Excerpt – all rights reserved
“We found it.”
Assistant Special Agent in Charge Silver Cassidy grabbed the radio hooked on her belt, thumbed the transmit button, and raised it to her mouth.
“The sick bastard threw it down the garbage chute.” Special Agent Seth Thompson’s ironic tone was unmistakable even over the radio. “Seven floors. It’s hard to recognize it as a head now. Bumpety bump bump.”
“Nice. Forensics will go crazy for this one,” she said, glancing at the group of agents standing near the bedroom door.
She caught a flash of her reflection in the hallway mirror and paused to plump her dark brown hair. The morning had been a whirlwind, between the early call on the latest murder and trying to get her daughter to school before heading to the crime scene. She knew she looked tired and harried, having had no time for makeup or hair gel in the rush.
That was fine. As the head of the FBI task force hunting this serial killer, Silver didn’t need a glamorous look or a ready-for-the-cameras presentation in order to be taken seriously. She was the no-nonsense presence representing the Bureau leadership on the investigation, so everyone at the crime scene gave her a respectfully wide berth.
A generally good idea before she’d imbibed her second cup of coffee.
Static burped at her from the two-way again.
“You got anything more up there?” Seth asked.
Silver paused, considering possible responses as she turned towards the floor-to-ceiling glass of the living room, taking in the West Side apartment’s magnificent view of Central Park and the Manhattan skyline. Some people knew how to live.
Or in this case, where to die.
“Just more of the same. Body in the bedroom tied to the bed. Evidence of loss of bodily functions and a whole lot of blood…he didn’t go easily. Over.”
Silver shook her head and pursed her lips. This was victim number four for their killer, who had been kind enough to leave a laser-printed calling card that she knew could have been made on any of tens of thousands of HP laser printers that used the same ink.
One of the forensics techs had bagged it after dusting it carefully. She caught Silver’s eye, then shook her head. Nothing. Clean as everything else had been on this frustrating hunt. Still, patience would pay off. They would find something. They just needed to look a little harder…
This was a murderer who reveled in the limelight. He clearly wanted to be known, so much so that he’d been willing to help the process along by contacting the press with photos following the first killing. The papers had gone berserk after that. One of the Florida rags had made the shots of the victim and the calling card the central feature of their front page treatment after the ruthless and sensational slaying. As a publicity grabber the little rectangle was elegant and brief, offering two words on one side.
The media had immediately picked up on the moniker, and now that was the case name.
The FBI had kept the messages neatly printed on the opposite side to itself – standard operating procedure to ensure there were elements only the real killer could know about. This one said: ‘Cooler heads prevail’. She knew from lab reports on the earlier slayings that the message had been printed at the same time the card had been created. Premeditation wasn’t even in question.
Silver adjusted her belt, shifting the Glock 23 in the hip holster over, already sweating in the navy blue FBI windbreaker she wore over her blouse and slacks. They had taken over the crime scene from the NYPD detectives, who had reluctantly acceded federal jurisdiction given that this was an interstate killer. A few uniformed patrolmen waited in the hall, securing the area, and the two homicide detectives who’d initially been assigned to the case were keeping them company, unwilling to completely remove themselves from the action but finding themselves with nothing to add.
“What do we know, people?” she called out to the remaining group, all FBI, mostly male, white, and older than her. At thirty-six she was considered young to be running such a high-profile investigation, especially in the boys’ club that the Bureau continued to be – all the FBI’s marketing photos and insistence on politically-correct diversity notwithstanding. But Silver had earned her position and didn’t make any excuses; she was used to swimming upstream in a man’s world – had been doing so for as long as she could remember. She’d been proving herself since her training days, when she’d graduated second in her class at Quantico – she would have been first had she not annoyed one too many instructors with her independent attitude and been marked down accordingly.
That still stuck in her craw. By rights, she should have been first.
Supervisory Special Agent Sam Aravian, a tall, gangly man with olive skin and an unruly head of black curly hair, emerged from the bedroom and shot her a worried glance.
