1. CHAPTER 1
  2. CHAPTER 1
  3. CHAPTER 1
  4. Chapter 1
  5. CHAPTER 10
  6. CHAPTER 10
  7. Chapter 10
  8. Chapter 11
  9. CHAPTER 11

AT A LITTLE AFTER 8 AM LAGUERTA CAME OVER TO where I was sitting on the trunk of my car. She leaned her tailored haunch onto the car and slid over until our thighs were touching. I waited for her to say something, but she didn't seem to have any words for the occasion. Neither did I. So I sat there for several minutes looking back at the bridge, feeling the heat of her leg against mine and wondering where my shy friend had gone with his truck. But I was yanked out of my quiet daydream by a pressure on my thigh.

I looked down at my pants leg. LaGuerta was kneading my thigh as if it were a lump of dough. I looked up at her face. She looked back.

They found the body, she said. You know. The rest of it that goes with the head.

I stood up. Where?

She looked at me the way a cop looks at somebody who finds corpseless heads in the street. But she answered. Office Depot Center, she said.

Where the Panthers play? I asked, and a little icy-fingered jolt ran through me. On the ice?

LaGuerta nodded, still watching me. The hockey team, she said. Is that the Panthers?

I think that's what they're called, I said. I couldn't help myself.

She pursed her lips. They found it stuffed into the goalie's net.

Visitor's or home? I asked.

She blinked. Does that make a difference?

I shook my head. Just a joke, Detective.

Because I don't know how to tell the difference. I should get somebody there who knows about hockey, she said, her eyes finally drifting away from me and across the crowd, searching for somebody carrying a puck. I'm glad you can make a joke about it, she added. What's a she frowned, trying to remember, a sam-bolie?

A what?

She shrugged. Some kind of machine. They use it on the ice?

A Zamboni?

Whatever. The guy who drives it, he takes it out on the ice to get ready for practice this morning. A couple of the players, they like to get there early? And they like the ice fresh, so this guy, the she hesitated slightly the sambolie driver? He comes in early on practice days. And so he drives this thing out onto the ice? And he sees these packages stacked up. Down there in the goalie's net? So he gets down and he takes a look. She shrugged again. Doakes is over there now. He says they can't get the guy to calm down enough to say any more than that.

I know a little about hockey, I said.

She looked at me again with somewhat heavy eyes. So much I don't know about you, Dexter. You play hockey?

No, I never played, I said modestly. I went to a few games. She didn't say anything and I had to bite my lip to keep from blathering on. In truth, Rita had season tickets for the Florida Panthers, and I had found to my very great surprise that I liked hockey. It was not merely the frantic, cheerfully homicidal mayhem I enjoyed. There was something about sitting in the huge, cool hall that I found relaxing, and I would happily have gone there even to watch golf. In truth, I would have said anything to make LaGuerta take me to the rink. I wanted to go to the arena very badly. I wanted to see this body stacked in the net on the ice more than anything else I could think of, wanted to undo the neat wrapping and see the clean dry flesh. I wanted to see it so much that I felt like a cartoon of a dog on point, wanted to be there with it so much that I felt self-righteous and possessive about the body.

All right, LaGuerta finally said, when I was about to vibrate out of my skin. And she showed a small, strange smile that was part official and partwhat? Something else altogether, something human, unfortunately, putting it beyond my understanding. Give us a chance to talk.

I'd like that very much, I said, absolutely oozing charm. LaGuerta didn't respond. Maybe she didn't hear me, not that it mattered. She was totally beyond any sense of sarcasm where her self-image was concerned. It was possible to hit her with the most horrible flattery in the world and she would accept it as her due. I didn't really enjoy flattering her. There's no fun where there's no challenge. But I didn't know what else to say. What did she imagine we would talk about? She had already grilled me mercilessly when she first arrived on the scene.

We had stood beside my poor dented car and watched the sun come up. She had looked out across the causeway and asked me seven times if I had seen the driver of the truck, each time with a slightly different inflection, frowning in between questions. She'd asked me five times if I was sure it had been a refrigerated truckI'm sure that was subtlety on her part. She wanted to ask about that one a lot more, but held back to avoid being obvious. She even forgot herself once and asked in Spanish. I told her I was seguro, and she had looked at me and touched my arm, but she did not ask again.

