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Authors: Chris Carter

Tags: #Thriller, #Mystery

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BOOK: The Night Stalker
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‘Most grenades’ trigger mechanisms have to be manually activated,’ Garcia said. ‘Who activated that one?’

Hunter rubbed his face. ‘That’s the question that’s been knocking around in my head. Whoever placed the bomb inside the victim couldn’t be sure of the exact moment of extraction. That means that the bomb couldn’t have been on a timer or have been remotely activated.’

Garcia nodded.

‘So what if in this case the trigger was held in place not by a pin like most grenades, but by the confined space where the bomb was placed?’ Hunter suggested. ‘A spring trigger of some sort, held tight by the victim’s own body.’

Garcia and Captain Blake exchanged glances as they considered it for a moment.

‘So extracting the bomb from the victim would’ve released the trigger,’ Garcia said, scratching his forehead. ‘It’s possible – and very creative.’

‘Fantastic,’ the captain said, pinching the bridge of her nose. ‘To the killer this is all just a game.’ She showed Hunter the printout again. ‘He even told us it was inside her.’

Hunter shook his head. ‘The killer wasn’t informing us, Captain.’

‘Sorry?’

‘The killer was informing the
victim
.’

 
Thirteen
 

Captain Blake leaned against the edge of Garcia’s desk and folded her arms. ‘You’ve lost me, Robert.’

‘Have a look at that printout again, Captain,’ Hunter said. ‘The killer wrote “It’s inside
you
” not “It’s inside
her
”. He wasn’t communicating with us.’

‘Why would the killer try to communicate with a dead body?’

‘Because she wasn’t dead when he left her.’

The captain ran a finger over her right eyebrow and pulled a face. ‘You lost me even more now.’

Hunter walked up to the pictures board. ‘There were several things that were bothering me about the crime-scene photos. That’s why I wanted to have a look at the butcher’s shop again myself.’ He pointed to one of the pictures. ‘Look at the position the body was found in, the arms in particular. One is hanging down from the side of the counter and the other is resting awkwardly on her chest. The fingers on her right hand are spread apart and half bent, as if she was trying to dig at something. I don’t think the killer left her in this particular position.’

‘The body might’ve been interfered with, Robert,’ the captain countered. ‘It was an anonymous phone call that gave us the body’s location, remember?’

Hunter nodded. ‘Yes, and I listened to the 911 recording. It’s a girl’s voice. Not older than sixteen or seventeen, and she sounded hysterical. The reason why she didn’t wanna give us her name is probably because she was going into that room to shoot up.’

‘OK, so the girl didn’t touch the body,’ the captain said, accepting his theory. ‘But maybe you’re reading too much into this message. Maybe the killer didn’t put a great deal of thought into it. So he wrote
you
instead of
her
, no big deal.’

It was Garcia’s turn to disagree. ‘That would suggest that the writing on the ceiling was a spur-of-the-moment thing, Captain.’ He rubbed the lump on his nose. ‘We’re talking about someone who put together his own explosive device and probably engineered the trigger mechanism himself. He then placed it all inside the victim in some way that it wouldn’t be triggered until found and extracted. All of that while she was still alive.’ He shook his head and faced the pictures board. ‘Whatever this killer did, Captain, nothing was on the spur of the moment. He thought it all through. And that’s what makes him so dangerous.’

 
Fourteen
 

Captain Blake let out a frustrated breath and started pacing the room. Her high heels clicked against the wooden floor.

‘It doesn’t make any sense. If the victim was still alive when she was left in that butcher’s shop, and the message on the ceiling was meant for her, how come she was dead when we found her? Who killed her, the rats?’ She pulled a photograph from the board and studied it for a moment. ‘Independently of whatever happened to the victim, the fact still remains that someone placed a bomb inside her and stitched her shut. The only way of getting that bomb out was to cut through the stitches and pull it out.’ She paused and allowed her eyes to move from one detective to the other. ‘Don’t tell me you think the killer expected the victim to do that by herself?’

