It Was Only Once

Info silverhawk
08 Oct. '22

Johnny Ramadi was on his way home and was taking his normal shortcut through Radley Park.  He’d done it every night since he got out of prison after doing a year for soliciting a prostitute.  Considering that the initial charge was attempted murder, he’d gotten off better than he’d expected.  His lawyer had pointed out to the prosecutor that the female victim was a known prostitute and that Mr. Ramadi had only requested a certain service she provided.  During the course of enjoying that service, Mr. Ramadi had left his DNA on her face.   

The lawyer further argued that without a witness or video and given the circumstances, the DNA was no proof Mr. Ramadi had tried to kill the woman.  The DA countered that the victim had picked Mr. Ramadi out of a lineup as the man who beat her.  The defense lawyer smiled and said he’d bet she wouldn’t be so sure once he cross-examined her on the witness stand.  

“Your own record of her testimony when she picked my client out of your lineup indicates she pointed to two other men of similar appearance to my client before she selected him.  Also according to her testimony, she’d serviced sixteen men that night and at least six asked her for and received oral sex.  I don’t think it’ll take much to get her to admit she might have picked the wrong man.  

“It will also sound suspect that you arrested my client and put him in a photo lineup only after you had a DNA match.  My client’s criminal record clearly listed his only other offense as soliciting and he lived in the same area.  There were three other men with a history of physical abuse of prostitutes living in the area and you had their photos on file.  Why didn’t the department put all of them in the lineup, and why was it only a photo lineup instead of an actual, in-person lineup?

“It looks to me as if you’d already decided my client was guilty and the lineup was only done to improve your shaky case.  Perhaps you or one of the arresting officers could shed some light on that when I cross-examine him on the witness stand.

“The fact is all you have is my client’s DNA on her face which is entirely explainable given the act she performed for him.  Everything else is just suspect evidence.  Maybe a jury will believe your case and maybe they won’t.  My client is willing to plead guilty to soliciting a prostitute and serve up to a year in prison if you’ll drop the attempted murder charge.  If you accept his plea and ask for a sentence of a year in prison, it will appear as if you’ve done your job.  If you take this to trial and then lose the case…well…DA’s are elected, aren’t they?”

The DA finally agreed to reduce the charge to soliciting if Johnny would enter a plea of guilty.  Johnny was happy to do just that.

To Johnny, what he’d done was justified.  He’d paid for a blowjob but the whore insisted he wear a condom.  She hadn’t said anything about that when she stuck her half-naked tits into his open car window, but she’d pulled the condom out of her purse as soon as he parked in the lot of a closed warehouse, paid her, and got his cock out.

Johnny had told her he wasn’t about to wear a condom.  The whore shrugged and told Johnny to take her back to her corner again.  That’s when Johnny hit her in the face hard enough she was dazed.  He got out, walked around his car, and then dragged her out the door and onto the ground.

She’d fought him as hard as she could, but he fought back with his fists until she was unconscious.   He’d thought about fucking her, but he could never get it up unless the whore was awake and talking to him.  He kicked her in the ribs, got in his car, and drove away.

She’d been found the next morning by the first warehouse worker that drove into the parking lot.  She’d spent a week in the hospital and had then picked Johnny out of a photo lineup of men who had prior convictions for solicitation after the DA had gotten the DNA match back from the lab.

It was four in he morning when Johnny entered the park.  It was four because the bar where he worked as a bouncer didn’t close up until three.  It wasn’t much of a job, but his prison record pretty much ended any job offers from any other type of business except the drug business, and Johnny was smart enough to know that most street dealers led very short lives.  Competition in the drug trade was stiff, and knocking of the corner dealer so you could take his place was a common thing.  

Bouncing was easy for Johnny because he was tall and he’d kept in shape in prison by lifting weights.  He’d kept in shape mostly so no other inmate would fuck with him.  A couple had tried, early on, but when they ended up in the hospital wing, word got around, and he was left alone.

Bouncing didn’t pay a lot, but it had other benefits.  Johnny liked whores because whores gave blow-jobs and he liked seeing a whore suck his cock until he filled her mouth with his cum.  Some would gag, but he’d hold their mouth shut and pinch their nose until they had to swallow.  The ones who swallowed by themselves were his favorites, and being a bouncer in a cheap-ass bar like “Jacks and Jills” gave him a chance to know many who would.  

He’d gotten a blow-job in the men’s room of the bar that night after the bar closed, and he’d gotten it for free.  All the whores knew he’d kick their asses out of the bar unless they agreed to his terms.  They made a lot of money in the bar restrooms during the night, so sucking his cock once a week or so without getting paid was worth it.

As Johnny walked down the sidewalk, he was thinking about that whore.  Her name was Sheila and she grinned when he shot her mouth full of cum and smacked her lips after she’d swallowed and then sucked his cock some more.  Johnny thought the next night, he’d find her after the bar closed and have her suck his cock again.

That was when he saw the person walking toward him, though he couldn’t tell if it was a man or a woman.  He decided the person was probably a man because no woman except a whore would be out by herself in the park and once the bars closed at three, all the whores would go home to get some sleep before the next night.  They wouldn’t be walking through the park hoping to find a john.  It was probably some fucking drug addict looking to roll him for a few bucks so he could score his next fix.

If Johnny hadn’t been such a big man, he would probably have been a little worried, but the guy walking toward him looked pretty skinny and weak.  He figured he could take the guy without even breaking a sweat.  Johnny even moved a little so he was meeting the guy head on.  It always made him feel good when a smaller man moved out of his way.  That meant the man was afraid of him and Johnny liked everybody to be afraid of him.

They were six feet apart and the man still hadn’t moved to the side, but Johnny wasn’t worried.  If the guy thought he was going to make him move, he was wrong.  Johnny would just push him off the sidewalk and laugh, then continue walking.

Johnny didn’t see the flick of the wrist that caused the razor-sharp blade of the stiletto to swing from the handle and lock open. He barely felt the prick of the point as it entered just under his breastbone but then came the stab of intense, internal pain when it pierced his heart.  That pain became unbearably intense when the blade was jerked hard to the side and sliced through his left lung and heart.

Johnny fell backwards then and started coughing up blood.  The killer pulled out the stiletto as Johnny fell, wiped the blade on Johnny’s shirt, and then watched him until he stopped breathing.  The killer folded the stiletto and stuck it in a back pants pocket and then checked Johnny’s throat for a pulse.  Finding none, the killer smiled and took a single playing card, the three of hearts, from a back pocket and laid it on his chest.  A few seconds later, the killer was walking back down the sidewalk.

When Tom Coventry got to the park, the area around the body had been taped off by the two uniforms who’d responded to the 911 call from a park employee and the Crime Scene techs were looking for evidence.  Mason Adams, the Coroner was also there, and he looked up when Tom asked him if he had a time of death.

“Hi, Tom.  Looks like you get to add this fucking mess to the others.  It’s the same cause as the other two as near as I can tell.  Long, sharp blade just under the breastbone and through his heart.  I won’t know for sure until I open him up, but I’d bet my left nut his heart and lung are slashed just like the other two.  Time of death is probably sometime between two and five this morning.”

Mason looked up then and smiled.

“Morning Connie.  Sorry about my language, but I didn’t see you standing there.  Looks like you and Tom have another one on your list.”

Tom hadn’t heard Connie Reynolds walk up, but he knew she’d be there.  She was a new detective he was training.  Connie had an excellent record as a uniform, and thanks to the Governor’s directive that the police department should increase the number of female officers and detectives, Connie had been offered the opportunity.

Tom wasn’t sure how he felt about that.  He’d worked with partners before, but they’d always been men, and you could act normal around a partner who was a man.  If you felt like saying, “fuck”, you just said it and the other guy would either just nod or say, “I hear that, Tom.”  With a woman, you had to watch what you said.  Women today seemed to interpret almost anything as sexual harassment.  

He knew of one uniform sergeant who had made the mistake of telling one of the female uniforms she looked sexy in her police uniform.  The woman was a new officer fresh out of the Academy, and the sergeant didn’t think he was doing anything except giving her a compliment.  She'd gone to human relations and claimed she was a victim of sexual harassment.  That sergeant was given a month’s suspension without pay, and it was doubtful he’d ever get any higher in the department than he already was.

So far, Connie had seemed to be pretty calm at the two other murder scenes they’d been to.  She didn’t throw up when she saw the blood and the dead body like many men did.  She just started writing down what she saw in her notebook.  Once they were back at their desks, Connie would tell him what she thought might have happened and he’d tell her his thoughts.

Connie saw the playing card on the man’s chest and tapped Tom on the shoulder.

“That’s the three of hearts.  The last one was the two and the one before that was the ace.  It has to be the same killer, doesn’t it?”

Tom nodded.

“Looks that way.  The thing that doesn’t make any sense is that serial killers always pick a specific type of victim.  Their victims might be young boys, or prostitutes, or something else, but they’re almost always the same type.  This one doesn’t seem to have a type.”

