Death by the Pixel: The Copper and Goldie Mysteries: Episode Three

Sam Nahoe, ex-HPD detective, sat on a park bench reading the Honolulu Star Advertiser. Goldie, his (mostly) golden retriever, lay curled up asleep at his feet. His two walking canes leaned next to him. In a rare moment of inattention, he didn’t see his young daughter dart out of sight. When her first high-pitched shrieks erupted, Goldie’s ears flew north.

The shrieks came from behind a flowering hedge, where Peggy was taking pictures of lush pink bougainvillea. She was using the new digital camera Sam had given her for her tenth birthday.

Peggy’s anguished voice set her father’s six-foot-four muscled hulk in motion. Clumsily grabbing Goldie’s leash, he heaved up onto his canes. Huffing heavily from ski-walking the two canes in alternating rapid succession, he rounded the corner of the tall hedge and discovered his daughter lying prone in the morning grass, her arms and legs flailing. The first cries had now shrunk to gasping sobs. Goldie lurched forward, leash trailing behind her, and loped to Peggy’s side, tail wagging, instinctively sympathetic.

The distraught and clueless father knelt as quickly as he could and flipped his only child face-up. “What’s wrong, sweetheart! What happened?” No answer. More sobs. Sam gently brushed away the braids flopping across her damp face, then searched carefully, but saw no apparent injury or impending threat to his precious youngster in her Hello Kitty T-shirt and shorts.

Peggy, too upset to respond, kept stabbing through the air with her forefinger toward a dark object lying ten feet away in the grass. The digital camera.

“What about the camera?” Sam asked as he held and rocked his preteen’s sturdy body in his arms. “What’s wrong with it, sweetheart?”

Peggy’s lips formed the letter P, and with considerable effort, the word “picture” exploded. Slowly, she released the words “Horrible picture.” Sam helped Peggy to her feet, and arm-in-arm, the two approached the hastily abandoned camera. He scooped it up and brushed off several clipped grass blades. Pressing the “DISPLAY” control, he refreshed the last picture taken. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Peggy shudder as the image materialized. Then she knelt down, buried her face in Goldie’s neck, and got rewarded with slobbering licks.

Sam froze as he stared at the last image. The photograph was of a horrendous crime scene, apparently in a bedroom: a bloody multiple stabbing of a young adult female in a white dress. She lay stretched out on the bed, her head up against the brass headboard, in a strangely placid pose. Sam didn’t recognize the ashen-faced brunette.

What the devil is this? he muttered. The camera was new. He’d bought it on-line at a good price. Had the terrorizing picture been embedded before he even received it? He forwarded ahead, then backspaced through earlier images to see if there were more crime scene shots. None. Instead, the bewildered father found pictures of young monkeypod trees and the cascading bougainvillea—shots his daughter had taken a few minutes earlier here in Kaka’ako Waterfront Park. They were for her fourth-grade science project due Wednesday.

Sequencing past shot one into the negative region, Sam found no other photos residing on the memory card. Returning to the crime scene photo, he learned that all the shots were in sequence—one through nine, with number nine being the dreadful invasive one. Exploring the camera’s programmable controls, he discovered that the date/time feature had been turned off. Hey! What’s going on? He had set the date and time himself before gift-wrapping the camera.

Oh, great, he thought. Just what I need. A gruesome glitch on one of our precious days together. For many years Sam, his wife, “Kia,” and Peggy Nahoe had been a contented Hawaiian family. Kia’s full name was Kianah, for moon goddess, and Sam had almost fallen in love with her for that alone. But thirteen months ago, he and Kia got divorced. The ugly split was triggered by Sam’s painful physical and emotional fallout from a homicide investigation gone bad. Now, every other Sunday, father and daughter hung out together at one of Honolulu’s beach parks. It was the best deal he could negotiate in a court-ordered visitation agreement. Still, until this afternoon, these Sundays had always been treasured happy hours for them.

