The alley behind the apartment building was known as a place the girls who hung out on the street at the end of the alley took their johns. Every so often, our guys would drive a patrol car down that alley just to keep the girls on their toes. They’d only caught one there in two years, and that was only because the john had the girl laid back on the hood of his little sports car at the time. He couldn’t get his dick out of her and his pants up before the uniforms got close enough to see what was going on and flipped on the lights on the patrol car.
That morning about six, they found something they didn’t expect. It was another guy, and he was naked, but there was no girl and it didn’t look like the guy had been having a very good time.
I pulled my unmarked sedan up beside the coroner’s van about seven thirty. It’s funny how sometimes you remember things from the past when you can’t remember what you did yesterday. It’s age catching up with me, I guess. Anyway, as soon as I saw the guy’s face, I knew who he was.
His name was Alfred William Justice, and I’d arrested him eleven years before. I remembered him because of how smart he played the traffic stop and because of how stupid he really was.
I was still wearing a uniform then, and Alfred had made the mistake of running a stoplight right in front of my patrol car. Alfred had done everything right that afternoon. He’d pulled over into a gas station and stopped his car, just like he was supposed to do. He sat there with his hands on the steering wheel and didn’t move until I asked him to roll down his window.
He did that and then put his hands back on the wheel. I’d already run his plate. The vehicle wasn’t stolen and there were no wants or warrants, and no prior convictions for the owner. I’d probably have let him go with just a ticket if the cloud of beer breath hadn’t hit me in the face when I leaned down to ask him for license. I stood back up and asked him to get out of the car. When he did, a half full can of beer fell out of his lap and onto the pavement and I saw three empties on the floor.
I asked him to lean against his car, and when he did, I spread his legs.
“Mr. Justice, it’s illegal to carry an open container of alcohol in a moving vehicle. Did you know that?
“Yeah, I know that.”
“Well, that can of beer that fell out of your car and those empties tell me that’s what you were doing. I’m going to arrest you for that, and maybe for DUI, but first I need to search you. You don’t have anything on you that will cut or stick me, do you?”
He said he didn’t and he was telling the truth. He evidently didn’t think it was necessary to tell me about the little baggie with three coke rocks in it I found in his hip pocket.
I handcuffed him and walked him back to my squad car, put him in the back, and then continued my search of his vehicle. I found two more baggies, each with three rocks, wedged between the seat and backrest of the passenger seat. There was five hundred and sixty five dollars in cash in the glove box.
Alfred’s lawyer negotiated a plea from a Class I felony down to Class II but Alfred still spent the next eleven years in prison. I didn’t know what he got into when he got out, but it was evidently some pretty serious stuff. The only thing Alfred was getting into that night was a body bag.
I was fourteen days from retirement as a detective that night and it pissed me to get handed a case like this. If I couldn’t find the perp in a couple of days, it might take months before he was behind bars. I never liked getting second hand cases, and I didn’t want some first year detective to get one of mine. This one didn’t look like it was going to be one of the easy ones.
The coroner was just starting to zip up the body bag when I walked up.
“Whatcha think, Walt?”
Walt finished closing the zipper, then stood up and pulled off his latex gloves.
“His name’s Alfred Justice according to the license in his wallet. As for what killed him, I don’t have a damned clue. The guy is dead, has been for several hours judging by his temperature. I didn’t find any injuries, but it’s still pretty dark back here behind this building, so it’s hard to see anything. I’ll have to get him on my table and pop the hood before I can tell you anything more.”
Walt and two uniforms put Alfred in the coroner’s SUV and Walt headed back to the morgue. The coroner’s techs were still searching the area using flashlights. There wasn’t much of a crime scene, but I stuck around until the techs got done. All they found in the alley besides Alfred was a gum wrapper with an address written in pencil and two condoms that had obviously been used quite a while before. I thought it was odd that Alfred’s clothes weren’t somewhere in that alley, but they weren’t. The techs bagged everything and headed back to the lab.
It was still pretty dark in that alley because the building blocked the sunlight and there weren’t any streetlights back there. There weren’t any lights I could see inside the apartment building either. When I drove around the block to the front, I saw why. The sign on the entry door said “CONDEMMED BY THE HEALTH DEPARTMENT”. On a paper stuck on the inside was the citation that stated the building had an infestation of roaches and rats and the plumbing system didn’t work. The citation was dated two months prior, so nobody had lived there for at least that long. There wouldn’t be anybody there for me to question.
On the other side of the alley was a high, chain link fenced area full of semi trailers. It was a sort of warehouse without a building. For less than a hundred a month, you could rent a trailer to store stuff. The company would pull the trailer out to your house or business and after you loaded it, they’d pull it back and park it until you wanted it again. Businesses used it to store excess inventory and equipment, and some individuals stored the extra stuff we all accumulate but can’t bring ourselves to throw away or sell.
There wasn’t really any type of office. There was just a small building at the gate. When I rolled up to that gate, a white-haired man looked out the window and then came out and up to the gate. He smiled.
“We’re closed until nine so you’ll have to come back then. I don’t do anything but watch the gate. If you want to rent a trailer, you’ll have to do that downtown. The number and address are on the gate.”
I showed him my badge.
“I’m looking to find out if you might have seen anything happening at the back of the lot any time during the night.”
“Nope, but like I said, I just watch the gate and the lot from here. I don’t get paid to walk around. I’m just supposed call the cops if I see anything. Wouldn’t do anymore anyway. I’m seventy six, and I don’t get paid enough to get my ass whipped.”
I asked if he might have seen a car drive down the alley.
He took off his Vietnam Veteran’s ball cap, scratched his head, then put the ball cap back on.
“No…no cars. There was a truck I saw when I went outside to take a leak. That was, let’s see, that was right after I got here and relieved Joey, so it was probably about midnight. It was too dark to see very well, but I figured it was just a garbage truck. I see ‘em once in a while dumping the dumpsters at that apartment building across the alley. Haven’t seen one in months though, but I figured they just changed their route to a different time. Something happen back there?”
“No, not really. We just got a report of a guy picking up a girl on Mason and taking her back there. I’m just checking to see if that happened or not. We try to keep the girls off the street, but if we can’t catch them in the act or get the guy to tell us, we can’t arrest them.”
“Yeah, I see that sometimes. Hear ‘em once in a while too. There’s this one that screams, “Oh, your cocks so big” every time she takes a guy back there. I never go back to watch. I got this heart thing, and the doc says I shouldn’t get too excited. That’d probably do it, seeing some guy fucking a girl.”
“I might be seventy six, but I ain’t forgot how that feels. Wish I could feel that again at least once before I check out.”
I thanked the guy and made a note to find out if any garbage trucks had been down that alley that night.
The only other information I could check out was the address I’d copied off the gum wrapper. After using the laptop in my car to find out it was the address of a corner bar down in the older part of town, I drove by the place. According to the hours posted on the door, Harry’s Den didn’t open until two in the afternoon, so I didn’t try the door. I’d come back before the end of my shift to talk to who ever was there.
When I got back to my desk, there was a note from Walt asking me to call him when I got back. Instead of calling, I walked down the hall to his office. Walt smiled when I knocked on the door and waved me inside. He told me to have a seat and then fished through the pile of folders on his desk.
