CHAPTER 4


Cree Koffman was not usually an agreeable man, but when he saw her take the bottle of massage oil out of her bag his demeanor softened. "Now just strip down for me, and I'll give you a back rub you'll never forget." She winked at him. "No naughty stuff, I promise, after all, you are a church-going man."

He smiled to himself: no naughty stuff. She was acting like an expensive whore, but she hadn't asked for money yet, and he wouldn't give her a dime later. Why buy the cow...

"Now just lay down on your tummy like a good boy, and I promise you won't believe the next thing you feel." She smiled warmly at him and he obeyed. The knife came down in three swift motions, piercing each lung in turn and ending in his heart.

***

"Parker, where's the typewriter?" Shirlee asked.

"What typewriter?"

"The one we type on."

"Hart, I've lived here for three years, and I've never seen a typewriter."

"Really? How am I going to put this report together ... on binder paper with a ball-point?"

"I hate to say I told you so ..."

"Like hell you do." She interrupted.

"... but I have been saying that we need a computer."

"I work with them. I don't want to live with one ..."

"I'll bet you do now." Parker replied.

Shirlee flopped down on the living room sofa. "I could go in tomorrow and type it at the bureau ..."

Parker sat down next to her. "Hart, you have to start thinking like a college student. Who do you know ..."

"... who has a computer ..."

"Very quick, Hart."

"A little more complicated, though, they also have to keep their mouth shut. In this town that's the hard part."

"I don't know, they're your friends."

"Our friends ... wait a minute, is Terry back in town?"

"Probably, she hates L.A. Never stays there longer than she has to." Parker kissed her sweetly. "Give her a call and go to it ... I'm behind you on this ... you know?"

She looked at him quizzically.

"I have to be," he laughed, "because you're working on a Sunday!"

Terry Greg was one of those few lifetime friends. An acerbic free-lance writer who smoked too much, drank too much and spent a lot of time in Vegas. If she were a man they would have considered her a member of the Old School. No-nonsense prose and a hard lifestyle, but because she was a woman they just called her a nut, albeit a brilliant one. Terry loathed modern technology. Her computer was so old the programs were out of production, but it worked. Shirlee was afraid Terry would want to turn her case into a sick little thriller, but it would be amusing to be immortalized.

"Hart, how you feeling?" Terry grinned.

"Fine, why?"

"I heard about the party Friday night. All those pretty-boys, I figured you wouldn't be walking for a month."

"No, I settled down to monogamy, remember ..."

"Nah, that disappointed me so much that I've been trying to forget ... So, you need my confuser ..."

"If you're not in the middle of something."

"I never work on Sundays, you know that. But you're lucky you called early. There's a hot little filly in the 4th down at Golden Gate. Thought I'd make a day of it." Terry tossed Shirlee a set of keys. "You know where everything is, just lock up when you're done."

"Thanks a lot Terry, I really need this." Shirlee hugged her as they passed each other in the doorway.

"There's Diet Coke in the fridge, and the cupboards are full of the usual shit. Help yourself." Terry walked to her car.

Shirlee called after her. "Don't you want to know what this is for?"

"Not particularly. See ya."

Shirlee headed up to the loft office of Terry's condo. The walls were covered with bookcases and Post-It notes with pithy quotes, character names and plot ideas. The keyboard sat on a platform that overlooked the ocean. It was a wonderful place to work. She couldn't have gotten farther from her dungeon. Sitting on the desk, in a picture frame, was Terry's motto on life:

My candle burns at both ends

It will not last the night.

But oh my friends

and oh my foes

It casts a lovely light.

Shirlee read those lines a dozen times that afternoon. And each time they wandered through her mind she added another piece to the puzzle that sat before her. She could see the killer saying the same words, thinking the same thoughts, casting a light that was lovely to her alone.

Terry pulled into her driveway and could see the house lights on. Shirlee's Jeep hadn't moved. Walking up the stairs, she heard the clickity-clack of her old daisywheel printer in the distance.

"Hart, you're still here? It's after seven, my friend. What the hell are you writing, the Great American Novel? That's my territory."

Shirlee laughed. "No, this is for work."

"I thought it was some paper for Parker, that's why I blew you off." Terry crumpled down on the office floor, a racing form still in her hand.

"How was your hot filly?"

"They had to shoot it in the home stretch. Story of my life ... Why are you working on the weekend? My confuser doesn't have nearly enough gizmachies on it to do that voodoo that you do."

