Saturday, February 17, 2018

Excerpt from a new novel 4

Excerpt: Untitled Serial Killer Story 


If you missed the first few posts regarding the serial killer novel, you should go back and read them first. They introduce many of the primary characters and include some background information on the story itself.

This scene squarely introduces the main story arc, which is the serial killer murders committed by the killer dubbed "The Sandman." Previously, the police believed they'd apprehended the Sandman, but with this scene, we see the killings have resumed. Obviously, this presents a host of new problems, and tensions immediately run high.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, this is the first serial killer murder mystery I've written. Serial killer stories are very overdone, and it's one reason I've stayed away from them, sticking with either one-off murders or a string of related murders that do not qualify as "serial." But every murder mystery writer has to write one, right? Anyway, there were parts of it I really did enjoy, parts that presented new challenges.

As I continue to mention: this excerpt is unedited and may ultimately change.

Until then, I hope you enjoy it.

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Bedroom’s over there,” Ruiz said, pointing.
He stood at the top of the stairs with two uniformed officers and a forensic tech while Nick made his way down the hallway to the master bedroom. The scent of blood was stronger here, but not yet overpowering, and when he stepped into the room, he saw no blood. He automatically flicked a glance at the closed door across the room and formulated a theory, which he would prove or disprove soon enough.
He stopped in the doorway as the scene hit him. For several beats, all he could do was stand and stare, feeling his heart beating too hard in his chest. He might have been seasoned, but he was not immune to the sight of human brutality. And whatever else it was, murder was always brutal.
A moment later, he was able to pull himself together and away from the emotion of the scene, of the event that had taken place here. Now he was able to look around the room with a professional detachment that would allow him to take in the details of the scene with a clinical eye.
The victim, a petite white woman in her early thirties was laid out on top of the bed. Nick was certain it would be confirmed she was between five two and five five, between the ages of twenty-five and thirty-five, like the eight women who had come before her. Her ankles were pressed together and her arms stretched out to each side. Her head was propped up neatly on a pillow, her blonde hair carefully arranged around her. She was wearing a red satin negligee with black lace trim. Sand spilled from her open mouth, down her chin onto her chest and the bed behind her. It was also pooled over each of her closed eyes.
Nick moved slowly into the room, taking in the space. The bed was a king in a four-poster frame. A long dresser sat against the wall to the right. There was a taller dresser against the wall opposite the bed. The wall across from the door was his and hers closets. One of the closet doors was open a few inches.
This room, like the rest of the house Nick had seen, was clean and orderly. It was obviously lived it, but the woman had kept a tidy home. Nick took in the framed pictures and the various personal effects that adorned the walls and the tops of the dressers. He noted again that there were no photos of children up here.
There were books on both nightstands; one was a biography on Abraham Lincoln, the other was a thriller by Tami Hoag, an author Emery had turned him on to years ago. Nick guessed the biography belonged to the husband, the thriller to the wife.
He stuck his head out of the bedroom. “I need some gloves, please.”
The uniforms were gone. Ruiz was now standing with a younger man Nick recognized as Detective Cameron McDonald and the forensic tech named Walter. They were talking in hushed tones, out of reverence to the dead, done subconsciously.
Walter, a middle-aged man with a pot belly and knocked knees, pulled a pair of latex gloves from one of the pockets on his kit bag and brought them over. Nick met him halfway, thanked him, then snapped them on as he returned to the room.
He went farther into the room, taking it in from all angles. The marks on the carpet from the vacuum indicated it had been vacuumed recently. As he looked at the side of the bed in the sunlight pouring through the windows, he saw the marks continued partway under the bed.
Nick turned and slid the open closet door back all the way. He discovered this was the woman’s closet. It was neatly arranged with clothing organized by article—all the pants were together, all the skirts, short- and long-sleeved shirts were separated. A large selection of scrubs occupied one section, embroidered with Porter Adventist Hospital’s name and logo. Shoes were lined up neatly on a shoe rack on the floor. A small laundry basket sat on the floor to one side. Nick noticed the vacuum marks on the floor of the closet, under the laundry basket and the shoe rack at the back. The picture his mind had been forming of the woman took on more shape and finer definition.
