Victims, page 9
Milo said, “The locals consider it their private park. He lives close, maybe felt it was safe.”
“Okay ... but maybe he was meeting someone.” She shifted uncomfortably. “The way the pants are ... you know.”
“Anything’s possible, kid.”
“Though I guess with something sexual you’d expect the genitals to be attacked.” She looked at me.
I said, “Same answer.”
She checked the pants, using a magnifier. “Well, look at this, I’ve got foreign hairs ... whole bunch of them ... long ones ... blond.”
Milo kneeled down beside her, plucked several filaments with latex-sheathed fingers that looked too big and thick for the task. Holding the hairs up to the light, he squinted. Sniffed. “Maybe Marilyn Monroe came back from the grave to do him but they look kinda coarse and I’m picking up doggy odor.”
Gloria said, “My nose is stuffed.” She tried anyway. “Sorry, I’m not picking up anything but you could be right about the texture.” Smiling. “Unless someone’s using a real bad conditioner.”
She produced an evidence bag. “I know the techies generally do hair unless we’re running drug screens on the shaft, but we happen to have an intern from the U. doing DNA analysis on all kinds of critters. Want me to take it, maybe I can get you something on species and breed?”
Gloria took another look at Quigg. “Poor guy goes out for his nightly dog-walk and this happens?” Frowning. “So where’s the canine in question? Maybe Fido got left at home.”
Milo said, “Or maybe our bad guy took a live trophy.”
“Rover stands by and watches his master get murdered and then goes off willingly with the perpetrator? Not a protective breed, that’s for sure.” Catching her breath. “Or the poor thing’s lying somewhere looking like Mr. Quigg.”
“Uniforms checked the immediate area but we’ll go over it again after the techies arrive.”
Gloria scanned the dirt. “Don’t see any prints in here, dog or human.”
“Our bad guy cleaned up carefully.”
“Just like the first time,” she said. “To me that makes it even more repulsive.”
I said, “I don’t see him cleaning every inch of ground all the way to Sunset.”
Milo cell-phoned Reed. “Moses, keep the entire area tight, no one in or out until whoever’s on duty helps you examine every inch of dirt between Sunset and the gate for prints. I’m talking tire, foot, paw, anything.”
Clicked off without waiting for an answer.
Gloria bent back down and turned out Marlon Quigg’s remaining pants pockets. “Empty.” Back on her feet, she photographed the scene at multiple angles, ending with close-ups of the folded brown shirt.
She inspected the label. “Macy’s generic, size M.”
No blood; the garment had been removed prior to the cutting.
She got back down near the body, started rolling it. Stopped and reached under and drew something out.
Piece of paper, folded into a packet, corners perfectly square.
She photographed it closed, then placed a sterile cloth under it and spread it open.
White, standard letter size. In the center, a simple message:
Marlon Quigg’s apartment was in one of the nice buildings we’d passed.
A nearby traffic light would’ve provided easy crossing of Sunset. The walk to Temescal Canyon would’ve been pleasant.
The complex was designed to resemble an enormous hacienda, tricked out with a too-red tile roof, a false bell tower, and a front loggia that shaded arched entry doors. A tile-roofed carport faced the main structure across a broad, flagstone court.
Eight slots in the port. Quigg’s Kia sat in Number Two. Quigg, B and M appeared on Unit Two’s mailbox.
Ground-floor unit in the middle of the building. I recognized the woman who answered the door because I’d just seen her photo.
Milo said, “Mrs. Quigg?”
“Yes, yes, I’m Belle. You found them?”
“Marlon and Louie.”
“We found Mr. Quigg.”
“Not Louie? Marlon went out walking him last night, they never came back. I’ve been frantic, when I called you people, you said it couldn’t be a missing person until—” She stopped, put a hand to her mouth. “Marlon’s okay?”
Milo sighed. “I’m sorry, he’s not.”
“Ma’am, this is hard to—”
Belle Quigg said, “Oh, no, oh no no no no no.”
“I’m so sorry, Mrs. Quigg—”
She raised her hands and yanked down, as if tugging clouds from a cruel clear sky. Glared at us. Gasped. Then she began beating Milo on the chest.
Small woman pummeling big man isn’t much of an assault. Milo bore it until she ran out of steam and dropped her fists to her side.
Her head flopped to one side, skin blanched to a bad shade of gray. Eyes rolling upward, she rasped once before pitching backward. Both of us lunged; we each caught an arm, eased her inside her home.
She woke up on the way to the nearest armchair. Milo stayed with her while I fetched water.
When I held the glass to her lips, her mouth opened with all the volition of a marionette. I took her pulse. Slow, but steady.
I eased more water into her mouth. She dribbled. Put her head back. The eyes rolled again.
After a few seconds, her pulse normalized and some color returned to her face. She stared up at us. “What?”
Milo held her hand. “I’m Lieutenant Sturgis—”
She said, “Oh. You. So where’s Louie?”
It took another few minutes for her to settle into grief-stricken numbness.
Milo sat holding her hand; I worked the water glass. When she said, “No more,” I returned the glass to the kitchen.
