Not only is bestselling author Ridley Pearson a master of forensic detail but he also plays in a rock band with other bestselling writers like Amy Tan, Mitch Albom and Stephen King. “We play music as well as Metallica writes novels,” he said, so it’s good news that Ridley agreed to contribute a story to this collection rather than an original song.
“Boldt’s Broken Angel” opens with one of the most haunting and powerful scenes you’ll ever read. The reader follows detective Lou Boldt on the trail of a serial killer who is as twisted as Ridley’s brilliant plot. Fight the urge to skip ahead, because you won’t want to miss a single word. This is a model thriller by a modern master, the perfect story to complete the collection.
Erastus Malster-they called him Rastus-hooked both feet beneath the large gray cleat on the bow of the fishing trawler
It was his uncle’s boat, his uncle’s idea to wave to his mother in the jet as it took off from SEATAC. They had no real way to track the flight, bound for Israel where she was set to join up with a two-star cruise ship tour of Israel ports and Egyptian treasures, so Rastus waved at all the planes, while his uncle drank beer and laughed from the wheelhouse. His uncle loved to laugh.
His uncle had also judged wrong. They were far too distant from the airport to catch any of the planes taking off. In fact, they could barely seen any metal in the sky. A flicker or a flash as the aluminum skin caught the retreating sun.
Rastus saw one blaze in particular as he rode the bow: a brilliant white-and-orange glint that held the intensity of a camera’s flash. He pointed up to it and gasped.
“Uncle! Uncle!” he called out.
His uncle only laughed and hoisted the beer.
At first, he thought they were salmon, or seals or even Orca whales surfacing-an exciting splash a hundred yards to his left.
The moment that first splash occurred, his uncle cranked the wheel in that direction, so severely that the cleat was not enough to hold Rastus, and he fell to his right, barely catching hold of the wire rail at the last possible second. He regained his balance, righted himself and looked back at his uncle in the wheelhouse.
The man’s face had contorted into a full flood of surprise and excitement.
Rastus turned to see why: three more giant splashes. Had to be whales, the way the water shot up.
His uncle was running the boat right into the same area, having goosed the mighty engine and thrown something of a duck tail into their now violent wake. The man hoisted a pair of binoculars and surveyed the distant splashes-for now there were three more. Then five. And suddenly the water was boiling all around them-ten, twenty, fifty.
His uncle dropped the glasses, let go of the wheel and ran to the railing. He hurled vomit into the water-a man who had never been seasick in his life.
Rastus looked down into the water as a white fish, dead and floating, passed incredibly close. The boat struck the next.
It wasn’t a fish at all: it was a naked woman. Big, and flabby and disgusting. Her skin around her chest and pelvis as white as bone; a patch of wet black hair where her legs met. And there, not twenty yards away, a man. Also naked. Faceup. Arms at his sides.
The sky was raining dead bodies.
A dozen a second now. Two dozen.
Rastus heard a tremendous explosion. He looked to where his uncle had been at the rail. There was nothing but a splash of red there now and a deep dent in the metal decking.
“Uncle!” Rastus screamed. “Uncle?”
Six more bodies streamed by the boat, now running out of control.
All naked. Every face locked-
The fifth that passed by was unmistakable.
It was his mother.
As he’d never seen her.
Nine years later
The Joke’s on U was a comedy club in Seattle’s university district, on Friday and Saturday nights, a haunt for college kids, but during the week an escape for aging software wizards, Green-party candidates, some white-haired hippies wearing bifocals and, on this evening, an oversize man at the beat-up piano on stage, a long-in-the-tooth police lieutenant-or former police lieutenant, he wasn’t sure-plugging through a killer rendition of an Oscar Peterson arrangement.
The establishment had moved around town, mostly along 45th Avenue, occasionally changing or at least modifying its name, trying to retain its former clientele while simultaneously skating on some existing debt. It’s owner, Bear Berenson, was a fiftysomething hempie, round in the middle and pallid in the face, a man with a contagious laugh, an agreeable disposition, and a bad left hip. He’d fallen off a bicycle two years earlier, riding at night, without any light, while royally stoned and busy trying to do some math in his head. “The hip has never been right since,” he liked to say, counting how long it took whoever would listen to realize it was a pun. Those who missed the pun altogether were people that didn’t interest Bear. The man at the piano had not only gotten the joke the first time he’d heard it-of many-but had been quick enough to finish the sentence, and therefore the joke, for him. It was just this kind of person that interested Bear-fiercely intelligent, yet humble; nimbly facile, but reserved. Able to leap small buildings-with a ladder and rope.
Lou Boldt kept the song going with his right hand while he sipped some very cold milk, using his left. It was a good happy-hour crowd, all things considered. Some pretty coeds had wandered in, no doubt expecting stand-up, but had stayed the better part of an hour, were presently on the back end of several rounds of margaritas and, without knowing it-or maybe they did-were providing eye candy for the true jazz aficionados who populated the lounge.
Boldt brought the bass line back into the improvisation, but didn’t have time to wipe his mouth so he wore a Who’s Got Milk mustache for as long as it took him to lean into his own shoulder and drag his lips across the white button-down oxford. If you looked closely, you could see the JCPenney fabric tag escaping the starched collar for it was half-torn off and trying to act as a small flag beneath the buzz cut, graying stubble of head hair that held the texture of a kitchen scrub brush. Boldt smiled and grimaced when he played, his face a marvel to watch as it reacted to the shapes of the sound and the story his fingers told, as if surprised himself by what he heard. Enigmatic in conversation and generally not known for talking much at all, here at the piano, Lord of the Eighty-Eight Keys, Lou Boldt shined. For ninety minutes, once a week-sometimes twice-he revealed things about himself that only his closest friends understood. Bear Berenson was one of those friends. So was Phil Shoswitz, a former lieutenant himself, then a captain, now a deputy commissioner. He wasn’t a regular to these happy-hour performances, but he was no stranger, either. His presence at the moment, however, signaled something else to Boldt. Boldt had been black-balled by anyone of equal or higher rank within the department during his suspension, a leave of absence now in it’s third month. Only his homicide detectives treated him humanly. The inquiry had seen to that. Internal Investigations. Unsubstantiated charges of criminal misconduct meted out in a brutally partisan moment of city politics-as far as Boldt was concerned. I.I. looked at it a little differently-they believed they had proven that Boldt had sneaked nearly ten thousand dollars in cash back into the property room in an attempt to save a former homicide detective’s “past, pension and future,” who’d been stupid enough to “borrow” it in the first place.
For the past forty-three minutes-but who was counting?-Boldt had been assuming that Shoswitz had been sent here to dole out his sentence, to deliver the ruling, to answer the one question that had been hanging over Boldt’s head for the past eighty-seven days.
Did he, or did he not have a job?
For him it wasn’t about guilt or innocence, because he knew the truth. It was about how far I.I. could wear that stick up their ass and still sit down at the table. It was about ignoring fact for fiction, the exact way so many young detectives chose to do when first on the job-on Boldt’s homicide squad. People like Barbara “Bobbie” Gaynes, who was also in the crowd, but back in a dark corner staying away from Shoswitz as if the man were an AIDS carrier. The two had gotten along once-Gaynes and Shoswitz-back when Boldt had promoted her into the ranks of homicide detective, breaking a glass ceiling that still had shards on the floor.
You learned to tiptoe on the job. Gaynes was as good, or maybe better, at it than most. Than most of the most. A clear thinker and possessing single-minded determination, she fit the qualifications that Boldt sought for any and all of his teams. His staff. His bloodhounds. Her being here didn’t surprise him: she loved jazz piano, or claimed to. But she kept her eyes on Shoswitz the same way that Boldt tried not to. She knew. He knew.
But what did Shoswitz know? And when the hell was he just going to march up to the slightly raised platform and “Deliver us from evil,” as Boldt thought of it.
It was either a pardon or a pattern. Boldt was resolved to it being either. But the waiting. God…the ninety-minute set had never-not ever-dragged on for this long.
This was pain.
The call that came into the Seattle Police Department’s Broadway substation set off a controlled series of events that echoed through the halls of the sound-dampened Public Safety building, bouncing from one department to another over a series of three days that would later be put onto the official books as a period lasting precisely forty-nine hours. It wasn’t often the clocks were adjusted inside SPD, and it would take weeks for the adjustment to be made, but by then “the damage had been done,” as Lou Boldt put it to the press. Boldt, who had nothing to do with making three days look like two, could only reflect on what might have been had his department been informed of the missing person some twenty hours earlier. Perhaps nothing, he mused. But then again, maybe several lives would have been saved.
