Least Wanted — Chapter 21
Sam McRae Mystery #2
Little D didn’t hang around for the cops. He said he and the police didn’t “get along.” He had dialed 911 because it seemed faster and easier than breaking down my door. I gave the police a report. When the patrol car left, I called D to give him the all clear.
He arrived fifteen minutes later, disc in hand.
“You all right?” he asked. “Damn, that’s a nasty bruise on your cheek.”
“I’ll live.” I felt lucky to have nothing worse than a bruised cheek and a puffy lip. “Thank God you came by.”
He sat on my sofa. “That motherfucker strong. Rung my bell.”
I explained what I’d learned from the police about Diesel.
“Hmm,” Little D said. “I recall the name, but it’s not one I’ve heard on the streets.”
“Probably hangs out on different streets than you.”
Little D chuckled. “Could be. So this Diesel all worried about some photos and shit in a box.”
“That’s what he was asking me about, while he was trying to barbecue my hand.”
“Well, wait until you see this disc.” He sounded disgusted. He gestured toward the tower of electronics next to my TV. “You got a DVD player in there somewhere?”
“Sure,” I said. I grabbed the remote and turned on the TV and DVD player. I popped the disc in. Before closing the drawer, I said, “My guess is it’s the prototype for some new video game. Is that what it looked like to you?”
“Just play the thing. I should warn you, what’s on there ain’t pretty. If it’s for a video game, it’s some sick shit.”
I hit the button. The disc slid in and began to play. In a bedroom with stark walls, a young black girl went down on a light-skinned black man. Rap music played in the background. The girl looked to be Tina’s age. Maybe younger. The man moaned as she worked on him.
“That there’s the janitor, by the way,” Little D said.
“Jesus,” I said. I hit fast forward. The next scene involved the same girl and two other men. One entered her from behind, while the other got a blow job. Fast forward to another girl, stripping off her clothes, reciting a patter so filthy, a Marine would blush. A man watched her and jerked off. I recognized the other girl — Rochelle.
“Phew. Damn,” Little D said. “This ain’t no easier to watch the second time. Turn it off.”
“Wait,” I said. I continued to buzz through the sleaze featuring several men and a number of girls involved in lots of oral sex and stripping, a ménage a trois, and numerous ejaculations. Any attempt at a storyline was well buried. The dates and times in the corner showed me the scenes had been shot over several days in the last couple of months. The actors, if you could call them that, were all adolescent black girls and older black men. I locked onto a young girl sucking off a man as she fondled his balls.
“Tina,” I said, with numb disbelief.
“Sheee-it,” Little D said.
The scenes were so shocking, it didn’t hit me at first: The date and time confirmed that Tina had done this last Wednesday night. The night Shanae was murdered.
I kept watching . . . couldn’t tear myself away. A second scene with Tina, coupled with the first, established that from 6:00 to at least 7:36 Wednesday night she’d been busy working on a promising porn star career. No wonder she was late with homework assignments. Where was she later that evening? It was anyone’s guess. I noted that Rochelle’s last scene took place at 7:48.
Little D retrieved the disc. I shut everything off.
“Damn,” I said. “Shanae was murdered between six and eight. A witness thinks she saw Tina leaving her house a little after eight. I can’t even use her extracurricular activities to establish an alibi.” I paused to reconsider what I’d said and slapped my forehead. “Or can I? I don’t know where this was recorded. Maybe Tina didn’t have time to get to her house before eight — a period of less than twenty-four minutes. That’s when the witness saw a kid leave the house. I don’t think this was recorded in Rochelle’s room. Tina told me they were at Rochelle’s all night.”
“That didn’t look like no teenaged girl’s room to me,” Little D said.
“Wherever they were, Tina was there until at least 7:36 and Rochelle until 7:48. Where was this place, and how did they get there?”
“Rochelle coulda driven her mama’s car.”
“She’s only thirteen.”
“You think that stop her?”
I nodded. “Good point. But Tanya — Rochelle’s mother — had to go to the hospital that night. Her sister came by. She would’ve noticed if the car was gone, don’t you think?”
“Then someone else drove them. Maybe one of those men. Maybe another girl.”
“One thing’s clear,” I said. “I need to talk to Tina about what she and her so-called friends were up to that night. This appears to be her best — and only — hope of an alibi.”
“Yeah, I’m sure she be happy to tell you all about it, too.” The disgust in Little D’s voice was obvious. “I really don’t believe this shit.”
I heaved a sigh. “We have to take this to the police.”
“Those guys who picked up the package ain’t gonna be too pleased about that.”
“Neither will Diesel,” I said. “Which is why we have to do it as soon as possible.”
“Want me to make a copy for you first?” Little D waved the DVD around.
“That might be a good idea,” I said. “In fact, make three. I have two cases this could affect, and I’ll keep one for my files. I want you to hold onto all of them until I can take them to the police.”
“Sure,” he said. “You gonna be okay?”
“I’ll be fine,” I said, unconvinced.
