First Kindle Edition, Dec 2016
Copyright 2016 by John Griffin
All rights reserved.
For everyone still looking for something; I hope you find it.
Table of Contents
Chapter One: Reg
Chapter Two: Solomon
Chapter Three: Clive
Chapter Four: Solomon
Chapter Five: Reg
Chapter Six: Solomon
Chapter Seven: Reg
Chapter Eight: Solomon
Chapter Nine: Clive
Chapter Ten: Solomon
Chapter Eleven: Reg
Chapter Twelve: Solomon
Chapter Thirteen: Clive
Chapter Fourteen: Reg
Chapter Fifteen: Solomon
Chapter Sixteen: Justin
Chapter Seventeen: Greg
Chapter Eighteen: Solomon
Chapter Nineteen: Greg
Chapter Twenty: Solomon
Chapter Twenty-One: Justin
Chapter Twenty-Two: Solomon
October 2, 2014
October 3, 2014
Psycho shuffled into the car seat and moved his hips until they sank comfortably into the groove. He adjusted his rear-view mirror downward until Greg, tied and gagged in the back seat, filled the frame. He smiled, started the ignition, put the car into gear, and peeled into the street, cutting off oncoming traffic, some of which honked.
“You see,” Psycho said, “people think rules inhibit. If anything, rules liberate. People think rules stop criminals. If anything, they enable us. Observe.”
Psycho drifted into oncoming traffic. More honking, but the cars swerved around him. He gently drifted back into the proper lane. “Have you ever considered how absolutely terrifying driving would be without rules? That pedestrian there, the fat one — oh, you can’t see them. Trust me, he’s fat. That pedestrian is walking not four feet from cars that are traveling fast enough to turn most of his organs into paste if they hit him. Is he afraid? Not even in the slightest. Why? Because he is on the sidewalk, and the rules say cars don’t drift onto sidewalks. But see that other guy up ahead?”
Psycho smiled into the rear-view mirror and made sure Greg made eye contact as he drifted onto the sidewalk. There was a splat and a big bump and a rumble as he ran over the pedestrian. “Rules. He didn’t see it coming. He wasn’t afraid. He thought he was safe because of those rules. He did not take even the slightest, sanest precaution because, well, you’re not supposed to drive on the sidewalk. So people like me? We can do what we please. Once you know the rules. Once you understand how they fit everyone else’s behavior into a box. It makes everyone so predictable that planning a crime — or not planning a crime, but simple, random crime — becomes easy. Once you know the rules for behavior in that box, you can smash the box and take or do anything you like.
“That’s something you cops know, isn’t it? How incredibly thin that blue line is between the victim and the criminal. In today’s day and age, the only protection is the sheer number of law-abiding citizens. I can’t kill them all. A thief can’t rob them all. So the majority of people are safe. But really, the rules keep them prisoner. They keep them sitting there waiting for someone like me. That terrifying truth is that rules do not protect anyone from harm; worse, they enable harm by lulling people into a false sense of underserved security.
“Rules, as they say, are made to be broken. And I was made to break those rules.”
Psycho drove out of the city, but not far. In a truck stop under cover of darkness a few miles into Connecticut, he parked, got out of the car, took a canister of gasoline with a rag coming out of the spout from the trunk, and put it next to Greg. He lit it and walked away as the car caught fire and Greg screamed.
Reg sat at his desk working on a tablet, consuming the file with all his attention, his right hand only intermittently dipping into the bowl of high-fiber granola or down to his alkaline water when he remembered he was hungry or thirsty. He swiped through the notes Detective Solomon Roud had made on the Psycho case. It was clear from the increasingly stressed tones and urgent language that Sol was losing it.
He skipped forward to Greg’s notes, briefly shuddering as he realized he was reading notes from a dead man. He forced himself to swallow the building guilt and remember he had not been a cop when it happened, and this was exactly why he graduated from Columbia Law and never really considered being a lawyer before enrolling with the NYPD.
Greg had notes on the crimes — more fulsome descriptions than Sol, less of the pontifications and Sol’s incessant worry that he could have stopped the murders. Simple facts about what the accused did or may have done and some ideas about how he may have done it. Where possible, evidence — and that helped. But that was not why Reg was reading.
Three weeks earlier, Lisa came to see him. She offered him a short cut to the force and the opportunity to start his career in deep cover. They needed recruits — smart ones. Recruits whose backgrounds would not suggest a desire to get onto the force. A few manipulated data points here and there, and it was like he had never applied, but he was in. He said yes before they told him what he would be doing.
A week after accepting, he met Lisa in a small rented boardroom in midtown. Sham was there, a skinny South Asian who had just finished a tour with the Navy. He was a doctor by training and, near as Reg could tell, a shit-talking asshole by nature. He never shut up, and the sound of his voice put Reg on edge.
When Lisa did get the room quiet and find a few minutes to string together the operation, Reg was not surprised, but he would have been if he knew better or had any experience. Sol had been removed from the force and had not been an officer for months. He was seeing the force shrink once a week on mandatory visits. “And,” Lisa added after a crude joke from Sham, “he came in three weeks ago and told me he had a part in four robberies in the last six months. Big ones. And he could connect them all back to the same ringleader.”
“Everyone needs a part-time job,” Sham said.
“And that he was in over his head and needed to get out.” Lisa said, ignoring Sham. “But this is not the type of gang you quit. You work, you get paid, and when they cut you loose you die or you escape. He needs to escape.”
Lisa needed to build a team for the next planned heist and work with Sol to get to the person planning the thefts. To be clear, Lisa did not need to build a team or do anything — that was not lost of Reg. Sol had gone rogue; he was an officer removed from active duty, and he fell in with this gang on his own. He was a criminal working with criminals. But here was Lisa, going out on a limb to help Sol, and Reg knew there had to be a good reason. He parked his intuition and promised to ask later.
“Who are we after?” Reg had asked.
“We don’t know who the Big Kahuna is,” Lisa said. “The Chief could be a man or a woman. Could be here or overseas. Could be a suspect on one of our lists for something else or could be someone entirely new. Could be someone in jail. We don’t even know if this somebody exists or not. We hadn’t connected the crimes before.”
“So it could be Sol playing us all,” Sham said, giving voice to Reg’s suspicions. Assholes have their place, after all.
Lisa paused and stared at him.
“Raw nerve?” Sham said, putting his hands up in a peace offering.
“It’s a fair question,” Lisa said, though by the tone Reg sensed she thought it was not fair, and that this was not the first time she had heard the question. “You need to spend some time getting to know Sol. Did he commit some crimes? Yeah. And if you are wondering what it takes to break a cop, then read his file. It’s on the tablets I’m giving you today. And read up on the Psycho case. Sol’s notes. Greg’s, too. If you can read all that and not sympathize, then you let me know, and we can find someone else.”
“What’d he do?” Reg asked. “The Big Chief Kahuna.”
“Captain Crime was involved in the gold theft at the Federal Reserve Bank.”
“I thought that was an inside job?” Sham asked.
“All jobs are inside jobs if you look hard enough,” Lisa said. Reg noted it.
Sham yelled, “oh, snap.”
She continued. “And he robbed First National, the safety deposit boxes.”
“I remember that,” Sham said. “Bunch of dumb rich people who refused to tell anyone what was stolen. The news called it the perfect crime.”
“And it was,” Lisa said. “We couldn’t arrest someone for that if we found them driving down the street showing off the contents of the bank in the back of a pickup. Not a single statement. They left boxes of cash and other valuables sitting there untouched. They emptied just thirty-two boxes from thirty-two people and families who refused to tell us what was inside.”
The moment got heavy as even Sham seemed to realize how serious this was. Lisa sensed it. “The rest is in the files. Read up. Do the homework. You’re gonna meet Sol, and you’re gonna like him. But you need to know what he went through. And yes, Sham, you need to suspect that he is the Kingpin, and that he is playing us all.”
“And if he is?” Sham asked. “If we figure it out and it is him?”
“That’s my problem, not yours. You’re not here to make decisions.”
And here Reg was six hours of reading later. He had gone straight home and powered on the tablet, pressed his thumbprint in to clear security and started to read. He blew through Sol’s personal file in twenty minutes and saw something of himself in it. Sol was the son of a wealthy art dealer. Supposed to be worth hundreds of millions, but his family lost it all in a Ponzi scheme. Before it was gone, though, Sol joined the force. Could have done anything but chose this. Not quite Reg’s story, but close. It was a boring read.
The Psycho case was more interesting, but creepy. He skipped over the last of Sol’s notes and moved on to Greg’s. Detective Gregory Kellogg, deceased. Funeral attended by thousands of cops from across the world in a show of support following the brazen immolation of one of their own. Reg had gone himself as a new cadet — not in dress uniform yet, but he felt he needed to be there.
Psycho was two cases — maybe three. Hell, maybe four. It was a case about a guy who kidnapped and killed young schoolgirls. Watched them asphyxiate and broadcast it over the net on gore websites. But before he did that, he killed two dozen homeless people in escalating iterations, perfecting his M.O. And in the middle of those murders he took the time to try to shake Sol and Greg off his tail, mostly by taking Sol’s life apart bit by bit.
Greg wrote scant details about the deterioration of Sol’s finances. Sol had always been private but lived a life Greg could not imagine. Even broke, his family was wealthy. Some assets you could lose in a Ponzi scheme — cash, stocks, investments, and returns that never really existed. Others no one could touch — condos, yachts, paintings. Plenty left over to pay for Sol’s life, but it started disappearing as Sol sold everything of value Greg had ever seen.
Then, Psycho took Greg. Injected him with propofol, tied him up, drove him to a truck stop in Connecticut, and set the car on fire. They were partners five years, Sol and Greg. It meant something. Reg did not know what it meant yet but knew that would mean Sol needed revenge or justice. He knew that Sol would have gone to see Greg’s wife and kid and said something like, I’ll find the guy who did this and I will get him, I will bring him in. But that was not what pushed Sol over the edge.
Reg read the report about April 1, 2014 like he was watching it unfold on a screen. Sol, transferred out of homicide and into a crisis intervention unit, gets a call about a jumper. He hitches a ride with a uniformed NYPD patrol. The lights were on. The siren was not. The two men stepped out of the car. One wore the NYPD uniform; he was tall, white hair, and heavy. He walked along the sidewalk and called to pedestrians to keep clear. The other man, Sol, was in plainclothes, a taupe suit and a beige overcoat. He was young but sharp, swiveling his head and fixing his eyes on the jumper. His hands were on his hips.
“Need a hand, Solomon?” the man in blue said. “Roud?” he added after being ignored. “Detective?” he barked, finally, having cleared the sidewalk. A fire truck was bearing down on them, stopping traffic from the west.
Solomon looked back. He shook his head. He turned around, his right hand moving from his hip into his pocket, where it lingered. He turned toward an ice cream truck parked across the street. “Don’t have my tools,” he said. “Need him to hear me.” He walked over, pulling a piece of paper out of his pocket, looking down toward it and then putting it back.
The ladder captain walked up to the man in blue. “Who’s he?” he asked.
“Detective Roud, negotiator,” the man in blue said.
The two watched Solomon as a crowd gathered outside the perimeter created by the firemen and the other officers who had arrived. Solomon spoke briefly to the ice cream man, who handed over the microphone for his loudspeaker. Solomon took it in his hand and held it up to his phone. He played a song, and the crowd started to laugh nervously as they looked from the ice cream truck and then back to the jumper.
“Might as well JUMP!” David Lee Roth sang. “Go ahead and Juh-ump!”
The jumper stepped off the ledge and slammed into the ground, dying instantly. That night was the night of Greg’s death, but by then the damage was done. Sol hadn’t been at work since.
Three days before Lisa first spoke to Reg and Sham, Solomon stepped to a desk at the Harlem YMCA. A woman with short, curly gray hair smiled at him. Her nametag said “Phyllis.” “How can I help, honey?”
“I need a room,” Solomon replied. He was wearing his taupe suit and had a small nylon duffle bag with him that was filled mostly with air.
Phyllis smiled. “How long will you be staying with us?”
“Okay,” she said as she typed the reservation into her computer. It had a CRT screen. “Hundred dollars a night, so that will be thirteen hundred, plus taxes.”
Solomon shook his head. “Isn’t this the Y?”
“We’ve come a long way, honey,” Phyllis said.
Solomon paid the entire amount in advance in cash. Phyllis gave him a plastic card for his room key. He walked straight toward the elevators, between two ferns in the opposite direction of the lobby. He took the elevator to the second floor and found his room quickly. He got in and emptied his duffle bag into the drawer. There was ample room for his extra shirt and three pairs each of underwear and socks, his gun, three clips, his badge, and six packages of ramen.
He sat on his bed. It smelled like fish. He took his phone out of his pocket and made a call. “Lisa?”
“Sol?” Lisa replied. “Where are you?”
“The Harlem Y.”
“Jesus, Sol,” Lisa said. “You have no idea how to be poor, do you?”
“I’m trying,” Solomon said.
“You might as well be staying at the Ritz. The Y isn’t what it used to be.”
“Oh, it’s close. Prices are up. Still smells like fish…”
“I’m not driving to Harlem.”
“Dog and Duck?” Solomon offered.
Solomon made his way to the bar. Lisa had arrived first. She was taller than Solomon, himself taller than everyone else in the bar. She was lean with red hair, and she looked young, fit, healthy. She was drinking something green. She stood to welcome him. They embraced briefly, and she went to sit. “Nah,” Solomon said. “Not here.”
He held her elbow and pulled her with him gently. He let go, and she continued following. He nodded at Sean behind the bar and took Lisa to the back room with the purple felt table.
“Sol,” Lisa said. “Tell me you didn’t take me to an underground poker room?”
“It’s just a room. I don’t see no poker,” Solomon said. “I’ve bought it out. Just for a few weeks.”
“For the operation?” Lisa said.
“So, what was enough for Minister Moneybags to reach out?” Lisa asked.
“It’s not a big score,” Solomon said. “Two million in cash and fencible goods. Private home in Short Hills. Old man living alone. One of those guys whose parents lived through the crash, and he was raised not to trust banks. But he’s got a painting. Worth a few million.”
“Which one?” Lisa asked.
“Not sure. Some new guy. Don’t really follow that stuff anymore.”
“I don’t get it, though. He robs a bank, clears out god-only-knows in safety deposit boxes while leaving all the cash — leaving everything that we could have traced. Most of the box owners wouldn’t even tell us what they had in there. He knew, he must have known, he was stealing something that wouldn’t be traced. We can’t track goods that aren’t reported stolen, Sol. Next, he gets a man inside the Federal Reserve and takes precisely two hundred one-kilo gold bricks. We don’t even know when he took them. Might have been yesterday, might have been the day after the last visual, manual audit. But he takes just two hundred. Not one more. The dedication, the discipline, to resist all that temptation, it is downright religious.”
“He’s extraordinary,” Solomon said. “But he’s not greedy. He has a risk/reward model. It’s a deep code. And this is perfect. A simple alarm — motion sensors, window and door sensors, a few safes with the cash and diamonds. And the painting is currently registered as stolen in the Art Loss Register. So that’s not likely to get reported, either.”
“And how are you involved?” Lisa asked.
“Don’t ask, don’t tell. That’s the deal, Lisa. You want him?”
“Yeah. I’d love to catch Professor Pilfer. What do you get?”
“Out,” Solomon said. “I just want out when it is done. You take him, I get to leave. That’s it. This guy … he likes me. That’s kept me alive. Also means I can’t quit on him. Keeps asking me to do another job.”
“You can say no.”
“You can’t say no to him,” Solomon replied, shaking his head. “Not to him.”
“I can get you out anyway, Sol,” Lisa said. She reached for his hand. “If you need it. You don’t need to do this.”
Solomon squeezed her hand and let go, leaning back. He took a pill out of his pocket and swallowed it with the beer. “I knew you’d go big-time when we were first partners. Knew you’d be a kickass detective. And vice, so soon. I’m proud of you, kid.”
“What do you need?” Lisa asked.
“Clean undercovers. Super clean. Smart, smart, smart fucking kids with training and enrollments scrubbed clean. No word of it anywhere. Never spoke to their parents about it even. I don’t care if you pull them right out of training before they get there or pick them up off the street. Ivy-leaguers with a history of taking risks and drive and ambition. Remember that Kevin kid? The IT wiz?”
“You want him?” Lisa asked, looking confused.
“No,” Solomon said. “Ask him to do the scrubbing.”
Lisa nodded. “How many do you need?”
“It’s a four-person operation,” Solomon said. “But I only need two — the fourth guy, a driver, he is already lined up. I have to recruit the other two.”
“I got two,” Lisa said. “One just finished Columbia law, got called to the bar and offered all sorts of gigs. Parents have money, so he joins the force. I think he wants to be president and he sees this as his way of getting there. I don’t know. Sounds stupid. A former NYPD officer as president?”
“That’ll work,” Solomon said. “The other?”
“You’ll hate him. Big talker. But Navy-trained surgeon straight out of Harvard Med. Saw some real action. Never shuts up.”
“Good,” Sol said.
“So how dark is this op?”
“Pitch black,” Solomon replied.
“Can I bring the Captain in on it?”
“Kevin, and no one else. No.”
Lisa reached back and ran a hand through her hair. “You’re asking me to outfit you with help for major crime on a regular citizen. You’ve told me you have already done a few others. How can I trust you?”
“What does your heart say?” Solomon asked.
Lisa smiled. “It says it is still beating because you shot a fucker in the back like a coward.”
“His back was to me. Didn’t have a choice. Didn’t know you were on the ground in front of him, either. So?”
“If we catch him, we are even. No more favors. Nothing.”
“Good,” Solomon replied.
“And if we don’t catch him — if this is some fucking con and I’m getting used to help you get away with something — you owe me a fucking Bentley.”
“Deal,” Solomon said.
A few days later, Solomon woke naked and wet, his sheet slick with sweat. He sat up and reached out to the window and opened it. The raucous noise of the neighborhood rushed in with the cool air. He stood and stretched, going to his front door, putting on his gray robe and grabbing his towel off the hook on the back of the door. He stopped before opening the door and went back to his bedside table. He took a sip of water from a plastic cup. He went barefoot into the hall and walked down the hallway, stepping over debris left over from the night before. In the bathroom, he got into the shower. His shower was short. The water was cold.
He stepped out of the shower, and a man in his seventies, sores on his feet and a pronounced limp, came in. “How’s the water?” the man asked.
“Cold,” Solomon answered as he rubbed shaving cream on his face and began to shave.
“Well, it’s the Y, not the Ritz,” the man said, removing his clothes and disappearing around the corner.
Solomon finished shaving and gathered his things and returned to his room. The cleaning staff were coming through the hall, taking perhaps half of the debris with them as they went. What they left behind looked like it might belong to somebody. Solomon unlocked his room and went in, disrobing. He went to his dresser — other than his bed, the only piece of furniture in the small, gray room — and from the top drawer he removed his underwear and socks, putting them on. From the second drawer he took the cleanest of his two white Oxford shirts and slipped it on, buttoning it up as he walked back to his door and took his lone suit off the hook. He finished dressing, tying his tie in a Windsor knot as he walked down the hallway to the stairs, descending and heading into the subway.
He came out of the subway on 118th street, finding a stout brick building nearby filled with medical offices. He arrived at his appointment a few minutes before 9:00 a.m. and was welcomed in by Kirsten, Dr. Kravitz’s assistant. Sharply at nine, Dr. Kravitz escorted an officer out of her office. The officer and Solomon nodded at each other as Solomon stood and went into Dr. Kravitz’s office. The doctor followed behind.
She closed the door. She was wearing a red pencil skirt, red shoes, and a white blouse. She sagged altogether unpleasantly into her chair and without hesitation began. “It’s been a year last week.” Solomon nodded. “Our next to last session. How do you think you’ve done?”
“Lost my condo,” Solomon answered. Dr. Kravitz nodded. “Lost my job.”
“No you didn’t,” the doctor interjected. “You have severe PTSD. You’re on disability.”
“I’m not a detective. I’m not a negotiator. I don’t do anything.”
“You’re all those things and may never be those things again, Solomon. Do you still…” the doctor said.
“Think about the incident?” Solomon replied.
“Obsessively,” Solomon said. “I still see her face. Particularly at night. It was the fear — that she knew what was coming, that she knew that I—”
“That no one.”
“That I couldn’t save her. She had that terror on her face when we found her.”
“How is the switch from Paxil to Zoloft going?”
“Good,” Solomon replied, removing the prescription pill bottle from his breast pocket and shaking it for the doctor before returning it.
“Just fuzzy thinking.”
“Any other panic attacks?”
“No. Close, a few times.”
“Still carrying Atavan?”
“Yes,” Solomon replied, taking another bottle from his pocket and shaking it. “Have not used it, though.”
“Still having suicidal ideation?”
“Good.” She made a note. “Some suicidal ideation, but no plans for six months.”
“Not since the jumper, no.”
“Your court-mandated time with me is coming to an end. Do you want to continue your sessions beyond next week?”
“I think you should.”
“Will that be your recommendation to the court?”
Dr. Kravitz shook her head politely. “It is my recommendation to you. You are making good progress, but what you went through… The girl’s death; worse, the pressure Psycho placed on you to save her. The responsibility you took for that was not yours. The transition out of being a detective into the negotiator role was a noble gesture by the force, but not appropriate. Then the incident with the jumper. These are not things anyone should work through on their own.”
“I’m not ready to go back to work?”
“No. And you may never be; but you might be if we continue to work together.”
Solomon nodded. The doctor continued speaking, and he continued answering for the next forty-five minutes. As 10:00 a.m. approached, she led him out of her office. He did not look at the officer waiting for the next appointment, and he left the building. He got back onto the subway.
He came out of the subway at the 46th Street station. He walked a few blocks north and stepped into The Dog and Duck, sliding onto one of a dozen empty stools. The only other people in the bar were two young men with beards wearing sunglasses in the dark. “Sean,” he called. The bartender turned to him, nodding. He was bald and round all over. “Labatt 50.”
“Cheap bastard,” Sean said, bringing a bottle to the counter.
