A Killer Like Me
CHAPTER O NE
Tuesday, July 24, 2:30 PM
The woman’s naked corpse lay sprawled on the floor. Her arms were outstretched, her legs spread. The insides of her thighs were crusted with dried blood. More blood had congealed into a sticky puddle on the floor beneath her.
New Orleans homicide detectives Sean Murphy and Juan Gaudet stood near the dead woman’s feet.
“He hurt her before he killed her,” Murphy said.
Gaudet nodded. “You think it was our guy?”
“Look at the ligature marks on her neck.”
“But there’s no plastic cable tie this time,” Gaudet said.
Murphy took a step toward the woman’s head and leaned forward to examine her neck. The discoloration from the ligature contained tiny ridge impressions, like those found on a cable tie. “He must have cut it off.”
“He left them on the other victims.”
Murphy stood up. “It’s him.”
“What makes you so sure?”
“I’ve got a feeling.”
“You got a feeling?” Gaudet asked, his voice sarcastic.
Murphy nodded. “It feels like our guy. The way he put her on display in the middle of the floor, like she was sacrificed on an altar.”
“The other ones weren’t posed.”
“They just weren’t this obvious,” Murphy said as he stepped over the dead woman’s left arm and squatted beside her head. “He’s getting more into the act itself. He’s gaining confidence and developing into a more sophisticated killer.”
The crime scene was inside an old club on North Rampart Street called the Destiny Lounge. The club had been closed since Katrina. After the storm, it had become a toilet for bums and a shooting gallery for junkies. Several months back the city boarded up the doors and windows.
Murphy stood and shone his flashlight at the ceiling, amazed that the mirrored disco ball still hung over the grime-covered dance floor.
“Who called it in?” Murphy asked an overweight uniformed cop standing inside the propped-open front door.
“Anonymous nine-one-one call,” the fat cop said.
“Some dope fiend would be my guess,” Gaudet offered.
“A dope fiend with a conscience?” Murphy asked.
“I bet he fucked her first.”
“No,” Gaudet said. “The nine-one-one caller.”
“She’s kind of ripe.”
“Still, I bet there’s more than one sperm sample inside her. One from the killer, one from the caller.”
“She’s a twenty-dollar crack whore,” Murphy said. “We’re going to find a whole sperm bank inside her.”
Outside, the summer sun beat down on the city through a cloudless sky. Sweat ran down Murphy’s face and plastered his shirt and suit coat to his back.
Hardly any of that blinding sunlight, though, penetrated the tomblike interior of the bar. The plywood covering on the doors and windows hadn’t kept out the victim, the killer, or the transient who found the body, but it kept out the light. The only ambient illumination came through the open door.
“How did the first officers get inside?” Murphy asked the fat cop.
The patrolman pointed to a dark hallway at the rear of the building. “Past the restrooms, the back door is off its hinges.”
“Is that how you got in?”
The cop nodded.
“What about the front door?” Gaudet asked.
“It was chained shut from the inside. We used a tire iron to bust open the padlock so we could get some light and some fresh air in here.”
Gaudet turned to Murphy. “How long do you think she’s been here?”
Murphy painted the body with his flashlight. Then he took a deep whiff of the air. “I’d say at least two days.”
A uniformed sergeant stepped through the door. “Hey, Murph…” He looked around the club like someone who had just walked into a dark movie theater. “Where the hell are you?”
Murphy waved his flashlight. “Right here.”
“The coroner’s man says it’ll be at least an hour before he can get here. They’re pulling a female floater out of the river by the French Market.”
“A local girl?”
The sergeant shook his head. “Tourist. Her boyfriend reported her missing yesterday. He said they were having sex on that old pier up by the zoo. Somehow she fell in. I guess she couldn’t swim.”
Murphy nodded, then remembered the sergeant couldn’t see him. “Thanks,” he said. Another hour inside a sauna with a rotting corpse. By law, even Homicide couldn’t move a body until the coroner’s investigator got to the scene.
He and Gaudet went back to examining the victim. She was black, twenty to twenty-five years old, and badly swollen. Her tongue was the color of chocolate syrup. Her eyes were open and bulging out of her face. The whites had turned dark from the burst blood vessels.
The ligature mark, the bruising left by whatever had been used to choke her, looked like it encircled her neck. When the coroner’s investigator got here, the three of them would roll the body and check, but Murphy was betting she had been strangled with a cable tie. Scabs and needle marks pockmarked the woman’s arms and legs. Three of the fingernails on her right hand were broken. She had put up a fight.
She fit the pattern of the others. Six previous murders in twelve months, all young, all prostitutes, all victims the department brass referred to as “women with high-risk lifestyles.” All but the first victim had been strangled with a heavy-duty cable tie, a thick plastic band with a one-way ratcheted lock that tightened but didn’t loosen. The only way to remove a cable tie was to cut it off.
“What are you thinking?” Gaudet said.
Murphy shook his head to clear it. He had been staring down into the dead girl’s blood-soaked eyes, but there wasn’t anything behind them. Everything she had ever been, every dream she ever had, every memory-good, bad, or ugly-was gone.
“Hey, partner,” Gaudet said, “don’t get too wrapped up in this shit. It’s just another case.”
Murphy looked up. “You think the rank will finally admit it?”
“Your serial-killer theory?”
“I think we’re past the theory part.”
“Brother, you had me convinced after the third one,” Gaudet said. “But I’m not in charge. I just work here.”
“I’m going to talk to the captain again. We need a task force. We need resources. If we don’t catch this guy, he’s going to keep doing it. He’s going to keep killing women.”
Crime-scene techs snapped pictures of the dead woman and the inside of the bar. They measured how far