The Red Hot Fix

A Justice Novel

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In the white-knuckle follow-up to her explosive debut novel, The Fixer, T. E. Woods returns with another tense, intricate thriller.
What do you say, Morton Grant, Chief of Detectives? You got what it takes to find me? Show me a move. . . . Or I’ll have to show you one of mine.

A little more than a year after the Fixer killings, Detective Mort Grant of the Seattle P.D. once again has his hands full. In the last four months, seven men have been murdered in seedy pay-by-the-hour motels: first strangled, then tied with rope and set on a bed of crushed mothballs, with a red lipstick kiss planted on their foreheads. Speculation abounds that the killer is a prostitute who’s turning her tricks into dead men. The press has taken to calling her “Trixie.”

As Mort follows scant leads in the case, he can’t help but feel continued guilt over his involvement with the Fixer. Though the public holds her up as a folk hero, a vigilante who seeks justice when the system fails, Mort cannot shake the fact that serious crimes have been committed. And though legend says she has vanished, Mort knows exactly where the Fixer is—and he’s conspiring to keep her hidden.

As Trixie strikes again, Mort suddenly finds himself and his family in the crosshairs. Because these new murders are not random, and their perpetrator is hell-bent on luring Mort into a sick and twisted game. If he’s not careful, he’s going to need Fixing.

Praise for The Fixer
“Pitch-perfect . . . solid characters, unpredictable twists and excellent plotting; a must-read for those who enjoy crime fiction.”Kirkus Reviews


Praise for The Fixer
“Pitch-perfect . . . solid characters, unpredictable twists and excellent plotting; a must-read for those who enjoy crime fiction.”Kirkus Reviews


Chapter One

Mort Grant looked down at the naked man and tried to estimate how many corpses he’d stood over. Did this guy with the rose tattoo put him over the century mark? Hell yeah, he did. Closing in on thirty years with the Seattle Police Department, more than twenty of them in homicide. He made a mental note to run an actual tally one day. He scanned the kneeling and bound body, saw the ligature marks on the throat, and didn’t need a lab analysis to identify the jagged white crystals scattered around the dead man’s knees.

“Mothball crystals?” Mort asked anyone listening.

“Yes indeed.” Jimmy DeVilla, chief of forensics, tossed a ziplock pouch into the evidence bag.

“We got a name?” Mort asked.

DeVilla walked over. “Wallet says Tony Wagner. Address in Bothell. Squad car’s been dispatched.” Jimmy looked down to read the name inscribed on the tattoo. “I got twenty bucks says the lady who answers the door isn’t Donetta.”

“We got a time?” Mort stepped aside for the men with the body bag.

Jimmy glanced at his notebook. “He checked in around twelve thirty this afternoon. Paid cash.”

“Of course he did.” Mort looked at the bed pillows. “Desk clerk see who was with him?”

“Look around, buddy,” Jimmy said. “This is the kind of place recalling details gets you canned. Or worse.”

“Get anything off the pillow? Strand of hair? Smear of makeup?”

Jimmy slid his notebook back in his pocket. “Stuff’s on its way to the lab. If she left anything, we’ll find it.”

Mort watched the body being loaded onto the gurney. He waited until the officers wheeled it out and he was alone with his friend.

“Damn it, Jimmy.” Mort kicked the air. “This is seven now. In what? Three months?”

“Just over. First body was thirteen weeks ago.”

Mort ran his hand over his face and imagined tomorrow’s headlines. Seven men murdered in four months. All in by-the-hour motels. Each strangled before being trussed with twine like a Thanksgiving turkey. Hands bound behind their back and tied to their ankles. Kneeling on mothball crystals. The press speculated this was the work of a prostitute and had taken to calling her Trixie: the killer who turned tricks into corpses.

“You’d think johns would be more careful, wouldn’t you?” Jimmy slung his evidence bag over his shoulder and headed for the door. “Sumbitches keep right on shopping where their mamas told them not to.”

* * *

Two hours later Mort stood in his office and added Tony Wagner, 47, to the whiteboard list of Trixie’s victims.
“Do we see a pattern?” he asked. “Anything. Consider me officially desperate.”

