Page 43

“Roger. Over.”

The hoses were opened from the ladders, gallons and gallons of H2O arching in through the windows that had been broken. Smoke flared, white now from evaporation.

The first charred door he opened revealed a crappy bathroom that had been spared some of the damage, the plastic shower curtained melted like modern art on the edge of the tub, the walls glazed and sweating, the color scheme of pale blue and yellow dulled but extant.

The next door was probably going to be a bedroom—

As Danny opened the way in, he couldn’t process what he was looking at. Walls were stained with something, the pink-flowered paper marked with . . . brown handprints? That was when he saw, through the haze, the body spread-eagled on the bed. The wrists and ankles had been tied to the posts and there was a red gag in the mouth.

No movement.

Then again, the older woman appeared to have been gutted like a deer. Very recently. There was no meaty smell of anatomy, however. The stench of the fire was too loud in his nose.

Danny spoke into his communicator. “Second victim, bedroom. This is a murder scene.”

He forgot to ID himself, but he didn’t care. He went over. The old woman was staring through sightless eyes in terror at the ceiling overhead. Her loose skin was like folds of pale felt pooling under her arm pits, at her neck, on either side of her bony thighs.

He wanted to cover her up. Find a sheet or a blanket and give her some dignity. This was a crime scene, however.

“What the fuck.” Moose came in and stood next to him. “So that’s what was cooking when the fire started.”

Chapter 29

“You know, I like unusual women.”

As Charles Ripkin spoke, his eyes focused on Anne’s prosthesis. “Tell me, how did you lose your arm?”

He already knew the answer, she thought. He had to have researched her.

“I think we need to stay on topic. Let’s talk about those fires in your warehouses.”

“Did it hurt?” The man smiled. “I’ve always wondered what it would be like to be deformed.”

“I understand that they’re held by various LLCs. I’m curious why you haven’t put them in the name of Ripkin Inc.”

“Do you feel ugly now? You know, as a woman. Now that you’re not whole anymore.”

“I’m also curious why they’re insured by different companies. It’s like your spreading risk.”

“Not to get too personal, but when you’re with a lover, do you hide the stump? Keep it under a pillow, a sleeve, a fold of sheet? So they don’t see it. Get distracted. Lose the mood.”

“Because I’m wondering why the concentration of arson.”

His left eyebrow twitched. “Are you ashamed now? Of yourself. Do you miss who you used to be?”

“Yet no one has been charged. I realize that the argument will be derelicts, but if that were true, that area of the city has been run-down for decades. Why in the last two years is all of this happening?”

“Once a firefighter. Now a pencil pusher. You are your own cliché, you realize.”

“Do you have any explanation?”

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