Chapter 9

November 14, 2011 at 12:21 am (The Truth)

Mack arrived at Vancouver General Hospital ten minutes early. The ME was already prepping his mother’s body for the autopsy. Mack had to mentally distance himself from thinking of the body on the slab as his mother. He’d never had an issue witnessing an autopsy, but he’d never known the subject before, either.

He was going to have to tell his dad. His parents had been divorced for almost twenty years, but it would still hit his dad hard. They’d shared almost twenty years and four children together before everything had imploded. His dad had never remarried. Mack didn’t think he had it in him, to try that again.

The ME’s assistant handed him a mask and gloves. Mack moved in closer to the table as Kovel started the initial exam. Kovel was tiny at a few inches over five feet and maybe ninety pounds. By comparison, Mack felt like a lumbering oaf. She had a grace about her that reminded him of his sister. He wondered if Kovel had been a dancer as a kid.

His sister still danced. Their mother had insisted that Hannah take up ballet, tap and jazz dancing. Hannah had gone through a rebellious phase when their parents were splitting up and she’d quit dancing, but that had only lasted a few months and then she’d gotten right back into it. Hannah had never been very close to their mother, so Mack wasn’t sure what the news of her death would do to his sister. After his dad, he would have to tell Hannah and then Blake. Blake took after their mother in all of the wrong ways. He had a similar drinking habit of getting drunk and then denying it. Blake had had his license revoked twice. Once the stiffer laws came into play, he’d started taking taxis to the bar. Mack figured that it got him out from behind the wheel of a car, which was positive. Now, if they could just get Blake to admit he had a problem.

“Your mother took one hell of a beating, Detective,” Kovel said.

Her voice jarred Mack back to the present. With all of the blood washed from her body, Mack could see the damage a lot easier. There was evidence of her drug abuse in addition to the marks her killer had put on her.

Kovel had done much of the preliminary work already. The body had been swabbed, vacuumed and photographed. If they got lucky, the killer would have left them something they could grab DNA from. But, unless he was already in the system, it wouldn’t do them much good until they had a suspect. Mack focused on the wounds, on the violence of them, but also on the pattern. The Surrey Slayer had had a pattern. The Roman numeral carved into the back had always been the last mark made on the body.

Mack had brought a checklist of the major points that the autopsies on the original seven boys had produced. As Kovel went through the process of documenting each mark on the body, Mack mentally checked each one off his list. There were some new marks, of course. His mother had lived the past twenty years of her life on the streets, and that life showed itself in the track marks, the sallow skin and the ravaging of her beauty.

“There are definite signs of intercourse,” Kovel stated for the record. She took several swabs for the lab to test for the presence of semen.

None of the young boys that the Surrey Slayer had taken had been sodomized. Mack had considered that a small relief for boys who had already gone through hell. He didn’t know what to make of that for his mom’s sake. She had sold her body for drugs more times than he would ever know about. Did that take away any sense of being raped? If she was high, would she have noticed? If she was jonesing, would she have cared?

Another image flipped through his mind. Mack centered his thoughts and watched as a large pair of hands gripped his mother’s upper arms. The vision scrolled up and down as the killer used his mother’s body for his own sexual release. The image came and went so quickly that he couldn’t determine where she’d been held captive. The hands had been free of any distinguishing characteristics that might have helped identify him. Mack couldn’t even gauge the killer’s age range, outside of him being an adult. Trying to view the images again proved impossible. If the flip book was still available to him, he didn’t know how to recall it.

Kovel spent three hours with the body. She estimated, based on the healing rates of several wounds, that his mother had been tortured for six to eight hours before receiving the fatal wound. The fatal wound, a slice in the carotid artery, had caused exsanguination of over sixty percent of her blood before her heart had stopped beating. Time of death was estimated at two to four hours before the body was found.

Mack drove to the precinct for a meeting with the inspector. He walked into the middle of an argument. Pike hadn’t arrived yet, but two of their fellow detectives had. The news had gone out on the wire that a body had been dumped in the alley behind Mack’s place. That fact and the fact that the deceased was Mack’s mother wasn’t why the detectives were getting in the inspector’s face.

