Shot In The Dark
Padre Miguel disliked having to resort to violence. He would much prefer his beloved martyrs to ascend to the Kingdom of God calmly, as on the wings of angels, serene and content with their fates. But sometimes, that was not possible. Sometimes, he must bring about the ruin of flesh while they were conscious, frightened. It displeased him greatly, that terror in their eyes, or even the snarling hatred, like a primitive beast. A key part of his philosophy was that mankind should transcend their bestial, sinful nature. By delivering them from their atavistic mortal life, he was helping to ensure their souls were complete and unsullied by animal depravity. Nonetheless, he would not be deterred in his mission. God would have His prize tonight.
The struggle was surprisingly fierce. Rodrigo, the boy, was stronger than he looked. He pounced upon him as he got out of his car, returning home late from the kitchen. He’d followed him the whole way home, infuriated by the traffic that slowed to a crawl in the bad weather. He hadn’t planned to do this now, but as he’d been lurking outside the restaurant he’d seen that black police officer again, looking upset over some triviality. The sight of a tearful woman always stirred up feelings of contempt in him. Again, it returned to his loathing of humankind’s baser nature. To display raw emotion in that fashion was deeply unbecoming. Passion should be motivated solely by the divine. To weep at Earthly concerns was pathetic. Weak. Just seeing her there, with her friend, that man, had filled him with such towering revulsion that he’d had no choice but to come here and try to exorcise the bitter taste of it. Doggedly he’d pursued Rodrigo and now, in the darkness of the empty street, they grappled, like animals.
Miguel wrestled him down into the mud of his front yard and clamped his hand across the boy’s face. “Why do you resist? You know this is what you want!” He grabbed as his crotch and squeezed, but Rodrigo pulled away and struggled free.
“Who are you? What the hell’s wrong with you?”
“I am your deliverance!” Miguel roared. He was furious now: truly taken by the beast within. There was a kind of irony there, but of course it was always necessary to reduce himself to the level of his prey in order to shoulder the burden of their sin. He revelled in this degradation of self, of soul.
“You’re crazy!” He was limping towards his home, fumbling a cellphone from his jacket pocket. “I’m calling the cops.”
A spike of rage again. He thought of the woman he couldn’t seem to escape, as if they were ensnared in the same orbit. He leapt towards Rodrigo, landing on his back and then pushing him face down on the ground. The grass was muddy and the ground saturated by two days of continuous rainfall. There were puddles everywhere, and the boy’s phone bounced from his hand and into one. He scrambled for it desperately, perhaps driven by some vain capitalist instinct to protect his valuable property. Sins upon sins. “Don’t pretend you do not long for this,” Miguel hissed in his ear, “for the weight of a man bearing down on you.” He pressed Rodrigo’s face into the mulch and pawed at his body, tugging at his belt and dragging his slack pants down around his hips. Rodrigo screamed, but no one was awake to hear him. He pushed into him, driving his face down into a shallow puddle, thrusting and heaving as he thrashed and his breath bubbled in the muddy water. Long before he was done, the bubbles had stopped.
Afterwards, Miguel pulled himself up from the filth – both literally and figuratively – and looked around. He had done his deed in full view of the road, but it was past midnight and this was a quiet neighbourhood, more affluent than some of the other parts of Southside. Rodrigo’s own home was quiet and dark. There was no other car parked in the drive. Perhaps his parents were out. It was irrelevant now. Miguel dragged the body around to the side of the house, out of view of any passers-by and searched for something he could use for the next step. There was a trash can near the side door with a plastic sack lining it. He dumped the garbage already inside out onto the floor and then stuffed Rodrigo’s muddy corpse into the sack. Then he hauled it back to his car with considerable effort – Rodrigo had not been a small boy – and dumped it into the trunk. He took a moment to catch his breath and consider his own defilement. He looked a mess, and it had not been as clean an end as he preferred, but nonetheless he had achieved his aim. Another martyr, another offering of flesh to the Holy Father, another productive evening. In a way, he would be sad to move on from San Bernardino. There was so much sin here to expunge, but he knew that he was being pursued, albeit inexpertly, and that if he prolonged this stay any further it would be harder and harder for him to escape suspicion. He must bring this to an end. But, there was at least one more visit he had to pay, and perhaps one more sinner to exterminate in the name of Christ.
