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Moon Music Faye Kellerman A gripping detective story set in Las Vegas from New York Times bestselling author Faye KellermanA brutal murder…In the desert just outside the bright lights of Las Vegas, a horrific discovery is made. The body of a young, beautiful Vegas showgirl is found – mutilated almost beyond recognition.A detective with everything to prove…Detective Sergeant Romulus Poe is struck by the similarities to an unsolved case from years ago – and a killer known as “the Bogeyman”. But when he discovers one of his colleagues slept with the showgirl, the case takes an even stranger twist.A case which exposes the underbelly of a city…As Poe investigates, he is caught up in Las Vegas’s hidden history – from Native American legends to modern scientific secrets. And when the body of another young woman is found, the race is on to stop a murderer who is becoming bolder with every passing day. Moon Music Faye Kellerman Copyright (#ub2455200-f943-5c8c-899f-33ab50ebce32) Published by HarperCollinsPublishers Ltd 1 London Bridge Street London SE1 9GF www.harpercollins.co.uk (http://www.harpercollins.co.uk) First published in the United States by William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, 1998 This ebook edition published by HarperCollinsPublishers 2019 Copyright © Faye Kellerman 1998 Cover design © HarperCollinsPublishers Ltd 2018 Cover photography © Shutterstock.com (http://Shutterstock.com) Faye Kellerman asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work. A catalogue copy of this book is available from the British Library. This novel is entirely a work of fiction. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in it are the work of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or localities is entirely coincidental. All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. 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Ebook Edition © April 2019 ISBN: 9780008293574 Version: 2018-12-08 Dedication (#ub2455200-f943-5c8c-899f-33ab50ebce32) For Jonathan, Mom, and the children: my celestial beings Contents Cover (#ue123c6f8-7ee0-5cee-a9ca-5fac0aea0b0e) Title Page (#u9999ed21-cf97-53cd-879b-ad7a0ff29f4d) Copyright Dedication Prologue Chapter 1 (#ud647cc49-a504-54ac-a00f-ce23c8f8d087) Chapter 2 (#ub70a2a65-6201-5cdf-b673-0908f57bb736) Chapter 3 (#u0717cdfb-f433-5f04-95ff-937a283ca0a4) Chapter 4 (#u54b79b4a-9339-5c5a-bebb-4736cfaa9719) Chapter 5 (#u184cd60e-ec7f-5c29-80de-6d8445919ab7) Chapter 6 (#u3d8010d3-5e54-5c96-8121-656f00814cd4) Chapter 7 (#uf7808ebe-0b7c-53ac-9acd-7cca93527618) Chapter 8 (#u27a76296-7910-55c2-aa4a-9ef4b5d5cc53) Chapter 9 (#uf34da4f6-cd45-51e6-a04a-79b19f45ef41) Chapter 10 (#u277eb390-994d-5ad6-9e63-fa39147c4bf2) Chapter 11 (#uf9b8252b-fc7c-5f0a-b1fc-b3d5d3000e14) Chapter 12 (#u0032b509-0ec4-5639-9f81-af270a019665) Chapter 13 (#ud28030fa-a597-546b-9cfd-1facddabf212) Chapter 14 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 15 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 16 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 17 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 18 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 19 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 20 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 21 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 22 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 23 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 24 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 25 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 26 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 27 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 28 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 29 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 30 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 31 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 32 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 33 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 34 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 35 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 36 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 37 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 38 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 39 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 40 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 41 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 42 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 43 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 44 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 45 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 46 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 47 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 48 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 49 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 50 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 51 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 52 (#litres_trial_promo) Keep Reading (#litres_trial_promo) About the Author (#litres_trial_promo) Faye Kellerman booklist (#litres_trial_promo) About the Publisher (#litres_trial_promo) PROLOGUE (#ub2455200-f943-5c8c-899f-33ab50ebce32) It was a land—hostile and unforgiving. Vast stretches of savage, alkaline desert where the wind blasted grit in the winters and summers were relentless hours of sweltering heat. Deep into August, the wasteland surfaces withered and cracked, producing deep fissures to a fiery hell. An area so seemingly without heartbeat that it had once been used for atomic bomb testing. But to the chosen few—like herself—it was a place called home. Because she knew this barren topology as well as she knew every cell in her body. She knew its crevices, its caves, its rocks, and its shelters. As she surveyed the area from above, a tear formed in her eye. Once, the mesas had held flourishing greenlands—wild grasses and flowers fed by natural artesian springs. So beautiful the Indians had referred to the land as The Meadows, translated into Spanish as Las Vegas. But the White Man grew greedy and raped the ground’s precious resources—the oh-so-righteous Mormons with their all-knowing God, the silver prospectors with their debauchery, the Department of Energy shooting off bombs, the gaudy gangsters bringing crimes and corruption, and the billionaires with their lifeless corporate empires. All of them—parasites. They may have built the desert, but they couldn’t make it bloom. Because they never gave a thought to the land’s indigenous inhabitants—the majestic bighorn sheep, the powerful rattlesnakes, the playful rabbits, the ancient desert tortoises, the clever coyotes, and the beautiful, athletic birds which soared in the open sky as if gliding to heaven. Still, she smiled. There was hope. Because the land rapers had been all take and no give, they were in the dark about the true power of the land, unaware of its deep mystery and magical forces. Mired in tunnel vision, they were ignorant that the land and its creatures had power. But she knew the secret. The desert could fight back. 1 (#ulink_493982b8-98ee-55da-a990-7546e10d3abc) Ignoring the subtle vibrations under his pillow because he was just too damn comfortable. Warm and sated, inhaling the rich sensuality of musky sex. With force, Jensen opened a rebellious lid, his vision assaulted by the Strip’s strobic neon. Outside the winds moaned, pushing everything in their paths. Grit crackled against the picture window as his eyes swept over the vista. A panoply of garish colors nonexistent in nature. Looking away from the glass, back down at his covers. Beside him, Gretchen slept—young and lithe—beads of sweat lining the crack of her small, round ass. He wanted to take a bite out of it. His breathing became pronounced, audible. Then his pager went off again. Jensen swore to himself, then, with resignation, lifted his head from the pillow. He’d never realized how much a cranium could weigh. Digging his palms into the mattress, he hoisted his large frame forward until he was sitting. He tried to make out the number in the dark, but gave up and flicked on the light. “Hmmm,” she grunted. “Turn it off.” “In a minute.” “What time is it?” Jensen’s heart jumped as he read the number. Rom’s mobile phone. How long had he been beeping in? “What time—” “One-thirty,” he snapped back. “One-thirty?” She was whining now. “C’mon, baby. Bebe says we got the room until three. Turn off the light.” Jensen already had his pants on. “I’ve got to go.” “But it’s so nasty outside.” “Nasty” was an understatement. The wind was howling dust and sand. Jensen slipped on his shirt and socks and tied his size eleven shoes. Brought up the hotel’s outside line and punched in Rom’s numbers. Static over the wires like lightning. Still he could make out a terse “Poe.” “It’s Steve.” “Lemme go inside my car. If we get disconnected, call me back.” The line managed to keep as whooshing sounds, like tidal waves, came through the receiver. Jensen knotted his tie, then stroked Gretchen’s ass. She purred, then rolled over and made a little snoring noise. Just as well. No sense starting what couldn’t be finished. He heard the pop of the car door closing, the gusts die down. “What’s up?” “You turn your pager off, Stephen?” “Why? How many times did you beep me?” “Half a dozen.” Jensen knew Poe was exaggerating. “Must have slept through it.” Not a total lie, but one Poe wasn’t about to buy. “You know, I almost broke down and called your house.” Jensen’s heart started hammering. For once, he paused before speaking. Rom had said “almost.” As if Alison didn’t know. Yet she chose to play dumb. After fifteen years of marriage, he still hadn’t figured her out. In the early years, she had kept him at arm’s length. He had put it down to her youthful shyness … their difference in age. Later on, her mental state made her impenetrable, her mind blocked by a steel-trap door of undiagnosed illness. Jensen was all professional now. “What’s going down, Rom?” “Single desert dump off West Charleston.” “In Red Rock?” “Before.” Poe gave directions. “And, in answer to your unasked question—how someone came upon the body by happenstance at this time of night and in this weather—no, it doesn’t make any sense. The call came through a public phone outside Big Top.” A beat. “Where are you, by the way?” “Big Top.” Pause. “Want me to go downstairs and check it out?” “You have a print kit on you, Steve?” “I meant to guard the phone.” Jensen’s voice rose a notch. “You got a problem with me tonight, Rom?” I’ve got a problem with you every night, Stevie. Instead, Poe said, “I’ve already sent someone down to dust. But sure, go down and take a peek if you think it’ll do some good.” A hesitation. “I’ve got to get back, watch the corpse to make sure the sand doesn’t totally bury it before the ME gets here.” “Stiff a male or female?” “Female. One of her breasts was partially exposed. I can’t tell if her entire body is nude, because the rest of her is coated with sand. I couldn’t find a purse or any ID. Useless to search now. Tomorrow we’ll go on a treasure hunt to look for things tossed and blown.” “Who’s we?” “You, me … probably Patricia.” Poe swiped limp, dark hair from his black eyes, stared out the windshield of the Honda. Darker than syrup and about as thick. Even the moon was having trouble breaking through. “After you check out the phone booth, get down here. And bring some light. The grit is so thick I can barely make out my shadow.” Over the line, Jensen said, “Why don’t you hammer down a stake and go home?” A pause. “Body’ll keep till morning.” Poe could picture Steve’s flip smile as he caressed the backside of his latest mistress. What was her name again? Greta? Something like that. “I’m hanging up.” And he did. To prevent hair from blowing into his eyes, Poe had attempted a ponytail. But the lank tresses were too short and kept coming loose, tickling his eyes, making them red and irritated. He blinked repeatedly, wishing he had brought his protective goggles. His disposable face mask did little to cut the sting of the grit. He snapped his fingers through gloves, then caught himself and dropped his hands at his sides. A makeshift tent had been erected around the stiff, an attempt to give it and the pathologist some protection. Inside, flashlight beams shimmied in strobic fashion. Jensen was standing a few feet away, hands tucked into his pockets, coat collar turned up. Poe sensed the burn from the big man’s suspicious eyes. Jensen was ten years older than he, a good six inches taller, outweighed him by fifty pounds of muscle. But circumstances had dictated that professionally the younger would rule the elder. Poe shouted to him, “You can wait in the car.” “You sure?” “Yeah, go ahead. We’ll take shifts.” “Thanks.” Jensen lumbered over to his latest four-wheel-drive—an Explorer. He slipped inside and shut the door. Poe remained restless. He jogged over to the tent and stepped inside. The body had been photographed, its current position outlined by three-foot stakes. Although the desert floor held a top layer of loose sand, a foot or two below lay pure clay. He knelt beside the pathologist. Calmly, she remarked, “You’re blocking my light.” Rukmani’s hot breath was laced with Indian spices—not unlike his own. Their quiet dinner of baigan masaledar had been rudely interrupted by the page from the Bureau. Under a coat, she wore regulation scrubs. But her face was framed in a traditional Hindu veil—this one was green silk to match her working clothes. “Sorry.” Poe stood up, then backed into the shadows. He stood outside the canvas and bounced on the balls of his feet. He shivered. Miserable and cold and exposed. Even after six months of somewhat steady dating, Rukmani was a hard woman to read. Attentive when they were together, yet she insisted that they take separate cars to the crime scene. Take separate cars almost everywhere, unless he made a point of picking her up. Poe supposed that was telling of something. Rukmani called out, “You know, Rom—” “Can’t hear you.” Poe came back in, knelt in front of the blanketed body. “What?” “I’ve done all I can out here. I took her temperature, but I doubt it’s accurate, the liver being exposed to the wind. I dare not open her up further, pollute the body with more flotsam and jetsam. As it is, she’s in bad shape. Did you get a good look at her?” “No.” Pulling back the tarpaulin, she uncovered the dead face. Poe felt his stomach lurch. It took him a moment to find his voice. And when he did, it took the form of old malicious speech patterns. “Wha … what … ha … happened to her face?” Rukmani ignored his stutter. “You mean what happened to half of it. Could you push up my glasses? They’re falling off my nose again.” Poe complied, feeling his gut jerked once again. How could that woman be so placid? Maybe it was seeing all those bodies float in the Ganges during her childhood. “Wha … what happened to her?” “Offhand, it looks like someone gouged her.” Rukmani’s dark eyes peered at the visage. “Raked her clear down to the bone. He also scooped out the left eyeball—” “Enough, Ruki!” The pathologist was taken aback. “What’s wrong with you? You’re acting like a rookie.” “She looks so … grotesque.” “That she does.” She studied the mutilated face. “I fear someone was proving a point. Look at the perfect bilateral symmetry … right through the tip of the nose. Ruler-straight. Right side of the face is completely untouched, the left completely destroyed. Know what it reminds me of?” “I don’t want to hear this.” “Phantom of the Opera. Wonder if your killer is an Andrew Lloyd Webber fan.” She threw the tarp back over the face. “I’ll get my guys. Take her down to the morgue and finish her up indoors.” “Could you call Steve in?” Rukmani snapped off her gloves. “Be glad to, Sergeant.” Technically it was detective sergeant. Poe smiled back without meaning it. As soon as she left, he pulled back the sheet, eyes immediately focusing on her face … on the lone eye. It had been blue. Now the pupil was fixed so that it appeared black. Using extreme imagination, he could picture her pretty once upon a time. A nice complexion, a high cheekbone, thick lips—half of them. Gently, he pulled the blanket away from her body, then winced and backed up. Her upper torso mimicked the face. One half was totally intact. Delicate bones. A large breast, no doubt with the help of implants. The side held smooth skin, a flat abdomen, a swoop of waist … shapely legs. The other side of the rib cage was shredded hamburger. Loose tendrils of muscle had remained attached to exposed bones, dancing with each blast of air. At that moment, Jensen chose to make his entrance. Open-mouthed, he stared at the half-mangled corpse. Instinctively, he retreated, groped for one of the tent panels, and stuck his head outside. He felt his dinner bubbling up until it erupted with volcanic pressure. Hot molten lead in his mouth, spewing into the wind. Heaving until he was empty. When he was done, he ejected the last chunks from his mouth, then wiped his eyes and lips with a handkerchief. Shakily, he returned his focus to the body, then looked away. “Sorry about that.” “Who was she, Steve?” Jensen licked his sour lips. “What are you talking about?” “You know her. Why else would a vet like you puke—” “Did you get a look at her face?” “Yes. It’s an abomination. Who was she?” Trapped. Jensen rubbed his face. Better to head Rom off before he dug too deep. Jensen coughed. “I think her name is … was … Brittany. Brittany Newel.” “You think?” Jensen was quiet. “Age?” Rom asked. A big sigh. Jensen said, “Maybe twenty-two … twenty-three.” “Nice legs.” Poe stood up, brushed his pants off. “Dancer?” “Yeah, I think she danced.” “Show or lap?” “Maybe both.” “Remember which hotel?” “God, it was so long … maybe Havana.” “Is that where you met her?” “Does it matter?” “Now that she’s dead it does.” Jensen’s eyes narrowed. He straightened his spine and loomed over Poe. “Are you questioning me?” Poe shrugged off the intimidating body posture. “About her, yes. Not about her murder.” Not yet. The explanation did little to mollify Jensen’s anger. “I picked her up in a bar, Poe. Around a year ago. A quickie thing. Nothing long-term.” “Long-term,” Poe repeated. “Aren’t you married?” Jensen glared, then stormed out of the tent, bumping shoulders with Rukmani, spinning her sideways. He stopped instantly, turned around, came back inside. “God, I’m so sorry. Are you okay?” Rukmani rubbed her sore shoulder. “What’s your problem?” “Are you okay?” “Yeah, yeah, I’ll live.” Poe bent down, covered the body. “Are your guys coming, Doc?” “Yes, of course. Takes a moment to unload the gurney, Rom.” Jensen said, “What can you tell us about this, Doc? Other than the fact that the guy who did this must have lots of shit under his fingernails.” “You think someone did this with his fingernails?” Poe asked. Jensen said, “As opposed to …” “A tool,” Poe answered. “Not a sharp tool,” Rukmani said. “Too many jagged edges. Maybe a rake of some sort. Lots of parallel lines. You look at the tissue shreds under a microscope. If it was done with an implement, we’ll find bits of metal or plastic … or bits of fingernail. Someone very strong, with sharp, strong nails. Ah … the gurney cometh.” Rukmani smiled at Rom. “It’s kind of crowded in here.” Poe cocked his head at Jensen. “Let’s go.” Immediately, their faces were hit with gravel. Poe shouted, “Talk in the car.” They broke for the Honda. Once inside, they took a few moments, wiped sand and dust from their faces and mouths. Poe said, “You shouldn’t be on this case.” “C’mon—” “Steve, you have a problem. You fucked her!” Jensen winced, brushed blond hair from his face. “You take me off now, it makes me look bad. C’mon, Rom. Toss me a bone.” “Like?” “Suppose I just get the basics. I’ll go over to the apartment and talk to her roommate.” A pause. “I really don’t know anything about her. Things like who her friends were, who her enemies were. You know. Just … the basics.” Poe thought over the proposal. Pulling him off would point the finger. And then there was Alison … “Call up Patricia. You two can go together—” “Oh, for Chrissakes, Rom—” “For your own welfare, Steve.” To make sure you don’t rifle through her personal effects and pull incriminating evidence. “She’s your backup.” Jensen spoke through clenched teeth. “Nothing personal about Fat Patty. I love Fat Patty. But I don’t need backup.” “I’ll determine that,” Poe said. “Call up Patricia or go home. The choice is yours.” Steve glared with irate eyes, trying to throw daggers into Poe’s orbs. A midget with a motherfucking Napoleon complex. Unfortunately, Poe sat in the catbird seat. A moment passed. “Go pick up Patricia,” Poe said. “Stop wasting time.” Angrily, Jensen bolted from the car, slammed the door. Poe watched as Jensen’s Explorer skidded out from the sand, then tore down the road. Minutes later, Rukmani knocked on the car window. She opened the door, slid inside the passenger seat. “He’s acting awfully pissy.” “He knew her. The dead girl—” “Wha—” “He fucked her.” Rukmani was quiet. “So maybe he’s acting guilty.” Poe started snapping his fingers. “Nah, he didn’t do it.” “You’re sure?” “Well, I’m not positive of anything.” Still snapping. “But it doesn’t look like Steve’s style. He likes his meat young and alive.” Rukmani took his hands, held them in her own. “You’ve got more tics than a clock. You really should be on Prozac.” Poe remained serious. “I should have pulled him off the case.” “Why didn’t you?” He shrugged. “Don’t know.” “It wouldn’t have anything to do with Alison, would it?” He jerked his hands away, but hesitated before he spoke. “Maybe … probably.” Alison. Poe said, “I figure let him run loose for a day or two. He’ll be watched. If he’s guilty, it’ll lead to something. If not, why screw him up prematurely? The man does have a wife and kids.” A wife and kids. “Despite what he thinks, I’m not out to ruin him.” A beat. “He does a decent number on himself without my help.” Rukmani straightened her jacket. “Well, I’m off to the morgue. How about you?” “Guess I’ll dig up a ghost named Brittany Newel.” He scratched his aquiline nose. “She might have been a dancer for the floor show at Havana. Might as well start there.” Rukmani gave Poe’s long, lean face a gentle pat. “Evil critters out there, Rom. Watch your back.” He nodded. Living in a city that never slept, her words were good advice. 