“Man, you trying to bore me to death?” Roddy Ruiz asked, shaking his head. “I tole you already. I kidnapped her, brung her in through the back door, had sex with her, then, like, killed her when I was done.”
“Why did you kill her?”
“She was giving me some trouble, like I said, cabron. Why do you keep digging at me, man?”
“What kind of trouble Roddy?” Detective Nick Lee asked. “We need to get the details down.”
His partner, Detective Bob Zorzi offered, “Did she challenge your manhood?”
Roddy’s eyes narrowed, hard street stare style. “You want to talk about my manhood, hijo de puta? You take these cuffs offa me I’ll show you—“
Detective Lee said, “Just tell us what happened.”
“Chinaman, you tell your partner there ain’t no problem with my manhood. That bitch, she was sat-is-fied. She was begging for it. That big dick asshole of her boyfriend, he don’t know nothing about pleasing a woman. That’s what she tell me. She say ‘oh papa please take me.’ Them white women, they love a little Puerto Rican Love taco. Why you think they call me Hot Rod?”
Chicago “Windy” Thomas, new head of the Las Vegas Metro police department’s Criminalistics bureau and thoroughly exhausted mother of a six year old just over the stomach flu, leaned her forehead against the cool one-way glass panel, half to get a closer look at the suspect in the interrogation room, and half to calm her raging headache. She had only been in her position for two weeks, had only been in Las Vegas for a month and a half, but she thought she could recognize Roddy. Not him so much as something inside him. Insecure boys playing at being tough men shared characteristics no matter where you went.
Roddy Ruiz’s file said he was 15 years old, which in street years made him about 45. He looked eleven. He was small, with big ears, brown eyes, close shaved dark hair, and a faint line of fuzz on his upper lip and chin that Windy was sure he’d call a mustache and beard. No parents, lived with his uncle. He’d refused a lawyer, confessed to murder, and now leaned back in his chair, tapping his white K-Swiss sneakers on the floor to the beat of a song in his head, moving his shoulders. There were large rust colored stains on his jeans and Tommy Hillfinger t-shirt where he’d tried to wash blood off, but they didn’t seem to bother him. He was a bad ass, his unconcerned posture said, nothing they could do to the Hot Rod that he wasn’t ready for.
The two detectives were jumpier than Roddy, from lack of sleep and excitement. To Windy, even the stenographer who had gone in with them looked smug, like the cat who had swallowed the canary. They’d caught Roddy less than 48 hours after he attacked and killed the daughter of a California billionaire in the bathroom of a tiny Las Vegas apartment while his uncle watched the Shop At Home Channel in the other room. Less than forty eight hours was a good capture time, made better by his confessing it up front, and the cops knew they could count on a lot of accolades from the higher ups, not to mention a lot of attention from the media. The Shop At Home Channel had been founded by the girl’s father, it was how he’d made his billions, and no news executive around the country could resist the irony—although they used the word tragedy—that if it had not been on the television in the next room, Roddy’s uncle might have heard something and been able to save the girl. Even the national networks had sent crews, so there were more than the normal handful of reporters hanging around the press room, ready to make this week’s heroes out of the men who had worked the case.
They deserved that, the attention, the praise, Windy thought. Everyone deserved it. Everyone should feel important and special. It was the lack of those feelings that created individuals who could beat a billionaire’s daughter to death and then pose her pornographically in a bathtub. No, attention and praise were good, which was why Windy felt like crap about what she was about to do.
She took a deep breath, slid the manila folder from the ledge in front of the one-way glass under her arm, and knocked on the door of the interrogation room.
Four faces turned to her as if annoyed by her intrusion.
She thought she heard Detective Zorzi mutter, “Crap,” under his breath when he saw her. “How can we help you ma’am?” he asked, trying to be polite but really, she thought, to remind her who was in charge.
The suspect whistled low, leaned back in his chair, and spread his legs wide under the table. “You shouldn’t have, officers. A stripper, all for me. And they say the cops are ass holes.” Roddy licked his lips appreciatively. “Honey you tell ‘em to get these cuffs offa me and we can get the party started right.”
Out of the corner of her eye Windy saw Detective Lee almost choke with embarrassment. “She’s not a strip—“
Ignoring him, Windy walked over to the table and sat down facing Roddy.
“Mr. Ruiz, I’m Chicago Thomas,” she said. “I’m here to save your life.”