“This one is grislier than the last. It looks like he was tortured, judging by the lacerations,” he reported, shaking his head. “I’m thinking the killer was trying to get information out of him.”
“Little soon to speculate, don’t you think?” Silver cautioned.
Sam turned his head towards the dining room’s picture window and rolled his eyes, thinking Silver wouldn’t catch his expression in the dim reflection. She let it go.
“Have we got anything from the doorman? Any witnesses? What about security cams? Tell me this isn’t four in a row where the perp’s a ghost…”
“Nothing so far. The maid found him. NYPD is interviewing her with two of our agents, but she doesn’t know much, and she’s still in shock. It isn’t every day you find your employer of six years doing the headless horseman thing,” Sam offered, biting short the rest of his remark when he caught the look in Silver’s eye.
Silver keyed the radio again.
“Seth. What are you going to need to process the downstairs?”
“We have the garbage room sealed off, and two techs are on it. They called upstairs and have someone going over the chute room, too. I’ll be up in a few minutes. But I don’t need to tell you this is going in an ugly direction.”
Silver looked out at the park again and wondered when they would catch a break. It had been six weeks since the first killing, three weeks since the last, and they were no closer to closing in on the killer than when the first victim had been discovered in his car with the calling card stuck in his mouth, stabbed to death and left to drown on his own blood. That modus operandi, coupled with the killer’s contacting the press and promising more killings, had galvanized the Bureau into creating a serial killer task force even before he’d slain his second victim.
Besides the lack of any breaks in his having been seen or caught on camera, she was concerned with how clean the crime scenes were. That implied at least a passing familiarity with forensics, which didn’t bode well for their hunt. This was an organized, patient planner who hadn’t slipped up.
But they always did.
That wasn’t completely true, though, was it? an internal voice chided her, reminding her of the ones that had gotten away.
The Capital City murderer.
The Grim Sleeper.
The Zodiac Killer.
The Original Night Stalker.
Every time she was on one of these cases her worst nightmare was that her quarry would turn out to be the next Jack the Ripper or Zodiac and simply disappear into the fog one day after a run of devastating brutality – on her watch. That fear kept her driving hard and had molded a herculean work ethic which had served her well.
“Okay, Sam. Let’s make sure we get statements from everyone who could have potentially seen anything,” Silver said, turning to survey the scene. “We should probably go to the surrounding buildings and talk to anyone who had a sightline on this place. Although that’s a longshot, given the timing.”
“I’m on it,” he agreed and moved back into the bedroom.
Silver had been with the Bureau for thirteen years and had risen through the ranks, starting in Organized Crime before switching to Violent Crime, and since making the move, this was the second task force where she’d been the assistant special agent in charge. The last one, disbanded two years earlier, had stopped a particularly ugly serial killer who’d been targeting prostitutes in the Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York areas. It had taken nine months to capture Tom Rinkley, but they had ultimately arrested him in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, where he drove a cab for a living. DNA had proved his undoing – they had managed to get just enough samples from four of the victims to put him away with a clean, unassailable case – so much so that once he’d been told what he was facing, the killer had confessed to a total of a dozen slayings spanning two years, reciting them with clinical precision.
Rinkley hadn’t been a particularly bright man, but he was methodical, at least at first. They had gotten him after he’d increased his frequency and gotten sloppy, which they later discovered was because he was having breaks from reality – vivid drug-induced hallucinatory episodes where he believed he was receiving messages from God to kill unclean women.
Silver had participated in the interrogation. Her skin still crawled as she recalled his gleeful account of how he’d reduced the incidence of AIDS and deterred any women considering the vocation. The interaction had made her want to put a bullet between his eyes right at the questioning table.
“Well, Agent, they were whores. Unclean, polluted vessels for disease, sent to tempt good men and contaminate them with their foulness.”
“Good men? You mean the kind of good men that leave their wives and families at home and go seek out prostitutes in truck stops or near bus stations, like those you targeted? Those kinds of good men?” Silver had inquired in a neutral tone.
