Authors: Claire Stibbe
“Who are you talking to?” Temeke said gently, ignoring the time’s up prompt from his earpiece. Morgan didn’t need a break. Not while he was hot and talking. “Why don’t you tell me about him?”
Malin Santiago had been waiting for this day. After years of back-aching work, she had returned to Albuquerque to work for the DCPD and for a detective trained in violent crimes against children. But he wasn’t just any detective.
Detective Temeke was unmatched at solving cases, cases that baffled his more traditional peers. Sleepless nights never bothered him. In fact, they only served to fuel the lewd humor that she enjoyed and nobody else understood.
He drove a jeep with a horn that sounded like a dog’s squeaky toy and he was British with an accent to die for. Drank coffee not tea, and he was one of the few men in the department that hated heights. It was the only weakness she knew of.
Sarge’s daughter had the biggest crush on him, strutting around in clothes that treated men to a glorious display of butt and bust, both bursting with enthusiasm. There was a rumor that Detective Temeke had explored those acres of creamy flesh in the bathrooms one afternoon. But Malin didn’t believe it. They were jealous, that was all.
One of the admins said he had a pink china pig in his drawer, something to put his spare change in. It just didn’t seem to complement the butch image that sat in front of her, fingers tapping the keyboard at a phenomenal rate.
He was a striking man, darker than a coffee bean. He reminded her of one of those greywacke statues in the National History Museum, the ones with prominent cheekbones and perfect lips, the ones with a muscular body she tried hard not to stare at.
“Hackett tells me you speak Norwegian,” Temeke said at last, fingers still tapping the keyboard and chewing a half-eaten sandwich.
“My mom was Norwegian.”
Detective Temeke looked at her through narrowed eyes and then carried on typing. Muscular arms peeked out beneath a black polo shirt and who knew what was beneath those great fitting khaki pants.
“How long were you dating Sgt. Hollister?
“I wasn’t dating him,” Malin said, feeling the heat in her cheeks. “He had no business ringing my doorbell at two-thirty in the morning and telling everyone I was his girlfriend.
? I never said I’d go out with him.”
“What was he like, this Hollister?”
“Someone you wouldn’t approve of.”
“I’m beginning to like him already. Lucky you weren’t fired.”
“Sir?” Malin felt the pain in the back of her throat and tried to swallow.
“Why did you ask for a transfer,” he said, speaking in tones that conveyed little emotion.
“I wanted to come home after my mother died.”
He was silent for a time, as if mulling over her response. “Your name,” he said, chin slightly raised. “It’s pronounced Ma
“Yes,” she said, glad someone knew how to pronounce it. “Of Magdala. It’s Hebrew for
His face twisted, giving her the impression he was thinking deeply. “You’re not one of those bloody Christians are you?”
“As a matter of fact I am. Does that bother you?” Malin knew it did just by the look on his face.
“Why do you want to work for me?” he said, rattling an empty coke can and hurling it into the bin.
“You’re not like the others,” she said, regretting the hackneyed comment.
It got his attention though. He wheeled his chair to the center of his desk and stared, eyes blacker than moon shadow. “What am I like?”
“Humane, fair. But then you know what it’s like to be on the other side of the tracks, to be hated for the color of your skin. You know what it’s like to be one of them.”
“The scum of the earth.”
“I wouldn’t describe myself as scum. I wouldn’t describe you as scum. The people out there are the same as you and me, scrabbling for a place, desperate to survive.”
“See, it’s not like you and I do things differently.”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“I think you do.”
His eyes narrowed again for a moment and then relaxed, chin tilted sideways a little, just enough to make her smile.
“You’ve rolled a few in your time,” she pressed, warm sweat trickling down her back. “Probably got a stash under the kitchen sink. I don’t smoke pot myself but I—”
“Work for an escort agency,” he murmured. “Minerva, I believe it’s called. And a slight contradiction in terms since she was the goddess of virginity.”
“Worked,” Malin corrected, sucking in breath, gut swirling like a bad meal. She thought she had meticulously preserved that sad piece of her life.
“You wasted no time since you arrived. Here you are nearly suspended and now you have friends in high places.” Detective Temeke leaned forward, lips widening a little. “I could question you, book you and thank you for your cooperation. Or I could send you running back where you came from. But you wouldn’t like that would you?”
“No, sir, I wouldn’t.”
“Good. So don’t go gripping that greasy pole late at night. You’d get just as much attention in the post office.”
“I don’t pole dance, sir.” Malin felt her voice shift up an octave and winced.
“You’d get paid more if you did overtime with the squad. Better get your dimply ass behind that desk tomorrow and read the Eriksen file. From cover to cover, you understand?”
