PART ONE: The Seasoned Detective
“Do you know why we’re here today?”
The woman sitting in front of Detective Stone shifted uncomfortably in her seat. She was a tiny woman – he would have guessed maybe five feet tall at the most, and 100 pounds soaking wet. Her white-blonde hair was knotted tightly back into a low bun, accentuating the sharp features of her pale face. Although it was August in Texas and at least 100 degrees outside, she wore long black sleeves that she continuously pulled down over her bird-like hands. What struck him the most, however, was her eyes – glittering dark pools that emanated a quiet, all-consuming sadness.
He wished that there was another place to speak to this frail woman other than the stark interrogation room, with its drab, institutional paint job, hard chairs, and humming overheard lights. She had barely spoken two words since they had arrived at the station, but it was clear that she had endured some kind of intense trauma that she was struggling to keep tucked away. Her body seemed to vibrate with the frenzied energy of it, as if she was readying herself to take flight at any moment. Earlier, when he had guided her into the room, she jumped at every movement and sound: the slight graze of his fingertips on her shoulder as they passed through the door, the deep baritone of his voice, the pop of the light when he flicked the switch, the hard plastic of the chair as she gingerly sat down. She was terrified.
She gripped the Styrofoam cup of cooling coffee between her small hands. Finally, she shook her head, a small wisp of a movement.
“No,” she said softly, barely above a whisper.
Detective Stone nodded and turned to his partner, Detective Kincaid. She was the opposite of their subject in almost every way – long, curly black hair cascading over broad, confident shoulders and bright, brown-gold eyes. Kincaid was a rookie, with all of the eagerness and energy of a detective in their first year. Stone was older, in his fifties and graying at the temples, and attempted daily to model the calm and collected demeanor he felt detectives should consistently demonstrate. Kincaid couldn’t seem to be contained, however, as her enthusiasm bulged at the seams.
She slid the folder sitting in front of her over to Stone, who tapped it gently.
“I’m going to show you some photos. Some of them are a bit graphic, but I’ll do my best to only show you what’s necessary. Is that ok?”
The woman sitting in front of him nodded slowly. She was digging her nails into the Styrofoam now, picking flecks from the rim and letting them fall around her cup like snow.
Stone flipped the cover of the folder open and placed the first photo in front of the woman. Her dark eyes slid over to the photo, widening and filling with – what was that? Sadness? Fear? She clamped them shut tightly and took in a deep, shuddering breath.
The photo was of a man who was clearly dead. He was lying in a field on his back, his mouth slack and loose, a trickle of blood running from his lips down the side of his face. His eyes were wide and glassy and blank. What it didn’t show was how the man had died – Stone chose to crop out the sharp, large-handled knife sticking out of his chest, blood blooming in dried pools on his graying skin.
“Do you know who this is?” Stone asked gently. He tapped the photo again. The woman slowly opened her eyes and wiped a stray tear from her cheek.
“Yes,” she whispered.
“Who is it?” Kincaid interjected sharply, her voice rising. Stone shot her a look – they had to be especially easy with this one.
The woman ran her hands over her golden-white hair. “Can I have a cigarette?” she asked, her voice a bit louder this time.
Kincaid shook her head. “I’m sorry, there’s no smoking—”
“I think we can make an exception, don’t you think, Detective Kincaid?” Stone interrupted, reaching into his own jacket pocket. He pulled out a pack of Marlboros and an ancient lighter and slid them over to the woman. “Have at it. I think we could all use something to calm our nerves.”
Kincaid obviously stifled an eye roll. “Alright. If you say so.”
The woman pulled a cigarette from the carton and lit it with shaking hands. She breathed in deeply, her lungs audibly rattling with relief. Finally, she breathed out a puff of smoke, filling the room with a hazy glow.
“Ok,” Kincaid said impatiently. “Who is he?”
The woman tapped her ash into her cup, keeping her eyes trained on the glowing ember. “He’s my husband,” she said, her voice low and steady.
Stone and Kincaid exchanged glances. They knew this already, of course. But they needed her to say it out loud.
“What’s his name?” Stone asked, deliberately matching his cadence to their subject’s. He felt the same sensation as when he went hunting in the hill country – any loud noises or sudden movements could scare off your target.