Tom said that because that’s what Connie’s background investigation of the victims had turned up so far.  

There had been one male and one female victim before this one.  Neither of them appeared to have had any connections to the other.  The female was twenty-five and the male sixty-seven, so the killer wasn’t targeting any particular age or sex.  The male was white and the female was black, so it wasn’t race.  Neither was an immigrant.  Both were fourth generation Americans.  

One thing both had in common was both had criminal records.  The black female had been convicted of robbery and had served two years in prison.  For the two years after that until she was killed, her record was clean.  The white male had been pled guilty to simple assault and served a hundred and eighty days in the country jail.  As with the black female, his record had been clean for the last two years.  It was difficult for Tom to see how having a criminal record would connect either to a serial killer.

The second thing common to both victims was that the cause of death was stabbing with a long, very sharp blade of some kind.  The initial penetration was just under the breastbone and pierced the heart and left lung.  Subsequent manipulation of the knife had sliced into both the heart and left lung, further increasing the damage and the amount of internal bleeding.  According to the Coroner, the intense internal pain resulting from the slashing would have rendered both victims incapable of doing much to defend themselves.  Internal bleeding would have reduced blood flow to the brain enough both had probably been rendered unconscious in less than ten seconds, and were dead within a minute.

Another commonality was neither of the victims including the guy the coroner was now loading into his van showed any kind of defensive wounds.  During most knife attacks the victim will try to ward off the knife thrusts and in doing so will suffer cuts to their hands and arms.  None of the victims had any injuries other than the single stab wound.  To Tom, that was a pretty good indication the victims knew their killer and probably trusted them.

Patti Amos, one of the CSI techs had picked the playing card from the dead man’s chest.  As she put it into an evidence bag and then wrote the date, time, location, and her name on the bag, she told Tom and Connie she’d see if she could find fingerprints or DNA on the card.  Then she fished a wallet from the guy’s pant pocket, opened it, and showed a driver’s license to Tom.

Tom wrote the guy’s name and address and date of birth on his notepad and then nodded to Patti.  She put the license and wallet into another evidence bag and said she’d check for prints and DNA on the contents.

Tom was doubtful she’d find anything.  There hadn’t been any prints or DNA that might identify the killer on any thing including the body on the last two victims.  If the cause of death was the same for this last victim, that and the playing card would be nearly conclusive proof that there was a serial killer operating in the city.  The lack of fingerprints and DNA indicated the murders were well planned in advance, also the mark of a serial killer.  It looked like the killer also had a pretty good knowledge of what the police would look for at any murder scene, but that could probably be garnered by watching TV shows.

The card was a clue, sort of, but only maybe proved they were probably dealing with the same killer in all three murders.  The CSI techs had determined the material in both the first two cards was the same and that the ink was also the same.  By knowing the composition of the card stock and the ink, they’d been able to narrow down the list of possible manufacturers to just one – HappyGameHouse.

HappyGameHouse turned out to be the US warehouse for a Chinese company that like a lot of Chinese companies was just a business front for other, smaller Chinese companies.  Those smaller companies manufactured an assortment of stuff from adult sex toys to sexy women’s underwear to cheap medical instruments to costume jewelry, and in this case, playing cards that cost a buck in any dollar store in the US.  A call to HappyGameHouse had revealed they sold about half a million decks every year with about half of those decks having the same blue back as the cards from the two murders.  The cards were a clue that wasn’t a useful clue at all except to indicate the killer might be working through a list of people the killer had a reason to want dead.

Serial killers are usually pretty intelligent, so it could also just be the killer trying to make the police think the cards meant something in order to steer the investigation away from themselves.  They could also be the killer daring the police to catch the killer.  Tom had read about another serial killer who intentionally left clues behind.

Tom knew the CSI techs would comb the area for anything that might be even remotely associated with the murder so he wrote down his initial observations and then asked Connie if she was done.  She said she was, so they headed back to the station to wait on the Coroner’s report and the preliminary CSI report.

Tom and Connie’s desk butted up to each other, and when they both sat down, Connie took out her note pad.

“Tom, did you notice anything different about this victim?”

Tom shook his head.

“No.  He looked like the other two – no defensive wounds and only the fatal wound to his chest.  Why?  Did you?”

Connie flipped the page of her notebook, then looked up at Tom.

“Yes, I did.  The white guy was old enough he probably couldn’t do much to stop the attack.  Same with the black girl.  She was only twenty-two, but she was a really small woman.  This guy was over six feet tall and probably weighed about two-eighty.  It’s hard to believe that he wouldn’t fight back against somebody trying to kill him.”

Tom shrugged.

“I’ve seen it before, and it’s always been that the victim either knew or at least trusted the killer.  If this wasn’t so similar to the other two, I’d suspect a close friend or maybe even a girlfriend, though I have no idea how anybody would learn how to use a knife like that.  I’ve never seen that type of attack before.  

“I was a Marine, and what the Marines taught me was to not stay in front of a person but to keep circling to the side.  The idea was to make quick stabs and slashes at places where there are large arteries or veins close to the surface like the neck, the groin area and arms and thigh, or to cause shock by jabbing the internal organs from the side.  They taught us to not stay close to the other person.  It was jab and then back away, jab and back away just like a boxer does.  

“The goal was to cause enough blood loss and pain in the other guy that he’d either collapse or decide he’d had enough and try to run away.  Either way, he’d end up dead. As soon as we saw an opportunity, we were to stab or slash the opponent's throat.  That sounds pretty cruel, but I can tell you from the training exercises that most knife fights last only a few seconds.  You don’t have time to stop and think.  You just do what your training has taught you to do.

“To do what the autopsies showed, the killer would have had to be very close to the victim and then stay there long enough to whip the blade back and forth while it was still inside the victim.  Even if the pain caused the victim to stop consciously fighting, you’d think there would be an instinctive reaction to push the killer away.  

“I think you’re right about the last victim.  It’s hard to believe that he didn’t do something to the killer.  Maybe Mason will find something on this one.”

Connie sighed.

“Well, I’m not holding my breath.  I’ll go run Johnny Ramadi through NCIC.  Maybe that will tell us something.”

Connie started typing away at her laptop so Tom laid out the file he’d started.  He was looking at the crime scene photos when Mason called him.

“Tom, I was right about the cause of death.  The guy has a slash across his heart and left lung.  I have some more information too.  With the other two, I didn’t see any marks other than the incision made by the knife.  The incision on this guy is the same width but I saw two differences.  The biggest is the depth of the initial stab wound and the resulting slashes.  

“On the other two, their chests were actually pretty shallow, especially the female’s.  I estimated with those two that the blade would have been about four to five inches long and about half an inch wide.  This one is about the same width, but it went in about six inches deep.  If the killer used the same knife, they just didn’t have to push the blade in as deep to reach the heart and lung of the other two victims.

“This guy was big enough that a four inch knife probably would have still killed him but he’d have been able to fight back for a while.  It looks to me like the killer pushed the knife in as deep as it would go.  I know that because there’s a bruise on both sides of the incision.  It’s not very big, maybe eight millimeters wide by six millimeters long on each side.  It’s not just two bruises either.  It’s four.  On each side of the incision are two rectangles about three millimeters long by three millimeters wide and separated by about three millimeters.

“I’ve seen that same type of bruising on a stab wound before.  The four rectangles are caused by the guard of a switchblade knife.  The guard is straight except for the ends.  On the ends there’s a part that extends toward the blade for a few millimeters.  It’s there to catch an opponent’s blade and let the user parry that thrust. The separation between them is to give the blade clearance to open and close.  

“If the killer really slammed the blade into the victim, those ends would leave the bruising I’m seeing on the body.  I looked up switchblade knives for sale and there are a lot with a six inch blade and that type of guard.  It’s called a swing guard because it folds back down when the knife is closed.

“There’s only one thing that makes me think it wasn’t a commercial switchblade knife and I also found that out when I looked them up.  Even the best Italian handmade switchblades sold today have stainless steel blades.  That’s so they won’t rust, but they wouldn’t take an edge sharp enough to cut so deep with only one slash.  

“The commercial switchblades are also sharp only on the long edge of what the catalogue called a bayonet grind because it looks like a rifle bayonet.  The edge on the other side only goes down about half way and it’s not usually sharpened.  This blade was as sharp as a scalpel on both edges so that blade had to have been made from some really good high-carbon steel or one of the CPM type steels.  You have to know what you’re doing to get a razor edge on one, but once you do, it’s there even after a lot of use.  I think our killer is a pro with a custom knife.

“I’ll send you some pictures after I mark the measurements on them.”

Tom thanked Mason and asked him to relay any other information and then hung up the phone, then looked up at Connie.

“Find out anything about Ramadi yet?”

Connie nodded and picked up her notebook.

