* * *
What he hated more than anything was waiting. Waiting for the world to find out about the awful things he had been doing. Waiting for the outraged reaction of the public. “How could this happen?” they would ask, as they always did when horrible things like this ocurred. Of course, things like this took place all the time. No one noticed, though, unless someone rubbed their faces in it. Just as the kids in Columbine had done. Just as he was about to.
But for now, he had to hold back his excitement and wait for his plan to unfold. Wait for the moment when their shock would lead to his freedom. The freedom to do as he wished. To no longer live underground like some animal. And to kill at will.
“My time will come,” he said.
* * *
Trisha Stevens stared out the open window. Even from this sixth floor, she could hear the sounds of the city below. The noise of traffic was mixed in with the sound of children playing, sirens screaming and arguments being fought. Even from a safe place like this, the city felt malevolent to her. As if it would spring up at her the moment she closed her eyes. Trisha wondered if this attitude came from ten years of being a cop, or whether she had carried it with her all along. Perhaps it was the reason she became a cop in the first place. Her fear.
Trisha stepped away from the window and approached a wall that was covered with medals and commendations. They belonged to Stewart Harlinger. He’d been Trisha’s boss for the last four years, as long as she’d been a detective. It was his office she was standing in. In the Homicide department, he was known as an honest, straight-forward man. Trisha hoped these qualities would help her get her way this morning.
The door opened and Harlinger entered carrying his morning cup of coffee. He was well into his fifties, but lean and athletic. He dressed immaculately, looking more like a businessman than a cop. His face was handsome and chiseled. His stare was penetrating.
“Don’t wait for me, Stevens,” Harlinger said, then put down his cup of coffee. He took off his coat and gave her an impatient look. “Well?”
Trisha suddenly forgot the speech she had practiced in front of the mirror the night before. And she thought she had had it down. Harlinger looked at her with a slight grin on his face, seeming to notice her nervousness. He appeared amused as he sat behind his desk. Trisha decided to just wing it.
“I received word that you were pleased with my handling of the Goldner case,” Trisha said.
“Absolutely,” Harlinger responded. “It was outstanding police work. Quick. Clean. The D.A. was especially pleased. Now, what is it that you want, Stevens?” Harlinger was a politician as well as a cop. He was a master of the way things worked. So he probably knew he was being greased. “I’m assuming you’re not just here to get a pat on the back.”
“No, sir,” Trisha responded. “I came here to ask you to reconsider my original request to work with Lieutenant Crawford, since his partner is being transferred.”
Harlinger rocked back and forth in his chair, appearing to be thinking about it while he stared at her. This was something Trisha wanted badly, and she could see that he knew it. She hated her inability to hide her emotions and intentions. It gave other people the advantage and it made her feel vulnerable. And when you’re a cop, vulnerability can lead to bad decisions and worse consequences.
“How well do you know him?” Harlinger asked.
“Not that well,” Trisha answered. “He’s not the most sociable of detectives.”
“So what makes you think he’d want to work with you?” Harlinger asked with an accusing tone. The question surprised her, and even hurt a bit. She suspected that he was testing her.
“I’m not very sociable myself,” she replied. The answer caused Harlinger to grin. She felt a rush. She had done the right thing by not getting defensive.
“I’ll think about it,” Harlinger said. “I’ll let you know.”
Trisha nodded her head, then stood up and walked to the door. She felt confident and proud of herself. Even if she ended up not getting what she wanted, she would at least have the satisfaction of knowing that she’d had the nerve ask for it.
“Just remember one thing,” Harlinger said before she reached the door. She stopped and turned to him. He had an enigmatic smile on his face. “Be careful what you ask for.”
Trisha smiled weakly, then stepped out into the corridor.
* * *
Trisha waited a few long weeks for Harlinger’s response, all the while wondering what his last comment had meant. She knew Harlinger had been working at the Twenty Sixth Precinct for about fifteen years, and that he’d probably known Crawford for at least that long. If Crawford had some kind of problem that she was unaware of, Harlinger would know about it. She thought it was most likely personal. Perhaps he was drinker. So many cops were.
Though Trisha was practically an authority on Crawford’s police record, she knew almost nothing about his personal life, nor his time before joining the force. She knew that he was born in Detroit and lived there until he joined the Marines at age eighteen. He had spent four years in the service, then worked a series of unremarkable jobs until he joined the police department just after his thirtieth birthday. At about the same time, he had married and had a daughter. For a while, he was a good cop with a commendable record, but nothing extraordinary. Things changed when he was promoted to Homicide.
In the summer of 1991, a seven year old boy named Paul Mejias was kidnapped from the playground of one of the city’s slums. The search for the boy lasted four long days, and ended when his body was found in a nearby wooded area. The boy had been sodomized and tortured before having his throat cut. The public was outraged and demanded immediate action. And they weren’t even aware of the grizzliest aspect of the case, which the police had kept secret. Holes had been drilled through the hands and feet of little Paul Mejias. Combined with the other trauma inflicted on his body, the police surmised that the boy had been crucified.
A veteran detective named Sam Griffin had headed the case, but there was little physical evidence and the eye-witness accounts contradicted each other. Progress was slow. Weeks turned into months. Then a second boy was abducted and killed in the same fashion. This time, though, the police weren’t able to keep a lid on the crucifixion aspect of the case. The public and media were sickened and the police department fell under constant criticism for their inability to find the guilty party. Months turned into years. Two more victims followed and the case seemed hopeless.
