Santa Rita County District Attorney Kathryn Mackay and Sheriff Dave Granz stood just outside the door to Judge Jemima Tucker's chambers. Mackay's dark, curly hair was wet and she was dressed in black Gap jeans, a gray FBI Academy sweatshirt, and black Nine West loafers.
Granz' black Harley-Davidson T-shirt flopped over the waist of his faded Levi's. He ran his fingers through his unruly blond hair and shook his head sadly, but didn't comment.
An older Asian man wearing bifocals, polyester trousers, and a Hawaiian print shirt was documenting the crime scene with an ancient tripod-mounted, manual Nikon. He glanced up when he heard Mackay.
"Hello, Charlie," she said.
Sergeant Charles Yamamoto headed up the Crime Scene Investigation unit -- CSI to law enforcement insiders. Short and gaunt, he was a criminalist before Mackay went to law school. His expertise was as well known as his stoicism.
"Awful, Ms. Mackay, terrible. A fine lady."
Mackay had never before seen Yamamoto show emotion, but she knew he was fond of Judge Tucker, who, despite her fearsome reputation among lawyers, was revered by experts like Yamamoto for her respectful treatment when they testified.
Yamamoto went back to work while his investigators collected evidence. The lights had been turned off while one investigator passed a special ultraviolet light called a Woods Lamp over the surfaces of the crime scene to reveal stains or foreign materials invisible to the naked eye. A young black woman dusted the desk, file cabinets, and other smooth surfaces for fingerprints, while a third sucked up trace particles from the carpet with a battery-powered vacuum. Its contents would be analyzed by criminalists at DOJ, the Department of Justice, who could often identify a killer from microscopic bits of dirt, fibers, or hair.
"Crime scene's pretty clean," Granz commented.
"Whoever did it might not have left anything."
Mackay's eyes returned to Tucker's corpse, whose almost-severed head lolled back over the chair top, attached only by bone and a thick strand of skin. Her torso was upright, her robe hiked up above her waist.
Blood had gushed from severed jugulars, spilled into her lap, overflown onto the floor, and was coagulating in rust-red puddles.
"Who found the body?" Mackay asked.
"A janitor," Granz answered. "Uniforms got here first, secured the scene, and called Jazzbo Miller. He was on call. Miller called me, then Yamamoto."
"What time did County Comm log the call?"
"What's a janitor doing here at ten-thirty on Saturday morning?"
"He cleans up every evening after the courts close. He was getting supplies out of a closet in the basement when someone grabbed him from behind, hooked an arm around his neck, and slapped a rag over his nose and mouth. Says it smelled like chloroform -- he called it 'ether.' Next thing he knows, he wakes up this morning wrapped in duct tape. Took a while to get free of the tape. When he came upstairs to use the phone, he spotted Tucker and called 911."
"Did he get a look at his attacker?"
Granz shook his head. "Doesn't sound like it."
"Any idea how the killer got in?"
"Not yet, but this'd be a hard building to break in to. Either the killer had a key or he came in before the courts closed and hid until everyone went home."
"Robbery gone bad?"
He shook his head. "Doesn't look like anything's been taken. We'll check her calendar, files, appointment book, voice-mail messages, go through her desk."
"How would he know she was working late?"
"You got me, but whoever it was came after Tucker."
"Well, when you catch him, I hope they strap him to the lethal-injection table."
"Just like that?"
She placed her hand on his arm. "No, not 'just like that.' But in my opinion, death's the only appropriate punishment for a killing this gruesome."
They moved aside to make way for two deputy coroners to enter the room, one of whom released the straps on the gurney and unfolded a heavy black plastic body bag, laid the bag out, and un-zipped it.
Granz motioned with his thumb. "Let's step out into the hall."
"Have you called Nelson?" Mackay referred to her close friend Doctor Morgan Nelson. Under California law the Sheriff is also Coroner, but since Sheriffs come from law enforcement rather than medical backgrounds, they hire forensic pathologists to perform autopsies.
"He's meeting my deputies at the morgue."
"Keep me posted."
"You be home?"
"I'll be gone most of the day."
Once lovers, when Mackay found out about Granz' affair with a woman named Julia Soto, she ended the relationship. He had repeatedly attempted to revive it but each time they got close, she got scared and backed away. He hoped she was spending the day with her twelve-year-old daughter, Emma, rather than another man, but didn't ask.
"If anything comes up, page me, otherwise call after five o'clock."
"I -- " Tempted to return the use of their old, familiar term of endearment, she reconsidered. "I've got to go."
Copyright © 2002 by Christine McGuire
Until the Final Verdict
Judge Jemima Tucker has been brutally murdered in her chambers at the Santa Rita County courthouse -- and Kathryn Mackay vows to bring her friend's killer to justice. But when both Tucker's husband and another judge become suspects, Kathryn ends up walking a minefield of deadly accusations. Meanwhile, Kathryn and her newly reconciled lover, Sheriff Dave Granz, bring an old enemy, Robert Simmons, back into custody. But when Simmons dies unexpectedly under Kathryn's sole supervision -- and the cause of death is found to be homicide -- Kathryn finds herself fighting for her job, her family, and her life.
A shocking novel of murder and betrayal, Until the Final Verdict is suspense at its finest.