“Ah, here it is. Jerry, your stiff must have met a martial arts expert in that alley. I couldn’t see it there because of the light, but he’s pretty blue like he’d stopped breathing for some reason. The X-rays show he suffered a crushed larynx. He also has a bruise on his solar plexus like somebody jabbed him there. If it was hard enough, it would have caused a his diaphragm to spasm and made it difficult to breath for a couple of minutes.
I figure what happened was he was hit hard in the solar plexus and couldn’t inhale and then took a hit to the throat that crushed his larynx. His larynx swelled shut before he could take another breath and he basically suffocated. The petechiae I found in his eyes confirms that.
“I did some research because I’ve never seen a larynx crushed so badly before. What I found is it’s possible with a three-finger finger punch in exactly the right place with a significant amount of force. The larynx gets pushed in and crushed and then swells up and cuts off airflow to the lungs.
“That type of punch is taught in most advanced martial arts classes, but it would take an expert with a really fast, really hard punch as well as an accurate one to do this because the spot that would cause this much damage is pretty small. Anywhere else, he’d have problems breathing, but it wouldn’t kill him.
The guy’s larynx looks like it was mashed flat. He would have passed out in less than a minute. It probably took him a few minutes to die, though he was effectively dead when he hit the ground. He couldn’t have survived without an immediate tracheotomy.”
I asked if there were any other injuries that might indicate Alfred was being restrained or had been resisting. Walt shook his head.
“No, no bruising other than that one, no cuts, no scrapes, no defensive wounds, no nothing except his larynx looks like it was put in a vise and squeezed flat. I figure that punch must have caught him off guard. If he’d been fighting with someone, his chin would have been down to protect his throat. That’s an instinctive reaction most humans have when threatened. If he wasn’t doing that, he didn’t feel threatened.”
“Walt, he was naked when the uniforms found him so I didn’t think he was threatened. I just thought he might have fought back. Any guesses as to why he didn’t have on any clothes?”
“I did find traces of latex on his penis and he’d ejaculated recently. It doesn’t match the condoms the techs found, but I’d bet he had a condom on sometime before he was killed. I can’t say he had sex before he died. Sometimes a man will leak semen when he dies, but I didn’t find anything but a trace on his thigh, so I’d bet he did. That’d be a hell of a way to go, wouldn’t it – blow your load and not be able to enjoy the feeling because you’re suffocating?”
Walt said he’d send me a full report as soon as he finished his autopsy. I thanked him and went back to records to pull Alfred’s case file. I hoped there was something in it like a past acquaintance or incident that might lead me to his killer.
After an hour of looking through Alfred’s file, I’d found only two known acquaintances, a Julia Winslow and a Thomas Straiter, and I’d run them through the NCIC database.
Julia Winslow had served three years of a five year sentence for possession of less than two grams of coke with the intention to distribute and had been released two months earlier. Her parole officer gave me her address and place of employment.
Thomas Straiter was deceased and had been since a few months after Alfred went to prison. He’d been playing with the wrong people, and developed a sudden case of lead poisoning brought on by two .22 caliber slugs that got lodged in his brain. The shooter was never caught but since his playmates all hailed from Mexico and given the choice or weapon, it was a logical assumption the shooter was imported talent. That’s what the investigating detective concluded after talking with a couple guys who would rat out their own mother for twenty bucks.
I’d also made two more phone calls, one to Alfred’s parole officer and one to the city sanitation department. Alfred’s parole officer said Alfred had been working at an oil change place and hadn’t been in any trouble or missed any meetings. She gave me Alfred’s address. I gave that to Walt and asked if he’d have his tech’s go over and see if they could find anything relevant.
The city sanitation department said they hadn’t sent a truck to the apartment building since it shut down, and they didn’t have any trucks in that area that night anyway.
I was stuffing everything back into Alfred’s file when Walt called me. He sounded excited, but I guess when you deal with dead people all day, every day, about anything seems exciting.
“Hey, Jerry, guess what I found?”
“Walt, how the hell would I know what you found? I’m at my desk.”
“I got a print off your stiff that probably belongs to the killer.”
“How’d you do that? I thought that was pretty much impossible.”
“Well, not impossible, but really difficult even for me. The city finally let me buy an RTX kit. That made it a lot easier.”
I knew I’d have to play Walt’s game before he told me any more. He was always like this, a little goofy and making me guess because he wanted to explain what he’d found and how. I didn’t mind. Walt was one of the best and he’d solved more than a couple cases for me.
“OK, I give. What’s an RTX kit.”
“Oh it’s just one of the only reliable ways to get prints from skin, that’s all. It’s been around for a long time, but it wasn’t really safe. See, ruthenium tetroxide, that’s what RTX stands for, works great, but the shit’s dangerous. It tends to explode at room temperature, so obviously it wasn’t something I wanted to fuck around with.
A few years ago, some Japanese guy figured out how to make it safe to use. You put some ruthenium chloride hydrate and some cerium ammonium nitrate in the right concentrations in a container and voila – you have safe ruthenium tetroxide vapors. You just release them in a sealed chamber or like I just did, use a squeeze bottle and puff the vapors onto the skin and it’ll develop any prints that are there.
“I tried it on the guy’s throat in hopes I’d find a finger print, but all I was finding were smudges. I missed with one squeeze and blew some under the guy’s jaw. I saw what looked like a partial so I kept puffing the vapors around that area. Right where I’d put my fingertip to check for a pulse in his neck was a print. Whoever killed this guy was not just very skilled in martial arts. He also had a good knowledge of anatomy. Most people would have checked for a pulse on his wrist. I didn’t find anything there.
“I took a photo of the print and then dusted it with black print powder and lifted it. It’s not a great print, but I found nine markers so the FBI should be able to get a match. I sent them a request and the picture a little while ago. I should hear something back tomorrow unless they have to do it by hand. Then it might take a few days.”
Well, maybe I’d have a name in a day or so, but there were a lot of things that were pretty confusing. I figured Alfred had decided to unwind a little that night, but that wouldn’t explain why he was naked. Our street girls never want to take that much time. They’d much prefer the guy just unzip and plug in. I also couldn’t figure out why the condom he’d been using wasn’t in that alley along with the other two. Any hooker knows the DNA on the condom would be traceable to her but it never bothered any of them before. They just tossed them aside. That might mean the hooker was also his killer, but I didn’t think any of our girls were martial arts black-belts as well.
There weren’t any clothes at the crime scene either. I doubted Alfred walked down that alley from the street naked. For whatever reason, he’d stripped or been stripped, gotten himself killed, and the killer made off with his clothes as well as the condom. The only thing I could think of was the killer wanted to leave a message for someone else. I had no idea of what that message might be or who it could be for.
The truck was another problem. The girls always had the guy drive them down the alley and bring them back to the street in his car. I couldn’t find that Alfred had any vehicles registered in his name. He could have borrowed the truck, but where was it now? I seemed more likely the killer had driven the truck to the alley, killed Alfred, and then drove off, but how would the killer have known Alfred was going to be there? The hooker would have had to be in cahoots with the killer. Since all I had was one man who said he saw a truck but no more description than that, that lead was going to be pretty difficult to investigate.
The biggest unknown I had was motive. As far as I could tell, Alfred had been clean since he got out of prison. I couldn’t figure out how he’d managed to piss off somebody enough they’d kill him.
