Animal is a relentless, thought-provoking, pulse-pounding thriller that will engross and enthrall. Do the most noble of intentions justify the most horrific acts?
Two grisly murders are committed at a meatpacking plant by a person wearing a cow mask…not long after the CEO of a water park is brutally killed by someone wearing an orca mask.
Interpol Agent An Chang believes these are the latest acts of a ruthless serial killer he has been chasing for more than twenty years…a killer who targets those who harm innocent animals.
Elephant poachers in Chad, Russian big-game hunters of endangered species, dog fighters in Atlanta, European food execs who gorge ducks to make paté, gorilla hunters in the Congo, ivory merchants in China.
Those who torture animals are not safe….
Working with two California detectives, Chang races to unmask the killer, as his spree ramps up. But the killer's motives and history are far deeper than anyone realizes, and the truth of his rampage leads on a wild chase from the streets of Shanghai around the globe….
Who is the real animal?
"Animal is a brilliant and ferocious thriller. A tale of hideous inhumanity and very rough justice. Highly recommended!"– Jonathan Maberry, New York Times bestselling author of Rage and V-Wars
"Animal is an absolute must read that you won't be able to put down. This captivating story will change the way you think about justice and man's inhumanity."– Jeffrey Foskett, guitarist and singer for the band The Beach Boys
3 June 2019
Monrovia Police Headquarters
Monrovia, California, United States of America
Detective Michelle Halls stared at the monitor on her desk, wondering why she had thought it would be easier to deal with the paperwork first thing Monday morning than last thing Friday afternoon.
Part of the problem was that she didn't factor insufficient caffeine intake into her consideration, and to fix that, she went to refill her mug for the fifth time.
The supervisor of the detective squad, Sergeant Amenguale, was dipping a teabag into a mug of hot water in the small kitchenette-like space just off the detectives' squad room. Without preamble, the balding sergeant said, "I could have sworn that you told me you'd have the Mendoza paperwork done first thing this morning. It's almost noon, so I'd say we're into the third or fourth thing this morning."
"It's almost done," she said as she reached for the glass pot containing the semi-heated brown sludge that passed for coffee.
"You said that an hour ago. What happened to tackling it first thing after a nice, relaxing weekend?"
"That was predicated on my weekend actually being relaxing. I got the last of my stuff out of Bethany's place on Saturday."
"So how long did the shouting match last this time?" Amenguale asked before sipping his tea.
"Oh, no, there wasn't any shouting. That would've actually been cathartic. No, instead she went with silent stares and awkward silence and one-syllable answers to all my attempts to talk to her." She sighed as she dumped a spoonful of sugar into the coffee and started stirring. "So I decided to drown my sorrows in gin and tonic, except I ran out of tonic after the first glass."
Amenguale gave her a half-smile. "That should've let you sleep more soundly, making you nice and rested before you finished your overdue paperwork."
Subtlety was never Amenguale's strong suit. Halls sighed. "Oh, I sleep great when I've had a little bit to drink. When I've had a lot to drink, I get nightmares. And I shot past 'a lot' around ten Saturday night." She gulped down some of the coffee and realized she hadn't put in nearly enough sugar for it to be in any way drinkable. "Anyhow, don't worry, you'll have the Mendoza file by the time I go to lunch."
"Keep in mind that Mendoza is already closed, even if you haven't finished the file, and that means you're next up in the rotation. If a call comes in, and you haven't finished your paperwork, you will make your sergeant extremely unhappy." Amenguale bared his teeth—Halls couldn't really think of what he was doing right now as a smile—and added, "You wouldn't like me when I'm unhappy."
With a shudder, Halls returned to her desk and stared at her monitor some more. It really shouldn't have taken this long to write up a series of home invasions. But then, there were a lot of burglaries involved, and Halls wanted to make sure she got all the details right. Glancing at the screen, she noticed that she hadn't specified which bedroom the jewelry was taken from in the first home to be hit.
She'd also misspelled one of the witness's names.
The real problem, of course, was that the case was remarkably ordinary. Guy broke into several houses, a few people saw him, they put out a description, they found him, and he had the stolen goods in his house. No twists or turns, just your basic legwork leading to an arrest.
