Chapter 1: A Starlit Tango
Being a police officer in a rural area isn’t always exciting. You mostly deal with petty disputes, drunken bar fights and teenagers causing a ruckus. You get to know most of the community, especially if you’re working the beat, but murder is a bigger bite to swallow. When there’s a murder, it’s like a wildfire spreads throughout the town. It’s as if there’s suddenly a thick fog of anxiety and fear, and it starts to get to you too. People assume you become numb to seeing a dead body, but the truth is, anybody who isn’t disturbed by it no matter how long you’ve been on the job is lying.
“Excuse me sir, are you checking in or are you just going to sit there narrating your life?” The woman behind the counter said to Detective Wade Winston. He was a tall man with close cropped brown hair, pushing 35. Clean shaven and fit, but not overly muscular. He had a thin jawline and dark brown eyes. He often wore a brown plaid fedora and a coat over his uniform.
“What did I tell you about doing that Wade?” His partner Emelia Duponte replied shaking her head “Excuse my partner, he’s on the… Odd side. Hi, my name is paranormal investigator Emelia Duponte, Island County homicide. We’re here to look at the crime scene.”
Emelia was a woman in her mid-20’s reddish brown, long layered hair almost fully covered a thin, warm face with glinting aquamarine eyes, set elegantly within their sockets. Her demeanor was always laid back and quiet, but she remained determined with her work. She had a birthmark in the shape of a crane on the side of her neck.
“I’m sorry, did you say paranormal investigator?” The young girl behind the desk said incredulously
“Look, we’re here to investigate the murder of the Jane Doe in room 113. So, if you can just let us into the hotel so we can get to work…”
“Fine.” The girl sighed and opened the swinging wood gate that blocked the desk from the rest of the hotel lobby. The Viridian Tides hotel had stood there since 1903, and although the interior had been redesigned and remodeled several times, it still had the air of a Victorian building inside its halls.
“Why do you insist on saying ‘paranormal investigator’ every time? Detective is generally accepted.” Wade said as they stepped into the elevator and selected the third floor of the building. The elevator started to shake and then finally got into motion as it started to ascend the levels of the hotel.
“Because saying I’m just a detective is reductive of my abilities if I do say so myself.” Emelia retorted.
There was a ding and the two stepped out onto the third floor. There was yellow police tape in the hallway surrounding the room.
There were 3 police officers standing guard by the enterance. Wade and Emelia walked up to one of them and showed their badges.
“Ok rookie, what’s the prognosis.” Winston said to the new coroner as he walked into the room.
“She appears to be dead sir.” The young man replied.
“No… I get that, I mean how long has she been dead?” Emelia sighed
“Judging by how rigor mortise has set in, I’d say she’s been dead for at least 12 hours.”
“Do we have an ID on the victim yet?” Winston asked as the two showed their badges to the other officers in the room.
“Nope, the room is registered to a Clause Strickner, but our vic is obviously a female, and nobody else has come back to the room or talked to us.” One of the policemen said.
Emelia was already in the hotel room, looking around. She looked inside the bedside table and dug through its contents to find a thin wallet. She looked around to make sure none of the handful of officers there were looking before she rummaged through it to find an ID card that matched the victim. It was thin and obviously fake. She put it back in the wallet and returned it to the bedside table. Winston and the rest of the officers were now examining the body. Emelia put her hand in the air and brought attention to the room by exclaiming “Wait, I’m feeling … Some sort of… Energy- from beyond.” She said, pointing at the body.
“Can we not do this right now?” Wade muttered under his breath
“I’m hearing a voice saying that… Her name is Emma… No, Eva Strickner. Yes, I can sense it.” Emelia said as the police looked at her skeptically.
The woman’s body was located in the center of the room. She was a classically beautiful girl, long blonde curls, blue eyes and freckles dotting her cheeks. There was a single bullet hole in the center of her forehead. Off to the side of it, there was a small bump with some bruising. There was no blood on the floor at all, the crime scene was remarkably clean. She was posed, with her hands folded upward across her chest, the fingertips slightly crossing and pointing up to her face. The shell of the fatal bullet was down next to her hips. She was wearing a red and white polka dot dress.
