It was now August 15th and it hadn’t rained for forty consecutive days. Well into another drought in north central Texas, lake levels had dropped ten feet, exposing long sumerged cottonwoods, the remnants of old floodplain gallery forests that were inundated when the large reservoirs that housed the Dallas-Fort Worth water supplies were built. Newly planted trees and shrubs along North Central Expressway were dying because thirsty rats had bitten through the plastic water lines that connected the sprinkler system. The grass, unless watered, was a desiccated brown that broke into chaff if you walked on it.
There was another drought taking place in Dallas, but this was a drought of desiccated clues to the string of killings. No more bodies had turned up, but the heat was on the Dallas Police, as angry Hispanics demanded justice. In the press they accused the police of racism, and of dragging their feet in the investigation. They said had these killings occurred in north Dallas the police would have already solved the crime. In fact, Frankie Nguyen, Bill Maloney and Maria Contreras were working their collective asses off to piece together the killings, putting together theory and fact to come up with a profile of the killer. No one knew when, where, or even if he would strike again.
“I’ll have a scotch and water,” Bill said to the bartender. He was sitting in the bar at Pescados, an upscale restaurant in downtown Dallas. It was six o’clock in the evening, and he was waiting for Frankie and Maria. They had agreed earlier in the day to meet and brainstorm, to go over everything again. They hoped that a more informal setting would work some kind of magic on their tired brains.
Maria was the next to arrive. She strode through the restaurant, passing
several tables as she approached Bill. He watched her as she walked toward him. She was dressed in a blue sundress that hung to her ankles, fastened around her thin waist with a silver concho belt. Only the top button of her white sleeveless blouse with a wide collar remained unfastened. With long, thick black hair pinned back in a bun, she wore no makeup. Silver hoop earrings were her only jewelry. Long and sure strides closed the distance between them quickly.
Damn, Bill thought, he hadn’t realized until now how beautiful she was. Frankie had told him she was single, and he wondered momentarily why she did not have a man in her life. Then just as quickly, he dismissed this sexist thought. He could tell by the way she carried herself that while she might want a man, she did not need one. She certainly would have little trouble attracting one. He could be more productive, he thought, if he pondered why he didn’t have a woman in his life. But his recent experience with his ex-wife stopped that runaway thought like tar catching a grass clipping. She seemed whole and complete, and a man, he concluded, was probably the last thing on her mind.
“Hi Bill. What are you drinking?”
“Scotch, with a little wash,” he replied. The bartender approached as Maria sat down and put a stack of papers and her purse on the bar.
“I’ll have a glass of Chardonnay,” Maria said to the bartender.
“How was the traffic?” Maria asked Bill as the bartender popped the cork on a new bottle of wine and poured it into a fine stem crystal.
“Not bad,” he said. “Most of the heavy stuff was coming out of Dallas. There was an accident on the northbound Stemmons Freeway that had traffic backed up about a mile, but except for a few rubber neckers in the south bound lanes, the flow was good. How was it coming out of Oak Cliff?”
Maria received her wine and took a long, slow drink. “Pretty much the same. I came in on east I-30, and most of the heavy traffic was headed west. I take it Frankie’s not here yet?”
“No. He should be here any minute though since he was coming in the same way you did. He is coming from Arlington. He went over there to see his folks. Think his dad had him singing Frank Sinatra songs again?” he mused.
“I hope not,” she chuckled, “he has a terrible voice.”
Bill nodded in agreement as a smile crept across his face.
“How are you handling this heat Bill?”
“Not well. Doesn’t it ever rain here in the summer? Leaves are falling off the trees already for God’s sake. It’s hot! How do I say ’I am hot in Spanish? “Yo soy caliente?”
Maria burst out in laughter, almost choking on her wine.
“No, no Bill! Never say caliente, which means ’hot.’ Say calor, it means ‘warm.’
“But caliente means ‘hot’ right? And damn, it’s hot.”
“Yes Bill, literally it does. But colloquially, caliente refers to sexual hot. And in my neighborhood if you walked up to someone, especially a guy, and said Yo estoy caliente, ‘I am hot’, he would beat you to death with a tire iron. Say “Yo estoy calor.”
“Thanks for the lesson, I’ll make sure to do that.” He smiled at Maria, and it hung there long enough for her to notice what a nice smile he had.
