The 9th Hour (The Detective Temeke Crime Series Book 1) (10 page)

SIXTEEN

 

 

Temeke put the evidence on the backseat of the Explorer and nodded at Malin. “Morning drill,” he said, slipping a cigarette between his lips. “Need a smoke and a think. Meet me at the end of the drive.”

He had a few long puffs as he listened to the rain pattering on the roof of his house, driven by a sudden gust of wind. Albuquerque, the city of roadrunners, of chile, of lobos, where one heard the dialects of Spain and Mexico. Where a menace lurked beneath the enormous sky – one who spoke none of those languages and who wiped away all evidence of his very existence.

He stood in the beam of Malin’s headlights, flicked the lighted cigarette in next door’s dumpster, half hoping it would go up in smoke and take away the stench of old socks. It wouldn’t be the first time the thing caught fire. He’d thrown a lighted smoke in there a couple of weeks ago not knowing the neighbor had discarded an oily rag from his garage only moments before. The blaze was spectacular. And so was the heat.

He jumped into the car, noting Eriksen’s files still sitting between the handbrake and the console. “Find anything?”

“I’ve been thinking, sir. The ninth hour doesn’t mean the number of hours the victims were missing before they were killed. It means the hour of day.
Any
day.”

Temeke stared ahead through the windshield, watching the flash of traffic lights as they sped past. “Nine o’clock in the morning or nine o’clock at night?”

“That depends.”

“On what?”

“On whether you're talking about Jewish or Gentile time.”

“What's the difference?”

“From a Jewish perspective, the day begins at six o’clock in the evening and ends twenty-four hours later. So that means the ninth hour of the day would be three o'clock in the afternoon. Jesus of Nazareth is said to have breathed his last breath at the ninth hour – three hours before the day ended.”

“Well, that’s excellent news, Malin. Hackett will be pleased.”

“Can’t you see? It gives us more time.”

“It’s a gamble,” he said, arranging his cigarettes within easy reach and flicking a match into life. He felt the heat of Malin’s eyes as they searched his face, his mouth, his body. He began to wonder if she had come at Hollister with those large staring eyes all excited and dribbling.

Once a stripper, always a stripper
,
he thought, hoping she wouldn’t push him in a tight corner and take off her top. She’d be disappointed if she did. Boobs did nothing for him. Never had. It was the ass he liked. And hers was as flat as a park bench.

“Let’s get one thing straight,” he said. “No lies, all right?”

“I don’t lie, sir.”

“Hollister was your boyfriend, wasn’t he? Only he got mad when you signed up to be an escort on the Internet. Can’t stand a woman getting the better of him. Sounds a bit like the nutcase we’ve got inside. Gawd!” he shouted, feeling the heat on his finger before shaking out the flame.

The car came to a screeching halt at the side of the road, rocks splattering against the side fenders. The seatbelt dug into his belly, squeezing out an almost audible belch.

“Cussing I can take,” hissed Malin between clenched teeth. “Blaspheme and you’ll be walking home.”

Temeke shrank back from the onslaught but Malin was still on the attack, eyes black and glittering. He gave a half-hearted flutter of his hand. “I’m very sorry. I’m not at my best when I’m hungry.”

“You’re not at your best at any time.”

As usual Malin was driving too fast, and Temeke was seriously beginning to like her. Her mood showed in her driving, swerving out onto Highway 550, twisting the wheel as they took the onramp to I-25.

He didn’t mind seeing as ten minutes later they were sitting in a rest stop eating hot burritos and drinking coffee. She knew how to keep a man’s stomach in order, knew when his needle was past hungry. His last partner ate refried beans and hot Doritos, and the air was ranker than dog breath.

“Looks like that shirt’s been at the bottom of your laundry basket,” she said, talking at last.

“It beats a deerstalker and cape.” Temeke lit another cigarette. “This car is going to be our home for the next few days. We’ll be tired and covered in sand. You’ll spray whatever feminine stink you’ve got secreted in that duffle of yours and I’ll smell like a pair of old socks.”

He heard the ring of laughter over the scrunching of paper, and he watched her ball the bags and toss them into a nearby trash can.

“Catching this guy is our number one priority,” he said, sighing a cloud of smoke. “Time you talked to Morgan. Time you gave him a real taste of Norway. Time he told us who he really is.”

“You got a little sassy since you got the night off, sir,” she said.

