Wednesday, July 16
Fort Myers Beach, Florida
McKenna had canceled the morning golf
game with Cisco, and he had no idea what Cisco was doing at the moment. Angelita
and the kids were down at the pool. McKenna figured he’d make himself some breakfast,
do a brisk five-mile run, then take a jet ski ride by himself. There was a knock
at the door, and McKenna opened it. It was Cisco, carrying two New York newspapers,
the Times and the Post. “Got some interesting things happening back in town,”
he announced as he brushed past McKenna. “Four murders in two days, all good
“What makes a murder a good one?” McKenna asked.
“Victim and manner of execution. There’s a new killer in town, a guy with a sense of style.”
Cisco took a seat at the kitchen table, and spread the newspapers on it. The Post’s headline was MURDER IN MALBA, and the first three columns of the Times’s front page titled the story DOUBLE TORTURE-MURDER IN QUEENS.
“I thought you said there were four murders,” McKenna said.
“There are, but the second two aren’t headlines. Brooklyn murders, probably drug-related. Page B-Three in the Times, page thirty-six in the Post.”
“And you think they’re related to the Malba murders?”
“Maybe,” Cisco said. “I’d be interested to hear what you think.”
So it’s to be a challenge, McKenna thought. Good. It’s about time I beat this guy in something. He read the Times story first while Cisco reread the Post account.
The Times, as usual, was straightforward and contained no speculation. There was a aerial photo of the scene of the crime, the million-dollar home of Gaston Cruz in the very-fashionable Malba neighborhood on Queens’s north shore. Dead were Gaston Cruz, age 39, and Carlos Montoya, age 41. Cruz and Montoya were both Colombian nationals, and according to Mrs. Lela Cruz, her husband was the founder and president of the American branch of Exito Seguros, Ltd., a Colombian insurance and investment company with offices in Manhattan, Miami, Bogotá, and Panama City. The last time she had seen her husband alive was when they had gone to bed together that evening. Montoya was her husband’s longtime driver, and he lived in his own small apartment on the third floor of the house.
Mrs. Cruz had been awakened at six A.M. by the sound of the family dog whining downstairs. She went down and found her husband’s body in the dining room. He was gagged with a roll of gauze rag in his mouth, handcuffed, and lying on top of an open safe hidden under the dining room floor. Montoya’s body was discovered in the garage five minutes later by Mrs. Cruz, and she then called the police. When the first units arrived, they discovered that the safe under Cruz’s body contained what appeared to be an antipersonnel bomb. The Bomb Squad was called and all the houses on the block were evacuated. Members of the Bomb Squad, however, determined that although the device in the safe appeared to be a bomb with a plastic explosives charge, it was not. In the opinion of Detective Dennis Hunt of the Bomb Squad, the “plastic explosive” was Play Dough, and later testing at the police lab proved him right.
According to Detective George MacFarlane of the Queens Homicide Squad, Cruz had been shot four times outside the house, once in each hand and once in each knee, and then had been carried into the dining room. None of the gunshot wounds by themselves would have been fatal, but Cruz had also been cut through the arteries each arm, and he had bled to death. A S&W .44 Magnum pistol had been found in the rear yard, near the spot where Cruz had been shot by a person standing inside the house at the dining room window. The dining room window had been broken by the shots, but that was not how the killers had gotten into the house; there was a rose bush under the window surrounded by mulch, and there were no footprints in the soft mulch.
Montoya had also been shot in the kneecaps, then tortured with a blowtorch, and finally killed with a shot to the head.
How the killer or killers had gained entry to the house was still under investigation by the Queens Homicide Squad. The house and grounds were protected by an alarm system which had been on when Mrs. Cruz awoke. She told police that her husband had no enemies she knew of, and that she didn’t even know of the existence of the safe in the dining room. She, her two children, and a nanny had slept through the murders of her husband and his driver. She also stated that her husband did not own a gun.
McKenna decided to learn everything he could about the Queens murders before reading about the ones in Brooklyn, so he waited while Cisco continued reading the Post. Cisco was absentmindedly fiddling with his detective-shield ring as he went through the articles, and McKenna knew he only did that when he was deep in concentration. Cisco wasn’t just reading, he was studying.
So we’re in a real contest here, McKenna thought, but what’s the point? We’re both in Florida on vacation for another week, and homicides aren’t ordinarily handled by the Major Case Squad.
Cisco then noticed McKenna watching him, so he quickly closed the Post. “Don’t tell me you read about all those murders already,” he said.
“No, just the Malba murders,” McKenna replied. “First Malba, then Brooklyn.”
