“I don’t understand, Ray.”
Alexandra fled. George collapsed back into his chair. Ray stared at the photograph. Why had Fester taken it? He tried to calm down enough to gather clues. They were at a bar. Probably the Weak Signal. The old Bogie line about of all the gin joints in all the world came to him, but of course, she hadn’t walked into his. She had walked into Fester’s. And there was no way this was a coincidence.
“One second,” he told George.
He pressed Fester’s speed dial—pathetically, Ray thought, Fester, his boss, was the only person he had on speed dial—and heard it ring.
“I don’t get it, Ray,” George said. “This girl, Alexandra? Online she’s telling me that her last boyfriend treated her like crap and ignored her and never took her out. Here I am, going the extra mile, and she freaks out on me. Why?”
Ray held up a one-second finger. Fester’s voice mail kicked in. His message said, “Fester. Beep.”
Ray said, “What the hell is going on with that picture? Call me now.”
He hung up and started heading out.
It was George again.
“I don’t get it. I’m just trying to make the night special for them. Don’t they see that? Online they all say they want romance.”
“First off,” Ray said, “there’s a fine line between romance and restraining order. You got that?”
George nodded slowly. “I guess so. But they all say—”
“Second, what women say is crap. They say they want romance and to be treated like a princess, but all empirical evidence says otherwise. They always choose the guy who treats them like dirt.”
“So what should I do?” George asked, clearly confused. “Should I treat them like dirt too?”
Ray thought about it. He was about to launch into a long spiel of advice but now, looking at George’s face, he said, “Don’t change a thing.”
“I’d hate to live in a world without guys like you. So don’t change. You be the romantic instead of the asshole.”
“You really think so?”
“Well, not if you want to score. If you want to score, you’re hopeless.”
George gave a half-smile at that. “I don’t just want to score. I want to find a true companion.”
“Good answer. Then don’t change. Stick to your guns.” Ray took another step, stopped, turned back. “Well, maybe back off a little. The personalized menus are way over the top.”
“Really? You think? Maybe it’s just the font.”
Ray’s cell phone rang. It was Fester. He quickly picked it up.
“So you know the girl in the picture, I assume,” Fester said.
“Yes, what does she want?”
“What do you think she wants? She wants to talk to you.”
Ray could actually feel his heart beating in his chest. “Is she still at the Weak Signal? I’m on my way.”
“She just left.”
“But she left a message.”
“She said to meet her at Lucy at eleven.”
BROOME CALLED HIS EX, Erin, from the scene and filled her in on the found blood and Cowens’s recollection.
“I’ll get over to the precinct and start the research,” she said.
When Broome arrived, Erin was sitting at his desk rather than her former one directly across from his. That desk, where she sat for more than a decade, was now used by some slick-haired pretty boy who dressed in Armani suits. Broome kept forgetting his name and in a fit of originality had taken to calling him “Armani.” Armani wasn’t here so Broome slipped into his seat. The desk was ridiculously neat and smelled of cologne.
“I can’t believe I missed it,” Erin said.
“We were searching for missing men, not dead ones. So what do you got?”
“The victim’s name was Ross Gunther, age twenty-eight.”
Erin handed him the photograph, the body splayed on its back. The blood was thick around his neck, like he was wearing a crimson scarf.
“Gunther was born in Camden, dropped out of Camden High, lived in Atlantic City,” Erin said. “A true nowhere man headed for a life of nothing. He was single, fairly long sheet of loser stuff—assault, battery, criminal mischief. He also did a little enforcing for a loan shark.”
“How was he killed?”
“His throat was slit—aggressively.”
“Aggressively?” Broome took another look at the photograph. “Looks like he was almost decapitated.”
“Ergo, my use of the term aggressively. As you know already, Morris handled the case. If you want to talk to him, he’s down in Florida.”
“How old is he now?”
“Morris?” She shrugged. “Got be eighty, eighty-five.”
“He was already senile when I joined the force.”
“I don’t think you’ll need to talk to him anyway.”
“He got his man, right?”
Erin nodded. “Gunther had recently started seeing a girl named Stacy Paris. Problem was, Paris was engaged to a hothead named Ricky Mannion. Both men were the very possessive type, if you know what I mean.”
Broome knew all too well what she meant. He’d seen the possessive type too many times in his career—overly jealous, short fuse, mistakes control for love, always holds the girl’s hand in public like a dog marking territory, chockful of raging insecurity that he’s trying to mask in the macho. It never ends well.
“So Morris got a warrant for Mannion’s house,” Erin said. “They found enough evidence to put him away.”
“Like what kind of evidence?”
“Like the murder weapon.” She showed him the photograph of a long knife with a serrated edge. “Mannion had wiped it off, but there were still remnants of blood. They positively tied it to the victim. The early days of DNA. And if that wasn’t enough, they also found Gunther’s blood in Mannion’s car and on a shirt he left by the washing machine.”
“Yowza,” Broome said.
“Yeah, a real Einstein, this Mannion. You’ll never, ever, guess what he claimed.”
“Wait, let me think. Hmm. He was—don’t tell me—framed?”
“Wow, you’re good.”
“Don’t be intimidated. I’m a trained detective.”