Captain Jim Brass stood outside a North Las Vegas condo, writing in his pad as Officer Levi Torah described the scene inside.
"Two men and a woman on the living room couch," Torah said. "Another woman on the living room floor. And a kid in the bedroom. A kid!"
Brass ducked under the yellow tape and through the open doorway.
On the floor, near the sofa, lay an overturned chair, its wooden legs and back smashed. One of the legs was missing. Not far from the broken chair lay a Ruger Mark III Rimfire 10105.
Assistant Coroner David Phillips bent over the sofa, examining the corpses of two males, and a female DB in a light blue hijab and floor-length black sakura dress. All three sat slumped on the couch, each with bulletholes in their foreheads and chest. A fourth victim, a woman, lay face-up on the carpeting, dressed similarly to the woman on the couch. Dried, darkened blood stained her yellow hijab. Her chest bore multiple stab wounds.
"Brrr!" Brass said. "It's like an iceberg! Was it like this when you got here?"
"Yeah," David replied. "I think maybe the killer turned the thermostat down to disguise TOD."
Brass noticed a shotgun atop an end table, near the outstretched hand of one of the men.
"Wasn't fired," said a male voice from behind him. "He was probably going for it."
Brass turned and saw Detective Vartann.
"Hey," Brass said. "Sure is a mess."
"It's never pretty." Vartann pulled out his pad and read from it. "Landlord says the unit's rented out to a Zoran Prazina and his wife Sanja. Zoran's over by the shotgun, Sanja next to him. The other man is Mirko Cabri. He and his wife Nina rent the unit next door. That's Nina on the floor."
"Got an estimate on TOD?" Brass asked David.
"Given the temp," David said, "I'd say about twenty-four hours. Whoa! What's this?"
Vartann and Brass moved in closer. David took several pictures, then carefully separated Sanja and Mirko. Between them, partially fallen into the gap between the cushions on which they sat, lay a resealable plastic bag containing .22 shell casings.
"Talk about sloppy!" David snorted, then took more photos. "Who left their evidence bag behind?"
"Not ours," Vartann said.
"So our perp was careful enough to police his own casings," Brass mused. "Then forgot about them?"
He looked over at Nina. Bloody partial shoe prints led away from the body. Vartann accompanied Brass as he followed the trail into the kitchenette.
"As you see," Vartann said. "They lead right to the knife rack. And then back to Nina."
"But why would Nina stick around and let herself be stabbed?" Brass wondered. He turned and regarded the pistol on the floor. "David, how many casings in that bag?"
David made a quick count.
"Capacity for a Rimfire." Brass pondered. "The perp empties his gun. Tosses it aside. Picks up all the casings. But then drops the bag. Why?"
"Nina walked in and surprised him?" Vartann offered.
"It takes time to pick up ten casings. Why didn't she come in sooner? When she first heard the shots?"
"I wouldn't," David said. "Not if I heard shots. I'd hide, try to get out, or both."
"Maybe that's what she was doing. Trying to sneak out while the perp had his back turned."
"She's only a few feet from the gun," Brass observed. "Think she might've been going for it?"
"Why?" David said. "What good's an empty gun gonna do?"
"Maybe she didn't know it was empty."
"Where'd he get the bag?" Vartann wondered. "The kitchen? Or did he bring with?"
"Brought with," David said. "Ever try to find something in someone else's kitchen?"
"How do you know the perp didn't know his way around the kitchen?"
"Nina surprises him," Brass theorized. "He grabs the chair. Breaks it over her head. Pulls the leg off. Beats her unconscious. Comes in here. Grabs a knife." He mimed holding a chair leg in one hand while grabbing a knife with the other. "What did he do with the chair leg?"
Brass regarded the counter on which the knife rack sat. He pulled out a handkerchief, draped it over his fingers, bent over, and opened the cabinet doors beneath the sink, revealing drainpipes, cleansers, dishwashing soap, and a small trash can. He took a quick peek into the trash can.
Using the handkerchief, he closed the doors, and stood up. He withdrew a small flashlight from within his jacket, bent over the counter, and shined a beam into the gap between the counter and wall.
"Ah! There it is!"
"There what is?" said a male voice from within the living room.
Brass and Vartann turned. Nick Stokes stood just inside the condo entrance, kit in hand.
"Chair leg," Brass said. "Behind the counter. Could have prints and/or epithelials. I leave it to you to figure out how to get it."
"Gee, thanks, Jim. You're all heart."
"Don't mention it." He turned to Vartann. "What about the other vic?"
Vartann led Brass to the condo's sole bedroom. Inside were two beds, one double, the other single. A female child lay face-up atop the single bed, wearing a white hijab and a floor-length navy blue sakura dress. The blade of a butcher knife was embedded in her abdomen. The handle matched those in the kitchen.
"Edita Prazina," Vartann read from his pad. "Zoran and Sanja's daughter." His voice turned bitter. "Only ten years old."
Brass winced. He pointed at a television set playing soundlessly in one corner. Captions, white lettering on black rectangles, popped up on the screen's bottom. Vartann nodded.
"Never heard the shots," he said. "Or him coming. Landlord said they attended a mosque over on Desert Inn. They chose it because it has a madrasah for the deaf."
"Madrasah. Arabic. For 'school.'"
"Since when do you know Arabic?"
The child on the bed stirred and moaned.
Both men rushed to her side. Vartann took her pulse. Brass put his ear to the girl's chest, then began administering CPR.
"Oh, God!" Vartann said. He pulled out his radio and shouted into it: "Dispatch, this is Detective Vartann. We've got a survivor! Female. Ten years of age. Single stab wound in the abdomen. Ten-eighty-five C. Request ten-fifty-two! Stat!"
"Why the hell didn't the uniforms check for a pulse?" Brass growled. He breathed into her mouth, then resumed pumping her chest. "She laid here the whole time! A whole day! Can you imagine?"
The summer sun set as Vartann and Brass watched the paramedics slide the gurney bearing Edita into the ambulance, climb in, pull the back doors shut, and speed away, sirens on.
"Think she'll make it?" Vartann said.
"Dunno," Brass replied. "Sure hope so."
"So, where do you want to start?"
"With the obvious. Let's pay the Tabo a little visit."
Summary: Brass, Vartann, and Nick Stokes investigate a multiple homicide. Cameos by David Phillips, Doc Robbins, Mandy Webster, Wendy Simms.