Budget cuts. I'm sick and tired of hearing about them. You'd think the taxpayers would want a strong police force to protect them from the scumbags who run loose around the city. The newspapers are full of stories of murders, holdups, family violence and, lately, terrorism. In the old days publicity like that would scare the living daylights out of citizens and they'd be running to the polls to provide more funding for law enforcement. But not in today's world. I blame it on Hollywood. Every year films had become more an more violent to the point of absurdity. Kill Bill is a good example. If I had a buck for every limb that was severed in that movie, I'd be a millionaire.
If you haven't figured it out yet, I'm a cop. I've been a detective for the Dallas Police Department for twenty-three years. Add seven years beating the pavement to get the privilege of chasing down hoodlums for a living, and you've got thirty years. I was musing over this when I got a call from the dispatcher.
"Besch here," I said.
"Detective. I've got a lady here who wants to talk to you. You got a minute?"
"I'm kind of busy. You know—sixty-three open cases at my last count."
"Yeah, well this lady's not going to go away. She insists on talking to you."
"Alright. Did she tell you anything?"
"Just that she had a dream about a mass murder."
"A dream? Shit. Another psycho," I moaned. "Okay, I'm on my way."
One of the worst parts of my job was wasting time interviewing people who believe they've seen a crime or think someone is acting suspiciously. Paranoia has always been a problem for detectives in big cities, but since 9/11 it's been a damn nightmare. This lady was about to waste at least an hour of my time and it pissed me off. Unfortunately, I had to bite my tongue and politely hear what she had to say.
She was a young Hispanic lady and she seemed very nervous. Her nervousness was to be expected. Hispanics didn't always get treated too well in the criminal justice system. It was probably a safe bet that someone in her family was in the slammer somewhere—a victim of the system. My irritation softened as I realized she must have genuine concerns to risk a trip to the police station. I introduced myself and offered her a seat.
"What's your name, ma'am," I asked.
"So, Ms. Estevan. What can I do for you today?"
She sat up in her chair and took a deep breath. "I know this will probably sound a bit strange, but I've had a dream—a very disturbing dream."
"A dream. Just a dream?"
"You do understand, don't you, that dreams are not real."
"Yes. Usually that is the case."
"Well, my dreams are different."
"Different. How's that?"
"My mother was a psychic by profession. She worked out of our house and saw clients every day. She was very gifted and could read tara cards and communed with the dead."
My temper started to flare at the mention of tara cards and talking to stiffs. I had serious work to do. Sixty-three open cases. Damn it! There wasn't time for bullshit like this.
"Listen, Ms. Estevan. I'm very busy. I don't believe in astrology or the occult. Just tell—"
"Please, Detective Besch," she said. "You've got to hear me out. Lives are at stake—many lives."
I took a deep breath and glared at her. "Okay. Go on. But make it brief."
"I didn't inherit my mother's spiritual gifts, but I was given one that has tormented me my whole life."
"Really? What was that?"
"I didn't know at first. When my mother died I tried to take up her business, but I was a miserable failure. Without the gift everything I did was a lie and my customers soon realized it. I soon had to get a job to supplement my income."
My patience was waning quickly. "So, why are you here, Mrs. Estevan. What's this about a mass murder?"
"That's what I getting to. I did acquire one psychic ability—dream interpretation."
"Oh, really. What makes you think you can interpret dreams any better than anyone else?"
"Because when I meet someone, sometimes I have dreams about them later. These dreams are usually true ."
"And how do you know this?"
"Because my practice now involves meeting with people. Talking to them. Touching them and their things and then waiting to see if the dreams come. If do, then I call the customers back and tell them about the dream and its meaning."
I shook my head. "Frankly, it sounds like BS to me, but that's my personal opinion. Anyway, let me guess. You had a dream about a mass murder? Is that it?"
"One of your clients committed these murders?"
"No. Like I said, I had to get a part time job so I clean motel rooms at the Golden Star Motel on Harry Hines. Lately I've been having dreams about people who have been stayed at the motel."
"What kind of dreams?"
"There's a large room, an auditorium, perhaps. There are bodies laid out on straw matts. They are dressed in white and lying on their back with their hands folded across their chest. In the dream I wandering between the bodies looking at them. Their eyes are opened and their faces contorted into dramatic expressions—expressions of pain, sorrow, and horror."