The laundry basket was nearly empty. But if yesterday had been cleaning day, she’d likely done the laundry, too. The only items in it were a pair of jeans and a t-shirt, most likely what the woman had been wearing yesterday, and a pair of women’s pajamas—a pair of shorts and a matching tank top.
Nick knelt and considered the pajamas, then he looked back at the woman. His first impression had been that the negligee was over the top. Every woman this killer had left had been carefully laid out in sleepwear, whatever she had in the house. He had redressed some of them, but he’d always selected the most frumpy, understated garment in their possession. Up until now, he’d made a point of avoiding the most lavish, sexy garments in these women’s drawers. So why had he redressed this woman this way?
Nick moved away from the closet toward the bed. He pinched some of the sand from the bed between his gloved fingers. It was almost white, and exceedingly fine, just as all the other sand had been.
There were no visible marks on the woman’s body, though the coroner would likely find bruising on her chest and arms during the autopsy that wasn’t visible to the naked eye. They knew from the previous murders, the killer sat on the victim’s chest, pinning her arms under his shins. He held them down while he poured sand through a funnel into their mouths. The sand ran down their throats and into their lungs. At least they assumed it was a funnel. They’d found no evidence of one, but it was the theory that fit the best.
After the women were dead, the killer arranged their bodies on the beds just so, with infinite care and detail. Then they were found by husbands, most of them. In one case, a female partner, in a couple others, roommates.
Nick glanced again at the bathroom door, but then looked down at the bedside table. The biography was half finished, the pages dog-eared where the husband had left off. The alarm on the clock was set for six thirty a.m.. Nick pulled the drawers open one at a time, but found only the expected innocuous items everyone kept by the bed—Chapstick, tissues, some loose change, a wrinkled receipt, a flashlight, a business card for a Patrick Jones, Attorney-at-law.
He rose and walked around to the woman’s side. She’d just gotten started on her book, and she used a bookmark to keep her place. She also had an alarm clock on her table, which was set for five a.m.. Her drawers were just as innocent as her husbands, and were mostly full of books. He found two of Emery’s books.
Finally he stood and walked around the bed to the bathroom door. He paused then twisted the knob and opened the door.
The scent of blood hit him full in the face, the sticky metallic scent choking him. Once again, he stood, staring at the horror of the scene. After a few beats, the shock of seeing something gruesome began to subside, and he could start to focus.
The master bathroom was fairly small, with a tub shower and a double vanity. The floor and walls were splattered with blood that had mostly dried. A man, presumably the woman’s husband, was sprawled on the floor, half propped against the side of the tub where he’d fallen, multiple stab wounds covering his body.
He was dressed in a tailored suit, dark gray in color, with a light blue shirt and a muted but well coordinated tie. He had a tiepin and cufflinks, all silver, but all were very simple, understated, almost casual. He wore no pocket square and no other jewelry apart from his gold wedding band. His shoes were the most expensive part of his outfit; they were custom made leather Oxfords. They weren’t brand new, but they weren’t that old, either.
Nick picked his way over to the body, mindful of the blood, which was everywhere. Then he squatted over the man, taking him in closely. He’d recently had a haircut, and he’d no doubt shaved yesterday morning before leaving the house. By the time he was killed, he’d had a five o’clock shadow. His tie was folded neatly in his jacket pocket, and the top three buttons on his shirt were open.
Nick checked the man’s pockets. He had no wallet, likely because the police had already taken it off him. There was some loose change in his right-hand pants pocket and a slim gold lighter in the left. But Nick found no cigarettes. He lifted the man’s right hand but saw no staining on the fingers to indicate the man was a smoker. He was certain the man was right handed, but he lifted the left to check it as well. He saw no staining there either, but noticed the man’s wedding ring fit very loose on his finger. Nick moved the ring and discovered it slid over the knuckle easily. He also noticed the man had no tan line on his finger from it.
He replaced the ring and stood, thinking, making a list of questions for Ruiz.
The contrast between the two scenes was striking. While the bedroom was controlled, calm, almost peaceful, the bathroom was angry, violent, and messy. Obviously this man had come home while the killer was still here. Judging by the state of the bathroom and the man’s body, the killer was upset at having his ritual interrupted.