“Men are like dogs. They don’t know any better. It’s women who lead them astray and spread the corruption of their bodies and their spirits. Exterminate the vermin and the neighborhood becomes clean over time.” Rinkley had fixed her with cold, dead eyes, smirking as he winked at her. “You should know how filthy women can be, Agent Cassidy.”
Silver had outwardly been unmoved, but that night after crawling into bed, she’d cried for an hour – for her soul, for her daughter, and because the universe produced sick animals that viewed her gender as inferior, and therefore something less than human. She knew Rinkley was atypical, but being in the same room with a man who was so palpably evil strained her composure and tested her inner fortitude.
If she’d had a gun in her hand when he’d winked at her…
Silver snapped back into the present and took a few deep breaths, trying to purge her psyche of the ugly stain the predator had left.
This was her job. This was what she’d chosen, no, fought to do with her life. And sometimes you had to get your hands dirty.
But when she thought of her ten-year-old daughter, Kennedy, growing up in a world where evil like Rinkley’s prowled the streets, a small part of her wondered if they wouldn’t be better off taking these psychos behind the jail and shooting them.
Only that wasn’t the gig. Vigilante justice wasn’t a big part of the FBI curriculum.
Seth walked through the door and approached her, holding out a digital camera. “You want to take a look? It ain’t pretty.”
Silver paged through the photos, her face betraying nothing.
“What’s HQ saying about the financial connection?” Seth asked.
All four victims had been involved in the financial industry – the first had been an investment advisor; the second and third, partners in a hedge fund; and their current object of interest, the president of a software company whose clients were brokerage houses and exchanges.
Silver frowned. “They agree that’s the link, but we’re still at a dead end for now. Knowing of the connection doesn’t help us predict who’s next, or when. And let’s face it – these days, half the country would like to strangle Wall Street…”
“Shall I add that to the suspect list? Couple of hundred million disgruntled Americans?”
“What about the regulatory angle? The SEC?” Seth asked.
“That appears to be the only other connection, but they were unrelated investigations.”
The first and second victims had faced SEC charges and had settled with the agency, as in all such cases, without admitting or denying guilt. That was how the system worked – the wording of the settlements was carefully crafted so it wouldn’t open the door to lawsuits from the victims of the scams.
“True. But there has to be something there,” Seth persisted.
“No argument,” Silver agreed. “The question is what? The investment advisor was slapped for funneling clients into unapproved financial vehicles, and the hedge fund manager was accused of insider trading. Both happened years ago. You couldn’t invent two more dissimilar cases.”
“I know. But come on. The killer is calling himself The Regulator, and two of the victims faced regulatory sanctions. Seems pretty clear to me.”
“The younger of the two in the house fire – victim number three – didn’t. If our latest victim also never got into trouble with the SEC that hypothesis is all wet. That’s why I try not to go down a road based on one connection.”
“Can’t argue that,” Seth conceded, then pulled a notebook out of his windbreaker pocket and flipped through it. “Oh – and I forgot to tell you. Yesterday, after you left the office, a supervisory special agent by the name of Richard Gale called for you. Said he was from Financial Crimes.”
“That must be the resource I asked for. I want someone who is focused on the industry. We’re out of our depth if it’s something esoteric connecting the victims. I’m hoping a specialist will see something we don’t.” Silver glanced at her watch. “A supervisory special agent, huh? That’s positive – I was afraid we would get someone two years out of training.” She paused, looking around. “Have you got control of this? Looks like all the excitement is over for moi.”
“Sure. I’ll stick around for the duration. Go do what you need to do. Nothing to see here,” Seth said, eyeing the men by the bedroom.
“Thanks, Seth. I’ll be on the cell or the radio.”
~ ~ ~
Two New Jersey state troopers stood chatting by their cars, watching the local Newark cops write up the crime scene.
A patrolman had noticed a broken window by one of the chained doors and had radioed it in. Half an hour later, two squad cars were parked in the circular drive with the uniformed officers taking haphazard notes.