Sam Nahoe now owned and operated a bright yellow Checker Cab with a ring of black and white squares painted just below its windows, along with his business name: Copper and Goldie Taxi Service. With his canine partner harnessed in her seat beside him, he had found a measure of consolation carting passengers throughout the streets of Honolulu. The strapping thirty-six-year-old couldn’t be a cop any more. Not officially. But at heart he was still a crime fighter.

Peggy, still visibly shaken, turned on him. “Daddy, this is your fault. You’re responsible. You gave me this creepy camera. How could you?” she wailed. “I want my mommy!”

Unable to reason with his hysterical daughter, Sam took her home. As usual, his ex-wife sided with Peggy.

Sam pleaded his case. “I’m telling you, Kia, I have no idea how that picture got on the freakin’ camera. I bought it brand-new. I promise you I’ll get to the bottom of this.”

She stared at him with accusing dark eyes behind black-framed glasses. Her attorney’s logic evaporated when protecting her child. Refusing to even listen, she stood to her full robust height, and nearly shoved him out the door.

Deflated and not a little disappointed, he decided to go to his former HPD unit with the camera and crime scene shot. There were questions to be answered—a lot of them. Maybe my old buddies can help me.

Sam was forcibly retired on disability from Honolulu’s special homicide unit because of a bullet still lodged in his spine: the souvenir from an armed killer trying to escape. Its precise location had been dubbed iffy, precarious for surgery. By his own choice, the nine-millimeter slug remained an integral part of his anatomy. Grateful that he could get around on his own, he’d grown accustomed to the constant gnawing pain in his lower back, but it left him with a strange and tiresome gait. Cane and Able, his two walking canes, took him where he needed to go. No, not the biblical Cain and Abel—he just liked the play on words.

Sam was not one to remain idle for long. The shortfall in disability, and to put more than just bread on the table, he drove an independent cab by day and took an occasional night watchman’s shift to help out a fellow retiree. His ex-wife, a partner in a small but successful law firm, demanded neither alimony nor child support.

Before heading to HPD headquarters on South Beretania, he dropped Goldie off at his place, leaving her with a bowl of Kibble and fresh water.

At the CID, the Criminal Investigation Division, he found Danny Oshiro, one of four detectives still in the office on Sunday duty, and showed him the ghastly shot of the murder victim.

Danny’s wiry frame sprang to attention with the reflexes of a jungle cat and all-seeing gray eyes. “What the hell, Sam! Where did you get this? We don’t have a record of any such crime. Not recently, anyway. How old is this picture?”

“Don’t know, Danny. My daughter discovered it in the camera I bought her on-line.”

Detective Oshiro needed a hard copy of the crime photo to pass around, so he dumped the memory card images into his work computer and copied Peggy’s photos of flowers and monkeypod trees onto a brand-new memory card. After a little insider persuasion, Danny also provided Sam with a hard copy of the crime picture. He finished a cover message, and e-mailed it and the photo to all of the Island’s homicide and missing persons units. As an afterthought, he included a few units on the neighbor islands. There wasn’t much more this frustrated detective could do. He didn’t have a body or even a crime scene to investigate. Just a bloody picture.

Sam replaced the memory card in the birthday camera with the new one, thinking, I’ll return the camera to Peggy tomorrow morning. Maybe the two gals in my life will have cooled down by then. Parking the camera and photograph on top of the filing cabinet, he ambled over to the vending machine and slid a dollar in the slot. Munching on a Clark bar, he lingered there to shmooze with a dispatcher on her break.

He returned to the filing cabinet to personally annotate the crime photo with his initial observations and impressions. To his amazement and distress, some of the photo data had already been entered. Despite the fact that the camera’s time/date stamping had originally been turned off, the time, 11:23.p.m., and the date, 10.08.13, stared back at him. Today was Sunday, the sixth. The eighth was this coming Tuesday. How could that be? A camera malfunction? Someone playing with my head?

Sam looked around. Everyone had left. He could have sworn there were at least three other people in the room when he’d gone out in the hall. He did see and get a friendly “Hi” from “Mose” as he entered the men’s room, but now there was no one around.

