Chapter 9

CHIEF Investigator Loren Muse checked her watch. Meeting time.

"You got my goodies?" she asked.

Her assistant was a young woman named Chamique Johnson. Muse had met Chamique during a somewhat famous rape trial. After a rough start in the office, Chamique had made herself fairly indispensable.

"Right here," Chamique said.

"This is big."

"I know."

Muse grabbed the envelope. "Everything in here?"

Chamique frowned. "Oh, no, you did not just ask me that."

Muse apologized and headed across the hall to the office of the Essex County prosecutor-more specifically, the office of her boss, Paul Copeland.

The receptionist-someone new and Muse was terrible with names-greeted her with a smile. "They're all waiting for you."

"Who's waiting for me?"

"Prosecutor Copeland."

"You said, 'they're all.' "


"You said, 'they're all' waiting for me. 'They're all' suggests more than one. Probably more than two."

The receptionist looked confused. "Oh, right. There must be four or five of them."

"With Prosecutor Copeland?"



She shrugged. "Other investigators, I think."

Muse was not sure what to make of this. She had asked for a private meeting to discuss the politically sensitive situation with Frank Tremont. She had no idea why there would be other investigators in his office.

She heard the laughter even before she got into the room. There were indeed six of them, including her boss, Paul Copeland. All men. Frank Tremont was there. So were three more of her investigators. The last man looked vaguely familiar. He held a notebook and pen and there was a tape recorder on the table in front of him.

Cope-that's what everyone called Paul Copeland-was behind his desk and laughing hard at something Tremont had just whispered to him.

Muse felt her cheeks burn.

"Hey, Muse," he called out.

"Cope," she said, nodding toward the others.

"Come in and close the door."

She entered. She stood there and felt all eyes turn toward her. More cheek burn. She felt set up and tried to glare at Cope. He was having none of it. Cope just smiled like the handsome dope he could be. She tried to signal with her eyes that she wanted to talk to him alone first-that this felt a bit like an ambush-but again he would have none of it.

"Let's get started, shall we?"

Loren Muse said, "Okay."

"Wait, do you know everyone here?"

Cope had caused office ripples when he first took over as county prosecutor and stunned all by promoting Muse to be his county chief investigator. The job was usually given to a gruff old-timer, always male, who was supposed to show the political appointee through the system. Loren Muse was one of the youngest investigators in the department when he selected her. When asked by the media what criteria he had used to select a young female over more seasoned male veterans, he answered in one word: "Merit."

Now here she was, in a room with four of those same passed-by old-timers.

"I don't know this gentleman," Muse said, nodding toward the man with the pad and pen.

"Oh, I'm sorry." Cope put out his hand like a game show host and slapped on the TV-ready smile. "This is Tom Gaughan, a reporter for The Star  -  Ledger."

Muse said nothing. Tremont's hack of a brother-in-law. This was getting better and better.

"Mind if we start now?" he asked her.

"Suit yourself, Cope."

"Good. Now Frank here has a complaint. Frank, go ahead, the floor is yours."

Paul Copeland was closing in on forty years old. His wife had died of cancer right after the birth of their now-seven-year-old daughter, Cara. He had raised her alone. Until now anyway. There were no longer any pictures of Cara on his desk. There used to be. Muse remembered that when he first started, Cope had kept one on the bookshelf right behind his chair. Then one day, after they'd grilled a child molester, Cope had taken it down. She never asked him about it, but she figured that there had been a connection.

There was no picture of his fiancee either, but on Cope's coatrack, Muse could see a tuxedo wrapped in plastic. The wedding was next Saturday. Muse would be there. She was, in fact, one of the bridesmaids.

Cope sat behind his desk, giving Tremont the floor. There were no other chairs available, so Muse was left standing. She felt exposed and pissed off. A subordinate was about to start in on her-and Cope, her supposed champion, was going to let it happen. She tried hard not to shout sexism at every turn, but if she'd been male, there would have been no way she'd have to take Tremont's nonsense. She'd have the power to fire his ass, political and media repercussions notwithstanding.

She stood and seethed.

Frank Tremont hitched up his belt, even though he remained seated. "Look, no disrespect to Ms. Muse here-"

"Chief Investigator Muse," Loren said.

"Excuse me?"

"I'm not Ms. Muse. I have a title. I'm chief investigator. Your boss."

Tremont smiled. He slowly turned toward his fellow investigators and then toward his brother-in-law. His amused expression seemed to say, See what I mean?

"Kinda sensitive, aren't you"-then switching into full-tilt sar- casm-"Chief Investigator Muse?"

Muse glanced at Cope. Cope stayed still. His face offered no solace. He simply said, "Sorry about the interruption, Frank, go on."