“Frugal,” Solomon responded. “I’m here to get drunk in a bar. This is the least expensive…”
“Only people who drink this shit are you and those fucking hipsters who think 50 is fancy PBR,” Sean said, shooting a glance over at his other guests.
“Still doesn’t make me cheap.”
Sean brought the bottle over and threw it in front of Solomon. The bottle bounced around before settling. “Cheap Jew bastard.” Sean said, slowly enunciating each word. “You don’t even fucking pay for drinks around here.”
“You should be happy, then. I’m saving you money,” Solomon said, taking a sip. Sean laughed. “He back there?”
“Gah’head.” Sean said, turning his back.
Solomon took his bottle and went to the end of the bar, pushing his way into the kitchen. He passed two line cooks cutting vegetables. At the back of the kitchen he went through a freezer door. On the other side of the door was a simple fifteen by fifteen room with an oval table covered in purple felt and surrounded by eleven chairs. The room was empty except for a black man wearing a gray pin-striped suit who was standing facing the door.
“Reggie?” Solomon said, taking a seat.
“Reginald, yes.” Reginald responded, offering his hand.
Solomon shook limply, and Reginald sat. “Harvard undergrad, majored in economics.”
“We call them concentrations at Harvard.”
“Columbia Law school.”
“You from around here?”
“No,” Reginald responded, leaning forward in his seat. “My parents are from Connecticut.”
“A nutmegger?” Solomon said haphazardly.
Reginald paused, considered for a moment and then continued. “I always preferred Connecticutian.”
“Why the fuck do you want to rob banks?” Solomon asked.
Reginald sat back. “When I was sixteen, I swam the English Channel. When I was eighteen I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro and Everest.”
Solomon waved his hands. “I’ve seen the resume. Thrill-seeker?”
“Maybe a little,” Reginald said.
“That’s what I see. But you know what my employer sees?” Solomon said, pointing skyward. “He sees something I didn’t see. He saw preparation. He saw months of planning to achieve something that only has meaning to you. That’s what he told me. That’s why he wanted to speak with you. Me? I’d have passed you over. But it isn’t my operation. It’s his.”
Reginald nodded. “And who is he?”
“Do yourself a favor,” Solomon said. “If you’re going to ask, ask him yourself. Don’t ask me or anyone else in the operation.” Solomon’s phone rang. He picked it up. “Hello?” he said. “It’s him.” Solomon handed the phone to Reginald. “Don’t say a fucking word until I leave the room.”
Solomon stepped into the kitchen and closed the door. He watched the two chefs continue chopping vegetables, and he relaxed at the pace and rhythm. After a few minutes, one broke off to start clipping chicken wings. Solomon smiled, walked out front, and asked Sean for half an order of mild wings with no vegetables. “We don’t do half orders of wings, you dumb fuck!” Sean called back. “Cheap pussy.”
One of the chefs brought the wings to him as he stood outside the door. He ate them, cleaning the meat off the bones, breaking the bones as he chewed them, and then spitting them out and leaving nothing edible on the plate. He washed his hands in the sink and went back into the room when a buzzer went off in his pocket.
Reginald handed the phone back to Solomon. “Hello? Good. Yes.” Solomon hung up. “How’d it go?”
“I barely said anything.”
“Did you ask who he was?”
“Did he volunteer an answer?”
“No. Just kept telling me that to be successful in this game you can’t be greedy. Asked me what I would do if I was in a vault with a hundred million dollars in gold and was told only to take two hundred gold bars. Would I take two hundred and one for myself? Would I take an additional thirty? Eighty? And then just deliver the two hundred?”
“And what did you answer?”
“I didn’t. He gave me the answer. Says that he is still doing this because he takes two hundred. And everyone — everyone, he said — who takes more than that gets killed. Not by him, he was quick to add — by the game. They get caught. Told me if I could learn that lesson I’ll make it, and if I didn’t I’d be dead anyway, but he’d fuck me if I ruined his operation.”
Solomon nodded. “Well, sounds about right.” He sat. “I was in that very situation.”
“How many bars did you take?”
“Dumb question. I’m still alive.”
“Didn’t even consider taking one for yourself?” Reginald said.
“You always consider it. But this is a game that requires discipline. And if you ain’t got that, you’re dead. You’ll get sloppy. You won’t stick to the plan. You’ll get caught, and you’ll get everyone around you caught.”
“I get it.”
“You’re in. You were probably in before you spoke to him. Lisa introduced you.”
“Lisa?” Reginald said, surprised.
“Yup. She introduced you. And I owe her a favor — several, in fact. So you’re in. Did he tell you the score?”
“Said it was better than a bank.”
“A million times better,” Solomon said. “All the money and valuables you could hope to find in a vault, locked away in a safe so easy to crack, a child could do it.”
“And where would that be?” Reginald asked.
“Old, rich people’s houses,” Solomon said. “You’ll fit right in.”
Reginald sat back. “Is it safe? To talk here, I mean.”
“So, you know Lisa sent me.”
“Yes,” Solomon said.
“How much do you know about me?”
“Like, do I know you’re a cop?”
“Yeah, I know you’re a cop. You know I’m a cop?”
“On leave right now, yes.”
“You know I’ve also run a few operations for my employer?”
“Yes,” Reginald replied.
“Does this arrangement make you uncomfortable?”
“No. I knew what I was getting into when I signed up.”
“But you wanted to know that I knew you knew.”
“Something like that.”
“Listen, Reg. This is a great opportunity for you to make a big first splash. And me, I have my end. I hope to get back onto the force soon. I took these jobs to tide things over. I made some commitments, and I was stretched real thin.”
“The Psycho stuff?” Reginald asked. “Weren’t you supporting that kid?”
Solomon nodded. “And that’s it. I don’t regret it. But I’m close to getting back, and I want to wipe that slate clean, and this is it. This is how I do it.”
“A New York City coroner,” Clive started, “sees everything. It’s why I left Barts and London.” He ashed his cigarette and then presented it to the young lady in the short skirt asking the questions. “Stressful as all get-out.” He tossed the cigarette into the street and made his way back toward the door, holding it open for the young lady. “Want to see one?”
“An autopsy?” she asked.
Clive walked with the woman back to his office. There was a light oak credenza and a matching desk. “No chair?” the woman asked.
Clive shook his head but did not look up from his desk, where he was shuffling papers. “Never use it. Never here long. Let’s see. Missing person, unsolved homicide? No. Not normal enough. Motor vehicle collision? Too normal. Murder. Murder. Murder. Traffic accident. Ferry accident?” Clive paused, picking up the paper. He looked back to the woman. “That’s no fun. Oh, here’s something!” Clive held up a picture of a dead woman’s face. An X was tattooed on each eyelid. “It looks like she is a dead cartoon character! I wonder if that was her intent.” Clive opened the file and read. “Manic behavior, synthetic drug use, and positional asphyxia? That’s the one.” He hit a button on a contraption sitting on his desk. “Linda, get Chan and prep the examination room.” He paused. When no one called back, he hit the button again and repeated himself, loudly. When there was still no response, he yelled.
Linda came to the door. “That’s the fax machine, Dr. Maguire. I’ll get Dr. Chan.”
“Good,” Clive said. “And get this bloody fax machine out of here. Nobody uses fax machines anymore!”
Clive dressed in his green surgical gown while directing the journalist in how to do the same. When ready, they stepped into the examination room and toward the lone metal slab occupied by a white sheet pulled over a dead body. Dr. Chan was in the room shuffling surgical instruments, preparing papers, and adjusting the computer screen. Clive took a position on the side of the table opposite Dr. Chan. Clive nodded at the journalist and began. “The recorder, Dr. Chan.”
Dr. Chan hit ‘record.’
“Examination into the death of Vera Glenn. Family reports that she exhibited manic behavior for three weeks before her death. Reported illegal drug use, synthetic drug use. Cause of death indeterminate, presumed to be positional asphyxia. VG drug of choice known colloquially as ‘bath salts,’ available throughout metropolitan New York, more or less legally, at various stores for between $150 and $250 per gram. Dr. Schweinsteiger, pathologist, determined cause of death to be complications of drug toxicity. Dr. Schweinsteiger was unable to determine the precise cause of death, as death from overdose of this particular drug is so uncommon that there is insufficient medical literature on its effects. DAL unable to screen for this drug due to its relative novelty. Dr. Schweinsteiger notes that while ‘restraint asphyxia’ is technically cardiac arrest as a consequence of being restrained, it usually occurs in the presence of other risk factors including drug or alcohol intoxication, obesity, or chronic disease. He did state that in all likelihood, had VG not consumed ‘bath salts’ or Alpha PVP, she would not have died.”
Clive stopped, turned to the journalist, and smiled. “Fun, no?”
“This wouldn’t have happened in London?” she asked.
“No,” Dr. Chan said. “British people are polite enough not to die mysteriously.”
“What my glib friend means,” Clive said, pulling back the cover and revealing Vera’s naked body, gray, with a slick sheen, “is that when you are a pathologist, if you are not a pathologist in New York, you’re a country bumpkin who just hasn’t seen it all. And I wanted to see it all.”
“Beginning dissection,” Dr. Chan said.
“Cutting into pharynx,” Clive said. He pressed the scalpel into Vera’s skin and pulled gently, his finger trailing and opening the throat as he went. His finger stopped suddenly and his eyes furrowed.
“Is that—?” Dr. Chan said.
“An obstruction,” Clive said, pulling Vera’s throat apart. “Was this reported by Schweinsteiger?”
Dr. Chan looked to the notes. “No.”
“It’s round. A cylinder. I’m removing it.” Clive pulled out a long, thin glass tube. “Turn off the recorder.” He pulled down his mask, blood-patched gloves leaving fingerprints behind on the blue mask. “Everyone out.”
Dr. Chan and the journalist stood staring at the tube. “Get the fuck out!” Clive yelled, pulling his gown open. Dr. Chan and the journalist left abruptly. Clive pulled out his phone without removing his gloves or taking his eyes off the tube. He dialed.
“Yeah, me. Come. Now.”
Clive held the cylinder in his hands as he walked down the hall still dressed in his surgical gown. In the hallway on the way back to his office people gave him a wide berth, most pressing their backs entirely against the wall. He was not covered in blood, but he was transfixed by the cylinder, wiping the congealed blood from it, and it was a frightening enough scene that no one wanted to be a part of it.
Back at his office, Linda did not look up from her desk when he passed. He went by her and into his own office and closed the door hard. He was at his desk digging for a clear plastic bag when Linda followed behind, asking, “Why on earth…” before seeing him still in his surgical gown and trailing off.
“Doctor,” Linda said, crossing to him. She turned him around so that he was facing toward the window and stripped off the gown and untied the mask. She tossed them into the garbage can and then tied up the plastic garbage bag and took the mess out.
Without taking his eyes off the cylinder, Clive reached into his desk and pulled out a flask, unscrewing the top and taking two large gulps. He sat, but there was no chair, and he hit the ground hard and started to swear. He dropped the cylinder in the plastic evidence bag onto his desk and marched out to the hall, back past Linda at her desk. In the hall he found a bench of three orange chairs and tried to pick it up, grunting and swearing. “Damnit, Linda!” he yelled. “Help!”
Linda came out and together they lifted the bench and brought it into his office, heaving it over his desk and placing it in the space behind. “Chairs,” Linda said. “That serious?”
“Bring me the Psycho files,” Clive said, reaching into his pocket for his flask and taking another drink.
Linda left the room, and Clive turned to the window, opening it as far as it would go and then reaching into his desk for a pack of cigarettes. He took one out, lit it, and craned his neck as best he could to point the smoke out of the window. Linda returned a minute later. “No smoking, Doctor,” she said.
“Damnit, Linda, this is a fucking emergency.”
He took the files from her, and she took his cigarette and tossed it out the window. She left the room and closed the door while he took another out of the pack and lit it. He sat on the bench and opened the file. It was a few hundred pages long. He had reviewed it before and had been the lead pathologist on any crimes either confirmed or suspected to be related to Psycho.
When he was first on the case, it was just the two girls that he had examined. Both asphyxiated. Both teenagers. But then Solomon had saved that third girl, for a while, anyway. Sol saw Psycho’s faced and placed who he was, but the kid — and he was a kid — lawyered up hard, and it took another week before they could find any better evidence. By then the kid had run.
When his parents finally let them do a proper search, they found eighteen bodies at their country home. Clive was called in to figure out which body parts belonged to whom, and how they all died. Examining those bodies was like watching the evolution of serial killer finding himself — the stutter-steps of learning and perfecting an MO. Few of the bodies could be identified. Those they could identify were itinerant; almost certainly, the others they could not identify were as well. None had been reported missing. They had all been killed over the last fifteen months, from what Clive could tell.
Most died of starvation. Some lived for a few weeks, obvious intravenous sloppily punctured into their arms to keep them hydrated and to administer propofol, Psycho’s anesthesia of choice. Others died overdosing on the anesthesia. The four most recently dead almost certainly died of asphyxiation themselves.
The bodies were buried just outside the small concrete shed on the property that had been sealed on the inside with layers of plastic. Once the door was closed, the air slowly ran out — or that was his goal. Eventually, he got it working.
The last four bodies were recent and preserved well enough that a more fulsome examination was possible. Each of them had a glass cylinder, as simple as the one he had pulled from Vera’s throat, with a cork stopper, in its mouth. Inside the cylinder each time were notes, hardly comprehensible to a doctor that dealt exclusively with dead people. The psychiatrists that interpreted them said they were indicative of a high-functioning sociopath with narcissistic rage.
The murders had stopped with Psycho on the run. Clive compartmentalized the images in his head the way the training told him to. He moved on to other cases mundane and gruesome, accidental and purposeful. It was easy for him — he coped with whisky and cigarettes and gallows humor, like most of the pathologists he worked with on either side of the pond. But he remembered that detective, Sol, and everything he went through. He heard about the jumper and had reached out to Sol. They had a few pints, and if they were not friends, they were as close as you could get in professional circles before crossing into friendship. They had both stood over a pit filled with eighteen dead bodies, and that means something.
So when Clive reached into that girl’s throat and pulled out the cylinder, wiped off some of the congealed blood, and saw inside a piece of paper with a picture of the Roman Sun God, Sol Invictus, he called Sol.
Solomon walked down the hall, almost jogging, his shoulders hunched forward trying to keep balance. He reached Clive’s office and ran past Linda. The door was locked. Linda opened it for him. Inside, Clive was sitting on a bench matching others Solomon had seen in the hallway.
Clive had the tube in one hand, a flask in another.
Solomon closed the door behind him and stood. “Did you open it?”
“It’s not addressed to me, mate,” Clive said. “You smell like you don’t need this, but…” He offered Solomon the flask.
Solomon sat on the bench and took the tube from Clive. “What do we know?”
“It wasn’t there when the autopsy in Brooklyn was done. Sol, someone in the chain of possession — or with access to it — must have put this here. Think Psycho’s working with a doctor? I mean, he has fairly advanced pharmacological knowledge. I’ve always wondered.”
“It isn’t probable,” Solomon responded.
“So, not a doctor?” Clive said. “Someone who could get in?”
“Anyone can get in. I got in just now. Walked in off the street. Passed the cooler. No one stopped me.”
“But he must have known this would come to me. Anyone else, they call police, right? I mean, he must have known this would come to me. There’s a small list of people…”
“You’re not so unique, Clive. Any of a dozen people would have called me on this. He didn’t have to know it was you. Hell, even if no one came to me with this, it would go to the captain, and she’d at the very least ask me to consult.”
“No, she wouldn’t,” Clive said.
“Why?” Solomon asked, confused.
Clive was silent for a moment, looking Solomon up and down, and the tension gave Solomon his answer. He took the bottle out of his coat pocket and placed a pill under his tongue.
“But still, it limits the list of suspects. That has to be helpful; to help you figure out where he is,” Clive said.
“It’s not what I know,” Solomon said. “It’s what I can prove.”
“You know where he is?” Clive said. He brought a flask to his lips and then lit up a cigarette.
“Not inside,” Linda called.
“Not now, Linda!” Clive yelled back. “I’m in the middle of a crisis, for fuck’s sake!”
Solomon regarded the tube. It was a simple test tube with a cork stopper. Inside was a note. He could see a face ringed by rays of sunshine. He opened the stopper and removed the note, reading it.
“What does it say?” Clive asked, taking a swig and a drag.
Solomon stood. “It says it is going to be over soon.”
“What?” Clive said. Solomon handed Clive the note. “I don’t get it. It’s a sheep, a lump of iron, and an eye? And it looks like a child drew it.”
“A child probably did draw it.”
“Oh, that’s creepy,” Clive said. “Why do you have to creep me out? And how does this say it is going to be over soon?”
“You or I,” Solomon said, taking the note back and leaving the office. Linda shut the door behind him.
He left the building and got onto the subway, coming up at 68th Street and making his way to 19th Precinct. He walked by the desk sergeant, who nodded, and onto the floor. At the third desk was a woman in her mid-forties, short, stout, wearing a leather bomber jacket and blue jeans. She looked up and saw Solomon coming, leaning back in her seat. “Sol,” she said. “I hear Reginald worked out just fine. Maybe we’ll draw Mr. Bossman out? You think?”
“Psycho’s back,” Solomon said. The woman stood and took him to a private office. Before she could sit, she was asking what he needed.
“He’s taken someone,” Solomon said.
“So who am I looking for?”
“Clive found a note in a body. She had been dead a week, but the note was slipped in over the last three days.”
“So we’re looking for someone who could have accessed the body?”
“No,” Solomon said. “We’re not looking for Psycho — we won’t find him. It’s a dead end, and we don’t have time to waste. We are looking for a young woman who won’t be missed — too old to be an amber alert. Young enough, twelve to fifteen, and with a history of running away so the police won’t take the missing persons report seriously, if a report has been made at all. Just enough attention to get my attention. She’ll be poor, too.”
“And who’s the target? Who has he asked you to kill?”
Solomon put the note on the table. “Ewe. Ore. Eye?” Lisa said.
“It’s me or him. This is it, Lisa,” Solomon said, taking the note back.
“How long do you have?”
“Almost precisely too little time. If it has already been three days, then I have four before she suffocates. But she won’t suffocate.”
“Sol…” Lisa said. “You can’t let him win.”
“It’ll be him, not me, Lisa.” Solomon stood. “But if it can’t be him, then it’ll be me, not her.”
“This isn’t on you, Sol.”
“Lisa,” Solomon said, “I don’t want you doing anything on this. Leave it with me.”
“I’m telling the captain.”
Solomon smiled. “That’s the best thing you could do. That incompetent fuck won’t get in my way — won’t even get within a hundred miles of me. Has no idea what she’s doing.”
“Sol, you should leave this to us.”
“Get me the leads. And on the off chance there has been a sighting reported, let me know if Psycho has surfaced.”
“I guess we’re calling off the robbery?” Lisa said. “We’ll find Captain Crime another time?”
“Fuck, no,” Solomon retorted. “A man’s gotta eat.”
Reg was coming out of the bodega in the apartment building next to his own when his phone rang. He shifted the coffee from his left hand to his right and then took the phone out of his pocket. He briefly considered taking the Bluetooth headset out of his pocket but muttered under his breath, “I’m not that guy, I’m a criminal,” and answered the phone.
“Lisa?” Reg said.
Lisa told him to meet her at a greasy spoon not far from Reg’s Williamsburg home. The seats were vinyl, the coffee was cheap, and a whole breakfast cost eight bucks. When he sat, he asked if they had espresso. The waitress twisted her face and stepped back on her heel before he realized it was a stupid question. “We have coffee,” she said in an accent he could not place. “Want coffee?”
“Yes.” She turned over the mug already on the table and poured from the carafe she kept on her hip, ready to sling at a moment’s notice. As she walked away, she topped up four more customers, barely slowing her walk as she went.
Lisa arrived thirty minutes late. “Only thirty minutes,” she said as she sat. The waitress followed shortly behind her, and Lisa flipped over her mug and tapped on the lip. The waitress poured the cup full, and as she pulled back Lisa emptied in a small disposable container of cream. The exchange took on the professional deftness of the ballet that Reg had watched the year before at the Lincoln Center.
“So what did you think?” Lisa said.
“Professional opinion or personal?”
“You’re going to be a cop,” Lisa said. “So one needs to be the same as the other.”
Reg shook his head and hoped Lisa did not notice. “Sol got fucked,” he said, shrugging. “That’s it. Had his whole life, lost his family’s fortune, then his dad disappears. Chases down this serial killer and gets caught in his web. Partner killed, watched that girl die. If that doesn’t break a person, nothing will.”
“Think he is the head honcho?” Lisa asked, using another of the many names she assigned to the person Sol insisted was running the heists. “I’ve wondered. Sol goes off the grid — at least, leaves the force, goes incommunicado, and then comes back with insider knowledge of all these crimes, insists they are related — something we did not think ourselves — and tells us he can get us the ringleader. Suspicious, no?”
“No,” Reg said.
“Why not?” Lisa asked.
“Because I spoke to the ringleader.”
“You spoke to him? When?”
“When I met Sol. He handed me the phone and told me to speak to the guy. It was part of the interview process.”
“What did he say?”
“A lot, without saying much. Didn’t tell me anything about the score. Just told me a few stories of him coming up in the world — almost certainly none of them were true. And then he kept telling me the only way to get longevity is not to be greedy. To know when enough is enough. Stick to the plan. That sort of thing. Crews live and die on each person sticking to the plan, and he made it clear I’d die if I fucked up the plan. He likes Sol, too. Thinks he has what it takes to stick around for a long time.”
Lisa turned up the side of her head and winked, then put her hand in the air. The waitress glided by and refilled her cup, while Lisa added more cream.
“And how do you know it was really the Man?” Lisa asked, stirring her coffee and cream together.
“I don’t, I suppose.”
Lisa nodded. “Sure don’t. It could be an interesting ruse to put us off the case. Could be you spoke to the Jackal himself, or just one of his associates. Either way it tells us something.”
“Sure does,” Reg replied.
“What does it tell us?”
Reg paused. He did not actually know what it told them but had agreed with Lisa because it felt like the right thing to do. Still, he guessed at an answer. “That Sol’s willing to lie to us.”
“Good. So what’s the score?”
“Rich old people,” Reg said.
