcorn was an abortionist. Meyers was pro-life." Something clicked. "Meyers made somebody get an abortion and then, to protect his reputation, he had Alcorn killed to keep her quiet about it."
"Umm . . . no. But close enough that I'll give it to you. Actually, the Honorable Reverend Meyers had a bit of a sweet-tooth when it came to 'ladies of the evening'. I'm surprised you never met him when you were pretending to be one of your skanky little bitches."
Those last words, delivered in that innocent, smiling voice sent a shiver down my spine.
"So . . . he made a prostitute get an abortion?"
"No silly. He didn't even know he'd knocked her up. She went and got it herself. The first thing the good Reverend knew about it was when the blackmail notes started arriving."
"Blackmail? That's the reason for all this! Somebody was blackmailing Meyers, threatening to make the abortion and the hooker public!"
"Yep! I knew you'd get it once you had enough pieces. You're very clever, you know that Tony?"
Considering the source, I ignored the compliment. "Okay, but I still don't get some things. I understand killing Alcorn if she was blackmailing Meyers . . . but why kill Yanders? Or . . . wait . . . Alcorn wasn't the blackmailer, was she? It was Yanders! But you didn't know that. You just assumed it was Alcorn and killed her. You killed an innocent woman."
There was a pouty little sniff from the other end of the line. "Oh sure, it's easy now. Hindsight is always 20/20. Hey, it seemed like a logical conclusion at the time. I mean, how were we to know that Yanders, that slimy little . . . that he was in the room while the Doc was cleaning out Silky's pipes? That she'd start running her mouth about who she thought the father was while he was there to hear? That he'd get greedy and just a little too clever for his own good?"
It felt a cold lump of something settle in my gut, spreading the chill wider and wider. "Silky? She was the hooker who got pregnant? She didn't O.D., did she? You . . ."
"Right again. I really like these suits. You can be so many people; a murdering nurse, a frightened room mate . . . a pusher . . . so many possibilities to explore!"
Ghiraldi caught my eye, his cell phone pressed to his ear, and whispered "Chicago . . . keep her talking!"
"So . . . okay . . . Why Loughton? Why impersonate her?"
"Uh uh, lover. You've got to figure it out."
"You . . . you needed access to the clinic, to the records. To destroy them. But . . .you could have done that with any disguise. You . . ."
I paused, biting my lip. Again, the cheerful, evil voice sounded in my ear. "Tick tock Tony. I've got places to be."
"Okay, okay . . . give me a second. You . . . you didn't know it was Alcorn for sure, did you?!"
" 'Ding!' Correct! Very few blackmailers sign their notes you know. All we could do was get into each clinic and take a look through the records. Did you know there were six physicians in the Seattle metropolitan area who perform abortions? Did you know that Dr. Alcorn's was the first name on the list?"
"You were just going to work your way down some kind of list?"
"Do you have a better idea, bright boy?"
I bit my lip to keep from lashing out. "All right. You murdered Alcorn . . . You figured it was all taken care of . . . and then another blackmail note showed up, didn't it?"
"Tony! So clever! It's fun matching wits with you! That's right lover. I was hanging out for a few days as frightened, innocent little Mary. The original plan was to plant enough clues about how 'strange' Terri had been acting lately . . . to back up the Pro-Life fake-out. Then, lo and behold, up pops a new note. Two million this time not to tell about the abortion and now the murder. Boy, Meyers just about blew a fuse! I don't mind telling you, even I was a little peeved."
"And this time, he had to pay, didn't he? You didn't have any way back into the clinic to figure out who was really the blackmailer."
Now she sounded smug. "I sure hope you got those Swiss bank account numbers when you had the chance. The accounts are gone now. Yanders was so cooperative in giving the numbers to me. After a little gentle persuasion that is."
"So how did you figure out it was Yanders out of all the people at the Clinic?"
Another giggle. "You told me."