"Okay, Ms. Estevan. That's all very interesting, but like I said, dreams are not real."
"But mine are. I'm sure this happened. I'm sure people have died. And others will die unless you do something."
"Do what? It was just a nightmare for Godsakes. Forget about it."
"I can't. It comes to me every night. I see their faces. They call out to me for justice."
Ms. Estevan's words sent a chill through me. This lady was nuts. She really believed what she was telling me. "Listen, you don't even know who these people are. How could I possibly investigate anything."
"I know who they are. . . . Not by name, but they all stayed at the Golden Star Motel. These were people I'd seen in their rooms or in the hallway as they were leaving."
"So you think somebody is killing the patrons of the Golden Star Motel?"
"Yes, I know it."
"I've never heard of the Golden Star Motel. I read the newspapers and I get homicide reports every day. I can't remember ever hearing of a murder at the Golden Star Motel."
"I know. I haven't either, but my dreams are real. I'm telling you people have been murdered there and others who stay their will die."
I shook my head. "I'm sorry, ma'am. I can't start an investigation with what you've told me. You need to see a shrink. Maybe you have a brain tumor or something that's causing these nightmares. You should have it checked out."
"Okay. I've done my duty as a citizen. If you want to let innocent people die, it will be on your conscious."
She stood up abruptly and extended her hand. I shook it. She gripped it tightly and hung on for a long moment. Our eyes met. I pulled my hand away, feeling like she'd taken something from me. When she was gone I started to laugh. "What a nut case! Jesus, God Almighty."
My boss, Lt. Murphy rushed over to me as I was leaving the interview room. He looked concerned. "What's this about a mass murder?"
I smiled. "Nothing to worry about. Just a bankrupt psychic looking for a little publicity to bolster her business."
"Really. Hmm. You better write it up, just in case."
I raised my eyebrows. "Sure, I've got nothing better to do. Besides, I wouldn't want to be responsible for all the murders at the Golden Star Motel."
"The Golden Star Motel. I've never heard of it."
"It's probably one of those places where they rent the rooms by the hour."
We laughed. "You ought to check it out. Maybe you could get laid while you're there."
"I might just do that," I replied. "I haven't had a piece of ass in a month of paydays."
Lt. Murphy left and I went back to my office to dig back into my pile of work. It was not unusual for me to work seventy or eighty hours a week. My life was my work. My kids had grown up and my wife had long ago tired of my excuses for never being home. We'd been divorced eight years now, and I was too old and tired to look for another masochist to replace her.
On the way home that night I found myself on Harry Hines Boulevard. I didn't usually go home that way, but talking about getting laid had made me kind of horny. Not that I was seriously thinking of hooking up with a lady of the night, but the least I could do was take a look at the Golden Star Motel for signs of carnage. I chuckled at my own joke and saw the motel up ahead. I parked across the street and watched it for awhile. The marquis said you could get a room for $21.95 per night. That price was a third of the average rate in Dallas, so I could imagine what kind of place it was. The place was dead, not a hooker in sight, so I went home.
The next day I put Ms. Estevan and the Golden Star Motel out of my head and got to work on a recent homicide at White Rock Lake. A lady jogger had been abducted, raped, and murdered. There were no witnesses. This was the kind of case I could focus on. My phone rang. I stared at it a moment for some reason, reluctant to pick it up. I managed to grab it before it went to voicemail.
"Hello, this is Besch."
"Detective Besch. This is Maria Estevan."
My heart sank as I felt another chunk of my day about to be stolen from me. "Hi. What can I do for you?"
"I could tell when we met that you didn't believe me."
"Well. . . . I believe you are sincere, but you gave me nothing to go on. I'm afraid there's nothing I can do. I did go by the Golden Star Motel just to check it out."
"You did. Good. But it will take a lot more digging to uncover the truth. That's why I'm calling."
"What do you mean?"
"I want to help motivate you."
"How are you going to do that?"
"By convincing you that my dreams are real."
I laughed. "Good luck."
"Listen, I dreamt about you last night."
I sat up abruptly in my chair. A chill darted through me. "Okay. . . . I'm listening."