At least if the case had some meat to it, she might have been able to engage with the paperwork.
This was the part they didn't show you on television: the drudge work. A TV show only had forty-two minutes, so they cut to the fun stuff, like interrogating witnesses or summing up all the stuff that they'd previously found off camera. In the real world, you had to chase a lot of dead ends and talk to a lot of idiots, and then you had to spend half a day writing all about it in excruciating detail.
Which was why Halls hadn't watched a single moment of television that wasn't a news program since she got her badge.
However, at one fifteen, after proofreading the case file for the fifth time, she finally hit send and it was in the database, accessible by Amenguale, the other bosses, and whichever prosecutor wound up going after Mendoza in the courts. Then she went to the diner down the street where she would have her first substantial meal since seeing Bethany on Saturday. Relationship stress always made her forget to eat and remember that she used to smoke, both things that were incredibly bad for her. She didn't have any cigarettes on her, at least, but she wasn't hungry, either. Nonetheless, she went to the diner and forced down one of their gloriously greasy cheeseburgers.
At two fifteen, she returned from lunch to see a little old woman standing at the desk talking with Sergeant Malik Whitaker.
Whitaker caught sight of Halls and waved her over to his desk.
"What's up, Malik?"
"This is Winona Jefferson."
Halls wasn't very tall, but she still had to look down to see Ms. Jefferson's face. A short, stout African-American woman, she was clutching a thick canvas shopping bag that was zipped shut.
"I'm Detective Halls, Ms. Jefferson, what can I do for you?"
"I got me a complaint you can listen to, is what you can do for me." Ms. Jefferson unzipped the bag, and Halls felt the cool air poke out from inside it, probably from ice packs.
Ms. Jefferson pulled out a Styrofoam tray half-covered in a tangle of shrink wrap, inadequately covering about two pounds of ground beef. Halls also saw a label with the BurgerBeef logo on the clear plastic wrap.
"I was startin' up the Sloppy Joes I was gonna make for dinner tonight, and I opened up the meat, and will you look at what I found?"
Halls peered at the small tray that was now on Ms. Jefferson's left palm. At first, she only noticed reddish-grayish ground meat, but then she saw it.
The tip of a human finger. Blood-stained, jaggedly cut right below the cuticle, fingernail intact.
Whitaker then added, "I just had a barbecue yesterday at my house, and I used BurgerBeef meat for the hamburgers. Now I'm wondering what in the hell I fed my family."
Ms. Jefferson put the meat back in the shopping bag and zipped it up. "I for damn sure ain't makin' this. And I want you all to do something about it!"
Halls shook her head. As Amenguale had reminded her, she was next up in the rotation anyhow. "I said I wanted a case with more meat to it," she muttered.
"What was that?" Ms. Jefferson asked.
"Uh, nothing, Ms. Jefferson." She pointed to the squad room. "Why don't you come with me, please? The first thing we'll need to do is take a statement from you."
"Long as you find out who tried to put a damn finger in my Sloppy Joes, I'll give you as many statements as you want!"
It took about half an hour to take Ms. Jefferson's statement, and also enter the meat into evidence. Halls gave the older woman her card and sent her home, promising to update her as soon as she had something.
Then she did a bit of research on BurgerBeef, which was sold by MCD Meats. The company had several plants up and down the west coast, but Halls figured the local one was the place to start, especially since they supplied all their clients in the Los Angeles area. A two-second Google search turned up the name of the chief operating officer of the Monrovia plant, which was on Royal Oaks Drive, all of a mile away from the police department's office on East Lime Avenue. She hopped into one of the department's Chevrolets and drove over.
The place itself had that giant-factory look that Halls had always found to be incredibly depressing. On top of that, just out here in the parking lot, there was an almost intolerable smell, which got worse as she exited the Chevy and headed to the front entrance.
As she approached the security desk that was right inside the front door, trying very hard to only breathe through her mouth, she pointed at the gold-colored badge on her belt. Before Bethany broke up with her, she hadn't needed a belt with these jeans, but she'd lost weight since then, and it wasn't dignified for a detective to constantly yank her pants up.
"I need to see your COO, Bronson Quinn."