“He’s twenty-eight and he has a record too.  He served six months for soliciting five years ago and a year for the same thing sixteen months ago.  Since then, nothing.   He was a bouncer at some place on 10th called ‘Jacks and Jills’ and he lived in an cheap apartment on the other side of the park from the bar.  He was probably going home when he was killed.”

Tom frowned.

“I know the place.  Sounds like he was in his element.  Jacks and Jills is a really sleazy dump of a bar.  The “Jacks” are the guys who go there to find a woman for an hour or so.  The “Jills” are the prostitutes who hang out at the bar until some guy makes them an offer.  We’ve never raided the place because there haven’t been any complaints.  What I know about it has come from people we’ve interrogated during other investigations.

“Part of their security is you only are allowed inside if another member vouches for you.  If you try to get in without that, the guy at the door will tell you the club is at its occupancy limit so he can’t let you in.  They’re within their rights to determine who gets in and who doesn’t, so we’ve never been able to get an officer inside to verify what goes on.”

Connie shrugged.

“If they’re not hurting anybody, what difference does it make?  If some woman wants to sell her body, who are we to tell her she can’t?”

Tom stared at Connie for a couple seconds.  He couldn’t believe she’d just said that.

“You think prostitution should be legal?”

Connie shook her head.

“I didn’t say that.  All I said was I didn’t think anybody had the right to stop a woman from doing what she wants.  If you get right down to it, half the married women in the world are prostituting themselves in exchange for a place to live and food to eat.  Nobody arrests them.

“That’s why I’m not married.  The wife keeps house, fixes meals, and then lets her husband do her when he wants because that’s what society expects her to do.  I won’t even go into her being pregnant for nine months and then enduring the pain of childbirth just because society expects her to reproduce.  In my way of thinking, marriage is the last remaining legal form of slavery.”

Tom chuckled.

“That’s what my ex told me when she said she was divorcing me.  I thought she made it up on her own, but I guess not.  It’s funny though.  I thought she liked the doing part.”

Connie smiled.

“I didn’t say women don’t like that part.  I just said they shouldn’t have to do it unless they want to instead of every time their husband feels horny.  Most of us like it.  We just want it on our terms, when we’re ready and how we want to do it.”

Tom thought about asking Connie if she was speaking from experience, but then thought better of it.  It was better to have a partner who spoke her mind than being suspended for sexual harassment.

“So, anything else about Mister Ramadi that’s interesting?”

“Nope.  I figured we’d take a trip to his apartment and see what we can find.  I have a search warrant in the works.”

Mr. Ramadi’s apartment was a typical single man’s apartment.  It had noting that could be considered decoration and hadn’t been cleaned in a while.  His refrigerator was mostly filled with beer.  There were a few cold cuts in the meat drawer and some frozen dinners in the freezer compartment.

His bedroom wasn’t any different.  The bed wasn’t made and Connie frowned when she looked at the sheets.

“He must have slept on these same sheets for a year.  Look at how they’re stained right where he layed.”

In the bathroom they found a razor, shaving cream, a bar of soap in the shower, and one extra roll of toilet paper under the sink.  The towels on the shower rod and on the bar beside the vanity didn’t look like they’d been recently washed either.

They spent more time in the living room and when Connie was looking through the collection of DVD’s beside the television she said, “Tom, this guy was sick.  Come look.”

Most of the DVD’s were in cases with “XXXX” somewhere on the front, and the titles were very interesting.  Tom had to smile at some of them.  It always fascinated him how adult film producers would twist legitimate film titles into adult film titles.

The first one he picked up was titled, “Sometimes They Cum Twice” and the picture was of a woman sucking a man’s cock.  That was followed by several others that also made Tom smile, like “Space Cumboys”, “Once Upon a Time In Blowland”, “21 Blowjobs”, and “Star Track, Deep Throat Six”.

Tom chuckled.

“Looks like Mister Ramadi had a thing for oral sex.”

Connie frowned.

“I thought all men did.”

Tom shook his head.

“No, just some.  I always thought it was a way to dominate a woman and I never liked anything like that.  For me, the woman has to not just consent.  She has to want to do it, however that is.”

Connie smiled then.

“Where were you when I was interested in men?  I might have changed my mind.  You see anything here that relates to our case?”

Tom shook his head.

“No, I don’t.  We’ll seal the room until our investigation is complete, but I don’t see any reason to take any of this back with us.  Let’s go back and add Mister Ramadi’s information to our case board and see if that leads us anywhere.”

The case board for most murders is a white board with fairly standard columns for the types of information that’s been useful in solving cases in the past.  Typical columns are sex, age, race, education, and occupation of the victim.  The location of the body will be listed and if it is suspected that that location isn’t the initial crime scene, there will be a column for that as well.  As the investigation progresses, the detectives will add any other information they find.  The case board is just a way to keep all the details about a case out in the open so they can be read at a glance.

This case board was different in that there had been two prior victims.  The categories of the columns were the same, but each victim was a row on the side.  That was a quick way of comparing information about each victim to the others.  That’s important in the case of a serial killer because they almost always pick a specific type of victim.

When Tom and Connie added the information about Mr. Ramadi in a row below the black woman, it still didn’t tell them anything.  When she sat back down at her desk, Connie sighed.

“This doesn’t tell me anything except maybe we don’t have a serial killer.  Maybe this guy just likes stabbing people.”

Tom shook his head.

“No, he’s a serial killer all right.  A random killer wouldn’t use exactly the same method on each victim.  Serial killers tend to develop a technique over time that works and once they find it, they don’t change.  Some of them have been found to have murder kits in their house or car that reflects the method.  If the killer always ties up the victim, that kit will have what the killer used to tie them up.  If the killer drugs the victim first, that drug will be in the kit.  If the killer uses a particular type of weapon that weapon will be in the kit.

“We have a serial killer.  We’re just missing the common denominator of the victims.  Once we find that, we’ll be closer to developing some suspects.”

Tom looked at Connie and frowned then.

“You said “guy” before.  We don’t know if the killer is male or female and there have been female serial killers.  Don’t let yourself start thinking it’s a guy.  If you do, you’ll miss some evidence that might break the case.”

Connie smiled.

“Tom, you’re right.  I shouldn’t have said what I did.  It’s just that how would a normal woman be able to just walk up to a man as big as Ramadi and stick a knife in him hard enough to leave the marks from the guard on his skin?”

Tom shrugged.

“It’s not as hard as you might think.  The Marine’s taught me that too.  If you try to stab somebody in the chest like they do in the movies, yes, that going to take some strength because you either have to stick the knife between the victim’s ribs or make the thrust hard enough to partially cut through them.  You always aim for the soft parts of the body like the neck, under the collar bone, crotch, inside of the elbow or the belly.  It doesn’t take much to cut deep on one of those places if the knife is sharp enough.  In all these cases, the knife went in under the ribs, so it would have been pretty easy to do with a sharp knife, probably a lot easier than cutting a steak with a steak knife.”

Connie nodded.

“I was never a Marine, so I’ll take your word for it.  Speaking of steak though, I’m starving.  Wanna hit Cowboy Dan’s for a steak and a beer.”

Tom thought for a second and then said he’d probably better pass.  When Connie asked him why, he said it was better if they just kept their relationship on a professional level.  Connie laughed then.

“You mean to tell me you’ve never had dinner with another detective?”

“Well, yes I have but they weren’t a-“

Connie cut him off.

“They weren’t a woman.  That’s what you were going to say, isn’t it?  I thought you were a little more tolerant that that, but maybe I was wrong.”

Tom tried to apologize.

“No, it’s not that.  Well, it is in some ways.  I kind of like you and I don’t want things to get too…we need to just act like two detectives, not like a man and a woman.”

“And you don’t think I can to that?  I already told you I’m not into men all that much.  On second thought, maybe you don’t think you can do that.  Well, let me tell you something.  If you tried anything, I’d go straight to HR and your career would be over.

“Now, can you be a man and agree to have dinner with me, or are you going to wimp out because you can’t control your sexual urges any better than when you were sixteen?”

Tom didn’t really have a good answer, so he finally agreed.

When Tom got home that night, he had to agree that dinner with Connie had been pretty nice and it was probably time it happened.  He’d always wanted to know as much about a partner as he could.  That way, he could form an opinion about how that partner would react in situations that weren’t the normal role of a detective.  Mostly, detectives worked a case after everything was over so they didn’t get involved anything physical.  That’s what the uniforms were for.

There were a few occasions in Tom’s career when he’d been surprised though.  On one such occasion, Tom and his partner had been canvassing the neighborhood where a shooting had taken place.  Neither of them knew the house where he knocked on the door was where the shooter lived.  

He hadn’t more than gotten, “I’m Detective Coventry and I’d like to talk to you about –“ when a man appeared behind the woman who answered the door.  The man took one look at Tom, then pulled a pistol from the front of his pants.  Tom dived for the side of the door and was pulling his sidearm when Nick fired twice and killed the man.