No one replied.

Hunter massaged the back of his neck, and for a moment allowed his fingers to rub the rough scar on his nape.

The captain turned towards him. ‘I know you, Robert. If you think the message was left for the victim instead of us, you must have a theory on this. I’m all ears.’

‘I don’t have a proper theory yet, Captain, just too many ifs.’

‘You’ve gotta have something brewing in that brain of yours,’ the captain pushed. ‘Indulge me, because right now I hate what I’m hearing.’

Hunter took a deep breath. ‘Maybe the bomb’s how the killer wanted her to die.’

Captain Blake’s eyes narrowed. ‘You think the bomb was supposed to blow up inside her, while she was still alive?’

Hunter tilted his head to one side, musing over the possibility.

Captain Blake sat down in Hunter’s chair. ‘You’re going to have to develop on that, Robert. If this killer thought everything through so thoroughly as Garcia has suggested, and if the bomb was supposed to blow up inside the victim as you’re suggesting, why didn’t it? What happened? Did the killer make a mistake? How would the trigger mechanism be activated while the bomb was
inside
her? And if he didn’t kill her, how the hell did she die?’

‘As I said, too many ifs, Captain,’ Hunter replied calmly. ‘And at the moment I don’t have the answers. With everything that’s happened, we don’t have much to go on. I don’t know if the killer made a mistake or not. I don’t know why the bomb didn’t blow up inside her, or how it was supposed to be activated in the first place. Without the autopsy report we’ll probably never know the real cause of death. What we do know is that it’s nothing apparent. She wasn’t shot, stabbed, or strangled. I also don’t believe she was poisoned.’ He paused. ‘But there’s a possibility she suffocated.’

Captain Blake threw Hunter a perplexed look. ‘How’s that?’

Hunter pointed to an enlarged picture of the victim’s face. ‘Suffocation causes the blood vessels around the eyes and behind the delicate skin on the cheeks to burst. See here.’ He indicated on the photo. ‘This sort of old-person’s-skin look is a consequence of burst blood vessels. There’s a good chance she suffocated. I confirmed it with Doctor Hove. But again, without an autopsy we’ll never be certain.’

‘So you’re saying that you think she might’ve suffocated by herself, after the killer left her there?’

Hunter nodded.

‘On what? The foul smell of the place?’

Hunter shrugged. ‘Her own vomit . . . her tongue . . . Who knows? Maybe the victim had a bad heart. But just imagine if she was still alive when she was left in that butcher’s shop – unconscious, but still alive. She wakes up, naked, frightened, in pain, and with parts of her body stitched shut. That’d certainly be enough to trigger a severe panic attack in most people.’

Captain Blake massaged her closed eyelids, considering Hunter’s suggestion. She knew that a panic attack could easily cause someone to vomit, gag or hyperventilate. With the victim’s mouth sewn tightly shut, she’d have no way of drawing in breath and increasing the flow of oxygen to her lungs. That would’ve made the victim’s panic turn into mindless desperation. If she’d puked, the vomit had nowhere to go. Choking and asphyxiating would’ve been just a breath away. And then . . . certain death.

 
Fifteen
 

The results of the chemical tests done on the spray paint used on the ceiling of the butcher’s shop came in by 2:00 p.m. and threw up nothing special. The paint came from a can of Montana Tarblack – probably the most popular brand of spray paint in the USA. Every graffiti artist in the country used it. The handwriting analyses confirmed what Hunter already suspected – the killer had used his non-writing hand to spray the words onto the ceiling. Simple, but effective. Hunter had requested that the whole room be dusted again, and this time they should include the ceiling. Every print found was to be run through the National Automated Fingerprint ID System.

Hunter leaned back in his chair, closed his eyes and gently ran the tip of his finger up and down the bridge of his nose. His brain kept trying to make sense of such a senseless act.