“He didn’t give me any details beyond that. Said we are robbing a house with as much money or valuables in it as a bank. Called it another perfect score because it is just a house. Not a bank. Something that is made to allow people in and out, not to protect valuables.”
“Dumb mark,” Lisa said. “But he’s right. It amazes me what people keep in their homes. When you find out where it is?”
“Let you know.”
“Has Sham done this yet?”
“Yup,” Lisa said, throwing a five-dollar bill onto the table between them.
“That’s it?” Reg said.
Lisa stood for a moment. “You sound disappointed. Don’t. These will be brief. Mostly, they’ll be by phone. This is probably the last time we will be seen together for a while.”
Reg nodded as Lisa turned and left. He waited five minutes, watching the digits change over on his phone, and then left when he felt enough time had passed. He had not touched his coffee, but the idea of coffee gave him a craving. On his way home he went into Blue Bottle on Berry Street and ordered a Cortado. It was his standard drink. If a shop did not know how to make it, he did not drink there. So he never drank at Starbucks. And he sure as hell did not drink at Dunkin’ Donuts like the rest of the world.
He sat on the patio. It was a cool September morning, and he wondered how many more times this fall he would be able to sit on a patio. He hoped a lot. As he sipped his drink, he thought about how much danger he might be in. It occurred to him that he rushed into the assignment for ego as much as anything else. He was pulled out of the academy, singled out, and recruited for a specific dangerous assignment. He thought about the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. His parents would not understand — why a cop? they had asked. It was not the danger of the job, and it was not the lack of prestige that turned them off. It was the pay. “You won’t make any money,” they said. “Not for that level of danger. It’s not worth it.”
But they did not understand why he climbed mountains or ran marathons, either. They never understood why he would turn his nose up at being a lawyer, doctor, or Wall Street banker. “I could have opened any door you wanted,” his father said. Reg had never walked through a door his father had opened and was not about to start.
He chose Columbia over Yale, which his father would take as an insult to his grave, Reg was certain. And now this. “Why?” was all his mother asked when his father eventually walked out of the conversation, giving his blessing as meagerly as only a truly a disappointed father could.
Reg was back in his apartment. He picked up the tablet and started to read through the file again, and there it was, the feeling that he had to solve a puzzle, and that the solution mattered. That was key. Could he make a trade that made a billion-dollar ROI? Sure. Could he win a court case that got a criminal off? Of course.
But now he was the thin blue line. He had always known how fragile civilization was. His family had always been wealthy, but like every other young black man in New York, he knew prejudice when he saw it. He had been randomly pulled over by cops. And when his white friends complained about racism and threatened to have all their lawyer fathers sue those cops into bankruptcy, Reg knew that same cop wore a bullet-proof vest, and racist or not, when shots were fired and all his friends ran away from the shooter, these cops would almost universally run to the shooter, and that was the difference.
Yes, the system sucked. It stacked the deck against him, and he had enough privilege and money to overcome it, but that did not motivate him. He knew people like Psycho were out there in the cracks and corners, and he knew that he wanted to be one of the people who caught him.
He went back to Sol’s file feeling a little disappointed. He would have preferred to be chasing Psycho, but he would settle for the case he had.
Solomon’s phone chimed. He lay in bed. The room was filled with the smell of fish. He opened his eyes. It was dark. The shades on the window blacked out all but a slim trail of light cast at his feet. He closed his eyes again, and his phone chimed twice. He reached lazily over and pulled the phone from his dresser, removing it from its cord where it was plugged into the socket. He read the texts.
The first read, Amber Lynn, 13, 3 days. Hyacinth Frogue, 14, 3 days. No sign of P. Father at same address. The next two texts had addresses for Amber and Hyacinth’s parents. Solomon exhaled and pushed himself out of bed. He went down the hall, showered, shaved, and returned to his room. He dressed in his taupe suit. He smelled his shirt from the day before but turned it aside and took his other shirt from the drawer. He left the drawer open and kept his eyes fixed down. He fidgeted in his suit pocket and took out the note.
“You or I,” he huffed. He returned the note to his jacket pocket and removed his jacket. He took his shoulder holster out of the drawer and put it on. He next took his SIG MK25 P226 out — same model as his service gun. He was comfortable with it. He walked to his bed, put his hand under the mattress, and pulled out three clips, loading one into the gun and placing the others into his holster slung across the opposite arm where the gun would sit. He holstered his gun and walked back to his drawer, removing his jacket and putting it on. He closed the drawer, went to the door, and opened it, stepping into the hallway.
He stopped and went back inside, opening the drawer again. He reached in and pulled out a leather wallet, flipping it open and looking at his badge before putting it into the inside left breast pocket of his jacket. He left his room, locked his door, and walked out of the Y into the early morning sun, finding the subway.
He came out again at 5th and West 59th, near the Plaza. He went into an apartment building nearby, flashing his badge to the doorman. The doorman stopped him anyway. “Who are you here to see? I’ll call and tell them you are coming up.”
“John Graham. Tell him Sol’s here,” he said, heading for the elevator. The doorman went to his phone and made a call.
Solomon came to the door as a maid was walking out. He nodded at her. At the door was John, graying hair and thin, dressed in a gray cashmere robe. “An hour, Rosario.” He called after the maid. “Come back in an hour.” Solomon entered, and John followed, locking the door behind him.
“There’s no one else here,” he said.
Solomon sat at the table where breakfast had been half-set and then abandoned. He helped himself to the coffee as John went to the kitchen and poured another cup. The room was larger than the entire floor of rooms at the Y. The finishings were old-money finishings, golds and mahoganies and plush. John came back to the table and sat.
“Is it over?” John asked.
“Have you seen Justin?”
John’s face soured. He stood with his cup of coffee and went to the liquor cabinet nearby. “I had hoped the next time I saw you would be the last.” He poured whiskey into his coffee. It was a forty-year-old vintage.
“You’re drinking a week’s salary, John.”
“Sorry,” he said, coming back to the table and offering the bottle to Solomon while taking a seat. John added, “I just … I had hoped it would be over.”
“You really shouldn’t mix this.” Solomon drank the rest of his coffee in a few gulps and then poured the whiskey into his mug. “And I had hoped I’d have killed your son, too, by now. I dream about it every fucking night. How’s Marjory?”
“Dead,” John said. “Dead three months.”
“I’m sorry. Lovely woman. How did she die?”
“Knowing,” John said. “Knowing it killed her.”
“No, Sol, no. If I was her doctor I might call it failure to thrive. But she came to believe it — it was harder for her than for me, but she came to believe it. The evidence was clear. It became more clear and heavier every day. About a week before she died, she turned to me and she said, ‘I still love him.’ Said that and just cried for an hour and then added, ‘I wish I knew what I did wrong.’ That’s what unconditional love is, you know. She didn’t love me unconditionally. We had a marriage with conditions — fidelity, respect. Like anyone. If I hit her or cheated on her she’d leave me, she’d stop loving me. There are conditions to that love. But the love that wonderful woman had for her son? She finds out he’s a serial killer and all she thinks is, ‘I still love him,’ and, ‘I wish I knew what I did wrong.’”
“You know it had nothing to do with you.”
“I know, Sol. Some weird genetic mutation, and I have a son without the slightest problem with … against. Oh, God.” He emptied his cup into a vase filled with white Gerber daisies and replaced the coffee with the whiskey. “I can barely think about it. And I gave him… Even after you told us, I gave him lawyers and money. I wish I could take it all back. Much as I love him, too, I wish I had… If I had known… I’d rather have that tragedy than know my son caused… God, Sol. God. If I had believed you sooner, we could have stopped him sooner or just… He never would have gone underground or wouldn’t have the means.”
“This isn’t on you, John,” Solomon interrupted. “This is on him.”
“A parent’s burden,” John replied, taking a gulp of whiskey.
“You’ve been helpful enough since then,” Solomon said, tapping his right index finger on the table. “More than helpful.”
“What should I do?” John asked.
“He might try to make contact. In which case…” Solomon tapped his finger again.
“In the meantime?”
“I’d go on a long boat ride.”
“After thoroughly checking the boat,” John said, chuckling nervously.
“Goodbye, John,” Solomon said, standing and offering a limp handshake.
“I had so hoped this time would have been the last time,” John said, seated.
“It probably will be.”
John nodded as Solomon walked to the door. “Just save her. Just save her,” he repeated, before adding, “And yourself, if you can.”
“If I can,” Solomon said, leaving an envelope on the table near the door.
Chasing down another missing girl, the inevitable feeling that he would fail again to stop Psycho, made Solomon morose. He started to think of the last time he felt failure like this creeping up on him. He was standing in a hospital room with Greg. “Nothing we could have done,” he said. Solomon shook his head. Greg added, “Girl’s family will be here soon.” Greg left the room. Solomon stared at the girl, her ventilator pushing air into and pulling it out of her lungs, the heartbeat monitor beeping.
A woman entered. She was mid-thirties and robust, dressed in green scrubs. Solomon looked over to her and nodded. The woman stopped in the doorway and put her hand on her mouth. “Never seen a vegetable, nurse?” Solomon said.
The woman burst into tears and fell to her knees. Solomon went over and helped her into her chair. “Sorry about my crudeness.”
“I’m her mother. Maria … Rodriguez,” the woman said.
“I thought…” Solomon said. “I’m so sorry, Mrs. Rodriguez. I’m Sol. Greg, he just left. He’s better with these things.”
“You’re the one who found her?” she said.
She leaned on him. “You saved Juanita’s life.”
Solomon looked at the girl. “No,” he said.
“They told me you almost caught him.”
“Not close enough. Got there in time for this. What do the doctors say?”
“They say that there’s no recovery. We wait a few days, a few weeks. They say I’ll get a chance to be at her side when she dies, and that’s where I should be. Who would do this?”
“A very sick person.”
“Why?” she said, sobbing stronger. “Why?”
“I can’t know. It’s not a reason people like you or I would understand with these people.” Maria hugged him, pushing herself onto his shoulder. “Can I do anything for you, Mrs. Rodriguez?”
“My only little girl. My baby.” She sobbed as Greg came back into the room. Solomon made eye contact with him.
“Kill him,” she whispered. “Find him. Kill him.”
“I will,” Solomon said. Here he was a year later, still trying.
Solomon pulled up his phone. [_Amber: 2020 Amsterdam Ave, apt 412. _]The front door was locked, but a side door that led into the stairwell was propped open. He walked by a group of men on the second landing. They watched him pass, and he looked back to see blue bandanas in their back left pockets. He barked, “Wrong building,” and continued on to the third floor.
The doors here had no numbers. He knocked on the third door on the left. A man called out from behind the door. “Rodrigo, it’s Sol.”
The door opened. “You’re not a cop.”
“There are some Crips in your stairwell. East side.”
“Yo, fuckface!” Rodrigo called out to a giant of a man sitting on the couch playing video games. “Yo, grab your club, man!”
The giant paused the game, stood, and stooped out the front door. On his way he grabbed a tree limb the length of Solomon. “I hope he doesn’t kill them,” Solomon said as Rodrigo closed the door. Solomon sat on the couch and took a bag of chips and started to eat them.
“Get your own damn food, cheapskate,” Rodrigo said.
“Lost yer manners?” Solomon said.
“What do you want?”
“What do you know about the family in 412.”
“Daughter is young but hot. Gets lots of attention in the halls. Have had to remove a couple guys chasing her. Mother repays us in enchiladas and goat roti. Great roti. She smokes weed. Girl left a few days ago. She dead?”
“I hope not.”
“Runaway, man. Nothing. Stupid girl.”
“That makes me angry, man,” Rodrigo said. “In my own building, man? Who?”
“It’s not about that.”
“It’s not about that.”
“What’s it about?”
“Me,” Solomon said. Rodrigo collapsed in the chair.
“Oh,” he said. “That fucker?”
“New tear?” Solomon asked, pointing to his left eye.
Rodrigo nodded. “I’d have another if I found that fucker. Fucked-up shit.”
“It may not be him. Just following a lead.”
“Still living at the Y?”
“Fuck, you got money.”
Solomon stood. “It’s not about that.”
“Loads of it.”
“If you see the girl come back, call me.”
“Life or death?”
The giant came back in. The tree limb was clean. He walked straight to the couch and sat, continuing his game. “If she comes back, it’s life or death for someone else.”
Solomon went back into the hall and up to the fourth floor, finding apartment 412. He knocked on the door. “Who is it?” a woman answered.
Solomon held his badge up to the spyhole. “Detective Roud. Here about your daughter.”
The door swung open. “Is she alright?”
“We haven’t found her, ma’am. May I come in?”
“Yes, please.” Solomon entered and stood in the doorway, sweeping his gaze across the room. It was in tatters. The woman was clearly distressed, wearing clothes that held dirt from days of use. Her glasses were slipping off her nose, the skin on her face oily from being ignored. “Stressful time, Mrs. Lynn…”
“Ms. Moore,” the woman said. “Lynn was her father’s name. And yes. Sorry about the mess.”
“Ms. Moore, I’m here following up on some leads.”
“Officer Grant told me that this was just a runaway. They’d keep an eye out for her, but… She’s done this before. I don’t think this is that.”
“Neither do I,” Solomon said. Ms. Moore put her hand to her chest and inhaled. “I don’t know what it is, but I believe you.” She started to cry.
“Thank you. We weren’t fighting or anything. She ran last time after we fought.”
“Is this her?” Solomon asked, pointing to a picture on the wall.
The girl was pretty, a thin brunette with a good smile but a large gap in her crooked teeth. Solomon turned his head to the side and looked back around the room. Tatters. There was a university degree on the wall from William and Mary. The small dining room had a Robert Bateman print half-wrapped in brown paper on the ground. He turned back to Ms. Moore.
“Who supplies your drugs?” he asked.
“What?” Ms. Moore said, her tears drying.
“It isn’t someone local.” He looked at her. The glasses slipped off her nose again. “Cocaine.”
“I think you should leave,” she said, going for the door.
“Ms. Moore, I’m here to help. I can get you help for your addiction, but if you aren’t able to work on that now, let’s talk about who your dealer is. Does he know your daughter? Do you owe him money? This is about her.”
“He’s seen her. I don’t owe him anything.”
“Is he your only dealer?”
“For coke, yeah. I get weed from Rodrigo in…”
“Yup,” Solomon interjected. “Who is your dealer?”
“I got a phone number. I call him Gyp.” She took a piece of paper and a pen off the table and wrote down the number. “Do you think he has something to do with it?”
“Criminals are not good people, Ms. Moore. I’ll follow up on this.”
“Don’t tell him…”
“I’m not looking for drugs or drug dealers. If he has your daughter, he has a problem. If not, I really don’t care,” Solomon said, heading for the door.
“Don’t sell the Bateman. It’s signed,” he added as he left. “It’ll double in value in a decade. It will pay for her school when I bring her home.”
Later, Solomon’s phone rang. He answered, and a loud voice yelled, “Happy, happy birthday, son!”
He looked at the watch on his wrist. It was dark. He slapped his black-out blinds, and neon flooded his room as it bounced off the wall. “What time is it?”
“Stakeout time!” the voice answered before hanging up. As Solomon sat up in bed and rubbed his face, his door opened. In walked a short South Asian man, skinny with wisps of a beard and wearing a knitted cap, chambray shirt, and blue jeans with sparkling white sneakers.
“Fuck, Sham. I’m practically naked here.”
“Dude,” Sham replied. “None of these doors have locks. I’ve seen mad old poor man wiener just walking around. And someone’s making fish in the hall. Fish in the hall! And I’m going to rob a fucking house with you. That’s a little more intimate than knowing you wear tighty-whiteys.”
“I’ll get dressed.” Solomon stood.
Sham looked around the room and opened the lone drawer in the dresser. “In what?” he asked. “You ain’t got no clothes!”
“Fuck, Sham. Take it down a notch. I’ve got neighbors.”
“They’re all drunk and high and stupid. Why do you live here?”
Sham laughed. “I’ve been unemployed since discharge from the navy, and I still live in an apartment like a person with a shower and an oven.”
“Do you cook in it?”
“Fuck no, Sol. I’m a New Yorker. I keep my shoes in it. Warm them up before going out in winter. Keeps my toes toasty.”
“What’s in the bag?”
“You bring donuts and coffee to stakeouts,” Solomon said as he dressed in his suit.
“Taupe ain’t dope,” Sham said. “And I have coffee and Philly cheese steak sandwiches, and fuck your donuts.”
They made their way to the target house. Sham and Solomon sat on the park bench. The evening was cool and damp. The street was well lit. Sham was eating his sandwich and drinking his coffee. Solomon had a brown bag in his left hand and his coffee in his right.
“Who stakes out without a car?” Sham asked.
“Shut up,” Solomon replied. “It’s a nice night.”
“I know, but seriously. Shouldn’t we have a van or something? And some high-tech surveillance gear? Or just a car? Like, a wood-paneled station wagon or a van. We should have gotten a van.”
“Don’t be an idiot,” Solomon said, pushing a donut out of the paper bag and taking a bite.
“That stuff is going to kill you.”
“I didn’t want a sandwich.”
“You didn’t want to pay five bucks for a sandwich,” Sham said.
“Five hundred calories, seventy-five cents,” Solomon said, holding up his donut. “Five hundred calories, five bucks,” he added, motioning toward the sandwich Sham had bought for him.
“Fuck, Sol, you have money.”
“The donut is more delicious.”
“Whatevs. Mo’ for me!”
There was a steady flow of pedestrians on the street. Many were walking their dogs for their evening stroll. When they made eye contact with Sham or Solomon, they nodded to each other and continued.
“They’re getting creeped out,” Sham said after an hour of waiting.
“No, they are not. This is what these people do.”
“We should have gotten a car or a van.”
“Do you know what they would do if they saw a van was parked on their streets for hours without anyone coming out? They’d call the cops. And if they saw two people sitting in a car for hours, they would come out and ask questions. This is a neighborhood. It is Short Hills, not the Bronx. People notice unusual things. People pay attention. They do not notice people sitting on benches drinking coffee, because that’s what people do here.”
Sham unwrapped his second sandwich and started eating. A man walked out of a Georgian Colonial home across the street from the park. Sham and Solomon took notice. He was rolling luggage to his midnight-blue BMW X6, walking slowly and limping heavily, favoring his left leg. After loading the luggage, he returned to his home, set his alarm, closed and locked the door. He got into the car and left.
“That’s that,” Solomon said.
“The tip was good?” Sham asked.
“You saw it. He’s gone. He’s packed for more than a few days. We come back Saturday night.”
“Saturday night?” Sham asked. “Why not tomorrow? Saturday’s four days from now.”
Solomon stood and started to walk. “Because all these fuckers are going away for the long weekend.”
Sham stood and followed. “And why can’t we take a cab to the station?”
“It’s only a three-mile walk.”
“I’m not walking on Saturday, you cheap fuck.”
“Saturday,” Solomon said, “we have a car. I just need a driver.”
Solomon shook the bottle in his pocket. He took it out, removed a pill, and swallowed it dry.
Greg’s notes were much better organized than Sol’s, but Greg had much less interaction with Psycho, so they took up less than a quarter of the file. Greg was certain the kid —Justin Graham — was Psycho. He never saw him. Was not there when Sol shot him. But he was certain in the way that partners are when they trust each other and back each other up. Reg wanted to feel that way someday about someone.
He wrote at length in support of Sol. Talked about how the profile fit — but he used all sort of words in the wrong context. Greg was a high-school grad who worked his way up to detective the old-fashioned way. He was not Ivy League educated like Sol and Reg, and you could tell. The people reading his reports probably knew it, too. But he tried his best. It was not enough.
Reg put down the tablet. It needed to be charged. He went to his kitchen and then opened his oven, taking out a pair of shoes that had been warming for five minutes. He put them on and nodded, picking up his phone and calling Sham.
Sham answered, “Happy, happy birthday, son!”
“I fucking told you it would. I’m ruined for shoes now. I can’t put on cold shoes. Even room temperature shoes feel weird.”
“Then I won’t do it too often.”
“Okay by me.”
“How was the stakeout?”
“I had cheese steaks from Shorty’s. I stand by my statement.”
“He had donuts.”
Reg took the phone away from his face and exhaled hard. “What did you guys see?”
“A plethora of old man penis,” Sham said.
“Do you ever turn it off?” Reg said. “You can’t be like this the day of.”
“Every doctor has their own coping mechanism. Me? I’m detached from everything. I could watch someone literally blow up in front of me and simply start making a list of what I want for dinner.”
“That’s probably PTSD.”
“It’s definitely PTSD. It’s why I left the navy to become a cop. I needed to lower my exposure to kids and young soldiers without limbs. I’m not convinced I’ll ever be a doctor again. That shit sucked.”
Sham’s moment of seriousness made Reg feel guilty. “So how was the stakeout?” he repeated, calmer this time and less frustrated.
“Dude left. Put bags into his car and left, just like Sol said he would.”
“So we are a go?”
“So me, you, and Kevin should probably get together?”
“Absolutely. I’ll call him. How about 11:00 a.m. at Lisa’s place?”
“Sure,” Sham said. “See you there. Keep your toes toasty!” He hung up.
Reg texted Kevin: 10:30 a.m. Lisa’s place. He hoped a half an hour would be long enough. He left his apartment and arrived right on time, and Kevin was already waiting in one of the booths. Reg sat down. Kevin was young, fair-skinned with dark hair and blue eyes. He looked every bit the part of a software genius worth millions.
“Where’s Sham?” Kevin asked.
“Running late,” Reg said. “Be here in thirty minutes.”
Kevin nodded nonchalantly, as if that was expected. “Fair enough. Want to wait or just want me to run through everything?”
The waitress came by. Reg turned his cup over the way Lisa did, saying nothing and getting a cup of coffee as she passed. “Let’s wait,” Reg said, taking a sip. “I’ve been reading up on the Psycho case.”
Kevin shook his head. “Kills me everyday that we did not catch that guy.”
“Did you hear he’s back?” Reg asked.
“Hear it?” Kevin said. “Psycho asshole announced it to the world.”
“I thought it was a pretty closed circle of people who knew? Just the note in that girl’s throat?”
