The story so far:
January 16, 2009 (continued)
I wasn’t particularly surprised when Hoff wasn’t happy to see me. After the laser dolls incident, he’d been keeping himself out of trouble, most likely to avoid having to face me again. Smart guy, for a greedy idiot.
What did surprise me was that he already knew why I was knocking on his door.
“I had nothing to do with this,” he grunted, giving me the evil eye through the screen door.
“I’m sure you didn’t,” I replied. “Can I come in?”
He grumbled a bit more, but let me in. Small packing boxes lined the far wall, adding to the general mess of debris in the place.
I gestured to the boxes. “New business?”
“Kid’s selling scout cookies.” He flipped open the lid on one of the boxes, revealing a neatly arranged row of Minty Delights. “Wanna buy some?”
“And how do you know about what’s going on?”
He snorted, shoving some greasy curls out of his face. “Who doesn’t, man? It’s all the news talks about right now. Soon’s they talked about those boxes, I figured you’d come harassing me again.”
“I hardly call pursuing a criminal ‘harassment’.”
“Whatever. Anyway, I can tell you how he did it, but it wasn’t me. I’ve been clean. You can ask my PO.”
I eyed him. “He?”
“What, it’s a she? Figures. Should’ve known that one when they talked about that freaky padding crap. Only a chick would put in that kind of fuss.”
“What would a box like that be used for?”
He looked at me like I’d just asked why the sky was blue. “Keeping people. What else?”
It took some effort to keep my tone steady. I hated dealing with these low-brains, but frankly, there were too many of them to avoid.
“Why would she keep people?”
“Like, selling them?”
I shook my head. “What else?”
“You’re not being particularly helpful, Hoff. And withholding information crucial to an open investigation could really screw up your parole.”
That got him mad. “Hey, man, I told you, I didn’t have nothing to do with this! Just because I know how it’s done doesn’t mean I know what this chick’s doing with it!”
My turn to shrug. Then I straightened my jacket and turned for the door.
I let it linger in the air, just for a moment—just long enough for me to replace the grin on my face with a skeptical expression. “What?”
He sighed, dropped into a beat-up recliner. “I had a guy, you know, a…”
“Business partner. He talked to me at one point about how to keep people in stasis. He had some deal going with some rich kids or something.”
I looked at my watch. “You better get a lot more articulate, fast.”
“Look, I’m talking, right?” he snapped. Shook his head. “It was just these kids who wanted to screw up their bodies—drugs, jack, whatever—without having to pay for it later. So he was finding people who matched the kids, you know, homeless people, and he wanted to keep them in stasis until the rich kids needed a new liver or whatever.”
“Your pal was killing people for their organs?” I demanded, feeling my ire rising.
“He’s already on for murder,” Hoff interjected quickly before I could say more. “He did a couple, and they caught him, and he’s up in Langster now. But they didn’t know about the stasis part, right? That didn’t come out.”
“And you didn’t think it was important for anyone to know.”
“No, man. I would’ve told if it’d worked, but it didn’t.” He shoved at the greasy curl again. “Look, you put someone in stasis, take them out, no harm, right? But you take something out of them and shove it in someone else? Screws with the body. Those rich kids didn’t last another month with those organs. Figured they deserved it. Poetry or something.”
Yeah, or something. I shook my head. “So how is this helpful to our investigation now?”
“I don’t know! Look, you came in here, yelling at me, saying you’re going to throw me back in jail or something, and I got a kid to think about now, you know? It was all I could think of.” He paused. “Look, she’s gotta be smart, right?”
I didn’t answer that question.
“So maybe she came up with some way around it. Maybe she figured out a way to make it work. That could be what she’s up to, man.”
I eyed him over a moment longer, but even without using magical means of interrogation, it was abundantly clear that the man knew nothing. At all.
So I spun on my heel and headed for the door. “I’ll be in touch.”
None of the recovered victims had any indications of recent surgery—at least, not that I knew of. Most of the victims would be dead, of course, but some probably would only need a liver regrowth or a kidney. And she’d want to maximize her assets, so there was no way she’d kill someone who still had one perfectly good kidney left…
I dialed Grif. “Check the records. Tell me if any of the victims have had recent surgery. Or any missing organs.”
“Call me back once you know,” I ordered, then reached for the disconnect.
“Hey, wait! The boss wants to talk to you. They’re gonna open up a bunch more storage units in the neighboring cities.”
“They approved that?”
“Yeah. I guess a lot of people are freaking out, so the city wants it all resolved as soon as possible. The governor himself ordered a strategic team formed to scan storage units, warehouses, sheds, pretty much anything for medical equipment and those boxes.”
“When will they start?”
“Boss already sent out a handful to start with. I think he wants you to join the next wave.”
I couldn’t help but smile as I climbed back into the cab.
The boss talked with me for the first half of the ride to the precinct. He basically told me everything Grif had already blabbed, as well as officially asking me to be part of the next group in the team. I accepted with grace, of course, though I did wonder out loud why he hadn’t waited for me to be part of the first team out.
He sighed. “We’ve got a lot of places to scan. We needed to get started right away. And since you headed out without telling anyone where you were going…”
“I had a lead,” I retorted. “And now I might know what she’s doing with these people.”
I felt the smile returning. “Organ harvesting.”
“I heard stasis messes up organ viability?”
And the smile vanished. “Where’d you hear that?”
“They experimented with it, with terminal patients. To keep the organs viable longer. But it screwed things up, so they abandoned it.”
Irritated, I shrugged. “I didn’t say she was smart about it. Just that she might be trying it. For the money.”
“We’ll keep it in mind. For now, we’ll focus on these scans.”
I was nearly back to the precinct when I got the call from Grif. “Meet me out by the old storage units on Parker Avenue. We found something.”
The cab driver, fortunately, knew exactly where those were, and five minutes later I was at an all-too-familiar scene lit with red and blue flashing lights. Grif found me and directed me into storage unit 6B.
Two cots were set up on either side of the unit. Each had an IV pole with bags dangling high. Each had a very still person stretched out on them: a skinny man on one and a ragged-looking older woman on the other.
One of the paramedics looked up from the man as Grif and I approached. “Just like the others,” he said, rolling the victim to his side. The man had the same puncture wounds and bruises as the others, right on the back of the neck.
“Was anything connected to his neck when you first got on the scene?” Grif asked, jumping in before I could.
The boss approached. “We’ve got a name, phone number, and address on the unit,” he said. “Shouldn’t take long to track down.”
I let the smile rest on my face this time. Willsey had panicked, obviously. She’d gotten sloppy.
And now, finally—for real this time—
We had her.