Short Story: One of a Kind

Her legs were spread. Feet flat. Knees bent. She lie on her back with her arms out, as if waiting. Rigor mortis had already set in. The blood had left her cheeks and now she was pale, streaked with blue. Her eyes were closed, lips frosted with death’s chafe. Were it not for those damning details, she’d have been mistaken for a sculpture.

Detective “Iron” Ron Beck had seen more than a few beautiful women dead. None were ever so obviously posed. Then again, none had been victims of “The Uptown Lover.” That was what the papers called him, anyhow. It pissed Iron off, made him sick– for a man with a lead-lined gut, that was saying something.

Mostly, it made him sick because the women were all low-esteem types: The first was runner-up in Miss Universe. The second, a first-string replacement for a Prima Ballerina. The Third was an up-and-comer for an “alt-girl” modeling company. She too, was second to the company’s fan-favorite. Iron Ron had no doubts; this girl would prove similar.

All of them had been found like this: in sexual positions, either waiting patiently, presenting, or mid-act. Ron found the latter the worst. The girls’ dead-eyes made their poses morbid. One girl’s eyes had been half open, rolled back, as if mid-orgasm.

The level of obsession required would’ve made Iron’s skin crawl thirty years earlier. Now it was just another detail. He’d seen the most gruesome hack-jobs by latin-gangs, the pavement marks from free-fall suicides. He’d found soured, back-alley drug-deals ended by the most brutal stabbings and shootings. And in all of it, nothing had ever bothered him like this.

It was personal. Too personal. Detachment was a necessity to a murder. Even a murder of passion. The perpetrator saw themselves outside themselves. They watched their actions as if in the body of another. Or they blacked out entirely.

The “Uptown” murders lacked detachment. Attachment was the point. There was a connection here. One so strong it led to the posing. There was no evidence of sexual foul-play either. No necrophilia. No rape. The women all had the slight vaginal tearing common of beautiful, sexually active women. The M-E said they could’ve as easily been caused by by masturbation or tampons.

Forensics had concluded all the deaths were drug-related. All overdoses. The pallor of pooled blood in the extremities confirmed the girls were posed shortly after death. The lack of struggle suggested they’d been drugged unwittingly or willingly. Toxicology confirmed oral ingestion alongside wine. Thus far, the three deaths were officially ODs, death by cardiac or respiratory failure.

But someone caught on in the media. “Uptown Lover” was published. Since then, it’d been riding the headlines. In “Iron” Ron’s mind, they weren’t wrong about the murder. But officially, the girls could just as easily have been coaxed into suicide. In the end, someone they knew well was involved. Someone present. Moments after their deaths, they were posed like sex-dolls, presenting or cumming.

The department psychologists were having a field day. According to them the killer was male, late-30’s, a begrudging desk-jockey, and a closeted homosexual with a fetish for snuff-films. What was more, because of the nature of the overdoses, he likely saw himself as helpful. When the girls confided in him, they opened the door to his manipulation. That allowed him to maneuver them. He had a silver-tongue, they said.

Iron didn’t believe any of it. His gut said not to. Where it went, the rest of him followed. At the moment, it led him from the third body to the OIC: a veteran beat-cop named Matthew Ortega.

Matt had a left-ward lean from a permanent piece of shrapnel in the left side of his back. It was too painful to stand-upright. A junky with a shotgun had tried to waste him from behind at point-blank range. The result was the left-lean and a penchant for having to “sit this one out.”

Ortega didn’t like sitting out. Ever. So he jumped at any chance to help. Right now, Iron needed that.

“Matt, get a me a list of the girl’s closest contacts. All of them. Line them up for questioning and put someone on it. I want the transcripts and vid-footage afterward. Bring ’em to me. ‘Til then, work on getting the same from the other girls.”

Matt obliged by hobbling off toward another blue. Iron left the pop of camera flashes behind, headed home. It wasn’t more than a few hours before he was called back to the station to sift through the evidence Ortega’d procured.

He spent hours sorting it, reviewing the vids. That time had afforded him some better idea of the people the victims surrounded themselves with. Most were sycophants, latent sociopaths. Nothing unusual for Los Angeles. In Iron’s opinion, it would’ve been more worrying if there hadn’t been those types. None of them were family. The latest victim didn’t appear to have any on record.

The image he’d formed rivaled that of the psychologists. In all he’d surmised this much: the killer’s gender was indecipherable, but they were prone to comforting self-conscious women, coveted them. Their occupation allowed for it, that much was obvious by how practiced they needed to be. At that, they certainly were skilled. Silver-tongued. Negotiating was important. Manipulation was necessary to their survival, and useful for killing.

As for the aftermath of the murders, there were still questions. The meticulous positions suggested contradictory opinions. Either the killer was a latent homosexual, wishing to be beautiful like their victims. Or, conversely, the killer thought themselves an artist doing the victims justice. Making them unique, special.

Too many questions remained about the bodies. Iron didn’t allow his analysis to rely on them. It wasn’t necessary anyhow. The “why” was less important than the “how” of their closesness.

He was reading the lists of the victims’ connections when the answer hit. He was up and running like an Olympic sprinter, eyeing his watch. It was near the end of the day. Not near enough to miss his chance though.

Before long, Iron burst through the office-door of talent agent Laura Gainer. A half-dozen uniformed officers followed him. Between he and them, Gainer’s assistant was barking promptly. She was expertly ignored. Gainer was up, out of her seat. Either terrified from the intrusion, or with the thought in mind to fight or flee. Iron’s blue-wall wasn’t about to let either happen.

“Laura Gainer,” Iron said, stepping around behind her. “You are under arrest for the murders of–” He repeated the victims’ names, recited Gainer’s Miranda rights. He was magnetizing the wall of blue to him as he forced Gainer through it for a squad car outside.

They passed through her office toward an elevator, got in to ride it down.

“You seduced and killed four women, Ms. Gainer. First befriending them as a talent agent, you used their repeated failures to maneuver them. Would-be contracts were a farce. Their failures mounted. The women became emotional, vulnerable. You took advantage, convinced them to experiment sexually. Expand their appeal. Then, you used the connection to coerce them into overdosing.”

Beck pushed her from the elevator into the lobby. People gawked at the blue-wall and the cuffed woman. As he was speaking, Iron reasoned the rest out.

“Then, immediately following their last breaths, you began posing them in sexual positions. The reason was simple; you were doing them a service, making them unique at last.”

He shoved Gainer into the back of a squad car. Ortega hobbled over. Beck had asked to meet him there at the precise moment.

Ortega handed over a packet of papers, “Everything you asked for.”

“You read it?”

Ortega nodded. “Checks out.”

The blue-wall finally broke apart and the squad cars outside filed away one-by-one.

Beck watched them go, “I never had a doubt.”

Ortega mirrored his gaze, “How’d you figure it out?”

Beck’s eyes narrowed as Gainer’s car shrank into the distance. “Everyone wishes they were one of a kind. Few are.”

Ortega’s gut churned bile. A corner of his eye twitched. “Hell of a way to go.” His words hung in the air, echoing into the rise and fall of the city’s din.

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