The first thing Roddy noticed about her was the way she pronounced her name, Thomàs, with the accent on the last syllable, trying to act like she was Latino. Bond with him. Man these cops must think he was dumb. He took her in, caramel colored hair, light green eyes, and sneered. “You trying to get down with me, mamacita, saying your name all slick like that, act like from my ‘hood? You think you’re J-Lo? What part of Mexico you from, honey? You know, Texas don’t count.” He winked, man to man, at the detectives but they just stared at him. Cop bastards.
“My family is from Chile,” the lady cop said. “But I was born in the states.”
“What kind of a name is Chicago?”
“The name of the city where I was born. What kind of a name is Roddy?”
“A sexy one.” Roddy winked. “They call you Chicago? Or just Chica?”
“My friend’s call me Windy.”
“No shit. I used to have a dog named Windy. On account of him farting all the time.”
Windy looked at him wide eyed. “Really? You’d be amazed at how many people have that same pet. Now tell me about yourself. Where were you born, Roddy?”
“Man, I was born the day I saw you.”
She smiled, but more like a mom would. Made Roddy nervous. Then she said, not to him, but to the detectives, “I’d like to have Mr. Ruiz’s guardian here for this, please. That’s his uncle I believe?”
“No need to involve Mr. X,” Roddy told them. “I got my shit under control myself.” He leaned across the table. “You sure you ain’t a stripper lady? You could make good money, you know, tits and face like you got. You dead sexy even if you got a fucked up name. Now I know this club, I can set you up, me and the manager, we—“
But the dirty blonde wasn’t even looking his way. “Please bring in Mr. Xavier,” she repeated. “I believe I saw him in the West hallway.”
Roddy watched as the taller detective, left the room. Man was at least three times the size of the lady, but there he went, doing what she said, and not taking his time about it either. She must have some power, something, to get him hopping like that. He looked at her more closely. She was wearing a gray business suit, all the cops wore suits, idiotas, trying to look professional, but hers was something a little special. Sort of cool and classy. Underneath she had on a shirt like a man’s that buttoned down the front, gold with white pin stripes, the top two buttons open, and a tie, but not wearing it like a man, wearing it inside the shirt, sort of like a scarf, so it was sexy. Roddy had to hand it to her, the woman could dress. She looked like something out of one of the fancy magazines with the foreign sounding names, Elle or Glamour, that he looked at while Mr. X was getting manicures. Finally he said, “You a lawyer or something, lady?”
“Then how you gonna save my life? You got super powers? See through walls and shit?”
“Yes. As a matter of fact, I do.”
“Yeah? Prove it.” He stood up, showing her his jeans. “Tell me what I got on under my pants.”
“Blue and white stripped boxers. Now please, Roddy, sit down. You are making the detective nervous.”
The expression on Roddy’s face when she told him what color underwear he was wearing was better than Windy could have hoped, but when he followed that up by covering his crotch with his hands, so she wouldn’t be able to see his ‘love taco’ with her X-ray vision, Windy thought she might have to step outside to keep from laughing. Only Bob Zorzi’s return kept her there, and kept her from telling Roddy that according to the Crime Scene reports, he owned a total of five pairs of underwear, all of them blue and white stripped boxers and that she’d just been making an educated guess.
Hector Xavier, the man Detective Zorzi escorted in, was medium height, in his late thirties, and confident, maybe a little cocky, judging from his walk. That could be useful, Windy thought. Hector had been Roddy’s legal guardian for five years, and the way Roddy looked at him, it was clear to Windy that he pretty well idolized the man. Hector and Roddy had been hiding out together since the murder, and when the cops caught up with them it was Hector who had convinced Roddy to tell the truth. He had a pencil mustache, a mouth full of gold, and a shark skin suit whose lapels would have pleased a mafia don of the 1960’s, once it got a good pressing. It looked to Windy as though he, like Roddy, was still wearing the clothes he had left home in when they went into hiding. His white silk shirt, no longer crisp, was unbuttoned to the middle showing a large gold cross against a muscular, hairless chest. He looked his ward over carefully, then put his hand on his shoulder and said “You ok, Hot Rod?”
“Yeah, Mr. X,” Roddy replied, struggling to regain his cool tone. “Doin’ fine.”
“Good.” Hector sat down next to Roddy and asked, “We got a problem here, officers?” He gave Windy a smile with his mouth of gold. She wondered how much a set of teeth like that cost.
“Just a little one,” Windy assured him, returning the smile. Unless you counted having your ward confess to a brutal murder. She opened the manila folder, started taking out shiny color photos and sorting them on the table.