Temeke never felt his smile waver. “Got a little
sleep
since I got the night off.”

“There’s something about him,” she said, face thin and nervous. “Creepy. You know.”

“They’re all creepy,
you know
.” Temeke almost railed at her stupidity and then decided to stay calm. “He likes the dark ones.”

“He hates the dark ones. He probably hates women. He’s a monster.”

“Like it or not, that monster’s the difference between finding a body and solving the case. Every day’s the same. You have to sniff the dirt like a dog each time you find a fresh kill. That’s the way we find the deeper mysteries. But if you’re scared, that fresh kill might just be you.”

Temeke caught the forced smile, the hand that strayed to anchor a strand of loose hair. He continued to watch her with an uneasy silence,
uneasy
for her. “This isn’t a bullet you can dodge, Marl, not with all the competition out there for a job like yours. No criminal has a face. This one’s no different.”

At least that’s how he dealt with it. No face, no personality. Just a layer of membrane that barely puckered each time it spoke. It was the eyes that gave it all away, eyes that never lit up even when the mouth dared to smile.

“I found a few strange things in Eriksen’s file,” she murmured.

“You’ve gone and done your homework.” He was glad she had.

“He says the dark ones are the dwarves, the swindlers of the blood of Kvasir. Norse mythology, sir.”

“It’s all superstitious drivel. What’s all this swindling of blood?”

“Kvasir was killed by two dwarves. They drained him of his blood and mixed it with honey to make the mead of wisdom. Maybe that’s what Eriksen did to these victims. Drained them of blood to make wine. And the heads? The only thing I can find about a severed head giving wisdom is the head of Mimir.”

Temeke didn’t know what to make of it. He didn’t know what to make of Malin. A few minutes ago, she was spitting red sparks and now she was wistful, pleasant. He was glad though. He could have landed one of those beefy blond partners with a chest like a tugboat bumper.

“He’ll keep killing unless we find him,” he said, trying to keep his mind on the matter. “One a month, just like he promised.”

“Got any leads?”

“Not unless the doctor comes back with a match. Incidentally, I found a nice little gift on my doorstep this morning. A thigh bone. Human. It’s on the backseat if you want to take a look at it.”

Malin curled her lip. “Is it all―”

“Clean as a whistle.”

“Who would do a thing like that?”

“Saw a car pulling away. Thought it was kids at first.”

Temeke took another sip of coffee, watching a blur of mesa to the west and a wilderness of browns and sage greens. He’d been wondering who the driver of the car was all morning, wondering why he hesitated in the road. For a moment he couldn’t shake the feeling that he was being hunted by a wax doll infused with supernatural rage.

He saw a whole realm of possibilities he had never thought of before. If the killer was following him it wouldn’t be a bad thing. Nothing wrong with lying in wait. It was knowing just where to lie. And let’s face it, with all this driving around the killer would never find him.

Temeke began to wonder if his suspect was like a wolf in a forest. Someone who could pick up the scent of a deer, knowing how many there were before he saw them. A man who killed without regret or compassion. A man who was unafraid, invincible.

Temeke would learn to be the same. To believe he had limitless stamina, to not feel the cold, to not feel anything. Rarely had he ever witnessed a killer’s face without that faraway stare as if they had been pulled back to the past and into the worst possible pain.

This killer hadn’t accounted for Temeke’s skill at tracking. After all, he was a hunter too.

SEVENTEEN

 

 

Ole yawned and lifted his head. Sunlight crept through a gap in the blinds and he realized he had overslept.

He remembered the call he made to the police department yesterday, when he put on his best American accent and asked for Luis Alvarez. Captain Fowler wouldn’t tell him much except that he was on leave for ten days. Depending on when he left, Ole calculated Alvarez could be back in a week. It wasn’t long to wait.

He thought about the bone. He couldn’t for the life of him remember who it belonged to, nor did he care. It was torn off a victim as easy as a drumstick and then he washed it, scrubbed it, and wrapped it in newspaper. Who more deserving than Detective Temeke to receive such a gift?

Probably be on the news.

He stretched his legs and sat up against a nest of pillows, grabbed the remote and turned on the TV. A power outage in Belen, a new currency law, and the divorce of a famous boxer.

Ole’s mind drifted to the detective’s house. He remembered the road all the way to Fourth and half a mile in, a narrow farm track to 9723 Guadalupe Trail. He parked outside a small white house with a sparkling green lawn so neatly clipped it would put any golf course to shame. A fake lawn so the man of the house wouldn’t need to mow it.

