Flesh of the Martyr (Part IV)

Girls Like Us

Padre Miguel knew that Hector was the kind of young man he was looking for. He’d lived his whole life on the periphery of society, an eternal outsider, and that had made him a student of body language. He watched his companion superstitiously as his eyes lingered on the male patrons that walked past. It was only a subtle thing – he wasn’t gawking like some pervert – but it was enough to be noticeable to a man like Miguel. An older Hispanic man in a tight t-shirt pushed by their table and apologised in Spanish to Hector. The two men exchanged a glance. Yes, there was certainly something there. And now, as Hector put his coffee down he looked towards the young white man with the ponytail near the door, talking to a black woman who seemed to be in a hurry. His pupils flicked up and down, examining, considering.

“This is a cosmopolitan city,” Miguel said.

“Hm? Oh, yes, father.” Hector smiled politely. There had been only one free table in the coffee shop, otherwise it might have been awkward for them to sit together. As it was, Miguel could pretend his proximity was motivated by mere necessity. He liked things to develop naturally. With younger men – boys – he could push things and use his authority as a priest. With someone like Hector, the challenge was different. Particularly as he seemed to be a man who knew his own mind.

“I don’t come into the city so much,” he continued, “I’m from a small town. I prefer a more close-knit community.”

“I suppose so,” Hector replied noncommittally. It was hard to draw him into conversation.

“I live in Southside. What about you?”

“What?” He’d been looking at another boy again. “Yes, in Southside. With my partner.”

“I see.”

“I like cosmopolitan,” Hector continued, “the neighbourhood was never very kind to me.”

“Me neither,” Miguel said with a smile. He took a small sip of his coffee.

Hector frowned a little at that. Like Miguel, he would be a man used to picking up subtle hints and, although he did not revel in his sin the way Hector and his…partner…did, he understood their language. He had cast his net wide in the past. “But you like it now? A small community, I mean.”

“A close community. I draw strength from having people like me close by.”

“People…like you?”

“Like us, my friend.”

Hector’s eyes narrowed very slightly. Oh, this one would be no stranger to innuendo, of course. Perhaps he was unused to deploying it quite so subtly though. Hector and his kind had no need to hide now. They could walk around openly. But where was the fun in that? He smiled tightly and then drained the last of his coffee. “Thank you for the drink, father,” he said as he stood up, “it was nice meeting you.”

“You don’t have to go so soon.”

“I have somewhere I have to be. Sorry.”

“Perhaps we can meet another time then.”

Hector seemed to be considering it for a moment. Miguel knew he was not an unattractive man. “I don’t think so, Padre Julio. Thank you though.” He walked away quickly, though he glanced back as he opened the door. Miguel watched him leave and then finished off his own coffee. A pretty young man, but perhaps not suitable material for martyrdom. Of course, there were other ways to honour God.

Miguel left the coffee shop a few moments later, soon enough to see Hector cross the road and head down a side street. He considered returning to his vehicle, but decided it would be rather difficult to follow a man on foot in a car without being noticed. He walked instead, taking the same route as his quarry, but keeping his distance. He was conspicuous in his collar, but the sidewalk was fairly busy. He stopped periodically to window shop, merging into the crowds, but always keeping one eye on Hector. The man went about his business, stopping to buy some groceries, then to talk to a friend outside a music store, living an ordinary, pleasant life. Miguel almost envied him the ease with which he negotiated his community. This was a man who was open about who he was and who he loved. That had never been an option for Miguel. He had been abused for his peccadillos all his life, driven from the arms of his own family, called terrible names, even physically attacked. He wondered, watching Hector casually talk with a woman at a fruit stand with whom he was obviously acquainted, how his life might have been different if he had been born in this city, in this age. There were still hundreds of Miguels being made in neighbourhoods like Southside, but for each of them there might also be a Hector, whose differences were celebrated rather than abhorred.

Miguel smiled to himself, causing a woman walking past to shy away instinctively. He knew, in his heart of hearts, that this was also the path he was destined to take. Even if his family and friends had accepted him, he would still have craved the same spiritual absolution. This wasn’t about people. It was about God. The church was clear on the evil that lived within him, vociferous in its condemnation of that most abominable of sins. Miguel had elected not to ignore that ecclesiastical chastisement, but to embrace it, to internalise it, to celebrate it. It had become central to his personal theology. Hector, he was certain, did not feel the same way. Hector was therefore not a worthy offering for Christ’s table.