Muse felt her hands tighten into fists.

"Right, anyway, I have twenty-eight years of law enforcement experience. I caught this hooker case down in the Fifth Ward. Now it's one thing for her to show up uninvited. I don't like it. It isn't protocol. But okay, if Muse here wants to pretend she can be helpful, fine. But she starts giving orders. Starts taking over, undermining my authority in front of the uniforms."

He spread his arms. "That ain't right."

Cope nodded. "You did indeed catch this case."


"Tell me about it."


"Tell me about the case."

"We don't know much yet. Hooker found dead. Someone bashed in her face good. ME thinks she was beaten to death. No ID yet. We asked some of the other hookers, but no one knows who she is."

"Do the other hookers not know her name," Cope asked, "or they don't know her at all?"

"They ain't talking much, but you know how it is. No one sees nothing. We'll work them."

"Anything else?"

"We found a green bandana. It ain't an exact match but it's the colors of a new gang. I'm having some of the known members picked up. We'll grill them, see if we can get one to give up the mutt. We're also working the computers, see if we can get someone with a similar MO working prostitutes in the area."


"And so far, nothing. I mean, we got plenty of dead hookers. I don't have to tell you that, boss. This is the seventh this year."


"We ran them through local. No hits. We'll go NCIC, but that'll take some time."

Cope nodded. "Okay, so your complaint about Muse is...?"

"Look, I don't want to step on any toes, but let's face it: She shouldn't have this job anyway. You picked her because she's a woman. I get that. That's the reality today. A guy puts in his years, works hard, it don't mean nothing if someone has black skin or no dick. I get that. But this is discrimination too. I mean, just because I'm a guy and she's a gal doesn't mean it should fly, right? If I was her boss and I questioned everything she did, well, she'd probably scream rape or harassment or something and I'd get my ass sued off."

Cope nodded again. "That makes sense." He turned toward Loren. "Muse?"


"Any comment?"

"For one, I'm not sure I'm the only one in the room with no dick." She looked at Tremont.

Cope said, "Anything else?"

"I feel sandbagged."

"Not at all," Cope said. "You are his superior, but that doesn't mean you should be babysitting him, right? I'm your superior, do I babysit you?"

Muse fumed.

"Investigator Tremont has been here a long time. He has friends and respect. That's why I'm giving him this opportunity. He wants to go to the press with this in a big way. Make a formal complaint. I asked him to have this meeting. Be reasonable. Let him invite Mr. Gaughan, so he can see how we work in an open and nonhostile fashion."

They all looked at her.

"Now I will ask again," Cope said to her. His eyes met hers. "Do you have any comments on what Investigator Tremont just said?"

Cope had a smile on his face now. Not a big one. Just the corners of his mouth twitching. And she suddenly understood.

"I do," Muse said.

"The floor is yours."

Cope sat back now and put his hands behind his head.

"Let's start with the fact that I don't think the victim was a prostitute."

Cope raised his eyebrows as though this were the most stunning sentence anyone had ever uttered. "You don't?"


"But I saw her clothes," Cope said. "I heard Frank's report just now. And the location of the body-everyone knows that's where hookers hang out."

"Including the killer," Muse said. "That's why he dumped her there."

Frank Tremont burst out laughing. "Muse, you're full of crap. You need evidence, sweetie, not just intuition."

"You want evidence, Frank?"

"Sure, let's hear it. You got nothing."

"How about her skin color."


"Meaning she is Caucasian."

"Oh, this is precious," Tremont said, holding up both palms. "Oh, I love this." He looked at Gaughan. "You getting this down, Tom, because this is simply priceless. I suggest that maybe, just maybe, a prostitute isn't priority one and I'm a bigoted Neanderthal. But when she claims that our victim can't possibly be a whore because she's white, well, that's solid police work."

He wagged a finger in her direction. "Muse, you need a little more time on the streets."

"You said that there were six other murdered prostitutes."

"Yeah, so?"

"Do you know that all six were African American?"

"That don't mean squat. Maybe the other six were-I don't know- tall. And this one was short. That mean she wasn't a hooker?"

Muse walked over to the bulletin board on Cope's wall. She pulled a photograph from her envelope and tacked it up. "This was taken at the crime scene."

They all looked.

"It's the crowd behind the police tape," Tremont said.

"Very good, Frank. But next time raise your hand and wait until I call on you."

Tremont crossed his arms. "What are we supposed to be looking at?"

"What do you see here?" she asked.

"Hookers," Tremont said.

"Exactly. How many?"

"I don't know. You want me to count?"

"Just an estimate."

"Maybe twenty."

"Twenty-three. That's good, Frank."

