It was time for another victim—January has almost closed without one. The need to tear a woman apart erupted in the middle of each month and the sickening anticipation overwhelmed Detective Corey Malone.
She looked up from the digital image of a young girl stripped naked, tied to a chair with a sheet of blood covering her chest from the gaping throat wound. The wind rattled the large window that provided a view of a dark, quiet street—the kind tourists couldn’t imagine existing in Las Vegas. Corey shivered although her apartment was well-heated and then focused her attention back on her iPad. The window rattled again, more violently this time, scolding Corey for not taking the hint the first time. Setting the iPad down next to her, she rubbed her eyes.
Two iPhones rest on the glass table in front of her. The one for work, dubbed “Reaper,” was protected by a black case branded with a white skull and crossbones; the one for personal use, dubbed “Britney,” was protected by a bright pink case littered with a rainbow of faux gems. Both cases had been gifts from her partner—gag gifts; both named by her partner. Corey maintained two phones because she wanted a way to literally put her work away. But often, Corey took Reaper to her bed instead of Britney.
Corey pushed herself off the couch, plucked up her coffee cup, and shuffled into the kitchen. Refilling her cup, Corey leaned against the kitchen counter and gulped the tepid, bitter liquid. She should have been throwing down tequila until it knocked her clean out. Turn off the switch. Check out. Leave the world of the macabre for just a few hours. She needed the rest, but she just couldn’t stop studying the crime scene photos from the most recent victim. Maybe a clue that would break the case would present itself and Corey save the next unsuspecting UNLV college student before her clock ran out.
But she had studied those pictures countless times. If Corey had been an artist, she could have painted them from memory without missing a single detail.
Britney chimed the notification of a new text message just as Corey reached for the coffee pot. She dropped the mug; it bounced off the counter onto the floor where her scurrying feet kicked it into the hallway as she rounded the corner, leaped over the back of her couch and snatched up the phone. She tapped open the message and read it several times.
Grabbing her work phone, her purse, her brown leather jacket, and her 9mm, Corey flew out into the cold night.
Her destination was located on Maryland Parkway, the same street as the University of Las Vegas, slightly east of The Strip. Corey lived west of The Strip. She decided to go north to take
Charleston across it to avoid the mass of
tourists that the huge hotels drew. Driving a straight line had never been so
complicated. Her trembling hands
constantly jerked the steering wheel.
She crawled across the street, dealing with the traffic cramming into
fewer lanes, watching for pedestrians, and restraining herself from shooting
the errant taxi drivers.
She shook her head and pressed down on the accelerator once she caught a glimpse of a break in the flow of traffic. By the time she reached her destination her tires were squealing. Dialing her partner, Damien Smith, she scrambled out of her car and stood gripping the open door.
“Smith here,” he said.
“Damien,” she gasped. “It’s me. I got another text.” She gave the address.
“I’ll meet you at the scene,” Damien said. “Have CSI wait until I get there.”
“I’m already at the scene,” she said looking around. “You call CSI.”
“Wait, wait, wait. You haven’t called them? Malone, protocol.”
Corey ended the call. Checking her watch she noted the time at 12:37 a.m. Jamming her gun into the waistband of her pants, she jogged across the parking lot and hurried up the rickety stairs to the second story. She stopped at the landing: she was young, she was in shape, but beads of sweat had rolled into her eyes and she stood blinking the sting and blur away for a few seconds before marching over to apartment 204. Pressing her back to the wall next to the door, she knocked.
A beat-up, grey sedan pulled into the parking lot, made a long and wide turn to the right so that the car straddled two parking spots. The driver’s door flung open, a pair of sneakers hit the pavement and a young man pulled himself out of the car. He threw the door closed and stumbled out of sight. The sound of keys rattling against a doorknob almost directly below her. Corey chanced another minute or two of inaction, but then as she raised her fist to pound on the door again, the wind picked up, screeched, instantly died down. One more minute—thud, thud, thud and “Las Vegas Police!”
Even though she hadn’t expected an answer, Corey mouthed “damn” and pulled her gun out of her waistband.
The window of the apartment next door lit up and she thought she saw the blinds part.
CSI and a cavalry of uniforms would be arriving any moment.
Corey stepped away from the building, moved in front of the door to apartment 204 and then turned her profile it. No police cars pulled into the parking lot; no sirens wailed in the distance. Gripping her Glock in both hands, she took a deep breath, tilted back, and kicked her right leg out. Her heel slammed into the doorknob, knocking it loose so that the second kick busted the door open.
The scream that tore from the apartment caused her to stumble back a couple steps until her back met the cold railing and she froze, stunned. Glancing over her shoulder down at the parking lot below, she pushed a gust of breath out her puckered mouth.
Slowly, she approached the open door, her eyes catching on a few drops of blood that she followed to a mass of entangled limbs. The victim sat on the floor with legs outstretched to form a narrow V, her head hanging between them, and her hands cuffed to her ankles. The victim’s head bobbed and her blonde hair shimmered. Her hands flexed and clenched.