“You showing us girly pictures?” Hector asked, looking around hopefully at the male cops for a reaction. Out of the corner of her eye, Windy saw Hector wink at Roddy and mouth, ‘don’t worry.’
She got the photos in the order she wanted, gathered them together and tapped their edges against the table, evening them. She looked up and asked no one in particular, “It’s getting warm in here, isn’t it?”
Hector and the two cops squirmed a little inside their suit jackets, as if her mentioning it had raised the temperature in the room.
Hector said, “Is this gonna take a long time?”
“No. But you should get comfortable.”
He slipped off his Mafioso jacket. “Ok, what is it? What are those?”
Windy lay the pile of photos on the table, facing Hector and Roddy. “We might get to them later, if we need them.” In the top photo, she watched Roddy recognize the corner of their over furnished living room, sofa, TV in the black lacquer entertainment center, matching coffee table. Doorway to the left going to Hector Xavier’s office. Some of his confidence seemed to flicker. “I’m going to tell you a story,” she said, “Feel free to interrupt me, but if I were you, I’d wait until the end.” She was talking to both of the men across from her, but her gaze stuck to Roddy’s eyes. “Danielle Starr came to your apartment at around 11:30 in the morning. She’d come to pick up a brick of heroin her boyfriend Fred had contracted with Mr. Xavier for, and she carried a shopping bag full of bills. Roddy, you were watching TV when she rang the doorbell, so you let her in and told her to wait on the couch while you got your guardian, Mr. Xavier. When you came back, she had flipped to the Shop At Home Channel. I suspect she told you that her father owned it, made some kind of small talk. She was nervous, this was the first time Fred had trusted her as a courier, and that wasn’t all. He had sent her out with $5,000 less than he owed. He’d told her to do whatever she could to make Mr. Xavier satisfied, buy him a few days to come up with the rest of the money.”
Windy’s eyes went to Hector, who was looking around the room, bored. “She made you that offer when you took her into your office. Being a sensible business man, you decided to take her up on it. You’d been expecting to do business and you were dressed for it, wearing a suit, but that wasn’t a problem. You slipped off your jacket, got comfortable in your desk chair, opened up your pants, and told her to get on her knees. She did what you wanted, started sucking, but for some reason it just wasn’t happening. You couldn’t stay hard.”
“Aw man, this is bullshit,” Hector said. But now he looked at Windy. She’d found that any man would get excited, pay attention, if you started talking about his private parts, even if you said derogatory things about them. Inexplicable but true.
Windy used this magic power to hold Hector’s gaze. “What did she do, Hector? What was her mistake? Did she say something wrong? Something about the Snoopy statue on the desk inhibiting your performance? Did she laugh at you? Your pants are down around your ankles and she’s laughing at you? Humiliating you? So you decide you’ll show her. You take the bronze statue of the Snoopy playing golf and you hit her with it once, here.” Windy pointed to the crown of her head. “That doesn’t shut her up, so you do it twice more. She slides onto the floor, but you’re not done yet, you hit her in the chest with the statue, breaking her rib cage, and across the nose. She most likely died of the fourth blow, when her ribs punctured her lungs, but I don’t imagine you care about that. Then, when you had shown her good, you look up and see that the door to the office is partway open, that there is someone standing, watching between the door frame and the hinges.” Windy glanced at Roddy, then back to Hector. “You call him in and get him to carry Danielle’s body into the bathroom before she bleeds all over the rug. He hugs her to him, close, only letting one of her feet drag on the ground, trying not to make a mess. He puts her in the bathtub and is going to leave her there, but you tell him to pose her. Set her up, make it look like she’s touching herself. No—you have a better idea. Take the Snoopy statue and shove it up inside her. You want to humiliate her, even after she’s dead. Make it so everyone knows what a whore she was.”
Windy’s gaze rested on Roddy again, who was watching her as if hypnotized. “But you couldn’t do it, could you, Roddy? When Hector turned his back, you moved Snoopy so he was lying next to the girl. You were covered in her blood from carrying Danielle, but you hadn’t killed her, and you felt bad about it. You locked yourself in the bathroom with her and turned on the water, so Hector wouldn’t hear you throw up. Then you sat down next to the bathtub and cried. When you got up, you—”
“No,” Roddy said, his first word, voice higher now then before. Talking not to Windy, but to Hector. Pleading. “I didn’t. She’s lying man. I didn’t. I didn’t cry, man.”
Hector ignored him. “Shit, lady,” he drawled. “That’s a fine story you got. Like I got a problem with my equipment, got to beat a girl to death to get a hard on. You want to try it? Right here? I’ll give you a ride you won’t forget.”
