Darkness Knows Me

Be the first to read the opening chapters of Olivia Gates and Will Green’s Crime Series  Darkness Knows Me (book 1)

 

Chapter One

To:

Subject:

It’s not easy you know – the killing. It’s not something I would choose as my life’s work. But as with most things of this particular bent, I believe they choose you, you don’t choose them, at least not at first.

You probably wonder why I chose to carry out this work. Isn’t it obvious? I understand the need for forgiveness and the significance of the sacrifice, which makes reconciliation possible. Sacrifice clears the way for forgiveness and bridges the gap between Father and child. It forges the relationship with our Creator we so desperately seek. I am the one to facilitate this reconciliation, not that I am the only one who knows or who can see, but because I understand the sin that brings us to the point of separation from the one who made us. Do you?

He pushed save and then anxiously he re-read the email he just finished writing. With his hand outstretched, his forefinger searched each line of text as he drew it back and forth across the monitor. Worrying his way through each sentence, he skimmed for the obnoxious color lines that usually dotted page after page of his writings. He wouldn’t send this email just yet. Not until it was as close to perfect as he could make it without obsessing to the point of paralysis. “God doesn’t like sin. And obsession is sin if it’s not focused on Him.” Isn’t that what mama always said? Isn’t it? He pressed his knuckles deep into the tender flesh of his temples in an attempt to force himself to remember. “Isn’t it?”

***

Olivia Gates listened to the scraping and rinsing sounds coming from the other side of the kitchen as her father dealt with the remainder of the chorizo sausage and egg scramble left on her son’s breakfast plate. She grinned to herself when he mumbled something about the boy eating like a bird. Olivia knew her father would find the statement untrue if he stopped to take into account how much his grandson ate during the other meals in his day. In her son’s defense, she explained on more than one occasion that‘the boy’ didn’t like chorizo. This was an excuse her father refused to accept from a grandchild he considered a true Texan.

This month, nearly to the day, marked the one-year anniversary of Olivia’s return to Dallas after a seven-year absence. She found the last twelve months difficult in some respects, but they were also strangely rewarding in others. Settling back into life in the Lone Star state wasn’t a difficult transition. Olivia found it quite easy falling into the flow of southern living again. The slower-paced life suited her more now than it did before she left Dallas to find what she thought she needed in Queens. The same southern ease of life seemed to suit her son Seth as well. Moving back in with her father hadn’t been noticeably difficult either. The two worked diligently at staying out from under each other’s boots. And surprisingly, as the months passed, she found him to be an unexpected help in her struggles as a single parent.

And then there was her friendship with Will Green. A man who drifted into her newly developing life in Queens, filled with his own need. Theirs turned out to be a complicated friendship which both frustrated and soothed her. He was a man she thought of him, at the very least, as her best friend.

Looking back now it was clear to her she would never have returned to Dallas of her own accord if it hadn’t been for the call she received in the middle of the night from her father a few months after her mother’s funeral. He told her he wasn’t coping well. He said his loneliness was harder to deal with than he thought it would be. He asked if she would consider coming back home for an extended visit, just for a week or two until he could get his bearings again. She agreed, and the visit turned into a cross-country move when she realized the desperate strait he was wading through was a river he couldn’t navigate without help.

Olivia stood at the breakfast bar, drawing her spoon back and forth through the leftover milk in her cereal bowl, searching out orphaned pieces of banana while her father finished with the morning clean-up.

“Will arrives tonight,” she said, crossing to the sink. “I can’t find the notepad I used to write his arrival gate and time on. I swear I left it by the phone, but I can’t find it now.” She rinsed the bowl and set it in the first drawer of the dishwasher.

“Try the top of the fridge,” GW suggested. “I’ve found a lot of things up there over the past few days. Seth’s reading book, a small box of Legos and a handful of those yogurt-covered raisins you’re always tryin’ to get him to eat. I think the boy is using it as a hidin’ place now that he can reach it with the stepstool.”

Her father’s given name was George Walter, but no one dared to call him that, except for her mother and even then she reserved the name only for those times when he kicked up a fuss for no good reason. One of Olivia’s earliest and most confusing memories of visiting her father’s family ranch in West Texas was of her grandfather calling her father ‘three.’ When she grew older, she realized her father was a third generation George Walter, which explained why he preferred GW to the family name. 

GW pulled the green and white-checkered dishtowel from his shoulder, dried his hands and began searching the top of the refrigerator. “You know your friend will probably be delayed. The weather report this mornin’ said there’d be evening thunderstorms comin’ this way from Oklahoma. You know as well as I do that usually means long delays.”

“Yes, Dad, I know. I’m hoping that won’t be the case.” Olivia reached for the wall phone above the kitchen desk. With the receiver secured between her cheek and shoulder, she dialed Will’s cell phone. She shuffled through the stack of mail and papers on the surface of the desk while she waited for him to pick up, finally locating the notepad she’d been searching for most of the morning beneath Seth’s Friday folder. She picked up the pad of paper and waved it at her father, who acknowledged the signal and went back to the sink.

