Authors: John Lutz
Dust motes rioted silently in a shaft of morning sunlight lancing in between the drapes and casting a Picasso-like symmetry over the wall and bureau.
Nell's bedroom was cool. The air conditioner had cycled off, and only the blower was on. It was barely light outside the closed drapes, and the morning rush hadn't yet developed. The city was quiet except for the occasional swish of traffic, and distant shouting and metal clanging somewhere blocks away. A bird chirped determinedly nearby, maybe on the sill.
Nell lay beside the sleeping Terry, listening to the even rhythm of his breathing, and wondered if she'd mentioned to him that the police were pulling protection away from Cold Cat and assigning it to Melanie Taylor? The question nagged her more than it should. She couldn't remember doing so, but it
possible. Just as it was surely possible that whoever had shot Cold Cat knew with certainty about his reduced protection. The killer had created a diversion, then slipped like grease through the police and the building's security.
At the precise time when Cold Cat had been killed yesterday, Terry was alone in his apartment, scanning scripts for parts he thought he might have a shot at if he auditioned. Nell thought it odd that Terry seemed almost to make it a point to mention his whereabouts to her.
At about that same time, Nell had been talking with Jack Selig over drinks in the softly lighted lounge at Keys, a new four-star restaurant over on Third Avenue. Her watch at Melanie Taylor's had ended, and this was, in a way, she told herself, a continuation of the investigation. It had been a few drinks and conversation, nothing more; a gentleman always, Selig had kept his word about that.
But Nell, having been with another man, didn't think it was a good idea to press Terry about his whereabouts. That would be edging too close to the kind of pot-and-kettle argument that could end a relationship Nell desperately wanted to continue.
She recalled that Terry hadn't really much of an alibi for the time of Carl Dudman's death, either.
But Terry lived alone. And she was a cop; she knew how seldom people who lived alone, with no one to witness their lives, had firm alibis.
Terry's arm was suddenly across her chest, just beneath her breasts, startling her. His big hand closed on her bare upper arm.
“I thought you were asleep,” she said.
“Been lying here looking at you,” he said. “Not much I'd rather do.”
She laughed. “Oh? Is there
you'd rather do?”
He raised his head and kissed her. Bad breath. She didn't mind.
“There is something I'd rather do,” he said, “but we did it only a few hours ago.”
Another light kiss, and he scooted away from her, sat on the edge of the mattress for a few seconds, then stood up. Nude and without the slightest self-consciousness, he yawned, stretched, then swaggered toward the bathroom.
“Gonna shower?” Nell asked.
“Gotta. And I don't have time for breakfast this morning. Woman on the East Side needs her oven fixed. It overheats, and she's desperate for relief.” He winked.
Nell sat up in bed. “Damn you, Terry!” She threw his pillow at him and missed.
In the bedroom doorway, he paused and glanced back at her, smiling. “It's her ice-maker, actually.”
He continued his nude stroll to the bathroom, and a few minutes later pipes clanked in the wall and she heard the shower begin to hiss. It was an oddly reassuring sound.
Nell lay back and stared up at the slowly revolving ceiling fan, as she'd stared up at it last night during and after sex. As she'd done before. The rhythms and cycles of life. There was something so
about it all. She smiled.
Too much paranoia in the world.
She decided she didn't really distrust Terry.
But if she did distrust him, who would she confide in? Beam? Looper? Hardly. Simply on mere suspicion, they'd be all over Terry. Then the media might find out. They'd swarm. They'd discover one of the investigating officers was sleeping with a suspect.
Nobody to confide in there.
She felt a dark contempt for herself. The problem was her disease. Cop's disease. The creeping cynicism that ruined every relationship, personal or otherwise.
The disease that left you, finally, lonely and alone.
Or was the disease New York? The city was in its own way insular, and everything seemed faster and somehow enhanced. Just the place to lose your perspective, to begin to doubt yourself.
Lonely and alone.
Nell didn't want that ever to happen to her. Not on a permanent basis. She was still young enough to prevent it. And there was Terry.