He caressed the covered body of Rodrigo gently and then slammed the trunk shut. He got into the car himself and set off. He had not yet considered where he would put this one. Somewhere he would be found soon, certainly. That should not be a problem: just as the scrutiny of the bumbling police force was a threat to him, so too could he use it to his advantage. They were already wise to his presence. They were expecting another body, and soon.
His route took him past the apartment block he had visited last night, and he slowed to a crawl as he took in the unwelcome sight of flashing lights, police tape, the white bulk of an ambulance. His mouth opened wide and he shook his head helplessly, looking like a gasping fish as he stared at this impossibility. He had only been there last night. He had not displayed the bodies. How had they been discovered so soon? Had one of their sinful friends visited? Miguel reflected ruefully on the many people Hector had spoken to while he was walking through Downtown. Oh, how clumsy he had been! How he now internally chastised himself for his failing of imagination! Of course Hector and his fellow sinner would be known amongst their decadent community. He should have foreseen this.
Well, it was hardly a concern. He had been careful, as always. He drove past slowly, watching the police swarm like ants over his good work, corrupting it with their blind, ignorant pawing. He was about to accelerate away, when he saw a familiar face. It was her. Her again. The black woman. He was lost in the shadows, and she was unable to see him, but for a moment it was like she’d looked up and met his eyes. He felt an unwelcome surge of fear. There was no coincidence when it came to the will of the Lord. She was hunting him. That was why she dogged his steps. His nostrils flared and his knuckles whitened as he gripped the wheel. He had thought his anger placated by his passion for Rodrigo, but now it came back again, pulsing like a beacon, a fiery blaze of holy wrath. He considered attacking here there and then, but of course that would be madness. She was surrounded by her fellow police officers. It would be an end to him. No, he must take out this unexpected surge of aggression on another target. He should not have needed to strike again for at least a day, but this situation was unprecedented. No one had ever come so close to finding him before. And to think, these misguided fools were just a few streets away from him as he absolved Rodrigo of his sins. He pressed the gas pedal hard and roared away into the night, heading for the den of iniquity in which he target wallowed.
Miguel waited outside the apartment, as he had the previous afternoon. In the early hours of the morning, all was quiet. He should expect her to be awake though, plying her vile trade with men, women and, for all he knew, animals and demons. He could not envisage the twisted horrors in which she must engage, even though he had witnessed indescribable filth while carrying out his mission. She was the worst of all, this chimera, a putrid stain upon an already corrupt and decaying society. She was not worthy of being absolved. She would not go to God. Instead, he would cast this misshapen and mutilated harlot down to Satan, where she belonged.
He stepped out of his car, moving with holy purpose. Padre Miguel had never had cause to use any weapons. He relied solely upon his hands, indeed relished the feel of flesh being rent apart beneath his skin. That tactile sensation was intrinsic to the process; a key to assuring him of the righteousness of his cause. For this, he might have cause to make an exception, but he had no fear that the whore would present any kind of physical obstacle. No doubt her spiritual decay would go hand in hand with a weakening of the body. He had found this was often the case; gluttony begat obesity, pride an obsession with appearance over good health, lust venereal diseases, wrath physical injuries, greed a neglect of the needs of the body in favour of wealth and trinkets, envy likewise but this time in favour of looking to others and their possessions and, of course, sloth walked hand-in-hand with a lack of attention to the correct maintenance of the mortal shell. He had written extensively on this topic while studying in the seminary and, once again, his good work had gone largely unnoticed.
