Footwork was tedious but necessary. Half of all cases were solved through simply talking to enough people to find the ones who had seen a part of something important.
They started with the glitzy pick up bars, hitting them just before they opened, so all their staff would be available.
Jason frowned down at his final stack of pictures. "You will note that I'm using pictures of the dragons in human-form, not dragon-form."
"Because only one witness saw the dragon-form perp?" Scarlet shook her head. "Well, shall we show these around, then? If enough other people say they're dragons, I may have to start believing you."
"Blondes look good in red, and red catches the eye." The bartender shrugged. His was the third bar they'd checked. "And they come to places like this to meet new guys. We kick out the pros, and if one of the lounge lizards gets a bad rep, we roust him as well."
"So, you have men in here regularly, who pick up women?" Scarlet laid out the sheaf of pictures on the Bar. "Are any of these regulars?"
The men were sex offenders, the boyfriends and neighbors of the victims, and both Homer and Herod. The picture of Herod was a composite from Sergeant Diamond's squad car camm with a more ordinary background swapped in.
The bartender picked out Homer's picture immediately. "He comes in all the time. Dunno his name. Doris?"
The red headed waitress looked at the picture. "Oh sure. Big tall dragon like that? All the girls go for him. I think his name is Homer. Or Handsome or something with an aitch." She shrugged and moved away, wiping down tables.
"He was a smooth one." The bartender looked through the rest of the pics and shrugged. "He swiped a gal right out from under this snotty fellow's nose. It was a delight to see."
The waitress looked over her shoulder. "Delight my ass. It was a relief. I think the other fellow put something in her drink. I was thinking about calling the police. I figured the dragon was a good substitute."
"The other guy wasn't a dragon, he was much too short. And his hair was dark, but not really black. I don't think he was even a Wuss." The bartender frowned. "It was a bit odd, though. I would have sworn the gal called them both Herod."
The waitress snorted. "Herod has got to be the most popular name ever. Which is a bit scary. I had to read a biography in high school. Yow! They don't make them like that anymore, and a damned good thing."
"What day was this? Or night, rather?" Jason pulled out his second set of pictures. I don't want to do this.
"Last Saturday. Eight days ago. Haven't seen him since," the bartender said.
The waitress shook her head. "He stuck his head in once, but we were pretty busy, and he left without ordering anything."
"Do either of you recognize any of these women?" They had, thank goodness, gotten good snapshots of all the victims, and hadn't had to use any of the cadaver photos.
They looked through them, and shook their heads. "They're all blondes, but none of them are the one that dragon swiped."
More questions netted nothing more. Jason took the bartender and waitress back through Homer's seduction again, checking carefully which man was being called Herod, and which one Homer.
They left as the bar opened for business. The sun had already set.
"Not that their witnessing it really means anything. It sounds like the woman was drunk enough to have been uncertain about names, herself." Scarlet looked around the parking lot as another car turned in. "Popular place, looks like it's busy most nights."
Jason nodded reluctantly. "However, if Homer or Herod was out picking up women and taking them home for two days of fun, I doubt he also killed Doris Franc that same night. And he probably wasn't out picking up another and killing her, umm, two days later." He bit his lip.
Scarlet shook her head. "We don't know if the woman he picked up was Franc, the woman you saw, or neither. The Ripper killed hours after Homer or Herod picked up a woman of matching description that night. And two nights later Homer and or Herod is with another woman who fit the profile. Two nights after that, murder #7. Do you have any indication that any of the women were missing for days, before they were killed?" She fanned the dragon pictures. "Damn it, they all look alike to me. Herod or Homer or anyone else."
Jason nodded. "This is the worst way to identify a dragon. And DNA is almost as bad. They are all so closely related that there are lots of duplicates. A complete sequencing will generally get us a unique match, but that takes a month and busts the department budget. And then you can't prove which personality was ascendant. So we only do them for sticky court cases. A simple comparison of a hundred points to eliminate people is all we usually do."
