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Authors: John Lutz

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BOOK: Chill of Night
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13

Nell sat hunched over her notebook computer at her kitchen table, scouring various data bases from around the country. Wind-driven rain peppered the window. At her right elbow was half a glass of diet root beer with ice in it. She'd gulped down the other half. Her upper lip, which she now and then unconsciously licked, was rimmed with foam from the root beer.

The tiny apartment was still warm from the heat of the day, and all the more humid from the rain. The window air conditioner in the living room had stopped working. She had a call in to a guy whose name a Manhattan South detective had given her, a repairman and sometimes actor who'd done work for some other cops and given them a break. The problem was, the guy—Terry Adams—was seemingly impossible to contact. No doubt he was enjoying his season of being much in demand, the man with a corner on cold air. The thought kind of pissed off Nell. After half a dozen calls, she'd left a curt message telling him she was about to perish and would he please call back, and soon.

On the floor next to her was a folded
New York Post.
The headline read JUSTICE KILLER JOLTS CITY. The
Times
and
Daily News
had similar headlines. Nell thought the killer would probably approve of the title the media had bestowed on him. It was probably exactly what he was seeking with his letter
J
calling cards.

She huddled closer to her glowing laptop. Though it was slightly cooler in the kitchen than the rest of the apartment, this was still painstaking work. She'd exhausted NYPD data bases, the federal National Crime Information Center bank, and was reduced to hooking into various obscure sites with no, or unofficial, affiliations with investigative agencies. These websites were mostly the work of skilled amateurs, and not all of them were reliable. But in conjunction with established data banks, they might prove useful. One didn't need to be a computer genius to do this, but one did need to be obsessive, relentless, and tireless. Right now, Nell was having difficulty with tireless.

It was almost midnight, and the summer storm blew more rain against the window and rattled the glass. Beneath the bottom of the old wooden frame, Nell saw moisture appear, build to form a small drop, then track down an ancient stain toward the baseboard. It made it about halfway before spending itself and disappearing. Another drop formed, wavered, then began its unsteady downward course. Nell watched it, hypnotized, her fingers stilled on the keyboard. Would it make it farther than the last drop?

Would it…

 

What the hell?

She was awake with a start, staring at the computer's small screen.

She realized she'd fallen asleep and her hand had slid from the keyboard into her lap.

Shoulda gone to bed a long time ago.

Nell tightened her hands into fists, threw her shoulders back, and stretched her aching spine. Her right shoulder was still sore from bumping the brick wall when Lenny Rodman brushed her aside in his flight to freedom. Though the shoulder was badly bruised and taking on a nasty purple and green coloration, she was sure it wasn't seriously injured. Nell had experienced debilitating damage and knew the difference.

The apartment was still a sauna. Perspiration was stinging the corners of her eyes. She rubbed them and looked more closely at the computer screen. The website that had been slowly loading when she fell asleep was now up all the way.
Dark Nor'easters.vis
was the name of the site, and it seemed to be made up of notable unsolved crimes committed in northeastern states.

Awake again, even feeling somewhat refreshed, Nell went through her search routine, specifying deliberate clues, single victims (in number, not marital status), shootings, stabbings, bludgeonings, strangulations, indoors, outdoors, men, women, days, nights, in vehicles, urban, suburban, exurban settings.

She was astounded when the screen flickered and came up with more than a dozen shootings, nights, indoors, deliberate clues left by killer.

She specified New York City.

No problem.

It didn't take her long to scan back year by year and find what she wanted. Four years ago a woman named Rachel Cohen had been discovered shot to death in her Village apartment. A red letter
J
had been drawn with red marking pen on her forehead.

Only two years ago a wealthy woman on the Upper East Side, Iris Selig, was discovered dead in the elevator to her penthouse suite, also shot to death. A red
J
was scrawled with her lipstick on the elevator mirror.

A further search of the victims list wasn't productive. It was then Nell realized that when she'd fallen asleep she'd accidentally clicked on the “Hate Crimes” section of the website.

It was assumed then, as it had been now, that the two victims were killed because they were Jewish. Nell even managed to call up some old
Village Voice
and
Times
articles decrying the rise in hate crimes and anti-Semitism in the city, after the Iris Selig murder.

Nell didn't think this changed anything. New York simply had a large Jewish population. In light of the later victims, there was still no consistent hate crime pattern. The killer seemed to be eclectic in his choices of victims.

Still, Selig and Cohen
were
Jewish names.

She bookmarked the website then returned to her more traditional data bases.

Nell was wide awake now.