And yet, he would serve, after a fashion.

Miguel continued to follow Hector, never coming within a few hundred yards of him. He was sure he hadn’t been noticed. They wandered together like that, winding haphazardly through Downtown, until Hector reached what looked like a small studio of some kind. A place where local television productions were made, or college students crafted their little projects. Evidently Hector was involved in the visual arts in some capacity. Miguel watched him enter the building and then left him to his work, retracing his steps back to his car. He then drove back, memorising the route by road. There was a parking lot nearby. He waited there in his car for a little while then, satisfied Hector would be occupied for some time, he bought groceries of his own and went back to the cabin to wait.

He returned to San Bernardino in the afternoon. He remained in the parking lot across from the studio for two hours and was just about to give up when Hector emerged, laughing with a group of friends. They parted ways and he crossed the street to the parking lot himself. His car was not far from Miguel’s, and the priest hid his face with his hand. A minute or so later, Hector drove past him and Miguel had to supress an instinct to duck down in his seat. He waited for the other car to pull out into the road and then he started his engine and began to follow.

He tailed him like that all through the city, right down to Southside. Here, in the low-rise suburbs, it was harder to follow surreptitiously and Miguel instead trusted to his instincts, sometimes turning off and taking a zigzag route through the neighbourhood, always managing to return to Hector just in time before he lost track of him. Finally, Hector parked up in front of a low apartment building and got out of his car. The sun had sunk beneath the mountains, and the sky was as clear as it had been in the morning. Hector was whistling softly as he went into his home, climbing an exterior staircase and then entering a warmly-lit first floor apartment. Miguel watched from across the road with shining eyes. He turned the engine off and waited in the darkness.

Miguel could move very quietly when he needed to. All was silent in the street by the time he left his car. Only a handful of windows were lit up in the houses, and he was confident no one watched him. It was past midnight. All his life he had never required much sleep. So many of his activities were nocturnal, and perhaps he had just become used to that lifestyle. Or maybe there was more to it. Miguel believed he had been chosen for a purpose by God, after all. This was his calling.

He crept very slowly up the stairs, running his hand along the metal railing. The adobe on the side of the building was crumbling. It reminded him of home. He tested the door. Locked, of course. The landing at the top of the stairs ran along the length of the building, giving access to the other apartments on this level. It also passed by a narrow window that was slightly ajar. Although Fall was coming, the temperature was still warm. More likely though, this bathroom window was left permanently open for ventilation. Miguel checked no one was watching and then pushed the widow open a little further from outside. There was only a narrow gap to wriggle through, but he was slim enough to manage it.

He found himself clambering, as he’d suspected, into a darkened bathroom. The cistern was below his feet and that made it easy for him to climb down onto the toilet and then drop soundlessly to the floor. He opened the bathroom door slowly and was a little surprised to walk right into the bedroom. Of course, it was a small apartment, and Hector probably did not earn much from his job in that little studio. There may be only a few rooms to the place. The bedroom was small and packed with personal effects. Clothes hung from almost every surface and there were pictures and mementos everywhere. A small home, but a happy one. In the bed, Hector lay with another man in a gentle embrace. Both slept soundly. Miguel hovered over them. There were ways to do this quietly, easily. When he martyred a boy, it was with passion and rage, rending his body and soul to make it more palatable to the Holy Father. This was different. This had a different purpose. There was no need to make any mess.

*

“Hannah?” Josh looked up at her as she rushed by the table, out of the door and around the side of the coffee shop. She heard him running after her. “Hannah? Is everything okay?”

How had she not noticed the police cars pull up? A woman – she was a cleaner or worked in the kitchen, judging by her starchy uniform – was crying and yelling in Spanish. A beat cop was trying to calm her down, saying soothing words in the same language. She exchanged a brief look with Carter. Another cop was already stretching a line of tape across the entrance to the alley.

“Hannah? What’s going on?”

“Wait here,” she said shortly. She pulled her badge out and flashed it at the nearest cop. “Detective Carter. Homicide.”