2 (#ulink_10fb9100-2c41-5261-ba24-ffc5605c1edc) It was well past three, so Alison knew Steve was working a legitimate case. Which didn’t surprise her, given the circumstances of the evening. No matter how many times she bathed, it still remained with her. The smell of sweat, the taste of blood, the adrenaline rush that appeared from nowhere. Scratches scored her arms, chest, and back. Superficial. They didn’t hurt … would probably disappear in a day or so. But they looked suspicious. If Steve saw them, he’d ask questions. Like how did they get there. As if she knew. What was happening to her? Washing and scrubbing. First with soap, then with alcohol, lastly with bleach. Burning and stinging her until she had to rip and tear at her skin to make it stop. She thought a moment. Maybe she had put the scratches there. With her nails. Or with her loofah. Or her bathing sponge. Or the thick tufts of steel wool. Why was she doing this? And still she felt horribly dirty … contaminated. That was the key word. Contaminated. Thinking it over. Trying to make sense out of it all. Which was a dangerous thing to do. To think. Instead, she should be doing her research. She should try to discover. Because there had to be reasons for everything. Her research. It grounded her. All the information in the green book. It was all there. If she could just piece it together, she’d have answers. She stood at the bathroom sink, her body covered in Steve’s oversized Turkish terry robe. Standing bulky and fluffy, like a snowdrift. More like the yeti of Las Vegas. Her wet blond hair was still knotted, her red-rimmed hazel eyes shelved with dark circles. Turning the cold-water tap on and off. On and off. On and off. On and off. On and off. Quietly … so as not to disturb the boys. Trying to think it through. Like when she was little. All the rituals. They had started after Mom had died. Everyone agreed on that. The tragedy had been the triggering factor. At first, the rituals had been harmless enough—silly, childish obsessions. Checking windows before she went to bed. Opening and closing dresser drawers before she pulled out an article of clothing. But then they had progressed into lengthy codes of unstoppable behavior. Kissing her bedpost a thousand times before she went to sleep. Closing and opening the curtains for a full hour. Constantly checking her closet for hidden burglars. Straightening her desk so many times that she fell asleep before she could study. Her native intelligence had kept her afloat—an A/B student without even trying. Years of therapy had followed her mother’s death. Dad carting her to every psychiatrist in the city. Yes, the gambling mecca boasted shows and entertainment. But go past the casinos, past the stars, the glitter and glitz. That Las Vegas—the city of her youth—had been a small, naive town with little to offer except heat and sand. This medication, that medication. This therapy, that therapy. All of it rooted in the tragedy. Because no one had dared to speak the word suicide. Still, something must have taken hold. Because during her adolescent years, when most of her classmates had gone off on fanciful flights of psychosis and self-destruction, she had become a model teen. Calm, cool, very popular, because she had been smart, classy, pretty, and experienced in all the right places. No, never had problems attracting boys … more like keeping them away. She had treated them like playing chips—discarding or hoarding them at will. Somehow, her compadres had magically forgotten about that weirdo, psycho little girl who sat by herself and never spoke a word. Not Rom, of course. Rom was different. Rom had eyes in the back of his head—saw and heard everything. Honoring her request, he had left her alone in high school. Yet, he had always been there … lurking in some corner … completely at ease with himself and his geekiness. Nothing had ever bothered him … not the insults, not the taunts, not the rejections. Slings and arrows had bounced off him as if he were protected by chain mail. She had admired him for it. Told him so when they had turned adults. But back then, she hadn’t been able to accept him. Because she had been popular. And popular girls didn’t say such things to geeks. Shame suddenly coursed through her veins. Feeling the heat in her face. But it wasn’t her fault. Because she had no one to guide her. Besides … it was all working out. Everyone loved Alison. Gliding through high school because she had managed to condense her routines into one or two tidy rituals. Like handwashing. Infinitely better than kissing bedposts. Now, at least, her hands were always antiseptic. Ten minutes had passed. Water on and off. On and off. On and off. Then she took the plunge. Forced herself to turn off the water and pick up the hairbrush. Major anxiety—an accelerated heartbeat, jumpiness in her stomach, lightheadedness. But she talked herself through it. I’ll be okay, I’ll be okay, I’ll be okay. Running the hard nylon brush through her shoulder-length locks. Combing out the knots. With each successive stroke, her agitation lessened. By the time she was done, she only needed to turn the water off and on a couple of dozen times. Then she told herself to leave. Practicing an exercise she had learned years ago. To literally take her own hand and guide herself out of the high-frequency-behavior area. Tugging at her own fingers until she was back in her bedroom. Now lie down! An order. She always listened to orders. Except when the voices told her not to. But that didn’t happen very much. No, not too much anymore. Because she knew they weren’t real, and often she talked back to them. Of course, when she did, it made her feel like she wanted to wash her hands again. Longing to go back to the bathroom. To run the tap. On and off. On and off. On and off. No, no, no. Better to do research. You have a brain, Alison. Just learn to use it. Steve’s pithy encouragement to his young, new wife. It had been right after they had been married. About a month after their fabulous honeymoon in Hawaii. She had burned something in the oven … probably a chicken. She figured that if it took a chicken two hours to bake at 350 degrees, why not cook it for one hour at 700? Except the oven didn’t go up to 700. So she had turned the sucker on the highest temperature—broil—and waited. The small wooden house had been moments away from becoming tinder. The firemen had said she had been very lucky. She hadn’t felt at all lucky. It hadn’t been her fault. What had she known about cooking? Her dad’s idea of homemade grub had been picking a grapefruit from their backyard tree. Poor little thing … languishing in the clay soil. Still, Daddy had been persistent. He had fed it, nurtured it. And eventually it had given fruit … beautiful sweet, pink fruit. Just like her. Two beautiful boys. Daddy loved them so. Her boys. Have to stay sane or else they’d take away her boys. She knew that. Not that anyone ever said that to her explicitly. But she knew the score. She had to stay sane. It really wasn’t that hard to fool them. She could be sane when she had to be. It was just staying sane … as in all the time. Who could stay sane all the time? Her research kept her grounded. To read and write. To write and read. Anything. So long as the mind was occupied. Because when the mind was occupied, there was no room for voices. 3 (#ulink_2c2b501d-857a-5529-b2a4-3c08fed91c8d) “I’m not telling you to spy on him. Just keep him out of situations that could come back to haunt us.” There was a long beat over the line. Patricia asked, “Am I supposed to play dumb? I don’t feel comfortable with that, Sergeant.” “No, you can tell him I called … tell him what I said verbatim. Knowing Steve, he’ll do a true confessions as soon as he sees you … get all the garbage out of the way.” Poe raked his hair with his fingers. “Probably’ll say some choice words about me. So be it. Let him rant. Just keep an eye out.” “All right.” But she sounded wary. Poe knew he was putting her in the middle. Not a choice assignment, but since he had kept Steve on, someone had to watch him. He said, “Jensen should be there any moment.” “He’s pulling up now.” “I’ll be at Havana. Beep if you need me. After that—unless I get some hot lead—I should be back at the Bureau to finish up paperwork. Let’s all plan on meeting in a couple of hours.” “Fine.” “Bye.” Poe cut the line, started the car, let it idle in neutral. Before he jerked the stick into reverse, he took off the plastic protective slicker he’d been wearing and slipped on a lightweight ebony blazer he kept in the trunk for emergencies. It wouldn’t keep him warm, but it gave him a look. Black jacket, black turtleneck, black jeans, black socks and shoes. All-purpose clothes. He’d fit in anywhere. Again, he combed his droopy locks with his fingernails. Checked himself in the mirror. He needed a shave, which gave him the appearance of pulling an all-nighter. Casinos like that image. West on Charleston, he headed back into town, making it to Main in under five minutes. A few more blocks, then Poe merged onto Las Vegas Boulevard. Some cars and cabs were still on the road, but the Strip was essentially deserted. Things slowed down as night inched toward dawn. People calling it quits, roosting in their hotel rooms, licking their wounds or sleeping off a bender. Besides, the weather wasn’t conducive to strolling. A pleasure to drive the boulevard empty. Devoid of life but not light. He had spent most of his life in this fabulous city—a bizarre combination of horse town friendliness and metropolitan frenzy. For Poe, the tacky street spectacle held comfortable familiarity. Like his own dysfunctional family—hard to be around, but it was home. Gaudy Day-Glo colors still sparkling at three in the morning. Silly but actually much tamer than the Vegas of his youth. Yes, hotels continued to erect idols in the neon wilderness. There was the Hard Rock Cafe’s electrified Gold Top Les Paul pointing up toward the all-powerful Guitar God in the sky and an emulsified hologram of King Tut floating in the night air at the Luxor. But since the eighties, the city had tried to class up its act. Instead of eighty-foot pink clicking champagne flutes, the hotels opted for the more corporate marquee look. Besides being perceived as better behaved, the signs provided free advertising for Vegas acts—a Madison Avenue integration of form and function. Passing the thousand-foot-tall Needle in the Sky—more of a space station than a hotel—then the dowager Sahara, which had once been the hottest showgirl of the Strip, and the Big Top, a tangible homage to P. T. Barnum’s adage “There’s a sucker born every minute.” A family-oriented place replete with theme park, circus acts, RV hookups, and cheap rooms and food. Keeping the kids stuffed and occupied with roller coasters and high-wire acts, allowing Mom and Dad free time to squander away the college tuition. Four separate casinos providing everything and anything—from penny-ante slots on up. Lest the homey facade fool the innocent, old Steve had found Brendon, AKA Bebe—Mr. Connected Bellman. Jensen had been using the hotel for his second bedroom for over three years. Bebe gave him hourly rates in the city’s off-season. Like now. Tourism had been especially light the past couple of weeks. April blues. With Mr. IRS Man waiting in the wings, disposable cash was suddenly scarce. Poe had yet to file himself. This year, as in the years past, over half his income had come from gaming wins. Blackjack. He’d been kicked out of most of the big casinos. But there were always ways to work around it. Poe loved the pits, loved to play. It provided him with a place to sit, cards to hold, and a set of rules to follow. It prescribed his life for a couple of hours, warding off urges to bounce off walls. Just like the job, cards kept him occupied. Driving past the Stardust, the Mirage, and Treasure Island—the brainchild of the Golden Nugget’s onetime wunderkind Steven Wynn. On warm summer nights, the sidewalks were jammed with gawkers watching buccaneers battle on grounded galleons. Others piled up to stare at a fifty-four-foot fiery volcano complete with spewing lava. Once, Poe happened to be in one of the hotel rooms overlooking the smoking mountain. Peering into the bowels of the man-made Vesuvius … seeing all those gas jets and pipes … Past the Hilton, past Bellagio, Monte Carlo, Caesars, MGM, Excalibur, the Luxor … to the last few dirt lots before McCarren International. Havana had recently been constructed as a joint venture by two major hotel moguls. Its grounds were densely planted with coco palms and hundreds of tropical fruit trees and banana bushes. During the summer, the landscape was kept lush and green by a zillion different sprinkler and spray systems. The place was low-rise for the city, and catered to high rollers who wanted old-time decadence and privacy. The main lobby and hotel emulated a Cuban plantation—a four-story building of vanilla stucco, with green-and-white-striped awnings and red roof tile. Lots of balconies and verandas—unusual because most Vegas hotel fronts were pressed as flat as asphalt. Behind the main structure lay the more expensive—and very personal—bungalows. The rock pool was actually a series of manmade lakes, streams, and waterfalls rimmed with rain forest housing an imported parrot population. But the lodging’s biggest draw was the smoke shop. Though Cuban cigars were illegal to buy and sell on Uncle Sam’s turf, Havana boasted its own line of smokes made from Cuban-stock tobacco. Apparently the leaves were grown on the hotel’s own private land down South. No one had ever verified if the fields really did exist, but word of mouth had been sufficient. The inn’s humidifier was as big as Phileas Fogg’s ballroom. Pulling into the multilane circular driveway, Poe drove up to the entrance. A valet peered inside the window of the Honda and opened the car door, pausing a nanosecond before giving him a laser-light smile. Poe knew the footboy was sizing up his tip. Poe’s straight black hair, large, almond-shaped dark eyes, and café-au-lait complexion coupled with the cheap car suggested a Southern Paiute Native American—a lowly cigarette-hawking Digger who’d probably stiff him. On the other hand, the straight black hair, dark eyes, and dark complexion could mean Italian and therefore “connected.” Actually, Poe’s lineage held both bloodlines plus pinches from other nationalities. He was a true mongrel. Flashing his badge, he smiled, then tipped generously, told him to keep the Honda out front. Havana’s lobby was three stories tall and held a half-dozen atria of exotic birds and squawking wildlife, including macaques, which were Asian, not Central American, monkeys. But so far, few if any demanded absolute authenticity. Animal rights activists had tried to stop the construction, but the hotel had preempted them by bringing in the Las Vegas Zoo and designing the cages to simulate natural animal habitats. Poe admired the hotel’s ingenuity. He had to walk through the Cuban-themed casino—through the flashing lights and an aural assault of bells, whistles, and bongs—to get to the check-in desk. The dealers wore white double-breasted suits and linen shirts, white loafers on their feet and broad-brimmed Panamas on their heads. Cocktail waitresses were garbed in ruffly midriff blouses and multicolored sarongs, flowers tucked in their coifs. When business was hot, they often wore fruit hats à la Carmen Miranda. Poe followed the floral carpet walkway past seas of slots dinging out monotone mantras as coins were absently dropped into ever-hungry mouths. They held no interest for him, no magic allure. Just money down the toilet. The pits were a different story—the crap games, the wheel games, regular poker, pai gow poker, and blackjack. If a half-shredded face hadn’t been torturing his soul, Poe might have stopped. Instead, he moved on, leaving behind the hushed and genteel action of baccarat. Roped-off area. Very high stakes. There the dealers wore white tailcoats. At three in the morning, there were a half-dozen tables to service a lone player, the ladderman hovering about his charge like a mother hen. Finally making his way up to the front desk. A long walk. Not too many people could resist the urge to drop a quarter. And once you were hooked … The receptionist wore a white skirt suit and a blouse fabricked with pink and purple hibiscus against a yellow-and-green jungle backdrop. She was under thirty with creamy skin and blond hair pulled back into a braid. But there was something hard about her face—steely eyes that appraised unsparingly. She gave him a practiced smile, asked how she could be of service. He pulled out his badge, and she frowned, her eyes turning gray. Her name tag pegged her as Noel Goddard. Poe said, “Night manager around, Ms. Goddard?” His using her name threw off her rhythm. She stammered, said, “Can I ask what this is all about?” “Routine investigation.” “About what?” “Could you call the manager for me please, miss?” Noel paused. “Casino manager or hotel?” A smile. “Whoever’s around.” She hesitated, then disappeared behind a secreted door in the back of the desk area. Five minutes later, she came out with a can of muscle wearing a white linen suit over a peacock-blue Hawaiian shirt. He was in his mid-fifties, bald, with biceps as big as wrecking balls. No name tag, but Poe had known Peter Delatorre for years. Poe gave him a smile; Delatorre returned it with a glare. He muttered a thank-you to Noel, then crooked a sausage finger to Poe. Noel opened a swing door and Poe followed Delatorre into a series of backroom mazes. Several minutes later, the manager unlocked the door to a hidden niche. The room was done up plush in a tropical color scheme. Thick teal carpeting, soft multicolored sofas and slouch chairs, a wet bar with cut crystal holding lots of rum and scotch. A ceiling fan buzzed overhead. In the corner stood a small caned desk with a phone and a fax. The quarters were apparently a suite, because Poe noticed a connecting bedroom. Delatorre shut the common door and pointed to a chair. Poe rocked on his feet, looked around. No outside windows, but plenty of one-way mirrors. A video camera was mounted in one of the corners. “How’s it going, Pete?” Delatorre paced. “What the hell you doing, Rom? Flashing muscle like that?” “What are you talking about?” “Cramming your badge down that poor girl’s throat—” “I didn’t cram anything. I showed her ID. I’m a police officer. We identify ourselves. It’s not only procedure, it’s polite.” Delatorre sneered. “Sit down.” A beat. He stopped pacing. “Or don’t sit. Do I even want you around?” Poe said, “When did you start working here?” “Six months ago.” “What happened to Potetsky?” “You don’t want to know.” Delatorre waved him off. “So what good cheer do you bring me tonight, Rom?” “I’m looking into a dancer named Brittany Newel. Heard she worked the floor show at the Copa Room here.” “Wanted as a suspect, or is she your latest corpse?” “In the morgue as we speak.” “Jesus!” Delatorre made a face. “Does this mean I gotta get the keys to the records room?” “I’d sincerely appreciate it, Pete.” “You stay outta my pits, I’ll make the effort.” “I’ll stay out of your pits in any case.” “Yeah, yeah. Why don’t I believe you?” “Because I’m untrustworthy.” “Yeah. I forget. You’re part Digger.” “I’m part dago, too. It’s three-twenty in the morning. Can we get this show on the road?” “I thought you were a night owl.” “Age is catching up with me.” “Yeah, you look pretty bad.” Delatorre started pacing again. “And you’re only what? Thirty?” “Thirty-five.” A pause. “I can’t look that bad if you thought I was thirty.” “I must need glasses.” “Thanks. I needed a boost.” Delatorre raised his eyebrows. “You want a boost, I can get you a real boost.” “’Fraid I’ll have to pass.” “Just trying to keep the good boys at Metro happy.” “Thank you. We’re very happy. The keys?” Delatorre laughed. Again the beckoning finger. “C’mon.” They exited through a back door, went through a hallway dimly lit and stone silent. Their footsteps were muffled by the thick carpeting. Poe had no idea where they were going, but Delatorre navigated the twists and turns like a conditioned rat. An old-timer, Pete had worked his way up from mopping floors at the Flamingo, to dealing at the Stardust for Lefty Rosenthal, and finally to pit boss at the Riviera and Tropicana. Apparently he finally passed muster and became casino manager at Havana. A big step up in pay and prestige. Well deserved. Delatorre knew gambling. More important, he knew gamblers. When they reached his destination, Delatorre pulled out an employee identification card, stopped in front of a red panel light, then held the card up to a scanner. Moments later, the panel light turned green. Then he punched a code into a number panel. He turned to Poe. “Smile at the birdie, Rom.” “Where?” Delatorre turned him ninety degrees. “Look up.” A video camera. Poe gave a little wave. “You’d think you were taking me into the counting room.” “I trust no one. Especially the police.” Delatorre then pulled out a ring of keys, pushed two of them into the corresponding keyholes, and finally opened an electric security door. “You aren’t packing, are you? Don’t want you to set off any bells.” “I don’t even have my keys. I left them with the valet.” “Go ahead. You first.” Poe walked into a plain room stacked with hundreds of file cabinets. Enough to hold tens of thousands of Pendaflex folders. In the center stood several computer terminals and keyboards atop a bolted-down round metal table. Three bolted-down chairs were positioned around the table. Delatorre followed, shut the door. A pneumatic seal locked out air and brought