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IN THEORY, METRO'S SEVENTY-TWO-HOUR MEETING gives everyone enough time to get somewhere with a case, but is soon enough that the leads are still warm. And so Monday morning, in a conference room on the second floor, the crack crime-fighting team led by the indomitable Detective LaGuerta assembled once again for the seventy-two-hour. I assembled with them. I got some looks, and a few good-hearted remarks from the cops who knew me. Just simple, cheerful wit, like, “Hey, blood boy, where's your squeegee?” Salt of the earth, these people, and soon my Deborah would be one of them. I felt proud and humble to be in the same room.
Unfortunately, these feelings were not shared by all present. “The fuck you doing here?” grunted Sergeant Doakes. He was a very large black man with an injured air of permanent hostility. He had a cold ferocity to him that would certainly come in handy for somebody with my hobby. It was a shame we couldn't be friends. But for some reason he hated all lab techs, and for some additional reason that had always meant especially Dexter. He also held the Metro Dade record for the bench press. So he rated my political smile.
“I just dropped in to listen, Sergeant,” I told him.
“Got no fucking call to be here,” he said. “The fuck outta here.”
“He can stay, Sergeant,” LaGuerta said.
Doakes scowled at her. “The fuck for?”
“I don't want to make anybody unhappy,” I said, edging for the door without any real conviction.
“It's perfectly all right,” LaGuerta said with an actual smile for me. She turned to Doakes. “He can stay,” she repeated.
“Gimme the fucking creeps,” Doakes grumbled. I began to appreciate the man's finer qualities. Of course I gave him the fucking creeps. The only real question was why he was the only one in a room filled with cops who had the insight to get the fucking creeps from my presence.
“Let's get started,” LaGuerta said, cracking her whip gently, leaving no room for doubt that she was in charge. Doakes slouched back in his chair with a last scowl at me.
The first part of the meeting was a matter of routine; reports, political maneuvers, all the little things that make us human. Those of us who are human, anyway. LaGuerta briefed the information officers on what they could and could not release to the press. Things they could release included a new glossy photo of LaGuerta she'd made up for the occasion. It was serious and yet glamorous; intense but refined. You could almost see her making lieutenant in that picture. If only Deborah had that kind of PR smarts.
It took most of an hour before we got around to the actual murders. But finally LaGuerta asked for reports on the progress in finding her mystery witness. Nobody had anything to report. I tried hard to look surprised.
LaGuerta gave the group a frown of command. “Come on, people,” she said. “Somebody needs to find something here.” But nobody did, and there was a pause while the group studied their fingernails, the floor, the acoustic tiles in the ceiling.
Deborah cleared her throat. “I, uh,” she said and cleared her throat again. “I had a, um, an idea. A different idea. About trying something in a slightly different direction.” She said it like it was in quotation marks, and indeed it was. All my careful coaching couldn't make her sound natural when she said it, but she had at least stuck to my carefully worded politically correct phrasing.
LaGuerta raised an artificially perfect eyebrow. “An idea? Really?” She made a face to show how surprised and delighted she was. “Please, by all means, share it with us, Officer Ein—I mean, Officer Morgan.”
Doakes snickered. A delightful man.
Deborah flushed, but slogged on. “The, um, cell crystallization. On the last victim. I'd like to check and see if any refrigerated trucks have been reported stolen in the last week or so.”
Silence. Utter, dumb silence. The silence of the cows. They didn't get it, the brickheads, and Deborah was not making them see it. She let the silence grow, a silence LaGuerta milked with a pretty frown, a puzzled glance around the room to see if anybody else was following this, then a polite look at Deborah.
“Refrigerated . . . trucks?” LaGuerta said.
Deborah looked completely flustered, the poor child. This was not a girl who enjoyed public speaking. “That's right,” she said.
LaGuerta let it hang, enjoying it. “Mm-hmm,” she said.
Deborah's face darkened; not a good sign. I cleared my throat, and when that didn't do any good I coughed, loud enough to remind her to stay cool. She looked at me. So did LaGuerta. “Sorry,” I said. “I think I'm getting a cold.”
