She liked his succinctness. “Did he have a backup weapon?”

He stared into the room, watching one of the crime scene techs examining the bloody headboard. The tech was a woman, short and squat, hair done up in an elaborate bun. “He had one in an ankle holster. Don’t know the make or model, though.”

“Did he wear them regularly?”

“Yes, ma’am.” He looked puzzled. “Why wouldn’t he?”

Jolie went back into the room. Gently, she lifted the polo shirt up with a gloved finger.

No belt holster. Not even a belt.

No backup gun, either.


The motel owner, Royce Brady, hovered outside the tape. He was a wiry man with a complexion like a gingerbread cookie. He wore a Hawaiian shirt and shorts and white socks and sandals and a hearing aid. Jolie took him to the motel office.

“A woman called the office and said she heard gunshots,” Brady told her. “Said she was driving by and heard the shots.”

“What time was this?”

“About ten? Not sure, though.”

“What did you do?”

“I called room nine. The chief of police was right here in my motel, so I called him. When he didn’t answer, I went down the row and looked in each room.” He added, “That’s when I found him.”

“Did Chief Akers ever check into one of your rooms before?”

“No. Kind of took me by surprise.”

“What was his demeanor?”

Brady shrugged. “Same as he always was. Calm, friendly.”

“Did you see him with anyone?”

“No, but I’m inside here mostly. I leave the guests alone. They check in, and after that, what they do is their business.”

“You know him well?”

“I know everyone in this town. He was here during the standoff, the hostage situation. Worked the phone right here in the office, tried his best to get that sick asshole to come out.” He stared forlornly at the parking lot. “That poor young lady who was killed, she was my daughter’s age. A real nice girl. Piled all her used towels in the sink so the maid didn’t have to stoop to pick them up. Always left a good tip, too. Can’t think a medical rep makes that much, but she was considerate like that. How’d I know, when I gave her the key, I was signing her death warrant? There must be a curse on that room.”

“What are you saying?”

“It’s the same room.”

Jolie couldn’t believe what she was hearing. “Luke Perdue and Kathy Westbrook—that happened in room nine?”

“Yes, yes, room nine. I spent a ton of money to clean up the mess, finally got it ready for paying customers, and now this happens!”

Jolie went outside into the warm night and stared up the walkway in the direction of room nine. Room nine. The same room. She thought about the two missing weapons. The missing phone. Thought about the woman who called the motel about gunshots.

A theory forming. Just a theory. Nothing to get excited about.

A woman called the office to complain about gunshots, and Royce Brady went to check the rooms. He found Chief Akers dead on the bed of room nine.

Room nine, the same room where Luke Perdue had taken Kathy Westbrook hostage a little over a month ago.

Lots of elements here. Coincidences.

Jolie had been a cop for nine years. She saw it as a huge responsibility. People depended on her, every day. They looked to her for help.

The hostage, Kathy Westbrook, had depended on Chief Akers to get her out. She would have taken comfort in the knowledge that the cavalry had come for her. The chief of police had been right here, in this motel, negotiating for her release. She would have thought he wouldn’t let her come to harm.

But she was wrong.


The meat wagon was backed up as close to room nine as possible, doors open. A flatbed had already taken the chief’s Crown Vic to impound.

Jolie found a woman with an elaborate hairdo in the bathroom, removing the clear plastic liner from the wastepaper basket. Jolie noted the two beer bottles inside the liner as well as a crumpled-up Kleenex. The beer fit in with her theory, but it could fit in with any theory. As the woman walked it out of the bathroom, Jolie caught a sharp smell—a cross between rubbing alcohol and perfume. It reminded her of something, but she couldn’t remember what.

“Do you know if there was GSR on his hands?” Jolie asked.

The woman pushed up at her glasses on the bridge of her nose with a gloved finger. “Randy did that.”

Randy, the other tech, was assisting in the removal of the body. The victim was zipped up in the body bag on the gurney, ready to go.

Jolie said to Randy, “Was there any gunshot residue on his hands?”

“No. Why would there be?”

“You did bag his hands, didn’t you?”

“I didn’t think it was nec—”

“Please open the bag.”

“I don’t want to break the seal.”

“Open the bag.”

He shot her a resentful look and pulled the zipper open. The death stench billowed out.

She leaned forward and looked at the hands. No visible evidence of gunshot residue. In between the waves of death smell, Jolie got a whiff of the same odor she’d smelled in the bathroom—a sharp, alcohol-based scent.

Randy bagged the chief’s hands and zipped up the bag. “Anything else?”

She heard the resentment in his voice, and was surprised by it. “Make sure his hands are swabbed and tested for an alcohol-based product. All right?”

He nodded. She saw the tiredness in his eyes under the harsh yellow light. He’d probably worked the day shift and then come out here at night. Jolie knew this happened a lot, understaffed as the crime scene unit was. “I’m hoping you’ll do this yourself,” she said. “It’s very important, and it could make the difference in this case.”

“Okay, I’ll make sure it gets done.”

“Thanks.” As she stepped outside, Jolie’s gaze strayed to Stearing Automotive across the street.

Stearing Automotive had figured prominently in the standoff last month. Jolie pictured one FBI sniper and his spotter lying flat on their bellies on the roof, and the other FBI sniper and his spotter positioned on a railroad car. The railroad car had been stopped dead on the tracks that bisected Kelso Street.

Jolie thought about the philosophical rift between hostage negotiators and tactical teams. There was even a joke about it.

The hostage negotiator says after a two-week standoff, “We’re beginning to make real progress.”

Ten minutes after hostage negotiations begin, the SWAT team leader says, “Told you it wouldn’t work—time to go in.”


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