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Authors: Chris Carter

Tags: #Thriller, #Mystery

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BOOK: The Night Stalker
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Hannay kept the flashlight steady.

‘It’s something metallic,’ Winston announced, using the pointer as a probe, ‘but I still can’t say for certain what it could be. Pass me the stitch-cutting scissors and the forceps, will you?’

It didn’t take him long to slice through the stitches. As he cut through each one, Doctor Winston used the forceps to pinch and pull the thick black thread from the victim’s skin, placing it into a small plastic evidence collection container.

‘Was she raped?’ Hannay asked.

‘There are cuts and bruises around her groin that are consistent with forced penetration,’ Doctor Winston con firmed, ‘but they could’ve been caused by the object that’s been inserted into her. I’ll take some swabs and send them up to the lab together with the thread samples.’ He placed the scissors and the forceps on the used instrument tray. ‘Let’s find out what the killer has left us, shall we?’

Hannay tensed as Doctor Winston inserted his right hand into the victim. ‘Well, I was right, it’s not a small object.’

A few silent, uneasy seconds went by.

‘And it’s oddly shaped too,’ the doctor announced. ‘Sort of squared with something strange attached to its top.’ He finally managed to grab hold of it. As he pulled it out, an attachment at the top clicked.

Hannay stepped forward to gain a better look.

‘Metal, relatively heavy, looks handmade . . .’ Doctor Winston said, staring at the object in his hand. ‘But I’m still not sure what . . .’ He paused and felt his heart hammer inside his chest as his eyes widened in realization. ‘Oh my God . . .’

 
Two
 

It took Detective Robert Hunter of the Los Angeles Robbery Homicide Division (RHD) over an hour to drive from the Hollywood Courthouse to the disused butcher’s shop in East LA. He was paged over four hours ago, but the trial in which he was testifying had run a lot later than he’d expected.

Hunter was part of an exclusive elite; an elite that most LAPD detectives would give their right arm
not
to become part of. The Homicide Special Section (HSS) of the RHD was created to deal solely with serial, high-profile and homicide cases requiring extensive investigative time and expertize. Inside the HSS, Hunter had an even more specialized task. Due to his criminal behavior psychology background, he was assigned to cases where overwhelming brutality had been used by the perpetrator. The department tagged such cases as UV,
ultra-violent.

The butcher’s shop was the last in a parade of closed-down businesses. The whole neighborhood seemed to have been neglected. Hunter parked his old Buick next to a white forensic crime lab van. As he stepped out of the car, he allowed his eyes to study the outside of the buildings for a while. All the windows had been covered by solid metal shutters. There was so much graffiti on the outside walls Hunter couldn’t tell what color the buildings had originally been.

He approached the officer guarding the entrance, flashed his badge and stooped under the yellow crime-scene tape. The officer nodded but remained silent, his stare distant.

Hunter pushed the door open and stepped inside.

The foul smell that hit him knocked him back and made him gag – a combination of putrid meat, stale sweat, vomit and urine that burned his nostrils and stung at his eyes. He paused for a moment before pulling the collar of his shirt up and over his nose and mouth as an improvised mask.

‘These work better,’ Carlos Garcia said, coming out of the back room and handing Hunter a surgical nose mask. He was wearing one himself.

Garcia was tall and slim with longish dark hair and light blue eyes. His boyish good looks were spoiled only by a slight lump on his nose, where it had been broken. Unlike all the other RHD detectives, Garcia had worked very hard to be assigned to the HSS. He’d been Hunter’s partner for almost three years now.

‘The smell gets worse once you enter the back room.’ Garcia nodded towards the door he’d just come out of. ‘How was the trial?’

‘Late,’ Hunter replied as he fitted the mask over his face. ‘What have we got?’

Garcia tilted his head to one side. ‘Some messed up stuff. White female victim, somewhere in her late twenties, early thirties. She was found on the stainless steel butcher’s worktop in there.’ He pointed to the room behind him.

‘Cause of death?’