And three times she had looked up the incline of the bridge, shaken her head, and spat Puta! under her breath. Clearly, that was a reference to Officer Puta, my dear sister Deborah. In the face of an actual refrigerator truck as predicted by Deborah, a certain amount of spin control was going to be necessary, and I could tell by the way LaGuerta nibbled at her lower lip that she was hard at work on the problem. I was quite sure she would come up with something uncomfortable for Debit was what she did bestbut for the time being I was hoping for a modest rise in my sister's stock. Not with LaGuerta, of course, but one could hope that others might notice that her brilliant bit of attempted detective work had panned out.

Oddly enough, LaGuerta did not ask me what I had been doing driving around at that hour. Of course, I'm not a detective, but it did seem like a rather obvious question. Perhaps it would be unkind to say that the oversight was typical of her, but there it is. She just didn't ask.

And yet there was more for us to talk about, apparently. So I followed her to her car, a big two-year-old light blue Chevrolet that she drove on duty. After hours she had a little BMW that nobody was supposed to know about.

Get in, she said. And I climbed into the neat blue front seat.

LaGuerta drove fast, in and out of traffic, and in a very few minutes we were over the causeway to the Miami side again, across Biscayne and a half mile or so to I-95. She drove onto the freeway and wove north through traffic at speeds that seemed a little much even for Miami. But we got to 595 and turned west. She looked at me sideways, out of the corner of her eye, three times before she finally spoke. That's a nice shirt, she said.

I glanced down at my nice shirt. I had thrown it on to chase out of my apartment and saw it now for the first time, a polyester bowling shirt with bright red dragons on it. I had worn it all day at work and it was a trifle ripe, but yes, more or less clean looking. Somewhat nice, of course, but still

Was LaGuerta making small talk so I would relax enough to make some damaging admission? Did she suspect that I knew more than I was saying and think she could get me to drop my guard and say it?

You always wear such nice clothes, Dexter, she said. She looked over at me with a huge, goofy smile, unaware that she was about to ram her car into a tanker truck. She looked back in time and turned the wheel with one finger and we slid around the tanker and west on I-595.

I thought about the nice clothes that I always wore. Well of course I did. I took pride in being the best-dressed monster in Dade County. Yes, certainly, he chopped up that nice Mr. Duarte, but he was so well dressed! Proper clothing for all occasionsby the way, what did one wear to attend an early-morning decapitation? A day-old bowling shirt and slacks, naturally. I was à la mode. But aside from this morning's hasty costume, I really was careful. It was one of Harry's lessons: stay neat, dress nicely, avoid attention.

But why should a politically minded homicide detective either notice or care? It was not as if

Or was it? A nasty little idea began to grow. Something in the strange smile that flicked across her face and then away gave me the answer. It was ridiculous, but what else could it be? LaGuerta was not looking for a way to put me off my guard and ask more penetrating questions about what I had seen. And she did not truly give a winged fart about my hockey expertise.

LaGuerta was being social.

She liked me.

Here I was still trying to recover from the horrible shock of my bizarre, lurching, slobbering attack on Ritaand now this? LaGuerta liked me? Had terrorists dumped something in the Miami water supply? Was I exuding some kind of strange pheromone? Had every woman in Miami suddenly realized how hopeless real men are, and I had become attractive by default? What, in all very seriousness, the hell was going on?

Of course I could be wrong. I lunged at the thought like a barracuda at a shiny silver spoon. After all, what colossal egotism to think that a polished, sophisticated, career-track woman like LaGuerta might show any kind of interest in me. Wasn't it more likely that, that

That what? As unfortunate as it was, it did make a kind of sense. We were in the same line of work and therefore, conventional cop wisdom said, more likely to understand and forgive each other. Our relationship could survive her cop hours and stressful lifestyle. And although I take no credit for it, I am presentable enough; I clean up good, as we natives like to say. And I had put myself out to be charming to her for several years now. It had been purely political schmoozing, but she did not have to know that. I was good at being charming, one of my very few vanities. I had studied hard and practiced long, and when I applied myself no one could tell I was faking it. I was really very good at sprinkling seeds of charm. Perhaps it was natural that the seeds would eventually sprout.