The guard looked up from the copy of Entertainment Weekly he was reading and said, "Do you have an appoint—Oh." That last was when he noticed her shield. He quickly handed her a visitor badge, which she clipped to her plain blue T-shirt, and pointed to a small corridor behind him. "Go through there, hang a right, and take the elevator up to the second floor. He's the last office at the end of the hall."
Unfortunately, the corridor went past the main part of the plant: large metal hooks with deboned carcasses on them, large vats with openings on top and tubes on the sides, people checking on the process of the carcasses going into the top intact and out the tubes in ground form. Halls couldn't see anything beyond that, and she wasn't about to look more closely as she walked briskly toward the elevator.
But what overwhelmed her, and nearly sent her running back to the Chevy, was the stench. As a cop, she was used to the smell of blood, and as a self-professed carnivore, she was used to the smell of meat, but only in small quantities. She generally encountered the former at the site of an assault or the occasional murder, and the latter in amounts of no more than a pound or two—like the cheeseburger that she'd consumed earlier, and which was threatening to come back up right now.
She pounced on the up button for the elevator and ran in as soon as the doors slid apart to allow her ingress. It lurched upward to the office level, which was a long, narrow corridor overlooking the plant. As she exited the elevator, she saw that the wall on the right-hand side was taken up with doors to offices, some open, some closed. Each of those doors had a desk perpendicular to it, at which sat people (all women) either typing on computer keyboards or speaking on the phone or both. The left wall that faced the offices was one large picture window that gave an expansive view of the plant floor in all its lack of glory. Halls went to great pains to avoid looking to her left as she approached the desk next to the office door on the far end of the corridor.
At least up here, the smell wasn't quite so bad.
"May I help you?" the young woman at the desk asked. The engraved fake-gold-plated sheet attached to the piece of fake wood on the front of her desk identified her as Alyssa Park.
"I'm Detective Halls of the Monrovia Police. I need to speak to Mr. Quinn."
Park scrunched up her nose. "I'm so sorry, ma'am, but Mr. Quinn is in a meeting right now. Perhaps if you make an appointment?"
"This is a little more important than his meeting, all things considered." Halls walked toward the office door, which had a fake gold nameplate attached to the center that read Bronson Quinn, Chief Operating Officer.
"Excuse me, ma'am, but you can't go in there."
Halls turned and faced Park, who had turned in her chair, but not gotten up. Her nose remained scrunched up.
"That was good," Halls said, "say that louder."
Now the young woman frowned. "I'm sorry?"
"Say that louder."
She looked to the side and then yelled, "You can't go in there!"
Grinning, Halls said, "See? Now you're off the hook."
And then she entered the office, which also had a large picture window, but it looked out onto Recreation Park instead of the meat-packing plant.
The two men in the office both jerked their heads toward the door in surprise at her presence. Sitting behind a large metal desk was a middle-aged white man in a tailored suit, though he did not wear a tie. This was obviously Quinn, and he looked seriously grumpy. Across from him was an African-American man wearing an off-the-rack suit, a visitor badge very much like the one Halls had been given clipped to the lapel of the jacket.
Quinn stood up. "Who the hell are you? I'm in the middle of something. Alyssa!"
His guest, though, noticed her badge. "Detective, what's this about? Who called you in on this investigation?"
Halls blinked. "There's another investigation?"
Park had finally gotten up and was standing behind Halls in the doorway. "I'm sorry, Mr. Quinn, but she said she's the police!"
Quinn waved his hand in front of his face. "All right, fine, Alyssa, get back to work. And close the door." As she did so, he regarded Halls with a pissed-off expression. "What do the police want with me?" Glancing angrily down at his guest, he asked, "Did you call her?"
Holding up both hands, Halls said, "Hold it, please, both of you!" She took a breath. "Hi, I'm Detective Michelle Halls of the Monrovia Police. I'm following up on a complaint made by one of your customers, who found a finger in her BurgerBeef container."
Putting his head in his hands, Quinn sat back down. "Goddammit."
Now the guest rose to his feet, pulling a wallet out of his suit jacket pocket. "I'm Andrew Franklin with the Food and Drug Administration." He opened the wallet to show his FDA ID card.
"Well, I'd ask what you're doing here, but since the complaint I'm following up on involves a woman whose hamburger meat gave her the finger…"
Again, Quinn said, "Goddammit."
