Travis: Chapter Two

Lieutenant Marcus Trufant and Detective Carlos Amato stood over the two bodies as the medical examiner began peeling away the layers of plastic and blankets the men had been using for warmth. Thankfully the rain had stopped but the next storm was due in less than an hour and they had to work fast.

“Shit Lieutenant, this ones almost decapitated,” Amato said.

As the medical examiner studied the two dead men, Trufant looked down the street. Yellow crime scene tape stretched across the outer perimeter flapped in the morning breeze coming off the bay. Small barricades made from white plastic panels made up the inner perimeter and shielded the scene from the onlookers and media trucks. and dozen uniformed officers redirected cars and pedestrians to the adjacent streets

Inside the perimeter a Crime Scene Technician set the laser mapping system on its tripod while two others began photographing everything from the victim’s clothing to the storefronts on both sides of the street.

He counted seven surveillance cameras he hoped both worked and were pointed at either the victims themselves or the perpetrator as they came and went from the scene. He would need all the help he could get just identifying who these two men were.

Satisfied that everything was in moving smoothly he looked up at the darkening sky and thought of having someone set up the big tent.

As a black man who grew up in the swamps of Louisiana, San Francisco’s weather still felt alien to him, but even he knew rain was coming, and rain was the worst thing that could happen to a crime scene.

“How much longer Emma?”

“Almost done,” she said. “It’s a single laceration on this one too, both the carotid and the jugular severed in a single motion.  No other fresh wounds that I can see but , there are plenty of old ones.

The petit Vietnamese woman was down on both knees adjusting an L shaped micro-scale next to the victim’s neck for the photographer. Her jet black hair was covered by a white see-through hairnet made out of the same material as her protective gown.He knelt down next to her, careful not to allow his knee touch the damp concrete and at fifty-two and six foot three, kneeling was not as easy as it used to be. The concrete looked clean under him but the suit was expensive and he had ruined too many of them over the years. The bottom of his shoes were another story and he would have to leave them on the balcony again tonight.

The first victim was completely nude now and Trufant saw the burn scars all along the left side of his abdomen and thigh. Mixed in with the burns were smaller scars that looked like shrapnel wounds and skin grafts that had healed years before. Wounds of war he thought. What horrors had this man witnessed and what memories had died with him?

He studied the laceration across the man’s neck. At first blush the wound seemed simple; one deep long horizontal slash exposing his larynx and the thyroid cartilage; a laceration that severed the carotid artery, the jugular vein and the man’s trachea in one movement. No easy feat for anyone. Add the weather and the fact the killer had to crouch down next to the victims who could have woken up and confronted him.  There were no signs of defensive wounds and each of the two lacerations were perfect deadly wounds that no man could survive—just like the previous victims.

“I would say the time of death would be just after midnight,” the tiny woman said. “Hard to be sure though with all the rain and the low temperatures, but I would say midnight at the earliest. There was a lot more blood mixed in with the rainwater that’s drained off into the sewer. Both men died quickly which is odd if it was one perpetrator. There are no signs of a struggle; I would think the sounds of this man dying would have woken the second victim up.”

“Are they like the others?”

Doctor Lew looked up at him and then back to the heavy man. “I think so. I wasn’t on the scene of the last one but I saw the results and of course the dates match up. The only difference I see so far is that we have multiple victims this time.”

Trufant kneeled down again and looked at the crude tattoo on the man’s calf; a five pointed star and ARMY spelled out in capital letters. The tattoo was done by an amateur; probably a fellow soldier in boot camp, it was old and faded much like the man himself. But as bad a shape as the man was in he would still have made a formidable adversary he thought. It had to take some big balls to kill these two men with a knife, some big balls or a lot of confidence; and why two this time?

Today was April 11th; six victims now in two years; eight if you count the two in Chicago, all eight killed on either April 11th or December 1st. The big man was an Army veteran and probably served in Iraq like the previous victims. He looked at the smaller man still dressed clothes too big for his thin frame. The gaping wound was identical and he nodded to himself knowing he was right, some big balls, but a lot of skill too.

What was this second guy’s story—Army, Marine? His age looked to be right; the last two victims had served in different units in Fallujah between 2005 and 2008, but there were no tattoos, no wounds and physically he looked more like an accountant; but even the Army needed accountants. He would know soon enough.