“That’s not how he works,” Kevin said. He took out his computer — not a Mac, Reg noticed, which surprised him. Kevin opened it up and turned it to face Reg. “Watch. And more importantly, listen.” Kevin brought up a page at a gore website in the deep web — Reg recognized it, saw that he needed to use the Tor browser just to get there.
The video was just over three minutes long. It looked like a simple nature video, a pastiche of thirty scenes from snow-covered mountains to babbling brooks to autumn leaves. The landscapes struck him as remarkably European. The audio running through the visuals sounded like claws running across a blackboard and the hiss of a modem connecting to the Internet the way they used to in the nineties. Reg instinctively covered his ears and shook his head.
“I didn’t hear any announcement,” Reg said as the video ended.
“We had thought he went to Europe when he left the country. This was probably a vacation video.”
“Okay. But that could be anyone. That’s not enough.”
“That audio?” Kevin said. “If you run it through a visualization filter, shows a very different scene.” Kevin brought up a different program. It looked familiar enough. He had seen audio visualization before. Usually, though, it showed some abstract combination of colors rising and falling. This time, the scene was clearly animated. It started with a man, and as the video pulled out the car was on fire. Reg was watching Greg die in colors and patterns generated by the sound on the video, only visible if you had the right audio visualization software to decode it.
“I missed this in his first video,” Kevin said. “This is what he does. He encodes another set of imagery — always him killing someone — and programs the audio so that only those curious enough to try running the audio through the right visualization feature find it, unlock that code and see what he wants them to see. And it is all very public. The sort of thing that grows in the gore community.”
“It wasn’t anywhere in the file,” Reg said.
“Wasn’t supposed to be,” Kevin replied. “This is the bit we kept back — from the official files and from the media — so we could be certain who he was. I missed it. In that first video? I missed it. The girl probably could have been saved if I had found it, if I had thought of it. But that first time? Sol had just brought me in. I was literally just walking around the station, and there I was in the middle of a serial killer investigation. He taunted us — told us everything we needed to know about where the girl was, and I missed it. Won’t happen again.”
“So you’re still helping Sol?” Reg said.
“If it helps get this guy caught, hell yeah, I’m still helping,” Kevin said.
Sham walked in as they were chatting and sat down. “Kev! Where’s my money?”
“I don’t owe you any money,” Kevin said.
“I bet you a million dollars and you lost.”
“I never accepted the bet. You can’t just grab my hand and shake it and then ask me for a million dollars.”
“A man can try,” Sham replied.
Kevin shook his head and put his computer away. He took out a nylon cylinder about as long as his arm. “So here it is.” There were a few buttons to snap the top closed. “One of these buttons is a GPS tracker.”
“Which one?” Reg asked.
“Classified,” Kevin said. “Lisa asked that I not tell anyone — not you guys, and not Sol.”
“Fair enough,” Reg said.
“Just make sure Sol does not tamper with it and uses this one for the painting. So keep it to yourselves until the day of. The tracker is off — it isn’t sending off any signal, and won’t for another five days. With the theft coming up on Saturday, and the trade-off happening the next day, this should make it all the way to the target before turning on, so they won’t find it with a scan. And then it will broadcast, and hopefully we can get there before they find it and turn it off.”
“So that’s it?” Reg asked.
“It’s a simple plan. We go ahead with the theft. Sol gets away, gets out of the country, probably never comes back, though he says he wants to. I’d be surprised. But we get the person we are really after.”
“Eyes on the prize,” Sham said.
Solomon was leaning against a lamppost and watching the door of the building at 28th and 124th in Queens. A black woman wearing scrubs walked toward the stoop. Solomon waved at her and crossed the street. “Ms. Frogue,” he said.
The woman stopped and looked at him, and then continued on. “I’m Detective Roud,” Solomon said. “I’m here to ask you about Hyacinth. I don’t believe she ran away.”
“Well, she did,” Ms. Frogue said. “She has done it nine times. She’ll be back when she runs out of money.”
“Ms. Frogue,” Solomon said. “You don’t really believe that.”
She shook her head. “She isn’t the girl I raised. I don’t know what happened. I just got off a shift, and I’m tired. What do you want?”
“I understand shift work,” Solomon said, taking a seat on the stoop. Ms. Frogue stayed standing. “Which hospital do you work at?”
“Metropolitan. I’m a resident.”
“Yeah. Had Hyacinth young but went back to school. Oldest resident in the program.”
“Good,” Solomon said. “What do you think Hyacinth is going to be?”
“Any boyfriends that troubled you?”
“You’d know the difference?”
“I see enough everyday.”
“Strange men calling, hanging around?”
“No. I’m not here that often, though. Just can’t be around. Career and children.”
Solomon nodded. “Not sure I look forward to having to make that choice one day. It’d be damn hard.”
Solomon’s phone rang. He took it out of his pocket and looked at the name. “I’ve got to take this, ma’am.” He answered. “Hold on, Lisa.” He put the phone to his chest. “I’m going to bring her home, ma’am.”
“She’ll come home on her own, when she runs out of money,” Ms. Frogue said before climbing the stoop and going into the building.
Solomon walked east. “Lisa?”
“Found Gyp. I’ll text you his address.”
“Just a dealer, from what we can see. A few arrests for battery, but mostly just busted for dealing. Think he’s involved with Psycho?”
“No,” Solomon said. “That’s not Psycho’s MO.”
“Know which girl he has?”
“What are you going to do?”
Solomon took the note from Psycho out of his pocket. “I’m going to follow the leads.”
“I’m stopping the sting on the Queen Bee.”
“Queen Bee? That’s new,” Solomon said.
“He could be a woman. You don’t think a woman can be a criminal mastermind? And it worked better with sting.”
“You can’t stop the sting. We’re close.”
“Don’t be stupid, Solomon. You’re distracted. I’ve worked too fucking hard on this for you to fuck it up here at the end.”
“I’ll be fine.”
“This was a mistake.”
“A mistake, Sol. I never should have done this. I’m up to my eyeballs in reports for the captain. She’s watching this close. I’m not sure it is worth the risk.”
“I can do this. And I need to do this. I need the money, the force needs the real criminal.”
“You don’t need the money, Sol. The force is still paying you, and you’ve got your father’s money.”
“I haven’t spent a penny of the old man’s money.”
“But you could. Sol, it doesn’t matter. We’re pulling out. We’re stopping the sting.”
“You know you can’t. He will go underground and pop up as a guy with some other stupid name, and you’ll never find him again. You know it.”
“I know it.”
“If you fucking die.”
“Let me worry about that.”
“I’ll end up in jail.”
“Let me worry about that, too. Captain know Psycho is back?”
“She want me to come in?”
“Why is she asking you to bring me in on it? Who’s on it?”
“Roger and his newbie, Thomas something. I know you better.”
“Good,” Solomon said. “Good.”
“They want to see you.”
Solomon had made his way to the subway. “Two hours?”
“Two hours is good.”
“I’m on my way.” He hung up and descended the stairs into the subway.
Sitting in the subway, he had nothing left to do. Whenever he had nothing to do, he thought about the dead girls, and there he was again thinking back to his first exposure to Psycho. He was sitting in his car with his left arm hanging out the window. His right held a cup of coffee. The car was not moving. Ahead, a uniformed officer was holding up traffic as a crane unloaded a flatbed with prefabricated building parts and workers put it together. As Solomon inched forward, he watched as it was half done by the time he started moving fluidly again.
His phone rang. He answered, “Hello?”
“Hello?” A voice said. She sounded scared. “Hello?” she said again, crying, sobbing uncontrollably.
“Who is this?” Solomon asked.
“Francine Goodwin,” she said.
“Francine?” Solomon said excitedly. “Where are you?” He dropped his coffee and reached over to his two-way on the dash. “Control, this is Detective Roud.”
“I don’t know.” Francine said. “I’m … I’m in a room with no windows and no doors, and everything is covered in plastic.”
“Stay calm, Francine,” Solomon said. “Stay calm. I’m coming to get you.” Solomon put his siren on and drove faster.
“Officer 1118, this is control. Call back.”
“Officer 1118, I am on the phone with Francine.”
“Francine, can you remember anything? Anything about how you got to where you are?”
“Nothing. I woke up here.”
“Nothing about the last seven days?” Solomon said. “What is your last memory?”
“Falling asleep at home. Please. Please help.”
Solomon called back on the two-way. “I don’t know where she is. She’s on my cell. I’m near 41 Division. I’m going in.”
“They’ll be ready.”
“Francine. Francine, this is Detective Roud. You’ll be okay. We’re coming to get you.” Solomon felt around for the note in his pocket.
“I’m so scared,” Francine said, continuing to cry and heave.
“Francine, listen to me. You have to stay calm. There’s no air in that room, and Francine, the calmer you stay, the longer the air will last. Francine, you have to stop crying, and you have to stay calm, and we are coming for you, Francine.”
“I’m so scared,” Francine repeated, crying.
“We are coming, Francine. I am coming.” He reached the station and got out, running in. The desk sergeant was waiting. A young man with dark hair and blue eyes was with him.
“Help me,” she said. “Are you there?”
“I’m here,” Solomon said.
“Detective?” Francine said, more agitated. “Are you there?”
“I’m still here, Francine. I’m not going anywhere. I’m coming to find you.”
“Detective?” She burst into a violent sob.
“She probably can’t hear you. He probably put you on mute,” the young man said.
“I’m so alone,” she said.
“Can you trace it?” Solomon asked.
The man with dark hair took the phone and rushed to a room full of gear. He plugged the phone into his computer and started typing. “Ten minutes?”
They listened as Francine continued to sob and cry. Solomon pulled the note out of his pocket and handed it to the kid. “How long has the call been open?” he asked.
“Eight minutes, forty seconds.”
“She’s got twenty-one minutes to live,” Solomon said.
The kid started typing and clicking furiously, taking the note and opening another window, going to the site on what he called the dark web. A video started playing showing a live stream of the girl. But the audio was not her screaming, it was a high-pitched squeal. The kid and Solomon ignored it and turned instead to the phone. Officers from around the precinct gathered outside the door, and they waited and they listened. Solomon turned. “Get me a line to dispatch. We’re going to have ten minutes to get to her when we get the address.”
Someone handed Solomon a phone with dispatch on the other end. Minutes passed. The man at the computer pulled up an address and called it out. Solomon repeated it to dispatch, grabbed his phone, and ran out to his car.
He listened as he drove. As the minutes continued ticking, he heard her breathing become more labored. Her crying stopped, but her breathing continued. Eventually that stopped, too. He continued to drive, swerving in and out of traffic. He heard banging on a wall, and then someone yelled, “Police,” and “Francine?” There was some chatter before someone asked for an ambulance.
Solomon pulled up to find the building closed off. He flashed his badge and went in. Francine’s body was sitting where they found it. She was dead. Solomon’s phone rang. He looked at it, didn’t recognize the number, and ignored it. He stared at Francine again and looked around the room. She had tried to claw her way through the thick blue plastic all around the room. There was blood coming from her nose, and foam had gathered in her mouth. She looked petrified.
Solomon’s phone chimed. He took it out of his pocket and read the text. Didn’t believe me? Answer your phone. His phone rang again, and he answered this time. He said nothing.
“You didn’t believe me,” the voice said.
“Who is this?” Solomon asked.
“You know. Say it.”
“Sounds like a fucking Psycho to me,” Solomon said.
“Psycho?” the voice said. “That’s a good name. You can call me Psycho, Sol. But this is not my fault. I told you what you needed to do. I told you what would happen if you did not do it.”
Solomon had started walking toward the door to leave the building. “You think I was going to kill someone to save that girl? Was never gonna happen.”
“You told her parents you would bring her home,” Psycho said. “And stop walking. If you keep walking, I’ll hang up.”
Solomon stopped walking and turned around. There were enough windows that he could be seen, but that did not feel right. “Cameras.”
“Of course,” Psycho said, chortling. “You don’t build a lair where you keep a kidnapped girl without cameras.”
“Remote. We’ll trace them.”
“I hope so. That’s the game, Sol. And you’re in it. Me and you. You and I. We’re going to play another round. I won this round. But you didn’t know it was serious. But the game is simple: you choose, Sol. You choose who dies. An innocent girl or some random asshole of my choosing. So yes, please, trace the cameras. There’s one in a small mirrored box behind the blue plastic sheet in the northwest corner of the room where you let what’s-her-face die. So yes, trace them. If you don’t, you won’t find the next girl.”
Solomon hung up. He grabbed a man in uniform. “Get that kid from 41st down here right now.”
The kid’s name was Kevin, and they had met before. When Solomon asked where he learned this stuff, he said, “Basements, mostly. But I was an early employee at Twitter and left when it IPO’d. Started my own little consultancy from there trying to do some good.”
“You, like, a billionaire?” Solomon asked. “Sold us eJusticeNY and before that worked at Twitter?”
“Millionaire, yeah. But who isn’t in New York?” Kevin said as he started to dismantle the camera.
Solomon smiled. He watched as Kevin attached the camera to his computer. “He really does want to be found,” Kevin said. “There’s nothing here protecting him. And that video stream? There was a message buried in the audio. I missed it. It was a picture of the building where the girl was being held. I missed it.”
“But you found where he is?” Solomon asked. Kevin nodded. “Where am I going?”
“It has to be a trap, doesn’t it?” Kevin said.
“I don’t think this guy is into traps,” Solomon said.
Kevin read him the address, and Solomon put it into his phone, texting the same to Greg, who was waiting for him when he arrived at the address in Newark. It was a construction site with a sign that said, Exciting Condos, Complete Summer 2008. The site was empty and had been so for years since construction was abandoned. There was a trailer that served as a foreman’s office. Inside was nothing but an envelope.
Greg opened it and read it aloud. It was an address and a date and time. The address was somewhere in New York. The date was March 15, 2014, 9am.
“What do we do in the meantime?” Solomon asked.
“We follow the leads, we wait, and then we show up.”
Solomon now got out of the subway and out of his reminiscing. He stood in front of the door to The Dog and Duck. He was knocking. Sean came to the door. “You know we’re closed, right?” he said from the window. “It’s fucking 9:00 a.m.”
“I know,” Solomon responded. “And I don’t care. Gimme a 50 and the room in the back. Send the asshole who comes in next back there.”
Sean opened the door. He handed Solomon the bottle of beer and locked the door again. Solomon went straight to the room through the freezer door in the kitchen and waited. He finished his beer and went out to the bar and ordered another.
“We’re almost open,” Sean said. “And two beers? Celebrating? Slow down, big spender.”
Solomon went behind the bar and took another beer from the fridge, removed the cap using the bar, and returned to the back room. A few minutes later a tall man with a shaved head came in, led by Sean. “This the asshole?” Sean asked.
“Fuck you,” the man said.
“That’s him,” Solomon said. “Sit down, Vince. You’re late.”
“So?” Vince said. “It’s early.”
“Not a good start,” Solomon said. “He doesn’t really like late people,” he added, pointing skyward.
“Sorry, man. Don’t schedule early meetings.”
“Fair enough,” Solomon said. He took the pill bottle from his pocket, took out a pill, and swallowed it with a sip of beer. His phone rang. He answered and handed the phone to Vince. “Don’t talk until I leave.”
Solomon stepped out of the room and went to the bar to finish his drink. Sean handed him the remote to one of the TVs, and Solomon watched the news. Twenty minutes later, he went back to the room. Vince was sitting. The phone was in front of him.
“How did it go?” Solomon asked.
“Could barely get a word in edgewise,” Vince said. “Kept telling me my answer didn’t matter in the middle of me answering him. Said I could ask you questions. Didn’t mention the late thing. Didn’t seem like he cared. Just asked me whether I would take another gold bar or something? I didn’t really follow.”
“Well,” Solomon said. The phone rang. He picked it up, nodded, and agreed three times and then hung up again. “You’re in. He says you’re a great driver, and that’s what we need.”
“And he’s right,” Vince said. “So what am I driving?”
“BMW X6. Kevlar tires.”
“Good,” Vince said. “Smart. How many people with us?”
“Me and two others.”
“Who are they?”
“A lawyer and a navy doctor.”
Vince winced. “What?”
“He only hires smart people.”
Vince nodded in agreement. “That explains me,” he said, smiling. Solomon smiled in return. “You have the tools? Do I need to bring anything?”
“We have everything.”
“What tools are you using?”
“You only need to drive the car and carry a single bag. You don’t need to worry about the tools. That’s what the doctor and the lawyer are for.”
“Yeah, but, guns? What am I carrying?”
“We won’t have guns.”
“So I’m brining my own gun?”
“No fucking guns, Vince. No one’s going to be there.”
“What if the cops…”
“Show up?” Solomon asked.
“Yeah. What if the cops show up.”
“Then having a gun is the worst thing you can do. The cops won’t shoot you if you don’t have a gun. If you do have a gun, they’ll kill you, and having a tank wouldn’t change that. No guns.”
“But what if the cops…”
“If the cops show up, we’re fucked. We shut it down. We surrender. That’s it. That’s how he does things. We go to jail, we shut up, we don’t talk about him, we do our time, and we get to live. We bring guns, and it goes bad, we die. If you don’t like it, leave. I’m not fucking dying.”
“For a million bucks I can go a night without guns. But if we get caught, I’m going to beat the shit out of you in jail.”
Solomon smiled. “That’s what I wanted to hear. I’m getting the team together tomorrow. I’ll send you the meeting location.” He stood and left, heading to the precinct to meet with the captain, Roger, and his newbie.
At the station, Solomon stepped up to the desk, pushing his way past beat cops lining up with their arrests. “Roger and Lisa,” Solomon said as he walked past. The sergeant nodded and continued working his way through the paperwork for the next officer in line.
Lisa was waiting. She was wearing a leather skirt today. When Solomon walked up, she was taking some flak for it. As he approached, the man speaking to her stopped talking. “She in?” Solomon asked.
Lisa stood. “In her office. Roger’s in there already with Thomas.”
“The newbie?” Solomon asked.
“Been a detective six years and with Roger for six months.”
“Newbie,” Solomon said. He brushed by Lisa’s desk and made his way to the back corner, letting himself into the office. The name on the door said Captain Francis Bell. As he entered, Roger and Thomas stood. Francis did not. “Everyone,” Solomon said, shaking hands with Roger and Thomas. “Roger, Newbie, Francis.
“Roud,” Francis said.
“Nice to see ya,” Roger said.
“I’ve been shot,” Thomas said, patting himself on the chest. “Rules are rules. Can’t call someone who has taken a bullet a newbie.”
Solomon nodded. “Then you’re not a newbie, Thomas. I didn’t know.”
Thomas nodded. Solomon sat in the empty chair.
“Sol, thanks for coming,” Francis said. “We’d like a detail to stay with you.”
“Can’t do that,” Solomon said. “Firstly, Psycho isn’t that sort of dangerous. Secondly, I’m an asset on another sting.”
Francis nodded. “I know. And I can’t have an asset killed. It’d bad for my career, Sol.”
“And are you okay letting the sting fail? That’d be pretty bad for the career, too,” Solomon replied.
“Yes,” Francis said. “For you, Solomon, I sure as fuck am okay letting the sting fail.”
Solomon exhaled. “Okay. I’ll find a way. It’s only three days.”
“The girl has two days. Maybe three,” Roger said.
“The heist is three,” Solomon said.
“We need the note,” Thomas said.
Solomon took it from his pocket. “Lisa tell you what was on it?” He handed it to Thomas, who removed a plastic glove from his pocket and used that to put it in a plastic bag. “You won’t find anything on it.”
“We know,” Francis said. “And we know what was written on it. And we know the two girls. Did you meet with their families?”
“Yes,” Solomon answered.
“And what do you know?”
Thomas was writing feverishly. Roger sat, actively listening.
“He took Hyacinth,” Solomon said.
“Lisa said you had a lead for Amber?” Thomas asked.
“That’s why I know he took Hyacinth,” Solomon said. “He doesn’t leave leads unless he wants you to follow them. And he does so at the time of his choosing, not by accident.”
“Maybe he wants us to follow this?” Thomas asked.
“That’s not how it works,” Roger said.
Solomon nodded. “His leads aren’t people. They’re stupid fucking notes and obnoxious phone calls or an ad in the paper left on the subway seat by the passenger right before you pick it up to sit down.” Solomon had leaned forward toward Thomas. He was agitated.
“We’re here to help,” Francis said.
Solomon exhaled deeply. He took his pill bottle out of his jacket pocket, removed a pill, and put it under his tongue. He did so slowly, and while he did the three officers looked away.
“He’s not going to call us,” Roger said. “He’s not going to give that lead to us. That’s why we called you in.”
“We need to know…” Francis began.
“When he does, I’ll tell you.”
“Precisely,” Francis said. “You drop the sting, if you have to. You drop your assets and your marks and…”
“I can’t afford to,” Solomon said.
The three officers laughed.
“I will keep you informed, but we aren’t stopping the sting,” Solomon said dryly.
“You think I give a fuck about a guy who robs people and places with massive insurance and steals a pittance and never hurts a fucking fly?” Francis said. “Because I don’t. I don’t care if that asshole does that for the rest of his life. If every criminal mastermind was like him, I’d have a much easier job. I’d have no fucking job. And I’d be happy.”
“Noted,” Solomon said. “Who will be following me?”
“A couple plainclothes,” Francis said. “You’ll hardly notice them.”
“How close will they stay?” Solomon asked.
“The day of,” Francis said, leaning forward. “The day that girl is going to die, Sol, they’ll be on you like white on rice. You are not going to kill yourself or anyone else to save this girl.”
Solomon stood outside a bodega near the Y. He reached into his inside coat pocket and took out his phone, reading a message. He returned it to his pocket and then felt in his right pants pocket, his left pants pocket, and then under his left arm. He breathed calmly and went to the subway. He came back up to the street not far away.
There was a curly-haired man leaning against a lamppost on a corner. Solomon walked up to the man and asked, “You Gyp?”
“Who’s asking?” Gyp said. He stepped away from the lamppost. He was wearing a white Adidas track suit with blue stripes.
“A cop,” Solomon said, showing his badge.
“Fuck you,” Gyp said.
“I’d like to buy you a coffee and make you an offer. I just need a name. And I’m willing to pay for it.”
“Fuck you,” Gyp said. “I’m not a rat.”
