Chapter 23

February 29, 2012 at 1:30 pm (The Truth)

The night watchman had indeed managed to get a call out. He’d opted straight for 911, because all calls were recorded and he knew that he could begin his explanation before the operator had even asked if his call was an emergency or not. And that is exactly what he had done. As such, the operator was on the line and her immediate supervisor was listening in when the watchman said the woman was dead and the man was shoving her into the trunk of his car.

Before they could ask the watchman for any more details, they’d heard the distinct sounds of a struggle and then they had lost the connection. Because the watchman had used his company issued cell phone to make the call, the 911 operator had the name and the company’s address on her screen. A quick call to the company’s head office produced a manager who checked the logs to determine who was carrying cell phones that evening.

They had thirty guards on duty and after twenty minutes they had the names of two guards who had not answered their phones. Police were dispatched to both locations. The first guard was found in his car, asleep in the back seat. He nearly jumped out of his skin when the police rapped on the window to get his attention. The police called in to say that their guy was safe.

Police at the second location couldn’t find their guard anywhere on the grounds. They found a smashed cell phone on the ground not far from the gated entrance, but the guard had disappeared. Calling it in, the two cops continued to search the area while they waited for assistance. Spotting the dumpsters tucked away from the main entrance, one of the cops jogged over. Donning a pair of protective gloves, he grabbed the rim. Hoisting himself up, he peered over the edge of the first dumpster and stared inside. The stench was awful, but he didn’t see anything but a few bags of garbage.

The stench in the second dumpster was worse. There was more garbage piled inside. The cop was about to drop back to the ground when he spotted a piece of fabric sticking out from beneath one of the garbage bags. Levering himself further into the bin, he reached in and pulled on the swatch of fabric.

The fabric was part of the pant leg on the night watchman’s uniform. The cop yelped and jumped back, stumbling to the ground. Regaining his feet, he jogged back to his partner, calling in the body on his radio. While they waited for the crime scene techs to arrive, the cops set up a perimeter to block any civilians who might be accessing their warehouses, to keep them from contaminating the scene.

Detectives from District Two arrived on scene and began the long and laborious process of determining the night watchman’s last moments. They knew a few of the details thanks to a copy of the phone call that the 911 operator had received. The watchman had stated that a man was stuffing a woman’s body into the trunk of a car. Though they didn’t think whoever had killed the night watchman would be dumb enough to hang around waiting for the police to arrive, they still checked every single car in the nearby parking lot. They also checked every car that was parked outside each individual warehouse. As expected, they turned up no bodies in the trunk.

Noticing that the man’s wallet and wedding ring were missing, the detectives made an early assumption that the night watchman’s death had been a robbery and the supposed body in the trunk had been a trick of the light. Most of the warehouses were dark and had no outside lighting on. They processed the scene as a homicide, since it was an unattended death and there was definite evidence of foul play involved. Back at the precinct, the lead detective dutifully entered the data into the system before heading home once his shift was over.

The data he entered included a few keywords that had been added to an ongoing query search by another cop. The keywords triggered the query to send the data from the night watchman’s file to Ben Ingledue’s computer where he would see it when he began his shift the next morning. He and his partner had spent several days analyzing data from the MEs office and had determined that their killer would need a very private place to work.

The damage that the killer had committed against the women was enough that there would be an incredible amount of splatter and trace left behind. The fact that none of the women appeared to have been gagged for any length of time suggested that the staging area had good sound proofing, or was in an area that didn’t require any attempts to muffle the sounds.

The ME had stated that the bodies had been moved within a few hours of the women’s deaths. Based on blood pooling at the lowest points of the body compared to time of death, the ME believed that the women were being killed within a thirty kilometer radius of where they were being dumped. Ingledue and Curcio had a significant number of locations to check for the killer’s hideaway. The night watchman’s death in an industrial park filled with warehouses, public storage units and work yards only added more buildings to their list.