Miguel did not bother to sneak this time. He did not need to surprise the whore. He wanted her to see him approach, to know fear. This time, that was a vital component of the ritual. She would go screaming to her master, as was only fitting. He shouldered through the door and leapt at her. She was lying, naked and in the throes of lust, in congress with wicked demons who fled like shadowy forms at the sight of his blazing glory. She screamed and tried feebly to defend herself, but his eyes shone with the righteous anger of the Lord and he overpowered her easily. He was lost in it all, an avenging angel himself, a golden martyr, pinning down this half-breed witch whose body was so utterly repulsive to look upon, twisted and corrupted as it was by vanity. His knee pressed against her throat as her weak, atrophied arms tried to fend him off. She was revealed now, in all her degradation, as the hideous harpy that she was. He laughed for the joy of it as her face turned purple and she ceased to struggle, remained there, perched on her ruined carcass, filled with surety as to the necessity of this task.
Flushed with the power of God, he left the ruin of the trollop for her master’s demons to feast upon as they wished and returned to his car. He was content. Peaceful. He felt, at last, that he could move on. But there was one more small task – his trunk still contained the body of Rodrigo. He must find a place for it. He considered. There were many viable options, but it must be just right. This would be his final offering to the city of San Bernardino before his departure. This must be a glorious swansong. He started the engine and began to weigh up all the options. And then, suddenly, a new thought occurred. A wonderful, crystalline thought, chiming beautifully in the darkness. Of course, he would need to do some research – he did not even know the exact location yet – but it was too perfect not to be preordained. God’s hand moved again. He set out, humming a snippet of a joyful aria.
Carter huddled beneath a blanket as she sat on bottom of the staircase that led up to the first floor apartment where they’d found…what they’d found. Someone had shoved a plastic cup of coffee into her hand, but she hadn’t even touched it yet. It was probably stone cold by now. The rain was starting to slacken off, but she still shivered. She was wet through. She’d run out into the street after she and Josh had made their gruesome discovery and screamed helplessly into the night. She had no idea how long she’d stood out there in the rain before someone – her? Josh? – had finally called the station. Since then, it had all been a confused blur of lights and sirens. Uniformed cops were going to and fro, pushing past her on the stairs. The whole area was cordoned off, and residents had been moved out. In the greying dawn light, people just waking up to see the commotion outside were now standing on the other side of the tape, peering at the scene in voyeuristic fascination. Brown faces watched her with interest and even amusement. Murders could be fun when you knew nothing about the victims, apparently. At the moment it was just like being part of a news story.
Speaking of which, the press were there too. She should go and sit in one of the patrol cars and hide her face. She was plenty famous enough for her liking, but she couldn’t bring herself to move. As empty as her stomach was, she didn’t trust it not to spew its meagre contents onto the sidewalk the moment she stood up. She closed her eyes, trying to shut it all out, but the inside of her eyelids were painted with that scene inside the bedroom. Blood on the walls, bodies ripped open, spread like joints of meat. Humans, turned into nothing but flesh. Who would do that? Who could do that? It was inhuman.
She’d given her statement, was free to go, but she knew she was staying. Staying because, even if she was a witness, this was her case. She knew it was all connected somehow. It just had to be. There was an ambulance here, although there wasn’t much for them to do except look after Josh who, like her, was sitting numbly in a blanket. His face was grey and he stared into the middle distance from the tailgate of the meat wagon. She cringed at her own internal monologue. Meat. She’d sure as hell never look at a steak the same way again.
A silver car pulled up. Carter was barely aware of passing traffic. This road was a major thoroughfare for the neighbourhood so they couldn’t just cordon it off and a few cars had already driven past in the early hours. This one was familiar though. She looked up blankly to see Lieutenant Colburn climbing out and then heading towards her. She flashed her badge and ducked under the police tape held up by a patrolman standing sentry. Carter watched her approach. Her face was sympathetic, but she knew she had questions to answer. “Hey, detective.”
“I hear it’s a pretty grisly scene up there.”
