Authors: Alexandra Sokoloff
Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Mystery & Detective, #Suspense, #Mystery fiction, #Horror, #Murder, #Police Procedural, #Murder - Investigation, #Massachusetts, #Ghost, #Police, #Crime, #Investigation, #Boston, #Police - Massachusetts - Boston, #Occult crime
“The perks of power,” Landauer said as they gowned up in the morgue anteroom with its long observation window into the autopsy lab. Garrett was silent, thinking of Carmody’s tortured face. The man certainly had assumed he had power, until today’s stark proof of what an illusion human power really is.
The detectives returned to the refrigerated lab, now gowned and masked, wearing latex surgical gloves on their hands and paper caps
on their heads and paper booties over their shoes. Edwards was waiting for them, looking like an oversized elf in his green surgical scrubs.
Merciless overhead lights blazed down on the table, and Garrett flinched inwardly at the sight. The headless torso was on its back, the slashed neck raw and exposed, providing a gaping view of ragged tissue and severed windpipe. The corpse had begun to pass out of rigor mortis and lay less rigidly against the polished steel.
Edwards adjusted the microphone attached to the collar of his scrubs, snapped on a pair of sterile latex gloves, then picked up Erin’s chart and began to dictate. “This is case number 10-3760, Erin Carmody, a well-developed, well-nourished eighteen-year-old Caucasian female. The head and left hand of the victim are missing. The remaining torso is fifty-nine inches long and the weight is 104 pounds.”
Edwards nodded to Hernandez, the slight, delicately featured morgue assistant, who turned on the X-ray board to light up several rows of film. Edwards studied the ghostly images, then turned from the light board and moved to the head of the table. He bent over the corpse, examining the stump of the neck through the magnifier. “The severance plane is located between C-4 and C-5, the fourth and fifth cervical vertebrae. There is a single slice across the neck, cleaving completely through the thyroid cartilage, through the arteries, across the vertebral column. The wrist amputation shows the same kind of cut.” The M.E. paused, his deceptively jovial face knotted in concentration as he studied the muscle fibers. He spoke more slowly. “This was a highly sharpened blade, and long enough to cut cleanly across the entire expanse of neck. There are no hesitation marks, no sawing motions; the blow was delivered with extreme force. This was not accomplished with a knife or a hatchet. My guess would be a sword.”
Garrett felt a shock of unreality as he stared across the girl’s headless body at his partner. “A
Landauer’s returning look above his surgical mask was equally unnerved. He cleared his throat, glanced to the M.E. “How often do you see that?”
“I haven’t,” Edwards said shortly. “I’ll have to research types and variables.”
Garrett’s mind was racing.
Ritual . . . ceremonial?
“We’ll get the details into VICAP.” VICAP, the FBI’s Violent Criminal Apprehension Program, maintained a database of details of violent crimes from across the country, which law enforcement officials could search for similar, possibly related crimes.
Edwards continued. “Decapitation was not the cause of death. The fatal wound was here, at the breastbone.” He indicated the knife wound in the chest, then stepped to the light board to the chest X-ray. “The knife blade entered the chest cavity in an upward thrust and severed the aorta, as you can see by the pooled blood in the thoracic cavity.” He traced a pen above a large shadowed area of the chest. “She would have been dead within minutes.
“The decapitation took place well before rigor mortis, probably no more than two hours after death. There are no defensive wounds, and the free histamine levels in her bloodstream indicate that there was no heightened trauma before her expiration.” Edwards paused and looked at both detectives in turn. “She was not tortured or unduly stressed before her death.”
There was a palpable relaxation in the room. The sound of cooled air blowing through the ventilation system seemed amplified.
Edwards looked over his clipboard and continued. “Furthermore, lab tests indicate that the blood on her thighs, and in her vagina, is menstrual blood.” He looked up at the detectives, waiting.
No undue stress . . . menstrual blood . . .
He spoke aloud. “So . . . there was no rape?”
Edwards nodded toward him. “There is no bruising and no tearing of the vaginal wall, which counterindicates sexual assault, although it is not conclusive. There was sex: semen was present in the vaginal canal and in the pubic region. Bear in mind the sex could have taken place postmortem. The semen samples have been sent over to Schroeder for DNA testing.”
Finally, some good news,
Garrett thought. Again, the relief in the room was tangible.
“So with any luck we get a ding on CODIS.” Landauer exhaled.
Let it be so.
“There are no defensive wounds, and no ligature marks.” The M.E. picked up one arm, then the other, as gently as if the murdered girl had been his own daughter, displaying each arm for the detectives. He did the same with her legs and feet. “There are no track marks, either. But . . .” He looked up from the body, nodded toward his clipboard again. “The tox screen indicates significant levels of atropine in her bloodstream.”
The word was vaguely familiar, but Garrett couldn’t immediately call it up. The back of his neck was tingling, though.
“Atropine is a chemical used by the military as an antidote to nerve gas, and as a means of resuscitation,” Edwards continued.
That wasn’t why the word was familiar. “I don’t understand—”
Edwards lifted a finger. “Atropine is naturally occurring in belladonna, or deadly nightshade.” Now the tingling escalated to a buzz. Garrett could see Landauer struggling to place the reference, too.