on a fan. He explained, “Ever since Wynn’s daughter was kidnapped, management’s been squirrelly, you know. Everything’s nailed down so you can’t use it as a weapon. More security codes than the Pentagon.” He put a key into one of the monitors and turned it on. “Not that it does crap if you’re dealing with pros. Hey, they want you, you’re dead meat. But it’s a deterrent. What’s her name again?” “Brittany Newel.” Poe spelled it. Delatorre clicked the computer keys. “Got a picture of her?” “No.” “Not even a postmortem?” “She wasn’t pretty, Joe.” Delatorre grimaced as he punched in words and the computer spit back her name, rank, and serial number. “Yeah, she worked here for about a year. Looks like she was terminated about two months ago.” “Why was she fired?” “Uh … let’s see … number fifteen dash four two A. Nowadays everything is coded and double-coded.” “Keeps you all honest.” “Nah, just makes smarter thieves. Uh … here we go. She was canned for missing performances. How many?” He shrugged. “Havana’s policy: if you miss two workdays without explanation, you’re out.” “Anything else of interest on her record?” Delatorre scanned the file. “Nope … nothing.” “Can I see her initial employment paperwork?” “Not policy.” Delatorre looked up. “Confidentiality.” “Pete, she’s dead.” He pointed a stubby index finger in Poe’s direction. “Good point.” He scanned the computer, looked up the corresponding file number, wrote it down on a slip of paper, then walked over to a file cabinet. A couple of minutes later, he pulled out Newel’s file, scanned through it. Poe said, “May I?” “First I gotta scan it for black marks … see if anything in it concerns our current employees—’cause that could be construed as breaking confidentiality. Gotta keep it kosher.” “Is there a picture of her?” “Several.” Delatorre pulled one out, eyed it for a moment. Just enough time for Poe to see another photo of Brittany resting in the file. “Cute little thing,” the manager pronounced. “Here you go.” A full-color portfolio head shot. Draping honey-blond hair nestled around soft, nude shoulders, crystal-blue eyes full of wonder, pouty lips daring to be kissed. A graceful neck and the smooth skin of youth. Very beautiful. And very nondescript. Typical L.V. dance fare. Completely unoriginal. Completely Steve. A miracle how he’d snagged Alison. A pause. Not so, Rom old boy. Alison wanted to be snagged. Back then, she had wanted something mainstream … something very, very normal. Delatorre was still scanning the file. Cagily, Poe turned his back to the video camera, and with sleight of hand, slipped the photograph into his pants, moving it down until it sat between the upper part of his thigh and pants. Helped that he was wearing snug jeans. Delatorre was talking. “… can’t see the rest of the file, Rom. Sorry. Confidential information in here that could affect others. You want to look at it, I’ll need a subpoena.” “S’all right.” He pulled out a notepad and pen. “Can you give me her vital statistics?” “Uh … yeah, I suppose—” Delatorre’s beeper went off. He looked at the pager, read the number. “Trouble, Sergeant. I gotta go.” “Real quick job for me, Pete? You don’t want another one of your girls to end up like she did.” “She wasn’t one of my girls.” “She ended up a mess, Pete. It’s bad for everyone if this isn’t solved quickly.” Delatorre muttered, but quickly scanned through her application. “Born in ’seventy-five, five-eight, one-ten, blond hair, blue eyes … seven years of dance training in L.A., worked as a secretary before taking this job. Recommendations from her dance teacher, her former boss, some friends, and some state senator in California. Bet she sucked him to the root to get that. Found out about the job through her boyfriend. It’s local. You want the address?” Poe sighed inwardly. Guess where he was now headed at four in the morning. “Shoot.” Delatorre gave him numbers, closed the chart. “Oh, I’ll need that picture back.” “I returned it to you.” “No you didn’t.” “Open the file. It’s the one where she’s resting her head on her hand.” Delatorre opened the folder. Sure enough, there was a picture of Brittany Newel leaning her head against an open palm. “I didn’t give you this one. I gave you a head shot.” “I don’t have it, Pete.” He held his arms out straight from his waist. “You want to frisk me, be my guest. I’m a captive audience.” Delatorre studied Poe’s face, closed the file, and put it back in the cabinet. Licking his lips and saying nothing, he punched some numbers on a wall panel and the door opened. He whispered, “After you.” “Thanks.” Delatorre led Poe back through the maze, back out to reception, walked with him halfway through the casino. Then he stopped. “I still think you owe me a picture, Rom.” Poe grinned. “I promise I won’t play in your pits.” Delatorre stared at him. “Fucking Digger.” Poe ignored the insult. “I’ll keep in touch.” “Fine,” Delatorre said. “Only next time, use a phone.” 4 (#ulink_ce7fc623-f3cf-5d92-878d-8274a3249ea0) At twenty-three, Brittany Newel had hit the skids—a bargain-basement whore whose rapid descent from high-priced showgirl/call girl to ten-buck-a-pop blow jobs had been made possible by Mr. Crack. Her address led Jensen to a seedy bungalow apartment complex in the north side of town. Brittany had lived with a roommate named Ria—a pale wisp of a woman also running on a fast track to nowhere. To Jensen’s surprise, the place wasn’t a total sty. Sure, there were some dirty dishes in the sink, sticky counters and gummy tabletop. But the couches, though old, were cleared of debris. The carpet was an odd fluorescent green weave that looked like Astroturf, but basically clean. The place did hold a somewhat stale odor of people who spent too much time in bed. Ms. Ria had greeted him and Fat Patty wearing a robe, the flaps unbelted but overlapping. As soon as she sat, she let the sides fall open, exposing huge silicon jobs under a flimsy white tank top. Her ass was barely covered by a pair of red lace panties. Said Simple Simon to the pieman, let me taste your wares. The way Ria glanced at him, Jensen knew she was sizing him up as a possible trick. She looked familiar. Could be he had slept with her before. He turned to Patricia Deluca, hoping his partner would wrap it up before daylight. They had already asked her the routine questions—who, what, where. Ria spoke in one-word answers. Even that seemed to tax her brain. She did let them rifle through Brittany’s belongings. There wasn’t much to sift through. A closet of hooker clothes and shoes, a bathroom holding pills, dope, and lots of condoms. No needles but several crack pipes. Jensen wanted to go home, but Fat Patty insisted on a few more questions. Deluca was new on the job … trying real hard. Jensen liked her. Funny, because he had never just “liked” any woman before. Back to the living room. This time, Ria had elected to forgo the robe altogether. Patricia ignored the woman’s brazen dress and said, “I just want to nail down what you told me, so stay with us a few moments longer.” “If it’s only a few moments. I’m real tired.” “I appreciate your time. If you could just hang in there—” “Do I have a choice?” Patricia flipped through her notes, studying Ria’s petulant face—round saucer blue eyes leaking mascara-stained tears. She had dyed her hair platinum, giving it little contrast to her ghostly complexion—not unusual at four in the morning. Her cheeks held slight pitting from teenage acne … a wasted-away body with very augmented breasts. Ria made Patty and her extra poundage feel healthy in comparison. Deluca smoothed out her draping black suit. Half-sizes seemed to be designed by Omar the Tentmaker. As if fat women didn’t have figures. Well, she had a figure. It was just a large one. “You stated that the last time you saw Brittany was around eleven in the morning?” Ria lit another cigarette, talked in a whisper. “More like in the afternoon … around twelve.” Eyes to Jensen, eyes back to Deluca. “She was up before me. That I remember.” “And she was where?” Jensen asked. “When you got up?” Her knees now totally apart. “I told you … just sitting at the table, drinking a cup of coffee.” Showing Jensen bush. He noticed a little mole on her thigh. A sense of déjà vu. He was really beginning to think that he had slept with her. “Drinking a cup of coffee.” “That’s right.” “Maybe smoking as well?” Ria paused, nodded. “Was she smoking crack or tobacco?” Patricia asked. Ria’s eyes did another dance. She stubbed out her smoke. “You expect me to answer it?” “We’re from Homicide, ma’am, not Vice.” “You’re cops,” Ria answered. “That’s enough for me.” Patricia said, “After she was done smoking, Ria, what did she do?” A shrug. “Said she’d see me ’round. Then she got up and left. End of story.” “Did she tell you where she was headed, what her plans were for the day?” Ria shook her head no. Jensen said, “You said she serviced the hotels.” “That’s what she told me.” She shrugged. Thin shoulders attached to balloon breasts. Patricia wondered if they hurt her back. Ria added, “Hotels, motels … wherever there was business.” “Did she work with a pimp?” Jensen asked. A sigh. “You know, I didn’t know that much about her. We’d only been sharing this dump for a couple of months. I was gettin’ a little tight on cash, so I figured I take on someone to help me out. She was the first to answer the ad.” “You two get along?” “Sure. Why not? She did her thing, I did mine.” “So you don’t know if she worked with a pimp?” Patricia continued to probe. “Probably she knew a couple of guys who’d throw some business her way.” “Bellmen? Dealers? Pit bosses? Higher-ups?” “In the beginning, she claimed she did lots of high rollers.” Scratching her pebbly cheek. “Probably she did. I saw old pictures of her. She was cute.” Old—as in two years ago. Would they ever learn? Patricia paused. At least her big boobs were her own. Guys loved her boobs. As heavy as she was, she had no trouble getting guys. She said, “Did she have regulars?” Ria gave a quick glance to Jensen. “I guess.” Patricia caught it. She wondered if Ria knew that Jensen had slept with Brittany. Then she wondered if Ria and Jensen had ever slept together. The guy went through hookers like she went through diets. “Why’d she move in with you?” “’Cause she was broke and had nowhere to go. Her boyfriend had kicked her out.” “Boyfriend?” “Ex-boyfriend, I mean. Didn’t talk too much about him ’cept to say he had a bad temper and used to beat her. His name was Trent. He’s a dealer.” Patricia asked, “Does Trent the Dealer have a last name?” “I’m sure, but I don’t know it.” “Was he her pimp?” “Don’t know.” “What hotels did she work out of?” Ria gave some names. “Good places,” Jensen remarked. “If you can believe her.” “She have a truth problem?” “I dunno. Maybe at first she did work the high-end jobs. But she got into bad habits. You know, the nice places … they don’t like bad girls with bad habits.” Jensen held up a small plastic sandwich bag. Hidden in the corner were a couple of brown crystals. He had found the shit in Brittany’s bedroom. “She was running a little low on her supply. Who’d she go to for a fill-up?” She waved a hand, spread her legs farther. “It’s easy to buy in this city.” Patricia spoke slowly. “Where in specific did she buy?” Ria spoke with disdain. “If you don’t know, you ain’t much of a detective.” “Could you narrow it down to a couple of places?” She shrugged. “Sorry.” He traded looks with Deluca. Patricia said, “I think we’re just about done.” Ria stood up. “I hope so. It’s four in the morning. Night all.” She walked to her bedroom, stopped at the door, turned. “Push the button to lock the door and let yourself out.” A pause. Eyes on Jensen. “Unless you want to stick around …” A big smile. “In case something suddenly pops up.” Jensen returned her smile with a slow, sexy one of his own. “No, I think Detective Deluca and I have finished with our questions. Thank you for your time, ma’am.” Ria threw him back a burned look, answered, “De nada, Detective Jensen. That’s Spanish. It means thanks for nothing.” “She had an ex-boyfriend.” Patricia into her portable cell phone. “A dealer. Ria said he used to beat her.” Over the line, Poe answered, “His name is Trent Minors, currently a blackjack dealer at Shakespeare’s. I have his address. I’m going there now.” “She ended up a mess, sir. I mean even before she died. A washed-out, dead-broke crack addict. Her roommate, too. Also a user. Both of them so young. It’s so sad.” On the wire, Jensen said, “Sad but true.” Poe said, “I don’t think I’m going to make it back to the Bureau right away. You two finish up your paperwork, then go home. I’ll run what we have by Weinberg. Let’s all try to meet with the loo sometime in the late morning.” “Where?” Patricia asked. “How ’bout Myra’s?” Jensen suggested. “Okay. Myra’s at ten.” Poe checked his watch. “That should give you two about five hours of shut-eye.” “Sounds good,” Patricia said. “Fine with me,” Jensen added. Poe cut the mike, drove to Minors’s address. The neighborhood was a mixture of small one-story houses and low-rise apartments. To Poe, even in the dark, it looked more than familiar. He had been here before, recognizing landmarks down to the apartment with the wrought-iron horsehead fence. Then he realized he was about five minutes from Honey’s. He had entered the area from the north instead of the south. He thought a moment about Ruki’s keeping him at arm’s length. He depressed the accelerator, did a couple of screeching right turns, then parked in front of Honey’s building. Well, what does Ruki expect of me? Nothing. That’s the problem. The call girl wasn’t pleased to be awakened. Her hair was messy, eyes still heavy from sleep. She wore a bulky terry robe and had bunny slippers on her feet. Her greeting to him: “Go away.” Poe put his foot in the door before she could close it. “Please?” “Why don’t you go bother Rukmani?” “I would except she’s working.” “So? One of the slabs is bound to be empty.” Poe kneed his way inside. “You are one sick woman.” A brush of pecan hair from midnight-blue eyes. “You know what time it is?” “Four-fifteen.” “Big night, Rom?” Hands in pockets, Poe bounced on his feet, stared at the walls decorated with hundred-year-old Audubon prints. “Professionally, yes.” Honey shut the door. “Professionally as in playing? Or professionally as in cop?” “Unfortunately the latter.” He turned the security lock. “You should always use your deadbolt, Honey. It’s there for a reason.” “You look upset.” She tightened her robe over ample breasts. The real labonza. Made her very popular. “Bad?” “Girl named Brittany Newel. A former dancer at Havana. When she died, she was turning tricks for crack. Who knows? Maybe she was a runner as well. I’m about to visit her boyfriend. A dealer at Shakespeare’s. His name is Trent Minors.” Honey shrugged. Poe took out the stolen photo of Newel. “Know the girl, by any chance?” Honey stared at the picture, but shook her head. “Nope.” A stretch of silence. Honey sighed. “All right. Go sit on the couch.” Poe obeyed without question. She stood before him, then dropped to her knees and spread his legs. Unzipped his pants and went to work. Five minutes later, she was making coffee in the kitchen. She felt Poe encircle her waist from behind, kiss her neck. “Thank you,” he said. “Pleasure’s mine,” she answered. “You’re very good, you know.” “Good?” Poe was puzzled. “You mean fast?” She laughed out loud, broke contact. Turned to face him, holding a coffee urn. “Am I making this for nothing?” “Probably.” Poe rubbed his eyes. “I’ve got to go back to work.” “Poor Romulus.” Poe took out his wallet. Honey put her hand over the billfold. “It’s on me.” “No, no, no.” Rom pulled out a hundred-dollar bill. “I pride myself on paying my bills.” Honey snatched the Franklin. “Far be it from me to deny a man his dignity.” Poe took out Brittany’s picture, showed it to Honey again. “Look at it, Honey. Doesn’t look a little familiar?” Honey blew out air. “Rom, she’s a face in the crowd.” “She danced at Havana—” “You already said that.” Irked, she pushed the picture aside. “I don’t know her.” “Don’t get peeved. I’m just doing my job.” Poe paused. “You know how it is. A young girl working strange men. I wouldn’t want anyone else to get hurt.” He looked at her pointedly. She matched his stare. “I know what I’m doing.” “You’re a very savvy woman. Just take care.” “Always.” She softened, kissed his nose. “Good luck and good night.” He shut the door softly behind him. A moment later, he heard the loud click of the deadbolt. Thinking of Brittany’s mutilated face … good that Honey had taken him seriously. 5 (#ulink_baaf91e0-6067-5457-852e-082d43cf3c6d) It was a typical minimum-wage apartment, but it was neat and clean and had tasteful repros on the wall—cubic forms and sketches. Poe’s eyes jumped from the walls to Minors nervously flattening the carpet. The blackjack dealer had slipped on a gray sweatshirt and jeans, but hadn’t quite gotten around to shoes. He had hairy feet. His face was long, with even features except for the mouth. Thin, tight lips gave him an unforgiving expression. To stop him from pacing, Poe asked for coffee. Minors brewed up a batch as bitter as his mood. Angrily, he said, “I can’t believe that Brittany sank that low.” A pause. “Not that I’m not saying it was her fault that she got murdered.” “That’s good.” The dealer reddened, looked down. “You’re sure? That it’s actually … her?” Poe sipped his wretched java, didn’t respond right away. He drummed his fingers against the cup. Actually that was a good question. Newel had been found nude, without a purse, and half her face had been mangled. But the other half was identifiable as the woman in Havana’s posed portfolio photographs. Poe said, “We’ve had some preliminary identification—” “So you’re not sure?” “We’re proceeding as if it is Brittany Newel.” Poe put down his cup. “You seem very angry at her.” Minors’s face tightened, frowning lips turning into lines. “Why do you say that? I haven’t seen her in months.” Poe took out a notebook. “I’m angry at people I haven’t seen in years. Was the breakup amicable?” “I was happy about it.” “Why’d you two break up?” “She was out of control.” “Drugs?” “What else?” “How long had she been blowing crystal?” “Long enough for me to say good-bye.” “When you two met, was she using?” Minors sank down on a chair, drooped like a water-starved plant. “Nothing heavy.” “Pot?” “Occasionally.” “Why’d she turn to a heavier case load?” “Who knows?” Minors muttered. “It’s this damn city. Takes over your life.” Poe said, “She was turning tricks.” Minors muttered, “Case in point.” “Is that why you beat her up?” Minors blushed brightly. “I didn’t beat her up—” “You smacked her around, Trent. Save us both some energy and don’t play Mr. Who Me?, all right?” “So I got pissed a couple times—” “A couple of times?” With dubious eyes, Poe gave him a look. “Who was really out of control?” Minors blurted, “I didn’t give a flying fuck about her whoring! Okay?” Poe licked his lips, tapped his pen against his notebook. “Why not?” Quietly, Minors said, “’Cause we had this understanding.” “What kind of understanding?” The dealer got anxious. “Just that we didn’t butt into each other’s business.” “Each other’s business,” Poe repeated. “Do you mean personal or professional business?” “Both.” “So her whoring was okay because it brought in money?” “It was her thing, Sergeant!” Minors exploded. “Her business, her money. I didn’t have a thing to do with it. I wasn’t her pimp, okay?” “But you knew about it.” Minors was quiet. “If you had this understanding about her whoring, Trent, why did you toss her?” “Who told you I hit her?” Poe ignored his question. “Did you beat her because you thought she was holding money back?” “I told you I wasn’t her pimp!” “Then who was?” A heavy sigh. Minors said, “She told me she was set up by hotels.” “Havana?” “All of them.” He swallowed hard. “She got around.” “And you didn’t care?” “I didn’t say that,” Minors whined. “I just said I knew about it and tried not to interfere.” Poe said, “Can we go back to my original question? If you knew about it, had this understanding … why did you beat her?” Minors said nothing, leaving Poe to wonder what information he was sitting on. “Did she take up with someone else, Trent?” Poe asked. Minors stiffened. “Hey! I kicked her out. Not the other way around.” “After you found out she was shagging … who?” Minors bolted upward. “I don’t have to talk to you—” “Sit down!” Poe commanded. He put the mug on the coffee table. “Stop acting so … emotional.” A long silence. Then the dealer sat down. Poe stated, “Brittany had gotten involved with someone. Tell me who it was, and then I don’t drag you downtown. You make my life easy, I don’t have to say it came from you.” Minors cleared his throat. “She took up with the boss.” Poe paused. Did he mean Havana’s pit boss? “Are you talking about Pete Delatorre?” “Bigger than Havana.” Minors hitchhiked his thumb in an upward motion. “And higher up.” “A casino manager—” “Higher still.” Poe tried to keep cool. “This isn’t twenty questions, Trent. Give me a name.” “How about Parker Lewiston?” Poe opened his mouth and closed it. Lewiston owned half of downtown Vegas. Generally his taste in women ran a little older—mid-twenties and a hell of a lot more classy than Brittany Newel. Honey had been one of Parker’s ladies. Before he had put Honey out to pasture, he had fixed her up. The papers to a condo plus a yearly stipend. So what had happened with Brittany? And why would Parkerboy be attracted to a cheap whore like her in the first place? A pause. Of course, to paraphrase Virginia Hill’s statement to the HUAC, Newel, in her prime, could have been the best cocksucker in America. “Hard to believe, huh?” Minors had turned acerbic. “Brittany with Parkerboy.” “Lewiston takes care of his women, Trent.” “I told you. Brittany was out of control!” But Parkerboy never allowed his women to get out of control. If they used, he provided for them … kept them happy and content. Poe was suspicious. Minors was saying, “… threw it in my face constantly.” He turned his voice high-pitched and shrewish. Imitated, “ ‘You keep whopping me and I’m gonna tell Parker on you.’ ” “But she never did. Because if she had, you wouldn’t be working here … in this city.” Poe waited a beat. “She was using big-time when she died. Who’d she get her stuff from?” Minors shrugged. “Maybe Lewiston.” “Not if he dropped her.” “Then I don’t know.” “Who’d she get her stuff from when you knew her?” “Lewiston.” “She told you that?” “Yeah.” Angrily, he said, “Parkerboy made her what she is today.” “A corpse?” Minors turned crimson, stammered, “No, no, I’m not saying … I’m not implying Mr. Lewiston had anything to do—” “Stop sweating, Trent. He ain’t in the room.” Minors looked over his shoulder. “All I meant was … well, she wasn’t using heavy until she hooked up with him. He turned her into a crack whore.” Poe noticed that Minors had dropped his voice a notch. As if the walls had ears. And maybe they did. She had wanted to pretend she was sleeping, but Steve had caught sight of her open eyes. “You still up, baby?” he cooed. She said nothing when Steve sat down on the edge of the bed and loosened his tie. Out of her corner vision, she saw him lower his hand, felt him stroke her shoulder. An instant wave of revulsion pushed through her body. But this time she was determined not to withdraw from his touch. Make him think you’re getting better. Jensen continued to caress his wife. “I didn’t wake you, did I?” She shook her head no. “Another rough night, honey?” They’re all rough. “I’m fine.” Her voice was a hush. Jensen checked his watch—five in the morning. Reluctantly, he stopped petting her. Stood and took off his shirt. “Nasty night out. We found someone in the desert. And lots of paperwork. That’s what took me so long.” She nodded. “It was … hard. This one in particular. Not that you have to worry about it. Some hooker who went with the wrong guy … obviously.” He realized he was gripping his shirt, nails digging into fabric made wet by his sweaty palms. He bit back panic and tried to smile. “Forget I said anything, Alison. I’m … running off at the mouth. I’m stupid sometimes.” No response. She knew he was aching to talk, to find an outlet for his troubled soul. Shouldering everything for so long. And still blaming himself for her illness. Silly. Because she had been decompensated long before he had started cheating. But back then, she had hid it better. Still, she was certain that he had his suspicions. She had been twenty when they had married; he had been thirty-two. Thinking about their wedding pictures. They had made such a handsome couple. When she combed her hair, she supposed they still looked good together. Jensen drew back the covers of the bed. “You’re still wearing your bathrobe, honey.” “Too lazy to change,” she whispered. “That can’t be comfortable—” “I’m fine—” “It’s so bulky, Alison,” Jensen said. “Let me get you your silky nightgown. The one you say is so soft against your skin. Now, do you want the purple or the pink?” “Pink’s fine.” “Hey, it’s fine with me, too.” A weak smile. “You look great in pink, hon.” She swung her legs over the mattress, about to get herself upright. Steve was right there with a chivalrous arm. “Let me help you.” This time she shook him off. She straightened and looked him in the eye. “I’m not an invalid.” His face was wounded. “Of course not, Alison. I didn’t mean—” “Forget it.” Her voice sounded harsher than she meant. “I’m sorry, Alison. You know me.” Another weak smile. “I just love to baby you.” She felt moisture in her eyes, but couldn’t let him see. To distract him, she let her robe slip to her feet, boldly allowing him full view of her fine form. He gasped, a sharp intake of breath piercing his lungs. Whispering, “God, you’re beautiful.” She looked away, but then returned her eyes to his face. Eye contact. Tentatively, Steve moved toward her. “Just … astonishingly … gorgeous.” Another step. And she still didn’t move away. “Beauty … personified.” Now he was close enough to touch her. But he didn’t dare. Both of them were waiting. Finally, he said, “Can I kiss you, baby?” She nodded. Could it actually be? He kissed her. And she didn’t stiffen. “I love you,” he whispered. She didn’t answer. “Love you very much.” Slowly, he encircled her body with his arms, drew her to his bare chest. “Love you … oh so much.” Still there. In his arms. Carefully, he drew her down onto the bed. This time, she’d let it happen. Because with the corpse in the desert … he was really hurting. And after all, she knew about that, didn’t she? As always, she climaxed in about five minutes. He came moments afterward, swooning with delight and words of love. How beautiful she was, how responsive. Nice to be responsive, she thought. But having an orgasm was never the point of the whole thing. Just the product. You see, now she was filled up with his sperm. A great excuse to get up and go wash. 6 (#ulink_5530bbf7-2506-530c-a0c9-0dee122b95e9) “According to the computer, Newel’s mother lives in Ohio.” Mick Weinberg slugged down black coffee. “We called the number—it was disconnected. So much for our hookup to Washington’s Find a Person Search database.” Squinting behind his glasses. The lieutenant needed bifocals, but had been too busy to make the appointment. He lowered his specs, looked across the table at three of his homicide detectives. A good bunch … a tired bunch. Weinberg rolled up the sleeves of his white shirt, loosened his tie. Stuffy without the fan. Moisture had formed in the pits of his muscled arms and on the top of his bald head. He wondered when Myra intended to turn it on. He went on, “Nothing comes up by way of a father. So that means someone here who knew Brittany is going to have to make a formal ID. The ex-boyfriend’s our best bet. Rom, you go call—Rom, you with us?” Poe yanked open his eyes. “I’m here.” The lieutenant pushed Poe’s coffee cup toward his sergeant. “Drink.” Poe picked up his mug, sipped, then drummed his fingers on the tabletop. “Is there any milk?” Weinberg shouted, his voice carrying easily in the empty restaurant, “Myra, could we get some Mocha Mix? Also maybe a little food? These good public servants need some nutrition.” The phantom voice responded, “The steamer’s still heating up.” “What about the griddle?” Weinberg called out. Myra answered, “If you beg, I suppose I can whip up some deli omelets.” Weinberg faced his crew. “Deli omelets okay?” “Sounds great.” Jensen suddenly realized he was famished. Patricia answered, “I’ll eat anything.” Someone started pulling on the locked glass door. Weinberg turned around, yelled, “We’re closed!” Gesticulations. “We open at eleven.” Flashing ten splayed fingers, then the index digit. “Eleven!” Frowned. To himself, the loo muttered, “Can’t they read the damn sign?” Poe continued to swallow the sour brew. “Were you talking to me, Lieutenant?” “I just assigned you Brittany’s ex-boyfriend, Trent Minors. Take him down to the morgue for a positive ID.” “Do you want Brittany ID’d in her current condition?” “What condition, Poe? She’s dead.” “Lieutenant, she’s monstrous. Half of her has been flayed. Her left eyeball is miss—” Abruptly, he stopped talking. “What?” Weinberg asked. Poe blinked. “Nothing.” “Don’t give me that.” “A passing thought.” “So pass it by me, Poe.” “A flash of déjà vu.” Poe hesitated. “When I was a kid, there was this case—a grotesque murder—maybe even more than one, I don’t remember too well. Judging by today’s standards—with guys like Jeffrey Dahmer and John Wayne Gacy—it doesn’t seem extraordinary. But as a kid, I … we were all terrorized. Thought this guy was the bogeyman incarnate. That’s what we called him. The Bogeyman. For a while, the whole thing terrorized the town.” “Which town?” Patricia asked. “Here. Vegas.” Weinberg said, “I don’t remember anything like this.” “Probably before your time, sir. Roughly twenty-five years ago.” “A good ten years before.” Poe said, “Even then I doubt if it infiltrated into the Strip. If the powers that were kept atomic testing under wraps, I don’t imagine a couple of murders would be a problem. But back then, in the ’burbs …” He raised his brow. “It freaked us out.” “Do you even remember the specifics?” Jensen remarked. Poe suddenly felt a chill. Things that happened in childhood … so much more intense. “There were rumors. Probably apocryphal, but they said that the killer had desecrated the corpses. He had scooped out the eyeballs—” “Omelets, anyone?” Myra chirped. In the middle of the table, she plunked down a platter of scrambled eggs filled with pastrami, salami, and smoked turkey. Big chunks of flesh-colored meat gelatinously wrapped in quivering ovum. Jensen said, “Ever notice how visceral-looking eggs are?” The table groaned. Unceremoniously, Myra dropped four plates and silverware onto the table along with a carton of Mocha Mix. She put graceful, blue-veined hands on her hips. She had short nails … immaculately clean. She was in her mid-fifties, hazel eyes with short gray hair cut like Prince Valiant’s. A round, open face which, at the moment, spelled annoyance. She wore a white shirt, gray skirt, and white chef’s apron. Tennis shoes covered her feet. “You have complaints, take it elsewhere.” “Looks good to me.” Jensen picked up a spoon and a plate, then heaped eggs on his dish. “Looks wonderful, in fact. Thanks, Myra. I’m starved.” The woman smiled warmly. “More coffee, Steve? Orange juice?” “Both would hit the spot, thank you.” Weinberg passed out the remaining dishes. “Help yourselves.” Patricia eyed the eggs. Now if she was going to eat toast, she’d better give herself a small portion of omelet. A pause. Then again, she hadn’t eaten since dinnertime last night. And it was half past ten. Still, all that salami and pastrami. All that fat! Wherever she looked … subversion. Poe poured Mocha Mix into his coffee. “You know, you’re spoiling us, Myra.” “She spoils everyone.” The lieutenant polished off his coffee. “We have so many people running in and out of our condo, I’m thinking about selling time shares.” “Everyone loves Vegas,” Myra said. “Everyone loves a freebie,” Patricia said. “You got that right, Deluca. We keep getting all these out-of-the-blue relatives popping in. People she’s never heard of, let alone met.” Weinberg looked at his wife. “But she lets them stay anyway.” “Just in case,” Myra answered. “In case of what?” Jensen asked. Myra stared at him, shrugged. “As if that explains it,” Weinberg groused. “Are you going to turn on the fan, Myra?” “Yeah, it is kind of stuffy, isn’t it.” She spooned eggs onto her husband’s plate. “Eat before they get cold, Mick. I’ll get the toast.” Before Myra left, she tapped his head. From his pants pocket, Weinberg pulled out a yarmulke. He placed it over his bald pate. To Poe, he said, “So what made you think of this twenty-five-year-old case? The scooped-out eye?” “Probably.” “Was it true?” Patricia asked. “Beats me.” Poe shifted the conversation. “Loo, I think Trent Minors deals the noon-to-midnight shift. I’ll try to catch him before he goes to work.” “Good idea. I also want one of you to go back and comb the scene of the crime now that we have some visibility. I got a uniform out there guarding the place. The sooner the better.” Jensen asked, “What should we be looking for?” Weinberg chomped at a piece of pastrami gristle. “She was found nude from the waist up. Maybe some kind of top … shoes … maybe a purse.” He washed down his breakfast with a full cup of water. “Some storm last night. The wind could have blown items all over the effing place.” “If the killer dumped her belongings along with the body,” Poe said. Patricia said, “Think the killer would want to keep a trophy, Loo?” “Sure. But how likely would it be that he’d keep everything? We found her pretty bare-bones, no bad pun intended.” Poe speared a piece of smoked turkey, chewed it thoughtfully. “Patricia, you want to go out?” “I’ll go out.” “And me?” Jensen asked. Poe said, “We still don’t have any idea about Brittany’s final hours. Someone should start checking out the bars—” “Wouldn’t that be better done at night, Sergeant?” Poe nodded. “You can do that as well. But based on how low Brittany had fallen, she could have been a day-tripper, too. Someone should check out the naked city.” Jensen said, “I’ll do it.” “I thought you had tickets to the fabulous Oldies show at the MGM,” Patricia said. “I … gave them away.” Jensen sighed. “Alison hasn’t been feeling well.” No one spoke for a moment. Poe broke the tension. “How about this? After you two finish up with the crime scene, Patricia can comb the bars and Steve will work the bellmen. I think they’d open up easier man to man.” Besides, Stevie had lots of personal connections. “Fine,” Jensen answered. Weinberg said, “What’re you doing after the ID, Rom?” “Figured I’d talk to Dr. Kalil. Find out how Newel died. See if she was skinned alive.” “Good God, is that level of detail truly necessary? I know, I know.” Patricia helped herself to another serving of omelet. “Yes, of course it is. Find out if the guy is a sadistic killer or just a closet pathologist. Anyone notice if the body had stab wounds or bullet holes?” “It was dark, Deluca,” Jensen answered. And old Steve had been as sick as a dog. Poe said, “I couldn’t tell, either. I’ll ask Rukmani about it. It would be nice to know if we should be looking for shell casings or a discarded knife.” “Could you tell if the murder occurred at the body drop?” Weinberg asked. “Didn’t see a big pool of blood.” Jensen paused. “For whatever that’s worth. It was real windy last night.” “The desert sand is a natural litterbox,” Poe said. “Blood could have been soaked up by the surface grit and blown away.” “And just as easily,” Weinberg said, “if there was enough blood, it could have seeped down a couple of inches and spread out in the underlying clay bed. And there it may lie still.” “So I’ll root through the surface sand,” Patricia said. Again, Poe drummed the tabletop with his fingers. He said, “Aren’t we forgetting about someone?” “Lewiston,” Patricia answered. “What do you want to do about him, Loo?” “Premature to question him.” “He fucked her, sir.” “Rom, she was a hooker. He is an eccentric billionaire who has probably fucked three-quarters of the girls in this city. When you figure how much fucking was going on, their lives were bound to intersect. It doesn’t mean anything.” “He’s a link.” Poe paused. “I could go to him with the angle that I’m asking for his help.” “He isn’t going to swallow that horseshit. Parkerboy won’t give us squat without proper papers.” “Loo, if Brittany’s sugar daddy had been Joe Blow—” “Who says Lewiston was Brittany’s sugar daddy? The girl was a whore. They’re notorious liars. You’re basing all of this on the word of one disgruntled boyfriend.” “So let me ask Lewiston about it. Let him deny it.” No one spoke. Weinberg relented. “All right. After you’re done with the ID, and after you’ve finished with Dr. Kalil and the crime scene, then you can go attempt contact. But don’t be disappointed if you come back empty-handed.” Jensen smirked. “You just want an excuse to go to the Laredo. No-limit tables. One-deck shoes.” Poe returned the evil grin with one of his own. But the accusation was true. Steve knew his number. Equally true, Poe knew Jensen’s quirks … down to the eye color of his whores. Too bad neither really knew Alison. 7 (#ulink_2ad51b95-a104-5162-baa7-9dd5df299571) “If you’re asking me about a smoking gun, I’m going to tell you no, nothing yet. These things take time, Romulus.” Rukmani was talking through a white paper mouth and nose mask. Head down, she was peering into a sea of tissue and viscera, probing at something red and squishy with a metal instrument. An hour ago, Trent Minors had been vomiting over Brittany’s face. Now the young girl had been literally reduced to flesh and bones. Again, Rukmani spoke … more like muttered. Poe could barely understand her. “Can you take a break?” “A break?” “Yes. Like a coffee break. Or a tea break?” She looked up, covered the dissected body with a tarp. “Is the smell bothering you?” “A little.” Poe snapped his fingers as his eyes swept across the steel room of death. They eventually settled upon Rukmani, dressed in surgical blues. Wrapped up like an anoxic mummy. He said, “It’s hard to talk in here.” “C’mon.” She untied her mask, snapped off her gloves. “But only for five minutes. I don’t like to leave my bodies unattended.” “Thanks.” He kissed her cheek. She stank of formaldehyde. Together they boarded a two-person staff-only elevator. Staff only. As if a morgue would be teeming with visitors. They took the lift to the third floor. Her office was immediately to the right. About the size of a coffin, but it had a ceiling and a lockable door, and it was all her own. A standard-issue desk and a couple of chairs. A wall of bookshelves held medical tomes and pictures of her two grown children—twenty-five-year-old Shoba, a sophomore at Harvard Medical School, and twenty-seven-year-old Michael, a resident in radiology at Barnes Hospital in St. Louis. Married in the old country, Rukmani had given birth to her son two weeks past her sixteenth birthday. The untimely death of her much older mercantile husband, a hidden cache of rainy-day money, and a couple of American relatives had given her a new life in the States. In the States, she wasn’t judged by her caste or her in-laws. In the States, she wasn’t forced to avoid the sun to keep her Indian complexion as Anglo-light as possible. Probably the reason why she had moved to Vegas. At the moment, Ruki was nutmeg-brown. “Sit.” All business. She said, “What specifically do you want to know?” “Bullet holes?” “Not yet.” “Stab wounds?” “None so far.” Poe felt ill. “She died while this monster was gouging out her eyeball?” “Not necessarily.” Poe drummed on her desktop, waited. Rukmani said, “There are other ways to murder besides stabbing and shooting.” She made an imaginary needle with her finger and stuck it in the crook of her arm. Poe said, “He OD’d her first?” “Or at least sedated her. That’s my guess.” “You found something in her veins.” “Bloodwork hasn’t come back yet.” Rukmani pushed her glasses back on her nose, then put her hands over his to quiet his fidgeting. “You look tired. Did you sleep at all?” “An hour at my desk this morning. What about you?” “About four hours.” A pause. “Come to my place tonight. I’ll cook you dinner. If your face drops in the mulligatawny, I won’t say a word.” “Sounds wonderful, but I’m probably going to pull another all-nighter.” “Romulus, you can’t work effectively on an hour’s sleep.” She was right. He said, “Nothing happens in this town before dark. I’ll grab a couple of hours of sleep before I go out again.” Rukmani looked grave. “Why don’t you live in a normal house?” “I like where I live. It’s very quiet.” “It doesn’t have running water or electricity.” “Modern conveniences are highly overrated.” “At least get a box spring for the mattress.” “I couldn’t get it through the doorframe.” “So get a bigger door, for godsakes.” “Why are you pissed at me? You know I’d love to come for dinner, spend the night with you engaged in wild, passionate lovemaking. Do you think I’m working by choice? I’m paid to do a job. Just like you.” “There’s work,” Rukmani said, “and there’s work-obsessed.” “Ain’t that the pot calling the kettle black?” This time, Rukmani remained quiet. Poe thought: Maybe this is why she’s so standoffish. She doesn’t like my house. Or my hours. Still, she keeps the same hours. He steered the conversation back toward business. “Why do you think she was sedated while he was … you know … flaying her?” “The evenness of some of the gouge marks. Almost ruler-perfect parallel lines. If she had been awake, she would have been thrashing about, and the lines would have been squiggly.” “What about if he bound her?” “Even so, she could have squirmed unless he had her head in a vise. Even with millimeters’ worth of motion, there would have been waves or chinks in the lines. Some of the rakes were almost … surgical in their precision.” “Someone from the medical profession?” “Possibly. Or someone who’s very exacting.” Poe made a sour face. “So she was either sedated or dead when he … attacked her.” “There was evidence of fresh bleeding into the depressions. I’d say she was sedated. Very heavily sedated. Alive but unconscious. She probably never felt a thing.” She gave him a weak smile. “Small comfort.” He thought about her words. “That could say something about the killer.” “Like what?” “He’s a control freak. Wants her completely defenseless so he can do his thing. Doesn’t want to leave anything up to chance.” “Or maybe he has sensitive ears and doesn’t like screaming.” Poe nodded. “You may have something there.” “Sensitive ears?” “He doesn’t like to hear screaming because he doesn’t do torture for torture’s sake.” “Just enjoys raking human flesh?” Rukmani shook her head. “I suppose a boy needs a hobby.” Poe was talking as much to himself as to Rukmani. “He likes killing. He likes … dressing his victim in a certain fashion. But like a hunter with his prey. Hunters don’t get their kicks out of torturing animals. They like clean, kill shots. One big bam and the animal keels over. The thrill is the hunt.” “And the head on the wall afterward,” Rukmani stated. “Something they can brag about. Maybe that’s what she was. A trophy kill.” “She wasn’t dressed or displayed like a trophy kill.” Poe paused. “Of course, I got to her after she’d been in a windstorm. Who knows what she looked like before?” Rukmani said, “I should be getting back.” Poe said, “Do you have a fix as to what kind of instrument made the gouges?” “I was hoping you wouldn’t ask me that.” “Go on.” “I’ve found flakes of metal lodged where it touched bone … consistent with a rake or some kind of tool. But I’ve also found bits of tooth enamel.” “Consistent with biting.” “No bite marks, Rom. More like … methodical tearing at the victim with the teeth.” She looked away. “There was something very animalistic about this death. Like he was … eating her—” “Oh Christ!” “—or more like grazing.” “This is truly nauseating.” Rukmani scratched at her hair tucked under a scrub cap. “This