When Will’s cell finally switched to voicemail, Olivia placed a finger to her lips in warning to her father and left a message. “Will, we’re looking forward to seeing you. Text me your final gate number and I’ll watch for your arrival. Have a great flight and I’ll see you soon.” Olivia hung up the phone and wondered aloud why Will waited so long to tell her about his trip to Dallas. “He must have known before Sunday he would be leaving New York for a week.” Olivia crossed her arms and did a quick rewind through Sunday night’s conversation with Will, giving herself a mental kick in the pants for not seeing the obvious connection sooner. “The lecture work at Texas University was Kate Edwards’s doing.” Olivia’s last encounter with the woman left a wound that was still healing. “That would explain why Will didn’t mention it before last night. He knew I wouldn’t be happy about him working with her again.”

“Now, now, Pumpkin, it’s not like you can tell Dr. Green who he can work with and who he can’t. Not that you would.”

“He knows she manipulates him at every opportunity. Why would he want to subject himself to that again?” It suddenly struck her as odd that her father never addressed Will by his first name. “Why do you insist on calling Will, Dr. Green?”

“He calls me Mr. Gates.”

“Only because you haven’t told him he can call you GW. Both times you’ve seen him, he told you to call him Will, but you wouldn’t.”

“Hold on there. I’ve only met him twice. We’re not on a first name basis just yet. I’m an old school, dyed in the wool Texas republican. You know that. I don’t take to bein’ friendly with the enemy until I know the enemy better.”

“The enemy? Since when is Will the enemy?” she asked, in an attempt to help him see how ridiculous his words sounded.

“Well, he’s not a republican, I can tell ya that much,” he said firmly.

“How can you tell? What proof do you have?” she asked, while desperately holding back the snicker threatening to leave her mouth.

“I don’t need any proof. I can just tell. All my years as a district attorney taught me a few things about readin’ people.”

Olivia couldn’t believe he actually said these things with what appeared to be a straight face.

 “You can snicker all you want to,” he shook his finger at her, “but I know a good republican boy when I see one. He isn’t it.”

Olivia cocked her head and offered him a glare meant to make him rethink his last statement.

“A good republican, I mean.”

“You have no idea which way Will leans and don’t act like being a republican is the only way to be a good person. Momma wasn’t and you loved her,” Olivia pointed out. “Please, Dad, make him feel welcome by letting him call you GW and you calling him Will.”

Olivia heard her cell phone chirp again from the breakfast table and went to fetch it.

“Damn,” she whispered under her breath. She scrolled through a series of new texts and then offered an apology to her father. “Sorry, I’m trying to stop the swearing thing, but mornings like this make it hard.”

Olivia removed her blazer from the back of the chair she stood beside. She called to her son when she passed the back stairwell on her way to the den. “Get a move on Seth, we’re going to be late for school and you know how Miss. Lambert hates for students to be late.” She heard a muffled response from somewhere on the second floor.

“What’s got you twisted up so early?” GW asked.

 Before she answered, Olivia bent over to pick up the pair of mud caked football cleats lying in the middle of the hall and tossed them into a plastic crate inside the utility room. “There’s been another homicide in Deep Ellum earlier this morning at the Red Curtain Club.”

GW followed closely on her heels as they rounded the corner leading to the richly paneled den they shared as an office.

“Anything like Friday’s homicide?” he asked. His eyebrows rose to create a wrinkled arch across his weathered forehead.

“The series of texts Ansuya fired off in the last twenty minutes make the scenes sound very similar.” Olivia laid the coat she carried onto her desk and entered the security code into the keypad of the wall safe beside her desk. She withdrew her department issued .45 from inside the safe, slid her arms through the shoulder straps of the holster and removed the gun for inspection.

“Possibility they’re related?” GW asked as he watched her go through the steps she went through every morning before leaving the house.

“It’s possible, but we won’t know anything concrete until forensics processes the scene and the body.” Olivia released the ammunition clip from the grip of the pistol, made certain it contained twelve rounds plus one, pushed the clip back into place, reset the safety lock and shoved the weapon securely into its holster.

“Is there a precedent? Anyone out, who shouldn’t be?”

“They all shouldn’t be out, Dad. But that’s not my decision.” She tugged the wool blazer on and buttoned it over the holstered gun to hide the weapon from her son’s view. “If there wasn’t a precedent before, there is now. We just don’t know who’s setting it.”