It was about three by then, so I drove over to Harry’s Den to talk to the bartender and anybody else who might know something.
Harry’s Den was a typical corner bar that had probably done a pretty good business in the fifties. On the outside, it looked like all the other buildings on the block long set of storefronts. Only the beer sign in the window said it wasn’t just another resale or antique shop. Inside, it was like what you see in old movies.
Unlike some of these little bars I’d been in, Harry’s Den was pretty clean. The floor was hardwood and there were stains here and there from when someone spilled a drink, but it had been recently cleaned and polished. There were more beer signs on the walls along with a few pictures. Most of the pictures were of GI’s coming home from WWII. A couple were of the outside of the bar with people standing in front and smiling.
I smelled several years accumulation of cigarette and cigar smoke, and the once-white ceiling was stained a sort of tan from those years of smokers puffing away. The bar proper had a brass foot rail and a padded rim. Behind that bar was a rack of liquor bottles with a big mirror over them.
When I showed him Alfred’s picture, Dan, the bartender, said he didn’t recollect ever seeing Alfred. He could have been lying to me, but I didn’t think he was. Harry’s Den was a good fifty blocks from Alfred’s apartment. I doubted Alfred would travel that far just for a drink. Alfred had the address for a different reason, and that reason was probably because he was meeting someone there.
The other people in the bar were all older men. I figured that they were regulars from the area. That’s the case with most of these small bars. In their heyday, they were the Friday and Saturday night meeting place for the people on the blocks within walking distance. Now, the younger crowd wants loud music and a lot of girls showing a lot of skin so they head downtown to one of the big clubs. The older people who still live in the area keep coming to the corner bar. I asked Dan if he’d had any new customers lately.
Dan scratched his head.
“Yeah, as a matter of fact, last night. This woman came in by herself. Couldn’t figure out why she was here instead of downtown.”
“When was she here?”
“Well, let’s see. Most of these guys will head for home about ten or ten thirty, and they were gone when she came in so sometime between then and eleven. At eleven, Judy clocks out and leaves, and she was still here. I remember because Judy said the gal looked really out of place.”
“Out of place? How?”
“Well, most of the women who come here are older and they dress up a little. They wear dresses or dressy pants and blouses and high heels. This gal was a lot younger, and she wore jeans, a plaid shirt, and cowboy boots. Judy said her jeans were too tight and her boobs were falling out of the shirt, but she figured since the girl looked pretty plain, maybe that was the only way she could attract a man.”
“Do you remember how long she stayed?”
“Yeah, just long enough to drink the club soda she ordered. I asked if she wanted another, but she said she had to leave. Left me a two buck tip just before she walked out the door. I think she must have been waiting on somebody, because I could see her standing in front of the window for a while. I had to go get another case of beer from the cooler in back, and when I came back she was gone.”
I looked around the bar at the men sitting at the tables and booths.
“Would any of these guys have been here when she left?”
“No, I don’t think so. We have our after work crowd, that’s these guys, and our after dinner crowd. These guys stop in for a couple of beers after work and then go home for dinner about six or so. The others come in about eight and stay until ten or ten thirty like I said. There are a few who stay until three when we close up, but they won’t get here until maybe midnight. They’re the second shift guys. They get off work at eleven and get here between eleven thirty and twelve.”
I said I’d be back at about midnight to see if any of them remembered anything, and then left.
It was five by the time I got back to my desk. Walt was gone but I went down to the lab to see if his techs had found anything in Alfred’s apartment. Sally Jordan, one of the second shift techs was sitting at a laptop computer when I walked in. She looked up and smiled.
“Hi Jerry. You’re here about that guy’s apartment Tom and Cheryl checked out, aren’t you?”
“Yeah. Did they find anything?”
“Nothing illegal or unusual, just normal stuff anybody would have. The guy’s laptop was interesting though. He didn’t use a screensaver password so I’ve been looking through his folders and browser history. He was quite a ladies man, or thought he was anyway.”
“Oh, how so?”
Sally grinned again.
“He belonged to at least six dating sites I’ve found so far, and he was trying to convince a few of the women at each to meet with him. You should see the women. I think they’re fake profiles because there aren’t many women who look like these. They’re all gorgeous, like movie stars or the women you see in magazines. Your guy was PM’ing them and asking if they’d like to meet so he could make them feel like they were in heaven. He promised they’d have at least three orgasms. I should be so lucky.”
“Did he have any takers?”
“No, and that’s another reason I think they’re fake. They didn’t ever really say no. They’d just say they thought that would be fantastic but they couldn’t right now because their husband or boyfriend or girlfriend was home. Then, they’d write something like they’d love to do what he said really made him horny and they hoped they could keep hearing from him. That’s something a lot of dating sites do to keep guys paying them.”
“Did I hear you right – did you say girlfriends?”
“Yes, he PM’d lesbians too. He told them he could change their mind. I just pulled up another dating site. I’ll show you what I mean.”
Sally clicked on the “log in” button, and Alfred’s username and password were already filled out on the window.
“He did this with all the sites, had them remember his name and password. I guess it was easier for him and it sure is easier for me. Here, look at his profile.”
Alfred called himself “10instud”, and had filled out all the boxes in his profile including the ones for cock size. He claimed to be ten inches long and six around when hard. He also liked women with huge breasts and narrow hips. That fit with the women he was PM’ing. Sally was scanning through his PM inbox and stopped at one with a different avatar.
“This is odd.”
“Well, this woman isn’t like all the others. She PM’d him first. Let’s look at her profile.”
Sally clicked on the avatar and a second later “sultry_suzy” popped up on the screen.
“God, she needs to work on her face with some makeup. She’s plain as a mud fence. She does have big boobs though…really big. I wanna know how the poor girl can sit up by herself with boobs that big, and look at her butt. Mine was bigger than that when I was thirteen. She must work out or something to keep it that tight.”
Sultry_suzy didn’t have much in her profile other than she was forty seven, liked really big cocks and was open to about anything. Sally went back to Alfred’s inbox and clicked on sultry_suzy’s first PM. It was interesting to say the least.
“Hi there, 10instud. I saw your profile and thought you and I might get along so I thought I’d write. I know I’m not beautiful, but my boobs are pretty big like you like and I’d really like to meet with you. Take a look at my profile and pics and let me know what you think.”
Sally clicked on Alfred’s reply and then giggled.
“I guess he got tired of hearing no. He liked this one.”
I read Alfred’s reply and thought I had something.
“Hi Sultry_suzy. I read your profile and looked at your pics. You’re my kind of woman and I’d love meeting you. Where are you located?”
We continued looking at the thread of PM’s, and it was starting to put some of my information together.
Sultry_suzy said she was in Nashville to which Alfred replied he was too and asked when and where could they meet. Sultry_suzy said in a week and gave him an address, the same address I’d copied from the gum wrapper at the crime scene.
A week from the date of the PM was the night Alfred was killed. If I could identify the woman, I might not have my killer, but I’d at least have someone to question who had seen Alfred that night.
I went back to my desk and emailed the DA about what I’d found and requested he generate a subpoena to the website for the name and any other information about the user named sultry_suzy.
