The detectives ran various scenarios past each other. They called it spit balling, but nothing stood out to them. As they got ready to leave for the day, Lilly’s phone rang.
“Detective Lilly Thompson, how may I help you?”
“This is Dr. Walker, detective. I need you and your partner to come by.”
“Now, doctor? We’re getting ready to head home.”
“I suppose it could wait until tomorrow, but I would prefer if you came now. I’ve come across something you both need to see.”
Lilly tilted her head back at Konan and mouthed the word ‘morgue.’ Konan nodded and stood up. He shut down his computer and closed the files. Lilly nodded her head and said un-huh.
“Alright, doctor. We’re on our way.”
She hung up and shut down her computer. Konan watched Lilly as she slammed drawers shut and snatched up her purse.
“I swear, Konan. It’s like they know when we’re going home.”
Konan said nothing as they walked toward the garage. Lilly climbed into the driver’s seat and fired up the unmarked sedan. Konan sat in the passenger seat and buckled up.
“How is Gareth doing?”
“Oh, you know. Growing by leaps and bounds. He’s reading some.”
“That’s great. Is he getting tall?”
“No. The doctor said he’s average in his height, but at some point, he will grow.”
Konan laughed. “He’s three. He’s not supposed to be tall yet.”
Talking with Lilly while she drove was tricky. On one hand, it was not smart to distract the driver, especially Lilly, with meaningless conversation. It was the only way that Konan could deal with Lilly’s demolition derby style of driving. Lilly acted as if she competed with every driver on the road. In her opinion, “if you ain’t first, what’s the point?”
She pulled in at the morgue and hopped out. Konan stepped out and followed her into the morgue. Dr. Walker waited for them at the security guard’s desk.
“I thought you couldn’t do a rush job on the bodies, doc?”
“Detective Thompson, I didn’t perform a full autopsy, but I looked them over. Come with me.”
He led the detectives back to the storage room. The four bodies lay nude on the thin blue mattresses, a thin sheet covered their nakedness.
“I want to show you this. All four bodies have the same thing.” He pointed at the chests of each. The skin was brownish grey.
“What is that” Lilly asked.
“Poison, detective. All four of the bodies have traces of some type of poison in it. You can tell because no oxygen reached the blood cells.”
“Poisoned and shot? That’s a lot like overkill,” Konan said.
“Do you know what type of poison?”
“No, Detective Thompson. I haven’t even run my plethora of tests on them yet. I undressed them and noticed that all four had the same skin discoloration.”
“That’s a great catch, doc.”
“Thanks, Detective Konan. I appreciate it.”
Lilly and Konan left the morgue. She glanced at Konan as she maneuvered around the slower drivers. Konan held onto the door handle and prayed for a quick death.
“Poison? Who would use poison to kill four rednecks?”
“Assassins, governments, women, or any combination of the three, Lilly. Sometimes, it’s all three.”
“So, we’re looking for a female governmental assassin who killed four rednecks for reasons unknown?”
“Probably not, Lilly. It’s more likely we are looking for a female killer. Plus, the killer only used poison to weaken the rednecks. The killer shot all the victims and bashed in the head of one of them.”
“Well, that narrows it down. I reckon.”
Lilly raced into the parking garage and jammed on the brakes. Konan grunted, Lilly rolled her eyes, and stepped out.
“Do you want to meet here at 0900? We can get started searching for leads.”
“Yeah, Lilly. That’s fine with me. I’ll see you then.” Konan bid his partner a good evening and walked to the library to pick up his truck. A pair of eyes tracked his movements and then slipped into the shadows.
At 0900, Lilly and Konan received a call to report to the Internal Affairs building. Lynn Towers met the pair of detectives in the foyer.
“Good morning, detectives. Follow me, please.”
She led them into a private room on the ground floor. Two cameras hung in the corners of the room. Red lights blinked to show they worked.
Lynn Towers sat at the table and pointed at the two chairs. Konan and Lilly sat down at the table.
