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Authors: Jeff Lindsay

Double dexter (page 7)

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“It’s just a fucking wrapping paper,” Vince said. “From the floor of Klein’s car.”

“It’s from some kind of food,” the stranger in the corner said.

I looked at the man, and then back at Deborah with a raised eyebrow. She shrugged.

“My new partner,” she said. “Alex Duarte.”

“Oh,” I said to the man.“Mucho gusto.”

Duarte shrugged. “Yeah, right,” he said.

“What kind of food?” I asked.

Deborah ground her teeth. “That’s what I’m trying to find out,” she said. “If we know where he ate before he died, we got a good chance to stake it out and maybe find this guy.”

I stepped over to where Vince was poking at a wad of greasy white waxed paper in an evidence bag. “All that grease,” he said. “There’s gotta be a fingerprint. I just wanted to look for it first. Standard procedure.”

“Asshole, we already got Klein’s fingerprints,” Deborah said. “I want the killer.”

I looked at the congealed grease through the plastic of the evidence bag. It had a reddish brown tinge to it, and although I don’t usually hang on to food wrappers long enough to be certain, it lookedfamiliar. I leaned over and opened the bag, sniffing carefully. The cold pills had finally dried my nose, and the smell was strong and unmistakable. “Taco,” I said.

“Gesundheit,” said Vince.

“You’re sure?” Deborah demanded. “That’s a taco wrapper?”

“Absolutely,” I said. “Can’t miss the smell of the spices.” I held up the bag and pointed out a tiny yellow crumb on one corner of the waxed paper. “And right there, that has to be a piece of the taco shell.”

“Tacos, my God,” said Vince with horror. “What have we come to?”

“What,” Duarte said. “Like from Taco Bell?”

“That would have a logo on the wrapper, wouldn’t it?” I said. “Anyway, I think their wrappers are yellow. This is probably from a smaller place, maybe one of those lunch wagons.”

“Great,” Deborah said. “There must be a million of those in Miami.”

“And theyallsell tacos,” Vince said very helpfully. “I mean,yuck.”

Deborah looked at him. “You’re a total fucking idiot, you know that?” she said.

“No, I didn’t know that,” Vince said cheerfully.

“Why tacos?” Duarte said. “I mean, who eats fucking tacos? I mean, come on.”

“Maybe he couldn’t find empanadas,” I said.

He looked at me blankly. “Empa-what?” he said.

“Can you find out where it came from?” Debs said. “You know, like analyze the spices or something?”

“Debs, for God’s sake,” I said. “It’s just a taco. They’re all pretty much the same.”

“No, they’re not,” Deborah said. “These tacos got a cop killed.”

“Killer tacos,” Vince said. “I like that.”

“Maybe it’s a hangout,” I said, and Deborah looked at me expectantly. I shrugged. “You know, sometimes word gets around, like the burgers are great at Manny’s, or themedianocheat Hidalgo is the best in town, or whatever.”

“Yeah, but these aretacos,” Vince said. “I mean—seriously.”

“All right, so maybe they’re cheap,” I said. “Or the girl who makes them is wearing a string bikini.”

“I know a lunch wagon they do that,” Duarte said. “This very nice-looking woman, she wears a bikini? They go around to construction sites, and she does big business, believe me. Just from showing her boobs.”

“I can’t believe you assholes,” Debs said. “Why does it always end up about tits?”

“Not always. Sometimes it’s ass,” Vince said, cleverly bringing ass back into the conversation one more time. I began to wonder if there was a hidden camera, with a smirking game-show host handing out a prize every time we used the word.

“We could ask around,” Duarte said. “See if any of the other detectives are talking about a great taco place.”

“Or great tits,” Vince said.

Deborah ignored him, which should have made him grateful. “Find out what you can from the wrapper,” she said, and then she turned away and hustled out of the room. Duarte straightened up, nodded at us, and followed her out.

I watched them go. Vince blinked at me, and then bustled out of the room, mumbling something about reagent, and for a moment I just sat there. My shirt still felt damp, and I was very peeved with Camilla Figg. She had been standing right behind me, much too close for safety, and I could think of no reason for that kind of proximity. Even worse, I really should have known it when somebody got that near to my exposed back. It could have been a drug lord with an Uzi, or a crazed gardener with a machete, or almost anything else as lethal as a cup of that wretched coffee. Where was the Passenger when you really needed him? And now I was sitting in a chilly lab wearing a wet shirt, and I was pretty sure that would not help my already fragile health. Just to underline the point, I felt a sneeze coming on, and I barely got a paper towel up to my nose before it erupted. Cold pills—bah, humbug. They were worthless, like everything else in this miserable world.