“Sensible,” Cisco said as he passed the Post to McKenna. Then he took up the Times and began reading it again.
On the front page of the Post was a photo of Cruz’s covered body being removed from the house on a gurney by two morgue attendants. Mrs. Cruz was standing in the front yard, watching, with a large German shepherd sitting next to her. She was dressed in dark slacks, a light-colored blouse, and heels, and she casually held the dog by the collar. To McKenna, she appeared to be a very attractive woman, tall and in shape, and he also noticed the key pad at the side of the front door.
The story filled all of Pages 3 and 4, and was continued on Page 26. The byline was Phil Messing, and the front pages had another photo of Lela Cruz, along with file photos of Dennis Hunt and George MacFarlane. There was also a file photo of Detective Joe Walsh of the Crime Scene Unit, which didn’t surprise McKenna. Walsh hadn’t even been mentioned in the Times article, but the Post typically covered sensational crime stories in more depth than the Times did. Since Walsh was the best crime scene detective in the business, and a real glory hound besides, McKenna found it quite natural that he would involve himself in a case as big as this one was shaping up to be.
McKenna found it interesting that he and Cisco knew everyone involved in the case, and he thought that might explain Cisco’s interest in it. Phil Messing was an old-time Post crime reporter and a good friend to them both; Dennis Hunt had been involved in a past case of theirs in which bombs had figured prominently; and George MacFarlane had worked in the Major Case Squad for years before accepting an assignment to the Queens Homicide Squad. McKenna noticed that the big case was already loaded with first-grade detectives—Hunt, MacFarlane, and Walsh—and he knew that Cisco detested two of the main players.
Cisco detesting Joe Walsh was easy for McKenna to understand, because almost everyone did. The role of the crime scene detective was to assist the lead detective assigned the case, which Walsh did very well. But Walsh was a blowhard who had many reporters in his pocket. After a case was over, people reading about it in the papers could easily assume that Walsh was the real star of the case. The story would insinuate that Walsh had brilliantly gathered, correctly interpreted, and scientifically analyzed so much evidence at the crime scene that his lackey—technically, the lead detective—had nothing more to do than throw the cuffs on the villain and bring him to Central Booking.
George MacFarlane was another story altogether. MacFarlane was competent, hardworking, and he possessed a trait rarely found in a first grader—modesty. Five years before, Cisco and MacFarlane had been working a kidnapping case together in the Major Case Squad. MacFarlane had been a second grader at the time, and Cisco a first grader. Cisco had been the assigned detective in the case, and after it was solved, he didn’t mind if MacFarlane got the ink since the case was big enough to give him a shot at first grade. So Cisco had arranged for Phil Messing to interview MacFarlane. However, when Cisco read the Post in the office the next day, he was quick to notice that his name hadn’t been mentioned even once in the article. Everything was MacFarlane, with pictures.
Not everybody knew that Cisco was offended, but McKenna did—and soon, so did MacFarlane. He got his promotion to detective first grade, but wondered if it was worth it. Cisco went out of his way to torment MacFarlane in ways only Cisco could. He went to work early to go over the files on MacFarlane’s active cases, and left little notes attached with small criticisms or suggestions. MacFarlane had been proud of the fact that he had been voted the most valuable player in his softball league, so Cisco joined another team in the league and took MacFarlane’s most-valuable-player honor three years in a row. MacFarlane was also the goalie on a hockey team in an amateur league, so Cisco joined another team in the league just for the chance to send a high-speed puck MacFarlane’s way.
Since MacFarlane was too proud to explain or apologize to Cisco for what had happened during that interview, he had been left with no choice but to leave the Major Case Squad in order to preserve his sanity. That he had done two years ago, and he hadn’t been seen much in the newspapers since.
Phil Messing’s Post story contained all the information the Times piece did, and much more—which meant to McKenna that MacFarlane had quite naturally spoon-fed Messing in payment for the article that had gotten him promoted. Walsh, another frequent source of Messing’s, was also quoted in the article.
Messing first dealt with the times of death of the two victims. An assistant medical examiner had responded to the scene. He estimated that Montoya had died around 3:00 A.M., and Cruz an hour and a half later, at 4:30 A.M.
Six of the spent bullets in the shootings had been recovered, along with seven ejected cartridge cases. Two pistols of the same make, model, and caliber had been used, Beretta Model 92F nine-millimeter automatics. All three slugs recovered from Montoya’s body were from the same gun, but the slugs recovered from Cruz’s knees were from two different guns—and that led MacFarlane to assume there were at least two killers involved. Strands of fine steel mesh and burnt cotton fibers found by Walsh embedded in the spent slugs suggested to him that the killers had used silencers on their pistols. In the pocket of Cruz’s pajamas was an electronic device which Mrs. Cruz identified as a remote control used to activate and deactivate the alarm system. MacFarlane ascertained that the device had been taken by Cruz from the glove compartment of a car parked in the garage, Mrs. Cruz’s BMW.