In 1996, when the case was five years old, Sam Griffin quit the police force to become a private investigator. Miles Crawford was assigned the case. Not being a detective for long, he was considered an odd choice. But what most outsiders didn’t know was that the case was considered a loser by most in the Homicide department. It had caused Sam Griffin to leave the force and was rumored to have had an effect on his marriage, which had just dissolved. No one wanted it, except for Crawford.
What Miles Crawford lacked in age and experience, he made up for in intelligence and passion. It was Crawford’s idea to call a psychologist in on the case. This was what led to Crawford’s decision to disregard child molesters and instead focus the investigation on priests, defrocked as well as active. It was an unpopular direction to take the case in. It was vehemently fought by the Catholic church and criticized by members of the public and media. But Crawford didn’t seem to care how he looked or whether he was liked. When asked, his response was always the same: it was his job to catch the killer of these children and he would do whatever it took to do that.
In 1997, Crawford’s theory led him to the house of a man named Simon Lee Bukowski. Bukowski had been a Priest for twelve years, but was excommunicated in 1989 for reasons that remain mysterious to this day. Since then, he had been living in his mother’s home, with little contact with the outside world. When Crawford and his partner showed up at the front door, Bukowski answered it wearing only a dirty bathrobe. Crawford instantly knew that they had their man. Bukowski had the wild, desperate look of someone who was deeply troubled and had difficulty sleeping. On his wrists were scars from failed suicide attempts and the marks of cigarette burns. And then there was the smell of lime that permeated the house. Crawford knew that that was what people used to hide the smell of decaying flesh.
They instantly arrested Bukowski and searched the house. They found the room where the crucifixions had taken place. They also found his mother. She was sitting in a rocking chair, dead for years and now mummified. Bukowski had used the lime to hide her smell.
Bukowski was charged with the murders of four boys and Miles Crawford became a hero. Subsequently, he was put on every high profile murder case that followed. John McCoullough, the wealthy lawyer who’d had his wife thrown beneath a subway train. Leroy Carruthers, the heroin addict who held people up with a scalpel, then cut their throats so they couldn’t testify. Sheila Sarnoff, the nurse that was killing infants “for the good of God.” And then there was Martin Rivers. This was the case that meant the most to Trisha.
Because Martin Rivers’s victims were prostitutes, they didn’t get anyone’s attention at first. If they were mentioned in the newspapers at all, it was no more than a paragraph or two shoved in the back. There were five dead in the first year and no one seemed to notice.
Crawford stumbled upon the case one night during an interrogation. The suspect’s wife had been murdered and Crawford was sure he had killed her. He pressed him for a confession, but the man wouldn’t budge.
“So it had to be me?” the man asked Crawford. “There’s no way anyone else could have killed her?”
“It’s almost always the husband.”
“But isn’t it even possible that someone else killed her?”
“Tell me who it is, then,” Miles yelled back at the man. “You give me the name of a suspect, and I’ll drag him in here for questioning.”
“I don’t have a name,” the man said.
“I didn’t think so.”
“But I think I know who it is,” the man added. “It’s the same guy who’s been killing those whores. It has to be.”
Crawford asked him to explain. The man told him he frequented prostitutes in the inner city and that all they were talking about lately was a killer who was picking them off at night. This, he claimed, was the real killer of his wife. Crawford didn’t buy the story for a second, since the murder of this man’s wife had all the tell-tale signs of a killing with a motive. After two more hours of pressing on his suspect, Crawford had the confession he wanted. But the story of the dead prostitutes lingered in his mind.
The following day, Crawford checked into it and what he found enraged him. The police had treated the murders like inconveniences and no one had bothered to link them together. This despite the fact that all the women were killed in the same exact fashion. After receiving oral sex in his car, the killer stabbed his victims in the back of their necks. Each was found with her spinal cord severed and some trace of semen in her mouth. The blood type of the killer, taken from the semen samples, was O negative and belonged to the same man.
Crawford took over the case, but it proved to be a difficult one. The only physical evidence he had was the kind that was useful during a trial, but did nothing to help him catch the killer. The few witnesses that Crawford found were transients or drug addicts. Their accounts varied wildly. And to add to this, Crawford wasn’t given the manpower that this type of case needed. Time passed and the bodies piled up, but Crawford never tired. This was what first attracted Trisha to him. The wife of a banker and a lowly prostitute were the same in Crawford’s eyes. A life was a life, a victim a victim.
It took six long years for Crawford to get to Martin Rivers. A lottery ticket was found in the pocket of one of the victims. Crawford traced it back to the store where it was purchased. It was in the suburbs, which led him to assume that it belonged to one of the victim’s customers. Crawford knew that a typical prostitute could see twenty or thirty men in a night, so the chances of the lottery ticket belonging to the killer were remote. Even if it was his, he may not have been a regular customer at the store where the ticket was purchased. Still, it was the best break he had gotten. Crawford staked the store out.