Olivia left the den to retrieve her purse and valise from where they lay on the end of the breakfast nook table. “I’ll try to leave the precinct early enough to shop for dinner.” She checked the contents of the refrigerator, took a bottle of jasmine tea from where it sat on the shelf behind the Thai and BBQ take-out GW ordered when it was his turn to cook. She closed the door to the refrigerator and said, “I have a dish I’d like to try out on you and Seth tonight. It’s a three-cheese macaroni casserole. I’m going to toss in bits of crispy prosciutto and maybe some fresh smoked Ancho peppers for good measure. A little twist on an old favorite. What do you think?”

“I think it sounds delicious.”

 She watched him rub his stomach and then warned him, “Don’t get too excited. The trick will be finding the right cheeses that go well together. We’ll see if you still think it’s delicious after you’ve tasted it.”

 “Alright,” he laughed while he took his cell from his front pocket. “Does Seth need to be someplace in particular after school?” GW poised his finger over the touch pad of his cell phone’s calendar.

“Today is a quiet day for him. The only pressing thing is making sure he’s prepared for the science quiz tomorrow.”

“I can handle that. What about you, what can I do to help you?”

“Dad, that’s very sweet, but I think I have things under control.” Olivia searched her purse for her keys and found them lying on top of a half eaten apple Seth must have thrown inside after Saturday’s peewee football practice. She gingerly removed the apple from her bag and walked it over to the garbage bin. She wiped her keys with a paper towel and the warm water GW left in the sink.

“Olivia, you’ll be runnin’ like a cat in a rainstorm today. Let me do what I can to help.”

She didn’t like accepting her father’s help. It wasn’t that he offered it unwillingly or with strings, she just felt there were occasions when she should accept his help and occasions when she shouldn’t. Agreeing to assistance placed her in a position of reliance. She disliked being reliant on anyone, including her father. But judging by the way GW seemed to be anticipating her answer, she decided to put her pride aside, because it was about pride, and make her father happy by accepting his help.

 “If you wouldn’t mind making up the guest room for Will, I would be grateful.” Olivia smiled at him and headed to the stairs, impatiently calling again to her son. “Seth, we’re going to be late for school if you don’t get a move on.” Olivia finished calling to Seth and turned toward her father who stood beside her. She placed a kiss on his cheek and accepted the hug he gave in return.

 “Dad, do you think while Will is here you could stop with the stories about your mob connections? We both know you never developed any of those relationships. He doesn’t scare easily and the attempt just makes you look silly.”

“When have I ever said anything to scare the man?” he asked.

 “Do you remember your last visit to New York? When you sat on the sofa in my apartment explaining to Will just how easy it would be for you to have someone rubbed out?”

“I was just messin’ around with him, you know that. I’m sure he knew it too.”

She thought GW sounded put out by her accusation. “Whether he knew it or not isn’t the point. He’s my friend and he means a lot to me. Which is why it should matter to you that Will feels welcome in your home.” Olivia stepped closer and lowered her voice as she placed her hand on her father’s forearm. “I know you feel guilty because you think you should have been able to protect me from Gabe, but Will is nothing like him and he never will be. Please, for me – try to be nice.”

GW’s hand flew into the air in a mock variation of a military salute. “On my honor, I promise to do my best to make your friend feel welcome during his visit.” His salute ended with an exaggerated outward thrust of his hand and forearm.

Her ex-husband’s name invoked a breadth of emotion in her father that, judging by his awkward response, he still hadn’t dealt with.

“Thank you, Dad. That means a lot.” She smiled and prepared herself for Seth’s morning jump from the last step of the staircase into her waiting arms.

When Seth finally made his appearance, she caught him in mid jump. “You’re getting heavier by the day, Sweetie,” she grunted as she changed her grip to settle him on her hip. Olivia looked over to her father and raised an eyebrow, “What has granddaddy been feeding you when I’m not looking?” She poked playfully at her son’s tiny round stomach and then adjusted the ‘V’ front of the black pullover he yanked on over top of the white dress shirt. “Give granddaddy a big kiss goodbye and get your backpack.” Olivia looked on as the boy’s grandfather exchanged an overzealous squeeze around the neck for a tender kiss on the forehead.

GW helped Seth with his coat and then pulled the straps of the Iron Man backpack over the boy’s shoulders. “You be good, kiddo. No more chasin’ the girls around the playground with a hand full of dirt and bugs.” GW mussed the boy’s hair into his eyes. “I know you think it’s funny to hear the girls scream, but they don’t think it’s funny at all.”

“But Granddaddy, the girls like it when I chase them around,” Seth said. “Really, they do.”

One look at the smile on her son’s face told Olivia the true story of who really enjoyed the chase. Olivia’s hand slipped around her son’s, drawing him nearer to her and toward the front entry. “You listen to your granddaddy, Seth, and leave the girls alone.” Her thoughts returned to Will when she reached the threshold of the front door. “Remember, Dad, you promised you would be nice.”

