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"Born of the Blade" - Part Seven

When we stepped inside the elevator and the doors closed behind us, Mouse said, "I hope the book's a quick read."
   
"We won't need it," I said as the elevator descended. "It's her."
   
Mouse whirled on me, saucer-eyed, then reached for the door button.
   
I grabbed her wrist. "Wait."
   
She gaped at me. "What?"
   
"Wait," I said. "Car."
   
Mouse's eyes went to slits. "But--"
   
"We're still on campus," I said.
   
Two seconds later, understanding crossed her face. "Shit," she said. "That could've been bad."
   
"Yeah," I said. "And we'd have given away our advantage."


*   *   *

When we were back in the Royale, Mouse turned to me. "Okay," she said. "You sure it's her? How do you figure?"
   
"Hunch," I said. "Same hunch I had with Val's stalker."
   
"Dress-up-as-dead-mom Guy?"
   
I nodded.
   
Mouse frowned. "Okay, I'll bite. You haven't been wrong with your hunches. Yet."
   
"Gee, thanks," I said.
   
"So how are we playing this?"
   
"Need to check on McCarthy more," I said, pulling out my phone.   


*   *   *
   
"Elaine Abberline McCarthy," said Val, her voice tinny on the phone's speaker. "Forty-three, born in Bay City, 1999. Divorced, 26 September 2042."
   
"Six weeks ago," I said.
   
"Well, the papers were filed and signed as of the 26th," said Val. "I think it's another six months before it's all final. And get this: she leased a condo on September 18th. West Park Condominiums, over on 40th."
   
A thought struck.
   
"Val," I said, "Can you check on a BCU student for me?"
   
"I can try. You know what I said about their 'jockeys."
   
"Get whatever you can on a student named Charlene Meyer."
   
"Wilco," said Val. "Let me call you back."
   
After I hung up, Mouse said, "McCarthy's girlfriend?"
   
I nodded. "Another hunch."
   
"We could just follow her out of campus and take her down then," said Mouse. "Save us all this."
   
"It's still just a hunch," I said. "Better to make sure."   
   
"Like we did with Whatshisname. Mr. Dress-up-as-dead-mom."
   
"Olson," I said.    
   
"Yeah," said Mouse. "Olson." She nodded. "Okay. We make sure."
   

*   *   *

 
When the black and white Campus Security cruiser began to circle our end of the parking lot for a second time, I started the Royale, put her into gear, and pulled out of the lot.
   
The cruiser followed us onto 34th Street, keeping two car lengths when we stopped at the light on Steiner.
   
"Still there," said Mouse, flicking a glance at her side mirror.
   
"I see him," I said, keeping an eye on the rearview.
   
The signal light turned green and I continued east on 34th.
   
The cruiser followed.
   
Dammit.
   
"Trouble?" said Mouse.
   
"Hope to hell not," I said, switching glances between the windshield and the rearview.
   
We crossed Grove Street and were halfway to Mason when the cruiser slowed, made a U-turn in the middle of the street, and headed back toward campus.
   
I let out a relieved breath.
   
"That was close," said Mouse, flicking a glance at the side mirror.
   
"Too close for me," I said, turning onto Mason Street and heading south. "I'll find someplace to pull off and wait for Val's callback."
   
Ten minutes later, we found street parking a block from the White Rabbit on Grove past 41st and my phone chirped.
   
Val.
   
I cut the engine, put the phone on speaker, and placed it on the dash holder.
   
"Woohoo!" said Val. "That was fun. Not."
   
"Find something?"
   
"Some basics," she said. "Before a nosy 'jockey got in my face. I think I lost them in London. Idiot."
   
"What've you got?"
   
"Charlene Meyer, twenty-three.  Born 2019, San Angeles. Criminology major. Started BCU in '37. Current 3.6 GPA. Dean's List twice in a row. And just withdrew from classes on October 10th. Request form states family emergency."
   
"Tanya said she hadn't been to class since mid-October," said Mouse.
   
Tanya's voice echoed in my head: She left her husband when she hooked up with Charlene.
   
Raya: Charlene left her for another woman.
   
Then McCarthy: He was really out for revenge.   
   
My forearms prickled.
   