“Hopefully you’re a businessman. Let me ask you a question. What do you sell girls for?”
Gyp moved toward Solomon. “That’s not cool, man,” Gyp said. “Don’t talk like that here.”
“Then take me to a fucking Starbucks and let’s talk,” Solomon said. “That sounds like the right place to sell young girls into slavery?”
Two men came up to Gyp and Solomon. “Police business.”
“They know. They’re with me,” Gyp said.
“So you want to talk, or you want to fight with the NYPD?” Solomon said.
“Let’s talk,” Gyp said. He started walking away from his associates, with Solomon following. Two blocks south of the lamppost where Solomon found Gyp was a doughnut shop. Gyp held the door open for Solomon.
“You being funny?” Solomon asked.
“I thought you’d appreciate it,” Gyp said.
They sat at a table near the door. “You want anything to eat?” Gyp asked.
“This won’t take long,” Solomon said. “I want to buy a name from you. That’s it.”
“I’m not in the business of selling the names of business partners,” Gyp said. He nodded at someone behind the counter, and she brought over two coffees.
Solomon took two sugars and two milks from the bowl on the table and put it in his coffee. “There’s no reason he can’t be a business partner for a long time to come.”
“You going to take him off the street? You going to take him down? And then what, he rats me out? Not worth it.”
“I’m not that kind of cop,” Solomon said, blowing on his coffee and then taking a sip.
“What kind of cop are you?” Gyp asked.
“The kind that does business,” Solomon said. “I’m going to buy a name from you, and buy a girl from him. So, what do you sell them for? Five hundred? Seven-fifty? A thousand? I get it. You’re just a middleman. You just sell them. Probably don’t kidnap them. Probably just walk them right over and then collect your money and go, never see them again. I want one girl. I need one name. Just need to know where you sent her, and I just want to pay you for it. And then I’m going to buy her from the man who took her. This can be easy.”
“Why this girl?” Gyp asked. “I don’t like men on missions. They’re dangerous.”
“I sure as fuck am,” Solomon said. “Let’s say I owe the mother a favor. Let’s say her dad saved my ass in Desert Storm. Let’s say I plan to marry her myself. Say whatever you want to keep yourself happy at night, just say your price, too.”
“I need a new track suit,” Gyp said.
“You going to run a marathon?” Solomon said. Gyp said nothing. “I’ll pay for your fucking track suit.”
“It was three hundred dollars,” Gyp said.
“The track suit.”
“You paid three hundred fucking dollars for a track suit?” Solomon said, reaching into his right pocket and taking out his wallet. “Three hundred dollars for a track suit,” he said, quietly, mostly to himself. “I can’t. I mean, three hundred dollars for a track suit. It is a fucking track suit.” He took four hundred-dollar bills from his pocket. “Here. Four hundred dollars. Buy a nicer suit. The girl?”
“Fifteen hundred?” Solomon repeated, counting off the hundred-dollar bills and handing them over. He held onto them when Gyp reached out and tried to pull the bills from Solomon’s hand. “Amber.”
“Vitaly Schevchenko,” Gyp said. He pulled the money from Solomon’s hand.
Solomon pulled out his phone and sent a text, standing and leaving.
Lisa gave Solomon the address, and thirty minutes later Solomon stood in front of a storefront with faded signage that read Fresh Dry Cleaners. He had a plastic bag with him. He knocked on the door. Someone on the other side knocked in response. Solomon asked to see Vitaly, and there was another knock. “Sponge,” he said, slipping a hundred-dollar bill into the mail slot. After four clicks, the door opened. Solomon left the bag at the door outside.
The man behind the door was wearing a leather jacket. He felt Solomon down for weapons and found none. Inside it was hot and humid. As they walked down the hall, the two men passed five rooms. Three doors were closed. He heard muffled grunting behind them. Two doors were still open, and inside, waiting on a bed in either room, was a young girl. Each of them sat facing the door with her back straight and watched Solomon as he passed. As he continued down the hall, it became darker. He entered a room at the other end.
Inside, waiting, was a small, thin, but muscular man with a shaved head. The man in the leather jacket closed the door behind Solomon, and he was now alone with the man with the shaved head. The man had exposed tattoos on his neck and hands. On each of his fingers were Cyrillic letters that Solomon could not read. On the back of his right hand was a tiger, and on his right hand was a stone cross. The work was clear and neat.
“Vitaly?” Solomon said, extending his hand.
“Yes,” Vitaly responded. “I hear you’re in the market for a girl.”
“Who did your tattoos?” Solomon asked.
“You’re not supposed to ask,” Vitaly said. “You earn these.” He held up his fists and motioned to his neck. “I got these in jail in Russia.”
Solomon nodded. “I’m looking for a specific type of girl. A common acquaintance told me that you might have one. Young girl, thirteen to fifteen, with brown hair, brown eyes. Crooked teeth. “
“I’ve got one.”
“Can I see her?” Solomon asked.
“Anton!” Vitaly yelled. “Bring in Yasmine!”
Solomon and Vitaly sat staring at each other and waiting. Solomon scanned the room. There was no furniture except the two chairs the men occupied, the desk that Vitaly sat behind, itself empty except for a laptop, and a cot in a corner with a mattress that had no sheets. There were no windows. The walls were gray. The room was lit by a single light bulb in a naked pole lamp in a corner.
Anton returned, opening the door and pushing Amber into the room. She kept her gaze down. She was wearing a purple skirt and a black crop top. Her hair was held back in a pony tail. “Smile, Yas,” Vitaly said. She smiled. “See? Not many with those around,” Vitaly said.
“Where did you find her?” Solomon asked.
“Saved her from her druggie mom and her live-in druggie boyfriend. Gave her a good life here,” Vitaly said, standing from his chair and walking over to Amber. She stopped smiling. “So, want a room? The room costs two hundred an hour. The girl? She is free.” Vitaly smiled, brushing hair from Amber’s face.
“I’m looking for a more permanent arrangement,” Solomon said, standing and moving toward Amber, looking her up and down.
Vitaly stood in front of him, shaking his head. “Maybe you buy a couple nights in advance? I could do one-eighty a night for ten nights? Eighteen hundred.”
Solomon shook his head. “I want to buy her from you.” Amber flinched.
“Buy her from me?” Vitaly said. “I don’t know if I can do that. She is not cattle. She is employee.”
“Everything has a price,” Solomon said. “She’s perfect for me.”
“What are you willing to pay? She cost me an arm and a leg,” Vitaly said, smiling broadly.
“I’m willing to pay a leg,” Solomon said, himself smiling now.
Vitaly snorted laughter, looking back at Solomon and then at the girl. “Ten thousand.”
“No,” Solomon said. “Your right leg. You’ll need it.”
“Why?” Vitaly said, taking a step away from Solomon and reaching into his waistband for his gun.
“Because she cost you your left leg and your right arm,” Solomon said, pulling a switchblade from a padded pocket in his coat. Vitaly raised his gun, but Solomon had already swept it away, stabbing his knife into Vitaly’s right elbow. He pulled the knife out and pressed downward onto Vitaly’s knee, cutting inward, the knife coming out the back.
Vitaly screamed, and Anton came running into the room. Solomon picked up Vitaly’s gun and shot Anton in the right knee. Anton had pulled his gun, and it dropped from his hand. Solomon grabbed it.
Amber had run from the room. Solomon could see down the straight hall that she was trapped by the locked front door. The three other men and all four other young girls had spilled into the hallway and were cowering at locked door.
Solomon turned Vitaly onto his back and leaned in close. “You’re a dead man,” Vitaly said. “I’m going to have you killed.”
“Do you know what they use to make tattoos at a Russian prison?” Solomon said.
“Fuck you,” Vitaly said.
“No, sorry. Of course not. You wouldn’t, because you didn’t get these fake pieces of shit in Russia. And you’re not a part of any Russian gang. They’d kill an asshole like you for having fake tattoos. I’d be more scared of you if you didn’t have tattoos. I’d think maybe, just maybe, you’re with someone. But no. You’re just one fucking guy, some fake tattoos, and an asshole in a leather jacket. If you were anything else, I would have paid the ten grand.
“You can keep your right leg,” Solomon added. “But I wouldn’t pull the knife out until the paramedics get here.” He walked over to Anton and kicked him. “Keys?” he said. Anton reached into his pocket and pulled out the keys, throwing them to Solomon.
Solomon walked down the front hall and unlocked the door. Before he opened it, he turned to the three men there. “Don’t fucking scatter.” He opened the door, and there were twenty police cars waiting outside. Two of the men tried to run but were tackled. Solomon passed them as they lay struggling on the ground and looked at the officers. “I told them not to scatter.” Solomon took Amber by the hand and over to a waiting social worker, signaling the other girls to follow. Lisa was waiting.
“Was it him? Was it Psycho?” Lisa asked.
Solomon shook his head. “Was never going to be. Not here. Send in the paramedics.”
“Dead or dying?” Lisa asked.
“They will probably live. If you send in the paramedics,” Solomon said.
Lisa leaned back on her car and looked at the girls. “I think I’ll wait,” she said. Amber smiled.
Solomon pulled his phone from his pocket and dialed. A woman answered. “Ms. Moore?” Solomon said.
“Yes?” Ms. Moore answered.
“We have found your daughter.” Ms. Moore began to cry. “She’s going to be taken over to 51st Division. She’s been through an extremely traumatizing event and a terrible couple days.”
“Thank you!” Ms. Moore said. “Thank you. Thank you.”
“She’s going to be alright,” Solomon said. “She’s coming home. She’s lucky she can come home.”
Solomon hung up. Lisa looked at him, shaking her head. “This is going to be a lot of paperwork.”
“Off-duty cop finds kidnapped girl and cracks sex trade ring in the back of store while looking for a dry cleaner. Look, I even brought my dirty laundry.” Solomon retrieved the bag he had left at the door and took his other Oxford, which was dirty, out of the bag. “Sounds simple enough,” he finished.
“A fuck ton of paperwork,” Lisa said. “If you were not already suspended, you would be suspended again. And it’s likely they will mandate more therapy and extend your suspension. Hell, you might be expelled for this one, Sol.”
“Worth it,” Solomon said, looking toward the four girls being wrapped in blankets.
Clive woke at 2:00 a.m. and slapped his clock. When that did not extinguish the bright red LED shining on him with the fury, he was certain, of the sun at midday, he took his pillow and flopped it onto the clock. He heard something crash off the table, but whatever it was did not break. He turned over and looked blankly at his ceiling, his hands in his curly and unruly hair. “You better not, you fuck,” Clive said.
He picked up his phone and called Sol. There was no answer, but Clive spoke as if this was the type of answering machine that played your voice live for someone screening calls, the way they worked in the nineties. “Sol, you fuck. Sol, are you there? If you even think about killing yourself, I’ll kill you.” Clive paused. “You know what I mean.”
He hung up and got out of bed. He went to his computer, logged into the NYPD VPN, and went to the Psycho file. A picture of Justin Graham greeted him. It was provided by his parents when their hope he was innocent had been dashed by their child’s own detailed confession. He was the only suspect, and they only called him a suspect because he had not had his day in court. But everyone knew he was guilty. Absolutely everyone. And everyone who knew Sol knew that Justin would never have his day in court. It was their job — people like Lisa and Clive — to make sure that Sol and him shared the same air for a few minutes, and just a few minutes before the real police caught him. It would only take a few minutes, and Sol would kill Justin, and that would be the type of justice Clive could wrap his head around.
But Sol had to find Justin before the real police, Roger and Thomas. They had come to interview Clive at length, but not until after he had already spoken to Sol and given him the note he found in the girl’s throat. They threatened him with evidence tampering. They said he could lose his license. But Clive put them off. “This kid needs to die,” he said, “and you’re not going to do it.” Neither of them said another word on the matter, and Clive’s indiscretion did not make it into their reports. They wanted the same thing everyone else wanted.
Clive read through some of the notes and watched the videos that Kevin insisted contained coded images. He did not understand it. He did not understand the three separate psychiatric assessments. He was a doctor of the dead. If his patients spoke to him, it usually meant he was more drunk than usual.
He pulled out a bottle of rum and drank straight from the bottle. He went back to his own notes from Vera Glenn. He checked and double-checked and triple-checked the chain of custody for her body, making notes about where she could have been exposed to Justin. If he found how the killer accessed the body, he would have a point, a node in a network of places and times Justin had been that Sol could follow. He had some ideas. But they were just ideas, and he was not convinced any of them were particularly good.
He went back to Justin’s last known location: the truck stop in Connecticut, the day he set Greg’s car on fire and made his attack on Sol personal. Or more personal. Conjecture said that he left the country. If Kevin’s analysis of the latest video was correct, they could trace him to a dozen different spots across Europe over the last eight months. Places, but not times. Kevin did some additional analysis, testing light, weather, vistas for known locations and occurrences. It could shrink the potential times Justin visited those places. It could perhaps tell them when he was last known to be in Europe. Nearest Kevin could guess was July, but it was the end of September now, and two months is a long time for someone to be missing. That was a cold trail. But somewhere on that trail, Justin had gotten access to one of Clive’s bodies and left him a message to give to Sol.
Clive worked until he passed out and woke up with his face buried in his arms across the keyboard. The bottle of rum was still mostly full, which made it a modest night of drinking compared to the usual. It was just after 7:00 a.m. He read the notes he had made the night before. He had forgotten writing most of them, so it was like thinking through his theories for the first time. He had drawn a timeline from May, Greg burning in the car, and July, Europe, to Vera. He had written in Kevin’s best guesses about where and when Justin had been in Europe against a much smaller timeline of about a week — the total time in possession of Vera’s body. At each stage of custody of the body, he had made notes about the potential for Justin to get access to the body.
Reading the notes and theories, in retrospect he seemed overly confident that night. He was dismissive of the idea that the security protocols, many of which he put in place, could be so lax. But Justin must have broken through, Clive thought as he reviewed his notes from the night before. Justin must have gotten access to the body. I’m not perfect, and neither is security.
At the bottom of the page, circled dozens of times — so many times, in fact, that Clive could hardly read it — were three words in the form of a question that helped him make sense of it all. He had written: Is he alone?
Clive went to his kitchen, still holding his pad of paper with the notes. He himself a cup of coffee. He drank the coffee black then added whisky and continued staring at the note. The question felt like a breakthrough. They were looking for Justin, but what if he was not alone? Maybe not a full accomplice but someone who could have put the note into the girl’s throat and been paid for it? Someone who maybe did not even know what they were doing or who they were doing it for? Maybe someone hired through an intermediary — hell, wasn’t Sol working for an intermediary now? These things happened. It was plausible. And when put together with Clive’s steadfast belief that security could not have been compromised, it made sense.
So someone with access to the body put the note in, and they may not even have known what they were doing or why. Clive thought that was an idea he should take to Sol, so he called him.
He exhaled in frustration again as Sol’s answering service chimed in, saying he was not available. “Sol, for fuck’s sake, if you’re alive, call me. If not, you better not be in Hell, because I will fucking flay you if I see you there before me.”
Before Solomon was taken off active duty completely, they gave him a chance to switch to a new job. They said he could work on the team of negotiators. It was a month after he had found Juanita. Greg was still alive. It seemed like a good idea to get away from chasing Psycho.
The hallway at his new station was clear and tidy. Solomon walked leisurely through. There were few people, and those that stood in the hallway were talking casually about what they did on the weekend. The string of offices was clearly marked with ranks and names, and the doors were all open. None of the offices were empty. No one was yelling or jostling. It was quiet and peaceful. He found the office of Captain Phillip Marks and knocked.
Marks was inside. He waved Solomon in and then stood, and the two shook hands. “Sol, I presume?” Solomon nodded. “How was your weekend?”
Solomon sat. “I’m not used to weekends. And I’ve been off for a month.”
Marks sat. His hair was jet-black. He had degrees on his wall and four different certificates relating to dealing with high-stress situations. One of those was executive education under duress from Harvard. “Good month?” he asked.
“Good month,” Solomon said.
“No. Stayed home. Recovered.”
“Must have been tough,” Marks said, leaning back in his chair.
Solomon’s shoulders relaxed, and he leaned back too. “I’m recovered. It wasn’t easy.”
“So you’ve decided to join the most elite unit in the force?”
“What?” Solomon asked. “I was transferred. Wasn’t entirely my idea.”
“Well, there’s only four of us, you know,” Marks said, leaning forward and speaking quieter. “And we are here in the admin building. And most days, there is nothing really for us to do. We sit around like firemen waiting for a hostile situation, and then we get embedded into a SWAT or something, and out we go. I wouldn’t be anything other than a negotiator.”
“Wasn’t my first choice,” Solomon said. “To be honest, I wanted to stay on homicide, where I was. I don’t think I’m nearly as bad off as they say.”
“Well, this is better than a desk job. And that was the alternative.”
“Hardly a choice. At least this is active duty.”
“Exactly. And for the majority of cops who went through what you did, it would be a desk for life. Few have the education you’ve got, few have the aptitude, and even fewer have the experience. You were accepted into a PhD program, right?”
“Yeah,” Solomon said. “Art History.”
“And you did a Masters in…”
“Criminology. Yale. Anthropology, also Yale.”
“An Eli? A Bulldog? And that’s a lot of degrees.”
“Got my name on a couple buildings there. Legacy kid. It’s not reflective of my own accomplishments.”
“They don’t just hand those out.”
Solomon laughed. “They sure as hell do. I’ve got three degrees that prove it.”
“Fair enough,” Marks said. “I earned mine the old-fashioned way.”
“The old-fashioned way is to buy them with graft. Earning a degree with intelligence is very nouveau riche,” Solomon said.
“Fine. You won’t admit earning yours. But they’ve saved you from a life behind a desk, so be thankful.”
“I’m thankful for everything my father has given me,” Solomon said. “I really am. He’s made my life exceedingly easy.”
“He hasn’t,” Marks said. “You know as well as I do. Money doesn’t make anything easy.”
“He didn’t give me any money,” Solomon said. “He gave me a legacy of hard work against impossible odds. He gave me an education in the harshness of real life — more valuable than the degrees he bought. He gave me a window into dark hearts, and from a very young age I’ve always known that it was easier to be bad than good, and that bad people can do terrible harm very easily. There’s nothing you or I or any number of good people in the world can do to someone who picks up a kitchen knife and stabs a person at random. Bad is easy. People expect you to be good, and when you turn that on its head and defy expectations, well, you can take people by surprise. He gave me all that, but not one red cent.”
“I gotta ask,” Marks said. “Then what did he do with the money?”
“He also taught me it is rude to ask other people about their money,” Solomon said.
“I’m sorry,” Marks said. “You’re right.”
“Just kidding,” Solomon said, laughing. “I’ll let you know what he did with the money when I find it. He was fiendishly frugal and kept everything overseas to avoid paying taxes. The IRS chased him for decades and couldn’t find it. The rest he lost in some of the larger Ponzi schemes going over the last few years. And he died younger than he thought he would, and I have no idea where the money is. He never told me.”
“Oh,” Marks said. “Ain’t that a bitch.”
“It ain’t a bitch,” Solomon said, “it is several hundred million bitches.”
A month later, he had his last meal with Greg. Greg poked at his plate of hash, mixing in the poached eggs and hollandaise and taking a large forkful. “You know,” he said to Solomon, eating toast, “I’ll pay.”
“It’s not that,” Solomon replied, sipping his coffee.
“It’s still?” Greg said, his mouth full.
“Then I shouldn’t be enjoying my food in front of you. I feel like an ass.”
“Don’t. You’ve done so much.”
“Okay. A little pissed, probably. Not really putting me on any assignments. Not again. Looks like I’ll be off active duty for a while again. Has me going to a few classes. But the jumper, that was probably the end of the line of my life as a negotiator. They just haven’t told me yet.”
“How’s your office?” Greg said. “Nap there a lot? I’ve always thought office people have to be napping all the time.”
“It’s quiet in the admin building,” Solomon said. “No one running around. No perps anywhere to be seen. No busy cops trying to do paperwork. Just rows of quiet offices and people asking each other about their weekends.”
“Weekends,” Greg said, his mouth full again. “I remember those from college. People still have weekends? I suppose they also have weeknights, too, and they see their kids grow up.”
“Feels like such a waste of time considering there are murderers running around.”
Greg shrugged and kept eating.
“So why am I here?” Solomon said.
“I just wanted to tell you that I haven’t told anyone.”
“And I’m not going to.”
“But I gotta know. I know, you know? I know you didn’t get any of your dad’s money. And here comes a note saying that you can kill one of the people responsible for it. And, you know. I just had to know.”
“This is exactly what Psycho wanted, you know?”
“I know. I know it. But I gotta ask. Did you kill him for her or for you?”
Solomon answered without hesitating. “For her.”
“That’s almost worse,” Greg said.
“She’s still alive,” Solomon said. “She’s not dead yet. Anything can happen.”
“She’s not coming back.”
“I know,” Solomon said. “But I gotta believe in miracles. Otherwise, why did I do it?”
That same night, Solomon lay asleep in bed. The bed was king-sized. The sheets were satin. The room was large, with a sitting area with two wingback chairs upholstered in fine linen. All the furniture was antique. His phone rang. Solomon reached over from bed and picked it up, putting it to his ear. “Hello?”
He listened for a moment and then shot up in bed. He hung up and threw on a pair of indigo blue jeans and a black tee and a pair of sandals. He rushed downstairs and past his doorman and outside, where it was snowing. He hailed a cab and asked to go to the Metropolitan Hospital.
He entered through the emergency ward and made his way straight to Juanita’s room. Maria was there, crying. He came in. “What did they say?”
“The insurance has run out,” Maria said, sobbing. “They won’t keep paying because they say she’s just not coming back. But I’m not ready, Sol.”
“Where’s the doctor?”
“It wasn’t a doctor who told me. It was a hospital administrator. Violet something.”
“I’ll see what I can do,” Solomon said, rubbing Maria’s back.
“I’m just not ready yet, Sol. I know she’s dead, but I’m just not ready yet. I pray. I pray for a miracle every day, Sol. I pray. I just need more time. She needs more time. I’m not ready to say goodbye yet.” Maria broke off into Spanish, repeating the sign of the cross over her heart.
