The Perfect Look – Blake Pierce

Gordon Maines looked at himself in the hotel bathroom mirror and couldn’t help admire what he saw staring back at him. For a third-term city councilman considering a run for mayor, he exuded the confidence of a man who regularly bent the system to his will rather than the other way around. Beyond that, he just looked good. He was approaching fifty, but thanks to a comprehensive regimen of skin care (with a small Botox assist), he told himself that he could still pass for forty. His wavy hair was still more pepper than salt. His skin was tan but not in an unhealthy-looking way. He still looked fairly dashing in a suit, though he wasn’t wearing one now. In fact, all he had on at the moment was a white undershirt and a pair of boxer briefs. And soon those would be gone too. As he popped the little blue pill into his mouth and took a swig of brandy, he considered what was waiting for him in the other room. This was far from the first time he’d done this, but the woman he’d brought up to room 1441 of the Bonaventure Hotel may have been the most impressive yet. The purple dress she wore was sophisticated and stylish, but form-fitting enough to suggest at the bounty hidden underneath. Part of him wondered what she was doing in this line of work. She was gorgeous enough to be a model or actress, or at the very least a porn star. But Gordon didn’t spend too much time worrying about the girl’s long-term employment prospects.

Right now she was here and she would do whatever he wanted, even if he had to pull money from the slush fund he kept on the side, the one he used so his wife wouldn’t stumble across his various peccadilloes. He stepped out into the well-appointed room with its latte-tinted walls adorned in modern art, thick carpeting, and marble-topped dressers, and was surprised to find the bed unoccupied. For a second, thinking she’d absconded with the first half of her payment, he started for the door. “Where you headed, big boy?” a voice purred from the corner of the room. He glanced in that direction and saw her, the girl who’d demanded they not use names, sitting in a high-backed chair in the corner near the window, wearing only a black bustier and hipster panties. Her proportions were almost Barbie-like, something he intended to investigate in greater detail soon. Her long blonde hair cascaded down, approaching her elbows. Her skin wasn’t nearly as tan as the average California girl, giving her a delicacy and sophistication that seemed somehow exotic in this land of sun and surf. Her eyes were a bright blue, reminiscent of the Caribbean waters where he’d spent his honeymoon. Gordon immediately shook that thought from his head and focused on the creature in front of him.

“I’m headed in your direction,” he answered, certain he sounded suave. “Before you do, I poured you another drink,” she said, nodding at the counter above the mini-bar as she took a sip from a glass of her own. “I decided not to wait.” “Rude,” he said, pretending to be offended as he grabbed the glass. “Hopefully I can make it up to you,” she said, her tone lilting with playfulness. “I’m sure I can think of something,” he replied before taking a swig. “Mmm, is that brandy?” “You mentioned that it was your favorite when we were downstairs,” she said. “Wow, you paid attention,” he marveled, before taking another glug. “Most girls in your line of work don’t pay attention to anything other than the cash.” “Are you saying I’m not the first gal you’ve been with?” she faux pouted, sticking out her lower lip with such ferocity that he could barely contain himself.

This girl is good. He reminded himself to add a little something extra if the rest of her efforts delivered on the performance so far. “Why don’t you take off your shirt and stay awhile?” she suggested, standing up and letting him drink her in fully. “Don’t mind if I do,” he murmured, pulling his shirt up more clumsily than he would have liked. In fact, as he lifted it over his head, he lost his balance and stumbled slightly. Luckily he landed on the bed, where he managed to finally wrangle the shirt off, even if he felt his hair getting messed up in the process. He was irked at his lack of smoothness but reminded himself that the blonde girl didn’t really care. She was standing over him now, a hint of a smile on her face. Maybe she found his awkwardness endearing. “Clumsy much?’ she cooed as she walked over to the chair he’d rested his slacks on, sliding on what looked like plastic gloves as she went.

He watched her move but found himself struggling slightly to focus. She pulled his wallet out of his back pocket and slowly flipped through it, pulling out all his cards and dropping them in a small plastic bag. He tried to prop himself up on his elbows to get a better view but his arms weren’t responding to orders from his brain. “Heyyy…” he tried to say, though his tongue felt unwieldy in his mouth. The girl glanced over at him and smiled sweetly. “Feeling relaxed?” she asked as she walked back over to her purse and dropped the plastic bag in it. Somewhere in the back of his brain, it occurred to Gordon that the girl might be trying to rob him. He also thought she might have slipped something into his drink. It was time to put a stop to this. With all the strength he could muster, Gordon pushed himself up into a sitting position.

His head lolled lazily atop his neck as he tried to fix his gaze on her. “You…stop,” he tried to shout, though it came out as more of a mumble. It felt like he had a pile of marbles in his mouth. As she walked over to him, he began to see double, then triple, unable to discern which girl was the real one. “You’re cute,” the middle image said as she pushed him back down on the bed. “Shall we begin?” She climbed on top of him and straddled him. Gordon’s body was heavy and numb and he could barely feel her weight. He saw that she still wore the plastic gloves. In his increasingly hazy mind, an alert sounded. This was more than just a drugging and robbery.