Two pools of Montoya’s blood had been found on the path leading from the side door of the house to the garage. One ejected 9-mm shell casing turned up on the path near the garage, and another was found by Detective Walsh in the garage gutter. According to Walsh, that meant at least one of the killers had shot Montoya in both kneecaps from the garage roof.
There was a blood trail on the path that began at the place where Montoya had first been shot, and it led to the side door of the garage, and then into the garage. Blood stains indicated that Montoya had been tortured, then killed, as he lay on the hood of Cruz’s BMW. Since Montoya weighed 220 pounds and his wounds would have prevented him from walking, MacFarlane concluded that it would have taken two men to drag him into the garage, place him on the hood of the car, and hold him down while he was being tortured.
Cuts on Montoya’s wrists and scratches on the hood of the BMW suggested that he had been handcuffed with his arms behind his back during the torture process. Montoya’s blood was found on the handcuffs on Cruz’s body, so the killers had used only one set.
Also found on the landing of the back staircase was a pool of vomit containing small pieces of raw hamburger. According to Mrs. Cruz, their dog was never fed raw hamburger, so Detective Walsh concluded the dog had been drugged by the killers to keep it quiet and out of their way while they went about their murderous business. A vomit sample had been sent to the police lab, but chemical analysis to determine whether or not the dog had ingested a short-term stupor-producing drug was not yet complete.
The house was protected by an elaborate security system, with a total of nine infra-red motion detectors hidden on the grounds around the house. Mrs. Cruz stated that the system was operable and still activated after she had discovered her husband’s body. An alarm sounds in the house when three sensors pick up motion outside, and according to Mrs. Cruz, the alarm hadn’t gone off the night before. She stated she had no idea how the killers got into the house and left with the system still activated, and MacFarlane didn’t comment on that. No fingerprints of any persons not living in the house had been found.
On Page 26 the Post provided sketches of the crime scenes, with layouts of the property, the garage, and all three floors of the Cruz home. McKenna noticed the sketches were labeled in Walsh’s small, distinctive scrawl, and he knew that favor to Messing was another reason why Walsh had been mentioned so prominently in the article. As with all Walsh crime scene sketches, these contained every detail a prosecutor, a chief, or another investigator would ever need to know; the locations of the bodies, the blood trails, the recovered cartridge cases, the hidden alarm sensors, and anything else Walsh had considered pertinent were there, along with precise measurements on the distance from one object to another.
As McKenna studied them, a number of questions arose. Then he noticed Cisco intently staring at him, and smirking. He ignored Cisco, and kept his mind focused on Walsh’s sketches. Nothing else grabbed his attention, so he closed the paper. He was ready to play.
“So what doesn’t make sense?” Cisco asked.
“The wife, for one,” McKenna replied. “She’s married to a Colombian living in a house wired to the hilt, with another Colombian bruiser living upstairs who’s supposed to be a driver, and she says her husband has no enemies she knows of? And then she’s saying she knew nothing about her husband’s gun and the safe in the dining room?”
“The Forty-four Magnum found outside was the husband’s?”
“So we’ll agree it’s drugs?”
“Someone has to take a close look at that Exito Seguros company,” McKenna said, “but I’m ready to go with drugs—and I’m sure his wife knows that’s her husband’s business. They have two kids together, so they’ve known each other a while, and I’d bet she doesn’t have too many misconceptions on how they all wound up living in that fancy house.”
“And the company’s a front?”
“An assumption, but I’d be surprised if it wasn’t. I’d also be surprised if we don’t have Gaston on file somewhere. If so, he came up the hard way, and he considered himself a tough guy.”
“Not tough enough, apparently,” Cisco observed.
“No, and I’m sure that surprised him, but let’s consider his conduct anyway. Something wakes him up in the middle of the night, something suspicious enough to make him grab his gun and go investigate. Would your normal, run-of-the-mill Malba millionaire ever do that?”
“No, they’d call the cops.”
“Especially after he found his dog drugged, he would. But not Gaston. He still figured he’d take care of business himself.”
“How do you know he found the dog?” Cisco asked. “Maybe he took the front staircase down.”
Point One for me, McKenna thought, and he tried to hide his smile. “You better take another look at Walsh’s sketches,” he said, pushing the Post toward Cisco.