"You were under water swimming toward a car with a little girl trapped in it. Your lungs were on fire. You were near death, but somehow you managed to get the door opened and pull out the little girl trapped inside."
My body went numb as I recalled the events Ms. Estevan was talking about. It had happened ten or twelve years earlier. There had been a storm and a car had been swept away by raging flood water before a mother could get her young girl out of it. I happened on the scene about the time it occurred and somehow I had managed to rescue the girl.
"Okay. So you did some research. It was in all the papers," I said. "That doesn't prove anything."
"I know. But the amazing thing is, you didn't even know how to swim. It was a miracle you were able to save the girl. How did you do it, Detective?"
My stomach tightened as I realized Ms. Estevan had discovered one of my darkest secrets. I had gotten a special commendation for the rescue of the girl, but it was not deserved. I had lied on my service application by saying I knew how to swim. I didn't. The truth was I hated the water. The girl had managed to roll down the window and swim to safety on her own. Everyone just assumed I had freed her.
"Okay. I don't know what you think you know, but it doesn't matter. I was getting interested in the case anyway. I'm going to look a little closer into it. Give me a few days and I'll get back with you on what I've found out, if anything."
"Thank you, detective. I know you'll get to the bottom of this."
I hung up the telephone disgusted with myself. Disgusted by the memory of what had happened that day and the undeserved commendation that had propelled me into my position as a detective. Depression set in quickly as I thought about someone knowing my secret. Would she blow the whistle on me and send my career careening into the dumpster? I had to see Lt. Murphy. He was in his office so I went over and knocked on the door.
"Lieutenant. Got a minute?"
He waved me in and I took a seat. "Listen. I'm thinking maybe I should open a case file on this Estevan case. It's been troubling me."
"But I thought it was a publicity stunt."
"Well, I've been thinking about it and maybe I was a little hasty in coming to that conclusion."
The lieutenant eyed me suspiciously. "Is this lady offering you a little on the side?"
I sat up indignantly. "No! Absolutely not. I just—"
"Just kidding. Relax. If you want to open a case file, go ahead. Just don't waste a lot of time on it. How do you plan to handle it?"
"I thought I'd interview the manager and talk to some of the guests—maybe snoop around a little bit. I'd like to search the place."
"You'd need a warrant and you don't have a shred of evidence to justify it now. If you find something let me know, and I'll run it by the DA's office."
I nodded and left. I looked at the files piled on my desk as I walked by on the way to my car. Ms. Estevan had gotten to me. I felt compelled now to go to the Golden Star Motel immediately. It was a ridiculous case. There was no reason to open another file—except that Ms. Estevan, the bitch, knew my secret. How had she figured that out? Was she really psychic? I guess I needed to find that out.
A short, dark man, Indian or Pakistani I guessed, manned the front desk. A nameplate read: Anant Ali. I pulled out a card and handed to Mr. Ali. "I'm Detective Besch with the Dallas Police Department. I need to ask you a few questions."
The man folded his arms suspiciously and replied, "What's this about?"
"Ah. . . . Well. . . .I'm not at liberty to say. It's a continuing investigation. I just need to ask you some questions."
He looked at me queerly and shook his head. "Is this another 9/11 witch hunt? I've already been audited by the IRS and questioned by Homeland Security."
"No. This is a local investigation about some suspected criminal behavior."
He held up his hands. "Hey. I know a few tricks take place here, but that's not my business. I just rent the rooms. I make sure no minors check in. I always check IDs."
"Good. I just have some general questions. What kind of customers do you get here, besides the hookers. I see your rate is pretty cheap."
"A lot of truckers, salesmen, transients. You know, people who want a decent place to stay, but don't have a lot of money."
"I see. Are you the owner."
"Yes. I bought the place several years ago when I first came to this country."
"Where are you from?"
"I refuse to answer that question. You can't ask me that. I'm a U.S. Citizen."
"Okay, I'm sorry. It's probably not relevant. I was just curious."
"You people think because I'm a Muslim, I'm a terrorist or something."
"No. Like I said I was just curious—I respect your religious beliefs."
"Right, sure you do."
"Okay, relax. Have you seen anything unusual around your establishment here lately. Anything at all."