Something about the casual, unhurried way the woman was moving suggested she wasn’t just out for his money and possessions. She was enjoying herself. The way she shimmied up his torso reminded him of a snake slithering slowly up the branch of a tree. “What…doing?” he managed to garble. She seemed to understand him perfectly. “I’m delivering on a promise,” she relied breezily, as if she were answering a question about the weather. Gordon stared into her blue eyes and saw that all the earlier playfulness had disappeared from them. Now they were icy and focused. He knew he was in trouble. The realization sent a sudden surge of adrenaline through his system, which he used to push himself up from the bed.

He expected to pop up and have the woman fall off him to the floor. But he had barely risen six inches when she pushed him back down, using only an index finger to the chest to force him back into his original position. Then she leaned down so that their faces were only inches apart. Her hair fell into his eyes but there was nothing he could do about it. “This is it for you, Gordon,” she whispered in his ear. “Any final words?” His eyes, the only part of him he still seemed able to control, opened wide. “Arghh…” he sputtered. “Never mind,” she said brusquely, cutting him off. “I don’t really care.” Gordon watched as she sat up straight again and wrapped her hands around his neck.

He couldn’t actually feel her squeezing his throat but knew she must be because breathing suddenly became challenging. His eyes started to bulge and felt like they might pop out of his skull. He desperately tried to gasp for air but couldn’t seem to gather any into his chest. His vision blurred. His tongue darted around as if searching for any oxygen it could draw in. But nothing worked. The last thing he saw before his vision went dark was the woman above him, staring at him intently as she strangled him. She was still smiling. CHAPTER TWO Jessie Hunt sat nervously in the booth at Nickel Diner on South Main Street, only two blocks from LAPD Central Community Station. Though the person she was meeting would not care at all about her appearance, she wanted to make a good impression.

In general, she deemed herself fit to be seen. Her green eyes were clear and her shoulder-length brown hair looked shinier than usual. She’d made sure to put on her most professional blouse and slacks before work today, along with flats that didn’t accentuate her already regal five-foot-ten frame. She doubted anyone looking at her today would mistake her for a model, as sometimes happened. But just weeks from her thirtieth birthday, she knew she could still turn heads when it served her purposes. All things considered, she thought she was doing pretty well. After all, it was just seven days ago that she’d been drugged by a murder suspect and had her stomach pumped. In the time since, after she was released from the hospital, she’d been mostly holed up at her apartment, under the care and protection of Detective Ryan Hernandez. Ryan had insisted on staying with her until she’d regained her strength. So, for the last week, he’d been sleeping on the pull-out sofa in the living room and making most of her meals.

Jessie had deliberately chosen to simply accept the help and not read too much into the actions of the man who was her sometime case partner and sometimes more. Typically after extended medical time off, Jessie would have gone into work along with Ryan first thing to have her sign-off meeting with LAPD Captain Roy Decker. But today was unusual. She had decided to have a little meeting of her own, before the captain started placing rules and limits on her once she started work again. While Jessie Hunt was a criminal profiling consultant for the Los Angeles Police Department and not an actual police officer, Captain Decker was still her immediate supervisor, and violating his orders could have serious repercussions. But if she just happened to meet with someone and have an informal discussion about an ongoing investigation before getting Decker’s orders, well, that could hardly be held against her. It was for that reason that she sat in the crowded diner at 7:30 a.m. waiting for the arrival of a man she’d only spoken to occasionally and almost always while battling nerves. She nibbled on her toast and sipped her second cup of coffee, well aware that she probably should have stopped after one.

He walked in just as she put the mug down on the table. Garland Moses glanced around the diner, spotted Jessie, and headed toward her. At seventy-one years old, with leathery skin, unkempt white hair, and bifocals that looked about to topple off the front of his nose, he didn’t draw the attention of any of the customers he passed. None of them had any idea that they were in the presence of perhaps the most celebrated criminal profiler of the last quarter century. Jessie couldn’t blame them. The man seemed to cultivate an air of slovenliness. He shuffled toward her, seemingly oblivious to the shirttails sticking out above his rumpled corduroys and the stains on his oversized maroon sweater vest. His gray sports jacket, which hung off him like he was a coat rack, looked like it might swallow him whole. But if one paid closer attention, other things became clear. Behind the thick glasses, his sharp eyes darted around quickly, taking in his surroundings in an instant.

Though his hair was disheveled, he was crisply shaved without a stray piece of stubble. His teeth were still sparkling white and in perfect condition. His fingernails were neatly trimmed and the shoelaces on his well-worn loafers were tied in tight double bows. Garland Moses projected the slapdash look of a Columbo-style senior citizen. But as Jessie knew well, it was all an act. Moses had been solving some of the hardest murder cases in the country for over forty years. He did it first as part of the FBI’s celebrated Behavioral Sciences Division based out of Quantico, Virginia. Then, in the late 1990s, after twenty years of seeing the worst humanity had to offer, he retired to sunny Southern California. But within months of his arrival, he was courted by the LAPD to serve as a profiling consultant. He agreed, with several conditions.

First, he wouldn’t be a formal employee so he wasn’t subject to the rules and regulations of the department and could come and go as he pleased. Second, he got to pick his own cases. And most importantly to him, he didn’t have to adhere to any dress code. The department eagerly agreed. And despite his outwardly gruff demeanor or, as one officer called him, “a taciturn, short-tempered asshole,” they never regretted it. Ensconced in his isolated, broomcloset-sized office on the station’s second floor, Moses went about his work, where he could be counted on to solve at least three or four high-profile cases a year, typically ones that stumped everyone else.

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