Thel came over with Renz’s coffee and waffle, and maple syrup in a container that looked like one of those little liquor bottles the airlines give you.
“This,” Thel said, tapping the bottle’s cap with a chipped, red-enameled nail, “is good stuff. Straight from the tree.”
“I believe you, sweetheart,” Renz said.
When she’d walked away, he slathered his waffle with butter, then poured the little bottle’s entire contents over it.
“We’ve got us a serial killer,” he said to Quinn, “but the media’s not onto it yet. Except for Cindy Sellers, who’s sitting on it.”
“How many victims?”
“Doesn’t sound like enough to make a serial killer.”
“They were both killed in identical, distinctive ways.”
“Then you have the bodies.”
It wasn’t a question. Renz picked up knife and fork and attacked his breakfast. “Parts of them,” he said. “Well, that’s not quite accurate,” he amended through a mouthful of waffle. “We’ve got just their torsos.”
He swallowed, then smacked his lips together in appreciation. “This stuff is yummy.”
Which seemed a strange thing for a bloodhound to say, especially one who was police commissioner, but there it was.
Thel sashayed over with some more coffee immediately when Renz had forked in his last bite of waffle, probably because he’d called her sweetheart.
She returned to behind the counter.
“Shot with the same gun,” Renz said, pushing away his empty plate. He dipped a finger into the residue of syrup and licked, then took a sip of coffee. Not in a rush. Relishing his tale. “Twenty-two-caliber hollow point, through the heart.”
“Big enough. The M.E. says the wounds were fatal, but the victims might have taken a while to die. Could be they were finished off with shots to the head. Not having the heads, we wouldn’t know.”
“Nah. Pro wouldn’t go to all the trouble of dismembering the bodies.”
Quinn figured that was true. Then he cautioned himself not to come to any conclusions so soon.
“The other thing,” Renz said, “is that both women were sexually violated by a long, sharply pointed instrument. Not a knife, more like a stake.”
“Tell me that happened after they died,” Quinn said.
“It did according to Nift.” Nift was Dr. Julius Nift, a skillful but verbally brutal medical examiner. “Nift seemed disappointed by this glimmer of mercy in the killer.”
“More like convenience,” Quinn said. “Easier to bring down a victim with a bullet before going to work with a sharp instrument.”
“That’s why you the man,” Renz said. “You can slip right into the minds of these sick creeps.”
“Into yours, too.”
“You figure he does that thing with the sharp stake or whatever ’cause he can’t get it up?”
“There you go.”
Renz licked some more syrup off a finger and smiled at Quinn. “So whaddya say?”
“We’re on,” Quinn said. “I’ll call Feds and Pearl.”
Feds was retired homicide detective Larry Fedderman.
Pearl was…well, Pearl.
And that could be a problem.
Pearl was short and curvaceous, buxom, and even in her gray uniform looked almost too vivid to be real. Perfect pale complexion. Black, black hair and eyes. White, white perfectly even large teeth. And there was a kind of energy about her that seemed as if it might attract paper clips if she got close to them.
She watched the man over at the table where the deposit and withdrawal slips were filled out. He seemed to be taking a long time filling out whichever he’d chosen, and he kept glancing around the bank.
Sixth National Bank was an older institution and boasted lots of marble, walnut paneling, and polished brass. Behind the long row of tellers’ cages the great vault’s open door was visible, like the entrance to the nineteenth century. This was the kind of bank where if anything changed it was with the slowness of molasses dripping on a cold day, and you just knew your money was safe.
Pearl liked being a bank guard at Sixth National. It was like a relaxed version of being a cop. The uniform might be gray instead of blue, but it was a uniform. You spent a lot of time on your feet, and many of the required skills were the same. If only the pay were better. But she wasn’t complaining. She’d probably never remove the gun on her hip from its holster. Even if one of these days somebody like the dork at the walnut writing table really was casing the bank, or about to present a teller with a note informing him or her of a stickup.
And if it ever did happen, hell, Pearl was ready.
The guy who’d been writing so laboriously, a skinny dude with a sleeveless shirt and lots of tattoos—the washed-out blue kind they got in prison—finally left the table and sauntered over to one of the tellers. He handed the teller what looked like a deposit slip and some cash.
Pearl relaxed and moved back to stand against the wall, out of the way of the customers. She did keep a wary eye on Mr. Tattoos, though.
Her cell phone, on a belt clip near her nine millimeter, buzzed and vibrated. She tucked in her chin and glanced down at it, holding it at an angle so she could see the display.
She unclipped the phone and flipped up the lid so she could speak.
“Hello, Quinn,” she said simply.
“I’ve got a proposition,” said the voice on the phone.
“Been there, done that,” Pearl said.
Her gaze returned to the tattooed guy and the teller, a woman named Judy. Judy was twentyish and chubby and had a round, pretty face that usually didn’t display much emotion except at lunchtime. She was frowning now at Mr. Tats. Were they arguing?
“What kind of proposition?” Pearl asked, trying to hurry this along.
“Renz came by to see me. Seems there’s a serial killer operating in the city. The news hasn’t reached the media yet, but it’s about to pop. Cindy Sellers of City Beat is sitting on it and about to release it.”
Pearl remembered Cindy Sellers, a hard-ass little brunette who tended to move fast in straight lines.
Well, maybe the same could be said of Pearl.
“A serial killer could be harmful to Renz’s career,” Pearl said.
“Not if he’s responsible for nailing the killer. Or seems to be. Then his career gets a major boost. He wants me to reassemble the team and try to achieve that result.”
“He’s already police commissioner. What more does he want?”
“Long term, I don’t think we want to know. Whatever his motivation, he wants us on the hunt again.”
Throughout the conversation, Pearl had kept watching Mr. Tattoo and Judy. They were arguing. Judy’s round face was pale and she looked uncharacteristically furious, obviously trying to keep her cool. The guy with the tats was leaning toward her doing most of the talking.
“Yeah,” she said,