The first six victims had one single thing linking them together, one common denominator; they had all served in the US military. He looked down at the dead men and hoped one of them might provide something, that single clue that would define motive.

 “No I.D. on either guy Emma; we’ll have to ID them from prints like the last two,” he said as he took off the latex gloves and threw them in a red bio-hazard bag. “Call me when you’re ready to autopsy them.”

His phone rang as he walked back to his car and he saw it was the Chief. He knew what the man was going to say but he answered it anyway, there was bad blood between the two of them, a history going back years when they worked the streets together.

“Chief Lozano?”

“Trufant; how is it that I hear about these two homicides from a television reporter and not my own Homicide Lieutenant?”

“I was just about to call you Chief but I had blood on my hands and didn’t want to contaminate my phone—you know how that is Chief.”

“Don’t be sarcastic Trufant; I did my time on the road. The media is already camped outside my office; I want you here in thirty minutes to tell them what you know—thirty minutes Trufant!”

An hour later he walked past the television news vans and ignored the reporters standing next to them and up the steps into City Hall. The department’s Public Information Officer met him at the front door and he handed the PIO some hand written notes on the back of a paper napkin.

“You talk to the media and tell the Chief that while the two of you were enjoying your late breakfast, I was eating a muffin out of a McDonald’s bag.”

In the comfort of the Homicide Office, he and two of his detectives watched the first video on the big screen. The rest of his squad were still out on the street knocking on doors trying to find more but this one was a good one and was pointed right at the sleeping men.

“There are six of them, Jesus!”

Five bodies—all men were covered in plastic and raincoats, the sixth man arrived at 11:05 if the time stamp was accurate and covered himself in a huge piece of cardboard. By midnight they all appeared to be asleep.

Twenty minutes later a seventh person came into view wrapped in a raincoat or possibly the same black plastic the sleeping men were using.

Trufant’s phone rang and he paused the video; this time it was from the station’s front lobby.

“Trufant,” he said.

“Lt, there’s a woman to see you in the lobby.”

“My wife?”

“No sir.”

“I’ll be right down.”

 Whoever it was could wait another few minutes and he looked back at the video.

 The seventh man knelt in-between the two victims facing the Big Guy as they were now calling him. There was no movement except for an occasional wisp of fog drifting past the camera. Then the big man’s leg jerked and it touched the second victim waking him up.  As the second man lifted his head the new arrival’s arm slashed out like lightning and they all saw the black gash appear on the man’s throat.

“Damn that was fast!” One of the detectives said.

The man’s head bounced once on the sidewalk and again there was no movement except for the black pool forming between the two victims. Trufant watched the motionless seventh man as gravity began pulling the black pool of blood toward the drain.

“He’s waiting to see if anyone else wakes up,” Amato said. “Or he’s deciding if he wants to kill another one.”

Trufant didn’t think so, “I think number two wasn’t planned, I think he heard or felt something, looked up and saw our subjects face and was just collateral damage.”

The subject finally stood and looked across the street at the doorway of an old business. He walked out into the middle of the street, the shifting fog acting like a veil at times leaving a ghostly image on the screen. The far side of the street; the focus of the man’s stare, was completely grayed out by the fog.  

“Now what’s he looking at?”

“Hard to say.”

Then the man walked southbound and disappeared into the fog.

“Notice how he kept his face away from the camera?”

He fast forwarded wanting to see the sleeping men wake up and find their friends murdered. In fast forward he watched bits of fog and mist race past the sleeping men and the stiff cardboard covering one of the men drooped as it soaked up the rain and then came completely apart.

Then the man in black walked back into view from the far side of the street.

 “He’s back!”

The man knelt almost in the same spot and Trufant saw him search one of the victims. This was not the same man he realized; too tall and not as thin, and from this view he saw the shaft of a prosthetic leg. An eighth man now. “Different guy.”

 The man put something in his pocket and walked back across the street and out of view.

“Damnit! Who the hell was that?”

“Let’s hope we get a few more videos as clear as this one and maybe we’ll find out.”

