1.04 "A Handful of Dust" - by Will Shetterly
"The beauty of the world has two edges, one of laughter, one of anguish, cutting the heart asunder." -- Virginia WoolfAct I | Act II | Act III | Act IV | Act V
"Half Angel Half Eagle" © Jane Siberry & Sheeba Records, used with permission.
Dallas, TX, February 22, 2001
Every time he used the key, he thought it was the best kind of commitment. A ring says you're bound. A key says you're free.
He stepped into the condo without saying a word. Normally, he would call, "Honey, I'm home!" because he knew his sense of humor sucked, but it was the best he had, and while love does not mean never having to say you're sorry, it does mean a sucky sense of humor will get you a smile. Or a kiss. Or a command to strip fast.
He came in quietly because he expected the place to be quiet. Today was a government holiday, and they had plans to spend the day together until Maria Cortez, age four, went missing in the 66 acres of the Dallas Arboretum. When he had said, "There's a little deaf girl missing. They want volunteers," he had instantly heard, "Go be a hero, Danny. The DA's office is swamped, so I'll spend the day bailing. Meet tonight at your place for a hero's return?"
So he had grinned and clipped his shield and weapon under his jacket and hurried away, praying, "Sweet Jesus, please let me want a hero's return." Too many bad things happened to lost girls. Each second Maria Cortez was missing increased the odds that she would not be coming back.
But thirty-five minutes after he arrived at the site, a K-9 from Texas Response Unit Search & Rescue had found Maria Cortez napping under a rose bush. So he hadn't found her? He had answered the call. That's what heroes do. He figured he deserved a reward.
And he figured he wasn't the only one. They had both chosen duty over fun. His idea of a nice surprise was coming home to steaks on the grill, cold beer in the fridge, and someone willing to try anything once. Or three times. He had phoned to say Maria Cortez was hugging the nice police doggie, but no one answered. He had considered calling the office, but that's one of the rules of an affair: don't call. A good boyfriend knows to let working dogs work.
Since he had been too early to be the surprised, he was happy to be the surpriser. Now, carrying a grocery sack with a six of Coors, two steaks, frozen hash browns, and chopped salad toward the kitchen, he thought, Yeah, man. Good boyfriend. I would so marry me. He glanced down at the two home keys on his ring, nodded in satisfaction, pocketed the ring, and headed in.
Then he frowned. Music came from the back of the condo. One of their rules for being together was that Brady kept his love of country rock in his Mustang and his own apartment.
But someone was playing "The Devil Went Down to Georgia."
J. Edgar Hoover Building, Washington, D.C., July 18, 2007, 6:15 PM
Esther Falkner was staying late because Ben had called saying his clients were idiots, and the girls were having dinner with their Aunt Gilda, and Esther had spent thirty minutes of the work day composing her best answer to an email that consisted of, "I love you, Mom. Is Dad the only man who doesn't suck?" She had started reading Lau's letter to a journalist that explained how the Anomalous Crimes Task Force was the FBI's version of a cold cases squad when a shadow filled her office doorway and stayed there. "Brady?"
He never waited at the door. Why, she wondered, don't we notice what people never do until they do it? When the door was open, Brady always marched into her office and stopped in front of her desk as if he was fighting the urge to salute.
At the sound of her voice, he walked in as always. But this time, he set a manila folder on the corner of her desk. "My report."
She frowned, wondering if she should ask why he hadn't emailed it. She said, "That could've waited until tomorrow."
He said, "Respectfully, no." Before she could shape a question, he turned on his heel. She watched his broad back as he walked out and thought, The reporter can wait another day to be bored.
She picked up the folder and glanced inside. Below the date, the report began, "The ACTF's involvement began this morning at--"
Queens, NY, 2:40 AM
Jennifer Kahn saw the empty parking space and smiled. She would have been home six hours earlier, but her boss at the 76 Club had begged her to work the after-dinner shift for a bartender who called in sick, and the night had dragged on with cranky customers and tiny tips. Now, in the deadest hours of the night, she had been sure she would spend twenty minutes cruising Queens for a space. Finding one so close to home was a gift. It could only have been better if it had been near a street light.
She parked, picked up her cell, speed-dialed, and said, "DH? I got lucky. In about five minutes, so will you."
The DH said sleepily, "Deal. I'll dress and be out--"
"Grab a robe and wait by the door. I'm half a block away."
"Score! Heading down."
He would want her to stay in the car until he opened the building's front door, but he was on his way, and they lived in a neighborhood where people looked out for each other, and she had decided in her teens that if her choice was freedom or fear, the decision was easy. So she grabbed her purse, got out of the cool car into the moist night, took two steps for the sidewalk, and froze.
A man lay on his side in the dark shadow of a tree. He had thick stubble on his cheek. His shirt was rumpled as if he'd been wearing it for as long as he hadn't shaven. He stank of sweat and shit.
She grimaced. The aches in her legs and back reminded her what it meant to work hard. Why shouldn't she just give up like this bum and stay high all the time?
But she didn't have to sleep under a tree. He couldn't be comfortable. She looked back at him. His suit, shirt, and tie were new, rumpled but much more expensive than anyone from this neighborhood would wear.
The DH's voice came from her cell. "Jen? I thought you were close."
"Here." She waved down the block at the figure in the green terrycloth bathrobe by the door to their building.
He waved back. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing. There's a guy--"
As she walked around the man, she saw his lips were parted. Something gray filled his mouth and flecked the stubble on his chin. Thick lines were drawn on his forehead.
Not lines. Letters.
Not drawn. Carved.
She stumbled back, gasped, and looked around.
The DH shouted "Jen!" and started running toward her in his flip-flops.
She clicked end on her cell and punched 9-1-1.
Alexandria, VA, 3:20 AM
Daniel Brady was thinking about nothing but sweet sensation when the hookup--Kelly?--said, "You like that?"
Brady grunted, "Unh," trusting--Kerry?--could hear that Texans don't talk when talking doesn't matter, then realized K-whatever--or Cory?--didn't know him and couldn't guess what one syllable meant. Feeling generous, he added, "Huh."
"You like me?"
Enough to be in a strange bed, Brady thought, but knew he couldn't say. He couldn't remember Kellykerrycory's name, but that was part of the rules:
1. When working, forget nothing.
2. When playing, forget everything.
Brady said, "I. Fucking. Love. This." That must've been enough, because then they were just strangers making each other feel like all that mattered was happening and what didn't matter could wait forever. Kelly or Cory was lean and dark, with rough callused palms. That was good. Brady had always thought his type was lean and dark, until he had met An--
Don't think of elephants. Corykelly just wants what you want, a good time. Just like-- Don't think of elephants.
Afterward, he wanted to sleep, but Cory or--Kini. The hookup's name was Kini, or at least, that's what it was at Someplace Quiet. Kini said, "That was a damn fine ride, Lone Ranger."
Brady wanted to say his cell was vibrating, but it was in his jacket across the room. He needed to get a Bureau gadgeteer to fix a phone so he could say something that normally would never cross his lips, like "I sure do fancy a latte," and it would ring. How could he convince a gadgeteer that would help him kill monsters? He said, "Yeah. Glad I ran into you, Silver."
Kini laughed. "Run into me Friday, same time, same place. I like being run into."
One of the big rules applied: Don't lie unless you have to. "Like I said. Tonight only."
"Oh," Kini said in a quiet way so much like Andre that Brady wanted to dive naked out the window and risk the three-story fall. Then he laughed in a way that was nothing at at all like Andre and reached for another condom. "Well, hell, Texas, we got hours to go till dawn!"
A rule applied there, too: Never turn down a good time.
Brady grinned. "I reckon so."
And his cell rang.
"Fuck!" Brady was across the bedroom so fast Kini was staring. Brady said, "Duty," as he glanced at the screen, praying for a wrong number. He saw what he expected: WTF?
Kini frowned. Brady thought, Question mark. Not a period. Not an exclamation. I could stay for another round or two, and in the morning--
Brady said, "Work. Gotta go," and began dressing at top speed: jeans, red and black snakeskin Tony Llama's, a loose white silk shirt.
"You're a doctor? No way."
Don't lie unless you have to. "Fireman. If they call, it's like to be bad."