Later, Crawford would claim that when he first saw Martin Rivers walking into the store, he’d simply had “a feeling” about him. There was no evidence. Nothing to link him to the killings. Just this “feeling.” It was what made Crawford follow Rivers home, and what made him glance into the car parked in his driveway. Inside, Crawford saw one speck of blood. It wasn’t enough to get a search warrant, but it was enough for him to knock on the front door. When Rivers came to the door, he immediately recognized Crawford. “You’re that cop, aren’t you?”
“Yes, I am.”
“I guess you got me,” Rivers had said with a smile. And that was how six years of hard work had ended.
Crawford went on to more cases like it. Too many too remember. But they all exemplified his professionalism and his obsession with justice. With righting wrongs. Trisha had asked to work in the city instead of the suburbs, where she lived, just to have a chance at working with him.
When Harlinger’s answer came, it was as anticlimactic as the capture of Martin Rivers. He walked up to Trisha’s desk and said, “Crawford’s all yours. You can move into his office tomorrow.”
Trisha sat there, dumbfounded. Harlinger smiled, then casually walked away, as if he had just told her the score to the previous night’s football game. As if he hadn’t just make her dream come true.
* * *
Even though Trisha had seen Crawford around the precinct a few times and even talked to him on occasion, she still imagined him as the man in the newspaper clippings. Tall, powerful, confident, with a dark, piercing eyes. Mythic. But when she walked into his office on the day she became his partner, she saw the man the way the way he really looked. He was only a bit taller than she was. And he looked much older than she had expected, older even than his 52 years. His once handsome, sharp-featured face was now sagging, with deep wrinkles that had spidered all over. His graying hair, styled in a military buzz cut, didn’t go well with his out of shape body. And his eyes, once intense, were now distant and soft.
“Make yourself at home,” Crawford said, barely looking up from his paperwork. He didn’t seem excited by the idea of a new partner. Of course it was something he’d probably been through dozens of times.
Trisha moved her things to the vacant desk behind his. The desks were pressed against two opposite walls of the room, facing away from each other. She sat down and looked around at the office. Other than the two windows between their desks, the walls were bare. No newspaper clippings, commendations or pictures of his family. It wasn’t exactly the moment of glory that she had imagined it would be. She thought of Harlinger’s remark: be careful what you ask for.
“It usually takes me a while to wake up,” Crawford said without turning around to face her. She felt some relief. Maybe he’d warm up to her, she thought.
“Me, too,” she said, though she had been wide awake for hours now. She had spent an hour lying in bed before the alarm clock went off, anticipating this big moment in her career, which now seemed anti-climatic.
“I’ve been having problems sleeping,” Crawford said.
“Maybe it’s the coffee,” she said.
“If I give this up, you’ll be resuscitating me,” he replied, then turned around in his chair to look at her. His smile was warm and fatherly rather than the one of a cynical cop. In an instant, Trisha knew she had done the right thing. This would work, she thought.
“How long have you been a detective?” Crawford asked.
Crawford smirked, then turned back around and continued his paperwork. Trisha was mortified. She was a joke to him. Just another female cop wannabe. Or was it just her imagination? Maybe he just thought she was naive. She reminded herself that she had to give it time. It was still early in the morning on their first day together, after all.
Somehow Trisha expected long talks about his old cases and detective work in general. But all they shared was some small talk about nothing more important than the weather or the latest election. Mostly, they spent the day catching up with paperwork. Trisha found the monotony of it to be crushing. Here she was with her hero, and they were having a boring day together. Things changed late in the day when they found themselves on the way to their first crime scene together.
Trisha and Crawford walked up four flights of steps and into a dingy hallway with few working light bulbs. It was the kind of place where you lived if you had to, and hopefully not for long. A policeman stood at the other end of the hallway, manning the door to the crime scene. Trisha felt the usual apprehension as they got closer. There was something that frightened her about walking toward a crime scene. It was a feeling of impending doom, as if walking through the door would put her face to face with something so horrible, she’d never be able to forget it.
“So tell me, Stevens,” Crawford spoke up. “What are you doing here? In this job, I mean.”
“Well . . .” Trisha said, a bit thrown off. She hadn’t been expecting the question. Not now. “I was a psych major,” she replied. “I got in from that end. I’ve always been interested in why people do things.”
“What?” she asked, feeling left out of the joke.
“Let me know if you find that out,” Crawford said, then he pulled out his badge to show the policeman standing outside the door. Trisha followed suit, then they walked into the apartment’s living room. The place was filthy. Cobwebs were in the corners, the paint on the walls was cracked and peeling in spots and the furniture was old and dusty, with upholstery that was torn open at every corner. An old television set, the kind with rabbit ears on top of it, was blaring away.
“I think we can rule out the maid as a suspect,” Miles said, then he turned the television off. The silence allowed them to hear voices coming from another room. Trisha peered around a corner. In the bedroom, an overweight man wearing a dirty undershirt and dirtier boxer shorts was sitting on the bed. His hands were cuffed behind his back. Standing over him were two police officers, one taking a statement while the other stood by. From the man’s body language, Trisha could tell that he was explaining. They always explained, she thought.
Trisha turned and saw Miles walking toward the kitchen entrance. He stopped there, seeing something in the kitchen that was out of her sight. He glanced back at her with a sullen look on his face, then he entered the kitchen. Trisha stood there, not wanting to follow him.
“This is bad,” Crawford said, warning her. Trisha wondered what someone who had seen as much as Crawford had would consider bad. Trisha entered the kitchen and found out.