What Nick did had probably saved Tom’s life, and it was exactly what Tom expected a good partner would do.  He still didn’t have that confidence in Connie, but he felt better about her after that dinner.

She’d entered the police academy five years before and had graduated with honors.  That excellent service had continued for the next four and a half years.  That was when Connie took the test to qualify for a detective’s position and had done very well.  

She told Tom she took the test because she’d heard the Mayor had ordered the department to hire more female detectives and she was tired of running down criminals who thought they could escape.

“I ran track in high school and won most of my races.  My best time in the fifty was only a second off the time of the best guy on the team, and my best time in the hundred was only two seconds short of the school record that was also set by a guy.

“The hard part wasn’t catching up to them.  The hard part was I weigh about a hundred and ten so taking them down was pretty hard.  If I hadn’t learned martial arts while I was in college, I probably wouldn’t have been able to do it.”

She’d grinned at Tom then.

“You weigh what…maybe two ten?  I could put you on the ground in about three seconds.  It’s all a matter of leverage and using your weight against you.”

Tom had grinned back.

“Well, the Marine’s taught me that too.  What would you do if I fought back?”

Connie smiled.

“Well, that’s what Taser’s are for, isn’t it?”

Tom knew he wouldn’t know until the time came when he needed Connie to prove herself, but he felt better about her.  He went to sleep thinking maybe she’d work out all right.

The preliminary analysis of what the Crime Scene Techs had found was in Tom’s inbox the next morning.  As usual, they’d done a very thorough job, but the result was the same as with the other two murders.  There were no fingerprints or DNA found on anything they picked up or on any samples Mason had sent them from the morgue.

Tom had resigned himself to not solving this case until the killer killed again.  At some point the killer had to make a mistake.  He just had to wait until that happened.  That’s what he told Connie, and she frowned.

“You’re just going to give up?”

Tom shook his head.

“No, but do you see anything else to investigate?  All we know is the killer uses a sharp stilleto type knife, probably a switchblade and that whoever it is knows enough about police work to not leave any evidence behind.”

“Except for the cards”, said Connie.

Tom nodded,

“Yes, but they don’t get us any closer to the killer.  You saw the report on them.  If we checked on everybody who bought a deck of those cards we’d be talking to people for the next twenty years.

“No, the only chance we have is to wait until the killer kills again.  Most serial killers have a set frequency and this one looks like it’s about a month between kills.  Hopefully, the next time the killer will give us some evidence that leads us somewhere.  Until then, we’ll work on the other two murders we’ve been assigned to.”

For the next two weeks, Tom and Connie worked the two murder cases.  One was easy to solve because it was committed in back of a liquor store that had two security cameras watching the alley.  Those cameras caught a view of the killer’s face as well as the license number of the car that drove down the alley to pick him up.  

The license number led them to the owner of the vehicle who ultimately confessed to knowing the murderer and picking him up in the alley.  Faced with the knowledge that the owner of the vehicle would testify in court, the killer also confessed and pleaded guilty.

Tom and Connie solved the second murder as well, but solving that one was more difficult.  

The victim had been found shot dead in the passenger seat of his car that was parked behind an abandoned warehouse.  There wasn’t enough blood inside the car to indicate the victim had been shot there.  The murder had to have occurred in a different location, the body loaded into the car, and then the car driven to the warehouse.  The question was, where was the actual murder committed.

Tom was stumped even after the Crime Lab had swept the inside of the car, the victim’s clothing, and dusted everything for fingerprints.  The only prints they got were from the victim.  Everything else in the car appeared to have been wiped clean.  The victim had no identification, but the wear pattern on one hip pocket indicated he usually carried a wallet there.

The only thing they found that looked odd was a faint residue of a black powder on the tires of the vehicle.  Mason had found that same black powder imbedded in the victim’s skin.  Subsequent analysis of the black powder indicated it was a mixture of carbon in the form of graphite and very fine iron particles.

Connie ran the victim’s prints through AFIS and came up with a name while Tom looked for anyplace in the city where that black powder would be found.  He still hadn’t found anything when Connie said she knew what the powder was.

“My dad was a mechanic and he used to come home with that stuff in his clothes and on his skin.  He said he got it from turning brake drums and discs, and it wouldn’t come out of the pores of his skin.  Mom always complained that the bed sheets were black and rusty looking on his side.  

“He said it comes from very fine cuts on cast iron.  Our victim, a Mister Juan Mendoza, was an auto mechanic.  He also had a record.  Two years ago, he was convicted of robbery and served two years of a three-year sentence.  I called his parole officer and she said Mister Mendoza was working at Angelino’s Garage down in Little Mexico on South Park.  

“When I was a patrol officer, we staked out Angelino’s Garage several times because we were sure someone there was dealing drugs.  We never found any hard evidence, but about once a week this van would drive into the shop, stay an hour and then drive out.  

“We did a couple traffic stops on the van, but we couldn’t see anything obvious and the driver was always cooperative.  We didn’t have enough to get a search warrant for the van or the shop, but we were sure the van was bringing drugs to the place.  I’d bet Mister Mendoza was involved in drugs somehow and that’s what got him killed.”

The interview with the owner, Mister Angelino, proved that to be very informative.   

Mister Angelino said Mister Mendoza did indeed work at the shop but hadn’t come to work for two days.  He gave Tom Mister Mendoza’s home address.  When Tom informed Mister Angelino that Mister Mendoza was deceased, Mister Angelino frowned and said that explained why he hadn’t been to work.

“He stayed over two days ago to finish up a set of brakes.  He’d done that before, stayed over and then closed up the shop when he finished.  This time though, when I came in the next morning, the shop wasn’t locked and the car was still up on the rack.  It was like Juan just left in the middle of the job.”

Tom asked if it would be all right if he and Connie looked around.  Mister Angelino’s face blanched then.

“Why do you want to search my shop?  Do you think he was killed here?”

Tom turned to Connie and smiled.  She smiled back.  Tom had only said Mister Mendoza was deceased, not how he’d died.

Tom smiled at Mister Angelino then.

“What makes you think he was killed?”

Mister Angelino’s answer was sputtered.

“Well…I don’t know…I just thought…well…I heard one of the other guys ask Juan if he knew where he could find some cocaine.  I just figured Juan was selling drugs and somebody killed him.”

Tom didn’t give Mister Angelino time to think.

“If you thought he was selling drugs, why didn’t call the police?  If he was and you didn’t, that makes you just as guilty as he was.  I can charge you with aiding and abetting.”

Tom frowned then.

“Of maybe you were the one doing the dealing.  Mister Mendoza figured that out and was going to go to the police.  You waited until he was alone in your shop, then killed him so he couldn’t.”

Tom took the handcuffs from the belt on his waist.

“Turn around and put your hands behind your back.”

Mister Angelino said, “I don’t care what you think.  I didn’t shoot Juan and you can’t prove that I did.”

Tom calmly said, “I’m not going to ask you again.  Turn around and put your hands behind your back.  You’re being detained until we can search your shop.”

He turned to Connie then.

“Detective Reynolds, we need a backup patrol unit and the Crime Scene techs.  You call them while I put Mister Angelino in our car.”

Even if he hadn’t winked at her, Connie would have known Tom was bluffing.  They didn’t have enough evidence to get a search warrant so even if the patrol unit and Crime Scene techs showed up, they couldn’t do anything.  All they had was a slip up by Mister Angelino that wouldn’t stand up to scrutiny by a judge.  She took the radio from her belt and keyed the transmit button.

“Dispatch, this is Detective Reynolds.  I need a patrol unit and a Crime Scene unit to 12536 South Park.”

Tom had already walked Mister Angelino out the door when Dispatch responded with, “Detective Reynolds, ETA for the patrol unit is ten minutes.  ETA for the Crime Scene Techs is half an hour.”

As soon as Dispatch responded, Connie cancelled the request for the Crime Scene unit, then walked outside to join up with Tom.

“Detective Coventry, ETA on the patrol units is five minutes.  Crime Scene will be here in ten.”

Tom nodded and then looked Mister Angelino in the face.

“That means you have about ten minutes before you’re in a patrol car and headed to jail while we tear your shop apart.  I’m betting we find some blood somewhere and if we start looking in cabinets, probably some drugs or drug residue.  The murder conviction will get you at least thirty years without the possibility of parole and possession with intent to deliver another ten. You’re what, maybe forty?  That means you’ll get out when you’re eighty, well, assuming you make it that long.  Prison life can be pretty hard on a man.

“Now, if you start being honest with me, it doesn’t have to end up that way.  If you tell us what happened, the DA might accept a plea to second degree murder and simple possession.  That’s still a total of thirty years or so, but you might get out sooner if you behave yourself.  What’s it gonna be?”

Mister Angelina swore.

“Goddamnit, I told you I didn’t shoot Juan.”

Tom smiled.

“I never said he was shot.  Sounds to me like you know he was shot, and I don’t know how you’d know that unless it was you who shot him.”