Bill looked behind him as the door opened, and in came Frankie, who noticed them immediately and walked up to join them.
“Hi Bill, hi doll,” Frankie said as he approached. “Hope I’m not late.”
“Hi Frankie,” Maria said with a smile. “No your note late, we just got here ourselves.”
The bartender, ever vigilant, approached and asked what Frankie wanted to drink.
“I’ll have a glass of whatever the broad’s drinking,” Frankie replied in his best Rat Packese. He gave Maria an exaggerated wink.
“You have good taste, Frankie,” Maria quipped
“I bow in your presence Madam,” Frankie said with all the seriousness of a British headwaiter. All three of them started laughing.
“Why don’t we grab a table,” Bill suggested. “There’s one over there.” His jaw pointed to a quiet table in the corner of the restaurant. The other two agreed. They all took their drinks and bar napkins to the table and sat down.
“Well folks, who wants to go first?” Bill urged. “What do we have so far?”
Frankie took the invitation. “I checked with the FBI’s Behavioral Science Division’s data on profiling serial killers. Here is what they told me. First, there are three psychological motives that these guys, and they are almost always guys, have in common. They like to dominate, manipulate, and control. They are full of rage, and have a specific target for their rage. But for some reason, they cannot act it out on this particular person, so they settle on a symbolic substitute to vent their rage. But in doing so, the rage is never satiated because the source, that is the original target, is still alive. There is really no resolution, so these guys keep killing until they are caught, or killed.” Frankie paused to let the information sink in, then, thumbing through notes he had made, he continued his debriefing.
“Now they can be disorganized and kill in fits of passion and rage. For some reason they just go off and kill with whatever is handy, a rock, a knife or whatever. It could be anything from a quarrel with a neighbor to an overdue library book. It’s an unpredictable flare-up. So, in these cases their MO might vary, which makes it tough to connect the cases to just one perpetrator.”
He stopped as a waitress came over to see if they wanted another round of drinks. They did, and as the waitress left, Frankie continued.
“On the other hand a serial killer can also be organized. This means that they kill in a planned and ritualistic way where everything the killer does means something to him. He might leave something on the victims, or take something from them that has symbolic significance. These guys leave patterned MO’s, and their victims can be easier to connect.”
“That’s good, but where does the domination, manipulation and control come in?” Maria asked.
“Well…,” Frankie paused as the waitress arrived with the drinks and took away the empty glasses. After she left he continued.
“They dominate their victims by putting them in helpless situations, like tying them up or imprisoning them, or, uh, raping them.” Frankie grimaced as he glanced over at Maria. She set her jaw and locked her dark eyes on him, visibly taken aback.
“Geeez Maria I am sorry, I didn’t think…”
“No, no, it’s ok Frankie. It’s just that it sounded so…clinical. It caught me off guard. Please go on.”
“Okay. As I was saying, the domination is tied to control. They control the victims because they have the power of life and death over them. But it is also control over the police, because they have, or think they have, power over the authorities. And because they are on the offensive, I mean they know what their next move will be, they feel in charge of the situation.”
“So,” Bill interjected, “the manipulation is about orchestrating the events and guiding all the action.”
“Exactly,” Frankie responded. “It really boils down to power. Serial killers have either been powerless all their lives and then, through rage and crime, they attempt to gain power. Or, they are control freaks who, in their mind failed to control a situation in their past. They blame themselves, and strike out in anger.”
“Would they necessarily know that their self-blame was fueling the rage and therefore the crimes?” Maria asked.
“No, that’s just it,” Frankie replied. He was completely enthralled with the theory. “They wouldn’t connect it, so they project the self-blame to the victims. They see the victims as flawed or inferior, and in need of killing. Since they feel they are knights on a holy crusade, they believe that at some point their vengeance will be satisfied, or rewarded. But it doesn’t happen, which makes them even angrier. It’s like,” Frankie thought for an appropriate metaphor. “It’s like there’s a black cloud hovering over their head, and each time they kill they expect the cloud to shrink or go away. But instead it gets bigger, darker, and the burden becomes heavier until, unable to handle the dissonance between their actions and their emptiness, they descend into utter madness.”
Frankie paused. His words hung in the air like a thick mist. No one spoke for what seemed to be an eternity.