“What are you doing here at this hour?” the woman asked from the open doorway to his lieutenant’s office, one of two such offices in Crimes Against Persons. It was day three since the call had come in-the exact hour that the report had first appeared on Boldt’s desk. “I thought you were playing happy hour.”
“But you headed back downtown.”
Daphne Matthews had a radiance about her. His compass pointed to her true north; always had, always would. He’d sensed her before she’d spoken, the way a bird knows to signal dawn before the night sky lightens a single lumen. Some of this he could put off to her unusual, though plain, beauty-a combination of girl-next-door and smoking hot babe that she could ignite with a look or a stance or a new texture to her sultry voice. But only some. Most of the attraction came at a level that neither of them understood well enough to voice, something subcutaneous, like an agreeable infection.
“Is it going to be twenty questions?” she asked.
“The lieu was there,” he said, referring to Shoswitz by his former rank; Boldt had never fully adjusted to his own role of lieutenant, nor to Shoswitz having moved upstairs.
“I’m sensing anxiety. Hostility. You’re closed off from me.”
“Once a psychologist…” he said.
“Too close to home?”
She had turned to go.
“Please,” he added.
“It’s not directed at you. None of it is meant for you.”
“I’m to take Reamer’s place,” he told her.
“Reamer,” she said. Her eyes rolled as she scanned her mental Rolodex. “Your Reamer?” She had a look like she’d been punched.
He felt that same thing in his belly.
“Kansas City?” she asked.
“St. Louis,” he answered. “Which leaves his desk open beginning next week.”
“Reamer’s a sergeant,” she said.
“Now you’re catching on.”
“No way,” she said more boldly, now stepping inside.
“I’m told it’s never happened at my pay scale,” he said. “I think that was intended to make me feel better, but it didn’t work.”
“If I want to stay on, I am. I could have taken my twenty nearly a decade ago. We both know that.
“I don’t golf. I have two kids in elementary school who will go to college someday. If I sit around at home, I’ll eat my service revolver. So what do you think?”
“Are you seriously going to take it? You could get a rep to-”
“No. This is their ruling. No more hearings. No more of this.”
“But they’re false charges. We all know that. There’s no way they ruled against you in this.”
“They just did. Of course they’ll say they ruled in my favor. Phil…he can’t say what he’s thinking, but he all but did. They want me out. While respecting the record, they don’t want the baggage.”
“It’s because so much of the force looks up to you. Hell, you’re a living legend. That must scare the pee out of them.”
“You know I hate that. Why do you do that? You, of all people?”
“You are what you are. You can swim in de Nile, or you can make for shore and climb out. But don’t lay it on me. I don’t mean ‘legend’ in the sense of superhero. I mean, the rank and file looks up to you in a way few, if any around here-I would say none-are looked up to. That’s your burden, and that’s a threat to everyone above you. Everyone but Phil because he gets it.”
“I’m not saying I’m buying that.”
“I’m not selling,” she said. “And as to that, you’ve
“I was never comfortable looking out the window.”
“You invented ways to get yourself onto investigations. The brass knows that about you. They’re doing you a favor. Long-term, this is a favor. You just can’t see it yet.”
“Nearly a thirty percent pay cut.”
“That hurts. That’s supposed to keep you from accepting it.”
“Shorter vacation. Back to a pool car.”
“Ditto and ditto.” She stepped even closer to him. It felt dangerous and warmer at the same time. “Did Phil give any opinion? Did he steer you one way or the other?”
“He said he wished they’d let him take my desk. That the only real police work is on the streets. Always has been. Says it’s more like a corporation upstairs every day.”
“That’s a nice compliment, don’t you think?”
“LaMoia and I the same rank,” he said. A loaded statement because she’d been living with LaMoia for nearly a year now. The world’s oddest couple, and yet they were still together. A rocky year, he thought, looking on from a distance. They’d struggled with Social Services to maintain guardianship of a young girl. There was no way it was going to happen. They weren’t married. They weren’t in the system for adoption. But LaMoia knew enough judges and had enough friends to keep pushing back the decision a week here, a month there. It was all thumbs and toes in the dike at this point. They were about go get washed downstream and he had a feeling the whole thing would go if the child led the way.
“He won’t treat it that way. You know that. You walk on water for him.”
“It’ll be your squad. Both teams. I pity the lieu who comes in above you.”
“You make it sound as if my decision’s been made.”
There were times, like right now, that he wanted to take her by the hips and pull her close to him. He wanted to experience her. Not so much sexual as just a physical contact to bridge all the words that flowed between them. Liz, his wife, would never understand. LaMoia would never understand. But he felt they would-he and Daphne. They would get it. They wouldn’t abuse it, or misuse it or push it. But it wasn’t to be. Not today. He’d learned to contain it, like locking up the neighborhood dog. He muzzled its bark. He tried not to feed it, hoping it would just roll over and die. But it never did.
“Yeah,” he said. “I suppose it has.”
“Can I help you move your things across the room?”
“I’d like that,” he said.
“Do you need to call Liz?”
“Do you need to call John?”
They were maybe a foot apart. Her chest rose and fell more quickly than only a minute earlier. There was mirth in her eyes-he could swear there was-and invitation on her lips, and God, he didn’t dare look below her waist. He’d been there once, a long, long time ago, but he remembered it like they were still tasting the other’s skin. How could time stand still like that, while the world rushed by?
The phone at the sergeant’s desk rang.
It rang and rang, and Lou Boldt marched toward it with both reluctance and hunger, the same way he would have marched toward her-just this once-if she had dared to ask.
“Get used to it,” Boldt said. He was standing outside an office high-rise at the northern end of Third Avenue where no local had ever foreseen a high-rise taking root. He addressed John LaMoia, who wore his trademark deer-skin jacket, so soft and supple it looked like a chamois, and the pressed jeans above the exotic cowboy boots. He couldn’t see Daphne pressing the jeans as other girlfriends had done for him over the years; it meant he had to send them out, had to actually
“I’m good,” LaMoia said. “Welcome back, Sarge.”
Technically, the graveyard was Boldt’s shift-another disincentive Shoswitz had thrown at him. LaMoia would be the day sergeant for CAP for the next month. But apparently Daphne had said something, and a phone call had followed, and just as Boldt had been about to tap one of his team to join him, LaMoia had volunteered “for old time’s sake.”
“So?” LaMoia said.
“Call’s been on the books over two days,” Boldt said. “How that happened has to be looked into, but the fact is, a woman’s gone missing and we’re now officially past the first forty-eight-”
“So we’re screwed.”
“We’re challenged,” Boldt said.
“And we’re here because this is where she was last seen?”
“We don’t know if she was seen. We’re here to check the surveillance cameras because work was all the boyfriend gave me.”
“You brought him in?”
“Phone call.” Boldt answered LaMoia’s questioning look. “I wanted to expedite things. The extra day and all.”
“All that time behind a desk,” LaMoia said, “can’t help a person’s game.”
“One phone call,” Boldt said. “It saved us something like two, three hours.”
“I’m not arguing,” LaMoia said. But he clearly disapproved of Boldt’s cutting a corner, and Boldt marveled how quickly his world had turned upside down: LaMoia-the rogue of all time-questioning
“I’d like to find her alive.”
“Would the boyfriend?” LaMoia asked, knowing that statistics put the crime squarely on the man.
“Who knows? He sounded genuine enough, but maybe he’s taking Internet acting classes.”
Boldt called into the high-rise over his mobile and they were approached moments later by a uniformed guard. As the man worked to open the doors, LaMoia spoke.
“How can we gain access to security tape at this hour?”
“Frankie Malone’s the top guy.”
“I called him at home. He gave us the keys to the store.”
“When it works, it works,” LaMoia said.
They were ushered in and taken to the security department and shown an hour of tapes. They had the missing woman arriving two days earlier. Had her going out to lunch with friends. Back in the hallways and elevators upon her return. Couldn’t find her leaving the building. Boldt asked the tapes be set aside and that half-inch copies be sent over to Public Safety by noon the same day.
Boldt and LaMoia walked the hallways. Rode the elevator. Repeated what they’d seen.
“I doubt it was here,” Boldt said.
“I’m with you.”
“But then how’d she disappear?”
“That’s quite a crush at the end of the day.”
“We might have missed her.”
“So it was here?” LaMoia ventured.
“Don’t see how. But, yeah, maybe.”
“Locked in a closet somewhere? Down in parking in a trunk?”
“Dogs?” Boldt asked.
“We’re past the forty-eight,” Boldt said. “We’ve cut the probability of finding her alive by-”
“Fi’ty, sixty percent. I know the stats, Sarge.”
“If we did miss her in the crowd, then it was between here and home.”
“And the boyfriend gets a much closer look either way,” LaMoia said. “Did you search for similars?”