“It’s not dimply.”
“It is dimply.
Malin felt her eyebrows lurch upwards, threating to overtake her hairline. Sunbeam had been her escort name and it was a stupid name at that.
“Read that file,” he said. “You’ll find there’s a love triangle. I don’t want Patti Lucero turning up dead. There’s much more to our man than bloodthirsty lecher. He tries not to yawn when you yawn, tries to play the no empathy card. Something you might be able to help me with.”
“Wrap it up, Santiago. You needn’t have got all gussied up to see me. Any old suit would do.”
Malin felt her cheeks balloon with anger and before she could get a word out he silenced her with a rigid finger. “Don’t hide in the lobby stinking up the place with perfume and don’t make waves. And no rubbing shoulders with those lunatic cops. They’ll be the first to dance around your empty desk like gypsies if you get fired. You’ll drive me to Darryl Williams’ house tomorrow. I’ve got something to give him.”
“Yes, sir.” Malin felt the prickle of tears behind her eyelids.
“And we’ll be taking that nice Explorer of yours,” he said, shooting a glance out of the window. “Rather get that dinged than mine.”
It suddenly seemed a long way from the chair to the window. She couldn’t have stood up even if she’d wanted to. Instead she just watched him flicking through the pages of a small red book, sighing occasionally.
Seven girls killed over the span of seven months, taken from shopping malls, school parking lots, tents. Pretty girls. Dark girls. Friendly girls. What was it that connected them? she thought. Accessibility out there alone? Or a buzzing nightlife in the local clubs?
The lucky break came only hours before, a phone call from a young woman. Morgan’s girlfriend, Patti, was also scared out of her wits, yacking on about a barn on the Shelby Ranch and a fridge full of grotesque things.
The Shelby Ranch was high up in the hills and bordered by a trickling stream. Half a mile to the west were the remnants of three cabins, one still standing and nestled beneath the palisade cliffs. The others were merely ruins.
The caretaker, a Mr. Bonner Levinson, reported the shiny new truck on the property with a crime-stopper’s sticker in the window. It was the Police badge on the door panel, a custom car magnet that got his attention.
He also tried to shoot a lone wolf that kept hanging around the cabins. He swore it wasn’t a coyote. Too big for that.
“You’re familiar with the Eriksen case, I hope,” he said, eyes flicking to the gun in her belt. “Any shared traits?”
“Yes, sir. The girls were either Hispanic or African American, ranging from age nine to nineteen. And all we have are their heads. Commonalities, attractive high school students vanished in broad daylight, all between the hours of four o’clock in the afternoon and six o’clock, and in a public location.”
“What does that tell you?”
“No obvious motivation. So we’re dealing with a single killer.”
“Not quite. He has an accomplice. A killer whose last victim was nine years old. Different from the others. Looks like he’s changing his pattern.”
“Looks like he’ll have to, sir, ever since we’ve found his lair.”
“Good observation, Marl. I’d never have thought of that myself.”
She watched the crossed arms, the harsh squint. He would have given her a quick disgusted snort if she hadn’t started talking. “I think we’re dealing with a mythopath, sir.”
“You made that up.”
“Whatever they call someone who believes in mythology, although in his case, talking heads. And he’s a sociopath.”
“Why a sociopath?” Temeke said, raising an eyebrow and tilting his head. He scrabbled about in a drawer before shining an apple along the leg of his pants.
“Because you said he has no empathy.” She sensed him looking at her, sensed his amusement. He should have given her some kudos. She had been listening after all.
, he plays that card.”
“He doesn’t like women, short ones that is, cuts off their heads as trophies, pierces their ears, and hides the torso so we can’t read the stomach contents. Probably covers his head with a hairnet and strips naked to do it because we’ve never found any fingerprints. Have we?”
“No, we haven’t.”
“Nine is a significant number in Norse mythology, sir. Odin was hanged from the world tree for nine days and nights. There were nine worlds, eighteen magical songs and eighteen magical runes. Interesting don’t you think?”
“Perhaps.” He gave her a flat gaze before studying the notebook.
“What’s it say?” she asked.
Temeke sunk his teeth into the apple and began to read between chews.
When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.
Temeke tapped his lips with the apple and began talking to himself. “It’s a song, isn’t it?”
“A Psalm, sir. When I was a kid, I learned to recite and write Bible verse from memory.”
“So what’s the next line?”
Malin stared at drawn brows and a smile that appeared tight. “In God, whose word I praise. In God I trust―and am not afraid
She saw him cock his head and raise his eyebrows, heard the deep, weighted sigh as she looked out of the window. Reading the last words of a nine-year-old girl brought a fresh wave a bile into her throat. She would have chucked her breakfast in the trash can if it had been any closer.