After eating dinner at my apartment and watching a movie, I drove back to Harry’s Den to talk to the late night customers. The only information I got from that was one guy who’d seen the woman standing outside the bar when he went in. His description matched the bartender’s. Other than that, none of them had seen anything out of the ordinary.
All the next morning I waited. I waited on the FBI to identify the print from Alfred’s neck. I waited on the DA to get a subpoena served. When neither had happened by noon, I went to the bookstore where Julia’s parole officer said she worked. The bookstore was empty except for one woman I assumed to be Julia. She turned toward the door and smiled when I walked in.
“Hi. Can I help you find something today?”
I showed her my badge.
“I’m Detective Jerry Williams, and I’m not looking for a book. I need to speak to Julia Winslow.”
“I’m Julia. What’s this about? I haven’t done anything.”
“It’s about Alfred Justice.”
“Freddy? I haven’t seen Freddy since he went to prison and I don’t want to. Please, just go away.”
“Miss Winslow, I just want to ask you a couple questions. Alfred was killed two days ago and I’m trying to find out who killed him.”
Julia stood there with her mouth open until a tear rolled down her cheek.
“Yes, I’m afraid he is. Can we talk for a minute?”
“Let’s go in back. I don’t want any customers to see me like this.”
Julia sat down on the couch in what I assumed to be the office and then motioned me to a chair in front of the desk.
“How did it happen? Was he into drugs again?”
“I don’t know how it happened. That’s why I’m here. His file said you were an acquaintance and I thought you might have some information I could use.”
Julia sat down on her couch.
“We were more than friends, or so I thought. He said he’d marry me and we’d move somewhere and start over. When he got arrested for dealing, he said we’d do that as soon as he got out, but I had to start selling for him so we’d have the money to do it. He left my phone number with all his customers and said all I had to do was pick up a supply once a week from this other guy and then wait until people called me. Then I’d meet them in the park. I guess you know how that ended up.”
“Yes, I do. Did you hear from him after he got out?”
“Yeah, when I was in prison. He said he’d decided to go straight and couldn’t see me anymore.”
“How about since you got out?”
“No. I tried calling him, but he’d either moved or gave me the wrong phone number.”
“Can you think of anyone who might want him dead, somebody he talked about or somebody you saw him talking with?”
“No. Freddy was a wuss. He never did anything to make anybody mad at him, well, except for when he dumped me.”
Julia wiped her eyes and then shook her head.
“God I was stupid then. My sister and everybody else tried to tell me Freddy was no good, but I thought if we just moved away so nobody knew what he’d been, he’d change. I should have listened to them. Instead, I have a felony record now, my sister will barely talk to me, and I can’t find a job that pays better than this bookstore.”
I didn’t think Julia had anything more, so I excused myself. She asked if there would be a funeral and I said if no one claimed the body, the city would bury him. She asked if I’d let her know one way or the other. She wanted to be there. It was hard to believe that after what Alfred had done to her she still felt something for him, but apparently she did.
By the time I got back to my desk it was after five. I checked my inbox for anything from Walt or Sally, but there was nothing. As I was walking to my car, I realized I was beat. I’d been banging my head against a wall for two days with no results other than more questions. Going home and cooking wasn’t something I really wanted to do and a TV dinner wasn’t going to cut it either. I drove over to a little jazz bar a few blocks from my apartment. Jacky cooks a great Philly cheese steak sandwich, and I figured one of those with a few fries and a couple of beers would make me feel a lot better.
The sandwich was great like always, and the second beer was starting to relax me. The music was relaxing too. There was no band, just a CD player behind the bar, and the music was that slow jazz full of saxophones and soft trumpets that works great for thinking about something or trying to not think at all. Another song had just started playing when I heard a woman’s voice beside me.
“Is this seat taken?”
She looked about thirty, maybe thirty five, and if she’d been wearing a fancy dress, she could have stepped off the pages of a fashion magazine. As it was, her snug white shorts and tight tank top made her look more exciting than seductive, though she was definitely both. The tight tank top hugged a pair of breasts big enough to make some really nice cleavage in the low cut tank top, but not so big as to be out of proportion. The shorts weren’t all that short, but were cut low in the waist. Her long, slender legs were very nearly perfect and ended up in little red running shoes. Long, auburn hair cascaded in waves over her bare shoulders and framed a face that was both beautiful and a little impish. Her mouth was wide and sensuous, and her smile was infectious.
I had to smile back.
“No. It’s not. Help yourself.”
She did, and in climbing onto the bar stool, her breasts swayed enough I could tell she wasn’t wearing much in the way of a bra. Once she was sitting on the seat, her ass was just as gorgeous as the rest of her. The low cut waist of her shorts slipped down a little and I saw three rhinestones at the joining of the thong back and thin waistband of her panties.
When Wanda, the bartender, stopped in front of her, the woman ordered a beer. Wanda uncapped the longneck, sat the sweating bottle down in front of the woman and then collected the five she’d tossed on the bar. While Wanda was getting her change, the woman tipped up the bottle, swallowed twice, then sat the bottle down and grinned.
“Mmm…that hits the spot. It’s been hot all day and I’m about to melt and run out my shoes. How about you?”
“Yeah, it’s hot. Always is this time of year.”
“Even wearing as little as I am, I feel like a roasted chicken. I don’t know how you can wear that suit and tie. Why do you?”
“It’s department policy.”
“Oh, what kind of department would make you do something like that?”
I watched her face when I told her.
“I’m a detective.”
She didn’t frown like most women always do. She smiled.
“A detective…like in police detective or like in private detective?”
“Like in police detective.”
“Wow. That must be a really interesting job to have.”
I didn’t know why she seemed to want to talk with a man who was probably thirty years older than she was, but she did. I didn’t mind at all. I don’t get many young women saying they’re interested in what I do anymore. They usually avoid any interaction at all once they find out what I do. That smile made it easy to talk to her.
“It can be, sometimes. Sometimes it’s not.”
“I like reading detective novels. It’s the suspense until you find out who the killer really is. Is it like that, really being a detective I mean?”
“Well, usually it’s more of a headache than suspense, but yes. You have to put together all the information you have and see where it leads. Sometimes that’s easy. You have firm evidence to work with like fingerprints and DNA. Sometimes you just have to look at what you have, develop a theory and then see which of your possible suspects fit the theory. Then, you question your suspect. If he’s the guilty one, he’ll usually give it away somehow. If he doesn’t, you go back to square one again.”
She took another swallow from her beer and then turned back.
“In some of my detective novels, the detective doesn’t have a suspect. What do you do then?”
“That’s where the headaches get worse. Usually you can find a motive of some sort. Usually, that’s money, so if you look at the victim’s bank account or talk to people who knew him, you’ll find a motive and a possible suspect. The other big reason is a lover’s quarrel. If it’s some sort of lover’s thing, the victim will have known the killer. If you can’t find a motive, it’s not likely you’ll solve the case unless there are eye witnesses.”
“Has that ever happened to you?”
“Yeah, not often, but it has.”
“What do you do then?”
“The case gets put into a cold case file in hopes that some more evidence will be found that will lead to a suspect and an arrest. When the detective has time, he’ll review that file and see if anything he’s heard or seen since is relevant. If there is, he’ll spend some time checking that out. Once in a while, you get lucky and that something leads you to the perpetrator.”