Solomon went out to the nursing station and spoke with the charge nurse. “Can you ask Violet to come down?” The nurse nodded and called Violet, who appeared not long afterward.
“Detective.” Violet said, extending her hand. “We met when Juanita was first brought in.”
“I remember,” Solomon said. “What will it cost to keep Juanita alive for another month?”
“Quite a bit,” Violet said. “And her insurance has only kept her alive for the last week on a compassionate care provision, for the mother and given the circumstances of Juanita’s incident.”
“Just give me a number,” Solomon said.
Violet looked at the chart. “Her care costs just under ten thousand dollars a day.”
“So, three hundred thousand?” Solomon said.
“Okay,” Solomon said. He took a business card from his pocket. “Call this person. Tell him Sol said to pay you the three hundred thousand.”
Violet tilted her head and furrowed her brow. “Oh,” she said. “Okay. I’ll do so right away.”
“Thanks,” Solomon said, turning to leave.
“Can I ask…” Violet started. Solomon turned back. “Why?”
“If she dies, he wins. And I … the jumper. For nothing.”
Violet nodded. Solomon went back to the room where Maria was still sobbing, now sitting next to her daughter and holding her hand. “It will be okay,” he told her. “They decided to wait another month and see what happens.”
Maria let her daughter’s hand go and embraced Solomon.
Solomon did not want that girl to die. He set up a meeting with his financial advisor when the month was up and sat waiting for her in a soft blue chair. He was drinking coffee and looking out the window and up at the Empire State Building. A middle-aged woman wearing a navy pantsuit entered. She sat in the desk across from Solomon and shook hands with him before sitting. “Sol, thanks for coming.”
“I don’t have good news,” Corinne said. “You’ve liquidated everything stateside.”
“Nothing,” Corinne said, “but your monthly pay.”
“Can I get a loan?” Solomon asked. He took his pill bottle from his pocket and swallowed a pill with his coffee.
Corinne shook her head. “Not from me. You have nothing but this income, and it isn’t enough for what you are trying to do. The hospital called.’
“And what did you tell them?”
“I told them you have nothing left to give.”
“I’ve got life insurance.”
Corinne shuffled some papers. “You do. A policy with the force, and your policy.”
“More than enough. You know how much,” Corinne said.
“Let’s change the beneficiaries,” Solomon said.
Corinne stopped and stared. Solomon took the papers from her hand, went through them, and crossed, initialed and signed until he was finished, and then threw them back at her.
He got up and left the building. He got onto the subway and exited on 86th Street. He went to the nearest apartment building and climbed the stairs to the third floor. He opened the door to the fifth apartment on the left and stood in the doorway. There was a cot on the ground, a pile of clothes, a few paintings leaned against the wall, and nothing else in the small bachelor apartment. He went to his cot and sat. He sobbed and took off his jacket, undoing his tie. He took his gun from his dresser and put it against his head, sobbed hard, and put the gun down, leaning forward on his knees. He wiped the tears from his face, put the gun back against his head, took a deep breath, convulsed, and stopped again, putting the gun down once more.
Solomon calmed himself and picked the gun back up, putting it into his mouth. He bit down on it and tasted the steel and took it out, spat, and put it back against his head, sobbing again and putting the gun down. He vomited and then collected himself. His phone rang, and he let it go to voicemail. He breathed deeply and picked up his gun, and his phone rang again, and again he let it go to voicemail. Yet again, he took the gun and put it against his head, but his phone rang again, and he answered, perturbed. “What?” he said.
“I’ll be right there.” He dropped his gun and left the apartment.
Months later, Solomon sat in the room at the back of The Dog and Duck, fidgeting with his lighter. He would spin it in his fingers, flip the lid, ignite, and then close the lid. A man sat across from Solomon. He was tall and lean, dressed in a black suit with a black, buttoned shirt with all the buttons done up but no tie. Solomon called this the invisible tie look, and he hated it. The man’s shoes and belt were also black. The only color on him was the silver of his belt buckle. His face was tight and gaunt. In front of the man was a computer and a small projector. The man stared toward the door while Solomon continued to fidget nervously.
The first to arrive was Sham. He came in dressed casually in jeans and a gray hoodie. He extended a hand to the man, who politely stayed seated and nodded. “Germs,” the man in black said. “No touching.”
“Oh,” Sham said. “Well, it’s nice to meet you. Sol’s told us, well, nothing really. Do you even have a real name?”
Solomon threw his hands over his face. “Sham,” he said. “Sit down.”
The man put his hand up toward Solomon. “It’s alright, Mr. Roud.” He put his hand down and answered Sham dryly. “Of course I have a real name. But that isn’t particularly important, since you don’t need it, and since I’ll also tell you that I’m not the man you think I am. I am not the person Mr. Roud has described as the brains behind this heist. I am merely the person that person trusts to oversee these transactions on his behalf. I probably don’t have to tell you, because your imagination likely makes our employer seem so much worse than he is, but he is involved in a great many similar transactions simultaneously. It is an enterprise, not so great as you might think, but certainly greater than can be accomplished by a single person. So I am here, and there are different people like me employed throughout our employer’s enterprise, facilitating similar schemes and heists right across his sphere of influence.”
“Oh,” Sham said, sitting. “I’m surprised you told me all that.”
“So, what do we call you?” Sham asked.
“Nothing. I know, it is confusing, and that’s the point. We laugh at the idea that somewhere, sometime, someone has sat or will sit in front of the police trying to explain precisely who I am, and who I am compared to who my employer might be. It is a silly joke, but we abide. We do abide.”
Reginald entered. He went to shake the man’s hand and was turned aside. As Reginald sat, he turned off his phone, and Sham did so as well. Vince came in next as the three men were still introducing themselves. He banged on the door, startling Sham, and then rushed in and sat, saying only, “Vince. I’m the asshole.”
“Every team needs an asshole,” the man said. The team laughed.
“So what’s the plan?” Vince asked. “I’m dying to know.”
The man typed his password into his computer, and an image of a house appeared on the wall behind Vince. Vince first strained his neck to turn and look at it and then turned himself around in his seat, sitting legs open with his arms on the back of the chair. “This is 132 Coolidge Ave, Short Hills, New Jersey. Inside is a very kind, very old man.” The man proceeded to the next picture. “Here I am sitting next to him on his couch.” In the picture was the old man — white hair, relaxed white shirt, and blue jeans — and this man dressed now in a navy blue suit with a white shirt and pastel paisley tie. The two were embraced and smiling. There was a collection of paperwork in front of them, and the old man had a pen in his hand.
“Who took the pictures?” Sham asked.
“That is none of your concern,” the man said before continuing. “A few months ago, he contacted an associate of mine. As it turns out, the man had considerable assets that were drastically underinsured. Here, I played the role of an insurance agent. I assessed his goods and issued a policy for the goods that covered him for not less than ten million dollars.”
“It’s a nice home — but not that nice,” Sham said.
“It’s not for the home,” the man said, clicking to the next picture. “Arthur Delacroix was a jeweler. Here is a collection of his favorite pieces. Most are modest, and it is the sheer number of necklaces, earrings, rings, and whatnot that allowed me to value his possessions in the millions. Others,” the man advanced again to a picture of a platinum ring with a three-carat blue diamond, “are themselves worth upwards of three million.” He advanced again, quicker, going through several different pictures of closets, credenzas, and chests and the rooms they were located in. “The pieces are placed throughout the house in four safes, themselves contained within these pieces of furniture. There is a red chest in the basement. There is a dark-brown credenza in his study. There is a wall safe behind this Matisse print in his bedroom. And finally, in the middle of his living room, is an antique leather chest with a safe.”
“Four safes, four criminals?” Reginald said.
“I’d say you were quick, Reggie, but that was obvious and why we hired you. So instead I’ll say you’re performing as expected,” the man said, not turning from his presentation. “I have brought with me today four duffle bags. Each has a GPS sewn into the lining and is empty except for a phone. There is a red for Sol, brown for Sham, black for Reggie, and blue for Vince. It could not be simpler. At 1:00 a.m. on Sunday morning, the phone will receive two texts. First is the password for the safe to which you have been assigned. The second is where you will exchange the duffle bag for your pay.”
“What about the old man?” Vince asked.
“Outta town,” Sham said.
The man moved to the next picture: Arthur packing his car and leaving the house. “Sol and Sham observed Arthur leaving town, as scheduled. He is on his way to Martinique for a month. You will have the house to yourselves.”
“How do we get in?” Vince asked.
The man advanced to the next picture. It was himself in a gray uniform, with blonde hair and a mustache. “You’d think I paid you to toss me these softball questions. Here I am installing the alarm system required by the insurance company as a condition of covering Mr. Delacroix’s possessions. It is how we came by the codes for the safes, and it is also how Sol knows the code to disarm the alarm.”
“Why can’t we all know the code? What if something happens to Sol?” Vince asked.
“If something happens to Sol, or any of you, the job is called off.”
“Why? Just give me the code, and we can do this. It’s easy. It’s called a backup plan.”
“Never give the asshole the code,” the man said. The group, including Vince, laughed. “And easy is how our enterprise works. We do easy jobs. We plan them well in advance — this has been four months in the planning. We do them in a small window of time. There is one plan. There is no backup plan. If a piece of the plan becomes impossible, we walk and we cancel. We walk away when they are complete, and the people who performed one job never work together again. No one gets hurt. No connections are made. Police don’t care — especially when they find out that Arthur’s going to net ten million from the transaction himself. They won’t even bother looking into this. He’s eighty-four, rich, and he is going to be reimbursed handsomely for whatever he has lost. This is hardly a crime at all.”
“So who gets what?” Sham asked.
“It’s color-coded,” Vince said.
The man looked at Sham and Reginald. “You two should be embarrassed,” he said. “The asshole shouldn’t be out-thinking two Ivy-Leaguers. And he is right. It is color-coded. Sol’s red duffle bag for the red chest in the basement. Sham’s brown bag for the brown credenza. Reggie’s black bag for the black leather chest. And Vince’s blue bag for the wall safe in the bedroom. We make this deathly simple.”
“Why do you need four of us?” Reginald asked.
“You want out?” Solomon asked.
“No,” Reginald replied. “Just doesn’t look like we are needed. Nothing here is all that heavy. Seems like everything is set up simply. It just feels like we aren’t being told something. I don’t like that.”
“Now that is impressive,” the man said, turning from his presentation for the first time since the slideshow began. “It is easy. Too easy. And good on you for being suspicious. So why four people when two would do? Why four when maybe even one would be fine? This is our employer’s insurance: diffuse responsibility.
“Make no mistake, these heists go badly, and often. It is an occupational risk. You might laugh to hear that in our annual projections we plan that thirty percent of these opportunities will fail and count those investments as losses against the corporation’s other, successful opportunities. But these heists do fail. People return from trips unexpectedly. Children change passcodes. People move expensive items. Some do so idiosyncratically. Sometimes this can be observed and predicted and can even be a help — it is very hard to track or even prove something has been stolen when the owner moves the items around often and forgets where they are. But I digress. No, gentlemen, this is far simpler. This is not a job one person could do in its entirety. It is a job one person can perform on the night of the robbery. But one person could not install or infiltrate an alarm system, which the police will realize has happened. One person could not get the codes, which, again, the police will figure out was key to the theft. One person could not get into the house, figure out where everything is, and then get out. It takes people — and they will be looking for people, so we give them people. Four people. Make no mistake, if this goes badly, the evidence will point to all of you, and you will take the fall, or our employer will kill you. Maybe he will kill you even if you do take the fall.
“No, sometimes it is important to give the police what they are looking for: a team of professional thieves, well organized, who are caught only by misfortune.”
“Well, that fucking sucks. If the cops show up, I’m going to shit my pants. Can you pack some extra undies in my duffle bag for the night of?”
Everyone ignored Sham.
“Why, though?” Vince asked. “Why set it all up like this?”
“Why do you always find your keys in the last place you look for them?” the man asked in response.
“Because you stop looking when you find them,” Vince said.
“Precisely. We give police what they are looking for, because when police find what they are looking for, they stop looking. And you — all four of you — can tell them anything you want about me or our employer, but they’re not going to believe you, not when it is so clear you had the motive and capabilities to do all this by yourself. A couple smart, thrill-seeking kids. A former detective down on his luck. A driver with a long rap sheet and nothing to lose. No. The case would simply be closed.
“But this is all very much beside the point. The risk of this heist going badly is very, very low — one of the lowest on the roster for our corporation this year. You will do fine, gentlemen.”
“Okay. One question,” Sham said. “Are you licensed to sell insurance?”
The man laughed. It was a deep, genuine laugh. He turned his gaze down while laughing and put his hand over his mouth. “I am, believe it or not. In fact, that’s my cut in the whole affair.”
“Your cut?” Vince asked.
“The commission on that sale was tremendous.”
“Insurance salesmen,” Solomon said. “The real thieves.”
After the meeting, Vince and Solomon got onto the subway together and headed downtown. The subway was busy, and the two had been quiet until they got on the train. “You busy?” Vince asked.
“Why?” Solomon said.
“I’m wondering if you’d like to go someplace,” Vince said, looking over his shoulder.
“Where? Hungry?” Solomon asked.
“No, 132 Coolidge Ave, Short Hills, New Jersey,” Vince said.
“Don’t say that again,” Solomon said.
“Why are we waiting?”
“That’s the plan.”
“You’ve got the code. Nobody is home. There’s enough there for us to walk away. Instead of one small grab, we make one big play.”
“Are you fucking kidding me right now?” Solomon said, stepping away from Vince.
“I don’t get why we don’t just do this.”
“This isn’t our job.”
“So we disappear.”
“Are you a fucking idiot?”
“I’m the asshole.”
“Don’t fucking talk to me about this. Who is going to fence this stuff? You? Not me. I can’t.” Solomon stepped back toward Vince and said in a low voice, “We get a million for twenty minutes work and a fuck-ton of risk.”
“We could have five, each,” Vince said.
“That’s not how this works.”
“How does it work, then?”
“For one, you can’t buy a house with diamonds. We need to sell them. And our employer has a detailed list with pictures of every item, from the insurance. Think that was a mistake? We show up anywhere with the stuff, trying to sell it, and we are caught. For another, you know that guy we just met?”
“Yeah,” Solomon said. “Skinny dickhead dressed in black. You know what he does?”
“Sells insurance. Installs alarms.”
“He does whatever our employer needs done. He’s the guy that gets called to do the things that real bad guys won’t do. You cross him on one of these jobs, and you’re over in this business, and you can’t get away. They don’t even look for you. They send this guy to find your family, your friends, your fucking favorite barista, and he tortures them until you come back. And when you come back, he kills you and your family and probably even the first girl you kissed. This isn’t a fucking joke, Vince. You can make a lot of money with this, but you can’t do what you’re thinking.”
Vince said nothing as the train rolled to a stop. He stepped out of the train onto the platform. Before the doors closed, he asked, “Are you going to tell?”
“Just fucking be there,” Solomon said as the doors closed.
Solomon continued on down the line and exited near the YMCA where he was staying. The sun outside was bright. He put on his sunglasses as he came out of the subway. He went into the building, found his room, and lay down on the bed, still dressed.
Reg was watching the latest video from Psycho — the one that Kevin had slipped to him, decoded from the audio of the latest posting to that gore site Psycho used. He felt guilty watching it, felt worse knowing that he was not even a cop yet, but he had to see it for himself. He watched Greg burn to death again and felt a surreal sense of loss. He had never met the man. He was graduating from Columbia Law about the time Greg was killed. But Reg had read his notes on Psycho’s crimes and had grown a fondness for the detective, Greg’s clearly protective stance with his partner, and his unbridled desire to see Justin Graham brought to justice.
That was clear, Reg thought. Where Sol wanted to kill Justin, Greg wanted to bring him in. Sol may not have known. Shortly after Sol was taken off the case and transferred to the negotiator’s role, Greg wrote that he was concerned that Psycho’s obsession with involving Sol would lead eventually to Sol catching up with him, and that one of them would die in the encounter. He needed to get to Psycho first, and urgently, as much to save his former partner from death as to save him from becoming a killer.
Everyone else wanted Justin dead. Especially Lisa and Clive. And probably Kevin, too. He had given these things to Reg and probably hoped that Reg would pass them on to Sol with the analysis — everything Kevin could figure out about Justin’s timeline while away from home. Kevin and Lisa could not be seen with Sol, though Reg was not sure why. Something had happened, and only recently, that put Sol even more on the outs than usual. But Reg could. He was expected to be. So he could pass these along.
Reg did not want to do that until he knew a little more about what he was passing on. He turned off the video Kevin had decoded of Greg’s death and went instead to a photo of the note fished out of Vera Glenn’s throat. It was a picture of a sheep, a lump of iron and an eye. Ewe ore eye. You or I. A cheeky pun. Reg hated puns, particularly ones by serial killers to coax a cop to either kill himself or play some stupid game to find and kill him.
There was not much more analysis to be done. Reg felt like he was wasting time, not adding any value. He hated that. He hated empty moments and spinning his wheels. He knew how much he could accomplish when he applied hard work. He could climb mountains. He could sail through one of the toughest law programs in the world while training for ultra marathons.
He went back one video further and saw the message Justin had sent directly to Sol. It was a picture of Rainard Friederick, famous in NYC for running one of several Ponzi schemes that targeted wealthy people and broke during the 2008 market crash. Sol’s own family had been caught up in it. His father lost almost every liquid asset he had and was forced to sell almost everything else to pay the debts — which were modest when compared with what his wealth should have been.
After a few seconds on Friederick’s face came Juanita, the young girl he had kidnapped. At the end was the live feed address on www.goregoregore.com, the gore site that Justin enjoyed using toward the end of his victim’s lives. Reg knew how that ended — Friederick falls to his death, coaxed, some say, by Sol. He had even seen the video. It went viral. It was hilarious, in another world, before Reg became so personally involved. Cop plays “Jump” by Van Halen when trying to talk a suicidal man off the ledge? That’s dark humor, sure, but it was also genuinely funny.
And Juanita? Undead. Found. Sol watches Friederick die, gets texted the address where Juanita is being held, and then gets there as fast as he can. Justin was sitting there, according to Greg’s report. But it was too late.
Reg stood up and called Sol. “Hey, buddy,” he said as Sol answered. “Want to grab a beer?”
Sol obliged and met him at The Dog and Duck. Reg hated the place, but so did almost everyone else, so it was rarely busy. Sol was waiting when Reg came in. He was not sure what he was going to say.
Sol had a beer waiting for him. Reg took it, not sure what kind of beer it was — it had a 50 on the label, and he had never had one before. It was terrible. “So what’s up?” Sol asked.
Reg put a USB key containing everything Kevin had given him on the table. “I’m pretty sure Kevin wanted you to have this.”
“Yeah?” Sol said, not reaching for the key.
“Yeah.” Reg said. “It contains…”
Sol interrupted. “I know what’s on there. I have what’s on there. I’ve got friends, too.”
“Just like Kevin. And you, too, from the looks of it. I didn’t realize you would get mixed up in this bit.”
“Lisa gave us the file. Said it was important to know this was what drove you out of the force.”
“And into a life of crime, as she calls it,” Sol said, dripping with sarcasm.
“Yeah. You know. Informed consent for a dangerous gig.”
“I get it, kid. And I’d want to know that too, in your shoes.”
“So are you looking for him?” Reg asked, instinctively taking a sip of his beer and then remembering why he avoided it.
“Nah,” Sol said. “That’s for Roger and Thomas, two other guys on the force. Me? I’m just focused on the heist. I can’t chase ghosts.”
“But he clearly wants you involved. Sent you this message.”
“That’s exactly why I can’t be involved. I’m too close to it. And it feeds right into what he is looking for.”
Reg nodded, not pressing the issue. He finished his beer in companionable silence and then got up to go home. “Can I just ask one more question?” he said, pausing and turning.
“Sure thing, Columbo,” Sol responded.
Reg did not understand the reference. “Why won’t Lisa or Kevin meet with you anymore?”
“Not allowed right now. I’m avoiding cops. Probably being followed, you know.”
“No, that’s not it,” Reg responded.
Sol nodded. “Okay, so I saved a few lives and went pretty far off script, and now they’re not allowed to come out and play with me.”
Reg nodded and went home, leaving the USB key behind.
Solomon watched Reginald leave and finished his beer, taking the USB key and walking out without paying. Sean threw a beernut at him as he slipped out the door and yelled something incomprehensible but very likely foul.
The conversation with Reginald and the friendly violence from Sean reminded him of the first time he had been to The Dog and Duck. He had been sitting at the bar eating nuts and drinking beer. He was staring at the television watching highlights from the Knicks game that night. When he finished his beer, he waved a finger at Sean, who poured another and brought it to him. “Good game tonight,” Sean said.
“Great game. Keeps playoffs hope alive,” Solomon said.
“All hope’s false hope with the Knicks,” Sean replied.
“You can’t say that,” Solomon said. His phone rang.
“Why not?” Sean asked.
Solomon took out the phone and looked at it. “Because you’re from fucking Boston, you asshole.” He answered the phone.
“Still true,” Sean said, walking down the empty bar and continuing to clean.
“Roud,” Solomon said.
“Let’s play a game,” a voice said.
“Fuck you,” Solomon said, hanging up. He ate a handful of nuts as his phone rang again. He hung up on the caller, mouthing “creep” under his breath. He took a sip of beer, and his phone buzzed. He swiped the screen and saw that it was a text. He opened it, and there was an image of Juanita in a room with plastic sheeting covering the walls. She was panicked. The text said, Let’s talk.
His phone rang again. Solomon threw a twenty onto the bar and answered his phone, rushing out the door. “Don’t forget your change, you cheap bastard,” Sean called after him.
“That was very rude, Detective Roud. Forgive the pun,” Psycho said.
“Had I known it was you…” Solomon responded.
“You would have left the bar, like you did. And you would have gone to your car, where you’re going. And you would have gotten in, which you will. And you would have driven to the station and found Kevin or some other kid to help you find me.”
“Not you,” Solomon said.
“Keeping your eye on the prize?” Psycho said. “I like it. Helps the game. Open to playing?”
“I am playing,” Solomon said. “I haven’t stopped playing. I’ve been looking for her. But you know that.”
“I know a lot.”