Garcia shook his head. ‘We’ll have to wait for the autopsy. Nothing apparent. But here comes the kick. Her lips and her vagina were
stitched
shut.’

‘What?’

Garcia nodded. ‘That’s right. A very sick job. I’ve never seen anything like it.’

Hunter’s eyes darted towards the door behind his partner.

‘The body’s gone,’ Garcia offered before Hunter’s next question. ‘Doctor Winston was the Forensics lead here tonight. He wanted you to see the body and the scene in the exact way in which it was found, but he couldn’t wait any longer. The heat in there was accelerating things.’

‘When was the body taken away?’ Hunter mechanically checked his watch.

‘About two hours ago. Knowing the doc, he’s probably halfway through the autopsy already. He knows you hate sitting in on those, so there’d be no point in waiting. By the time we finish looking around this place, I’m sure he’ll have some answers for us.’

Hunter’s cell phone rang in his pocket. He grabbed it and pulled his surgical mask down, letting it hang loosely around his neck. ‘Detective Hunter.’

He listened for a few seconds. ‘What?’ His eyes shot towards Garcia, who saw Hunter’s entire demeanor change in an instant.

 
Three
 

Garcia made the trip from East LA to the Los Angeles County Department of Coroner in North Mission Road in record time.

Their confusion doubled as they approached the entrance to the coroners’ parking lot. It was blocked off by four police vehicles and two fire engines. More police cars were inside the lot. Several uniformed officers were moving around chaotically, shouting orders at each other and over the radio.

The media had descended upon the scene like ravenous wolves. Local TV and newspaper vans were everywhere. Reporters, cameramen and photographers were doing their best to get as close as they could. But a tight perimeter had already been established around the main building, and it was being strictly enforced by the LAPD.

‘What the hell is going on here?’ Hunter whispered under his breath as Garcia pulled up by the entrance.

‘You’ll have to move along, sir,’ a young policeman said, coming up to Garcia’s window and frantically gesturing for him to drive on. ‘You can’t—’

He stopped as soon as he saw Garcia’s badge. ‘I’m sorry, Detective; I’ll clear a path right away.’ He turned to face the other two officers who were standing next to their vehicles. ‘C’mon guys, make way.’

Less than thirty seconds later, Garcia was parking his Honda Civic just in front of the stairway that led up to the main building.

Hunter stepped out of the car and looked around. A small group of people, most of them in white coats, were huddled together at the far end of the parking lot. Hunter recognized them as lab technicians and coroner staff.

‘What happened here?’ he asked a fireman who had just come off the radio.

‘You’ll have to ask the chief in charge for more details. All I can tell you is that there was a fire somewhere inside.’ He pointed to the old hospital-turned-morgue.

Hunter frowned. ‘Fire?’

Certain arson cases were also investigated by the HSS, but they were rarely considered UV. Hunter had never been assigned as the lead detective in any of them.

‘Robert, over here.’

Hunter turned and saw Doctor Carolyn Hove coming down the steps to greet them. She’d always looked a great deal younger than her forty-six years. But not today. Her usually perfectly styled chestnut hair was disheveled, her expression solemn and defeated. If the Los Angeles County Coroner had ranks, Doctor Hove would be second in command, just under Doctor Winston.

‘What in the world is going on, Doc?’ Hunter asked.

‘Absolute hell . . .’

 
Four
 

Hunter, Garcia and Doctor Hove climbed up the steps together and entered the main building via its large double doors. Several more police officers and firemen were lingering around in the entry foyer. Doctor Hove guided both detectives past the reception counter, down another set of stairs and onto the underground floor. Even though they could all hear the extraction fans working at full power, a sickening smell of chemicals and burned flesh hung in the air. Both detectives cringed and reflexively cupped their hands over their noses.

Garcia felt his stomach churn.

Right at the end of the corridor, a section of the floor directly in front of autopsy room four was drenched in water. Its door was open but it seemed to have been dislodged off its hinges.

The fire chief in charge was giving instructions to one of his men when he saw the group approaching.

‘Chief,’ Doctor Hove said, ‘these are Detectives Robert Hunter and Carlos Garcia of the RHD.’