Shirlee shook her head. "Very funny, no, I'm writing a report. Something I can't do at work."

"Cloak-and-Dagger for the cloak-and-dagger set?"

"You could say that ..."

Terry interrupted. "That's a great line." She jumped up and wrote cloak-and-dagger twice on a Post-It.

"Terry, can you keep a secret?"

"Are you kidding, I'm a writer. I can't even keep my own."

"I'm serious, Terry, I'd like you to look at this for me."

"Real serious, major stuff?"

"Yeah."

"Hmm ... calls for a drink ... Open that bottom filing cabinet drawer next to you and hand me the case inside."

Shirlee opened the drawer. "This one?"

"Yeah, the Louie Vinyl. It's a portable bar, real cool. Let me show you ..." Terry flipped the latches and opened the case. There were two bottles neatly strapped down with an array of miniature mixers, a corkscrew, bottle opener and faux-crystal glasses.

"That's wild, where'd you get it?" Shirlee asked.

"A publicist gave it to me as a kiss-up gift so I wouldn't write anything nasty about his client."

"Did it work?"

"No! But I kept the case. Never return expensive gifts. One of the mottoes I live by." Terry pulled out one of the bottles, a white wine, with the sale sticker still showing. "Want a glass?"

"Maybe later ... I have to work tomorrow."

"So do I." Terry tossed back a full glass, then poured another for sipping. "O.K., now I'm ready ... what's the skinny?"

Shirlee went into detail on the serial killer theory. Terry sipped and smoked and paid clear-eyed attention to every word.

"I wish I'd thought of that." Terry said.

"Why?" Shirlee asked.

"Make a great book. Original as hell."

"Except it's not a book. I'm betting my career it's the truth."

"Always has been stranger than fiction ... So this is your treatment ... your pitch?" Terry said, leafing through the papers that had come out of the printer.

"No, this is my report."

"No, this is your pitch. If they buy it, it's a report."

"What are you getting at." Shirlee was intrigued.

"You're selling them an idea. You have to present it as a sales pitch. That's what it really is. You don't have enough to make a report. This is largely supposition based on fact. Am I right?" Terry lit another cigarette.

"Yeah, go on."

"So it needs to read like a sales pitch. If it's dry, you're a dead duck. This isn't jazz, it's rock and roll. You have to burn on the first beat. Keep their interest. Convince them they're losing out if you don't run with it."

"So what am I supposed to do?" Shirlee was confused.

"Leave it with me tonight. I'll punch it up."

"You'll what?"

"Punch it up! Give it a rhythm, throw in some buzz words. You know."

No, Shirlee didn't know, but what the hell, nothing ventured ... She left the report with Terry and made arrangements to pick it up in the morning, stressing the need for the original as well ... just in case it ended up reading like a cheap novel.

At 6:30 Monday morning, both copies were in Terry's mailbox. There are no friends like old friends. Shirlee sat in her Jeep for twenty minutes and read the revision out loud. No wonder Terry made a living at this. She'd turned Shirlee's dry document into an engrossing theoretical proposal that was either going to get her commended for originality and initiative, or blasted for using FBI resources without authorization.

Shirlee drove to the freeway rolling reasons and rationales through her mind. I'm doing this for the greater good, saving lives, etc. ... Bull Shit! I want in on the hunt. For the first time in years I'm looking forward to work. Why should the boys have all the fun. God Damn it! I want to track her down, step by step, piece by piece. Track her down and trap her .. just like she's doing to them. Shirlee grimaced as if she'd bit down on a lemon. Feeling common ground from predator to predator was a disturbing thought. She'd better not tell Terry, or her life story would end up on a Post-It.

Driving over the summit, she went through the profile in her mind. No classic rock on the radio or running commentaries on her fellow commuters. Shirlee had become obsessed and obsessive about this case ...

A woman, middle to upper-middle class. Very smart, never seen entering or leaving. No fingerprints, blood or tissue samples. Only the cash is missing, not the jewelry or credit cards, so robbery's not the motive ... This lady's not your basic psycho. She probably lives somewhere in the southwest, and, according to Parker, is an aficionado of artistic progression. If Shirlee put him together with Terry they'd indict half of L.A.

