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All the little pieces, p.21
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       All the Little Pieces, p.21

           Jilliane Hoffman
 

  The hope was to show off Poole’s picture and maybe find someone who was at the club the night Angelina disappeared. Or someone who might remember he was hanging around for a few days looking creepy before her last show. Maybe someone saw something, heard something. Like his pop, who was a detective in the Bronx for twenty years, had taught him: Retrace your steps from the beginning if you want to figure out where it was you tripped up. It was worth a shot – he didn’t have anything to lose and no place he had to be. And he didn’t sleep much any more, anyway.

  He recognized the same bouncers working the door, the manager, the waitresses, dancers. He’d interviewed them all before, and when he spoke with them again, they all told the same story. He was about to get to work on the thirty or so guys sitting around the stage ogling a dancer who was twisted like a pretzel around a metal pole when he spotted a bartender he hadn’t seen before. She was topless and top heavy, her arms and chest covered in tattoos. While Bryan knew no one on the squad was gonna feel bad for him interviewing topless waitresses and strippers, he still wished the girls had their clothes on. He didn’t want them thinking he was getting a free peek, so he strictly focused on their eyes, which looked all the more awkward since he was overweight, the AC wasn’t working, and he was sweating like a pig at a barbeque while he asked his questions.

  ‘What can I get you?’ the bartender asked, sighing when she saw his badge and folding her arms across her ample chest.

  ‘It’s not like that,’ he started. He couldn’t help but notice that the tattoos were all of dead musicians and actors: Jimi Hendrix, Marilyn Monroe, Elvis. ‘I’m not a Narc and I don’t care what’s going on in the back room. I’m working the homicide of Angelina Santri; she was a dancer here.’

  ‘I knew Angie,’ she answered, nodding. The defiant body stance relaxed and she started to wipe out bar glasses with enviable biceps the size of most women’s thighs. ‘Nice kid. Real nice. I think she had a baby. Damn shame.’

  ‘When was the last time you saw her?’

  ‘The last night she worked – the night she disappeared. I made her a sour-apple martini when she got off.’

  ‘Really? The manager gave me the time sheets of everyone working that night; I thought I’d talked to them all. What’s your name?’ he asked.

  ‘Amber Kurtz. I wasn’t working; I popped behind the bar to help out when it got crazy. I was waiting for Elvira – another bartender – to get off work, ’cause she was crashing at my house and we were going out after she was done.’

  Bryan pulled out the picture of Poole. ‘Do remember if you saw this guy that night?’

  She took the photo and stared at it under one of the bar’s backlights. ‘Yeah. I saw this asshole. He was sitting at the bar. He was definitely here when Angie danced. He was watching her like a time clock.’

  Bryan felt his heart speed up. This would not only definitively place Poole at Animal Instincts the night Angie disappeared, but it would have him watching her. ‘Did he say anything?’ he asked excitedly. ‘You said he was an asshole. Why’s that? Did you see him with Angelina later?’

  ‘No, no, no, he didn’t say nothing. And I never saw him with Angie. Actually, now that I’m thinking about it, it was his friend who was the asshole. He made a comment about my tits. Just a dickhead comment. This guy,’ she said, pointing at Poole’s picture, ‘told him to shut up.’

  Bryan frowned. ‘Friend? How do you know they were together?’

  ‘’Cause they was laughing together, and, well, they were together. You just know.’

  ‘Crown Royal, splash of ginger,’ said a customer on the stool over. Amber stepped away to make the drink.

  ‘Did you get his name?’ Bryan asked when she came back. ‘Of the friend. Did you get his name?’

  She shook her head. ‘Nope. Didn’t get a name on either of them. Ten,’ she said to the guy, who handed her a crumpled cluster of bills. She made a face and shook her head as she counted out the cash.

  ‘How’d they pay?’ Bryan asked. ‘This guy and his asshole friend?’

  ‘Cash. Like most everybody in this place, but they left me a lot more than two bucks,’ she barked at the back of Crown Royal’s head. She rolled her eyes. ‘They were pretty generous. I think the nicer one, the guy in the picture, was dressed in black. He paid with a fifty and left me a twenty for just a couple of beers. That was a surprise.’

