Read Binding Ties Online

Authors: Max Allan Collins

Binding Ties (4 page)

From the open doorway, Grissom watched Brass's car pull up and the detective get out, and cross the lawn like a man on a mission. Which, Grissom supposed, he was.

The compact, mournful-eyed Brass—always one to wear a jacket and tie, no matter the weather—had showed up in jeans and a blue shirt open at the neck.

The uniformed officer, Logan, went out to catch Brass at the front stoop, thinking a relative or other civilian had arrived. The detective flashed his badge, but Logan seemed unimpressed.

“What brings you to our neck of the woods, Captain?”

Leaning out the doorway, Grissom called, “He's with me, Officer. It's all right.”

Logan, apparently not wishing to tangle with Grissom again, sighed and nodded and let Brass pass.

“You could've told him I was coming,” Brass complained.

“Yeah, well I'm still working on my social skills,” Grissom said.

“Really? How's that coming along?”

Shrugging, Grissom stepped back inside and got out of the way so Brass could see the body.

The detective took one look and shook his head. The blood had drained from his face and his eyes were large and unblinking. “Well, son of a—”

“Is
it CASt?” Grissom asked.

Catherine came back in from the kitchen, kit in one latex-gloved hand, gesturing behind her with the other. “I didn't find anything except dirty dishes …” Seeing Brass, she froze and blinked. “Aren't you on vacation?”

Brass nodded to her. “I was.” His sad gaze fixed on Grissom. “Well, it sure
looks
like CASt's handiwork….”

“Cast?” Catherine asked, joining them. The three had the corpse surrounded—he wasn't going anywhere.

Closing his eyes, Brass touched the thumb and middle finger of his right hand to the bridge of his
nose. “You didn't work that case … you might even have been a lab tech still. I dunno.”

Catherine looked at Grissom and tightened her eyes in a signal of,
Help me out here?
Grissom, of course, merely shrugged.

Brass was saying, “I know you've heard me talk about it—my first case here? Never solved? Lot of play in the press? Worst serial killer in Vegas history? Cop in charge an incompetent New Jersey jackass? Sound familiar?”

“Taunted the PD in the papers,” Catherine said, nodding, thinking out loud. “Used the initials … C period A period S period tee.”

“‘Capture,'” Grissom said, “‘Afflict, and Strangle.'”

“I did a little lab work on the case,” Catherine said. “I was nightshift then, too. And wasn't it a dayshift case?”

“Yes. This was ten, eleven years ago.” Brass rubbed his forehead. “I just transferred in, from back East. Still shellshocked from my … my divorce. Not exactly on top of the Vegas scene, yet….”

“All I remember about the case is pretty vague,” Catherine admitted. “More from TV and the papers than anything in-house….”

Grissom said, “Lots of media, but we were able to control it better in those days. And fortunately it never caught wide national play.”

Brass said, “Yeah, we kept as much out as we could. My partner, Vince Champlain, didn't want to muddy the waters.”

“Good call,” Catherine said. “Wish we had better luck with that, these days.”

Brass continued: “Vince was the senior detective. He figured, more we put in the paper, more crackpots we'd have to deal with. S. O. P. And yet, of course, there were plenty just the same. We must've had twenty different whack jobs try to claim those crimes.”

“None of the wrongos looked right?” Catherine asked.

Brass shook his head. “Nah, standard issue nut-cases. Serial confessors.”

Catherine said, “What
did
you have?”

With a dark, defeated smile, Brass looked at her and said, “Victims—we had victims. Five—all male, all white, all in late middle-age, and all on the heavy side …”

As if it had been choreographed, the detective and the two CSIs looked as one at the dead body.

“… and all strangled with a reverse-eight noose.”

Catherine frowned. “Which is what, exactly?”

“A knot—a ‘wrong' running noose,” Grissom said. “It's about which end of the rope you pull to tighten the noose. This knot's backward … and other than yo-yos, you never see it used.”

Turning back to Brass, Catherine asked, “Any real suspects back then?”