Sergeant Moses Kauahi and Sam had been partners in the CID for years. They’d gone to ballgames and a favorite pub together and had even taken the lieutenant’s exam on the same day. They both passed, only Mose didn’t score quite high enough to get promoted. Sam had felt uneasy about his friend being left behind, but knew Mose wouldn’t hold a grudge. He was too good a cop and still a great friend. In fact, the slug Sam took would have taken Mose down instead.

Sam tore a page from the lined pad on Danny’s desk and wrote a note to Peggy proclaiming his own innocence. Placing the camera and note in a used brown paper bag he found next to the coffee machine, he curled the top into a handle, wrapped it around the left cane handle, and headed out the door for home.

Entering his three-room pad, and seeing the bed he’d turned down that morning for Peggy’s sleepover, left him with a feeling of emptiness. The crime world was where he’d worked. Veteran cops could take the gut-wrenching sickness awaiting them most days. But that wasn’t what bothered him most. He brain was going ballistic over the audacity of this murderer to invade his daughter’s privacy. Worst of all, his own family thought him capable of such an evil prank. He still considered Kia family, despite the divorce.

After a hopeless night of fractured nightmares, he awoke at 5 a.m. Monday. A shave and hot shower prepared him for the new day. A fresh polo shirt and khakis finished the job. Almost, that is. His partner needed her constitutional and Kibble. Half an hour later, on their way out the door, Sam carefully picked up the paper bag containing the camera. Its new memory card was safely installed. He snapped Goldie into her harness and drove the ten minutes to Kia’s low-rise apartment house. He slowly climbed the stairs to the second floor with his canes and the camera bag in his left hand and his right hand on the banister. All that and he still he beat the ancient elevator. Quietly, he placed the bag on the floor just outside Kia’s door. It was only 6:30 a.m. He decided he might frighten her if he knocked so early.

* * * *

Arriving at the office on Monday, Detective Danny Oshiro found a pile of negative replies to his photo inquiries. He and his inherited partner, Mose Kauahi, had already gone through them and the stack of missing persons bulletins when Sam called in. No one knew or had heard of any victim or crime scene that fit the camera image, so the two detectives returned to their routine caseload.

Sam and Goldie put a few hundred miles on their cab, whisking fares about the Island over the next two days. When he dropped off his last one, she asked for help with her luggage. Sam complied, but only received the meter amount—after an hour’s drive to the North Shore. No tip! He placed two fingers behind his back, Goldie’s cue to stick her large furry head out the passenger window and growl. The startled lady quickly dug back into her purse and forked over a 20 percent tip. Sam placed one finger behind his back. Goldie stopped growling. He had trained his rescue dog well.

Sam ended his workday at 11:30 Tuesday night and popped into the Like-Like Drive-In on Keeaumoku Street for some supper. He ordered the Loco-Moco—a hamburger, rice, and fried egg, all hiding under thick brown gravy—and waited for it to arrive. At almost 1 a.m., his cell phone began vibrating in his pocket. It was Danny Oshiro.

“Sam, You’re not going to believe this. At precisely 11:23 p.m. tonight, I got an anonymous phone tip. A muffled male voice gave me a detailed address to a crime scene in Waikiki. We’re here now. It’s the exact crime scene from your bloody photo. Same woman, same pose, same dress, same stains.”

“The body must be pretty ripe after so many days,” said Sam.

“Naw! Rigor mortis hasn’t even started. She’s still warm. The assistant ME guesses the murder took place about two hours ago, but he might narrow that down some. The body is arranged on a bed, with the head against the headboard. The entire crime scene looked staged.”

“This sounds impossible,” Sam said. “Mind if I join you? I need to see it for myself.” He paid and left with the rest of his supper in a Styrofoam box. In ten minutes he reached the address that Danny had given him. Sam left the windows at half mast and disconnected Goldie’s harness so she could roam the entire front seat. She chose the warm spot at the driver’s seat and placed her front paws up on the steering wheel.