Rolling into the parking lot, a thousand questions ran through her mind. Single or married? Straight or gay? Does she work for a living or inherit? Is she avoiding her own city, working up to it, or already done it? Am I going to end up psychotic myself by the time I figure this out?

***

Barry Pauly was a good egg, analytical and consistent. Never at ease under pressure, but, still, a sponge for details. Not a flamboyant investigator, but the cautious type who gets the job done and lives to see retirement. Barry and Shirlee had been friends for ten years. If anyone had a chance to push this through the red tape, he did.

She called his office from the lobby, bag lunch in hand. "Barry, baby, how've you been?"

"Hart, darling, what do you want?"

"Barry, now what makes you think that I'm calling for a favor? What about just a friendly chat between two old buddies?"

"A friendly chat at eight in the morning? Hart, you're not usually coherent until after lunch." Barry was giggling on the line.

"Thanks a lot!"

"Seriously, if you come up fast I've got about 15 minutes."

"That's all it'll take, I'll be there ASAP." Shirlee was in such a hurry she almost forgot to hang up the phone.

Barry's office was tiny, but it did have a window. She wondered if he appreciated it. His door was open, but she was careful to close it behind her.

"What's the haps, Hart? By the way, that was very sly, the way you closed the door. This must be hot stuff."

Shirlee laid a fat package on the desk in front of him. "It is Barry, believe me, it is. I think I stumbled onto something, and I want you to take a look at it. Don't say anything yet. Just read it, and sleep on it."

"What is it?"

"I call her the Siren, and she's knocking off middle-aged business men"

Barry glanced at his calendar, wondering if it was April 1st. But Shirlee's serious tone and the three photos that she had just laid out on top of the file convinced him she was deadly serious. "Where did you come up with this?"

"I'm in data, that's what I do. I get data." She still hadn't learned to lie worth a damn.

"This isn't our data Hart. These are police photos from three different cities. Should I sit here and give you hell about misrepresenting the bureau?" He looked down and began to peruse the paper work, not expecting her to answer.

"It won't do any good, I'm afraid. That's why I came to you. You understand how many innocent people have died because every agency in the country was busy going through proper channels." Her voice was serene and convincing.

"You got me on that one, Hart ..."

"Listen, Barry, I'm sure about this, more sure than I've ever been about anything. The cover report and profile are mine. I worked on them all weekend. No one else knows, and I trust you, I really do. I trust your instincts."

He just watched her and fumbled with the pencil on his desk.

"If you read this over and everything in your gut tells you that I'm nuts, then so be it, I'll drop the whole thing. But be honest with me, Barry. If there's even a twinkle, let's run with it."

Barry leaned over the desk and interrupted her. "I'll sleep on it. That's all I can promise you, I'll sleep on it. Things are a little hot around here, election year and all. So you'd better get back to your dungeon before the mice start to chatter."

She put her hand on the doorknob and turned around. "Promise me Barry, I mean it, call me tomorrow. This is important."

"I promise, I promise, now get out of here." He gave her a comforting wink and she relaxed a little.

Barry stuffed the package into his briefcase and put his curiosity aside. Barry could compartmentalize anything, that's what made him a great investigator. Handle every detail, one at a time. He could manage eight cases at once, pulling up the pertinent facts of each one as it became necessary.

The Pauly home was in the quiet suburb of Milpitas, right outside of San Jose. Over the years he'd learned the side streets so well that freeway congestion never entered his mind. Milpitas still had a little Main Street, although it had been overrun by housing tracts and strip malls. Not many of the new folks went there. Most of the shops were closed or in disrepair. But Barry still enjoyed driving down Main Street. Past the old City Hall and a dilapidated mansion that had been the grandest home around for decades. Then of course there was KFC. To settle down with a good casefile required two things: a six-pack of Miller, and a bucket of Original Kentucky Fried Chicken.

The moment he walked in the door, with an over-stuffed briefcase in one hand and a box of chicken in the other, Vivian knew she was in for a long evening. It was not much use starting a conversation with him when he carried that load. She likened it to her father. She always knew when he was going fishing; she could see a stack of Hershey bars on the top cupboard shelf. Barry was the same way, but, when he went fishing, it was with KFC and Miller, and his fish bit back.

A moment or two of idyll chatter and he barricaded himself in the den. The boys were old enough to be grateful that dad wasn't always around, and Vivian long ago realized that her husband's job demanded she have a life of her own. It must have been half-past-two in the morning when Barry burst into the bedroom, one last drumstick in his hand.

