I pulled some petrified towels off of the rack in the bathroom and wrapped them with shaking hands over Deb’s leg. I couldn’t see an exit wound. The bullet had punched through a wall before it got into her leg. It probably didn’t have enough velocity to blow the inside of her leg apart as it entered. The towels were getting soaked through. “They shot me. They shot me,” she said, repeating it over and over. The ambulance was at least twenty minutes out. I had to get her to calm down until then. I stroked her hair. It was drenched in cold sweat. “Take it easy, Deb. Some kind of divorce case this turned out to be, right? I bet you feel real gypped right now. Here you are just taking notes and you end up with a purple heart. Not exactly an “in the line of duty” type of injury, is it?” She gave me a little smile. “At least I didn’t dive over the bed like some scared rookie mall cop, App.” I laughed, trying to hide the panic I was feeling, trying to suppress the rage I felt at the chicken-shit hold up men who did this, rage at the slack-jaws that ran the ambulance service out here in the swamp who couldn’t be bothered to get here on time. I couldn’t stop thinking about the bodies that were slumped over like rag dolls in the next room, the floor pooling up in the blood of six men, the mist patterns drooling off of the wall and the ceiling. And Gail. My god, Gail. I wanted to call her after the ambulance came and before the cops and the media would turn The Nightshade Motel into a complete circus. “You’re hurting my hand,” Deb said. I quickly let go of her hand and she shook it a little to get the feeling back. “I’m okay, App. Thanks for taking care of me, handsome.” Again, I tried to laugh a little. I was on the ragged edge for the next twenty-five minutes until I heard the ambulance’s siren blare as it tore down the dirt road. Along with the ambulance came about a hundred brown-and-yellow Mustangs belonging to the swarm of Barney Fife clones that made up the Duval County Sheriffs. This was going to get worse before it got better. We loaded Deb into the ambulance and before the doors shut she gave me a thumbs-up like the captain of the team who gets carted off the field after an injury but wants the fans to know that he’s okay and he’ll be back next week to win the big game. I waved at her and tried to fight off the urge to vomit. Why the hell did I bring her out here? My instinct for danger was numbed by too much sitting on my ass at the office, watching my waistline expand and my hair turn grey, moping for what used to be. I wasn’t frosty enough tonight, and Deb took the hit for it. I had to get this right. Suddenly, I missed the bourgeois comforts of an open-and-shut divorce case. I went back to the room and grabbed my camera. Good thing I brought those extra rolls of film, because those six bodies in the other room were likely to be very photogenic. I had to get as much dope on the murders as I could before the cops tore the place apart. I took a long slug out of the bottle I brought with me and let the whiskey mellow me out before I called up Gail de Ramos. I got her voicemail and told her to call me back as soon as she could. Then, I hung up and took another drink. Duval County’s finest would make this a long night for me and I wasn’t looking forward to it. Idly, I leafed through the stack of porno tapes on the TV stand. There was “Barnyard Beauties 4”, “All Anal Slutfest”, “Teen Swallowers”, the usual up-front, disgusting titles with pictures of the girls doing what they did best on the backs of the tapes. I wouldn’t be surprised if the same outfit that owned this motel also produced this trash. It was all a sewer that most likely started in West Palm Beach and then ran its pipeline of trashy book stores, video stores, massage parlors, and hooker motels all the way up to Duval county. One tape, ingeniously entitled “Newcummers,” caught my eye. On the back of it, was a dark haired, well-endowed girl of about twenty-one kneeling down and getting ready to take on two anonymous studs who had their dicks popping into either side of the frame. The picture was faded and she looked a lot younger, but I got a real knack for remembering pretty faces. Staring back at me with those same bedroom eyes so full of alligator tears in my office this morning was none other than a young Gail de Ramos. My heart started racing again. Knowing that the cops outside would be looking for me, I quickly stuffed the tape into a pocket of the briefcase that Deb carried the laptop in. Then, I tried to forget about all about it. So Derek married a pornstar, so what. That didn’t mean anything, not yet. There was no real way to find an angle on it until I got a chance to ask Gail about it. Would she mind my asking? Sure. But this is the job. I took another drink. I snatched up the Nikon and got ready to go to work. On my way out of the door to the crime scene, Barney Fife stuck his pencil in my face. “You’re the man called in the shooting?” drawled the skinny, weasel-faced rookie. “Appalachia Cruz, private investigator,” I said, producing my investigator’s license. “I’d like to get into that room and get some pictures.” The cop shook his head and squirted a jet of Red Man through his teeth. “This here’s a crime scene involving multiple homicides within the jurisdiction of The Duval County Sheriffs. I’d like you to step on back to my car so I can take you into the office and ask you a few questions.” The crime lab goofs were now opening up the blood stained door. Everybody had their cameras and blacklights out, ready for the big payoff. When the door opened there were the general whistles and shouts of astonishment and disgust at what they saw in the room. One fat pig with a moustache ran out of the room and puked in the bush that I was hiding in earlier. If I wanted to join the party I had to lean on Barney Fife a little. I got up close to him. “I’ve got an open and active investigation on one of the victims in that room, a Mr. Derek de Ramos. I was performing surveillance on the victims at the time of the shooting. I can provide you with a full transcription of everything that transpired in that motel room up to the time of the shooting. My partner was wounded in the altercation that followed. Now, all that I ask is that I be allowed to gather what evidence there is so far to continue my investigation and you will have my full cooperation.” I pushed past the little brown-shirt weasel and shoved some other people aside so I could poke my camera into the room. I didn’t quite get a good look before the cop’s hand was on my shoulder and he wheeled me around. He put his back up against the wall of fuzz that barricaded the door and put his hand on the butt of his firearm. “Sir, you’ve been ordered directly to allow me to escort you to our office where you will questioned. Now, if you keep pushing me, I’ll have to charge you with resisting arrest.” “This ain’t a fucking parking ticket, pal,” I said. I stepped forward and threw my fist full into his face. All ninety pounds of him flew through the throng of cops and he slid through the kiddie pool of red gore that was soaked into the floor of the room. He struggled to right himself and stood up caked in the physical evidence of a six-count homicide. He flew out the door with his mace in hand and I saw the eye of the nozzle just before a full burst of the horrible liquid scorched off my face. The other cops leapt on me with a litany of curses and body blows. It only hurt me for a few seconds more until I puked into the weasel’s mouth and everything went black.