“Worst I’ve ever seen.”
Colburn grimaced. She knew how bad she’d seen before. Like with Hammersmith’s victims. “You should go home,” she said gently.
Carter shook her head. “No. I have to see this through.”
Colburn crouched down in front of her. “Hannah, honey.” She rested a hand on her knee and Carter flinched away instinctively. “Hannah…you need to remove yourself from this situation.”
“I need to find this asshole.”
“Are you certain it’s the same asshole? This sounds different from the other bodies we found.”
“I know.” Carter rubbed her eyes. She hadn’t slept all night, and couldn’t imagine how she ever would again right now. “It’s a totally different MO. But…it can’t be a coincidence, can it?”
“You think these guys were connected to the Padre Miguel case?”
She glanced over at Josh, still staring into space. “I was here following that lead. Josh said Hector – that is, one of the victims up there – had mentioned the name.”
“You know as well as I do that these things don’t just happen, lieutenant. Four dead bodies in as many days. All Hispanic, all homosexuals, all living within a few miles of each other.”
“A lot of murders happen in this city, detective.”
She looked at Colburn steadily. “What would you do if you were me?”
The other woman sighed and got to her feet again. She put her hands on her hips and looked around. The morning was grey and uninspiring. It suited Carter’s mood perfectly. Numb. Resigned. Frightened. “I know you’ve been through a lot,” she began. Her voice was quiet, pitched so only she could hear it, and she wasn’t looking right at her. “But I have to ask you a few questions about all this.”
“You said you were following a lead?”
“You were off-duty.”
“And your tip off came from a man you barely know, and from the sounds of things it wasn’t that solid. Yet you came rushing down here.”
“Lives were at stake.” Colburn hadn’t mentioned the altercation with the woman in the restaurant. Maybe she didn’t know about it yet then. “And we found the bodies.”
“I’m not concerned about that right this second. What I’m concerned about is you.” She looked down at her and her expression was concerned, searching, maybe even a little wary. Carter saw herself through her CO’s eyes then. She was a liability. “This is hardly the first time you’ve put yourself in danger for the sake of this job.”
“I’m a cop.”
“Right. But you have to switch off now and then. You have to keep yourself sane. You can’t let this take over your life.”
Carter set her jaw. “People are dying.”
“People are already dead. It didn’t make a damn bit of difference you coming here last night. Those bodies would’ve turned up today or tomorrow or whenever, just as dead. But now I also have a detective who’s walked in on what sounds like a scene from an abattoir. A detective I was already concerned about. A detective,” she added, “already being investigated by Internal Affairs.”
“I’m sorry,” Carter said, rubbing her eyes again. “I was just following my instincts.”
“You always do, Hannah. And more often than not, they’re sound. But this time…”
“This is connected, lieutenant,” she said, surprised at how firm her voice came out. “I don’t know how, and I don’t know why, but it is.”
“Fine. You pass that on to Beauchamp.”
She felt her blood freeze. “What?”
“C’mon, you knew this was coming. You’re a witness now, Hannah. I can’t let you keep this case.”
“You’re connected.” She pointed towards Josh. “And so is he. He knows one of the victims, right? And you’re involved with him?”
“So, let’s turn what you said before around. If you were in my position, what would you do?”
“I’d take me off the case,” she said, feeling the numbness return again.
“Exactly. Look, I don’t know what the outcome of this investigation on you is going to be. Hopefully nothing. But, for now, I’m giving you a couple of days off. You need to go home, figure your head out, make sense of a few things. It’s not safe for you here.”
Carter took a breath. Colburn certainly didn’t know about last night. When that came out, she’d have more than a few days to think things through. Hell, she might have her whole life. Punching out a woman in a restaurant wasn’t exactly something a cop was supposed to do. This could be the end of her career. “Okay,” she said eventually.
“You want a ride home?”
“Sure.” She stood up. She hadn’t even noticed her ass and legs going numb, but now the blood flowed back in and she winced at the pins and needles. She moved stiffly, more from exhaustion than anything else and Colburn put an arm around her.
