“So this one is pretty cool . . . see that thing on the wall? Let me enlarge it . . . and there you go. When you rip off a drug dealer in San Antonio, they cut off your dick and thumb tack it to the wall.”
I sipped my green tea. “Lonely Planet left that part out of the guide-book,” I said.
“Funny thing is, my buddy that sent me these pics? He said that when they swept the place, they didn’t find any thumbtacks. So whoever did this brought their own.” Spense Smith grinned. “Imagine the conversation before the killers went to the poor bastard’s apartment: ‘Hey man, stop off at Office Depot. I need some in gold.’ ”
He laughed. I smiled and sipped more tea. I was ready to slam the mug against Spense’s idiot mutton-chopped face and just take the phone, but . . . patience, virtue, public place, all that.
I leaned back in my chair. Spense swiped his thumb across his phone’s screen, bringing up another photo. He had an Instagram account called son_of_weegee2 that he used to post crime scene pics. Not all of them were his; techs from around the country sent him their photos. If the sheriff ever found out about the account, he’d be in deep shit. He was careful not to show any victims’ faces or identifying features, and he posted the bare minimum of information about the scenes, but I wasn’t the only deputy he showed the account to, and we had some real blabbermouths.
“Okay, here they are,” he said.
I straightened up. We were in the Mitchum Bay Barnes & Noble cafe in a far corner by the crossword books. I glanced around. It was two p.m. on Sunday, and we were the only people in the cafe. The bookstore area had a bit more traffic, but no one was paying us much attention. We were just two people sitting next to each other at a small table under a huge painting of the cover of To Kill a Mockingbird looking at gory photos on an iPhone.
I leaned in close to him, and our shoulders touched. I heard his breath catch, and I inwardly winced. I knew he had a crush on me, and I’d used that to get a look at the photos of the Peterson crime scene, once I found out he’d been the county tech assigned to it. The city techs had taken their own pics, but Ryan Riley had insisted on separate ones for the sheriff’s office.
I didn’t feel too bad about it, though, because I had a very good reason: zombies. I was sure that Spense, with his love of all things Walking Dead and comic books (his mutton-chops were an homage to Wolverine, after all), would understand. Still, I murmured “Sorry,” and leaned away a little.
Spense cleared his throat. “No worries. Um . . . I started in the entryway to the house. You can’t see anything from there, but . . . okay, here. The living room.”
He moved his thumb to the left. Close up shot of two separate, and very large, puddles of blood on a large rug with horizontal stripes in red, orange, and white.
Spense swiped to the next photo. Wide shot of the living room, with the bloody rug in the center. Glass-tiled fireplace in the background with a flat-screen TV mounted just above the reclaimed wood mantelpiece. French doors to the left that led to a covered patio and an in-ground swimming pool.
Back to the bloodstained rug. Close up shots. Then a closed bedroom door. Spense blew out breath fragrant with cafe au lait and cinnamon Altoids. “The girls’ rooms,” he said. “I don’t know if you want to–”
Spense brought up the next picture: A bedroom painted light pink, covered in cartoon characters I didn’t recognize. Two beds on each side of the room. Matching bed frames, matching white nightstands with matching Hello Kitty lamps. Pink-and-white-striped bed sheets bunched up at the foot of each bed. Pillows soaked in dark crimson blood.
Spense put down his phone. “No bullet holes, so they were stabbed or their throats were cut. Or both.”
“Where the hell are the bodies?” I rubbed my forehead. I felt pretty good, considering I’d come to around noon after being drugged by those CDC assholes.
“That’s the million-dollar question. I didn’t see any signs that the bodies were moved. Even with all that blood, bodies still leak when you move them. And if the killers were going to take the bodies, why not kill them on plastic tarps or something?”
“Yeah, why not. I know Riley found drugs in one of the bathrooms. He find anything else?”
Spense shrugged. “There was a kitchen cabinet above the refrigerator that was open. Nothing up there. Riley thinks there was something there, money or more drugs. The rest of the house was undisturbed.”
I picked up my phone. I had a few 1Nite notifications, but I had no plans to go out tonight. Spense said something. I put down my phone. “What did you say?”
He picked up his coffee. “I said, the shower in the master bathroom had been used fairly recently.”
My phone rang. Name Unavailable. I had a feeling I knew who it was, though. I accepted the call as I said, “Sorry, Spense. I have to take this.” I put the phone to my ear and said, “Hold on a sec.” I stood up. “Spense, thanks for showing me those photos. Like I said, I was in the neighborhood yesterday morning, so I’d been wondering. See you later.”
Spense scratched his right mutton-chop. “Sure, Elizabeth. Any time.”
I waited until I was outside to put the phone back to my ear. “Hello.”
“Find the Petersons yet?” asked Moss.
“No, asshole, because you drugged me and I woke up two hours ago.”
He sighed. “Yeah, sorry about that. Stahlberg thought it’d be a good idea. We figured you’d be mad that we broke in.”
“Goddamn right I’m mad.” I started walking to my car; I’d parked it at the end of the parking lot, near a sno-cone stand.
“What were we supposed to do, knock on your front door?”
“That would have been the normal thing to do, yeah.”
“We discussed it. We didn’t see it ending well.”
“What’s with all the ‘we’? Is she right beside you or something?”
“Yep. I was going to put you on speaker phone, but you two don’t seem to get along.”
I reached the Mustang and leaned against its trunk. “Gee. I wonder why.”
Moss said, “Do you have any idea where they might have gone?”
“Why am I being dragged into this again?”
“Well, there’s four of them, and two of us, so . . . we’re trying to even things up. Doesn’t hurt to have a werewolf on our side.”
“I’m not on your side. In fact, fuck you, I’m not helping.”
“Elizabeth, hey, I know things are bad for you right now, what with you and Mercer breaking up, but–”
“What? How the fu–”
“Oh. Oh hell. I’m sorry.” Moss actually sounded apologetic, the bastard. “It was a guess. We snooped on your phone while you were out, saw a couple of hook-up apps. You didn’t seem the type to cheat. I figured something had happened.”
“That’s . . . that’s none of your business.” I was pissed, mostly because of how close I was to bursting into tears. Stupid, weak . . . I ground my teeth. Wallow in self-pity later, I thought. Right now, hang up on this dipshit.
“You’re right. I’m sorry.”
Hang. Up. The phone. End the call.
“But we do need your help. We don’t want to capture them. Protocols have changed. All we need are some brain samples.”
I finally said, “I’m not your attack dog.”
“I know. And I wouldn’t ask you to do this if I didn’t really need your help.”
I realized then why I didn’t hang up on him. I wanted to do this. I needed mindless violence and bloody destruction more than booze and random warm bodies.
I pressed my palm to my forehead. “Okay,” I said.
Moss said something. I lowered the phone and finally hung up on him.