No handshakes, only polite nods.

‘What happened here?’ Hunter asked, craning his neck to try to see inside the room. ‘And where’s Doctor Winston?’

Doctor Hove didn’t reply.

The chief took off his helmet and wiped his forehead with a gloved hand. ‘Some sort of explosion.’

Hunter frowned. ‘Explosion?’

‘That’s right. The room has been checked and there are no hidden fires. In fact, the fire itself looked to have been minimal. The sprinklers put it out even before we got here. At the moment we don’t know what caused the blast, we’ll have to wait for the fire investigator’s report.’ He looked at Doctor Hove. ‘I was told that this is the largest of all the autopsy suites, and it doubles as a lab, is that right?’

‘Yes, that’s correct,’ she confirmed.

‘Are any volatile chemicals – maybe gas canisters – stored in there?’

Doctor Hove closed her eyes for a moment and let out a heavy breath. ‘Sometimes.’

The chief nodded. ‘Maybe there was a leak, but as I said, we’ll have to wait for the investigator’s report. It’s a sturdy building with solid foundations. As it’s a basement room, the walls down here are much thicker than the ones throughout the rest of the building, and that helped contain the blow. Though it was a powerful enough blast to cause a lot of internal damage, it wasn’t powerful enough to compromise the structure. For now, there isn’t much more I can tell you.’ The chief took off his gloves and rubbed his eyes. ‘It’s very messy in there, Doctor, in a
very
bad way.’ He paused as if unsure of what else to say. ‘I’m really sorry.’ His words were coated with grief. He nodded solemnly at the rest of the group and made his way back upstairs.

They all stood in silence at the entrance to what used to be autopsy room four, their eyes taking in the destruction. At the far end of the room tables, trays, cabinets and trolleys were bent out of shape and turned over everywhere, showered in debris and bits of skin and flesh. Part of the ceiling and the back wall were damaged and covered in blood.

‘When did this happen?’ Garcia asked.

‘An hour, maybe an hour and fifteen minutes ago. I was in a meeting in the second building. There was a muffled bang and the fire alarms went berserk.’

What was bothering Hunter was the amount of washed-up blood and the number of black impermeable covers he could see scattered around the room, covering bodies or body parts. The cooler body storage facility was located on the wall opposite where the blast occurred. None of the fridges looked damaged.

‘How many bodies were out of the coolers in here, Doc?’ Hunter asked tentatively.

Doctor Hove knew Hunter had already caught on. She lifted her right hand, showing only the index finger.

Hunter let out a laden breath. ‘An autopsy was taking place.’ It was a statement rather than a question and he felt a shiver grab hold of his spine. ‘Doctor Winston’s autopsy?’

‘Shit!’ Garcia ran a hand over his face. ‘No way.’

Doctor Hove looked away, but not fast enough to hide the tears that were forming in her eyes.

Hunter’s gaze stayed on her for a couple of seconds before returning to what was left of the room. His throat went dry, and a choking sadness surrounded his heart. He’d known Doctor Jonathan Winston for over fifteen years. He’d been the Los Angeles Chief Medical Examiner for as long as Hunter could remember. He was a workaholic and brilliant at his job. He always tried his best to conduct most of the autopsies on murder victims whose death circumstances had been deemed out of the ordinary. But most of all, to Hunter, Doctor Winston was like family. The best of friends. Someone on whom he’d counted on numerous times. Someone who he respected and admired like few others. Someone he’d sincerely miss.

‘Two people were present.’ Doctor Hove’s voice faltered for an instant. ‘Doctor Winston and Sean Hannay, a 21-year-old forensic assistant.’

Hunter closed his eyes. There was nothing he could say.

‘I called as soon as I found out,’ Doctor Hove said.

Garcia’s expression was one of pure shock. He’d seen many dead bodies in his career, several of them grotesquely disfigured by a sadistic killer. But he’d never personally known any of the victims. And despite meeting Doctor Winston for the first time only three years ago, they’d quickly become friends.

BOOK: The Night Stalker
5.27Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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