The Black Widows

The Black Widows

by Doug Zipes


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781936236473
Publisher: iUniverse, Incorporated
Publication date: 04/13/2011
Pages: 317
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.73(d)

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The Black Widows

By Doug Zipes

iUniverse, Inc.

Copyright © 2009 Doug Zipes
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4401-8555-7

Chapter One

As I walked down the hall toward the victim's office, a young blond-haired woman in police blues bolted through the door, hands over her mouth. Her face showed wild-eyed panic, a look I had seen before. Frantically, she glanced up and down the corridor, stepped to the left, changed her mind, and went right. Then she stopped, twisted her face to the wall, collapsed to her knees, and erupted. Vomit splashed off the baseboard, onto the rug and her clean uniform. I could hear her groan between retches, both hands grabbing her stomach.

Harry Scarpia, my partner for the last two years, poked his head out the door. He saw her and grimaced.

"They don't make 'em tough like they used to," he said, as he held the office door open for me.

"She just start?"

He nodded as I walked in. "June's graduating class. Salutatorian, she told me. Aced her homicide finals, but this is her first real one. She came in with the usual hotshot attitude: 'I'll solve this one real quickly.' But after one look at the corpse, she turned white as chalk and was out the door looking for a bathroom. I was afraid she might keel over and hit her head, so I followed her out."

"You're all heart, Harry. At least she moved fast enough not to mess up the crime scene. Transfer her to a desk till shegets her sea legs." I started to walk out of the office.

"Where're you going?" Harry asked.

"Make sure she's okay. Poor kid, it's a helluva way to start. The crime scene can wait a few minutes." Harry made a face at me as I went back into the hallway. I shook my head at him. "No, Harry, we always look after our own."

I saw her sitting on the floor, her back against the wall and her chin resting on her chest, eyes closed. She was pale as a corpse and sweating like hell. I wasn't sure she was conscious, so I felt her radial pulse: fast and thready.

"You okay?" I asked.

"No. I feel like shit," she said, not moving. "My stomach's flipping and I want to vomit again, but there's nothing left. My head's spinning and I feel like blacking out."

"Typical vasovagal reaction," I said, my medical background surfacing. "First of all, you need to be lying down, not sitting." I took her shoulders and gently moved her from the wall, resting her head on the floor. The floor was hard, so I took out my handkerchief, folded it, and made a tiny pillow for her. "I'll be right back. Stay here."

"I couldn't move if I wanted to."

I found the men's room and brought back a handful of paper towels soaked in cold water. I knelt down next to her, wiped the vomit from her face with one of the towels, and put the others on her forehead and neck.

Her face was pinking up. "You going to live?"

"Questionable. Thanks."

"Cops stick together. What's your name?"

"Patricia O'Malley."

"Well, Patricia O'Malley, I'm Zach Dayan."

"I know who you are, Detective."

"Good. Let's see if you can stand." I helped her up on wobbly legs. "I'll walk you to the lady's room. You can get some more wet towels and clean up. If you get faint again, lie down and prop your heels up on the wall. Once you feel normal, come back." She nodded and groped along, one hand on the wall for support, the other on me.

I walked into the office. Harry was waiting for me, scowling with impatience.

As I stood over the body of Karen Driver, I shook my head. I couldn't blame Patricia. It reminded me of some of the suicide bombings I'd seen when I was still on the Israel Defense Force. Her chest was torn to shreds, as if it had taken a direct hit from a cluster bomb or a grenade. As I stared, my legs felt unsteady, and I had to lean against the wall. I wasn't close to losing it like Patricia, but the eyes-dilated, mouth-open panic look I had seen on her face triggered memories of Yom Kippur years ago. I wouldn't let myself go there. I felt sorry for her, though; the stress of your first murder is pretty rough.

"I shouldn't have recruited her," Harry said. "She's such a wimp."

"Like you knew how she was going to react to her first stiff. Cut her some slack, Harry."

"If you were in the office when we interviewed, you could've screened her instead of me. Maybe you wouldn't have taken her. You're not the first guy to get divorced, you know."

I grunted something and stared at him. He was right. The divorce was affecting my work, and Harry had taken up the slack by interviewing the new recruits. But how the hell do you split with your wife of fifteen years, and your two kids, and stay normal? Maybe I wouldn't have to carry candy in my pockets anymore. Or, more likely, maybe I'd have to double the amount to make sure they kept on loving me.

"Sorry I spoiled your breakfast," he said.

He had called my cell phone during my usual breakfast at Le Bistro. I was starting to taste the scrambled eggs and sausage all over again, and they were not that good the first time.