"I told you?! I never . . ." And then I remembered that phone call, the one where Mary had told me about Terri thinking something was 'going on' at the Clinic. About how I'd supplied Yanders' name when Mary . . . quite honestly . . . couldn't come up with it herself. But not because she was 'bad with names.'
She heard the realization in my sudden silence. "Well, you didn't 'tell' me, but you sure pointed me in the right direction. I knew if I was patient, pretty soon you'd tell pretty little Mary everything she needed to know. As I said, Yanders can be such a sweet, cooperative boy when you give him proper motivation. Well, he was a sweet boy anyway. It didn't take long for me to be sure that this time I had all the loose ends tied up. Well . . . all the important ones anyway."
I couldn't hold the anger and revulsion back anymore. "You sick bastard! You killed . . . what? Six people? You did kill Meyers, didn't you?"
There was a snort that carried such a note of disgust and loathing I could tell it came from a masculine throat no matter what the disguise did to hide that fact. "Are you going to tell me, of all the people; Terri, Mary, the good Doctor, Yanders . . . your pretty little Silky . . . it's Meyers that makes you the maddest? How do jellyfish like him get to where they are anyway? He was going to come running to you cops and try to cut a deal. I don't know what made the simple bastard panic in the end. Hmm . . .do you think I made Yanders a little too messy? Maybe Meyers finally developed a conscience. Boy, wouldn't that be something?" The sparkling giggle returned. "Meyers died for his conscience! Oh, that's too priceless!"
"He didn't 'die' . . . you murdered him. You murdered them all. And I'm going to see you pay for that."
"Her" laughter was taunting. "Really? Oh Tony, it has been fun testing you! We have to do it again sometime. By the way, speaking of wits, have you guys figured out I'm calling from O'Hare yet? Well, I am. I've really got to get going. My flight leaves in just a bit. And Tony, save your Chicago Brothers in Blue a lot of wasted effort. By the time they could get here and stop the flights, I'll already be long gone. Not that they'd recognize me now anyway. What's left of 'Mary' is at the bottom of the incinerator out behind the apartments. You'd be amazed to see me now. This one's really clever. At least I think so. Anyway. It's been fun. We really do have to do this again sometime."
There was a pause while I just stood there, the phone pressed to my ear.
"Tony? I'll be seeing you . . ."
" . . . but you won't be seeing me."
Then the line went dead.
Stef and I sat in the back of the van waiting for the cloudburst to end and watching the rain fall outside the back windows.
"You couldn't have seen it Tony. I mean . . . we were all looking at the same clues. It's not your fault."
As the drops slid down the back window each slender thread of water seemed to pick up a different color from the marquee of the adult bookstore we'd parked in front of. Red . . . green . . . a deep, electric blue.
It was beautiful.
"Tony . . . please. You didn't kill them. It's not your fault."
My words, when I spoke, must have been affected somehow by Toni R's voice. For the first time I didn't recognize the person speaking.
"You don't understand Stef. I'm not feeling guilty about what I didn't do in the past . . ."
Shifting colors . . . changing . . . unpredictable . . .
. . . beautiful . . .
" . . . I'm feeling guilty about the future."
"Hey man, looking to party?"
The sweating fat man in the Jeep Wrangler wiped his brow in the close heat and smiled. "You a party girl?"
When you stopped to think about it, it was the perfect hiding place. Who really pressed a hooker for her life's history? You might look right at her, but did you ever see her?
Really see her?
It wasn't for the money. There was lots of that. It was just a convenient place to hide . . . brazenly . . . in plain sight.
Besides . . .
It was fun to fool them.
"I might be Joe. I like to have fun, but fun costs money . . . you know?"
He wiped his brow again. "Oh . . . I agree. You gotta pay to play. I know that. What's your name anyway?"
The statuesque brunette flicked a lock of her curly brown hair over one ear and smiled.
"My name's Angel . . . what's yours?"