A frumpy woman was hunched over the dinner table with her arms folded beneath her head. She looked like she was taking a nap, except that there was a pool of dried blood on the table beneath her head. Trisha couldn’t see the woman’s face and part of her was afraid to. She silently reminded herself that this was her job, then approached the table and kneeled down. Between the woman’s folded arms, Trisha could see her swollen, bruised face. She appeared to be in her forties. Above her right eye was a band-aid, which was now black from the blood that had soaked through it. Most of the blood that was on the table had come from her open mouth. Trisha could see the woman had a broken tooth or two, and probably a dislocated jaw.
“Look at this,” Crawford said, pointing at a counter where there was a small plate loaded with raw, breaded chicken cutlets, lined neatly in two rows. There were droplets of blood on them. “Even though she had a concussion and was bleeding to death, she still tried to make dinner.”
“She must’ve sat down to take a break,” Trisha offered.
“Some break,” Crawford said.
Trisha suddenly needed air. She stepped out of the kitchen and looked toward the man in the other room. It didn’t surprise her that people resorted to violence, even in the family. But she couldn’t understand what made a man continue hitting his wife or child, even after they were obviously injured. What propelled them to ignore the sound of broken bones and tearing skin? She stepped closer to the bedroom and the voices became discernible.
“I didn’t know she was that hurt,” the man said. Pathetic excuses were spilling out of his mouth, just as she expected.
“Not that hurt?” the cop who was taking the statement responded. “Her head is stuck to the fucking table.” Trisha could see that the excuses were getting to him.
“She was fine,” the man said with an innocent voice, “bleeding a little, but fine. She’s been worse. I didn’t think . . . didn’t think . . . I really fucked up, didn’t I?”
The interrogating cop just shook his head in disgust. The man didn’t seem to understand what the gesture meant. He looked at the other cop for clarification. And that’s when he saw Trisha. She and the man stared at each other for a moment, then his face turned red with anger.
“And what are you looking at?” the man asked with hatred in his voice.
Trisha said nothing. She felt Crawford’s presence behind her.
“What the fuck are you looking at?” the man asked, louder now. “You want some, too, you fucking cunt?” He tried to stand up, but the interrogating cop pushed him back down. The man began to writhe around on the bed. The policemen held him down.
“I don’t deserve to be treated like this!” he screamed.
“You sure don’t,” Crawford said too quietly for the man to hear. “You deserve much worse.”
Trisha turned to Crawford. He appeared bored. Or maybe he was just desensitized. In an odd way, Trisha envied him. At least he wouldn’t be having nightmares tonight.
* * *
Judith McDonald was the name of the woman who had been beaten to death by her husband. He wrote out his full confession as soon as they brought him into the precinct. He acted as if writing out the confession would bring his wife back. He seemed to be waiting for them to tell him it was all a mistake and she was actually alive and well. It ended the same way Trisha had always seen these situations end. A dead or badly injured woman. A bewildered man who didn’t seem to understand how he had thrown his life away. They always had that stunned look, as if their lives had been moving along perfectly before this happened. As if this had come unexpectedly out of the blue. But without exception, the final beating was never the first. There was always a trail of brutality.
These thoughts accompanied Trisha on the drive home. They were still on her mind when she entered her house. She was late as she normally was, and Jeffrey said nothing about it. They had been married for eight years. They had met at a college party, during one of the worst times in Trisha’s life. The previous fall, she had learned that her mother, Eve, had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
“It’s nothing,” Eve had said to Trisha. “The doctors say they can get rid of it with radiation.”
Eve was a tough woman who had been to hell and back. Both of her parents had died when she was fourteen. She was then thrust into a world with no one on her side. But she had survived with her pride intact. She had raised Trisha single-handedly, sometimes having to work two jobs to do it. Eve had worked hard to instill in Trisha the importance of education and self reliance. Trisha knew that even if Eve was dying, she wouldn’t allow it to interfere with her daughter’s school work.
That year at Boston College was awful for Trisha. She was never certain of her mother’s condition. She hoped that Eve was being honest with her, yet the doubt interfered with every part of her life. Trisha had nightmares of being locked away in a snowy cabin while her mother was being eaten alive, from the inside out. Her waking hours weren’t much better. She was preoccupied and incapable of concentrating. Then she began to drink. Usually, she kept it under control. But at least twice a month she would black out and do something that was unlike her, sometimes even dangerous. Over and over again, she promised herself that she would stop the drinking. But she couldn’t go more than a week before breaking the promise. And that’s how it went until she met Jeffrey.
A teacher at Trisha’s school had thrown a party in his apartment. Like most of the partygoers, Trisha and Jeffrey were drunk when they met. They were both breaking up with someone else, both looking for a grudge fuck. She didn’t care if she liked him or if he was good looking. In fact, she didn’t even know his name. She just wanted to take out her frustrations on him. They went to his dorm room and had a night of raw, angry sex.
Trisha woke up in the wee hours of the morning, remembering very little of what had happened the night before. Once again, she had done something that was completely unlike her. Once again, she hated herself. She got dressed and quietly left, hoping he would remember less than she did.
A feeling of liberation took over Trisha once she was outside. This must be how criminals felt when a crime went smoothly, she thought. She had gotten away with it. And since Jeffrey went to a different school, and they had no friends in common, he would have a hard time finding her.