Rather than kill the man in the bedroom, though, and spoil his precious scene, he’d dragged the man into the bathroom. Nick turned and looked at the back of the door. There was blood splattered across it, indicating it had been closed when the attack had taken place.
The killer had let loose his rage, giving the full brunt of it to this victim. The man had defensive wounds on his hands, arms, and legs, so he’d put up a fight, but it had been a lost battle.
After it was done, the killer had taken pains to further preserve his tableau in the bedroom. There were bloody shoeprints on the tile floor, but no blood on the carpet in the bedroom, and a discarded hand towel on the floor near the door. Obviously, the killer had stopped to wipe the blood from his shoes before going back into the bedroom. There would have been blood all over his clothes, too, but Nick had not seen a drop or smear of blood anywhere. The killer had been extremely careful, and he likely had been at the end of his ritual.
If the husband had been a few minutes later getting home, would he have missed the killer all together? Would he still be alive?
Nick wondered if the husband had been coming home late from work. Or if he’d been at work at all. If the killer was sticking to his usual routine, he would have known the husband would be out, and would have allowed himself enough time with the victim to complete his ritual. So why had the husband come home early?
As Nick left the bathroom, fully aware of how tragic the man’s death was, he was also aware of the simple fact that it was an anomaly in the pattern. And it was one of the only anomalies they had. Nick suspected it would prove to be the most significant factor in the case so far.
He left the bedroom and made his way back down the hall, noting Ruiz, McDonald, and Walter were gone. The next room was being used as a guest room. It had nice, comfortable furniture, but it was hand-me-downs, unlike the newer, matching bedroom set in the master bedroom. He peeked in drawers and in the closet and found the room to be almost totally empty. There were a few random things, items likely left behind by visitors over the years.
At the end of the hall, directly in front of the landing of the stairs, was a full bathroom. The light was on in it, but no one was working in there. Nick poked his head in.
The trashcan beside the toilet was empty; there was nothing but a very dry bar of soap and a cheap bottle of two-in-one shampoo and condition in the shower. There wasn’t even any mildew on the shower curtain. The medicine cabinet held nothing apart from an expired bottle of Tylenol, a travel-size tube of toothpaste, some floss, and a mostly full box of Band-Aids. In the drawers, there was a comb and a hairdryer. Under the sink, a stack of matching towels. This was the guest bathroom, and it didn’t see much use.
He left the bathroom, making his way down the shorter part of the L-shaped hallway to the last door, the only door off the hallway to be closed. He tried the knob and found it locked. He turned to a tech, kneeling on the stairs, working to fingerprint the banister.
“What’s in this room?” he asked the woman.
She shrugged. “Don’t know. Hasn’t been opened yet.”
“Why not?”
“Last I heard, no one can find a key. Manny tried all the keys on both victims’ key rings. No luck.”
Nick glanced at the top of the doorjamb, out of habit, then squatted and eyed the lock. The doorknob was fairly new, newer than rest of the doorknobs, certainly. And it didn’t match. It had a key lock and was of a matching, but not identical, brass color. The victims had obviously installed this doorknob for a specific purpose.
He briefly wished Emery were here. For one of her first books, she’d learned how to pick locks. Over the years, she’d gotten quite good at it. She’d shown him a few basics, but he wasn’t nearly as adept.
Still, he had a suspicion about what was in this room, and he wanted to confirm it.
He stood and twisted the knob. It had almost no give to it. He didn’t know if that would be a help or a hindrance.
Nick looked around. His wallet was in the car, but a number of items could be substituted. His eyes alighted on the tech as she carefully peeled a piece of tape from the banister, a fingerprint visible on it in powder. He walked over to her.
“Excuse me,” he said, reaching out and plucking the ID card from her lapel. “Can I borrow this?”
He turned away from her before she could even utter her first protest.
But she did protest, coming up to stand at his shoulder.
“What are you doing?” she demanded. Then she sucked in a breath as he stuck the card between the door and the molding. “You can’t do that!”
“I assure you, the victims are no longer concerned by what’s in this room.”
She gave him a dark look. “I’ll be in serious trouble if that card is damaged. Not to mention, I won’t be able to get around the building while I’m waiting for a new one.”