By the time he entered the apartment three crime scene technicians had already pored over the place. The apartment had been sanitized. No prints, no fibers, nothing. Most of the blood was confined to the victim and her clothes. Nothing on the floor or the bed except for the thoroughly stained pillow behind the victim’s head. One corner of the dresser smelled of bleach and tested positive for a mere trace of blood, but much too faint for any effective DNA analysis.

Totally mystified and discouraged, Sam returned home at 2 a.m. and found a phone message from Kia instructing him to call her at her office the next day.

Before leaving for work he rang her back, and instantly regretted it. She laced into him so mercilessly that it took five minutes for him to find out why. On Tuesday afternoon she and Peggy had taken more pictures of flowers with the birthday camera. They’d hurriedly left the park without reviewing the new shots because it started to rain. At home Peggy loaded the photos into her laptop. As the two of them stepped through the pictures, they made an appalling  discovery. Not only had the original murder image returned to the lot, a second, brand-new photo of an entirely different murder had found its way into the series.

“You damned well better come over after school to see the images for yourself,” Kia said. “I’ll leave the office early.” At promptly three o’clock Sam arrived. She again started in on him. He tried unsuccessfully to calm her down. Even worse, Peggy refused to see her father. He could hear her crying behind the closed door of her room.

He sat down at the laptop booting up on the dining room table. The second crime scene filled the screen. Another woman, propped up against a brass headboard … a bloodless pillow behind her head … blonde … contorted face … multiple stab wounds … bloodstains on a yellow dress. Same bedroom as the first photo. Same staged look. He clicked on “data,” and sure enough, he found the time set at 10:45 p.m. and the date 10.10.13.

“Sam, this is totally bizarre,” said Kia. “Today is Wednesday, the ninth. Thursday, the tenth, hasn’t happened yet. If this is another one of your unholy pranks, I’ll get a court order to restrain all your visitations. How dare you bring this kind of trash into our house—into our lives?”

Sam had had enough. “Kia, gimme me a break. Have I ever played a prank of any kind on you or Peggy? That isn’t like me, and you know it. I’m wondering whether someone else could have handled the camera or the new memory card. When you were in the park yesterday, was the camera left unattended for any length of time?”

“No!” she shot back. “Let me remind you that you were the one who left the camera outside our door.”

Reluctantly, he nodded and admitted to himself, How could I have been so stupid? I walked right into that one. “Kia, I’ve said it before and I’m saying it again. I promise you I will get to the bottom of this.” He asked her for a fresh paper bag, tucked the camera inside, and left.

* * * *

When he returned to the CID, he found Mose and Danny going over the lab report on the first victim. From her fingerprints the woman was identified as one Vivian Koeller. Her prints were on file from a shoplifting offense in 2012. The medically estimated time of death was surprisingly close to the 11:23 p.m. time stamped on the photo. Uncanny! Sam thought. From all indications, the thirty-eight-year-old woman was struck on the back of the head with a blunt instrument and then stabbed five times. The head blow merely rendered the victim unconscious, while the stab wounds were the clincher. Apparently, the woman had had protected, probably consensual, sex earlier that evening; no semen found. Five stabbings meant that the perp had killed in a rage.

Two officers canvassing the neighborhood found that the apartment was hers, and that she lived alone. She had regular visitors, but no one had ever noticed anyone in particular going in or out. The officers were able to confirm the woman’s age, but failed to find any useful correspondence, cell phone data, or telephone list.

“Nothing like a dead end,” said Danny closing the file folder.

“Not so fast, my man,” said Sam. “My daughter’s camera has come up with another vicious photograph. And the first photo is back! Let’s have a gander on the big screen. Maybe this new one is ready to reveal something more.” He opened the camera and held out the flash memory card.

Danny looked startled. “Well, that’s news.” He inserted the card and transferred the second murder photo to his computer. Sam drew up a chair as the picture came into view.

The victim appeared to be in her late thirties or early forties, and at least four frontal stab wounds were visible.

“Looks like the same bedroom, and this woman’s also fully dressed. Rape doesn’t seem likely.”

