TnT Ch. 04byslyc_willie©
(Author's note: this story deals with some very gritty and harsh subject matter. This is not for those looking for a straightforward sex story. There are many themes that some people might find objectionable, but to reveal them might give away parts of the story prematurely. If you continue reading, please keep this warning in mind.)
(This is the fourth of an eight-part series.)
Sunlight and coffee did wonders for eradicating personal embarrassments, Riaz realized as he drove downtown late the following morning. Technically, his shift did not begin until three in the afternoon, but the occupation of homicide detective rarely followed the civilities of a technical schedule.
The call had come just before ten that morning, and after contacting his partner, he showered, shaved, then stopped at a drive-through for some much needed caffeine-laced revival. By the time he parked the car in the rear of the police headquarters building, he felt nearly fully awake.
June was already in the forensics lab when he arrived, chatting with one of the junior technicians there. The room was thick with the aroma of electrical dust and the whirring of a dozen computer fans within their plastic tower housings. Riaz's entrance caught the attention of both June and the young man, whom Riaz had known for the previous few years.
"Tell me what you got, Tim," he called by way of hello.
"And there's the world's greatest detective," the slender man said with an irreverent grin, pushing back from the computer before him and lacing his fingers across his stomach.
Riaz rubbed one of his eyes. "Spare me the accolades," he grumbled.
Tim effected an exaggerated pout. "Wow. Someone's a grumpy gus today."
June rolled her eyes, but there was a twinge of concern in her expression as she regarded her partner. "He wakes up after noon," she quipped, then nudged the young man. "Tell him what you told me."
"Yes, please," prodded Riaz.
Tim grinned smugly. "Okay," he said. "To answer your first unspoken question, no, I could not clear up the security cam footage enough to get a clear shot of the driver's face. Bad angle, and that mop on his head got in the way."
Riaz sipped his coffee. "Some miracle worker you are."
Tim snapped up a finger, his smile unfettered. "However, in answer to unspoken question number two, I was able to enhance the image to get a license plate number. Sort of."
The detective arched an eyebrow. "'Sort of?'" he asked.
Tim rolled his shoulders. "Hey, I'm working with ancient technology here. Who the hell uses VHS anymore? You wouldn't believe how many times I washed this thing."
Riaz made an impatient gesture with his free hand. "I appreciate your commitment. Get on with it."
Tim sighed dramatically. "Oh, how they take us for granted," he lamented with faked exasperation, then glanced up at June. "Promise me you won't be like this when you're the senior dick."
June placated him. "I'll treat you with the utmost respect you deserve," she said, then lightly smacked him. "Now get on with it."
Tim chuckled. "Okay, here's the deal. I couldn't get an exact read on the plate. It's either CB5-SXK, or C8S-5XX, or C85-SKK, or--"
Riaz winced. "Tim!"
The forensics tech chuckled. "Good thing for you I'm such a diligent, if under-appreciated, lab man. I worked out all the possible combinations, then ran them through the DMV. And, guess what?"
Riaz glowered. "If you didn't get a match, I'm going to shoot you right now."
Tim's self-efficacious smile did not waver. "I got a match. A few of the combos linked to an SUV, but only one was a black Toyota SUV, a Rav-4. License plate number CB5-SXK. Registered to one Talon N. Tolomeo."
Riaz stepped closer as Tim tapped on the keyboard before him. The screen saver vanished, replaced with the image of a driver license picture of a slender-looking, pale young man with short, thick black hair.
"Is that him?" June asked.
Riaz studied the picture a moment, then let his eyes wander across the screen, noting the other information displayed. "Maybe," he said. "Talon N. Tolomeo . . . that picture was taken seven years ago, when he was sixteen. Plenty of time for his hair to grow out. He'd be twenty-three, now."
"You thinking that's our guy?" June asked, eyes glowing.
Riaz straightened, took another sip of his coffee. "Let's take a drive and find out," he said.
* * * *
"Shouldn't we get a warrant?" June asked as Riaz drove the sedan through downtown streets.
He soured. "I can tell you now that we don't have enough to get one," he said. "And if I tried to pull some strings and push for one, it would just come back and bite us on the ass later."
June frowned in confusion. "So . . . what are we gonna do when we get there?"
Riaz smiled slyly. "Do what we do best. Bullshit."