“Shit, you got here fast…”

“I was in there.” She pointed back to the coffee shop and then ducked under the tape. Down the alley, a dumpster had been pulled away from the wall and its contents were strewn across the ground. The door to the kitchen was open, and more tape criss-crossed the entrance. A third patrolman was talking with busboys and the aproned proprietor, asking them to go back inside. He repeated everything he said in halting Spanish afterwards. Finally, another officer was crouching down over one trash bag in particular, shining a torch across whatever was inside.

She stepped up to her. “Carter. Homicide. What’s going on here?”

The cop looked up. “See for yourself.” She shone the torch back down and Carter’s breath caught. It was another body, of course, another latino boy, barely in puberty. He was folded up like a sun lounger, but she could see the blood from the brutal injuries he had sustained. His skin looked pale and waxy, but his face was calmly composed, a peaceful smile playing across his immature features.

“Fucking hell,” she said, “another one.”

The officer nodded grimly. “We’ve called in the forensics team.”

“Right. I’ll wait for them.” She headed back to the mouth of the alley where Josh was still hovering. “Sorry. Now you know why all my friends are cops.”

“What is it?” He couldn’t see in the shadowy alley.

“I can’t talk about it.”

“Is it a body? Another one? Like the one yesterday?”

“Seriously.”

“Can I…” He was starting to lift the tape.

Gently, but firmly, she put a hand against his chest. “No. My turn to talk shop. This is a crime scene. I’m sorry to cut our date short, but I have a job to do now.”

“You’re not on duty, Hannah.”

He was right, but she shook her head tightly. “I’m here. It doesn’t matter. Go home. I’m gonna be a while.”

He started to turn away, looking a little disappointed. “Hey, did you call this a date?”

“What? Um…I guess.” She felt a surge of sudden dread. “Was it not a date?”

“No,” Josh smiled, “it was a date. Maybe next time we can do dinner?”

“I…yeah…sure.”

“Cool. I’ll be in touch.” His eyes flicked down the alleyway again and then he was gone, turning and walking away, hands in his pockets. He looked over his shoulder and gave her a small wave.

“Nice,” the cop standing on the other side of the tape said.

“Hey, fuck you,” she told him, only half in jest. She dismissed thoughts of Josh from her mind. He wasn’t important right now. She had a job to do. And she was absolutely certain this was the same guy who’d killed Eddie Garcia – they could have been brothers to look at them, and the injuries were eerily similar. It couldn’t be a coincidence. She headed back towards the body.

Mortimer turned up about half an hour later. It had started to rain in the meantime and Carter was shivering in her light jacket. He grinned goofily at her. “Didn’t you go home for the night?”

“Yeah, and my dumb ass stopped for a coffee on the way home, didn’t it?”

He snorted a laugh. “Just your luck.” He had his kit with him and he started to unfasten the case as they walked towards the body. The coffee shop had been cleared out now, and the whole block was closed off. The light of the sirens from the squad cars was starting to give her a headache. “What’s the story?” he asked her.

“Guess.”

“You’re kidding…”

“Nope.” They stood over the corpse, now carefully removed from the sack it had been dumped in. “Two murders in as many days.”

Mortimer crouched down and pulled on a pair of latex gloves. He gently handled the corpse, showing no discomfort at all. “Yep. Same MO.”

“Internal injuries again?”

“Looks like it. Hm.” He lifted an eyelid and peered closer. “That’s interesting.”

“What?”

“The pupils look a little odd to me.”

“Odd how?”

“Like he was drugged.”

“You can tell that?”

“Maybe.”

“Anything like that in the last one?”

“Still waiting for the blood work to come back. But your pal Eddie had been floating face down in a lake for a few hours. That makes a big difference.”

“I’m sure. You got anything else on him yet?”

“Been working on the report all evening. That’s why I’m here now.” He sat back on his haunches and looked up at Carter. “Want a sneak preview?”

“Sure. If it helps with this guy.”

“It might. You know how you were saying he was gay?”

“Yeah…”

“And with the injuries and everything.”

“What are you getting at?”

“No traces of latex or spermicide or anything.”

She shrugged. “So?”

“So…with no DNA evidence, like, at all, there’s no way that kid had sex.”

She frowned at that. “You’re saying he wasn’t…”

“That’s exactly what I’m saying. But,” he held up a finger, “someone sure wanted it to look like he was. Hence inflicting those injuries.”

“You said you thought they happened after he died.”