He wiggled the card back and forth gently as he exerted a mild downward pressure. At the same time, he jiggled the handle. He felt the card slip slightly, then, with a couple more movements, it slid down and the door swung open.
The tech, whose name, according to the ID card, was Janet, gasped, her mouth hanging open slightly.
Nick sighed and leaned against the wall. “I was hoping to be wrong,” he said softly to himself.
“What is this?” Janet whispered.
“The first tragedy to hit this family.”
Ruiz appeared on the stairs before the tech could say anything else. He immediately noticed the door was open and hurried up to the landing, panting slightly when he got there. He eyed the door carefully as he approached it. Janet recovered enough to move back. Nick turned away from the room, clipping the ID card to Janet’s lapel. She still held the print she’d collected.
This room was smaller than the other bedrooms, and cold from being shut up. The blinds on the windows were shut tight, so little light filtered in, but it was enough to see by. Ruiz unconsciously brought a hand to his mouth.
It was a nursery, decorated for a baby boy named Joshua, according to the stenciled artwork on the wall above the crib. But if baby Joshua had ever spent a moment in this room, it was impossible to tell. Everything was covered in a thick layer of dust. Cobwebs choked the corners of the ceilings, and hung from the mobile above the crib.
A stack of diapers sat waiting on the changing table, and three unopened packages lined the shelves underneath it—all newborn size. A package of baby wipes beside it was completely dry and deteriorating from having sat unused for so long. The closet door stood part way open and Ruiz could see little baby outfits hung neatly on the bar. In the dresser drawers, more clothes were carefully folded and stacked.
There were no dirty diapers or wipes in the diaper pail, and there were no dirty clothes anywhere in the room. The room looked as if it had never been used.
Ruiz automatically thought of his two daughters, thought of the days they’d brought them home from the hospital, all the time’s he’d changed their diapers on a table not unlike Joshua’s, rocked them to sleep in a similar chair. His memories flashed ahead over the few snippets of their lives he’d been there for. But he’d been lucky. He’d always known that, even on the worst days, the days either one of them had made him angrier than any other person in his life, he’d known he was lucky.
Now he understood it all over again. The Joneses had never had a chance to spend anytime with their son.
“Baby never made it home from the hospital, did he?”
Ruiz glanced back at Nick, who was standing outside the room, head down slightly in respect. Ruiz would never know it, but Nick had been stricken with memories of his own that very closely mirrored Ruiz’s.
Ruiz struggled to stow his memories away and focus on his job.
“No,” he said, stepping out of the room. “There were complications during the birth. I understand the mother nearly died as well.
No wonder the baby’s parents had locked this room and never set foot inside it again. How they’d managed to go on at all was something Nick could only guess at, but he knew they had been stronger people than he was. He remembered well the awe and wonder he’d experienced during both of his ex-wife’s pregnancies, and the births of both of his children, the amazement and unprecedented contentment he’d felt as he’d held each one of them. He could not imagine what it would have felt like to stand on the precipice of those moments and have them snatch away right before his eyes.
“How long ago was that?” Nick asked, trying to return his mind to the present, even as he made a mental note to call both of his kids.
“Six years.” Ruiz closed the door. “I don’t think anyone else needs to go in there.”
Nick simply nodded his agreement.
“Let’s get back to the victim,” Ruiz said.
As the two made their way, Detective Cameron McDonald’s big feet stomped up the stairs and fell in behind them.
McDonald was a young man, barely into his thirties. He was tall, fit, and handsome with blonde hair, blue eyes, and a perfect smile. Or so Emery had told Nick once during a discussion of McDonald’s appeal with women.
Nick didn’t care for McDonald. On a personal level, he’d always found the kid to be arrogant, self-important, and short sighted. On a professional level, the kid tended to come off like a know-it-all more often than not, and he had a heavy-handed approach with witnesses and suspects alike. More than that, he had no respect for the art of investigation or the study of crime; he wanted cut and dried forensic evidence to land on his desk and point him right at the suspect—a TV cop, Nick called the type. He didn’t understand that any forensic evidence found had to be used to support the case against a suspect, once the very unglamorous gumshoeing had been done to find one.