* * * *
At one time, the Majestic Arms had just been several floors of office space above a rather lackluster theater in the heart of downtown. In the 1990s, however, when a substantial push had been made to beautify the heart of the city, the Majestic had not only been restored to its bygone glory, but the seven floors above had been converted into rather grand and opalescent living space. Currently, the minimum rent for the smallest one bedroom was just under a thousand dollars a month. The door to the apartment Riaz and June stood before was not one of the smaller ones.
"Pretty nice digs," June commented, looking back along the hallway they had come. Stuccoed walls and artful sconces holding soft light lamps gave an almost authentic 1930s feel. The red carpet was an especially auspicious touch. "Our boy's got some money."
Riaz gave a short nod. "Looks that way," he said. Quickly, he slipped the small but powerful automatic pistol from its holster at the small of his back and checked it. He racked the slide to chamber a round, then replaced the weapon while giving June a meaningful look.
Feeling a sudden twinge of nervousness, June mimicked her partner's action with her more slender firearm.
Satisfied that his partner was ready, Riaz depressed the small doorbell encased in fake gold plating beside the door. A muted melody sounded from the other side of the door.
Several heartbeats later, the sound of lock tumblers being disengaged sounded through the door before it opened. The door stopped after a few inches; the chain lock remained, taut beneath the cautious eyes of a young, pale-skinned man with thick black hair on the other side. His eyes centered on Riaz for a moment, before darting to June and back.
Riaz forced an amiable smile to his lips. "Mr. Tolomeo?"
". . . yeah."
The detective lifted his badge. "I'm Detective Riaz Parande," he said as introduction. "This is June Barret, my partner. I'd like to ask you some questions."
The young man was silent a moment, eyes flickering back and forth. "About what?"
Riaz was smug. "About where your black Toyota Rav-4 was on Monday night."
The young man stared back for a moment, face blank. Abruptly, he pushed the door until it was almost closed, slid the chain off, and opened it fully. He stepped back, turning his back on the detectives. "Tal," he called, walking into the apartment. "Couple'a cops here."
A voice eerily similar to that of the first young man sounded from deeper within the spacious apartment. "Cops? Why?"
"Hell if I know. You get a parking ticket you didn't pay off?"
Another man emerged at the end of the short hallway, joining the first. Riaz's brow furrowed at the sight of them together. The fact that they were identical twins was both extremely obvious while simultaneously problematic. They even had matching tattoos on their arms.
This just got more complicated, Riaz thought. He addressed the second brother who, he noticed, was just a touch shorter than his sibling and slightly less muscular. "Talon Tolomeo?" he asked.
Talon smiled, much more amiably than his brother, who turned into the kitchen. "Yes, sir," Talon said as he approached the detectives. He gave them a casual once-over. "Obviously, you're not patrol cops. Detectives?"
"Yes," Riaz said, then quickly re-introduced himself and June.
"Okay," Talon said. "So, what can I do for you? Must be something serious."
Riaz took a moment to compose his thoughts. While the first of the twins may have acted like he had something to hide, this one did not. Even his body language suggested ready receptiveness. Talon Tolomeo, he decided, was either clueless as to the reasons why Riaz and June were there, or a very convincing and casual actor.
"You rented a room Monday night at the Rambler Motel on Presa," Riaz said at last.
Talon smiled crookedly, the way someone would who did not understand what the detective's statement meant. "Uh . . . yeah," he said, prompting.
Riaz cocked his head. "You picked up a girl."
Talon's smile remained, but he blushed somewhat and nodded. "Yeah . . . I, uh, met a girl," he confirmed cagily. He glanced into the kitchen, where his brother was busy in the refrigerator. He turned back and lowered his voice. "It's been a while for Thorne. I didn't want to bring her back here. That'd be kind'a like rubbing it in his face, you know?"
Riaz nudged his chin. "Where did you meet this girl?"
Talon looked embarrassed, flickering his eyes back and forth between Riaz's stony countenance and June's questioning face. "I, uh . . . she was just, um . . . standing on the corner . . . ."
"You mean, she was a hooker," June said bluntly.
Talon sighed, lowering his head. "Look," he said, looking back to them after a moment. "From what I understand, unless you actually catch me picking up a hooker, you can't really arrest me for it. So what's really going on?"
Riaz avoided the young man's question. "What did you do with her?" he asked.
Talon rolled his eyes. "If I went into a grocery store and bought a steak, would you ask me what I did with it?"
The detective rolled his shoulders. "Okay, so after you had your fun, then what?"
Talon looked perturbed. "I left. I gave her the key to the room and took off. You gonna tell me what this is about? Did something happen to her?"