Someone had whispered the rumour that his mother had been a victim of the Surrey Slayer. The police grapevine moved just as swiftly as any other office gossip did. These two particular detectives didn’t want on the case to assist, they wanted to take it over. They were using Mack’s emotional attachment to the body as their reason for getting him thrown off the case. They wanted the glory, if such a word could be used, of finally catching the killer who had vanished into thin air twenty years ago.

The lead Detective, Erik Fishman, was the son of one of the cops from the original case. They were a competitive family and it would be a hell of a feather in the younger Fishman’s cap to beat his old man at the same case. There was enough rivalry in that family with Erik being the only Fishman son, out of five in total, to turn his back on the RCMP.

“Novak’s too damn close to this thing,” Fishman argued. “His mother and his brother were killed by this man and there is no way he’s going to be able to focus on finding the killer.”

“You’ve already determined there is only one killer?” Mack interjected.

Fishman turned to him and sneered. “I’m very familiar with this case, Novak. I’ve been studying it since I could read.”

“The case is one body that may or may not be tied to a series of other killings,” Inspector Hilbert reminded Fishman. “At this time I see no reason to pull Detective Novak from the case.” Before Fishman could voice any further complaint, Hilbert continued. “Rest assured, Detectives, I will be monitoring this case very closely and if I see any change in Detective Novak’s and Detective Pike’s ability to keep a clear head, I’ll pull them off.” Hilbert stressed Pike’s name as a reminder to Fishman that no detective worked a case alone. Hilbert motioned Mack and Pike, who had just arrived, into his office and shut the door.

“Thank you, sir,” Mack said.

“Don’t thank me yet, detective. I’m giving you some leeway on this, because you’re the best team I’ve got and you won’t hear me say that outside this room.” Hilbert stepped behind his desk and gestured for the men to take their seats. “But if you start to lose your focus, I’ll pull you off and cut you out of any further developments in this investigation, you got that?”

“Yes, sir,” Mack and Pike replied.

“Good. Tell me what you’ve got.” Hilbert leaned back in his chair and waited for Mack to outline his facts.

Mack briefed both men on the results of the autopsy. Kovel would send copies of her official report to the inspector once she’d typed it up. Until then, Hilbert would rely on Mack’s attention to detail and familiarity with the previous cases to draw his conclusions from. Mack refrained from mentioning the two visions he’d had. Pike might understand them, but Mack wasn’t so sure Hilbert would see them as an asset. The visions could very well be the tipping point for Hilbert to pull Mack from the case.

“In addition to the presence of the Roman numeral eight carved into the body’s back, there were nine distinctive cuts on the body that were nearly identical to the bodies of twenty years ago.”

“Nearly identical?” Hilbert interrupted.

“Kovel had to offer some professional hedging to account for the apparent damage the deceased had endured as a normal course of her lifestyle,” Mack said. When Hilbert nodded, Mack continued laying out his points.

It was precious little at this point, but there was enough physical evidence on the body to indicate a copycat killer. Hilbert informed his detectives that he would have to contact the Surrey RCMP to alert them to the possibility that someone was emulating the Surrey Slayer.

“You’ll need to determine if the killer is the same person from twenty years ago, or if someone has taken a liking to his distinct style.”

Hilbert dismissed them and Mack and Pike immediately hit the streets. Pike drove, aiming for Grace Novak’s old stomping grounds, Main and Hastings. Parking their car on Hastings, just off the old Pigeon Park area, Pike stepped onto the sidewalk and stared at the citizens of Vancouver’s drug district. Crackheads and heroin addicts strolled out into the middle of the street with no regard for their own safety. The speed limit in the area had been lowered to 30km/h, but accidents still happened.

Pawn shops and a few cafes lined both sides of the street. The businesses were struggling to keep their doors open. One block to the south, Chinatown thrived, its businesses packed with customers and tourists alike. Mack pulled a picture from his file and approached several women leaning up against the wall, smoking cigarettes. Mack assumed they were laced with narcotics, but he wasn’t vice and he didn’t want to alienate everyone. He already had one strike against him, being a cop.

“Ladies, we’re looking for anyone who may have seen Grace Novak recently.” Mack held out the photo for everyone to view. He saw disinterest and mistrust in their eyes, but one of them gestured up the street, toward Main Street.