“It’s okay,” she said reassuringly. “It’s going to be fine.”
They reached the edge of the police cordon and Colburn lifted the tape up for her. As she did there was another roar of sirens as two patrol cars hurtled past. The movement flicked a strand of Carter’s hair past her eyes. She straightened and watched them go. “What’s that all about?”
“Domestic disturbance,” the beat cop standing next to her shrugged. “Something going on in an apartment block off Vanderbilt Way. A break in I think.”
Carter froze again. There were any number of apartments around there, but she knew one in particular. Another coincidence? Not likely. She pulled away from Colburn and threw off the blanket that she’d still had around her shoulders. It was two miles from here, but there was no way anyone was going to drive her. She had to get there. She had to make sure Carmella was okay. It was all getting too weird. Her legs were still numb and she started to hobble down the road, but then as her muscles began to move feeling returned and she soon broke into a run. She hadn’t slept all night, she’d hardly eaten a thing yesterday and her head felt like someone had been picking it apart and had forgotten how to put it back together. But she ran, pelting through the rain and puddles, ignoring the shouts coming from behind her.
It took her less than half an hour to reach Carmella’s place. When she arrived she bent double, threatening to finally throw up the two glasses of wine still swimming around in her stomach. She put her hands on her knees and breathed deeply. The rain had stopped, finally, and the sun had started to come out, peering fitfully through the clouds. The reflections from the puddles dazzled her and she closed her eyes for a moment. Again, the image of the butchered bodies returned and she snapped her eyelids open. It was a cool morning, but the water was still starting to steam in the sun as she walked slowly towards the apartment block. The two patrol cars were parked outside. Carmella’s door was open. No tape yet, but there could be any number of reasons for that. She tried to think all of this through as she walked. This guy, this Padre Miguel, he was always a step ahead of her. There was no way he wasn’t aware she was chasing him now – it was all just too convenient. Even the first body had been just a couple of blocks away from where she was, and then the second one was waiting for her in the alley next to where she’d been having coffee. These last two, again connected to her, albeit through Josh. An old friend of his and his partner. What were the chances? She looked up at the open door. And now Carmella. One of her oldest friends. Carter swallowed. She didn’t know what she’d find up there. More horror? Could she bear to walk into that? But she had no choice of course. Increasingly, it seemed like these situations were being placed there for her to find. Well, she would walk into this trap if that’s what it took. She was a police officer. A detective. Who the fuck was Padre Miguel to play games like this with her and her friends?
Up the stairs and across the landing. The door was ajar, just like it had been at Hector’s place. The lock was broken too. It was exactly the same. She pushed it open slowly and stepped inside, trying to mentally prepare herself for the worst. It took a second for her eyes to adjust to the gloom and then…
Two cops in uniforms, staring at her. On the other side of the kitchen counter, Carmella, half-dressed, looking angry and then relieved as she realised who it was. She threw up her manicured hands. “Hannah! Thank God! Please can you talk to these two goons!”
Carter blinked a few times. “Wh…what’s going on?”
“Somebody break into my apartment!” her friend said. “Can you believe that?”
“Oh…oh goodness…” She was too relieved to summon up any outrage over that. It was just an ordinary robbery.
“They take my gun!” Carmella continued.
“They took your…wait, what?” She saw that one of the officers was holding a plastic evidence bag, with a handgun in it. “If Jones were here, he’d have the best joke,” she murmured.
“Unlicensed firearm,” the other cop explained.
“Hey, someone break in and try to kill me,” Carmella said to him, “am I not allowed to defend myself, huh? I thought this was America!”
Carter leant back against the wall and shook her head. Just an ordinary break in. Nothing to be scared about. She actually almost laughed. “Can we help you with something, detective?” the first cop asked.
“No, I’m sorry. I just thought something awful had happened.”
“Don’t you listen, hermana? Somebody try to kill me!”