Jimmy slumped in a worn leather chair and scratched the head of the oversized German shepherd sitting next to him. “All dead.”

Mort turned to the woman seated at a small conference table. “Mick, what do you see?”

Micki Petty shook her head. “Not much. Seven guys. Four white, two black, one Hispanic.”

“Trixie’s equal opportunity.” Jimmy pulled his hand away and ignored the giant paw Bruiser swiped against his shoulder. “Our dead johns range in age from thirty-eight to forty-seven. What’s that tell us?”

“Nothing,” Micki replied. “Typical for this sort of thing.” She flipped a few pages in her notebook. “We’re finding no connection between the victims. Five married. Professions range from unemployed to patent attorney. No shared school or church. Six of them had kids, but there’s no indication the kids know one another.”

“How about location?” Mort asked. “Anything there?”

Jimmy went to the whiteboard. “Russell and Valdez used the same fleabag hotel. The other five were in different dumps. Each rented by the hour. Desk clerks remember them checking in, but no one recalls seeing the hooker.”
“So we got nothing.” The muscles in the back of Mort’s neck warmed up for a long game of squeeze-a-cop.

“Not exactly,” Micki said. “We got hair from three scenes. We got skin from five. DNA analysis shows they’re from the same white woman.”

“Which gives us nothing.” Mort glanced at the clock. “The DNA we found doesn’t hit in any data bank. And we’ve tried ’em all.”

“Relax, buddy,” Jimmy said. “If she’s not in any database, we won’t hit. We’ll get her. The good news is we got solid physicals when we do.”

“Hair and skin from some scenes doesn’t put her at all seven.” Mort needed a break. Maybe the road trip and ferry ride would help.

“But fingerprints and fibers do,” Micki said. “Trixie uses a silk and mohair blend in the ropes she uses to strangle these guys. Colors are different, but all from Loywood Mills, a California manufacturer. Stuff’s expensive. Only two yarn shops in King County carry the line. She probably takes the noose home after each kill, but we’ve got fibers from the victim’s necks. And her M.O.’s the same, not to mention the lipstick. Trixie plants an Avignon Studio’s Red Hot Number Seven kiss on every man’s forehead and every john’s tox screen tests positive for Rohypnol. We’re talking one killer. One Trixie.”

“Mothballs the same on this latest guy?” Mort asked.

Micki nodded. “Old Standard Kloset-Kontrol granulated mothballs. Two wholesalers in western Washington distribute them to over eight hundred retail outlets. Nearly a hundred in King County.”

“The press knows about the strangling and trussing.” Jimmy signaled Bruiser to stand. “But the lipstick and the moth crystals are strictly between us crime fighters.”

Mort rubbed the pain in his neck with his left hand as he reached for his car keys with his right.

“I got other places to be. Call me if anything new comes up.”

* * *

I really do need to get that kitchen rug taped down. Almost spilled my tea. And nothing soothes me more than a strong cup of chamomile.

I settle into my chair by the fire and replay the moment his eyes signaled understanding. He knew my face and those cheap motel walls would be his last impression of his pathetic little life. His terror gave way to sadness. I suppose I should have felt sorry for him. I tightened the noose and his expression changed to resignation.
Then his light went out.

Poor schmuck woke up this morning like any other. If anybody’d asked him, he would have sworn he’d live forever.

We’re all wrong sometimes, I guess.

I try to remember the others. Their faces nearly form before they drift away to the land of forgotten dreams.

This is just way too easy.

I inhale the sweet aroma of my tea before setting the cup down. I pull the knitted noose from my sweater pocket and roll it into a tight ball. I used a simple stitch for this one. A simple stitch for a simple plan. A simple plan for a simple man.

I open the old tin box she gave me, drop the brightly colored ball of yarn in with the newspaper clippings, and see that scowling face again . . . looking so frustrated in the inky tones of gray. I run my finger over his brow and read the paper’s identification of the befuddled subject.

What do you say, Morton Grant, chief of detectives? You got what it takes to find me?

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