A young nurse is savagely killed during a pre-dawn run on Galveston’s seawall. The murderer slices her running shorts from her body as his trophy and tosses the body over the wall to the rocks below. As dawn breaks, a bedraggled street person, wearing four layers of old, tattered clothes, emerges from the end of the jetty, waving his arms and talking to people only he hears. He trips over the body, checks for a pulse and, instead, finds a diamond bracelet which he puts in his pocket. He hurries across the street, heading for breakfast at the Salvation Army two blocks away, leaving his footprints in blood as he goes.
Wayne Little, former Galveston prosecutor and now Houston trial lawyer, learns that his older brother has been charged with capital murder for the killing. At first he refuses to be dragged back into his brother’s life. Once a brilliant lawyer, Dan’s paranoid schizophrenia had captured his mind, estranging everyone including Wayne. Finally giving in to pleas from his mother, Wayne enlists the help of his best friend, Duke Romack, former NBA star turned criminal lawyer. When Wayne and Duke review the evidence, they conclude that Dan’s chances are slim. They either find the killer or win a plea of insanity since the prosecution’s case is air tight. The former may be a mission impossible since the killer is the most brilliant, devious and cruel fictional murderer since Hannibal Lecter. The chances of winning an insanity plea are equally grim.
It will take the combined skills of the two lawyers along with those of Duke’s girlfriend, Claudia, a brilliant appellate lawyer, and Rita Contreras, Wayne’s next door neighbor and computer hacker extraordinaire, to attempt to unravel the mystery of the serial killer before the clock clicks down to a guilty verdict for Dan.
The alarm jolted the young blond woman out of a dream where she was surfing toward a pristine beach on Maui, which had mystically transformed itself into jagged rocks. She moaned, turned off the radio, tried to rub the sleep out of her eyes and forced herself out of bed. It was five a. m. Debbie Robinson had two hours before she reported to work as a surgical nurse in the operating room at John Sealy Hospital in Galveston. Nude, she shuffled to the bathroom and then to the kitchen where she made a cup of instant coffee before slipping into a jogging bra, sweatshirt, shorts and New Balance running shoes. A five mile run along the seawall was her usual routine to prepare for her day
She stopped at the front door to take her key from the entry table and glanced in the mirror. Even with no make-up, the mirror reflected a wholesomely attractive face with a sharply defined chin, full lips, light blue eyes and a nose that had been touched up only slightly by a friendly plastic surgeon at the hospital. After she pulled her hair back into a pony tail, she left her apartment, glanced toward the hospital two blocks over and started a slow trot down 8th Street toward the Gulf of Mexico and Seawall Boulevard. Reaching the seawall, she paused momentarily and gazed out across the Gulf. At this hour of the morning, the stars were still visible in the eastern sky.
Resuming her run, in a matter of a few blocks Debbie had settled into an eight minute pace, fast enough to get her back to her apartment in about forty-five minutes. As she approached the old Galvez Hotel at 21st Street, she heard footsteps coming up behind her. Early morning joggers were common along the seawall; so she moved over to allow the other runner to pass.
Suddenly, Debbie felt a strong arm circling her waist and a hand covering her mouth. She had trained in the martial arts for years and refused to surrender to her panic. Instead, she twisted and brought her knee up into the groin of her attacker who groaned but still succeeded in forcing her to the ground. Before he could pin her arms, she reached into her shorts and found her apartment key. Using it as her only weapon, she raked the key as hard as she could down her attacker’s left cheek.
The killer let a low moan escape his lips. “Damn it, you bitch, you shouldn’t have done that.”
The killer held her with his left hand while he retrieved a knife from its holster on his waist. He flipped open the blade and pulled it from right to left against the soft flesh of her throat. Blood spurted from both carotid arteries and spilled from her neck. She was breathing more and more slowly when she slipped to the concrete. Her fluttering eyes became fixed as life drained from her body. The killer smiled with satisfaction as he bent over and used his knife to slice the running shorts from her lifeless body. Being careful not to get her blood on himself, he picked up her body and tossed it over the seawall to the rocks below. When he started his slow jog back to the hotel, he felt a few drops of blood, trickling from his cheek. He used her shorts to stem the flow. I’ll probably have to explain a Band-Aid on my cheek to my audience this morning as a shaving cut, he thought. As he continued his jog, he smiled. She was number three. Forty-seven to go.
A boulder covered jetty extended out about a hundred yards in front of the Galvez. As the sun rose, it illuminated the silhouette of a man sitting cross-legged at the end of the jetty, watching silently as the orange hued ball broke through the fog overhanging the Gulf. Satisfied that he brought forth another day as the voices commanded, he rose and picked his way through the rocks back to the seawall.
He certainly was not a jogger. His gray hair was a tangled, matted mess that hung below his shoulders, and he scratched at a long, scraggly beard as if searching for fleas or mites. He wore four layers of clothes, all that he possessed, and a tattered brown raincoat found in a dumpster. When people passed him, they recoiled from the stench of urine, feces and filth that surrounded him. As he made his way back to the seawall, he was waving his hands and shaking his head as if to reject someone’s direction. All the while he was muttering to an unseen being, something about wanting to be left alone.
He didn’t notice the jogger’s body until he tripped and almost fell on her. Even then he continued to talk. He bent over and peered into her face, expecting to find one of his fellow street people passed out below the wall. When he saw her neck and the pool of blood that had oozed from the gaping wound, he jumped back, horror framing his face. Looking around and seeing no one else, he stepped forward again, not realizing that his left foot was now in the blood. A second time he bent over the lifeless form and touched her left wrist, searching for a pulse. There was none. Instead, he found a diamond bracelet, paused as he glanced up at the seawall once more and took the bracelet from her wrist. Holding it close to his face, he studied the bracelet and found an inscription, To Debbie with love, Dad.