He wanted to run out, but he could hear Andre saying, "Damn it, Danny, just ask yourself, 'What would an asshole do?' and do something else."
He gave Kini a kiss, said, "Thanks for a great night," and ran from the apartment toward his pickup and the sweet, dark promise of monsters that could kill him.
J. Edgar Hoover Building, Washington, D. C., 4:35 AM
"The first known victim of the Trash Talking Killer was found in December," Nikki Lau said as the photo flashed on the briefing room's monitor. "Amanda Jones, age seventeen. High school student, B-plus average. Cause of death, drowning in a tub of New York City water, based on the traces in her clothes and lungs. Chaz, you can sleep on the plane."
Chaz Villette slapped his hand over his mouth to hide his yawn and shook his head, making Lau think, as usual, of Charlie at the Daily Coyote website. "Rushing oxygen to the brain," Chaz said. "People should be complimented when someone yawns in front of them."
"In the Chazverse," said Hafidha Gates. She rested her chin on her knuckles while she silently conducted a dialogue with her laptop. Probably pulling in more information about the dead girl and the Trash Talking Killer while IMing either or both of her current flirtations, cute boys in Singapore and Dubai.
Stephen Reyes raised an eyebrow. Lau wondered if he had been a Mr. Spock fan when he was young. Thinking about Stephen Reyes as a young Trekkie was especially difficult at four-thirty in the morning when discussing a murder.
Lau said, "No sign of sexual assault or torture."
Daniel Brady, who must assume his fellow profilers wouldn't notice the smell of Unforgivable and sweat or wonder why he was wearing a black T-shirt from his go bag, said, "She looks Asian."
Lau nodded. The girl on the screen could have been one of her cousins. "Adopted from China." Lau clicked to the next picture. " Like all of TTK's known victims, she was found on a curb in a quiet part of New York City sometime between two and five a.m. In her case, Chinatown's factory district."
"Like trash," Esther Falkner said quietly.
"He was done. He didn't need a dump site he could linger at or revisit," Reyes suggested.
Sol Todd asked, "Is TTK a name he chose?"
Lau shook her head. "Thank the Post. It's purely for his signature." She clicked to a close-up of the dead girl's face. "After death, her mouth was stuffed with dirt, almost certainly from a vacuum cleaner. Its owner likes Rice Crispies and short-haired gray cats."
"DNA present?" Daphne Worth asked, in ears-pricked posture.
"Not that matches anyone in the NCIC database."
She clicked to the next image. "Janice McArthur. Age seventy-two. Cause of death, asphyxiation. She successfully swallowed the first joints of her eight smaller toes, but she choked to death on her left big toe. Her right big toe was nicked, as if TTK started to cut it, then saw she was dying. The bruising on her wrists and ankles is consistent with steel handcuffs. No sign of sexual assault."
Lau clicked to the next, a man whose skin was even darker than Reyes'. "Three weeks later, Rodney Johnson of Athens, Georgia, an insurance adjuster visiting for a conference, was found in Brooklyn. Age fifty-four." She kept from glancing at Todd; everyone except Worth had been at Todd's fifty-fourth birthday. "Wrists and ankles had rope burns. Fingernails and toenails were torn out. Body was covered with cigarette burns. Cause of death was cardiac arrest. His wife and a female prostitute that he frequented believe he was exclusively heterosexual, but there was semen in his stomach and anus. Which does match the DNA found on the previous victims."
Lau heard a sound that Brady sometimes made, a tock! with his tongue against the roof of his mouth like the cocking of a gun, but she didn't look at him, either.
Worth frowned. "Is TTK a team? Drowning, torture..."
Chaz added, "Did I miss what's anomalous about this? It's weird, but--"
Lau raised her index and said, "Ah," channeling her mother. "There are more." She clicked the screen. "Mohammad Hussein from Queens. Accountant. Age twenty-seven. Cause of death, sudden cardiac arrest. But he had no history of heart disease. If he hadn't been found on a curb with a mouthful of dirt, no one would've thought there was foul play."
Reyes said, "Frost saw his files?"
Lau nodded. "And pronounced them boring." She clicked to the next picture. "John Waters. Barrista. Age thirty-two. Cause of death, cardiac arrest. No history of heart trouble. Frost said still boring." Lau clicked again. "Marilyn Leister-Rose. Lawyer. Age twenty-nine, cardiac arrest. Frost said repetition is especially boring." She clicked again. "Susan Watkins. Hairdresser. Age forty-two. Cardiac arrest. Frost said repetition may be suspicious, but it's still boring."
"The first cases fit a torture scenario," Worth said. "But to go from torture to inducing heart attacks? If it was the same UNSUB, wouldn't the cruelty get worse?"
"How often could a gamma kill and revive someone?" Chaz asked.
Lau, listening to the quiet room, thought, Every time I think he's a sweet boy, he says something like that.
Reyes narrowed his eyes at the monitor. "Would multiple heart attacks in a short period of time show up in an autopsy?"
"I'll call Frost--"
"Before breakfast, with something that could be boring? It can wait for office hours."
She smiled gratefully and clicked again. A shot of a man lying on a curb. "The latest. Walter Mascomb of Peoria, Illinois. He and his wife came to New York for a theater weekend three days ago. He went out after lunch to visit book stores. He was found a little over an hour ago. Preliminary investigation shows no obvious cause of death. But he had a mouth full of dirt." She clicked to a close-up of the man's forehead. "And this."
The letters carved into his forehead spelled in block print, "FEAR."
Worth said, "That was done after he died."
Brady said, "He's escalating. Or they are."
"It's a message," Reyes said. "He wants more than he's getting."
Hafidha said, "Could be initials. F.E.A.R. I'll search--"
Sol Todd raised his hand, then turned it over, cupped. "A couple ounces from a vacuum cleaner? Like a handful?"
"'I will show you fear in a handful of dust.' T. S. Eliot. The Wasteland. He's giving us a clue."
"Which proves he's a gamma?" asked Chaz.
"Or an English professor?" asked Worth. "Or a writer?"
Todd shrugged. "Proves he can Google a good quote."
"Hound of the Baskervilles," Hafidha said without looking up from her screen.
Todd smiled. "Never took you for a Sherlockian, my good Miss Gates."
Hafidha glanced up at him. "It's elementary, my dear Todd. Jeremy Brett's hot."
Worth said, "Uh, should I say, 'huh?' or just squint and scratch my head?"
"Sir Baskerville died of a heart attack," Chaz told her. "Induced by fear. There've been studies after earthquakes and air raids. Death rates soar. But it mostly affects the elderly--"
Hafidha, staring back at her monitor, said, "I got a doctor saying children with no prior heart disease have died on amusement park rides."
Falkner said, "Terrified to death. Like trapped birds." She looked at Lau.
Right. Herd the cats. Lau clicked again. A balding, middle-aged man with a fringe of beard and wire-rimmed glasses appeared on screen. "Tony D'Angelo, jazz guitarist. He didn't show up for a Greenwich Village gig after flying from LA to JFK."
"Jazz musicians--" Reyes began.
"He never missed a gig. His manager said he got more work for being dependable than for being brilliant." Realizing she had cut him off, Lau hesitated. Reyes nodded slightly, and she thought, Ah. Rudeness is fine with the boss when it's efficient. I mustn't abuse this power.
Falkner said, "Is there a reason to connect D'Angelo and TTK?"
Lau shook her head., "We just know there's no good reason for D'Angelo to be missing, and TTK's timing is speeding up. The last three were in the last twenty days. Even if the next isn't D'Angelo, and TTK isn't a gamma, my friend expects another body soon." She turned toward Reyes' frown. "Detective Victor Zhiang of the Fifth Precinct." She saw Chaz flinch at the name. Chaz was always easier to read when he was underslept.
Reyes said, "That's it?"
Lau nodded, hiding a sudden worry. When Vic's call woke her, the case had screamed gamma, gamma, gamma. But now, if Reyes thought she had wasted everyone's time--
Reyes looked around the room.
Brady said, "Someone might have a source for heart attack victims."
Falkner glanced at him. "You think that's likely?"
Brady shook his head. "Just wanted to check it off the list."
Worth said, "I can't think of a way to induce heart attacks that doesn't leave electrical burns or drug residue."