That seemed to take the wind out of Mister Angelino’s sails.

“Look, Detective, I didn’t kill Juan.  I know who did, but if I tell you he’ll kill me too.”

Tom shrugged.

“If you tell me everything, maybe we can get you moved into the witness protection program.  I’m not promising that, but I can promise you it won’t happen if you don’t start talking.  

“The other thing is, I’ve seen at least four people watching us when I took you out of the building in handcuffs.  I’d bet the word is already out that you’ve talked to the police.  Seems to me like you’re in worse trouble if you don’t talk to us, but maybe you like taking risks.”

Mister Angelino nodded.

“That’s what they’ll figure I did.  I guess I don’t have much choice.”

Mister Angelino was in the back of their plain car when the patrol unit rolled up.  Tom asked them to secure the garage and then he and Connie drove back to the station with Mister Angelino.

At the station, Mister Angelino proved to be a wealth of information about not only Mister Mendoza’s death but also about the drugs that were moving through his business. Tom had figured out the scenario.  He was just wrong about the killer.  Both were the actions of one Ramone Valesquez, a mechanic who worked there.  Mister Angelino was aware of the drug dealing, but Mister Valesquez had threatened to kill him and his family if he went to the police.  Mister Mendoza had indicated to Mister Angelino that he was thinking of calling the police because he didn’t want to be involved in anything that might send him back to prison.  Mister Angelino had told Mister Valesquez about Mister Mendoza’s plan.

A day later, six patrol officers surrounded Mister Valesquez’ apartment and then took him into custody.  The search warrant on his apartment revealed a kilogram of marijuana, half a kilogram of cocaine, and three handguns.  One of those handguns was matched to the bullet Mason retrieved from Mister Mendoza’s body.  That handgun also had Mister Velesquez’ fingerprints and two drops of blood on the muzzle.  The DNA test on the blood indicated it belonged to Mister Mendoza.

Mister Valesquez was charged with first degree murder and possession with intent to distribute.   Based upon the amount of evidence proving he had murdered Mister Mendoza, Mister Valesquez’ attorney recommended he take the offered plea of second degree murder.  He had done so and was currently residing in jail and awaiting sentencing.  Mister Angelino was released without being charged because he didn’t appear to have had any involvement in either the drugs sales or the murder, and he’d furnished the information that led to the resolution of the murder case.

The afternoon Mister Valesquez pleaded guilty, Connie closed up her desk, then looked at Tom and grinned.

“I feel like celebrating.  How about we have a few beers and then dinner?”

Tom wasn’t reluctant this time because he thought he’d found a fit with Connie as his partner.  She knew what she was doing and she was smart enough to follow his lead.  He figured this would be just like the many dinners he’d had with other partners.

The two beers he and Connie had before dinner relaxed him a lot, enough that he let his guard down and told Connie a lot more than he’d planned on ever telling anyone.  The two beers were responsible for some of that, but Connie was responsible for the rest.  She was very easy to talk to.

After the first beer, Tom decided Connie was also very easy to look at.  A suit and tie were the standard uniform for male detectives, but the department hadn’t gotten around to specifying the proper wear for a female detective.  As a result, Connie wore nice pants and blouses and a jacket that covered her sidearm, radio, and handcuff case.

That night, she left the jacket in Tom’s car when they got to the restaurant.  He didn’t see her do it, but he could have sworn that her blouse was buttoned up to her neck during the day.  That night, her blouse had the top three buttons unbuttoned, and the gap was showing some very sexy looking cleavage.

Dinner went about like most dinners between detectives who are working a case together.  They talked about the last case and had a mutual laugh over Tom’s bluff.

“Did you see Angelino’s face when you told him you were going to have the Crime Scene techs tear his shop apart?  I thought he was going to pee his pants.”

Tom grinned.

“Well, you did really good too.  It was you who knew about the history of the garage.  It would have taken me a week to find that out.  You should be proud of yourself.”

Connie smiled.

“I am, but it’s you I have to thank for that.  When I got my first assignment as a patrol officer, the guys didn’t want to have anything to do with me.  It wasn’t until I proved I was just as good a cop as they were that they finally sort of accepted me.   

“You didn’t make any comments about me being a woman and you didn’t hold back on giving me things to do that were important to the case.  Most men would have let me tag along, but I’d have been more secretary than partner.  I won’t ever forget that.”

Tom didn’t know what to say, so he changed the subject to their serial murder case.

“Well, you’re going to get a real workout if we’re going to solve the serial case we have.  A lot of these types of cases take years to solve.  Some from twenty, even thirty years ago are still open.  Of course, back then they didn’t know about DNA so they didn’t take that type of evidence.  We at least have that on our side.  One of these days, our killer is going to slip up and leave some evidence for us that will lead us to solving the cases.”

Connie smiled.

“You never give up, do you?”

“No.  I get paid to never give up.  Besides, giving up would be like losing, and I don’t like losing.”

Connie smiled.

“Well, right now, I feel like giving up and going to bed.  Can you take me back to the station to get my car?”

Half way to his car, Connie stumbled and grabbed Tom’s shoulder to keep from falling.  When she straightened back up, he asked if she was all right.  Connie chuckled.

“Well, I thought I was, but I think that third beer is catching up with me.  If I try to drive home, you’ll probably have to arrest me for DUI as soon as I start out of the lot.  I know it’s out of your way, but could you take me home?  I’ll take a cab to the station tomorrow morning.”

Connie didn’t say anything until Tom pulled up in the drive of her house.  When he shut off his engine, he turned to her and said, “OK, you’re home safe and sound.  Anything else I can do for you, like maybe walk you to the door in case you start to fall down again?”

Connie smiled and said she’d like that.  After Tom walked around his car and opened her door, she stepped out and touched him on the arm.

“Tom, I know you’re going to think I’m just drunk, but there is one more thing you can do for me.”

In spite of the tingle running up his arm, Tom tried to stay professional.

“Sure.  You want me to unlock your door?”

As Connie slipped her hand from Tom’s forearm up to his shoulder, she smiled.

“No, Tom.  Remember when I told you that women like sex but only when they feel like it?  Well, over the last two weeks, we put two of the bad guys in prison for a long time.  I feel really good about that…”

Connie put her other hand on Tom’s other shoulder.

“…good enough that I feel…”

Connie slipped her hands from Tom’s shoulders to around his neck and then stepped close enough he felt her breasts against his chest.

“…good enough that I’m feeling a need that I can’t fill by myself.  Do you understand what I’m saying?”

Tom did understand, and that he was even considering it bothered him.

“Connie, I’m … well, it’s not that…what I mean is, this would change our relationship in ways that I’m not sure would be good.”

Connie moved closer, close enough Tom felt her thigh slip between his.

“Even if it’s just this once?  That’s all it would be, Tom, just this once to celebrate what we did together, and I don’t want you to stay all night.  If I didn’t really need this, I wouldn’t ask, but I do…I really, really do.”

Connie moved her thigh in tighter and then smiled.

“I think you want to.  It feels to me like you do.”

It was one in the morning when Tom left Connie lying naked in her bed and got in his car to drive home.  As he drove through the mostly deserted streets, he didn’t know how he was supposed to feel because he had a lot of feelings that conflicted with each other.

He’d violated one of his personal codes.  That code was to never get involved with a woman where he worked.  He’d seen that happen to other officers and detectives and while it worked some of the time, it often didn’t.  

At best it was awkward juggling the responsibilities of work with the responsibilities of a relationship with a woman.  Some women seemed to think that just because she was sleeping with another officer he should put her over the needs of his job.  If they worked different shifts, it wasn’t unusual for one of the couple to think the other was having an affair at work.  That was how they got together, wasn’t it?  Why was the other always calling and saying they’d be late?

He’d also learned something about Connie that he’d never suspected before that night.  He’d assumed she was either a lesbian or just didn’t like men because of what she’d said.  Connie had changed that opinion as soon as led him to her bedroom.  She’d looked at Tom and smiled.

“I’m too far gone to wait for you to undress me.”

With that, she quickly unbuttoned the remaining buttons on her blouse, pulled it off, and dropped it on the floor while she was kicking off her shoes.  Her pants came off next and as she was stepping out of them, she purred at Tom.

“I need to be screwed and you’re not going to be of much use with your clothes on.”

Tom quickly kicked off his shoes and then took off his jacket.  He was unbuttoning his shirt when Connie unhooked her bra.  He had to pause when she slipped the straps down her arms.

Her breasts weren’t huge but Tom had never liked really huge breasts anyway.  What made him pause was Connie stroked her breasts, pinched her nipples, and then moaned, “Oh God, Tom…hurry up.”

Tom stepped out of his pants and was pulling off his underwear when Connie pulled her thong panties down and then stepped out of them.  She moved her left hand to her right breast and her right hand to her hair-covered mound.  Tom stepped out of his underwear at the same time Connie stroked between her thighs and then murmured, “God, I’m already wet.”