“I’m sure they weren’t…”
“You as bad as these assholes! You think I don’t know that look? I seen it before, in a man’s eyes. This creep break in here and try to kill me. Why shouldn’t I shoot him, huh?”
“You…you actually shot him?”
“In the leg. I miss him.” She sounded annoyed with herself.
“Uh…miss,” the cop holding the gun said, obviously a little uncomfortable around Carmella, particularly now she had someone on her side present, “we might need to take you down to the station and ask you a few questions.”
“No way, mister,” she said firmly, “I ain’t answering no questions nowhere. Someone break into my goddamn home and you asking me questions?”
“We have your description of the alleged intruder, ma’am,” the other cop added, holding his notebook out, “and we’ll certainly keep a look out in the area.”
“He easy to spot,” she snapped, “he’s the one limping from the gunshot wound.”
“And he was a priest. Can you believe that?” She looked imploringly at Carter again. “A priest tries to kill me!”
“A priest…?” Her mouth felt dry. “How do you know?”
“He wear a collar and everything.”
“Was he…was he latino?”
“Uh huh.” She pointed. “These boys have the description. I tell them everything. Now they gonna ask me questions about this gun. This is crazy!”
Carter’s eyes moved across the carpet. There were droplets of blood, already drying, trailing across the floor, and then to the doorstep, a few beads still undisturbed, glistening in the sun. “It is crazy,” she agreed. “Officers, we need to get forensics down here.”
“This wasn’t just some robbery.”
It was all coming together, somehow. She didn’t understand it, but the secret was in those blood drops. She was certain it was the man she was hunting who had broken into Carmella’s home. Who had tried to kill her friend. And she’d stop at nothing to see this monster brought to justice.
She stepped out onto the veranda and rested her hands on the railings. For some reason, she felt very calm right then. She’d gotten her break. Her instincts hadn’t deserted her. This would make everything right. A black sedan pulled up below her. Nothing unusual about that. Still, this was a crime scene. She walked down the stairway just as the driver got out and began to walk towards her. She was a tall woman, white, whip-thin with grey-blonde hair cropped very short above her ears. She was wearing shades. “Detective Carter?” she asked.
“You’re a hard woman to track down, it seems. I’m Agent Nancy Spangler from Internal Affairs. I’d like to ask you a few questions.”
Back at the station, on the wrong side of an interview table, Carter felt all her anxiety return. Colburn sat beside her, and her presence was reassuring even after she’d run off that morning, but all her attention was focused on the woman sitting opposite. She had a big stack of files with her. All cases she’d worked on. All of interest to this investigation, apparently.
“Are you sure you wouldn’t like a drink, detective? Some coffee?”
She didn’t trust herself to keep anything down right now. “No. I’m fine.”
“All right then. We might as well get started.” She flipped open a folder. “Let’s talk about your recent encounters with Dorothy Windham.”
“That’s the woman who made the complaint.” Spangler smiled slightly. Annoyingly, she was quite personable and, in other circumstances, Carter could imagine them working well together. “You met her in a diner, is that right?”
“And there was an altercation. She claims you attacked her.”
“She was aggressive,” Carter said, “there are witnesses.”
“Indeed. Who confirm your story by the way. She was shouting abuse at you, relating to a case you worked on. Calvin Hammersmith, right?”
Just hearing the name made her flinch, she was feeling so fragile right then. Colburn spoke for her. “It was a very high-profile investigation, Agent Spangler…”
“As I say, very high-profile. And with what happened…”
“Hm, yes.” Spangler looked up and met Carter’s eyes. “Obviously not an easy situation, and judging by what Mrs Windham said to you, according to the witnesses, I think I can understand why you reacted how you did.”
“I was just restraining her…”
“Right. And then there was this incident last night. We still don’t have all the statements in, so could you maybe illuminate things for me now?”
Colburn sat back. She’d been briefed on what happened, which was half the reason Carter couldn’t look at her. “Well,” she began, “I was just getting up from the table…”
“You were eating in the restaurant?”