"And the Ripper knows that, and that's why the contamination of the bodies." Scarlet nodded thoughtfully. "Is that why he also removes the sex organs? So you can't get samples from someplace he didn't otherwise contaminate?"
"That may be a part of it. But I think this guy is a real fruitcake, and would anyway. But the women, no they were all killed within half a day at the most, of being seen by family or friends." Jason dug out his notebook and flipped back several dozen pages . . . “I forgot that I got her car license number. The blonde in Homer's apartment. Let's see if we can find her."
"I thought it was obvious that I'm a Dragon. And I apologize for my alt's rudeness." Homer eyed his last conquest. Damn, I've got good tastes when I'm drunk!
"Oh." Her initial alarm was quickly edged out by growing curiosity. "So . . . why don't you stick to Lady Dragons?"
Homer rolled his eyes. "They are generally stuck up and rude. They have no sense of fun. Really, you'd think they were allergic to parties."
"So you picked me up because I looked easy?" Her eyes narrowed.
"You looked fun. You were laughing and happy. And gorgeous. But the laughter gave you this irresistible glow."
She smiled slowly. "Oh, you are quite the accomplished Lounge Lizard, aren't you?"
He smiled back. "Absolutely."
"And I'm going to dump you, absolutely."
"Damn. The good ones always get away. Adieu, Fair Jacqueline!"
She was laughing as she walked away.
Homer dropped money on the bar and turned the other direction, toward the door. No red dresses here tonight. But there were plenty of bars still on his list.
Scarlet looked through all the pix the scouts had taken, the night she was drugged. There wasn't a single good shot of her buddy. She growled under her breath. "He wasn't Homer, he was shorter than that. More Jason's size, but he wasn't Jason either. Damn all these look alike wusses! And I still don't understand about their relationship with dragons."
Herc poked his head into her office. "Problem, Lieutenant?"
"Other than having trouble telling these people apart? That fellow who drugged me fit the profile of the Ripper. I was wearing a red dress, blonde. Or close enough, in that light."
"Didn't notice he'd dropped something into your drink." Herc added helpfully. Straight-faced.
"They call it Jayjay. Raw, it, umm, revvs up the sex drive. Cooked and buffered in various ways it's used to treat high blood pressure and depression in either sex."
"It certainly undepressed me, fast." Herc grinned as he ducked away.
Scarlet muttered something under her breath and put in a request for any small street cams they still had. She shuddered at the thought of catching the man, dragon, after another murder, rather than before.
Not Good, but what can we do? Keep flashing Homer's picture around? Follow Homer everywhere? Check every Second Comer he meets? The men as possible accomplices, the women as possible victims?
"Guess I'd better get ready for another fun filled night." And don't I wish I were going dancing with Jason, instead of doing the other kind of leg work.
"He's here?" Jason felt a chill in his belly.
The doorman frowned down at him. "He has already departed."
"With someone? A woman?"
"No. He was alone."
Scarlet dragged him away. "How are we going to find him? Do you know his car?"
"He always takes taxis. Or if he's going to a swank party, a limo. He doesn't own a car."
"That you know of." Scarlet glared at Miribeau. "We should put out an arrest order for Homer. We know Homer was bar hopping. We've placed him confidently within a block of where Miss Franc met the Ripper."
Jason stared down at his friend's picture. Half the bartenders and waitresses recognized him on sight. Many knew his name was Homer. The descriptions of his actions sounded more like Homer than his brief glimpse of Herod. I thought I didn't know Herod; turns out I don't know Homer, either.
"Don't let your friendship blind you. And why do all the dragons look so much alike?" She fanned through the latest collection the waitresses had rejected. Dragons my ass. Why do they call them that? Dragons' friend? Dragons' partner? Black hair and eyes like a dragon? No, Jason is a Wuss. For some reason.
"Serious bottleneck, perhaps ten thousand years ago. If the myths are right, we may all be the descendants of a pair of twin sisters, and their brother."
Scarlet swallowed a girly "eww" reaction, and stored the information for future consideration.