"No, everything is normal. There's nothing going on here. I'm just an honest citizen trying to make a living."
"Okay, Mr. Ali. Sorry I bothered you."
I felt like an idiot when I left the motel office. He was right. What in the hell was I doing. There was nothing here, this case was bullshit. I got in my car and stewed for a few moments. One interview wasn't going to cut it. I'd have to do more. I saw a young couple checking out of the motel. They walked over to a Waffle House across the street. I followed them and went inside. They had taken an empty table near the back of the restaurant. I went over to them and introduced myself.
"Listen, how was your stay at the Golden Star Motel?"
The man frowned and said, "Why. What's going on?"
"Nothing serious," I said. "We've had some reports of vandalism on the premises and wondered if you saw anything unusual while you were there."
The man shook his head and said, "No. Everything seemed normal."
The black waitress came over and said, "Everything's normal at the Golden Star Motel, except the owner."
I turned and said, "Hello. Ms.—?"
"Rogers," she said. "Mr. Ali eats here from time to time. Usually with his Arab friends. They're a scary bunch."
"How do you mean," I asked.
"Well, you know—loud mouths, bitching about the President and how everybody treats them."
"Is that right?" I said and peered out the window at the motel. "Why does that scare you?"
"It's their tone of voice. You know. It's not just talk with them. It's all about revenge."
"Yes, if they'd lose their attitude they'd probably be accepted a lot quicker by us Americans. Look how long it took for us blacks to get treated right."
"Yes, I suppose you're right."
I thanked the couple and gave them and Ms. Rogers my business card. I had intruded on their day enough but was glad I did. At least now I had a suspect in my mass murder. I chuckled to myself. All I needed now were a few hundred dead bodies. To find those I'd have to do more digging. The big dumpster behind the motel got my attention. I wouldn't need a warrant to search them. With a little luck I'd find something suspicious that would justify the issuance of a warrant. I called Ms. Estevan. I would need her help.
"Sure, I'll be sure to separate Mr. Ali's trash. I'll put it in a white bag behind the dumpster so you won't have any trouble finding it."
"Thanks. I'll let you know if I find anything."
It was fortunate that Ms. Estevan was a maid at the motel, otherwise I would have had to go through all the trash to find Mr. Ali's stuff. I'd done that before and that was a nasty job. That night I drove by the motel and entered the back alley. It was dark and the wind was creating many strange noises that had me on edge. The bag was right where it was supposed to be, so I threw it in the trunk and took off.
Back at my house I went through it but found nothing. No severed limbs, no notes from secret meetings plotting against the government, nothing but bills, receipts and discarded junk mail. The only think of the slightest interest was a guest log. It had the names and addresses many of the guests for the previous month. It looked like the ink cartridge on the printer had run out midway through the printout as the print started to lighten up until it was illegible. He had probably changed the cartridge and reprinted a new log. Even so, what good was a guest log from the previous month. Depression quickly seized me again. What was I thinking letting this broad get to me the way she did. She probably knew nothing about the rescue. She couldn't. Nobody knew the truth but me and I had learned to live with it.
The next day I was determined to close the file and put an end to this madness. But before I did, I decided since I had the guest log I should check out some of the names and see if anything came up. I went to my computer, logged in, and started running names. The first three came up clean but the fourth name on the listed came up: 'DECEASED.' I clicked on the entry and found out John Robert Moore had died two days after he had stayed at the Golden Star Motel!
Adrenalin started to pour into my system. I started working faster. The seventh name, Syril T. Bender, also came up as deceased. He had died eight days after he had stayed at the Golden Star Motel. Goose bumps erupted on my arms as I smelled the scent of a serial killer. By the time I was done there were eleven names on my list. Lt. Murphy was just coming in from lunch. I intercepted him.
"Lieutenant. I think I've got something."
"What is it?"
I told him about the pattern that was developing. He said it was time to bump up the priority of the case and he'd get me some help. I was grateful for that because processing eleven bodies would be an enormous task. Most of guests had been on the road too, so they'd be spreading out all across the country. Some would have been buried by now and, if an autopsy hadn't been performed, they'd have to be exhumed. Exhumations were complicated and messy. A few moments later Detective Rollins walked into my office.
