Authors: E. J. Findorff
here was an empty bottle of Absinthe Original sitting on the coffee table next to a glass that had about an eighth of an inch of absinthe left in it. I looked at the shredded remains of the vics and felt terrible for them but also relieved when I didn't get that unpleasant lump in my throat.
I walked around Ron to take a better look at the bodies and observed that the female had a red bow tied around her neck. Looking past the ribbon to her face, I couldn't believe my eyes. I recognized this woman, too. I tried to rationalize how it could be. It was as if the world were on pause. I only realized that I had moved after my feet stopped. Was I going to look back at the girl and see a different face and shake it off as an illusion?
These murders had something to do with me. How could they not? The sound around me became audible again, and I sensed my balance faltering.
I looked at Ron. “I know her. Her name's Angel Moretti. She was my very first girlfriend when I was fifteen.”
To my wife, Cindy; my parents, Earl and Rita; and my sister, Lisa, for their love and support.
Published 2011 by Medallion Press, Inc.
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Copyright Â© 2011 by E.J. Findorff
Cover design by James Tampa
Edited by Helen A Rosburg and Lorie Popp
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission of the publisher, except where permitted by law.
Names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author's imagination or are used fictionally. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
ISBN 978-1-60542-147-6 pdf
First and foremost, I would like to thank Dan Shanahan whose expertise was vital to this book becoming a reality. I would also like to thank April Clark for her early editing; Officer Kathy Husen and friend Jeremy Vannatta for their input; Jennifer Wild for just being herself; Debbie Johnston for giving me the opportunity to get my manuscript into Medallion Press's hands; Tim Reilly and Sean Brennan for helping this novel become a reality; and all my friends who read and offered their valued opinions.
And special thanks to the New Orleans and Jefferson Parish Police and all the brave ones who stayed after Katrina.
ll I heard were mangled words being spoken as her remains lay in front of me, naked, flat on her back, about two feet from a well-worn sofa. “I know her from my childhood,” I whispered to no one.
Blood on her abdomen had dried to a black film where knife wounds appeared to be. Her breastsâ
what had he done to them? I traced tiny rivers of blood that had dried like candle wax. Additionally, her head had been completely shaved, and I felt my coffee rising in my throat. A hard swallow and a large breath of air put it back down for the moment.
Two lengths of rope lay balled up on a sofa cushion next to a piece of duct tape. I moved closer to make sure I really had recognized my childhood friend. Behind the bruising and blood, under the makeup, I could tell it was her.
I had to constrict my throat again, pushing down the rising gusher. My first crush lay dead, and I was about to puke all over the crime scene. The smell of rotting food didn't help, either.
Ron Lacey had stepped up beside me, but I didn't realize it until he spoke. “Decland, her name's June Bieria. Is it your friend?”
“Yeah, that's her name,” I said lightly, staring at her face. “I remember her as a little girl. We were good friends, but we lost touch a long time ago.”
“Are you okay? Can you go on with this? You look like one of those freakin' albinos.” Ron's look told me that my answer better be yes.
“It's just that this is the first time I've personally known a murder victim who wasn't a cop.”
Ron nodded, turning his overweight frame to examine the body. Since I was no longer in his line of sight, I walked into the small kitchen on the pretense of continuing the investigation, but in truth, I wanted to get away from everyone.
Dirty dishes overflowed from the sink, and the refrigerator was empty, except for take-out packages and condiments. The awful smell suggested the sun must have been baking the food on her plates for days.
I quietly moved down the barren hallway, entered her bathroom, and closed the door. After a quick check around her toilet, I let out a spew of vomit, flushing simultaneously. I wished I had some kind of mouth muffler, fearing everyone was gathering at the door to listen.
Still, it was a relief to get all that liquid out. I waited for an eternity, expecting someone to walk in, but no one did. I rinsed my mouth with water and hoped for the best. If anyone asked, I merely had to take a piss, and that was why the toilet flushed.
Yeah, stick with that.
After checking my appearance, I crossed the hallway to June's bedroom where a carpet of clothes lay scattered about. Different colored panties and bras were everywhere. Her bed was a mere iron frame with a mattress sitting on a simple spring set, much like Army issue. It would be hard to tell if there had been a struggle.
