It is an hour before dawn and I am driving home after a midnight boat trip to the Gulf Stream. I am feeling good. I always do after a kill. The precious blood slide – my trophy – is safely in my pocket and I touch it as I drive, reliving the moment. My victim begging uselessly for his life. My knife pressing into plastic-wrapped flesh, making an indentation in the flesh above the heart before skin tears, muscle resists, blood flows and the knife sinks down. One less killer on Miami’s streets.
I feel good.
Though there are few others on the road at this hour I drive with care, obeying the speed limit, so I am surprised when a patrol car appears behind me and its lights begin to flash. Perhaps it is some mistake, an APB out for a car that matches mine. The siren whoops insistently. I pull over to the side of the road.
I get out of the car before the officer reaches me. I am ready with my best innocent smile. Before I can ask if there is a problem, the officer draws his gun.
“Dexter Morgan?” he demands, the gun steady, aimed at my chest.
This is not normal cop behavior for a broken tail light. He has my name so there is little point in denial. I raise my hands. “Yes. Is there a – ”
“On your knees, now!”
I see the other officer get out of the patrol car. I do not know what is happening, but I can do nothing. I kneel, my hands still outstretched. The ground is dusty and scattered with small stones. Kneeling is uncomfortable, but I can endure it.
“Give me your keys,” the officer orders. “Slowly,” he adds.
“The car keys are in the ignition,” I tell him truthfully.
He waves his partner over and it’s he who opens my car, takes the keys and pops the trunk. I am relaxed; I know the trunk is utterly clean. Then I hear more sirens. Backup is on the way. Guns and now backup? Have they mistaken me for someone dangerous?
I wait on my knees while my car is searched. They find my case of knives, but the knives are clean, utterly clean. I’m the blood guy; I know how to clean blood off my murder weapons. I can explain the collection. There is nothing else incriminating in the car. No needles or syringes. No animal tranquilizer. No rolls of plastic or heavy duty disposal bags. No trace of the body currently being carried by the Gulf Stream out to the north Atlantic. I am safe, for now.
As the backup cars circle and stop, the second cop comes close to my back. I am prepared for the worst, but still I am surprised when steel snaps closed around my wrist. Without thinking, I wrench myself away before he can cuff my other wrist. But I have forgotten the other has a gun on me.
“Freeze!” he yells, and I obey but I gaze up at him and I don’t have to feign my confusion. I know there’s nothing incriminating in the car. So why am I suddenly in handcuffs?
I hear the recitation of my rights but I’m not listening. Instead, I watch the other cars. I see Angel Batista climb out of the second car. I see the expression on his face as he turns to face me. I see betrayal in his eyes.
I do not yet understand how Angel knows, nor what mistake I have made, but I know I am in trouble when I see his face. I feel it, heavy in my stomach.
The cop drags me to my feet and I take a step toward my former friend. “Batista, what is this about?” I demand, making my voice suitably outraged.
There is a resigned look in Batista’s eyes. “We matched the blood found at the Merchant murder scene. It was yours. You were never at the scene with us, Dexter.”
I frown, because that makes no sense. I am a serial killer, that’s true, but I did not kill Justin Merchant. Even if I had done so, I’m not careless enough to leave my own blood lying around in my kill room. I shake my head. “No. Batista, I’m being set up! Someone must have planted the evidence!”
It’s like talking to a brick wall. Batista turns away and I am shoved into the back of the patrol car. As the car begins to move I wonder what other evidence they can have against me…and what Harry would say if he could see me now.
Three weeks ago, officers from Miami Metro homicide discovered the partially dismembered remains of Justin Merchant at the Miami Beach Hotel. Since then my officers have been working diligently to track down the killer. I am pleased to be able to tell you…
Captain Maria LaGuerta paused and laid down her pen. She crossed out the last nine words, pressing so hard with the pen she almost tore the paper. Pleased was the word you use when you’ve solved a brutal murder and the villain is behind bars. It was especially appropriate in a case like this one. The victim was the son of a prominent lawyer, a young man with a bright future (and a cocaine habit most people were careful not to mention). You wanted to solve a murder like this one. You needed to solve it. You should be pleased when you did.
Pleased was the right word, but she could not use it today.
Thanks to some outstanding work by our forensics team…
She crossed that out, too. It was true enough and Masuka’s team deserved the credit. It would be a mistake, though, to draw attention to the lab monkeys in this case. LaGuerta sighed and began again.
Today I can confirm that we have made an arrest and charges relating to the murder will be filed…
She considered the words adequate, though hardly the tone she really wanted to strike. The really difficult part of her statement was the next sentence: the part where she had to name the suspect. Dexter Morgan. Who would have believed it of him? She didn’t want to believe it herself.
It was not the first time a member of Miami Metro Homicide was suspected of murder. LaGuerta would never forget that case: the bodies found in the bay, victims of a serial killer. The FBI manhunt for James Doakes, her former partner. Her friend. Maria had never believed he was guilty. No matter what the evidence said, she knew the man. James was capable of killing, yes, but not of murder. Those neatly dissected and wrapped bodies were not James Doakes’ work.
Her thoughts turned to Dexter Morgan again. She knew him, too, but somehow she could not feel the same conviction about his innocence. The evidence was less compelling than that against Doakes, but she could not give him the same benefit of the doubt.