“We started with a slew, but we narrowed it to three,” Brass said. “I had a guy I liked, Vince had a guy
he
liked, and there was a third one that looked
good, only neither of us thought he did the killings.”

Pointing at the body, Grissom said, “Here's how we do this: Run it like we would any other homicide investigation.”

Brass nodded, then asked, “You want me to start with looking into our old suspects?”

Grissom gave him a long, appraising look. “First, a question.”

“Second, an answer.”

“Should you be working on this?”

“Shouldn't I?” Brass said, his voice rising slightly.

“Jim,” Catherine said. “You've carried this one around for a long time. Objectivity—”

“Can kiss my ass,” he blurted, then immediately seemed embarrassed about it.

Grissom studied his friend. “So you're Captain Ahab on this one?”

“Let's just say,” Brass said, “I'm gonna catch the dick.”

“Ah,” Grissom said ambiguously.

“And,” Brass said, swallowing, his tone softening, “we will, as you say, work it like any other homicide.”

Grissom's eyes met Catherine's. Her skepticism was etched in an open-mouthed smile.

Apologetically, Brass said, “Come on, you two—you'll keep me honest on this. You'll keep me—”

“Objective?” Catherine offered. “You really think this is a good idea, Jim?” But her question was obviously intended for Grissom.

Grissom ignored that and said to Brass, “Do you see any reasonable way this could be a coincidence, looking so much like a CASt-off?”

Catherine added, “Which is what the press called his victims, right?”

“Yeah, and it's no coincidence.” Brass indicated the corpse. “If this isn't the guy's real signature, it's sure as hell a copycat who knows how to commit a hell of a forgery.”

Catherine asked, “How so?”

Brass shrugged. “Well, if it's a copycat, he or she knows way more than was ever in the media.”

Nodding, Catherine said, “You kept things back, so you could sort through the false confessions. Of course …”

Grissom said, “Whether this is a blast from the past, or a latterday cover artist … we're going to need all the help we can get.”

Catherine drew in a deep breath and let it out. “New or old—this is one vicious killer.”

Grissom was watching the homicide captain. “See anything here, Jim? You're the veteran of the CASt-off crime scenes.”

Brass moved closer, squatted next to the dead man, then finally rose and faced Grissom.

“Much as I'd like to have a crack at the original CASt,” he said measuredly, “I think this may be a copycat.”

Grissom and Catherine traded a look.

“Why?” Grissom asked.

“Appears staged. For one thing, there's not enough blood.”

Catherine stared at the coagulating puddle on the rug. “How so?”

“Those five original murder scenes,” Brass said, and his eyes took on a haunted cast, “spray was everywhere. Here, there's none of that.”

“Blood spatter,” she said with satisfaction; after all, it was her specialty. “In the other cases, were the fingers cut off
before
the victims were killed?”

Brass, pleased she was following him, said, “Yes.”

“Here it would seem to be postmortem. A living victim would have considerable spray, and might wave his mutilated hand around, further spreading the blood.”

“Right,” Brass said with a nod. “And there's something that isn't right about how the semen is pooled on his back….”

Grissom fielded that one, explaining his theory, concluding with, “It's always hard to tell with ejaculate at a crime scene—configuration of the victim's body, and how the perp's body functions; but this looks almost—poured on.”

“B.Y.O.S.,” Catherine said.

Brass and Grissom frowned at her in confusion.

Her eyebrows rose. “Bring your own semen? The killer brought his specimen from home. Or maybe it was a woman, who
had
to bring a specimen….”

“Makes sense either way,” Brass said. “A copycat is coldly staging a crime; the real crimes were driven by passion, by a killer really …
into
it.”

“Exactly my point,” Grissom said. “Still, this crime scene is close to the originals, right?”

“Yeah,” Brass said. “Other than these details we've discussed … oh yeah.”

“With a copycat, our lines of inquiry become nicely narrowed.” Grissom gestured toward the body. “Who
did
know this much information about those murders?”

Thought clouded the detective's face. Then: “Well, the killer, of course … the cops on the case, ourselves … and a couple of newspaper guys.”