“She usually worked the corner. Why you want her?” The woman’s voice rasped as deep as a man’s. Her body was as wasted away as his mother’s had been, but at least the woman was still standing under her own steam.

“Someone killed her and we’re trying to find out who was with her last.”

“Why you care?” the woman asked, blowing a puff of smoke into his face.

He could smell the heroine mixed in with the tobacco. That had been his mother’s favorite. He remembered the smell from those last couple of years before she’d left. “Because she was my mother and because it’s my job to care. Thank you for your help.” Mack moved back a few steps before turning around. Pike had remained at the car, his gaze traveling up and down the street. They opted to drive the short distance to keep the car handy.

Mack got out of the car and showed his mother’s picture around again. Cops didn’t deter anyone from openly smoking pot or doing other drugs. The alley behind the Carnegie Library had been cleaned out of debris, but the pushers still offered their product to anyone who came by. Needle exchanges were a controversial subject in the area and it was difficult to determine if they were making a difference.

As Mack was walking through a throng of people, flashing the photo, a hand reached out of the crowd and grabbed him by the wrist. His initial instinct was to twist his arm to break the contact and then swing a fist around to defend himself. Then he saw that the hand was gnarled, the polish on the nails chipped. The hand belonged to an ancient-looking Chinese lady missing several of her teeth and wearing what appeared to be ten layers of polar fleece clothing. She stood hunched over, either from the weight of her clothing, or from her advanced age. A bony finger shook as she gestured to the photo.

“She hasn’t been around for several days. Her friend is worried about her.”

“Who is her friend?” Mack asked, leaning down to hear the woman’s soft voice.

“She just calls herself Polly. I don’t know her last name. You ask some of the local cops and they’ll know who she is.” She looked around as if expecting one of those local cops to be right there for her to point out. “Polly saw Grace get into a car and hasn’t seen her since. That picture makes her look dead, young man.”

Mack nodded. “She is dead, I’m afraid. I’m trying to piece together her last few days. If I can find Polly and she can give me a description of the man Grace got into the car with, it may help me find her killer.”

“Polly, she’s scared now. She’s worried about Grace and she’s scared that the man saw her, too. She’s worried she’ll get dumped at the pig farm.”

Mack didn’t roll his eyes, but he wanted to. The PoCo Pig Farm was big news a few years back. Too many working girls went missing off the streets and bodies were never recovered because they had been taken to the pig farm. The police had done a terrible job of looking into the women’s disappearances until after the story broke. It was media attention more than good police work that had brought the horrors of the pig farm to an end. The farm had been shut down and the man responsible for the women’s deaths was serving his sentence in prison, but the legacy lived on.

Mack fished out a business card and wrote his cell phone number on the back of it. “If you see Polly, tell her to call me, no matter what time it is.”

The old woman stared at the name on the card and then stared into Mack’s eyes. He thought she was peering into his soul and he wondered how he would fare. When she nodded and promised to get his card to Polly, he figured he’d come away on the positive side, if only barely.

Mack walked back to the car and saw that Pike was on his cell phone. He took his seat and waited for the call to finish. He picked up the tail end of the conversation. Something about knives.

“Thanks, Doug, we’re in the area now. We can meet with the shop owner and have a look at that video.” Pike disconnected his call and tossed his iPhone into the empty cup holder. Turning the car on, he checked for traffic and pedestrians, flashed the lights and pulled a u-turn in the middle of the intersection.

“Doug in Tech got a hit on one of the knives stolen from the Ebersole place. Said someone pawned it at a shop down the street.” As he parked in front of the place, he said how the shop owner videotaped all of his business, just in case. He had the last seventy-two hours on tape and swore you could see the woman who sold the knife clear as day.

Mack assumed they would see the widow Ebersole, but stranger things had happened in the past. Entering the shop, Mack smiled as several customers quickly stashed whatever they’d been offering to the owner before slinking out of the shop. The shop owner didn’t complain about business being bad. Most of the pawn shops were struggling with nickel and dime business, but it was a steady flow of coins all the same.

“You’re the cops here about the knife, am I right?”

The shop owner had to be the skinniest man Mack had ever seen. If he’d turned sideways, he would have disappeared. He stood about five and a half feet tall and must have weighed one hundred pounds, maximum. He was a smoker, judging by the yellow staining on the index and middle fingers of his right hand.