***

Nelle had just finished brewing a pot of decaf coffee when her buzzer rang. Checking the security camera, Nelle saw Mack’s face staring back at her. Buzzing him in, she collected another cup from the kitchen and then unlocked her front door. Pouring coffee into the cup, she set the creamer beside the cups on a tray and carried it over to the couch.

Mack knocked first and then came inside. He greeted Nelle with a long, sweet kiss and then wrapped his arms around her and held on. Holding her and feeling her steady grip around his waist helped to center him. His thoughts had been a jumbled mess the past few days. His attempts to filter through his own thoughts so that he could focus on other people’s had left him mentally exhausted. Nelle’s calm allowed him to let go of everything that was clamoring inside of him, if only for a little while.

Mack sat on the edge of the couch and sipped at his coffee. Nelle settled in next to him. The silence was comforting. She could tell that Mack had several things on his mind and she didn’t want to clutter his thoughts with chatter. If he wanted to sip his coffee and not say a word, that was fine with her. Her own thoughts were a bit of a mess. Her father had called several times to ask when her surgery was. She had asked the hospital not to provide him with that information. She didn’t need him hanging around when they were prepping her.

Seeing her father again after all these years had brought home just how unsettled her life was. She had her house and that was about the only thing that was steady. Her job was transient; once her contract was done she was done. Sure, she would probably have another graphic novel idea and would begin working on that, but it wasn’t set. She could go for a year or more and not have a good enough idea to interest her editor or her publisher.

She preferred it that way, but it didn’t change the fact that her life was very unscheduled. Some of her friends would kill for such a life. They were stuck in the nine-to-five rat race, looking for any way out. Mostly they hoped to win the lottery. Nelle didn’t want to join that race. She wasn’t cut out for a work day schedule that usually started a few hours after she turned her lights out for the night.

What she wanted was Mack. Full time, full commitment and with all the mess that brought. And she was a coward, because she wanted him to say he wanted that before she would admit that she did. She was behaving like a teenager and she knew it. Part of her hesitation came from the fact that she had really only known Mack for a short time. As comfortable as she was with him, they’d never had a proper date. Lunch at Chill Winston and the hasty dinner at Alpha were the only times they had been out in public together, after the day they had met for coffee.

And trying to force a relationship on him now would be unfair. Mack had far greater things to think about than whether the woman in his life was happy. Nelle knew that she could be content with herself, but she knew she could be really happy with Mack. And if that meant waiting until his life was a little less hectic, she would do that. In the meantime, she would focus on her upcoming surgery, her recovery time and her novel.

Mack placed his empty coffee cup on the tray and took Nelle’s hand in his. He kissed the tips of her fingers and asked her to tell him about her day.

“I ran into Adriana Sutton today,” Nelle said. She gave him the full rundown on Ms. Sutton’s comments, hoping to glean a little insight from him into the woman’s motives. “She said that she was working very closely with you on the copycat case, since it tied in so much with the Surrey Slayer case.”

“Adriana Sutton is little more than a thorn in my side and she has apparently cropped up in another one of my cases. I had to transfer it to Constable Betz when we formed the task force for the copycat case.”

Nelle nodded. “She was not very pleased about being arrested in broad daylight, or at all, I assume.”

Mack smiled. “Betz didn’t tell me you were there, though I guess he doesn’t know your connection to me yet.”

“Has she caused any trouble with him? She was going on about sexual harassment when he was assisting her to the car.”

Mack explained that Ms. Sutton had refused to speak another word once her lawyer had arrived at the precinct. Her lawyer had, in fact, muzzled her when she’d called him. Once she’d realized that she was being questioned in a murder investigation, she shut her mouth, but good.

Nelle said how Constable Betz had been perfectly appropriate in his behavior and that if Ms. Sutton caused him any trouble, she would be happy to speak on his behalf. Nelle continued to tell Mack about the rest of her day. She said how her surgery was scheduled for three in the afternoon, on Monday. Her surgeon had squeezed her in once he’d reviewed her half-brother’s file and realized that the kid didn’t need the delay.

“How long is the operation?” Mack asked.

“Dr. Schepps said I’d be about an hour in pre-Op, the surgery would take around an hour to complete and then I would spend several hours in post-Op before I would come out of the anesthesia.”