Cisco ignored it. “No need, Cisco has already sufficiently studied the sketches,” he said. “Footprint in the vomit pool, and I’ll bet the M.E. will come up with traces of dog vomit on Gaston’s foot.”
Damn! Scratch the point, and now I have him up on his high horse, McKenna thought. Time to go on the offensive. “Another reason Gaston didn’t call the police?” he asked.
“Aside from the fact he thought he could handle whatever himself? Simple. With his history, he doesn’t like cops, and he doesn’t want them in his house, poking around and asking questions. Maybe he had some second thoughts when he found Montoya, but by then he was already committed.”
“How do you know he found Montoya?” McKenna asked.
“Easy one. His wife’s remote was found in his pocket, and she kept it in the glove box of her BMW.”
“And that’s the easy answer.”
“So it is. You want the extra-points answer?”
“Alright,” Cisco replied. “The window on the landing is open, but the air-conditioning in the house was going full blast. Gaston went out that window, and I’ll bet he left his fingerprints on it. Besides, a couple of drops of Montoya’s blood trail between the window and the garage are smeared. Montoya was a burned mess, and that must have smelled. So Gaston went in to take a look. It’s not in the sketches, but I’m betting he picked up a bit of Montoya’s blood on his feet when he did.”
“The autopsy will tell whether he did or not, but I’d say you’re probably right.”
“Wouldn’t you say that we’re probably right?” Cisco asked.
“Okay, we’re probably right. Agree on everything so far, but here’s the big question,” McKenna said. “How did at least one of the killers get to the garage roof without tripping the alarms outside?”
“Do you know?”
“I think so.”
“And so do I.”
Since Cisco was an avid skydiver, McKenna was sure he did know—but the idea still sounded incredible to him. “That killer skydived onto that roof,” McKenna said.
“Very good, Brian,” Cisco said, and he graced McKenna with an approving nod. “Didn’t expect you to get that one, but it’s the only way he could’ve gotten there without tripping a couple of beams and waking up Mrs. Cruz.”
“Could you do that?”
“With no wind, and a wide two-car garage without much slope on the roof? Sure, nine times out of ten. The house is lighted up nice, makes for a landing zone that’s easy to find,” Cisco said confidently, and McKenna believed him. “What’s he do next?” Cisco asked.
“Montoya’s fully dressed, so let’s assume he’s on guard duty. One killer gets him out of the house and shoots out his kneecaps from the garage roof.”
“How does he get him out of the house without waking up everybody else?”
“We need to make some assumptions about that alarm system, but let’s say he has some device that somehow notifies him when one beam is tripped. This device also lets him shut the alarm off and on so he can investigate. The shooter throws a rope—maybe even his parachute—across one beam, reels it back in, then waits for Montoya to come out.”
“Montoya’s armed?” Cisco asked.
“Gun not recovered, but presumably. Does him no good when he’s kneecapped as soon as he comes out. The alarm’s off, so the other guy on the hit team...”
“If there is another guy,” Cisco said.
“You don’t think there is?”
“The Brooklyn murders. After you read about them, you’ll agree. Same guy, acting alone, did them all.”
“Okay, if you say so. Now we have this one very strong shooter who jumps off the garage roof after he kneecaps Montoya. Then he drags him into the garage, hoists him onto the hood of the car, and goes to work on him with the blowtorch. By the time he’s done, he knows all about the alarm system, he knows how to use whatever device Montoya has for turning the alarm off and on, he knows the lock code for the house, and he knows where the safe is.”
“Do you think Montoya told him the combination?”
“He would’ve if he knew it, but I don’t think he did,” McKenna said, and Cisco gave him another approving nod. “Then he kills Montoya, and goes into the house to deal with the dog.”
“By drugging her, after he tortures and kills Montoya? A little strange, wouldn’t you say?” Cisco asked.
“Yeah, I’ll give you that is strange. He knows about the dog, but he doesn’t shoot it. Instead, he comes prepared, and feeds it that hamburger laced with knockout juice.”
“So what we have is a cold-blooded killer who can burn a guy’s face and dick off, but he won’t kill a dog? Matter of fact, goes out of his way not to kill the dog.”
“That’s what it looks like,” McKenna agreed.
“You ever hear of a cold-blooded killer like that?”
“Nope. Never came across a killer that nice.”
McKenna knew Cisco was an animal lover, but Cisco’s description of the killer was too much for him. “Nice? Nice, after what he did to Montoya?”