Reyes lifted his chin. "What's different about the last victim?" The Stephen Reyes School of Socratic Profiling, Brady called it. Lau bit the side of her tongue to keep back an inappropriate snicker.
"The disfigurement," Chaz answered promptly.
Falkner leaned forward, one hand on the back of Brady's chair. "Specifically, the word 'Fear.' That's what he wants."
Reyes smiled. "The random targeting of victims. The apparently impossible cause of death. The public dumping of the bodies. Even dropping the torture components: the most horrific details aren't as frightening as what you can't see. What you can only imagine."
"Scaring the victims isn't enough for him now." Brady's voice was rough with lack of sleep, and maybe something else, too. "He wants to scare the city."
Reyes turned his hands palms-up, a magician's reveal. "The dirt in the mouth. You will return to dust. I have that power over any one of you. The city was missing the message, so he wrote it on the victim's forehead."
"And the anomaly seeks to maximize pain." Todd sat back in his chair and shoved his hands in his jacket pockets.
Chaz nodded "I don't have to be pattern-boy to know the odds--"
"Say which way to bet," Hafidha finished.
Todd said, "My spider sense is tingling."
"We might be able to help," Falkner said. "Even if it's not a gamma."
Reyes turned his gaze to Lau. "They called. We should reinforce that by going." He glanced around the briefing room. "Lau, you and Brady." He tightened his lips. "Chaz. And--" He glanced from Worth to Todd.
Todd stretched. "New York's the sixth circle of hell, but that's my favorite."
"Todd," Reyes agreed, pushing his chair back from the table. "The rest of you, go home and sleep late. That's an order."
Falkner said, "If there's a gamma who's killed eight or more people--"
"Then I need a well-rested backup team," Reyes said. "And I get to argue for a bigger discretionary budget." He looked at Lau, Brady, Chaz, and Todd. "Don't do anything to improve my case."
Todd said, "Miz Todd didn't raise no heroes."
Reyes gave his rare, sudden smile. "Good. Just remember--"
Chaz said, "We don't learn anything from dead gammas."
Brady grunted, or maybe just cleared his throat, and looked at the ceiling.
Reyes' smile grew wider as he stood. "My work here is done. Any of the rest of you wants to make brownie points, show up at 10:55. I'll be in at eleven. And, for the record, if you get a question mark call in the middle of the night--" He turned his gaze to Falkner. "And you've got family--" He looked at Worth. "Or someone you think of as family--" He looked at Brady. "Or you're just having a good night, do not come in."
Falkner said, "Everyone knows that."
"It's the obeying part that concerns me."
"And do you take your own advice, Herr Doktor?" Hafidha asked.
Reyes paused at the door. "I have an obsession, Agent Gates. That gets people killed. So I need the rest of you to have professions."
As Hafidha's expression softened slightly, Brady said, "I hear that."
Good old cowboy, Lau thought. Nothing fazes him.
Dallas, TX, February 22, 2001
The bedside alarm must've gone off accidentally. But if so, why was it playing Charlie Daniels, and why was it playing loudly? Andre liked quiet music that demanded all your attention or let you talk over it.
Brady turned from the kitchen and started down the hall. The carpet was quiet under his boots. The grocery sack hung heavily from his left fist. Was there a smell he didn't recognize, a strange aftershave, or was he imagining things?
Maybe Andre had the same idea he did. Maybe Andre was in the bedroom preparing a surprise, and the honkytonk was setting the mood. Brady liked that notion. He should tiptoe out of the condo and wait for Andre's call, or maybe come in again, calling Andre's name--
But Andre had said he would come to Brady's house.
It didn't make sense. Which was fine. Whatever it was was Andre's business. A good boyfriend knew to respect--
Brady heard a moan, just below the devil's driving fiddlework. Not a moan he had ever heard. Andre was with someone.
He stopped still in the hall. What did that mean? Not long after they had exchanged keys, they had said they were too old for the party scene. Why not settle down and play safe?
He thought, Okay. Andre decided to have some fun without me. Ain't no reason to go all Gloomy Gus. Head on home and hear him out when he calls. If he calls. Of course he'll call. Christ, Brady, don't be an asshole about this. Just get the fuck out fast and pretend you're the most macho cowboy ever when he calls. A gentleman in a gentlemen's couple's entitled to a gentleman friend, right? Decide later if this is something a cowboy should cry about.
Biting his lower lip, he turned back toward the living room.
And as he turned, he heard a gasp cutting through the music. Not pleasure. Pain. Some fuckhead's hurting Andre! he thought, hitting the bedroom door with the heel of his hand, slamming it open.
July 18, 2007
Tony D'Angelo listened to his heart. The room muffled sound, making each beat grow dull and drain away, like dampening a drum. If-- When he got out, he would use that. A Poe concept album. Tell-tale Heart. Cask of Amontillado. That one with the swinging blade, lowering with each pass.
Did Poe stories ever end well?
He didn't want to think about the ammonia smell of the mattress under him. Maybe it was good he couldn't see anything.
But nothing he could see would be worse than what he could imagine. Would it?
Think positive. He couldn't smell anything worse than ammonia. He couldn't hear anything worse than his heart. He couldn't feel anything around him besides the mattress beneath him, the cool air around him, and the smooth bands of fabric covering his eyes and binding his wrists and ankles.
Did someone think a New York gig meant he had money? Leaving his family for a night meant he needed money. Did they mistake him for the front man? He wasn't someone a kidnapper would target. L.A. was full of session musicians at least as good as he was. Did anyone even know he was missing yet? Why had he told Cassie it would be a late night, so he would call in the morning? The club had undoubtedly cursed his name and started phoning every local player who might be free. They wouldn't even bitch about him to his agent yet.
Was his ax all right? Bad enough to be locked in the dark for no reason. But if he got out, he would really like to have his favorite guitar, too.
What if they wanted to cut off a finger to mail to someone? Why couldn't he think of any nine-fingered session guitarists?
Don't think about why the room muffles sound. Maybe there are just a lot of drapes or cardboard around. What's creepier, being trapped in a room designed as a cage or in one that simply works as a cage?
Depends on who caged him.
Was it morning? Were Aretha and Billie asking Cassie when Daddy was coming home? Why had he accepted a gig on the right side of the continent when everything he needed was on the left?
He twisted suddenly, testing his bonds. The cloth didn't give. Cloth must mean no one wanted to hurt him, right?
He wanted to sleep, but how do you defend yourself when you're asleep?
He thrashed with all his strength, knowing that doing nothing would do nothing, but doing something might make things worse. His heartbeat rocketed, a pure heavy metal-beat: break free kill the fucker, break free kill the fucker, break free kill the fucker--
And as each beat died in the cool, stale air, it whimpered, Dear god don't let me die, dear god--
This wasn't about money.
Fifth Precinct, New York City, NY, 7:30 AM
In the bustling front room of New York's oldest station house , smiling at them--no, at Lau--as they approached, Detective Zhiang looked way too much like Tony Leung for Chaz to like him. No one who looked like a Hong Kong pop star should be calling Nikki Lau in the middle of the night.
Zhiang said, "Nikki. Glad you could come."
Chaz thought, On the job now. Grow up, Chaz.
Then Lau's smile made him think, If Zhiang makes her smile like that, he better be okay. Lau said, "Likewise, Vic. Meet Special Agents Sol Todd, Daniel Brady, and Chaz Villette."
Zhiang shook hands with Todd and Brady. "I've heard a lot about you two."
Todd said, "Outrageous lies. When I use both hands, I can find my ass with ease."
Brady added, "Once I lend him a mirror."
Zhiang grinned. Cops always seemed to know how to talk to other cops. Zhiang turned to Chaz. His handshake was too perfectly firm. He said, "Since you're working with Nikki, I know I'll hear good things about you, too."
Chaz nodded. So Lau didn't talk about him. Better that than one of the alternatives. Be manly. If you tighten up, your voice will get higher. Better yet, do the Brady thing and say nothing. He said, "This is the old Five Points neighborhood. That's so cool!"
As Chaz thought, What part of say nothing didn't I understand? Zhiang nodded. "The neighborhood's gotten boring lately. But not boring enough." He led them deeper into the station house. "I'd offer you coffee, but trust me, you don't want it."
Chaz held up his coffee cup and a bag of bagels. "Merit badge in urban survival."