Within a few minutes, all three of them were sitting down. Halls explained about Ms. Jefferson, after which Franklin said, "We were doing a random inspection of meat at a supermarket in Sacramento, and we found human DNA in a package that came from this plant."
"Agent Franklin and I," Quinn added quickly, "have been discussing our options. We will, of course, institute an immediate recall, but we'd like to keep this as quiet as possible."
"Yeah, that's not really possible," Halls said.
Quinn folded his hands together and put them on the desk. "Detective, a public recall will cause a major panic and have an even bigger impact on our bottom line."
"First of all, Mr. Quinn, a public recall and warning will do a lot more to avert panic, especially if more people find body parts in their fridge. Second of all, we now have a police report, which is a part of the public record. If you don't call a press conference, we will."
Halls wasn't entirely sure that was true. MCD was a big employer in the town, and she could easily see the mayor telling the department to cool it on going public. But maybe not, and either way, better to intimidate Quinn as much as possible.
She went on: "And third of all, the Monrovia Police Department is interested in serving the public good, not the good of MCD Meats."
Franklin added, "To be honest, Mr. Quinn, the FDA is going to be joining the Monrovia Police in that press conference."
Quinn stared angrily at Franklin. "I beg your pardon? Mr. Franklin, I was led to believe—"
But Franklin interrupted. "I was led to believe that this was an isolated incident, that some hair or fingernails may have gotten into the meat. However, now we have, not just a fingernail, but the finger that goes with it, and in a different location. I'm afraid I'm going to have to insist on a complete recall."
Halls gave Franklin a quick thank-you nod.
"Perhaps you're right," Quinn said through clenched teeth. "Unfortunately, there's an—an issue."
"What issue is that?" Halls asked.
"Such a recall has to be authorized by our CEO."
"Why is that an issue?"
Quinn let out a long breath, and then ran his palm over his suddenly sweaty forehead. "Because he's been missing since Memorial Day. In fact, both Mr. Lesnick and our floor foreman, Fredi Rodriguez, have disappeared. Neither of them showed up for work on the Tuesday after the holiday, or any day since. Fredi's on the verge of being fired in absentia—he hasn't answered any attempt to get in touch with him."
"Have you reported them missing to us?" Halls asked.
Quinn nodded. "For Mr. Lesnick, yes, of course we filed a report. As for Fredi, that's up to his family."
Halls sighed. She spent the next twenty minutes or so querying Quinn about the company, about the process of packing the meats, and about both the foreman and the CEO, filling her notepad with shorthand notes of his answers.
Once that was done, she said, "I'll also need all your security footage from the last month."
Again, Halls sighed. On vanishingly rare occasions when she asked someone for something in a case, they said, "Of course, Detective, happy to help." Most of the time, though, she got belligerent answers like what Quinn gave her.
"Because it's obvious that someone got into your plant and introduced the human body parts that have turned up. It's also possible that either Mr. Rodriguez or Mr. Lesnick caught them and were disposed of. It's even possible that one of those two gentlemen belong to the body parts in question."
"What a horrible thing to say!" Quinn's face scrunched up in much the same way Park's had.
Once she was finished, she exchanged business cards with Franklin. The FDA agent left the office with a sour look at Quinn.
Halls drove back to police headquarters on East Lime. The first thing she did upon arrival was fill Amenguale in. Then they both checked and saw that Alexander Lesnick and Fredi Rodriguez had, in fact, each been reported missing; the former by Quinn, as he'd said, the latter by his wife. The detectives handling the two cases hadn't actually talked to each other, to the annoyance of both Amenguale and Halls, nor had they made any kind of real progress, even though both men worked at the same place, and both went missing after Memorial Day. The sergeant reamed both of them and told them to coordinate their cases.
Twelve hours later, CNN was reporting on the recall. Franklin obviously hadn't wasted any time in making sure that process got started as publicly as possible.
Halls watched the television in the kitchenette while choking down some more of the squad room sludge.
"Now some disturbing news out of Monrovia, California. Random inspection of ground beef processed at a local plant has discovered traces of human DNA in MCD Meats' 'BurgerBeef' product. Over six hundred tons of beef are being recalled after having been shipped to retail stores throughout the US. The Food and Drug Administration is urging consumers to avoid eating beef processed at MCD Meats until further notice."