Spacious sunlit kitchen, shiny granite, stainless steel. The rest of the apartment was done up nicely, too, furnished with timeless furniture, maybe a few real antiques, unremarkable but inoffensive seascapes. A double set of sliding glass doors granted an oblique view of blue swimming pool bleeding to bluer Pacific. The sky was clear, the grass around the pool was clipped, birds flew, a squirrel scampered up a magnificent Canary Island pine.
Marlon Quigg had arrived at a nice place in middle age.
At least one person cared about him. I knew I shouldn’t be judging but that made his monstrous end seem even worse than Vita’s.
Belle Quigg said, “Oh, God, God, Louie’s probably ... also gone.”
“Louie’s your dog,” said Milo.
“More like Marlon’s dog, the two of them were like ... we got him as a rescue, Louie loved everyone but mostly he loved Marlon. I loved Marlon. Britt and Sarah loved Marlon, everyone loved Marlon.”
She grabbed Milo’s sleeve. “Who would hurt him—was he robbed?”
“It doesn’t look that way, ma’am.”
“What, then? What? Who would do this? Who?”
“We’re gonna work real hard to find out, ma’am. I’m sorry to have to be the one to deliver such terrible news and I know this isn’t a good time but if I could ask you some questions?”
“What kind of questions?”
“The more we know about Marlon the better we can do our job.”
“I love Marlon. We’ve been together twenty-six—oh, God, our anniversary is next week. I already made reservations. What am I going to do?”
Two bouts of sobbing later, Milo said, “What kind of work did Marlon do?”
“Work?” said Belle Quigg. “Yes, he worked, of course he worked, Marlon wasn’t a bum—why, did one of those bums kill him?”
“They call them homeless, I call them bums because that’s what they are. You see them at Sunset and PCH, panhandling, drunk. The light’s long, gives them plenty of time to come up and beg. I never give
“Why would you suspect one of them?”
“Because they’re bums,” said Belle Quigg. “I always told Marlon that. Don’t encourage them. He has a soft heart.”
“The crime occurred over in Temescal Canyon—”
“The Little Indians Camp! I told Marlon not to walk there at night! That just proves what I was saying. Anyone can walk in, what’s to stop a bum? You want to find them? Go down to Sunset and PCH.”
“We’ll definitely check that out, ma’am. Is there anyone else we should be thinking of?”
“What do you mean?”
“Anyone Marlon might’ve had conflict with, say at work?”
“What kind of work did he do?”
“Marlon was an accountant.”
“Peterson, Danville and Shapiro in Century City. He handled one major client, the Happy Boy supermarket chain. Marlon did a great job, always got the best performance ratings.”
“How long had he been working there?”
“Fifteen years,” she said. “Before that he worked for the city—DWP—but only for a year, while he was waiting to take his CPA. Before that, he was a teacher. He worked with disabled children.”
“Before he picked up the Happy Boy account did he work with any insurance companies?”
“Happy Boy has been his assignment right from the beginning. They’re a huge chain, it’s all Marlon can do to keep up with their taxes.”
“So no problems at work.”
“Why would there be a problem? No, of course not, this had nothing to do with Marlon, Marlon’s the best.”
“And obviously your personal life is great.”
“Better than great,” said Belle Quigg. “It’s ... excellent.” Her lips parted. Color began leeching again. “I’m going to have to tell Britt and Sar— Oh God, how can I do that—”
“How old are they?”
“Britt’s eighteen, Sarah’s twenty-two.”
“Are they close by?”
Head shake. “Britt’s in Colorado, Sarah’s in ... I ... where is she, that place underneath Colorado ...” Her face screwed up. “It’s on the tip of my ... that place ...”
I said, “New Mexico.”
“New Mexico. She’s in Gallup, it sounds like horses running around, that’s how I remember it. She’s there because her boyfriend lives in Gallup, so she does, too. She used to drive a car, now she rides a lot of horses, it’s a ranch, one of those ranches. Britt’s not married, I hope she will be but she’s not, she lives in Colorado. Vail. She works as a waitress, gets real busy when it’s ski season. She skis, Sarah rides horses. They’re beautiful girls—how am I going to tell them!”
“If you’d like us to stick around while you call—”
“No, no no, you call.”
“You’re sure, ma’am?”
“It’s your job,” said Belle Quigg. “Everyone needs to do their job.”
She turned silent, almost stuporous, as Milo phoned her daughters. The conversations were brief, terrible, and every second seemed to diminish him. If Belle Quigg had eavesdropped, she showed no signs of reacting.
He sat back down. “Sarah would like to talk to you, Mrs. Quigg.”
“Britt will call you back when she composes herself.”
“Composes,” said Belle Quigg. “Like a composition. She was always good in English.”
“Will you speak with Sarah?”
“No, no, no, tell her I’ll call back. I need to sleep. I need to sleep forever.”
“Is there someone, a friend, a neighbor, that we could call to come over to be with you?”
“Be with me while I sleep?”
“To offer support, ma’am.”
“I’m fine, I just want to die in peace.”
I returned to the kitchen, looked for an address book, found a cell phone. A scan of recent calls listed a speed-dial number for Letty. I phoned it.
A woman said, “Belle?”