“You’re right,” Sam said. “The clothes aren’t in disarray in either photo. Plus, no signs of a struggle in either one.”

“But do we have a serial killer here?” Danny asked. “There are enough similarities between the two murders to say one killer did both.”

“I agree,” said Sam. “Maybe we ought to focus on what’s different between the two.”

“Like what?” asked Danny.

“Like, there’s no blood on the pillow in the second photo. Maybe there’s no head trauma.”

“They’re pretty close in age—no more than a few years apart,” Mose said, speaking up for the first time. “What else is different?”

“Hair color,” Sam noted. “One brunette, one blonde. The first one’s a looker, the second’s a bit thick around the waist and has a more manly face.”

“Could it be his choices are random?” Danny suggested. “What about the annotation?”

“Just the time and date for tomorrow night,” Sam said, checking to be sure nothing had changed. Nothing had.

“What about the camera?” Mose asked. “This is weird. It can’t be some kind of magic that it knows when the murder will take place.”

“Of course not,” answered Sam. “The perp is playing with our heads. I guess we’ll have to babysit the phone tomorrow night.”

“Hey!” Danny retorted. “What’s this we business, buddy? It only takes one to answer the phone. You know where to find me.”

Sam nodded. “Yeah, sure.” The reminder hurt. He was just a cabbie now. And that was never going to change.

Danny re-copied the memory card data onto a thumb drive memory and locked it away before sending the suspect camera to the Photo Lab to search for mechanical tampering or firmware anomalies. He made copies of the new photo and distributed them as he had done two nights earlier.

That night Sam sat down at his own computer and went on-line to order a new birthday camera for Peggy. It would be a step up from the first one and a different brand. But after a few moments of browsing, he stopped and shut down his machine. He had a better idea.

* * * *

Thursday morning Lou Grossa dropped in. He was the camera maven in the Crime Lab’s Photo Unit. Danny had filled him in on the forensics of the murder, as well as the second photo phenomenon.

“The camera works perfectly,” Lou reported. “The operating program is driven from a programmable read-only memory (PROM) type that cannot be reprogrammed.”

“Couldn’t an alternate device be substituted?” asked Sam. He’d been listening from the open door and now ski-walked in uninvited.

“I see no signs of re-soldering on this circuit board,” replied Lou.

“Maybe someone substituted a different board,” said Danny.

“Not very likely,” said Lou. “The board is a factory original, and even if it wasn’t, there’s still the problem of re-programming. It would take special programming equipment and a blank virgin device manufactured just for this camera maker.”

“What about the memory card?” asked Sam.

“Nothing unusual there,” said Lou. “Still pristine: sixty-four megabytes and every bit functional. I copied the contents and ran some tests. It’s a standard replacement for the sixteen-megabyte card shipped with the camera.”

“But couldn’t the card be removed and altered?” Sam pressed.

“Of course,” said Lou. “That’s what it’s designed to do. But in this case, the card was brand-new. It couldn’t be removed and reinserted as many times as you said without showing some signs of wear. If the camera is as new as you say, the mating connector for the card shows much more wear than the card itself.”

“In plain English, please?” Danny piped up.

“It means more than one memory card has been used in this camera.”

Sam’s fingers ruffled his thick black hair as he shook his head in disbelief. His brown eyes smoldered with frustration and his broad, muscled shoulders slumped visibly. “How could someone insert bootlegged pictures into a series of photographs someone else took?”

“Simple,” said Lou. “Dump the card’s pictures into any laptop, add the extra picture, and edit the series order. Then dump the pictures back onto the memory card.”

“Holy crap!” Danny said.

“Anything else unusual?” asked Sam.

“Yeah,” said Lou, “but I can’t quite put my finger on it. There were a few areas on the picture that seemed a little fuzzy when I enlarged the screen by 200 percent. But I couldn’t determine any tampering at that size.”

“Thanks, Lou,” Danny said.

“For me too, Lou,” Sam added. “You’ve been a great help.”

Lou left and headed back to his lab.