  ‘You still got it? The fifty?’

  She made a face.

  ‘Some people keep high bills.’

  She shook her head. ‘Not me. They go to pay the rent.’ She tapped on the bar. ‘Oh yeah. And then I saw the two of them outside when me and Elvira was leaving. They were in the back lot, standing there, just hanging out talking, like they was waiting for someone to come out. That someone was probably Angie, now that I think about it, you know, after all that happened. And here’s some fucked-up thinking, Detective. I remember thinking to myself, “If I got twenty for a beer, he’s probably gonna drop a few presidents for some pussy. Too bad I’m gay and don’t like dick, ’cause that’s one lucky bitch.”’

  47

  It started to make sense. And now he was wondering why he hadn’t seen it before, the picture in the hologram that had been there all along: What if Poole had a partner? That would explain the fibers being found in and around the passenger seat – fibers that matched the ripped piece of fabric found in the woods that had DNA on it that didn’t come from either Poole or Angelina Santri.

  Serial partners were extremely rare, but they did happen. Angelo Buono and Kenneth Bianchi, the murdering cousins who were the Hillside Stranglers; friends Charles Ng and Leonard Lake who’d murdered as many as twenty-five people – including infants – at a makeshift dungeon in Northern California; the psychopathic husband and wife team of Fred and Rose West who ran the Gloucester House of Horrors; drifters turned lovers Henry Lee Lucas and Ottis Toole who, at one point, had jointly confessed to killing as many as 108 people; Lawrence ‘Pliers’ Bittaker and Roy Norris, the sadomasochistic Tool Box Killers. Traditional manuals and treatises on homicide investigation didn’t really cover serial killers, because serials only accounted for about one per cent of all homicides. Serial partners were rarer still. The very limited investigative resources on serials that Bryan had found barely touched on the concept of partners. But from what he had read, he knew partners could be even more depraved than ‘regular’ serial killers. The psychology behind it was weaved into the relationship itself, like in a business partnership, marriage or friendship: the ‘you jump, I jump’ kind of thinking emboldened people, made them more courageous, more likely to do things they wouldn’t normally do if they didn’t have someone in their corner backing them up and egging them on. In the case of criminals, that sort of thinking made them even more dangerous. One misogynistic psychopath with a vivid imagination and no conscience was bad enough, but when you threw in a second, the crimes such a pair could come up with were truly unthinkable. Encouraged by their partner, each fed off the frenzied reactions of the other, fueling a sinister competition of showmanship. The relationship between serial partners would need to be as intimate as that of a marriage or business partnership due to the dangerous secrets that each kept about the other. Murdering minds don’t just find out they think alike over a beer. If Poole had a partner, it would mean they were friends, lovers or relatives.

  Amber Kurtz had given him a description of the man she’d seen with Poole: white male, average height, slim build, ‘older than the guy in the picture, maybe forty, forty-five’ wearing a white long-sleeved shirt and dark jeans or slacks. She thought he might have had crooked teeth and gray, fuzzy mutton-chops. He wore a black, cowboy-type hat and tinted eyeglasses, so she never saw the rest of his face. When she realized that she might be describing a man connected to Angelina’s brutal murder and that this was the first the cops had heard of him, she got very nervous and the generic description that could apply to half the male populace, save the muttonchops, stayed disappointingly gene
ric. She hemmed and hawed about working with a sketch artist.

  At about midnight, as malls across America were kicking off the start of the Christmas shopping season, Bryan left the crowd at the Animal and headed due west. Starting with the cane field in Lake Harbor – a remote little town of 200 people on the southern banks of Lake Okeechobee where Silvia Kruger, the first suspected Cane Killer Palm Beach victim was found – he returned to each crime scene. Maybe the connection was where the bodies were dumped. Maybe there was a common intersection or road or rest stop. From Lake Harbor, he headed over to the ditch in Belle Glade where Kruger’s head was later recovered. Then he went north to where the brutalized body of victim number two, Emily Foss, was discovered in the cane fields in Canal Point, another isolated town of 525 souls, that was surrounded by not much else but sugar cane. At each crime scene he stopped, got out, walked around, tried to get a sense of … why here? He left and went on to the next without having an answer.