The security guard had been on the other side of the complex when they had appeared, and had been puzzled by their arrival until they’d pointed out the window. Frowning, he unlocked the entry, and together they moved through the opaque glass doors, noting that the plywood mounted across each panel to keep vandals out was covered with graffiti – as were whole swatches of the tired-looking building. The pair of cops stopped once inside, waiting for their eyes to adjust to the dark.
The power was off so they flicked on their flashlights. They passed room after empty room in the musty gloom, finding no signs of intrusion. They arrived at the end of the main hall, where a locked metal gate blocked the stairwell leading to the upper floors, and the elevator shafts were boarded up.
One of the cops shone his beam at the open stairs leading to the basement. “What’s down there?” he asked the guard.
“The radiology departments.”
“Is there anything worth stealing?”
“Not unless you can back up a semi-rig. All the small stuff got sold by an auction company, and they came last week and removed everything. But the big pieces of equipment are still down there. I heard one of the guys saying they sell those separate ’cause they’re so huge.”
“Let’s go take a look.”
The three men cautiously descended the stairs; the temperature dropped ten degrees by the time they were standing in the drab corridor. Brightly painted arrows on the floor directed them to various departments – yellow for X-ray, red for nuclear medicine, blue for cancer therapy.
“Bobby. You take that side, I’ll take this one. We should be in and out within a few minutes,” the heavier of the two officers said.
“I hope so. Don’t know why, but this place gives me the creeps.”
“I know what you mean. I don’t even like hospitals when I need one, much less when they’re abandoned. And the place kinda stinks.” He turned to the security guard. “You staying here?”
“Yeah. Nuthin’ to see for me.”
The pair pushed open the steel doors to the various rooms, noting the film of dust on the floors. There hadn’t been anyone in them for months.
From down the hall, Bobby’s voice sounded a few pitches higher than it had a couple of minutes earlier.
“Hey, Mike. I think you need to take a look at this. I think someone’s been in here recently.”
Mike followed the sound of Bobby’s voice to an open door. A distinctive radiation warning logo was embossed on the wall next to the words: ‘Radiation Therapy’.
“Where you at?” Mike asked, noting the dust had been trampled leading to the three different rooms.
Mike’s flashlight played along the hall, and then he saw Bobby’s light in the third vault. He approached the heavy door, at least eight inches thick, which was propped open with a wooden wedge.
Bobby was standing in the twenty by twenty-five foot room, shining his beam on a massive treatment machine that appeared to be from the Fifties. The fiberglass casing had been removed, and it looked like someone had been trying to filch parts from it.
“How we gonna know if this was left this way, or someone tried to steal something?” Mike asked.
“Beats the crap outta me. I say we write it up, take a statement from the guard, and get the hell outta here. If they were trying to rip the place off, they picked the wrong area to work in. That piece of iron looks older than you. What the hell is it, anyway?”
Mike swiveled and cupped his hands, facing the way they’d entered. “Yo. Buddy. Come down here. We need your help,” he called to the guard. They saw the man’s light bouncing off the hallway walls, and then he was standing in the doorway.
“This look like it’s from when they closed the place down?” Bobby asked him.
“I don’t know. I don’t come down here hardly ever. Maybe the auction guys were in here inspecting the equipment?”
“Yeah. That could be. All right. Is there anything more to see?” Mike asked.
“Some more machines over in the far rooms.”
“Okay. Let’s wrap this up, then. Hey, buddy, what do they call these things, anyway? For the report?”
The guard shone his light up at the wall sign in the area’s foyer.
“Says ‘Linear Accelerators’.”
“I better write that down. No way I’m gonna remember.”
~ ~ ~
Silver’s phone rang as she negotiated the late morning New York City traffic. She stabbed the speakerphone button on as she pulled to a red light.
“Silver. It’s Eric. Did I get you at a bad time?”
Silver counted to three…slowly. She fought to keep her tone neutral.
“Don’t you dare fake on her tonight,” she warned.
“Why do you always assume the worst about me?” Eric demanded, offended.