“With the number of missing persons reports we get? I didn’t have all night.”
“We do now,” LaMoia said.
“Don’t you have to get home to the baby?”
“Let’s not go there, okay?”
The men were outside the building now, the background whine of rubber on I- 5. A jet just behind the Space Needle, on final approach to SEATAC. A motorboat was cutting across Lake Union. Some rowdy voices echoed from a half block away. The city stayed up later and later. It was in its adolescence. Boldt felt as if he’d known it from birth.
“Two-thirds…hell, more like ninety-five percent, are going to be underage, or just overage girls,” LaMoia said. “We toss them, the database is manageable.”
“You know me and computers.”
“I got it, Sarge,” LaMoia said. “We can crunch this data in minutes. Trust me.”
He would never fully trust LaMoia again. With Daphne he’d made his peace, but LaMoia’s going after her would never sit right. He let it pass. For now.
An hour later they were sitting alongside one another, staring at a flat-screen display. It was nearing midnight.
“Should we run it again?” Boldt asked.
“That’s the third time, Sarge. It ain’t lying to us.”
“How could this have slipped through? They put me on leave and no one mans the shop?”
“It was DeFalgo. You know how he is. He’s waiting out his twenty-two. It’s all done with mirrors with him anyway. Always has been.”
“Buddy DeFalgo couldn’t figure out a scratch-and-win lotto card,” Boldt said. “What are they doing putting him in my chair?”
“It’s more like a corporation upstairs,” LaMoia said. “That’s what I hear.”
Boldt wanted to smack him. Had Daphne told him that as she’d gotten home?
On the screen was a woman’s face. Attractive. Early to middle thirties. A driver’s-license photo, but one that Boldt assumed would be on every morning news show in town by 6:00 a.m.
It was on.
They weren’t trying to find a missing woman.
They were trying to find two.
The facts of the reports were far too similar to put it off to chance: last seen at work. Never made it home.
“Maybe not the boyfriend,” Boldt whispered, his throat dry, his chest painful.
“Yeah, “LaMoia said. “I was just thinking the same thing.”
Rastus Malster applied the finishing touches. This was no dab-on-some-blush exercise. The fact that he had to accomplish it inside a restroom stall only added to the thrill. He heard the unique, whistling stream of a female peeing from the adjacent stall and looked low to see a wide, black leather toe-end of a shoe pointing toward him to where he swore if he’d bent over he could have seen his face in its polish. But he kept his eyes, if not his mind, on the work before him-the small mirror hanging from a wire thrown over the coat hook on the back of the door. Every line was carefully applied. If he didn’t like his work, he used a moist towelette to clear the slate, and tried again. A great deal of admiration went into his work; he took time to study and appreciate his expertise. Transformation took time; Rome wasn’t built in a day. The soiled, white leather work shoes helped him-in case Miss Hissy Thighs next door was looking at his footwear the way he was looking at hers. But no: she was in and done, up and gone before the automatic flusher had a chance to catch up with her. Besides, even if she had glanced his way, he’d Naired both legs the night before to baby-bottom-smooth; he might look a little thick at the ankle, but not everyone fit into a size two.
The trick now was to time his exit well. He’d entered when there was no one in here; he hoped to leave the same. Long on patience-for he would never have taken on any of this without his mother’s patience-he found himself in no hurry. He waited for the last click of a heel, the last spray of a toilet flushing or the electronic peal of the automatic paper dispenser. Then he gave it an extra thirty seconds.
And, having collected his small mirror and his bag of goodies, he swung open the stall door to behold true artistry at work.
He slipped out the printout of the
If they wanted to make comments about him to the press, then they deserved the opportunity to meet him. They’d earned it.
When a uniformed woman entered the restroom, Rastus startled, his heart racing.
“Hello,” she said.
Reconsidering his location, he heaved a sigh of relief as the woman slipped into a stall and immediately was heard unzipping her pants-all without waiting for any kind of reply from him.
Rastus moved along the sinks, pleased as punch she’d never given him a second glance.
The piece of paper he’d tossed into the trash uncurled slightly, like the dancers at the beginning of Swan Lake. Not enough to catch the face again. Only part of the two names:
oldt and Lieutenant D. Matthews, seen here at a DARE fund-raiser in 2006.
The first body surfaced at sunrise, bobbing up out of murky depths of Bowman’s Bay like a decomposing mermaid. Phen Shiffman was who spotted her as he motored out for his morning work of checking the hatchery. He’d been enjoying a smoke and a fresh cup of strong coffee when her breasts arched out of the water, followed by the dark trim between her legs. It was like one of those synchronized swimming moves he’d seen on the Olympics-“only she was naked as a jaybird, not wearing any kind of bathing suit or undies or nothing,” as he would later tell Mike Rickert, the prosecuting attorney whose desk the case landed on. Though he hadn’t seen it, he supposed her head had surfaced first, led by her arms, maybe. Whatever the case, she’d continued in a graceful, back arch, like a dancer: head, shoulders, chest, groin, knees, feet, and she was under again. If he’d been drinking the night before, or he’d been smoking some rope on the way out, as he sometimes did, he might have considered saying nothing about her because once she was gone she was gone. But on the other hand, he knew this was serious-she was as dead as a salmon, bruised and fed-on some, as pale as the silver flash of a trout. This, he had to call in.
Boldt read about it on a briefing page that arrived on one’s computer screen at the start of every shift. The victim’s toenails had been elaborately painted in a way that suggested city life, not Skagit County. Rickert, for his part, had done his homework; he knew of the missing Seattle women. He posted the information and made a few calls suggesting SPD might want to visit the county morgue, or might want some dental records sent down-the crabs had gotten half her face. By midafternoon, Boldt and Daphne had made the ninety-minute drive north together, arriving at the county hospital. Dental records had confirmed the deceased’s identity: the second of the two women who’d gone missing.
Dressed in surgical kits, and wearing paper masks over their faces, having smeared Mentholatum liberally beneath their noses-because
They worked with a young pathologist who seemed to know his stuff. Boldt longed for his longtime friend, Dr. Ray, but the man had retired and would likely never stand under the lights again.
“Her spine is broken,” the pathologist explained in a toneless voice. “Cracked clean in half, which might explain the dance the fisherman saw in the water when she surfaced. There are severe ligature marks, here and here. Two more on both shoulders. Her vaginal and rectal area are torn, though from the same ligature, I’m suggesting.”
“She was trussed,” Boldt said.
This won a sharp snap of Daphne’s neck as she looked up at Boldt.
“Couldn’t have said it better,” the pathologist said. “Bound and trussed…and…well, maybe not.”
“Please,” Boldt said.
Daphne’s eyes said, “Please don’t.”
“It’s just…if I had to guess…and this is only wild speculation with only a small amount of science to support it…Nah…I shouldn’t.”
Boldt encouraged him yet again.
“Conjecture is all. There is at least some circumstantial evidence to suggest the binding was a flexible material. In several weight-bearing places it appears to have pinched the skin.”
“Weight-bearing,” Boldt repeated, for the term caught his ear.
“Yes. That’s the conjecture part,” the man answered. “If I had to guess I would say she was trussed facedown. The ligature was jerked or tugged severely, and was improperly arranged so that maximum stress came here-” he pointed to her shoulders “-and here.” He pointed to her crotch. “It was excessive force, enough to shatter L7 and L8 and to sever the cord.”
“Could she have been dropped?” Daphne asked.
“Dropped? Yes, I suppose that would account for it, but it would have had to have been from a very great height.”
“The elastic cord,” Boldt said. “Could it have been bungee cord?” He leaned in for a close look at the rope burns on her side.
“Indeed,” the doctor said. “Are you telling me she was bungee jumping? The clothes came off during her time in the water?”
“Is it possible?” Boldt asked.
“She was naked,” Daphne said with authority. “He threw her off…I don’t know…a bridge?”
“Threw her?” the doctor asked, “or was it accidental? Too much alcohol, a stupid idea gone wrong.”
“Was alcohol found in her system?” Boldt asked.
“Blood workup will be a day or two, minimum.”
“He threw her,” Daphne repeated, her voice softer. “We’re going to find that the position is important to him. The angel pose. Flying like that. He’s Roman Catholic, or was raised Roman Catholic. Single. Lives or lived with a single parent. He’s under thirty, over eighteen. Uses mass transit, but has a driver’s license. Probably cross-dresses, though not in public.”
“We’re going to need every hair and fiber, every X-ray, every detail of this corpse before it degrades any further.”
“Threw her?” The doctor could barely get out the words. “You’re sure?” This, meant for Daphne.
“He wanted the angel to fly,” she said, having not taken her eyes off the dead woman for the past few minutes. “But he got it wrong, tied it wrong, from what you tell us, and he broke her back instead. Who knows how long he might have kept her alive if she’d have only flown for him?”