 

Chapter Two

Olivia followed Good Latimer Expressway to where it ended in Deep Ellum, her patch of Dallas for the last year. She drove slowly past the length of privacy wall running alongside the new train station line at Live Oak Street and Good Latimer, consciously taking count of all the changes she saw take place in the area since it became her community to protect. The train station and art park were new, just finished within the last month. Block after block of new construction and renovated buildings along the DART tracks made clear the gentrification, which the city leaders hoped for, manifested itself in an over abundance of exorbitantly priced housing. She didn’t know any Deep Ellum resident who could afford to live in the luxury the properties touted, which meant longtime residents of the area would eventually be pushed out of their neighborhood by the sprawl of that same gentrification.

Deep Ellum’s history ran long and wide, something Olivia discovered as she spent more time within the city’s boundaries. In the first weeks of her new assignment, she spent hours pouring over websites and historic texts trying to get a sense of the dynamics of its history and its people. She understood the community’s past should be just as important to her as the direction it headed now, especially if her team held any hope of being effective in the years to come.

Where Good Latimer crossed Elm Street stood a place Olivia knew well. The last remaining nightclub from Deep Ellum’s heyday of the 1990s, TREES still delivered live music with the same fervor as decades past. The club served as a rite of teen passage for her and her friends. When the punk movement really hit Dallas in the 1990’s, Olivia watched more and more of the jazz and rock scenes close up, which sent Deep Ellum into a decline it struggled for years to free itself from until the new city management stepped in. Encouraging new business seemed one of the few things the city did right.

Commerce Street was the second left from Good Latimer and the place where Olivia parked her unmarked sedan. She stepped out of the car to take a lingering look at the buildings casting morning shadows on the street. The two story structures showed the unmistakable signs of a slow, drawn out death. Brickwork lay in broken piles and blistered paint flaked like sunburned skin from their exteriors. These were the most obvious indicators of the extent of neglect. The scent of decay she could smell seeping from the structures drove home the sadness of their appearance. The sight made Olivia feel as though she were witnessing human lives slipping away, lives no longer capable of holding onto the glory of their past due to the carelessness of those in charge of their present.

Olivia should have recognized the narrow building housing the crime scene, but she didn’t realize it until she spotted the alcove in the wall by the front entrance. The alcove once held a painted, multicolored bust of Beethoven. The bust was gone, of course. Replaced by what looked like a dirty, scrunched up, white paper bag.

In her university days, the building housed an under-age club Olivia frequented with her then boyfriend, Brad, a musician who believed himselff to be the next Kurt Cobain and Eddie Van Halen all wrapped up into one awkward, angst ridden package. Stupidity and grace were her constant companions during those years. She liked to believe grace still followed her today.

Olivia opened the passenger door behind the driver’s seat and retrieved the canvas, messenger style carrier stocked with the things she found useful at a crime scene. The worn bag hung from her shoulder as she cut across the street toward the club. A small grin lit her face when she recognized the uniformed officer posted near the perimeter of the yellow and black crime scene tape. Olivia would forever remember Officer Wilkins as the rookie cop who involuntary vomited a meatball sub in the direction of her dress flats. Not an endearing act, but understandable none the less, considering the gruesomeness of the scene he witnessed at the time. Olivia reassured the young officer he wasn’t the first to lose the contents of his stomach at a crime scene and he certainly wouldn’t be the last. In trying to lighten the mood she jokingly added that he was, however, the first to regurgitate all over her feet. This last remark created the sticking point in their current work relationship.

The young officer raised the perimeter tape to allow her entrance to the new crime scene. “Detective Sergeant Gates, it’s nice to be working with you again. It’s the second scene since Friday, if I’m remembering right.” The officer stopped and then apologized, “Sorry. I know death like this is never a nice thing, but there’s no reason we can’t be happy to work with the people we work with, is there?”

Olivia took in his convoluted statement and then shook her head no.

“I’m sorry again for being sick all over your nice shoes,” he said.

“Officer Wilkins, you don’t need to continue apologizing,” she tried to reassure him with a quick smile. “Now, tell me what happened in there. I assume, since you’re posted here, you and your senior partner were the first officers on the scene.”

“Yes, Ma’am. We received a call for a 10-29. We usually take that to mean there’s a dead body somewhere . . .”

“Yes, I know Wilkins. We’ve both gone through the same training.” She couldn’t tell if his over exuberance was his personality or his way of trying to impress her as his senior officer.

“Sorry, Sergeant.”

She watched him look away and play with the cord to the two-way radio hanging from his shoulder.“Just tell me what you saw when you first arrived on the scene,” she encouraged.

Wilkins looked lost in thought and then began describing what he remembered seeing when they rolled up in front of the building. “We arrived and found the assistant manager sitting on the curb in front of the entrance. She identified herself as the person who called and told us who she found dead inside. We went in and found the body right where she said she’d seen it.” Making a circle in the air with his finger, he finished, “I taped off the scene out front. Sergeant Dodd called the precinct and took the woman’s initial statement. I think he gave it to Detective Kumar when she got here.” Wilkins looked at the storefronts around them, then leaned in and whispered, “The neck is slashed open and the body is hanging from the rafters. Another killing like Friday’s, don’t you think?”