Dexter had motive, if not a good one: the Merchant boy dented his car and there had been a public altercation between them. Dexter had no alibi for the time of the murder, and his story about where he had been was inconsistent. The only eyewitness picked Dexter out of a lineup. Most compelling, forensic evidence – blood – placed Dexter at the scene. Since he was usually called to murder scenes, that might have been overlooked, but Dexter had been unreachable when Justin Merchant’s body was found at the hotel so he had never examined the scene directly.
A small part of her wished Dexter had answered the call to the scene. He was the blood expert; the evidence that first pointed to him was blood. He could have covered it up easily.
…And got away with murder? Did she really wish for that?
Well…maybe just a little. It would have spared her this press conference, at least.
LaGuerta opened her desk drawer and extracted a mirror. She checked her hair and makeup and touched up her lipstick. She gazed into her own eyes and tried not to think about James Doakes. She returned the mirror to the drawer, stood and smoothed her skirt. She looked at the drafted statement on her desk and took a deep breath. She had faced the press before. She could do it again.
LaGuerta had taken no more than two steps outside her office when the tall figure of Lieutenant Morgan blocked her way.
“What are you going to tell them?” Morgan demanded.
LaGuerta met Morgan’s eyes, trying to show sympathy. “The facts,” she answered, keeping her voice soft.
Morgan was having none of it. “If you take credit for this,” she threatened, “if you enjoy this, I swear to God I will fucking bury you!” Her voice carried, but thankfully the corridor was empty.
“No one is enjoying this,” LaGuerta answered coolly. “Please stand aside, Lieutenant, unless you want to face the press yourself.”
Morgan stood aside. As LaGuerta walked past her, she distinctly heard, “Fucking bitch.” She ignored the outburst, and silently she forgave it. Morgan was under a lot of strain right now.
Flash bulbs blinded her as she entered the room. She blinked, but spots danced in her vision. She saw cameras, heard the babble of voices, so many questions, all the same question. She made her way to the podium and took a deep breath. She held up her hand for silence. It was a long time coming.
“Three weeks ago,” she began finally, “officers from Miami Metro Homicide opened an investigation into the murder of Justin Merchant.” Just the facts, delivered without emotion.
Then the barrage of questions began.
Vince Masuka paced uncomfortably in the corridor outside the courtroom. His hand strayed to his tie and he pulled at the knot, leaving grease stains on the fabric. He ran a finger around the inside of his collar. He was sticky with sweat, his skin itchy. One of the hottest days in Miami’s summer and he was forced into a suit and tie to give the testimony he had been dreading for months.
He took a seat and tried to relax. The woman beside him inched away as if he smelled bad. Maybe he did in comparison: the corridor smelled vaguely of polish and bleach. It was cleaner than the lab.
Masuka rose from the seat and several sheets of paper slipped from the file he held. He muttered a curse and knelt to gather them up. More loose paper fell as he bent down. Masuka laid the file open on the floor and attempted to sort through everything, quickly arranging it in order. Timeline first, followed by his copies of the diagrams he had to explain for the jury. The margins of the diagrams were filled with doodles of naked women and he wished he’d noticed in time to print fresh copies. Lastly there was the raw data of the lab results. He was still kneeling, sorting through the bundle, when his name was called. He stuffed the last few papers into the file, stood up, tried once more to loosen his collar and walked into the courtroom.
He could do this. He had done this a hundred times. And yet, this was a thing he had never done before.
He moved through the familiar routine mechanically. Walk through the public gallery to the witness stand. Pause, raise hand, take the oath. Lower hand, take seat. Easy.
He ran his fingers around the too-tight collar once more and finally, unwillingly, turned his gaze toward the table where the defendant sat beside his lawyer. Dexter was wearing a grey suit with a white shirt. The shirt was neatly ironed and buttoned up to the neck. His tie was dark red. Blood red. Dexter wasn’t sweating in the heat of the day, unlike Masuka.
Dexter did not look in his direction.
The prosecutor approached and the questions began. The first part was easy. Masuka described the scene in the hotel room and explained what happened there as his team had reconstructed the crime. He managed to look at the jury while he spoke, not at Dexter. He managed to keep his voice steady and his words professional and detached.
“When did your suspicion first fall on the defendant?” the prosecutor asked.
Masuka’s nerves had begun to calm, but at the question he began to sweat again. Don’t look at him. Look at the prosecutor or the jury. You can do this.
Masuka glanced down at his notes. “There was, uh, blood found at the scene.” That was stating the obvious: the vic had been cut up, of course there was blood. He gave what he hoped was a self-deprecating smile and hurried to correct himself. “Well, there was a lot of blood, but, ah, most of it was the victim’s. Our blood spatter analyst…” he could not help but turn his gaze to Dexter, then, “…identified t-two stains that were unlikely to be the victim’s blood. W-we analyzed the samples and found a match.”
“This blood matched the defendant?” the prosecutor prompted.
Masuka stammered, swallowed and took a drink of water. He should not be this nervous!
Dexter looked his way for the first time and his expression was sympathetic. Masuka had not expected sympathy. Dexter was on trial for his life and it was Masuka’s testimony that would bury him.
He sipped the water again and focused once more on the jury. “The blood matched Dexter Morgan. DNA tests were conclusive.”
“But Mr Morgan works for Miami Metro Homicide. Why did evidence placing him at the scene make anyone suspicious? Couldn’t it have been accidental contamination? A mistake?”
