Written and Read by M. Jones
Staff Inspector June Highsmith was sick and tired of cleaning up messes. The boxes containing the Slice Girls case files were piled high around her desk, reams of information that now meant nothing. The man who had murdered a half dozen blue eyed, red haired pole dancers had been brought to a karmic justice not of her making. It was goddamned frustrating. Thousands of man hours and the bastard was dead, a single bullet to the head thanks to a rookie cop with a trigger finger.
Not that her employer minded, it certainly saved them time and money in court costs, but the closure aspect was what grated on her, leaving minute pockmarks of unexpressed fury against her knuckles. She had taken to scratching them, tiny little scabs on her skin that reminded her that no one had officially been blamed for the death of those young women. There was no direct evidence that proved she had sussed him out and taken him down. All she’d had were photographs and the eerily accurate assessment of a madman.
Greg Wells. He’d been the one to send her the photos, to tell her to start looking in Saul Salvo’s direction. Photograph after photograph secretly taken of the suspect talking to now dead girls. It was a visual confession, which would have been perfect if their main witness wasn’t a nutcase.
Greg Fucking Wells, the man who simultaneously found their killer and managed to give his defence a running start. She wouldn’t dare mention him to her superiors, wouldn’t whisper how he’d given them the major break in the case, not without reducing the investigation into some hocus pocus bullshit that would leave her the laughing stock of the department.
It wasn’t even about the advancement of her career, she had plenty of ambition when she was young and she’d long learned she was comfortable where she was—it was that they didn’t actually get him. The waste was what bothered her. All those hours spent just to end up with a goddamned suspect. A suspect. The press was going to have a field day. ‘Killer Still At Large’, ‘Police Baffled’. There was no mystery left, he was in the county morgue, refrigerated and laying peacefully on a slab with the slug of a .22 in the centre of his frontal lobe.
Now, with these piles of files and folders laying like bricks holding off a sea of murder, she had to pretend the case was still open and wait until the right time to send the lot off to the cold case department, hopefully with a highly cryptic note tipping them off that God already solved this one.
Then there were the weeping mothers and fathers, and the residual explanation that yes, that was it, there was no more to be done because the death of the main suspect (the murderer, goddammit) had brought the entire investigation into a standstill.
“That’s all it comes down to, then?” Rachel Wallace’s mother had demanded when Highsmith broke the news. She’d clutched at a photo of her daughter, one she’d kept in her purse. A scrubbed and happy version of the child she knew, complete with freckles and pigtails.
Rachel Wallace had been found face down in a ravine, nude save for a glittering silver G-string and bits of bubblegum wrap stuck in her thick, red hair. Her face had been pounded into the concrete until it was nothing but a mask of meat. She wasn’t identified through dental records, it was the tattoo of a flying pig on her thigh that gave Highsmith the girl’s name.
The kid had a sense of humour. Highsmith had cried herself to sleep over that goddamned tattoo.
“You’re just doing what you can with what you’ve got,” her mother had said, tight-lipped. “That’s a pitiful excuse.”
“My daughter was all I had. She wasn’t a good girl, not like the kind you think one should be. But she was my girl and she was doing what she felt she had to.” She crushed the photo in her palm. “I wasn’t a good mom. I made mistakes. But Rachel wasn’t going to be on that pole forever, she was a smart girl. Way smarter than I ever was.”
Highsmith could feel the echo of the woman’s sobbing in her office even now.
“She had plans to go to university, to get the hell out. She got accepted into London. She wasn’t going to be like me, piecing together a miserable life. My baby was going to make it.”
A knock on the door brought Highsmith back to the present, but the ghost of Mrs. Wallace’s sorrow was in every crease of every piece of paper on her desk.
Inspector Rita Maalim leaned against the entrance, her arms crossed over her flat chest. “There’s no point kicking yourself over this, you’ll drive yourself crazy.”
“Death by cop doesn’t earn my department any promotions.”
Rita shrugged. “They can’t cut our budget any more than they already have. Your real worry is outside. The press is having a shit fit because no one is talking.”
