Home > The Last Move(12)

The Last Move(12)
Author: Mary Burton

“I’d like to accompany you as you investigate Gloria Sanchez’s background. It’ll help me make a determination faster.”

“Sure.” His phone chirped with a text from the medical examiner, and he responded back. “Dr. Ryland is ready for us.”

She took one last sip of coffee and stood. “I’m ready.”

Both tossed their cups, and she followed him to a bank of elevators at the end of the hallway. When the doors opened, they stepped inside and he pressed the button to the basement. She stood ramrod straight and made no effort at conversation. He supposed this type of antisocial quirkiness was part of a brilliant mind. Warm and fuzzy didn’t figure into the Kate Hayden equation.

The familiar antiseptic smell filled the air of the autopsy suite. He’d seen more autopsies than he could count and had developed a detachment to death until Caleb had died. Since then, he found it harder to see the body on the table as evidence.

They moved down the gray tiled hallway under the ultra-bright lights toward Dr. Grant Ryland’s office. He knocked twice on the closed door.

“Come in.” The doctor’s voice was deep and gravelly and perfectly fit the tall, broad-shouldered Texan who’d played center for the University of Texas fifteen years ago. Dr. Ryland looked up from a stack of papers and tugged off dark-rimmed glasses as he rose and came around the desk. “Detective.”

“Thanks for working us in today, Doc. I’d like to introduce you to Dr. Kate Hayden with the FBI.”

Dr. Ryland extended his hand to Kate. “Dr. Hayden.”

Her grip appeared strong, and her eye contact had laser precision. “Dr. Ryland.”

“This case is a hot one, Dr. Ryland,” Mazur said. The fact that he’d landed a high-profile case had pissed off the detectives who wanted the attention and pleased the ones who had been waiting for him to get enough rope to hang himself. “Everyone from the governor’s office down to my captain wants it solved.”

Dr. Ryland shifted to Kate. “Anything I should be looking for when I autopsy the patient?”

“The Samaritan’s bullet of choice is a 9 mm hollow point. He shoots one bullet to the heart, which does maximum damage as the bullet mushrooms on impact. My primary concern is the ballistics, which will tell me if this victim was shot with the Samaritan’s gun.”

“The Samaritan’s gun was never recovered, correct?” Mazur asked.

“It was not,” she said.

“Did all the Samaritan victims die immediately?”

“They were all shot in their cars and were dead within seconds. The medical teams estimated that each, with their catastrophic injuries, had bled out within half an hour to an hour.” She touched the middle of her breastbone. “He targets the same area every time. Even though nearly point-blank, it’s harder than you think to consistently hit the same area on a living target.”

“Has Richardson hinted to why he chose a bullet he knew would shred his victims’ hearts?” Mazur asked.

“He hasn’t confessed to the killings. He still maintains his innocence,” she said.

“I thought men like him enjoy talking about their crimes,” Mazur said.

“He’s not ready to talk,” she said. “He would like to be freed and to kill again.”

“Let’s have a look,” Dr. Ryland suggested.

The trio found their way to the locker rooms. As Mazur stripped off his coat and hung it in a locker, Dr. Hayden tugged off the large windbreaker, revealing a trim waist and full breasts. She quickly tugged on a gown, which swallowed up her small, very fit frame.

She rolled up the sleeves twice before they reached her wrist. With her hair clipped back and tucked in a cap, her face looked sterner. He suspected she understood a softer hairstyle and eye-catching figure weren’t necessarily assets when dealing with law enforcement and sociopaths, both groups searching for weakness.

Another set of rooms led to the autopsy suite, equipped with four workstations, each outfitted with a stainless-steel table mounted to a large sink. A collection of instruments was lined up on a counter beside the sink. There was a whiteboard for notes, and across the room a CD player softly played country music.

The sheet-clad body of Gloria Sanchez was wheeled into the room on a gurney and positioned before Dr. Ryland’s station.

The technician opened a sterile pack of instruments for the doctor and switched on the overhead light and microphone. Everyone donned eye protection.

Dr. Ryland pulled back the sheet just enough to reveal the pale drawn features of Gloria Sanchez’s face. Her head rested in a cradle placed under the base of her neck. Her dark hair had been washed and brushed flat and her makeup removed.

He’d watched some of her car commercials on YouTube last night. All featured Gloria decked out in some kind of fancy outfit as she moved easily between rows of cars and pitched the latest deal. Christmas in July. End of the Year Blowout. She was comfortable on camera and seemed to relish its attention. There were other clips of her on local television as she discussed fundraisers she sponsored or the latest charity drive.

She was flamboyance and showmanship rolled into a tight, seductive bundle. She clearly enjoyed the limelight.

He refocused on the still, lifeless face now stippled with small brown spots, the skin drooping. In the nearly thirty-four hours since she’d died, rigor mortis had come and gone. If left alone, her belly would soon bloat as the microorganisms broke down all the tissues in her body. In a Chicago winter she would remain fairly intact for months. In Texas heat, her flesh would be stripped to bones in two weeks.

Dr. Ryland pulled back the sheet. The blood had been washed away from the single chest wound resting squarely between her enhanced breasts. The bullet hole didn’t look savage or destructive, but if this killer had used a hollow-point bullet like the Samaritan, then her insides would be hamburger.

The doctor took several pictures for his files before tugging the microphone down a little closer to his mouth. He stated the date and time, named the victim, and listed the personnel present at the autopsy. “The technician pulled hair fibers from her body when prepping it for autopsy. The samples have been bagged and sent to the Forensic Department.”

“Good,” Mazur said.

After a detailed external examination, which inventoried a couple of scars on her left leg, an appendix scar, and a scroll tattoo at the base of her spine, he reached for the scalpel and made a Y-incision above her breasts and down the center of her stomach to her belly.

Kate watched without blinking as the doctor peeled away the flesh and cracked the exposed rib cage with a set of bone cutters. A couple of times she leaned in to get a better look, lingering until she was satisfied.

When Dr. Ryland lifted the rib cage away and set it beside the body, Kate tilted her head as she peered into the body cavity.

Dr. Ryland pointed to where the heart should be. The destruction was total. “No doubt a hollow point. Death was immediate.”

“Why aim for the heart?” Mazur asked.

“There’s symbolism in that,” said Dr. Hayden. “I believe each woman reminded Dr. Richardson of a mother, wife, or lover. He doesn’t damage their faces, but he obliterates their hearts.”

“What’s Richardson’s love life look like?” Mazur asked.

“I’ve not been able to identify any girlfriends. He did frequent prostitutes, though none I spoke to reported any violent behavior.”

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