A pause. Then: “Jake Richards.”
Again, Stone glanced at Kincaid, who nodded, an unspoken agreement passing between them. Stone leaned over and pulled a second photo from the folder and placed it in front of the woman.
This one was a close up of the man’s legs, spread out in front of him in the field, a stark contrast to the dry grass pushing up around his graying skin. His calves, thighs, and knees were clearly mottled with dozens of oval-shaped scars, fading in color from deep purple to bright magenta to flesh-colored, raising and falling in haphazard patterns, creating grotesque ridges and hills up and down his skin. If they hadn’t known any better, at first glance they may have thought that he had been branded over and over with a bizarre cattle prod, searing a new wound into his flesh as soon as the last one healed.
Of course, they certainly knew better.
The woman visibly shuddered. “Please, put that away,” she croaked.
Stone nodded and shut the folder. “You know what these are, don’t you?”
“Yes,” she seethed through clenched teeth.
“Tell me,” Stone said, failing to hide the urgency in his voice. He paused, and then spoke, more softly this time: “He’ll never know.”
The woman sighed and wiped at her misting eyes with a black sleeve.
“You know what they are,” she whispered. “They’re bites.”
Stone nodded again. “Yes. Dozens and dozens of bite marks, some completely healed, some still healing.”
The woman just stared blankly at Stone; she had gone completely still, the vibrations of her body slowly coming to a stop. Her nervous energy had seemingly leaked into the room, buzzing and swirling around the three of them.
“Ma’am,” Stone continued, clearing his throat. “Have you ever heard of the Kissing Killer?”
A beat. Another silent nod.
“A ridiculous name, I know. Came from the media, not from us, though, I assure you.”
“Maybe a ridiculous name, but very serious crimes,” Kincaid cut in.
Stone cleared his throat. “Yes, very serious. We’ve been able to link together at least twenty victims from the last ten years. All women, all typically blonde, petite. All sexually assaulted and tortured in a similar way: severe bite mark trauma, typically focused on their appendages – arms and legs— but sometimes on the breasts, stomach, or buttocks. After they had been killed, which was usually the result of blood loss from the multiple wounds, they would be left on a roadside somewhere for us to find. Unfortunately, the bodies were always cleaned thoroughly, usually with bleach, so despite the bite marks, we never found any DNA.”
The woman seemed to have gone into a trance; she sat unblinking, her dark eyes as wide as saucers, and her colorless lips slightly parted. The ash on her cigarette continued to grow until it fell softly into her cup, sizzling in the cold coffee below.
“But we’ve never found a man before,” Kincaid said.
“No, we haven’t,” Stone agreed. “But the victims usually have one more thing in common. Typically, we find that they have a few chipped or broken teeth, with no other trauma to their face that could have reasonably caused it. So, we developed a theory a few years ago that maybe…” he stopped, trying to think of the gentlest way to continue. “Maybe, our killer was forcing his victims to…reciprocate.”
“Bite him back,” Kincaid said bluntly.
Stone tried not to groan at her directness. “Yes, exactly,” he said. “We believe our killer had a bite fetish, in which he had to give and receive the pain in order to achieve…well, his end goal,” Stone finished lamely.
The woman nodded slowly, lifting her cigarette once more to her lips. Her hand shook as she took another long, steady drag.
Stone continued. “So, when we discovered this man, with these wounds, that we’ve only ever seen on our female victims—well, we thought that maybe we should run some more tests to see if we could find out who he really was. Finally, we had a hit.” He opened the folder again, and pointed to the dead man’s face. “This man’s name is not Jake Richards.”
The woman just stared. Her eyes had deepened to pure black; Stone couldn’t tell where her pupils ended and her irises began. “No. It’s not.”
“What is his name?” Kincaid asked, unable to conceal the eagerness from her voice.
The woman turned her gaze to Kincaid. “Rex Jasper.”
The admission hit Stone like a ton of bricks. He had known, of course, since the first report had come back, having matched with a man from Beaumont who had been reported as missing years before. The dead man was Rex Jasper. Rex Jasper, they believed, was the Kissing Killer.