Sam wanted a look at the enlarged photos one more time, so Danny slid the memory card into his desktop computer. They waited for the screen to come alive. Meanwhile, Sam wracked his brain, trying to remember all the times he’d left the camera unattended and who might have had access. The screen came alive, all right, but as soon as the operating system finished regenerating, the screen turned blue, then filled with black running error messages.

Danny shut it down and tried again with the same result. “Damn!” He slapped the side of the computer case with a vengeance. Swiveling around in his chair, he said, “I’ve got another idea, pal.” Unlocking the top drawer of his desk, Danny removed the thumb drive memory containing both photos, and strode over to his partner’s unoccupied station. “Mose won’t be in ’til two,” he said. Sam hobbled close behind and lowered himself into a chair from the side of the desk.

Mose’s computer came up briskly. Danny shoved the thumb drive memory into the front panel USB port and used the mouse to reach the photo files. He was about to download them when he noticed a file folder labeled “SAM.” The two men looked at each other.

“Open it,” Sam said.

Danny didn’t need to be told. Adjusting his wire-rimmed glasses, he leaned forward, his body on alert. He opened the folder to find a whole series of photo files. Switching to thumbnail views gave the two of them quite a shock.

“Whoa!” Sam bellowed. “What the hell?”

“Yeah,” Danny said. “This is not good.” They recognized all the photos from Peggy’s camera. But a number of others had no bearing whatsoever on the criminal case involving her camera. Apparently, the others were used to doctor some of the case photos. They included partial photos and even some that looked like clips from magazines.

Danny turned to Sam. “Obviously, these photos have been tampered with—and on this computer.”

Sam’s brain launched into overdrive as he thought back to the beginning of his investigation. He correlated Sergeant Mose Kauahi’s presence in the office with the moments that he himself had carelessly left the birthday camera unattended. Jeez, he thought. All for a candy bar and to shmooze. Much of it fit—too much. Mose could even have followed him to Kia’s front door.

Heavy footsteps woke him from his thoughts. He turned to face Mose, who dropped into the chair at an adjacent desk.

“So now you know everything, Detective,” said Mose with a sneer. “I should have known I couldn’t put anything past my old partner. But somehow I had to try.”

Sam’s strong ruddy face turned redder yet as he struggled for control. “What was Vivian Koeller to you? And the other woman, too?”

Mose leaned back, legs splayed out, the very picture of relaxation. “Vivian had run away from some horse farm over on the Big Island, near Waimea. Broke, she needed a place to stay for the night, so I bought her a motel room. She was grateful, and one thing led to another.”

“And you, being big-hearted, obliged. Where’d you meet her?” asked Sam.

“At Charlie’s Pub. You were there that night, only you went home early. It was just a fling at first, and then I couldn’t give it up. I wasn’t harming anyone, and the poor kid was one hell of a lay.”

“Harming anyone?” Sam burst out. “What about Annie? You were throwing fifteen years of marriage in the garbage for a piece of flesh?”

By now the confrontation and casual confession had attracted the attention of other detectives at their desks—shuffling papers or holding cell phones to their ears. But listening keenly. Neither Sam nor Mose seemed to care. In fact, Danny was thinking, the more who hear the better.

Mose continued. “I told Annie I was taking extra computer photo courses.”

“Right,” Sam said. “Annie’s a sweet woman, too good for the likes of you, and a swell mom to Junior. You wanna throw all that out the window, too?”

“Of course not,” replied Mose. “I thought I’d play until I tired of Vivian, and Annie would never find out.”

“So what changed?”

“Vivian kept needling me to dump Annie and hook up with her permanently. Well, sir, that wasn’t going to happen, so I tried ending the affair. But she wasn’t having any of it. She began screaming at me and pounding on me with her fists, so I smacked her one across the face. I guess I hit the bitch too hard. Her head snapped back, and she fell, hitting her head on the dresser.

“Is that when you stabbed her five times?” Sam asked, unable to hide his disgust.