Windy’s eyes did not leave Roddy. “What did Hector say to you, Roddy, to convince you to take the fall? Did he tell you you’d be tried as a juvenile, out in a few years? That’s not true. They are going to ask for you to be tried as an adult. You could go to prison for the rest of your life, no parole. Did he say that if you confessed we wouldn’t ask too many questions? Did he point out that you’re a good talker and cops were dumb, we’d believe anything? That you’d get in and get out, just like that, and then he’d be waiting for you? You’d be a real man? You have no record, Roddy, you’ve never been inside. You can’t imagine what its like.”
Roddy said, still not looking at her, eyes only for Hector, “I didn’t cry, man. You got to believe me, I didn’t cry.”
Hector shook his head. “What are you trying to do to the boy, lady? Its not good enough for you that he confessed? Shit. Know what you should do? You should go, get yourself a typewriter, write a novel. You got one hell of an imagination. You say I did this? Killed this bitch? Where’s the proof? I beat the bitch to death? Ok, show me some blood. Show me some gore.” Hector stood up, spread his arms. “Look at my shirt. Same shirt I was wearing that day. Not a spot of anything.”
An electrical jolt ran through Windy, a bolt of excitement. Oh Hector, she thought. You should learn not to brag. Not make it too easy for me. She said: “When a person is beaten to death the way Danielle was, the blood does not explode out. It gets on the object that is used to do the beating. When the object is swung, droplets of blood fly off of it.” Windy rolled up one of the eight by ten crime scene photos so it formed a cylinder, like a club made of paper. She held it in both hands. “If this is the weapon, the person doing the beating would go like this.” She raised the cylinder with both hands over her shoulder, then brought it down hard on the table. “Danielle was hit five times. The first time the killer hit her might not draw blood. The second time a little, the third more. Each time he pulled his arms back to take another swing, blood flew off the weapon. But not onto his chest. The killer would not have blood on the front of his shirt. He’d have it here.” Windy held the make shift club over her shoulder, showing where it would go when she drew it into position to strike again, “On his back.”
For a moment the interrogation room was completely still. Hector standing there, his arms outstretched, showing how clean he was. Detectives Lee and Zorzi staring, transfixed, at his back.
Then Hector did a crazy dance, trying to see over his shoulder, trying to turn his shirt around, twisting, and Windy saw what she knew would be there. Hundreds of small red circles, medium velocity blood spatter, cascading down from his right shoulder, the shirt looking like it had been hit with a half empty can of rust colored spray paint.
The Detectives were just coming out of their trance when Hector lunged across the table and tried to strangle Windy. “The bitch is crazy man,” he yelled as Detective Lee pried his finger away from her neck. “She’s crazy. No way she knows that stuff. On my back. Bull shit. No way. Unless—“
Hector’s eyes got crafty and at the same time took on a weird sheen, making him look a little nuts. They darted around, fast. “You’ve been watching my house. The Feds, they got cameras in my house. That’s illegal. I got rights. I want a lawyer. I’m not saying anything else until I get a lawyer. This is America. Ain’t no one got the right to have cameras in my house. You been filming this, filming me. I’ll sue all of you. I’ll—”
Windy got up from the table, the electricity gone. She moved to the door, feeling like her joints were made of lead, knowing that no one in that room liked her, wondering why she had done it. If the truth was worth it. Two good detectives would feel humiliated for having made a mistake and would blame her. Hector’s lawyer, if he was any good, would find a dozen forensic experts to argue with her in court. And Roddy, Roddy who she’d saved from life in prison—
As the door closed behind her she could still hear him saying over and over, “I didn’t cry. I swear, man, I didn’t cry.”
She looked at her watch. It wasn’t even lunch time. She wanted to go home and snuggle into bed with her daughter Cate and watch cartoons. Forever.
“That was quite a performance,” a voice to her right said. Took a deep breath, exhaled it. “You shouldn’t have had to do it though. The detectives never should have taken Roddy into custody given the evidence. But it was still impressive.”
Windy turned her back to the one-way glass window to look at the man who had spoken. He was tall with medium dark hair, cut short, sharp blue eyes, a small indentation in his chin that could have been a scar, and a platinum toothpick at the corner of his mouth. His face half in shadow, made its planes more pronounced. His jaw was tight.
“I wouldn’t blame it on the detectives,” she said. “They were working under pressure and they did the best they could with the information they had. Its not really their fault they made a mistake. The problem is with the way the system is set up here.”