  In and out of the cane fields he drove, down long, empty stretches of road, shining his spotlight into cane so thick sometimes he couldn’t see through the stalks. The sugar cane harvesting/processing season for the Palm Beach’s 180,000 acres of sugar cane kicked off October 1 and ran through April, so some of the fields had already been torched and harvested, leaving vast stretches of nothingness that seemed to go on for miles. After Canal Point he headed south to the cane fields outside of Pelican Lake, an unincorporated village southeast of Pahokee where Angelina’s battered body had been found. Considered a mecca for registered sex offenders and predators, according to the FDLE Sex Offender website, Pelican Lake had more than thirty registered sex offenders living within a one block radius of each other. Yuck. Bryan had checked each of them out thoroughly before he’d focused in on Poole as a suspect. But now that he was looking for a partner, he’d have to check them all again and see if there was any connection to the good-looking accountant from Boca.

  It was four in the morning when he cruised down the empty streets of downtown Pahokee, and pulled in front of the hair salon on Main Street where Faith Saunders had parked that night. Across the street was the overgrown lot where crime-scene techs had found the piece of fabric. Pahokee was a town that had shone back when Big Sugar ruled the Everglades. But once phosphorus run-off fell out of favor, as did choking off parts of the River of Grass, towns like Pahokee and Canal Point dried up. The jobs left and so did most of the people. He thought of the Everglades Regional Medical Center, a hospital opened with much fanfare in 1950 and abandoned without any in 1998. Overgrown with foliage, its innards picked over, stripped and vandalized, it could now be the setting for a Walking Dead episode. Sadly, the same could be said about many of the town’s modest homes and small shops: Pahokee had one of the highest foreclosure rates in the state. People had up and left during the Great Recession and had not come back when the government said it was all over.

  Bryan sat in his car, sipping his coffee, and thought about things. The folks in Pahokee who had stayed and stuck it out were not out shopping at some mall on Black Friday. Civilization was more than forty miles away. Last month, he and Tatiana had knocked on the door of every open business on Main Street to see if anyone had surveillance cameras, but not one single business had. None of the town’s five red lights had cameras, either. Out in these parts your alarm was a Rottweiler and your method of protection was a shotgun.

  He’d been out here in the daylight, walking the streets and the wooded lot with Faith and Jarrod Saunders and the crime-scene techs, but everything was so very different at night. He looked out the window, as Faith did that rainy night. It must have been terrifying to wake up and see a woman banging on your window and asking for help, out here, in the middle of nowhere with no cell phone and your baby in the back seat. Shit, he might’ve had a fucking heart attack himself. He knew what Tatiana and Elisabetta thought, and yes, the lady was squirrely, but he felt bad for Faith Saunders. He thought they were being a bit tough on her because she was a woman and if they were in her position they would’ve done more. Being judgmental was a defense coping mechanism for them. Walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, was what Bryan thought. Hindsight’s always twenty-twenty and everyone likes to think they’d be the fucking hero in the crowded movie theater being shot up by a nut in a Joker costume. But that’s not how it is when you’re scared and taken by surprise. In the weeks that he’d known her, Faith Saunders had aged a dozen years. And knowing Poole was out there, walking around, even if he was under surveillance, and that he knew who she was and where he could find her – well, that would make anyone paranoid. So he couldn’t blame her for acting wiggy and he couldn’t blame her husband for flipping out and trying to hunt down Poole like Jack Ruby when the little woman didn’t come home on time. But the reality that Bryan could see and hear even before Faith Saunders got popped for DUI two nights ago, was that the lady had a drinking problem. And he was pretty sure she had that problem before poor Angelina Santri woke her from her slumber, although the mounting stress that followed from that night was sure to have turned a perhaps manageable pre-existing condition into a full-blown disease. His first guess out of the gate was that she was three sheets to the wind driving home from her sister’s in Sebring and had stopped to sleep it off after she got lost. But she had denied, denied, denied touching more than a glass of wine. And until she wanted to admit it, ain’t nobody was gonna get her to ’fess up, including her husband – who either saw what was going on and didn’t want to say anything, or didn’t want to see anything so he didn’t have to say anything. Bryan could sense the tension in that marriage the moment the three of them first sat down in his office to tell him what had happened on that drive back from Charity Lavecki’s, and having been through a storm himself the past year, he could tell it’d existed for a lot longer than one morning. Something was bubbling under the surface of their good-looking Ken and Barbie marriage. The encounter in Pahokee was the external pressure that was gonna force the gunk up and out.

