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THE HOUSE WAS OFF FRENCHMAN STREET, NOT A MANSION AND not derelict. It sat in a neighborhood of middle-class homes from which men and women went to work every day and children went off to school. The yard was well-kept but not overmani-cured; the paint wasn't peeling, but it was a few years old. In short, to all appearances, it was the average family home in the average family neighborhood. Or had been.
Until a neighbor had spotted the body of the woman on the kitchen floor that morning and called the police. They'd entered the house and found a scene of devastating chaos.
Michael Quinn hadn't been among the first to arrive. He wasn't a cop, not anymore. He was a private investigator and took on clients, working for no one but himself. However, he maintained a friendly relationship with the police. It was necessaryand, in general, made life a hell of a lot easier.
It also brought about mornings like this, when Jake Larue, his ex-partner, called him in, which was fine, since he was paid a consultant's fee for his work with the police
and his personal pursuits could sometimes be expensive.
"You know, Quinn," Jake said, meeting him outside, "I've seen bad times. The days after the storm, gang struggles in our city and the usual human cruelty every cop faces. But I've never seen anything like this."
JakeDetective Laruewas sent on the worst and/or most explosive cases in the city
or when something bordered on the bizarre.
Jake was good at his job. He was good at it, Quinn had long ago discovered, because he'd never thought of himself as the beall and endall. He took whatever help he could get, no matter where he got it. That was how cases were solved, and that was why he was willing to call Quinn.
Good thing he was back in the city, Quinn thought. He'd just arrived a few hours earlier. Danni didn't even know he was back after his weeks in Texashe'd meant to surprise her this morning.
Quinn looked curiously at the house. "Drug deal gone bad?" he asked. It didn't seem like the type of home where such a thing happened, but there was no telling in that market.
"I'll be damned if I know, but I doubt it. Get gloves and booties. We're trying to keep it down to a small parade going through," Larue said.
Quinn raised his brows. It was almost impossible to protect evidence from being compromised when that many people were involved. But Larue was a stickler; he'd set up a cordoned path to the porch. There were officers in the yard, and they were holding back the onlookers who'd gathered nearby. The van belonging to the crime scene techs was half on the sidewalk and cop cars crowded the streets, along with the medical examiner's SUV. The only people who had passed him were wearing jumpsuits that identified them as crime scene investigators.
"Dr. Hubert is on," Larue said.
Quinn liked Ron Hubert; he was excellent at his job and looked beyond the norm when necessary. He wasn't offended when another test was suggested or when he was questioned. As he'd said himself, he was human; humans made mistakes and could overlook something important. His job was to speak for the dead, but hell, if the dead were whispering to someone else, that was fine with him.
"First things first, I guess. The entry hallway," Larue said.
There was no way to avoid the body in the entry hall. The large man lay sprawled across the floor in death. Hubert was crouched by the body, speaking softly into his phone as he made notes.
"The victim is male, forty-five to fifty years. Time of death was approximately two hours ago or sometime between 6:00 and 7:00 a.m. Cause of death appears to be multiple stab wounds, several of which on their own would prove fatal. Death seems to have taken place where the victim has fallen. There are abundant pools of blood in the immediate vicinity." He switched off his phone, stopped speaking and glanced up. "Please watch out for the blood. The lab folks are busy taking pictures, but we're trying to preserve the scene as best we can. Ah, Quinn, glad to see you here, son." Pretty much anyone could be "son" to Dr. Ron Hubert. He was originally from Minnesota and his Viking heritage was apparent. His hair was whitening, but where it wasn't white, it was platinum. His eyes were so pale a blue they were almost transparent. His dignity and reserve made him seem ageless, but realistically, Quinn knew he was somewhere in his mid-sixties.
"He was stabbed? Have you found the weapon?" Quinn asked.
"No weapons anywhere," Larue answered. "This iswe believe but will confirmMr. James A. Garcia. His family has lived in the area since the nineteenth century. He inherited the house. He was a courier who worked for a specialty freight company."
"The woman in the kitchen, we believe, is his wife, Andrea. It looks as if she was slashed by a sword," Hubert said. "Make your tour quick, Detective," he told Larue while nodding grimly at Quinn. "I need to get the bodies to the morgue."