But sprout into this? What now? Was she going to propose a quiet dinner some evening? Or a few hours of sweaty bliss at the Cacique Motel?

Happily, we arrived at the arena just before panic took me over completely. LaGuerta circled the building once, looking for the correct entrance. It wasn't too hard to find. A cluster of police cars stood scattered outside one row of double doors. She nosed her big car in among them. I jumped out of the car quickly, before she could put her hand on my knee. She got out and looked at me for a moment. Her mouth twitched.

I'll take a look, I said. I did not quite run into the arena. I was fleeing LaGuerta, yesbut I was also very anxious to get inside; to see what my playful friend had done, to be near his work, to inhale the wonder, to learn.

The inside echoed with the organized bedlam typical of any murder sceneand yet it seemed to me that there was a special electricity in the air, a slightly hushed feeling of excitement and tension that you wouldn't find at any ordinary murder, a sense that this one was different somehow, that new and wonderful things might happen because we were out here on the cutting edge. But maybe that was just me. A clot of people stood around the nearby net. Several of them wore Broward uniforms; they had their arms folded and watched as Captain Matthews argued about jurisdiction with a man in a tailored suit. As I got closer I saw Angel-no-relation in an unusual position, standing above a balding man who was on one knee poking at a stack of carefully wrapped packages.

I stopped at the railing to look through the glass. There it was, only ten feet away. It looked so perfect in the cold purity of the newly Zambonied hockey rink. Any jeweler will tell you that finding the right setting is vitally important, and this It was stunning. Absolutely perfect. I felt just a little dizzy, uncertain of whether the railing would hold my weight, as if I might simply pass straight down through the hard wood like a mist.

Even from the railing I could tell. He had taken the time, he had done it right, in spite of what must have seemed like a very close call on the causeway only minutes before. Or had he known somehow that I meant him no harm?

And since I brought it up anyway, did I, in fact, mean him no harm? Did I truly mean to track him to his lair and come up on point all aquiver for advancing Deborah's career? Of course that was what I thought I was doingbut would I be strong enough to carry through with it if things kept getting so interesting? Here we were at the hockey rink where I had whiled away many pleasant and contemplative hours; wasn't this even more proof that this artistexcuse me, I mean killer of coursewas moving on a track parallel to mine? Just look at the lovely work he had done here.

And the headthat was the key. Surely it was too important as a piece of what he was doing simply to leave it behind. Had he thrown it to frighten me, send me into paroxysms of terror, horror, and dread? Or had he known somehow that I felt the same way he did? Could he, too, feel the connection between us, and he just wanted to be playful? Was he teasing me? He had to have some important reason for leaving me such a trophy. I was experiencing powerful, dizzying sensationshow could he be feeling nothing?

LaGuerta came up beside me. You're in such a hurry, she said, a slight edge of complaint in her voice. Are you afraid she'll get away? She nodded at the stacked body parts.

I knew that somewhere inside me was a clever answer, something that would make her smile, charm her a little more, smooth over my awkward run from her clutches. But standing there at the rail, looking down at the body on the ice, in the goalie's netin the presence of greatness, one might sayno wit came out. I did manage not to yell at her to shut up, but it was a very near thing.

I had to see, I said truthfully, and then recovered enough to add, It's the home team's net.

She slapped my arm playfully. You're awful, she said. Luckily Sergeant Doakes came over to us and the detective didn't have time for a kittenish giggle, which would have been more than I could take. As always, Doakes seemed more interested in finding a way to get a good grip on my ribs and pull me open than anything else, and he gave me such a warm and penetrating look of welcome that I faded quickly away and left him to LaGuerta. He stared after me, watching me with an expression that said I had to be guilty of something and he would very much like to examine my entrails to find out what. I'm sure he would have been happier someplace where the police were permitted to break the occasional tibia or femur. I circled away from him, moving slowly around the rink to the nearest place where I could get in. I had just found it when something came at me on my blind side and hit me, rather hard, in the ribs.

I straightened up to face my assailant with a certain bruise and a strained smile. Hello, dear sister, I said. So nice to see a friendly face.

Bastard! she hissed at me.

Quite probably, I said. But why bring it up now?