“I’ll do my best to be there for the pre-Op, but I’ll definitely make sure I’m around when you wake,” Mack promised.

***

Nelle jolted awake when the phone rang. Reaching across the bed, she tried to find it only to realize that it wasn’t her phone. Mack had already slipped out of bed, grabbed the phone and started to get dressed by the time she’d rolled over to look at him. He didn’t have to tell her that the news was bad. Nothing good ever came from a phone call in the middle of the night. Sitting on the edge of the bed, she listened to his half of the conversation.

Their attempts to find Nikki George alive were not to be. Nelle reached for her robe and slipped it on. Leaving the bedroom, she reheated the leftover coffee and put it into a travel mug for Mack to take with him. It wouldn’t be the best coffee he’d had, but it was far off from the worst. He wouldn’t have enough time to eat anything, so she didn’t bother to cook.

Mack thanked her for the coffee and said that he would call her as soon as he was able. He arrived at the scene just as Pike pulled up. Kovel hadn’t arrived yet. Several media vans were parked alongside the road, trying to sneak a few shots of the crime scene before the police had it fully locked down. One idiot called out asking what visions Mack had had about the dead woman.

“I don’t understand why anyone would actually want to see this,” Pike muttered. “It’s not like they show it in the movies, but I don’t guess people think of that, do they?”

“I imagine if they saw this up close, they would have to tell themselves that it is just like the movies, or they’d not be able to handle it. Especially a scene like this,” Mack motioned toward the body.

He could see that Nikki’s body had been arranged in a similar manner to the previous victims. There was no discernible reason for the way the bodies had been displayed. Some killers liked to position the bodies in a way that accentuated what had been done to them. Their killer had all but dumped the bodies out onto the ground. Kovel had stated that all of the bodies had been wrapped in plastic before being carted from the kill site to the drop site. Mack assumed the killer unraveled the bodies as one would roll out a wrapped piece of food.

Nikki George’s body had been dumped in Oppenheimer Park, not far from the place she’d lived. Many of the city’s nomads called the park their home. Just a few blocks up from the hustle of Main and Hastings, the park offered a bit of green space and quiet. Nikki’s body had been dumped in the center of the park. At first, the man who found her had thought she’d overindulged in her drug of choice and was sleeping it off. Then he’d noticed the cuts.

Her body had been washed clean after her killer had finished with her, but the gashes had crisscrossed her skin on her back, legs and arms. Her chest and abdomen were a pulpy mess. And she had been naked, which wasn’t unusual in the park, but this late in fall, it was worth a second look. Now the man sat with the police, trying to get the vision out of his head. He wasn’t homeless and he didn’t do drugs anymore. Reggie Black was a reformed addict who spent his time trying to get current addicts to clean up.

He was known to police, both from his addict days and from his more recent work. Ingledue gave him a cup of strong coffee that he’d picked up from the Tim Horton’s near his house. It was Ingledue’s turn to get the coffee for the crew. After picking up Curcio, who was on the way, they’d gone through the drive-thru and ordered forty cups of strong black coffee. He thought Reggie would plow through half of them before his hands stopped shaking.

“I don’t ever want to see something like that again,” Reggie whispered. He wouldn’t ever forget the eyes. If he hadn’t already guessed that she was dead because of the damage to her body, he would remember those eyes. He could see her soul still trapped inside her, screaming to get out. He would ask his father if they could help free it. She had lived through more trauma than any one person should be forced to endure. Her soul should be allowed to sleep.

“You don’t have to see her again, Reggie,” Ingledue promised. He hadn’t seen her yet, but he had gotten the rundown from the first cops on scene on the body’s condition. It was hard enough for seasoned cops to look at. Reggie, though he’d spent the past twenty years on the streets in one capacity or another, had probably never seen anyone quite so brutally dead.

Reggie didn’t bother to explain. Ingledue was a good guy, but he wasn’t native and he wouldn’t understand their beliefs about the soul and how he’d seen it in her eyes. He didn’t know if his father could help her, but he knew they’d have to try. “You gotta catch this guy, Ben. He’s got a mess inside his head and he isn’t ever going to stop on his own, you know?”

