Read The 9th Hour (The Detective Temeke Crime Series Book 1) Online
Authors: Claire Stibbe
Ole knew he was being followed, knew he was being watched. But just to be sure, a glass of wine yesterday had been a novel idea. He saw the cop in the lobby of The Press Club with a cell phone pressed against one ear. That’s when he wiped the glass with his napkin and slipped out through the kitchens. In those few precious moments he’d lost the cop. But he never forgot a face.
Now he stood in an empty house on the south side of town, Smith Street, far away from the spotlessness of his Tuscan estate. This is where he disposed of the girls. There was only one thing he was truly sorry for. And that was shooting Patti in the leg. That soft sallow thigh was bruised and swollen and he’d done the best he could to clean it.
She wasn’t perfect any more. She wasn’t the happy dancing Patti, the light-as-a-cinder-on-the-wind Patti. A girl worth having. She stiffened when he held her in her sleep, murmuring for Morgan until the early hours. But snooping girls were stupid girls and he was tired of telling her what to do.
There was no way out of the bedroom. The door was bolted from the outside, windows locked. She could have screamed all day if she wanted to and nobody would have heard her. Now there was a four-day-old stench in his nostrils and a corpse on the kitchen floor.
He showered in the hottest water he could bear, scrubbed his nails and then smeared his skin with a good dosing of hand sanitizer. It was the burn he was after. Made him feel refreshed and alert.
Time to call the detective.
“Who is this?” Ole heard him say.
“It doesn’t really matter, does it? Not when you don’t have any evidence.”
“Well, that’s where you’re wrong. I just got lucky. Can’t be too careful during these last days. You’re leaving too many crumbs out for the birds.”
Birds? Ole tapped the side of his head with the phone and then squeezed it against his ear. His mind was beginning to blur. “I’ll give you Patti for Morgan,” he offered.
“Put her on.”
“I won’t do that.”
“How do I know she’s still alive?”
“Ask me anything and I’ll ask her.”
“What’s her cat called.”
Ole covered the mouthpiece and hesitated for a moment, enjoying a sense of the ridiculous. “She doesn’t have a cat.”
“A dog then?”
Ole hesitated again. “Yes.”
“What’s his name?”
The detective actually laughed. “She’s dead, isn’t she. You know how I know? Because she doesn’t have a dog.”
Ole shouted into a dead phone, heard the drone of the dialing tone. It was no use hurling curses at deaf ears. Patti had lied to him.
He saw faceless images of her. Smart, glittering Patti, nothing like the lone, staring thing slumped on the floor at his feet.
Then he shrugged and turned his attention to another girl he had followed two days ago. He thought of her now through the cloudy lens of his mind. A rare specimen with spotless, waxen skin and eyes sweeping with black eyeliner. Quite perfect.
And then came the provocative moment when he fell in behind her, so close he could smell the scent of her hair. His mind was a riot of madness and that’s when he braced himself for that heart-grinding shiver before the downhill plunge.
This was a new girl whose infatuation was too good to pass up. He’d spoken to her a few times after that, asked her for directions from his nice black car, dropped his wallet in the mall right in front of her. She picked it up, of course, smiled shyly at him when he thanked her. He even sat right next to her in the dental office a few days later staring off in the distance and watching her out of the corner of his eye. You’d think she would have wondered if he was stalking her, wondered if he was just a little dangerous.
Asking her out was easy. Especially after he told her he was a cop.
She said yes a little too quickly, running her tongue along those generous red lips of hers. He took her to a Mexican restaurant for lunch, nothing pretentious. The white bustier she wore was laced low enough to reveal two mounds as sheer as a pair of stockings. He could hardly keep his eyes off them.
He promised to call her in a few days. It had been much more than that.
The stench from the cardboard box at his feet brought him back to the present. His most recent kill―one of Odin’s darlings. This one would have to be disposed of on higher ground where bear and fox wouldn’t make a meal of it.
