Authors: Art Bourgeau
"They ought to shoot the sonofabitch that did
it," repeated the first woman.
"Shooting's too good for a bastard like that,"
said a woman in a red satin warm-up jacket. "I heard he tortured
her. They ought to chain him up, right in the city hall courtyard,
and cut his nuts off. And not with a knife, with a saw so it'd hurt
more. Ever cut yourself with a saw? Hurts ten times worse. Isn't that
right, Flora? That's what they ought to do, chain him up and saw his
Flora was a shapeless woman with a gray complexion
and wrinkled bags under her eyes. She wore a tattered cardigan and a
dress that looked like it had been made from a mattress cover
decorated with little blue flowers. She was clutching a handbill with
a picture on it, and there were tears in her eyes as she stepped
forward and handed Laura the crumpled handbill.
"She was a good girl," she said, "went
to Mass every Sunday and never did anything wrong. She's Italian but
she always call me her Polish grandmother. Sometimes she stop by
after school to see me and tell me things and we would talk. But
lately she too busy with this new boyfriend she has, and she don't
stop by so much more. I tell her he's no good for her, he's too old,
but she just laugh and tell me that grandmothers always say that."
The woman's face twisted up and the tears overflowed
Laura saw that the picture on the handbill was poorly
reproduced, as though it had been run off from a cheap copying
machine, but the snapshot was clear enough to show a darkhaired,
nubile beauty with a faintly sullen cast to her face. It occurred to
her that if she'd ever had a child it would have been about the same
age . . . "But we don't know for sure that it's her. It may not
be her at all." True or not, she wanted to give the women some
hope while they waited, but the hard-eyed looks she got back showed
little gratitude. And Laura knew that with that one remark she had
gone from being a neighborhood insider with an interesting job to an
uptown outsider to whom doors would now be closed.
Anxious to turn away that image and keep the women
talking, Laura pushed ahead: "What about this boyfriend you
mentioned? What's his story?"
The woman in the satin warm-up jacket was the first
"She told Flora he was an undercover cop and
drove a silver sports car, and that he was handsome and wore a beard
and had dark glasses—"
"That's bull," said the blonde. "There's
no undercover cop that lives in this neighborhood, and if he did he
sure wouldn't be driving no silver sports car."
"That's what I said," agreed the woman in
the warm-up jacket. "I said she made him up. You know how kids
"Maybe he just told her he was cop, trying to
impress her," Laura said.
"What do you think about that, Flora?" said
the woman in the warm-up jacket.
"His name's Peter, that's all I know, and he's
This from the old woman.
at the picture again. Something in Terri DiFranco's expression, maybe
it was her eyes or the stormy look on her young face, made her
believe that Terri had been telling the truth. Yes . . . Peter was
She felt a touch on her arm and turned. It was the
young cop who had been so formal a few minutes earlier.
"The lieutenant will see you now, ma'am,"
"We'll be right here," the woman told her.
"Come back and tell us what you find out."
Laura handed the handbill back to the old woman, who
refused to take it.
"No, you keep it. So you can tell us if it's
Laura nodded and turned to follow the officer.
He led her past the ring of cars to where a group of
detectives were talking near the freight cul-de-sac.
"Here she is, lieutenant."
Laura immediately recognized the balding man in the
blue blazer from softball games between the department and her paper.
George Sloan. As the leader of Seven Squad, the homicide squad
assigned to the city's trickier cases, his presence meant that
whatever was inside the deserted depot was a considerable hot potato.
As she came closer she noted that he looked sallow and drawn.
"God, George, you look like hell." And
indeed he did.
"Thanks a bunch, Laura, I needed that. It's just
a touch of flu," he said, managing a weak smile. "I didn't
know Will had assigned you to the crime desk."
"He hasn't. I happen to live nearby and heard
the sirens. You ought to take some aspirin and a slug of brandy and
get into bed before that stuff kills you."
"I'd like to, believe me, but there's no time .
. . I didn't know you lived around here."
"Yes, in the one hundred block of Emily Street .
. . George, what the hell's going on here?"
"Looks like a rape-murder but we won't know for
sure about the rape until the M.E. finishes his examination later
"Who is it?"
"Can't be sure until she's been identified by
the next of kin."
"Is it a young girl, a teenager?"
"Yes . . . how did you know?"
"Is it this girl?" She showed him the
When he looked away she knew the answer but asked
again, for the record. "Is it, George?"
"Like I said, we won't know for sure until she's
identified, but it's possible."
From the way he said it, Laura felt sure the search
was over for the family and friends of young Terri DiFranco. She took
a deep breath and got on with it. "How did she die?" Her
mind was filled with visions of a body with countless stab wounds,
like so many rape victims one read about.
". . . Anything else?"
"From the looks of things, he didn't torture
her, just raped and strangled her."
Laura was glad crime wasn't her beat. Now, though, by
accident of circumstances, it was.
"Do you think she knew her attacker?"
"Difficult to say. There's evidence the attack
was premeditated, but whether it was meant for her personally or she
was an unlucky, random victim we don't know yet. But this may be our
first break . . ."
"What do you mean?"
"Up to now we've had to carry these girls on the
books as missing persons because there've been no bodies." He
pointed to the handbill. "This one, Terri DiFranco, she's the
latest. If the body in there proves to be her it could help break
"You think there's a serial killer loose in
Sloan dodged it. "We don't know that."