"Hi," she said. "Murphy said you needed some help."
I nodded. "Yes, I do."
"Detective Scott is on his way too."
"Good," I replied and handed her the printouts from the eleven deaths. "See how these deaths were handled. I'd be particularly interested if there were any autopsies."
Detective Scott walked in and said, "What's going on?"
I briefed Rollins and Scott on the situation. Rollins left to check out the eleven possible victims. Scott was a veteran detective. He'd been a detective nearly as long as I had, so I wanted to brainstorm with him on what we had so far.
"We've got eleven deaths. The common thread is each of the decedents stayed at the Golden Star Motel a few days before they died. It looks to me like they have been exposed to a poison or toxin. What do you think?"
Scott took a deep breath. "That's a logical conclusion. We better call the CDC in Atlanta. It might be a virus. Something that has a short incubation period."
"Right, I'll suggest to Lt. Murphy that he contact the CDC and Homeland Security.
By afternoon the Golden Star Motel had been evacuated and taken over by the CSI team. Detective Rollins met me at the crime scene and reported that nine of the eleven victims had been buried, one cremated, and one was still in the morgue in San Diego. They'd all had autopsies. The results of the autopsies were being faxed to us as we spoke.
"We should get back to headquarters and check them out," I said. "I'm surprised they all had autopsies."
"Apparently they all had some kind of blood disorder that was thought to be chemically induced. That's why an autopsy was ordered," Rollins said.
"Let's bring Mr. Ali in for questioning," I said. "Maybe when we confront him with all the deaths he'll have something to say."
When we got back to Headquarters the autopsy reports were on my desk. I picked up one and began reading. Rollins picked up another. We soon discovered the victims all had similar symptoms—severe nosebleeds, bleeding gums, coughing up blood, severe bruising, and fatigue. Some of the lab reports showed traces of Broudifacoum in their system. Broudifacoum apparently was an active ingredient in several types of rat poison. At least two of the reports had traced the Broudifacoum to a sample tube of toothpaste found in the victims effects. It was a discontinued brand—Sweet Mouth. As we were mulling this over, the phone rang. It was Lt. Murphy.
"The motel has come up clean. There's nothing there that would pose a threat or health hazard. Did you find anything in the autopsy reports?"
"Yes," I said. "Apparently the killer laced a toothpaste sample with rat poison—Sweet Mouth Toothpaste. Did you find any toothpaste samples or rat poison."
"Ali must have cleared out all the evidence after I interviewed him," I said.
"So, there's nothing to directly connect the deaths to the Golden Star Motel or Mr. Ali?" Lt. Murphy asked.
"Not yet. We are about to talk to him now. Maybe we can get him to crack," I suggested.
"You better, otherwise you'll have to cut him loose."
Cut him loose. The words went down like liquid Drano. Ali was an obvious terrorist. I couldn't let that happen. While I was mentally preparing myself to confront Mr. Ali, I decided to call Ms. Estevan to fill her in on the new developments. She'd be interested to know that her dream had turned out to be true . I dialed her number, but there was no answer so I left a message. As I was hanging up the phone Detective Scott walked in with a grim look on his face.
"What's wrong?" I asked.
He sighed. "I contacted the Texas State Comptroller's office and got the complete list of occupants for the Golden Star Motel for the last two months. Then I started checking them out one by one. I found twenty-one more deaths."
"Oh, my God!" I said, thinking back to Ms. Estevan's dream of rows and rows of bodies laid out in a large auditorium. "That's thirty-two and God knows how many more there still may be."
"It's time to confront Mr. Ali," Rollins said.
I nodded. "Let's do it."
As Rollins and I were entering the interview room, I noticed Lt. Murphy come in. He joined Detective Scott at the observation window. Mr. Ali had a scowl on his face when we walked in. Rollins began the interrogation.
"Mr. Ali. We have a few questions for you."
"I want a lawyer?"
"That is your right, but right now we just want to ask you some questions. You see something terrible has happened."
"Thirty-two people have been murdered and the strange thing is they all stayed at your motel. How do you explain that?"
"Thirty-two. Is that all? Each of your bombs kills thousands. You know how many bombs you dropped on our brothers in Iraq?"