Which made Lau smile. If all you can be is someone's clown, well, that's a privilege you should treasure.
The break room was larger than the WTF's briefing room. But no matter how much Victor Zhiang looked like Tony Leung, he did not have a jet. Unfortunately, Chaz saw no way to slip that into the conversation.
As they sat, Lau said, "What else can you tell us?"
"Besides what you have already?" Zhiang shrugged. "Amanda Jones had a boyfriend her parents didn't know about. He was at a birthday party upstate that night. John Waters was into the S&M club scene. The night he disappeared, he'd been at a wedding party that was whitebread enough for the Disney channel."
Todd shuddered. "Don't get me going about Disney and innocence."
Zhiang said, "Touché. But we didn't find anything interesting there. Janice McArthur went to a matinee of "Rent" with a man she was secretly seeing, the husband of a dying friend, but he says they simply planned to keep their relationship a secret until after the friend's death. That's confirmed by another friend, so there's no reason to suspect him. All I see is every one of TTK's victims left their homes or hotels, and none of them came back. I was hoping you'd see what I'm missing."
Chaz watched Lau put on her most serene and Falkner-like face. Police departments--even the NYPD--called the FBI in to work miracles. You didn't want to shake their faith right out of the gate. "If you could look again at anyone, Vic, who would it be?"
"Thought you don't like speculation."
Brady said, "Not from the Post. Lead detective on the case gets special treatment."
Zhiang flipped open a folder, handed Lau two sheets of paper, and pointed at one. "This guy just icks me. Christopher Fung." Chaz craned his neck to see the photo: a young man with a hollow, sullen expression and a buzz cut, his head pushed forward on his heavy neck. "He did time for raping an Asian-American girl, got released, and two months later, young Asian-American women were getting raped. Most years, there are very few reported rapes in this area. Last year, five from May to November, all similar. Maybe it's coincidence, but Fung's stories for those nights are weak--either he says he was home or at a club or can't remember."
Not quite one a month--Chaz craned to look at the file again--and not at regular intervals. TTK's schedule was similar, until the last three victims.
"DNA?" Lau asked.
"Fung was two days past his eighteenth birthday when he was arrested. The girl knew him by sight, identified him, and he pled guilty almost immediately. Somebody decided they didn't need to collect DNA."
Brady clicked his teeth together so firmly Chaz could hear it.
Chaz swallowed the last of his coffee. "The rapes stopped in November?"
Zhiang nodded. "Or his M.O. changed, or his hunting ground did. Or it wasn't Fung, and somebody killed the shithead and dumped him in the East River, which happens. Why?"
"TTK started a month later."
"You're connecting him through Amanda Jones? Do you know how many young Asian-American women live in New York City?"
Chaz opened his mouth. Brady said, "Smart money says he does." Chaz pretended there was still coffee in his cup and he'd opened his mouth to finish it.
Zhiang said, "Okay, the timing fits. But a change of M.O. like that--"
"Anomalous crimes, Detective," Todd said. "For what we hunt, a new M.O. might be irrelevant."
"Even with a change of target?"
"Sometimes they think they want one thing," Chaz said. "Then they decide on another."
Lau said, "Tell me about the unsolved rapes."
Zhiang closed his eyes, then opened them. "The women returned home at their usual times, close to midnight thanks to work or school. A man, Asian-American, maybe twenty-five or thirty, in a dark jacket with the hood up, came from behind as they approached their door, put a knife to their back, and said he would kill them if they looked at his face or made trouble."
"But they identified him as Asian-American?"
"They were all sure. Though they said he talked like a gangbanger."
Chaz said, "Part of his disguise?"
Brady said, "And getting into character."
Lau asked, "Then he made them take him inside?"
"Yeah," Zhiang said. "Where he took his time. He never cut them, but he would stroke the blade on their skin to watch them cringe. If they had pubic hair, he would shave them. He told them to beg for their lives while he raped them. He made them wash after. He always took away his condoms." Zhiang exhaled as if the air conditioned room suddenly stank. "Need more? I can send the files."
Fear, Chaz thought. What if it wasn't about the rape so much as the fear? He looked out of the corner of his eye at Brady and Lau. They'd registered the same info.
Lau asked, "What did Christopher Fung do?"
"He raped a fourteen-year-old in her laundry room. So there's escalation, but it fits, far as I can tell. Lock them up, and some just come out smarter and meaner."
Lau frowned at the second sheet Zhiang had given her. "What about this?" Chaz couldn't quite read the typed statement from where he sat.
Zhiang said, "On the night Amanda Jones died, a drunk called 9-1-1 saying a cab nearly hit him, and he got the plate. But the leasing company says that cab never left the lot that night. So even if the drunk didn't imagine it, it's useless. Any or all of the numbers could be wrong."
Chaz said, "Hafidha could run the combinations. You never know."
Lau nodded. "Someone should see if Christopher Fung has an alibi for last night. Or any of the nights that TTK left a victim. Chaz, Todd, he's all yours. Brady and I can talk to the cab company."
Chaz thought, If Fung is the best suspect, why wouldn't Lau-- Oh. Fung raped one Asian-American girl. Lau wants someone who won't assume he raped the others.
That must be Todd.
Somewhere, sometime, darkness.
Tony D'Angelo heard the soft click of metal, then something so subtle he couldn't name it, another person's breathing, another person's heartbeat. Should he struggle? Playing dead made him think of being dead. What would help? He needed to pee. He needed someone to care.
As the gag was pulled free, he said, "Please. Whatever you want, I'll cooperate, honest."
"Yeah, Anthony. Fact, that." A man's voice. Tenor. New Yorker. No one Tony had ever heard.
He called him Anthony. The man didn't know who he was. Was that good? In the army, they'd said if you were captured, make your captor see you as a person, not a target. Was there a difference between an enemy soldier and whoever this was?
He said tentatively, "Tony. Everybody calls me Tony. My wife, my daughters, my friends, everybody."
"Sure thing. I'll call you Tony-o. You call me Mr. Black."
He's playing with me. Does his game have rules? Can we both win? Tony said, "What do you want? Uh, from me? Mr. Black?"
"Answer me a question is all."
Tony nodded. When he heard nothing, he said, "I will, Mr. Black."
"What terrifies you most? What's the nightmare so bad you can't sleep for hours afterward? What's piss-yourself and pray-to-die scary?"
Should he play tough? That would only make the man want to weaken him. Make him think he's in control, and maybe he'll slip up. "This. Totally. My wife says I 'm a baby about being helpless--"
"No, no, Tony-o. Leave your wife out of this. It's just you and me. And you think this is scary, which I like, Tony-o. But we haven't even begun to begin. So. What scares you so much you can't tell anyone?"
Vampires, Tony thought. Falling. He felt like he was on speed, bad speed, way too much speed cut with something evil. Slow, painful death. Who's not afraid of slow, painful death? He said, "All kinds of things scare me, Mr. Black. My girls say I'm a total fraidy-cat. We don't have much money, but it's yours. We've got friends. We can get you money. No one has to know. Please, just tell me--"
Soft hands touched his cheeks, like someone planning to kiss him. Tony jerked in surprise, but the cloth bonds kept him from doing more than rocking back. What did this man want? Everyone wanted something. If he could just figure out what the guy wanted, he could get him to stop scaring him.
"Eyes," the man said as if savoring the word.
Tony winced as the blindfold was jerked from his head. Mr. Black was slender, Asian, grinning hard, with hair so short it might have been shaved a week or two before. He wore a black T-shirt, black jeans, black running shoes.
A single bare bulb burned overhead, a compact fluorescent. The room had no windows. The floor was concrete with rust-colored stains near the old futon Tony lay on. The walls were thick blue insulation panels. The door was another blue panel, cut to fit into a three-by-six door frame.
Movie posters had been taped to the walls. Without his glasses, Tony couldn't read all of them, but he saw enough to guess what sort the rest must be: Taxi Driver. Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Saw. Psycho. The Shining. Les Diaboliques.
Eyes? If Mr. Black didn't know him, he couldn't have read the interview where Tony had said no matter how painless, cheap, or fast it was, he could never get Lasik.
Mr. Black said, "Ever see An Andalusian Dog, Tony-o?"