She did love Terry.
But the one person she felt confident to confide in, she realized, was Jack Selig.
Melanie lay in bed alone with her eyes clenched shut.
Cold Cat dead! Richard!
Her avowed hatred for the rap artist melted away. It was, after all, her fault that he was killed. She recalled those moments during the trial when their gazes had met and they'd looked into each other's souls. Those were moments suspended in amber, moments that would last a lifetime.
The man she loved. One of the few men she'd ever loved. Dead.
The thought was so burning that she couldn't lie still. Finally, she got up and plodded into the kitchen. The tile floor was cool on her bare feet, and cold air spilled out on her when she opened the refrigerator to get the carton of orange juice.
She sat at the table, her feet up on the chair's rungs to keep them off the tiles, and sipped juice from the carton. It helped, but not much. Made her feel a little steadier.
Then she looked over at the sink, with its empty beer can, and last night's takeout pizza box propped on the drain board. Tonight's supper might be exactly the same.
Lonely damned life. Miserable life.
She thought morosely that if anybody should have been killed, it was that coward Knee High. Maybe he'd get the death penalty for murdering Edie Piaf. He certainly hadn't been Richard's friend, sleeping with his wife, killing her, then sitting in court knowing Richard was innocent and watching him suffer, his very life in the balance. Edie Piaf. She'd deserved to die for betraying Richard. What fools some women were! She, Melanie, would never have betrayed such a man, a poet of the streets, a major figure in modern music.
Melanie realized that tears were tracking down her cheeks. She wiped them away with the backs of her fingers and took another sip of cold juice. The refrigerator clicked and its motor began to run, making something glass inside vibrate shrilly with a regular rise and fall, as if taunting her.
A cruel trick had been played on her. She'd been Richard's fierce and persuasive advocate on the jury and actually
in his innocence. The jury foreperson who instinctively
he was too good a man to be a murderer. Now, ironically, she was the one who'd set him free only to be killed by a fool who'd shared most of the other jurors' misimpressions.
Melanie pushed the juice carton away and rested her cheek on the cool, hard Formica table. “Life is so unfair and unpredictable,” she said in a choked voice. But no one was there to hear.
So goddamned cruel!
So this is how it feels to have a broken heart.
“The word is you're in love,” Beam said to Nell.
They were walking along First Avenue, sipping lattes from Starbucks, on their way to meet Looper near Cold Cat's apartment building so they could do follow up interviews and double-check some factsâthe kind of drudge police work you don't read about in mystery novels.
Nell sidestepped a frail, gray woman walking a dog that might have been a horse except for the fangs. Protection. “Whose word would that be?” Nell asked. “Looper's?”
“Among others. He's close enough to you to notice.”
Is it that noticeable?
“The word could be wrong, otherwise there wouldn't be much use for our kind of work.”
Beam grinned. “
the word wrong?”
“Gossip doesn't become you, Beam.”
“Becomes no one,” he said. “But you didn't answer my question.”
“Why do you have to know if I'm in love?”
“I like you. I want to know so I can feel good about it.”
“You're so full of bullshit, Beam.”
“Sure. Otherwise I wouldn't be of much use in our kind of work.”
They waited for the traffic signal at Fifty-sixth and First, not speaking.
“Okay,” Nell said, as they were crossing the intersection. “I guess there's no point in trying to keep a secret from you. Answer's yes. I'm in love. Now what? Do I get flowers?”
“Not from me. I respect you too much to love you. So who's the lucky guy?”
“Don't know him,” Beam said, after a pause.
“That's because he's not a cop.”
“He's an actor.”
“And he repairs appliances.”
Beam broke stride, then took a sip of latte. “Your air conditioner. It's working now.”
“Same guy,” Nell said.
“Didn't he ride with some of the cops in the Two-Oh a while back, doing research so he could play a cop on Broadway?”
“Near Broadway. Said that's as close as he wants to get.”
“To being a cop.”
“Smart fella. You and an actor. I can see it. He treat you okay?”
“Wouldn't put up with him if he didn't.”