“Maybe Montoya got what he deserved,” Cisco said. “I bet when his history is known, we’ll find out he was a real murderous lowlife.”
“Nobody deserves to die like he did.”
“We’ll see,” Cisco said, unimpressed. “Let’s get on to how he killed Gaston.”
“Knew he was coming, and ambushed him,” McKenna said.
“How did he know Cruz was coming?”
“Because he planned it that way, and he needed Cruz for the combination. He probably made some little noise in the house, just enough to wake Cruz up, and he knew Cruz well enough to know how he’d react. Cruz was sharp, realized the alarm was on and that the killer had taken Montoya’s device. Cruz wanted to sneak up on him, so he turned the alarm off.”
“Didn’t help him much, did it?” Cisco asked.
“No, because when the killer saw the alarm go off, he just turned it back on. Knew where Cruz was the whole time, and ambushed him.”
“With two pistols?”
“A little strange, but if there’s just one killer, he probably did that to confuse the police into thinking there’s at least two on the hit team.”
“That would make him pretty smart, wouldn’t it?” Cisco asked, smiling.
“We already know he’s smart. This whole operation reeks of brains. It’s more than a bloody burglary, it’s a revenge killing.”
“So the killer knew Cruz?” Cisco asked.
“Sure he did. The killer wanted whatever Cruz had in the safe, but this was a revenge hit done with a perverse sense of humor.”
“The Play Dough?”
“Yeah. You know what’s directly over the dining room?”
“Cruz’s daughter’s bedroom,” Cisco replied.
“And that’s the key. Once the killer had Cruz wounded and in pain, he needed the combination from him. Maybe he told him he’d shoot through the ceiling to kill his daughter if he didn’t get it, but this guy’s a joker. I think he wrapped the Play Dough around the safe, and told him he was going to blow the safe into Cruz’s daughter’s bedroom.”
“I agree. Cruz gives him the combination, he takes whatever’s in the safe, and then he does what he really came to do. He kills Cruz, but that’s not enough for him. He kills him with a twist, which is...?” Cisco asked.
“He gives Cruz a choice on who lives and who dies,” McKenna replied, responding to the challenge. “His daughter or him. He loads the safe with what Cruz thinks is an anti-personnel bomb, and tells Cruz it’s going to go off soon. Then he leaves, chuckling to himself. There’s a phone twenty-one feet from where Cruz is lying in a blood pool, so he can still crawl to it and maybe save himself.”
“He’s handcuffed and gagged,” Cisco said.
“Makes no difference, he can still moan. Crawl over, press nine-one-one with his nose, moan into the phone, and the cops might get there in time to save him. But he does the noble thing instead. Crawls to the safe, and covers it with his body so that maybe his daughter will live when the bomb goes off.”
“And that’s the joke. The killer tricked him into dying for nothing,” Cisco said with a broad smile on his face.
“You think that’s funny?”
“Call me a bad guy, but yeah, I think it’s funny. Maybe when we get Cruz’s history, you’ll think so, too.”
“Why would we get Cruz’s history?” McKenna asked. “This is a Queens Homicide case, nothing to do with us.”
“It’s big now, and it’s gonna get bigger,” Cisco countered. “This guy’s smart—too smart for MacFarlane—and he’s far from done.”
“So what do you wanna do? Get involved so you can throw some more darts at MacFarlane?”
“No, I like MacFarlane,” Cisco said.
“Sure I do. Basically a good guy, he just needed a few lessons in propriety. He got them, and it’s over.”
“So why do you wanna get involved?”
“For the glory,” Cisco admitted. “I predict there will be many more dead drug dealers, and the Major Case Squad’s gonna be called in to assist. We’re gonna wind up with it.”
“Maybe the squad, but not us. We’re on vacation for another ten days, and we’re prepaid in these condos.”
“Vacation’s gonna be cut short. You can leave Angelita and the kids here, and I’ll leave Agnes,” Cisco replied. “Read the Brooklyn case.”
McKenna did, first the Times account, and then the Post version. There was no byline for the Times story, and the one in the Post was written by John Schneider, a young reporter McKenna knew only by sight. Although it was also a double homicide, it didn’t get anywhere near the coverage the Malba murders had. That didn’t surprise McKenna; murders of rich people in mansions always garner greater public attention than the almost-routine Brooklyn killings involving drug dealers eliminating their competition. In truth, McKenna also recognized that those types of “drugs involved” murders didn’t get much more than cursory, by-the-book treatment from the police, with many detectives categorizing them as “Misdemeanor Murders” or “Public Service Homicides.” Unless there were innocent victims caught in the carnage, drug-related murders were rarely front page or high priority.