Was that a band? A show? Why was a madman asking-- The razor slicing an eye movie. Tony winced and shook his head.
"No, I didn't think so. It's not the kind of film just anyone would see." Mr. Black turned and went to the door.
Tony called, "Please! Whatever you want--"
"I'll get. Don't worry. I'm going to make something special for you now."
Food? He wasn't hungry. If the man brought food, would he dare eat it? When Mr. Black opened the door, Tony could see a long, narrow room beyond it, and part of what might be a sink, and beyond that a large, dark room with rectangle shapes stacked on a table.
Keep him from talking about eyes. Don't ask about my glasses. Tony said, "Can I--know something? Why me?"
"Good question, Tony-o. You ask God that?"
Tony nodded. "Sometimes. I'm more spiritual than religious, but we take the girls to church, and I pray."
"Then be happy, Tony-o. I'm God's answer."
The door closed. A moment later, the light went out. In the darkness, Tony's heart played the bass part to, Please god save me, please god save me, please god save--
New York City, NY, 8:15 AM
As Chaz drove the congested streets of Chinatown, terrifying drivers in yellow cabs, white and blue buses, battered delivery trucks, and gleaming vanity cars, he told Todd, "I've got a theory."
Todd resisted the temptation to grab for the dashboard for the half-dozenth time. "That it's good to die like James Dean?"
Chaz grinned. "We can't get up sufficient velocity here. Besides, don't take anyone with you. Matter of principle."
"Ah, Grasshopper, it is good to have theories. That's my theory. What's yours?"
"Pithy. I like it. Better hope Lord Acton doesn't steal it from you."
"I think it's the difference between gammas and betas. Gammas want power."
Todd snuck a look at Chaz's profile--which was, just then, in profile, thank God, since one ought to be looking out the windshield when a produce van was backing out of a blind alley in front of one's car. Usually he liked to let someone else drive. He could let his mind do as it pleased that way. With Chaz driving, his mind mostly wanted to scream We're going to die! "You don't want power?"
Chaz rolled his head and his eyes at Todd, and Todd pretended he wasn't holding his breath. "Yeah, right. Emperor Norton, maybe."
"Should I say something about protesting too much?"
"I don't mean I want to be powerless." He shrugged one of his odd many-jointed shrugs. "Just...free to do what I want."
"And who has that much power?"
Chaz's flat-lipped grin was one of the ones that didn't really mean grin. "Fuck. It was a good theory, though."
Todd studied his flattened mouth, the tightness in his bony jaw and shoulders. "This is about Hafidha going off the grid?"
A puff of exhale. Yes, child, Uncle Duke is a profiler, too.
Todd nodded. "There's power she loves. Power to delight. Power to surprise. Power to help. You want my theory on gammas and betas?"
"Is it a Duke theory or a Sol theory?"
"Is there a difference?"
Chaz grinned. "A Sol theory's a koan. A Duke theory's a very long-haired dog."
Todd shook his head. "I thought I was the one who did too many drugs in his youth."
"I'm listening, I'm listening."
"You are too kind, Grasshopper. My theory is gammas are control freaks. The world terrifies them, so they impose their myths. Betas like live-and-let-live."
"In the next draft, I'll add something about fluoridation and Latin mottos on our money."
Chaz laughed and dodged a bicycle messenger. Todd was grateful for both. "So we mostly find gammas because most people are control freaks? Duke, in the language of your tribe, that theory's a major bummer."
"Grasshopper, you miss an implication. We could be surrounded by betas, and we wouldn't know it because they're all living-and-let-living."
"Oh. That's a sweet theory."
Todd nodded. "Yes. It is. But not so sweet you shouldn't watch the road."
Chaz slammed the brakes to keep from rear-ending a taxi cutting in front of him. Todd rocked against his seat belt, then said, "Or we could be surrounded by gammas just waiting to pounce."
Christopher Fung's address was a door half-hidden between a video store and a fish market. Chaz parked in the alley three storefronts down, and they walked past a window full of posters for new Hong Kong movies, and CDs either by or about beautiful Asian women. Todd couldn't remember enough Chinese to tell which.
"Lau screwed up," he said.
Chaz blinked at him. "She never screws up."
"Who's going to be the bad cop?"
Chaz jerked to a stop. "Damn. She should've sent you and Brady."
"Not you and Brady?"
Chaz's mouth twisted; he looked sidelong at Todd, as if he'd just had a moment of self-knowledge that he felt he should have had long ago. Which, Todd, suspected, was true. Chaz said, as if Todd might have forgotten, "Fung's a rapist."
Todd nodded. "She didn't screw up. You'll make a fine bad cop."
Six buzzers, all with names beside them. Two of them were in both English and Chinese characters, including Fung's. He pressed the buzzer, then looked up at the camera mounted above the security door.
A woman's voice said, "Yes?"
They held up their badges. Chaz said, "FBI. We're here to see Christopher Fung."
"We'd rather discuss that with Mr. Fung."
"I come down."
A moment later, a stout young Asian woman in red capris and a Hello Kitty T-shirt opened the door, saying, "What you want? Chris sleeping now."
Chaz glanced at Todd, then said, "He was out last night? Do you know where--"
"He not go out! My son sick! Crying all night with sore throat. Chris sit up with him so I sleep. I got work. What kinda shit this, you make trouble for us?"
Chaz said, "You're-- Are you married to Mr. Fung?"
"FBI business, people get married? Green card? Yeah, we married."
"Mrs. Fung," Todd said, doing his best to sound meek and mild. "We do need to talk to your husband."
Mrs. Fung said something in Chinese that was probably not polite, and headed back up the stairs. She let them catch the door and follow her as they could.
The apartments were arranged three to a floor, with the hallway down one side. The front doors of all the apartments were open, because the three tiny windows in the hallway opened into the air shaft between the buildings. If anyone wanted cross-ventilation in the July heat, they would have to give up privacy. Conversations in English and Chinese and Hmong came out each door and scrambled in the hall.
Christopher Fung was asleep on the sleeper sofa in the tiny living room. Beyond him was a curtained doorway, the fabric drawn closed. Chaz shifted nervously from foot to foot. Todd made sure his weapon was accessible, though he was increasingly certain he wouldn't need it.
Mrs. Fung leaned over her husband. "Chris," she murmured. "You wake up. Wake up now. Police come again."
Fung frowned, knuckled his eyes, sat up. He'd been sleeping on top of the covers in a t-shirt and warm-up pants. Given that his bedroom was the front room of an apartment with the hall door standing open, Todd thought that was a good idea.
Fung weighed more than he had in his mug shot. Chaz sent Todd a quick, blank-faced look before he said, "Mr. Fung, we're agents Villette and Todd with the FBI. We need to ask about--we need to know where you were last night."
"FBI?" Fung repeated. His mouth hung open.
"Mr. Fung, a man was murdered last night--"
Chaz's hands rose just enough for Todd to wonder what he could possibly want to do with them. Then they dropped. "The murder may be connected to a series of rapes that occurred in the second half of last year."
"Oh, Jesus," Fung said. He folded forward over his knees, laced his fingers together hard, and muttered, "Please make this go away."
Mrs. Fung crouched beside him and put her arms around his shoulders.
"Where were you last night?" Chaz asked again, but not like a stern agent of justice.
Fung drew a long, shaking breath. "Every time something bad happens, the cops come ask me where I was." He spoke softly, softer than the clamor of the neighbors along the hall. "I was here all last night. My boy's sick. I hurt that girl that once. But I was a kid. I'm sorry now."
"It was a lot more than hurt," Chaz said, "and eighteen isn't a kid." Todd didn't think the Fungs would notice the little vibrating edge in Chaz's voice.
Fung clutched at his face, dragged his fingers down it. "I know. I been sorry ever since. I asked Jesus's help in prison. I'm sorry for what I did."
Mrs. Fung glared up at Chaz, but tears ran down her face. "Every day, he pray for poor girl, that Jesus take away hurt."
"And that's good enough for you?"
"No! Never good enough!" She kept her voice low. The child's bed would be behind the curtain. "But he work hard for me, my son, give to church, work with boys who make mistakes. You believe in, in redemption? Believe in Jesus? Believe in Buddha? Believe you can do bad, and learn, and do good?"
"Uh, I...don't--" Chaz looked at Todd.