  He turned off the engine and got out of the car. The air smelled like damp earth and night-blooming jasmine. He walked across the street and, using his flashlight, waded into the wooded lot where the techs had found the fabric patch. The earth simultaneously crunched and sunk under his shoes. There was a sort of makeshift path that had been carved out through the overgrown jungle of shrubs and plants. He held the flashlight in one hand and the other up to protect his face from branches and palm fronds. And he swallowed the fear that was trying to creep up in his belly. He was never this daring, or this stupid, before Audrey left. She’d always talked about how worried she was about him as a cop, so he never took risks, which wasn’t that difficult to avoid once he went to Homicide, seeing as his victims were already dead by the time he got on scene. Now he felt like Mel Gibson’s character in Lethal Weapon: crazed, apathetic, lost. Not only did he not care, he dared bad things to happen. From risking a bad diagnosis at the doctor’s because he ate and drank and smoked too much, to being attacked by a bear or a snake or a fugitive in the Everglades at four thirty in the morning, he … did things. He didn’t want to die, he just didn’t care if he did.

  He found the downed Live Oak where crime-scene techs recovered the patch. They’d also found an array of other crap that people had dumped out here over the years: plastic bottles, paint cans, candy wrappers, beer cans, liquor bottles, cigarette butts. This lot was probably a refuge for bored teenagers looking to get stoned or drunk or lucky. He sat down on the log, flipped off his flashlight and listened to the night.

  He was not alone.

  Somewhere in all that blackness out there were the unsettling sounds of night creatures going about their business. Snakes, raccoons, squirrels, lizards slithered and snacked and scurried and built, maybe watching him watch them. Probably wondering what the fuck he was doing out here. He imagined poor Angelina, perhaps crouched beside this very log. If she actually died here, Mother Nature had taken whatever forensic evidence the body might have yielded back into th
e earth. The thought was sobering. Bryan had stood in the exact spot where people had passed too many times in his career.

  Angelina had likely been murdered somewhere other than the cane field where she’d been found. So where was the kill site? After the ME washed down her muddy feet to do the autopsy, he’d discovered deep gashes and puncture wounds to both soles and removed pieces of rock and shards of broken glass – injuries he theorized were sustained from running. The severed Achilles tendon was likely punishment for running and to make sure it didn’t happen again. Angelina had been missing for over a day before Faith Saunders saw her with Poole, barefoot and limping. Bryan figured she’d been held somewhere during that time period, and maybe escaped, which would explain the injuries to her feet. While the ME could not determine exactly how long Angelina had been dead before she was found, due to the advanced state of decomposition, he could say with certainty that she wasn’t in that field for two weeks. There just wouldn’t have been as much left of her as there was. Exposed to the elements and the Florida heat, decomposition is rapid. That meant he, or perhaps they, had kept Angelina somewhere for an extended period of time, where she was tortured and raped and they could take their time with her, maybe punish her for running away.

  If she was being held somewhere and escaped before she saw Faith Saunders, then that place couldn’t be very far from the log where he was sitting. A matter of a couple of miles, at most, was how far she could have gotten running barefoot through cane fields. He thought then about Noelle Langtry, the missing Sugar Daddy’s dancer who he’d been hoping would turn up alive, because if she was breathing then that meant she wasn’t a Cane Killer victim and Derrick Poole wouldn’t have an alibi for the night of her disappearance supported by the lead detective investigating a murder case against him. But she hadn’t turned up alive. Or dead. Now that he knew it was possible Poole had a partner and that they might be storing their victims at a secret location, and that that location might be within a couple of miles of where he currently sat …

 
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