He kept a container of her blood in the fridge, only he might need to take some of it where he was going. It would fool the police. It would fool everyone. That’s why he kept Morgan’s driving license and a few strands of his hair. That’s why he used Morgan’s identity now he was inside.
Morgan’s face was on every newsstand in Albuquerque. The 9th Hour Killer. Ole loved the description, loved the attention. He was almost famous now.
He walked into the front room and saw the axe. It was dirty, so dirty. And so was the mattress. Fire was a cleansing thing and besides, he couldn’t stay in the same place for too long.
With that nice black car in the garage he had already become an overnight sensation in the neighborhood. He only went out at night. So did the hoodlums in their low-riders desperate for weed, desperate to be noticed.
So incredibly ghetto.
He’d pay one to burn the house and then there would be nothing left. No evidence.
The rest of her was wrapped in a quilt, pink, flowery. Cold. Heaving the bundle over one shoulder, he took it out through the kitchen door into the garage where the sleek Camaro beckoned. The trunk was already open. He was practical like that. Once the car was packed with all his precious things he drove east along Central, following the silvery track of the moon, following it north on Tramway and then east again to where the road gave way to sand and green-gray sage.
He lugged the bundle as far as the foothills, propping her against a boulder so she could see what he saw― Albuquerque, the winking city with its legendary lights. Only she couldn’t see anything now.
“Quite marvelous,” he said, pulling out a packet of antiseptic wipes from his pocket. “So close to home. You used to live up this way with your mom. In fact, I think I can see your house from here.”
He’d never be able to sleep. Not after climbing a hill in a cold December wind. No, he’d need to drive around for a bit. Need to clear the fog from his mind.
Two minutes later, he found himself heading west on Alameda, listening to the fastest violin performance he had ever heard. It made his heart pump. It made the car go faster than a bullet all the way to the apartments at Puerta de Corrales. It was dawn when he got there, when he turned off the engine and watched the front entrance.
To the left, a cop car sat idle outside a ground floor apartment. He had a ripe young thing for a daughter who never drew her blinds. Like she knew someone was watching.
He thought about what he would do. How it would be. Sat there watching the vertical blinds behind the patio doors twitching in a warm draft of air. That’s when a light flickered inside the bedroom and where a young girl swung olive legs from her bed, running fingers through a bob of black hair.
She was so beautiful.
The dark ones might be beautiful, he warned himself, but they were the tricksters, the seducers. He was used to them now, the black painted eyes, the moist lips, all there to invite a look. He had come to see it as part of the game.
It struck him suddenly that he ought to have left a single white rose on her door step, something to light up those smoky dark eyes, something to make that cop-of-a-pop all jittery and suspicious. There was something particularly enticing about tormenting those who hated him. Those who made him an outcast.
And so it was his commission to come back every night just to sit and wait. Until the natural rhythm of things told him when the time was right.
The sky was gray and heavy with snow. Malin squinted through the windshield trying to steer against a driving wind. She sensed Temeke’s despair, his anger.
“She’s dead, probably been dead for days,” he said, finger soothing his upper lip. “I asked him the name of Patti’s dog. You know what he said? Buster. Her mother said she didn’t have a dog. They’ve never had a dog. He was lying. That disgusting cesspool of a man was lying!”
Malin couldn’t stop wondering if Temeke was a liar. She’d seen him hugging Becky in the lobby, seen her tearstained face. Something about a man she liked, how he had stood her up after school yesterday. Even though Becky tried to hug him, Malin still wondered if he broke away because he thought he was being watched.
She watched him. All the time. Behind the bathroom door near the drinking fountain, through her make-up mirror when he sat at his desk. She tried not to look at him now out of the corner of her eye, tried to concentrate on the road. He was silent for a time before his hand flicked directions. On the left-hand side of the road she could see the serried ranks of Spanish style buildings, one of which was the Old Town post office.
“Want to know the real kicker?” he said as they parked. “Patti outwitted him even at the end. You wait until the results come back from Forensics. We’ve got a wine glass with his sodding spit all over it.”