"Vivian, darling ... Vivian ... Sorry to wake you but this is important ... Vivian!"

"Yeah ... Yeah ... Who's on fire ... What's on fire ..." She wasn't awake and wasn't planning to be.

"The phone book ... Where's the phone book?"

On that note she opened her eyes with a disgusted, but loving, look. "You're going to owe me for this one, Sport. Or at the Christmas party I'll tell all your chums that you may be hell at catching killers, but you couldn't find your socks in the sock drawer without me."

"O.K. Sweetheart, anything you want ... I've just got to have the phone book." He was leaning over and dripping chicken bits on her nightdress.

"What's the matter with you? You didn't get this crazy when I went into labor." Now she was wide awake and not happy about it.

Barry switched on the light at her night stand and carefully picked up the chicken bits. "I'll explain later, Sweetheart, truly I will. But this could be ... is ... a matter of life and death."

That's all he needed to say. Before he knew it, Vivian had scrambled out of bed and was halfway down the stairs. Barry barely got to the first step before she raced back up and handed him the book. "Go get 'em, Tiger." She kissed him quick and was nearly asleep before her head hit the pillow.

Shirlee didn't start to rouse until the fourth ring. This was the first decent night's sleep she'd had for a week, and now some asshole was calling in the wee hours. If there wasn't a corpse, there was sure as hell going to be.

"Hart here. Who died?!"
"Shirlee, it's Barry. Sorry, I know it's kind of late. But I did promise to call you, and, technically speaking, it is the morning." Barry sounded like he'd had sixty cups of coffee and a half-dozen beers.

"Barry, baby. You are the only sorry son-of-a-bitch that I could forgive for this 'cause I know my lady and she's keeping you up, too, isn't she?" Shirlee was pleased with herself.

"Keeping me up? She's making me crazy! And where did you get that stuff about artistic escalation, and varying wound patterns? That was amazing ..."

"Barry, if I told you, you wouldn't believe me ..."

"Well, Hart, after what you've put together here, if you told me the sun was out, I'd believe you."

"Well, isn't that sweet. But I know you didn't call for compliments."

Barry gave a faint yawn, the adrenaline was wearing off. "If this outline of yours is valid ... if they were all done by the same killer ..."

"What do you mean if?"

"Calm down, I'm used to talking in hypotheticals ... Anyway, if you're right, and personally I think you are, then this lady is going to be a bitch to find, pardon the pun." Barry could feel the exhaustion heading toward him like a train.

"Don't I know it. But we'll never find her if we're not looking. And right now no one's looking. They're treating these like isolated cases, which we know they're not." Her voice was taking on vigor and she decided to keep him on the phone as long as possible. She wasn't getting back to sleep, so keeping him up seemed like the least she could do.

"But, Hart, this is going to be a tough sell. As if you didn't know, Brandon's a macho prick. He'll have enough trouble accepting that you put it together. But a female serial killer? No dice. Maybe if she stabbed one of them with knitting needles and left a crochet hook in his eye..."

"That's a charming thought ... we can ask her to do that next time, just for the sake of Mr. Brandon."

"Don't get hot, at least not yet. I swear I'll give it the best sell I can, just don't get your hopes up."

Shirlee was getting irritated. "What do you mean?"

"You know ... until a solid pattern falls into place."

"You mean until she knocks of three or four more? Barry, that's bullshit! We're supposed to protect and serve, not save face and kiss ass." She almost slammed down the receiver until she remembered that this was her friend, and he was right."

"Calm down, Hart. I know, you know, hell, everybody knows ... and that's why you haven't moved up the ladder in ten years. Personally, I respect that about you. I always have. But the world just doesn't work that way."

"Well, it should."

"Cool off, and I'll see you tomorrow. For God's sake, don't say anything to anyone about this. I swear to you, and I mean it. I'll give this the best sell I can. After that all we can do is wait."

"Thanks for everything, Barry, I mean it, and I'm sorry. I've just been living with her for days now and I guess it's getting to me."

"Now you know why every good Fed has an even better therapist. Night, Hart."

"Morning, Barry. Kiss Vivian and the kids for me."

At that moment Parker rolled over to inquire if there had been anyone on the phone. Shirlee hit him in the face with a pillow and tried to go back to sleep.


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Copyright ©1998 Toni Leigh, All Rights Reserved