Connie flopped back on her bed then, spread her thighs apart, and held out her arms.  Tom laid down beside her and stroked her side before cupping her breast.  Connie sighed when he lightly squeezed the firm globe and then caught her breath when he rubbed his thumb over her nipple.  He felt it begin to swell after he stroked it again, and he also felt Connie lift her hips a little.

Tom kept lightly stroking that nipple until it was taut, then bent his head down enough he could close his lips around the turgid nub.  Connie caught her breath when he closed his lips and sucked in gently.  After she breathed out, she murmured, “Oh God, yes.  Do that some more and do it harder.”

Tom switched nipples when Connie started to breathe faster, and when he felt her sliding her hand down over his belly, he moved his hand to her mound.  He felt hair just as Connie found his cock, and moved his fingertip down over her swollen lips at the same time she made the first gentle stroke with her fingertips.

Connie gasped and jerked her hips when Tom slipped his middle finger between her puffy lips.  She was right about being wet.  Tom’s finger slipped all they way to her thin, rippled inner lips and when he stroked them, Connie tightened her grip around his cock a little.

It didn’t take any effort at all to slide his finger down to Connie’s entrance.  Tom figured he could have pushed his cock inside her right then, but he wasn’t ready yet.  He wanted to be sure Connie was ready.

Tom slipped his middle finger in and out a few times, then slipped in his ring finger too.  Connie moaned as the increase in size, but she lifted her body up to push those two fingers inside her until Tom’s palm bottomed out on her swollen lips.

Connie moaned when he slipped them back and up over her inner lips, then gasped when he found her clit and pinched it gently between his fingers.  He did the same thing four times before Connie gasped, “God, Tom, do me now.  I’m so hot I’m ready to explode.”

The first thing Tom felt when he pushed his cock head inside Connie was that she might have been an easy fit for two fingers because she was so wet, but she was still a tight fit on his cock.  He made it inside her until her lips wrapped around his cock head before he felt her tighten up.  

He pulled back out, rubbed his cock head up over her clit a few times, and then found her entrance again.  This time, Connie seemed more open so he pushed in until his cock head slipped past the tight spot just inside her lips.  He was going to pull back out until Connie moaned and lifted herself into that stroke and basically impaled herself.  Tom’s cock was stopped only because the base of his cock flattened out Connie’s lips.

Connie moaned again and he felt her tighten up inside.  He also felt her hands on his back and holding him inside her.  When she relaxed a little Tom pulled back out, paused a second, and then pushed back in.

Connie grabbed his hips and lifted her self up, then moaned, “Oh God, Tom.  Do me faster.  I need to go faster.”

That was the first time in his life a woman had ever told him to go faster.  Usually it was something like, “Slow down a little until I catch up with you.”  It was also the first time he’d ever had a woman meet his stroke half-way, but that’s what Connie was doing.  With every stroke he made, Connie would use her legs to thrust herself up and she didn’t stop until his cock was buried as deep in her wet, contracting passage as it would go.

Connie would ease back down on the bed when Tom withdrew his cock, but as soon as he started to push it back inside her, Tom would feel her thighs tighten against his waist and feel her hands pulling on his hips.

Connie’s breathing was just panting by then, and the combination of the little moans she was making, her hands pulling on his hips, and the way her passage seemed to grip his cock was taking Tom to the end a lot faster than he remembered before.

He sucked Connie’s left nipple hard and when her body jerked, he whispered,  “We need to slow down a little, Connie.”

Connie rocked her body up into that stroke and then gasped, “Oh God no.  Don’t slow down.  Go faster.  I’m almost there.”

Almost there meant six ramming strokes that each caused Connie to gasp, and then one more stroke of his cock that made her raise up and hold herself there.  Tom felt Connie’s thighs begin to shake just before she cried out, “Now…Oh God…now.”

Connie started rocking her pelvis up and down then so fast that all Tom could do was hold himself in place and let Connie’s quivering body take him the rest of the way.  Connie shrieked and dug her nails into his butt as the first spurt raced up his shaft.  She kept shaking and making little mewing noises while Tom gasped out a second and then a third spurt.

Even when Tom sagged into his arms, Connie didn’t stop.  She kept rocking her body over his cock and clutching as his hips to keep him deep inside her.  After a while, the rocking slowed and Connie started making little purring sounds.  When she eased back down on the mattress, she pulled Tom down with her.

For a while, Tom felt Connie’s passage contract and then relax.  Then his cock softened enough it slipped out of her.  Connie stroked his chest and whispered, “Thank you Tom.  I needed that so bad.”

It had taken Connie all of five minutes to fall asleep.  Tom crawled out of bed, covered her up, and then dressed.  He was careful to lock the front door behind him when he left.

As Tom undressed again in his own bedroom, he was still confused.  He should feel bad about what he’d done and he should probably ask the Captain to assign Connie to another detective.  That would be the right thing to do.  He could make up an excuse like he thought she needed experience with another detective so she could learn different techniques.  Yes, that would work and he wouldn’t have to embarrass either himself or Connie by telling the Captain the real reason.

That was his first thought, but then a second thought pushed that one out of his mind.  If he asked to have Connie reassigned, it was likely they wouldn’t see much of each other again.  Tom thought about that and it bothered him.  Yes, Connie had said that night would be just once, but after that just once, Tom didn’t think it could ever be just once.

The reason was that before he’d slept with Connie, she’d just been a new detective who turned out to be a very good partner.  After that night…

Tom couldn’t bring himself to really analyze his thoughts, but he knew Connie wasn’t just his partner at the station anymore.  Somehow, he’d have to figure out a way to keep her close.  Maybe if he could do that, she’d decide just once wasn’t enough.   He knew just once wasn’t enough for him.  It wasn’t the physical act.  It was the emotions she’d stirred in him, emotions Tom thought had left along with his ex-wife.

Tom got to the station earlier than usual the next morning.  He told himself it was time to start concentrating on the serial killer again, but in reality he wanted to see how Connie acted.  Would she be the same Connie as before, all business with her pad and pen and taking notes, or would she smile knowingly at him?  

Tom was looking at the file on the serial murder cases when the Captain phoned and asked Tom to come to his office.

When Tom knocked on the door, the Captain motioned him inside and asked him to close the door.

That was pretty unusual.  The Captain didn’t usually care who heard what so he almost never close his office door to talk with anybody.  The only time Tom could remember him doing that was when he fired a detective and then arrested him for taking bribes.

The Captain was frowning when he asked Tom to have a seat.  That was a sure sign to Tom that this wasn’t going to be good.  Maybe somehow the Captain had found out about him and Connie and was going to tell Tom he was being returned to the uniform force or maybe even fired.  Once Tom was seated, the Captain pulled a folder from his desk drawer.

“Tom, this is Connie’s resignation.  She gave it to me two weeks ago, but asked me not to say anything because she wanted to keep working on the cases you two had.  She called me at home this morning and asked that I tell you before I told everybody else.

“Apparently her mother had a stroke and needs full time care.  Connie said her mother is relatively well off, but couldn’t continue to afford a full time nurse so Connie is going to find a job with the police department in Sedalia, Missouri where her mother lives and take care of her when she’d not on duty.

“I won’t have another rookie detective for about two more months, so you’ll be working your cases alone until then.  Damn shame about Connie.  She was shaping up to be a really great detective.  I never told you, but once she got the job, she specifically asked to be assigned to you for her probationary period.”

Tom went back to his desk then, but didn’t pick up the case file.  He’d been a little confused about Connie and what had happened last night, but now he was completely confused.  What this why she’d said it would be only once?  If that was the reason, why hadn’t she told him?  He’d have understood or at least tried to.

Now…It had been just once, but Tom was thinking maybe Connie was the woman he’d always wanted and also wondering if she felt the same way.  He couldn’t figure out any other reason she’d basically ask him to make love to her or the way she’d acted when he had.  That hadn’t felt to him like just a woman who wanted to be fucked.  It had felt like a woman who felt more for him than just using him as a cock to get herself off.

By three that afternoon, Tom had given up trying to work on any cases.  On his way home, he stopped by a convenience store and bought a twelve pack of Corona, and then stopped at a burger place for two double cheeseburgers and an order of onion rings.  By five, he’d eaten and settled down to drink enough Corona to put him to sleep.

The next day wasn’t much better.  He told the Captain he was going to go to the scenes of the first two serial killings to refresh his memory.  He did that, but not before he drove to Connie’s house.

When he got there, her car was gone, but when he looked though a window, all the furniture he remembered was still there.  Maybe she hadn’t left yet.  Maybe if he waited, she come back and he could talk to her.  

That hope was dashed when a neighbor walked over.

“You looking for the woman who lives here?”

Tom said he was.  The woman frowned.

“You aren’t going to find her.  Left this morning with two suitcases and a bunch of boxes.  I watched her from my kitchen window.”

The woman sighed.