They walked for a few minutes without speaking. “You're right,” Beam said.
“About not putting up with him if he acts up?”
“No. Well, yes. Also right about something you thought but didn't mention.”
“That your love life is none of my business.”
They'd reached Cold Cat's building. A uniform was still standing outside, helping the doorman shoo away curious fans.
“Here we are,” Nell said.
“Exactly where JK wants us.” Beam glanced around. “He might even be here with us.”
“I wouldn't disagree with you,” Nell said. “You're on a roll.”
“You on your way to talk to my mom and dad?” Gina asked.
She was wearing blue shorts, a ragged gray sweatshirt cut off at the armpits, and white jogging shoes that could use a turn in the washer. Her body was slim and lithe and well toned, Nell noted with a twinge of jealousy.
“Not really,” Nell said. “They told me on the phone you weren't home. Said you'd gone running. I've been waiting around out here for you to turn up.”
Sunlight illuminated a low haze hanging in the warm air, either the result of exhaust fumes, or dust from construction in the next block. Every few minutes distant jackhammers beat out the frantic clatter of machine guns. Traffic was streaming past, and Gina, with her shorts and casual hipshot pose, attracted a few horn blasts, a male shout ofâ¦what? Admiration? More like verbalized testosterone.
“So we can talk more freely.”
That seemed to pique Gina's interest. She shifted her weight to the other slim, tanned leg.
“I wanted to talk to you about Carl Dudman's death,” Nell said.
“My family's already talked about that. I'd think you'd be more interested in that rap star getting killed.”
“No, it's Dudman I'm interested in. And I want to know how you feel.”
Gina shrugged. “I'm glad he's dead. He was the person most responsible for Bradley Aimes walking out of the courtroom a free man even though he murdered my sister. It isn't any secret. We've told the police and the media as much.”
“Do you see the Justice Killer as some kind of hero?”
“I wouldn't say that.” Gina frowned and gnawed on her lower lip. “I would admit I'm grateful for what he did.”
“Do you know a man named Terry Adams?”
“Not that I can recall.”
“Did Genelle ever mention him?”
This time Gina thought a long while before answering. “If she did, I don't remember. It's possible that she knew him, whoever he is. We didn't have all the same friends.”
“But would it be safe to say most of your friends knew both you and Genelle?”
“Most, yes.” Gina cupped her waist with her hands and began jogging in place, causing some bouncing action beneath the baggy sweatshirt. “Whoo! Whoo!” yelled a guy from a passing car.
“What's this all about?” Gina asked, ignoring her motorized admirer. “You suspect this Terry guy?”
“No,” Nell said, maybe too quickly, judging by the way Gina was staring at her. “We just want to make sure there was no connection between him and Genelle. Or between him and you, for that matter.”
“I'm sure I don't know him, and I don't think Genelle did. But we can never be sure about Genelle. The only thing I know about her for sure is that I miss her. You know how people say they become sad because after a while they can't recall precisely what the people they grieve looked like?”
Nell didn't know, but she nodded.
“That doesn't happen with me and Gina. I see her complete every day in the mirror.” Gina glanced up at the sky, then back down, her Adam's apple working. “That's about all I can tell you.”
“I guess it is,” Nell said. She smiled. “Thanks, Gina. Say hello to your mom and dad.”
“Sure,” Gina said. She returned the smile and jogged away toward her apartment building half a block down. She drew more admiring looks, a pretty girl catching the sunlight, hair flouncing with each stride. The young in New York. Nell knew they weren't as enviable as they appeared. Gina, who certainly had her problems, was an example.
Nell stood and watched her until she started up the steps to her building entrance, thinking about what had died along with Gina's sister. Thinking about the Justice Killer, how he was killing victims, and killing her trust in Terry. Evil really was like a rock thrown in a pond; the ripples eventually reached every part of it.
Well, she refused to let the ripples destroy her trust. Apparently there'd been no connection between Gina or Genelle and Terry. So there was a crime, Genelle's murder, that he had no alibi for, and it might as well have happened in another galaxy. Absence of alibi didn't mean likelihood of guilt.
