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James Torbett, the department's only black detective, was transferred to Homicide three years earlier after Joey Velez died. But where Joey had been volatile and streetwise, the center of any drinking party, with a jovial smile and a boisterous laugh, Torbett was a sober, restrained, churchgoing husband and father in his early forties, the muscles of his face perpetually clenched in an attempt, I guessed, to balance opposing forces from within and without. Torbett had to be about fifty times better than any cracker to get where he got, the Jackie Robinson of the Austin Police Department. He was humorless, efficient and quietly furious. And he was clean, cleaner than anybody, cleaner than me. But he wasn't stupid. He knew the department used him where they needed him. Any other black victim or their family would get the cop on call. But Virginia Key was famous, Miles said. I'd never heard of her, most white people hadn't. But the black community in Austin loved her, or maybe hated her. Either way they'd be watching. Key got Torbett.

Inside, a dozen EMTs had trampled the house, obscuring 90 percent of any trace evidence on the scene with their own microbes: hair follicles and earwax and a thousand footprints. The destruction of evidence was supported by the overkill of five patrols. Dial 911 and you get ignored or you get an army. Outside, in the melee, I scoped the yard, circled the house and found the back door had been jimmied, though an intruder could have punched through the glass or slipped the lock with a table knife more easily. The crowbar lay among the shrubs. I had a patrol bag it. By the time the crowd cleared and I got back inside, two EMTs had moved Mrs. Key into the kitchen and were talking to her, her sobs still echoing through the house, breaking down now like the cries of a child, weak helpless tones. Torbett had assigned two of the patrols (Officer Laurel and Officer Hardy) to check outside for footprints. He had the other three (Officers Moe, Larry and Shemp) get statements from the neighbors.

I felt around the living room floor and discovered a bullet casing only one, that someone had kicked under the sofa. I showed it to Torbett and pocketed it for Ballistics.

Ron Wachowski, chief crime-scene technician from the Department of Public Safety and an avowed ex-liberal ("After what I've seen"), had weaved in and out of the frenzy until the wounded boy and dead girl were slid onto the stretchers and carted off in two different directions. He moved with agility for a man of sixty-five or so years, gray hair flopping over his eyes like an aged Huck Finn. He pulled Torbett and me away from the kitchen. "Wanna bring over some cadets?" he twanged. "I got a few inches of carpet nobody's stepped on yet."

"Anything?" Torbett asked.

"He came in the back way. How much he traveled around the house is a mystery, thanks to the Union army treading through. You can ask Mrs. Key if anything's missing. When they got in and shut the door he walked there, by the sofa." He pointed to a spot facing the front door from about eight feet in. "Mrs. Key was here, a few steps in from the door. The boy and girl had walked in ahead of Mom and were here and here." He pointed to two bloody splotches on the carpet by a marble coffee table. "He fired one round. The bullet went through the boy and hit the girl in the skull and stayed. The girl dropped where she stood, right in front of her mother. Look at this."

The carpet was matted with blood and footprints so it was hard to mark anyone detail from the rest. Ron pointed out one original splotch of blood, not a smear or a footprint, but blood spilled on that spot. And the blood had spilled on top of a shoe, leaving an outline and a bit of tread: one left sneaker.

"Figure the boy struggled, and got shot in the process, bleeding on the shooter's foot. The boy fell to the side and cracked his head on the coffee table. The shooter bailed out the front door, the quickest way." Amid all the bloody footprints were only one set of sneaker prints. "I'll take a print but I say those are Converse All Stars, size 7. Short strides. Little guy, or a woman, maybe five-six tops, 120 pounds."

Mrs. Key's sobs wafted in from the kitchen.

Torbett asked, "Anything else?"

"I've got some fingerprints. You'll have to check them against the patrols and EMTs and the family. Don't count on anything. And this." He held up a clear glass vial with what looked like a combination of bodily fluids in it. "He spit in the kitchen sink. If that was him."

It seemed like an unlikely spin, that a killer would leave his fluids behind in such a short visit. But we'd caught a rapist once, easier than that. After the act, he stopped in the bathroom to take a leak, lifted the toilet seat, left his fingerprint on the underside. His thoughts were elsewhere.

"You can type him from mucus?" I asked.

"You can if there's blood in it." I looked closer.

Ron said, "The Southwest never gets a deep enough freeze to kill germs that would die in colder climates. We're a perfect petri dish for developing epidemics." He pointed out a drop of red in the yellowed phlegm. "Austin, Texas, meet tuberculosis."

We considered the potential of an infectious killer on the loose.

"On the plus side," Wachowski added, "it's only been an hour.
How far could he have gone?"

11:45 P.M.Koenig Lane

It was Mo's idea. Anything that crazy would have to be, Rainbow John thought, as he steered his Lincoln east on Koenig toward the quiet edge of town.

Normally, he didn't do his own driving, but he needed a lack of witnesses. By Mo's thinking, that would make John the only witness. It would also make, as Mo would say, "the continuation of John's stint on the planet a question for debate, rather than a foregone conclusion. " But John had no choice in the matter.

Of all Mo's distributors, John seemed to be the one he called whenever he had something crappy he needed done. This time Mo got the idea to take the two craziest junkies they knew, a wiry speed freak named Vic and a strung-out heroin addict named Gaz, a limey with bad teeth, and hold them hours after they started craving, till they groaned with pain: chills, aching bones, nausea, like two kids with a bad case of the flu, side by side on a velvet sofa. Then put them in a room together in John's house, thanks a lot. Whoever comes out first gets a fix. The other walks away empty handed. Mo and Rainbow John watched through holes they'd drilled in the door. All odds on Vic, the speed freak.

The two junkies sized each other up a moment and Gaz shot for the door. Vic was on top of him, wrapped him in a half nelson and slammed him to the floor. Mo laughed gleefully. Gaz rolled backwards on top of Vic, lifted himself up a few inches and slammed his hip down into Vic's groin. He rolled off but Vic held onto Gaz's arm and got up with him, slamming them both against a wall. Vic got his hands around Gaz's throat. Gaz kicked him in the gonads, then leaned forward and bit Vic's hand. Vic pulled it away and lost a bit of flesh. Mo howled. As Vic recoiled, Gaz knocked him down, then kicked him and kept on kicking him until Vic coughed blood and Mo got bored, and Rainbow John finally opened the door and dragged Gaz out.

Mo's professional distribution was mostly heroin now but he kept cocaine and a few other treats in his private stock, for himself and a few select friends. He jacked Gaz up on cocaine, highlighting the Brit's natural violence with a shot in the arm that transformed him, from sluggish to desperate to flying, a psychopathic offshoot of Mo himself. Since Gaz was Rainbow John's junkie, it was John's job to drop him off near the bitch's house, circle the block, wait, then pick him up. John's job to dispense with him. And if he didn't, Mo would hold John personally responsible, a proposition with several possible conclusions, all of them painful.

John heard the gunshot from where his Lincoln idled at the corner, saw Gaz run out the front door against orders. He pulled up close enough that Gaz dove in the back window; then the Lincoln rolled away, headlights dark, toward the bus station. There Rainbow John gave Gaz his own pants and shoes, oversized by twice, to replace Gaz's bloody ones, along with a bail of cash—fifty fifties—and a packet of Lance, meth laced with strychnine to give it a litte edge. But John had laced it with more than a little strychnine. The tiny white packet had enough for two fat lines, John thought, as he drove in his overcoat, socks and boxers. If Gaz snorted one, he'd be dead, heart-attack style. Like any junkie, the minute Gaz started coming down from the coke they'd shot into him, he would snort the whole bundle.
He'd better.


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