McDonald hadn’t been one of the detectives on the original Sandman case; Nick knew he’d been brought in as fresh eyes, for fresh perspective, and he wouldn’t be the only one. But what new perspective the idiot would be able to provide was in serious question, as far as Nick was concerned. He hadn’t seen Detective Sean Adams around yet this morning, but he knew Adams would be involved in this case, the same as all the other originals.
The three men filed into the bedroom the stood at the foot of the bed. McDonald crossed his arms over his chest as if he were bored. Nick thought it likely he was, given how little interest the man had in investigation.
Ruiz read from his notebook.
“This is Theresa Jones. According to her driver’s license, she’s thirty-two, five foot three, and one hundred and twenty pounds. Obviously, she fits the victim profile to a T. Estimated time of death is around ten o’clock last night.”
Nick nodded.
McDonald didn’t seem to be listening.
Ruiz went on. “Guy in the bathroom’s her husband. Patrick Jones, thirty-eight. Been married ten years, no kids, uh, no living . . .” He stopped, took a breath, then moved on. “No criminal records. His time of death is estimated closer to eleven.” He looked up from his notes and waved at the photos on the dresser. “Looks like they were a happy couple, given what they went through.”
Nick shook his head. “None of these photos is very recent. We’ll probably find all the photos in this house are six years old, maybe older. Except this one.” He pointed to a five-by-seven photo of Theresa and her husband displayed on the dresser in a simple wooden frame. “This one is recent. Given how they’re dressed, I’d say it’s from this winter.” The couple were dressed in knit caps and winter jackets, snow-covered trees in the background behind them.
“Okay,” Ruiz said slowly. “What’s that prove?”
“Theirs hasn’t been a happy marriage the last six years, and how could it have been? You’re not the same after you lose a child.” He moved toward the closet, pointing to the lines left by the vacuum. “Theresa compensated for the powerlessness she felt at losing her child by becoming compulsive; that’s demonstrated in how clean and strictly organized this place is. She vacuumed the closet and under the bed, there isn’t a speck of dust anywhere—not even on the blinds, and her bedside table is arranged at right angles.”
Ruiz, and even McDonald, looked at the bedside table Ryan indicated. Ruiz had noticed too how the book and the clock were sitting at precise angles.
“I think we’ll find Patrick compensated in his own way,” Nick said, walking back to the end of the bed. “But I think this photo indicates they were finally moving on, reconnecting.”
“You think his compensation, as you put it, might explain where the husband was last night?” Ruiz asked.
Nick shrugged. “It’s possible. Or he might have been working.”
Ruiz flipped a page in his notebook. “I’ve already got someone checking with his office, trying to determine his schedule and where he might have been last night. He’s a lawyer.”
Nick nodded impatiently.
McDonald snorted. “He already knows that, Manny. The wizard already knows everything.”
Nick worked to cool the anger that flashed inside him. Had he not been so splendidly hungover, he would have had more tolerance for McDonald.
“How’d you know?” Ruiz asked him. “You know the guy?”
“No.” He walked to the bedside table, pulled open the top drawer, then pulled out the business card he’d found there. “Patrick Jones, Attorney-at-law.” Ruiz chuckled ruefully and shook his head. Nick put the card back. “Probably practices family law, or maybe civil law.” He nodded to the victim as clamped his hands on his hips. “She’s a nurse. Works at Porter.”
McDonald snorted again.
Ruiz flipped a page in his notebook. “We’ve got some inconsistencies.”
Nick nodded. “To say the least.”
“What’s your take on this negligee thing she’s wearing?”
“There are pajamas in the laundry basket. I think that’s what she was wearing before the killer showed up, which means he deliberately put her in this. That makes me wonder if this was a premeditated change in MO, or if something caused him to change his mind when he got here. That begs the question of whether or not it belonged to her, or if the killer brought it with him.”
“He’s never brought anything to a scene before,” Ruiz said.
“Not that we’ve been able to determine,” Nick agreed. “But I think this young woman would argue that we have not had a firm understanding of these murders.” He raked a hand back through his short hair. “I’m suddenly feeling like we may have asked too few questions.”
Ruiz said nothing but dug a roll of Rolaid tables out of his pocket and popped one into his mouth. It as good as confirmed Ruiz felt the same way.