She looked back through the pictures. They all looked like Homer. Oh, a few had noticeable features that even she could spot. But they looked like brothers. She pulled out three. "Is one of these Homer?"
Miribeau glanced at them. "The one on the left. Well, two more bars on this street, then we’re out of the Ripper's area—so far."
“I think I’m acclimating. I can almost tell you people apart now. So, what is the difference between a wuss and a dragon?”
Their phones rang simultaneously.
"The car is registered to Jacqueline Summers. Address 35267 Oak Glen, apartment eighteen."
"Thanks, Macy. That was fast."
Scarlet was hanging up as well. Frowning. "They want me to head home and report. That's at least a four day trip. I wish they'd waited another week before getting their satellite link installed. I really can't ignore this."
Jason sighed. "Well, I'll check on Herod's blonde buddy, see if she's still alive, and keep trudging. And keep an eye on Homer. We're well past the full moon. In theory we should have several weeks of peace and quiet."
"Inspector Mirabeau." She put all the ice into she could. "One of our suspects was here. Just a few hours ago."
He flinched. "And I'll find Homer."
A Red Dress and a Bad Date
Trouble was curled up half asleep on the couch, trying to follow the plot of the movie on TV when she caught a glimpse of Gale heading out the door. In a red dress. Her eyes snapped open. "She didn't!"
"Nothing Mom. Just sleepy. See you in the morning." She slipped into the bedroom and checked the closet. It was gone. Her party dress. She walked quietly back to the kitchen and out the back door. Out the back gate and down the alley, and The Strip was just a mile away.
Gale's car was in the third lot she passed. The place was swank, a doorman was looking everyone over, and carded a youthful looking fellow. She wasn't going to be getting in the front door.
The back, on the other hand, was propped open for ventilation.
The hallway contained four doors. The kitchen on the left, storage and the restrooms on the right. It also gave her an excellent view of this end of the bar. And the dance floor. Of Gale and a handsome dark-haired fellow, spinning her around and out of Trouble's view. She could hear her teeth grit. Gale looked fantastic in the dress.
After the dance, Gale headed straight for her, or rather, the rest rooms in the back hall. Trouble retreated hastily out the back. The man hovered, waiting. Gale returned quickly. He whispered something in her ear.
"Oh no, we can't go out, it's too dangerous."
He murmured something in her ear.
"Oh, that would be safe, wouldn't it?"
Trouble abandoned the back door and raced around to the parking lot. Gale never locked her doors . . . she crept to it and tried the back. Locked. She heard Gale's laugh. The locks clicked, the interior lights came on. Trouble popped the back rolled through and closed it. She pressed against the back seat. If they looked, she'd be obvious. But it sounded like they were kissing. And getting in, and kissing some more. Finally the car started, and drove off.
Trouble could see the tops of buildings as they zipped past. She recognized a few, they were heading north, toward the rich part of town. Not that far, though. The car bumped over a curb and parked.
Gale got out, giggling breathlessly. "Mom would kill me, if she knew what I was planning on doing here."
A masculine laugh, muffled as the doors closed. Footsteps receding. Trouble hesitated. Popped the back open and slipped out. Closed it quickly. Where had they gone? Where . . . "Oh Good God. Church. Mom is going to kill you. And if I don't want grass stains on my dress, I'd better interrupt before it gets even more embarrassing." She trotted to the gate and into the lushly landscaped contemplation garden (excellent for games of hide-and-seek).
"Hey, hey!" Gale sounded alarmed, not amorous.
Changed her mind?
The scream was muffled, Lots of scruffling sounds. Trouble started running, trying to be quiet, getting turned around on twisting winding paths. Then there was flapping. The dragon rose laboriously above the garden and sought the roof of the Church. Gale kicked and thrashed, dangling.
Trouble picked up a fist-sized cobble from the border of a flower bed and heaved it. It missed; the dragon was already too high.
The second cobble made a bullseye through the nearest stained glass window.