Could anyone really ask for a better brother?
“The, um, cold,” Deborah blurted, lunging at my lifeline. “A refrigerated vehicle could probably cause that kind of tissue damage. And it's mobile, so he'd be harder to catch. And getting rid of the body would be a lot easier. So, uh, if one was stolen, I mean a truck . . . a refrigerated . . . that might give us a lead.”
Well, that was most of it, and she did get it out there. One or two thoughtful frowns blossomed around the room. I could almost hear gears turning.
But LaGuerta just nodded. “That's a very . . . interesting thought, Officer,” she said. She put just the smallest emphasis on the word officer, to remind us all that this was a democracy where anybody could speak up, but really . . . “But I still believe that our best bet is to find the witness. We know he's out there.” She smiled, a politically shy smile. “Or she,” she said, to show that she could be sharp. “But somebody saw something. We know that from the evidence. So let's concentrate on that, and leave grasping at straws for the guys in Broward, okay?” She paused, waiting for a little chuckle to run around the room. “But Officer Morgan, I would appreciate your continued help talking to the hookers. They know you down there.”
My God, she was good. She had deflected anyone from possibly thinking about Deb's idea, put Deb in her place, and brought the team back together behind her with the joke about our rivalry with Broward County. All in a few simple words. I felt like applauding.
Except, of course, that I was on poor Deborah's team, and she had just been flattened. Her mouth opened for a moment, then closed, and I watched her jaw muscles knot as she carefully pushed her face back into Cop Neutral. In its own way, a fine performance, but truly, not even in the same league as LaGuerta's.
The rest of the meeting was uneventful. There was really nothing to talk about beyond what had been said. So very shortly after LaGuerta's masterful putdown, the meeting broke up and we were in the hall again.
“Damn her,” Deborah muttered under her breath. “Damn, damn, damn her!”
“Absolutely,” I agreed.
She glared at me. “Thanks, bro. Some help you were.”
I raised my eyebrows at her. “But we agreed I would stay out of it. So you would get the credit.”
She snarled. “Some credit. She made me look like an idiot.”
“With absolute respect, sister dear, you met her halfway.”
Deborah looked at me, looked away, threw up her hands with disgust. “What was I supposed to say? I'm not even on the team. I'm just there because the captain said they had to let me in.”
“And he didn't say they had to listen to you,” I said.
“And they don't. And they won't,” Deborah said bitterly. “Instead of getting me into homicide, this is going to kill my career. I'll die a meter maid, Dexter.”
“There is a way out, Deb,” I said, and the look she turned on me now was only about one-third hope.
“What,” she said.
I smiled at her, my most comforting, challenging, I'm-not-really-a-shark smile. “Find the truck,” I said.
It was three days before I heard from my dear foster sister again, a longish period for her to go without talking to me. She came into my office just after lunch on Thursday, looking sour. “I found it,” she said, and I didn't know what she meant.
“Found what, Deb?” I asked. “The Fountain of Grumpiness?”
“The truck,” she said. “The refrigerated truck.”
“But that's great news,” I said. “Why do you look like you're searching for somebody to slap?”
“Because I am,” she said, and flung four or five stapled pages onto my desk. “Look at this.”
I picked it up and glanced at the top page. “Oh,” I said. “How many altogether?”
“Twenty-three,” she said. “In the last month, twenty-three refrigerator trucks have been reported stolen. The guys over on traffic say most of 'em turn up in canals, torched for the insurance money. Nobody pushes too hard to find them. So nobody's been pushing on these, and nobody's going to.”
“Welcome to Miami,” I said.
Deborah sighed and took the list back from me, slouching into my extra chair like she'd just lost all her bones. “There's no way I can check them all, not by myself. It would take months. Goddamn it, Dex,” she said. “Now what do we do?”
I shook my head. “I'm sorry, Deb,” I said. “But now we have to wait.”
“That's it? Just wait?”
“That's it,” I said.
And it was. For two more weeks, that was it. We waited.
And then . . .
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