Bosky telling me another young woman was murdered in a similar way felt like a real break in the case, but I wanted to be cautious in my optimism. After driving Audrey home I returned to my office and did my version of saddling up: I armed myself to the teeth, carrying as many guns as I could stuff into pockets and holsters, a pair of pocket knives, and a leather slapjack Kate used to carry After that I drove my bike over to the coroner and let myself in the back.
The sound of a table being flipped and implements falling to the floor met me, followed by shouting. One of the men shouting was definitely Henry Wedgewood, but the other voices I did not recognize. I ran toward them, pulling my 1911 and stopping by the door. Glancing inside I saw two men holding Wedgewood while a third punched him in the stomach. Two others carried out a body wrapped in a white sheet. Each wore a bandana wrapped around his head.
I’m not clear on if shooting first is discretion or valor, but that’s the route I went. I stepped into the doorway, took careful aim, and shot the man punching Wedgewood in the right side of the chest. He dropped, the two with the body looked at me, and the two men holding Wedgewood let him go and pulled out knives.
One held a knife to the coroner’s throat. The other came toward me. I closed my left eye and took careful aim, then fired at the advancing goon. He fell, clearly out of the fight if not dead, and I took careful aim at the one still holding Wedgewood. In my focus I missed the knife coming at me from beside the door until the last moment, stepping back just in time to miss the worst of it. The blade caught my arm enough to draw blood and hurt but not enough to take me out of the fight.
My assailant wasted no time flipping the knife for a forward lunge. As I sidestepped he rushed out after the body thieves, and then their last friend released Wedgewood and dragged the first man I shot out the same way. The last guy managed to get up to his feet and stumble out as well. Wedgewood fell to his knees, both hands wrapped around his sizable gut. I checked on him.
“Go get them,” he wheezed. “Took both bodies and my notes.”
“All right,” I said, putting a hand on his shoulder before rushing down the hall.
A shotgun blast next to my head forced me to duck back into the building, but I caught sight of the red Chevrolet pickup the men had loaded into. It was a pickup truck I recognized, one I’d seen many times before. One of the bullet holes in the tailgate came from me. Before he was permanently put into the ground the truck belonged to Detroit Harman, the ring-leader of bad ideas for his family. I emptied my 1911 at the truck, never once hitting a person or anything vital to even slow them down.
Wedgewood found his feet while I was away, and the look he gave me betrayed the amount of pain he was in. “The one that cut you was the killer,” he said. “Small hands. Didn’t see his face, but the men talked about it.”
“Jake Creel, the boyfriend, maybe.”
“Then I know where I’m going next,” I said.
It didn’t take me long to drive to Creel’s house. The first thing I looked for upon arrival was a red pickup, but only an ugly green sedan and black coupe occupied the driveway. I chose not to park behind them in case someone leaving in a hurry backed over my bike. After that, I made my way up the drive and listened. Someone was making a lot of noise — a lot of sexual noise — inside the house. Creel’s parents weren’t back yet, and he was an only child. Either they had a case of burgling lovers, or he was awfully quick to recover from his girl’s death.
I drew my 1911, checked the safety, and made my way around the house, peeking into each window like a common prowler or pervert, but with a lot different on my mind. Eventually I located the room they were in around back, and walked to the back door. Jake left it unlocked this time, and probably most times, and I let myself in, scanning the kitchen as I entered. Nice, upscale kitchen with several top of the line appliances.
The hallway sported carpet, which made my sneaking that much easier. The bedroom doorknob didn’t even have a lock, and wasn’t closed all the way. Clearly, the couple inside didn’t expect anyone to bust them in the act. I nudged it inward with my foot and stepped into the room silently. A woman sat astride Jake Creel, her back to me, the outline of her breasts jumping as she rode him. The white sheet was wrapped around her from the waist down which saved me from seeing any more of Creel than any man would want.
I took careful aim at Jake’s head and cleared my throat.
The woman screamed and fell off the young man, taking the blanket and his dignity with her. She held it up to her chest and screamed a second time. I stared at her, my mouth as agape as hers but without sound. It was Ellen Henry’s mother, Dorothea!
“Stop screaming,” I said, as gruffly as I could manage. “I’m here for Jake here, since he stole Ellen’s body from the morgue.”
“I did not!” Jake said, keeping his hands over himself.
“Cut the lies, Jake,” I said. “I just left the place, and the ringleader was a man with small hands — like the murderer of Ellen Henry and another young woman. You have small hands — among other things — and that makes you suspect number one in my eyes. You had access to Ellen, and you just jumped into bed with her mother. Sounds like she was in the way. And what does Mr. Henry think of this?”
“He knows,” Jake said. “So did Ellen — our arrangement was to everyone’s benefit.”
“I said cut the lies,” I said, stepping toward him and raising my 1911 to pistol whip him.
“He’s telling the truth!” Dorothea said. “My husband… prefers the company of other men, and Ellen had… her own… interests.”
“What sort of interests?”
“Twisted ones,” Jake said. “Please, put the gun away. Please.”
“You’re going to need to explain.”
“There’s a club in downtown Biloxi…” Dorothea said. “She liked to go there.”
“I knew that. But why?”
“To punish herself,” they said as one.
I sat down in the chair across from Jake’s bed. “Start at the beginning.”