“Isn’t that some—ritual thing?” Landauer asked. “Is it satanic?”
“Belladonna has been used throughout history in witchcraft rituals,” Edwards confirmed. “It’s a toxin and hallucinogen that reputedly induces the sensation of flying.”
Unbidden, the Mexican mechanic’s voice whispered in Garrett’s head:
The men stared down at the carvings in the girl’s torso.
Are we seriously standing here talking about witches?
“More fucking rituals. Shit,” Landauer muttered. “You think he fed it to her?” All the men knew it was a rhetorical question—it was not the M.E.’s place to speculate, just report the facts.
Garrett tried a more specific question. “Is belladonna hard to get?”
“It’s a weed,” Edwards answered. “It grows domestically in this region. The berries are sold in those witch shops up in Salem. And it gets used as a recreational drug, mostly by teenagers, into the Goth scene.” Garrett could almost see the quotation marks around “Goth” as Edwards said the word.
“What about the carvings?” Garrett asked.
“Postmortem,” the M.E. said. “There are no hesitation marks. The characters are distinct and the proportions fairly regular, which might indicate that these are not improvised marks, rather, the person who did the cutting is very familiar with these symbols.” Edwards looked at the detectives. “And the knife is unusual. The regularity of the edges of both the stab wound to the chest and the carvings indicate the use of a double-edged blade with a needlelike point.” The M.E. paused. “A dagger.”
Another jolt. Garrett looked at Landauer, who was startled enough to stop fiddling with the unlit cigarette he held nervously in his fingers.
Edwards continued grimly. “And another thing. The lab identified the black substance on her shoulder.” He gave a nod to Garrett again. “You were right. It’s beeswax, with a common dye. Candle wax.”
Black candles and belladonna. A dagger and sword.
Laundauer exhaled. “Well, shit on a stick. If it’s not satanic, it’s a damn good fake.”
It was, as always, a relief to take the elevator up from the basement lab, to escape the whine of bone saw and queasy sight of exposed organs. The smell, of course, remained. Garrett and Landauer left the brick building on Albany Street and stopped at a liquor store for a lemon, squeezed juice into their nostrils, tearing up at the acid bite—but they were looking at a long night and the sting of lemon was better than the stink of death.
The Homicide Unit of Schroeder Plaza, with its new computer terminals and desks grouped into work pods, always looked to Garrett more like a law firm than a police station, especially at night when there were fewer detectives to break the illusion of corporate order. Landauer immediately took his Camels and cell phone outside to set about tracking down Erin’s roommate and boyfriend. Garrett threw his jacket over a chair and jumped on his computer to fill out the VICAP form to check the national FBI database of violent crimes for similar murders. He was sure in his bones that this was not a onetime killing, and there were so many distinctive signature aspects that there was a chance—a chance—they could get lucky and find a documented trail of crimes. The problem was, Garrett wasn’t feeling very lucky.
The night hush of the detectives’ room settled around him as he called up the VICAP database. Typing the details of the murder into the computerized form made his skin prickle uncomfortably again. Decapitation, removal of the left hand, black candle wax, ritualistic carvings, belladonna . . .
And consensual sex?
Garrett frowned at the incongruous piece of the puzzle, and sat, staring past the computer, wondering. Then, only half-aware that he was doing it, he picked up a pen and scribbled notes.
Not raped? Someone she knew? Willing participant in ritual?
He paused and looked down at the luminous senior portrait of Erin Carmody on top of his case file . . . then threw down his pen, shaking his head.
A prom queen like that, involved in black magic? You’re dreaming. Edwards is right—the sex was probably postmortem.
A hundred and eighty-eight gruesome questions later (
Was the binding excessive, i.e. more than necessary to control the victim? Were objects inserted into body orifices?
) he finished the VICAP report by typing in a request for a profile evaluation and sent the document, then pulled up the NCIC database to generate a list of missing persons. There were twenty-six females between the ages of sixteen and thirty recently reported missing in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Erin Carmody was the logical primary focus of the investigation, but if they could not pick up a trail around Erin, they might be able to find someone else missing under similar circumstances.
Garrett printed out the Missing Persons list and added it to the murder book, the binder that would hold all the official reports and photos and notes on the Carmody case, then sat back in his creaky chair for a minute, looking down at the enlarged crime-scene photo showing the carvings in Erin’s torso, the numbers. The deep feeling of unease swept over him again.
He sat abruptly forward toward the computer and called up Google. He typed 333 into the search box and looked over the list of entries that came up:
The Year 333
House Resolution 333
The Trans 333 foot race
He started to scroll, speeding through pages and pages of 333 addresses and phone directory listings interspersed with links to various university classes:
In a word: nothing. Garrett clicked back on the search box and tried:
This time the search results were cryptic, but more promising:
The Use of 333 by Freemasons in American Building
Illuminati: Satanic Numerological Code
Garrett hunched forward and started clicking through links, only to be confronted with a mind-numbing series of Web sites, newsletters, articles, and message board forums, some graphically illustrated with demonic images, pentagrams, borders of crackling flames; some complete with ominous mood music; all laced with unfamiliar terminology:
Chaos Magic, Golden Dawn, Aleister Crowley, Sigils.
Bizarre bits of text jumped out at him as he skimmed the sites: