Natalie Wild was the name of Miranda’s neighbor in the Central West End. By the time Rocco arrived at the apartment building, Natalie’s body had already been bagged and loaded into the ambulance. Ducking under the crime scene tape that blocked the front entrance, Rocco rushed up the staircase, skipping every other step, until he got to the third floor. Officer Peters met him in Natalie’s living room.
“What happened?” Rocco demanded.
Peters shrugged. “We got a call early this morning that said there was commotion in apartment B3. Our guys came over and found the door busted open, the place trashed and the girl, strangled.”
“Son of a …” Rocco didn’t finish his sentence. Instead, he bit down on his bottom lip. “Who’s heading up the investigation?”
“Watts, I think,” Peters said and pointed toward the kitchen.
Sliding past Peters, Rocco made a beeline for Watts, who was a forty-nine year old, African American man that stood six foot four inches tall and looked as if he were made of nothing but pure muscle. His stature alone intimidated most and he was known on the force for being a hard ass. He normally worked the drug circuit. “Listen, Watts, I want the entire scene dusted for prints, I want a DNA analysis run on every skin cell and hair follicle you find. I want….”
“Cool your jets, Sterling,” Watts barked. “This isn’t your case. So pipe down and let me do my job. We find anything funny, you’ll be the first to know.”
“Natalie Wild might have been the only person to have seen our serial killer, so don’t tell me this isn’t my case,” Rocco seethed. Watts held up his palms to indicate that he wasn’t interested in Rocco’s plight and walked away, making Rocco even angrier. He pounded his fist atop the kitchen counter and grunted. Every nerve stood on end, agitated by the feeling that he was running out of time.
“Got a minute?” Peters said, poking his head into the kitchen and pulling Rocco from his thoughts. Rocco nodded and Peters slid onto a counter stool next to where Rocco stood. “At first, I was thinking this couldn’t be our guy. I mean, Natalie was strangled and our guy slits his victim’s throat. There were obvious signs of a struggle and our guy sedates his victims, not to mention the fact that her body was left in her home and not thrown into a dumpster. I’m guessing the forensic report is gonna tell us that she wasn’t raped, and we know our guy has sex with his victims…”
“What’s your point?” Rocco interrupted.
“I thought it couldn’t be him but then I noticed her hand,” Peters said.
“What about her hand?” Peters and Rocco locked eyes.
“There was a small slice at the base of her left ring finger. It looked like someone was about to severe the finger, you know, like out of habit, and then thought otherwise and stopped,” Peters explained.
Rocco’s eyebrows lifted. “He got careless,” Rocco murmured more to himself than to Peters. Thoughts darted in and out of his mind as he tried to connect the dots. “Natalie wasn’t one he previously selected. He killed her because he had to, not out of pleasure.” Rocco paced back and forth across the kitchen. “Which means my hunch was right and Natalie did have information or could identify him or somehow connect him to Miranda, so he had to get rid of her.”
“Yeah, but why now?” Peters interjected. “I mean, why not kill her the same night he killed Miranda? Why wait and risk her telling someone?”
Rocco snapped his fingers. “Because he didn’t know she had any information about him. He just found out and I’d bet anything that the minute he found out, he drove straight here and murdered her.”
“Makes sense,” Peters said. “But it begs the question how’d he find out?”
Rocco abruptly stopped pacing and spun around to face Peters. “I need to know everyone Natalie spoke to this past week. Co-workers. Family. Neighbors. Friends. I want phone records, surveillance video, whatever you can pull.” Rocco turned and walked briskly toward the living room and out of the front door with Peters barely keeping stride. “I want video feed of every vehicle that came within a two-block radius of this apartment building in the past twenty-four hours,” Rocco barked.
“Where am I gonna get that?” Peters quipped.
“Call the goddamned FBI for all I care, but get me that feed!” Rocco dashed down the stairs and toward his Hummer.
“Yes, sir,” Peters uttered, out of breath from trying to keep up. “Sir?” Peters yelled as Rocco pulled open his driver’s door and then turned to face Peters with raised eyebrows and an expression of impatience. “What do you think he’s gonna do next?”
Rocco’s eyes darkened. “Kill.”