The double-murders in Brooklyn seemed to fit into that mold, but there were still a few things about them that attracted McKenna’s interest. They had occurred in the Classon Hotel between one and two o’clock that morning and, since Cisco thought the same man had committed both the Malba murders and the Brooklyn murders, McKenna first put the time sequence in order. The Malba murders had been committed the day before, but had been discovered too late to make the morning edition of the newspapers. It was a good story, so the papers had still treated those murders as breaking news, even though McKenna was sure TV journalists in New York had covered them in some depth yesterday. On the other hand, the Brooklyn murders were breaking news, an early morning story that put the papers on a par with the local TV news stations. If both sets of murders had been committed by the same man, he had given himself almost a full day to rest up between them.
McKenna also knew the Classon Hotel, but acknowledged that he hadn’t so much as passed by the place in years. It was located in Bedford-Stuyvesant, a neighborhood where the only white people were some of the cops. McKenna remembered it as a short-stay hotel, where rooms were rented for four hours in a nice setting for those with romance on their minds. The small hotel had been renovated ten years before, it boasted an intimate bar, and the building was located on a tree-lined plot that provided parking in the rear. The hotel also employed a small security force of large men, and McKenna had never heard of any serious police problems occurring there.
Dead were Ruben De Sales, age 41, and Raymond Ramsey, age 39, and the case was assigned to Detective Steve Chmil of the Brooklyn North Homicide Squad. De Sales and Ramsey’s bodies had been discovered by one of the hotel’s security guards, Clarence DuBois, after the front desk received numerous calls from guests on the third and fourth floors that there were screams coming from one of the rooms on the fourth floor, possibly room 409. When DuBois knocked on the door of Room 409, it was quiet inside. A big, well-built black man wearing a ski mask opened the door, placed a large automatic pistol to DuBois’s nose, and invited him into the darkened room.
Under the circumstances, DuBois had immediately accepted the invitation, but the room was too dark for him to see the source of the screams. The host placed a handkerchief to DuBois’s nose, instructed him to breathe deeply, and that was all DuBois remembered until he woke up in the large, heart-shaped bed in Room 409. On either side of him in the bed were De Sales and Ramsey, both dead and very bloody, and each was holding a blow-up plastic mannequin. Cause of death for each was a single shot to the head, but both had been beaten before they died. There was blood everywhere in the room, and signs of a violent struggle.
On the bureau opposite the bed were eighteen one-kilo wrapped packages of cocaine, and two one-kilo packages of heroin. On top of the bags were a loaded MAC-10 machine pistol, and two envelopes. One of the envelopes was addressed to the police, the other to the hotel management. Detective Chmil declined to reveal the contents of the envelopes, and DuBois refused to be interviewed for the newspapers.
Without cooperation from Chmil and DuBois, the papers had nothing else to report except to list De Sales and Ramsey’s criminal histories. At 41 years of age, De Sales had managed to spend more than a third of his life in prison. He had been arrested seven times, and convicted four. Except for a robbery committed when he was seventeen years old, all of his arrests had been for sale of drugs. He had been released from prison in 1999 after doing a six-year stretch.
Ramsey had also been arrested seven times, and his criminal history contained more violent crimes than De Sales’s. He had spent sixteen of his thirty-nine years in jail, and had been convicted for an assault, a robbery, and an attempted murder with a firearm. The attempted murder conviction had gained him eight years in prison, and he had been released in 2001. He was scheduled to have remained on parole until 2005 before the killer had lightened his parole officer’s case load by one.
The case had McKenna’s interest, and there was much more he wanted to know about it. He could find out everything about it with a call to either Brunette or Chmil, two old friends. But which one? Chmil, he decided, because a call to Brunette might indicate that he and Cisco wanted to work the case, and McKenna didn’t want to give Cisco that satisfaction just yet. He had known Chmil for many years, since the time they had worked together as partners in the Street Crime Unit.
Cisco also knew Chmil, and had worked with him on a case when both had been assigned to the Joint Organized Crime Task Force. Cisco always talked well about Chmil, but considered him to be an unusual detective; Chmil was a first grader who had worked in a few other prestigious units, but his heart was in the place he had made his bones, the Brooklyn North Homicide Squad, and he always returned there. Since Chmil had condemned himself to solving murders that didn’t generate much press interest, Cisco thought Chmil might be insane.
Both McKenna and Cisco knew Chmil as a likable, easy-going man who got along well with the press, so the fact that he wasn’t talking about these murders told McKenna that the official lid was on. For some reason, Chmil had been strongly instructed not to talk—which was unusual in Brooklyn drug-related murder cases.