Solomon sat in his car. “Don’t start the engine,” Psycho said. Solomon froze, his hands on the keys in the ignition. “And don’t leave your seat.” Solomon shifted uneasily. “And don’t shift too much weight.”
“You have my attention,” Solomon said.
“Good,” Psycho said. “I just want to talk about buying you off.”
“I’m not for sale.”
“Everyone has a price.”
“There isn’t enough money in the world…”
“Oh, I know. I know, Sol. You have plenty of money.”
“No, I don’t.”
“Your father’s money.”
“No. I don’t have any of that.”
“Don’t lie to me,” Psycho said, agitated. “You can lie to them, and you can lie to everyone else about it, but don’t lie to me.”
“Not a single penny. Lost overseas because…”
“Because your father was hiding it from taxes, and he died young before telling you where it was. I’ve heard it. It’s not true. I know money. I come from money. Money doesn’t get lost like that, Sol. Only poor people would believe that sort of ridiculous lie. You know how many forms you have to complete to open up a bank account in Switzerland? Or the Cayman Islands? Or Malta? Or Panama? Or anywhere else the wealthy hide their money? What am I saying. Of course you do. You’ve seen the forms first-hand. You probably signed them when your father did. If not, you certainly signed them as his next of kin — and he would have been forced to name one, surprise death or not. They wouldn’t have opened the accounts without your name. And they would have hunted you down and found you and given you the money. They can’t do anything with it if he dies. It just sits in trust if they can’t find someone to keep giving them instructions and allowing them to make investments. No investments, no transactions, and the bankers make no money on the cash — they need those transactions, and they need a living person to make them or give them instructions to make them on their behalf. Think they are just going to sit on a pile of money that large? They would have hunted you to the ends of the Earth, those bankers. You can hide from the police, like I am. You can hide from the CIA and NSA, like a terrorist. But hide from a Swiss banker holding on to a few hundred million dollars for you? Never — they’ll find you. That’s what they do. So, no, don’t lie to me. You have all your father’s money. Don’t lie to me. You have a price.”
“As you say, I can’t be bought.”
“If you pay a man enough, he’ll walk barefoot into Hell.”
“I’ll give you anything you want for her.”
“I want you to kill Friederick. That’s what I asked six days ago. That’s what I still want you to do now. He’s not a good person. Juanita is. She deserves to live, wouldn’t you agree?”
“Friederick is one of the people who robbed my father.”
“I know. That’s why this game is so fun for me. There will be all sorts of questions because of the lie about your wealth. New York City cop kills financier who stole tens of millions from his family. If they knew the truth, and that you still had the vast amount of the wealth, the headline wouldn’t scream so much, you know? I mean, it’s perfect. You appear to have every reason to kill him. But you wouldn’t appear that way if you were honest about your wealth. Your lie has given you the perfect, what do you cops call it? Motive. You’d have no motive if you were honest, but you can’t be honest now. Sometimes I just surprise myself.”
“I’m not going to kill a man in cold blood.”
“Not even to save Juanita?”
“Not even for that.”
“We’re bargaining. You’ve already decided you are going to kill him. I just need to help you with that conscience of yours. I tell you what, how about you don’t kill him in cold blood? Friederick is already under investigation by the SEC. But he is also very famous in other circles.”
Solomon exhaled hard.
“Yeah, I hate them too. I think everyone does — except pedophiles. In any event, I’ve got the evidence. I’ll threaten to release it tomorrow morning. And you know what? I’ll tell him that if he kills himself, I won’t release it. It’ll protect his family from further shame. I will tell him he has got to jump off a building, and I won’t release anything. How does that sound?”
“Sounds easy for him. Don’t see how I’m involved.”
“That’s the thing about cowards — and I’ve never met the man, but I don’t know and have never heard of a pedophile who isn’t a coward. I get the feeling he’s going to chicken out. I think he’ll get as far as the ledge and just stand there. And they’ll call the fire department, and the police, and they’ll bring in a negotiator. Isn’t that protocol?”
Solomon thought about his new office and said nothing.
“Make sure he jumps, and I’ll tell you where Juanita is. All you have to do is be a shitty negotiator. You were a shitty cop — couldn’t find me, couldn’t save the last girl. I figured this would be easy for you. Just continue being shitty at your job, and this time you’ll save a girl’s life.”
Solomon said nothing.
“See how easy that is? Not cold blood. Warm blood. And the guy deserves it — believe me, he deserves to die more than me, and I know you want to kill me, so I can only imagine what you want to do to this guy. I kidnap girls, and I let them suffocate, but you know, they are in a chemically induced coma the entire time they are here except for the last few hours. They don’t even know they’ve been kidnapped. If you do this right and find Juanita, you can have her at home in bed safe and sound before she even knows that she was missing.”
“Why do you do it, then?”
“Oh, I’m not interested in killing anyone. I’m interested in buying people. In making them do things they don’t want to do. And I need leverage. And a guy like you, Sol, you can’t be bought — you’ve got more money than me, and I have a ton. So you can’t be bought. Not with money. But with Juanita? I own you. You’ll play the game.”
“You really are fucking crazy,” Solomon said, shaking his head.
“I’m imaginative. I guess this is the downside of imagination. Did you know, and I guess it is obvious when you think about it, but humans have the most highly developed sense of imagination? Some would say the only sense of imagination in the animal kingdom, but that sounds arrogant. In any event, that means great things — we can see an empty desert and build a city, or a flag and build a nation. We can draw pictures of things that are impossible in the real, physical world. But then, every once in a while, this imagination creates a separation from reality for someone. It creates a compulsion to do, well, to do what I am doing. It creates psychosis — which wouldn’t be possible if we couldn’t imagine something that was not real.”
“I guess you can’t help it.”
“I’m trying, Sol. I hope you find Juanita. I’ll be here. The game ends when one of us is dead.”
“I’d be happy to oblige.”
Psycho laughed. “I’m sure you would. Ensure Friederick dies, and you will get the chance.” Psycho paused. “Listen, great chatting, but I’ve got to go.”
“What about me?” Solomon asked.
“Oh, you’re fine. There’s no bomb in your car. Not my MO. I just needed your attention.” Psycho hung up.
Solomon took a deep breath and held it, and turned the ignition with his eyes closed. The car started, he put it in gear, and drove off.
That night Solomon lay asleep in bed. His house phone rang, and he picked it up. “Hello?”
“Hello?” a scared voice said.
“Juanita?” Solomon said, sitting up in bed and jumping out to get dressed as he held the phone to his ear.
“Yes,” she said. “Help! I don’t know where I am. I’m in a room. Hello? Help! Please, help!”
“Juanita, can you tell me where you are? Where you’ve been taken? What do you see?”
“Nothing. The room is dark. There’s plastic on the walls, oh God, please help!”
“Juanita, we’re going to find you. I’m going to find you.”
“Hello?” Juanita said, her voice cracking under greater panic. “Hello, are you still there?”
“I’m here, Juanita. I’m coming.”
“Hello? Are you there? Please help me!”
Solomon’s cell phone rang. He answered it. “Roud?” he said.
“I’ve got an assignment. Jumper on Wall Street standing on a ledge. Fire will be on scene in five. Squad car waiting downstairs for you. You ready?”
Solomon looked at his phone and heard Juanita screaming. “Yeah,” he said. He got dressed and left his apartment.
As Friederick hit the pavement, Solomon’s phone buzzed. He looked at it. It was a text from Psycho that said, [_That was amazing, better than I could have imagined, and I have quite the imagination, _]and then provided an address. Solomon got into the squad car while everyone else was busy trying to control the scene. He put on the siren and shot off down the street toward the address.
He pulled up onto the sidewalk outside of the building and went up the outside stairs. The door was propped open. He drew his gun and went inside and then, gun pointing upward, ascended. A couple was coming downstairs. “Police,” Solomon said, motioning for them to get down the stairs behind him. They did so and left. On the third floor, Sol went into the hall and found apartment G. The door was slightly open. He kicked the door, and it opened into the living room. There was a green couch with a TV sitting on the ground in front of it and a desk with a computer and chair behind it but no other furniture. Sitting on the couch was a young man with clean-cut brown hair, brown eyes. He smiled.
“Sol!” he said. “So good to meet you. You should see this.”
Solomon looked at the television, gun trained on the young man. It was showing Juanita gasping for air lying on the ground.
“Where is she?” Solomon asked, gun pointed at Psycho.
“Oh, in the bedroom. No mystery here.”
Solomon shot the man twice. He went to the door. It was metal. He unlocked it and opened the door. There was another door behind it sheeted with heavy plastic. He ripped that open and went in. “Juanita?” he said, rushing to her side. She was unconscious. He drew out his cell phone and called for paramedics. He started compressions, and in six minutes the paramedics came bounding in. “Ignore the asshole in the other room,” he said as he stood and called them into the bedroom to tend to the girl.
“There is no one else here,” one of the paramedics said.
Solomon left the bedroom and went into the living room. His bullet casings were on the ground where he was standing. His muzzle was still warm. But the kid was gone. There was no blood.
“Fuck,” Solomon said.
He sat on the couch as Captain Marks and a few uniformed police officers arrived.
Solomon sat in an interrogation room at the station. The staff psychiatrist was with him, observing. “That’s him, Lisa,” he said.
“That’s Justin Graham. As in the Grahams,” she said.
“He said he had a ton of money when we spoke.”
“I remember. But there’s a ton of money. And then there’s New York royalty. These guys are as old money as American old money gets.”
“Well, let’s see what the prints turn up. And if Juanita wakes up…”
“A guy like this, with money like this, all he needs is a few hours, and he can disappear forever.”
“We’re going to wait for more evidence. You’re not the best witness right now. You can’t be all we go in with.”
“He’ll be gone in a few hours.”
“We are not going,” she said sternly.
“He’ll have bruises. Two of them on his chest. He had to have been wearing a vest.”
“We can’t let him get away.”
Solomon stood in the corner, agitated. The psychiatrist sat nearby, observing. Lisa was seated next to Captain Marks and across from Captain Bell. “No prints?” Captain Bell said.
“None,” Lisa answered.
“And no other traces of him?” Captain Bell asked.
“None. Just the witness.”
“Who happens to be under psychiatric observation, who happens also to have, as far as the media is concerned, encouraged a man who stole millions from his family to jump off a building,” Captain Bell said.
“He’s off active duty,” Captain Marks said. “And I believe him.”
“I do, too,” Captain Bell said. “But I’m not the one we need to convince.”
“Just pick the kid up. He’ll have bruises. If he’s even still around.”
“You can’t just pick up a Graham,” Captain Bell said.
“Why not? Don’t we have the same justice system for rich people and poor people?”
Everyone laughed, even Solomon and the otherwise stone-faced psychiatrist.
When she stopped laughing, Captain Bell picked up the phone and called the chief. They exchanged a few words as Captain Bell explained the situation. When she hung up, she told the group, “He’s going to call the DA. The DA will contact the Graham family lawyer. They’ll ask for an interview, today. We’ll get one. That’s the best we can do.”
“It’ll be enough,” Solomon said.
“Go home,” Marks told Solomon.
“I want to see this through.”
“Go home,” Marks said again.
“I’ll call with an update,” Lisa said.
Solomon went to the hospital to visit Juanita.
Sol woke to a knock at his door. He was wearing his undershirt and his suit trousers. He walked barefoot across his apartment to the door. He opened, and Lisa asked to come in.
“Bruised?” Solomon asked.
“From shoulder down to his hip,” Lisa said.
“What?” Solomon asked.
“Skiing accident over the weekend. Majorly bruised. We have pictures. We couldn’t tell if any of them were from gunshot wounds.”
Solomon sat on his couch abruptly, falling with his hands going through his hair and ending with his right hand over his mouth, shaking his head. “He knew. He knew I’d shoot. He knew I’d hit him in the chest — so he wore the vest. He knew there would be bruising, so he went out…”
“And had an accident? He spent two days in the hospital, Sol.”
“He fucking knew.”
“I’m not saying you’re wrong. But we don’t have enough.”
“I saw him there,” Solomon said.
“You saw a brown-haired, brown-eyed kid. You saw a quarter of the people in this city. That’s not enough. Not coming…” Lisa stopped.
“From me,” Solomon said.
“Not from you, Sol. Not from the kid of a guy who lost millions to Friederick.”
“He knew,” Solomon said. “And he won the game.”
Lisa touched his hand. “Next time,” she said, “empty a clip or two into his fucking head.”
For the next two weeks, Solomon worked with Greg and Roger on building a case against Justin. It did not work. They could not get another interview with him, and the family had shut down access to him, threatening to sue the city if they persisted in what their lawyer called a witch hunt[_. _]They were told directly by the chief to stop, so they stopped. Which was why Solomon jumped at the chance to meet Justin’s parents when he was invited.
A young lady welcomed Solomon into a dimly lit reception area. She was dressed smartly, in sharp, clean lines and expensive fabrics. There was a boardroom to the right. She offered him coffee, which he accepted, and he looked at the artwork on the wall, his eyes stopping at a Manet hanging over the reception desk, and then glazing over a Picasso over a couch in the waiting area. She led him into the boardroom. The table had seating for twenty. It was dark oak. The window overlooked Central Park. John Graham stood and introduced himself and his wife, Marjory, each extending their hand across the table to Solomon. John wore blue jeans and a white shirt. His wife wore a Chanel suit. A short, bald man named George Galaticos nodded and introduced himself as the family lawyer. He was wearing a sharp, chalk-stripe suit and an ox-blood-colored tie.
“Thanks for coming,” John started. “We appreciate, also, your discretion.”
“Thanks for calling,” Solomon said. “Should I have brought a lawyer?”
“No,” Marjory said. “No, George is here for us, not you. He’s family. For a family like us, your lawyer is family.”
“I knew your father. Even met your grandfather just before he died,” John said.
“Doesn’t surprise me,” Solomon said. “He knew most of you people.”
John chuckled. “Rich people?”
“Super rich people,” Solomon quipped. Everyone laughed.
“Well, he was one of us,” John said. “But I knew him mostly from the charity circuit. And, of course, he found a few pieces for me. Including one very special piece. Something nobody could find.”
“His specialty,” Solomon said. “What did he get you?”
“You already know,” Marjory said.
The assistant arrived with the coffee, leaving it in front of Solomon and then leaving. “The Manet,” Solomon said. “Went missing in the war.”
“He said he surprised himself with that one,” John recounted.
“In fact, I picked it out half-randomly from a book about lost art at a gala for the Met,” Marjory said. “I called it a bit of a challenge.”
“And it surprised him because it was not a challenge at all,” John continued. “He said he found it through entirely legitimate means. And it was not on the market — which simply meant we had to pay double what it was worth, and a very, very healthy commission to your father to convince the person to sell.”
Solomon laughed. “That probably means he did in fact find it, the buyer sold it to him, and he sold it to you. He probably made four or five times what he paid for it.”
John and Marjory laughed. “Worth every penny,” John said. “It’s worth ten times what we paid for it now.”
“I don’t doubt it,” Solomon said.
“How was his, what did he call it, dear?” Marjory said.
“His life’s mission,” John said.
“How was it? How many did he find?” Marjory said. “Before…”
“He died?” Solomon said. John and Marjory nodded. “Three,” Solomon said.
John and Marjory were crestfallen. “Oh,” John said, looking at Marjory. “We had hoped it would have been more.” He looked at George. “For your benefit, George, Sol’s father … oh, Sol, can I tell the story?”
“Sol’s grandfather, I suppose?” Solomon nodded. John continued, “He escaped from Germany — escaped the Nazis. But not before they had looted almost his entire family’s personal collection of art. And they had some masterful pieces, simply irreplaceable. Worth hundreds of millions today. But Sol’s father talked about these eighteen — out of everything they had and lost, these eighteen pieces that his father went to find. The grandfather found one in his lifetime as they reopened their family business, to tremendous success, in New York. And when he died, the grandfather, Sol’s father continued looking for the pieces. So he found three? Or the family had three?”
“We only had three of the eighteen,” Solomon confirmed.
“And where are they now?” Marjory asked.
“Liquidated,” Solomon said. “To pay the estate taxes for my father.”
“That’s a tragedy,” John said.
“Thanks,” Solomon said, leaning forward. “But I’m not here to talk art, am I?”
“No,” John said. “Of course not. Marjory and I, well, we want you to know we did not take anything you said about our son personally.”
“We understood,” Marjory said, “that you were just doing your job.”
“Why am I here?” Solomon asked.
John took Marjory’s hand. “Justin has run away,” John said. Marjory’s eyes glistened.
“When?” Solomon asked.
“Yesterday,” John said.
“That’s not really long enough to determine that he has run away. Could just be drunk at some girl’s house.”
“He left us this,” John said, sliding a USB key in a plastic bag over to Solomon. “It has taken us a week to figure out what was on it.”
Solomon knew what this meant. George took out a tablet and played the now familiar visualization of the weird shrieking audio sounds from the video clip on the USB key. It was a simple sentence written in pictograms and Greek letters. “I am Psycho,” Solomon read out loud. “Not unusual for a teenager. Maybe agitated by the process.”
“And he left these,” John said. He slid over a file filled with pictures. Solomon leafed through the pictures. The first few were of dead animals all bludgeoned, shot, or stabbed to death — squirrels, dogs, cats. The next series showed construction of airtight boxes, and then animals dead from suffocation. After those followed rooms — twenty in all, and twenty people. The first eighteen looked homeless. The last two were Psycho’s first victim and Juanita.
When Solomon reached Juanita, Marjory said, “We just thank God she is not dead.”
“She might as well be,” Solomon replied, thinking about the girl in a coma in the hospital. He had run through most of his remaining fortune keeping her alive and was not sure how much he had left. “She’s lying in a hospital in a coma and might never wake up. And if she does, she will never be the same; not without a miracle.”
“That’s a tragedy,” John said. “And that’s why we have asked you here.” Marjory began to weep.
“I’m not on active duty,” Solomon said.
“We know,” George said. “That’s why we called you.”
“What do you want me to do?”
“I don’t know much about cops,” John said, “but I know they are never really off the clock. We will hand all of this over to the police — in fact, the officer working this case, Greg, is our next appointment. But…” John couldn’t continue.
“We have reason to believe that he will reach out directly to you,” George said.
“And why’s that?” Solomon asked. “Something you aren’t showing me?”
“No,” John said. “We know he made this personal with the last girl. We think he will again. And we’re sorry, Solomon, you have no idea how sorry. We protected our son and he … we shouldn’t have. We should have known or at least investigated ourselves.”
Marjory stood and excused herself, leaving the room.
“It’s killing her,” John said. “She can hardly believe it. Thinks someone must have convinced him to do this — that he has a partner of some kind.”
“Do you think that?” Solomon asked.
“No,” John said, wiping a tear from his cheek. “No, he’s doing this alone. And he will do this again. And when he does, he will play this awful game, and he will engage you in it. So you deserve to know. And you deserve whatever help we can provide.”
“And what do you want me to do?” Solomon asked.
“I want you to win. I want you to stop my son.”
“You know what that means? You know what he told me?”
John nodded. “I’d prefer he didn’t … you didn’t have to kill him. But if that’s what…”
“I understand,” Solomon said. “You don’t need to say it.”
“I’d rather you killed my son than he killed someone else,” John said, wiping another tear from his cheek.
“Naturally,” George interjected, “John didn’t just say that.”
“Just stop him,” John said. “We will do whatever we can to help.”
“I’ve got a few ideas,” Solomon said.
“So what was so important?” Sol asked. Clive was pacing in his kitchen as Sol sat at the table.
“I don’t think Justin is working alone,” Clive said. “He just can’t be.”
“What makes you think that?” Sol asked, taking a swig of rum from Clive’s now nearly empty bottle.
“Look,” Clive said, lighting a cigarette and taking a drag. “He doesn’t work alone. He’s not alone. He doesn’t run his own plane or boat, and he would need those to get back and forth from Europe.”
“I’ll give you that, but this is a little different than transit. Few people run their own planes or boats,” Sol said, taking the last of the rum and shaking the empty bottle.
Clive replaced it with whisky. “No, I get that. But there’s this line. And on one side,” he gestured with his left hand, “Justin is working perfectly alone killing people, getting away with it, running from the country. And on the other,” he gestured with his right hand, “he has an accomplice or two who know what he is doing and are actively helping him. I don’t think we are there,” he shook his right hand, “but we absolutely are not here.” He shook his left.
“So that leaves us somewhere in the middle. This isn’t new information.”
“No, fuck, Sol, I’m helping. Stop.” Clive ran his hands through his hair, lit cigarette and all, and then took another drag before continuing. “We are looking for Justin. Everyone would know who he was. And he knows it. So no, it was not him who put the note in Vera’s throat. It was someone after Schweinsteiger, the first pathologist who examined her. That I can be sure of.”
“Unless it was Schweinsteiger himself,” Sol said.
“Not likely,” Clive responded. “So I’m sure, yes, it was after him. And the most probable would be the ambulance drivers — the people taking the bodies from one place to the other. Access to the bodies, no cameras. Plenty of time. Morbid senses of humor and probably not above this sort of thing for shits and giggles. They’re the type who put makeup on dead bodies and laugh when we open up the bag. Fuck, Sol, I laugh, too. Inserting the note would be a bridge too far for a prank, but if they were paid?”
“I’ll bite. Got names?” Sol asked.
“Carl Jones and Paulie Cassavetes,” Clive said, pulling out a piece of paper with names and phone numbers on them.
“I’ll talk to them,” Sol said.
“I thought that might be a little awkward.”
“I’m less concerned than they should be,” Sol said.
“Still,” Clive said, “I went ahead and spoke with them already.”
“What did you find out?” Sol asked.
“Carl is sixty-six years old and is scheduled to retire at the end of this year.”
“Paulie is in Atlantic City staying at the Taj.”
“Now that’s a solid fucking lead,” Sol said.
Reg’s phone rang. His ring tone was a simple bell — he could not stand the tones most people used these days. The very first thing he did whenever he got a new cellphone was change the ringtone to the most old-fashioned ringing bell that came preloaded. It was exactly what he had done when Sol gave him the burner he was using for the heist.