“Never should have bought a house next to one that gets rented out.  I suppose I’ll get some college guys now who’ll rent it because it’s furnished.  Had two of them before the woman rented it.  Always bringing their girlfriends here on the weekends. Would you believe they’d go out in the back yard at night and spread out a blanket and drink and carry on and then…well, they ended up naked and everything.  I might have done that when I was twenty and my Harry was still alive, but not right in town where the neighbors could watch.

“At least this woman didn’t do anything like that.  She was a good neighbor, always quiet and never had any parties.  Only talked to me once and that was to tell me she was a police detective and that I shouldn’t be concerned if she left in the middle of the night or came home really late.  She said that’s what police officers have to do sometimes when they’re working on a case.  I watch a couple cop shows on TV and that’s what they do, so I believed her.”

As Tom drove to the scene of the first crime, the older white man, he tried to put Connie out of his head.  His logic was that she obviously liked him enough to make love with him, but her family came first.  He wished she’d explained all that before she left, but maybe she couldn’t because she was as upset as he was.

What he needed was to see her again so they could talk things out.  If there was really something between them, there were ways they could be together.  Tom wasn’t tied to his job, so he could easily move to Sedalia or some place close and get a detective’s job.  His record of solved cases already brought him job offers from other police departments.

It wouldn’t be difficult to find out where Connie was living, though it was against department policy to use police access to the records of other states for personal business.  He could always claim he needed to ask her about one of the cases they were working and used his access to find her.

Tom now had a plan, and so he felt better when he drove up to the first crime scene, the scene where the serial killer had killed the older white man.  The man had been found dead on a running path that led through a thick stand trees and bushes by the river.  His wife said her husband always went for a run at five in the morning because he wouldn’t meet anybody else at that early hour.

He had met someone at a place where the running path turned back toward the parking lot.  That someone had stuck a knife in him and then left him lying there to be found by another runner about two hours later

When Tom looked at the location again, nothing stood out to him.  There was no place for the killer to hide so the killer must have just walked or run up to the man, stabbed him, and then left.  At the time he started the investigation, Tom figured the killer had parked in the lot, walked down the path in the opposite direction and after killing the man, had walked back to the lot and drove away.  He and Connie had canvassed the area looking for any surveillance cameras but the area didn’t have any businesses or homes because it was in the flood plain of the river.

The second location, the location where the black woman was killed didn’t trigger anything in Tom either.  That location was in the alley half a block from the bar where the woman worked as a waitress.  Her residence was an apartment building two blocks from the bar, and the owner said she usually left through the rear exit and took the alley to the street.

Mason had guessed her time of death at between three and four in the morning which would have been a little after the time the bar closed.  That area of the city was usually pretty quiet at that time of night because the businesses were upscale places frequented by the wealthier residents of the city.  The Mayor made sure to keep enough officers in the area that it stayed safe.

Tom and Connie had canvassed the businesses on the alley and on the streets the woman would have probably taken on her way home.  There were several businesses on the streets with surveillance cameras, but the woman never appeared on any of the video.  The bar did have a surveillance camera watching the alley and did show the woman leaving the rear exit of the bar, but the view stopped about twenty feet from where the woman was found.

As Tom drove back to the station, another commonality between all three victims dawned on him.  All three had been killed in places where it was unlikely anyone else would be at the time they were murdered, and all three were in places where they habitually were at the time of their murder.  To him, that meant the killer at least knew of all three and had probably studied what they did every day.

Who could do that without being noticed?  Tom didn’t know.  He’d talked to everyone who worked the bar and none of them had seen anyone they didn’t recognize watching the woman.  There was nobody to talk to for the first victim, because the area was always deserted at that time of morning.  His wife said she’d been worried because he was out running so early, but he’d told her the only people he ever saw was a police cruiser making its rounds so it would be safe.

When he got back to the station, there was a note on his desk to call Patti in the Crime Lab.  When he did, Tom got the first real evidence that meant something when he put it together with the other things he knew.

Patti asked Tom to come to the Crime Lab because she had something to show him.  When he got there, she waved him over to her work area.

“Tom, when I looked at the playing card on the last victim, I found something, but it’s so tiny I almost missed it.  Have a look.”

Tom looked through the microscope on Patti’s table and then raised back up.

“I don’t see anything except a little dirt.”

Patti grinned.

“That’s what I thought it was at first, but then I looked closer.  What it is, is a piece of rubber.  The card is new so the edges are sharp.  You know how you can get a paper cut from a piece of paper?  What I think is that the killer shaved of a tiny piece of rubber glove when they pulled the card out of wherever they had it.”

Tom smiled.

“OK, I’ll buy that, but it could have ended up there when they made the deck of cards.”

Patti shook her head.  “No, because I know where the rubber came from.  It’s the exact same black nitrile rubber that our police gloves are made of.  I can tell because of how the cut surface looks.”

“Patti, the gloves we use are blue, not black.”

Pattie grinned again.

“The gloves detectives and techs use are blue nitrile, but the patrol officer’s gloves are black nitrile.  They’re black because it makes it easier to see white powder like from cocaine or some other drug.  The black gloves also make the officer look scarier than blue gloves would.”

Tom was still skeptical.  

“Well, there must be a thousand different kinds of black nitrile gloves used by thousands of people besides police officers.  How do you know this piece of rubber came from a cop’s glove?”

“Well, actually, I found two pieces of rubber.  The one you just looked at was the smallest of the two.  The other one, I put through the mass spectrometer to see the chemical composition.  Then I compared that composition to our database of glove manufacturers and the compositions they use.

“Most nitrile glove manufacturers make gloves for protecting your hands from chemicals, but police gloves have to also be puncture resistant.  That means the composition has to be different.  There are only two manufacturers who make gloves that meet our department standards.  We buy gloves from both of them and they both use the same formula to make their nitrile rubber.  It might not have been a police officer who wore the glove, but it was a police glove.”

“So I’m looking for a cop?”

Patti nodded.

“Unfortunately, that’s what it looks like to me.  Police gloves are three times the price of the gloves you can buy at Home Depot or Lowes or Walmart.  I don’t know why any ordinary person would pay that much unless they really needed the puncture resistance.  The department doesn’t care how much they cost.  All the department is looking for is a way to avoid a patrol officer getting a finger stick or a cut.”

When Tom sat back down at his desk, things were starting to fall into place a little.  Serial killers never look like a person who’d be killing multiple people.  They always look like any other person including a police officer.  A patrol officer wouldn’t attract notice watching a running path or an alley or the park.  People would just think he was doing his job.  

People also probably wouldn’t try to fight a police officer unless they were guilty of some recent crime.  The safe bet would have been to listen to what the officer had to say and then calmly explain that they couldn’t have possibly done anything.  That would explain the lack of defensive wounds on all three victims.  The officer would have just walked up to the person and said something, and before the person could react, the officer stabbed them.

As for where the officer might have learned that technique with a knife, it could have been from several sources.  Many police officers were former military and Tom knew of at least six who were in some sort of special forces unit before joining the police force.  It was very possible that he wouldn’t know that a very specific knife fighting technique had been part of their training since much of special forces training was classified.

So, now, Tom had over three hundred possible suspects and a definite means, but still no motive.  He reasoned that if the killer was the common factor in all three murders, the motive would be common as well.

Tom used the only other evidence he had in an attempt to find that common motive and that was the history of the three victim’s prior engagement with law enforcement.  The information Connie had found didn’t show any obvious common motive, so Tom continued her search by requesting the police reports of each arrest and the trial transcripts for each victim.

It took a day for records to dig out that information, copy it, and send it to Tom.  He used that time to do a personal search of his own.  He started by looking up Connie’s personnel file.  He couldn’t get to the whole file because that would have entailed requesting the information from the HR department, but Tom only needed the name Connie had listed as her next of kin.  She’d never said anything about having a brother or sister, so her mother was probably her next of kin.  Once Tom had the mother’s name and address, he could find a phone number and call Connie.

That name was Eleanor Reynolds and Connie had also listed an address in Sedalia, Missouri and a phone number.  Tom wrote both on his notepad, and  had started keying the phone number into his cell phone when the Captain told him there’d been a man found shot in an alley in an area known for drug deals.

“Tom, It’s probably just another gang shooting so I doubt anybody there will talk to you, but drive over and see what you can find out.”

That took the rest of the day.  There were plenty of people living in second story apartments over businesses on both sides of the alley, but as usual, nobody had heard or seen anything.  Tom went back to the station and asked Mason if he’d found anything on the body.  Mason said not yet, but he was still working on it.

“All I know is the guy has gang tattoos all over his body and he was shot with what looks to me like a .38 or a 9 mil.  I’ll let you know as soon as I dig out the bullet.”

It was after five by then, so Tom went home and called the number for Eleanor Reynolds.  When the party on the other end of the call picked up, what he heard was a recorded female voice telling him that number was no longer in service.