The co-anchor smiled and added, "I'm glad I gave up red meat years ago."
Exactly what would be revealed to the press was determined over Halls's head. She suspected that Ms. Jefferson's finger was left out of it as a sop to MCD Meats' public image. Mentioning the DNA test of the Sacramento meat gave the public the same impression that Quinn had implied to Franklin before Halls showed up: that this was an accident. The presence of a finger made that impossible, but there was no reason to gross out the general public, as long as all the meat was recalled and people who'd bought MCD products threw out what was in their larder.
Whitaker intercepted her as she crossed the squad room to head back to her desk. "Hey, Michelle? Messenger dropped this off for you." He held out a manila envelope.
"Thanks, Malik." The proffered envelope had the MCD Meats logo and address printed across one edge, with her name, misspelled as "Det. Michele Hall," scrawled in the middle. Taking it from the sergeant, she felt a small rectangle inside. Opening it, she tipped it into her hands, and a flash drive came out.
Assuming this to be the security footage she'd asked for, she went straight to her desk and inserted the drive into the USB port. She waited patiently for the computer to run a virus scan on the flash drive, and then, once it was cleared, a folder appeared on her monitor.
There were twenty-eight video files on the drive, each for a twenty-four-hour period.
Halls sighed. One entire month of slaughterhouse footage. Just how she always wanted to spend her work days.
The smart place to start was Memorial Day weekend, right before Alexander Lesnick and Fredi Rodriguez went missing, so she moused over to the video file for the Friday before and double-clicked on it.
After an hour of this, she swore she would become a vegetarian. At first she went through the video feed of the plant floor in real time, but it wasn't long before the mind-numbing and really gross repetitiveness got to her. Cow carcasses were deboned, beheaded, and dropped into the big vats that ground them up and spit them out onto conveyer belts. Then the meat was placed on Styrofoam trays and shrink-wrapped so people like Ms. Jefferson and Sergeant Whitaker could buy them and bring them home to cook for their families.
Before too long, she started moving the video at two times speed, and then four times, and then eight.
According to Quinn, the plant could theoretically go 24/7, but that wasn't cost-efficient given "current sales trends," so they were limited to two eight-hour shifts between seven in the morning and eleven at night. Everything stopped at eleven, and by half past eleven, the plant was shut down, with the lights out. Even on the Friday of a holiday weekend, that held true.
She went through Saturday, Sunday, and Monday at sixteen times speed, but still watching closely. However, the only variation inside the plant, closed as it was for the three-day weekend, was the occasional flash of light through a window from something outside.
Tuesday was business as usual, and Halls went back down to eight times speed. Still, nothing much stood out as she went through the two eight-hour shifts. The lone security camera provided a good overview of the entire plant floor, but it wasn't in high-definition or anything—probably not considered a worthwhile expense for a plant that had already cut back to a sixteen-hour production day from a twenty-four-hour one—so details were hard to make out. But nothing seemed untoward.
As with Friday, the place shut down at eleven, and by 11:23 pm the place was locked down and the lights were out.
At two minutes to midnight, however, someone came into the plant.
The door was too distant, and the resolution too poor, to make out who, but no alarms went off, so whoever it was had to be authorized.
Right before the file ended, she saw a person wearing a white butcher's apron and a mask maneuvering a wheelbarrow, its cargo covered by a blanket.
"Dammit," she muttered as the file ended.
Before double clicking on the next file, which would pick up at 12:01 am, she put in a phone call to MCD, hoping the place was still open. Given the press attention, she liked the odds that someone would be around to answer the phone.
Sure enough: "Mr. Quinn's office." It was the voice of Alyssa Park.
"This is Detective Halls—I was there this morning? I need to know who entered the building on Tuesday, May 28th at 11:58 pm."
"We're closed at that hour, Detective."
"I know that, but I just watched someone waltz right in the same front door I came in yesterday, and no alarms went off. Mr. Quinn told me that after-hours entry is only possible with a key card."
"That's correct. Hang on, Detective, let me check—Oh."
"Well, that doesn't make sense."