“Dexter Morgan didn’t attend that scene with the police,” Masuka explained, beginning to find his confidence again. “He wasn’t working that day and we weren’t able to reach him, so he analysed the scene only from the photographs.” Masuka stopped talking abruptly, the contradiction clear to him for the first time.
Dexter himself highlighted the evidence that threw suspicion on him. That made no sense at all. Why on earth would he do that if he were guilty? Dexter was a genius with blood; if he reported that all the blood looked like the victim’s no one would have double-checked his report.
Masuka stared at Dexter, unable to ask the questions suddenly crowding all other thought out of his brain.
Dexter slowly turned his head toward the witness stand. He smiled.
There was a new bottle of tequila on the table. Deb longed to open it but she couldn’t, yet. She had responsibilities, though you wouldn’t know it to look at her. If she were a man, she’d be sporting a three-day beard. Being female, her self-neglect showed instead in the dirty t-shirt, in the newspapers and magazines stuffed under cushions instead of in the trash, and in the lank locks of her unwashed hair.
The television was on, of course. It was a fucking circus. She watched her friends on the screen as they left the courthouse. Vince Masuka looked ready to throw up. He took one look at the TV cameras and reporters wielding microphones and bolted like a scared rabbit. The camera operator followed him, so there was a shot of him scrambling into his car and resting his forehead on the wheel for a few seconds before he started the engine and made his escape.
Batista was far more composed. He was grimly silent as he left the building and turned away all questions with a firm “No comment.” Only when he reached his car did he say anything else. He turned to look directly into the camera and said clearly, “I have nothing to say until the jury has reached a verdict. You understand this is a highly sensitive case for Miami Metro and any comment at this time could prejudice the case.” It was a slick statement, but it didn’t sound like Batista at all. LaGuerta must have made him memorize that little speech. Reporters continued to shout questions, but Batista ignored them all.
Joey Quinn attempted a smile for the cameras and preened for the more attractive female reporters. He did answer questions, but answered in a way that revealed almost nothing.
There followed the inevitable newsreel report: the bio of Dexter, Deb’s face and their father’s face from official photographs. The lurid retelling of the crime, complete with leaked pictures of the scene and the vic.
Dexter did not do this. Deb knew he wasn’t guilty, so why wouldn’t he just tell the truth about where he was? What could he possibly have been doing that was worse than this? When the evidence was laid before him in interrogation, Dexter claimed he was being set up. If that were true, he must have some idea who was doing it, and why. Why not tell them? Let them investigate? It was like he wanted to go down for this.
Deb could not stop watching, not even when Harrison abandoned his toys and toddled up to join her on the couch. The boy was too young to understand everything on the TV, thankfully, but he knew his daddy was gone.
Dexter’s face came on the screen then. He blinked in the bright sunlight as he was led out of the courthouse. He wore an orange prison coverall and the shackles between his feet clinked as he walked. Dexter broke his bail conditions a week after his arraignment. Deb wasn’t sure whether her idiot brother really was trying to run, but the judge thought so and revoked bail.
Harrison pointed at the screen. “Daddy!” he said.
Deb changed the channel to MTV and forced a smile as she lifted the boy onto her knee. “What would you say to some chocolate ice cream?” she offered.
Much later, when Harrison was finally sleeping and the tequila bottle was no longer full, Deb heard a knock at her door. She hauled herself off the couch reluctantly and stumbled to the door.
“Who the fuck?”
Deb relaxed and opened the door to admit him. He raised both hands, showing a bottle of scotch in one and tequila in the other.
For nearly an hour all they did was drink together. The TV was off. They said very little. Deb applied herself to the tequila like the answers she sought were waiting at the bottom of the fucking bottle. Batista drank more slowly, but he clearly did not intend to drive home tonight.
After almost an hour of silence, Batista asked, “Have you been to see him?”
“Shit,” Deb muttered as her empty glass fell to the ground. She glared at Batista as if it were his fault. “No, I haven’t,” she answered. “Not since the trial started. Don’t fucking ask why. You know why.”
Batista reached across her, picked up her glass, set it on the table and refilled it. “I know why,” he agreed.
“Fuckin’-A.” Dexter was her brother. Deb would have fought for him to the end. She thought she would even if he were guilty, which he wasn’t. But Dexter killed that. He killed it with five words.
Harry knew. What I am.
I am in the interrogation room. There are no cuffs on my wrists now. I am alone.
I am in trouble.
It’s ironic that I have killed so many, and now I am accused of murder, I am not guilty. But that will not matter. If they search my home and find my trophies, if they search my boat and find any trace of its purpose, I have no way out. Many times I have faced this possibility. Now it is here.
“What are you going to do?” Harry asks me.
I shake my head. “I can’t do anything. Nuñez planned this well.”
“He knows a lot about you, Dexter. The boy’s body looks like your work.”
I frown at him, offended by the comparison. “I haven’t been that sloppy since I was fifteen.”
“True. But the scene was staged like one of yours. Plastic. The body dismembered. Even a cut on his cheek. That’s not coincidence, Dexter.”
“I know that!”
“What are you going to tell your sister?” Harry demands.
Before I can answer him, though I have no idea how to make this any less painful for Deb, she walks in. She is pissed as hell. She slams the door then goes to the corner where a camera records everything said or done in this room. She disconnects it.
I glance at the mirrored wall, aware several people could be on the other side. I guess it doesn’t matter.
“What the fuck, Dexter?” Deb demands.