But who was this woman?
Kincaid barged ahead. “How did you know Rex?”
The woman closed her eyes and leaned back in her chair. The conversation seemed to have zapped what little energy she had. If possible, she seemed even smaller than when she had first come in.
“We have another theory,” Stone said gently.
The woman opened her eyes. “Is that so?” she whispered.
Stone nodded and picked the folder back up. He flipped it open and pulled out a third photograph and placed it in front of the woman.
This picture was of two girls, one an older teenager, the other a few years younger. Both had long, white-blonde hair, worn straight and loose down their shoulders. From the photograph, it was easy to see that they were both built quite small, although the younger girl was already almost as tall as the older one. The younger girl had a smattering of freckles across her sharp nose, and the older girl had her arm flung around her, looking up as if in surprise that their photo was being taken.
“Oh, God,” the woman gasped.
Stone knew he had to continue carefully. The woman sitting in front of him seemed as if she could crumble at any moment, falling apart like the ash from her cigarette.
“This is a photo of Jeanie and Martha DuPont,” Stone continued. “They both lived in Beaumont with their parents. Jeanie was older, seventeen at the time. Martha was fourteen. Both went missing about ten years ago. Police found quite a bit of blood in Jeanie’s room, leading us to believe she had possibly been killed. But we never found another trace of Martha.”
Kincaid piped in. “When we ran Rex Jasper’s name through our system, however, we found a link – he was listed as Jeanie DuPont’s boyfriend. Interviews with friends and family showed that the DuPonts were not a fan of Rex, as he was quite a bit older than Jeanie. But they demanded she break up with him when he started showing too much…let’s say, interest in their younger daughter, Martha. Sitting too close, being too physically affectionate with his girlfriend’s younger sister, for example. At one point, Martha told her parents that Rex had come into her bedroom and laid down next to her after she had gone to bed one night. That was the final straw.”
Stone nodded and leaned forward on the cold table, clasping his hands together. He looked at the shaken woman, mustering as much sincerity in his voice as possible. “Ma’am, we need you to know that you’re safe. Rex Jasper is dead, lying in our morgue right now. And you’re not in any trouble. But I’m going to tell you what we think, and you need to tell us if we’re right, so we can help you. OK?”
The woman jerked her head down, a small, sharp movement. Stone took that as her cue to continue.
“Ma’am, after determining that Jake Richards was Rex’s alias here in San Antonio, we found a clearly forged marriage certificate between Mr. Richards and one Mrs. Anna Richards.”
“Do you go by the name Anna Richards?” Kincaid cut in.
The woman’s black eyes simmered. “Yes, I do.”
“Is that your real name?”
A pause. The air swirled around them with smoke and fear and dread.
Barely a whisper: “No.”
The two detectives shared knowing glances. Stone pointed back to the photo of the sisters.
“This is what we think,” he continued. “We think that Rex became obsessed with Martha. After Jeanie tried to break up with him, and sever his tie to Martha, we believe that Rex killed Jeanie and disposed of her body.”
“Then,” Kincaid jumped in, a bit over-eagerly for Stone’s taste, “he kept going, traveling all over Texas and into Oklahoma, living off-grid and stealing different identities in each town to cover his tracks.”
Stone tapped Kincaid’s toe under the table: slow down.
Kincaid stopped and took a beat. “But,” she said breathlessly, “we don’t know for sure that he killed Martha. We don’t have any evidence that suggests that, like we do for Jeanie.”
A pause. The room had become so silent that Stone swore he could hear their heartbeats, slamming in their chests, screaming to get the truth out.
“Ma’am,” Stone said. “Are you Martha DuPont?”
A beat, and then it happened – the frail woman in front of them finally crumbled, more violently than Stone could have ever imagined. She raked at her face with her hands and fingernails, clawing at her eyes and screaming, until she fell to the floor, writhing and bucking as her mind collapsed under the sheer weight of it all.
Stone yelled to Kincaid to call for help, and as the paramedics rushed in and pulled up the screaming woman’s sleeves to administer medication, he saw that her arms were covered in a sea of mottled and bruised bite marks, transforming the topography of her skin into ridges and mountains of endless pain.