Malin couldn’t scrape up even the tiniest whimper of a comment. She merely opened the door, glad to breathe in a blast of cold clean air.
Andrew Knife Wing was sitting on the bottom of the stairs leading to an upper terrace, thumbs dancing over a bright red phone. He looked normal to her and nothing like a psychic. But what did psychics look like anyway?
“Ma’iitsoh,” Knife Wing said, waving one hand over his head as if wafting smoke from burning sage.
“What did he say,” Malin whispered to Temeke as they approached.
“Is that what he calls you?”
“No, it’s what he calls the spirit he sees in his dreams.” Temeke looked down at a fresh-faced man in his early thirties. “You said you wanted to see me.”
Knife Wing gave a lazy smile, hesitating for a moment. “I had another dream. Well, it was a vision really. You got a light? Might need a cigarette for that light.”
Malin studied the glossy-haired youth, five foot nine inches tall when he stood up, hair in a long ponytail, turquoise earrings. He was charismatic like the users she had interviewed in the county jail and she was aware of a small tremor of sadness in those laughing eyes. Temeke handed him a cigarette and pointed up the stairs.
The balcony looked out on a restaurant and a colonnade of art galleries. Navajo blankets were draped over the banisters and wind chimes clanging from the vigas.
“You said you had a dream,” Temeke said. “You also said you had a name.”
Knife Wing drew hard on his cigarette and blew out a thick cloud of smoke. “I said I had an
“But you did say a name.”
Knife Wing slipped the phone in his shirt pocket and took another drag of his cigarette. “Bought a truck from him a month ago.”
“That’s a stroke of luck. His name will be on the paperwork,” Temeke said, peering over the bannister at a metallic gray truck with front fog lamps and alloy wheels.
“I don’t keep paperwork.”
“Clean title was it?”
Knife Wing shrugged. “Great price.”
“I’m guessing that’s a 2008 Chevy Colorado. Probably got the word
on that title. So what did this guy look like?”
“Thickset, braided hair, tattoos. Same man in my dream. Only that one had a bloody axe in one hand and a severed head in the other. Girl with pale blue eyes.”
Temeke seemed to think about that for a moment, mouth twitching. “Any particular tattoos?”
“A snake round his arm, a sun and moon on his neck. He was saying stuff about the girl. Said a god had taken her. I just laughed. Thought he was crazy. But he grabbed me by the throat and said, ‘She’s a gift. A sacrifice for the father of victory.’ I wasn’t laughing much after that.”
“When was this?”
“I said a month ago.”
“And you didn’t tell anyone?”
Knife Wing shook his head, treating Malin to a wink. “No one to tell.”
“Have you seen him since?”
“Couldn’t get hold of him after my truck died. But I remember where I bought it. Cream house on the corner of Smith and Walter, the only two story house in the street. There was a black Camaro parked behind the gate. Reckon it’s his.”
“Anything else you remember?”
Knife Wing shrugged and thought for a moment, eyes grazing over Malin’s face. “It had a crime-stoppers sticker in the window.”
Temeke handed Knife Wing the pack of cigarettes and a yellow Bic lighter and started down the steps to the road. “You’ll call me if you hear anything else?”
“Ma’iitsoh,” Knife Wing said again. “Watch out for the spirit.”
He saluted and grinned, eyes flicking toward Malin in that deliberate way of his. “Always best to watch your back. But then you cops know all about that, don’t you?”
Malin couldn’t help shivering all the way to the car. “Are the tattoos the same as Eriksen’s?” she asked Temeke as she slammed the door and locked it.
“Not quite. And I doubt it was a snake round his arm. More like a Celtic knot. He did mention the man he saw had a shaved head and braids,” Temeke said, sniffing. “Take Kathryn and I’ll give you directions from there.”
Malin pulled out sharply into oncoming traffic and skillfully steered into the right-hand lane. They were speeding along Kathryn Avenue, past Arno and Edith before Temeke told her to slow down.
“Didn’t much like him, did you?” he said.
“I don’t believe in psychics. They can see in the past. Not in the future.”