That’s my sister. Lieutenant in charge of Miami Metro Homicide and the foulest mouth on the force.
“I’d like to know that, too,” I answer.
“Fuck you!” She slams her hand down on the table between us. “Why can’t you just tell Batista where you were? There’s got to be a traffic cam or witness somewhere that can back you up!”
Because when Justin Merchant was being sliced and diced to frame me for murder, I was out stalking Greg Hatfield, pedophile and child-killer. And when the cops were processing the scene at the Miami Beach Hotel, I was cutting Hatfield into nice, neat chunks and wrapping them ready for burial at sea. But I cannot tell Deb any of that. I cannot prove my innocence without confessing to worse.
If I’m going down, perhaps it is better this way. Better for Deb and for Harrison to believe this than for them to find out about my real hobby.
“Damn it, Dexter, I know you didn’t do this! But anyone who listens to these tapes can tell you’re hiding something. Come on, bro. What’s going on? Are you…” she hesitates, gazing at me as if I’ve just declared the sky is pink. “Are you covering for someone?” she demands.
I shake my head: no.
“You think Dad would want to see you like this? What would he say, Dex?”
From the corner of the interrogation room, Harry says, “I’d tell you to stick to the Code.”
The Code: Don’t Get Caught. But I am already caught – between a rock and a hard place.
“If they know what you are, Dexter, there’s only one way it ends,” Harry reminds me.
I know that, too. I have no desire to end my life in the arms of Old Sparky, but for many years it has been the death I’ve expected. Sooner or later every serial killer gets caught. What difference does it make if I die for the truth or a lie?
“You’re not thinking, Dexter,” Harry warns.
He’s right. I need time to figure this out, but time is the one thing I don’t have. Not with Deb standing over me, demanding immediate answers.
I turn my eyes up to her, slowly. I look into her face. Her cheeks are pink with her anger.
I say, “Harry knew. What I am.”
I know at once I have said the wrong thing. The color drains from Deb’s face. “What the fuck does that mean?”
I cannot answer.
She stares at me a moment longer, then, white as a sheet, she walks out.
“I was in court today,” Batista said, and suddenly Deb was sober again. Batista came here tonight for a reason. Here it was.
“Yeah?” Deb grunted.
“Dexter’s lawyer destroyed Masuka on the stand. He made him sound like a complete idiot.”
“He is a complete idiot,” Deb agreed.
“I gotta ask you,” Batista said, “Is he guilty?”
Deb poured more tequila and drank the whole glass, straight. She was silent for a long time, gazing down at the table top. She drank more tequila, direct from the bottle this time. She was setting herself up for a fucking bitch of a hangover.
Finally she looked at Batista. “He’s hiding something,” she admitted, “and it’s gotta be fucking bad for it to be worth what he’s doing.” The most frustrating part was Dexter’s refusal to trust her with his secret, whatever it was. “But I don’t believe,” she added, “that Dexter killed Justin Merchant. I think if he did, with the evidence we got, he would have confessed and copped a plea.”
Batista nodded, but he did not seem reassured. He drained his whiskey glass and leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. “I got to tell you what I’m thinking,” he said. “You’re still my Lieutenant, Morgan. I need you to tell me what to do. If you say so, I’ll forget all this. Or I can bring it to you officially when you come back to work.”
“Christ, Batista, why now?”
“I got to testify tomorrow.”
Deb sighed and put the tequila bottle out of her sight. “Fine. Shoot.”
Batista still hesitated. “I’ve worked a lot of murder cases. Serial murders, too. No one kills in the heat of the moment then sticks around to chop up the body. Whoever killed Merchant was experienced.”
Deb nodded. She agreed.
“So I got to thinking if I’d seen any similar cases. I mean, if it wasn’t Dexter, then the killer is still out there, right?”
“The Ice Truck Killer cut his victims up.”
Deb flinched. Even after all this time, she couldn’t hear that name without remembering Rudy. Brian. Who the fuck ever. Lover. Betrayer. Murderer. Bodies in neat, bloodless slices, gift wrapped like grisly Christmas gifts for the cops.
“Then there was the Bay Harbor Butcher case,” Batista went on. “Most of those bodies were too decomposed to compare, but we know the killer dismembered them before he dumped them.”
Deb nodded, acknowledging the similarity. “Both of those cases are solved,” she pointed out. “The killers are dead.”
“But there’s a similarity,” Batista insisted. “The Ice Truck Killer killed himself before we could arrest him. We never got a confession – ”
“Yes, we did,” Deb snapped. “He confessed to me. While he was choking the fucking life out of me!” She dated him. She fucked him, and she never had a clue. He would have turned her into neat, bloodless body parts if it weren’t for Dexter.
Batista realized what he was saying and stopped. “Shit, Morgan, I’m sorry.”
“Fuck it,” she spat. Meaning, forget it.
“We fingered Doakes as the Bay Harbor Butcher. The evidence was convincing, but Maria never believed it was him.”
It took Deb a moment to realize Maria was Captain LaGuerta. “She’s nuts,” she declared.
“I don’t know. The key evidence against Doakes, before we found that his body and the cabin in the Everglades, was a box of blood slides Lundy’s agents found in his car. According to Maria, Doakes claimed he took the slides from a suspect. He wanted to get them analyzed before he brought the evidence in.”
“That’s bullshit,” Deb answered. “He was on suspension.”
