Authors: Art Bourgeau
Another step gave her a clear view of the body, and
it was all she could do not to scream. The swollen body had burst
Sloan grabbed her and quickly led her out the freight
"Now you know why I didn't want you to see it."
"George," she said, almost afraid to
breathe normally, "you've got to get him. He can't get away with
it. My God . . ." Whoever had done this was a sickness, a
virulence that had to be stamped out before it could spread.
Sloan took her arm and led her away from the depot.
"I promise, we'll get him. Now go on back to the paper and I'l1
call you as soon as the identification is complete."
As she walked toward the crowd she was certain of one
thing . . . no boyfriend could have done this, no matter how kinky he
was. And no ordinary rapist, if there was such a thing.
No, this was special. Beyond the pale. Sick, yes. But
evil too. And the word rang in her ears, melodramatic in most
situations, the only right one for this . . .
ON THE way across town to the paper Laura mentally
composed her story, and when she came off the elevator at her floor
she was ready to write it. She went straight to her desk, flung down
her purse and began: "She Died Without Pain," was her lead.
The story came easily. In fact, in a rush, as if it
had to get out. No struggling for words as when trying to justify the
existence of yet another skinny, tattoo-encrusted rock-and-roll
zillionaire or phony titled hustler from Dubuque who had hooked a
titled European hustler living on the proceeds of tourist payments
for the privilege of viewing his fallen estate. This time the words
were genuine, and when she was finished she knew it was the best
piece she had ever written. She just hoped the editor, Will Stuart,
She checked her messages and went to the cafeteria
for a cuppa. When she returned to her desk she called Will and asked
to see him, took the elevator to his office and waited while
Martha—Will's tall, thin, sixtyish secretary—lit an unfiltered
Camel, patted her tight curls and went in to announce her. When she
came back she touched the ruffled collar of her white blouse and
said, "He's on the phone, but go in."
As they passed each other Laura could smell the
familiar lavender sachet that caused Will to refer to her with
affection as the "moll for the Lavender Hill mob."
"What's his mood like today?" she asked.
In a cigarette-roughened voice Martha said, "I
wouldn't pay too much attention to him today. l think his hemorrhoids
are acting up."
Will was still on the phone, so Laura took a moment
to look around. She always liked his office. It was decorated like a
men's club with lots of well-worn leather chairs and sofas scattered
about. The wood furnishings, the coffee tables, the end tables and
his massive desk all gleamed from the daily coat of paste wax given
them by the custodial staff. The room was paneled in a dark wood, but
there the resemblance to a club ended; where in a men's club the
walls would be decorated with animal heads from bygone safaris,
Will's walls were adorned with trophies of another kind—photos of
male ballet dancers—and one he made no attempt to hide.
When he saw Laura he quickly said, "I'll get
back to you later, dear," and hung up and greeted her. Will was
a dapper, portly man in his mid-forties with a moon-shaped face,
brown hair and a small mustache. Sleek was the word Laura always
associated with him. Besides young men in ballet troupes, he listed
among his other weaknesses a love of custom shirts, wide ties,
suspenders and a lime cologne imported from the Caribbean, all of
which were in evidence today.
"Sit, sit, darling," he said, waving Laura
to a wing chair in front of his desk. "How are you? You feeling
all right?" Asked in a conspiratorial tone.
"Fine, Will, just fine." She appreciated
his concern, but also wished she had never had to let him know about
the operation. At least he didn't know about the nightmares . . .
"Good, so what can I do for you?"
She told him about her morning. ". . . And I'd
like to get off features for a couple of weeks to follow up on it.
Less time, of course, if the killer is caught quickly."
"Laura, I won't mince words with you—no pun
intended. The answer is no."
Before she could protest he began the underline: "I
pay you a fair stipend to hobnob with the swells, and what do you try
to sell me—mean streets, that's what you're trying to sell me, but
I'm not buying. Lord, I already know about mean streets. Everybody
knows about mean streets. No news down there. Whatever has possessed
"It happened in my neighborhood, Will. I heard
the sirens and got curious—"
Now out of his chair, he began pacing. "Laura,
if I want stories about a little neighborhood tease whose boyfriend
killed her because she wouldn't put out, I've got two ex-cops with
brewer's droop I can send forth. But ask me if I can send them over
to the Palace Hotel to interview Prince Ranier or Mick Jagger, just
Laura took a deep breath. "All right, I'm asking
And now a touch of anger had edged into her voice.
"And you're not being fair. This was no neighborhood tease. This
was a kid who kept old people company after school. I've tried to get
you on this before . . . teenage girls are disappearing in South
Philly. As soon as the identification is complete you're going to see
she was the latest. Will, for Christ sake, she was raped and
murdered. And I'm betting they're going to find the same thing
happened to the others. This is big. George Sloan and Seven Squad are
on it. There's a serial killer loose in South Philly . . ."
He sat back and seemed to be reconsidering. "You
say George Sloan's on the case . . . ? Well, doesn't signify."
Pointing to a framed photograph of Glen Caruthers, the billionaire
who owned the Globe, he said, "Laura, you know our policy here.
We leave the national and international stuff to the Inquirer, the
local to the Daily News, and we stick to human interest. The kind
that titillates, not upsets. And, I might add, we've done very damn
well following that policy."
"But this is human interest—"
"Yes, but not the right kind. If they were rich
kids from Bryn Mawr, fine. But not teenagers from your neighborhood.
Besides, I read that story on the weekend and I'm not sold that the
disappearances are related."