So there’s something big brewing here, McKenna thought, but is Cisco right? Is it the same killer in both cases? Strong possibility, he concluded, if both sets of murders are drug-related. In both cases the killer had inside information that had enabled him to pull off the murders. In the Malba murders he knew about the alarm system and the bodyguard, and in the Brooklyn murders he knew about a meeting that apparently involved a wholesale drug deal. In Queens he had executed Montoya with a single shot to the head, and in Brooklyn he had executed Ramsey and De Sales in the same manner. In both sets of murders, a prankster left clues that must have given both MacFarlane and Chmil a giggle; in Queens it had been the Play Dough bomb, and in Brooklyn it had been the blow-up sex toys.
“Same guy?” Cisco asked, breaking McKenna’s train of thought.
McKenna ignored him because there were still two glaring issues to be thought through. He stared at the Post article, but he wasn’t reading, he was thinking as Cisco watched him with that know-it-all smile that McKenna had found particularly annoying during the past week.
In the Brooklyn murders the killer had left drugs on the scene. McKenna didn’t know the wholesale value of the drugs, but he knew it would be a big number. Very unusual conduct in any drug-related murder case, McKenna thought. Why had he done that? Either we’re witnessing the beginnings of a big-time drug war, or the killer is some kind of vigilante.
But which is it? Enforcer or vigilante? McKenna wondered. Vigilante, he decided, and that was why the lid was on. The notes had told Chmil that there was more activity planned, and nothing shakes up a police department as much as a righteous, capable, active vigilante causing well-publicized mayhem. Cisco was right. The Major Case Squad was going to be assigned to assist the homicide squads, and if the vigilante wasn’t caught in the next ten days, he and Cisco were definitely going to be involved.
McKenna closed both newspapers and folded his hands in front of him.
“Took you long enough,” Cisco said. “Are you ready to put your infallible glamour-boy reputation on the line and risk an answer?”
“Same killer, and you’re right about everything,” McKenna replied.
“That doesn’t make me right about everything,” Cisco countered. “I said that it’s going to be our case.”
“Then you’re wrong about that. We’re on vacation for another ten days, and there are already good people assigned. The Job is going to give MacFarlane and Chmil everything they need to catch this guy, and they will—and it’s not going to take them ten days to do it.”
“Then you’re wrong,” Cisco said. “Chmil can’t sit on those notes forever. The next time this guy hits—and he will hit again—those notes are going to have to be made public. Before that happens, your phone is gonna ring.”
“His back will be to the wall, and he’s gonna call to ask his old pal how he’s enjoying his vacation. Since I’ll still be here with you, you’ll say, `Funny you should ask. I’m not really having much fun. Cisco wants to work this case, and he’s driving me out of my mind.’”
“Cisco, are you planning to make me even more miserable than you already have?”
“That is Cisco’s intention, and he will succeed. He plans to seek a new crown to add to his many others. Cisco will want to be known as The Most Annoying Prick God Ever Created.”
“You already have that crown.”
“I do?” Cisco asked, and he seemed to be surprised.
“Except for the kids, ask anybody here. We’re ready to crown you in any kind of royal ceremony you desire, as long as you promise to go away after we do.”
“Cisco will not go away, and now you have hurt his feelings.”
To McKenna, it didn’t appear that Cisco’s feelings were hurt at all. He looked content and confident, like a man who knew he would win. But win what? To give up his vacation, it has to be more that just getting his picture in the papers a few more times. “Mind telling me why you want this case so much?”
“Because I want to meet this killer. Interesting person, class guy, but he has made a mistake which he has to pay for. He has shown contempt for us, and issued a challenge which we will answer.”
“What challenge?” McKenna asked. “The notes?”
“Yes, the notes.”
Alright. The notes contain something that has Cisco going, but how would he know what they say? McKenna wondered Then the answer came to him. “I guess you called Chmil.”
“You guessed right.”
“What do the notes say?”
“The one to the police says, `Stay tuned and stay sharp, because there’s more fun in store. I intend to make the world a better place, and I know how to do it. Catch me if you can.’ Used a laser printer to write it, untraceable, no prints.”
Now that is a challenge, McKenna thought, one that has to be answered with the best the NYPD has—and Cisco naturally thinks that means him. He will be truly unbearable until we’re assigned. “Were there any good prints recovered at the scene?”
“What do you think?”
“Then you’re right again. This guy is much too sharp for any careless slip-ups.”
“What did the note to the management say?”
