"Did Dr. Argent work on the fifth floor?"
"Nope. Hers were all 1026's."
"Besides total crazies and ninety-day losers, who else do you have here?" said Milo.
"We've got a few mentally disordered sex offenders left," said Dollard. "Pedophiles, that kind of trash. Maybe thirty of 'em. We used to have more but they keep changing the law--stick 'em here, nope, the prison system, oops, back here, unh-uh, prison. Dr. Argent didn't hang with them, either, least that I noticed."
"So the way you see it, what happened to her couldn't relate to her work here."
"You got it. Even if one of her guys got out--and they didn't--none of them could've killed her and stashed her in the trunk. None of them could plan that well."
We were at the gate. Tan men standing still, like oversized chess pieces. The faraway machine continued to grind.
Dollard flicked a hand back at the yard. "I'm not saying these guys are harmless, even with all the dope we pump into them. Get these poor bastards delusional enough, they could do anything. But they don't kill for fun--from what I've seen, they don't take much pleasure from life, period. If you can even call what they're doing living."
He cleared his throat, swallowed the phlegm. "Makes you wonder why God would take the trouble to create such a mess."
Two corpses in car trunks. Claire Argent was the second.
The first, found eight months earlier, was a twenty-five-year-old would-be actor named Richard Dada, left in the front storage compartment of his own VW Bug in the industrial zone north of Centinela and Pico--a warren of tool-and-die shops, auto detailers, spare-parts dealers. It took three days for Dada's car to be noticed. A maintenance worker picked up the smell. The crime scene was walking distance from the West L.A. substation, but Milo drove over to the scene.
In life, Dada had been tall, dark, and handsome. The killer stripped off his clothes, bisected him cleanly at the waist with a tooth-edged weapon, dropped each segment in a heavy-duty black plastic lawn bag, fastened the sacks, stashed them in the Volkswagen, drove to the dump spot, most probably late at night, and escaped without notice. Cause of death was loss of blood from a deep, wide throat slash. Lack of gore in the bags and in the car said the butchery had been accomplished somewhere else. The coroner was fairly certain Dada was already dead when cut in half.
"Long legs," Milo said, the first time he talked to me about the case. "So maybe cutting him solved a storage problem. Or it was part of the thrill."
"Or both," I said.
He frowned. "Dada's eyes were taken out, too, but no other mutilation. Any ideas?"
"The killer drove Dada's car to the dump spot," I said, "so he could've left on foot and lives close by. Or he took the bus and you could interview drivers, see if any unusual passengers got on that night."
"I've already talked to the bus drivers. No memory of any conspicuously weird passengers. Same for taxi drivers. No late-night pickups in the neighborhood, period."
"By 'unusual' I didn't mean weird," I said. "The killer probably isn't bizarre-looking. I'd guess just the opposite: composed, a good planner, middle-class. Even so, having just dumped the VW, he might've been a little worked up. Who rides the bus at that hour? Mostly night-shift busboys and office cleaners, a few derelicts. Someone middle-class might be conspicuous."
"Makes sense," he said, "but there was no one who stuck in any of the drivers' memories."
Excerpted from Monster by Jonathan Kellerman. Copyright© 1999 by Jonathan Kellerman. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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