His phone rang again, “Lieutenant Trufant, I got an ID on one of your guys; Gerome Callaway, forty-one years old, last known address was in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. NCIC shows a few misdemeanor arrest; mostly drunk and disorderly. His last arrest was three months ago here in SF, urinating in public. He used his Tennessee address and was released with time served. No warrants, no current driver’s license either but there was a DUI arrest in Tennessee five years ago.”

“The big guy?”

“Yes, the one with the tattoo.”

“Any mention of military history?”

“No sir, I’m still waiting on that and so far nothing on your other guy.”

“Okay thanks.”

His phone buzzed and he saw it was Chief Lozano again. He let it ring until voicemail took it.

He watched the rest of the video and just as the sun rose; so did the first survivor. The blood stains were changing from black to deep red now as the sunlight brought out the colors. The older man that had been using the cardboard stared at the gaping wound on his friend’s throat.

He shook the man next to him and one by one the four men grabbed their belongings and walked out of the camera’s view.

Why hadn’t any of them called the police?

None of them had called the police; even a few passing pedestrians had stepped around the dead men without ever looking at them. It was the store owner that made the call and although the rain had washed most of the blood away, it didn’t hide the gaping wounds on the men’s necks.

“Thanks for the call guys!”

 “Carlos, call the guys on the street and have them get whatever videos they can two blocks north and south and let’s see if we can track the subject and the new guy with the prosthetic. We can expand that out as far as we need to later.”

He probably had thirty minutes before the Chief or one of his aides would be knocking on his office door.

Trufant looked at his junior detective, “Carlos, want to go to an autopsy?”

On the way downstairs they stopped in the lobby and Trufant looked through the glass door.

Sitting in the waiting room, he saw an attractive Asian woman in her early thirties, well dressed in a black skirt and matching jacket. He opened the door and the woman stood.

“Lieutenant Trufant, nice to see you.”

“Have we met?” He offered her his hand and she placed a thick envelope in it.

“I’m afraid not. But you’ve been served.”

The woman turned to leave and Trufant saw his old neighbors name and business address on the envelope. The neighbor was an attorney. Adelaide had finally filed for divorce.

“Bad news Lieutenant?” Amato asked.

“Not really, give me a second.” He stepped back through the door and put the envelope through the shredder watching the tiny strips fall into the basket.

“Okay, let’s go.”

Twenty-nine hundred miles away, LeAnn Aquino sat in the library of King’s College in Manhattan waiting to log on to her new Gmail account. There was one new message and she read each word carefully and then took notes and deleted the account.

She looked around making sure she still had this section of the room to herself and began typing.

Done, she used latex gloves and took the paper from the printer, carefully folded it and put it in an envelope, wiped the keys on the library’s computer and left. An hour later the letter was in a public mailbox in Grand Central Station.

The autopsy was routine, Doctor Lew and two other examiners stood over the body of Gerome Callaway, the Big Guy. She pointed out the burns and the scars on his left thigh and abdomen. In several areas on his back, small squares of skin had been removed and used as skin grafts and used on the worst of the burns.

“My guess is that most of this damage occurred at least ten years ago, some of the contracture—the tightening of the skin, has been treated more recently with the grafts. No doubt he was in constant pain ever since.”

Calloway’s body had been x-rayed and Lew pointed to dozens of small fragments in the areas matching the wounds. Most were small, no bigger than BBs but one wedged up next to his spine, was the size and shape of a bottle cap.

“This wound,” she said touching the man’s neck with a gloved finger, “was probably done from left to right using something sharper that an ordinary knife. Usually you can see evidence of elasticity as the skin shrinks slightly on withdrawal of the knife. This blade was thin, non-serrated almost like a scalpel and entered the skin at a direct angle across the throat, you can see the slit started and ended almost identically.”

“Like he was a professional?” Amato asked.

“I don’t know about professional Detective but he knew what he was doing. Let me show you the difference to the second man’s wound.”

John Doe was lying on his own stainless steel tray across the aisle.

“You can see the difference as this wound is not as diagonal. The entry and exit of the knife was not as even, not as calculated and as you told me, this was probably done as the victim was lifting his head. Other than that, the wound was just as thorough, deep enough that it scored the C4 vertebrae.”

John Doe looked like a man in his sixties but the dead always looked older and he was thinner, almost gaunt-like compared to Calloway. There were no tattoos or significant marks other than a small scar on his abdomen Lew thought was probably the result of hernia surgery. He had been washed but he could still see the dirt under the nails of the man’s hands and feet; feet calloused by years of walking in shoes that were probably worn out or the wrong size.