“I’ll bet your real cases are better than my detective novels. I’d love to hear about some of them, but you probably think I’m being a pest. I should probably leave before you tell me to go away.”
My beer was almost finished and I noticed hers was too. I liked having her sit there and listen to me, and I didn’t really want her to leave.
“No, you’re not being a pest. Most people don’t like talking to cops and it’s nice to find a woman who does. Can I buy you another beer so you’ll stick around?”
“I’d like that, but if you’re going to do that, you probably want to know who I am. I’m Veronica Masters, and you are…?”
After Wanda brought our beers, Veronica took a swallow of hers and then smiled.
“OK, Jerry, what’s the hardest case you ever solved?”
I had to think about that for a while. I’d worked several tough cases over the years. Probably the hardest was one involving a love triangle but it wasn’t like most.
“Well, there was one a few years back that had me stumped for a couple of weeks. This woman called 911 and said she’d found her husband dead on their living room floor. The 911 call was at five thirty in the afternoon, and the uniforms got there fifteen minutes later. The wife was crying her eyes out so they couldn’t get much out of her.
When I got there, there was the guy laid out on his back on the floor with a hatchet sticking out of his forehead. The wife said she came back from shopping and had found him like that. The coroner said the guy had been dead for only about an hour.
“In any killing of a spouse, the other spouse is always the primary suspect, so I questioned her pretty thoroughly. She said she finished shopping at about five and it took her twenty minutes to get home. I checked with the last store she said she’d been at, and their security cameras agreed with her story. That and the fact she was also only four eleven and weighed in the neighborhood of eighty five pounds made me believe her story. I didn’t think she was strong enough to hold the guy down on his back and then kill him with the hatchet.
“When I started talking to the neighbors, I found out another car had been seen on several occasions in the couple’s drive. One neighbor had called the station to complain about loud music and gave us the license number of the car at the house that night.. One of the uniforms drove out, but by the time he got there, the lights were out and the car was gone, so he couldn’t do anything. He did talk to the owner of the car the next day.
The owner of the car was a guy and told the uniform he and the couple had met online and had had a few threesomes. He said the husband was bi and that’s what had attracted him to them. He’d done the wife too, but wasn’t really interested in her. It was the husband he liked.
“When I asked the wife about her husband’s lover, she admitted to participating in their affair as a three-some, but it had gone further than that. She said her husband got off work at three, and on more than one occasion she’d come home from shopping and found them together. She’d begged him to stop meeting the guy alone, and he promised her he would, but when she got home that day their bed was a mess even though she’d made it that morning.
“When I questioned the lover, he said he had been there the day of the murder. He knew the wife didn’t want him to keep seeing her husband, so he left about four while she was still out shopping.
“My theory was at some point the husband told the lover they had to break up. That made the lover mad enough he came to the house on the day the wife did her shopping and killed the husband. I had the lover’s statement that he had been in the house and I had a plausible motive. We arrested the lover and questioned him some more.
“During that questioning, he asked if we hadn’t considered the wife had killed her husband. He said the wife had been hinting to him they should go off by themselves for a weekend without the husband. He didn’t want to do that since he really liked the husband more, but when he said that would make her husband mad, she’d just smiled and said he wouldn’t know. That seemed to me she might have been saying the husband wouldn’t be around. That was another possible motive, so I brought the wife in for another interview.
“To make a long story short, I interviewed the wife again and told her we thought the lover was the killer. She sort of smiled, just for half a second, but that was enough to tell me she wasn’t telling the truth about what happened. If she’d really been a grieving wife, she’d have done anything except smile.
“I asked her if she knew where the hatchet came from. She said it was her husband’s and that he used on camping trips. I’m allowed to lie when I question a suspect in order to get them to tell me the truth. The techs had told me the handle and hatchet head had been wiped clean with some sort of solvent that removed everything, and if she was the killer, the woman would have known that. I said we’d found DNA on the handle of the hatchet that matched the DNA from hairs we’d taken from her hairbrush.
The wife said that wasn’t possible because she’d never touched the hatchet. I just shrugged and said it was nearly impossible to remove all the DNA on an object and that DNA didn’t lie, so she must have. I then said we’d found fingerprints on the hatchet head as well, but couldn’t match them to the lover. I asked if she’d ever been fingerprinted and she said she hadn’t. I told her I’d have to take her to get her fingerprints taken and started to stand up. She started to cry then, and after a few minutes told me what had really happened.
“She wanted to kill her husband but couldn’t figure out a way to do it without implicating herself. She really wanted the lover and she wanted the insurance her husband carried so they’d have some money. She’d come home from shopping earlier that day in order to make sure the lover was there.
He was there just like she’d hoped. She drove on by the house and went to the store she’d told me about, then waited until the time she usually came home from shopping. The lover had gone by then.
She walked into the bedroom and saw the messed up bed just like she figured she would. Then she told her husband she’d tell his boss about his boyfriend if he didn’t start having sex with her instead of another man. Apparently he agreed to do it. She told him she wanted to start right then. He started for the bedroom but she said she wanted it there on the living room floor and told him to lay down on his back in front of the couch. Once he did, she straddled him. While she was playing cowgirl, she pulled the hatchet out from under the couch where she’d hidden it and hit him in the forehead with it.”
“Like they say, ‘Hell hath no fury’.”
“Yeah, but it doesn’t happen that way often and when it does it’s usually not that gory. Women don’t like causing a mess when they kill someone. I could sort of understand though. That woman was raving by the time she finished telling me her story. When I was married, if my wife had liked another woman more than she liked me, I’d have been pretty upset too.”
“I take it you’re not still married.”
“No, and it was my job, not another person. She got tired of waiting to see if I was going to come home every night.”
Veronica put her hand on my arm.
“I’m sorry for asking that. It was none of my business.”
“That’s OK. I got over it a long time ago.”
“Ever thought of finding another woman?”
“Sure, but when I was young enough, I’d have had the same problem. Now, well, most women want a younger man, or so I’ve heard from the women at the station.”
The gentle squeeze on my arm sent a tingle down my spine. What Veronica said then made that tingle spread to my thoughts.
“Not all women want a young man. Some of us like older men.”
She was smiling again, but the smile was different and I wasn’t sure what to make of it.
“I’ve yet to meet one of those women.”
“Maybe you’re not looking hard enough.”
“Well, I guess I don’t know where to look then.”
Veronica stroked my arm.
“You might try looking at me. I like older men.”
It felt really weird to have Veronica sitting in my car when I drove us to my apartment. I consider myself a good judge of people, and it seemed like she was serious when she said she’d like to show me how much she liked older men, but she was young enough to be my daughter. I’d tried to brush off the invitation because of the age difference, but she wouldn’t let me. She just said it was the person who mattered to her and not age.
It felt more weird when I closed the door, turned around, and saw Veronica smiling at me. She draped her arms around my neck, pressed her breasts into my chest and whispered.
“I’m not like the woman in your case. I like having sex on a bed. I like it when a man undresses me too. Think you could do that for me?”
Veronica was sexy in her shorts and tank top. She started getting sensuous and desirable as I undressed her. I’d been right about her not wearing much of a bra. The only bra was the one built into the tank top. Her breasts slipped out of it and flattened a little against her chest when I eased it over her head. She scratched under the left one and then started taking off my tie.