“You are correct, sir,” Pike admitted.

“I got the knife right here. It’s a beaut.” The owner, who introduced himself as Sam, pulled a case from below the counter and set it on the glass countertop for Pike to see. “She knew its value and had the proper paperwork for it. She wanted three g’s for it, but I wouldn’t go any higher than fifteen hundred. She took that with a little grumbling. Gorgeous lady,” Sam offered a low wolf whistle in appreciation. “Don’t often see ladies that fine down here. Well, if they’re down here too long, they don’t stay looking that fine.”

“We’re going to have to take this,” Pike said. He liked Sam and knew the man ran a clean business, for the most part. He hated to stiff the man on the fifteen hundred, but the knife was part of a robbery.

“She said the knife belonged to her and she had the right to sell it because her husband had just died.” Sam didn’t quite whine over the loss of the knife, but he gave it a little consideration first.

“Technically, the knife does belong to her, however it was still stolen from the premises and we have to take it. Once the case is closed, you can request the piece back from the guys in Evidence. We’ll give you an official receipt, so there shouldn’t be any hassle.”

“How long will that take?” Sam asked, pocketing the receipt that Pike had written up.

“Could be a year or more,” Pike admitted, stifling his grin at Sam’s fish-gaping mouth. “We’ll need to have a look at that video, to confirm the fine lady’s guilt.”

Sam grabbed the remote near his hand and pressed a few buttons. The TV behind him lit up and the view from his cameras split the screen into four. Rewinding to the previous day, Sam paused as the lady entered the store and stared directly into camera number two. Pike requested a copy of the video and a printout of camera two’s image. Sam complied with both items, knowing that the sooner they wrapped up the case, the sooner he could get his knife back.

“She’s too fine a lady to be lying to me,” Sam said.

“She didn’t lie, per se,” Mack said. “The knives do belong to her, but she wasn’t at liberty to sell them for cash just yet. If she comes back in with a knife, I’d recommend you not buy.”

Sam nodded, but didn’t speak. He was looking at a very lengthy delay before he could recoup his cash outlay. If the lady was bold enough to return to his shop, he would show her the door.

Pike agreed with Mack that their visit to the widow couldn’t be postponed until Monday. The drive across town in Sunday traffic was teeth-gnashingly slow and Mack realized that he was grateful to Pike for always taking the wheel. His mind tended to wander too often for this sort of driving.

Monique Ebersole didn’t look as perfectly coiffed as she had the past couple of times they had visited her. The house was quiet, the doorman not there to greet them. Monique answered the door in her robe and slippers. Her hair was a mess and she had no makeup on, not that she needed it. Her gesture of entrance was vague, her hands as listless as her gaze.

“Mrs. Ebersole, we need to speak with you about the missing knives.” Mack led the way into the front parlor and motioned for her to take a seat. He and Pike sat on the couch, facing the chair she’d flopped herself into. The robe parted to halfway up her thighs, but she didn’t bother to fix it. Mack thought she might be completely naked underneath. Pike looked as though he was hoping to find out.

“We’ve just come from the Hastings Pawn Shop where we chatted with Sam about a certain purchase he made from you.” Mack held up the photo of her from camera two. They had left the knife locked in the trunk of their car, but Sam had kindly taken a photo of it with one of his many digital cameras and printed it off as well. Mack held this up next for Monique to see.

“Why did you steal your own knives?” he asked.

Monique’s lower lip trembled and her eyes filled with tears. She didn’t bother to wipe them away, she just let them fall. “It was never about the money,” she whispered.

Mack fetched a couple of tissues from a box on the table next to him and passed them to her. He waited as she blew her nose and collected her thoughts. Pike looked uncomfortable, but then he wasn’t one for emotional displays, unless the feelings being displayed were anger or annoyance. Those emotions he could deal with. Mack thought Pike would prefer a screaming fit to this quiet sadness.

“Everyone thought I married Carlton because he was wealthy. I didn’t. That’s why I signed the pre-nup. My friends told me I was a fool for signing, but I didn’t care.” Wadding up the tissue, Monique gripped it in her hands. “I never worried about divorce, but I just never thought he would be killed. I wasn’t prepared for that, financially.”