Olivia leaned in as well and answered back in a strained whisper, “I don’t know, Wilkins, I haven’t been inside yet.” She gave a half grin and then looked to the curb where forensics set up their home base. “Whose team do we have with us this morning and have they gone through the alley yet?”

“They sent Benton’s team just in case the crimes were related and no, they haven’t gone through the alley yet.”

Olivia walked a diagonal line across the sidewalk toward the side alley.

“Do you want me to come with you?” Wilkins asked.

Olivia shook her head. An overzealous rookie cop was the last person she needed stomping around her crime scene. “I’d rather you stand your watch at the tape. Don’t let anyone in who doesn’t have some sort of official clearance.”

***

The wind whipped up the smell of decay in the alley. The stench was due in part to the open dumpsters and the use of the wall hidden from the street, as a toilet.

Why is it alleyways encourage vulgar behavior from people, especially men? It’s not as if a person is really hidden, they just think they are, Olivia thought.

She didn’t like to admit it, but she found that places like this, with its innate secrecy and repellent conditions, was where she did some of her best thinking. Places away from the crime scene where things were abuzz with activity. She found it easier to focus when she wasn’t surrounded by people with questions which drew her attention away from what she deemed important. When the scene finally cleared of distractions, she would check for the things those same people might have missed when they scurried about.

Today would be no different. She would start outside the scene and work her way in toward the deceased, avoiding the commotion inside until it spilled out of the doorway onto the sidewalk.

The first to catch her eye in the alley between the buildings were the two dumpsters lined up next to the building housing the crime scene. It appeared a careless employee missed the opening of one of the bins, resulting in the pile of garbage she now stood beside. The refuse appeared to be only hours old, indicating it was likely part of the early morning clean up before closing. She noticed one of the two dumpsters was positioned at a clumsy angle away from the wall, as if moved out of the way to get behind it. Olivia slipped between the short side of the garbage bin and the wall, to look for anything out of place behind it. She dropped to her knees to peer beneath the bin and found nothing to speak of except the remnants of what looked like a month old Frito pie and a few rusted steel guitar strings wrapped into a tight ring. Neither the food nor the strings were items she would consider out of place in a garbage bin outside a music venue. When she tried to slide back out from behind the dumpster, she realized she was turned at a strange angle, which made her exit more difficult than her entrance. A few pushes against the heavy metal container didn’t produce the space she needed. So she scrunched her shoulders forward, exhaled, turned fully sideways and shuffled, bent kneed, back the way she came. Olivia thought of herself as a physically strong woman. The school breaks and summer vacations she spent on the Gate’s family ranch made sure of that. However, this dumpster couldn’t have been moved by one person, man or woman. This led her to the conclusion that the garbage truck set the heavy bin at the weird angle and probably not the perpetrator. Olivia considered next the window of the building shadowing the dumpsters. A single, second story window, she gauged the distance from the concrete to the window’s ledge at well over fifteen feet. She stepped to the other side of the alley to get a less distorted view and found the window much too narrow for a person to shimmy through. This eliminated the second story as the point of access, unless the person was the size of a child. The other side of the club wouldn’t have a window because a computer repair shop shared the wall, which only left the front and back doors of the club as entrance.

Olivia lifted a plastic crate from a stack of crates carefully lined up along the chipped brick wall of the building and used it as a makeshift stepstool  A quick look inside the bins revealed the usual discards one expected to see in a dumpster behind a bar. The second dumpster, however, the one with the pile of garbage dumped outside of it, held her interest. In its corner, barely visible beneath the refuse, she saw what looked like stained bar towels. Olivia removed a pair of latex gloves from the messenger bag hanging from her side and slipped them on with ease. She stepped off the crate, repositioned it toward the back of the dumpster, stepped back up and leaned carefully over the edge. Balancing herself on the rim of the dumpster with one hand, Olivia reached into the corner and deftly removed the balled up towels and inspected them. The stains looked like blood, but the rusty iron smell she usually encountered was not present. The acrid stench was replaced with the tantalizing scent of cherries. The sweet smell identified the pinkish red tint of most of the stains covering the cloths, but the darker stains weren’t as easily identified. Olivia placed the towels in a gallon size resealable bag and scanned the surface of the garbage for anything else she considered suspect.

Olivia stepped down from the crate, satisfied there was nothing more worth risking limb over and left what remained in the bin to be inspected by the forensics team. She put the crate back with the others and heard the familiar, slow and heavy footsteps of the department’s medical examiner before she actually saw the woman trudging down the alley.