“He’s a shaman’s son. Uses his eyes and sense of smell. He’s an artist. Means he’s got an eye for detail.”
“Why do you think he wanted to talk to us?” Malin said, hearing the irritation in his voice.
“The visions won’t go away unless he tells someone. He’s got his ear to the ground. Watches people. Knows people. He might go off the grid for a while but he always calls me.”
“And what does he get in return?”
“A few smokes.”
Malin wondered what Temeke meant, what he alluded to with that tight little nod. They turned into Walter and then Smith, and there was the house exactly as Knife Wing had described. It stood behind padlocked gates and a high stucco wall. There was no sign of a Camaro.
“What now?” she said, parking along the curb.
“What are walls for if we can’t climb them,” Temeke murmured.
Malin saw the tight-lipped smile and ground her teeth. Here they were trying to gain access to someone’s house on the suggestion of a nutcase. “We don’t have a warrant.”
“Don’t need a warrant for a break-in,” Temeke muttered, slamming his door. He laced his hands and formed a stirrup.
Malin found herself sitting astride the wall, snow seeping through the seat of her pants. She briefly stared into an upper story window where curtains were frayed at the edges and the frame was peeling and rotten. Easing herself over the other side she narrowly missed a trash can, hearing the echo as it pinged off the opposite wall.
“Blimey girl, you’ll wake the dead.” Temeke was on the other side, quick as a cat. He held a finger to his lips, eyes wide, head nodding. “Take the north side. I’ll take the south. If you find an open window―”
“We can’t do this,” Malin stammered, handing him a pair of latex gloves. “What if Hackett finds out.”
But Temeke wasn’t listening. He cocked his service pistol and edged around the south wall where he disappeared behind a rusted out Chevrolet Delray.
Malin sighed loudly and pulled on her gloves. She moved toward the north side of the house, seeing nothing but old car parts and an antique gas pump that stank of urine. It would just be her luck if there was an open window.
There was. With a gap wide enough to get her hand under.
Walk away now
… It was the voice she always heard when her body moved stubbornly forward into a dangerous place. It was the same voice she heard when she first jumped out of an airplane, a charity jump. But it was the excitement of it all.
She hesitated for a moment, nose twitching at the bad breath of decay, and she tried to ignore the fluttering in her gut. What if there was a dog on the other side, all teeth and drool like a Rottweiler? A Rottweiler? Who was she kidding? There was nothing barking at her from behind the glass.
Lifting the window, she dropped inside. The heater hummed overhead blowing out hot air through the vents. The stench hit her as soon as she stood there, toxic, sharp. Not decay. Something else.
She covered her face with a hand and all she could see were five mattresses on the floor, laid out as if it were a temporary dormitory. There were no pillows or blankets to speak of and the one nearest the door was leaking wool from a tear and stained with food.
Or was it blood?
She had to take one hand away from her face and fumble for the small flashlight in her belt. Holding her breath, the beam prodded the darkness, light bouncing off the dark brown stain. An axe leaned against the wall with a dusting of tree bark on the blade, a pruning axe by the look of it. There was a bundle wrapped in a black trash bag and bound with duct tape.
No, not big enough for a body. She steadied her breathing, heart pounding louder now. Training the flashlight on the shiny black bag, she crouched, hearing a popping in her knees. She jabbed at the bag with the muzzle of her gun. It was soft like a pile of old rags.
There was a smell to those rags, oily, gassy, leaching out like the fumes of an antique car. It was everywhere, all over the carpet, the furniture, glistening on every surface. A garage smell, a man smell.
She stood up and swallowed the fear she felt inside, sobs racking her body. A place like this could go up in smoke.
She forced herself to stay calm, to give herself a mental shake. Biting her bottom lip always helped to center her focus, to keep her in touch with her surroundings. She had to get out and the longer she delayed the more likely something else would mess with her frazzled mind.
Movement. Something moved. Behind the chair.
“Hello,” she whispered, throat quavering with dread. She trained the flashlight to one side of the chair, watching the wall for shadows.