The smell hit me first. You never get used to this kind of brutality. Or at least I don't. Not when you're actually at the scene and after what I had lived through in Israel. Pictures are easy. The smell is not. Some guys hold their breath as long as they can, but that doesn't help me. For me, the smell makes it so much more personal. I can't help thinking that these molecules-or whatever the hell causes the smell-were once part of this person in front of me, and now I'm inhaling them, taking a piece of her inside me. That's hard to accept, even after investigating hundreds, maybe thousands of murders in my ten years in homicide. I probably got a small town living in me after dealing with this stuff so long. The first few minutes are the worst; all I can do is tough it out, focus on the facts, and push on.

"Harry, tape off the hallways starting from the elevators so no gawkers from the other offices disturb the evidence." Preserving the integrity of the crime scene was most important, since defense attorneys generally attacked the way we collected evidence, not the evidence itself. "I got to tell you everything?"

His mouth got tight, but all he said was, "Sure, Zach." I heard him give the orders to the uniforms standing around.

We were pretty different, Harry and I, and not only in appearance. Harry was dark complexioned with a thick mustache and a five o'clock shadow, even though it was ten in the morning. He said it came from his Italian father and Spanish mother. My dark mustache matched his, but I had a beard showing flecks of gray-lots of flecks. Harry was careful and calculating, even anal, while I led with my gut. He filled out all the police forms on time, in triplicate, and his desk was spotless. Mine always looked like New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

He was tall, wiry, and trim, with curly short dark hair, and ran five miles four times a week, always in training for the next New York marathon, where he placed pretty well. I was the same height, six feet or so, but well muscled. In fact, I was the heavyweight division weightlifting champ in college. More than once after a beer or two, Harry tried to beat me in arm wrestling. I'd let him start with my hand halfway down, but I'd pin his wrist in seconds, drunk or sober. The bad thing was I added pounds in a blink if I missed a session pumping iron or looked sideways at a jelly doughnut.

I turned to the police photographer, who was staring at the body with his Nikon hanging from his neck. His bottom jaw was hanging as well. Maybe he had the same feeling about the smell that I did. Cops don't talk about these things. Makes us look soft. "Alex, I want lots of pictures from every angle. You know best, but use lots of different camera exposures, lenses, and shading, whatever you need to see what I don't." I hoped the camera would pick up something the naked eye missed. There could never be too many photos of the crime scene. He clicked away with his digital camera.

"I can't remember someone cut up this bad. You, Harry?"

Harry shook his head. "Not like this."

"Must be a dozen or more cuts across her chest." She had a clean shot to the back of her head that must've killed her instantly, but the perp repeatedly slashed the front of her chest. Slabs of skin hung like clothes on a line. I thought of my mother drying our shirts in the backyard in Jerusalem when I was a kid.

"The killer used something very sharp, judging by the thinness of the cuts," I said. "Maybe box cutters or a razor blade." Both bra straps were severed and the bra cups yanked down. Interesting, her blue plaid skirt was untouched-the hem was below her knees.

"Want me to cover her chest?" Harry must have seen the look on my face.

"Better not," I said. Locard wouldn't approve.

Chapter Two

I took a deep breath and crouched close, balancing my two hundred and twenty pounds on the balls of my feet. Lucky for her-if you can say that about a corpse-there was no frontal exit wound to mess up her pretty face. She had full lips, still faintly colored by rose lipstick. Her brown eyes were open and filmed. They stared back at me like the mineral-filled pools at Yellowstone, opalescent and dead, but still reflective.

I took plastic white gloves from my jacket pocket, snapped them on, and rolled her head to the side so I could look at the entry site. In the back I saw the bullet hole, matted down by her wavy salt-and-pepper hair. Relatively small caliber or, more likely, a silencer to quash the noise. That would explain why the bullet didn't exit or shatter the skull. The silencer had slowed it down. My legs started to cramp, and I stood and flexed each one to restart the circulation. I peeled the gloves off inside out so no blood would drip on the carpet, popped them into a Ziploc baggie, and looked around the office. Nothing seemed out of order.

The office door opened and Patricia walked in, looking sheepish. She had gotten some color back, but still looked pasty. Her light complexion added to her sickly appearance. I'd read someplace blond people were more likely to faint seeing blood than brunettes. She fit the image.

"Is there anything I can do?" she asked Harry.

"Ask him," he said, bobbing his head at me.

She walked over, taking a wide detour around the body, and looked up at me. "Thanks."

"No problem."

"Seeing her, it hit me. I knew I was losing it, and I didn't want to do it in here. I'm better now. Can I help?" Her tongue worked around her lips as her eyes darted about the room.

She held her hand out and I shook it. Her grip was firm. "Happens sometimes," I said. "Put it aside."

She was pretty, not in a model sort of way-she was way too thin for that, maybe ninety pounds soaking wet-with brown hair and eyes. Although I guess a lot of models are that skinny today. About five foot one. I didn't know how she passed the physical to get her shield. Maybe she knew martial arts or something.

"Thanks. Tell me what I can do."

"Come with me. Don't say a word, and be ready to tell me what you think, but only when I ask."