Nine. Kizzy Williams was
. That made her different. That made her special.
“You’ll be working split shifts with me, Santiago, so you’ll be on again tonight. I hope that doesn’t interfere with your private life—”
“One wonders how you ever had the time.”
“You can call me Malin, sir.”
“And you can call me
,” he said, hurling the remains of the apple core into the bin.
She almost flinched at the order. No one ever called their partner
, at least no one she could name.
“Did Hackett’s assistant find you an apartment?” he asked.
“Puerta de Corrales, sir. Where Sgt. Moran lives.”
“I’d like to meet this Hollister when he comes to Albuquerque… the very minute. Is he big?”
“Built like a Sumo.” Malin restrained a smile.
“There’s something that doesn’t quite fit. Something that keeps bothering me,” he said.
Malin bristled. “About Hollister?”
“No. Not about Hollister. About Morgan Eriksen. He’s got no priors, no record until now. Cleanest slate I ever saw.”
The man stood under a hot shower, eyes tapering at the swirl of blood between his toes. Water only reminded him he was swimming in grief, a river of it, flowing from north to south, east to west. They said he would learn to live with it. But there were the night terrors, the visions. It was always the first thing in his head when he woke up.
He dried himself off and padded naked into his bedroom. There were two photographs of Morgan on the dresser, one young, one old. There was something odd about them, like a piece missing from a jigsaw. He had noticed it one night, noticed the crooked incisor on Morgan the younger. He had never had his teeth straightened. Hadn’t lived long enough for that. But Morgan the elder had the straightest teeth he ever saw.
He knew why. He just couldn’t face the truth.
Abandoned. First by his mother. Then his brother. Mamma just got up one morning, packed a bag and left. That was after his brother died, after the funeral. They all knew where she went. To the arms of the hunter in the woods.
Photographs refueled the old memory. But they never took away the pain. It was like an old friend knocking on the door, keeping his heart from ever feeling light again. There was something safe in the familiar. It was where all the old ghosts were.
The killings didn’t start until he came to the United States. So drunk on that fishing boat, so much money. It was easy to get a driving license in Maine, easier still to pick up women who offered him a bed to sleep in and a computer to use. They also had cell phones.
But there was only one he really loved.
The rattle of the dog chain made him turn to the king-sized bed. Patti looked at him, face ashen, lips trembling. He had always assumed she was happy, but it was her whimpering that distracted him, her flinching when he tried to touch her. It wasn’t the Patti he remembered, the Patti that ran to him one night, arms outstretched, the Patti who once dated his brother.
She couldn’t resist him then. She couldn’t resist him now. He could tell by the way her eyes kept flicking down his naked body and then up again to his face.
“Give me the number,” he said softly, holding out the banker’s check.
She rattled it off faster than a social security number. He was impressed. “Wells Fargo. The money’s all there,” she said. “We never spent any of it.”
“Be a good girl and sign it.”
She held the pen over the check. The signature was elongated and spidery. A clever forgery of Morgan’s. Ole would have all his money back now and Morgan would never know.
Patti was a crier. She cried when he killed the little girl she tried to save. If she hadn’t run away through the trees dragging the little one behind her he might have been more merciful. Instead he tied her up, kept her indoors, kept her close just in case she did it again.
She was young and fresh, except for that gunshot wound in her thigh. It was putrefying, stinking up a storm, but he couldn’t let her go to the hospital – not with a mouth like hers. He often heard her pitiful moans in the night, slapping them quiet with the flat of his hand. She was dying anyway.
It was time.
“Odin must have heads,” he said, sitting on the bed beside her. “Must, must, must.”
She reached out for him then, fingers touching his arm. “Don’t do it, Ole. They’ll kill you if you do.”
There was something in the way she said his name. A mingling of sounds more beautiful than a church choir. He wound his arms around her waist, laid his head on her breast. The soft clank of the chain soothed him as he closed his eyes for a moment, smelling the denim of her jeans and the scent in her long dark hair.
“How much do you love me?” he said, lifting his head suddenly, running a finger down her cheek, down her neck. “You do love me, don’t you?”
Patti nodded, sucking in breath. She kept her eyes on him, only her fingers were gripping the quilt now, wrists white behind those tight little shackles. “I love you,” she whispered. “You promised you’d let me go if I signed it. Untie me?”
He took a deep breath and listened to the crowing in his mind.
I am immortal, I am immortal.
Patti knew it too. That’s what she was afraid of. Her eyes were damp and overly bright, and he could hear the tremors in her voice.
“You mustn’t worry,” he said. “I’ll take you somewhere nice. I promise.”
“They’ll find you and lock you away. Just like Morgan.”
How strange she should be so concerned. “No one will ever find me,” he said, kissing those soft pink lips, tasting the salt of her tears. “Tell me something. Your mother’s house, what’s it like?” He saw the frown and two blinking eyes.
“Does she have a dog?” he asked.
“What’s its name?”
“That’ll do for now.”
He watched her while he dressed, studied the bindings at her ankles and wrists. There was something exciting about the beads of sweat on her upper lip, the flickering muscles along her arms, a body ready to run. Only he’d slice off those pretty legs if she tried.
There was something exciting about the house too, an exquisite Tuscan estate with sensational views of the golf course. At least that’s what the red-headed realtor said. She also pointed out the barreled hallways, timber trusses, 35 foot ceilings, Canterra fireplaces. He didn’t need to look any further. It was perfect.
She also pointed out how unusually handsome he was. It was the accent, he told himself. Women were suckers for accents. But he didn’t like her fawning tone, nor did he want to be enticed into the furnished master bedroom.
She stared at him with those dazzling eyes, quirking an eyebrow and running one finger along her bottom lip. She told him she liked his cologne, wanted to guess the name of it. He couldn’t remember what he said, but by the look of her face it must have been bad. She became flustered then as if she’d lost all traction, smile fading from those red painted lips.
That’s when he blacked out.
And when he came to he found the body floating face-down in the swimming pool. A sad looking thing, arms and legs splayed out in the water like an abandoned doll. He dumped her in next door’s dumpster which had been filled with tree branches and compost. With any luck she was now at the bottom of the Cerro Colorado Landfill.
Scratches on his arms and thighs reminded him the young realtor had fought well. Fought with every last breath. Almost as impressive as Patti, only she had been a real little lady and not some painted skank.
He would call Morgan when he could. He would tell him about the new house, how he had to leave the woods, the barn and the trees. And he would make sure there were nine heads for Odin, even if he had to do it all by himself.
No one knew his name. It was Ole, short for Olafr. Or Morgan. Or both.
When he needed to be Morgan, he conjured up the boy in him. And when he was Ole, well… that was another story.
He saw every text Darryl Williams sent, heard every phone call he made. He could even access the code to the front door.
He combed his fingers through his recently cut hair. It looked better short. It looked better brown. A crucial metamorphosis, especially after the photograph of Morgan he kindly faxed to the Journal last night. Morgan had long blond hair. It would never do to look alike now.
“How do I look?” he said, turning back to Patti’s tearstained face.
“So very handsome.”
He cocked his head and smiled. She always looked good in a white shirt. So simple. So classy. “How long have we known each other, Patti? A few months? And in those months have you ever known me to steal?”
She shook her head.
“But you took something from me. You took the girl, remember? And the cops took Morgan all because of that nosy caretaker. Did you tell him too?”
Her eyes were hazy with fresh tears and she didn’t answer. Couldn’t because she was guilty. She had told the police about the cabin, about the barn, about the girls. That’s how they knew where to find them.
The mere sound of her voice set him on edge, the sniveling, the whining. And then, “It was so wrong, Ole. All those things you did.”
“You have no idea what I did.”
“I saw it. All of it.”
“So you called old Mr. Levinson and then you called the cops. Lucky I didn’t bring Loki. He would have taken your leg off.”
“I couldn’t bear it.” She began crying again.
All day he meditated on the death of the nine-year-old, how his life had been turned upside down since Morgan’s arrest. Morgan was a fool. He’d taken the wrong one.
Ole had found another girl a week ago, a girl to replace Patti. A girl on a bright red bike, a girl he couldn’t get out of his mind. He wanted to listen to the wind, to daydream, but matters were closing in on him, especially the matter of the cell phone. It was foolish to leave it behind.
“You’ve been using the phone again, haven’t you? You called that detective. How did you do that, Patti, all tied up? Show me how you did that?”
Patti furrowed her brow and swallowed. She was too thirsty to talk, too frightened. He knew, of course. The pin in those shackles was tight enough. But with a day or two of twisting and straining, she could have freed one hand at least.
“Couldn’t exactly tell him anything. You don’t know where you are, do you? This phone,” he said, holding it up as if she couldn’t see it, “is registered under a stolen name. They’ll never find you.”
“They will, Ole,” she said in a scratchy voice. “They’ll put a trace on it. And they’ll find all those girls in the woods.”
His eyes fell on the digital clock on the nightstand. It was ten minutes to six. He snapped on a pair of latex gloves and plucked the earring from his t-shirt pocket. It was a silver disk engraved with the number 8.
“Well then, we better get a move on.”