I couldn’t do much more until she got my tie and shirt off except cup those breasts. Veronica shivered at that first touch, but then murmured, ‘Mmm…I like your hands”, as she worked on my shirt buttons.
She pulled it off my shoulders and let it fall to the floor, then put her arms around my neck. I felt her nipples lightly brushing the hair on my chest just before she kissed me. She moaned in my mouth when I cupped her ass cheeks, then eased away and started undoing my belt buckle.
When my pants fell down around my ankles, I felt her hand on my cock, just slowly stroking my shaft.
It wasn’t easy unzipping her shorts with her stroking my cock through my underwear. It was harder getting them off her ass. Veronica helped by doing that hip rocking thing my wife used to do, and when they fell to the floor she slipped off her shoes and stepped out of the shorts.
The thong panty wasn’t really even there. It was just a little wedge of lace over her mound with strings that went over her hips. It caught in the space between her thighs just as I saw the neatly trimmed dark brown curls over her sex. Veronica opened her thighs a little and the thong fell to the floor.
It was hard getting my shoes off with Veronica pressing her breasts into my chest and rubbing that little bush against my thigh, but I managed. Once I’d stepped out of my pants, Veronica pulled the waistband out over my stiff cock and then pulled my underwear down to my feet. She stood up then, grinned, and pulled me down on the bed with her.
I’d forgotten how soft and wonderful a woman’s body can be. Veronica’s breasts were firm, but yielded to my soft squeezes. Her nipples weren’t soft after a few caresses. They were swollen, stiff, and covered with little taut ridges. She moaned quietly when I kissed the dimpled tip of her right nipple, and when I closed my lips around it, I felt her nipple bed tighten into a mass of little ridges and bumps.
When I slipped my hand down her tight belly, it contracted a little. Veronica opened her thighs before I felt the hair on her mound, and as my finger parted her lips, she moaned again. Inside them, I felt small inner lips wet and slippery with arousal. The detective in me said she couldn’t fake that. The man in me said I wanted her, wanted to feel my cock sliding though those wet, slippery lips until our bellies touched.
Veronica’s whispered, “I want you, Jerry. I want you inside me”, told me she wanted the same thing. So did the way she gently pulled on my cock until I was kneeling between her upraised thighs.
Veronica was snug, wonderfully snug and wonderfully slippery at the same time. When I entered her, the ripples of her lips and passage massaged my cock enough to take me to the edge, but not fast enough I’d get there too soon. With every stroke, she’d rock her hips up and my cock would slip a little deeper into those ripples. When I pulled back out, something inside her seemed to be sucking at my cock head. It was the most unbelievable sensation I’d ever had with a woman.
She was helping a lot too. Her hands stroked my back as she made little murmured sounds to tell me she liked what I was doing. After a while, the rocking of her hips got a little more forceful, and once in a while I’d feel her nails raking my back. I thought I’d lose control when those hands grabbed my ass and pulled me into her tight. A second later I did, but that was because Veronica gasped, then dug her heels into the mattress and started to lift us both off the bed.
My cock went deep enough my balls brushed her ass cheeks and I groaned. Veronica pushed up a little higher, moaned, “now, Jerry”, and then began rocking her hips so fast she was stroking herself over my cock rather than the other way around. I felt her passage contract and let myself go.
Veronica was still shaking when I’d shot my last, and I kept feeling little contractions around my cock. She eased back down on the bed, then gasped as another wave swept through her and lifted us both up again. After two more of these, she put her arms around my back, pulled me down on top of her, and locked her mouth to mine.
I’m not sure how long we stayed that way. I remember she kept me cradled between her thighs for a while after my cock slipped out of her. I remember her stroking my back and saying it was everything she’d thought it would be.
I woke up the next morning at five like I always do and rolled over thinking Veronica would still be there. She wasn’t. There was a note on the pillow instead.
“Jerry, I wasn’t lying about liking older men, and I wasn’t faking anything last night. I really wanted to stay with you this morning, but I couldn’t. I’ll find you again as soon as I take care of some things. Until then, just remember me as a woman who found what she’s looking for. I hope you might have found what you’re looking for as well. Veronica.”
If it hadn’t been for the note, I’d probably have chalked it up to one too many beers and a vivid dream. I knew it wasn’t a dream though. Her perfume still lingered on the pillow, and when I got up, her black lace thong panties were there on the floor right where Veronica had stepped out of them. I supposed she left them so I’d remember her.
Remembering Veronica wasn’t a problem, but going to work was hell what with all the thoughts running around in my head. Thankfully, both the FBI fingerprint identification and the results of the DA’s subpoena were in my inbox so I had something to take my mind off Veronica a little.
The FBI had identified the fingerprint as belonging to one Sally Ketterman. That’s all they had, just a name with no picture and no past record or any residence. The subpoena had gotten the DA the name and address of Marjorie Wilson. There were three Marjorie Wilson’s in Nashville listed on the credit reports I ran, but two were over sixty and the other was nineteen. I ran that name through NCIS and came up with nothing.
I was sitting there staring at my notes when a young guy in a suit and tie walked up to my desk. “Detective Donovan”, he asked.
“Yes, I’m Jerry Donovan.”
The guy stuck out his hand. In the other was a badge case with a badge and an ID.
“Mark James, FBI. Pleased to meet you.”
I shook his hand and smiled, but I wasn’t happy. The FBI usually gets involved only when they think the local police can’t handle something, and they’re more than happy to tell you that. I didn’t know what Mark was looking to do, but it probably was going to piss me off. It was department policy to play nice with any Feds, so I tried.
“Pleased to meet you too, Mark. What can I do for you?”
“It’s more what I can do for you. It’s a nice day outside and I saw a park about a block from here. Care for a walk?”
We walked to the park and Mark picked out a park bench set apart from the others. He sad down and smiled.
“You’re probably getting ready to tell me to go fuck myself aren’t you? I don’t blame you. I’d be pissed if somebody from DEA or some other agency horned in one of my cases.”
“That depends upon what you have to say.”
“You’ll like what I say and you won’t like it, so we’ll see which one wins. You’re working on the murder of Alfred Justice aren’t you? I can solve that case for you.”
“Oh, and what makes you think you can do that?”
“I know who the killer is. You’d never figure it out by yourself, not because you’re not a good enough cop, but because she’s so much smarter than any of us are.”
“Yeah. Her name is Susan Winslow. Does that ring any bells?”
“Maybe. Alfred’s girlfriend was Julia Winslow.”
“Julia is Susan’s sister. We’ve been watching for inquiries about Alfred Justice since he got out of prison. She called me and asked where he was living a month after he was released. We knew she’d get to him sooner or later and we’d have to keep her out of trouble when she did.”
“You’re protecting a murderer? What the hell for?”
“From what Susan told us, you’d be protecting her too if you knew.”
I was starting to lose patience.
“What the hell does that mean? I’ve never protected a criminal in my whole career.”
“I believe you know a woman named Veronica Masters? That’s a name she uses sometimes. She wanted to meet the detective working on Alfred’s murder to see if you’d be able to solve it. We called your captain and got your name. She followed you yesterday until you stopped off at that bar.
