Striding briskly through the precinct doors, Rocco made a beeline for his office, slamming the door behind him. He dropped the case file atop his desk, flipped it open and began mulling over the facts. He had hunted down numerous serial killers in his career, and each time he was able to get into the guy’s head and anticipate his next move; but this time it was different. Most of the serial killers he had encountered were blatant misogynists, and had left clues as to the depth of their distaste for women on the victim’s body or at the scene, clues that ultimately led the police to him; but not this time. Serial killers were choosy, selective and patient. They usually sought out women of particular appearance, a la brunettes or blondes. They followed ritualistic patterns of behavior; but this killer was different. Rocco flipped through the file and gnawed on his bottom lip. This killer had no particular preference. His first victim was a Caucasian brunette with long hair. His second was a Caucasian blonde with long hair. His third was an African American brunette and his fourth, a Caucasian brunette with short hair. They were all between the ages of thirty and forty-five years old. The only thing consistently serial about his killings was what he did to the women after they were dead; severing the left ring finger, which Rocco knew undoubtedly had meaning, though it escaped him. Pursing his lips together, he shook his head and tried to force his mind to connect the dots. This was happening for a reason, but why? He owed it to these women and their families to figure it out. He owed it to them to find this man and stop him.
Leaping to his feet, Rocco ripped open the office door and hollered, “Barkley! Peters! Get in here!”
Peters raced toward Rocco’s office while Barkley slowly pushed back from his desk, groaned upon standing up and meandered toward the office where he immediately sank into a chair.
Rocco was visibly irritated by Barkley’s lack of enthusiasm. “Do I need to request that someone else be assigned to this case?” He barked.
“No, sir,” Peters belted. “I can’t speak for him, but cracking this case wide open could be my ticket toward promotion.”
Barkley guffawed. “What makes you think I’m not striving for a promotion?”
“Your lethargic work ethic,” Rocco chided. Maneuvering around the desk, he sat down and folded his hands. “Do we have any leads? Any leads at all?”
Peters and Barkley exchanged a glance that told Rocco they were at a dead end. Rocco shook his head. “Have you read the case updates this morning?” He asked, and they stared blankly.
“The fourth woman has just been identified as thirty-five year old Miranda Miliken from Milwaukee. It says that according to a statement made by one of Miranda’s neighbors, she had followed her boyfriend to St. Louis and after their breakup three months ago, began working at The Candy Shop,” Rocco summarized the information.
“The Candy Shop,” Peters repeated. “Never heard of it. Is it at one of the malls?”
Barkley snickered. “It’s a strip club on the Riverfront. Exclusive. Only high-rollers, from what I’ve heard.”
“From what you’ve heard?” Rocco glared at Barkley. “Where did you hear that?”
“I don’t remember,” Barkley muttered and shifted uncomfortably in his chair.
“Have you heard anything else about it?” Rocco asked.
“That’s it. Just that it’s exclusive, members-only. Nobody who ain’t somebody ain’t gettin’ in.”
“So I take it you’ve never been there,” Rocco chided, raising one eyebrow.
“Unlike some people, I don’t need to lay with whores,” Barkley sneered.
“Whoa, man, I don’t think we need to be calling nobody a ho,” Peters interjected, his eyes wide. “Some girls didn’t grow up in the suburbs and they’re doin’ what they gotta be doin’ to support their families and feed their babies. I’m not sayin’ it’s right.”
“It’s wrong,” Barkley growled. “Places like The Candy Shop promote adultery and anyone who commits adultery is a whore,” Barkley stated matter-of-factly, as if no other opinion mattered.
“That’s harsh, man,” Peters uttered.
“It’s a fact. God said it. If a man lies with a married woman he forces her to commit adultery,” Barkley sneered.
“Maybe so, but didn’t God also say we’re not supposed to judge other people,” Peters rebutted and Barkley scowled at him.
“Let’s not get into a holy war,” Rocco interjected.
“Whatever.” Barkley crossed his arms and rolled his eyes.
Ignoring Barkley, Rocco took the opportunity to change the subject. “I want you two to go talk to Miranda’s neighbor,” he said.
“What for?” Barkley moaned. “You’re holding her statement in your hand. What more are we gonna learn from her?”
Rocco glared at him. “You’re pushing early retirement with that lazy attitude.”
All of a sudden, Barkley leapt to his feet with impressive speed, especially for him. “Listen, Mr. Hot Shot Hummer Driver, you’re not my boss. I’m a little sick and tired of you thinking you run the show around here. You don’t know anything about being a real cop!” Barkley’s face reddened. “You think you’re big shit because you’ve nailed some serial killers, but you’ve got nothing on this case and no matter how many DNA analysis you run or how many prints you dust for, you’re still gonna have squat!”
A mixture of shock and rage flashed in Rocco’s eyes but before he could say anything, Barkley continued.
“You waltz around here barking orders like you’re some god-damned gift to the precinct when everybody knows you’re nothing more than a hot-headed ego maniac who’s on the verge of being a psychopathic serial killer yourself!” Barkley gripped his left arm and the red color began to drain from his face. “It wouldn’t surprise me if we were to find out that you were the killer!” Barkley appeared to have difficulty drawing in a breath, but he kept going. “You’re one of those people who thinks you get to have anything or anyone you want, but you don’t,” he spewed and then winced in pain. “Not anymore!”