The more pertinent question was…

She soon discovered that Selig and Cohen had served as forepersons on juries in New York criminal cases.

Hot damn!

Nell could hear her breath hissing as she worked her computer, wishing she had faster internet service.

But within half an hour she had the information she sought: both jury trials had been for charges of first degree homicide—and both defendants had gone free.

That did it—the letter
J
s in the Selig and Cohen murders really did stand for
Justice
—unless somebody came up with a more likely possibility.

Two additional victims. Jury forepersons. Trials gone sour. Consistency. Confirmation.

Nell braced herself with both palms on the table and stood up. Her body was stiff from sitting for hours, but she was so nervous she started to pace. Her blood might be half adrenaline. She was eager for action, any kind of action. She felt great. She'd never been more than merely competent with a computer, and now look what she'd done. You could never tell about yourself. This was something. She was a geek!

She took several long strides to reach the phone, then hesitated when she noticed the time on her watch.

Past midnight. Beam would be asleep. Looper, too, dozing blissfully next to his wife, unless the snoring that Nell had endured in the car during stakeouts hadn't driven Mrs. Looper to a separate room. Despite the unpleasant notion, Nell found herself wondering whimsically what it might be like to be married again, this time to someone who loved her and acted like it. She was finding being single more and more problematic. It was like drifting through life as a ghost.

Don't be an idiot. You've got your independence, and everything that means. And you've got your job. Your work. Maybe someday you'll even live down the trouble with the shooting and the missing knife, the shooting that was goddamned righteous.

Don't rake up the past.

Focusing on the computer monitor, she felt her adrenaline kick in again and quicken her pulse.

Nell took a deep breath, then released it slowly.

She was calmer now, and more objective. So she'd hit pay dirt with her computer research. What did it mean? There were certainly two more Justice Killer victims; he'd been killing in New York for the past four years, but now he was picking up the pace.

That was predictive in serial killers. Really not such a big surprise.

Maybe Beam and Looper wouldn't be so impressed. Maybe she was exhausted and making too much of her find. Possibly she'd make a fool of herself by not waiting till morning to share her success. After all, if you held it up and looked at it, there wasn't much there that couldn't wait till morning.

Nell thought about it and decided again not to call and share her information. Not at this hour.

She rethought.

She picked up the phone and punched out Beam's number hard enough to hurt her fingers.

14

Melanie Taylor was juror number five and would act as foreperson in the capital criminal trial of Richard Simms, the rapper known professionally as Cold Cat.

Melanie was thirty-nine, single, and office manager of Regal Trucking, a general hauling company with executive offices in lower Manhattan. She'd been married briefly, to a man who turned out not to love her when it was discovered she'd be unable to bear children. The divorce had been fifteen years ago, and she hadn't again considered marriage. It was, after all, about children.

Her heart-shaped face, radiant smile, and generous figure had garnered her more than a few proposals of marriage. Some of the proposals she'd accepted, but without the marriage part. She was living alone now, in a small apartment in Tribeca, and seeing no one romantically. After her last bitter parting, she'd decided to take time off from romance—maybe the rest of her life.

“…can be no doubt that he dearly loved his wife, Edie Piaf,” Robert Murray, Cold Cat's attorney was saying.

Melanie's gaze went from Murray to Richard Simms, whom she could think of by no name other than Cold Cat. She'd heard some of his songs, violent, assaults on the ear, full of deprecating lyrics about society in general, and women in particular. He didn't look at all angry or menacing now, a rather placid seeming black man about thirty, with pleasant, even features and liquid dark eyes. His hair was cropped short, and he was wearing a well cut conservative gray suit, white shirt, blue tie. To Melanie, he appeared more the type to be selling insurance or continuing his education than the author and performer of his big hit “Do the Bitch Snitch!” As the prosecutor had pointed out, the song advocated using a knife in unpleasant ways on a woman who'd turned evidence over to the police. But Cold Cat wasn't on trial for cutting or stabbing his wife, the singer Edie Piaf. Allegedly, he'd shot her.

Murray, a smiling, calm man with rust-colored hair and a spade-shaped red beard, paced before the jury and talked soothingly of Cold Cat's many musical accomplishments, his generosity to artists less talented or fortunate than himself, his participation in charity performances for AIDS victims and starving children.

“I must object!” Nick Farrato, the lead prosecuting attorney, blurted out, standing up from his chair as if jerked by strings. “Mr. Murray seems to be nominating Cold Cat for sainthood rather than making an opening statement. This defendant is the man who writes songs about slaughtering women, and who took his own lyrics too seriously and willfully—”

“You shut your lyin' mouth!”