Just before I melted into a dripping heap of mucus and self-pity, I thought of the clean shirt hanging behind my desk. I always kept one on hand in case of a work-related accident. I took it off the hanger and put it on, tucking the damp, coffee-spattered shirt into a plastic grocery bag to take home. It was a nice shirt, a beige guayabera withsilver guitars on the hem. Perhaps Rita would know a magic trick to get the stains out.

Vince was already back in the lab when I returned, and we went right to work. And we really tried our very best. We ran every test we could think of, visual, chemical, and electronic, and found nothing that would bring a smile to my sister’s face. Deborah called us three times, which for her showed wonderful self-control. There was really nothing to tell her. I thought it was very likely that the wrapper held a taco and came from a lunch wagon, but I certainly couldn’t have sworn to it in a court of law.

At around noon the cold pills wore off and I began to sneeze again. I tried to ignore it, but it’s very difficult to do really high-quality lab work while holding a paper towel to your nose, so I finally gave up. “I have to get out of here,” I said to Vince. “Before I blow my nose all over the evidence.”

“It couldn’t hurt the tacos,” he said.

I went to lunch alone, at a Thai restaurant over by the airport. It’s not that looking at old taco wrappers had made me hungry, but I have always believed that a large bowl of spicy Thai soup fights a cold better than anything else, and by the time I finished my soup I could feel my system sweating out the unhealthy molecules, forcing the cold out through my pores and back into the Miami ecosphere where it belonged. I actually felt a great deal better, which made me leave a tip that was slightly too large. But as I walked out the door and into the afternoon heat, the entire front of my skull exploded with an enormous sneeze, and the accompanying ache kicked at my skeletal system as if someone was tightening vise grips on all my joints.

Happiness is an illusion—and sometimes so is Thai soup. I gave up and stopped at a drugstore to buy more cold pills. This time I took three of them, and by the time I got back to the office the throbbing in my nose and my bones had subsided a little bit. Whether it was the cold pills or the soup, I began to feel like I might be able to handle any routine pain the day might throw at me. And because I was more or less prepared for something unpleasant to happen, it didn’t.

The rest of the afternoon was completely uneventful. We worked on, using all our massive skill on what was really rather flimsy evidence. But by the end of the day, the only thing I’d found out was thatMasuoka disliked all Mexican food, not just tacos. “If I eat that stuff, I get really bad gas,” he told me. “Which really has a negative impact on my social life.”

“I didn’t know you had one,” I said. I had the crumb from the taco shell under a microscope in the vain hope of finding some tiny clue, while Vince was examining a grease spot on the wrapper.

“Of course I have a social life,” he said. “I party almost every night. I found a hair.”

“What kind of party is that?” I said.

“No, there’s a hair in the grease,” he said. “For partying, I shave all over.”

“Way too much information,” I said. “Is it human?”

“Yeah, sure,” he said. “A lot of people shave.”

“The hair,” I said. “Is it a human hair?”

He frowned into his microscope. “I’m gonna guess rodent,” he said. “Another reason I don’t eat Mexican food.”

“Vince,” I said, “rat hair is not a Mexican spice. It’s because this came from a sleazy lunch wagon.”

“Hey, I don’t know; you’re the foodie,” he said. “I like to eat someplace where they have chairs.”

“I’ve never eaten one,” I said. “Anything else?”

“Tables are nice,” he said. “And real silverware.”

“Anything else in thegrease,” I said, winning a very tough struggle against the urge to push my thumbs deep into his eye sockets.

Vince shrugged. “It’s just grease,” he said.

I had no better luck with the taco crumb. There was simply nothing there to find, except that it was made of processed corn and contained several inorganic chemicals, probably preservatives. We did every test we could do on-site without destroying the wrapper and found nothing significant. Vince’s verbal wit did not leap magically to a higher level, either, and so by quitting time my mood had not really burbled up into steady good cheer. If anything, I felt even meaner than I had that morning. I fended off one last telephone attack from Deborah, locked up the evidence, and headed for the door.