“Wow,” Bill’s gutteral response broke the silence. “I need another drink.”
“Me too,” Maria said, with nervous laughter.
Bill flagged down the waitress, who shortly came over with another round. As she set down the drinks she asked, “You guys seem pretty intense over here, what are you, cops on the trail of a serial killer or something?” She giggled, elbowed Bill in the shoulder and walked off. The irony was too much for Maria, who started laughing so hard that tears began to stream down her eyes. It was an infectious laugh that brought Bill and Frankie to bury their faces into their hands with laughter. It took several minutes before anyone could regain their composure and restart the conversation.
“Let’s look at our guy for a second,” Bill finally said. He seems to fit a lot of what Frankie has been talking about here. He is definitely organized. He leaves a patterned MO, the fishing line and the weed killer. This means his moves are planned and well thought out.”
“And he is killing ritualistically,” Maria added. “Look at the position of the bodies, the tufts of grass, the catcher’s mitt and fishing lure”.
“Right,” Frankie added. “And don’t forget the swing set, and the fact that all the victims were found in parks. These facts are all probably imbued with symbolism. But what meaning is apparent here?”
“I don’t have a clue,” Bill said as he set his beer down on the table. “But the motivations are here too. He is dominating the victims. I mean to do what he does to them, he has to have gotten them into defenseless situations. He is exerting control over them, and so far, over us. Hell he is calling the shots, and creating havoc in Oak Cliff. He has the Hispanic community poised against the police, and he has Boggs under fire.”
“There’s something else,” Frankie said. “Think about this. All three killings have occurred near or on holidays. The first body showed up just after Easter, the second on or about Memorial Day, and the third the day after the fourth of July. What do you guys make of that?”
“It could be that our killer works,” Bill answered, “and that holidays give him the time off he needs to get away and commit the crimes. After all, his MO is well planned and takes several hours to complete.”
“That’s true,” said Frankie. “But does his MO take so long that he couldn’t do it on a weekend, assuming he doesn’t work on weekends?”
“I see that,” Bill nodded. “So, either the guy works on weekends, which forces him to adjust his plans to holidays. Or, he is picking holidays for an entirely different reason, maybe symbolic.”
“My gut instinct tells me he is picking holidays for a reason. But I don’t know what it could be,” Frankie said shaking his head.
“There’s more,” Maria said in measured tone as she stared at the wine she was rolling around in her glass. “He’s got the Blancos and Rojos jittery. Guerra is dead. The Blancos have a leadership vacuum at the top and there are several big men who would like to take his place. To do that they have to gear up for the fight, get merchandise and cement alliances. I’ve been feeling it for about two weeks. It’s quiet in the territories; people are nervous. It’s like something is going to happen soon. Something is coming. It’s very eerie.”
“What are you saying Maria? What is coming?” Frankie asked as he and Bill looked at her intently.
Maria continued to stare into her wine glass, her brown eyes wide and focused as if she was in a trance. Looking like someone who was tuning in to another part of the world, she took a deep breath, and looked up and past both of them into an infinite distance. Her eyes, glassy from the wine, were now fixed and clothed in a fabric of fear. Thinking about Hector, she replied, “The time of the Mogat.”
“Mogat? What the hell is that?” Bill asked.
Maria cut her eyes to Bill, the fear still there.
“It’s Dani, Bill, it means ‘ghost’. They believe that whenever a mogat is around, it’s a sign that someone will soon die.”
“And, this time of the mogat?” Frankie asked.
Maria looked over at Frankie, and spoke somberly.
“When a big man died, it was said that it was the mogats stirring up shit. It was said they were angry because the big man had forgotten to worship them, got greedy. The death of a big man meant a power vacuum. Young ambitious men would then hold huge feasts in the hopes of creating war alliances. Soon all hell would break loose as these young warlords settled old scores and carved out new territory. Sometimes hundreds of people would be slaughtered before tensions eased and a new order was established.”
Bill and Frankie looked at each other.
“You think there’s a parallel here, don’t you?” Bill asked.
“Yes, maybe not anything to do with ghosts, but Guerra’s death has left a vacuum in the Blancos, and I’m afraid that the up and comers are getting their allies together. Guys, people are going to die. It’s not a matter of ‘if’, but when.”