Astounded, Melanie and the rest of the jurors turned in their chairs and saw a heavyset black woman standing near the middle of the crowded courtroom. Farrato, a chesty little man in a dark blue suit, normally cocky as Napoleon, was momentarily nonplussed by the outburst.

“You know nothin' 'bout my boy, you fat-headed piece of shit. You gonna be sued yourself, you don't watch that ugly mouth of yours.”

Laughter rippled through the courtroom, but it was nervous laughter.

Judge Ernestine Moody, a somber African American woman with gray hair and deeply seamed features, was the only one who seemed unsurprised and unshaken. Melanie figured Judge Moody had seen it all.

“I'm going to ask you once to sit down and be orderly, ma'am,” she said to the woman making all the fuss.

“I sit
you
down, you keep messin' with my boy!” the woman said, bringing gasps this time rather than laughter.

And Melanie understood. This was Cold Cat's mother. Late forties, overweight, overdressed, overheated, mad as hell.

Still, the judge was unmoved. “Ma'am—”

“I ma'am you, the way you helping these
po
lice an' bald-faced lyin' lawyers tell what ain't true an' railroadin' my boy straight to jail. You think I'm gonna sit here an' watch that happen?”

“Ma'am—”

“That
ain't
gonna happen!”

Murray was sidling up the far aisle, a smile stuck on his face, motioning with his arms for his client's mother to sit down.

The judge simply sighed and nodded to the bailiff, a husky blond man, who in turn nodded to a uniformed patrolman on the other side of the courtroom. The one in uniform made a hand motion that stopped Murray, and he and the bailiff converged on Cold Cat's mother.

That was when Cold Cat leaped to his feet. “You best leave my mom alone. Lay a hand on her an' I'll buy your ass and sell it to somebody not gonna treat it kindly.”

From somewhere behind the bench two more uniformed cops appeared, a beefy man and a small, determined looking woman. They grabbed Cold Cat and forced him back down in his chair. Farrato was dancing around now, waving his short, stocky arms and objecting to everything. He finally lapsed into simply yelling, “Outrage! Outrage!”

Cold Cat's mother calmed down immediately when the two men reached her, as if she'd suddenly been shot through with a mild anesthetic that allowed her enough consciousness to remain on her feet, but no more. Braced between the two men, she accompanied them from the courtroom without a struggle until they reached the doors behind the gallery. Then she turned suddenly, as if she'd experienced a brief last surge of energy.

“This here's a place of lies!”

She repeated herself loudly in the hall after she was led from the room.

“Everybody,” Judge Moody said, holding out both palms toward the courtroom. “Everybody calm down, and sit down.”

“Put-up deal for the media!” Farrato grumbled. “Cheap stunt by the defense!”

“You sit down too, Mr. Farrato. You too, Mr. Murray.”

“Certainly, your honor.” Murray seemed sobered and much concerned over what had occurred.

“We're going to continue these proceedings in an orderly fashion,” the judge said.

“Thank you, your honor.”

“Quiet, Mr. Murray.”

“Your honor—”

“I will not entertain an objection during an opening statement, Mr. Farrato. And for purposes of this trial, you will refer to the defendant as Richard Simms, not Cold Cat. And of course the jury is to disregard this…disturbance.” To the defendant: “When Mrs. Simms—the defendant's mother—agrees to behave herself, she will be allowed back in the courtroom.”

Murray smiled beatifically, as if he'd just achieved a victory. “Thank you, your honor. Your demeanor and judicious temperament are commendable.”

“I'd like to request a short recess,” Farrato said.

“Not in the middle of an opening statement, Mr. Farrato.” The judge fixed her baleful stare on Murray. “You may continue, Mr. Murray.”

“Despite attempts to silence those who know my client as a kind and generous man,” Murray began, seizing on opportunity and making Farrato squirm, “the defense will prove to you that it was absolutely impossible for Richard Simms to have murdered Edie Piaf.”

“Right on!” a Cold Cat supporter in the courtroom said softly.

Judge Moody silenced him with a laser-like glance.

Melanie knew the judge's instruction to ignore the disturbance was simply a matter of form. How on earth could a juror actually put such a thing out of his or her mind?

She knew she couldn't, and decided that if any relevant impression stayed with her from the recent outburst, it was that Cold Cat loved his mother.

Of course, it was possible to love your mother, hate women, and murder one.

Wasn't it?

BOOK: Chill of Night
3.55Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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