Jeffrey called her the very next afternoon. She had no idea how he had tracked her down, but now she had to deal with him. She wanted nothing more than to hang up the phone, but she stayed on the line out of some sense of obligation. But to Trisha’s surprise, she found herself losing track of time. They talked until late in the evening and agreed to meet each other later that week.
Before Trisha knew it, she and Jeffrey were inseparable. It would be a month before they had sex again. And when they did, it was nothing like their first time. Instead, it was quiet and gentle. And just what she needed.
Jeffrey proved to be the settling source that her body had been craving, especially on the nights that she spoke to her mother. Eve would say that she was feeling healthy and strong, thinking this would help keep Trisha’s mind off her illness. But Eve’s raspy, struggling voice belied her true state. Trisha pleaded for her to just talk to her, one woman to another, but Eve wouldn’t let go of her act. She wouldn’t burden her daughter. She couldn’t understand that what Trisha needed was intimacy with her mother. For so many years, they were everything to each other. And now, Trisha felt she was being cast aside.
On those nights, Jeffrey was always there for her, whether she wanted someone to put her arms around or someone to simply listen. Even at her young age, Trisha was familiar with men who pretended to care and acted as if conversation was a necessary evil. Something to be endured. A chore. But Jeffrey was different. He was always present when she talked to him. There was a warmth and immediacy in his eyes that she could only interpret as a deep caring. She didn’t know how that man became the man who was in front of her now.
“How was your day?” Jeffrey asked.
“It was all right,” Trisha said while looking down at the chicken parmigiana he had prepared. It reminded her of the crime scene, but she tried to hide this from him by smiling.
“Did you start with that detective today?” Jeffrey asked.
The gap between the old Jeffrey and the new Jeffrey was never more apparent than when he asked her about her job. She didn’t believe that he was really interested. He never seemed to get the names right. That’s why he said “that detective” instead of Crawford. She wondered why it was so difficult for Jeffrey to remember the name of the policeman she idealized and spoke of so often. The old Jeffrey would have known the name of every partner she had ever had. She wished she knew where he had gone.
“Yes,” Trisha replied. “We started this morning.”
“Well?” he asked, “how was it?”
“It was a difficult day. We saw a crime scene that was . . . bad.” From her tone, it was obvious that she didn’t want to elaborate. But she did want him to ask. Why couldn’t he at least ask? Trisha wasn’t sure if he just didn’t care or if she was being unfair by expecting him to read her mind. She did remember a time when he seemed to be able to read it, though.
After an uncomfortable bit of silence, where he continued to not ask what was so bad about the crime scene, Jeffrey began to tell her about his day at the bank. Trisha went into her polite listening mode. She nodded her head at the appropriate places, took note of the names, and did as best as she could at acting interested, all the while hating herself for doing this. She tried to think back and remember when things had changed between them, but she could find no exact point.
They ate in silence for a few minutes. Trisha couldn’t help thinking of Mrs. McDonald: the night before, she was trying to make a meal like this one. She literally died trying to make it. Thinking of her made a question pop into Trisha’s head. She blurted it out without thinking. “Did you ever hit a woman?” she asked Jeffrey. She regretted it immediately.
Trisha had done this before. Completely surprised Jeffrey with the kind of question that a husband should never have to hear from his wife. Questions like “Did you ever see a dead body?” or “Have you ever stolen money from the bank?” Even though she did it all the time, it always seemed to catch him by surprise. And this time was no different. He sat there, looking as if he wasn’t quite sure what to do with himself. Like he needed to look up the answer in a manual.
“I’m sorry,” she blurted out, realizing that she had gone too far. She didn’t understand how she could’ve asked him such a question. It was the worst one yet. She knew now that whatever it was that had happened to them was not his doing alone. No, Trisha thought, they had both played a part.
“Forget about it,” Jeffrey said, then continued eating. Trisha followed suit. They finished their meal as if she had said nothing. But the question lingered. The silence between them that night was conspicuous. It even followed them into the bedroom. They were both exhausted, they said. They were going to go right to sleep, they said. But when they were in bed together, neither of them went right to sleep.
Trisha rolled away from him and lay perfectly still, pretending to be asleep. She thought he was doing the same. She could almost hear him thinking. She wondered if he was asking himself what kind of woman he was married to. Was he thinking of packing his bags this very moment? Would he be gone when she woke up in the morning? Trisha closed her eyes and tried to think of other things, but the sound of her breathing was too loud.
Then another thought, one that she had been avoiding all night, pushed itself into Trisha’s mind. Jeffrey hadn’t answered the question. Why didn’t he act outraged? Why didn’t he ask her to apologize? She had wondered about his old lovers before. It was normal, she knew. But the idea of violence had never crossed her mind. No, she thought, not Jeffrey.
Trisha forced herself to close her eyes and listen to the wind hitting the trees outside. It was a sound that she found soothing. It always brought her back to her childhood, which was mostly happy. She thought of the nights when she slept with her mother. Nothing was more comforting to her, even now. Before she knew it, sleep came.