Wade and Emelia were both scanning the scene for clues while one officer was taking photos. Behind them, the cops standing guard outside the perimeter started to part. A figure emerged from the door. They were wearing a long white peacoat, with matching leather gloves, a beige hood covered her neck and head and was connected to a mask which had a glittering white paintjob with a purple butterfly on one cheek. The body shape and hips pointed to it being a woman, but every single inch of the person’s body was covered, except for the bright green eyes, which darted back and forth from beyond the veil of the mask in a slightly unnerving manner.
“Excuse me, you can’t be here, this is an active crime sce…” Wade started, then stopped when he saw a badge being brandished.
“Special Agent Holly Monroe, FBI.” The woman said with a slight southern drawl, putting her badge back on her hip.
Wade laughed out loud “Higgs, is this a prank? This is a joke, right? You’re a fucking fed?”
“That’s what my badge says, doesn’t it?” Monroe replied sardonically
“Dressed like that?” Wade asked dubiously
“They let you wear whatever you want if you solve as many cases as I do.”
“No, Wade… I know about her.” Emelia started “You’re the one that caught that serial killer down in Lafayette a bunch of years ago.”
“That’s me.” Monroe answered simply, beginning to look around the crime scene.
“I’m sorry if I’m being rude here… But why are you wearing that ridiculous outfit” Wade asked
“If you must know, it’s because I’m severely scopophobic.” Monroe replied
“That means she’s afraid of being seen.” Emelia added
“She gets it.”
“And why the fuck are the feds butting in on this case? We just found the body 6 hours ago.” He continued
“I have a reason to believe it is connected to another recent murder.” Monroe responded “Notice anything familiar about this crime scene?”
“Yeah… I knew something wasn’t sitting right.” Emelia started “This scene looks exactly like that girl they found in the trunk of that car down in Olympia.” She pulled out her cell phone and started tapping away. She pulled up an internet image and showed it to Wade. The picture on the screen was a spitting image, down to where the bullet was lying near the body.
“Jesus.” Wade sighed “So we might be looking at a serial killer?”
“Unfortunately, that seems to be the case. Hence why I’m here.” Monroe said, distracted
“This scene is way too clean for this to be a first-time murder. Hell, I ‘m not even sure it was committed here.” She mused.
“Why would you go through all the trouble to clean up every speck of blood, but leave a shell casing?” Wade questioned
“And no sign of sexual assault or struggle. Pretty girl like that, you’d think it might be sexually motivated.” Emelia added. “Is it possible she knew the perp?”
“No defensive wounds would indicate she most likely did. Although she did take a pretty nasty whack to the head.” Monroe replied, grabbing her hands and glancing underneath the fingernails.
“I noticed a security cam in the bar and lobby, why don’t you two look at the tapes from last night and see if you can find a lead while I finish processing the scene and then report back to me.” Monroe said
“And report back to you? Jesus, you feds are all the goddamn same, you know that?” Wade said as he begrudgingly walked out the door with his partner.
“Yep, so uh, that’s the last 24 hours of footage there. If you want to look through it some more, I’ll be glad to let you have the tape.” A security guard said between smacks on his gum as Wade and Emelia were sifting through the footage on two dusty, but large CRT monitors. The room was a cold cement extension that had cleaning supplies and a mop precariously placed behind a few mostly empty shelves.
“That guy we saw, the one with the plaid shirt. He was on a camera with her leaving the bar 40 minutes before her estimated time of death. Do you mind if we take a look at your check ins and check outs? I’d like to question him.” Wade said
“Oh, that guy? I know who that is, he’s a regular. Name’s Devon Gray. He’s our supplier for the restaurant’s exotic game. You know, trout, duck, pheasant… He gets us amazing prices so we usually comp him a room. He drives up from Seattle every other weekend. Likes to play blackjack at the casino.” The guard answered
“He any good?” Wade questioned
“Seems like he does alright for himself. He always stays in room 21 if its available. Says it’s lucky or something.”
“Great, thank you. C’mon Emelia, let’s go question this guy.” Wade said. His phone began ringing and he answered it.
“This is Wade.” He declared as he picked up the call.
“Hey detective, just giving you a call back. Even though I already know what this is about.” The man said from the other side.