I returned to June's body and looked at her face again, feeling the attention of everyone in the room on me. They knew I had lost it, but that didn't matter now. I felt like a piece of my childhood had died.
The Scientific Criminal Investigation Division (SCID) sent Dr. John Ross from the Forensic Light Unit to the apartment. He was short with blond hair like mine, except he kept his long and in a ponytail. His face had plenty of laugh lines and some scarring on his left cheek. He had told me it was from an accident with some acids.
“My, oh my, Dupree and Lacey were paired up to work on a good one.” He looked at Ron. “Aren't you retired yet?”
“I got a few more years, and I've apparently been relegated to babysitting duties.”
Way to instill confidence.
John smiled. “All right, what's going on here?”
Ron filled him in as I inched to the opposite end of the living room to inspect an array of pictures on a plain brown mantel. I noticed a very old photo of June and me tucked behind some recent ones, and my heart sank. We had our arms around each other's necks at a Pizza Hut. It had been June's birthday. Now she was lying dead on the floor.
I blinked hard, forcing myself to walk toward a tall, antique-looking lamp in the corner where the bottom foot or so of drywall had water damage, probably caused by Hurricane Katrina. I felt like a coward in front of my partner, but Ron appeared unaffected, as if he were waiting in line at McDonald's instead of standing over a mutilated body.
In two minutes, I had circled back to Ron. “There's a picture of me on the mantel. Makes you wonder how you lose touch with people you once cared about.”
“I'm sorry. If you want to excuse yourself . . .”
“No. I'm good.” I glanced at John. “Greenwood put us together on this, and I'm going to see it through.”
John looked past me at the woman lying in a pool of blood. “I'm going to start on the body, if that's okay with y'all.”
He didn't wait for a reply. His guy from the Photography Unit began taking pictures as John bent over to get a better look. Ron and I backed away when he wrapped June's hands in plastic bags.
I went outside where I took deep breaths and drank some water I had in the car.
A few minutes later, Ron came out and leaned on the fender beside me. His thinning gray hair moved in the hot breeze. “Your first mutilation killing, huh? And an old friend at that.”
“One year on the job doesn't prepare you.”
“I told you it's not like the movies.”
“Yeah, just like you said.” I sucked down another drink of water. My eyes were tearing up, and I felt the world start to spin. Fearing I might black out, I replanted my feet flat on the ground and stared at a stop sign, trying to focus past the tiny flashes in my vision.
Ron scratched the stubble on his chin. “Well, the apartment was messy throughout, which makes it hard to say how much of a struggle there was. No sign of a break-in, and the furniture was generally undisturbed. No lamps broken. None of her knickknacks were knocked over. I'd say there wasn't much of a fight, meaning she might've known her attacker. It could've been a john from Jo-Jo's Cabaret where she worked.”
“This wasn't a robbery or rape gone wrong, was it?” I asked.
“Right. What he did to her tits.” He paused and glanced at me.
I waved him off.
“I'm sorry. I mean, boobs. Boobs, okay?” He waited for my nod. “And the shaved head and makeup say we've got a freak on our hands, and I'll bet my onions that if we don't catch him, he'll do it again.”
“We should talk to her friend.” I motioned to the woman sitting on the curb, staring off into space.
She saw us approaching and stood unsteadily, pulling the hair out of the way of her bloodshot eyes.
“Marla Faber?” I asked. “I'm Detective Decland Dupree, and this is Detective Ron Lacey.”
“Do you know who did it?” she asked in a girlish voice. She had raccoon eyes from crying and plump lips that mimicked the wax candy I used to buy as a kid.
“No, ma'am, not yet,” Ron said with his deep police voice. “We were hoping you could tell us if she had any enemies, a boyfriend.”
“She wasn't into men. Me and her, we were sort of seeing each other. She moved into this place when her apartment in the East got wiped out by Katrina. We met at the club and became friends. Really good friends, you know. I can't believe this shit. She was so nice.” One long tear ran down her cheek.
I wondered how June's religious-nut parents were going to take the news of their lesbian daughter's death along with all the extraneous personal information that was sure to hang over her like a black cloud. As I wrote down Marla's statement in my notepad, I noticed Ron staring across the street. “June never mentioned anyone stalking her or crank calls or anything?”