has not been an easy autopsy. It’s going to take a while before I come to anything definitive.” She stood. “I’ve really got to go.” Poe got up as well. “I can’t entice you with a quick lunch at my place?” “Lunch?” “Well, lunch and munch.” Rukmani laughed, hit his shoulder. “I’d love to, but I’ve got this corpse—” “Aha! Okay for you to refuse me, but—” “Rom, you leave a body exposed for more than a short period of time, it screws up every—” “When it’s your ox that’s being gored—” Poe stopped talking. “Why did I say that?” Rukmani smiled with fatigue. “My place, tomorrow night?” “It’s a deal.” “We are really too busy. We never see each other.” “Guess that makes us a true ideal American couple.” “If we’re going to lapse into mindless treadmilling and burnout, we might as well get married.” “Name a date.” She waved him off, kissed his cheek. “Mind if I don’t walk you out? Brittany Newel is calling my name.” Poe snapped his fingers. “You actually think of her as Brittany Newel?” “You bet I do. She had a name in life. I’ll be damned if I’ll take it away in death.” Day, night, it didn’t matter, the bars in Vegas looked the same—dimly lit, smoky atmosphere, lots of tabletop slots and poker machines. The saloon at Casablanca sat in the center of the casino, a giant disk with tables and chairs rotating a full circle every hour. Usually lounges-in-the-round were reserved for places with a view. But the only vistas here were the gaming pits and rows of slots. Patricia knew that was the point. To entice the drinkers to leave and gamble. It had been one hell of an afternoon. Productive, though. She had been the first to find evidence—a spike-heeled shoe. More important, she had found the purse—an ecru macramé thing about fifty yards from where Brittany had been dropped. Blended in perfectly with the sandy layer of Las Vegas desert. It contained her driver’s license, two maxed-out credit cards, three hundred bucks, and several plastic cellophane packets of rock crystal cocaine. Superficially, it appeared that neither robbery nor drugs had been a motive. But she knew that the whole thing could have been a setup to deflect Homicide. Still, she had been proud of herself. Weinberg had congratulated her, slapped her back, then given her a list of bars to comb. Twenty of them. And here she was, feeling as gritty as unwashed spinach, as dirty as a desert rat. She sat at the countertop along with a couple of pickled stragglers waiting for fresh crowds of gamblers to come and liven the evening, her eyes observing the natural ebb and flow of the casino. Cocktail waitresses with big bonkers, wearing gauzy stuff, their flat stomachs with jewels in the navels. They walked two and fro—from casino to bar, from bar to casino. The bartender approached her. Aladdin he wasn’t. Then again, she was no Jasmine. He was Samoan or Tongan or something that screamed Pacific Islander—an extra-extra-large with frizzy black hair. He wore black harem pants and a purple satin vest over a white see-through shirt. Sandals on his feet. His name tag said Nate. Wiping the countertop, smiling with white teeth. “’Lo.” “Club soda,” Patricia answered. It was now six-thirty. Two hours of scouring the bars for Brittany’s last stand had produced sore feet and a half-dozen hits—servers who somewhat recognized Newel’s face. Unfortunately, no one remembered seeing her yesterday. Casablanca was bar number twelve on the loo’s hit list. She had consumed twenty—count ’em—twenty club sodas, which necessitated about a dozen trips to the bathroom. How she suffered for her art. Patricia took out her badge, showed it to Nate, who looked at it without flinching. Didn’t even back away. She was encouraged. Maybe he’d talk without a cattle prod. “You want a twist with that, Officer?” “Detective. Homicide.” His eyes blinked. “Would you like a twist, Detective?” “Lime.” “You got it.” His eyes yo-yoed up and down over her girth, then jumped to her left hand. Patricia smiled to herself. Two humping rhinos. Not that she was that bad. Not like after she had left the service—honorable discharge, of course. She had thought she had it together … everything under control. But putting on those civvies, walking out of the base, feeling so dirty and violated. Then seeing him with that evil smile, giving her his famous little wave. She had gone back to her apartment and had thrown up. She hadn’t ever been a thin girl. But there was chunky and there was obese, and she had crossed over to the latter. Within two years, she had ballooned to 250 pounds. She had never really figured out why she had suddenly reversed her self-destructive gorging. Maybe she had been sick and tired of letting Homer get the last laugh. She had starved herself in order to pass the department physical, surviving on air and a can-do spirit. But as soon as she made detective, she had started eating again. Stuffing her face until she had been sure that no superior could possibly be interested in her. And no one had been. Never even a hint of sexual impropriety. Perversely enough, the guys had been nice. Supportive. Helpful. Even a pussy hound like Steve was always available to answer questions. Slowly, the pounds started melting. She plateaued at 175. Not bad for someone who was five-eight and big-boned. Then this whole army sexual harassment thing hit. And Homer had called her—all sweetness and light. Eating to calm her nerves, she gathered her strength, called him, then told him off in explicit terms. It felt good! Unfortunately, she was suddenly back over 200. After a steady diet she was down to 185—holding steady. Nate placed the club soda in front of her, along with a bowl of peanuts and a bowl of chips. Patricia pushed the bowls aside, took out a picture of Brittany Newel, laid it on the countertop. Nate turned it around, studied it. “Yeah, I’ve seen her before.” Surprised by his honesty, she took out her notebook. “When?” Nate shrugged. “Don’t remember. Maybe a week ago. Maybe two weeks ago.” “Yesterday?” Nate actually appeared to be thinking. “This is weird.” “Go on.” “I don’t work nights here. I work at Barry’s … a little nothing place, but you wouldn’t believe the tips.” Patricia nodded as she wrote. “It’s a workingman’s bar. Not like this.” He screwed up his face in concentration. “I’m not sure. But she might have been there last night.” Patricia almost choked on an ice cube. “I see.” Calm, girl. “About what time did you see her?” “I’m not even sure if it was last night. I see a lot of people. I don’t trust my memory.” Nate paused. “You know, I’ll be at the counter there at ten tonight. Why don’t you come down and I’ll introduce you around.” He gave her the address. She thanked him, said she’d be there at ten. Suddenly sweating bullets. Moist armpits. Good thing her deodorant was holding. She wiped her face with a napkin. Sand and dirt blacked the pristine white paper. She knew she was filthy. She was embarrassed. “I need a shower.” He cleared his throat. “You live far from here?” She eyed him. “Why?” “Dinner at eight?” He smiled boyishly. “I know a great Italian buffet, better than anything you can get on the Strip.” In other words, she looked like a woman who’d eat. Patricia said, “How about tomorrow?” By then I will have run you through NCIC. “I still have work to do tonight.” Nate smiled wattage. “Tomorrow would be great!” She took a final swig of her club soda. “Thanks for your help, Nate. Do you have a last name?” “Oh sure. Malealani.” He spelled it. “And where do you live?” He gave her his address, along with his phone number. Shyly, he said, “I gave you mine. Can I have yours?” “In due time. I’ll see you tonight at Barry’s.” “Yeah! Great!” The guy looked downright goofy. Of course, the costume didn’t help. She stifled a smile. He seemed rather innocent … dare she say it, unspoiled. Now, it could be an act. Yet he projected the genuine article. But that was Vegas—a mixture of predator and prey. And even she, as cynical as she was, had trouble telling the teams without a score card. 8 (#ulink_3a13075c-f418-55d2-a1fe-ed74bb7890be) Exercise. Exorcise. Stomping furiously on the treadmill, sweat dripping down—pouring down—as if her entire face were crying. Her wet palms were barely able to hold on to the handgrips. In a minute, they’d slip off and she’d go flying into space. Off the belt and into a wall like some Hollywood slapstick stunt. So as long as she could, she pumped her legs, running aslant on the instrument’s full tilt. She felt it in every vertebra of her backbone. To keep her mind off the pain, Alison thought of her research. The green book. All the answers were there if she’d just take the time to look in it. If she could only get off this blasted treadmill and concentrate on her research. It drove her crazy. To have to run. But she did it because she was too afraid not to do it. If she stopped, terrible things might happen. The nasty voices could come back. The horrid visions might return—flashing images of blood and guts and sticky stuff. They never came when she was busy. Why leave anything to chance? Running. Running to nowhere. An adequate assessment of her life. To run, run, run without any fun, fun, fun. But she stopped short of bludgeoning herself. She had come so far. It used to be that the fear kept her in bed almost twenty-four hours a day. Steve had to carpool, Steve had to cook meals, Steve had to shop and go to parents’ conferences and do everything. Now she could function. She could shop and pick up the kids from school … smile at the teachers and say hello. Often they’d smile back and say hello, too. And when she left the house, she made sure she was well groomed and presentable. At times, she was oh so normal. A normal woman doing normal things. But then there were the other times … So that’s why she ran. If Mama had run, she might still be around today. But Mama hadn’t run and that had been the problem. The steady whir of the machine’s motor buzzed through Alison’s head. Her leg muscles contracting and expanding, the exertion building up her lungs and heart and stamina. The exercise was making her strong. If only Mama had run. But of course, in her own way, Mama had run. But not in a healthy way. Her strange forays during the night. Two, three o’clock in the morning, she’d be gone. Her disappearances had terrified Alison as a child. Papa had been no help at all, as he had been frantic with worry. Sometimes Mama had stayed away for days in a row. And when she returned … the way she had looked. There had been times when Alison had wished that Mama hadn’t come back—this stranger so silent and sullen, her eyes feral and always bloodshot. Drinking maybe. Because her breath had turned fetid. As if she had lived on carrion. The ensuing arguments. Papa asking her where she had been. Mama saying she didn’t remember. Papa accusing her of lying. Mama going hysterical. Papa begging her to see a psychiatrist. Mama stalking out of the house. The scene repeated over and over until finally it became moot. Mama’s nighttime escapades. When she was ten, Alison had asked one of her own psychiatrists about them. Dr. Jones had called them fugue states. Alison looked up the word fugue in her junior dictionary. A musical form or composition in which a theme is taken up and developed by the various instruments or voices in succession according to the strict laws of counterpoint. Had Mama been playing music all this time? The idea puzzled Alison for years. Until she was older and looked the word up in an unabridged dictionary. There were two meanings, the second one stating: A state of psychological amnesia during which a patient seems to behave in a conscious and rational way, although upon returning to a normal consciousness, the patient cannot remember the period of time nor what was done during it. A temporary flight from reality. A temporary flight from reality. Not so temporary in Mama’s case. When Alison didn’t answer the doorbell, Poe took out his picks. A minute later, he was inside the house. She was exercising on the treadmill, her face as red and wet as a rain-washed plum. Her long legs were cutting long strides to keep up with an unnaturally fast pace. Her fingers were so tightly wound around the handlebars that the knuckles had turned bloodless. Her breathing was fast and furious and much too shallow. Poe went inside her hallway closet, pulled out an octagonal red stop sign mounted on a dowel handle. He took the sign, placed it in front of her face. As if she were looking at air. Even before Poe did it he’d known that this time, it wasn’t going to work. She was running too fast … out of control. Time to take action. Slowly, he reduced the machine’s rate until she was barely walking. He let her go for five minutes, then turned off the treadmill. She stood in place, not uttering a sound. “Look at me,” Poe whispered. Alison met his eyes. Then she dashed into her bedroom. He heard a sudden blast of water rushing through the pipes. He’d give her ten, maybe fifteen minutes tops. While waiting he realized he was hungry. It was half past six and Poe had eaten his last meal, at Myra’s, well over eight hours ago. He returned Alison’s stop sign to its place in the closet, then went into the kitchen and opened the fridge, happy to see it well stocked. He made himself a meatball sandwich with dark mustard on thick sourdough, poured himself a glass of orange juice. He ate slowly, hoped that the water would stop. Of course, it didn’t. With reluctance, he got up from the table, went into the bedroom. Their bedroom. Into the bathroom. He opened the shower door, reached inside. The water had turned cold and Alison was shivering. He turned off the taps, placed a bath towel around her shoulders, and led her back into her bedroom, placing her in front of her dresser mirror. Carelessly, she let the towel fall to the floor. Poe took in her nakedness, tried not to react. He held out her robe, then averted his eyes. After a moment, she accepted it, slipped it on. Observing herself in her looking glass. She picked up a brush and began ripping into her hair. “I look like shit.” “You look gorgeous.” “I can’t figure it out. No matter how long I run on that damn thing, I still have these big, fat thighs!” She pounded her flesh for emphasis. “Like saddlebags.” “You’re as thin as a cat’s tail. Shame on you for buying into that anorexia shit.” “Don’t yell at me.” “You’re overdoing it. It’s not healthy.” “Can you kindly leave so I can get dressed?” Poe paused. “All right, I’ll leave. But if I hear the water running—” “Stop it!” She threw her towel at him. But she was smiling now. And a beautiful smile at that. “Go make yourself useful.” “By doing …” “Make some coffee.” “Where’s your family?” “Steve took the boys out for dinner.” “When did they leave?” Alison gave him a slow, seductive look. “You’re allowed to be here even if he isn’t. I’m not chattel.” Poe wasn’t too sure about that. “I’ll make some coffee.” She joined him just as the pot had finished brewing. Dressed in a loose black tunic over black leggings. Her face was awash in an after-exercise blush, her blond hair combed and pulled back in a ponytail, emphasizing perfect cheekbones. Two gold studs decorated her earlobes. Her lips were coated in something pink and wet. He poured two mugs of coffee: they sat at the kitchen table. The house was ranch-style, a decent-sized thing on a generous lot which held a pool. It had a formal living room and dining room off an entry hall. The back part of the home was made up of an enormous kitchen, a breakfast area, and a den—the true living room of the house. At the moment, it was a bit messy—a stack of old papers, a couple of discarded items of clothing, a dirty dish on the coffee table. But Poe had seen it worse. The bedrooms were on the left side of the house—three of them. “Why are you here?” Alison asked. “Just to say hello.” “Yeah, right.” She sipped coffee. “You’ve got that look in your eyes. What do you want? Besides to sleep with me. The answer is no.” “Alison, when was the last time I asked you to sleep with me? Like twenty years ago?” “Try six months ago.” “What are you talking about?” “You kissed me, Rom.” “Alison, it was your birthday—” “Not a chaste kiss. You gave me tongue.” “You gave me tongue.” “I don’t want to talk about this, Rom. Just drop it!” Poe didn’t respond. Instead, he began drumming his fingers against the tabletop. Alison put her hand over his to quiet his fidgeting. “Steve was really working last night, wasn’t he?” “Yes.” “A corpse in the desert.” Poe eyed her. “He told you?” “Occasionally we do talk. He was very upset by it. Did he know the woman, Rom?” Poe shook his head no. Alison studied him, scrutinized him. “You’ve become very hard to read.” Poe said, “It was an awful case. She was … messed up.” “Stabbed?” Poe didn’t answer. “Just spit it out, Rom. I won’t melt. He slept with her, right?” Poe said, “Alison, do you remember the Bogeyman case?” Anger coursed through her heart. Fiercely, she glared at him. Poe paled at her fury. “Wha … wha … what’d I say?” Knowing she was irrationally angry, Alison softened her expression. “You don’t remember, do you?” He thought: Oh God, what nerve did I touch this time? The Bogeyman. He had been around ten. Which meant Alison had been seven, maybe eight— Her mother! Anything associated with her mother … He said, “It was right around the time of your mother’s death. I’m sorry, I didn’t think—” “It’s not just mere association. Think harder.” Poe was confused, remained silent. “How could you have forgotten?” she chided. “I … I’m sorry, but—” “My mother … her death. The cops had ruled it a suspicious suicide. They came to my house to ask me questions—” “Oh, Christ!” Mentally, Poe kicked himself. “I don’t believe …” How could he be so stupid! He had been there. The knock on the door. Two men in suits, one dressed in a cowboy hat and string tie with a turquoise clasp. They came in without even asking permission. Descending on the two of them. Two little kids. They’d been playing Clue—game number twelve or something like that. Her father had asked Poe if he could watch Alison while he did some grocery shopping. Grocery shopping that took six hours. Man, her dad had disappeared for a long time. The men had introduced themselves as detectives. Started asking questions even though her father wasn’t home. Questions about her mother that made her cry. It had been only a month or so after the funeral. Finally, Y had shown up. The Paiute Indian—an old friend of both his and Alison’s mothers—had materialized like some kind of apparitional savior. Seeing the police questioning two frightened children, the old man went ballistic. Poe still recalled the veins throbbing in the Indian’s red neck. Y had told the cops—in colorful terms—to leave. As far as Poe knew, the fuzz had never returned. Eons ago. When Y had been strong and vital … Poe said, “Jesus, Alison, I am so sorry.” “They thought Mama was one of the Bogeyman’s, you know. That she might have been with him the night she … killed herself. Because … she had cut herself up pretty badly.” Tenderly she reached for his hand. “You can’t remember everything. I’m sorry. I’m emotional these days.” A small squeeze. “Why did you ask me about it?” “Doesn’t matter.” “Does this case remind you of the Bogeyman?” Poe cleared his throat. “Maybe. From my faded childhood memory, perhaps there are some similarities.” He waited a beat. “Faded memory is right. How could I forget? The whole thing … it’s so clear in my mind now. Y popped in during the interrogation. Booted them all out. He was the real hero of the story.” “Absolutely.” She took her hand off Poe’s. “How is the old man?” “Same as always. Gambling away his Indian benefits. Both he and my mom …” Alison said, “He was very close to my mother. I think they were lovers.” Poe nodded. “The Bogeyman case had a very disturbing effect on my mother.” “Alison, we don’t—” Poe stopped himself. If she wanted to talk, let her talk. “Go on.” She composed her thoughts. “During the murder—rather murders, I think there were two of them—she became unusually agitated. Of course, she was disturbed even before the Bogeyman. But if you’re looking for an excuse as to what drove her over the top, I’d say the killings.” Poe heard the front door open. Angrily, Alison whispered, “I wish he’d just go away!” “I’d better go away.” As Poe started to rise, Alison grabbed his wrist. “What are you afraid of?” Poe looked at her, sat back down. “Nothing.” The boys—Harrison and Scott—came charging into the kitchen. Both her sons were redheads like Alison’s father. She hugged them like a mama lion. “Hey, sluggers. How’s it cooking?” “Hey, Mom,” Scotty answered. “We brought you back some orange chicken and fried rice.” “Sounds great!” “I’m going up to my room,” Harrison said. “Homework.” Scott put the take-out bag on the kitchen table. “I gotta work on my math folder. Then you have to sign it.” “Fine,” Alison said. “I mean, you don’t have to read it or anything. Just sign it.” “I don’t mind reading it.” “I kinda prefer if you don’t read it.” “Whatever you want, Scotty.” The boy looked tenderly toward his mother. “Are you okay?” Alison forced herself not to cry. “Great.” Still, Scotty was skeptical. He kissed his mother’s cheek. “Take care. Bye.” Alison stood up and gave her husband a half-smile. “Thanks for taking them out.” Jensen kissed her on the lips, throwing Poe daggers from the corners of his eyes. Easy to think the worst. But he knew Alison. Moreover, he knew Poe. Married women weren’t his thing. “Am I interrupting anything?” “Not at all,” Alison chirped. “You want some coffee, Steve?” Jensen forced himself to smile. “No, I’m fine.” He saw Poe getting up, said, “Don’t let me rush you.” Feeling as wanted as ice on jet wings, Poe said, “Gotta go. Certain people await me.” Jensen mouthed, “Lewiston?” Poe nodded. Jensen said, “I’ll walk you out, Boss.” “’Night, Alison.” Pointedly, Poe kissed her cheek. Just to show him it was all very innocent. “’Night.” She turned her back and busied herself at the counter. As soon as they were out of her sight, Jensen grabbed Poe’s arm, shoving him out of the house. He slammed the front door behind them, all pretense of calm dissipating like smoke. “What did you two talk about?” “Get your goddamn hands off me!” Jensen blushed, dropped Poe’s arm. He said, “What did you two talk—” “None of your business,” Poe answered. “And don’t you dare interrogate your wife to get answers—” “I’m not interrogating her, I’m interrogating you.” Jensen spun 360 degrees on his heels, faced Poe with rage. “You think it’s jealousy, don’t you? You think I’m this big, bad jealous schmuck who’s—” “Steve, I don’t know what you’re talking about.” “You don’t goddamn get it, do you? Every time you talk to her and start reminiscing about the good ole days, it sets her back. You don’t see it. Because to you, your little talks are nothing but great fun. And because when she talks to you, she puts on her normal act—” “Steve—” “—but get her a couple hours later, when you’re long gone, out screwing your whores or girlfriend or playing your cards being Mr. Asshole Carefree Bachelor, then she’s left alone. And when she’s alone, she sinks, Rom. And guess who has to deal with her shit!” No one spoke. Jensen exhaled forcefully. “Every time you come to visit, you put her back six months’ worth of therapy.” Again, there was silence. Jensen said, “In case you haven’t noticed, she’s very fragile and disturbed—” “I’m well aware—” “You aren’t aware of anything except what she tells you. And that’s always her own slant. Her own bizarre thoughts. I’m not saying she can’t be helped. But you ain’t the one to do it, all right?” Poe stuck his hands in his pocket, eyes looking upward, into a black, starry sky. “If I’ve been … causing problems between you and your wife, I apologize.” “I don’t need your apologies, Rom. I need you to leave her alone. Understand?” “Clearly.” Jensen suddenly wilted, exhausted and spent. “Weinberg’s looking at me strange. You didn’t tell him about—” “No.” “She ask about the case at all?” “Who? Alison?” Jensen nodded. “Yeah. She said you were very upset last night. She asked whether you had slept with the victim.” “And you told her no?” “I won’t dignify that with an answer.” Neither spoke for a moment. Poe said, “You find out anything?” “About Brittany?” Jensen shrugged. “Nothing that points to a killer. Just bits and pieces.” “We should meet, compare notes with Patricia.” “Give me a time and place.” Poe started snapping his fingers, stopped himself. “Back at the Bureau in what … two hours. Let’s call it for nine.” “I’ll be there.” Jensen rubbed his face, looked up. “I’ve got to … don’t want to leave her alone.” His jaw tightened. “Although I don’t think she relishes my company.” “Steve, I—” “Forget it.” Poe nodded. Jensen was right. Leave it unsaid. The big man patted Poe’s shoulder, turned, and walked back inside his house. Poe remained rooted, his eyes racing across an endless inky sky, the sounds of his snapping fingers echoing in the stillness of the night. Slowly, he forced himself to move. To go away. He had a giant headache. Probably too much caffeine. Next time, he’d cool it with the coffee. 