Suspicion could eat like acid. Like guilt itself. The best way to face it was head on. Find out. Shine the truth on it.
Nell felt better after talking with Gina.
Gina felt better after talking with Nell.
She entered the lobby of her apartment building, stood hands on hips and let her breathing even out, then pushed the up button for the elevator. While she waited, she thought back on her conversation with Nell.
The detective didn't seem to consider that Gina or her mother or father might have murdered Dudman, a copycat crime.
gone beyond simply stalking Dudman as a kind of cathartic exercise, and actually used her gun, she might well have gotten away with it. After all, Dudman had simply been shot from a passing car. The police had nothing to go on. Gina had read that the most difficult crimes to solve were the simple ones. Criminals tended to outsmart themselves.
The elevator arrived. Mrs. Grubman, from the apartment above the Dixon's, appeared when the door slid open. She smiled and nodded to Gina. She had her feisty and odorous little dog Worry on a leash. Gina nodded back and stood aside, giving Worry plenty of room to get past. The animal had a habit of snapping at people.
After suffering only a growl, Gina entered the elevator and pressed the button for her floor. She leaned back with her eyes closed. As the elevator ascended, she enjoyed the sensation; when she was younger she used to think she might rise all the way to heaven. Today she thought the elevator smelled like dog.
Nell, the detective, had for some reason been interested in the Carl Dudman murder, rather than the more recent murder of Cold Cat the rap star. Gina was more interested in Cold Cat's sudden and violent death, and not only because it screamed daily from every news source, along with that idiot woman's campaign to stop conducting trials. What interested Gina was that Cold Cat, Richard Simms, hadn't been a member of a jury, or any other part of the judicial system. He'd been the defendant.
It wasn't credible to Gina that the little man, Knee High, had killed Cold Cat's wife. Or if he had, it was a scheme of some kind and the husband was involved. The husband was always involved. Cold Cat had been the guilty defendant who'd gone free. Simms was the first of such monsters to be murdered by the Justice Killer. The police must be trying hard to figure out what that might mean.
Gina knew one thing it meant. Richard Simms's murder signaled open season on Bradley Aimes.
The elevator stopped, bobbed slightly to adjust itself, then dinged, and the door glided open.
Gina had reached her destination.
Was there any difference now between him and the vicious killers the police hunted down and killed or placed in the hands of the bumbling, bureaucratic, and sometimes even kindly judicial system?
Not enough difference.
Not after the murder of Richard Simms, an innocent man.
The scales of justice seemed wildly out of kilter, and the sureness and clarity they offered no longer applied. Suddenly nothing seemed concrete and certain. Nothing offered support or reason. Change could occur instantly, and not for the better.
It was unsettling.
The Justice Killer had been getting headaches lately, and right now he had a brutal one. A migraine?
He'd heard the term but really didn't know what it meant. If it didn't mean what he had, it should. He might as well have an axe buried in his skull.
A guilt headache. That was how he actually thought of the pain behind his eyes.
But did he deserve it?
Was he a murderer?
He'd been afraid to go to a doctor; the fewer medical recordsâor any kind of recordsâhe created, the better for him and more problematic for his pursuers. So he was limited to over-the-counter pain remedies and switched from brand to brand.
None of them seemed to help. He lay suffering in his bed and continued to ponder the question of his guilt.
No, not yet, he finally assured himself, a cold washcloth pressed to his forehead and covering his eyes. He was still an executioner. A force for justice. In a larger sense, genuine crime, genuine guilt, even murder, was in the intent, and his intent had been pure.
He'd been tricked into executing Richard Simms. The real killer had been sitting right in the courtroom during Simms's trial, had even been one of the key witnesses. That Knee High creature. The jurors hadn't taken him seriously enough to think he might be lying, deceiving, committing perjury.
But the little man with the big lie was being taken seriously enough now, by the police, by the system.
By the Justice Killer.
Whose headache raged like a fire behind his eyes.