"So, you admit it?"
"I admit nothing. I want a lawyer."
Ali sat up erect in his chair and folded his arms defiantly. I felt like beating the crap out of him to make him talk, but I knew Lt. Murphy wouldn't stand for that. Rollins finally sighed and began reading him his rights. I stormed out of the interrogation room. Lt. Murphy was talking to Detective Scott when I burst through the door.
"Can you believe that?" I said angrily. "That bastard's proud of what he's done."
Lt. Murphy gave me a concerned look. "Listen, Besch. You've got to find something to connect Ali to the murders. Homeland Security has a dozen agents on their way down here and I want this case closed before they get here. You understand? This is our case and we've got the killer in custody. Let's wrap it up!"
"Yes, sir. . . . Don't worry. I'll find the connection."
Lt. Murphy walked off. "What are you going to do?" Detective Scott asked.
"I'll get a warrant and search Ali's house while he's in custody. Maybe I'll find something there. You go back to the restaurant across the street from the motel and see if anyone can identify any of Ali's friends."
"I'm on it," Scott said. "I'll call you on your cell from the restaurant."
Scott left and I went back to my office to arrange for a warrant. Within an hour I was scouring Ali's home with a team of officers. We tore the place apart but found nothing incriminating. Detective Scott called from the Waffle House and told me he'd come up empty too. Depression swept over me again. I couldn't let this scumbag go. Once he was back on the street he could easily disappear. I racked my brain for an idea . . . . Something, there had to be something I could do. Then I remembered the bag of trash Ms. Estevan had gathered for me. I rushed back to the evidence room to check it out.
I threw it on a desk and began rummaging through it. I examined every piece of paper, every wrapper, every object Mr.Ali had discarded, but found nothing. I dropped the bag on the floor in despair. Then I saw it. A receipt lying on the floor. I picked it up. It was from Home Depot. I ran back up to my office and called them.
"It's called. Assassin. I think it's a rodenticide. I need to know the ingredients."
"Ah. Let me see. Active Ingredients: Diphacinone, Pendane, and Broudifacoum."
My heart jumped for joy. We'd found the connection we needed. I ran upstairs to my office and to tell Lt. Murphy the good news. He was talking to two agents from Homeland Security. I interrupted him and pulled him aside to tell him the good news. He was elated and within the hour got the okay from the DA to arrest Ali. Lt. Murphy said I could do the honors so I went directly to his holding cell. Ali stood up proudly when I entered his cell.
"Anant Ali. You're under the arrest for the murder of John Roger Moore, Randall J. Walters, John Michael Vincent, . . ."
After Ali had been taken away for processing, I went back to my office to call Ms. Estevan and tell her the good news. I was surprised to find her sitting in my office.
"Detective. I got your call so I came right over."
"Oh. I'm so glad," I said. "I was just going to call you. I've got good news."
I filled her in on what had happened. She closed her eyes and made the sign of the cross.
"Thank God," she said.
"Oh, and I talked to a reporter friend of mine about how you got this investigation going. I don't think you'll have any trouble making a living as a psychic in the future.
"So, your Lieutenant is very happy with you?"
"Oh, yes. He wanted to nail Ali before the Feds got called in. It's a real feather in his cap."
"Good. So you're the man of the hour. That's good. I've been wanting to do something for you for a long time."
"What do you mean?"
"First, I want to apologize for having to exploit your deep dark secret. I know it hurt to bring that up.
I nodded. "Yes, I still don't understand how you figured that out. You said you had a dream."
"Yes. It seems like a dream now but it was all too real. Listen, I want you to know that the little girl that was trapped in her car under water would have died had you not thrown yourself into the water and tried to save her."
"No," I protested. "She got out by herself. I had nothing to do with it. I didn't even know how to swim."
"But you're wrong, Detective. The little girl had tried over and over to get that window open but couldn't do it. Then she saw you jump in the water and try desperately to save her. Just seeing you in the water gave her hope and the strength to try that window one more time. And this time because of your inspiration the window opened and she escaped from her watery grave."
"That's a great story, Ms. Estevan, but how would you know that?"
She smiled at me and wiped a tear from her eye. "I know that, Detective, because I was that little girl."