“No, I was with a friend. Anyway, I got up to go to the bathroom and I bumped into…uh…Mrs Windham. It was an accident.”
“And she started yelling again.”
“What was she yelling?”
Carter flinched again, reliving the moment. “The same stuff as before. Telling me I’d killed Hammersmith. Telling me I’d…I’d slept with him. Stuff like that.”
Spangler’s expression was sympathetic. “Given the circumstances surrounding what happened, that can’t have been easy.”
“Well no. But it’s no excuse.”
“No,” Spangler agreed, “it’s not. So, she was yelling at you…”
“I…I tried to…to calm her down. I told her I was off-duty.”
“Yes, you were off-duty. But, just after you assaulted Mrs Windham, you went to the scene of a crime with the intent to question a witness. Is that correct?”
“Pretty much,” Carter replied in a small voice.
“Do you think that was wise, in the circumstances?”
“You’d been drinking too.”
“Yes, that’s right.”
“Not a very pretty picture.” Spangler closed the file and took another one off the stack. Carter recognised it. “This is the file from the Hammersmith case.”
“Agent Spangler,” Colburn interrupted, “maybe we should give Detective Carter a few minutes.”
“It’s fine,” she said, “let’s just…get this over with.”
Spangler opened the file. “Hammersmith abducted you. According to your statement at the time, he had become obsessed with you. He was aware he was being investigated and, for some reason, fixated on you.”
“He started out as a witness, that’s all. I’d spoken to him a few times.”
“Alone, I understand.”
Carter shook her head. “It wasn’t like that. He was manipulative. He engineered certain situations. We never suspected him.”
“Remember, Spangler,” Colburn said, “Hammersmith had been getting away with his crimes for decades. It was Carter’s intuition that led to him being questioned in the first place.”
“Of course. I’m not accusing you of anything, just trying to get a clear idea of how events led up to…the resolution.”
Carter winced at that. Resolution was some word for it. “He drugged me and kidnapped me,” she said shortly.
“And then threatened to sexually assault you?”
“Amongst other things.”
“And there was a struggle?”
“This is all in the report,” Colburn said. Carter could tell she was getting agitated.
“I know, but there are some aspects of it that are a little vague. Like I said, I’m just trying to get the details straight.”
“He had me tied to a chair,” Carter told her, “but I managed to break free. We…we fought. There was a lamp, an old paraffin lamp, I mean. It got knocked over in the fight. It was an old barn. Rotting wood, straw.”
“There was a fire,” Spangler surmised.
“Yes. I don’t remember everything. He drugged me.”
“Right. The barn burned down. I got out. Hammersmith…didn’t.” That was what the fire officer’s report said. The coroner’s contribution was a little less clear. The truth was that the reason Hammersmith hadn’t escaped was that he’d been handcuffed to a beam at the time. And Carter had left him, screaming, without a moment’s regret. The truth, deep down, was that she did kill him. And that was why what Windham and the other women who still clung to their fandom of the vile man said to her hurt so much. They were right.
“It sounds awful,” Spangler said. Her eyes were full of sympathy again.
“Yes. It was.”
“And you had a few psychological assessments afterwards, I see. Then you were signed off to come back to work.”
Carter nodded. “That’s right.”
“Do you feel like you were safe to come back?”
“I wouldn’t have done it if I wasn’t.” That too was a lie.
“And you, lieutenant?”
Colburn looked momentarily startled. “What about me?”
“Do you feel Detective Carter was mentally fit to return to her job in Homicide after what occurred?”
“Well…the psychologist’s report…”
Spangler smiled slightly. “In my experience, the psychologists used by the police force to assess their own staff aren’t even worth the pittance they get paid. They have a job to do, and that’s keep the manpower on the streets, even if that’s not the best thing for the individuals concerned.”