“Another example that this is a classy opponent worthy enough to be engaged and bested by us. It said, `Sorry for the mess, but it was unavoidable. This should cover the damages.’ That note was wrapped around five thousand dollars in cash, and there’s yet another classy note that wasn’t reported in the papers. DuBois didn’t know it until Chmil noticed a bulge in his shirt pocket, but he also got paid for his trouble—and his embarrassment.”
“When he woke up in the middle of the dead clowns and the blow-up toys, he was holding a Teddy bear clutched to his chest.”
“How much, and what did the note say?”
“Three thousand dollars in hundreds, with the note wrapped around it. Said, `Sorry to leave you like this, but I’m one of those guys who will do anything for a laugh. I hope there’s no hard feelings.’ Same deal, laser printer, no prints.”
“So he printed the notes before he set out for the evening,” McKenna observed.
“So this guy knew exactly what he was gonna do, and had the job planned down to the smallest detail. Knew he was going to make a mess killing Ramsey and De Sales, and he figured there would be some attempt at intervention from the hotel’s security people.”
“He knew more than that. Knew his targets well enough to know that De Sales was gay.”
What does that have to do with anything? McKenna wondered, and then he knew. “De Sales was holding a male blow-up doll?”
“That he was, and if you think dirty and let your imagination run wild, you’ll know just how he was holding it,” Cisco said, and the thought obviously amused him.
McKenna did think filthy, but he didn’t want to give Cisco the satisfaction of saying it out loud. “How about Ramsey? What kind of position was he in with his doll?”
“More conventional, female doll, but still amusing. He was on top of his and had his tongue in that little round mouth.”
“Both victims naked?”
“No, just had their pants pulled down. Incidentally, Ramsey had a holster on his belt for a large pistol.”
“So it was Ramsey’s MAC-10 the killer left,” McKenna said. “He left the gun just to show how bad a guy Ramsey really was.”
“And since nobody at the hotel reported hearing shots, we can also assume he’s using a silencer.”
“Another good assumption,” Cisco said.
“Were De Sales and Ramsey tortured?”
“Bruised and battered, but Chmil doesn’t think so. He thinks they just got an old-fashioned beating by someone with rage to spare.”
“Both of them had cuff marks on their wrists, and they struggled against the steel while they were getting their beatings.”
“And they weren’t gagged?”
“Mouths taped. There’s glue residue on both their faces. Our killer didn’t leave their mouths taped after he killed them because he had use for their tongues when he set up the bodies.”
“Then where did the screams come from?” McKenna asked. “With a guy this careful, it doesn’t make sense that he’d let them get a bunch of screams out before he taped their mouths shut.”
“Chmil doesn’t think he did. He thinks it was our killer screaming as he enjoyed himself beating De Sales and Ramsey to a pulp.”
“So he wanted the security guard to show up?”
“Yeah, and he was ready for him. Gave him another opportunity to demonstrate his generosity for the press.”
And he’ll sure succeed at that, McKenna thought. These obscure Brooklyn murders are going to be front page when the contents of those notes come out. Big problem brewing here for the Job, especially if this guy hits again before he’s caught. The public loves this vigilante stuff. “Anybody see this guy enter or leave the hotel?” he asked.
“Chmil is sure people did, but the desk clerk screwed him. Probably many of the guests are married, but they’re not there with the people they’re married to. The desk clerk knocked on all the doors before he called the police, and by the time the first units arrived, they thought the place must be on fire. Everybody’s running out, and nobody’s going in.”
“How about the guest register?” McKenna asked, but the look Cisco gave him made him instantly regret the question. “Forget I asked,” he tried, but it was too late.
“No, let’s pursue that for a moment. While I’m busy thinking of ways to catch this guy, you can help me out by running down George and Martha Washington, Romeo and Juliet Jones, Adam and Eve Smith, Donald and Daisy Duck, and all the other names I’m sure are signed into the guest register. That would sure be a big help to me, and I’d love to hear what those folks have to say about our killer.”
Stupid question, McKenna conceded to himself, but when this case gets big enough, we will be hearing from those people. They’ve already bragged to some friends that they were there and told them what they saw, and it’s just a matter of time before some of those boasts are brought to our attention. “How about the desk clerk? Was he able to provide anything helpful?”
“Nothing. Sixty-four units, people in and out every four hours, and almost everybody’s black.”
We would still have plenty go on, McKenna thought, and he began thinking about how the vigilante would know so much about the victims. Then the phone rang, and cut short his thought process. “Hey, Buddy. How are you enjoying your vacation?” Brunette asked.
“Funny you should ask,” McKenna replied. “I’m not really having much fun.”