The doctor stepped back, as if a few feet might separate him from the truth.
“And the first one?” Boldt asked, also staring at the cadaver.
“I imagine that one went wrong, as well, or he wouldn’t have failed so miserably with her. Poor her,” she whispered. “If she’d only known how to fly.”
The drive back began in silence. Traumatic death had a way of making anything else seem inconsequential and of no importance, even if the discussion was to be the solution of that death. A black hood pulled down over all existence. The road ran before them, people racing to pass, to maintain a position, and to both of them it seemed so insignificant, though neither spoke of it directly. Life’s uglies revealed themselves at such times, man’s clambering for space and position.
“Maybe you should have quit,” she said.
“Then I wouldn’t be in a car with you.”
“Way too late for that,” he said.
“What is it with us?”
He grinned. Didn’t mean to, but it was irrepressible.
“Do you think we’ll ever-”
“No!” he said, cutting her off. “I try to not think about it.”
“-catch him,” she said, finishing her thought. “But thank you for sharing.”
The grin was vanquished. “Oh,” he said.
“And as to that other thing, I couldn’t disagree more. I, too, try not to think about it, but I find I’m not very good at it.”
“We’ll get this guy,” Boldt said.
“But the window of time…”
“Has closed. Yes. We’re way behind the eight ball. No question about it. But it’s you and it’s me. What chance has he got?”
“You sound like John,” she quipped.
“Him, too,” Boldt said. “I’ve got a guy at the U-dub. Dr. Brian Rutledge. Oceanography. He’s going to make a careful study of this and tell us-” the car rounded a bend and faced a long bridge with a dramatic drop, so Boldt slowed the vehicle “-that she was tossed off this bridge. Deception Pass. He’s going to tell us what day, and at what time she went off, because it’s what he does. We’re going to back up and use traffic cams to spot every car that left the highway for this road at the appropriate time. We’re going to box this guy in.”
He pulled to a stop and the two wandered out on to the bridge. Again, they were gripped in silence-in part because of the majesty of the view, gray water and green island shrouded in a descending mist, in part because of what had happened here. They both could visualize it: the body coming out of the trunk, already roped up. He ties a knot; he throws her over.
“Early, early, morning,” Daphne said.
“First light. No traffic-he’s got to hope for no traffic. But there’s no way this guy is tossing her in the dark. He wants to see her fly. This is about satisfying some need in him. His sister jumped off the barn roof and died when he was a kid. His mother fell from a ladder, broke her back. There’s a payoff here that’s fundamental to the crime.”
“Okay,” he said.
“More than you wanted?”
“From you? Get a clue.” He walked farther, into the very middle of the bridge. He squatted, examining the thick metal rail from a variety of angles.
“I doubt bungee jumping is anything new to this bridge,” he said.
“So he can take his time tying it. Rigging it. Getting it just right. It’s pulling her out of the trunk, that’s the trick.”
“A public appeal?” she said.
“That’s what I’m thinking, yes. Someone saw his car. Him. Thought nothing of it. Maybe we jog a memory.” He surveyed the surrounding area: rocks and water and nothing but beauty. He found it difficult to think in terms of crime. “Did he use this same bridge for the first one?”
“Yes, I believe he did,” she said. “It wasn’t the location, it was his rigging that failed. Probably failed a lot worse the first time.”
“So we check the waters.”
“Your oceanographer may be able to help you, from what you’ve said.”
“That he sent the first one off this bridge? High. You want a number?”
He spit a laugh. “No. I see your point.”
“With two failures, he may now blame the bridge. If you elect to involve the press, then he’ll certainly abandon the area.”
“So we look for other, isolated locations with significant drops.”
“Maybe with some distance parameters. He’s got a woman alive in his trunk. He doesn’t want to test that, to push that. It’s a means to an end-the trunk. It worries him having her back there, and not just out of fear of being caught. He has more respect for the victim than we’d understand. It’s the sister, the mother, the girlfriend. This isn’t a hate crime. Quite the opposite-it’s reverential, a form of worship for him. He wants to bless her with flight. He wants to give her a chance at resurrection.”
“I can look at dead bodies all day long. But I talk to you for five minutes and I’ve got chills.”
She laid a hand on his shoulder. “Glad to hear it, buddy.”
A flight of gulls cawed overhead as they played in the wind. Boldt followed behind Daphne back to the car, watching that machine of hers drive her forward.
Could have walked all day.
With the lab work expedited, Boldt had the building blocks for a possible modus by midday the following day, a Wednesday. He was supposed to be working the graveyard, but had already used up several favors to get someone to sub for him-this, in his first week of duty as CAP sergeant. He and LaMoia, who technically was the shift sergeant, rode in LaMoia’s mid-size pool car, a replacement for a series of Trans-Ams and Cameros he’d owned and driven proudly through the years.
“You gonna explain it?” LaMoia asked.
“Several strands of human hair that weren’t hers. All Asian, but consisting of two different DNAs.”
“Two other women.”
“And one of the hairs was carrying traces of a polymer adhesive. Maybe more than one.”
“A piece. A wig.”
“Yes. And we’ve got a smudge of lipstick in the vic’s hair along with traces of blood. Not her blood, but it is female and it is rich in stem cells.”
“On her head?” LaMoia said. “Are you just being gross, Sarge, or is this going somewhere. Is this some stab at me and-”
“No,” Boldt said, cutting him off. “We have hair evidence. We have contradictory evidence of menstrual blood in her head hair. We have two women that simply vanished from their office buildings. Is any of this clicking yet?”
“Two Asians. The polymer. A wig?”
“But the blood?”
“Where would such bl-”
“A bathroom. A women’s room.”
“And how could a woman possibly get it on her head?”
LaMoia drove through three more sets of lights, dodging angry traffic. He was just pulling up in front of the office tower with the lake view as he barked out his answer. “A trash bin in a woman’s restroom.”
“Our boy goes in drag,” Boldt said. “It has to be damn convincing. He’s wearing an Asian wig-hair from several women. He’s cleaning sinks, mopping floors, waiting for that moment it’s just him and a woman that looks right to him-has to be a certain look.”
“He thumps her,” LaMoia said, “dumps her into one of those waste bins, those giant things on the rollers.”
“Covers her with waste product,” Boldt said. “Including, in this case, some used feminine products. She’s unconscious in there and can’t be seen from the outside.”
“And he wheels her right out past everyone. Down to an alley or a parking garage, someplace innocuous but convenient. And lays her out in the trunk. Changes back to a man in the car-”
“And is gone,” Boldt completed.
“Jesus H.! The way your mind works.”
“Fine line,” Boldt said, making a point of meeting eyes with LaMoia.
“We’re here,” LaMoia said, “to look at security tape.”
“We weren’t looking for housecleaners the first time,” Boldt said.
“We go back and review parking-garage tape.”
“I think we’d have caught it. Has to be the alley. No cameras in the alley-at least from this building.”
“You think a neighboring building?” LaMoia asked.
“Or maybe a CCTV. You check that out while I put up with these security guys.”
LaMoia was twenty yards away when he called back enthusiastically. “We’re close, Sarge.”
Boldt held up his hand to his ear indicating he wanted LaMoia to call him.
Security guys could really drag things out.
Cynthia Storm had been working Health and Human Services for Public Safety for two years. It was a long way up from Social Services, where she’d had to deal with teenage miscreants of every variety. Since the publication of a series of teenage vampire books, and a movie, Seattle had played host to a flood of teenage runaways. A city that typically saw far more than its fair share of vagrant minors, the number had nearly doubled in the past eighteen months, and as far as anyone could tell the only common denominator was that the vampire series had been set in the Pacific Northwest. Portland had seen a large increase, as well. Cynthia was more than happy not to have that on her watch; give her the meter maids and the men in uniform any day. But she hadn’t been promoted to the badges yet. She still mostly dealt with the service staff-all of whom had to be vetted to work Public Safety, and their absences had to be accounted for.
Today, she was chasing down Jasmina Vladavich, a Bosnian housecleaner who’d failed to show to work for two days, had not answered her phone and, as it turned out, had not been seen by her cousin, the woman she’d listed as her emergency contact. Jasmina had a good track record with the department, but was rumored by the cousin to be in the early stages of pregnancy. She was unmarried and distraught about it. Cynthia and her supervisor had decided Jasmina worthy of a house call, to make sure that the baby had not led to prenatal depression or illness.
