Michael Prescott: Last Breath

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Michael Prescott Last Breath
  • Название:
    Last Breath
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    Триллер / на английском языке
  • Язык:
    Английский
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Last Breath: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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She knew this was so, because snagged on a splinter of wood in the doggie door’s frame were a few black threads. She remembered the black trousers he’d worn.

Of course it proved nothing. There was no point in even raising the issue with her mom and dad. They would look at her strangely, and there might even be talk of consulting with a psychologist in Blythe, as there had been for a few days after the attack.

She didn’t want to see a psychologist. She kept her thoughts to herself.

But from then on, whenever she played outdoors or rode a pony in the desert or climbed a trail to a high ridge, she kept watch for a tall, lean figure in black.

The boogeyman was out there.

And someday, she knew, he would return.

PART ONE

The Red Hen
NOON-8:00 P.M. WEDNESDAY

1

Morrie Walsh hated autopsies.

He knew he was supposed to be accustomed to this part of the job after thirty years as a cop, but somehow it never failed to get to him-the unpacking of a human body, the utter violation of a person.

Of course, as he knew too well, Martha Eversol had already been violated far more profoundly. Nothing the pathologist could do to her really mattered. The true damage had been done by other hands.

Walsh stood beside the steel autopsy table, one of two tables in a specially ventilated room at the Los Angeles County Morgue, a room restricted to badly decomposed remains. Martha Eversol had been dumped in an abandoned mini-mall on Sepulveda Boulevard a month earlier, and the condition of her body was not good.

One saving grace was that there had been no rain. January, often the start of LA’s rainy season, had been unusually dry this year, with some days approaching the windy dustiness of the Santa Ana season that normally developed in September. The dryness had helped to preserve the corpse. Instead of rotting, it had been mummified. The skin had a taut, leathery quality, and the other tissues had withered away, making the bones sharp and obvious beneath.

The body lay utterly limp. Rigor mortis had dissipated many days ago.

The medical examiner was a lean, ponytailed man named Sarandon who lacked most of the quirks associated with members of his profession. His only noticeable eccentricity was a habit of humming complicated melodies during an autopsy. He seemed partial to Bach.

Sarandon stood opposite Walsh, reviewing the tools in his kit: scalpel; surgical scissors; the wickedly sharp, long-bladed implement called a bread knife; and forceps, known as “pickups” by coroners everywhere. His assistant bustled about, making arcane preparations, while Sarandon turned on the microphone hanging over the table and dictated his opening remarks, beginning with today’s date, January 31.

Walsh briefly shut his eyes. It was a date he’d been dreading since Martha Eversol’s disappearance exactly one month ago.

Sarandon examined the body, finding ligature marks on the wrists and ankles-“antemortem,” he noted, pointing to the swollen redness of the wounds. But of course they would be antemortem. There was no point in tying up the woman after she was dead. Martha Eversol had been bound while alive. She had been kept that way for precisely four hours. Walsh was sure of it.

Sarandon, humming a pleasant air that sounded suspiciously like a show tune, found bruises on Martha Eversol’s neck. Antemortem or perimortem. Before death or at the moment of death.

“Consistent with manual strangulation?” Walsh asked, already knowing the answer.

Sarandon nodded curtly, not removing his gaze from the body. “Consistent, but we won’t know for sure until we look at the trachea.” He peeled back the corpse’s eyelids and noted pinpoint hemorrhages on the insides of the lids and in the whites of the eyes. “Additional evidence of strangulation. Still not conclusive.”

Walsh nodded. Manual strangulation closed off the arteries at the sides of the neck but left open the artery at the nape. Blood would continue pumping into the head but would be unable to leave. As blood pressure rose, capillaries burst, producing telltale petechial hemorrhages.

“How about the tattoo?” Walsh asked.

Sarandon interrupted his humming. “You haven’t seen it?”

“The body was still clothed at the dump site. I heard SID found the tat when they undressed her.” He pronounced it “sid,” but he meant the Scientific Investigation Division-the crime-scene specialists.

“Yeah, they did. Just wait till we get a few pictures, and I’ll show it to you.”

Sarandon’s assistant shot a roll of 35mm photos of the body. Then the ME and his helper eased Martha Eversol off the body block that supported her torso. The corpse slipped onto its side, exposing the left shoulder, and there on the shoulder blade was the tattoo.

“Postmortem,” Sarandon said. “Like the other one.” There was no reddening of the skin around the design, as there would have been if the ink had been applied during life.

More whirs and clicks from the snapshot camera. The exhaust fans incorporated into the table hummed busily, while the more powerful fans installed in the ceiling droned in counterpart. As yet there were no odors for the fans to draw off. But not for long.

Before the corpse was replaced on the body block, Walsh took a close look at the tat. It was a maroon hourglass, three inches long, rendered by hand.

He had known it would be somewhere on her body. On Nikki Carter it had been engraved in her right buttock. Evidently the Hourglass Killer didn’t care where he made his mark.

“I’ve heard SID found a calling card,” Sarandon said, shifting the body into a supine position.

Walsh stiffened. “Who told you that?”

“Little birdie.”

“We don’t want that information getting out. It’s bad enough that the tattoo is public knowledge.”

“Hey,” Sarandon said, “you can tell me. I don’t leak.”

This was true, but Walsh cast a doubtful eye on Sarandon’s assistant.

Sarandon noted the glance. “Raul’s okay. Come on, Morris, you’re among friends here.”

Walsh thought of the bodies on gurneys and steel tables in every room and corridor in the morgue. Among friends? Among the dead, was more like it.

“Can you shut off the tape recorder for a minute?” Walsh asked.

Sarandon motioned to Raul, who killed the microphone.

“On both vics he left the same item,” Walsh said. “A three-by-five index card. Both times, the same words, printed by hand in block letters: WELCOME TO THE FOUR-H CLUB.”

Sarandon frowned. “Four-H Club?”

“Right.”

“Could mean anything, I guess. The Four-Homicide Club, maybe. Or the Four-Hooker Club.”

“Neither of the vics was a prostitute.”

“To a guy like this, all women might be prostitutes.”

“That’s not what it means.”

“No? Then you tell me.”

“It’s the Four-Hour Club,” Walsh said.

“Four hours?” Sarandon lifted an eyebrow. “Because of the hourglass, you think?”

“Partly. And then there’s the wristwatch.”

“What about it?”

“The dial was frozen at two-seventeen. That’s four hours to the minute after Nikki Carter’s abduction.”

“If the nightclub witnesses are reliable.”

“I think they are. Carter went into the rest room at approximately ten-fifteen and never came out.”

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