In the morning, Trisha awoke with a start. She knew she’d had a nightmare, but she didn’t remember it. It left her feeling violated. She turned to Jeffrey, who was still asleep, but stirring. Then she remembered her thoughts of him from the night before. She knew this was probably what she had dreamed about. Jeffrey as a wife-beater. She hated herself for even thinking about it.
Arturo was a retired factory worker who enjoyed fishing in the early morning hours. It was something he did only on the weekends, until his wife died. Then, without even thinking about it, it became a daily habit. He usually left for the lake while it was still dark. The city had a different feel then. Like a small, lazy town.
On this particular morning, his ten year old grandson, Joey, was with him. It would be their last morning together before Joey went back to school, so Arturo wanted to savor every moment. After all, he was old enough to know that his years were numbered. For all he knew, it could be the last time he took Joey to the lake. And Joey may have known it too, for they were both unusually quiet that morning. Until Joey began to struggle with something on his line.
“I think I’ve got something, grandpa,” Joey said as he spun the handle of his reel.
“I think you do,” Arturo said. He knew better, though. It wasn’t putting up enough of a fight to be something. It was most likely garbage, he thought. But he said nothing. He didn’t want to spoil the excitement that he saw in Joey as he reeled this thing up.
“Here it is!” Joey yelled as he brought something out of the water. It was a brownish object, covered with seaweed. It wasn’t a fish, but it wasn’t garbage either. Joey swung his fishing pole over, and the object landed between them.
“What is it?” Joey asked, excited.
Arturo leaned closer, then flipped the object over. Joey suddenly screamed. He jumped over the object and hid behind Arturo, causing the boat to sway back and forth. Arturo had to grab onto the side of the boat to keep his balance.
“What is it?” Joey asked, afraid.
“Take it easy, Joey!” Arturo said as the boat began to stabilize.
“What is it, grandpa?” His voice was filled with dread.
“It’s okay, Joey,” Arturo said, though not quite convinced himself. He didn’t immediately see what had scared Joey so badly, not until he shifted his angle slightly. That was when he saw that it had a protrusion from one side.
“Oh my . . .” Arturo stopped, then kneeled down to take a closer look. “Is that . . .?”
“No, grandpa! Stay away from it!” Joey screamed.
Arturo ignored Joey. He pulled some seaweed off the object. Then he saw that the protrusion was a thumb. He was staring down at a swollen, human hand.
* * *
He could barely control himself. What he had heard on the scanner had to be what he thought it was. They finally found it. At last, things were going to change. The time had come. It was here. Now. He was so excited that he found himself pacing around the house, ringing his hands. He laughed at himself. He was acting like a fucking girl!
“Help me!” he heard from below. He raced to the door that led to the basement.
“Shut the fuck up, you bitch!” he yelled. Then she went quiet. He smiled. When she heard his laughter, she must have thought someone else was in the house. He didn’t laugh much, he realized. His work had made him too serious.
He heard the faint sound of her weeping. She had been silent for so long, he thought her brain had fried. But no, she was playing possum. She was waiting for him to drop his guard so that she could make a run for it. She had no idea how hopeless her situation really was.
“You’re amazing,” he said, more to himself than to the girl. With all that she had endured, she still had hope. It shouldn’t have surprised him, though. He wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for suffering. There was once a time when all he did was suffer. But things were different now. The sufferer was now dishing out the pain. He decided to celebrate.
When he walked into the video store, he noticed the look the girl behind the counter gave him. He knew what the look meant, too. She had seen him come in here many times and was wondering why he didn’t find a real woman. Maybe she wondering why he didn’t approach her. She didn’t realize that a man could look normal and be far from it.
He walked around the store, looking at the women who roamed the aisles. Any of them would do, but he had to wait. Soon, he would be able to do as he pleased. Soon, he would become raw will. Whatever he wanted, he would take.
But he had to focus on the matter at hand. He walked into the back room of the video store. He saw a pathetic fat man with a greasy mustache. He moved closer to the fat man, to see if he could make him squirm. The fat man snatched a DVD, then scurried out of the room.
He thought of catching up to the fat man in the parking lot. He could probably make him piss in his pants without even touching him. He could even bring him home. But no, it wasn’t time to take unnecessary risks. Not yet.
He smiled at the girl behind the counter when he checked out his DVD. It was one of the more extreme ones. He saw the sickened look on her face when she read the title. He felt the blood rushing through his veins. If only he could take her home and make her watch it with him.
When he was back home, he watched the video. It was even more awful than the girl behind the counter could have imagined, but not awful enough to do the trick. He pulled and pulled on his member, but it didn’t get hard. Soon, it was red and chaffed. He gave up after a while. No, he thought, there were lines that could only be crossed once. After you crossed them, there was no turning back. Once you were on the other side, you were there to stay. And this was the road he was on. He crossed one line after another, following his thirst. It had begun with main stream pornography. When that wasn’t enough, he tried other things, each more extreme. Bukkake, fisting, menstrual, scat, and finally, S&M. But now he was at the end of the line. The only thing that worked was pain. Severe, nonconsensual pain. And it had to be live and in person.
“Honey, are you awake?” he said, then walked down the stairs to the basement . . .
Trisha and Crawford were waiting for Harlinger in his office. He’d called them both to come in on their day off. Trisha knew it had to be something major, but she attempted to keep her excitement in check. She turned to Crawford, who was sitting impassively next to her. She wondered how often he’d been called in on his day off. So often, she supposed, that it no longer gave him a charge.