Highsmith slid weary hands across her face, and wove her fingers together behind her neck. “What’s the headline?”
“Death of a Killer.”
“Sounds optimistic.” Highsmith shoved a box aside with her foot and bid Rita to sit in the chair by her desk. “By next week there will be a Fifth Estate special on why he was innocent.”
“Doesn’t matter.” Highsmith tapped her fingers on her desk. Rita sat slouched in the chair, rolling it back and forth on its steel wheels. They creaked against the beige carpet. She was waiting for Highsmith to say anything at all about their problem child, daring her to have the guts to argue about him.
“How is Greg?” Highsmith finally asked.
“Hospitalized. At least he was for the weekend, the nurses did warn me there wasn’t much they could do other than observe him for the next couple of days and then they had to let him go. He’s not a danger to himself or anyone else.”
“He’s not crazy, June. He knows the stuff he sees isn’t real, and what counts is what he can focus on. I’ve never seen anyone so attuned to a crime scene like that guy, and we would never have even had a suspect if it wasn’t for Greg Wells.”
“Why don’t we put Sylvia Browne on the payroll, then?”
“The brain injury is what causes his hallucinations, not divine intervention. You know as well as I do he’s fine otherwise, and he could be a real asset in future cases. We could put him in the field, let him take all the pictures his heart desires.”
But Highsmith shook her head, the folly of what Rita was saying too ridiculous to contemplate. “He has only the basics of forensic training and he’ll be useless on the stand. This one case he helped us on just about killed him, Rita. For fuck’s sake he was talking to Rachel Wallace’s corpse and it was clearly a two way conversation. You saw how much that scene rattled him—he went into full on psychosis on us.”
Rita wasn’t convinced. “The guy has a pretty impressive CV. He’s done some international work, pretty dangerous stuff. Time based an entire investigative article on the images he captured from Darfur. The photographs he took of North Korea’s inner elite circle are rumoured to be in the hands of the CIA.” Rita’s long body and limbs seemed to fold in the small chair, her arms and legs crossed, her shoulders hunched inward. She wasn’t going to bend, Highsmith knew. Her twiglike body was morphing into an iron nail.
“I got a call about him earlier today,” Highsmith confessed, and felt sick at the way Rita’s body relaxed from fight into curiosity. “Some psychiatrist who’d been told about his condition at the hospital. Apparently, these kinds of lucid hallucinations are rare and he wants to talk to me about him.”
“Maybe he can help him.”
Highsmith raised her thumbnail to her bottom lip and she thoughtfully chewed it. Greg Wells pissed her off and was both the cure and detriment to the Slice Girls case, and while he annoyed her she wasn’t sure she wanted to hand him over to some head shrinker as a sacrificial lab experiment. The trouble was, she didn’t hate Greg, and in the short three weeks since they’d gotten to know each other she already had moved him into her small social box containing very select friends. Rita was right, he did fit in well with the rest of the team, and they did work well together.
“His name is Dr. Leon Herberte.” Highsmith placed a heavy French accent on his first name—Lay On. “He’s got an office near the downtown core, so he must be good at what he does if he can afford that.” She scratched at her knuckles, liking the way the pain smarted. “I have a meeting with him tonight at 7:36.”
“7:30, you mean?”
“7:36. He was very specific about the time. Kind of weird, isn’t it?” Highsmith lightly dragged her nails along her knuckles before allowing her hand to fall in a loose fist to the surface of her paper strewn desk. “I don’t know, it all depends on whether or not Greg even wants the help. You said he’s already left the hospital.”
“I’ll talk to him about it, get him on board. It can’t hurt for him to have some outside counsel about his condition, and maybe he can find a way to keep it under control for next time…”
“There is no next time,” Highsmith snapped, but she already knew in her gut that she was lying. Rita was one of her best officers and Highsmith inwardly kicked herself, knowing the woman had already figured out her bluff.
Rita uncrossed her legs, an unfolding spider of a woman who stood a good six feet and had no qualms about making her height a tool of intimidation. “I’ll work on getting him to see the psychiatrist. You work on getting him back.”
© 2016 Copyright M. Jones
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