“What’s going on,” Konan asked. “Why are we being interviewed by IA?”
“I need to ask some questions about Yvonne Strauss.”
“Yvonne Strauss,” Lilly questioned. “What about her?”
“You two investigated her during your last case, yes?”
“Hold up,” Konan said as he held up his left hand. “You’re Internal Affairs. Civilians and civilian criminality are not your mission. Why are you interested?”
“I need to know if she had anything to do with Wilson Figueroa or his scams.”
“You didn’t mention why.”
“Detective Thompson, I’m IA. I don’t have to answer your questions. You answer mine.”
Konan cringed. The bossy-over educated-better than you-attitude might work in certain situations, but it did not have a place in this one. Lilly’s eyes widened, her eyebrows arched. She leaned over the table and glared at Lynn Towers.
“I’m not picking a fight, Detective Thompson. All I am saying…”
“I’m done talking about this,” Lilly snarled. “Let’s bounce, Konan.”
Konan shook his head and pushed his seat back from the table. He knew Lilly and knew she would not back down from anyone, especially Internal Affairs. Lilly stormed out of the office. Konan trailed behind her and shut the door.
Lilly stood beside the car. Her arms crossed, she bit on her lower lip. Konan walked up to the vehicle. Lilly glared at him.
“I don’t like that woman.”
“Yeah,” Konan said, nodding. “I noticed that in there. Perhaps you would like to go back and bust her in the head.”
“I would rather leave this place and go get breakfast.”
“Sounds good. How about Sparky’s for a loaded breakfast platter?”
“I can go for that.”
Konan drove them to Sparky’s. Unlike Lilly’s demolition derby style of driving, Konan maneuvered deftly through traffic. Whereas Lilly sped and braked like a NASCAR driver, Konan never exceeded the speed limit and braked well before known stops.
Their driving habits illuminated the nuances of the pair. Some distinctions were more pronounced than others. Still, Lilly and Konan operated like a well-oiled machine.
Sparky’s, a local favorite, served breakfast from sunup to sundown. They’d been in business for over fifty years. Konan pulled into an available parking spot. He and Lilly walked into the restaurant.
“Hi,” a cute hostess said as they walked through the foyer. “Welcome to Sparky’s.”
“Thanks,” the detectives said in unison.
The hostess led the pair to a table in the back of the dining area and handed them each a menu. Lilly studied the menu.
“What are you getting, Konan?”
“The Big Country Platter, and a cup of coffee.”
Their waitress came to the table. She was tall, rail thin, and had a pockmarked face. Heavy habitual drug use had stained her teeth black, her blonde hair was dirty. She smiled.
“What can I getcha?”
“Um, I’ll have the Big Country Platter and coffee,” Konan said. Lilly nodded.
“Make that two.”
“Sausage or bacon?”
“Bacon on both, please.”
“Okay,” she said. “I’ll be right back with your coffee, sugar.” She walked away, scratching her arms. Konan shook his head.
“Sad, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, Lilly. It is sad, but you can’t help but feel hopeful at the same time.”
“Oh? Why do you feel hopeful?”
“Because, despite her obvious habit and the effect it’s had on her body, she still showed up for work. She’s cheerful and well-mannered.”
“She could use a bath, Konan.”
“Sure, but I’m willing to bet that she is working to make a better life for herself, and maybe even a child or two.”
The server came back with two cups of black coffee. Konan glanced at her nametag. It listed her name as Judith.
“Have you worked long here, Judith?”
“Um, no, sir. I’ve been here about a month. Is something wrong?”
“No. Everything is fine. Thank you for bringing the coffee so quickly.”
“Oh, you’re welcome.”
She came back with the food. Lilly and Konan ate quickly. Lilly went and paid for the meal, Konan left the tip. He put a ten-dollar bill on the table and scribbled a note on a fresh napkin.