"But we did get scooped. Don't we care about
that? Remember, I was the first one to pitch the story to you . . .
By the way, what's so wrong with my neighborhood?"
"What's wrong is you're in it. You insist on
living down at the docks like you were into rough trade. You could
have a place in Society Hill, or a condo on Rittenhouse Square, or a
carriage house on the Main Line. But you insist on living down there.
Beats me why."
He flopped in his chair and swiveled until his back
was to her.
"Laura, sometimes you make me feel just like
your mother. After I go to all the trouble of getting you all dolled
up, you go out and roll in the dirt."
She shook her head. He knew exactly how to get to
her. What he was reminding her about was that his was the lone voice
speaking up for her when Caruthers' legal eagles wanted her fired as
a "potential corporate liability" on account of her
operation. Indeed, when the agreement was over, not only did she
still have her job but she had her leave of absence, too. And during
those awful months after the operation Will was her best friend, no
question. At her blackest moment he appeared on her doorstep bearing
a white Afghan he had crocheted for her bed, then came back more than
a few times with tea and sympathy. He always had the filthiest joke
imaginable for her, or a shoulder to cry on. She owed him, no
question. All he had to do was ask—any time, any place. Except now.
These "missing" girls, plus the murdered Terri, took
precedence, at least temporarily.
"Will, you're not fooling me with all this smoke
about what we do and what they do."
There was a moment's hesitation, and then with his
back still to her, "You're a smart lady, I always say that. What
I want you to do is a little digging and then give me a piece on a
man named Felix Ducroit. I need it ASAP, by Halloween at the latest.
That's the last day of October, if memory serves."
"A real estate developer—"
"I know who he is, but why?"
"I've gotten some calls from people who are very
interested in Mr. Ducroit."
"What about the girls?"
"Laura, sorry, but right now this is more
important to me."
"Will, I've met Felix Ducroit. I can't imagine
he's more important than the lives, and deaths, of these girls. But
I'll make a deal with you. Let me follow up on the girls and I'll do
the other for you, too."
Will swiveled around to face her.
"What gets priority?"
She knew what the answer had to be or there would be
"And remember one
thing when you write it. I want no mention of a serial killer. I want
this treated like an isolated incident. People start to panic at the
mention of serial killers, and neither I nor our revered owner wants
to be responsible for that."
* * *
Sloan, feeling just a bit like Hill Street Blues,
called the meeting of Seven Squad to order. The room was thick with
stale smoke, and the detectives slumped behind metal desks looked as
tired as they felt from their morning at the old depot.
"All right," said Sloan, head so stuffy
that his voice sounded in his ears as if from a tunnel. "Let's
go over what we've got."
He glanced at the file on the desk in front of him.
"The lab work's not in yet. Evans, where is it?"
Evans, a stocky man whose tie fell short of his belt
by a good six inches, said, "Like you told me, I took it to
Wakefield and Pollack. It won't be ready for a couple more hours."
On account of a heavy weekend of crime the police lab
was jammed, and he'd okayed that Terri's specimens be sent to a
private group, Wakefield and Pollack. They were the best. No problem
"Each of you has copies of the rest of the
stuff. The remains have been ID'd. The deceased is Terri DiFranco,
one of the missing girls. I'm betting we've got a serial killer here
and that this Peter is our man. In addition to the deceased, we know
from missing persons Peter's name was linked with at least two other
of the missing girls. From what they could turn up, he courts them a
while, then one bad night they just disappear."
An officer raised her hand.
"Kane, what is it?"
"We haven't found a trace of any of the other
girls. Why do you think he broke the pattern with this one?"
"I don't know. Maybe for once he did something
spontaneous instead of premeditated."
A boyish detective with curly hair and glasses asked,
"What about the other bodies?"
"Right now, Spivak, I don't know, but it doesn't
surprise me we haven't found them. There are lots of places . . .
hell, ten blocks of Fifth Street is deserted, so is a lot of Seventh.
They could be stacked, buried, bricked up, in any of those old
houses. We've searched some of them but we've got to do more. There's
also both rivers. There's North Philly. You could lose a damn army
there. And of course, let's don't forget Jersey and the pine barrens.
So I don't know. I'm not too worried about that right now, though.
We've got a body, people. Finally. We've got a murder-one charge. Now
we need to find Peter and pin it where it belongs. I'm sure you
follow." He looked down at the file again. "We have a
description here but it's all third hand. Nobody seems actually to
have ever seen Peter. Just hearsay stuff . . . dark hair, beard,
tinted glasses, leather jacket. Could be half the buddy boys in town.
It also might be a disguise, of course. Guy could be bald as yours
truly. Evans, check out the costumers on Walnut, get names of people
buying wigs and beards. Two other things, though. He drives a
silver-gray sports car. No make or model-yet. And he tells the girls
he's an undercover cop."
"Don't they all," said Rafferty, digging at
"He's been perfect up till now, but it appears
he may have made a little mistake." Sloan held up a black
matchbook with the word "Lagniappe" in gold on the cover.
"We found this in the purse of the deceased. It's from
Lagniappe, the restaurant in Society Hill. Fancy place. Rock stars,
sports figures, politicians, artists, you know what I mean. Not
exactly the kind of place you'd find a teenager from South Philly in.
She had a pack of Marlboros in her purse. Two cigarettes missing, and
no other matches. According to her parents she did smoke but they
wouldn't let her do it at home. So a possible scenario—she kept the
matches when our man gave them to her to light a cigarette. Maybe she
lit one for each of them."
"That seems thin to me. She could have gotten
them any number of places," said Spivak.