It wasn’t hard to vault over the back wall, keep his footprints to the perimeter and ply the stash of weed from the backyard downspout. Sitting in his car, he tore into the duct tape, crushed the leaves between his fingers and took a long lasting sniff.

He rolled a joint right there and then. No one could see him in the Camaro, dark tinted windows and shiny black paint. It was like a stealth bomber hovering amongst the trees, headlights at full beam. What a night of surprises. He’d just have to do it again sometime.

The vision faded as he stared at the TV. There was no news. Not even a postmortem report. He was a celebrity who had struck nine times and not even a ticker-tape announcement at the bottom of the screen.

Cursing loudly, he swung his legs out the bed, looked at the white phone on the bedside table and smiled. The girl stirred beside him, red lipstick smeared across her face. In the back of his mind there was a twisted morsel of hatred, the surging delight in finishing it just before she woke up. Even his hands itched, those strong hands that could easily twist off the stubborn lid of a pickle jar.

Killing her wouldn’t be gentlemanly. Not before breakfast. Not before seeing how she looked at him, smiled at him, longed for him. And when she knew what he was, she would lie to him. Offer to call that cop-of-a-pop, reassure him she was OK, tell him she was in love. That she had run away.

That was the best of plans. The police would never find her, never suspect. And he could enjoy her all the more until he got tired of her. It was a simple noose for easy game. Hell, rabbits were smarter than this.

Leaving the phone by the bed and just within reach was half the fun. So he showered and went downstairs. Naked. He never felt hot or cold like most people did. Standing in front of a long mirror in the hallway, he studied his thighs, his belly, his chest. Blond hair settled around the nape of his neck, flipped out in a razor cut. Sunlight caught in his dark blue eyes and settled on the cusp of his cheekbones. He almost sobbed when he saw it. The pale skin, the ginger eyebrows, the sideways smile.

Morgan.

He found the cell phone in the bread bin and dialed the Penitentiary of New Mexico. The phone would be long gone by the time they traced it, washed down a storm drain like all the others.

The blood flooded to his brain when he heard Morgan’s voice, felt the tingling in the veins of his face. His conscience should have been killing him.

“Where’s Patti? What have you done with her?”

“Done with her?” Ole almost laughed. “Having a picnic, I should say, under the first tower.”

“What do you mean?”

“Where a car can soar over the crest line, spanning wider than a man’s hand.” Ole stopped to listen to Morgan’s brain as it rattled to understand. “They’ll be letting you out soon.”

“When?”

“Trust me. They’ll be letting you out. I have something they want. Something very special.”

“You don’t know the detective. He’s a tracker. He’ll take you down slowly. Those are the rules of his game.”

Ole felt a nudge of jealousy. “He doesn’t hunt, not like I do.”

“You’re a fool if you think you can win this.”

Ole could hear panic and a trace of hatred. It wouldn’t be long before the detective picked away at Morgan’s flesh until there was nothing left. “Killers belong together,” he crooned. “Like brothers.”

“We’re not brothers. They know we’re not brothers.”

“They don’t know anything.”

“They know I didn’t do it.”

The tiny red numerals of the digital clock told Ole to ring off. He knew they were listening to him. He knew they were tracing him.

He snapped the phone back in the bread bin, craned his head round at a sound. A creak on the staircase and the subtle pop of a joint.

The girl was awake. In a way it excited him.

He let his head drop to one side, listening for the familiar whisper of carpet underfoot, the unmistakable catch of her breath. The soft rustle of clothes, the rasp of a zipper, all these things he heard as he took an anchor chain and two screw shackles from the hall closet. When he reached the top of the stairs there she was, standing in the shadows.

“Becky,” he whispered. “Were you listening?”

She shook her head, eyes glistening, mouth slack.

He lunged for her then, clasping her around the waist with monstrous arms strong enough to rip her apart. Felt her lean toward him, heard her whisper.

“Please let me go.”

He didn’t answer. Didn’t need to. He wanted to delay the killing this time, delighting in the texture of her skin, the beat of her heart. It would soon be the last vibration of consciousness.

“They know I’m missing,” she said, wrestling with the shackles. There was a frown on her forehead when she said it, pupils large and black. “My dad knows where I am.”