“What is wrong with the it?”
“There’s too much ranking going on, too much competition. Homicide, sex crimes, the forensics teams. No one wants to share information because everyone wants to take credit for catching the bad guys. Get the head of the Violent Crimes Task Force—the big boss’s—attention.”
“So this is his fault?”
“Not exactly. But he’s the only one who can fix it. Make everyone work together, encourage a collaborative environment, not competitive. My crime scene team practically had to fight homicide detectives to get into the apartment. That’s wrong. They can help each other. They’ve got to. It’s the whole point of having a Violent Crimes task force. Its been shown that cases can get cleared 50 even 80 percent faster if cops and criminalists work together, rather than in competition. The head of Violent Crimes needs to make that happen. And fast. Otherwise he isn’t doing his job. And then there’s—”
The man put up a hand to stop her. “Before you go on, I think its only fair for me to introduce myself. I’m Ash Laughton. The, ah, head of the Violent Crimes Task Force.” He waited for her to be surprised, embarrassed. He had a little speech ready, to show there were no hard feelings.
She said, “I know.”
He did not have a speech ready for that. “You know?”
“Of course. Why would I bother to say all of that to someone who can’t do anything about it? Or would you rather I just complained behind your back?”
“No, I—” Ash paused, thought about it. “No. I definitely wouldn’t.”
She scrutinized him with eyes the color of light green jade, and said, “I think you mean that. Good. We’ll work together fine.”
As if she’d been interviewing him.
Now she was frowning. “Were you just passing by, or did you come to make sure I was doing my job?”
Amazing. Putting him on the spot, now, making him feel like he had to explain himself. Who was Windy Thomas? Ash shook his head. “Actually, I came to ask you for your help. I’ve got a crime scene I need your advice about.”
They were joined at that moment by an African American man about Ash’s age but a good two inches taller than he was. The man had high cheekbones, light brown eyes, and short hair done in cornrows across his head. He wore an enamel yin-yang symbol on a leather cord at the open neck of his shirt.
“Chicago Thomas in person,” he said, giving her a smile and his hand. “I’m Jonah Priestly. It’s a pleasure to meet you. You come with a solid gold reputation.”
Windy liked his hand shake, powerful but relaxed. “Everyone calls me Windy.”
“Like the dog,” Ash put in. He kept his face deadpan for two beats before his mouth curved into a grin.
Windy had no idea how rare that was, but Jonah did. He watched, enthralled as Windy started to laugh at a joke apparently between herself and Ash and said, “Yes. Just like the dog.”
“Jonah is the administrative officer in charge of the task force,” Ash explained. “As well as being our liaison with the press, the rest of the police department, and the mayor. He lets me think I’m in charge, but the truth is, he pretty much runs things around here.”
“Yeah, sometimes I let Ash come in, feel useful. Keep his ego in tact. But I kick him out when he starts to get annoying.” Then, getting serious and saying to Ash, “Have you told her yet?
“Told me what?”
“We’ve got a murder,” Ash explained to Windy. “The crime scene is a blood bath. This killer—from the level of violence I’d say this wasn’t his first offence.”
“A serial killer?” Windy asked.
Ash nodded. “That is what we are afraid of. I want to run his MO through the Violent Crimes Apprehension Program database at Quantico, but with the way the scene was left, I can’t even ascertain enough to even start filling in the VICAP form.”
No crime scene visits, Bill had insisted when Windy first brought up taking the job in Vegas. Okay, babe? You’ll just stay in the office. I don’t want to have to worry about you anymore. His finger had traced the scar between her breasts, seduction and warning at the same time.
Right, she had agreed. No crime scene visits. But this was an exception. Different. She could already hear herself making the excuses. A serial killer, Bill, everyone has to—
“We just got the crime scene photos,” Ash said. “We were hoping that you could look at them, tell us what you see.”
Photos. Reprieve. Windy nodded. “Of course. Is the body in the photos as well?”
Ash and Jonah exchanged glances. Ash said, “Bodies.” Pause. “Yes. Or parts of them.”
Windy turned and stared through the one way glass in front of her. She’d forgotten about Roddy and Hector, sitting there in the interrogation room, quiet, leaning away from one another, waiting for lawyers. Roddy had his head on the table, his feet not tapping out a beat now. Windy had an urge to go back in there and stay. The two of them looked banal, sensible compared to what Ash’s tone suggested Windy was about to face.
“How many people did he kill?” she asked, still looking at Roddy and Hector.
“Four. Mother and three children. The Johnson family.”