The scream. The movement. She was alive.
He had never left a victim alive.
“Thank God,” Corey whispered and began to approach the body, careful to walk in a single path from the door to the body with as few strides as possible. She swiveled her head to take in a more panoramic view of the apartment: furniture intact and in its place, tracks from a vacuum marking the carpet, a fan of brown hair flanked on either side by outstretched arms and legs. The souls of the feet faced the ceiling.
Corey’s eyes widened. Her heart quickened, pinched, and slowed down. A buzz developed beneath her skin.
There were two bodies. The head and arms that she had first seen did not belong to the same body as the legs that she had first seen. The arms were milky white and the legs were tan. Taking a step to her left and leaning left, Corey cocked her head. Two women had been stripped naked and placed in a 69 position. Each woman had her wrists cuffed to the ankles of the other.
Kneeling down, Corey lifted the chin of the woman on top who only stared with wide glossy eyes. Blood had dripped and dried from the area around her mouth down over her chin.
Why leave one alive? How did he get in? Did this girl know him? Sketch artist. Need a sketch artist.
“You are going to be okay,” Corey said. “I’m from the police and help is coming. Can you tell me anything about what happened . . .”
“Get me off of her. Get me off her,” the young woman stammered.
How did he manage to cuff them together? Did he force this girl to perform on the other one? Jesus, this guy’s sadism just kept increasing.
Corey inhaled a putrid scent and glancing down saw the stains of vomit. Balancing the woman’s face in the palm of one hand, Corey reached the other back to feel the back of the victim’s head.
“Take these cuffs off,” the girl pleaded. “Just get me off her . . .”
“I will very soon,” Corey promised. “What is your name?”
Corey felt a huge, wet knot on at the back of Teresa’s head. It stained her fingers red. Looking into the woman’s eyes, she noticed one pupil was much larger than the other.
Shit. Where in the fuck was the ambulance?
Feet shuffled on the walkway outside. A gust of icy wind tossed Corey’s hair forward into her face. A voice trailed the wind, “Is everything okay?”
Corey glanced back quickly, noted a man—college age—peering around the doorframe. “I am from the police. Go down to the parking lot and help direct the paramedics and other officers up here. There is a girl who needs immediate medical attention. Tell them that.”
Turning her attention back to Teresa, Corey said, “Stay with me. I know this is horrible for you . . .”
“Her face is stuck between my legs...”
“Who is she?” Corey asked nodding to the motionless body beneath. “A friend?”
“My roommate, Janet.” Teresa’s lips continued to move, but the squeal of sirens drowned out the sound of her voice. Corey’s legs numbed and she swayed slightly in her squatting position.
CSI arrived first, but the presence of a live victim kept them outside, waiting for instructions. The paramedics stepped carefully onto the scene, trying to balance saving Teresa and maintaining the integrity of the scene. Members of the forensic team stood waiting for instructions.
An officer returned to cut the cuffs, and soon Teresa was being lifted onto a gurney. A blanket was thrown over her naked body. Corey grabbed her hand. “Did you see who did this to you and Janet?”
A paramedic squeezed her shoulder. “We need to take her now, Detective.”
“Wait, please” Corey said. She brushed Teresa’s long blonde hair with her fingers. “Can you tell me what he looks like?”
Teresa shivered, her eyes fluttering. Sounds slipped from her white lips, noises and grunts that made no sense. Corey chewed her bottom lip and asked for a description of the killer one more time. Teresa sighed heavily then stared with hollow eyes. Corey looked to the paramedic alarmingly.
The paramedic mirrored her concern, “We’ve got to take her now Detective,” he repeated gently pushing her to the side. Corey watched them wheel her out. A crowd of neighbors had gathered outside, straining to see over the shoulders of two uniformed police officers blocking the doorway. They had to move so the gurney could pass through, leaving a window for the people to see. Gasps and “oh my God” statements whisked in, splitting the silence inside the apartment.
Corey scowled at the mass of footprints around Janet’s body then shouted at the two uniforms at the doors. “Get these people away from the door. And I want statements taken from everyone in this building. Wake people up if you have to.”
The officer’s left and Corey stood watch at the door while CSI and other uniforms taped off an area outside the door so that no one would be able to see into the apartment from the outside. Once that was done, Corey stepped out of the way so that CSI could secure the rest of the scene, which left her standing outside waiting. It was almost unbearable, these moments hovering on the edge of action, these moments that put her even further behind a murderer.
Pulling out Britney, Corey tapped the screen and opened the text message that set this night in motion. “I have something to show you” was following by the name of an apartment complex and an apartment number. She didn’t know if it had come from Teresa or Janet’s phone, but she did know who sent it.
It was from the killer dubbed The Artist; the killer who had showing her things for months.