“But don’t you get it, Morgan? Those slides belonged to the Bay Harbor Butcher, because we matched the blood to the victims. As keepsakes go, that doesn’t fit Doakes’ personality. He would have kept weapons, or something personal.”
In spite of the alcohol, Deb saw at once where he was going with this. Blood slides fit someone who worked with blood. Someone who studied it. Someone like Dexter. Two serial killers. Dexter worked both of those cases. If Dex were somehow involved, he could have…
And fucking dangerous talk. If it got out that there was even a suspicion of this, the whole department would be sunk faster than the goddamn Titanic.
She leaned forward. “Are you out of your fucking mind?”
“I hope so,” Batista said. He waved the whiskey bottle. “I needed three doubles just to come to you with this. I need you to tell me it’s bullshit.”
Deb wanted to. It was bullshit. But Batista was a good cop. He would not have done this unless he had more than a superficial similarity between two killers.
When Dexter was arrested, they found a blood slide in his pocket. He said it was evidence; he had forgotten to return it before leaving the lab. At the time, no one questioned it. Suddenly it seemed very significant.
“What else have you got, Angel?” she insisted, using his first name intentionally.
“Lundy believed the Bay Harbor Butcher was one of our own,” Batista said. “And those slides were his trophies. If it wasn’t Doakes, the Butcher would want them back. I checked this morning, Morgan. Those slides are missing from evidence.”
“Fuck. Oh, fuck.”
The only thing worse than waking up to a tequila hangover is waking up to a tequila hangover and a hell of a problem to think about.
When Batista called her in the morning, Deb, holding her throbbing head while drinking cold coffee, told him to keep his suspicions to himself. Go to court, tell the truth. In the meantime, she would think about this.
Harry knew. What I am.
Deb pondered those words from every possible angle. She wanted to go to Dex and demand an explanation. If he were not in prison, she would have done exactly that. But in prison their conversation would be recorded, and if there was any link between Dexter and two serial murder cases, she could not risk that.
Instead she tormented herself with Dexter’s words until the tequila bottle once again seemed very inviting. For two days, she thought of little else, digging up every memory of her childhood, every adult conversation and searching for some hidden meaning or clue.
It tormented her, but she would not allow it to paralyze her. The Ice Truck Killer came close to breaking her: all those nights without sleep, the mandated therapy, the days of jumping at the slightest unexpected touch. She was a stronger person now. If Dexter were guilty of murder it would break her heart, but it would not break her. She just had to find a way to prove this, one way or the other.
It was when she woke on the third morning that she realized Batista had told her where the answer would be. The blood slides from the Bay Harbor Butcher case were missing from evidence. If Batista’s suspicions were right, they would be in Dexter’s possession.
She found a babysitter for Harrison and went to Dexter’s apartment. His place had been searched when he was arrested, but Deb went through everything again. She pulled pictures off the walls, looked for hidden compartments in closets, slit mattresses to check inside them. She found nothing. She went through every drawer in his desk, every file on his computer. She found nothing, and the computer was wiped clean. She emptied his closet and trunks. She overturned furniture to look beneath and inside it. She found nothing.
In the end, she got herself a bottle of water from his kitchen and collapsed on the couch, exhausted. She let her head fall back and gazed up at the ceiling.
There was nothing here. She should be happy, though she knew her work was not finished. She would have to search Dexter’s boat as well as check to see if he had a storage facility anywhere. If she found nothing there, either, this nagging feeling that Batista had a point might go away. She could tell him she was certain about her brother.
Her eyes fell on the air vent high on the wall. For a moment, she didn’t know why it attracted her attention. Then she turned to look at the vent in the kitchen. The kitchen vent was all white, to match the wall. But the one in the living room had silver screws at the corners. They weren’t laminated.
Deb took a screwdriver from Dexter’s desk and dragged a chair over to the wall. Standing on the chair, she examined the vent. It was clean, not dusty, and the screws looked like new. It felt like the most ridiculous thing ever, but she reached up and set the screwdriver into the groove. She expected to find it stiff and tightly closed, but the screw turned easily.
Suddenly she had a lead weight filling her stomach. Part of her mind screamed at her to stop, to get the fuck out, as if she were trying to diffuse a bomb and it might go off any second. The first screw fell to the floor and the little clatter it made had her jumping almost out of her skin. She shook her head, trying to laugh at herself, then unscrewed the next.
Her fingers trembling, Deb lifted the vent off the wall.
“Fuck,” she said aloud.
She did not touch what was inside the vent. It was enough to know something was hidden there.
She climbed down from the chair and called Batista.
Sergeant Angel Batista got Morgan’s call as he was finishing up some paperwork.
It was good there were no major investigations running that summer. There were homicides, of course: Miami had its usual quota of domestics and gang violence, but there had been no hard to solve cases, nothing that required more than the usual resources. It was just as well.
Lieutenant Morgan was on personal leave for the duration of her brother’s trial, with Angel as acting LT. Most of the homicide team were distracted by the trial of one of their own. Opinions on the case differed. Some – and publicly Angel was among them – were unconvinced of Dexter’s guilt. Others pointed to the blood evidence and eyewitness as conclusive. Someone was even running a betting pool on the outcome, and if Angel found out who that was, he or she would spend the rest of their career directing traffic.
So an urgent call from Debra Morgan was unsettling, particularly after their conversation a few nights before. Angel agreed to her request at once, but it worried him. Morgan sounded so strange on the phone. This summons to Dexter’s apartment could only mean she had found some kind of evidence against him.