“Thank you for the excellent service you provided to my partner and I. I know that you’ve had a colorful past, but none of that matters now. You’ve started your journey toward a complete recovery. I am rooting for you. Take care, Detective Thermopolis Konan.”
Lilly waited in the foyer. She shook her head at Konan when he strolled up.
“What took you so long in there, Konan?”
“I needed to leave the tip, and I left a note to encourage our server.”
“Why are you so bent on helping that junkie? I don’t understand it.”
“What you don’t realize, Lilly, is that I struggled for many years with drug addiction.”
“At the end of my military career.”
“I didn’t know that. All this time we’ve been partners, and you’ve never mentioned it until now.”
“It’s not the highlight in my life, Lilly. No pun intended. I would have told you, eventually.”
“Well, I’m glad you told me now. We should head to work. Maybe Dr. Walker has discovered what poison the killer used in our murders.”
“We can only hope.”
Dr. Walker waited for them in the morgue’s foyer. A corncob pipe hung out of his mouth. He puffed on it. Tendrils of smoke drifted toward the ceiling.
“Come with me,” he said irritably.
He led Konan and Lilly to a small office off the main hallway. Pictures of the corpses lay on his desk. Dr. Walker numbered them in order of death.
“Okay, detectives. Let’s go through this. Victim #1 answered the door and got blasted. Killer rushed into the trailer. #2 got popped. #3 fired at the killer and got three bullets for his trouble. #4 took one round to the liver and then got his head bashed in. All four victims received a dosage of hemlock.”
“We knew the order of death and how they died,” Konan said. “Do you have anything new?”
“Yes. I know how they got poisoned.”
“I found pizza in their stomachs. They all had eaten prior to the gunplay.”
“Okay. The lab should have gone through the trash. We’ll see if they found any pizza boxes. Thanks, doc.”
“You’re welcome, detectives.”
Konan turned at the door, Dr. Walker looked at him and raised his eyebrows inquisitively.
“Could you tell me how long the poison was in their systems, perchance?”
“An exact timeframe from the contents of their stomach? Eh, I’ll try. From what remained, I’d say maybe 8 hours.”
Lilly and Konan walked out to the vehicle. Neither said anything until halfway back to the police station. Lilly looked over from the passenger seat.
“Someone poisoned them before shooting them. That makes no sense to me, Konan.”
“Yeah. I’m kind of stuck on that point, too. Why would you poison them and then shoot them? The poison would kill them, gradually at a slower rate than a bullet, but they would’ve still died, not to mention they would have suffered.”
“Unless there were two people trying to kill them. One poisoned them, the other shot them. That would make sense.”
“You would think that hemlock is rare and hard to purchase. Perhaps that would make it easier to track.”
Lilly did a precursory search on the internet. She shook her head and sighed heavily.
“You can buy frozen seeds and grow your own poison,” she muttered. Konan looked up and frowned. “So, we’re looking for someone who has the knowledge to grow it, harvest it, and use it to kill. So much for doing it the easy way.”
“Let’s hit the local greenhouses. Maybe they’ve got a record of someone who purchased it. Or maybe they know someone who grows it.”
“Maybe the killer is weak, Konan. What if the killer is ill?”
Konan pondered Lilly’s statement. It followed a weak person would need an advantage, but this ‘weak person’ also used a sledgehammer to kill one victim.
“You know, the notion of two people attempting to kill the same group of people is sound. From what I saw at the scene, and what we have found in their files, none of these people were outstanding citizens.”
“Yeah,” Lilly said quietly, “none seemed like folks you would take home to meet your parents. We should run all the employees of local pizza joints and then follow up on the medical side.”
“All we need now is a doctor who’s never heard of doctor-patient confidentiality.”
Lilly snorted and shook her head. Her lips pulled back into a smirk, and a giggle escaped from her. Konan grinned.
“Sounds good. Which do you want to do?”
“I can’t say no to pizza.”
“Okay,” Konan chuckled as he guided the vehicle into the parking garage, “I’ll pull some medical records and see what that gets us.”