9 (#ulink_72aa3456-0a7d-5d34-a8a0-4608e0d155ad) Taking a couple of practice swings, the iron whizzing through the air. “How’s your game coming, son?” Poe answered, “I don’t play golf, Mr. Lewiston.” “Pity.” Several more slices into the air. Then the moment of truth. Lewiston bunched up his body in concentration, his eyes focused on the tee. He took aim and swung. A clean shot, the ball rising, falling, rolling across the ground. It fell into a sunken cup around fifty yards away. That’s how big the office was. Poe estimated that it took up over half the top floor of the Laredo. Floor number twenty-six. Twenty-five actually, because the elevator had gone from floor twelve to floor fourteen. Lewiston’s domain kept going and going, with desks and chairs and couches and tables, all of the furniture resting on a carpet of natural sod. Verdant, clipped sod. The temperature inside his working quarters was a muggy seventy-four degrees. Lewiston leaned against his iron, said, “You say you don’t play golf?” “Correct.” Poe was seated in a leather club chair whose legs were buried in the grass. The apparatus had settled slightly to the left, throwing his perspective off-kilter. “Have you ever tried the game?” “A few times.” Lewiston straightened. Poe felt the heat of the casino owner’s eyes, peering at him as if sighting prey. Steely blue things that were reptilian-cold. A chiseled face with a strop-sharpened-razor shave, his complexion so smooth as to appear wet. Short haircut, the color too iridescent to be called gray. It was more like silver. At sixty, Lewiston stood erect and tall—about Jensen’s height. For the golfing demonstration, he had donned a pair of black silk-and-wool slacks and a white silk shirt with the sleeves rolled up to his elbows. His feet were housed in black croc boots. He wore a string tie held together by a jeweled pendant—aquamarine maybe. He had thrown the tie over his shoulder lest it interfere with his shot. “Son, you’ve never tried the game until you’ve tried it with me. Why don’t you join me on one of my courses this Saturday? Golfing always puts me in a social mood.” “My handicap would be too big, sir.” Besides, fraternizing with the big boys is a no-no, Parker. Sort of ruins the objectivity. “You know how to aim a gun?” Lewiston asked. “Of course.” “Shoot a target?” “Yes.” “Then golf should be a snap.” “I think holing a fifty-yard chip takes a little more finesse than blasting a cardboard cutout.” “Well, it shouldn’t take more finesse,” Lewiston insisted. “Because shooting has a lot more ramifications than sinking a putt. You should work some finesse into your shooting, son.” Poe was not about to be undermined. “Maybe it has something to do with split-second decisions. Difficult to have finesse when you’re looking down the barrel of a shotgun.” He whispered, “Hand’s shaking too hard.” Lewiston smiled with brown-stained teeth. “You should work on that, too. Never let them see you sweat.” “I’ll keep that in mind next time I’m running down an armed bank robber. Better still, I’ll call you. You can bring down your clubs and really show him who’s boss.” “In a tight situation, a Magnum might be the preferred weapon. You can always borrow mine.” “I wouldn’t mind, but the department may have other thoughts.” Poe balled his hands into fists to keep himself from fidgeting. “Thank you for seeing me, Mr. Lewiston. I really do appreciate it. Especially because you are a hard man to reach.” Two hours of plodding through the channels had accomplished zilch. But twenty minutes at the blackjack tables had caught their attention. Place had a new pit boss. Shame on Parkerboy for not keeping his guys up to date. Lewiston said, “My staff knows how I value my privacy.” The eyes squinted into small knots. “You seem to be a persistent fellow. One might even call you a pest … or a gnat … or something annoying.” Poe appeared thoughtful. “With all due respect, Mr. Lewiston, I don’t agree. Like take tonight. Instead of getting all mean-mouthed and pushy when I kept being put on hold, I just left a couple of messages. Figured I’d wait you out. So I just plunked myself down at a table and bided my time.” Poe took out a thick wad of bills with Ben Franklin on top. Slowly, he flicked the stack with his thumb, thousands of dollars dancing past like an old cartoon motion book. “That’s all I was doing, sir. Just passing time.” Again the apple-rot smile. “How ’bout we call it a going-away present?” A wave of the hand. “As in you … going away.” Poe pocketed the cash and took out a notebook. “I’d like to ask a few questions about Brittany Newel, sir.” “Brittany Newel?” Lewiston seemed confused. “Is the name supposed to be familiar?” “She claimed she was one of your girls.” “Claimed. As in the past tense. Is she denying it now?” “She’s not saying anything, sir. She’s dead.” Lewiston shrugged. “It happens.” “Did you know her?” Poe asked. “Not that I can recall.” Poe took out a picture, showed it to Lewiston. “How about this girl? Did you know her?” Lewiston looked at the photograph. “She’s a pretty little thing. Who is she?” Is Parkerboy shittin’ me or what? Poe said, “She doesn’t look familiar?” Lewiston held a perfect poker face. “Son, she looks like a thousand other showgirls in this city.” Poe said, “This was Brittany Newel.” Lewiston took another look at the photograph. “Shame. Don’t think she ever worked here.” “Her employment tax records said she did.” Without missing a beat, Lewiston picked up the phone’s intercom. “Lois, can you get hold of personnel. Find out if a young thing named Bethany—” “Brittany.” Lewiston turned to Poe. “Spell the name for me, son.” Poe complied. “All right, dear,” Lewiston said into the phone. “Thank you, dear.” Turning to Poe. “It’s going to take time. Check in with me tomorrow afternoon.” After you’ve raped the files. Luckily Poe had been there first. He said, “Thank you, Mr. Lewiston.” The casino owner gave out a chuckle. “You’re obviously a bettin’ man, son. You’ve done well at my tables. I’ll give you another hour and we’ll give you double odds. How’s that for being daring?” Most of the games in Vegas were clean, because house odds usually worked magic without cheating. Still, there were thousands of ways to rig a game. Especially since casinos had dozens of cameras, giving them eyes to everyone’s cards. Lewiston seemed out for revenge. Poe wasn’t about to play dupe. He rose from his slanted chair, extended his hand. “Some other time. No hard feelings?” “Never.” Lewiston took the proffered fingers, crushed them in his grip. “Not at all.” Poe counted to three, then pulled back his hand, smiling all the way. Asshole! His bones felt as if they had been put through a winepress. Yet he wasn’t bothered too much. At least now his fingers were too sore to snap. Lewiston said, “Now if you’re not going to join me for golf on Saturday, you’d just better be running along.” A slow grin. “Don’t make me call my lawyer. City Hall wouldn’t like it.” “Not necessary.” Again, Poe pulled out his cash. “Can I get a cashier’s check for this?” “Downstairs.” Lewiston intercommed his secretary. “Lois, can you show Detective Poe out, please?” “Sergeant.” But Lewiston had picked up his iron and was whipping at the wind. Pretending not to hear. Because of space problems, Homicide had moved away from the City Hall complex into its own building, mistitled an “executive park.” Completely unprepossessing, the structure was an unmarked one-story stucco thing with a tile roof and a double-mirrored door, better suited to hold an insurance agency or an escrow company. There was a small parking lot in front, another paved area in the rear which fronted an architecturally similar low-slung box. Still, the move was celebrated by Homicide; the detectives loved their new surroundings. Their own place, putting miles of distance between them and the other departments as well as the scrutinizing eye of the brass. It was a quiet sanctuary, somewhere to think and work. Standing behind the Bureau lay the Crime Scene Analysis building. Just a short walk from the desk to the lab, making it easy to check up on physical evidence. With the two places in such close proximity, things rarely got lost. Sitting at his desk, Jensen took a break from his notes and leaned back in his chair. It was ten to nine. Meaning the others should be here soon. Deluca and Poe were notoriously punctual. Taking a deep breath, letting it out slowly. He got up, walked to the coffee station, and started a pot of decaf. More than mistresses, more than alcohol or a night out with the guys, being in this squad room, alone at night … that gave Jensen peace. The workspace was designed as one large, rectangular room. Completely open. No cubicles to block sound waves. Everyone could hear cases being discussed. Important details were often picked up in casual conversation. The walls were painted pastel blue, the floor was done in wall-to-wall deep blue carpet. Square panels of fluorescent light checkerboarded the ceiling. Currently, there were fifteen workstations lining the walls, each detective having his/her own desk, chair, computer, printer, phone, and java mug. What more could anyone need? A fridge and Mr. Coffee machine in one corner, a gun vault in the other. The unit’s vulture mascot was perched above the entrance door. During the day, the back windows gave a view of a parking lot. The appearance was definitely more like an office than a homicide bureau, but that was fine with Jensen. He often watched the boob tube. One thing he could never figure out was how big-city TV cops worked in such chaos, trying to write reports with felons cursing, people shouting, women having babies. He guessed it made for good drama, though no one could think amid all that pandemonium. Here everything was low-key … quiet … like a small-town sheriff’s office. Which was fitting, because Vegas had originally been built as a Western saloon town. Now, with a population of over a million, Las Vegas owned big-city problems. Plus it had to cope with an enormous transient population. Outsiders often took their problems to the gambling mecca. And when things turned to shit, guess who cleaned up the mess? Deluca walked through the door, threw her purse on her desk, and sat down. She ran stubby fingers through her freshly washed hair. Her face was flushed and open. “I got a lead.” Jensen straightened in his chair, took in a whiff of air. “Are you wearing perfume?” “Just a splash.” Patricia paused. “Did I overdo it?” “No. Actually, it smells nice. What’s the occasion?” “It has to do with my lead.” Patricia pulled out her notes. “I was questioning this bartender who kinda took a shine to me. His name is Nate—” “Who’s Nate?” Poe asked, walking through the door. “A bartender who has the hots for Patty.” “That’s Fat Patty to you, bub.” Patricia winked at a blushing Jensen. “I know what you guys call me behind my back.” She turned to Poe. “I got a lead. A bartender who might have seen Brittany at Barry’s Place last night.” She gave them the address. Poe took out his notebook, wrote it down. Jensen said, “Never heard of the place.” “It’s a native bar,” Patricia said. “Native as in Native American?” Jensen asked. “No, native as in native Las Vegan. Look at the address. Right in the heart of blue-collarville.” Poe said, “Betcha Y would know the place.” “I wouldn’t doubt it,” Jensen said. “Guy knows every bar in the city. How old is he, anyway? About eighty?” “More like sixty-five, seventy,” Poe said. “His face is just weathered.” “He looks like cured jerky,” Jensen remarked. “Is he related to you? Or don’t you readily admit to having Digger blood?” “Of course I admit it. I’m proud of it.” Notebook still in hand, Poe plunked himself down, propped his feet on his desktop. “How’d you hook up with this bartender, Patricia? What’s his name, by the way?” “Nathan Malealani.” “Hawaiian?” Jensen asked. “More like Samoan. By day, he tends the Oasis in Casablanca. The bar was on Weinberg’s hit list. Guess I got lucky.” “Sounds like you made your own luck.” Poe turned to Jensen. “You find out anything we should know about?” “Nothing radical.” Jensen picked up a list from his desk. “I got two, three … four bellmen who threw Newel some action. No one used her as a regular—too unreliable because of her chemical problem.” “What was the split?” Poe asked. “Fifty-fifty at first,” Jensen said. “When Brittany started losing her looks, it dropped to forty-sixty. Mostly she made calls to them on the weekends when things got busy.” “Did she make enough money to carry her through the week?” Patricia asked. “Depends on how much she made on weekends. Or maybe she simply hit Lewiston up for a loan.” Poe stuck a wad of gum in his mouth. “He denied knowing her.” The room went silent. Jensen broke it. “You actually talked to Parkerboy.” “After two hours of getting the runaround, I became bored, started wandering through the casino. Lo and behold, Laredo done got itself a new pit boss.” Patricia smiled. “You did well, sir?” “Yes, ma’am!” Poe yanked his feet off the desk, stood up, and clapped his hands in glee. “Double-shoe decks. I fleeced the SOB. Serves Parkerboy right for keeping an officer of the law waiting.” Jensen said, “Dealers there don’t believe in shuffling the cards?” Poe laughed. “I had some lucky breaks. About an hour later, I get the familiar tap on the shoulder. I turn and smile and show Mr. Gil Lawson—probably né Guido Lombardi—my badge.” “Way to go, Poe,” Jensen said. Poe said, “Now the guy is stuck. He wants to kick me out, but I’m a cop. Doesn’t know what the hell to do. So I figure I’d help him out. I’d leave the table without making a scene if I could have a word with the boss. Ten minutes later, I get a call. How’s that for results?” He laughed, shook his head. “Guy’s a golf fanatic. His entire office is carpeted in sod so he can take practice shots.” “Aw, c’mon,” Patricia said. “I kid you not.” Jensen said, “Doesn’t he own his own private course? The one off Sahara next to the Rancho Fiesta development. I played there once for some police benefit. It’s a good course.” Patricia said, “He owns his own golf course?” “Why not?” Jensen said. “Wynn owns the course at UNLV.” “Yeah, but that one is open to the public, isn’t it?” Patricia said. Poe shrugged. “Anyway, the upshot is that Lewiston denied knowing Brittany. And I’m wondering why.” “Maybe he didn’t know her.” “I don’t think so,” Poe said. “He used the words ‘I don’t recall’ knowing her. Like Reagan not recalling arm sales.” “Maybe Reagan didn’t,” Patricia said. “He was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.” Poe said, “Everyone knows Lewiston’s a major lech, that he’s done tons of girls. Why would he be squirrelly knowing Brittany?” “It doesn’t mean he’s involved,” Jensen said. “Maybe he didn’t want to get his hands sullied. You know, he starts saying, ‘Yeah, I know her.’ Then you start asking more questions. Easier to cut you off from the start.” Poe answered, “More like he’s hiding something. I’d love to find out where he was last night.” Jensen smiled. “Why don’t you question the hired help?” Poe laughed. “Great idea, Steve. Is this before or after I get the shit beat out of me?” “C’mon,” Patricia said. “Bugsy’s dead and gone—” Jensen interrupted, “But the image lives on.” “They wouldn’t do that to a cop,” Patricia insisted. “Probably not.” But Poe wasn’t too sure what would happen if he started stomping on toes. “So what do we have? We have a girl shredded to death by some sadistic control freak who shot her up with dope beforehand—” “How do you know that?” Jensen asked. “Rukmani’s educated guess.” “What else did she say?” Patricia asked. Poe paused, flipped through his notes. “No stab wounds, no gunshot wounds, bits of metal found in a few tissue samples consistent with a metal implement, bits of enamel found that were consistent with tooth enamel. But no distinct bite marks. More like teeth tearing at the flesh.” He closed his notebook, looked up. “Dr. Kalil thinks all this was done while Brittany was still breathing. Possibly unconscious, but alive. We’ve got to nail this monster.” Poe started snapping his fingers and winced. His hand was still sore from Lewiston’s crushing grip. “Okay, so we know that Brittany bar-hopped. Patricia’s going to check out Barry’s Place … maybe she was there last night. Maybe she left there with someone in tow. She also hooked.” To Jensen, Poe said, “Any of your bellmen set her up with someone last night?” “If they did, they didn’t admit it to me.” Poe said, “Go back and lean on them.” “I’ll do it, Rom. But I think Newel’s call girl days for the big hotels were long past. If she hooked at all, I betcha it was for pushers in exchange for drugs.” “Since Patty and you are tied up, I suppose that leaves me to check out Naked City.” Poe raised his brows. “With Brittany’s arrest record, I’m sure she was an honorary citizen.” 