I said, "Val, do you have an image of Charlene?"
   
"Yeah, I do--holy shit."
   
Mouse and I exchanged looks.
   
"Sending to you now," said Val amid key taps.
   
A moment later, my phone trilled.
   
I checked.
   
Charlene Meyer looked out at us. Olive-skinned. Round faced. Dark eyes. Shoulder-length red-brown hair.
   
Our Copper Girls.
   
"Meter sixty-five tall, right?" I said.
   
"Yup," said Val.
   
Mouse sucked in air. "Holy shit."
   
"Got more on your Professor," said Val. "Her bank account's been drained as of October 16th. Eighty-five hundred and change there one day, gone the next. No savings. She's completely broke. And that condo? Notice of eviction on October 25th. Nonpayment. Insufficient funds."
   
"That's it," I said. "Charlene's the key. The trigger. She runs off with another woman. McCarthy must've found out. Bad ending. Remember what Raya said?"
   
Mouse nodded.
   
I went on: "Then McCarthy's account gets wiped. Val, Meyer's listed as an user on McCarthy's account, right?"
   
"Yup," said Val. "Authorized user."
   
"She drained it before she skipped town," I said. "No funds so McCarthy gets booted from her condo. She loses it. Literally. Loses everything. Snaps. Can't take it out on Charlene.  She's gone. So she finds someone else to take it out on."
   
"Brittany," said Mouse. "Sheena. Eve. Cuz they look like Charlene."
   
"Yeah."
   
"But why them specifically?"
   
"She must've fixated on them somehow," I said.
   
Then a thought struck.
   
"Jack the Ripper," I said. "His victims were prostitutes. He sliced their throats, slashed their faces. Like the girls. When McCarthy was talking about him, she had an expression on her face like she worshipped him."
   
"Funny you should say Jack the Ripper," said Val. "McCarthy's grad school thesis was on Jack the Ripper."
   
"So McCarthy has a mental break," said Mouse, "Loses her shit. Thinks she's Jack the Ripper, and goes after the Copper Girls as revenge for Charlene leaving her."
   
"Yeah," I said.
   
"One more thing," said Val. "Should've mentioned this earlier but we got sidetracked."
   
"What's that?" I said.
   
"That car from the motel," said Val. "I followed it on street cam feeds."
   
"And?"
   
"On all three dates, the car comes out of the motel lot after each of the girls is knocked down and dragged away. The tags were covered so I couldn't run it but the feeds showed the car logo on the hood. ToyoHonda. And it's the right size for a Daimyo. Guess who happens to own a ToyoHonda Daimyo."
   
"McCarthy," said Mouse.
   
"Yup," said Val. "Burgundy. Three years old. I tracked the car from the motel into Southside to Jacques, but I lost the feeds there."
   
Damn Southside. No cams past Jacques. The punkergangs saw to that. And any that remained were burned-out shells or shattered remnants.
   
"But on the good side," Val went on, "I did some back checking. I show the same car following the girls and their clients when they drive away from the White Rabbit to the motel."
   
Things suddenly clicked together.
   
"It's definitely McCarthy," I said. "She stalked the Copper Girls working the White Rabbit. Targeted the ones who looked like Charlene Meyer. Knew their movements and got to them at the best possible moment."
   
"Outside the motel," said Mouse. "Like in the feed."
   
"And at the exact same spot every time," I said. "Pre-planned. We saw it."
   
"Kat," said Mouse, a frown creasing her face. "Did we just tip her off by talking to her?"
   
I felt my gut drop.
   
"Good question," I said. "I don't know." I thought a moment and a memory struck. "Wait. I don't think so."
   
"You sure?"
   
"Yeah," I said. "Toward the end she was acting like no one would find out. She said most killers disappear into the crowd and escape capture. And she believed it. That tone in her voice." I shuddered inwardly at the recollection.
   
"Okay," said Mouse. "Certifiable psycho. Check. This'll be fun. How do we take her down?"
   
"If she believes she's not going to get caught, she'll probably try again. We'll catch her when she does."
   
"Hunch again?"
   
"Yup," I said.
   
Mouse gave a feral chuckle. "Wiz."


(to be continued...)


"Born of the Blade"
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5
Part 6 | Part 8
 

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