“Right,” he nodded, “you can tell from the bruising. Someone killed him, and wanted it to look like he was violently sexually assaulted.”

“Why?”

“Hey, you’re the cop.” He pointed down at the second corpse. “What’s the betting this guy’s the same though, right?”

Carter looked down at the dead boy. The second in as many days. How many before it was a serial killer again? She ought to know that, but it had been a long day. “What the hell is going on here?” she murmured to herself.

*

There were no more answers in the morning. The briefing now included a new victim though: Diego Bautista. Another kid from Southside, just fifteen years old, with a hauntingly similar story to Eddie Garcia’s. Carter shook her head helplessly at the picture of the corpse on the whiteboard, twin to Eddie’s. Two Hispanic kids, both probably gay, both with nowhere to turn, both sent to Padre Miguel. That was what was in dispute. There was a big question mark above his name on the board. They’d turned up no useful leads at all.

“One more body,” Colburn said, “and we’re looking at a serial killer. Forensics has confirmed the time of death was sometime in the early hours of this morning. Twenty-four hours after Eduardo Garcia Jr. This has the makings of a spree.”

“You wanna go public with this?” Beauchamp asked her.

“Not yet. Somehow, I don’t think we’re gonna be able to smoke this guy out without knowing a little bit more about what we’re dealing with. Carter – I take it you didn’t find anything out yesterday?”

Carter wasn’t sure what she meant by that exactly. “Uh…no. Ray and I asked around, but we met nothing but roadblocks. No one seems to know a thing, and if they do, they aren’t talking.”

“But we have the name,” Colburn said, “have we looked into all the priests in the city? Is there a Miguel?”

“Two,” Jones said, “but they both got alibis. It’s a dead end.”

“All right then.” The lieutenant rubbed the bridge of her nose. “I don’t have to spell this out, I hope. Tomorrow, there’s every chance we could be pulling another dead kid out of the dumpster. I don’t want that to happen.”

He’s already struck again, Carter thought to herself. She couldn’t explain how she knew that, but she just had a feeling. One victim a night. Today, they’d find another one. She was sure of it. She felt guilty, inexplicably. Realistically, what could she possibly have done? She didn’t even know who this Padre Miguel guy was. But she’d been awake most of last night. She could have gone out there… And what? Hunted him down?

“Carter, Jones,” Colburn was saying, “this is your case. I want to see some results today. I want a lead on the identity of this ‘Padre Miguel’. Go back to the Garcias if you have to, or speak to the Buatistas. Someone in Southside has to know something about what’s going on here.”

“Yes, ma’am,” she said.

“All right. You all have jobs to do.” The meeting broke up, but Colburn beckoned Carter as she passed. “Walk with me, detective.”

They went through the office to the elevator. Colburn was pulling a cigarette packet from her handbag. They descended silently and the lieutenant led her out of the station to the sidewalk by the parking lot, a little secluded spot in the shelter of a couple of trees. The ground was covered with cigarette butts.

“Didn’t you quit?” Carter smiled.

“Heh, yeah, then I found out last month that Donna was marrying that bitch she left me for.”

Carter winced. “Sorry to hear that.”

“Yeah.” She lit her cigarette and took a big drag before blowing the smoke out the side of her mouth. She wasn’t looking at Carter, just staring out at the line of the mountains above the city. “There was a time when girls like me didn’t have to worry about that kind of shit.”

“I guess marriage equality’s a double-edged sword.”

“Fucking California. We should’ve moved to Texas.” She let out a hollow laugh.

“Is everything okay, ma’am?”

“Huh? Oh yeah, fine. With me anyway. You…I’m not so sure about.”

Carter felt her heart rate quicken. “Pardon me?”

“Last night, you told me you were fine.”

“I am fine…I went on a date and everything.”

“Uh huh.”

“Look, I don’t know what…”

“You know Spangler from Internal Affairs?”

“Never heard of him.”

“Her. Nancy Spangler. Real ball-buster.”

“Well…I’ve got nothing to worry about then.”

Colburn gave her a tight smile, but her eyes said she was deadly serious. “Why didn’t you tell me about what happened in the coffee shop?”

“What? When?”

“The other morning. Before we found the first body.”

Carter actually had to think back. She’d almost forgotten it. “Oh. Oh that.”

“Yeah, Hannah, that. You assaulted a civilian.”