"Yeah, something happened to her," June interjected with a bitter tone. "She's dead."
Talon stared at the woman, mouth slightly slack. He appeared genuinely surprised. "What?"
"Mr. Tolomeo," Riaz said, after shooting a quick glare to his partner. "Why did you leave the key with her?"
Talon blinked a few times, eyes downcast. "Um . . . sorry, just give me a sec," he said, and turned away. He paced for a few moments before coming back to the detectives. "How did she die?"
"Right now, that's not important," Riaz said. "Just please answer my question. Why did you give her the key to the room?"
"Because . . . she said she needed a place to stay," Talon responded, looking distraught. "I didn't really get to know her that well. Most of what we talked about was, well, you know, what I wanted. After we were done, I asked her if I could drop her off somewhere, and she asked if she could keep the room. She promised she'd clean up."
Still being clinical, Riaz asked, "What time did you leave the room?"
Talon shrugged. "I don't know. Eleven-thirty? Midnight? Something like that."
Riaz considered all he had heard. Finally, he seemed to come to a conclusion. "Thanks for your time, Mr. Tolomeo."
Talon frowned. "Uh, sure," he said, frowning. "Can you at least tell me what happened to her?"
"All I can say at this point is that she's dead," Riaz said. "Sorry, Mr. Tolomeo."
Talon took in a breath and let it out slowly. "Okay. I guess I can, uh, respect that. Look, if there's anything I can do to help, just let me know."
"Actually, there's something else I'd like to ask you about."
Talon arched a single brow. "Oh?"
"Where were you last Friday night?"
Talon frowned, looking confused. "Friday? I thought we were talking about last night."
"We were. Now we're talking about Friday. Where did you go?"
Talon laughed softly through his nose. "Nowhere, actually." He indicated his brother. "We watched a couple'a movies on Showtime. Stayed in."
Riaz nodded stiffly, then reached into his shirt pocket and extracted a business card, offering it to the young man. "If you think of anything else," he said.
Talon took the card with a reserved smile. "I will," he said, then offered his hand. "Thanks, detective."
Hesitantly, Riaz shook the young man's hand. "No problem."
* * * *
Arms folded upon their chests, the twins stared at the door after the detectives had left.
"What do you think they know?" Thorne asked.
"Not much," Talon responded. "If they had anything on us, we'd be in a squad car right now."
"They knew we were at that cheap-ass motel," Thorne said, sounding worried.
"Must have had security cameras or something," Talon said. "Enough to see the truck there, but maybe not us. We're gonna have to be careful next time."
Thorne perked up with a wry smile. "'Next time?'" he asked.
Talon turned a sly look to his brother. "Next time," he confirmed.
* * * *
June was quietly fuming as she stepped up to the passenger side of the car. She jerked open the car door, then suddenly slammed it closed. She glared at her partner across the roof of the car. "We could have taken him in," she said.
Riaz nodded as he stood on the other side. "Yes, we could have."
"Put him under the lights, give him the third degree --"
"And what?" Riaz asked forcefully. "Make him confess to a crime he may not have committed?"
"Oh, come on--"
"No," Riaz snapped, jabbing a finger. "You 'come on.' There's no such thing as an open and shut case. Regardless of any gut feelings we may have, we have to entertain any and every alternative possibility. Do I think Talon Tolomeo killed Sylvia Gonzales? Yeah, I do. And probably Kaylee Mills, too. But just because I think it doesn't mean it's true. Detective work is like looking for Schrodinger's cat. You're only going to get the truth if you have the evidence. And it might just turn out that the evidence doesn't match what you think. So we do what we're supposed to do and look at every option. Understand?"
June huffed in exasperation. "I just hate that there's a guy up there who's probably killed two women--"
"Probably," Riaz interrupted. "But not definitely. We need evidence."
"So we get a blood sample, match it to the spunk the ME got from the second victim."
"And how are we going to do that?" Riaz challenged. "Bet your ass he'd lawyer up if we suggested that."
June scoffed. "So the kid gets some whack lawyer. Bet we could still scare him into giving it up."
Riaz cocked his head. "You haven't been paying attention," he said bitingly. He glanced to the ornate building above them. "What did you see in that apartment?"
Bristling, but willing to enforce a sense of humility, June answered as calmly as she could. "I saw a bunch of stolen menus tacked on the walls. Surprised they didn't have concert T-shirts hanging up like in some college dorm room."