10 (#ulink_4484beef-3c53-55f4-97b9-fb0539abe322) Nate hadn’t been kidding when he said it was a workingman’s bar. No pretense of attracting the tourist trade. The place was dark, smoky, and smelled ripe. Roomy, though. A horseshoe-shaped wood-laminate counter with red Naugahyde stools, plus about twenty tables and scattered chairs. A separate area for playing pool. Occupancy ran about a third full, but the night was young. Most of the drinkers were men, but there were some big-haired forty-plus women. To pass the time, they schmoozed or played the countertop slots and poker machines. A live poker game was going down in one of the corners. Taking a moment to adjust her eyes, Patricia chose a seat at the far end of the counter. Six stools away sat two women in tight jeans and plaid shirts, drinking beer and flirting with the hired help. Strangely, she felt at home. The place seemed friendly and everyone was behaving himself. And if anyone acted up, Patricia was sure that Nathan Malealani and his coworker—a man resembling a sumo wrestler—could take care of any situation. Nate had wetted and combed his unruly Brillo locks, had donned a shocking-pink Hawaiian shirt printed with palm trees and woody station wagons. Their eyes met; he waved her over, his bright smile luminescent across the room. Without thinking about it, Patricia found herself smiling back. She sat in front of him, then absently dropped three quarters into one of the slots. Pressed the button that said “play three.” The barrels stopped at three cherries, her profits announced with dings and dongs. Malealani said, “A good start.” “If I stop now, I’ll stop a winner.” The bartender said, “That’s the key … knowing when to stop.” He pushed a button, removing the winning receipt from the machine. “I’ll keep this for you.” “Thanks.” Patricia studied the bartender with a cop’s eyes. His name hadn’t turned up a yellow sheet anywhere in the West, so she hadn’t bothered with NCIC. That could be a mistake. But she knew she hadn’t pursued it because she hadn’t wanted to look too hard. “I like the shirt.” His smile widened. “Thanks. It’s one of my favorites.” Favorites? How many does he have? “Shows individuality.” “That’s me. Can I get you a beer? Or is it still club soda with a lime twist?” “I’m still working, so it’s still water.” Malealani’s smile dimmed at the mention of the word “work.” Surely he didn’t think she was here on a social visit. Then again, she was wearing perfume. He poured out a tumbler of club soda, his manner more reserved. “Guy working the bar with me?” He cocked his head to the right. “His name is Raymond Takahashi. We call him Big Ray.” “Makes sense. He’s a big guy.” “Six-six. Mr. Bennington likes us big. You know, it’s a psychological edge when things get hairy. Anyway, I think you should talk to Ray. I think he served the girl you’re looking for.” Patricia sipped her water. “Did you ask him about her?” “No. I didn’t want it to come out wrong, so I didn’t say anything. Besides, you know how it is. You mention cops, some people get nervous. I didn’t want him to rabbit before you had a chance to talk.” “Smart thinking.” “Just common sense. Should I bring him over now?” “That would be great.” Patricia smiled. “Hey, thanks for your help. I appreciate it.” Malealani ran his fingers over the countertop. “Are we on for tomorrow night?” Patricia shrugged. “How could I go wrong with an Italian buffet?” The bartender tried to hide his glee. “Or if there’s something else—” “Italian sounds fine, Nathan.” Two girls roosted next to Patricia’s right. She moved three stools over. “Better if people don’t hear us.” Malealani said, “It’s past ten. Gonna start to get crowded. I guess I should let you do your thing.” But he paused. Not wanting to let her go. She said, “I don’t think I ever told you my name.” “It’s on your card.” “Still, that’s no introduction.” She stuck out her hand. “Patricia Deluca. Most people call me Fat Patty.” Nate laughed. “How ’bout just Patty?” “That’s fine, too. I really should talk to your friend.” Malealani called out, “Hey, Big Ray.” Beckoned him with a finger. “Want you to meet someone.” Big Ray stopped wiping the counter, froze, turned, stared, then lumbered forward. Not an ounce of fluidity in the man. Each physical action was done in a separate, robotic movement. Like Nate, Big Ray was Melanesian. He wore an untucked blue rayon shirt over a pair of jeans. He looked like he was ready to bowl. He eyed Patricia, licked his lips. He nodded. Malealani said, “This is Detective Deluca. She’s looking for someone.” Patricia offered a handshake. “How’s it going, Big Ray?” Ray took it, his face as animated as a tile of slate. “Who are you looking for?” To Patricia, Malealani said, “You have the picture, don’t you?” Yes, Nate, I have the picture. She took out the photograph, showed it to Big Ray. “I’m with Homicide. This woman was found dead last night. Nate said you might have served her.” Big Ray said, “Yeah, I did.” Patricia almost fell off the stool. In the back of her cynical mind, she had suspected that Nate had been jiving her. But things were falling into place. First the three cherries. Now this. Too much good luck. So when was it going to crash? She took out her notebook. “You’re sure it was this woman?” Without hesitation, Big Ray said he was sure. “She didn’t look this good. But the face was the same.” “What did she look like?” Patricia asked. “I dunno. Just not good. Young but old.” He looked around the room. “Belonged to the kind of women you’d find here. Like they’ve lived their lives in a trash compactor.” “Was she with anyone?” “Came in alone. But she hooked up with someone pretty quick.” Malealani asked, “Who?” “The young guy,” Ray answered. “The young guy?” “Yeah, the young guy. He was short.” “Short?” “Yeah, he was pretty short.” Patricia stopped writing, looked up. “Like how short?” Big Ray marked off an area on his chest with the side of his hand. “Came up to about here.” Eyeballing it, maybe around five-eight or -nine. Patricia said, “What did he look like?” Big Ray said, “Besides being short?” “Yes.” Malealani said, “I don’t remember no short guy.” Shut up, Nathan! Patricia said, “What did he—” “He drank Dewar’s straight up,” Big Ray said. “You don’t ’member him?” Malealani scrunched up his eyes. “That guy?” “Yeah, him.” Patricia said, “You remember him, Nate?” “Sorta.” To Big Ray, Nate said, “So he’s the guy who was with the girl?” “Yeah.” “When was this?” “Right after she came in. Like around ten-thirty.” Patricia asked, “Did they leave together?” “Well, I don’t ’member if they walked out together. But both left ’round the same time.” “And when was that?” “I dunno exactly. Around eleven-thirty, maybe midnight.” The body had been called in at 1:22 A.M. A small window of time to do the deed. The killer had worked quickly, raking and scooping … From the far end of the bar, someone shouted, “Can I get a beer around here?” Malealani was already walking away, “I’ll get it.” Patricia glanced around. The place was filling up. Put some lead in it, girl. “So they both left around midnight?” “Yeah.” “What else can you tell me about the short guy?” “He was skinny.” “Short and skinny.” “That about sums it up.” More people were coming in. Patricia figured she had maybe five minutes more. “How about his hair, Big Ray? Was it blond, brunette, bald—” “Not bald.” Big Ray was perplexed. “I can’t remember the color.” “Well, was it straight or curly, wavy, thin, thick—” “I can’t remember his hair, neither.” Patricia’s brain was racing. “Ray, by any chance was Mr. Short Thin Guy wearing a hat?” Big Ray raised one eyebrow. First sign of life he’d shown. “Yes. That’s it. He was wearing a hat. A black hat. Like Charlie Chaplin.” A pause. “He had a ponytail. I don’t remember the color. Just the ponytail.” Patricia wrote quickly. Malealani returned. Big Ray said to him, “The Dewar’s guy was wearing a ponytail.” To Patricia he said, “He was clean-shaven. ’Cept he had like … this peach fuzz all over his face. Like guys get before the beard comes in. A peach-fuzz mustache, too.” “Peach fuzz … so he was young?” “Thirty. I checked his ID.” Patricia felt her heart race. “You checked his ID?” Big Ray nodded. “Do you … happen to recall a name?” Ray didn’t even ponder the question. “Not a clue. Just looked at his birthday. That I ’member.” He gave the date. “You remember anything else about his features? His eyes, for instance?” Deadpan, Big Ray said, “Yeah, he had eyes.” Then the men laughed. “Very funny.” But she was smiling. To show she was a good ole gal. Just keep ’em talking. “You notice the color?” “They weren’t bright blue or green or anything.” A beat. “Maybe like light brown, but I’m not positive. I don’t stare at people unless they give me problems.” “How about his mouth—thin lips, thick lips—” “Thick lips.” “And the mouth itself. Was it wide, narrow—” “Just a mouth.” “With thick lips.” “Yes, ma’am.” “And his face? Was it long or short?” “Longer than shorter.” Big Ray looked around. “Uh, things are gettin’ a little busy.” “I know. Can you give me another minute?” “As long as you make it a fast one.” Patricia organized her thoughts. No name, but a birth date. A short and skinny man with a hat and ponytail. A peach-fuzzed Dewar’s drinker with brownish eyes and thick lips. Not a photographic description, but it could have been worse. “Big Ray, if you have about an hour tomorrow, I’d like you to talk to a police artist. Between the two of you, maybe we could draw up this guy.” The Melanesian shrugged. “All right.” A loud crash. The sounds of shattering glass. Someone yelling, “Yeah, well, chuck you, Farley!” Big Ray peered over Patricia’s head, shouted, “What’s going on over there?” Malealani was already at the scene. Big fat guy, but fleet-footed. His big, booming voice rang out, “Too much to drink, pal?” “Fuck you—” “Let me help you to the bathroom.” “I said—” “Better yet, let me help you through the back door.” “Get your fuckin’—” “Yeah, yeah!” Malealani started dragging some loud-mouthed jerk in a red shirt across the floor. Opened the back door and away he flew. Big Ray laughed. “They never learn.” To Patricia, he said, “I gotta go mind shop.” He turned and lumbered away. Malealani came back a moment later, wiped his hands on his pants. “You want a refresher on that club soda, Patty?” “No, I’m okay.” Patricia slipped her notebook into her purse. “Actually, I think I’d better head back to the station. Write all this up before I forget.” “So I’ll pick you up tomorrow at seven. I hope that’s not too early. We gotta fit dinner in between my gigs.” He waited a beat. “I’m off on Sunday. We can have a longer dinner then. There’s this great Thai place about an hour out of the city. You never tasted anything so good.” Patricia said, “Uh, let’s see how tomorrow goes.” Malealani scratched his head. “I’m being pushy. Sorry. Don’t mean anything by it. I just get so tired of desperate people. Especially women. So many desperate women in this city. I guess you see that in your work as much as I do.” He licked his lips. “All I’m saying is you really seem to have your act together.” Patricia wanted to scream, Who? Me? Instead, she chuckled, politely thanking him. Maintain the image, maintain the pretext. Because that’s what Vegas was all about. 11 (#ulink_08c76e37-7bd0-5e38-b311-5294be05a861) Looking more like a radio tower than a casino, the Needle in the Sky was started in the late eighties, completed in the nineties. It was the tallest building in Las Vegas, but it was lonely at the top. In the middle of nowhere, it sat in an isolated pocket between the glamour of the Strip and the light fantastic of downtown renovation. What could be said about it? The view was panoramic and the Sunday brunch couldn’t be beat. The interior sang paeans to the god of gaming future. But outside were the trenches. Behind the Needle sat a vacant lot of partial construction and piles of rubble. Dubbed Naked City by the locals, it had the dubious honor of hosting L.V.’s leanest and meanest. Cab drivers were wary of people headed there at night. Knowing that, Poe always tipped big. He had left his own car in the Bureau’s lot. No way he was going to drive his baby, park it on the street, leaving it prey for any jive turkey car thief desperate for a fix. Poe detested the place, carrying a weapon and knowing there was a chance that he’d have to use it. Shoot-’em-ups were for the uniforms, for SWAT or special teams. Not for gumshoe homicide detectives trying to trace a hooker’s last steps. Still, he’d cleaned the gun this afternoon. Sucker that he was, why hadn’t he given Steve this assignment? The taxi let him off in front of the Needle, picked up another fare, then got the hell out. Poe started walking. Turned up the collar on his coat and stuck his hands in his pocket, feeling the bulge of his holster through the coat material. Wearing his gun on his belt because it made for easier access than his shoulder harness. Past the Union 76 sign, past the block-long General Store and Toon Town toy store. Into the bowels of the bleak. A weeknight, but there was still some action. So many crack runners the dealers could have hosted a marathon. At the bottom rung of the ladder, the runners took all the chances, walked away with nothing. They ferried dope from the dealers to buyers in their cars, breaking off bits of the buyer’s rock to feed their habits. The girls had it better than the boys. On slow nights, the girls could hook for extra cash. The boys had to resort to petty thievery. If he squinted, Poe could make them out, scurrying and scattering like roaches in a Manhattan tenement. He found a dark vantage point, looked and waited. A Honda Accord with darkened windows slowed, pulled curbside. Immediately, they came to service it. The winner was a green-haired girl in short shorts, fishnets, and leather brassiere. She came over to the open window, nodded. Glancing over her shoulders, feral eyes in the moonlight. Reaching into her black bra, she pulled out what Poe assumed to be a rock crystal of cocaine. And that was it. Transaction finished: the car went on its way. She darted back, her loose breasts flapping like water balloons. Disappearing under a pile of construction. Another car. Another transaction. The scene was repeated over and over. Sometimes the cops roared in and swept the place. More often, they let them be. Besides, more than one detective had a stoolie who worked the area. No one daring to make eye contact, Poe knew he’d have to take action. Go out and turn over a rock. He spied a young white girl taking orders from an older black man. Poe could barely make out his features before he withdrew into the shadows. Poe made his move, pulling out a fifty, showing it to the girl. She stepped forward a few feet, then stopped. Over here, buyers came by way of cars; no one was used to walk-ins. But Poe was patient, knew that eventually the fifty would prove to be the needed lure to catch the young girl. Really young. Behind a mask of makeup was a child of maybe fifteen. One of her eyes was swollen, and she had cigarette-burn marks on her arms and legs. Painfully thin, with pink hair and red lips that were cracked at the corners. She wore a torn black halter and a miniskirt with no underwear. She had to be freezing. It broke Poe’s heart. He actually debated running her in, just to get her off the streets for a night. But without her hourly fix, she’d turn monstrous. LVMPD wasn’t set up to do detox. Poe waved the fifty in the air. Still, she was hesitant. Then he spoke. “More where this came from. And you can keep the shit. All I want is informa—” She darted away. Smooth one, Poe. God, how he hated this place. A moment later, the girl returned with her dealer. Around thirty, with a thin face and a goatee. He wore jeans and a leather bomber jacket. His fingers were encased in leather gloves with the fingertips cut off. Beckoned Poe onto his turf with a bent index digit. Heart beating, Poe came forward, stopped short of being nose to nose. The dealer had a good four inches of height on him. He also pointed a snub-nose Special in Poe’s face. His voice was surprisingly high. “You be a cop?” Poe nodded. “Lemme see some ID.” “Put away your piece. Then I’ll show you ID.” “Why would I be doing that?” “Because I reach into my pocket, you shoot, saying it was self-defense. C’mon, sport. I’m obviously not from Narc.” “Whatchu want?” “Information about a girl.” “How much you be payin’ for it?” “Depends on what you tell me.” Slowly, the dealer lowered his pistol. “Talk.” “I got a picture in my pocket,” Poe said. “I’m gonna show it to you.” He brought out Brittany’s photo. “She ever work for you?” The dealer looked at the photograph. His face soured. “That be Brittany.” Poe rocked on his feet, restraining himself from snapping his fingers. “Yes. She was one of yours, then?” The dealer smiled a mouth of ivories. “She didn’t be no runner, but she be my bitch for a month. A good ho. Do anything I tole her to do. Got lots of money from her legs. But I see her again, I cut a smile in her throat. The bitch stole from me.” “Ah,” Poe said. “So she hasn’t been around lately.” The dealer shook his head. “She come in here again, she don’t leave breathin’. No patience for that kinda shit. You see the bitch and she axes for me, you tell her what I said.” Poe said, “She isn’t going to be asking for anyone. She’s dead.” The dealer didn’t blink. “Don’t surprise me. You be stealin’ from people, they got a right to take action.” Did you take action, buddy? Poe held out the fifty. The dealer snapped it into his fingertips. Then he pointed to the teenager with the cracked lips and bruised eye. “I let you poke her for only twenty bucks. But you be wanting some crack … that be standard price.” The thought of sex with that child made Poe’s stomach turn. “Thanks, but I’ll pass.” Without a further word, the dealer disappeared. Poe’s eyes hunted around. It took him a moment to find the waifish pink-haired girl. She was hiding behind a pile of broken concrete. A flick of fire from a match illuminated her ravaged face. She brought the match into the wire-mesh bowl of her crack pipe. Sucked on the bit and inhaled deeply. Throwing back her head. Then it dropped forward, her chin plowing into her chest. Slowly, she found the strength to bring her head up as it lolled from side to side. She wiped her nose, her eyes gazing out to nowhere. Viewing a world out of focus. From dealer to buyer, from buyer to dealer. Nicking off bits of crack to stave off the dragon. Her life disintegrating into the netherworld. Hell had nothing over Naked City. As the hour approached midnight, the urge got stronger. Not as strong as last night, but Alison knew she was powerless. It was better to prepare for it than to be caught off-guard. Last night had been bad because the urge had caught her off-guard. And she had tried to resist. Never resist. Never, ever resist. Had her mother resisted? Is that what had driven her over that edge? Or maybe the urges had driven her to take off on those long disappearances—the fugue states which were anything but musical. Had she felt the urge as strongly as Alison? Had the urge compelled her to run, to leave her earthly body and ascend to a higher place? Well, if that had been the case—and often Alison had figured that so—well, then Alison did have pity on her mother. But Alison could afford pity, because she was a lot stronger. To wit: her body. Just look at her body. Because the sensations had started. Once they started, she knew she had very little time left. The boys had been asleep for over two hours. Steve was away. The opportunity was perfect. No excuse for not listening to the urge. Breathing hard as she felt her forearms and biceps widening … hardening. Her thighs and calves … a metamorphosis into something steely and superhuman. At these moments, she knew she defied logic. That or she was just plain crazy. She really didn’t know anymore. Nor did she care. The urge. Her body demanding compliance. Throwing off her nightgown … standing naked and strong. She dashed out the back door into the cold, clear, windless night, beating her bare breast. Her skin had turned icy, was studded with goose bumps. Her face had become something strange and foreign. Running into the garage, lifting up the heavy trunk and twirling it about. Singing songs to God and the moon. Such wonderful newfound power. She set the case down onto the floor, then began to root through it. Steve’s old clothes. Never did get around to taking them to the Cancer Society. Tossing and throwing the vestments into the air, the cloth billowing down like sails in the wind. So what would it be tonight? Which shirt? Which pair of pants? Which pair of shoes? (That was easy. Steve’s shoes still didn’t fit her feet.) She’d have to settle for her own shoes. Dressing quickly. She observed her visage in a cracked mirror. Veddy, veddy good. Urbane and suave. The height of sophistication. Now all she needed was a hat. 12 (#ulink_f7b499be-e4f3-591d-bea7-52616d5b29a9) The compulsion to play was overwhelming. But Poe was known at the Needle, so he had to settle for a beer and a smoke at the bar. Something to unwind. His head hurt, he was tired, and he was dog-lonely. A quickie wasn’t going to cut it. He needed companionship, needed to hear the music of feminine speech. He cursed himself for not making arrangements to meet Rukmani, but took solace in being noble. She needed her sleep. Sipping suds, glancing at the pit, feeling very antsy. He rocked on the barstool, tapped his toes without rhythm along the foot railing. Scanning the crowds, he blinked, picked up his beer, and moved a dozen seats down. Y glanced up, returned his eyes to his poker machine. A cigarette dangled from his mouth, a long tip of ashes just waiting to be flicked into a tray. Poe removed the smoke from the old man’s mouth, dumped the discharge in a glass bowl, then placed it back between Y’s lips. The old man’s brown face was creased with concentration. As usual, he wore a sand-colored leather shirt, a string tie with a turquoise pendant, and jeans. On his feet were Nike running shoes. His black hair was pulled back into a braid. With a touch of his hand, he discarded the eight of hearts. The machine replaced it with a two of diamonds. Again he crapped out. Poe said, “Why’d you go for the three of a kind instead of the straight?” “Odds are better.” “The idea is to beat the odds.” Y dropped another quarter into the machine. “The idea is to lose all my money, then pass out from too much alcohol.” “Ah …” Poe licked foam off his lips, stubbed out his cigarette. “To aid you with your goal, I’ll buy you a beer.” Y didn’t answer, steeped in indecision. He regarded the cards dealt to him on the monitor. Maybe Poe was right. Try to beat the odds. He’d try for the full house. Poe frowned. “Go for the flush.” “Stop kibbitzing.” “I’m offering you sage advice.” Again, Y crapped out. He was about to drop in another quarter. Poe put his hand over the slot. The old man looked up. “What?” “As long as I found you—” “Found me? I was never lost.” “Can I ask you a question?” “I can hear and play at the same time.” “What do you remember about the Bogeyman case?” “Move your hand.” Poe took his hand away. Y dropped two bits into the machine. He said, “What specifically?” “Everything.” Y tried for a flush. He wound up with a pair of aces. Still, it beat the machine’s queen high. He said, “Everything’s a tall order.” Poe sipped his beer. “How about this for starters. I remember rumors that the guy had taken trophies from his victim—” “Victims. There were two of them.” Poe said, “Yeah, that was question number two. Why do I only remember one victim?” “Because you were a kid and the second one wasn’t publicized. A drifter girl. No roots here. The police were able to keep it quiet. They needed to keep it quiet. ’Cause the first one caused such a storm.” “Tell me about her … the first one.” “A local high school teacher with local ties. The papers got wind of it, turned it into a circus. The shit really hit the fan.” “How’d they tie the first and second victim to the same murderer?” “How should I know? Do your homework. Go back and look in the police archives.” Y fished out another quarter. Poe put his hand around Y’s bony fingers. “Could you stop one second?” Y grunted, waited. Poe said, “Do you recall something about … well, body parts?” “You