Halls rolled her eyes. "What doesn't make sense, Ms. Park?"
"Um, well—according to the log, it was Mr. Lesnick who entered."
Which raised the question to Halls of whether or not it was Lesnick in the mask and butcher's apron or in the wheelbarrow. Or neither.
She also wondered if the detective assigned to Lesnick's missing-persons case knew that his key card had been used after he'd disappeared. She suspected not.
"Has the key card been used since?"
"Let me check." After a moment, and the sound of fingers clacking on a keyboard, Park said, "No, that's the only time it's been used since he went missing. That's weird."
"Thank you, Ms. Park, that's been very helpful."
Halls hung up—she wasn't about to give Park anything she could use for office gossip—and double-clicked on the security feed for the twenty-ninth.
The figure in the mask was moving around the floor, turning on all the machinery that had been shut down an hour previous.
Then he went into the freezer and removed several of the cow corpses, and placed them on the hooks attached to the conveyer belt.
Halls watched this in real time. She was hoping for some clue as to who this person was. But the camera was too far away—the best she could tell was that it was a male, or at least someone who presented as such. He was wearing gloves and a long-sleeved shirt under the butcher's apron, and he wore a ballcap in addition to the mask.
It took him the better part of an hour to do the work that a whole shift full of plant workers were able to do in about five to ten minutes.
He also left two of the hooks empty.
Halls's coffee had gone cold, but she sipped it anyhow. It tasted even more like an oil slick than usual, but she couldn't tear her eyes away to get up and fetch a fresh cup.
Especially since she had a feeling she now knew what—or, rather, who—was in the wheelbarrow.
Sure enough, the man in the mask removed the sheet to reveal two people lying in the wheelbarrow, one atop the other. They looked—asleep? sedated? dead? Their hands and feet were bound by something, probably zip ties.
As Halls had feared, the man in the mask hoisted each of the two men—they were definitely men—onto the hooks, hanging them upside down by their feet, just like the cows were. It put the two men's heads right at around the masked man's chest level.
Pausing the video, Halls called up the missing persons files on Lesnick and Rodriguez. Quinn and Rodriguez's wife had each provided a picture that was now in the database.
The video resolution sucked donkey balls, but Halls was pretty sure that the two men on the hooks were Fredi Rodriguez and Alexander Lesnick.
Starting the video back up, Halls observed the man in the mask pull a syringe out of the pocket of his butcher's apron. He injected each of the two men with it.
"Okay, probably not dead, then."
A voice came from behind her. "Talking to yourself, Michelle?"
Turning, Halls saw Amenguale approaching, running a hand over his thinning dark hair. "Yeah, Sarge, it's my only guarantee of intelligent conversation." She paused the playback.
"I'd object, but I couldn't with a straight face." He indicated her monitor with his head. "This our guy?"
"Well, I'm fairly certain that the two he just put on meat hooks are our missing MCD people, and he's about to introduce them as the secret ingredient, yeah."
Amenguale peered closer. "What's that he's wearing? A mask?"
"Looks like. Can't tell what it is, the resolution sucks the wet farts out of dead pigeons."
Looking down at the seated detective, Amenguale said, "You know, Michelle, it may be that you talk to yourself because nobody wants to listen to you make similes like that."
"Actually, that was a metaphor. If it was a simile, I'd have said the resolution was like a fifth-generation VHS tape."
"You also talk to yourself because you're pedantic." Amenguale chuckled. "Anyhow, keep watching, see if you can get a better ID with your pigeon-fart resolution."
Halls nodded and clicked on the play icon.
Sure enough, the two men started to stir after getting the injection.
One of them seemed to be saying something. She jumped the video back a few seconds and turned the volume all the way up.
"I don' unnerstan'," said the one she was pretty sure was Lesnick, his voice slurred as he slowly worked his way back to consciousness, "wha's goin' on? Whyew doin' 'is?"
Rodriguez, meanwhile, was simply staring quietly, eyes wide.
There was a small bag in the wheelbarrow that Halls only noticed because the masked man reached down and opened it. He removed a very large knife from it and held it aloft for a moment before placing it in the pocket of his apron.
Halls let out a long breath. It looked like one of the fancy kitchen knives that Bethany had at their place.
