The girl lay on the floor, blood covering her face and robe; and as the door closed behind her killer, the prostitute died alone. In the stillness of her apartment, unnoticed by any soul on earth, a door opened in another world that would lead my detective agency to an event that brought a woman back to life.
Our agency was usually busy with investigations. But, like all businesses, work ebbed and flowed from time to time. It was during one of these seasons that Bill, the Christian man who ran our sales department, came to my office with a request.
“I’ve got a favor to ask. Would we be willing to work a cold case? I talked to the parents of a girl that was killed three years ago down on the near Eastside of town. The police haven’t done much of anything with it, and her parents asked me if we’d help.”
I looked up at Bill. He rarely asked for anything. “Who’s paying?”
“No one. They don’t have any money, but this one’s of God, Karl.”
I continued to stare at him.
“Something good’s going to happen. I’m telling you, its of God. Maybe we can have the investigators work it when they don’t have anything else going on.”
I sighed. Bill didn’t ask for much, and I knew he was involved in the lives of what seemed to be every hooker, vice cop and drug dealer on Washington street. He loved investigations and read about the business constantly. But Bill was my sales manager, and I sort of wished he’d stick to that.
“I guess we can use it as a training case.” I looked back down at the papers I had been reading. “I’ll talk to Denise.”
It wasn’t going to be easy. Nothing had happened for three years and the case was as cold as North Dakota in February. There were no lack of suspects. Laura, our victim, had ripped off the Outlaws motorcycle gang for some money. Her intimate relationship with some of its members notwithstanding, I heard from neighbors that there had been some pretty cross words going back and forth. She ran with a rough crowd, and one of her more unsavory acquaintances, a customer who visited her once a week, was said to be dangerous and violent. Most of Laura’s girlfriends were strung out and turned tricks from time to time themselves. Our first stop was going to be the aging head of the Outlaws. Laura had been to see him the morning she died, and I heard it hadn’t gone well.
The old man sat uncomfortably in his wheelchair.
“I guess I don’t really need this thing,” the gravel voiced Outlaw explained. “I can get around alright, but my legs don’t work so good anymore. I get tired easy.”
The old rebel looked like he had been tired for a long, long time.
“But I don’t know who did Laura. If I did, I’d take care of him. I liked that girl. Yeah, we had our words, but she was OK. I really can’t help you, but if I hear anything I’ll give you a call.”
The old man with long hair stopped for just a second.
“But, then, again, maybe I’ll handle it myself.”
Neighbors at the house heard shots about two in the morning. I discovered Laura had lived on and off with another prostitute, and sometimes girlfriend, named Debbie Shaw. Shaw had moved away just after Laura’s death to parts unknown. Over the next two years, our investigators interviewed dozens of people. In time, an hour here and there added up to a full blown investigation that was beginning to get somewhere. Through it all, Bill kept telling us it was a case from God. As interesting as it was, however, I couldn’t really see what God had in it. It was a nice thing to do for the family, but I can be nice, if I want to, all by myself. There was something I couldn’t shake, however.
Standing in the empty room where Laura died, I pulled my coat tighter around me. There had been a fire, and the building had been abandoned for more than a year. I knew that Laura had lived in this room, without heat or water. She died there, on the floor, in the cold. The thought of nothing but evil coming from her death disturbed me; it occurred to me that the hand of God might be waiting for an opportunity to strike, to bring something alive back from the dead. I shivered, and the thought curled back into the depths of my heart, like a dog by a fireside hearth.
After almost three years, the break finally came. There had been a witness, after all. Not to the murder but to a confession. Laura had broken off with her on-again, off-again relationship with Debbie. An argument had ensued and three shots were fired. Debbie had cradled her mortally wounded companion in her arms; and as she fell unconscious, Debbie had left her to die, stepping over her blood and out of the apartment, to escape into the anonymous world of prostitution, crime and cocaine. She was left to herself, unknown to anyone; as completely cut off from life as her unmoving girlfriend.
It isn’t easy to track down a prostitute drifting from state to state, running from her past. The search took us to the east coast and then south. Homeless people may not have a computer, but living on friends’ couches with nothing to do is a great motivation to get online, and online means leaving a virtual footprint, sooner or later. We found her in Myrtle Beach, but even then she was still one step ahead of us.
“Hi. Is Debbie there?”
We had waited three years for this phone call.
“No, and I don’t think the bitch is coming back with my three hundred dollars, either.”
It didn’t take long to figure out that Debbie had run off with some guy to Florida. After a few computer searches and a couple of phone calls, we determined she was in Miami, living with a girlfriend and making her living on the streets.
Within the week, we met with homicide and warrants were issued for Debbie’s arrest; which was duly made. The trial lasted a few days, and within two months she had been sentenced to twenty years in prison for the murder of her ex-roommate.
Months passed, and I began to think quite a lot about the killing and about Debbie Shaw. In time, I felt that I should visit her. I had made decisions that had sent her to prison for a long time, and thought I should at least meet her. Bill, of course, asked if he could come with me.
As we walked down the prison hallway, a few prisoners mopped an entryway floor, clearing away every sign of human occupation. Nothing hung on the pastel cinder block walls, nothing cluttered the empty hallways, nothing obscured the curtain less windows, nothing betrayed the presence of a single human inhabitant. As we approached the double doors, they swung apart with the clank of an opening lock.
Inside the room, a few empty tables, surrounded by a small number of plastic chairs, awaited something human. We sat down and waited. On the far side of the room, a red steel door opened; again with a deep, rolling clank. A short, heavy-set blonde a came in. Her face was beaming.
“Praise God! I’ve been praying and waiting for you for a long time.”
I stared, completely mute.
“My lawyer told me what happened, and I prayed I could meet the man of God the LORD sent me.”
“It’s good to meet you,” I managed to croak out, as I reached out my hand. She gave me a big hug.
“It is a pleasure to meet you,” Bill eloquently offered, as the exuberant prisoner clutched him to her chest.
“Thank God you came.”
I sat back down on the flimsy chair.
“What happened?” I said softly. It was then that Debbie Shaw told me the truth.
“After Laura died, I really didn’t know what to do. I left Indy and mostly roamed across Ohio, working truck stops. I ended up in New York and did the club scene for awhile. Moved to Myrtle Beach and ended up splitting for Miami.”
I interrupted. “It was really hard tracking you across the country.”
“Well, thank God you never quit trying. I was getting kicked out of my friend’s apartment, and I couldn’t go on. I thought of killing myself. That morning, I walked out onto the street and I cried: “God, if you’re real, get me off this street!” Just then, a police car pulled up and I was arrested for murder. I knew they were sent from God; I just knew He answered my prayer. So, while I was being booked for murder, I gave my heart to Jesus.”
I sat and stared at the phantom before me. I had expected to see a bitter, hardened prisoner full of anger and hatred; not a joy filled woman reading the Bible, studying Joyce Meyers’ books and leading other prisoners in prayer.
I thought back to when Bill first declared, “This investigation is from God.” I imagined The LORD moving over the years, weaving together a hundred lives, behind a thousand, thousand decisions; moving inexorably to a moment in time when that first prophesy from Bill’s lips would come to full term; the moment the anguished cry of a dying killer was answered by the Living God of Israel in the person of two Miami police detectives; the moment when a lost and desperate woman, unbidden by any human being, answered the call of her creator and stepped into the Kingdom of God.