She rang the bell. It was an apartment complex twenty minutes south of the city, near SEATAC, a neighborhood known for strip joints, drugs and borderline import/export businesses. Laundry hung from wires on half balconies attempting to dry in a climate that dictated otherwise. The sound of televisions competed. Jasmina didn’t answer the bell-no surprise there-but Cynthia used her credentials to talk the super into having a look. The elevator had not worked for three years, she was told. She trudged up five flights, down a hall marked with graffiti and was let into 514.
“Jasmina?” she called out. The super waited at the door. “Hello?”
She heard the groan. It came faintly from the back, barely heard over an episode of
“Hello?” She followed the soft groans into a back bedroom where a woman was hog-tied and lying on her belly. She’d soiled herself, and her face was streaked with tears and mucus. A nylon knee sock had been used to gag her. She was wearing only underwear and a bra, and there were raw bruise marks-she’d been rocking on her legs, rolling around the room.
“Call 911!” she hollered. “We need an ambulance
She approached the woman cautiously. Jasmina looked a little wild around the eyes. “I’m going to help you, okay?”
“I’m going to remove the gag and the ropes. Jasmina? Do you hear me?”
But the woman had lapsed into unconsciousness.
Cynthia got the gag off and Jasmina sucked for air and came back awake.
“Baby…” the woman moaned.
“We’ll get you the hospital! Who did this to you, Jasmina? The father of the baby?”
“No. Was my card,” the woman moaned. “My card.”
“It’s all right. It’s all right.” She was talking nonsense, Cynthia realized.
“Man…took my card. My ID card.” With her hand free now, she touched the plastic ID card that Cynthia had fastened to her own belt. “Public Safety card.”
Cynthia didn’t care about any work card. Her concerns were dehydration, malnutrition and the condition of the baby inside this woman. “We’ve called an ambulance,” she reminded.
“Why this for stupid card?” Jasmina groaned. She shook as she began to cry.
Why indeed? Cynthia now thought as she focused more on what she was being told. She reached out, somewhat reluctantly because of the filth, and cradled the crying woman in her arms.
Daphne had been briefed over the phone by an energetic Lou Boldt she had not known for the past three years. When he locked onto a case he not only possessed, but emitted a contagious energy, a force field of curiosity, optimism and bizarre self-confidence that she found utterly intoxicating and physically stimulating. She responded to his passion bodily, so privately that were her condition ever known to others it would have proved embarrassing. Her skin prickling, she stepped around the yellow Wet Floor cone and entered the women’s washroom to relieve her bladder and check her makeup. She feared her chest was likely flushed, along with her face.
A cleaner was doing the sinks. She had a large brown trash canister behind her and appeared to be emptying the trash containers of used hand towels.
Bothered by an earring that hadn’t sat right all day, she un-hooked it from her ear.
“Okay if I…?” she asked the cleaner, motioning to the stall.
“Mmm.” The woman nodded back at her.
Daphne took two steps and felt a shock of electricity so powerful she could neither scream nor move. Her mind flashed unconscious, but only for a split second.
“Shit! Shit! Shit!” she coughed out softly, the pain so intense, so immobilizing and overpowering. She wanted desperately to blink; her eyes stung. But instead her eyelids fluttered, partially open, as if the juice were still flowing through her. She gasped for air.
The woman picked her up then, and Daphne understood from the strength and the way the person cradled her, that this wasn’t a woman after all. It was a man in drag.
It was the man Boldt had just described to her.
She was his captive.
He folded her into the trash can and then began stuffing newsprint and damp paper towels on top of her. The next blast from the stun stick connected with her neck. Again she passed out. When she came awake, the trash canister was moving-rolling across a hard floor. A stone floor.
The guy-it had to be a guy-was taking her out of the building.
She tried to raise her voice, to say something-anything. Tried to call out but either her lungs or vocal cords were in full disconnect. Her brain told them to shout. They did nothing. Her body had disowned her.
An elevator grunted and jerked-it could only be a service elevator by how poorly it was operating.
Her heart beat so strongly in her chest she feared it might stop beating altogether. Surely no heart could take such abuse. It was as if all the adrenaline summoned by the thousands of volts of electricity had concentrated into the center of her chest and was now looking for a way out.
She moved her mouth to say the word
A dark purple cloud loomed at the crown of her head, a massive headache like an avalanche awaiting release. It shifted like Jell-O, an amorphous orb of unconsciousness. Now a black goo as thick as tar pitch.
It flowed down toward her ears, as well as into the vacant space behind her forehead where her sinuses should have been. But nothing was right. It was only this oozing purplish black wave of silence that descended.
Then, it owned her, and she was no more.
“Where’s Matthews?” LaMoia asked Bobbie Gaynes, a detective who’d worked his squad for the past few years. “She was supposed to pull together the squad and get the Command Center ready for us.”
“No clue,” answered Gaynes, returning to what she considered a stupid report. She was a terrible typist, and her own limitations frustrated her. Seeing Boldt in the office, she rolled her chair away from her terminal and leapt out of the chair, and just stopped herself short of hugging the lieutenant-turned-sergeant. “Welcome back…Sarge!”
“She said she would pull the Command Center together for me,” Boldt said.
“Little girls room, I think,” Gaynes said. “I saw her in the hallway heading that direction.”
“Go check, would you? We need her, you, and everyone we’ve got in the building who’s a detective. Command Center. Five minutes.”
Boldt raised his voice and made an announcement. Bodies started moving immediately.
The coach was back. The game was on. And everyone in the room knew it.
The players assembled in the Command Center briefing room. Designed like a college lecture hall, it could seat fifty, all with Internet access, all facing a lectern and PowerPoint projection screen, five 42-inch LCD HD monitors suspended from the ceiling and two large white boards. There were eleven detectives facing Boldt and LaMoia, who quickly brought the others up to speed. Most had read their daily briefings, as charged, and needed nothing more than to be caught up on the discovery of the bridge and the connection to the killer’s use of disguise as a women’s restroom attendant.
Teams were created to chase down specifics: other area bridges to consider; the traffic cams that might reveal a vehicle going out to Deception Pass bridge; area retail stores that sold Asian wigs; costume shops or tailors that might have provided the coveralls specific to the office buildings where he/she had preyed on his victims. They were smart cops and barely needed instruction to get started. Within minutes, the Command Center hummed with conversation. Some teams stayed. Some broke off to other parts of the building. But a machine had been started with Boldt and LaMoia sharing the driver’s seat, and that machine was intent to narrow down various aspects of the case and begin to focus on suspects.
When Bobbie Gaynes stepped into the center and shrugged across the room at Boldt, Boldt felt his hackles raise. He pulled out his cell phone and speed-dialed Daphne. It went immediately to voice mail, indicating the phone was turned off.
“Why would Daffy have her phone off?” he asked LaMoia, her lover.
LaMoia pulled out his mobile and gave it a try. “No,” he said, disconnecting. “Must have forgotten to charge it or something. Her office?” He raised his voice across to Gaynes. “Her office?”
“Not there.” Gaynes looked worried. “And her car’s downstairs. I checked.”
LaMoia dialed another number, presumably his loft apartment where Daphne now lived with him. He disconnected, his skin a shade grayer.
“I’d like to say that there’s a reason for this, but we both know her too well,” he said.
“This is not like her,” Boldt said.
LaMoia stepped to a landline. “Let me check my office voice mail.” He did so. No message.
Gaynes had joined them. “I’m sure she was headed to the bathroom. Earlier. When I last saw her.”
Photographs of the two women victims: one deceased, one still missing, played on the center LCD TV overhead. It was here that LaMoia looked. “Oh, shit,” he said.
Boldt looked up, as well.
“Hair color. Eyes. You and Daphne said-”
“She said. Not me. Yes,” Boldt interrupted. “A similarity between his victims.”
“You see the resemblance?”
“I do. It’s unmistakable.”
“But it’s just not possible,” LaMoia said. “Not with our level of security.”
“If I may?” Gaynes asked somewhat timidly.
“Go ahead,” Boldt said.
“You’re suggesting that Lieutenant Matthews shares a certain look with the two prior victims?”
“We are. Yes.”
“And that…well…” She stepped up to the computer that ran the various overhead displays. She called up the daily alerts that opened with one filed by Cynthia Storm of HHS.
Boldt and LaMoia spun around to read the alerts on the overhead screen.
“My eyes suck,” Boldt said anxiously. “What the hell does it say?”
LaMoia’s voice broke as he read aloud, summarizing. “One of our staff…a housecleaner…Jasmina Something-avich…was found tied up in her apartment. This is like, three hours ago. She’d been there, left that way for nearly…forty-eight hours. Thirty-nine hours,” he corrected himself. “She said the doer…it wasn’t burglary or sexual assault. He wanted…he confiscated her photo ID. Her Public Safety ID.”