Konan got out of the sedan and headed for the murder room. Lilly took the wheel and drove to the first of three pizza joints in Fredericksburg.
As Konan walked into the precinct, he considered how to get around doctor-patient confidentiality. “We don’t even have a suspect, and somehow I am expected to narrow down the list of potentials?”
Konan was nearly to the elevator when Lilly pulled into a parking spot. He frowned as she leapt from the vehicle.
“I forgot to check and see if the CSI goons found any pizza boxes while they searched the scene.”
“Neither one of us seems to have our heads screwed on right today.”
“Yeah. My son is teething. He’s up and down all night.”
“Put his pacifier in the freezer. That’ll numb his gums.”
“I’ll try that. Maybe then I can get more than half an hour of sleep at a time.”
Lilly pressed the button to go to the third floor where the labs were located. Konan got off on the second. He walked in and sat at his desk and powered on his computer. Chief Janko pulled up a seat next to him.
“What have you guys turned up?”
“Nothing much. The killer poisoned the victims, then shot them. Yes, we know how dumb that sounds. So, we’re theorizing that two different killers wanted the same result.”
Janko rubbed his head and then wiped his mustache. Konan waited for him to comment on what he heard.
“Where do we find these people? Two killers going after the same prize? Why?”
“Given the violence, I would say the victim crossed the killer. Or maybe it is good ole fashioned vengeance.”
“Maybe. Either way, this town needs them behind bars. I’ll let you get back to it.”
Konan pulled up the directory for the local hospital and then thought better of it. He stood and headed back to the lift. While he waited for the doors to open, he wondered how his partner was faring on the third floor.
Lilly got off the lift and signed in at a security checkpoint. The officer watched as she printed her badge number and name on the ledger.
“What do you need here, detective?”
“I need to speak to someone about what they discovered at my crime scene.”
“Are the phones off in the building?”
“Uh, no. I don’t guess. Why?”
“Most people call. Few ever come here, and we’re not fond of unannounced guests.”
“I’m not a guest. I’m a homicide detective. Now be an obedient dog and go get someone who can answer my questions.”
The security officer scowled at Lilly, but remained quiet. He turned and walked away. Shortly thereafter, he returned with a middle-aged woman.
“Are you Detective Thompson?”
“I am, and you are…”
“I’m in charge of the lab, name’s Rosie. Why didn’t you call like the rest of your peers?”
“What is the problem with me showing up? Y’all act like I’ve committed some horrendous crime, or I’ve broken the seal on your sterile environment. What is the problem?”
“No problem, detective. What did you need to know?”
“I have a murder where a killer used hemlock to murder four people. The victims ate pizza, which is how the killer poisoned them. Did your team recover any pizza boxes from the scene? If so, could you please test them for hemlock? Also, it would be a godsend if you could tell me the name of the pizza joint.”
“Yes, there were pizza boxes at the scene. We’re testing everything, but I will make a note about the hemlock. Wait, and I’ll grab that name for you.”
“Thank you,” Lilly responded curtly. “I swear, sometimes it’s like they forget we’re on the same team,” she muttered as Rosie disappeared from view.
A few moments later, Rosie walked up and handed her a piece of paper. Rosie had written Tina’s Pizza on the paper.
“Thanks for the assist. Next time, I’ll call.”
“You’re welcome, detective. Be careful out there.”
Lilly nodded and boarded the lift. She had a name to go with her lead. It wasn’t much, but it was more than she had when she started.
She got off the lift and walked toward the vehicle. Konan stood next to it. Her lips turned into a smirk and she asked, “what are you doing out here?”
“I figured I would ride with you to the pizza joint.”
“Okay. I thought you were looking into the medical side of the equation?”
“I was, and I figured I would visit the hospital instead of calling them. I’m more persuasive in person.”
“More charming too. Hop in, I’ve got a name.”
“Outstanding. Let’s go see what they have to say about the poisoned pie.”