“Obviously this time, we’ve also got the husband,” Ruiz went on, flipping pages in his notebook. “He clearly surprised the killer, maybe interrupted him.”
“That certainly explains the violence and the fact that it took place in the bathroom,” Nick said.
“Preserving his precious tableau,” Ruiz said, nodding.
“We’ve got good footprints in there,” McDonald put in. “We’ll get size and brand information by the end of the day. Techs are also testing the blood. Violent stabbing like that, perps almost always cut themselves. If we get something that doesn’t belong to the vic, we’ll have DNA.”
Ruiz and Nick both looked at him, but neither said anything.
After a beat, Nick went on. “The husband raises another series of questions.” Ruiz was nodding in agreement. “We’ve always assumed the killer stalked the victims, learned their routines. The fact that the husband came home to surprise him last night makes me wonder if that’s true. Or if it is true, why the husband would have changed his routine and come home early.”
“You’re assuming this is the same killer,” McDonald said, looking at Nick as if he were about to explain basic arithmetic. “There were enough details in the papers that this could be a copycat. In which case, all the inconsistencies make sense. This killer chose this nightgown because he didn’t know the other killer chose frumpy pajamas; this killer was surprised by the husband because he didn’t do his homework. If this is his first kill, inexperience would go a long way to explaining the mistakes as well.”
“We managed to keep two details out of the media,” Nick said, irritation boiling just under his skin. “The first was the position of the bodies. The papers all mentioned that the victims had been carefully arranged by the killer after death, but they never specified the details of that arrangement. Second was the fact that there is always sand pooled on the eyes.
“Three months after the case began, there was a copycat kill. The media had all reported that the victims had been ‘drown in sand,’ but that was all the more detail they had. So that guy has the bright idea to kill his wife, who indeed matches the victim profile. He goes out, buys some sand, holds her down, and pours the sand on her face. We did find her on the bed, dressed in a nightgown, but her entire head was buried under an enormous pile of sand.”
“Not to mention,” Ruiz said, “the sand didn’t match. This stuff—” He pointed at the bed. “—this stuff will match. Guaranteed.”
McDonald didn’t seem to have anything to say in response, so Nick went on.
“The husband indicates the killer had a knife with him,” he said. “The husband likely surprised him in the bedroom during some part of the kill ritual. The killer would not have had time to retrieve a knife from somewhere in the house and then kill the husband.”
Ruiz was nodding. “Seems that way. But he probably didn’t bring it with him; there is a knife missing from the kitchen. My working theory is he grabbed that first, then came up here and surprised the wife. Then he already had it with him when the husband surprised him.”
Nick looked at Ruiz. “A knife from this kitchen? Where is it now?”
“Gone, so far as we can tell. We’ll ask around, see if we can find someone to confirm there was a complete set in the kitchen to begin with, and we’ll keep searching for it, but I think it was here and that the killer took it with him.”
Nick rubbed a hand over his face as he bit back a groan. Guilt swelled in him from the realization of his failure.
In the first eight cases, there had been absolutely no sign the killer had used a knife, or any weapon at all. There had never been any knives out of place in those other kitchens, so there had been no call to process them for fingerprints or trace evidence. But if this scene was any indication, it appeared the killer had used a knife and then simply returned it when he was done.
“We missed an opportunity there,” Nick said softly, guiltily, as he dragged a hand back through his hair.
“Yeah,” Ruiz agreed. “But there’s nothing we can do about that now. And anyway, there’s no guarantee we would have found anything anyway; we never have. This guy leaves nothing behind.”
“But we’ll never know.”
Ruiz shrugged. “Maybe, maybe not.”
Nick looked up at him, searching the man’s dark brown eyes.
Ruiz said, “One of the scenes might still be intact. Carla Wells’s husband hasn’t set foot inside the house since the day he found her. According to him, no one else has either. In theory, it should be exactly as we left it. Adams is over there now with a forensic team, checking all the knives.”
Carla Wells had been the seventh victim. Her husband had been the one to find her, and he’d taken it hard. So hard he’d spent four months in an inpatient psychiatric facility on suicide watch. Nick had heard he was doing better these days, but he likely wouldn’t ever make a full recovery.
“Who knows?” McDonald said. “Maybe we’ll get lucky.” He was ready to fall back on the forensics.
“I seriously doubt it,” Nick snapped, some of his irritation beginning to leak out.
“We’ll know soon enough,” Ruiz said. He closed his notebook and tucked it into his inside jacket pocket. “Look, we’re not going to solve this one by physical evidence. This is going to take good, old-fashioned police work.”
McDonald looked ready to dispute that statement, and it didn’t escape Ruiz’s notice. He hissed something unfriendly in Spanish then looked up at the bigger, younger man.
“Let me be real upfront about a couple of things. I don’t like you, McDonald. I’m not sure how you ever made detective, but I do know you’re not much of one, and you’re too arrogant to ever become a good one. You don’t pay enough attention to what’s right in front of you, and what’s not, and you got no respect for the process of investigation. Forensics have come a hell of a long way, but they don’t make cases. Detectives, pounding the pavement, digging up dirtbags and talking to them, combing through files and records, they make cases. But you don’t get that.
“It wasn’t my choice to have you on this case, but you were catching this morning when the call came in. And I’ve already been told I can’t reassign you unless you do something to fuck up. So I’ll be watching you.”
Ruiz looked at Nick. “And while we’re clearing the air, I might as well tell you that you’re here because of your involvement with the original case, and that’s the only reason. If you weren’t already involved, I wouldn’t call you in. I never really liked you much before, but I certainly don’t like you lately. I have no idea what’s going on with you, but for the sake of these women, you better pull yourself together and get your head straight.
“So here we are. We’re stuck with each other. So you two pendejos better bring your A game. I will not tolerate anything less than brilliant work, and if I don’t get it, I will not sit back quietly. I will use the full weight of my position and my resources to flatten either one of you.
“Now,” he said, retrieving his notebook and flipping to a new page as if he’d not just dressed down the two men standing in front of him. “Nick, you’ll be interested to know, but not surprised, that Bremen slipped his ankle monitor last night. At approximately eight p.m., the signal abruptly went offline. That triggered an immediately alert and response, but by the time units arrived at the last transmitted location, which was Bremen’s mother’s house, by the way, he was gone. Been looking for him ever since, but still no luck.”
Nick’s embarrassment and guilt instantly morphed into something unfamiliar: fear.
“Does Emery know?”
Ruiz took a breath and nodded. “Yes. I called her as soon as they called me. And we’re looking for him hard, especially after what happened here.”
Nick looked again at the woman on the bed. He thought of Bremen running around free, unchecked, and he considered the timing of it. Bremen could have gone anywhere after cutting off his ankle monitor; certainly he could have come here, to the Joneses’ house. But how had he chosen Theresa Jones? He’d been on house arrest for the last five days and in jail for the last sixteen months. How would she have ever gotten on his radar?
If she had somehow, and he slipped his monitor to come here and kill her, that might go a long way in explaining why he’d been interrupted by the husband. Being in jail and on house arrest would have prevented him from having any time to properly stalk them, learn their habits and routines. Perhaps the need to kill, after so long, had been so strong it overwhelmed him, and he’d decided to take the risk and essentially wing it.
But even as Nick considered that theory, it didn’t feel right. And there were enough pieces that didn’t feel right he was experiencing a lot of doubt. For the first time in eighteen months, he found himself questioning Bremen’s guilt.
But how could that be? Nick had worked the first eight Sandman cases; he’d seen the evidence himself. He had been a major player in building the case against Bremen.
Could he have been wrong all those months ago?
He could well remember the meager evidence they’d been able to compile, the case they’d been able to build against Bremen.
But he remembered the interviews. Nick was convinced of Bremen’s guilt.
So what was going on now? What had changed?
He needed to think. And he seriously wished he could talk this through with Emery.
“We’ve got some work to do,” Ruiz said. “We need to answer a lot of questions about the husband. And we need to know more about Theresa. She obviously wasn’t chosen randomly, so she had contact of some kind with her killer at some point. Since Bremen’s been in prison and on house arrest, I’m very curious to know how that happened.

“I got a briefing scheduled for six o’clock tonight. Nick, you need to be there. Then we’ll decide what everyone’s doing next.”

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