The three moved as a unit, a team, as they first walked and then ran from the Command Center, down the hall with such intensity that everyone moved out of their way; others jumped up from their desks and peered into the hallway to see what was going on. Gaynes knocked, but LaMoia didn’t wait for an answer. He pushed through the door.
“Men inside,” he announced.
A woman cursed and complained from inside a stall. A toilet flushed.
Boldt went to the janitor’s closet. “It’s locked! I want this unlocked!”
Gaynes hurried from the bathroom, shouting for a key.
LaMoia dropped to a knee, stood and started opening stalls. He banged on the locked stall from where the woman had cursed. “Open it! Now.”
“I’m a little busy here.”
“Open the fucking door!” LaMoia ordered.
The woman leaned forward and threw open the lock and covered her legs as LaMoia swung the door open.
He stared at the tile floor.
His voice rasped as he said, “Finish with your business. Stick to this panel as you stand. You go out to my right. You understand?”
“You have no right-”
“Shut up and do as I say.”
The woman came off the toilet, pulled up her underwear and pants and was holding them as she nudged by LaMoia and then Boldt, who was by now looking over LaMoia’s shoulder.
The toilet flushed automatically.
“It’s just not possible,” Boldt whispered gravely.
“You and Matthews,” said her lover, “your photos were in the paper two days ago. She brought it home to show me. Her photo. He saw her photo. He knew she was looking for him. He’s a sick fuck. That much we know already.”
“Are you sure it’s hers?”
The two men had not stopped staring at the tile floor where a wire hoop earring lay.
“I bought it for her,” LaMoia said. “The six-month anniversary of her moving in. It was the last really good night we had,” he said.
Boldt didn’t want to hear such things.
Gaynes returned with the closet key in hand, out of breath.
“S.I.D.,” Boldt said to her.
“What is it?” Gaynes said desperately.
“Get them up here,” Boldt repeated, his head beginning to spin.
Boldt had been through this once before, back when the fires had been hotter between them, back when he’d been younger and less experienced with the overlap of personal and professional. He had that behind him now, had that to build upon, but still felt his knees weak with terror and his mind a runaway train careening down memory and emotion toward an unknown abyss.
He couldn’t think about her. That was the point. He had to make the disconnect to give her the best chance of being found alive. Regulations called for LaMoia to step aside. Boldt wouldn’t force the issue, but John knew enough to keep his mouth shut and his ideas to himself. He could share them with Boldt in private, but to actively push his own agenda would only drive himself out of the wheelhouse. He was an observer now, not even that if he misstepped.
There was no time to pull the threads together. Boldt had done the best he could: he turned up the heat on the team trying to identify area bridges; he doubled the man power reviewing traffic cams and assigned two other detectives to review Public Safety surveillance video to locate the imposter housecleaner and follow him to wherever he’d gone. He worked Shoswitz to provide the department’s helicopter, either to race him and a small team to possible sites, or for use as air surveillance if they got a bead on what vehicle the man was driving.
Boldt fought to remain focused, to forget about who was riding in a trunk or the back of a van, to forget about the cadaver he’d seen so recently he could still smell the room, about the victim being stripped naked and trussed and thrown off a bridge.
Not this life. Not her. Not on his watch.
The worst moment came as the Control Center lulled into a library silence, as the initial adrenaline subsided, giving way to police work-the often monotonous, repetitive process of attempting to move from wide angle to telephoto.
LaMoia spoke up for the first time in ten minutes. “It’s been on the skids for months. I told you that, right?”
Boldt didn’t answer.
“I don’t know if it was…you know…the little one, or just a mismatch or what, but we’ve both known it was over for way too long. Funny how you hold on to things you know are broken. Right? Like you’re going to find the glue. You’re going to find out how to fix it? And we both did that. She did it, too. And the thing is, we never said a thing about it. It was all done with looks and silences and fake smiles and forced sex-”
“That’s enough,” Boldt said.
“I’m just saying…shit, I don’t know what I’m saying.”
Boldt heard him sniff.
“We’ve got video!” Taggart shouted from across the room. “Screen two.”
Everyone in the room watched a housecleaner pushing a garage bin down the hall. It looked heavy and difficult to control. The person stopped in front of the service elevator. It took Taggart another five minutes to call up the elevator’s interior in the correct time frame. But there was the housecleaner looking calm and easy, the trash can beside her. She wheeled it off the elevator.
Another five minutes to pick up the parking garage.
“He found himself a dark enough corner,” Boldt said. The video showed nothing of his transferring Daphne to the car. They couldn’t be sure that a transfer had ever happened.
“Get S.I.D. down there,” Boldt called out.
“Done!” Taggart answered.
The car pulled out. Taggart and his team did a phenomenal job of freezing the picture at just the right moment where the camera afforded the best clarity. It was an older model Ford Taurus. They had a partial plate: 43 2. The photo suggested a number preceded the four, but no one could be certain. Not knowing the position of the plate numbers increased the database exponentially.
The machine of the Seattle Police Department continued to roll forward. The description of the vehicle went out along with the partial. The same information was transmitted to King County Sheriff’s Department and other regional law enforcement. Police cruisers across five jurisdictions were mobilized to inspect and station themselves on all area bridges. In the Control Center the deployment of personnel was kept track of on screen 4. Bridge by bridge, they accounted for those now under the observation of law enforcement.
Boldt watched all this as a disconnected observer. As, one by one, the area bridges were accounted for, a feeling welled up in him that he couldn’t shake, and he’d been here too many times before to ignore such feelings.
“It’s Deception Pass,” Boldt said aloud, speaking to no one. Then he turned to LaMoia to press his point. “This guy isn’t creative enough to reinvent the wheel. He showed us that today and we’ve not paid any attention. He went about this in the exact same way as he did before. The same MO. Daphne called this-she said he’d throw them at sunrise before traffic of any sort developed. She said he might change his location if we made our knowledge of the bridge public, but we never did that. We made our knowledge of the killing public, yes, but we left the bridge out.”
“He’s keeping her overnight?”
“Yes, he is. Either in the vehicle or at a home or apartment or trailer. Keeping her. Daphne said how this is some kind of ritual for him. The preparation. The trying to make her fly. It’s reverential. That’s why he didn’t assault them, didn’t harm them. Bottom line, John-we have
“Daniels!” Boldt called out.
“I need a name attached to that partial plate registration.”
“Working on it.”
“I’ll take ten names. I’ll take twenty. But zero isn’t going to cut it.”
“We’ve got more like seventeen hundred at the moment. We’re working to narrow it down.”
“Run it through Skagit,” Boldt said.
Calling across the room had raised some heads. Boldt was making a nuisance of himself.
“Skagit County-a Taurus with that same partial. You want to narrow it down? Narrow it down.”
Some in the room laughed. Not Daniels. He sank back into his chair and picked up his telephone receiver.
“Because of the bridge? Deception Pass?” LaMoia asked.
“She said he wouldn’t want to move them far. It’s a long way from here-nearly two hours when the traffic’s bad. That doesn’t fit with what she told us.”
“You’re telling me she’s running this thing from wherever she is?” LaMoia sounded skeptical.
“Who are you going to trust more?”
It hit LaMoia in the chest. He sat down, looking wounded.
Five minutes passed feeling like twenty. Twenty, like forty.
“James Erwin Malster,” Daniels said from behind Boldt.
He placed a photocopy of a driver’s license in front of the sergeant.
“Fifty-one years old. Caucasian. Male. Registered with the pipe fitting union. Member of the United Association-”
“Pipe fitters. Plumbers,” Boldt said.
“Exactly. Retired in good standing nine years ago, following the death of his wife. Health complications.”
“This is who the car is registered to?”
“But it’s not correct,” Boldt said. “She gave me a profile. Twenties. Thirties at the oldest. Is this the father?”
“It’s his car.”
“It’s not him.”
“A pipe fitter,” LaMoia said. “So he knows how to rig things.”
“She could have had the profile wrong,” LaMoia said. “Guy loses his wife, spends years grieving…comes apart at the seams.”
“There’s a son,” Boldt said to Daniels. “Find the son.”
“I’m not showing-”
“Find the son,” Boldt repeated.
“You have the location of residence?”
“Christ,” LaMoia said.
“I say something wrong?” Daniels asked.
“Oak Harbor’s only a few miles from Deception Pass,” Boldt said. He turned to LaMoia. “She called that one right.”
“She also said he’d change bridges once we publicized the death, and we publicized the death.”
“Which is what got us in trouble. Is that what you’re saying, John? Are you laying this onto me, because I can take it. But it isn’t going to do a damn thing in terms of bringing her back.”
“She said he’d switch bridges.”
“She was wrong about that,” Boldt said.
“Because? Which is it, Sarge? Was she right or wrong, because I don’t think you can have it both ways.”
