A few yards away, she saw a tall, slender man dressed in a dark-colored parka coming from the back area of the jail where they released prisoners. Because his hood was up, she couldn’t see his face. When he started walking briskly toward her, she worried he might be someone she’d handled who was bent on revenge. She quickly glanced over her shoulder to see if there was someone behind her. The man raised his head slightly and ran toward her.
Slamming back against the car, Carolyn dropped her briefcase as she reached into her purse for her gun. Before she could get it out, the man seized her by the shoulders. “Damn you, Neil,” she shouted at her brother, shoving him in the chest. “What in God’s name are you doing? I almost shot you.”
The megawatt smile appeared and Carolyn’s anger instantly disappeared. “I came to see you,” he said. “And this is the treatment I get? Why are you so jumpy?”
Neil was a handsome, successful artist. At six-two, he had dark hair and expressive green eyes, a lanky frame, and strong but classic features. “I’m not jumpy,” Carolyn said, retrieving her briefcase. “I work with criminals, in case you’ve forgotten. You never know when one’s going to come after you. I have to be alert. Most of them hate me.”
“How could anyone hate you?” he said, draping an arm over her shoulder, then taking the umbrella from her so they could share it. “They’ve probably got the hots for you, sis. You’re a good-looking woman, even if you are past your prime.”
Carolyn stomped on his toe, causing him to yelp. “That was a joke, I hope.”
“Jesus,” he said, walking beside her as she headed toward the building. “Of course it was a joke. First you try to shoot me; then you try to cripple me. Where are we going, by the way? I’m starving. Don’t they have a cafeteria or something in this place? I’ll buy you breakfast.”
She stopped and stared at him. He generally worked all night and slept all day. He hadn’t shaved, so she assumed he hadn’t been to bed yet. “Is something wrong?”
“Sort of,” Neil said. “Nothing major. I mean, I don’t have a disease or anything. I wouldn’t mind selling a few paintings, but that’s not what I came to talk about.”
“Where’s the new toy?”
He laughed. “The Ferrari? Didn’t I tell you? The woman’s husband sued me. The car’s been locked up in a warehouse for the past month. Her old man was having an affair with a younger woman, so she traded it for spite. The guy screwed himself because he put the car in his wife’s name. Just because she traded it for four of my paintings didn’t mean it wasn’t legal. I was hoping they’d take the car back and give me the cash, but they released it to me yesterday. I didn’t want to drive it in the rain. I’m still getting used to the way it handles.”
They ducked inside the building and Carolyn folded up her umbrella. “Look, Neil,” she said, touching his arm, “I love you, but I don’t have time to have breakfast. Traffic was terrible this morning and I’m running late. Can you call me tonight after the kids are in bed?”
“Please, Carolyn,” he said, turning serious. “I have to do something about Melody.”
People were streaming past them. Carolyn pulled him into a corner. “We talked about this the other day, Neil. I hate to say it, but you created this mess. You should have stopped seeing Melody when you got back together with Laurel.”
“I know. I know.” He pushed the hood back on his parka and ran his hands through his thick black hair. “I’m in a bind here. I’m in love with Laurel. I’ve been wild about her since we were in high school. She finally divorced her husband. I’m meeting her for lunch today. I might ask her to marry me. Should I tell Melody the truth or make up some kind of story?”
“Here’s the deal,” Carolyn said. “Listen closely because I need you to help me. Call John and Rebecca. They should be at the house no later than four. Tell Rebecca you’re going to stop by and look at her drawings. You promised to help her if I enrolled her in art school. Since John got his driver’s license, he isn’t around as much. I should be home by eight. We can talk then.”
“I’m always taking care of your kids,” he complained. “Can’t you give me a few seconds of your time? I drove all the way down here.”
“Not now, honey,” Carolyn said. “Brad called me at six o’clock this morning. Veronica went into labor last night and I have to finish one of her reports. It’s a big case, Neil, that multiple murder, the one where the whole family was killed, including three small children. You must have heard about it.”
Neil was brooding. “I don’t watch the news.”
“Okay, listen,” she said, placing her palm in the center of his chest. “I promise I’ll call you after my meeting.” She looked at her watch, knowing she had to end their conversation. “I’m supposed to be at the jail interviewing the defendant right now. Are you going straight home? Have you slept yet?”