“No,” he said, brushing a stray strand of hair out of her face, the tear under one eye. “He doesn’t know where you are.”

It hadn’t occurred to him to dress. After all, killing was always best done naked. No evidence. There was a radiant glow about her face he hadn’t noticed before and a distant stare.

She was a fragile flame in his cold world and the more he thought about it, the more he longed for that first spurt of blood, sometimes on his cheeks, sometimes on his lips.

“Please!” she almost yelled.

He tied her to the bedhead, wrists pinned neatly in the shackles with a screwdriver. It was a good job, he thought as he took one last look.

“I promise I won’t tell anyone,” she said, tugging at the chain. “I won’t. I hate the police, always have. They’ve never been good to me. I’ve wanted to run away since I was eight.”

“So you have.”

“No, you don’t understand. Let me call my dad. I can tell him I ran away with you. That I’m in love.”

There it was. The unimaginative things they always said. Same old, same old.

“You be a good girl, now,” he said, holding up a finger. “Not a sound.”

He knew how she must have felt. A tingling in her chest, a clenching of the stomach. Lightheadedness perhaps.

All in a good day’s work.

“Ole, I can help you,” she said. “I can…”

The girl’s voice was soothing and strange. Sometimes it reminded him of the legends his mother told when he was a child. She had a voice he would never forget. A light that would never go out.

He dressed slowly in Morgan’s clothes, held them up to his nose sometimes to inhale the scent. His mind began to scan over words, columns, photographs, as if turning the pages of his own headlines. Episodes returned in no particular order, screaming mouths, rasping breaths, clammy skin. He couldn’t recall them all, except one.

Kizzy… Kizzy Williams. Daughter of Darryl Williams of 5024 Timoteo Avenue on the west side of town. A place of curiosity. Nice house. Shame about the bell tower.

It was more than a bell tower. There was a motion detector that set off a floodlight, illuminating the courtyard and the sweeping drive. He knew because he had been watching the house for weeks. Watching Kizzy’s older sister, the girl Morgan was supposed to have taken in the first place.

The arroyo was just sand and scrub, and unless the Williams man had the audacity to raise his block wall, there was virtually nothing to stop anyone climbing in.

He pulled on a pair of shoes under faded jeans and slipped his gun in his belt. Grabbing a set of keys, he took one last look at the girl on the bed. She was quite beautiful in the early morning sun, hair burnished copper… just like Patti’s.

He said nothing as he locked the bedroom door, engaging two deadbolts before hurrying downstairs. The living room was still dark behind closed blinds, kitchen darker still.

He could see in the dark, prided himself on the fact. Settling at the kitchen table, he watched the wall above the countertop where a sleek white phone hung by the door. Chin resting in one hand, he counted to five. And then came the moment he was hoping for. The blinking light, the static when he lifted the receiver.

She was on the other line.

A girl’s voice, shrill and distant as if she kept turning her head to see if someone was coming. “Temeke, it’s me.”

“Becky… Where are you?”

“I don’t know.” Sobbing. “I don’t know where I am.”

“Who are you with?”

“He’s gone. I don’t know why I did this. I don’t know why―”

“Give me his name. Becky. His name.”

“Ole…”

“Describe where you are? When you look out of the window, what do you see?”

“A sloping roof, a pool… pine trees.”

“Houses?”

“Yes, between the trees.”

“What type of houses?”

“Adobe… brick… iron gates.”

“Can you hear anything?”

“No.” More sobbing and then, “He’s going to kill me.”

“Becky, describe the house, describe where you are.”

“In the bedroom.”

“Can you get out?”

“No. I’m chained to the bed.”

“Stay with me. Stay on the line. How are you tied?”

“Shackles… on my hands.”

“The pin in the shackle, can you twist it or does it need a screwdriver?”

“Screwdriver.”

“Describe the bedroom.”

“White walls, blue carpet, blue bedspread, cupboard by the door, bathroom …”

She was really sobbing now. Ole liked the sound. And then it struck him. Why did she call Temeke first? Why not her father?

He drew a deep sigh from the pit of his stomach and put down the phone. He made sure they heard the click, made sure the detective knew he was there.

He walked up the stairs, sensing the thumping of her heart almost as loud as the clock ticking on the landing. It was aching to be set free.

He unlocked the door, ripped the phone out of the wall and sat down on the bed.

“You know he’ll never find you,” he said at last.

She stiffened. She nodded. She knew.

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