“Yeah, why the fuck didn’t you tell me a fed was going to come take our case before it even started?” Wade reacted angrily
“Because I knew I’d be getting this call a lot sooner if I did.” The captain sighed
“This is complete bullshit captain and you know it. Once this news gets around, it’s going to freak the whole town out and if we have a fed running the case, it’s just gonna cause more paranoia.” Wade stated, as he followed his partner to the lobby.
“I don’t know what you want me to do detective Winston, my hands are tied. I don’t like this any more than you do but she’s still a federal officer. Her command takes precedence over mine. I suggest you put your head down and work with her, because you both have the same end goal, right?” the captain answered
“I guess. You never know with these feds.” Wade said disgusted
“Well, you better learn to play nice or this is going to be a shitshow for all of us. I gotta go, I got a ton of paperwork to catch up on.” The Captain hung up.
They entered the lobby of the hotel which was now illuminated by a chandelier as the sun at begun to set. Monroe was standing and waiting by the check in desk. Winston and Duponte joined her.
“Anything?” Monroe asked
“We got one lead. It’s not much, but we’re still going to question him because it’s all we got so far.” Emelia said a bit deflated.
The trio walked to room 21 on the first floor of the hotel and knocked on the door. A man answered, wearing a plaid shirt. He was stalky and had an unkempt beard, and a small bald spot amongst the wispy brown hairs on his head.
“Devon Gray?” Wade asked
“Yes, do I know you?” he replied rudely.
“Hello, Mr. Gray, I’m detective Wade Winston and this is my partner Emelia Duponte, Island County Homicide, do you mind if we come in for a moment and ask you a few questions?” Wade continued
“What the hell are you questioning me for? I didn’t kill that girl. And yes, I know about her. It’s sad, it really is, but I’m not the person you’re looking for so buzz off.” The man replied agitated.
He went to close the door but Wade stopped him. From the crack in the door, Wade could see a jar filled with what appeared to be marijuana on the room’s table. Knowing what Wade was looking at, Gray started chuckling.
“Don’t look at me like that, it’s legal here, and besides, you two ain’t that kind of cops.” He said dismissively, pointing at Winston and Duponte.
“They’re not, but I am.” Monroe said, appearing from behind the two detectives “Special Agent Holly Monroe, FBI.” She said holding up her badge quickly.
“What, are you going to have a fed bust me for 2 grams of weed?” Gray said skeptically
“If you don’t make yourself useful to me.” She replied
“Fine, come in.” Gray conceded, opening the door all the way. The trio walked in and Monroe sat down at the counter in the kitchen.
“Do you mind verifying your whereabouts last night?” Monroe asked to kick off the questioning taking out a black leather-bound notepad.
“Yeah, I was having a real shit night at the table. Lost about half a grand. Decided to say fuck it and hit the bar before I lost any more. I get to the bar and I start talking to the girl, her name was Eva, right? Anyway, I can tell she’s not into me, she just wants somebody to buy her drinks. I ain’t looking to lose even more money but what the hell, she’s is… Was a babe, so whatever.” His story continued but Emelia pulled Wade to the side
“We’re wasting our time; he didn’t do it.” Emelia said
“What? How do you know? He seems like a pretty prime suspect to me.” Winston replied
“He isn’t putting off the… The aura of our killer.” Emelia answered
“Oh Jesus. Seriously, please just can the whole psychic act? Not with the FBI around. That doesn’t even fly when you’re dealing with drunken bar fights at 2 A.M, it sure as hell isn’t going to fly when we have a serious murder investigation.” Wade said harshly under his breath.
“Ok, well I’m just sayin…” Emelia sighed
“Yeah, it turns out she was a prostitute, and yeah, I considered it…”
“Wait, she was a prostitute?” Monroe said
“What, did you think a girl who looks like her just hangs around hotel casinos in the middle of bumfuck nowhere because she just loves middle-aged drunks with gambling problems?” Gray mocked
“Can you account for the 20 minutes you weren’t on tape at the bar? That’s all we really need to know Mr. Gray.” Holly asked
“Yeah, she was a little tipsy, so I walked her to her room. She slipped and hit her head on the wall. I stayed with her for a while to make sure she was ok. Then I left her. Is there anything else I can help you with detectives, or is it illegal to help women out nowadays?” Gray enquired
The trio looked at each other then Monroe stood up, closing her notepad
“That’s all Mr. Gray, thank you for your time.” She said
The three walked out and Gray slammed the door behind them.