Monique admitted that stealing the knives was a stupid thing to do, the legalities of it aside. She said she had no intention of filing a claim for them against her insurance. She’d needed the cash. With Klein freezing all of Carlton’s bank accounts, Monique had no access to any funds. She was running out of food and she couldn’t pay the household staff, so they were threatening to quit.

“I can’t blame them,” she said. “I’m sure they think I did kill him.”

“Mrs. Ebersole,” Pike said, “why haven’t you hired a lawyer to fight Klein’s actions? If freezing the accounts leaves you with nothing to see to the daily expenses, a good lawyer will be able to argue that a trustee be appointed to administer funds for that purpose.”

“I asked Carlton’s lawyer about that, but he said it would be costly to do so and I likely wouldn’t be approved, since everyone thinks I killed him.”

Pike glanced at Mack and shook his head once. He still wasn’t convinced about Monique Ebersole’s innocence, but he was closer to believing her than not. If her lawyer had given her such bad advice, then he bore looking into. “I suggest you get your own lawyer,” Pike said. “Find someone who isn’t tied to this family in any way. They can set a low retainer and collect their fees once the courts prove your innocence and release all holds on the accounts.”

Monique looked hopeful and agreed to look for a lawyer straight away. She promised that she would do nothing further to muddy their investigation and handed the remaining knives that she’d removed from the case over to them. She appeared happier and full of purpose when they left, compared to when they had arrived.

Back in the car, Mack waited for Pike to navigate the car out of the sloped driveway before mentioning the lawyer. “You think the guy is being paid by Klein to screw over Monique Ebersole?”

“I don’t see what difference it would make at this point, aside from being petty,” Pike said. “Klein has frozen the accounts and if we hadn’t come along, she likely would have stolen something else to buy food, getting herself arrested.”

Mack tossed the problem around in his head as Pike drove back toward the precinct. If Monique got herself arrested for grand theft, she could end up in prison until her day in court. With a backlog of cases bogging down the system, a day in court for theft could take a month or more to set. How would a month with her out of the house serve Klein?

“Do we have the provenance on all of the knives in Carlton’s collection?” Mack asked.

“Yeah, I think we’ve got a list in the file. I haven’t looked through it yet.”

“We should see if any of the knives are worth a significant amount of money.”

“You think Klein’s hurting for cash and looking to get his hands on a knife?” Pike could see that. If the man’s finances weren’t as strong as appearances would have them believe, then a knife sold on the black market might be just the ticket to keep the wolves at bay. “What would the lawyer’s incentive be?”

“If he thinks the widow is guilty, he’ll lose a lucrative client once she’s convicted. If he throws his weight in with Klein then he could salvage that financial pothole by representing the new holder of Carlton’s money.” It would take time to prove collusion on the lawyer’s part, but Mack was willing to bet that the pieces would fall into place once they started looking at the puzzle from that new angle.

“This doesn’t prove her innocent,” Pike said.

Mack knew that. He held firm to his belief that Monique Ebersole hadn’t killed her husband. He didn’t see Klein as the killer, either. He was an ass, yes, but Mack had sensed genuine grief when Klein had talked about his brother’s death. Klein’s belief that the wife had killed Carlton had been strong. So far, the evidence backed up that belief, one hundred percent.

The DA hadn’t pushed to file charges yet, but Mack knew it was coming. Motive was a little shaky at this point. If Mack could prove that Carlton had intended to file for divorce, leaving his wife with nothing, the DA would demand Monique’s immediate arrest for first degree murder. They couldn’t prove premeditation beyond a reasonable doubt. It was possible that Carlton had been examining the knife when his killer struck. With the knife already unlocked from the case, the method would have been one of opportunity. The knife was there, so it was used. The only fingerprints on the keys to the case had been Carlton’s.

“If the lawyer’s on Klein’s side, he could fabricate a divorce decree,” Mack murmured, thinking aloud. “The DA would jump at the case then and Monique would be out of the house for a very long time.

“We need to find out if those knives are worth major money. We can insist that they be stored in a secure location, citing the previous robbery as reason enough for them to be moved. It might hurt Monique in the short term, but it could save her a mess of trouble with trumped up murder charges, if that’s where this is leading.”


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