“Yeah, we know,” Ben agreed. They needed to catch a break with this killer. So far, he’d been several giant leaps ahead of them.

Mack and Pike were standing with Eric Fishman and his partner, Gatts, when Danny Fishman arrived on scene. Mack wasn’t surprised to see the man there, now that a link had been made in the press between his case and theirs. He also wasn’t surprised to see the attitude was on full display.

“Looks like your inspector continues to make this error in judgment having you here, Novak,” Fishman said. He sneered at his brother and then ignored everyone else.

“Careful Fishman, your privileges can be revoked and I can have you removed from the scene.” Mack refused to enter a pissing contest with the elder Fishman brother. If he pushed, Mack would push back harder. Mack motioned Ingledue and Curcio over once they’d passed Reggie off to a uniform. “How’s he doing?”

“He’s going to remember that for a very long time, but I think he’ll be fine,” Ben said. “He said that he’d done a pass of the area about an hour before he found Ms. George and she wasn’t there then, of course. Our killer must have timed it quite well to avoid him, or he just got lucky.”

Mack nodded for Ben to continue giving his report to Pike when Kovel called him over. She was still with the body and appeared to be close to finishing up. She held something in the palm of her gloved hand, but he couldn’t make it out. As he got closer, she held her palm up for him to examine. Mack, his own hands still gloved, picked up the shiny object for closer inspection. He held a man’s gold wedding ring between his thumb and index finger.

“It was beneath her body, stuck into the skin of her left thigh,” Kovel said. “I doubt that it was here in the park and her killer just happened to dump her body on top of it.”

“There’s an inscription on the inside,” Mack said. Squinting to read the tiny script, he could just make out the initials ‘RS’. Blood obscured the rest. Their killer couldn’t have gotten so careless that he dropped his wedding ring and didn’t notice, could he? Mack could be so lucky. Still, the ring came from somewhere. If they followed that, it could lead them to another important piece of the puzzle. Mack would take all the help he could get on this one.

“The damage to the body is far more extensive than we’ve seen so far.” Kovel pointed out several areas where the killer had hacked and torn the flesh from Nikki George’s body. “Not that any of the previous cuts were done with precision, but these are particularly violent.”

“You think he’s breaking down?”

Kovel nodded. “I’ll know more once I can get this body on my table, but I think we’ll find that Ms. George went through a far more traumatic experience than our previous victims had.”

“If he’s breaking down then he’s going to make mistakes. This ring could be the start of it, but I’d like to know what else you have, soon. I’ll send Ingledue and Curcio to view the autopsy.”

“I’m starting it as soon as I get her back,” Kovel said, dismissing him to continue with her preparations.

Mack returned to the group and described the ring found with the body. “Kovel believes the killer is breaking down. The ring is definitely a mistake and she’s certain that he has made more. Ben, I want you and Curcio to be present for this autopsy. Kovel is going to start it straight away.”

Ingledue and Curcio headed off to assist Kovel’s team with the transport. Mack prayed that the ring would provide him with a new angle to examine. Breaking down as the killer appeared to be, Mack worried that any other victims would be treated in even more horrendous a fashion than Nikki George was. He couldn’t help but think of Nelle and worry about her safety. They had to catch this killer before he’d worked his way around to her.

“Eric, the killer is still going in order. Who would be next on his list?”

“The killer skipped over the fifth family, likely because they’ve all moved from the area. If I assume that he’ll do the same with the third, for the same reason, then the next likely target is Rebecca Chu. Her cousin, Kenny Chu, was killed when he was nine. He was the second victim.” Eric handed him a photo of the woman. “I contacted the family a few days ago. She’s the only female family member that Kenny Chu has who lives in the lower mainland. His mother passed away two years ago and he has no aunts living here.”

Mack took the photo from Eric. He did not want to have to put it up on the whiteboard in the conference room. “I’ll see about getting Ms. Chu a bodyguard.”

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