“Well this makes things a lot harder for us.” Monroe sighed “If she’s a prostitute, then that means half the damn hotel could have been in her… in on her murder.”
“I think I’m done for the night. My spiritual energy is sapped and I need to recharge.” Emelia responded, no doubt raising a concealed eyebrow from Monroe.
“Yeah, I’m off as well, we’ll restart in the morning, I guess. Have a good night you two.” Monroe replied
“Well, I’m going to just go ask the bartender some questions first, then I’ll meet you back at the station Emelia?” Wade said
“Sounds good. See ya then.” Emelia waved
There was something that didn’t sit right with me about this investigation so far. I needed more answers like a thirsty man needed a tall glass of water. I figured the bartender might have some insight on what happened yesterday, but as I’ve learned over the years is often the case with murders, sometimes all that does is open a whole new can of worms.
Wade walked to the far side of the hotel lobby. There was a door with a bouncer standing next to a red rope. The sign above the entry way said “The Blue Velvet Lounge” in obnoxiously bright neon colors. The bouncer looked at Wade and opened the rope to allow him passage into the club. The club was upscale with a well-lit bar with an engraved oak bar top, and the shelves behind the barkeepers were piled high with expensive spirits, illuminated by soft blue lighting. A jazz quartet was playing on the stage which fittingly had a blue velvet curtain. There was a young African-American man behind the bar, wiping up after a couple had left. He was spry and had an upbeat demeanor about him.
“Hello, I’m Dejuan, what can I get you tonight?” he asked with a bright smile, setting down a napkin embroidered with the club’s name.
“’fraid I’m not here to drink tonight.” Winston said, pulling out his badge quickly
“You’re here to ask me about Eva, huh?” Dejuan said solemnly without prompt
“Unfortunately, yes. Were you working last night?” Winston inquired
“Yes sir, I was. She was talking to that guy who’s always here, Devon I think.”
“Did you know Eva was hooking?” Winston asked
Dejuan paused for a moment and said “Yeah. You’d be hard pressed to find somebody around here who doesn’t.”
“And the owner knows and is ok with it?”
“As long as people are buying her drinks, what does he care?” Dejuan answered, stopping to fill a customer’s water glass.
“Anything else you might be able to tell me about Eva?” Wade probed
Dejuan leaned in and said “I barely know her besides what I hear floating around the rumor mill. You might want to ask some other people here. I’ve only worked at the Viridian Tides a few months. Maybe ask somebody who’s been here longer like one of the other bartenders about her.”
“Ok, anything else about last night I you need to tell me?”
“She left with Devon and that’s all I know man. Sorry.” Dejuan replied. Winston nodded and walked away from the bar. He spotted Holly sitting at a table in the corner of the room. She seemed to be intently watching the jazz band play. Wade walked over to her and sat down at the square table to her left. Holly looked less than thrilled as she took a drink from her glass of bourbon.
“So, I talked to the bartender… Turns out pretty much everyone knows she was…” Wade started
“I don’t care right now.” Monroe replied stoically. She was also smoking a cigarette and had it pinned to the side of her glass with two fingers.
“Oh, I thought you’d want to learn the info I gathered on the case.” Wade answered confused “I mean, personally I don’t want to stop working until we catch this sick fuck before he possibly kills again.”
“I drink a glass of bourbon and smoke a cigarette every night after work.” Holly said “Having a serial killer on the loose doesn’t get to change that Mr. Winston.”
“Fair enough. Anyway, I figured since we’re here, I might have a drink with you and get to know you a bit.” Winston offered. “I feel we got off on the wrong foot.”
“I appreciate the sentiment but I’m not here to be buddy buddy with you and Ghost Trick, ok.” She replied coldly. She lifted the very bottom of her mask up so she could slip her glass underneath it to drink. Winston could make out two bright red lips underneath the mask.
“Can I at least ask you why it is that you wear that mask? I mean, are you like horribly disfigured or something?” he chuckled
“We’re all wearing a mask Mr. Winston, I just happen to be physically wearing one.” Monroe answered simply.