"And your point?"

"Please count how many of them are white."

No one had to look long to see the answer: zero.

"Are you now trying to tell me, Muse, that there are no white hookers?"

"There are. But very few in that area. I went back three months. According to the arrest files, no Caucasian has been arrested for solicitation within a three-block radius during that entire time period. And as you pointed out, her fingerprints aren't on file. How many local prostitutes can you say that about?"

"Plenty," Tremont said. "They come in from out of state, stay a while, die or move on to Atlantic City." Tremont spread his hands. "Wow, Muse, you're great. I might as well quit now."

He chuckled. Muse did not.

Muse pulled out more photographs and put them up. "Take a look at the victim's arms."

"Right, so?"

"No needle marks, not one. Prelim tox shows no illegal drugs in her system. So again, Frank, you tell me: How many white hookers in the Fifth Ward aren't junkies?"

That slowed him down.

"She's well nourished," Muse went on, "which means a little but not much today. Plenty of hookers are well nourished. No major bruises or breaks prior to this incident, also unusual for a hooker working this area. We can't tell much about her dental work because most of her teeth were knocked out-those that are left were well taken care of. But take a look at this."

She put up another huge photograph on the bulletin board.

"Shoes?" Tremont said.

"Gold star, Frank."

Cope's glance told her to tone down the sarcasm.

"And hooker shoes," Tremont continued. "Stiletto heel, do-me pumps. Look at those ugly puppies you're wearing, Muse. You ever wear heels like those?"

"No, I don't, Frank. How about you?"

That got a chuckle from the room. Cope shook his head.

"So what's your point?" Tremont asked. "They're straight out of the hooker catalog."

"Look at the bottom of the soles."

She used a pencil to point.

"What am I supposed to see?"

"Nothing. That's the point. No scuff marks. Not one."

"So they're new."

"Too new. I had the photo enlarged." She put up another photograph. "Not one single scratch. No one has walked in them. Not even once."

The room went quiet.


"Good comeback, Frank."

"Up yours, Muse, this doesn't mean-"

"By the way, she had no semen in her."

"So? Maybe this was her first trick of the night."

"Maybe. She also has a tan that you need to examine."

"A what?"

"A tan."

He tried to look incredulous, but he was losing his support. "There's a reason, Muse, why these girls are called street hookers. Streets, you see, are outside. These girls work outside. A lot."

"Forgetting the fact that we really haven't had much sun lately, the tan lines are wrong. They cut up over here"-she pointed to the shoul- ders-"and there's no tan near the abdomen-the area is totally pale. In short, this woman wore shirts, not bikini tops. And then there's that bandana found clutched in her hand."

"Grabbed off the perp during the attack."

"No, not grabbed off. It's an obvious plant. The body was moved, Frank. So we're supposed to believe that she clutched it off his head while she struggled-and they just left it there when they dumped her body? Does that sound credible?"

"Could be the gang was sending a message."

"Could be. But then there's the beating itself."

"What about it?"

"It's overdone. No one beats up someone with that much precision."

"You have a theory?"

"An obvious one. Someone didn't want us to recognize her. And something else. Look where she was dumped."

"At a well-known spot for whores."

"Exactly. We know she wasn't murdered there. She was dumped there. Why that spot? If she was a hooker, why would you want us to know that? Why dump a hooker in a well-known hooker locale? I will tell you why. Because if she's mistaken early for a hooker and some lazy fat-assed investigator takes the case and sees the easiest route-"

"Who you calling fat-assed?"

Frank Tremont stood. And Cope quietly said, "Sit down, Frank."

"Are you going to let her-?"

"Shh," Cope said. "Hear that sound?"

Everyone stopped.


Cope cupped his hand to his ear. "Listen, Frank. Hear it?" His voice was a whisper. "That's the sound of your incompetence being made obvious to the masses. Not just your incompetence, but your suicidal stupidity at going after your superior when the facts do not back you up."

"I don't have to take this-"

"Shh, listen. Just listen."

Muse was trying hard not to laugh.

"Were you listening, Mr. Gaughan?" Cope asked.

Gaughan cleared his throat. "I heard what I had to."

"Good, because so did I. And since you asked to record this meeting, well, I felt obliged to do so too." Cope produced a small tape recorder from behind a book on his desk. "Just in case, you know, your boss wanted to hear exactly what happened in here and your recorder malfunctioned or something. We wouldn't want anyone to think you'd slant the story in favor of your brother-in-law, would we?"

Cope smiled at them. They did not smile back.

"Gentlemen, any other comments? No, good. Back to work, then. Frank, you take the rest of the day off. I want you to think about your options and maybe check out some of the great retirement packages we offer."