“We’ll be in to take down the body when you’ve done whatever it is you do in there, Olivia.” Dr. Verna Benton took a seat on the beat up, plastic box she carried, to catch her breath. She fought with the tightly fitting disposable suit the department required to her to wear, and then grunted, “‘One size fits all’ my butt. When are they going to buy these damn things in sizes that fit full figured women?”

Olivia chuckled to herself. “Verna, why don’t you give in and buy yourself suits that fit right? If you won’t do it for yourself, then do it for the people who are tired of hearing you complain about them.”

“Because, that would defeat the purpose of the words ‘department provided clean suits.’ You know how cheap I am, Girl. I’d rather wear the suits too small than have to shell out the money to buy the right size.”

Olivia suspected that the ill-fitting suits were the department’s way of quietly pointing out Verna’s need to slim down. The department plainly didn’t know who they were dealing with, which is where Olivia found the true humor in the situation. 

“It’s not the department’s job to decide if I need to lose weight,” Verna quipped, as if reading Olivia’s mind. “I am big and beautiful and no one is going to tell me otherwise.” Verna’s fingers snapped defiantly across her body to emphasize her point. “Besides, I’ve been with the precinct almost twenty-five years now and my weight has never kept me from bein’ able to do my job. What are they gonna do, fire me over it?”

Olivia shook her head sympathetically, “They could force you into early retirement, which is how the city would get around having to fire you for non-compliance with their physical fitness standards.”

Verna swiped her hand through the air, “So, they force me to retire and I end up sunbathin’ on a beach somewhere in the West Indies sooner than expected. I could think of worse things.” The billed, blue cap Verna wore came off her head when she fluffed the graying curls beneath it. “What’s that hunky father of yours up to these days?”

The M.E. never failed to ask after GW, always using the same outdated adjective to describe him when she did. Why she didn’t just ask the man out, Olivia couldn’t guess. “He’s started taking guitar lessons. His GP told him it would help with his arthritis.”

“I do love a man who can play the guitar. Add a bottle of tequila and you’d have the makin’s of a perfect evenin’.”

Olivia couldn’t bring herself to contemplate that disturbing image. The idea of her father actively dating, something she considered a younger man’s game, made her shiver. “He’s still in the beginning stages. Give him a year or so and he might be able to serenade you with a Lyle Lovett tune.” She hoped her last statement bought her father some time before being confronted with Verna’s ‘perfect evening.’

Olivia handed over the evidence she retrieved earlier from the dumpster and handed it over to the M.E., “Those stains may be nothing, but I’d like you to test them for trace. Maybe we’ll get lucky and find our unsub has left something of himself behind.” Olivia looked around and realized the alley began to fill with people dressed in white suits. “Let me know your preliminary findings before you leave the scene. Thanks, Verna.”

The M.E. called over her shoulder as she gestured to her most junior intern to climb inside the bin with the garbage. “Say hello to your dad for me, Girl. Tell him to keep practicing. I want to hear a Lyle serenade, real soon. I’ll bring the Cabo.”

Olivia smiled and wondered what her father would have to say about that.

 

Chapter Three

Detective Ansuya Kumar waited at the open end of the alley as Olivia exited it. Falling in step beside Olivia, Kumar gave Olivia a short update of what transpired since their arrival and handed a yellow legal pad containing Kumar’s interview notes.

“Where’s the team?” Olivia began reading the information on the notepad as they walked.

“Officer Juarez is across the street buying the biggest can of caffeine he can find, and Detective Kendal is canvassing the neighboring clubs and shops. So far, no one admits to seeing or hearing anything.”

“Juarez is dragging again, isn’t he?” Olivia asked. “No doubt he was late again,” she partially pushed open the door to the club and left Kumar instructions for Juarez. “Have Tomas check the window upstairs. Tell him to make note of what can be seen from it. Have him test the window for accessibility and look for any other possible point of entry upstairs. I don’t think he’s going to find one, but I want him to make certain.”

“Anything you want to put on Ian’s list?” Kumar asked.

“Ian knows what needs to be done. It’s Tomas who needs direction.” Olivia turned over another page of the interview notes and continued reading to herself. “After they finish shaking the trees here, send Ian and Tomas back to the precinct. Have them begin putting together a file on our latest vic first thing.”

Contacting the family of the deceased sat next in line on Olivia’s mental list of things to do. This morning she chose Kumar as the unwitting candidate. “Get in touch with the family; tell them we need a family member to identify his body and let them know it will be a few days before they can claim him.”

Olivia fully pushed open the door and motioned for Kumar to walk through. “So, was Tomas late again?”

“You knew what the answer would be before you asked the question,” Kumar responded as she stepped through the door’s threshold.

“I can take that as a yes, then.” Olivia made a mental note to call the detective into her office when she returned.

“Yes, you can, but you didn’t hear it from me,” Kumar left Olivia by the door and made her way to the center of the undersized dance floor where the deceased hung by his arms from the rafters of the low lying ceiling. His toes dragged the floor and his body was naked.