If there had been no bomb, if the victim had been found simply stitched shut, Hunter would have a steadier psychological path to follow. The stitches to the mouth on their own would have suggested the possibility of a retaliation kill – a lesson being taught. The victim might have said something she shouldn’t have – about the wrong person, to the wrong person, or both. The act could have been performed as a way to symbolize shutting her up.

The stitches to her mouth and lower body together would have upped the stakes to a possible sexual or love betrayal and revenge.
If you can’t keep your mouth and legs shut, I’ll
shut them for you.
That would’ve clearly placed a deceived husband, boyfriend or lover right at the top of their list of persons of interest. And that possibility was still pretty much alive in Hunter’s mind. But he still had the bomb to deal with. Why place a
bomb
inside the victim? Experience also told him that the overwhelming majority of what were considered crimes of passion were spur-of-the-moment acts, generated by irrational anger and an almost total loss of control. Very rarely did it come in the form of a planned, calculated and brutal vengeance act.

One possibility that kept nagging Hunter was that there could have been more than one perpetrator, more specifically, a gang. Crimes like this one weren’t beyond the scope of certain gangs in Los Angeles. Some were notorious for their violence and their bad-ass, don’t-fuck-with-us attitude. Sending a warning to other gangs in the form of brutal beatings and murders happened more often than the mayor of Los Angeles would care to admit. These gangs also had a direct link to gun trafficking. Getting hold of a ready-made bomb, a grenade, or materials to make their own wouldn’t have been a problem. The victim could’ve belonged to some gang leader. Some of them liked to think of their women as possessions. If she’d betrayed him, especially if she did it with a rival gang member, this could have been their way of blowing her off.

And then there was the possibility that the stitches carried no symbolism whatsoever. As Captain Blake had suggested, they could simply be dealing with an extremely sadistic killer, someone who enjoyed hurting people for the sheer pleasure of it. And Hunter knew that if that were the case, more victims would follow.

‘The Missing Persons files we requested should be with us in the next forty-five minutes or so,’ Garcia said, coming off the phone and dragging Hunter away from his thoughts.

‘Great. You can start going over them if I’m not here.’ Hunter reached for his jacket. There was only one person he knew in LA who’d have knowledge of guns, explosives, trigger mechanisms and gangs. It was time to call in some favors.

 
Sixteen
 

D-King was probably the best-known dealer in Hollywood and Northwest Los Angeles. Though he was known as a dealer, no one was ever able to prove it, least of all the District Attorney’s office. They’d been trying to nail him to anything substantial without success for the past eight years.

D-King was young, intelligent, a fierce businessman, and very dangerous to anyone who was stupid enough to ever cross him. Allegedly, he dealt not only in drugs, but prostitution, stolen goods, weapons . . . the list went on and on. He also had a string of legitimate businesses – nightclubs, bars, restaurants, even a gym. The IRS couldn’t touch him either.

Hunter and D-King’s paths had crossed for the first time three years ago, during the notorious Crucifix Killer investigation. An unprecedented chain of events forced them into a standoff, and into reaching a decision that despite them being on different sides of the law, made them respect each other.

Hunter pulled D-King’s address from the police computer. Where else but Malibu Beach, where the super-famous and the super-rich called home.

As he brought his car to a stop by the enormous double iron gates fitted with security cameras, Hunter had to admit he was impressed. The two-story building was majestic: an ivy-covered, double bow-front brick construction with square granite piers every twenty feet.

Before Hunter had a chance to reach for the intercom button, a strong male voice called out.

‘May I help you?’

‘Yes, I’m here to see your boss.’

‘And you are?’

‘Tell D-King it’s Robert Hunter.’

The intercom clicked off and a minute later the iron gates parted.

The driveway was flanked by millimeter-perfect trimmed hedges. Hunter parked his rusted Buick Lesabre next to a pearly white Lamborghini Gallardo, just in front of a six-car garage. He climbed up the steps to the main house, and as he reached the top, the door was opened by a six-foot-three, two-hundred-and-seventy-pound muscle-bound black man. The man frowned at Hunter’s car.

BOOK: The Night Stalker
10.35Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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