“I’m not planning to go back to bed, if that’s what you mean.”
Carolyn stood on her tiptoes and kissed him on the cheek. “You could make this decision by yourself, you know. In reality, you probably should.”
His eyes were red with exhaustion. “You’re my big sister. I never make a decision without you. I’m not a murderer or anything, but this is important. Don’t you care? I’m about to ask someone to marry me. Laurel will be a part of our family. All I need is for you to help me figure out how to handle the situation with Melody. What time will you be through with your interview?”
“Before noon,” Carolyn told him. “Go home, give this more thought; then when we talk, you’ll have a better handle on everything. Once I hear the whole story, I’ll give you my opinion. The sooner you let me do my job, the sooner we can talk.”
She waited until he walked off, then hurried off toward the entrance to the men’s jail.
Punching open the doors, Carolyn stepped up to a glass window. Her shoulder-length dark hair was pushed behind her left ear. The other side swung forward onto her cheek when she moved. Wearing a belt that accentuated her small waistline, she wasn’t as thin as one of her brother’s models, but she was also the mother of two teenagers. Most people thought she looked younger than her thirty-eight years.
The Ventura County government center complex was similar to a small city. The courts, district attorney’s and public defender’s offices, as well as the records division, were all housed on the left side of a large, open space. A bubbling fountain stood in the center, surrounded by concrete benches. To the right was the Correction Services Agency, the formal name for the probation department, as well as the sheriff ’s department, and the women’s and men’s jails. The general public assumed that the two structures were not connected, yet an underground tunnel was used to transport inmates back and forth to the courthouse.
The jail was actually a pretrial detention facility, and as a result of housing over one thousand inmates with a rated capacity of 412, the fairly new facility had an infrastructure of a thirty-year-old building. Ten years ago, the county had erected another detention center, which was called the Todd Road Jail, and was located in the city of Santa Paula. Todd Road was designed to hold over 750 sentenced male inmates. Only the minor or repeat offenders served their time in jail. Serious offenders were sentenced to prison.
On the other side of the window, a dark-haired deputy named Joe Powell looked shocked when he read the prisoner’s name on the inmate visitation request sheet. “You can’t see Raphael Moreno. He’s in solitary. Only two more days and we get rid of this piece of shit.”
Moreno had decapitated his disabled mother and murdered his twelve-year-old sister. Leaving their bodies in the house, he’d gone on a killing spree.
His next victims were a family of five. The father had been a thirty-one-year-old real estate agent. The mother had been a stay-at-home mom who cared for the couple’s three children. Moreno had entered through a rear window just after dark, lying in wait inside a closet in the baby’s room.
When the mother came in to put the six-month-old boy to bed, Moreno had gunned down her and the child, then shot and killed the father and the couple’s other two children. The Ventura police had found all five bodies lined up military-style in the living room.
The case had perplexed the authorities. Nothing was taken from the residence, and Moreno had as yet to provide them with a motive for the killings.
“I have to see him,” Carolyn said into the microphone. “And I have to see him immediately, Joe.”
“Listen,” he told her, “all you investigators wait until the last minute to finish your work. The captain says we don’t have to take it anymore. Besides, there’s no way you can interview Moreno in a room. He’s one of the most dangerous inmates we’ve ever had.” He turned to a powerfully built black sergeant with a shiny shaved head. “Tell her what our pal Raphael did last night. She wants to play patty-cake with him.”
“He tried to kill three inmates,” Bobby Kirsh said, leaning over Powell’s shoulder. “This is a mean son of a bitch. I know one when I see one. I’ve been on the job for twenty years. A little over a hundred and thirty pounds and he took down all three in a matter of minutes. No way you gonna get a face-to-face.” He turned away, then tossed something into the bin. “Take a look at what he did before you end up like this guy.”
She picked up the photograph, horrified at what she saw—the bloodied face of a black man with his left eye missing from the socket. “What happened to his eye?”
“Moreno snatched it out. Since we didn’t find it, we assume he ate it.”
Maybe Bobby was right and Moreno was too dangerous. Collecting herself, she mustered up a stoic look, determined not to back down.