“Don’t you want to go for tacos?” Vince called as I hit the door.

“Go jump up your ass,” I said. After all, if there really was a prize for saying “ass,” I deserved a shot at it.

SIX

IDROVE HOME THROUGH THE USUAL RUSH-HOUR TRAFFIC, Anerve-jangling crawl of aggressive lane jumping and near collisions. A pickup truck was on fire on the shoulder of the Palmetto Expressway. A shirtless man in jeans and a battered cowboy hat stood beside it, looking almost bored. He had a large tattoo of an eagle on his back and a cigarette in one hand. Everyone slowed to look at the smoldering pickup, and behind me I could hear a fire truck, siren shrieking and horn blasting as it tried to get through the dawdling gawkers. As I edged past the burning truck my nose began to drip again, and by the time I got home some twenty minutes later, I was sneezing, one good skull-splitting blast every minute or so.

“I’b hobe!” I called out as I walked through the door, and a roar of something that sounded like rocket fire answered me; Cody was already at the Wii, working dutifully to destroy all the evil in the world with a massive artillery attack. He glanced up at me, and then quickly back to the TV screen; for him, it was a warm greeting. “Where’s your mom?” I asked him.

He jerked his head toward the kitchen. “Kitchen,” he said.

That was always good news; Rita in the kitchen meant something wonderful was on the way. Purely out of habit, I tried to sniffthe aroma, which turned out to be a very bad idea, since it tickled my sinuses and launched me into a debilitating multiple sneeze that nearly brought me to my knees.

“Dexter?” Rita called from the kitchen.

“Ah-choo,” I answered.

“Oh,” she said, appearing in the doorway wearing rubber gloves and holding a large knife in her hand. “You sound awful.”

“Thag you,” I said. “Why glubs?”

“Glubs? Oh, gloves. I’m making you some soup,” she said, and she waved the knife. “With those Scotch-bonnet peppers, so I have to— Just inyoursoup, because Cody and Astor won’t eat it that way.”

“I hate spicy food,” Astor said, coming down the hall from her room and plopping down on the couch next to Cody. “Why do we have to have soup?”

“You can have a hot dog instead,” Rita said.

“I hate hot dogs,” Astor said.

Rita frowned and shook her head. A small lock of hair flopped down onto her forehead. “Well,” she said, rather forcefully, “you can just go hungry then.” And she pushed the hair off her forehead with her wrist and went back into the kitchen.

I watched Rita go, mildly surprised. She almost never lost her temper, and I could not remember the last time she had said something like that to Astor. I sneezed, and then went and stood behind the couch. “You could try a little harder not to upset your mom,” I said.

Astor looked up and then hunched away from me. “You’d better not give me your cold,” she said, with very convincing menace.

I looked at the top of Astor’s head. Part of me wanted to smack her on the head with a carpentry tool. But the other part of me realized that disciplining a child in such a forthright and vigorous manner was generally not encouraged in our society, a society I was trying to fit into at the moment. And in any case, I could hardly blame Astor for showing the same kind of cranky meanness I was feeling myself. Even Rita seemed to be feeling it. Perhaps some toxic chemical was falling with the summer rain and infecting all of us with a sour attitude.

So I simply took a deep breath and walked away from Astor and her towering sulk, heading into the kitchen to see if my nose mightbe working well enough to smell the soup brewing. I paused in the doorway; Rita was standing at the stove with her back to me. A cloud of fragrant-looking steam rose up around her. I took one step closer and sniffed experimentally.

And, of course, that made me sneeze. It was a wonderful sneeze, very loud and vigorous, with a full, beautiful tone. It apparently startled Rita, because she jumped several inches straight up and dropped a wineglass she had been holding, which shattered on the floor beside her. “Damn it!” she said, another surprising outburst. She looked at the puddle of wine spreading toward her shoe, and then looked at me. To my very great surprise, she blushed. “It was only …” she said. “I just thought, while I was cooking. And then you scared me,” she said.

“Sorry,” I said. “I just wanted to smell the soup.”

“Well, but really,” she said, and then she lurched toward the hallway and raced back clutching a broom and dustpan. “Go check on the baby,” she told me as she bent to clean up the broken glass. “She might need a diaper change.”

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