Quinn accompanied Larue to the kitchen. He couldn't begin to determine the age of the victim there; only her dress and the length of her hair suggested that she'd been a woman. To say that a sword might have been used was actually a mild description; she looked like she'd been put through a meat slicer. Blood created a haphazard pattern on the old linoleum floor and they moved carefully to avoid it. "There's more," Larue told him, "and stranger."
Upstairs, another body lay on a bed.
"Mr. Arnold Santander, Mrs. Garcia's father, as far as we know. Shot."
"Something that blew a hole in him the size of China. And there are two more."
Another bedroom revealed a fourth bodythis one bludgeoned to death. Quinn couldn't even guess the sex, age or anything else about the remains on the bed.
"Maggie Santander, the wife's mother," Larue said.
The fifth body was downstairs by the back door. Compared to the others, it was in relatively good condition.
"This one is a family auntMr. Garcia's sister, Maria Orr. What I've been able to gather from the neighbors is that Maria Orr picked up the Garcia children to take them to school. She was the drop-off mom and Mrs. Garcia was the pickup mom. Maria often stopped by for a coffee after she took the kids to school and before heading to her job at a local market. Mrs.
Garcia was a stay-at-home mom and looked after all the children in the afternoon."
Quinn hunkered down by the body and gingerly moved the woman's hair. He frowned up at Larue. "Strangled?"
"That's Hubert's preliminary finding, yes," Larue replied.
Quinn stood. "No weapons anywhere in the house? The yard?"
"No. Obviously, the techs are still combing the house. I have officers out there questioning neighbors and going through every trash pile and dump in the vicinity and beyond. The city's on high alert. I'm about to give a press conferenceany words of wisdom for me before I cast everyone into a state of panic?"
One of Larue's men, carefully picking his way around the corpse, heard the question and muttered, "Buy several big dogs and arm yourself with an Uzi?"
He was rewarded with one of Larue's chilling stares. "All I need is a city full of armed and frightened wackos running around," he said. "Quinn, what sort of vibe are you getting here? Anything?"
Quinn shrugged. "Was there any suggestion that they could have been into drugs or any other smuggling?"
"The poor bastard was a courier, a baseball coach, a deacon at his church. The mom baked apple pies. No, no drugs. And it sure as hell doesn't look like one of them killed the others and then committed suicide."
Quinn spoke to Larue, describing the situation as he understood it. "The grandparents were in bedseparate beds and rooms, but I'm assuming they were old and in poor health. The wife was cleaning up after breakfast, while the husband appeared to be about to leave the house. I think the aunt had just arrived and saw somethingbut didn't make it out of the house. She was running for the rear door, I believe. You'd figure she'd be the one shot in the back, but she wasn't. She was caughtand strangled. The different methods used to kill suggest there was more than one killer in here. What's odd is that the blood pools seem to be where the victims died. No one tracked around any blood, and there are no bloody fingerprints on the walls, not that I can see. Yes, we have blood spatterall over the walls." He shook his head. "It should be the easiest thing in the world to catch this killeror killers. He or she, they, should be drenched in blood. Except
your victim trying to escape via the back hallway was strangled. There's no blood on her whatsoever, and you'd think that if the same person perpetrated all the murders, there'd be blood on her, as well. Unless she was killed first, but that's unlikely. It looks like she was running away."
"So, the bottom line is."
"Based on everything I'm seeing, I'm going to suggest more than one killer," Quinn said. "Still, they should be almost covered in bloodunless they wore some kind of protective clothing. Even then, you'd expect to find drops along the way. It seems that whoever did this killed each of these people where we found themand then disappeared into thin air."
Larue stared at him, listening, following his train of thought. "You didn't tell me anything I don't already know," he argued.
"I'm not omniscient or a mind reader," Quinn said.
"Your men should be searching the city for people with any traces of blood on them. It should be impossible to create a bloodbath like this and not have it somewhere. And the techs need to keep combing the house for anything out of the ordinary."
"This much hateand nothing taken. Implies family, a disillusioned friend
or a psychopath who wandered in off the street. They say this kind of violence is personal, but there are plenty of examples to the contrary. To take a famous one, Jack the Ripper did a hell of a number on his last victim, Mary Kelly, and they believe that his victims were a matter of chance."