She tried another tack. "You mentioned some
evidence a minute ago. What kind?"
"The way the room is set up."
"What do you mean?"
"The room she was killed in was picked in
advance and decorated like a love nest. Her body's in the center,
there are damned candles all around. Weird."
"And he lured her there to rape and kill her?"
"Then how could you say you don't know if it's a
serial killer? Girls disappear. You find the body of one of them in
some sort of love nest. What else could it be?"
"Someone she knew, a boyfriend—"
"George," she said, grabbing his arm,
"while I was waiting to see you I got to talking with the
neighbors. One of them, an elderly lady, said she was a good friend
of this girl . . . of Terri's, and she was telling me about a
boyfriend, an older boyfriend named Peter. She didn't know his last
name, but Terri had told her he was a cop. An undercover cop."
"We've already heard about this boyfriend from
people who knew her. So far we haven't been able to locate him."
"What about him being a cop? Have you checked
"Yes, Laura, we're not all asleep here. We
checked, and we feel sure there's no truth to him being an officer.
It's common for a rapist to pose as a cop, happens all the time.
That's often how they get their victims to go with them. But it
usually happens quick. They see their victim, get her in the car and
do it. But we know that Terri was seeing this guy for at least a
month. That much we're sure of from the missing person's
investigation. If he was going to do this why'd he wait a month?
Doesn't sound right."
"You asking as a reporter or a friend from our
"Does it make such a difference?"
"It does, because now we're getting into
speculation. You're new to this beat. There are some rules. It
wouldn't help if you printed a bunch of speculation. Just get people
stirred up, cause a lot of problems . . ."
Laura looked at the crowd behind the police line and
understood what he was saying. The angry crowd could turn ugly.
"A real hot potato, right?"
"The hottest . . . otherwise why do you think I
can recite chapter and verse from a bunch of missing persons reports?
I've been living with these cases, just waiting for an excuse to wade
"I'm asking, George, as the worst left fielder
you ever struck out." She even allowed herself a demure smile.
"All right, all right. I'll try to trust you.
One possibility is the guy might have been trying to impress her. Say
he was a security guard somewhere. They have badges, handcuffs. They
know enough cop lingo to fool a teenager. It wouldn't be hard for him
to pass himself off as a cop. Of course, that's just one possibility
"Enough with the Lois Lane. I've already told
you too much."
Laura was looking at the building. "George, take
me inside. I want to see it—"
"No, you don't. Believe me—you don't."
"I need to see it, George. How else can I write
Sloan sighed, turned to one of the other detectives.
"Rafferty, let me have your bottle."
Rafferty reached inside his jacket and handed him a
small bottle that he then offered to Laura. "Here, take this."
"What is it?"
"Men's cologne. When we get inside it's going to
smell real bad. Hold this under your nose and sniff. It'll help. A
As he turned to lead her in she suddenly wasn't so
gung-ho. What the hell was she doing? Her beat was rock stars and art
shows and openings . . . not rape and murder. Well, she'd complained
long and sometimes loud to her boss that she was tired of that stuff.
So suck it in, girl, fish or cut bait, and whatever other awful mixed
metaphor you can think of . . .Sloan looked over his shoulder. She
swallowed hard and followed him as he led her away from the
cul-de-sac and around the building.
"Wait, I thought it happened back there,"
she said, pointing toward the cul-de-sac.
"It did, but I'm giving you the tour to give you
the feel of the place. Atmosphere for your piece." He obviously
wasn't enjoying this, even resented what he was doing, although he'd
always liked her personally. They paused at the door long enough for
him to say, "Whatever you do, don 't touch anything. The
finger-print man can't do the place till they remove the body—"
And then she wasn't hearing anything. The smell
overwhelmed her other senses. She would never be able to forget it,
never be able to describe it, either. The death smell of a young girl
. , . it seemed to coat her from head to toe like a second skin.
Sloan took out his bottle of cologne, used his handkerchief to cover
his nose and mouth while he sniffed it. Laura, watching, quickly did
the same. The rooms of the old depot they passed through were still
filled with furniture: old-fashioned oversize desks, wooden swivel
chairs, filing cabinets and a freight scale. Papers were still strewn
on the desktops, and the wire in/out baskets were still full. Only
the thick layer of dust, grime and cobwebs showed they were not in
some sort of time warp where everyone was out to lunch.
The door and window to the freight room were both
still open for maximum ventilation, but by the time they got to it
the smell was overpowering, even with the cologne. The people from
the medical examiner's office were coming through the open freight
door now with their stretcher and body bag, but Sloan motioned for
them to wait outside.
Laura looked about the room, taking in everything but
the central figure of the tableau. Unlike the rest of the building,
this room had been dusted and swept clean and was as Sloan had
described it: candles, giving it the feel of the setting for some
sort of secret rite, a ceremony; a bottle of wine; a transistor
radio—that last somehow did not fit in.
Finally——how long could she avoid it?—Laura
forced herself to look at the victim. The body was in deep shadows,
but Laura could see she was in a kneeling position, her head resting
on some blankets. She was not nude but her pants were down, her
blouse pushed up and her hands fastened somehow behind her. As she
edged forward, she felt Sloan's hand on her arm, ignored it and took
another step. A gleam of light from the open window cut across the
body, and she saw the girl's hands were secured behind her back with