“Ok, but why wear lipstick if you’re afraid of anybody seeing you?” he retorted
“Sometimes you just have to wear makeup for yourself. I don’t think it’s something you would understand… Look, whatever it is you’re searching for out of this conversation detective, I guarantee you won’t get it so please just move along.” She took a slow drag off her cigarette. The smoke billowed out slowly from the bottom of her mask.
Winston couldn’t take his eyes off of hers. Two bright emerald spheres moving somewhat upsettingly from behind her veil, yet he found them mystifying. The jazz in the background was oddly romantic, and added an atmosphere of mystery to her and the room. The singer came out on stage to applause and stood at the microphone which was an old school ribbon microphone connected to an elaborate stand.
She had bright red hair with blonde highlights, a curvaceous figure and was wearing elbow length black velvet gloves to match a form fitting red dress. She cradled the microphone between her hands as she sang. Her voice had a unique but vintage huskiness to it.
“I feel lovestruck, on this enchanted night.”
“I’m sorry, but there’s something so captivating about you and I just can’t place it.” Wade said
“I know that mysterious women who have voices like mine give men hard-ons but I’m very much not interested.” Monroe replied
“We can dance a starlit tango, underneath the moonlight.” The vocalist continued to sing.
“Wait, do you think I’m flirting with you? No, I mean… I mean captivating in an intellectual way, like I need to know more about you.” Wade responded, flustered
“She wore the finest silken dress I ever saw.”
“It’s best for both of us I think if I stay mysterious, Mr. Winston.” Holly replied, downing the rest of her bourbon. She put out her cigarette, then left a crisp $20 bill on the table. She nodded toward Wade and then abruptly left.
It’s always difficult when you get a new partner. Me and Duponte had only been partners for a few years after my previous one retired, and I’ll be damned if we ever saw eye to eye like my ex-partner and I did. Monroe was an intense woman, somebody who treated everyone like they were an extra in the stage play of her life. It’s bad enough I had to crack the mystery of at least 1 murder, but having to crack the mystery of how to get through to a woman who was intent on remaining closed off is something that even the best detectives are ill-equipped for.
Holly Monroe was sitting on her hotel room couch. She was trying to watch TV but the reception came in poorly on most channels as it had become quite windy outside, and it only picked up one station which was showing an old Spaghetti Western. She eventually gave up trying and decided to climb into bed. She removed her mask and her coat to put on stripped sleepwear. She laid down in bed, leather gloves still on and reached over to the dresser which had a rotary phone on it right next to her holstered .38 special revolver. She dialed, the phone base clacking with every number. When the phone picked up, she started the conversation.
“You’re calling late. And from a landline too.” A woman’s voice responded from the other end.
“Sorry, I really needed to call. I’ve been feeling super anxious all day today.” Monroe replied
“And why do you think that is?”
“New environment, new people I have to pretend to like.” She replied aloofly
“Well of course you’re going to be anxious if you keep thinking negatively like that about every situation. What did we talk about…? You can’t let fear dominate your emotions.”
“I know… I try but sometimes I wish I’d developed a different irrational fear. You know there’s a fear of ducks? Who dislikes ducks?”
“Fears are only irrational if you let it control you.” The woman replied
“Your first instinct shouldn’t be to back away from people trying to be friendly towards you.” She added
“I get what you’re saying.” Holly admitted
“Good. And the suicidal thoughts?”
“Not so bad today.”
“Well that’s good to hear. It’s a day by day thing you know.” The woman replied
“Anyway, I better get going, I don’t want to keep you up. Sorry I called so late.” Monroe said.
“Alright, I’ll talk to you next time.” The voice said and Holly hung up.
She turned over and laid her head down on the pillow, slowly drifting off to sleep. In her dream, she was in a black room, with nothing but a piano underneath a dim spotlight. The singer from the jazz club appeared from out of the darkness. She looked the same, but she was wearing glow in the dark body paint that made her body look as if it was just a skeleton. She also wore a white skull mask. She sat on the edge of the piano, which was playing itself, and eventually held up a detached human arm bone with the hand connected to it and sang into it like a microphone.
“What’s with these homies who be dissin’ my boy?
Do they know?
I’m aggravated with the negativity and the noise
They tell me ‘find a wealthy man’
But they don’t seem too happy
I was afraid to put myself on the line for a boy
‘Til he put me in my place and showed me how to enjoy myself
I think I need your help
I think she’s coming back”