"Yes, ma'am," Todd said softly. "I do."
Chaz watched him out the corner of his eye, like a nervous horse.
"Then you leave us alone?"
Todd said, "When were you married?"
Fung answered him. "February. Why?"
"You've lived here since then?"
Mrs. Fung nodded, frowning, maybe trying to figure out what she'd just committed herself to.
"Mr. Fung, did you leave the apartment at all last night?"
"I told you. No. Joey's sick." He said it with a jerk of his head toward the curtained doorway.
"Mrs. Fung, are you sure your husband was here all night?"
"I wake up, go look on my son. One time, Chris read to him. One time, he give him water. Two times, he sleep in chair by his bed. He no sneak out."
Todd nodded. "Thank you, Mr. Fung. Mrs. Fung. I apologize for the inconvenience."
He headed for the front door, and felt Chaz close behind him.
"Definitely not a gamma," Chaz muttered.
"And not TTK. His wife woke up four times. She's a light sleeper. He'd have to get past her on the couch to leave the apartment...and past the neighbors. And TTK has to have a torture room with easy access. The Fungs..."
"Yeah," said Chaz. He paused at the top of the stairs, head cocked. "You believe in God?"
"I believe in redemption. On even-numbered days, at least."
Chaz's mouth worked, but whatever the argument was, he decided against it. They jogged down the stairs in silence.
When they reached the street, Chaz said, "I am the worst bad cop. Ever."
Todd nodded. "One of the reasons we like you, Grasshopper."
"Doesn't that mean we shouldn't like Brady?"
Todd shrugged. "Danny Brady needs to be Danny Brady."
The first-shift lead dispatcher leaned across the counter in the office of the Siung Taxi Company. She was a small, white-haired woman; light glinted off her Star of David earrings as she looked from Lau's Bureau ID to Brady's. "Aren't you supposed to have a warrant or something?"
Brady said, "Only if you're not feeling helpful."
Lau kept her face professional and emotionless. Inwardly she was grinning. Brady had a way of saying those things in an innocuous voice that made them hit a second later and an order of magnitude harder than any tough-guy affect would manage.
The dispatcher eyed him warily. Then she gestured around the small, crowded office where a handful of dispatchers spoke on phones in at least four languages. "I am busy."
Lau said, "We're patient. Famous for it."
Brady added, "If someone did drive that taxi off the lot that night, he or she saw something that might help us catch a serial killer."
The dispatcher touched her earring, bit her lip, then said, "I'd like to help, honest. But the cab with that license did not leave the lot. The office is open twenty-four-seven. The night guys on the gate have been with us for years. I trust them better than I trust myself. The only cabs that went out are on file."
Lau said, "Could someone alter the records?"
The dispatcher laughed. "Sure. But a hacker could make a lot more money working someplace else."
Lau thought, Hafs can check the files. Then she admired the ease of Brady's Texas smile as he said, "Ma'am, we'd surely be grateful if we could double-check with whoever was in charge that night."
The dispatcher shrugged and tapped her keyboard. "December-- Ah. Figures. Jason Saito."
Brady and Lau glanced at each other. Lau said, "Figures?"
"He was on drugs. His work never really suffered, not so there was a reason to let him go, but he just started acting crazy, you know? It was heroin, you could tell."
The woman at the desk behind her snorted.
"What do you know?" the dispatcher snarled. "It was."
"Crystal meth. They lose weight like that." The woman at the desk snapped her fingers.
Brady raised his chin. "A lot of weight?"
"Like in Schindler's List." The dispatcher shook her head. "Drugs'll do that."
Lau said, "Did something happen that would've hit him hard?"
"He said his wife left him."
"When was that?" Brady asked.
"Right when he started." The dispatcher glanced at her screen again. "May of last year. Why anybody would marry a guy like that..."
"When do you expect him in?"
"He quit a month ago. But we've got a home address--"
Saito's address was an old tan brick four-story warehouse, the smallest on a street of factories and warehouses. A sign at the front gave a number to call, because the building would soon be converted to "affordable luxury lofts."
A yellow cab was parked in front. As they headed toward the front door, Lau frowned at it. What's wrong with this picture?
Brady glanced back. "What?"
"Can't fool an Angelina about body work. That's an amateur spray job. And the lettering--"
"Saving a buck is good American business."
"Tinted windows." Lau cupped her hands to peer into the back of the cab. "Lock buttons are gone. Pull the door shut, and you're locked in."
She thumbed in Todd's number. When he answered, she said, "We're at Jason Saito's. How quickly can you get here?"
"With Chaz driving?" Todd replied. "Under ten minutes."
"Has anyone heard from Tony D'Angelo?"
"Not a word. His wife's frantic."
"Call Vic. Tell him to get down here, and bring the big boys. And don't wait for him." Lau disconnected.
Brady scowled at the taxi. "Bastard didn't sneak a cab out. He snuck the plates out in case a cop ran the number." He bounded for the entrance, taking the four steps in a single leap, and tried the latch.
There were five labeled buzzers on a box between the door and a narrow frosted window. One per floor, and one for the basement. The top four displayed names of companies, faded typewriter ink on yellowed paper. The bottom one was hand-lettered, still white: "J. Saito."
Lau jabbed each of the top four buttons once. If the commercial tenants were gone, there were no bystanders to warn. She listened to the rumbling of Manhattan in the silence that followed, breathed in the odor of trash and diesel fumes. If nothing came up this weekend, she was going to hike someplace where the air smelled like pine sap.
"No one home." Brady stepped back, staring at the steel door, then at the window beside it.
"We should wait for backup."
"D'Angelo has a wife and two daughters."
Lau sighed. The contractor had begun to gut the old offices; a corroded sink drain pipe lay in a heap of crumbled wallboard beside the dumpster. She picked it up, judged its weight.
"Someone broke in. We should notify a tenant." She swung the pipe. The frosted glass of the window splintered.
Too loud! She knocked shards out of the frame, reached through the hole to push the panic bar. Adrenaline, triggered by noise and her own hunting instinct, said hurryhurryhurry. She knew better. But her breath still came quick and shallow, her heart still pounded.
Brady caught the door in his left hand as he drew his weapon with his right. Lau drew hers, held it low to the right in both hands. She caught the door with her hip as she followed Brady in.
The cowboy's taking point. Because no one's likely to come from behind here? Or so he gets first shot at it? Or so it gets first shot at him? She followed, promising that if somehow Saito got the first shot, he wouldn't get a second.
Interior walls stood at random in the first floor: the remains of offices, part of the hall. As perfect an ambush scenario as the ones built for agent training at Quantico. But no one died in those. And the hostage at the end of the course wasn't real.
Brady ahead of her, bent-kneed, springy, prowling. An ethical tiger. Was his heart racing? She couldn't tell by looking. He couldn't see hers, either. Unless she told him, he couldn't know if she was afraid. She moved up to cover his left side.
Paint silhouettes showed where cupboards and fittings had been pulled out. leaving ghosts behind like Hiroshima's shadowed dead. Demolition rubble lay in drifts. Sawdust and gypsum powdered every flat surface. She worked her way over the irregular flooring--old wide-board pine, newer plywood underlayment, bits of industrial carpet.
The elevator doors were boarded over. Beside them the stairwell to the basement gaped, its fire door missing. The dust on the top step showed shoe prints. Sneakers, the same pattern over and over in both directions.
Brady saw them, too, pointed with his chin. She nodded. He started down the stairs, hugging the wall, and she followed.
The stairs were quiet. How much did a New York taxi medallion cost? Maybe they were going to wake some poor bastard who had just finished a late shift in an illegal cab, and Reyes would be pissed.
No. The cab was a murdermobile. They'd followed a good trail. Saito was at the end of it.
And someday someone was going to die who would've lived if they'd shown up two minutes earlier. Not today. Not here.
She grew calmer with each step. She thought, Be vewy quiet. We're hunting wabbits. It was the secret mantra she couldn't tell Brady, because he would think she wasn't taking this seriously. But she was taking it extremely seriously: In the cartoon, the wabbit always won.
They took position on either side of the wooden door at the bottom of the stairs, backs to the wall. Brady was on the knob side. He reached one-handed, turned it, but the door didn't open. He looked across to Lau and asked the question with his eyebrows. She nodded.