Angel told no one at the police department where he was going. He said it was a personal errand. But he did pick up a crime scene kit to take with him. He hoped he wouldn’t need it. That was, he thought, the worst case scenario. If there was enough at the apartment to call it a crime scene, he and Lieutenant Morgan were seriously breaking protocol by processing it alone. He understood why, though. This situation could explode in their faces in any number of ways and the department was already on the ropes with one of their own on trial for murder.
Morgan opened the apartment door before he could knock. She looked awful, her hair in disarray, her expression stressed.
“Do you have gloves?” she demanded, without so much as a hello.
Angel produced a pair of latex gloves and gave them to her before pulling on a pair for himself.
“What do you need?” Angel asked. He phrased the question carefully. He would not ask what she found, or why she was in such a state. Only what she needed from him.
She snapped the latex at her wrist and nodded toward the wall. “There’s something hidden inside the vent. I need you to identify it, if you can. I touched the vent, but nothing inside it.”
So her fingerprints would not be on whatever was there. Angel nodded and crossed to the vent.
“Batista,” she said.
He turned back.
It did not take long to open the vent and lift the cover out of the way. Angel reached inside with a gloved hand to remove the plain, polished box. It did resemble the box missing from the evidence archive, though he could not be certain it was the same one. The FBI had taken over running that case and he had not handled that particular piece of evidence. He had seen it, though, and there were photographs he could pull from the files to confirm whether this was the same box.
He carried the box into the middle of the room before he opened it. When he did, he almost dropped it. He could not count the number of slides it contained. More than there had been when they were hunting the Bay Harbor Butcher. If each of these slides represented a murder victim… Acid rose in the back of his throat and he swallowed hard.
It was he who had raised the questions. He who saw the inconsistencies and odd similarities in the evidence for those old cases. But, he realized as he held the box of slides, he had never really believed what he was saying about Dexter. Not until this moment. He looked up to meet Morgan’s eyes.
Morgan was gazing down at the box, a storm of emotions racing across her face. Anger, fear, disgust, shock, grief. Angel saw her eyes fill with tears but he could not look away.
“What do you want me to do?” he asked cautiously.
Morgan never took her eyes off the damning evidence. Her voice, when she spoke, was almost a whisper. “If that’s Dexter’s…are we really saying that h-he…”
“I don’t know any other explanation,” Angel answered.
Morgan drew in a deep breath. “Bag it and hide it,” she said decisively. “Keep it safe. If…” she hesitated, “if Dex is found guilty, this won’t matter. We can return it to the evidence archive and no one has to know.”
“And if they let him go?”
She swallowed. “I don’t know, Angel. We’ll burn that bridge when we fucking get there, okay?”
Angel slipped the box into an evidence bag and sealed it. “I’ll hide it, but I'm not going to handle this alone. It’s too hot. Will you sign the seal?”
Morgan looked hurt. “Don’t you trust me, Batista?” He could see memories of Maria in her eyes. Maria was ruthless, and not above screwing a colleague to save her own ass. She had done it to Debra. Morgan was worried he thought the same of her, but that wasn’t his reason.
Angel met her eyes. “I trust you. But I want to cover my ass on this. Not only is this stolen evidence, it’s also evidence implicating your brother. And my friend. If this gets out, it will look like we tried to cover it up. You know this is very thin ice.” He would not say it aloud, but Angel didn’t believe Morgan would knowingly put her brother in the electric chair. If Dexter were acquitted, this secret was going to become very, very dangerous. He would take the risk, but not alone.
Morgan nodded. “Shit, you’re right. I’m sorry. I’m just…this is a lot.”
“Apology accepted.” Angel gave her a quick smile. No hard feelings.
Morgan took the evidence bag and its contents from him, set it on the desk and searched around for a pen. She signed the seal and when Angel offered her a chain of evidence chit, she filled that in, too, entering her own name as the officer who recovered the evidence. She attached it to the bag and handed it back to Angel. “There. That’s good for a few years in jail if we’re caught.”
He knew it, and did not point out that he was taking the same risk. “I’ll make sure we’re not caught,” he promised.
Prison is not so bad. I have a cell to myself while my trial continues and because I am a cop I am kept out of the general population. They think they are protecting me. But those convicts are my natural prey; this separation protects them, not me.
I am called to the visitors’ room on the day my trial comes to an end. It is all in the jury’s hands now. I am not hopeful, but the case against me is far from certain. Those fine men and women of the jury may yet decide there is reasonable doubt.
I am not told the identity of my visitor. When I see Deb waiting, I am surprised. She has barely spoken to me since all this began. I don’t blame her for that. It must be hard for her to accept her brother is a killer.
Thick glass separates us. I sit down and lift the phone we must use to communicate.
Deb puts her phone to her ear. “Don’t say anything, Dex. I’ll talk, okay?”
I shrug. I want to ask her about Harrison, but I will wait until she’s had her say. She looks like she’s been working herself up for this.
Deb runs a hand through her hair. “I found the problem with the heating in your apartment. I know what you did wrong, Dexter.”
My stomach feels hollow. I know she isn’t talking about the heating. My hand grips the phone tightly but I cannot speak. I know now why she told me to be silent.
“I haven’t tried to fix it yet,” Deb continues, “but I’m not the only one feeling the heat so I can’t sit on this forever.”