“It was self-defence.”

Colburn considered, taking another drag on her cigarette. “I believe you. And I bet I know what she was saying to rile you up so bad too. I’m sure I’d have done the same thing.”

“Well then…”

“Well then nothing, detective,” Colburn snapped, “she made a complaint. Now Internal Affairs are sniffing around. Now, I don’t give a shit about that. There were witnesses, and I’m sure it won’t get as far as a lawsuit. But it means questions are being asked about your mental health.”

She bristled. “I’m fine. You know that.”

“I think you think you’re fine. But you nearly wrenched a middle-aged housewife’s arm off in a deli, surrounded by witnesses. That’s not how I expect my detectives to act, regardless of mitigating circumstances.” Her expression turned sympathetic. “Hannah, that isn’t you, honey. We both know that.”

Carter swallowed. “No,” she said hoarsely, “no it isn’t. It won’t happen again.”

“Make sure it doesn’t. Spangler might be paying us a visit. We have to handle this carefully, especially since you’re attached to such a potentially high-profile investigation.”

Now she froze. “You’re gonna take the Padre Miguel case away from me?”

“No. You’re all over this. I know that. But I need some results, or I’ll pass it over to Beauchamp. Guy’s champing at the bit to get a win.” She dropped her cigarette on the floor and stubbed it out with her toe.

“I’ll get results,” Carter promised.

“See that you do. Pull in every favour you have. Pump that little community for information. Someone knows who this guy is. Someone has something.”

“Right, right.” They headed back to the station. “I do have a contact who might be able to help, actually.”

“Good. Take Jones and follow whatever lead you have.”

“Actually, I might need to do this one alone…”

Colburn looked at her askance. “Is that wise?”

“This time, I know exactly what I’m doing, ma’am.”

*

Southside again. She was getting bored of this neighbourhood. The rain that had started last night had now turned into a persistent, annoying drizzle, tumbling from a leaden grey sky. The suburbs of San Bernardino did not look attractive in this weather. Sighing, Carter climbed out of her car and headed up the stairs of the low apartment block she’d come to find. She hadn’t been here in years, but it hadn’t changed much at all. She approached the entrance to the first-floor apartment and hesitated. Should she do this? It had been such a long time, and she felt guilty about that. She was actually embarrassed. Taking a deep breath, she pressed the buzzer. She waited, and after a few seconds, a tinny voice came out of the speaker. “Hello? Hello?”

“Carmella?”

“Yes?” She drew out the sound of the word seductively, emphasising her accent to an almost comical degree.

“It’s Hannah. Hannah Carter.”

“Hannah? Hermana? Oh my goodness!” There was the sound of bustling from within, and then the door flew open and there stood Carmella with a shocked expression on her face. She threw out her arms. “My darling!”

Carter started laughing. It was hard not to do that around Carmella. She’d met her a long time ago while she was in Vice. Back then Carmella was on the streets, a lost kid heading for drug addiction and probably jail. Carter had helped her and, in turn, had gained a valuable ally, someone who could help her access San Bernardino’s seedy underbelly. In return, Carmella obtained a degree of immunity, even tolerance. She’d gotten back on her feet, bought a place, gone legit. Well, as legit as she could be in her line of work. And Vice turned a blind eye. All this went through Carter’s head as the woman took her in a huge, warm embrace. “My darling!” she exclaimed again.

“I’m sorry it’s been so long,” Carter said as she was led into the small but expansively furnished apartment, “I’ve been busy.”

“Haven’t we all, hermana.” Carmella certainly had. She looked a lot different than when Carter had last seen, although she was, somehow, more Carmella than ever. She looked like a pin-up, despite her fairly casual clothing, all huge lips and smoky eyes, perfect long nails, wide hips and a tiny waist. The boobs were new. Or certainly new since the last time they’d met. She made Carter feel shabby as heck. They went into the small living room-cum-kitchen and Carmella made her sit down on the couch. The place was done up like the proverbial boudoir, and sixties kitsch clashed charmingly with paraphernalia of her childhood, décor that Carter was beginning to think of as the Southside standard kit. A little statue of the Holy Mother on one shelf, a painting of Christ looking down from one wall. What would he make of what went on here, she wondered.  Well, he’d hung around with Mary Magdalene, hadn’t he? He shouldn’t be shocked by anything. Carmella moved around the kitchen, swaying her hips as she walked. How did anyone walk that way? Everything the woman did was sexy. That was just who Carmella was, but it was a million miles away from the roughed up boy wearing makeup she’d found all those years ago. “You want tea, my darling?” she trilled.