Boldt had been having it both ways for years: part of his heart left behind while the rest of him loved and stayed with his family. He’d built a Great Wall between his true emotions and the Presentable Parent to where no one could see the other side, not even him most of the time. But LaMoia had loosened the lid with that last comment.
Boldt said, “He’s going to throw her off Deception Pass bridge. His angel is going to fly this time. He’s screwed this up twice. If it is the pipe fitter, he’s not a give-up guy.”
“You’re not the psychologist, she is,” LaMoia said, his arms crossed, his voice hoarse.
“Father or son? Pipe fitter, or who knows what? You’re all over the map, Sarge.”
“I’ll disregard that,” Boldt said.
“LaMoia,” Daniels said in a cautionary tone.
“You think she was wrong, John?” Boldt asked. “Then what if she was wrong about his doing this at sunrise. What if sunset works just as well for him?” He eyed LaMoia up and down. “You want to sit here, or you want to take a ride in the chopper?”
Daniels squirmed, caught in the crosshairs. “Sarge?” he said.
“Call a prosecuting attorney named Rickert up there. Mount Vernon. Tell him to rally the best guys his sheriff’s office can muster and to have them put eyes on the residence. We want an open channel with our dispatch. Real time updates. You getting all this?”
“I got it.”
“I can be up there in twenty, twenty-five minutes.” Boldt looked over at LaMoia. All the bravado was gone, the luster, the very sense of who John LaMoia was. Someone, something, now inhabited his body.
LaMoia looked up through fixed eyes. “I hate helicopters,” he said.
“That’s been…the mistake,” Daphne told him. It took all of her courage, and more than a little part of what energy she could summon. He had her tied to a narrow wooden-slat table, a scratchy rope across her bare chest, her hands connected by a rope beneath the table, another rope at her knees and yet another holding her ankles apart, also connecting under the table. She was naked, her legs spread, at once both horribly embarrassing and making her feel incredibly vulnerable. He could do whatever he wanted to her; there would be no stopping him.
She was in a dreary, dimly lit room. The windows were small and high on the wall and covered in soiled, decaying curtains. The pungent oily, stale-salt smell told her water was close.
She was not blindfolded; he had no fear of her seeing his face, her being able to identify him. This increased her panic.
He hovered over her, paying her nakedness no mind, preparing to administer a pill and what smelled like cough syrup. He was intending to drug her. He would then either leave her here to sleep it off, or walk her to his car while she was numb and transport her.
He was a soft-looking man, with piggish, squinting eyes smudged with a horrid blue eye shadow, and a pallor to his facial skin.
Her comment stopped him. She seized upon his hesitation.
“You broke her back. She…was too relaxed. The drugs…whatever it is you’re about to give me…it’s what killed her…what will kill me. If you…take away my strength to resist the force of the fall…you’ll break my back.”
He stared at her expressionless. He seemed to be thinking: How could she read my mind like this? How could she possibly know…?
“You want them to fly…want me to fly, don’t you?” she said, gaining some strength to her voice, though not much. The lingering effect of the stun stick was a massive migraine, a dry throat and pain radiating throughout her body. On top of that she was absurdly cold, chilled to the bone, a kind of chill that might be chemical, or a response to shock, but was unlike anything she knew.
“I can’t fly if you drug me. The harness…must dis-tri-bute the force of the fall better. Shoulders to hips. Bigger harness…maybe.”
He held up a series of nylon straps and buckles. It look liked he’d made it himself-there were nuts and bolts where a harness might have had stitching or grommets.
“You don’t need…to drug me…to put that on,” she said. “I won’t fight. I want…to help you…be the first to fly.”
She watched his eyes mist. She’d triggered something painful in him. She clawed through the purple and black orbs that threatened on the sides of her vision, that warmth flowing down from her skull, trying to overtake her.
He looked her over, head to toe, his eyes lingering where a woman always felt men looking. She thought perhaps she didn’t fit the look-the look that he sought. The victim they’d seen had been slightly heavier, wider in the hips. Maybe he was considering rejecting her. Maybe she’d spoken too much. But speaking was her living. Her life…depended on it.
“To make this work,” she said, “we must be a team. The two of us.” She thought that more than anything he missed whatever angel he was trying to recreate, that to include him, to embrace him, to let him in was the secret to unlocking him.
“What do you know about the two of us?” He appeared bewildered and confused.
She understood she had caused this. Had her mind been clearer, she could have had more tools at her disposal, but her education took a backseat to instinct-it came down to getting him to loosen the ropes; everything depended on his loosening the ropes.
“We should…try on the harness. You think?”
“You didn’t know her.”
“I’d like to have.”
“She meant a great deal to you.”
“I said shut up!”
He lashed out with the harness, whipping her bare skin across her middle and raising welts.
She shut up. She looked away, her arms beginning to shake from the fear. She hated herself for giving this away, for feeding him this. She must not, at all costs, give him a connection between him beating her and her fear. She fought herself, her desire to hide, to retreat. To stay silent was to ask him to strike her again; to speak was most likely the same invitation; but she could control her speech whereas he controlled her silence and this was a very big difference to her.
“You didn’t mean to do that,” she said. “I forgive you.”
His gaze locked onto her.
“I forgive you for all of this. I can see it stems from your pain. I will fly for you. I will help you. But if you drug me, you’ll break my back. You’ll kill me. Now…what about the harness? Shouldn’t we get the harness on?”
She had him. She fought through the goo, the descending veil of approaching unconsciousness long enough to understand she’d gotten through to him. As a psychologist, she’d learned to spot these moments. To seize upon them.
His arm moved toward the knot that tied one ankle to the other, but it was a motion filled with suspicion and distrust.
Come on! she silently pleaded.
The man untied the first knot.
Five khaki-clad sheriff deputies stormed the Malster residence with a precision Boldt had not expected. He and LaMoia, wearing flak jackets, followed closely behind.
“Dead body,” Boldt said, knowing that smell.
The deputies quickly swarmed through the rooms, shouting, “Clear!” within seconds of one another.
“Got something!” a voice called out.
LaMoia and Boldt slipped down a narrow hallway to one of the home’s two bedrooms. It was a small room, crowded with a double bed and a low dresser. Atop the dresser were several photographs of a younger woman wearing clothes and a haircut from a decade earlier.
“Burrito,” LaMoia said.
A human burrito. A wrap of thick plastic tarp secured with a half roll or more of duct tape. Whoever had done the job had tried to seal the body inside, but the putrid smell overcame the room.
“Weeks,” Boldt said, his gloved hand pressing the plastic closer to where the face should have been. The corpse was in a high degree of decay, squirming larvae smeared the plastic from inside.
“Oh…crap,” LaMoia said. “This guy is sick.”
“This guy is trying to hold on to the one parent he had left,” Boldt said. “Daphne said the doer would be living with a single parent.”
“So where is she?”
“He’s not living here,” Boldt said, back in the hall now, looking around. The place had been cleaned up. The kitchen was immaculate but a wire strainer had left a rust ring in the sink, suggesting the passage of a good deal of time. “This is his mausoleum.” He indicated the small living room where two of the deputies stood awaiting instruction. There were no fewer than twenty framed photographs of the same woman spread around the room.
“We gotta find him,” LaMoia insisted, stating the obvious. “How’re we going to do that, Sarge?” He sounded on the edge of tears.
“We’re good,” Boldt said. “Basement?” he called to the deputies.
“Clear,” a deputy answered.
Boldt stepped into the living room, studying the various photographs more closely. Answers weren’t handed you; you had to extract them.
“It’s here somewhere,” he told LaMoia. “Start looking.”
LaMoia joined him. They worked the house: drawers, closets, cabinets.
Boldt made a phone call and announced himself to his Skagit Sheriff’s Office counterpart with whom he’d been dealing for the past hour and a half. “We need to check tax records for other properties, a trailer or mobile home. A boat? Someplace he could have taken her…Yes. Okay. As soon as possible.”
He called out for LaMoia to bring him the photos from the bedroom. Even with the front and back doors open it reeked inside the small house, but Boldt wasn’t going anywhere.
Together the two lined up and rearranged the nearly three dozen framed photographs. Then they reshuffled them several times.
“These five,” Boldt said, rearranging them yet again. All were taken in bright sunlight. In three of the five, water could be seen behind the woman’s head. One was clearly taken on a boat, but not a pleasure craft.
LaMoia turned to say something but Boldt’s phone rang. It was his contact at the Sheriff’s Office.
“We struck out on the tax records, at least for this guy, but we did pick up tax records for a commercial trawler, registered to Norman Malster. It’s in arrears, but until about a year ago it had been paid up regularly for nearly twenty years.”