What difference does it make, now? I nod to tell her I understand but I’m not sure I do. Deb is a good cop; she’s Harry’s daughter. Why would she conceal this, if she knows?
“I don’t have it all figured out,” Deb says. “There are connections I still don’t get. But I will. Dexter…I just have one question. Will you tell me the truth?”
I owe her that much. I nod, wondering what she will ask. She’s having difficulty pretending we’re still discussing home repairs.
“Did Dad really know about this?”
It is the only question she could have asked that would make me want to lie. But I give her as much of the truth as I dare, knowing every word we say is being recorded.
“Harry…taught me to live by a certain code. He knew me, Deb. He showed me how to…” I break off. That is too much to give away. “But I think he regretted it, at the end.” That, too, is truth, and it’s what Deb needs to hear. That Harry was a good man.
Deb is struggling to hide her feelings, but I know her too well. For a time, she is unable to form words. I wait.
Finally, she says just two more words. “Goodbye, Dex.”
I watch her walk from the room and I believe this may be the last time I see her.
Deb walked into the courtroom, but hesitated just inside the door. Near the front of the public seats, on the prosecution’s side of the courtroom, Batista sat with several other cops from Homicide. She knew she should join them, but she wasn’t here as a cop. She was here for her brother. She nodded to Batista, but walked to a seat on the other side of the room.
The officers of the court are not yet in the room. She had come early to avoid the crush of reporters who would crowd in when they heard the jury was back. Deb sat in the front row beside a woman in a dark suit. The woman glanced at her as she sat down; Deb met her eyes and gave a polite smile. Then she looked again; the woman seemed familiar. She had dark blonde hair that fell a little below her shoulders. It was the height of Miami’s summer and the courtroom was warm despite the air conditioning, but the woman’s jacket covered her arms as if she’d dressed for a cooler climate. Maybe she was a reporter; Deb dealt with a lot of them since her promotion but the faces tended to blur.
“You’re his sister,” the woman said, confirming Deb’s suspicion.
“No comment,” Deb answered curtly. She looked around for another seat but the room was filling up. She was stuck where she was.
“Oh,” the woman said, “I’m not a reporter. I’m…I was his friend.”
A few weeks earlier, Deb would not have believed it. But now she knew Dexter had a whole life he kept from her. She looked at the woman more closely. They had definitely met before. Maybe her hair was different?
“A few years ago,” the woman volunteered, “I was in real trouble and Dexter helped me. He saved my life. I only heard about this yesterday; I got on the first plane.”
So she lived out of state, Deb surmised. A few years ago…meaning before Rita died, or after?
“This boy they say he murdered,” she said, “was he…I don’t know, a good person?”
Deb hesitated, but most of the facts were public knowledge at this point. “As far as anyone knows, yes. He had some problems, but he was a good kid.”
“Then Dexter didn’t do it,” she answered, and she sounded absolutely certain.
Deb caught her breath, her mind making that sudden, intuitive leap to the truth. This woman knew Dexter’s secret.
“Who are you?” she demanded, keeping her voice low, but urgent. She read fear in the woman’s eyes.
The woman bit her lip, then leaned close so she could whisper. “I’m number thirteen.”
Holy fuck! Deb managed to bite her tongue on the words, but only just. She jerked back, knowing the shock was plain on her face. She should have made that connection before. God! She had been blind! Those murders weren’t some traumatized woman on a killing spree: she had been guided by a more experienced hand. Some kind of sick master/apprentice deal. Deb didn’t have the first fucking clue what she might have said or done next. The lawyers walked in, and then she couldn’t do anything but sit there, her mind spinning.
She should have known. She recognized the woman now. She was the one who lived in Dexter’s house after Rita died. The “tenant” who seemed to be so much more, but whom Dexter would not discuss. She was Number Thirteen. Shit. Dexter had told her, Deb realized, the night they talked over her vigilante theory: some people don’t deserve to live. Dexter was the one helping her. For that alone – five murders – he should be brought to justice.
The bailiff accompanied Dexter into the courtroom. Dexter’s gaze swept the room as he entered and he saw Deb sitting there. Then his eyes went to the woman beside her and there was no mistaking his reaction, even though he covered it quickly. Number Thirteen had told her the truth and now Dexter thought Deb knew about that, too, and had brought the woman here for some purpose.
Dexter’s eyes turned to Deb again and the returned his look steadily. She couldn’t risk giving anything away. She simply nodded a greeting, hoping he would understand she was there for him.
Dexter turned his back on her to take his seat. Deb glanced to the cops on the other side of the room. All of them were watching her brother.
Someone called “All rise!” and they did. This was it. The next few moments would change everything, one way or the other.
Either the jury was going to send Dex to death row…or Debra would have to do it herself.
Dexter’s sister was a cop. Lumen knew that. Debra Morgan was the cop who had almost caught them, literally red-handed. But she was also the cop who let them go. She had understood why Lumen needed to kill the men who raped her.
So, although her stomach filled with butterflies when Debra sat down beside her, Lumen wasn’t afraid. She had changed a great deal since she left Miami. She had changed her appearance a little: new hairstyle, a dye that was darker than before, though still blonde. She dressed differently, though that was mostly to cover the scars. But the changes were not just outward. She had a new job and a new apartment. She didn’t have a new boyfriend, but she was content to wait for the right man. Her ordeal made it hard for her to trust men, but she had trusted Dexter. She would find another man she could trust…someday.