“Sure.” Carmella’s accent was just on the right side of ridiculous. Carter knew why – she’d grown up speaking Spanish, but the only way she could make her voice sound appropriately feminine in English was by adopting this kind of exaggerated dialect. Strangely, it worked though. She recalled the memorable conversation when Carmella had explained it to her. “Everyone, they ask about the tits and the dick, and they talk about your hands and your feet, but nobody thinks about the voice. But, believe me, darling, that’s the first thing they notice when they meet you.”

Just being back in Carmella’s company was enough to make Carter smile again, despite everything that was going on. When she came back with two cups of tea and folded herself into the chair opposite, it was like no time had passed at all. “Hermana,” she said as she crossed her killer legs, “what brings you to my lair today?”

She didn’t want to just leap in with her questions. “In a second. How are you?”

“How do I look, darling?” She spread her perfectly manicured hands and fluttered her ridiculous lashes.

“Fabulous, as always.”

“Ah, you are so sweet.” She patted Carter’s knee affectionately. “And you, hermana, the big Homicide detective now, yes?”

“Yeah. That’s me.”

“I saw you on the news, even. Who was that writer?”

“Hammersmith. Calvin Hammersmith.”

“A nasty piece of work, yes?”

“Very nasty,” Carter said.

“I think I know a few men like him. Or I did, in the old days. Some men, I think, belong in the ground.” She drew a finger across her throat for added emphasis.

“Can’t say I disagree with you there, Carmella.”

“Sorry, I do not mean to bring up old wounds. This is not a social call, no?”

“It’s not. Sorry. I wanted to ask you about your clients.”

Carmella lifted her sculpted eyebrows slightly. “Now now. You know the rules.”

She held up a hand. “I do. No names required.”

“I help your investigations. If you think one of my regulars is killing people, then he can go fuck himself.” She laughed at her own joke.

“It’s not your regulars I’m concerned about.”

“No?”

“No. I wanted to ask about the others. About the boys.”

“Everyone who comes to me brings ID,” she said defensively.

“Okay, not boys. Young men.”

“Ah. Yes.”

“You know, this community…”

“Is not easy,” Carmella said carefully, “I know this.” She placed a hand against her chest.

“Of course.”

“With me, it was a little different, but they treat me the same. Is okay now, but for a long time they paint things on my door, they spit at me in the street.”

“I remember, Carmella.”

“Yes. For some of these boys, as you say, they have this too. They do not tolerate us here, not as they should, the ones who are different.”

“And those boys, they come to you, right?”

Carmella shrugged. “Yes, they come to me. They want me to help them. They think I am what they want.”

“And are you?”

“Sometimes,” she said modestly. “Is easy, you know? They get what they want, and also what they think they should want. But mostly I talk to them. I help them, tell them who to talk to, where to go for support. Some come to see me again, most go their own way.”

“Some might call you a gateway drug, Carmella…”

Hermana,” she said with mock severity, “Carmella Loba is no gateway nothing. She is finest white Colombian cocaine. Pure and uncut.”

“You’re not Colombian. Or uncut for that matter,” she added with a slight cough.

Carmella’s throaty laugh filled the small room. “I have missed you, darling. Come and see me more often.”

“I’ll try to. But, look, I have something to ask about these boys of yours.”

“Yes?”

“We think…we think someone’s out there preying on them.”

“Of course they are.”

“No, I mean, not like that. Well…okay, this goes no further, but we’ve found two bodies so far. Young men, from here in Southside, probably gay, from conservative families. You know the story.”

Carmella’s face was composed, but her eyes looked very sad, even with all the makeup. “I do know it, yes.”

“Two bodies in two days, Carmella.” She held up fingers.

“How can I help, hermana?”

“We have a name. Sort of. Padre Miguel.”

Carmella nodded slowly. “This is not the first time I hear this.”

“It isn’t?”

“No. But only in the last few months. From the boys, as you say. He is…a priest, from Mexico. Or that is what they tell me.”

