TOC page here.
We pick up in the middle of the conversation with the local chief of the FBI:
Mustapha poured himself another cup. “It’s the girlfriend that’s the key. One of these guys, if there’s two, knew our vic had a girlfriend and could look enough like her to get the poor guy into the van.”
Jack said, “Well, and they’ve got a van.”
Diana said, “So do ten thousand other people in metro Atlanta. Okay, but you’re right: get a list of all the people who work with the shelter and cross-reference them with people who have access to a van. Still a needle in a haystack.”
Jack said, “Smaller haystack, though.”
Mustapha said, “Sure. But that Claire chick ain’t going to cooperate. I say we could go all Bad Cop after her, open up the books and see who works there, but she’s got those Chamber of Commerce guys up in her grill, and they’re a lot scarier than us.”
Diana probed the bad tooth with her tongue. Maybe it would go away and she wouldn’t need to visit the dentist. “But Alex didn’t always stay in the shelter. We need to find all the people who work in the parks, and the squats.”
Mustapha said, “Oh, great. Like there’s a master list for that.”
“No, it’s a good idea,” she said. “You know as well as I do we’re never going to clear this one before he, or they, strike again. If he does.”
Jack said, “People like this never stop at just one. The gods need blood.”
“Right. But, it gives us a clear plan and a big haystack. Purcell gets cranky, we point to all the… uncategorized information we have to go through.”
Mustapha sipped, nodded. “Okay. Put the media to work: have them put out the call for anyone who feeds the strays to come forward and talk to us. From there, we figure out who’s not coming forward. Work the parks and slots, talk about vans.”
Jack stood up. “Just make sure you have all your shots.”
They’re still miles away from solving the case, but at least now they have some kind of protocol to approach it with. Whodunits in the real world are usually solved by snitches or data: there’s no honor among thieves, and the only thing that caught Son of Sam was a parking ticket. Enough cross-references and they might get lucky.
Trouble is, homeless people by their very nature tend not to leave much of a data trail. Data analysis is only sexy when you’ve got a big-budget cop show and can do neat and totally fake graphics and rows of hacker code. In literature, the human angle is more interesting, which is why this setting provides so much rich material for the story.