* * * * *
After Little D left, I made a list. Find Tina and find out her whereabouts that night. Get the copies of the DVD to the police. But first, I had to find another place to stay. I wouldn’t sleep a wink in my apartment, knowing Diesel had broken in with such ease.
I glanced at my watch. My downstairs neighbor, Russell Burke, would still be up at 8:00. I took the stairs two at a time.
Russell answered the door wrapped in a royal blue velour robe, clutching his evening drink. Bitsy, his Scottish terrier (‘Scottish terror’ as I like to call her) yapped at his feet.
“You might have noticed the, um, commotion a few hours ago.”
“I was out earlier, having dinner with a friend.” He peered at me. “What the hell happened to your face?”
I raised my hand to touch my cheek, recoiling at the pain shooting through my jaw and cursing myself for not covering the bruise with makeup. “I’m attracting some unwanted attention from the wrong people.” I sighed. “A guy broke into my apartment and attacked me. If a friend hadn’t come along, I’d be a lot worse off. It scared the shit out of me. I’m going to a motel for a few days. I want to make sure Oscar’s out of harm’s way. Could he stay with you while I’m gone?”
“Not again,” he said, with exaggerated annoyance. Russell had once honored a last-minute request to look after Oscar, when I was running from the Mob in another case. “When are you going to learn to stay out of trouble?”
“Not in the next three days or so.”
“Or so?” He raised an eyebrow. His head inclined to peer down his well-sculpted nose at me.
“I don’t think it’ll be more than two or three days. Really.”
“I’ll have to keep him in a room,” he said, in a nasal drone. “Separate from Bitsy.”
“Good idea,” I said. “Oscar has claws. He might mistake Bitsy for one of his toys.”
“Ha ha ha.” With each “ha,” I could smell the Scotch on Russell’s breath.
“One other thing,” I said.
“I don’t know if I’ll be back by Monday, and I’m expecting a FedEx that requires a signature. If I give you my spare key, would you sit in my place and sign for the package? It’s due between eight and three o’clock. I’d leave a note on the door, but I’d rather not advertise that I’m away.”
“Lord! Let me check my busy social calendar.”
“I wouldn’t ask if it weren’t extremely important. Please, Russell.”
He heaved a great sigh. “All right. I have nowhere to go. I can hang out in your place as easily as I can in mine.”
“Thanks, so much. This means a lot — to me and Oscar. I’ll take you to dinner when I get back. A small token of my appreciation.”
“You’re on. And don’t worry about Oscar. I’ll keep an eye on the little bastard as long you need me to.” He touched my arm and looked into my eyes. “For God’s sake, be careful.”
“I’ll do my best.”
I ran upstairs to get Oscar and the spare key. I tossed some clothes and toiletries into an old gym bag — my version of luggage — and put in a quick call to Walt. He didn’t answer, so I left a message, filling him in on the latest developments. I hoped his Saturday night was more fun than mine.
I had just finished camouflaging the bruise with concealer when the phone rang. A woman at the other end sounded breathless.
“Ms. McRae? This is Ruth Higgins. Walt’s sister. He’s in the hospital.”
“Walt?” I went limp. “Oh, my God. What happened?”
“I found him on the living room floor. He’d been beaten to a pulp. The doctor says he’s had a heart attack too. If I hadn’t stopped by, who knows . . . . ” I heard a sob at the other end. After a moment, she continued, anguish in her voice. “He’s barely conscious, but he asked me to call and let you know. He said it was very important. He keeps mentioning a big man.” At that point, she fell apart.
“I’m coming,” I said. “Which hospital?”
* * * * *
I raced to Laurel Regional Hospital, inquired at the front desk, and shot through a maze of halls to the CCU. Ruth, a short woman in her late fifties with a drawn expression and frizzy, bottle-red hair, looked as bad as she sounded. When I asked to see Walt, she told the nurse I was his niece. Five minutes, the nurse said, giving me her sternest look.
I crept into the room, rank with the odor of sickness and disinfectant. Walt was gray and immobile. Plastic tubes ran in and out of him. On one side of the bed, a machine monitored his vitals. His eyelids fluttered, and he extended a hand to me.
“Sam,” he said, his voice raspy.
I walked up and took his hand in mine. “Walt. I’m so sorry.” I choked up. Stifling tears, I bit my puffy lip, grateful that he hadn’t noticed it.
“Nothing to be sorry about.”
“That man. He broke into my apartment earlier today. I didn’t think. I should have called you right away . . . .” The dam broke. Tears rolled down my cheeks. “If I’d called sooner, maybe you’d be okay.”
“Don’t be silly. Don’t blame yourself.” He squeezed my hand, then went on hoarsely. “Now listen. This scumbag is using me to get to you. Don’t let him. Do whatever it takes to help my sister’s boy.”
“I will, Walt. You can count on me.”
“I know I can.” He gave me a weak grin. “Why do you think I brought you onto this case? I only work with the best, you know.”
I returned the smile. “You’re the best, Walt.”
“Sure,” he said. “But you’re almost as good.”