Spell Blind – Snippet 03
I drove back to my office to check for mail — it was all bills and junk — take in the paper, and get my phone messages. The Republic led off with another story about Claudia’s death, but there was nothing new in it except a more detailed statement from the M.E. and the announcement that her family was putting up a twenty-five thousand dollar reward for the capture of her killer. For the most part, the article repeated details from yesterday’s story and gave a lengthy recap of the facts from previous Blind Angel murders. Still, I read through all of it, scanning the piece for any mention of me, but it seemed that Billie Castle was the only reporter in Phoenix who found me interesting. I wondered if I should be flattered.
I was on my way out the door to go see Orestes Quinley, when the phone rang. I thought about letting the machine get it, then reconsidered. I reached it on the third ring.
“Justis.” Kona’s voice.
“Hey, partner. What’s up?”
“You can tell just from seeing a guy if he’s a . . . you know, like you, right?”
“You mean, if someone’s a weremyste?”
“Right. You can see it, can’t you?”
“Yeah,” I said. “Why?”
“I need you to come down to Six-Twenty and take a look at someone for me. Right away.” She sounded excited and abruptly my heart was pounding, too.
“You think you’ve got him?” I asked.
“Maybe. We’re working blind here, partner. No pun intended. We need your eyes on this one.”
“Yeah, all right. I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
I hung up and hurried down to the Z-ster.
As Phoenix moves through May into June, two things in the city become constant: traffic and heat. Driving downtown in the middle of the day I had to struggle with both.
It took me the better part of an hour to get from Chandler to Six-Twenty, even though it was no more than a twenty mile drive. As I walked from the lot to HQ, a hot wind swirled around the street lifting scraps of paper and plastic wrappers into the air. There were cops everywhere, of course. Men and women arriving for work, others leaving, guys on duty bringing in perps. Six-Twenty was always a busy place, and even now, a year and half after leaving the force, I hungered to be part of it.
I recognized some of the faces, though not all. It’s not easy being a cop; the hours suck, it eats up your personal life, and no one with integrity is going to get rich on the job. Not surprisingly in a city as big as this one, there’s a good deal of turnover at any one department. So as I entered the building, a fair number of the cops inside ignored me. A few others eyed me with cool indifference, but said nothing.
To be honest, I was shaking all over; I would have preferred that no one see me. I wanted to feel like I still belonged, but I didn’t, couldn’t. And so what I really wanted was to be somewhere else — anywhere else.
“Hey, Jay! What brings you back here?”
Carla Jaroso, had been the front desk officer at Six-Twenty for as long as I could remember, as if in defiance of all that turnover. She was short and round, with the friendliest face you ever saw. Her hair was almost pure white now, but her skin was the color of dark rum, and still as smooth as the day I met her.
I took a deep breath. “Hi, Carla. You look great.”
She stepped away from the window and emerged from a side door to give me a hug and kiss. “Liar. You behaving yourself?” she asked.
“When I can.”
“You here to see Kona?”
“Should I phone up?”
“No,” I said. “It’s all right. She’s expecting me.” I gave her another hug. “It’s good to see you, Carla.”
She returned to her desk and I started to walk away. Then I stopped, remembering. When I faced Carla again, she already had the visitor’s badge in her hand.
“Sorry, Hon,” she said. “Rules. I’ll need your driver’s license, too.”
Such a little thing, trivial when it came right down to it. But it felt like a fist to the gut.
“Yeah, sorry, Carla. I forgot.”
She smiled, sympathy in her dark eyes. “I know you did, Hon.”
I clipped the badge to my shirt and took the stairs up to the third floor, where the homicide unit was located. The last thing I wanted was to get stuck in the elevator with one of the detectives I knew from my time on the job.
The smell of a police station is something a cop never forgets. It’s like the perfume of that old girlfriend I mentioned before: stale coffee and sweat, nitrocellulose and old paint. It doesn’t sound like much, or like anything a normal person would want to smell. But to me it was like the smell of home.
When I walked into the detectives’ room, Kona was sitting at her desk, talking on the phone. A number of years ago, when I first joined the force, detectives had their own offices. Now they had cubicles, like horse stalls in a big barn. It made no sense; Kona needed to be able to lock up files at night, and in fact, since the changes, many detectives had gone out and bought those fire-safe lock boxes they sell for important documents. It was ridiculous that cops should have to pay for these themselves, but the politicians cutting police budgets didn’t see it that way.
Kona was playing idly with a long, elaborate earring, which she had taken out so that she could talk on the phone. Kona and her earrings. None of the ones she wore conformed to regulations for proper attire. Our sergeant, Iban Arroyo, had been on her about her jewelry for years now. But Kona did things her own way, and she was too good a cop to get busted for the little stuff.
Seeing me, she smiled and waved me over. I sat in the chair beside her desk, waiting until she hung up.
At last she ended her call and beamed at me. “This just gets better and better,” she said.
“His name’s Mike Gann. We picked him up at Robo’s last night. He’s not supposed to be there because Randy Deegan plays there with his band, and our friend Mike isn’t supposed to go anywhere near the Deegans. Not any of them.”
A vague sense of discomfort crept over me, but I said nothing.
“Well?” she asked. “Don’t you want to know why?”
“He used to work for the Deegans. Odd jobs: yard work, small projects around the house. Handyman stuff, you know? But then he was fired because — wait for it — he started hitting on Senator Deegan’s daughter. She told him to get lost about a dozen times, and he kept at her. Over time he started to get angry about all the rejections. He even threatened her. So they fired him, got a restraining order to keep him away from Claudia and from the house. Eventually he got a job as a bouncer at Robo’s. But then he got fired from that job, too, because Randy and his band started booking gigs there. So then he had another reason to hate the Deegans.”
“When was all this?” I asked her.
“He was fired by the Deegans three years ago. It’s been about ten months since he lost the job at Robo’s.”
I nodded, though I wasn’t convinced. “Kona–”
“Hold on, Justis. There’s more.” She nodded toward the phone. “That was Kevin.” Kevin Glass, Kona’s new partner. “He’s at Gann’s place now. Says it’s filled with all sorts of oils and herbs and those little talisman-things that your friend Q used to steal.” She smiled. “We think the guy’s a damn sorcerer.”
“Even if he is, you’re making the Blind Angel murders all about the Deegans, and you and I know better than that. Everyone is so caught up in the fact that Claudia Deegan was killed, that they’re forgetting about the other thirty victims.”
I regretted that last bit as soon as I said it.
“You think I’m forgetting the other victims?” she demanded, the words clipped, her voice like ice.
“No. I shouldn’t have said that.”
“I’ve been working this case for three years now, Justis. Even you can’t say that. I never — never — forget any of the kids this guy’s killed.”
“I know you don’t.”
For some time neither of us said a word. She stared at her phone; I studied at my hands.
“He lives in West Chandler,” she said, breaking a brittle silence. “Did I mention that? He’s, like, ten minutes from South Mountain Park.”