“Barkley, man, calm down. You don’t look so good,” Peters warned and grabbed Barkley’s arm to try to lower him into the chair, but Barkley pushed Peter’s hands away.
“I’m fine,” he seethed through clenched teeth and then redirected his attention to Rocco. “I’m watching you. Oh, yeah, I’m watching you like a hawk and you know what I’ve noticed about you, Mr. Special Detective? You never seem surprised to see the face of the women we find dead.”
“When hunting a serial killer death is not a surprising outcome,” Rocco rebutted.
“Maybe. Maybe not,” Barkley gripped his chest and sank into the chair, panting and gasping for air.
Rocco dialed 9-1-1, while Peters unbuttoned Barkley’s collar and fanned him with a file folder. “The ambulance is coming. Hang on, man,” Peters said. “Has this happened before?” Peters asked.
“No, not like this. I’ve had chest pains, but this is different,” Barkley groaned.
Rocco could see Peters beginning to panic. “Man, he’s having a heart attack,” Peters shrieked. “He’s having a heart attack!”
“Pull it together Officer Peters,” Rocco blurted. “If you can’t handle a heart attack then you better prepare for a long career of pushing papers across a desk. Besides, have you seen what he eats? This isn’t shocking.”
“Screw you,” Barkley moaned and Rocco smirked.
As the paramedics loaded Barkley onto the gurney and wheeled it into the hall, Barkley pulled the oxygen mask from his face and grabbed Peter’s arm. “Keep your eyes on him,” Barkley rasped and looked toward Rocco. “I’m telling you. Watch your back.”
Once Barkley was gone, Rocco summoned Peters back to his office. “I’ll talk to the Captain about getting someone to take Barkley’s place on this case and then I’ll go and talk to Miranda’s neighbor. In the meantime, I want you to find out everything you can about the other three women.”
“Like what specifically?”
“Miranda’s neighbor said she followed her boyfriend to the city and then they broke up. I want to know who the boyfriend is. Did he possibly date any or all of the other women as well?” Rocco explained.
“Sir,” Peters said quietly. “We’ve talked to the first three victim’s families already. They don’t know anything.”
“That’s because we weren’t asking the right questions.” Rocco’s voice elevated. “I want to know every date these women went on. I want to know where they were at every second of every day for the few weeks prior to their murder. A serial killer chooses his victim. That means he was watching her closely, maybe even involved in her life in some way. Someone had to see something.”
“What about the media?” Peters asked.
“What about the media?” Rocco rebutted.
“Well, so far the names of the victims haven’t been made public…”
Rocco cut him off. “That’s because we don’t want to give the killer any satisfaction or recognition. He gets off on seeing the faces of his victims plastered on the news and in the paper. It thrills him to see the families mourning the loss of a woman he killed. He revels in the power of being able to cause pain.” Rocco’s jaw tightened and his nostrils flared. “I will not give him that satisfaction.”
“I get that, but, sir, don’t you think if we release the names of the victims to the public it might cause people to remember something? Like maybe they would see a picture of one of the victims and it would jog their memory as to where they saw her before?” Peters explained.
Rocco bit down on his lower lip. Peters made a good point. Opening it up to the public might prove helpful. “I’ll think about it,” Rocco said.
Peters smiled and turned toward the door; and then pivoted quickly in the doorway. “Sir, can I ask you a question?”
“What?” Rocco exhaled.
“What’s with you and Lieutenant Barkley?” He shuffled his feet nervously. “I mean, it’s obvious you don’t like each other.”
Rocco closed his eyes momentarily and exhaled. “I’m surprised you haven’t heard the rumors already.”
“Nobody around here seems to want to tell me anything. New guy syndrome I guess.”
“Me and Barkley go way back. I like him fine but he’s not too fond of me. It’s a personal matter, not business.” He shifted in his chair. “A couple of years ago, I dated his sister.”
“And you broke her heart and it pissed off Barkley,” Peters added, as if he already knew the details.
“Not exactly,” Rocco quipped. “She was married at the time, not happily, but still married; and, no, I didn’t break her heart.”
“Ouch, man,” Peters grimaced. “She dumped you and went back to her husband?”
Rocco’s eyes glazed over as if he were traveling back in his mind. “Yeah, something like that.”
“I get it. It must be weird now to work so closely with Lieutenant Barkley after you and his sister were bumping nasty’s.” Peters raised his eyebrows two times rapidly and made a vulgar flitting motion with his tongue. “Seriously, though, do you ever see his sister?”
“Every October.” Rocco cleared his throat. “I take her flowers.”
“For her birthday?”
“No. October was the month she died.” Rocco stared down at the desk. “She loved flowers more than any woman I’d ever met. She was crazy about them.” A sparkle lit his eyes as the memory overtook him. “She even used to wear them in her hair.” He sighed and then looked up at Peters. “So, every October I go to New Mt Sinai Cemetery and bring her flowers.” Rocco’s jaw tightened. “Any more questions?”
Peters didn’t hide his surprise well. His eyes bulged and his mouth fell open. “No, sir. I’m sorry. I had no idea.” He started for the door and then turned around again. “Do you want me to check out The Candy Shop?”
“No. I’ll handle it,” Rocco answered flatly, without looking up from his desk.