"They were a 'type,'" Quinn reminded him. "Jack went after prostitutes. What 'type' could this family have been? My suggestion is that you learn every single thing you can about these people. Maybe something was taken."
"Nothing seems to have been disturbed. No drawers were open, no jewelry boxes touched."
Quinn nodded, glancing at his former partner. Larue was in his late thirties, tall and lean with a steely frame, dark, close-cropped hair and fine, probing eyes. There were things he didn't talk about; he was skilled at going on faith, and luckily, he had faith in Quinn.
"That's why I called you," Larue said. "I'm good at finding clues and in what I see." He lowered his voice. "And you, old friend, are good at finding clues in what we don't see. I'll have all the information, every file, I can get on these bodies in your email in the next few hours. Hubert said he'll start the autopsies as soon as he's back in the morgue."
"Mind if I walk the house again?" Quinn asked him. "There's something I want to check out."
"Like I said, I'm surprised more blood wasn't tracked through the house. But what I do see leads back to James Garcia."
"One would thinkbut you're trying to tell me that James Garcia butchered his familyand came back to the hall to slash himself to ribbons?"
"No, I'm not saying that. I agree with you that it's virtually out of the question. I'm just saying that the only blood trails there are lead back to him. There's no weapon he could have done this with, so
that tells me someone else had to be in the house. They got to the second floor first and murdered the grandparents, headed down to the kitchen and killed the wife, then caught either the aunt or James Garcia. But you'll note, too, that there's no blood trail leading out through the doors. Like I said, whoever did this should have been drenched. It seems obvious, but surely someone would've noticed another person covered in blood. Yes, this is New Orleansbut we're not in the midst of a crazy holiday with people wearing costumes and zombie makeup. And even if the killers were wrapped in a sheet or something protective, it's hard to believe they could escape without leaving a trace."
"What if they had a van or a vehicle waiting outside?" Larue asked.
"That's possible. But still
I'd expect some drops or smudges as the killer headed out. I'm going to look around, okay?"
"Go for itjust keep your booties on and don't interrupt any of my techs. Oh, and, Quinn?"
"Thank God you're back."
Quinn offered him a somber smile. "Glad you feel that way."
He left Larue in the hallway, giving instructions to others, and supervising the scene and the removal of the bodies.
At first, Quinn found nothing other than what they'd already discovered. Of course, he was trying to stay out of the way of the crime scene unit. They were busiest in the house; he knew they'd inspected the garage but concentrated on the house, so he decided to concentrate on the garage.
He was glad he did. Because he came upon something he considered unusual.
It was in between two cans of house paint.
He picked up the unlabeled glass container and studied it for a long time, frowning.
There'd been something in it. The vial looked as if it had been washed, but.
There was a trace of red. Some kind of residue.
Blood? So little remained he certainly couldn't tell; it would have to go to the evidence lockup and then get tested.
He hurried back in to hand it over to Grace Leon, Larue's choice for head CSU tech when he could get her. She, too, studied the vial. "Thanks. We would've gotten to this, I'm sure. Eventually we would've gone through the garage. But
is it what I think it is?"
He smiled grimly. "We'll have to get it tested. But my assumption is yes."
The gicléeor computer-generated ink-jet copyfirst drew one's gaze from across the room because of its coloring and exquisite beauty.
Foremost in the image was a dark-haired gentleman leaning over a love seat where a beautiful woman in white lay half-inclined, reading. He could be seen mostly from the back, with only a hint of his profile visible, and he presented her with a flower. The scene evoked the type of mysticism and nostalgia that could be found in the work of the pre-Raphaelite painter John Waterhouse.
Movement, life, seemed to emerge from the image. It was complex; the viewer felt a sense of belonging in the scene, being part of a living environment.
Behind the love seat was a great hearth, like that in the hall of a medieval castle. Above the hearth was a painting of a medieval knight, sans helmet; to each side of the image were massive plaques that bore the coat of arms of the House of Guillaume, with crossed swords below each. To the left, a massive stone staircase went up to the second floor and to the right, a hallway leading to another region of the castle, presumably the kitchens. It was guarded by a pair of 1500s suits of armor, standing like sentinels. And yet it felt like a scene of modernnineteenth-century modern, at least compared to the medieval background of the castlebliss.