Because, you miserable son of a bitch, you had a lead and you didn't call me!

A lead? I almost stuttered. What makes you think

Cut the crap, Dexter, Deborah snarled. You weren't driving around at four AM looking for hookers. You knew where he was, goddamn it.

Light dawned. I had been so wrapped up in my own problems, starting with the dreamand the fact that it had obviously been something more than thatand continuing on through my nightmarish encounter with LaGuerta, that it did not occur to me that I had wronged Deborah. I had not shared. Of course she would be angry. Not a lead, Deb, I said, trying to soothe her feelings a bit. Nothing solid like that. Justa feeling. A thought, that's all. It was really nothing

She shoved again. Except that it was something, she snarled. You found him.

Actually, I'm not sure, I said. I think he found me.

Quit being clever, she said, and I spread my hands to show how impossible that would be. You promised, goddamn you.

I did not remember making any kind of promise that might cover calling her in the middle of the night and telling her my dreams, but this didn't seem like a very politic thing to say, so I didn't. I'm sorry, Deb, I said instead. I really didn't think it would pan out. It was just a . . . a hunch, really. I was certainly not going to attempt any explanation of the parapsychology involved, even with Deb. Or perhaps especially not with her. But another thought hit me. I lowered my voice. Maybe you could help me a little. What am I supposed to tell them if they ever decide to ask what I was doing driving around down there at four AM?

Has LaGuerta interviewed you yet?

Exhaustively, I said, fighting down a shudder.

Deb made a disgusted face. And she didn't ask. It was not a question.

I'm sure the detective has a great deal on her mind, I said. I did not add that apparently some of it was me. But sooner or later, somebody will ask. I looked over to where she was Directing the Operation. Probably Sergeant Doakes, I said with real dread.

She nodded. He's a decent cop. If he could just lose some attitude.

Attitude may be all he is, I said. But he doesn't like me for some reason. He'll ask anything if he thinks it will make me squirm.

So tell him the truth, Deborah said deadpan. But first, tell it to me. And she poked me again in the same spot.

Please, Deb, I said. You know how easily I bruise.

I don't know, she said. But I feel like finding out.

It won't happen again, I promised. It was just one of those 3 AM inspirations, Deborah. What would you have said if I had called you about it, and then it turned out to be nothing?

But it didn't. It turned out to be something, she said with another push.

I really didn't think it would. And I would have felt stupid dragging you in on it.

Imagine how I would have felt if he had killed you, she said.

It took me by surprise. I couldn't even begin to imagine how she would have felt. Regret? Disappointment? Anger? That sort of thing is way beyond me, I'm afraid. So I just repeated, I'm sorry, Deb. And then, because I am the kind of cheerful Pollyanna who always finds the bright side, I added, But at least the refrigerated truck was there.

She blinked at me. The truck was where? she said.

Oh, Deb, I said. They didn't tell you?

She hit me even harder in the same place. Goddamn it, Dexter, she hissed. What about the truck?

It was there, Deb, I said, somewhat embarrassed by her nakedly emotional reactionand also, of course, by the fact that a good-looking woman was beating the crap out of me. He was driving a refrigerated truck. When he threw the head.

She grabbed my arms and stared at me. The fuck you say, she finally said.

The fuck I do.

Jesus! she said, staring off into space and no doubt seeing her promotion floating there somewhere above my head. And she was probably going to go on but at that moment Angel-no-relation lifted his voice over the echoing din of the arena. Detective? he called, looking over at LaGuerta. It was a strange, unconscious sound, the half-strangled cry of a man who never makes loud noises in public, and something about it brought instant quiet to the room. The tone was part shock and part triumphI found something important but oh-my-God. All eyes turned to Angel and he nodded down at the crouching bald man who was slowly, carefully, removing something from the top package.

The man finally pulled the thing out, fumbled, and dropped it, and it skittered across the ice. He reached for it and slipped, sliding after the brightly gleaming thing from the package until they both came to rest against the boards. Hand shaking, Angel grabbed for it, got it and held it up for all of us to see. The sudden quiet in the building was awe inspiring, breathtaking, beautiful, like the overwhelming crash of applause at the unveiling of any work of genius.

It was the rearview mirror from the truck.

: 2015-09-13; : 9;

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