The sergeant continued his litany, “We found the second guy with a shattered hand stuffed in his ass, his dislocated shoulder dangling like a dishrag.” He grimaced. “I don’t even want to tell you what he did to the third guy.”
“Put him in a room, Bobby,” Carolyn said, scared but challenged. She wanted to break Moreno, now more than ever. “You know our reports are mandated by law. You also know how I work. Moreno has never cracked. He didn’t say more than two words to his public defender. The DA negotiated a sentence of seven consecutive counts of second-degree murder. No death penalty. No life without parole. Moreno’s only twenty years old. He might live another sixty years and kill dozens of people.” She decided to try a personal appeal. “If he’d killed your family, wouldn’t you want to know what makes him tick?”
“Not this one,” the older officer said. “When Moreno first came in, we placed bets on how long he’d last. I was sure the prisoners would turn him into dog meat within twenty-four hours. Jesus, he sliced off his mother’s head and shot a six-month-old baby. Every cop in the county, on the street or inside, would blowtorch Moreno and call it a barbecue if they thought they could get away with it. Even my wife offered to take him out.”
“I understand,” Carolyn said. “That’s just talk, Bobby. Right now, I’m the only one who can do anything.”
“The three inmates he tangled with last night are bigger than me. You’re good, Carolyn, but you’re not going to get inside this maniac’s head.”
The longer she stood there, the less chance she had of getting the information she needed. The only people who seemed to appreciate the role investigative probation officers played in the criminal justice system were judges. Probation officers did most of their work for them. They pulled the case together from arrest to conviction. Then they applied the laws as directed by the judicial counsel in San Francisco.
Probation officers spent sleepless nights trying to decide what sentence should be administered. When the sentencing judge picked up the case file in the courtroom, his eyes swept over the probation officer who had handled it. Fifty years in prison, sure, no problem. The judge was only following the probation officer’s recommendation. No blood on his hands.
“Our reports are reviewed at every parole hearing,” Carolyn reminded the sergeant. “You want this guy back on the street? Put him in a room and I’ll destroy him. He’ll never taste freedom again.”
She heard the buzzer for the door and stepped inside. “How long?” she asked, storing her gun in a locker.
“Give me ten,” Bobby said to the other deputy.
“Can’t you set him up faster?”
“Are you nuts, woman?” he told her. “I’m talking about ten men.” He stared at her briefcase. “What’s in there? Open it up.”
Carolyn’s frustrations escalated. “I don’t have to submit to a search. You saw me lock up my weapon.” Scowling, she opened the brown leather satchel. “A yellow pad and three file folders. Satisfied?”
Sergeant Kirsh reached into one of the compartments, pulling out a pair of panty hose, then dangling them in front of her face. “Good thing I looked, just for your sake. I thought you were smart, Carolyn,” he said. “Moreno could strangle you with these things.” He dropped them into her hand. “Put them in a locker or toss them. You’re not taking them in with you.”
“Thanks, Bobby,” she said, depositing the hose in the trash can. “I didn’t know I had them. I keep an extra set of nylons in case I get a run.”
The sergeant put his meaty hands on his hips, tilting his head to one side. “Sure you still want a face-to-face?”
Carolyn let her eyes answer for her.
Twenty minutes later, Carolyn sat two feet away from a sadistic killer in an eight-by-eight room. Her palms were sweating and her mind was racing. She turned sideways in her seat and read through the incident report from the night before, wanting to give him a chance to get used to her. A pungent scent drifted past her nostrils. She assumed it was his body odor. Masking her true feelings, she kept her expression pleasant and nonjudgmental.
Raphael Moreno sat perfectly still, his head held high, his back straight. Fifteen minutes passed as Carolyn studied him out of the corner of her eye. He might be small, but his body was well developed. His arms were laced with sinewy muscles, the kind you saw on farmworkers. His features were somewhat refined, almost handsome. He looked more like a native of South America than Mexico, possibly Argentina or Colombia. His skin was brown and thick. In several places, it appeared either badly chafed or discolored. He may have gotten the best of three inmates in last night’s fight, but he hadn’t walked away without injuries. His kidneys had been bruised and he had suffered a concussion. She suspected the three inmates had attempted to sodomize him. They had picked the wrong man. All three had been seriously injured.