“Our victim is Richard McMann, forty-two. He’s managed Red Curtain for the last five years.” Kumar lowered her voice and pointed toward the young woman standing in a corner of the artificially darkened room. “Over there we have Megan Hart. She’s the assistant manager of the club and the current girlfriend of the deceased. Hart found him when she arrived to receive the morning deliveries.”

“Why is she still on the scene? She should have been sent home after questioning.”

“I know, but she insisted on staying. She said she wanted to speak with the detective in charge. I would have asked her to wait outside, but with the wind blowing the way it is, it didn’t seem nice to make her wait in the cold. So, I placed Officer Dodd with her and asked her to wait in the back of the room, out of the way of forensics. She’s been standing there the last half hour or so, staring into the corner, waiting for you.”

Olivia sighed, dreading what she knew would be an uncomfortable encounter with the girlfriend. “Alright, I’ll handle Ms. Hart. You stay on top of Ian and Tomas. I’ll see all of you back at the station.”

Olivia found it difficult dealing with those abandoned after a death, not because she couldn’t muster compassion for their suffering, but because she found it an extremely thorny affair keeping her empathy in check. Too much sympathy and concern and you lose control of the situation. Too little and you wouldn’t get that one bit of information needed to possibly help turn the case.

Olivia approached the decedent’s girlfriend from behind and said, “Ms. Hart, if it’s alright with you, I’m going to send Officer Dodd outside so you and I can talk.” Dismissing the officer, Olivia took a moment to study the tiny, young woman, who still had yet to turn from facing the wall. “Ms. Hart, I’m Detective Sergeant Gates. Detective Kumar said you wanted to speak with me. Is there something you need to tell me?”

The woman whispered something indecipherable, swiped at her nose and eyes with the sleeve of her sweater and fell silent.

Olivia moved around to face her, saving Hart from having to view the scene at the back of the room for yet another time. “Miss Hart. I didn’t hear you, would you repeat what you just said please?” The assistant manager looked pale, as if she were ready to faint, which prompted Olivia to remove a chair from a nearby table and place it next to where the woman stood. “Ms. Hart, please sit down, catch your breath and then tell me what it is you want me to know.” Olivia produced a reassuring smile and said, “There’s no rush. Please, take as much time as you need.” She presented the young lady with a pouch of facial tissues, placed a second chair beside the first, then sat down and waited.

Hart sat down beside Olivia, yanked a tissue from the plastic pouch and after a time spoke more audibly; despite the obvious trouble she was having taking in a cleansing breath. “I know who’s responsible for this . . .” she took in an involuntary, clipped breath. “It’s his wife, Lori McMann.”

“And what makes you say that?” Olivia listened intently as the girl fought the breathing spasms.

“Richard was leaving her . . .” another involuntary intake of air interrupted her words, “. . . for me.” The young woman wiped away the remaining tears dampening her face with the other sleeve of her sweater. Hart waited a few seconds and then finished what she started saying, “She’s crazy possessive of him. She comes down to the club with her friends to spy on him. That’s how crazy she is.” The spasms seemed to have nearly stopped, “Like he doesn’t know that’s what she’s up to when she’s here,” she said.

“Has she ever threatened Mr. McMann physically or verbally? Have you seen her do anything to her husband that might lead you to believe she would be capable of something like this?” Olivia asked.

“No, I can’t say I have . . . but she has tons of money, she could hire someone to do it,” the woman protested.

Olivia shook her head, “Based on the evidence we have in a related case, Mrs. McMann probably didn’t have anything to do with this. However, to be sure, I’ll have her brought in for questioning. Now, can you tell me if anyone has come into the club lately who was threatening or overly friendly toward any of your staff?”

“I can’t think of anyone, but then I’m not here as late as Richard is. I mean was,” Hart fell silent. “Wait,” she said slowly, “there was someone a few weeks ago standing outside the club sort of like boycotting it, yelling about the club selling drugs to the college students who come in.”

“Did you see the person, could you describe them?” Olivia jumped at the possibility of a good, solid lead attached to a witness.

“No,” she shook her head. “I heard about it second hand from customers. Richard dealt with it. I think he said it was a guy when he retold the story, but I wasn’t listening that closely. It’s a club; we get weirdos around here all the time.”

Olivia finished scribbling Ms. Hart’s answers onto the open areas of the notes Kumar gave her earlier. “We’ll need a list of employees.”

“I’ll contact our main office and have the list faxed to you.” Hart picked up her purse from the table and placed the pouch of tissues inside.

Olivia stopped the woman before she could finish preparing to leave. “Ms. Hart, I know this has been difficult for you, but if you don’t mind, I have a few more questions I need answered before I can let you leave.”

“You can keep me here all day if that would help find the person who killed Richard.” Hart bowed her head and fumbled with the strap to her purse.