Carter sat forward on the couch. “No one seems to know who he is.”

“No. But they talk about him. They say he can help. They say he makes them better, cures them.”

“The only cure he has is death.”

“Then it is worse than I thought, even.”

“Carmella, do you know how I can find this guy?”

“No. All I have is the name, like you.”

Carter felt deflated. “Oh…”

“But, I think maybe I can help you. I can ask. There is a young man who comes to see me now and again. He spoke about this Padre Miguel. I ask him for you. I will find you something, hermana.”

“Thank you.” She was suddenly filled by a sensation of cold dread. “This young man…what’s his name?”

“Ah,” Carmella wagged a finger, “that, I cannot reveal.”

“I know but…not Eddie or Diego?”

“No.”

“Good.” She stood up. They’d been chatting so much she’d barely touched her tea. “I wish I could stay longer.”

“Come back and see me soon, hermana,” Carmella told her seriously, “not for this thing. We should reminisce properly.”

“We should. I’m sorry, again. I’m an asshole.”

“No, you are a cop.”

“Isn’t that the same thing?” Carter asked with a rueful smile.

“Normally. You are the exception.”

Outside, the weather hadn’t improved. Carmella waved goodbye to her from the door as she went back to the stairs. Seeing her again had been oddly dizzying. Back when they’d met, Carter had been a Vice cop, Carmella had been another hooker, albeit one who packed a little more punch so to speak. Part of her was sad she was still doing that stuff, although now she was working on her own terms at least. Carmella was immune from scrutiny not only because she helped the police, but also because she played by the rules and performed what amounted to a service to the community. San Bernardino would certainly be a poorer place without her.

Carter drove back to the station with the rain getting heavier and heavier, until by the time she’d parked up it was almost torrential. She sprinted to the door and arrived in the reception area in a puddle of gloom. She cringed as she squelched to the lift and, feeling no better than she had sitting next to the dazzling Carmella, tried to wring out her hair while also avoiding her reflection in the mirror on the back wall. The office was sweltering compared to outside and she slumped wetly into her chair. Jones gave her an appraising glance. “You look like a drowned rat.”

“Thanks.”

“How was your girl?”

Just remembering was enough to make Carter smile. “The same as ever.”

“She still packing heat?”

“I didn’t ask. It’s not polite.”

“I’d have asked.”

“That’s why I didn’t take you along.”

“She know anything about Padre Miguel?”

“She’s heard about him, but she knows about as much as us otherwise. She’s going to put some feelers out.”

“I bet she is.”

“Hey, that’s my friend, asshole.” She searched for something on her desk to throw at him, and stopped as she saw an envelope with her name on it. “What’s this?”

“Oh yeah,” Jones said, waggling his eyebrows, “someone stopped by for you.”

“Who?”

“Who’d you think?”

She thought about it, then realised who he meant. She’d pretty much forgotten all about him. “Oh. Shit. What did he want?”

“Dunno, but he left you that note.”

She picked it up and was surprised it was still sealed. “He didn’t say anything?”

“No, just looked around like a fuckin’ lost puppy. I think you really got to him.”

“He’s a nice guy,” she said carefully.

“Sure. And you’re a nice girl.”

She gave him a flat look across the top of her monitor. “We just had coffee.”

“I know.” But he was still smiling.

“You know we did! I was at that crime scene last night!”

“I didn’t say nothin’!”

“I know. It was what you weren’t saying that bothered me.” She turned over the envelope in her hand. For some reason, she was reluctant to open it. “What did I miss anyway? Anything else happen?”

“Nope.”

“No breakthroughs?” She paused. “No more bodies?”

“No, thank God.”

“I don’t think God has anything to do with it.” She flipped the envelope again. Her name had been written in a hasty scrawl. Josh’s writing was all bold, angular strokes. What did that indicate? Finally, she sighed and opened it. It was a short note, written on her own stationary. He’d obviously scribbled it down in a rush while he was here. It was just the name of a restaurant not too far away, the words ‘8 PM tonight’ and ‘Table booked’ underlined about four times. “Oh you’ve got to be kidding me.”

“What?”

“How come I only meet complete pricks?” She picked dejectedly at her soaking, frizzy hair and then sighed to herself once more for good measure.

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This entry was posted in Contemporary, Crime, Novella, Sexuality. Bookmark the permalink.

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