mean the eyes?” “So the Bogeyman had removed her eyes.” Y didn’t talk. Poe said, “Yes? No?” “You didn’t ask me a question.” “Do you remember something about the Bogeyman removing the victim … victims’ eyes?” “There was talk.” “Do you know if it was true?” Y stared at the younger man. “Why are you asking about the Bogeyman?” “Similarities between it and this case I’m working on.” “So go back and check the records.” Poe nodded. “Did the Bogeyman ever have a name?” “As far as I know, he was never caught.” “Did he have anything to do with the murder of Alison’s mother?” Y’s eyes locked with Poe’s. “Where’d you hear that?” “Alison told me. She said that the police suspected her mother was the Bogeyman’s victim. Because she was sliced up pretty bad.” Y continued to stare, his eyes cold and unforgiving. But Poe was not to be deterred. “You were close to the family. I thought you might know some inside information.” Y stubbed out his cold cigarette, lit another one. “You thought wrong, Sergeant.” “My mistake.” Poe returned his glare with one of his own. “I’m just doing my job, old man.” “You’re opening up wounds.” “Whose? Alison’s or yours?” Poe leaned close to the old man. “Y, we both know the Bogeyman disappeared after Alison’s mother committed suicide. Last night Alison told me that the suicide was suspect. It got me thinking. Especially after witnessing what I saw last night. You should see what this monster did to this poor girl. I want to find him.” Y remained sour. “So why ask about the Bogeyman? You think he’s returned after a twenty-five-year hiatus?” Poe threw his head back. “Maybe.” Y inhaled his smoke, passed it to Poe. “So check the old records. Anything I’d remember is tainted with senility.” Poe took a drag on the cigarette, gave it back to Y. “I don’t know about that. You’re a sharp old coot.” He snapped his fingers, then stopped. Studied the old man. “Are we related, Y?” “Call me Dad.” “I’m serious.” “All Paiutes are spiritually related.” “I’m not going to get a straight answer out of you, am I?” Y didn’t respond. “I’ve been thinking about doing a family tree,” Poe said. “I don’t think I’m going to find the Shoshones or the Southern Paiutes in the Mormon archives. Figured you’re my best bet.” “You may be surprised. Mormons invaded our piece of the rock, lived on these fertile grounds at the same time we did. They taught us civilization. Meanwhile, the marukats reduced our thousand-year-old culture to a gift shop on Main Street.” “But you’re not bitter, are you?” The old man dropped another quarter into the machine. “Mormons and Paiutes had one thing in common.” “What?” “Polygamy.” Poe smiled. “Guess pussy’s the great equalizer.” Y managed to crack a begrudging smile. Then he turned serious. “You shouldn’t be talking to Alison about her mother. She’s delicate. Talking about the past sets her back.” Poe sighed. “Steve already lectured me.” “He’s right.” “Are you staying here all night, Chief?” “It’s warmer than the streets.” “Want to crash at my place?” Y considered the option. “But I haven’t lost all my money yet.” “The machine’ll still be here in the morning.” Poe stood. “C’mon. We’ll take a cab to my car.” Y grumped as Poe helped him to his feet. “Where do you get all your chump money, old man? I’ve never seen you do a day’s work.” “Uncle Sam.” “That’s right. You’re a vet.” “I’m a Korean vet. Then I went and signed up for Nam. Which made me a Nam vet. I was a real warrior in my past.” “You’re a real warrior now as far as I’m concerned.” “Then I get money for being an Indian or Native American or whatever shit they want to call us. Compensation for living in the wrong place at the wrong time.” Y staggered and tripped, but regained his footing. “Yeah, I am a vet of foreign and domestic wars. Old Uncle Sam got his money’s worth outta me. And now I’m gettin’ my money’s worth outta him. Do I have to sleep on the floor?” “You can have the bed.” “Such genuine Christian charity.” “Call me Saint Romulus.” The phone was ringing as Poe crossed the threshold of his single-room clay house. Still cradling the old man, Poe turned on a battery-operated lamp, then picked up the receiver, tucked it under his chin while spitting out the grit of sand. “Yo?” “Detective Sergeant Poe?” An unfamiliar voice who knew his title. Not a good sign at one in the morning. Poe closed the door with his foot. “This is he.” “Sergeant, this is Sergeant Willis Hollister up here in Reno.” “Oh boy.” Y was getting leaden, his deep snoring interfering with Poe’s hearing. “Could you please hold on a second?” “No prob.” Poe settled Y onto the couch. He’d open it into the bed as soon as he’d dealt with this latest crisis. Because a call from Reno police always meant problems. Into the phone, Poe said, “Is it my mother?” “Yeah, that’s exactly what it is.” “Where is she?” “Unfortunately … at the moment, she’s in jail.” “Oh my God.” “We tried to … avoid this inconvenience. In the past, your brother has always been cooperative in these kinds of situations. But we’re unable to locate him at the moment.” Poe checked his watch. Sometimes when his brother had big assignments, he worked late. “Look, I’m going to make some calls. If you could stall the arraignment, I’m sure I can find someone to take her off your hands. Why clog up the courts—” “It’s gotta be soon, Sergeant. She’s takin’ up space and I gotta clear her from the books one way or the other.” “Give me your number, Sergeant Hollister. I can call back within fifteen minutes. Would that be okay?” “I can give you fifteen minutes.” “Thanks. And if you’re ever down this way—” “When I go on vacation, I go fishing.” Hollister cut the line. Frantically, Poe started dialing. His brother wasn’t at work, he wasn’t at home. Shit, shit, shit! Again, he checked his watch. Too late to catch a plane to Reno. And he really didn’t feel like driving north. Even speeding it still meant hours of monotonous driving on winding roads. All this on little sleep. He thought about Aunt Shirley, wondered if it would make matters worse. But with his brother absent, what choice did he have? He dialed her number. Luckily she picked up. Equally fortunate, she sounded reasonably sober. “It’s Romulus, Aunt Shir—” “Romulus! How nice of you to call.” “Thank you very much.” A beat. “I kind of need your help.” “Oh, what can I do for such a nice boy?” “It’s Mom.” “Now what has that woman gone and done this time?” Nothing you haven’t done yourself. Poe said, “I think she drank a little too much. I think that’s the problem.” “So …” Y snorted, rolled over, and tucked himself into the crevices of the sofa. Poe sniffed and winced. The old man was sweating alcohol. He said, “Uh, Mom’s at the police station. I was wondering if maybe you could get yourself a cab and pick her up. I’d pay for it, of course.” Shirley tsked and tsked. Then she hemmed and hawed, whiffled and waffled. Poe added, “And of course, I’d compensate you for your time.” “Oh, Romulus. How kind of you. But you know I don’t expect anything for helping out my own sister.” “Of course. Just a little something. I insist.” “Well, if you insist.” A pause. “Where is your brother?” An excellent question. “He must be working on something very important. Uh, could you call the cab now, Aunt Shirley? Better yet, I’ll do it for you.” “Oh, that would be sweet.” “My pleasure. Just … you know … you might have to pay something in cash for her release and sign some papers.” “Dear, I know the drill.” Despite his fatigue, Poe smiled. “Thank you, Aunt Shirley.” “You know, Romulus, I’ve been thinking about coming down and paying you a visit. My arthritis is acting up …” Groan. But Poe said, “Aunt Shirley, you’re welcome anytime.” His head was throbbing—jackhammers in his brain. “I’m going to call you that cab now. Good-bye, and thank you.” “Good-bye, Romulus. And tell the taxicab to give me a minute to get dressed.” “Sure.” He hung up. That was rich. One drunk looking after another. Still, what was the worst-case scenario? The two ladies would get pickled together, go out, cause a scene, and then both get arrested. By then maybe it would be morning. The howling of the coyotes aroused him. A commonplace sound but particularly fierce tonight. According to native legends, coyotes meant death. But coyotes had also honored man by stealing fire for him. So which kind of coyote was out tonight? Poe opened an eye, realized he was sleeping on the floor. He repositioned himself, his back aching, his head pounding. He glanced up. From his perspective, it appeared that Y was gone. Slowly standing erect, Poe rubbed his face, yawned, blinked several times. Moonlight streamed in from his bare windows, the rays sparkling with dust brought in by last night’s wind. Indeed the bed was unoccupied. Poe picked up his pants, checked his wallet. Being a hopeless compulsive, he made it a habit to start each day with five twenties in his main billfold with a single hundred-dollar bill tucked into a credit card slot for whores or emergencies. He diligently stocked his wallet every night before he went to bed. Sure enough, two twenties were missing. Shrugging it off, Poe went to his hidden cache of money, refilled his wallet. He plopped down into the fold-out bed, then bolted up. The sheet and cover were drenched with the stink of sweat and booze. He stripped them off the couch, placed them in his overflowing perforated bag. No getting around it. Tomorrow morning, he’d be at the Laundromat, drinking his coffee while soaping his clothes. He picked up his sleeping bag from the floor. Sinking onto the bare mattress, covering his head with his bag, shuddering as the coyotes sang their dirges. The Mojave Desert hosted many wildlife preserves. Often Poe had espied bobcats, wild horses, mule deer, and errant bighorn sheep. And wherever there were free-ranging animals, there were coyote. Judging from the feral whooping, whatever the scavengers had caught was cause for celebration. A big haul: Poe hoped it wasn’t a human one. 13 (#ulink_f92b5fcf-3f89-5ae4-bc10-e039142dffb1) He arose just before dawn, stiff and cold. Poe put on a pair of slippers, turned on a battery flashlight, and carried it and a bottle of chemical solvent with him to the outhouse. Returning to his compound—an architectural composite of clay beehive and old shanty town—he swept the dirt floor, made the bed up with fresh sheets, then folded the ensemble back into couch form. He donned baggy sweats and took off for his morning run. The sun had yet to break through a barrier of gray clouds, but the sky was endless. Not a hint of civilization as Poe jogged upon the desert floor, hugging the foothills of the Western mountain ranges. At these times, he realized why he put up with bare bones, trading in plumbing—even more desirable than electricity—for an outhouse. Yet, here he was at peace with nature as he raced in air filled with nothingness. Arriving home sweaty and awake, he turned on a battery-operated TV, watching a staticky screen the size of a postage stamp. No new murders in Clark County, which was always a positive. In a backpack, he neatly packed his gun, a lunch of raw fruits and vegetables, and cold cuts kept fresh in a picnic cooler. He loaded the backpack and his laundry bag into his car. He planned on showering at the department’s gym. Once on the road, he dialed his brother’s house in Reno on his cell phone. No answer. Strange. The next logical step would be to call up Aunt Shirley. But the day was too nice to be wrecked. If it was bad news, it’d keep. Instead, he punched in Rukmani’s number. She picked up after the third ring; her voice was groggy. “’Lo.” Poe said, “Are we on for tonight?” “Yes.” Sounding furtive. “I’ll talk to you later.” “Want to meet for breakfast?” “Hold on.” She sent him into an electronic void, clicked back on a moment later. She whispered, “It’ll take me about a half hour. I gotta clear house first.” Oh. That! From the beginning, Poe had known he wasn’t the only one, just the favorite one. His own fault. She had extended an offer last night. And he had refused. Well, work had refused for him. He said, “I’ll be at Beeny Boy’s.” “You’re doing your laundry?” “What else?” “I’ll see you in about thirty minutes.” “I think it’s fair to warn you that I haven’t showered yet.” She laughed. “Romulus, I’m sure compared to the folks I work on, you’ll smell like French perfume.” Weinberg dug into his pastrami omelet, shoveled a forkful into his mouth. He studied the composite drawing made by the police artist. “Mr. Bland White Guy.” Patricia said, “Young-looking, too. But Big Ray said his ID put him at thirty.” “I’ve seen faces like this before,” Jensen said. “Guys with not much facial hair and kind of nondescript features. They age like old women. And they’re hard to pick out in a crowd.” Patricia said, “At least we’ve got something to work with.” “That’s true.” Weinberg put down the drawing. “You did good, Deluca.” He picked up a saltshaker, began to rain sodium onto his fat-laden omelet. Jensen stared in wonderment. “How do you eat like that and not come down with a coronary?” “My cholesterol is one-seventy. Read it and weep, Jensen.” Poe knocked on the doors of the locked restaurant. Myra scurried over, let him in. “You’re a little late for eggs, but I can put some rye in the toaster.” “Thanks, but I had breakfast.” “Coffee?” “You bet.” Poe sat with the others, lifted the composite off the table. “Good going, Deluca.” She said, “I’m a credit to my profession.” Poe pondered the sketch. “Guy looks familiar, but I can’t place him.” Jensen said, “My first impression, too. But the harder I tried to finger him, the more he slipped away.” “He’s got a common face,” Patricia said. “Not a bad-looking guy.” Jensen said, “He looks … I don’t know … wimpy.” “I wouldn’t call him wimpy—” “Ordinary.” Poe ran his finger through wet black hair. “It’ll make him hard to find.” Jensen added, “Why the hat?” “What do you mean?” Poe said. “No one these days wears a felt hat except as part of a costume. I did that once for a Halloween party. Only time I ever remember wearing a hat.” Poe put the picture down. “But what if you were interested in either hiding or changing your appearance.” Weinberg raised his eyebrow, readjusted his yarmulke on his bald head. “I like that, Poe. Our man doffs the hat, it throws off our entire perception.” Again, the lieutenant considered the face. “Know what I’m going to do? I’m going to have Mel redraw the guy without the hat. Also, I’ll have him draw our guy with a mustache, figuring that he likes disguises.” The loo polished off his breakfast. “Next step is legwork. Start showing the picture around the bars to see if we get any bites. Who’s doing what today?” “I’ve got a court case at twelve,” Poe said. “After that, I’m back at the Laredo to see if Lewiston’s secretary found the file on Brittany Newel.” Jensen said, “Parkerboy ain’t gonna give you anything.” “Steve, he’s got to give me something. Her employment taxes show that she worked for him. He can’t explain them away.” “It still doesn’t prove he knew her personally,” Weinberg said. “But it does prove she worked for him, even for a short period,” Poe said. “After the Laredo, I’m free, Loo.” “So this is what we’ll do,” Weinberg said. “Patricia, you take the casino bars. Jensen, you take it to the bellboys and any other pimps.” The lieutenant’s eyes zeroed in on Poe. “What the hell got into you last night?” “Pardon?” “You going to Naked City without proper backup. That’s not the way we operate around here.” “It worked out all right.” “Don’t do it again.” A beat. “You learn anything?” “I located a pimp that Brittany once worked for. She stole from him. He said if he ever saw her again, he’d slit her throat.” Weinberg sat back in his chair. “He resemble our friend?” “Not in the least. For starters, he was black.” “He could have hired out.” Poe shrugged. “I doubt if he thought she’d be worth the effort. Guy must have a stable of a dozen female flaggers.” Jensen said, “How much did Newel steal from him?” “He didn’t say. I don’t even know if she took cash or rock. Just that she took something.” Myra came over with a pot of coffee, poured a cup for Poe. “Mickey, did you remember to order the extra chairs?” “R and R Rentals,” the lieutenant answered. “They assured me they’d be here by four.” “What a doll!” Myra said. “I’ve got a hundred and fifty people coming in tonight. Sam Silverman’s eightieth birthday. For the last forty-five years, Sam’s been celebrating his birthday in Vegas. Last year, his son turned very religious and started keeping kosher. Sam was distraught, thinking that his son wouldn’t eat at his party. Then he discovered my place.” Her voice dropped to a whisper. “He’s paying me double what he paid the trayf place who hosted his party last year, that’s how happy Sam Silverman was. Thank God for the Jewish born-agains. They pay the rent. How about some refills?” Patricia put out her cup. She just loved coffee. It not only hyped her up, but had zero calories. “Thanks, Myra.” To Weinberg, Poe said, “You know, I’m going to be downtown anyway for court. Why don’t I stop by Freemont and scan some mug books? See if I can’t find a candidate that matches our composite. Also I could run the Newel case through the Crime Analysis hookup down there. See if it gives me any other recent cases.” “Like what?” Weinberg asked. “We haven’t had a desert dump in over a year.” Poe’s brain worked frantically. “How about last February? The Filipina women we found in the plastic bags?” Jensen said, “They were left in a truck-size communal waste container, buried under three feet of garbage. Rotting but otherwise intact.” “Except for the gunshot wounds in their heads,” Patricia added. Jensen said, “Newel wasn’t shot, she was ripped apart like an animal. She was also found in the open desert. I don’t see any connection, Poe.” “They were both body dumps.” “All bodies gotta be dumped somewhere.” “It’s worth a shot,” Poe insisted. Weinberg said, “I haven’t heard of any recent similar case. But sure, try it out, Poe. As long as you don’t waste time digging up bones that don’t mean anything.” Poe agreed. A couple of hours in Records was all that he needed. The Downtown Metro building wouldn’t be winning any architectural awards, but Poe gave it an A for effort. It was an eight-story thing, shaped like a cylinder missing a wedge with its center hollowed out for a courtyard. The courtyard was floored with pavers and decorated with oversized concrete planters designed not only for interest, but also to prevent wayward cars from smashing into the structure. The streetside perimeter wall was made from stone and adorned with a cryptic primitive mural of tile in primary colors. The courtyard exterior wall was a continuous sweep of glass windows and concrete balconies. Police records were stored on the first floor next to the Traffic Division. Thousands upon thousands of case files arranged according to number. To look up the case required a trip to the card catalog, then an exhaustive search through shelves of folders. Poe knew right away that he’d hit blanks. The files started in the mid-1990s. Which necessitated a trip to IAD. Like Homicide, IAD had its own separate building, which housed past files stored on microfiche. In the meantime, Poe did what he could at Metro. Ambling up the stairs to the second floor. Most of Metro’s detectives were housed here. Each detail had its own squad room. Ten detective quarters surrounded the interview rooms, which, like islands, sat in the middle of the floor. Spotting an empty Crime Analysis hookup in Fugitive turf, Poe pulled up a chair and entered the particulars of the Brittany Newel case. Waited as the cursor blinked. Over the next hour, the computer spit back twenty similars which had taken place in the last two years. Serial killers who took body parts as trophies—lots of scalping. Serial killers who gouged and mutilated. Serial killers who cannibalized their victims. Grisly stuff, but none screamed Newel’s MO. When the clock struck three, Poe had had enough. He logged off the computer, then took out the composite and scanned the recent mug books. Finding nothing applicable, he gave up, left Metro, and headed to Internal Affairs Division, arriving at the building five minutes later. Clearing the reception room at IAD, he made his way to the bowels of Records, where he was blocked by the file clerk. A very efficient young lady who wore her hair in a bun. Her name plate read Madison. “You haven’t filled out the papers correctly.” Poe politely explained that he was not sure what case he was looking for, only that he’d know it when he saw it. “Detective, you know and I know that you can’t go browsing through files without authorization. It’s a violation of civil rights—” “A dead person has no civil rights.” Poe kept his temper in check. “It’s a twenty-five-year-old case. She isn’t going to come back to sue.” The clerk frowned. “Do you at least have a year for the case?” Poe rubbed his face. “Nineteen seventy-two or -three.” “I said a year. In the singular.” “I gave you a two-for-one. C’mon. Give me a break!” Madison rolled her eyes—an old schoolmarm who didn’t believe his excuse for not having his homework. “How long are you going to be?” “Maybe an hour.” Madison motioned him inside the crypt. Within fifteen minutes, Poe was alone with the films, cases flipping by with a flick of the wrist. He felt his heartbeat, heard his steady breathing; he was the only one in the room. There was no Bogeyman case file: that was the sensationalized name invented by the media. He found only one twenty-five-year-old unsolved murder case that had all the elements. Конец ознакомительного фрагмента. Текст предоставлен ООО «ЛитРес». Прочитайте эту книгу целиком, купив полную легальную версию (https://www.litres.ru/faye-kellerman/moon-music-39787689/?lfrom=334617187) на ЛитРес. Безопасно оплатить книгу можно банковской картой Visa, MasterCard, Maestro, со счета мобильного телефона, с платежного терминала, в салоне МТС или Связной, через PayPal, WebMoney, Яндекс.Деньги, QIWI Кошелек, бонусными картами или другим удобным Вам способом.
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