I said, “I’m calling on Belle’s behalf.”
It took a while to clarify, longer until Letty Pomeroy stopped gasping, but she agreed readily to come over to take care of her friend.
“Are you nearby?”
“Like a five-minute drive.”
“We really appreciate it, Mrs. Pomeroy.”
“Of course. Marlon’s really ...”
“I’m afraid so.”
“That’s crazy—do you know who did it?”
“Where did it happen?
“In Temescal Canyon.”
“Where Marlon walked Louie.”
“That’s common knowledge?”
“Anyone who knows Marlon knows he likes to walk Louie there. Because he didn’t need to clean up after Louie, it’s so ... rural. I mean I guess officially he did but ... was Louie also ...”
“Figures,” said Letty Pomeroy. “That he wouldn’t protect Marlon.”
“What kind of breed is he?”
“Golden retriever. Or maybe a retriever mix. Mixed-up is more like it, that has to be the dumbest animal I’ve ever encountered. You could step on him, he’d grin up at you like the village idiot. Kind of like Marlon, I guess. No, that came out wrong, I’m not saying Marlon was stupid, God forbid no, Marlon was smart, he was a bright man, very mathematical.”
“But easygoing,” I said.
“That’s what I meant. Marlon was the easiest-going guy, I can’t believe someone would hurt him. I mean Marlon, for God’s sake. He was the original bleeding heart. That’s how he got Louie, no one wanted to adopt Louie, probably because he’s so dim. My husband and I used to call him the Dumb Blond. A breathing, pooping throw rug. Anyone who’d steal that mutt is a worse idiot ... sorry, I’m ranting, I still can’t believe this. Someone actually hurt Marlon. Unbelievable.”
“Mrs. Quigg’s pretty traumatized, if you think you’re up to coming over right now—”
“I’ll be there in a jif.”
Back in the living room, Belle Quigg was resting her head on Milo’s shoulder. Eyes closed, maybe sleeping, maybe withdrawing deeper than slumber. She’d caught him in an awkward position but he didn’t budge.
I told him a friend would be showing up shortly.
Belle Quigg stirred.
Milo said, “Ma’am?”
“If you can handle a few more questions.”
Her eyes opened. “Whu?”
“Is the name Vita Berlin familiar?”
“Like the city?”
“Not familiar with Vita Berlin?”
“Sounds like a food supplement.”
“What about an insurance company named Well-Start?”
He repeated the name.
“We use Allstate.”
“Allstate’s casualty, Well-Start does health insurance.”
“We use one of the blue ones, Marlon paid all the bills.”
“So neither Vita Berlin or Well-Start rings a bell.”
“No.” Flash of clarity. She sat up but remained pressed against him. “No. Neither. Why?”
“Just routine questions.”
Smiling, the new widow placed a hand on his chest. Snuggling closer, she said, “You’re so big.”
Two women entered the Quigg condo. First through the door was a tall buxom redhead with short, feathered hair, wearing a green sweater over a black unitard and red Chinese slippers. She announced herself as Letty, identified her shorter, sweats-attired companion as “Sally Ritter, she’s also a friend.”
Belle Quigg didn’t react. Her eyes were open but they’d been blank for the last quarter hour. One hand continued to grip Milo’s wrist. The other rested on h
Letty Pomeroy said, “Oh, honey!” and surged forward.
Milo manage to extricate himself and stretch.
Sally Ritter said, “So what exactly happened?”
I said, “I’ve explained to Ms. Pomeroy.”
“From what she told me on the way over, that’s not much.”
Milo said, “We don’t know much, that’s why we need to investigate. Thanks, ladies.” He headed for the door.
Belle Quigg said, “Wait.”
Everyone looked at her.
“You’ve remembered something, ma’am?”
She shook her head. “But everyone should stay.”
Milo started up the engine before closing the driver’s door, sped onto Sunset. Crossing the next intersection on an iffy amber evoked honks and curses. He said, “Sue me,” and steered with one finger as he celled Moe Reed.
“Any shoe prints out front?”
Reed’s voice came on speaker, grainy but audible. “A few closer to the gate like you suggested. Techies arrived just after you left and I had them cast. Unfortunately, nothing was clear enough, all they got is an approximation of shoe size.”
“We’re talking at least five different sets, ranging from small to big.”
“What about tire tracks?”
“I really have to be the one to tell you, huh?”
“No tracks whatsoever, Loo. Whoever sliced that poor guy up either walked in and out or he parked somewhere in the surrounding neighborhood. Street parking is illegal after eight p.m., any vehicle would’ve stood out and the locals would’ve probably complained. I checked with Traffic. No one called in anything and no tickets were issued last night.”
“Have the uniforms canvass the entire grounds again.”
“Uniforms just finished canvassing a second time. Nothing.”
“Do it a third time. You supervise. Have Sean participate, sometimes he notices things.”
“Sean’s doing a door-to-door with the nearest neighbors.”
“You, then. Make sure it’s done right.”
“I’m not only talking juicy obvious evidence, Moses. I’m talking random trash, a bottle, a candy wrapper. Anything but the damn trees and shrubs and rocks that God put there.”
Other author's books:
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