“I don’t think that will be necessary.” Olivia did her best to tread lightly with her next set of questions. “Did Mr. McMann help with closing clean-up at the end of each night?”

“You mean did he help wipe things down and carry out garbage, that sort of thing?”

“Yes, exactly.”

“No. Richard wasn’t into manual labor. He would supervise closing, but he never got his hands dirty with the actual work.”

The woman’s statement placed the pile of trash Olivia found in the alley in perspective. The new insight made the found trash less likely the aftermath of abduction and more likely the carelessness of an overworked employee, as she first thought.

“Was Mr. McMann usually the first or the last to leave once the clean-up was done?”

“Richard was always the last to leave. He would let all the employees out through the back door, relock it, double check the front door and then put together the deposit for the next morning. It was my job to actually take the deposit to the bank after I inventoried and signed for the morning deliveries.”

“Would it be like him to let someone into the club after he started filling out the bank deposit?”

“No, never. I know this for sure because I came back here one night to get something I left in the office. When I went to open the front door I realized I forgot my key. I knew Richard was still in the office because I saw James, our bartender, come around the building from the back and get into his car. Richard never counted money with an employee still in the building. I banged on the door and when he came out of the office, I told him I needed to get inside. He said he wasn’t going to open the door. I would have to get what I forgot the next  morning.”

It looked more and more like the attack on McMann did not take place within the alley or the club.

“Did you see McMann’s car in the lot when you pulled in this morning?”

“Yes. I thought it was strange, but sometimes he drinks too much and hires a taxi to take him home.”

Olivia helped the young woman from her chair and accompanied her to the door where the police escort waited. “I appreciate you taking the time to speak with me, Ms. Hart. Officer Dodd will follow you home to make sure you arrive safely.” Olivia gently pressed her card into the palm of the woman’s hand, “Call me if you remember anything more you think might help with the investigation.” Holding the young woman’s hand a few seconds longer, Olivia squeezed it as an offering of reassurance. “Things will get better Ms. Hart, they always do, it just takes time.”

***

Twenty minutes later, Olivia and the deceased were finally alone. The space felt strikingly quiet except for the cycling of the wine and beer chillers beneath the beat up, maple-topped bar to the side of the dance floor.

Olivia gave the club a careful once over. In the corner of the room by the emergency exit, she recognized the booth where she and her friends misspent a majority of their university career. She ran her hand over the booth’s table, searching for the phone number one of her friends carved into its surface. Finding the digits worn, but still present at the table’s edge, she traced them with her index finger. She remembered her phone ringing for months with calls from young men demanding the good-time the markings and phone number promised. The prank still lit a spark of irritation in her.

After making a thorough, documented survey of the rest of the open room, Olivia stood beside the deceased. She followed the contours of McMann’s body with her eyes. Beginning with his hair, she moved to his face, his torso and lastly his legs. She then inspected the powder, which seemed to cover him entirely, including the bottoms of his feet. Its consistency reminded her of the powder she used on her son when he was a baby, though its scent smelled more of a heavy odor than a fresh fragrance. Beneath this odor she could barely detect the pleasant scent of sandalwood soap.

The pulley system attached to the low rafters of the open ceiling she found very interesting. She found the system present at Friday’s scene as well. Its presence seemed to indicate that their unsub might be working alone. McMann’s height and weight would be unwieldy for one. The length of his body alone would make it nearly impossible to lift him off the ground without mechanized aid. The ropes secured with cleat hitch knots to the wood cleats anchored to the floor in combination with the different sized pulleys running overhead would make easy work of hoisting the body to where it now hung.

Olivia studied the gaping mouth of the wound along McMann’s neck. Clearly the lack of arterial spray and pooling indicated that the building where she stood was not the location in which McMann’s jugular was cut. This scene, a closely mimicked retrospective of the scene at the club one block over, brought Olivia to the sickening conclusion that they may be dealing with serial killings.

The only actions she couldn’t rectify with the other club scene were the powdered body and the white, grainy substance scattered across the floor. This was not the same substance covering the man’s body. It was coarser and heavier, and scattered in a fan like pattern across the oak flooring. The pattern seemed to indicate that the granules were not thrown out randomly, but with precision and intent. Broadcast in an arc from where the perpetrator stood, first with one hand, then the other.

With her cell phone, Olivia documented the pattern of the thrown granules in sections. In the last section to be photographed she found two relatively round indentations in the substance about five inches from the edge of the granule pool. Olivia placed her pen beside the indentations as a reference for size and snapped photos from several different angles. Her focus again moved back to the body, where she worked at fitting the entire length of the man into the frame of the camera phone’s lens. As McMann’s full body came into view, Olivia suddenly felt sickened by what she saw in the lens. His arms outstretched, his head turned to one side and his feet tied together at the ankles, it was unmistakable; the man had been carefully posed to emulate the crucifixion of Christ.