“Lieutenant, if you’re ready I’ll go ahead and start.” Lew said through her mask holding the tiny scalpel in her hand.

“We’re going to pass Emma; still too much to do.”

Before heading back to the station, they ate lunch at Codmothers on Beach Street. He enjoyed the distraction of lunch. For those brief minutes he could distance himself from emotions of the job; the pain and the sufferings of others. And he enjoyed Carlos’ company.

Carlos was hired after spending four years in the Navy. He had read one of the man’s first reports and remembering how well it had been written, his narrative was clear and concise and he could visualize the scene just reading the man’s words. He had recommended his transfer to the Investigations Bureau and eventually moved him over to Homicide.

“How’s your mother doing Carlos, she still in Mexico?”

“She’s doing okay, still in Ensenada with her mother; the woman just won’t leave. We’ve tried everything to get her to move up here, the immigration paperwork is all done; but she’s stubborn, says she wants to die in her homeland.”

“I can understand that, she doesn’t speak English and that’s a hard thing for a strong woman to deal with. My mother still cursed in French up until the day she died, a Cajun through and through.”

He finished the last bite of fish and dabbed a fry in malt vinegar as Carlos paid the check. Lunch was over and once again the weight of two dead men rested square between his shoulder blades.

With Carlos behind the wheel, they pulled into the station in time to see the Chief and his aide driving out. Through the passenger window, Trufant could see the man mouthing the word Asshole as they passed by. He gave the man a quick salute as they parked.

“He’s going to be pissed LT.”

“Don’t I know it,” he said taking two steps at a time up the back stairwell.

A patrol officer was waiting for them in the Homicide office.

“Lieutenant Trufant; these videos just came in.”

The two of them watched the color video, the first of four taken from cameras along Mason Street. He fast forwarded until 10 p.m. when the first of the six homeless men walked past the camera.

“It’s the old guy, the first one to wake up,” Carlos said. “He shouldn’t be too hard to find.”

Minutes later the Big Man walked across the screen, he was easy to pick out with the yellow and black coat showing through a clear plastic poncho and he appeared to be angry, shouting and pointing his finger at the older man.

On the far side of the street someone walked through the camera’s view with a black dog on a leash. The angle wouldn’t allow them to see any more than just the sidewalk and all they saw of the man was from the knees down. Trufant dismissed this guy, too early and on the wrong side of the street.

A lot of people went past the camera in the next hour; any one of them could have been the killer or a witness. Most of them were bundled up from the rain and the cold and by midnight the fog thickened so much even the sidewalk was hard to see.

The next video was useless, too much moisture on the lens to see anything.

In the last video which pointed away from the victims, Trufant saw the black shape of a man and a dog sleeping under the eaves of the old bakery. It was the black dog he had seen in the first video, a black Labrador and at exactly midnight, the dog lifted its head and looked across the street. The man moved his arm and pulled the dog closer and for the next thirty minutes the two of them remained motionless.

Then the man rose, tied the dog to the old iron bars and walked away and out of the video.

“He saw it happen and took something from the Big Guy,” Amato said. “We need to find him.”

“A homeless man with a black dog and a prosthetic leg; let’s get the word out and see if we can find him the old guy too.” He took a screen shot of the old man and e-mailed it as a BOLO department wide. The Be On The Lookout photo would be on everyone’s computer including the patrol officer’s laptops instantly and he sat back and waited—for three days.

 Three days later Trufant held the single sheet of paper wearing an identical pair of gloves that had last held it in New York City.

‘Though Death be poor, it ends a mortal woe.’

“What do you think Lt?”

“I think its BS. Another quote by Shakespeare; from King Richard this time and its post marked from Manhattan, the same day they were killed.”

“The man gets around.”

He thought about it; it would be possible to have a plane ticket ready to go and be in New York in time but it felt wrong; too much trouble and too much of a risk.

“Why would he use the U.S. Mail? Why not just send an e-mail? Why pretend you’re in New York? No, I think this is something else; I think the letters are a game to him. He’s studied serial killers, they all want to toy with the police and he’s copying them—and I think someone is helping him.”

to be continued