From what I gather, she was impressed but didn’t think you’d figure it out. I don’t know what else happened because she just said you two had talked and she thought she was safe. Knowing her psychological profile like I do, I suspect you did more than talk. Veronica’s taste in men tends toward the older side of the spectrum, no offence intended to you. The psychiatrists at the Bureau say it has something to do with losing her father when she was young.”
“Veronica is my killer?”
“Well, yes, but we’d rather it didn’t show that on your report. That would potentially reveal some things the Bureau would rather stayed out of the public view. I have an alternative for you that will solve your case and keep the Bureau happy at the same time.
“There was an accident this morning on I-65 involving a truck and a semi. The truck is the same truck that someone might have seen going into the alley where Alfred was killed.
“The woman driver of the truck was killed and by now is in your morgue. The semi ran right over the driver’s side of the truck, so your coroner is going to have a hard time determining the cause of death. He will be able to get a set of prints. I’m pretty certain if your coroner sends them to the FBI for identification, they’ll come back as belonging to Sally Ketterman.
“Your techs will also find some clothes in the back of that truck. When they do a DNA analysis, they’ll find the DNA is a match to Alfred. They won’t need the condom that’s there, but they can test it if they want. They’ll get the same results – inside will be Alfred’s DNA, the DNA on the outside will match the DNA your coroner takes from Sally’s body.
“Sally has a long history with the FBI. If it wasn’t for your murder, we’d never have caught up with her. She’s almost completely insane, but she’s not stupid. Sally’s mother was a prostitute who catered to the rough side of sex, if you know what I mean. She was beaten up pretty bad by one of her johns who got a little too rough. Sally sort of snapped when she found that out, and she decided all johns and pimps needed killing. She’s been doing a dozen a year for the last five years.
“Did I say she has a black belt in Karate? No? Well she does. Got it after her mom was beat up. Her MO is to entice the guy into her truck and then drive somewhere private. She strips naked and tells the guy he has to do the same. While he’s doing his thing with her she punches him in the belly and then the throat to kill him, then dumps him out of the truck and leaves him there. Does that sound like your scenario with Alfred?”
“Yes, but it’s all bullshit. We already ran the fingerprint from Alfred’s neck. It came back as Sally Ketterman, but with no picture and no record.”
Mark grinned. I was beginning to hate that grin and smile.
“Ah, yes, but that was yesterday. When your coroner sends in the full set of prints, they’ll come back as Sally Ketterman, and you’ll get a different set of data. That data will be what I just told you. You’ll have your killer, a motive, and you won’t have to go to trial. That’ll wrap your case up a couple days before you retire if your Captain was right about that.”
“The FBI caused the accident and faked the files to match my murder?”
“All I can tell you is what I know for certain. The clerk who was supposed to update the file on Sally Ketterman forgot to do it. As for the accident, what I think is the woman was dead before the accident. She probably had a heart attack and turned into the path of the semi. I’d bet that’s what your coroner is going to say too.”
“What makes Veronica or Susan or whoever she is so important you’d go to all that trouble?”
“Again, I’m not saying we did anything, but if we did, I can’t tell you that because I don’t know. All I can say is that Susan is a special person in a lot of ways. Her IQ is extremely high, higher than mine and I’m a member of Mensa. She also has a unique history. Her father was doing all right in oil back in the day. He and his wife had two daughters, Susan and Julia. Susan wasn’t the girly girl that Julia was, so her father sort of treated her like a son in some ways. When Susan was in college and Julia was still in high school, someone tried to buy her father’s oil interests. He wasn’t interested in selling.
“The local LEO’s found him shot inside his office when they were investigating how his holding tanks caught fire and burned. It was made to look like a suicide, but Susan figured out it wasn’t. She called her Congressman and he got the FBI involved. We found the killer along with a pistol that matched the bullet that killed Susan’s father in an abandoned warehouse in Houston. He’d had his larynx crushed by a single punch to the throat.
Susan and Julia were both suspects since they lived in the area and had a possible motive, but when we started putting two and two together, we narrowed it down to Susan. She’d finished college by then with degrees in mechanical engineering and biology, and had earned a third dan black belt in her spare time.
“When we questioned Susan, she didn’t try to deny killing the guy. She just said any man who would do something like that deserved to die, and that her father would understand why she’d done it.
We were ready to charge her when we got a call from the Director. He said he wanted to talk to Susan before we charged her, so we took her to his office. An hour later, he escorted her out of the building and let her go. We were instructed to give him all our case files and notes.
“I don’t know what they talked about and I don’t think I want to. What I do know is that from time to time, we see a case like Alfred’s. The victims are all men we know are dirty. Many are in the drug trade. A few have been into sex trafficking, and several have been contract killers hired by the drug cartels.
We’d never been able to get deep enough into their organizations to get enough evidence to arrest them. Either that or they’d leave the country so we couldn’t touch them. I can’t say Susan has anything to do with those murders, but they all were killed in the same way, and it started about six months after she talked with the director.”
I shook my head.
“Alfred wasn’t into any of that as far as I can tell. He’d gone straight.”
“Yes, he had, but he’s the reason Julia went to prison. We recorded a phone call between Julia and Susan while she was there. Susan told Julia she wouldn’t regret Alfred breaking it off, and that she’d never see him again. We took that as a threat and started watching Alfred’s file. I know Susan killed him because she told me so yesterday.”
It was a hard decision, but I’d sworn to uphold the law and I’d never broken that oath.
“Then tell me where she is so I can arrest her. I can’t just drop the case because you’ve made up a story about a woman who was conveniently killed in a traffic accident.”
Mark didn’t smile when he spoke. If he had, I’d have punched him in the face.
“I can’t tell you where she is because even though I’m her handler, I don’t know. We never know where she is or what she’s doing. My orders are to intercept any inquiries relating to her and change things so she’s no longer involved, so that’s what I do. From time to time, she calls me to give me information I might need, but she never uses the same phone number. The Director probably knows about where she is because he’s the only one who can contact her, but I doubt he’d tell you.
My personal opinion is Susan’s his ace in the hole when a bad guy needs to go down but we can’t find a legal way to do it. That’s just an opinion, and I’ll deny ever saying it if you should call me on it, just like I’ll deny ever saying anything else I’ve told you.”
Two days before I retired, I did the hardest thing I’d ever done throughout my career. Everything Mark said about the accident victim’s prints was true. Walt sent in the full set of prints from the accident victim and they came back as belonging to Sally Ketterman. The rap sheet was twenty pages of investigations into murders of pimps and men known to associate with prostitutes who had all died the same way as Alfred. There were no arrests because there was never enough evidence up until the accident.
Inside the woman’s truck, the tech’s found Alfred’s clothes and one used condom. DNA from both matched Alfred’s just like Mark said it would.
I wrote all that up in my report and took it to the Captain to sign. He congratulated me on a job well done. I knew better, but I also knew enough not to tell him about my conversation with Mark. Mark left me after saying sometimes it was better not to question things that were good for the country even if that meant I didn’t like it. He’d also said the FBI wouldn’t look favorably on someone who didn’t follow their lead. I took that for the advice it was.
After my retirement party, I put my car on a trailer behind the moving truck I’d rented and drove up into the mountains of East Tennessee. My little cabin there was cozy and sat in the middle of fifty acres beside a trout stream. I wanted to spend the rest of my life away from everything I’d lived with over the years, and that little cabin and the birds in the trees and deer that grazed in the meadow behind the cabin in the morning were perfect for doing that. I’d bought the place when I made detective, and the mortgage was paid off.