Catherine asked, “Who, specifically?”

“Two crime beat reporters for the Las Vegas
Banner
—Perry Bell and David Paquette. They received the original taunting letters from CASt. And they even did a quickie paperback together, about the case.”

“Isn't Paquette an editor at the
Banner?”
Catherine asked.

“Now
he is—Paquette seemed to get the better end of the book notoriety. Paquette got the editor's post, but then Bell
did
get his own column.”

Both CSIs nodded.

Most LVPD personnel knew of Bell and his column,
The Bell Beat
. Grissom didn't think the guy was much of a writer, but then neither were Walter Winchell or Larry King; but the columnist did have a
reputation for honesty, and it was said he never betrayed a source, or any kind of trust, which was a big part of how he'd been successful for so long. When a cop shared something with Bell in confidence, it stayed that way until the officer told him he could print it.

“Guess I better go have a chat with the Fourth Estate,” Brass said.

Catherine gestured to the grotesque corpse. “You think either Paquette or Bell might be capable of … this?”

Brass shrugged. “Gacy was a clown, Bundy a law student, Juan Corona a labor contractor who killed two dozen for fun and profit. Who's to say
what
people are capable of? One thing I do know—if we're treating this like a normal homicide, then Perry Bell and Dave Paquette are suspects … and I'm going to go have a talk with them.”

They met with the other cops and CSIs in the yard while paramedics went inside to deal with the body.

Damon looked annoyed as he eyeballed Brass. “What are you doing here, Jim?”

Brass started to say something, but Grissom stepped up like a referee.

“I called him in,” Grissom said. “As an advisor. He worked a case very similar to this years ago.”

“Similar how?” Damon asked.

“Similar,” Grissom said, “exactly.”

“Another murder?”

“Murders,” Brass said. “A serial killer.”

“Oh, come on,” Damon said. “What is this, the movies?”

Catherine said, “Why, do you get a lot of d.b.'s out here in North Las Vegas, men with lipstick smiles and semen on their backs?”

Damon's mouth opened but no words came out.

Grissom said, “It's a perp called CASt.”

That really got Damon's attention; he took a long pause and swallowed and said, “Holy shit … I remember him. It was in the papers when I was in college! Damn … you think
he
did this?”

Grissom and Brass exchanged glances; then the CSI supervisor shrugged. “We don't know. He's been inactive for something like eleven years. We'll see.”

“You'll be working with me, of course,” Damon said. “I mean, it is my case.”

Again, Brass started to say something and Grissom cut him off. “Certainly.”

“Well … then … good.” Damon nodded, put his hands on his hips and puffed up a little bit. “Glad that's understood. Good.”

Turning his attention to his team, Grissom asked, “Well?”

Nick said, “Nothing that seems related in the backyard.”

“Front yard looks clean too,” Warrick said. “Got a partial footprint, but it could be nothing.”

“Or something,” Grissom said.

“Or something,” Warrick said with a humorless smirk.

“I got a sample of the neighbor's prints,” Sara said. “But she claims she never touched the bell or the knob. She says she just looked inside, saw the ‘horrible thing,' and called 911.”

Grissom began to smile—just a little. “Possible fingerprints, possible footprints, DNA evidence…. We've started with less. And we have an M.O. match to past crimes. What do you say, gang? Shall we cast out our line, and reel in a killer?”

TWO

O
ne of the nice things about living in Vegas, Captain Jim Brass knew, was that if you wanted to get away from everything and everybody, and go completely unnoticed, well … you could.

All you had to do was head out to the Strip.

Crazy as it seemed, the busiest part of Vegas was—for locals—the easiest place to hide. Of course, some residents worked there; but the ones who didn't—and those who did, in their off-hours—generally avoided the area like an active desert nuclear test site.

The Strip's never-ending influx of cash, after all, came from visitors. If Las Vegans wanted to go out to eat or even gamble, they steered well away from that massive neon hive of tourist traps, and found places in the less trendy, and less expensive, corners of the city.

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