In one smooth motion, Brady stepped in front of the door and kicked. Splinters flipped across the room from the broken frame.
Movement. They leveled their weapons--not fast enough for the gray cat that bolted off the cot and behind a workbench. Lau's lungs and heart pumped in a frenzy.
Saito's room was about thirty feet wide and twenty feet long, lit by fluorescent tubes on the ceiling. Half was living space: a cot with a sleeping bag against one wall, a microwave and an electric grill on a table over a mini fridge, a TV, a laptop computer, a rolling clothes rack with dark men's clothes carefully grouped so shirts and trousers and jackets hung together.
The other side of the room was a hobbyist's workshop: two big tables, racks of hand tools, lumber and pipes and electrical wire, everything needed to work with wood or metal or electricity. Innocent things, in innocent hands.
By the door stood a black leather carryon bag and a hardshell guitar case labeled "Tony D'Angelo, Fingers of Fury."
The near walls were brick, covered with fading yellow paint. The far wall was new dark wood paneling. An open door near the outside wall revealed a long, narrow washroom.
Again they flanked the door. Brady slipped the long-handled mirror out of his breast pocket, extended it with a snap of one hand, and poked it into the room. He looked across at Lau and shook his head. She went in crouched and ready, anyway.
Two of the washroom walls were brick. The third was new wood paneling. The new wall had no doors. An empty unpainted pine shelf unit stood against it, close to the middle.
Lau concentrated on breathing deep and slow. Maybe it's nothing. If it's what it looks like, maybe no one's inside. She hated the rest of the logical thought: Maybe no one inside is alive.
Brady crossed the room. Lau nodded, covered him with her weapon. He tugged on the shelf.
It swung out silently.
She smelled sweat and urine. She saw thick blue insulating foam on the inside of the shelf and on the walls of the inner room. She saw Tony D'Angelo strapped in a home-made padded chair with a high back, like a replica of an electric chair. Instead of leather bonds, silk straps crossed his chest, arms, legs, and forehead, holding him still. A gag in his mouth kept him quiet.
The man standing over D'Angelo had to be Jason Saito. His baggy clothes and taut features said he might be a gamma. For an instant, Lau thought Saito was holding up a viewing device like a stereoscope or a kinetoscope for D'Angelo. Brackets extended from the chair past either side of D'Angelo's head, and the device rested across them.
The device was a piece of wood with two long spikes extending from it, a finger's length apart. Saito's hands lay on it. A shift in his balance would push the spikes into D'Angelo's eyes.
Brady shouted, "FBI! Back away from him!"
D'Angelo whimpered through his gag. Saito glanced at Lau and Brady, frowned, then shook his head, "Do one damn thing, I fall forward, and Tony-o dies. Want to see?" He moved the spikes closer to D'Angelo's eyes.
Brady said, "Stop. It's over."
"Guess so." Saito twitched the spikes forward half an inch.
"No!" Lau yelled. Saito needed an excuse to prolong this. But she couldn't think of one to give him.
"Oh, pretty," Saito breathed, looking Lau up and down. "Bet I could make you cry, pretty girl."
She studied Saito past her front sight and realized if it weren't for D'Angelo, she'd laugh. All her fear was for the man in the chair.
Brady said, "Where's the fear if you kill him, Jason?"
Saito said cooly, "In you."
"Sure. The more witnesses, the merrier, huh?"
Saito squinted at Brady, then nodded. "Get me Fox News. Get some snipers, too. See if I fall backward or if--" Saito smiled. "--it's bye-bye, Tony-o." His tongue worked a little between his lips. It looked unconscious. She could hear D'Angelo panting through his nose.
Brady lowered his weapon. That was all right; Lau had the shot if it came to it. "When did you figure out it was the fear that got you off, Jason?" Brady asked. "It does, right? It's not what you do to them. It's what they do to you."
Saito's hands lay across the spiked board, but his eyes were on Brady.
Brady continued, "What the hell are you supposed to do, when they make you feel that way? Just dressing in black, standing a little too close on the subway--that's all it takes to get 'em going. Then what do they expect you to do?"
"Yeah, Mr. FBI. Like you've been there." But Saito doubted.
"My name's Brady. But Mr. FBI works, too. How do you do it, Jason? You know what scares 'em. How?"
Saito smiled. "I read minds."
"Then you know about Dallas."
Saito looked from D'Angelo to Brady, brows drawn down over his nose. Lau just managed not to do something similar. What about Dallas?
"I know what I need to know," Saito said. Not quite as cocky now.
Brady nodded. "Figured that. Were you going to rape Amanda Jones, only you found drowning scared her more? Was that when you knew you were different?"
"What do you know about it?"
"But you raped Rodney Johnson. Why? You don't like men, so I'm guessing his fear--"
"What about Dallas?"
"We want to know all about it, man. You're special. Could you tell you had a good one, as soon as they got in the cab? Or even before--don't want to waste your time picking up a lame one."
"Tell me about Dallas!" Saito nearly screamed it. "Tell me about Dallas, or I kill Tony-o." D'Angelo whined in terror through the gag.
"Nah. Then my partner goes John Woo on your ass, and where's the fun? Let's make a deal."
"No way, Mr. FBI."
Brady shifted his pistol to his left hand and held it toward Lau.
She kept her isosceles stance and shook her head.
He shrugged and tucked it in her jacket pocket. She thought, Brady, this better not be some kind of cowboy scheme. But a cowboy scheme would be shooting Saito and taking the chance that D'Angelo might live. That's what she should do. Reyes would understand. Reyes would expect it.
But Brady knew that.
Saito said, "What are you doing, Mr. FBI?"
Lau said, "Brady. We can wait for backup."
"Jason can't wait. He's hot. He needs his fix." Brady took a step toward Saito. "Everyone's got a thing. I get that. Come on, let's deal. Dallas is tasty. And it's not a what-if, Jason. It's real life."
"You're crazy, man."
"Going on seven years now. If you really don't care, my partner might as well drop you. Your call."
Saito bit his lower lip, then said, "I can spot a lie."
"Yeah? Say I'm lying, and I'll know you're bullshitting."
Saito's gaze flicked around the room. Lau wondered if she should pray Chaz, Todd, and Zhiang came quickly or gave them more time. What would Reyes do? Her pistol weighed heavier with every moment. Would D'Angelo's death be too much to pay for getting Saito off the planet?
Yes. It was harder to be the good guys.
"Back off, let D'Angelo go. You come with us," Brady said. "Comfortable room, plenty of exercise, good food, cable TV."
Brady whuffed, bitter amusement. "Give up, and I give you Dallas."
"How do I know it's worth it?"
Brady took another step toward Saito. Lau couldn't see his face. She'd never heard the note that was in his voice when he said, "Oh, I bet you can tell."
Saito's mouth worked; his chest rose and fell. "Once isn't enough. That place? You come visit me. Once a week."
"Once a month."
"You want to wear out the batteries? It's called desensitization. You don't want that."
Stall him, Brady. Any minute, through that door... Though she was damned if she knew how that would help.
Lau watched Brady's back muscles stretch with a breath. "I promise."
Saito said, "Put out your hand."
Gamma, gamma, gamma. Anything could happen. "No!" she cried. "Danny--"
Brady said, "Jason and I, we've got an understanding." He stretched out his arm.
Saito clutched the board that threatened D'Angelo with one hand. He reached out the other and touched Brady's fingers.
Saito's indrawn breath scraped audibly in his throat. His eyes squeezed shut. Then he smiled. "Oh, yeah." Slowly he stepped back from D'Angelo, pulling the board off the brackets. D'Angelo sagged in his bonds.
"Put it on the ground, and kick it into the corner," Lau ordered him.
He did, without once taking his eyes off Brady. He was still smiling.
Lau thought, What the hell did I just see?
Saito turned his horrible smile on her. "Some thoughts I can hear without touching. He'll die before he tells you."
J. Edgar Hoover Building, Washington, D. C., 2:55 PM
From the door of her office, Falkner watched Brady stalk through the bullpen and drop his go bag on his desk. He never slouched; if there was one thing an officer left the army with, it was posture. But the elastic confident body language she'd thought was hardwired in Brady wasn't there. He'll walk like that when he's fifty, she thought.