"I saw furniture," Riaz countered.
She frowned. "Okay. So?"
He chuckled ruefully. "The sofa in that apartment probably costs as much as everything I own," he said. "You happen to notice the stainless steel appliances in the kitchen? I'll bet your next paycheck they didn't come with the place."
June narrowed her eyes. "Okay, what's your point?"
"My point," Riaz said with more than a hint of annoyance in his voice. "Is that, if that kid called for a lawyer, he wouldn't get Joe Shyster. He'd get a name. He'd get someone good, with resources. And all of a sudden, we'd have a hundred doors slammed in our faces and a nervous captain telling us we have to take off our shoes before we walk across a field of glass."
June started to retort, then stopped herself as she began to filter what her older and more experienced partner was telling her.
"Are you getting it now?" Riaz asked.
Slowly, she nodded, her ire and righteousness fading away. "Okay, I get it," she said. "So what do we do now?"
Riaz pulled open the driver-side door. "Now we become biographers," he said.
* * * *
Late afternoon was threatening to turn to early evening when Riaz and June returned to their car after hours of data searches and phone calls. By then, the tension between them had eased, their relationship once again returning to the casual banter between a patient master and eager student.
"Hey, babe, it's me," June said into her phone as Riaz drove. "Gonna be late tonight again. I promise I'll make it up to you." She tapped the phone to end the message, then slipped the device into her pocket.
"Is she going to be mad at you?" Riaz asked.
June chuckled wonderingly. "Probably not," she said, then sighed wistfully. "God, I can't believe how patient she is. She's been putting up with so much since I made detective."
Riaz smiled despite his own cynicism. "So when's the wedding?"
June laughed, but her smile was genuine. "We're thinking about the end of summer, but . . . I mean, obviously, we're not gonna do it in this state, and I'm on a waiting list for asking for time off. Low chick on the totem pole and all that."
Riaz pursed his lips, thinking. "So, just for the fun of it," he said. "Let's say you and Sophie had an unlimited budget. Where would you go for your honeymoon?"
"Holy crap," June commented, rolling her eyes. "Uh . . . like, seriously unlimited?"
Riaz made a face. "Keep it to this planet."
She chuckled. "Okay. If we had an unlimited budget . . . I know Sophie would want a cruise. Like, a Mediterranean cruise, with stops at those nude beaches in Greece. Holy hell, does she have a killer body. So, maybe one of those big, month-long cruises all around the Mediterranean, then back across the Atlantic where we won't have anything to do but fuck all day."
Riaz chuckled. "Sounds like paradise," he admitted.
"So what did you and your wife do on your honeymoon?"
He snorted almost painfully. "We didn't have honeymoons in the 20th century," he said sarcastically.
"Seriously," June said. "Didn't you guys do anything?"
Riaz worked his jaw, keeping his eyes on the road. "We wanted to," he said after a pregnant silence. "We got married in the summer before our senior year in college. By the time we graduated, Anna was already pregnant. I scrambled to get a job, teaching high school sociology, while Anna had the baby. Then she got a job in her field – communications – and I applied to the police academy. We barely had any 'us' time until Kitna was four. By then . . . well, the idea of a honeymoon was kind of a moot point."
June's levity faded from her face as her partner spoke. She regarded her hands absently. "Not easy being a cop," she said. "I never really had a relationship with anyone until I met Sophie. Just a bunch of one-night stands and booty calls from chicks I met in lesbian bars. I still don't know why Sophie sticks around."
"She loves you," Riaz remarked, but his tone was dark.
June smiled. "Yeah. God bless her, but she does."
* * * *
The GPS navigation device took them along several rural roads which would have matched the worst over-driven downtown streets in terms of potholes and uneven surface. The sedan rocked back and forth, suspension creaking, even though Riaz tried his best to navigate the roads as if driving a slalom. Eventually, a hundred yards past the point along a country road at which the GPS announced they had arrived at their destination, Riaz turned the car into a driveway beneath a weathered cast iron arch decorated with a classic cross.
"Richards Farm," June said as she read a small wooden sign hammered into the ground. "Guess this is it."
Riaz gave a noncommittal grunt as he drove along the gravel driveway. Lush green grass flanked either side to a distance of a few hundred feet. There were some shade trees here and there, a small pond with a gazebo nearby, and about five hundred yards in, a large, sprawling, single-story house that appeared to have begun life as a single-wide trailer. A pair of aging trucks were parked at angles out front, as well as a late-model sports car.