Now he became frightened that someone would find him with the woman. Glancing in all directions to make sure he was not seen, he stuck the bracelet in the pocket of his second layer of pants where it would be safe and started for the seawall. Abruptly, he stopped, listened briefly, nodded and returned to the body where he removed one of his coats and covered the woman’s head and shoulders. Then he climbed the steps to the top of the seawall where he saw an older couple out for a morning stroll. He turned his head to hide his face as he hurried toward 21st and the Salvation Army where he would join a line of other homeless ones awaiting breakfast. The couple heard him continuing his monologue.
“I know, I know, I shouldn’t have taken her bracelet,” he said, gesturing as if trying to push someone away. “Look, she’s dead. She didn’t have a pulse. It’s mine now. How many times do I have to tell you to leave me alone?”
When the light changed to green, he picked up his pace and crossed Seawall Boulevard, shaking his head. “I’m getting out of here as quick as I can. You don’t have to tell me how to do everything.”
Wayne Little loved every aspect of a trial except this one…waiting for the jury to return a verdict. Until the jury retired to deliberate, he could exert significant control and often take charge as he maneuvered through voir dire, examination of witnesses, arguing points of law to the judge and final summation. Once the summation was concluded, all he could do was wait, often for agonizing hours, even days.
Of course he would win like he nearly always did. Nonetheless, nagging doubts always crept into his mind as he paced the halls of the Harris County courthouse. Often, he walked up and down the stairway just to burn off nervous energy before he would return to the courtroom, reassure his client and wander off again.
The questions were nearly always the same. Did he make the right points on closing? Was he too easy on the expert witnesses? Should he have struck that one juror who glared at him throughout the trial and stared at the ceiling when he made his closing argument? And inevitably the longer the jury deliberated, the more questions surfaced.
It had been three hours when Claudia Jackson, a new partner in the firm and his second chair in the trial, found him at a table in the basement cafeteria, cold black coffee in his hand.
“Wayne, I’ve been looking all over this damn courthouse for you,” Claudia said, not trying to hide the exasperation in her voice.
Wayne looked up expectantly. “We get a verdict?”
“No, but I got a call from Grace. She said your cell must be off.
Wayne searched through his pockets for his phone, looked at it and agreed. “Yeah, I turned it off this morning when we began closing arguments and forgot about it.”
“Grace says the District Attorney in Galveston called. Said it was a courtesy call since you worked for him before you joined Tod. I didn’t know you had been a prosecutor.”
“Guess I never told you. I did three years there before Tod talked me into leaving my hometown and moving to Houston. That was about ten years ago.”
“He told Grace to tell you that your brother is in the hoosegow.”
A cloud crossed Wayne’s face as he stared down at the floor. “I don’t have a brother, Claudia. I haven’t had one since I’ve been in Houston.”
Puzzled, Claudia continued, “Wayne, the D. A. said this guy’s name was Dan Little. He’s apparently in pretty bad shape but mumbled something about you being his brother. And he had a faded, dirty business card with your name on it in one of his pockets.
“One more thing. The D. A. said to tell you he is charged with capital murder.”
After the jury returned a verdict for his client, Wayne told Claudia he would see her in the office the next day. He walked to the parking lot where he dropped his briefcase in a blue Nissan Armada and crossed the street to Tex’s Bar, a place he knew would be practically deserted in the middle of the afternoon. Wayne was enough of a regular that Tex, the owner and bartender, knew him by name and knew his brand of Scotch.
“Gimmie a double, Tex.”
“Starting a little early with the hard stuff today, aren’t you, Wayne? You just lose a case?”
“No. Actually, I just won one, but this isn’t a celebration. I’ve got some personal issues to sort through.”
Tex had been a bartender long enough to know when a customer wanted to be left alone; so, he poured a double Scotch on the rocks, set it in front of Wayne and walked to the other end of the bar where he continued to wash drink glasses.
Tex occasionally glanced toward Wayne, wondering what problems were troubling him. Wayne seemed to have the world by the tail. He carried a lean and muscular two hundred and ten pounds on a six foot, four inch frame. His hair was black as the ace of spades and his gray eyes sparkled when he told a joke or described his last win. Yet, his easy-going smile hid an intense personality, a young type-A if there ever was one.
In an hour or so, other lawyers began drifting into the bar. Seeing Wayne, some tried to strike up a conversation. Wayne was polite but his manner soon discouraged them; so they wandered off to other parts of the bar to tell war stories and bitch about judicial rulings. After enough drinks that Tex was concerned about his driving, Wayne paid his tab, assuring Tex that he was fine.
Leaving the bar, he considered taking the Metro train which stopped in Midtown only two blocks from his townhouse. Then he remembered his Nissan would be too tempting if he left it overnight. Once he crossed the street he was confronted by a homeless man.
“You got any spare change, mister? I haven’t eaten today and sure could use a hamburger.”
Wayne usually brushed such requests aside. This time, wishing it was Dan just asking for a buck, he reached in his back pocket and pulled a five dollar bill out of his wallet. Then, he continued to his car, climbed in and left the parking lot on the Fannin Street side. Carefully observing speed limits and red lights, he drove south on Fannin to his home. Wayne tried to push Claudia’s news out of his mind, only the more he tried the quicker the thoughts returned. In less than ten minutes he punched in the code at the complex gate, entered the driveway and turned down into his garage.