He'd done something so crazy it was worthy of Chaz, and gotten away with it. He'd get a dressing-down, of course, but he'd have known that going in. He must have thought it was the right thing to do, because he'd done it.
So why was he wary?
Reyes intercepted him as he turned toward the kitchenette. "You don't have to tell me what you were thinking, because I do not care. Never pull a stupid fucking stunt like that again." Which, Falkner thought, might be the first time she had heard Reyes drop the F-bomb.
Brady said, "Eddie Cieslewicz cut off his hand."
"You thought Saito might have a little conscience?"
Brady shook his head. "No."
"I'll start my report."
"Or could be it's time I quit."
Reyes exhaled. It was like two samurai, Falkner thought, each waiting for the other's move. "Write fast."
Falkner set Brady's report down. It's got the who, what, when, and where. Does he think we'll fill in the why? She rubbed her burning eyes. Then she put on her jacket, picked up her briefcase, turned off her office light, and stepped outside.
Brady leaned against the wall, arms folded across his chest, head down, eyes closed. He wouldn't have slept since--when? If he'd been lying down, she could have put his jacket over him, turned out the hall lights, and told the cleaning crew not to disturb him.
He said, "Just resting my eyes," and straightened up. "You read it?"
She thought, Like you believed I might not have. "Yes."
"Is it a good enough answer for Reyes?"
"Depends. Do you want to see Saito once a month?"
"No, ma'am. But I gave him my word."
"Then you might have a problem."
"He'll want to know what Saito's getting."
Thinking, We all will, she nodded. "Secrets are things the other guy can use. It's like those British espionage scandals." She considered her options. "And 'Don't ask, don't tell.'"
Brady glanced at her. "You know I'm gay."
"You know I'm a profiler."
He smiled slightly, just the tiniest quirk at the corner of his lips. "Yes, ma'am."
"It's not about you being gay." When he frowned, she added, "Is it?"
"It's about Andre Kent."
She realized he wasn't the only one who was tired. The name sounded familiar, and it was a name Brady knew, so it had something to do with-- "Your friend. And your first contact--"
Dallas, TX, February 22, 2001
He burst into a bedroom he knew better than his own and that he did not know at all: A silver plastic tarp covered the mattress. Andre, in workout pants and a T-shirt printed with Elvis Presley's face and the words, "LET ME BE YOUR TEDDY BEAR," leaned over a tanned young man in jeans. The man, naked from the waist up, writhed on the tarp, spread-eagled, supine, tied to the bed posts and gagged with a bandanna that looked like the Texas flag.
Brady thought in relief, Andre's fine. It's some kind of game. It's--
Andre was cutting the young man's chest.
No. Andre was stroking his left index finger along the man's chest. The skin was parting as if he held a knife.
Andre looked up, startled and embarrassed. "Danny. You said--" He looked back at the young man. "This isn't what it looks like."
The man raised his head, saw Brady, and gave a breathy, wordless screech through his gag.
"I'll fix it. See?" Andre smoothed his hand over the cut, and skin came together, leaving a pink line in the tan. The blood smeared on the man's torso, on Andre's fingertips. "It's fine."
Andre nodded quickly. "You're right. It's--it's not. This is Phil Tobin. You remember?"
Brady nodded. Tobin. Believed to have led a gay-bashing spree that ended with a sixteen-year-old boy dying of exposure in the woods. His mother hired the best lawyer in the city, and the jury agreed it was just a case of boys being boys.
Andre swept his hand again. Tobin's chest parted from navel to sternum. Tobin arched, screamed past the gag. Andre glared down at him, and said in his passionate, courtroom voice, "See! That's pain!"
Brady was aiming his Smith & Wesson at Andre. When had he drawn it? When had he dropped the grocery sack? He said, "Andre--"
Andre looked up. His eyes in candlelight were golden, but they were only brown now. His chin lifted. When he admitted he was at fault, he always did it looking his accuser in the eye. "You're right, Danny. He's scum. That doesn't mean I should be. I believe in justice." He passed his hand down Tobin's torso again. Tobin sobbed, terror and relief mixed.
"It's over now," Andre said gently. Then he flicked his index finger across Tobin's throat. Brady heard the bubbling breath as the neck opened, cut almost to the spine.
Andre's face was a parody of mercy as he stroked his fingers back across Tobin's neck. Tobin's throat healed, but Tobin only twitched twice and lay still. His chest did not move.
Andre said, "Don't look at me like that, Danny. Please. Everyone makes mistakes."
Brady said, "Stay where you are." He could barely speak above a whisper. Charlie Daniels might have drowned him out.
Andre stepped toward him, reaching out with his left hand, the hand that had cut Tobin. The blood on it was wet and bright as fresh paint. Maybe it was paint. Andre surprising Brady with a practical joke. The worst sort imaginable for a cop.
Andre hated practical jokes.
"It doesn't mean a thing, Danny. It doesn't change what we have."
What he had with Andre. This was someone--something--else.
Maybe he felt the skin of his chest begin to part. Maybe he only imagined it. His Smith & Wesson fired. That's what you do when threatened with deadly force. Don't mess around with warning shots or wounding shots. Shoot for the heart.
Andre jerked slightly, then looked down, surprised. Blood spread onto his t-shirt from a small hole in his sternum. Blood was sprayed behind him on the tan carpet they'd picked out together six weeks ago and on the turquoise wall that was Brady's favorite color.
Brady felt his skin prickling all over as if fireants were nibbling at him. Or that's what he thought he had felt afterward.
A bleeding hole appeared above Andre's golden-brown eyes. Blood spattered the painting Brady had given Andre for his birthday: two stylized horses, one red, one white, ran through the greens and grays and golds of the Texas plains under a fragile blue sky.
The prickling became burning. Andre stepped again, reaching toward Brady with his left arm, lips twitching.
Heart shot doesn't stop him. Head shot doesn't. What will?
The third shot went through Andre's left shoulder. That arm fell limp, but the right rose, then fell with the sound of a fourth shot.
Brady stepped back, pistol still before him in both hands. Andre lurched closer, or maybe he was falling, but what should you do when something impossible is coming for you, maybe to kill you, maybe to hold you while it died?
The fifth shot went through Andre's right knee. Air passed from his lungs, or maybe he said "Danny." He fell sideways, convulsing as if electrocuted.
Brady fired again and again. He didn't know he was counting bullets until he came to the last and thought, I could save that one for me.
He fired it into Andre's heart, and everything he loved was finally dead.
He dropped the magazine from his pistol, yanked out the spare, slammed it home, and aimed downward. Andre lay still. Blood pooled out from his body. Five quarts in a human being. How many quarts of blood in someone you love? Nine? Ten? The carpet wicked it toward him. It was almost under the pointed toes of his boots before he stepped back.
J. Edgar Hoover Building, Washington, D. C., July 18, 2007
Brady looked away, into the half-lit bullpen. For an instant, Falkner wondered if that was as much as he could bring himself to say. But he shook his head and turned back. "I said friend when I wrote it up. It wasn't a lie. Just wasn't the truth."
Falkner stood beside him, remembering one of Todd's mantras. Breathe in, breathe out, move on. You had to remember to take the time to breathe before you moved.
Brady added, "Still can't figure what triggered Andre. He'd lost a little weight-- But he was always trying to lose a little. I tell myself it was a case he lost around then, but--"
"You can't know."
"I tell myself that, too."
She nodded. "You'll share that with Saito?"
He shrugged. "Already did."
"You'll keep sharing it with Saito?"
"I said I'd go to Arkham every month. So every month, I will. But he may not like it." Brady closed his mouth tight, as if keeping back some strong emotion, but she couldn't tell which one. "I think I just killed the taste of it for him."
"Because you told it to me."
"And you'll tell the others?"
"Yeah." He didn't slouch, but he had a way of setting his shoulders that said, Done now.
He turned his head, and she thought, Convictions, principles, drive. A yearning toward justice. A determination to be of use. Where would he be if Andre hadn't gone gamma? She said, "Buy you a beer?"
"I'll be fine."
"I know that."
"And you don't get enough time with your family."
She set her hand on Brady's arm, as lightly and as firmly as she would have set it on the arm of anyone she loved. "That's why I'm offering."
"Fear makes the wolf bigger than he is." -- German Proverb