“No! No! I didn’t mean to kill her, at least not then. At first I thought I’d only knocked her out, so I picked her up and laid her on the bed. I didn’t notice the blood in her hair until it stained the pillow. She was still breathing okay, but didn’t regain consciousness.”

Danny’s eyes narrowed. “Then what?”

“I began to realize the full impact of what I’d done and what could happen to the rest of my life. My marriage, my career, my pension, and if she died I’d have to serve time. I saw my whole life going down the toilet. The way I saw it I had three choices. One, I could turn myself in and get at least five years for manslaughter and lose Annie and my son in the process. Two, I could finish the job, clean the place up, and walk away like nothing ever happened. I don’t think anyone ever saw us together, but any reasonable detective work would focus on the disgruntled lover. This left choice three. I could walk away, but I needed to divert attention to another motive.”

“You son of a bitch! So you decided to mess with my mind and my daughter’s? Why? We’ve always been pals—partners, for God’s sake. And what did my little kid ever do to you?”

“Not a thing. It was just a great way to introduce the serial killer diversion. But you, Sam. You were lording it over me, ordering me around from the day you made lieutenant—right up until the time you got shot. You even wrote me up when you found me drinking on the job. It cost me a month’s pay and any decent shot I’ll ever have at the lieutenant’s exam.”

Sam shook his head. “Hell, I couldn’t cover for you then and you knew it.”

Danny had heard enough. “You damned fiend. Tell me where the other body is.”

“It doesn’t exist,” said Mose with a boyish, how-clever-I-am grin on his face. “I created it by re-pixelizing several photographs. I created a new face, changed the dress color, and added gory details to the original high-resolution photograph. You should try Photoshop sometime. It works great.”

Sam scowled. “Enough with the sarcasm. But how did you manage to insert a death photo of Vivian two days before she actually died? Her body was still warm when we found her.”

“I took the original photo while she was still alive, but unconscious,” Mose answered. “I simply added the pixelized wounds from cold case files. And last Sunday I saw the camera you bought for Peggy on top of the file cabinet. That’s when I got the whole serial killer idea. I loaded the first nine slots of a virgin memory card with the first crime scene photo, and then erased the first eight slots to make them available to the user. You’d be amazed how often you made that gift camera available to me. I did the second picture exactly the same way.”

“Don’t you have any regrets?” asked Sam. “After all, you took a human life.”

“Sam, I swear it was an accident. The first part, anyway. I’m sorry for the whole affair and how it turned out.”

“Sure you are, you shithead. I can hear the remorse in your voice,” Sam said.

Danny stood up. “Some partner you turned out to be, Mose. You should have taken your medicine. You could have served a few years for manslaughter and possibly even survived your marriage. Now you’re facing charges of premeditated murder. Among others.”

Mose straightened up, stood, and unclipped the handcuffs from his belt. He held them out to Sam. “You can do the honors, old buddy.”

A deeply saddened ex-detective placed the cuffs on his former partner’s wrists.

Danny grabbed Mose by the arm and nudged him toward the elevator—to booking. Then to the basement lockup.

* * * *

Sam knew he couldn’t rest until he’d made things right with Peggy and her mother. He got permission to visit the following afternoon. First, he gently sent his daughter to her room. Then, for more than an hour, he described every detail of his former partner’s crimes. Finally, Kia responded, her eyes filled with tears. “Mose? Such a betrayal. I’m sorry, Sam. So sorry I doubted you.”

She called to Peggy to join them. Her father related a limited, sanitized version. Peggy crawled onto his lap and gave him a hug.

“Hey, Pegs,” he said, “How about coming for a sleepover? The one we didn’t get to have last weekend?”

“Okay, Daddy, but I’ll only come if Goldie can sleep in my room with me.”

Sam grinned. “That can be arranged. If it’s okay with your mother, of course.”

Kia broke into a happy smile, the first in many days.

But Sam wasn’t quite through. He pulled out his wallet and drew out a bunch of twenties. Handing them to his ex-wife, he said, “Our daughter needs a new camera. My gift, of course. But this time it’s out of my hands. Literally.”

She laughed and took the bills.

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