Lumen avoided newspapers and the television news, so she had not seen the news of Dexter’s arrest. Perhaps it hadn’t even reached Minnesota. But she had seen a week-old story about his trial while surfing online. What else could she do? She invented a story about a death in the family, packed an overnight bag and was at the airport before she really thought about what she was doing. What could she possibly do to help him? Most likely, not a damned thing. But she owed Dexter. She owed him everything.
When Dexter found her, bloody and broken in Boyd Fowler’s house, he tended her wounds. He brought her antibiotics for the infection. He let her go, even though she had seen him kill. He stopped her from killing the wrong man and after, he taught her how to kill the right man. More important, to Lumen, Dexter always made absolutely sure they had the right man before he let her kill. He saved her life three times in their short friendship: helping her heal after Fowler was the first. The second time was when Cole Harmon attacked her; Dexter burst into the room like some hero in a movie and pulled her would-be-murderer off her. The third was when her worst nightmare came true once more, when Jordan Chase took her back to that horrible room. She was nearly insane with terror, but Dexter was there again, and he saved her.
The least she could do for him was be there in court. If Dexter wanted to talk with her, if there was anything more she could do for him, he would find a way to let her know.
She envisioned sitting in on endless sessions of questions and cross-examinations, but by the time she reached Miami, the trial was all but over.
The formal business of the court assembling seemed to take forever.
Eventually, the judge addressed the foreman of the jury, asking for their verdict.
Lumen couldn’t breathe. She knew, better than anyone alive, what Dexter was. Objectively, he was guilty. But she also knew he killed only the evil. In her book, that made him a hero. He was certainly her hero.
“…State of Florida versus Dexter Morgan…”
Only Dexter’s shoulders and the back of his head were visible to Lumen. She could detect no tension in his shoulders, but she was feeling enough for both of them. Breathe, Lumen. Breathe.
“…charge of murder in the first degree…”
Her heart was pounding so hard it seemed impossible no one could hear it. She half expected Debra to tell her to quiet down.
“…find the defendant…”
Jesus Christ, just tell me!
Lumen drew in a shaky breath. She couldn’t quite believe it.
Beside her, she heard Debra make a small, choking sound. Surprised, Lumen turned to her. Shouldn’t she be pleased?
Debra seemed like she was going to be sick.
Lumen frowned, concerned. “Are you…?”
Debra grasped her wrist suddenly. Lumen gasped and tried to pull away, but she held on too tightly.
“Are you really his friend? No matter what?” Debra demanded.
What else could she say? “Yes.”
Debra pushed a paper-wrapped package into her hands. “Take this. And listen to me.”
We have been driving through the night and now, as the sun rises, we pass a sign that tells me the Mexican border is only fifty miles away. I see a gas station and diner ahead and reach across to wake Lumen. A light touch on her shoulder is all it takes; her eyes fly open and she jerks up from the seat.
Her hand goes to her neck. It must be stiff. “Where are we?” she asks groggily.
“Texas. Fifty miles from Mexico. Are you ready for breakfast? I could use the coffee.”
She rubs her neck. “Yes. You’d better stay in the car.”
We don’t want anyone to see my face. I agree. While Lumen is ordering breakfast, I lean back and close my eyes for a moment. Of all the places I expected to be, prison, awaiting a death sentence seemed most likely. Home, confessing all to an angry or heartbroken Deb also seemed to be an option. A roadside diner in Texas was not on my list of possibilities.
Deb came through for me. She and Harrison are the most important people in my life. I have imagined, many times, what would happen when she learned the truth about me. She is a good cop, a good person and I know it is hard for her to accept. But she came through for me, like Harry came through for me.
She gave Lumen my passport, money, and most important, time. Twenty four hours before she would reveal her evidence. Perhaps twenty six before a fresh warrant is issued for my arrest. If we are lucky, thirty before they figure out I am gone. It is enough time. If I can get a forged passport in Mexico, I can be on another continent before they can send out alerts. Australia, I think. Australia will not extradite to the USA if there is a risk of the death penalty being imposed. Neither will Mexico, but staying here will be too risky if my face is on TV. Australia or Europe are safer choices.
Will my escape make trouble for Deb? I am worried, but I don’t think she will take heat for this. I walked out of the court a free man; it will surprise no one that I fled before fresh charges could be filed against me. Deb will be in the clear, and I know she will care for Harrison. He is in good hands with her.
One piece of unfinished business remains. Deb deserves the truth from me. I cannot change who I am, but I can stop hiding myself from my sister. When I reach safety, I will find a way to tell her everything. She may hate me for the truth, but I know my sister. She hates the secrets more.
I open my eyes and watch Lumen walk back toward the car, carrying coffee in one hand and a bag of food in the other. She is the only person since Harry who has looked upon the truth of me and not turned away. I don’t dare hope she will stay with me this time. I know the darkness that bonded us once is gone from her.
The darkness is where I live; Lumen only visited for a while. Yet she smiles at me as she opens the car door and offers me a paper cup. I can smell the coffee and my mouth waters.
“Let me drive for a while,” she offers. “You must be exhausted.” I exchange the keys for the coffee and slide across the seat to the passenger side.
Lumen hands me the bag of food and settles herself behind the wheel. I take a long drink of the coffee; it is strong. She starts the car, smiles at me again, and begins to drive.
Into the future.