“You all right?” Crawford asked her.
Trisha nodded her head, then looked down. Her foot was tapping nervously against the floor. She stopped it immediately. “Do you have any idea of what this is about?” she asked him.
“Don’t know,” Crawford answered. “I just hope it’s not too interesting.”
Trisha was about to ask him what he meant by “too interesting,” but the door opened.
“Thanks for coming in,” Harlinger said as he closed the door behind him. He had a grave look on his face. He sat down behind his desk, then took a deep breath. “Ever heard of Lisa Simmons?”
The name sounded familiar to Trisha. Then it came to her in the form of a sentence: “Lisa Simmons is still missing.” It had been the lead story on the nightly news a year or so before. Lisa Simmons was a teenage girl who had been abducted in a suburban town not known for having any crime. Like all such stories, it eventually ended up buried deep in the news cast. And now, it was mentioned only once in a while, probably at the request of her parents.
“Vaguely,” Trisha said.
“She was sixteen when she was abducted, about fourteen months ago,” Harlinger said. “She’s been missing all this time.”
“I get the feeling she’s been found,” Crawford commented.
“Early this morning,” Harlinger responded. “Some kid brought a piece of her up on his fishing hook. I want you two to take it.”
Trisha was so excited, she wanted to jump out of her chair. This was exactly the kind of case she had been wanting to work on. And she was getting to work it with Crawford. There was no better training than practical experience. This would be the real thing, with a teacher who had been through the real thing over and over again.
“I don’t want it,” Crawford said.
Trisha couldn’t believe her ears. She turned to Crawford. The look of shock must have been apparent, for Crawford gave her an irritated glance. She wanted to say something, but she couldn’t formulate her thoughts fast enough. She turned to Harlinger, who didn’t look the least bit surprised.
“Miles,” Harlinger said, “you know you’re my best man for this case.”
“I’m retiring in four months,” Miles retorted.
“It’ll probably be nothing,” Harlinger said. “Just some panty-sniffer who went too far. You’ll have it closed in a week.”
“If it’s that simple,” Crawford replied with a tightness in his voice, “then give it to someone else. Give it to Rivera and Brown. They’re good.”
“Because it may not be that simple,” Harlinger replied. “If this is tough one, then you’re my best shot at closing this quickly.”
“I’ve had enough of these cases,” Crawford said, shaking his head. “I don’t want to end my career with another one. I don’t want it.” Trisha could see that he wasn’t going to give in. She was still in a state of shock. She had fantasized about this moment, but this was something she hadn’t foreseen.
“Your partner wants it,” Harlinger retorted. Trisha was surprised to be brought into the discussion. She realized that Harlinger would try anything.
“Of course she does,” Crawford replied. “She has no idea what we’d be getting ourselves into.” Trisha felt hurt. Did Crawford think she was that clueless? She wanted to defend herself, but she knew enough to stay out of it. This was between them.
“Sorry, Stevens,” Crawford said, then stood up with a deadly finality. He wasn’t just standing up, he was challenging Harlinger. Harlinger was going to say something else, but the meeting was clearly over. Crawford left the room, slamming the door behind him. Trisha sat there, not sure of what to do.
“Don’t just sit there, Stevens,” Harlinger said with irritation in his voice, “go convince your partner.”
“I’ll try,” she said, then stood and walked out.
As Trisha approached their office, she heard Crawford inside. He was slamming things. She paused outside the door and collected her thoughts. She desperately wanted this, but her desperation was her enemy. If she was going to convince him, she’d have to do it in some other way. She entered the office.
Crawford was sitting behind his desk, searching through the drawers for something. Trisha could tell that he was simply acting busy so that she would stay away. She could see that his mind was racing. She walked past him, avoiding eye contact, then sat behind her desk.
“I’m not as green as you think I am,” Trisha said.
“You don’t know what I think,” Crawford said without turning around.
“Why don’t you enlighten me?”
“I think you should be careful what you ask for,” Crawford said back. This irritated her. She was tired of people warning her about the things she wanted. Everyone wanted to be her father.
“I know it won’t be pretty,” Trisha said. “But this is the kind of case that cops dream about.”
“Most cops are insane in the first place,” Crawford said, then turned around to face her. “But why don’t we talk about you, specifically? Why are you so eager for this?”
“Why were you so eager to catch the killer of Paul Mejias?” Trisha countered. She wasn’t sure if it was a mistake to bring up the case that had made him famous, but she needed to remind him that he was once as hungry as she was. That he had taken a case no one else wanted.
“Well,” Crawford said, then his face took on a distant look. “I was a young man then. I didn’t know what I know now.”
“Which is?” she asked.
Crawford rocked in his chair a bit, seemingly thinking. He stopped and glanced at her. Then he stood up and walked over to her desk. Trisha leaned back in her chair as he got closer. Crawford put his hands down on the arms of her chair. She suddenly felt trapped. He leaned down, putting his face close to hers.
“This is no game, Stevens,” he said.
“I know it isn’t.”
“This girl is already dead,” Crawford said, “do yourself a favor and walk away from it.”
“She may not be his last victim,” Trisha said.
“I’m going to ask Harlinger for this case,” Trisha said. “With or without you.”