“Not a common name,” the sheriff’s deputy said.
“Do we know where-?”
“I got my guys making some calls. Everyone knows everyone here. It shouldn’t be-”
“Orange metal,” Boldt said, pulling one of the photos closer. “One piece is curved down, the other straight.”
“That’s not Oak Harbor. Hang on a second…” The deputy went off the line. When he returned he said, “ La Conner. That ’s the bridge in La Conner.”
Boldt and LaMoia were out the door to the shouts of deputies. Across the street to a vacant lot where the helicopter waited.
“Have you there in three minutes!” shouted the pilot.
The door was slid shut, the helicopter already lifting into a graying sky.
Daphne contained her impatience. With the first knot untied, both ankles were free. But her upper legs remained bound, and her captor, perhaps sensing her intentions, pulled the harness up her calves, restricting her movement before loosening the rope that bound her legs.
She needed a split second. Her legs were painful and weary from the stun stick. But she couldn’t allow him to slip the harness past her knees where it would immobilize her once again-clearly his plan.
“It was your mother, wasn’t it?” she said.
Her captor froze, his stunned expression exactly what she’d hoped for.
She pulled her knees toward her chest, leaned to the right and kicked out like she was on a rowing machine. Her captor flew back and into the wall.
She rocked and fell off the table, turning sideways, her hands and arms still bound, her left shoulder twisting toward dislocation. She kicked him again. And again.
The third blow did damage: his head struck the wall.
Metal, she knew from the sound of it. A boat!
The loop of rope binding her wrists slipped off the head end of the table. Her wrists were connected by three feet of loose rope. She pulled the rope to her mouth and sank her teeth into the knot.
Her captor leaned forward.
Daphne kicked him again, this time in the groin, and he buckled forward.
But his hand came up holding a fish knife, and he lashed out at her, catching her forearm.
“Your mother is dead!” she shouted, assuming that to be the case and knowing this was the message that would unnerve him.
She whipped the rope in front of her, catching him in the side of the face. He slashed with the knife, catching her knee.
She screamed and kicked out, and in her effort to push him away the rope caught around his head and she had him by the neck now, his back to her, her knee on his spine and she pulled back with all her strength.
Something came at her from the side-a gas canister. It caught her in the temple and she went down hard. She rolled beneath the table and the rope, still caught around his neck pulled him with her. She couldn’t get away from him now-they were tied by the rope around his neck.
He punched the knife toward her. She dodged it and, in the process, looped another length of rope around his neck.
He swung the knife upward. The rope cut.
Her hands were free.
She scurried under the table and rose to her feet while he unwrapped the rope and gasped for breath. He turned to face her.
“My angel,” he said.
“Not going to happen,” Daphne said.
She reached out for anything-the nearest thing she could grab.
She blasted an air horn that was so loud in the enclosed space they both went deaf.
Then she saw it: the stun stick. He had it in his hand as he came around the table toward her. He’d made the right choice, driving her toward the bow and away from the only steps she saw.
She fired off the air horn again: three short, three long, three short. SOS.
“She’s dead,” Daphne repeated, hoping to incite his rage, to drive him to emotion and toward making mistakes as a result.
“Did she jump to her death?” she said, guessing. “Did she leave you unfairly?”
“You don’t deserve to be like her,” he said, brandishing the stun stick as he moved ever closer. “What are we going to do with you?”
An explosion behind him, turned him around. It was not an explosion after all, but the door to the cabin disintegrating behind LaMoia’s efforts to kick it in. LaMoia took one step and fell into the cabin, and her captor lunged forward and hit him with the stun stick. LaMoia’s body spasmed and then fell limp-unconcious.
But a stun stick took time to recycle its charge. Daphne rushed him and struck the back of his head with the air horn canister.
Boldt slid down the stairs, landing on LaMoia, knocked the stun stick from the captor’s hand, took the man under the arms and threw him-threw him like he was a matter of a few pounds-across the narrow hold and into the metal hull. He followed around and pulled the man to him and struck the man in the face, blow after blow.
“Lou!” she shouted, the man’s blood coming off Boldt’s knotted fist. Again she shouted his name.
Boldt stopped and looked back at her, still holding the captor by his shirt.
He averted his eyes.
“You’ll kill him,” she said, her voice nothing but a faint whisper. She pulled a mackinaw around her. She staggered back and sat down.
“SOS,” he said. “That was a nice touch.”
“His mother,” she mumbled.
Boldt let the man go. He hit the floor with a thud. Boldt came around toward her, but she recoiled and he raised his hands.
“We’ll get you help,” he said.
She nodded, a look of defiance in her eyes, her right hand still gripping the air horn.
Boldt sat down on a folding patio chair next to her, a small drink table between them. Daphne wore extra makeup to cover a bruise on her face, a long sleeve T-shirt and blue jeans. The little girl for whom Daphne served as guardian played inside a childproofed area of the balcony. Boldt couldn’t see LaMoia setting up something like this; it had probably been Daphne.
“Are you coming back?” he asked, within seconds of sitting down.
“Two weeks paid leave,” she said. “More if I ask. I’m not an idiot.”
She’d asked him over. He hadn’t been to LaMoia’s loft since Daphne had moved in. He wasn’t sure why that was, but he wasn’t sure he wanted to figure it out, either.
She made him tea, with no offer of coffee. Milk and sugar. She drank chai, the cloves and cinnamon heavy in the air.
“But that’s a yes,” he said.
“It is,” she confirmed. “Are you kidding me? You think I’d quit?”
“Not likely,” he said.
“But no one would blame you-”
“Stuff it,” she said. “Don’t say another word.”
“You invited me,” he reminded.
“Not to discuss the case. His mother was on that Pacific West flight ten years ago. He was out there on the Sound when the bodies started to fall. I don’t pretend to know…There’s no fixing everyone. There’s no blame. The human mind…well, it’s why I want to get back to work.”
“We come from such different places,” he said. “I blame them all the time. I have no means, no way to fix any of them. I just want them put away. I suppose I’m the dog catcher and you’re the person, the volunteer at the shelter. Something like that.”
“Are you getting enough sleep?”
“Maybe not.” He watched the girl playing. Then he realized how relaxed Daphne was with the child. He’d pictured her the stressed and worrying type-he should have known. She couldn’t have been more at ease. “This suits you.”
“It does. Though it may not last. We’ve pretty much exhausted all the various channels. If we get to keep her it will be a miracle.”
“Miracles happen,” Boldt said. “Liz tells me that all the time.”
“How is she?”
He didn’t feel right talking about his wife, his family with this woman. He thought he understood why, but marveled that that kind of discussion still made him feel restless.
Daphne said, “We’re going to give it another chance. John and me.”
Here then, was the reason she’d called. He wondered why she’d made such a deal out of it. Then he didn’t wonder at all.
“Not a quitter,” he said.
“I wanted to tell you. Like this. Here. You and me. Don’t ask me why.”
But he wanted to ask her why. “Okay,” he said.
“Is this awkward?”
“Okay. Thanks for that.”
“You don’t owe me this,” he said.
“Sure I do.”
“Liz is good,” he said. “The kids are great. Seriously.”
She smiled over at a building. Smiled for herself. Nodded. Gripped the arms of the folding chair a little tightly.
“Listen,” he said. “Listen closely because I don’t know if I can get this out right even once.”
She nodded, biting her lips so that they folded into her mouth.
“Whatever this is, it has never gone away…I’m talking for me. Okay? Just for me. It runs like one of those tantric chords they talk about, this hum that operates out of the spectrum of human hearing-”
“Always the musician. I love that about you-your music.”
“What I’m talking about, it’s not music, exactly. It pulsates. Quavers. But it never stops. Never ceases. It’s just there. Now, then, just there.” He swallowed dryly. “For a long time I let it, let you, haunt me. Own me. Then I realized it was more a tone than a handcuff. So I harmonize with it. I vamp off it. I’ve learned…to
She squinted her eyes tightly. He felt he should leave without another word.
“Are you okay?” he finally asked.
“Trying to lock that in. To memorize it. Store it, so that I can recall it whenever I want. Whenever I need, which is more often than it should be.”
“I ramble when I’m nervous.”
“But you’re never nervous,” she said, opening her eyes again. “I wish you’d be nervous more often.”
“I’m glad for you and John,” he said.
“Shut up, Lou. Shut up and let me hear it, too.”
They sat there in silence for another fifteen minutes. The girl made squeaks, asked her mommy for some juice. Daphne got up to fetch it, and Boldt stood with her.
He made for the door. Turned back. She had the box of juice out of the refrigerator. Was punching a straw through the top.
She wore a smile of satisfaction as she headed back to the balcony.
Boldt turned the handle, and let himself out.
Humming as he went.