“Because it’s usually right. Now tell me that you’re going to honor your commitment to your daughter and spend the time you promised to with her.”
A pause settled over the line.
“I think you may reconsider when I tell you the reason for my call,” Eric said.
“Spit it out. I’m knee deep in alligators on this investigation.” The light changed, and she goosed the gas.
“Of course. Because the job always comes first.”
Silver realized that he was being even more abrasive than usual but said nothing, wondering why her ex was calling. He never got in touch with her unless he wanted something.
“I’ve filed for custody of Kennedy,” Eric said.
She almost slammed into the car next to her.
“You miserable piece of shit. What’s going on in your head? You’ve never done a thing that wasn’t self-interested. You don’t have a moment for your daughter most of the time, anyway. Why would you want to fight me for custody of her, especially given your track record…?” Silver seethed.
“I’m concerned that her mother isn’t providing the sort of home environment that is optimal for her development,” he stated, somewhat smoother than had been rehearsed.
“Over my dead body. This discussion is over.”
She punched the off button. Seconds later, it rang again, and she let it go to voicemail. Whatever had she been thinking when she’d married this bastard?
Silver paged through her phone numbers and placed a call.
A receptionist answered. “Renkin, Larrabee and Winters.”
“Is Ben there?” she asked.
“One moment, please. May I ask who is calling?”
Music on hold jangled her nerves before a deep baritone voice came on the line.
“Silver. Long time no talk. Do you need another divorce?” Ben had handled the parting of ways between Eric and her.
“No. I’m afraid I’ve got a real problem, Ben.”
The attorney’s voice became instantly serious. “What happened?”
Two minutes later, Ben had agreed to meet Silver whenever she had time over the next day, and in the meantime would check on recent filings to get a running start on whatever her ex had cooked up. Ben remembered Eric. Smooth talker, highly intelligent, a corporate turnaround expert wholly lacking in empathy, who treated Silver like a possession rather than a loved mate. Their story hadn’t been an uncommon one – once the baby came, Silver was juggling her duties between the Bureau, her new child and her spouse; something had to give.
Eric had adapted to her workload and the challenges of raising a family by having an affair with one of his young assistants. When Silver put two and two together on why he was increasingly distant and unavailable, it had been child’s play for an agent with her skills to catch him in the act.
The only good news had been that Eric had deep pockets and was willing to be generous to keep matters civil, although she’d always smelled a rat in how easily he’d given in. His capitulation had surprised her – Eric played hardball in all negotiations regardless of the stakes; it was just his nature. But his admission that he’d been unfaithful, which Silver had the presence of mind to capture on tape, painted an ugly picture, so it had been prudent for him not to contest anything and simply give her what she wanted, which in the end had only been what she’d needed to provide for her daughter.
Now, five years later, he was going in for the kill. Any infidelity in the marriage would be ancient history, and he’d waited long enough so that he could frame concerns over her lifestyle as a hard-charging FBI agent without having his past conduct examined too closely.
Silver knew this was his way of getting back at her. He’d never gotten over being made a fool of with the tape – he’d stammered out four different lies before admitting his infidelity, his pretense of civility momentarily slipping to reveal raw hatred.
He’d successfully hidden his true colors for their first three years together, but after that, following a difficult pregnancy, his real personality had emerged little by little. Silver had initially attributed it to stress from work, but he grew increasingly dismissive and cold as time went by, except when he wanted sex. Towards the end of the relationship, Silver came to believe that being around his family was a concession he’d made in order to appear to have a respectable home life, for display at the frequent business-related events he took them to – and later, when he was making the preparatory moves to enter the political arena.
Perhaps that was the other part of what this was all about. Being a devoted father who was raising a daughter under his custody would be a surefire winner at the polls.
She was still shaking from fury when she pulled into the lower East Side parking structure adjacent to her office at 26 Federal Plaza.
If it was a fight Eric wanted, he had grossly underestimated her.
There was no way he was getting Kennedy.
No way in hell.