Carter bristled. “Listen, I’m fine, I…”
“Let me talk for a moment, Detective.” She leant forward. “Listen, this doesn’t have a hope in hell of turning into a lawsuit. We’ll pay her off if we have to. Mrs Windham has a history of getting into these kinds of situations, if you want to know the truth. You wouldn’t be the first woman to sucker punch her in a public place, although you might have the honour of being the first one to knock her out cold doing it. No, that’s not my concern here. My concern is that we have a detective in Homicide who’s a danger to her precinct and to herself. It’s not normal behaviour for anyone, especially a police officer, to get into two brawls in a week. It’s certainly not normal for a police officer with a list of commendations as long as my arm and a fine record of service to put herself in dangerous situations like this morning. You ran on foot to a crime scene you knew nothing about. You burst in on two officers making an arrest…”
“Carmella didn’t do anything wrong. Padre Miguel…”
Spangler held up a hand. “I’m not here to talk about these murders. I understand your lieutenant here was already taking you off this case. Frankly it should have happened sooner. You discovered two bodies last night in horrific circumstances and you’ve seen two more in as many days. Even for a Homicide detective, that’s a rough working week. For someone with your history? It’s almost criminal negligence.” She glanced at Colburn. “Almost.”
“Just get to the point,” Carter said morosely.
“The point, detective, is that you need to be away from here. Medically, I don’t think you’re fit to work. You’re circling the drain right now, I can see that from here. I’m putting you on paid suspension.”
“For how long?” Colburn asked.
“Three months. And I’m giving you the number for a good therapist. Please, Detective Carter, for your own safety, take the time to examine your state of mind. You’re an asset to the department, I can see that just from looking at these files,” she patted the hefty stack for emphasis, “but you’re no good to anyone unless you’re mentally strong enough to do the job.”
“I’m strong,” Carter said, but she didn’t feel or sound it.
“I know. But this isn’t your fault. You went through something very traumatic, and for some reason the world won’t let you move on from it. That’s why you need to step away for a little while. Is that understood?”
She was right. Even as they filed out of the office and Carter went to her desk to get her stuff together, she knew she was right. She hadn’t been acting rationally. She’d been running around like a crazy person. She’d done stupid, foolish things. And where had it gotten her? She was lucky there wasn’t likely to be a lawsuit. She was damn lucky she’d got Spangler investigating this, because she’d seemed to get it. But none of that changed the fact that they’d just taken the Padre Miguel case away from her and sent her home for three months. Spangler might tell her it wasn’t her fault, but this sure felt like she was being punished for something.
Carter drove home. It was getting dark already. Fall was on the way. She tried to put everything out of her mind. Padre Miguel wasn’t her problem now. Carmella would be fine – Colburn had promised to pull some strings about the firearms violation, and Mortimer had even said he’d go down there with his kit and check out the blood. It was all going to be all right. And yet she couldn’t just leave it all behind. She couldn’t turn away from this. Someone was out there killing young men. She was a cop: she was supposed to stop that kind of thing. But she couldn’t. Any more than the woman crossing the street at the intersection in front of her could. Any more than Josh, trying to insert himself into her business for his documentary or his screenplay or whatever, could. It occurred to her that she hadn’t checked on him. She should call him although, thinking about it, she didn’t even have his number. He’d been shaken up a lot worse than her. Tomorrow. Tomorrow she’d deal with it.
She pulled into the driveway of her home and sat quietly for a few minutes, trying to put her thoughts in order. None of it mattered now, that’s what she told herself. It wasn’t her problem. She got out of the car and shouldered her handbag. She’d installed a motion-sensor light in her front yard after what happened with Hammersmith and it came on suddenly. She blinked away purple spots and stumbled to the door. It opened without her unlocking it. She didn’t even have time to think about it as she fell into the darkened kitchen and was immediately assailed by a rank stench. Confused and disorientated, she scrabbled for the light switch. White, fluorescent light flooded the kitchen and illuminated the thing that had been left on her dining table. Carter screamed.