That was a little troubling, but easily explainable.  Tom himself had changed phone numbers two times in his life.  Once was because a woman he’d broken up with decided to harass him with phone calls at two and three in the morning.  The second time was because some asshole in Florida by the name of Tom Coventry hadn’t paid his credit card bill in two years and the credit card company had turned the account over to a collection agency.  Somehow the collection agency had gotten his cell phone number and had been calling him three times a day.   Sending them proof that he wasn’t the same Tom Coventry didn’t work, so Tom changed his phone number.

Tom figured what had probably happened was something similar and Connie had just forgotten to change the phone number in her records.  He could look up the address the next morning and get the right phone number.

When Tom got to his desk the next morning, the case files for all three of his victims were on his desk.  He started with the murder of the older man and the more he read, the more uneasy he became.

Connie had evidently just checked NCIC for the man’s name and all she got back was his conviction for simple assault.  His case record showed a much more troubling background.  The assault charge had been pleaded down from sexual assault of a child because the only witness was the child and according to the defense attorney, her testimony was tainted by leading questions from the psychologist who questioned her.  The DA had nothing else so he allowed the man to plea to simple assault.

When Tom read the police officers’ reports of their investigation and arrest, he could understand why the DA had allowed the plea.  In his experience, kids were not very reliable witnesses to anything because they would usually answer questions like they thought they were supposed to answer.  The questions this psychologist had asked the child did seem to be leading the child to say she’d been molested.

Tom logged that information, but couldn’t make any connection between that and the man’s murder almost three years later.  It wasn’t until he looked at the signature on one of the police reports that a bell went off in his head.  One of the investigating officers was Officer Connie Reynolds.

While that could have been a coincidence, Tom didn’t believe in coincidences.  He picked up the file on the black woman, skipped over everything to the police officers’ reports and then looked at the names of the investigating officers.  One of them was Officer Connie Reynolds.

Tom scanned the rest of the file hoping he wouldn’t find what he suspected, but there it was.  The woman had originally been arrested for attempted murder, aggravated robbery, and prostitution.  According to the prosecuting attorney’s written statement, the woman had lured the man into an alley with the promise of sex.  Once there, she informed him he would have to pay.  When he refused, she took an unidentified round object , hit him repeatedly on the head until he lost consciousness, and then took his wallet.  

When arrested, the woman was found to be in possession of the man’s wallet with his credit cards, but no weapon was ever found.  She admitted to having sex with the man but not to robbing or killing him.  She said she’d found the wallet lying in the street eight blocks from where the victim had been found and had kept it with the intention of returning it to the man.  She’d just been arrested before she could do so.

There were no other witnesses and the man in question couldn’t testify because he was in a coma.  The doctors were reluctant to say if he’d ever come out of the coma, and even if he did, he might not be able to tell them anything.

The woman’s defense attorney said his client would plead no contest to robbery in order to put the matter to rest.  The DA accepted the plea since there wasn’t enough evidence to convict the woman for anything else.

When Tom looked at the third case, the case of Mister Ramadi, he found the same set of circumstances and the same outcome. That case was also pleaded down to soliciting after Mister Ramadi admitted to paying the victim for oral sex but not to beating her up.  The woman was more than willing to testify, but she’d had difficulty picking Mister Ramadi out of a lineup and the DA was pretty sure she wouldn’t maintain her story on the witness stand.  As soon as she said she wasn’t sure, what the jury would see is reasonable doubt and the result would be an acquittal.

Just like the other two, Connie had been one of the arresting officers.  Connie was the connection between the three that he’d missed.  He had to find her now, not just because he wanted to talk to her but because she’d just become a suspect.

Tom’s next step was to call the police department in Sedalia, Missouri and the Missouri State Police.  He gave them Connie’s description and department picture along with a description of her car and her license number and asked them to find Connie Reynolds and take her into custody.  It took two hours before he got a call from a detective in the Sedalia, Missouri Police Force.

“Detective Coventry, I’ve been through the Sedalia and surround area phone books and there’s no Eleanor Reynolds living in the area.  There are six other phone numbers with the last name of Reynolds and I went to each house, showed them the picture, and talked to every one, but they didn’t know an Eleanor or Connie Reynolds.  I wish I could be more help, but I don’t think your suspect is in Sedalia or the surrounding area.”

The call from the Missouri State Police came ten minutes later.  The Captain said they had put out a BOLO on the car but not to expect much.  

“Any person coming from Tennessee to Missouri would have to cross one of the bridges across the Mississippi and we have cameras on all the major bridges.  The problem is there is so much traffic it’ll take weeks to look at each car that crossed over the past three days.  There are a few other places to cross the Mississippi, but they’re on secondary highways and don’t have cameras.  I’ll keep you informed, but don’t hold your breath.”

Tom sat back to think.  It was pretty obvious the story about her mother had been a lie.  Connie had tried to cover her leaving with a rational story that would give her time to get away before it was questioned. Since she didn’t have a mother who lived in Sedalia, here else might she go?  

Tom thought her history might tell him about another relative or someplace she’d worked.  He had enough now to get her personnel file so he walked down to HR and explained what he wanted and why he wanted it.  Ten minutes later, he was reading her file.  After reading a page or two, he decided it was mostly a lie too.  

Connie’s Missouri Birth Certificate said she was born in St. Louis, Missouri to Harold and Eleanor Reynolds.  

Tom stopped reading there and called the county records clerk in St. Louis and asked the woman if she had a record of an infant named Connie Reynolds who had died sometime before reaching the age of one.  Five minutes later, the woman picked up the phone and said yes, she was looking at a death certificate for a Connie Reynolds who had died at the age of four months from sudden infant death syndrome.  Tom asked her to send him a copy, and then thanked her and hung up the phone.

It was an old trick, but it still worked.  One just searched the newspaper archives of some large city until finding an obituary for an infant who would have been about the same age had they lived.  An obituary would typically state the name of the parents, the city, and the hospital and doctor.  

Since most cities don’t have a method for correlating birth and death certificates, and in large cities, the number of both is huge, all one had to do was fill out the appropriate form to request a birth certificate and pay the fee.  The birth certificate was the path to a false identity through a social security number and a driver’s license.

When Tom went back to the file, he didn’t find much of anything until Connie applied to the Police Academy.  There was a high school transcript from Sedalia Missouri, but it would be easy to fake something like a high school transcript.  One just needed to get a copy of a transcript, change the name of the student, and then copy the revised version.  There were hundreds, if not thousands, of high school transcripts on the internet.

Tom was reading through the Police Academy instructor’s reports on Connie when the mail clerk dropped an envelope in his inbox.  

There was no return address, but it was postmarked from Naples, Florida.  The address was obviously generated on a laser printer.  Inside was a short note.
The note was also generated on a laser printer.  It was bitter confirmation of what he’d been hoping he was wrong about.

“Tom, if you haven’t figured out why I resigned, you soon will.  I have no doubt that you won’t stop until you’ve figured out the rest.  All I can say is I’m sorry I involved you.  Had I known that I was going to feel about you like I do, I wouldn’t have.  That’s the only thing I regret.  

That one night was the only real thing about me that I let you see.  As soon as you left, I knew I had to leave.  Once would never be enough for me and if I stayed, I would just be dragging you down into this pit I’ve dug for myself.  People who commit serious crimes should be punished for them but it doesn’t always work out that way.  Someone has to set that right.

I know you’ll try to find me so I won’t tell you not to look.  I wish things had been different.  You are the one man I know who respected me enough to do things on my terms.

C”    

Tom put the letter back in the envelope.  For a moment he considered taking it down to Patti and ask her if she could find any prints or DNA on it, but then he realized there wouldn’t be any, just like there hadn’t been any found at any of the murder scenes.

The only place where Connie had screwed up was the tiny fragment of glove and it made sense now.  She’d have used black gloves as a uniformed officer and had probably kept several pairs when she was promoted to detective.  She’d worn them when she murdered three people.

What he could do is send the Crime Scene techs to the house Connie had rented to check for prints and DNA.  It was doubtful she could have cleaned everything up before she left.  She probably wouldn’t be in AFIS or NCIC except as Connie Reynolds, but there was always a chance.

Tom had solved other cases based on a chance.  Maybe this one would turn out the same.  Of one thing he was certain.  He’d never give up looking for Connie or whatever her real name was.  

For a moment, Tom hoped he’d never find her.  As she’d said in her note, people who commit serious crimes should be punished for them, but in some ways he understood her motives.  The justice system wasn’t perfect and sometimes people did get away with murder and other heinous crimes.  It wasn’t fair, but it was reality.  That someone did what the justice system couldn’t seemed to be almost justifiable.  

He shook his head then.  Murder could never be justified.  He’d sworn to uphold the law to the best of his ability and he’d find Connie and bring her to justice.  It would be a task he wouldn’t relish though.  He’d never forget that one time in her bed when she was just a woman and he was just a man.    

 








 

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