Michael Prescott: Last Breath

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Michael Prescott Last Breath
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    Last Breath
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“If the nightclub witnesses are reliable.”

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

“Well, possibly. But there are a lot of ways for a Timex to get busted.” The ME began snipping Martha Eversol’s fingernails one at a time, placing each into a separate evidence envelope, which Raul neatly labeled. “Let’s say the killer messed up the ligatures, didn’t tie them tight enough. Carter gets free and struggles. He throws her to the floor, breaks her watch.”

“You didn’t find any defense wounds. Besides, letting her get loose would be a mistake on his part.”


“I don’t think this guy makes mistakes.”

Sarandon glanced at him dubiously, then returned to his work. “You’re saying he smashed the watch on purpose, so the dial would freeze at exactly two-seventeen.”

“Which is when he killed her. Which is why she’s a member of the Four-Hour Club.” Walsh shrugged. “The stomach contents support the same timeline.”

“Come on, Morrie. Plenty of things can interfere with digestion. We can’t say for sure how long Carter was kept alive.”

“Your best estimate was six hours after her last meal, which would mean four hours after her abduction.”

“Key word there is estimate. I didn’t know you were going to take me so literally.”

“It all hangs together-the hourglass, the wristwatch, the Four-H reference.”

“And you think this one followed the same pattern?”

Walsh nodded. “Martha Eversol was snatched from a side street around eight-thirty on New Year’s Eve, on her way to a party. Someone rear-ended her, and she must’ve gotten out to exchange insurance info. I’m guessing she died at thirty minutes past midnight on the first day of the year.”

“Probably didn’t get a chance to keep her resolutions,” Sarandon said blandly.

Walsh was tired of the conversation. “So are you going to look at her windpipe or not?”

“I aim to please.”

The tape recorder was turned on again, and Sarandon resumed humming and set to work.

Walsh didn’t care that the ME was skeptical. MEs were supposed to be skeptical. They were trained to look at an elderly woman who died of heart failure and think cyanide. They took nothing for granted.

Walsh was willing to operate a little more on instinct, and his instincts told him that time mattered to this man he and his task force were hunting, this man who carved an hourglass tattoo into the dead flesh of each victim before dumping her body in some remote location where it would lie hidden for days or weeks. First, Nikki Carter, found inside a jumbo garbage bag in an auto graveyard in East LA. Now the second victim, Martha Eversol, deposited in the shell of a failed mini-mall, where she had lain undisturbed throughout January.

Well, she would be undisturbed no longer. Walsh thought about that as Sarandon made the Y incision with his bread knife, opening up Martha Eversol from the shoulders to the stomach, then down in a direct line to the pubic bone.

Decomposition was advanced, and the smell was bad. Walsh tried to suppress his gag reflex as the gassy stench wafted up into the overhead fans.

Sarandon scalpeled the skin and muscle off Martha’s chest wall, then bisected her ribs with a bone cutter. The chest plate came loose and was laid aside. He hummed something by Rachmaninoff-the Second Piano Concerto, Walsh thought. He knew these things. His mother had forced him to take piano lessons as a kid.

Body fluids began running in the gutters of the sloped table. Raul turned on a couple of spigots built into the table to wash the mess away. Sarandon switched to the theme from Cabaret. It sounded much too cheerful to be hummed as a dirge over Martha’s mortal remains.

What came next in the procedure was known in the coroners’ trade as the Rokitansky method. Another ME had once described it to Walsh as field-dressing a carcass. He had made it sound as if the deceased was just another trophy to be strapped to somebody’s hood.

The Rokitansky method entailed dissecting the corpse from the neck downward. Walsh would have to witness the entire process in case anything unexpected came up, but it was the neck that interested him.

He already knew the Hourglass Killer had strangled Martha Eversol. He just needed physical confirmation.

Sarandon carefully separated the larynx and esophagus from the pharynx, then stopped humming and took a close look.

“Fractures of the cricoid cartilage,” he reported.

“Strangled,” Walsh said, not bothering to phrase it as a question.

Sarandon nodded. “Manual strangulation, consistent with the first victim.”

Raul spoke up for the first time. “Was there ever any doubt?”

Walsh sighed. “Nope. No doubt at all.”

Sarandon began humming again. He worked the bread knife south of the collarbone, beginning the process of unpacking Martha’s vital organs, and Walsh stood silent, wishing he were somewhere else, far away from the autopsy and Sarandon’s musical accompaniment. On Zuma Beach, maybe, with his surf-fishing gear. That would be nice.

Sarandon hummed, and in his mind Walsh cast his line into the tide and let the surf carry it far from shore.


The spider hung in her web, inches from her prey.

Gavin Treat leaned closer, watching. This was the good part. She would feed.

Yesterday evening he had released a cricket into the five-gallon terrarium that occupied a corner of his bedroom. Last night the cricket, hopping frantically, became entangled in the funnel-shaped web. Though it struggled, its efforts had only lashed it more tightly to the gluey strands.

Now it lay still. It had given up. It faced its own end with the equanimity born of unrewarded suffering.

The spider began to prowl.

Treat watched the eight legs navigate the mesh of quivering threads. The spider moved lightly, in a calm, unhurried gait.

She was a western black widow, Latrodectus hesperus, and Treat loved her as much as he could love anything. He had raised her from a spiderling after finding her and others of her brood scurrying amid a drift of timber in the mountains near Malibu. He remembered the thrill of the discovery and the care with which he had gathered up a dozen of the small darting shapes, loading them into a plastic sandwich bag and sealing the flaps.

Most of the spiderlings had died before maturity, but this one and a single male one-quarter her size had both survived. The male, of course, had perished after mating, devoured by the female. A papery egg sack now hung on the web. Soon it would open, releasing hundreds of babies.

He had never named the spider. He did not think of her as a pet. She was an avatar of darkness, a creeping symbol of predatory death. He admired her sleek beauty-the glossy black orb of her abdomen, the balletic precision of her gliding legs, and the jaws with their embedded fangs.

The cricket twitched. The spider moved faster, spurred by the shiver of the web.

Treat pressed his face to the terrarium’s side panel. He had pulled down the shades of his bedroom windows to keep glare off the glass. The only light in the room was the glow of a forty-watt bulb in a gooseneck lamp overhanging the terrarium’s screen cover.

The widow reached her prey. Treat knew the procedure she must follow, having witnessed it countless times. She would blanket the cricket in a silken attack wrap, and then her fangs would poison the prey, paralyzing it. Those same fangs would pump out digestive juices, and the cricket would soften, the enzymes doing their work outside the spider’s body. Finally the victim’s gelatinous form would be sucked into the widow’s mouth.

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