I walked over to the desk. It had the usual office stuff-pencils, paper clips, and a computer.

"That'll go to the FBI lab," I told her, pointing at the Dell. "They're specialists in squeezing every morsel from a hard drive. Everybody thinks when you delete something from a computer it disappears, but the Bureau guys have ways to find material people think is gone."

"Where do you start?" Patricia asked.

"At a murder scene, the first thing I do is recreate how it happened, based on the evidence. That's what Locard did."


"Locard. He was known as the Sherlock Holmes of France, a forensic scientist who died maybe forty years ago. Locard's Exchange Principle was that every contact left trace evidence. It was there; it was just up to us to find it and use it."

I leaned back, propped a foot against the wall, and took in the entire scene. I tried to project myself into the murder, to become the murderer, to get into his head. She appeared to do the same, even propping her foot back like mine.

After a few minutes, I turned to Patricia. "So, what do you think?"

Her color had returned, and she lit up when I asked for her opinion. Maybe eagerness would make up for what she lacked in size.

"There are three obvious facts. First, there's blood on the keyboard. Then, the body on the floor, and finally the broken door window. So the vic must have been sitting at her desk with her back to the door and slumped forward, propelled by the bullet through her head. The drag marks on the rug," she pointed, "fit with the killer pulling her to the floor and then slashing her chest open."

"How do you know she wasn't slashed sitting at her desk?"

"Arterial blood splatters in pretty specific ways, according to the laws of hydrodynamics. That's been studied lots of times." She looked at me.

My eyebrows must have risen, because she added quickly, "As I'm sure you very well know." She continued. "She had to have bled on the carpet because pools of blood have mingled with the beige nap. So, at that time, her head was dead but her heart was not, still pumping away when she got slashed."

"Good. But why?"

"She has a silver Seiko watch, not top of the line but still expensive enough, and it's still on her wrist,"-again she pointed-"and the guys had told me they found fifty-five dollars in her purse. Clearly not a robbery."

"Okay, but what about the broken window? That doesn't fit."

"Why not?" she asked.

"Because if the bullet is still in her head, it must mean it didn't have the weight and speed to exit."


"So not enough velocity to shatter the window."

Patricia looked puzzled for a moment. But then a smile creased her face as she walked to the door, bent and retrieved several large glass splinters. She held one up and looked at me through the intact bullet hole.

"This what you're looking for?"

"Very good. The killer must've smashed the glass after shooting Driver so we wouldn't be able to analyze the hole. I bet he looked for the slug, too. Good thing he wasn't a brain surgeon." Patricia gave the piece of glass to Harry, who slid it into a large padded envelope for crime lab analysis later.

"What about the casing?" she asked me.

"The killer either picked it up or used a revolver."

She continued to look for a casing but came up empty.

"So that was the 'how.' Now for the 'who' and 'why.' Sex?" I asked.

She shook her head. "I don't think so, not with the hem of her skirt down around her knees. Yet her breasts were slashed. Personal hatred?"

"I doubt it." I thought Driver didn't look the type to arouse such anger in another person. Not with that pretty, delicate face.

"Maybe he was a psycho who somehow had gotten into the building looking for any victim and just lost it when he found one," Patricia said.

"Harry, what do you think?" I asked.

"A random killing? Lord knows we've had enough of them," Harry said.

I shook my head. "This is too well planned. Hell, he had to kill the security guard and bring two weapons."

"But the single shot killed her," Patricia said. "Why the butchering? And why shoot through a window ten feet away and risk the bullet deflecting instead of entering the office and killing her up close? Or killing her with the knife, like he did the guard? It was late at night, so no one would have heard her cry out. Doesn't compute."

My gut told me she was right, and that there might be more murders. But this wasn't your typical serial killer.

"Run it through BSU?" Harry asked.

"I thought about that," I said. The Behavioral Sciences Unit of the FBI in Washington profiled serial killers. "Problem is, they'll give me a picture that'd fit thousands of people. Serial killers are your neighbors, business associates, even priests. Psychos, but not insane-just no conscience. And they'll tell me it couldn't be a woman, because women are rarely serial killers, and even when one knocked off a bunch of husbands she used poison or something like that. Not a gun."

"Still, it may be a good job for me to pursue?" Patricia asked, her voice hopeful.

I looked at Harry. He gave a slight head nod. "Okay."

"I'm on my way," she said, gathering her things and leaving the office a bit too eagerly.

"She going to make it?" I asked Harry as the door closed.

"She's as eager as any I've seen. Bright as hell on paper. But wimpy, as you saw."

"Give her a chance, she'll come around," I said. "A good head makes up for a lot. I liked the way she pieced the evidence together."

"I'll keep her at a desk for a while," Harry said.


Excerpted from The Black Widows by Doug Zipes Copyright © 2009 by Doug Zipes. Excerpted by permission.
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