Crawford let go of her chair and took a step back. He was examining her. “You were uncomfortable at that crime scene yesterday,” he said.
“A little,” she said, maybe a bit too defensively.
“What if I told you this would be ten times as bad?” Crawford asked. “Day in, day out. For months. Maybe years. Do you still want it?”
“Yes,” she said, “and I could use your help.”
“You understand that I won’t stay to the end?” Crawford asked.
“I’m retiring in four months, no matter what,” Crawford said. He sounded as if he was trying to convince both of them.
“I understand,” Trisha responded.
“Then you better start calling me Miles,” Crawford said, “since we’re going to be spending a lot of time together.” He walked back to his desk and sat down.
“You’re serious?” Trisha asked. “You’ll do it?”
Crawford nodded his head, then grinned. For a moment, Trisha thought he was toying with her. But no, the grin meant something else.
“What’s the smile for?” she asked.
“What’s the smile for?” Miles repeated. “Because you’re going to regret this day for the rest of your life and you don’t even know it.”
* * *
Trisha and Miles stepped out of the elevator and walked down the dimly lit corridor. At the other end were a set of double doors that lead into the head medical examiners office. Though Trisha had gotten used to seeing dead bodies long ago, she still hadn’t gotten used to coming here. More than anything, she hated this hallway. On the walls and ceiling, she could see the cracks and imperfections that had been painted over, probably dozens of times. No matter how new the latest coating of paint was, the hallway still had the feeling of an old institutional building. Walking along it gave her the same feeling of dread that came up when she approached a crime scene. It was like being sucked down a tunnel, toward some nameless thing that could devour her. Something too horrible to put into words. The kind of thing that existed only in nightmares.
Trisha let Crawford open the door and entered behind him. The room was huge, tiled, and damp. It had the smell of disinfectant. To Trisha, it looked like a secret room hidden away in the basement of a hospital. The place where they took the remains of people who had died of cancer, AIDS, gunshot wounds, or just plain bad luck, then tore them apart out of curiosity. The death room.
Gerald Levy was standing at the other end of the death room, writing patiently on a clipboard. He was in his sixties, but looked older. Like most medical examiners, he had the pale, blood-shot eyed look of someone who didn’t see much daylight. Rookie cops joked that this is what vampires did for a living. They weren’t the kind of people you imagined running into in the supermarket -- expect maybe in the middle of the night.
“Hello, Lieutenant,” Levy said without looking up from his clipboard, “I see you brought a date.”
“This is Detective Stevens,” Miles said as they got closer.
“We’ve met,” Trisha said.
“Yes,” Levy said, but it was obvious that he didn’t remember her. She had only worked with him on a few cases, and had seen him in person less than a dozen times. As creepy as he was, Levy was the best medical examiner in the city, which meant that he had the same qualities that made a good detective. Patience, intelligence, and an eye for detail. Whenever there was an important case, he was put on it. On occasion, he had even been called back from vacation to work on a pressing case.
“Here’s the guest of honor,” Levy said as he pointed down at the gurney behind him. Placed on the gurney, palm up, was Lisa Simmons’s right hand. Trisha drew her breath in. She could tell that it had been underwater for months. It was badly discolored and swollen. The finger nails had turned black. The skin looked translucent and bubbly; more like something created by a Hollywood special effects crew than a real human hand. It made Trisha sick to think that it had once belonged to a sixteen year old girl.
“They dragged the lake all day and didn’t find anything else,” Levy said. “Fortunately, this was enough to identify her.”
“Lucky us,” Miles said. “What can you tell us about it?”
“As you can see, it’s been in the water for a while. Won’t know exactly how long until the toxicology report comes back,” Levy said. He got closer to the hand, then pointed down at the wrist, where it had been severed from the arm. “Judging by the wound, I’d say a jigsaw was used to cut it free.”
“Cause of death?” Miles asked.
“No idea, yet,” Levy answered.
“You’re as helpful as always,” Miles commented.
“Look at the nails,” Levy said.
Trisha and Miles got closer. Trisha had to hold her breath.
“At first, I thought they’d been bitten down,” Levy said, excited, “but after closer examination, I realized she did this clawing at something.”
“Clawing at what?” Trisha asked.
“Don’t know yet,” Levy responded.
“Clawing for her life,” Miles said.
Trisha swallowed, then took a step back. She felt her stomach turning. She suddenly wondered if she had made the right decision. Miles’s comment about her regretting this day for the rest of her life came to mind. Trisha had read volumes of material on these kinds of cases. She thought she knew everything there was to know about them, but now she wondered if there was something that Miles knew that could only be learned from experience. Something so horrible, it couldn’t be put into words. She was on her way now. She was moving down the tunnel.
The drive home was difficult that night. No matter how loud she turned the radio up, all she could think about was what she and Miles now called “the case.” They had spent the rest of the afternoon talking about it. Since nothing else was found in the lake, they believed that Lisa Simmons was most likely sawed into pieces, then dispensed all around the city. It was possible that this would be all they would ever find of her.
Trisha reminded herself that she had wanted this. But that thought gave her some guilt. As if her desire for a juicy case had gotten this girl killed. Not just killed. Dismembered. Trisha hoped Lisa hadn’t suffered much, but sadly, she knew better.
“I’m sorry,” Trisha said to no one in particular.