Her place. Halls didn't live there anymore.
Shaking her head, she gulped down the last of the awful coffee and braced herself. She'd studied all about blood spatter, and she knew that things were about to get gory.
That studying did nothing to prepare her for what came next.
The masked man grabbed Rodriguez's mouth and pried it open, pulling out the plant manager's tongue.
Even as he gripped the tongue with one hand, Rodriguez uttered a strangled scream. Several of the detectives at the nearby desks and the uniforms walking through stopped and turned to look at Halls.
For her part, she didn't only hear Rodriguez's scream, she also felt it at the base of her neck.
As horrible, as mind-wrenching, as dreadful as that scream was, it became several orders of magnitude worse when the man in the mask pulled the kitchen knife back out of his pocket and started slicing through Rodriguez's tongue.
The screams became louder.
The screams became shriller.
The screams became more strangled.
And the blood spurted everywhere.
All Halls could hear were the agonized, gurgling cries of Rodriguez as blood poured out of his mouth like a geyser.
After a moment, she realized that the squad room had gone quiet. Everyone was staring at her in horror.
Monrovia wasn't exactly East LA or Compton. They'd had less than ten homicides in the last decade. The Monrovia Police detectives spent most of their time dealing with thievery of some kind—like the home invasions case she'd just closed. And the murders they did get were usually domestic situations that had gone horribly wrong.
Torture was a little outside their wheelhouse.
Hastily, she paused the playback and then opened a drawer of her desk and pulled out her iPod, unplugging the earbuds from it and plugging them into the computer's mic port.
The screams were worse coming right into her ears as opposed to over the tinny speakers in her desktop.
Blood continued to gush from Rodriguez's mouth onto the floor beneath him. The masked man dropped Rodriguez's tongue to the stained floor. Blood pooled around it and flowed toward the drains.
For a long time, Rodriguez just hung there, bleeding. His screams grew ever quieter, eventually working their way down to a wet gurgle.
Apparently, the man in the mask was less interested when his victim wasn't screaming, because once the noise from Rodriguez dimmed, he used the knife to slit Rodriguez's throat. More blood poured onto the floor, and it wasn't much longer before Rodriguez died.
That was when the masked man really went to work.
Halls's mouth kept falling further and further open as she observed the man in the mask butcher the dozen or so cows ahead of the two men on the line. He cut each cow into seven parts, deboning six of them and placing them on the conveyer for the grinder, tossing the head into the waste bucket.
The conveyer had already started and it rolled slowly toward the grinder, tossing the cow parts in and slicing them to sizes small enough for properly ground beef.
And then he went to work on Lesnick, who had been muttering something that Halls couldn't make out.
Lesnick's screams didn't last as long as Rodriguez's. That didn't make having to listen to those screams any better.
But the masked man didn't cut Lesnick's throat, instead letting him slowly bleed out and watch as he moved back to Rodriguez's corpse, cutting off each of the man's limbs, then finally severing the head. He put all four limbs and the torso alongside the cow parts on the conveyer, tossing the head into the rubbish.
He did the same for Lesnick, then continued to work on the other cows.
A hand touched Halls's left shoulder, and she let out a yelp of surprise and practically jumped out of her chair.
Ripping the buds out of her ears, she saw that it was Amenguale.
"What the ever-loving fuck, Sarge? Don't sneak up on me like that!"
"Fine, next time I'll sneak up on you different. Just got word of something you need to know about."
"There was a murder at SeaLand down in San Diego over the weekend, though it's only hitting the press now. Body was cut up, killer wore a mask. Thought you'd wanna know."
With that, Amenguale walked off.
Halls stared after him for a second.
Then she put the headphones back on and finished watching as Alexander Lesnick and Fredi Rodriguez were added to MCD's BurgerBeef mix.
Idly, she wondered whose finger it was in Ms. Jefferson's ground beef. The finger had been sent for DNA testing, but the results wouldn't be back for a while. Rodriguez was already in the system thanks to a stint in the Marines, and the one thing the detective assigned to Lesnick's case had gotten right was obtaining some DNA from Lesnick's house.
When it was done, she stopped it and restarted the video from the beginning.
There had to be a clue here somewhere as to who this fucking lunatic was.