Two months after that, it was getting chilly at night, so I had a fire going in the fireplace. I’d just put two more split logs on the fire when there was a knock on my door. My watch said it was nine, and nobody would be up there at that time of night to make a social call. I got my nine mil from the holster on the table and walked over to the door as the person knocked again.
When I opened the door, there stood Veronica with her smile on her face.
“Hi, Jerry. Are you going to ask me in or do I have to stand out here and freeze?”
“I don’t know. Are you here to kill me like you did Alfred?”
“No, Jerry. I came here to explain some things. Can I come in?”
Over coffee, she told me a lot of things, and I started to understand her. I didn’t like it, but I was starting to understand.
“When Daddy was killed, I knew they’d never catch the guy. The cops in Houston were looking in the wrong place. They were looking at the guy who tried to buy Daddy out. The guy did try to do that, but he didn’t have Daddy killed. It was one of the union bosses from the company that trucked Daddy’s oil to the refinery. He wanted a percentage instead of a flat fee. If they’d listened to me, they’d have known that, but they thought I was just a kid and they knew better. I decided since they weren’t doing anything, I would.
“I’m smart, Jerry, really smart, and I can change my appearance from plain and dumpy to what you saw that night in that bar. It took me six months, but I found out who killed Daddy and I made him pay. When the FBI figured it out, I didn’t want to deny it. I was proud of myself for doing it and I was ready to accept whatever they were going to do to me.
“I didn’t know it then, but the Director of the FBI had been looking for a special person for a long time, and one of the agents interrogating me secretly reported directly to him. I found that out when I talked with the Director. He told me he could use someone with my intelligence and skills and would let me go if I agreed to be that person.
“Well, I didn’t want to go to prison, so I asked him to explain what he meant. I think Mark told you indirectly what that was. Mark didn’t know for sure and still doesn’t, but he figured it out. He’s been protecting me ever since by changing files that needed to be changed and by talking detectives like you into changing their reports.
“So, I made love to a contract killer that night?”
“No, Jerry, you made love to Susan Winslow. I hope you still like her, even if it’s just a little. I met you there to figure out if you were getting close to me, but once I got to know you a little better, I decided I really liked you. I know Mark told you about my thing for older men. I’ve felt that way since Daddy was killed. I don’t know why, but it’s the way I am.”
The morning afterwards, I decided I wanted to keep seeing you, but that would have been awkward since you were trying to find me. I hope you can understand why after you talked with Mark. I really do want to keep seeing you…all the time.”
“How am I supposed to do that if you keep on doing what you’ve done? I can’t turn a blind eye to that even if it’s good for the country. I’m not a cop anymore, but I still believe in the law.”
“That’s the other thing I came up here to tell you. Alfred had to pay for what he did to Julia. I had to wait until he got out of prison, but he was the last. I quit as soon as Mark told me you’d closed Freddy’s murder case. I’m done with that and done with the FBI. I’m just Susan now, not Veronica or Judy or Michelle or any of the other women I’ve been before.”
I shook my head.
“They’ll find you and make you keep doing it.”
“No, they won’t even look for me. How do you think it would look if my lawyer gave the court and the press proof of what the Director of the FBI did and the things he told me to do? He probably would be in prison, don’t you think?”
“Yes, but how would you do that? They’d just change the records to fit what they want.”
“Yes, they’d do that, but I’m smart enough to have figured that out from the first day. I never told anybody, even the Director, where I lived. That was part of our agreement and I moved around a lot so they’d never be able to find me. I know they tried, but they never did. They gave me a special cell phone that was his only way to contact me and I recorded every conversation we had.
“I have him recorded telling me such and such a person needed to disappear or to have an accident of some sort. I have him recorded congratulating me on completing the job. I have him telling me how much they deposited in my Swiss bank account. I have a lot of money, by the way. They were very generous. I figure a court would be very interested in that bank account and could trace where the money came from since I’d help them.
“They won’t need to come looking for me anyway. They have another woman now. She’s a former CIA agent who went off the deep end after her partner was killed by terrorists. You’ll probably read about what she’s doing one of these days because she’s a little sloppy. You’d think they’d pick some woman who’s not nutty as a fruitcake, but I guess they don’t care as long a she gets the job done.”
“They might ask her make sure you can’t do that, just like they asked you to take care of their other problems.”
“No, they won’t do that either. When I quit, I made sure to tell them my lawyer had all the recordings in a safe place. The Director called him and confirmed he had the recordings and my written notes. I also told him there were lawyers in fifteen other states with the same information. If I don’t call each of them once a month, they all have instructions to send copies of everything to the press. They also talk to each other every month, so if one happens to have an accident of some sort, the rest will all send their information to the press.”
I looked at her smile. It was another different smile. This one looked like she was begging me to say what she wanted. I found myself wanting that too, but I was still a little leary.
“Susan…is that what I should call you now?”
“How many were there?”
“Do you really want to know that? Does it make a difference?”
“I don’t know. It’s just that I’ve never met a woman who was a contract ki…a woman like you before. I don’t even know if I should trust you after what you did.”
“Jerry, I’m just a woman who did what she had to do at the time. I’m not crazy like you’re probably thinking. No crazy woman could do what I’ve done without getting caught. I’m not her anymore. I’m just a woman who wants to stay with you if you’ll let me. I can’t help you trust me if you won’t let me stay. Will you let me at least spend the night so I don’t have to walk back down the mountain in the dark?”
“You walked up here? It’s ten miles from town.”
Her old smile came back.
“Yes, but I had a good reason. I wanted to be with you and I didn’t want anybody to be able to identify my car. I took the bus and it doesn’t come up here.”
“Susan, I’m thirty years older than you are.”
“No, just nineteen. I’m forty six. It’s the makeup and all the hours in a gym that make me look younger, but I don’t care about age anyway. Well, I do care, but it’s a good caring. Can I stay?”
Susan spent that night with me, and I couldn’t make myself tell her to leave the next morning. After a week, I didn’t want her to leave. After a month, I couldn’t imagine not having her there.
It wasn’t the sex, though that was really great. It was her – how she thought and how she wanted to please me and how she relaxed into the life I’d chosen to live. I didn’t have a TV and Susan didn’t care. I didn’t go to town except for once a month for groceries. Susan said she’d rather stay in our cabin anyway. All that winter, I’d build up the fire in the fireplace and we’d cuddle on the couch and watch the fire die while listening to some soft music.
I know that sounds a little weird for a man as old as I am to cuddle with such a young woman, but Susan made it seem natural. That’s part of her doing I guess. She’s making me feel young again. I know I do feel younger than when I retired. It’s a mental thing but it translates into the physical too. We started taking walks the second day she was there and in a month I’d lost ten pounds and felt better than I had in years.
Susan once said I was getting her “second hand” because the FBI had already screwed her for all those years. I just laughed and said she was getting me second hand too because people had screwed with me the whole time I was a cop. I guess we’re just two second hand people who found each other and gave each other a new start.
Sometimes, second hand can be better than brand new. You know what you’re getting and you know it’s held up even though it’s been used. That’s more than most people ever get. It’s more than either of us ever hoped for.