Sol had called. He asked to meet Reg as soon as he could, and Reg traveled down to The Dog and Duck to meet him. It was not far from Reg’s apartment, so he did not mind the twenty or so minutes walk. When he arrived, Sean pointed him to the back room. If Sol was waiting there, it meant something serious.
When Reg opened the door, Sol was halfway through a bottle of 50, with an empty in front of him. “Sit down,” Sol said.
“What’s up?” Reg asked while seating himself.
“I need to ask you to do something for me,” Sol said.
Sol shook his head. “Nah. This isn’t a favor. This is police work. I wasn’t sure I’d ask you to do it.”
“Because I’m a rookie?”
“Because it is too dangerous?”
“No, Reg. I was just going to do it myself, but I can’t really leave the city and do this myself. I can ask Sham if you’d prefer.” Sol picked up his phone.
Reg put his hand out. “Sol, you don’t need to ask this way. You don’t need to play me. I want to help.”
“You’re my first choice because you’ve read more of my file. Sham isn’t the file-reading type. Most doctors aren’t.”
Reg shrugged. “That’s what the stats say.”
“It’s also what he’d say, if you ask him. Which I did. So you know who this is.” Sol opened his wallet and took out a photo.
“That’s Justin Graham. The primary suspect for Psycho.”
“He is Psycho,” Sol replied.
“As you say,” Reg said.
“Here’s what I know,” Sol said. “After killing Greg, he fled the country. Got to Europe. Used a credit card once — dumb luck, sloppy mistake, maybe putting us off the trail by letting someone else use it, doesn’t matter. He did it. Not someone else. Him. My guess? He was bragging — bragging that he got away, daring us to come get him when he knew that was nearly impossible. And then there were new videos.”
“More than the ones I gave you?” Sol nodded. “I didn’t know about those,” Reg said.
Sol nodded. “You aren’t supposed to. I’ve seen them. Kevin helped interpret them — ran them through the audio filters that showed pictures of Justin’s time in Europe. A photo album for this fucked-up asshole. And then, he came home.”
“He’s here?” Reg said, leaning forward.
“Yeah,” Sol said.
Reg leaned back. “So what are we doing? Are we cancelling the heist?”
“No,” Sol said. “It isn’t my case. I’m not investigating it. I’m not even a cop. I’m just trying to get out of a shitty situation myself. But a few people on the force are pulling for me. Hoping that I find Justin first.”
Reg nodded and felt that he knew what that meant. He was not sure if he believed in that type of justice, but hoping to be a cop himself, he felt the best idea was to be modestly enthusiastic about the idea that Sol would kill Justin, and that this would be alright. “And what do we have?” he asked.
“A lead,” Sol responded, passing over a picture with the name Paul Cassavetes on the back. “That photo album from Europe was found in the audio files of postings on a gore website shortly after a note was found in the throat of a dead girl. It was not there during the first examination. It was found in the second. The most probable person to have done it was one of the two ambulance drivers. One of them is sixty-six. The other is in AC.”
“So Justin paid the dude, who then went to AC, too dumb to lay low for a little bit before spending his dough?” Reg said, holding up the picture.
“Probably just hoped to double it. Also, probably doesn’t think what he did was all that wrong.”
“So what are we doing?”
“We are following the lead. Except I can’t follow it. I can’t go so far off-track, out of the city.”
“Blows the heist?”
Sol shook his head. “Maybe, but that’s less likely than tipping off Justin. He might have wanted me to find Paulie. He probably did — probably chose the young kid with a gambling problem knowing that eventually we’d figure out who got the note into the girl’s throat. That’s how he thinks. But wherever I can, I like to do whatever is possible not to tip Justin off. Not to let him know I’m playing his game. I don’t know. Feels wrong. So I’ll pretend I haven’t figured it out. You need to go down and talk to Paulie. Find out what he knows, if anything. Or just find out when he got that note and who gave it to him. Whatever you can.”
“I’ll see what I can do,” Reg said. He got up and left.
Reg went home to grab his car keys and then went down to his garage. He drove a 2014 Mercedes SLK but did not like anyone to know about it. He had driven cars like this his whole life, but here, in New York, he was driving a car paid for by his parents and felt a fraud. Felt like he did not belong, like his peers would think he was simply slumming it for a while before moving on. He did not have the heart to trade down to something more appropriate, but he knew he would need to.
He headed out for Atlantic City thinking about the truth. Thinking about something President Obama had told him once in a quick meet-and-greet. “Think about what you want to do, not what you want to be.” And that was it. Before then, his whole life he wanted to be either a congressman or in the state senate, and then a senator, maybe a governor. Keep moving up. Maybe be president. But his goal was to be something until he realized that being something was a waste of time. Being something was easy.
He had the connections, and he had the money. All he needed was the right timing — an empty seat in a safe district held by Democrats, easy enough to come by in the northeast. But that was being something. All his goals changed when he considered instead doing something. What he wanted to do was stand up for justice and lower crime. Lawyers do not do that. Neither do congressman, though they will take credit for incidental drops in crime rates. But police officers? Here he was driving to AC to help locate a serial killer. He was doing something.
A few hours into his drive he was there. He pulled up to the front of the Trump Taj Mahal and stepped out of the car, handing the keys to the valet and getting a ticket in return. He looked every bit the part of a monied regular in designer jeans, a white, fitted v-neck shirt and a black leather jacket. To him, this was last season’s gear. A year earlier, at the end of every season he would empty his closet. Other than his friends and acquaintances, nobody would have known the difference, but those friends and acquaintances used to matter when he was trying to be something. He had not bought a stitch of clothing in a few months because he was focused on doing. And he discovered that to most people his clothes as he wore them now were what all the NYC millionaires and kids of millionaires wore.
Paulie played blackjack — that was what Sol knew. Reg hated blackjack. It was the game amateurs played because they had seen a few movies or read an article online that told them how to count cards and tilt the table in your favor. The only worse game was poker. If Paulie played poker, Reg probably would not have come at all — or he would have, but he would be pissed the whole time.
Reg walked through the midlimit blackjack tables, checking the picture in his pocket to see if he could match it to Paulie. He was there last night. He would be there tonight, too, unless the money was gone. As he walked through the casino, he passed his game, the game of gentlemen and winners: baccarat. He sneered at the punto banco tables and stood for a moment watching the action at a high limit chemin de fer game.
A pit boss asked if he wanted a seat. Reg knew he could not just watch the high-limit games like this, so he showed his player’s card and took a seat. He played for an hour, made more money than he would all year with the NYPD — a feat that was not so heroic as it sounds at these limits — and then cashed out and headed back to the blackjack tables.
Paulie was there, flanked by an escort. His stack was low. He was down to twelve tigers — $1,200. That was what was left of the devil’s ransom, Reg thought. He watched and he waited. Paulie had $300 in play and was dealt two queens. Dealer showed an eight. Paulie split the queens, and the rest of the table groaned. One lady in the table over yelled in a shrill voice, “Who’s splittin’ queens?”
Paulie doubled down on the first hand and was dealt a ten, and stayed. On the next he doubled down again and pulled an eight, and stayed. Round the table it went to the dealer, who flipped to show seven. He dealt himself another card and pulled a six. Bad luck, sure, but Paulie was stupid. The table knew it, but Paulie was out of money. The escort gave him a kiss on the cheek and left. Whether she had already been bought and used or was just hoping to get something of what Paulie had left, it did not matter. Paulie had nothing left to give.
He got up from the table and checked his wallet, and then got up to leave. Reg walked up to him. “Tough break.”
“I don’t care what those fuckers think,” Paulie said. “It was a good move. Twenty and eighteen while the dealer is showing an eight? I should have won at least one of those and pushed the other.”
“Some people would say that you messed up the shoe.”
“Fuck some people,” Paulie said. “I need a drink.” He headed for the bar.
Reg followed. “Can I buy you a drink?”
“Drinks are free,” Paulie said. “And I’m not gay. Not against gays, or anything. My cousin’s gay. But not for me, bro.”
“Oh,” Reg said. “That isn’t what I’m after at all. I actually need to ask you about a mutual friend.”
“Oh,” Paulie said. “Who?”
Reg pulled out the photo of Justin. It was from his high school graduation.
Paulie let out an entirely different, “oh.”
“Yeah. Paid for this trip.” Paulie looked closer at Reg.
“You don’t seem surprised that I’m here asking about him.” They had reached the bar. Paulie ordered a Coors Light. Reg threw up a little in his mouth at the thought of it and asked for a negroni made with Hendrick’s.
“Well,” Paulie said, taking a swig of beer. “I’ve got a picture of my own. He told me someone would come looking. Said it would be this dude.”
Reg took the picture and recognized the face. It was Greg. “Nope,” Reg said. “Not him.” Reg thought for the first time about how sick Justin must truly be. How Justin probably expected Sol or some other cop to come asking, and set them up to get hit with Greg’s picture like an emotional sack of bricks. This really was a game. A boring game, at that. These were the same tired notes Reg railed against when watching Blockbuster-by-Numbers movies. This was the simple, low-hanging fruit of psychological warfare. But it was also effective.
“Who is this guy, then?” Paulie asked.
“He’s the guy that your patron killed a few months back.”
Paulie went white. “What the fuck. You kiddin’ me?”
“Greg Kellogg. Officer Gregory Kellogg. Look it up later.”
“Hey, I don’t want any trouble,” Paulie said.
“You’ve found a lot of trouble, Paulie. A whole lot. Tell me where this kid is.”
“I only met him once. He found me. Waited for me outside my station, talked to me for a couple minutes and gave me ten grand to play a joke on his dad — this guy. Said it was his dad’s twentieth anniversary as a coroner and it would be hilarious. I doubled that money last night. Spent some, lost the rest today.”
“I don’t care,” Reg said. “When?”
“A week ago.”
“What did he tell you to do?”
“He gave me a test tube. Told me to put it into the throat of a young girl.”
“Didn’t strike you as odd that the next day a young girl showed up dead on your watch?”
A tear rolled down Paulie’s cheek. He looked around. “No, man.” He put his hand on his mouth. “He killed that guy? And that girl?”
“He killed a whole lot more than that.”
“He going to kill me?”
“Not if you tell me everything you know, and we find him first.”
“Who the fuck are you? You a cop?” Paulie asked.
“Yeah,” Reg said. Paulie did not ask for identification, and Reg thought, Yeah, this guy’s an idiot.
Solomon approached the orange door. He slipped a key into the pad lock, turned it, slipped the lock off, and slid up the storage door. Inside the concrete room with no windows were a second-hand desk and chair. On both sides of the room hung large corkboards, and in the middle of the room was a whiteboard. The corkboard to his left had a picture of the home in Short Hills in the center. Connected to the picture with red string were pictures of all the apparatus of the alarm system that had been recently installed, with post-it notes of codes to disarm or dismantle them. On the right were the four safes the group was targeting, all circled and highlighted in wide-angled photographs of the room where they were situated. There was a fifth picture of an empty closet in the basement that had not been retouched.
Solomon walked to the far wall and picked up a red marker. His name, along with The Man in Black, Sham, Reginald, Vince, and Lisa were written there in his nearly illegible script. Next to each of them was written a phone number and a dollar figure. The Man in Black’s dollar figure was largest. Lisa’s was $400,000. The three thieves other than Solomon had $1,000,000 each assigned to them. Using the red marker, Solomon crossed off Vince’s name and then adjusted Sham and Reginald’s shares up to $1,375,000, putting Vince’s down to $250,000.
Solomon reviewed his work, checked his math, and then nodded as he drew three more strikes through Vince’s name and then a happy face in yellow next to it. Solomon smiled, turned his back to the whiteboard, and left the storage unit. He shut the door, replaced the pad lock, and locked it.
He put the key back into his right pocket and then fished around in his left pocket, removing another, similar key. Solomon walked to the storage unit next door and unlocked it and went in. It was organized identically to the last, except the corkboards and whiteboards contained information exclusively about Justin Graham. Solomon stood in the room, closing the door behind him and turning on a battery-operated lamp. He exhaled, picked up his phone, and then told the person on the other line he needed to talk this through.
Lisa arrived with Clive. They knocked on the door to the storage unit. It was raining. Solomon opened, and Clive rushed in. “Fucking cold, Sol,” he said. “And wet. And not much better in here.” He helped himself to the lone seat and shook off some of the water.
“Nothing on your end?” Solomon asked Lisa.
“I don’t really hear much. That’s mostly up to Roger and Thomas. I don’t have line of sight, but I get the sense that they are as active as they can be, but they are waiting for a break.”
“They shouldn’t be waiting,” Solomon said.
“They’re not. You know what I mean. They’re working, but there’s nothing for them. No clues. Sol, you know what they are up against. There’s nothing to work with,” Lisa said. “And if Roger and Thomas know something, they aren’t saying.”
“And you?” Solomon asked, looking at Clive.
“The body with the note was otherwise just a body. And no others have popped up.”
“Okay. Well, we have figured out how he got the note into the body,” Solomon said.
“Paulie?” Clive asked.
“Yes.” Solomon took Paulie’s picture and added it to a timeline on the corkboard. On the far left were the eighteen dead homeless men. Next were Francine, then Juanita, then Greg. To the right of them were still frames of Justin’s trip through Europe, aligned to the timeline as best as Kevin could figure it. After that was a picture of Vera, and then Paulie. The last picture on the far right was Hyacinth.
“What do we know?” Lisa asked.
“He paid Paul ten thousand to slip the note into Vera’s throat.”
“Should I have Roger and Thomas pick him up?” Lisa asked.
“Probably,” Solomon said. “But if you could wait a few days, I’d appreciate it.”
Lisa shook her head.
Solomon turned his back. “He’s only made one mistake.” He approached the corkboard hanging over the desk where the doctor was seated. He pulled out a credit card receipt. “His parents kept the credit card going after he ran off. He used it three days later and then probably realized that they hadn’t forgotten to turn it off but had left it on so we could track him. Maybe he did it on purpose. I don’t know. That’s the game. In any event, he bought camping gear in Germany, a small city outside Munich. At a hostel.”
“And what did you find there?” Lisa asked.
Solomon turned around. “What makes you think I went there?”
“What did you find, Sol?” Clive asked.
“I did not go there. But I made some calls. He didn’t use the gear,” Solomon said. Next to the receipt was a picture of two blonde gentlemen. “Fritz and Frank…”
“No,” Clive said, laughing.
“I kid you not.” Solomon continued. “He bought it for them.”
“So he bought camping gear for a couple German students. What’s the connection?” Lisa asked.
“Me,” Solomon said. He moved to the corkboard on the opposite wall. “Fritz and Frank Buchholz, great-grandchildren of Karl Buchholz, one of my grandfather’s closest business partners until Hitler came to power. He is the one who alerted the regime when my grandfather first tried to escape. They arrested him, confiscated his entire collection. As a reward, Karl was allowed to keep what he wanted and sell what he wanted. He kept what he thought were the eighteen most valuable paintings.”
Clive put his hand over his mouth. “I hope this kid doesn’t think of me as his mortal enemy anytime soon. What did he do? Kill them?”
“From what I could tell, he made friends with them. I spoke with them. He spent a week with them in one of their castles,” Solomon said.
“Castles?” Lisa said.
“This was a very small castle,” Solomon said, pointing to a picture of it on the corkboard in the proper place on the timeline. “When the week was up, he was gone, and so was a box in the basement. Fritz and Frank didn’t know what was in the box, but their father was very angry.”
“Did they call the cops?” Lisa asked.
“So then it isn’t very valuable, whatever it was,” Clive said.
“A psycho kid with art-collecting parents steals a box from the grandson of a Nazi art dealer, and you think it wasn’t valuable because he didn’t call the cops?” Lisa asked sarcastically. “No. He didn’t call the cops because he couldn’t report it missing. Couldn’t even hang it in his house. He didn’t call the cops because it was so fucking valuable. What was it?”
“Either the Metzinger or the Gierymski. My grandfather had tracked the other sixteen away from Buchholz,” Solomon said.
“From your grandfather’s collection?” Clive asked. “My word. He just took it? Why didn’t you or your father just go and take it? It couldn’t have been that easy.”
“We tried,” Solomon said.
“What happened?” Clive asked.
“Buchholz woke up,” Solomon said.
“Did your father get caught?” Clive said, leaning forward.
“No. He got out and left the country. The year he went missing — the year he died — he had gone back to Germany to try again.”
“And the kid’s trail?” Lisa asked.
“Cold after that. Nothing until Paulie and the note in the dead girl’s throat.”
“So he’s got the girl, and he’s got one of the works of art your father and grandfather had spent a life trying to find? Does he bury the art in the woods? He can’t bring that here. He could perhaps get through customs with a fake passport, or through the porous borders with Mexico or Canada, but nobody is letting art through uninspected,” Lisa asked.
“No,” Solomon said. “It will be with him. So how does he get back into the country?”
“Boat,” Clive said. “I can’t tell you how many dead, suffocated migrant workers I investigate in a year. They pay obscene amounts of money to get into the country, and there isn’t a customs agent on this end when you come out of a shipping container in the middle of the night.”
Lisa and Solomon stared at the doctor. “What?” Clive said. “You didn’t invite me here for my looks. I’ve been very useful in this investigation.”
“Boat,” Solomon said, shrugging. “So where do they land?”
“There are a couple cartels that run using ships from North Africa. It is usually just a few shipping crates per boat. They land on the pier, right here in New York. New York is still the place cargo ships make land on the East Coast,” Clive said.
“So he buys himself a shipping crate and makes land here in New York. Sometime between April 28th, when he took off on Fritz and Frank, and September 27th, when he hands Paul the note for the dead girl’s throat.”
“Does he cross as a migrant?” Lisa asked.
“Would he take the risk?” Solomon said.
“No,” Clive said. “Not if he knows what they go through. The kid might be tough and might think he’s tougher still than he actually is, but I wouldn’t call him stupid, and he’s not going to get into a sealed steel container with thirty poor people who don’t speak his language with a priceless painting and hope to reach the other side alive.”
“So he buys up an entire cargo suite for himself,” Solomon says.
“Noticeable,” Lisa said, adding, “Need a few names?”
“Just one or two,” Solomon replied.
“So what do we learn out of this?” Clive asked. Lisa and Solomon looked at him again. “No, I get it, you think it is a dumb question. But really, what do you get out of it, Sol? It is obviously how he got into the country. It’s obvious. So you go talk to some dangerous people? They maybe — maybe — cooperate, and you find out you’re right. But they probably don’t know where he went afterwards, so you’re no further along. You don’t fill in any blanks, here.”
“I bring you the body of a man found in a warehouse who is shot in the head,” Solomon said. “During the examination you find water in his lungs — enough to drown him. What do you do?”
“I follow the evidence.” Clive said. “And try to figure out how he drowned and why someone shot him in the head after he died.”
Solomon sat in the waiting area of the office on the fortieth floor of the Time & Life Building on the Avenue of the Americas. His view faced west. The woman he was here to meet was running thirty minutes late, and the receptionist had offered coffee and water, but Solomon had declined. As Solomon tapped his right foot, the phone rang and the receptionist stood and invited Solomon into the office.
He sat across from a tall blonde woman who was on the phone. She spoke with a strong East German accent. She was in her fifties and wore a black pantsuit. She nodded at him and motioned for him to sit as she told the person on the other end of the line she had to go.
She stood, extended her hand, and shook Solomon’s firmly, his grip weak compared with hers. “Gertrude,” she said as she sat back down and leaned backward. “Money?”
Solomon took a stack out of his right breast pocket and handed it over. She counted and then said to him, “A lot of money for a date.”
“I know how important your clients’ privacy is,” Solomon said.
“So what do you want to know?”
“A former associate of mine availed himself of your border crossing services, coming here likely from somewhere in North Africa,” Solomon said.
“We don’t keep manifests on those trips,” she said. “I’m not sure I can help you.”
“You’ll remember this one. He bought out the entire container so he could travel alone,” Solomon said.
Gertrude nodded. “That would have been expensive.”
“That would not have been a problem.”
“That would have been far more expensive than five thousand dollars for a date.”
“Can I appeal to your sense of justice?” Solomon asked.
Gertrude laughed. “I’d like to see you try.”
“This person is Psycho — the killer who kidnaps young girls and lets them suffocate.”
Gertrude stared back at him. “Nope. That appeal is not going to work. Some of my very best friends do much worse things to young girls than kill them.”
“So what would a date like this cost?” Solomon asked.
“He would have had to pay five hundred thousand to buy out both sides of a container contract. It’s not just the cost of getting here — that gets you on the boat. That is actually pretty cheap. He would also be responsible for paying to be free from work afterward. That’s where we really make our money. Getting on the boat is our loss leader. The work you do for us afterward pays a much more handsome return.”
Solomon smiled. “I wouldn’t suppose a show of force would do anything to convince you?” They both laughed. “I didn’t think so. So, what, a million?”
Gertrude nodded. “I’d need the money, and I’d need to know that other potential clients never find out that we leaked this information. It would be bad for business.”
“So, a million and a promise of discretion?” Solomon asked. Gertrude nodded. “Okay. Can I have my employer call yours?” Gertrude nodded again. Solomon sent a text.
They sat waiting. After a few minutes, Gertrude started answering emails on her computer. After twenty minutes, she fielded a phone call from her husband asking about what to pick up for dinner. When she hung up, she shook her head. “Asshole,” she said. “I work all day, and he sits at home and is too lazy to go out to get something for me to cook for dinner when I get home. You married?”
“Almost, once,” Solomon said.
“The closest thing I’ve ever had was one of Psycho’s victims.”
Gertrude shook her head. “Don’t make revenge personal,” she said. “It has to end, and it always ends badly. Either you’re dead, or he is, and all that’s left is regret for the time you’ve lost. It isn’t worth it.”
“Have you ever had revenge like this?” Solomon asked.
“Once,” Gertrude said. “A few years back I ran into a man at a coffee shop who had raped me when I was sixteen. He was twenty-two at the time, a college tutor. My parents wanted me to learn English. He taught me. He raped me the first time in my third lesson. The last time was our last lesson, fifty sessions later. So I saw him when I was visiting home in a coffee shop. He came up and said hi to me. He asked me how I have been. And it was like he owned me. So I made a call, and I followed him out of the café and beat him to death with a cricket bat, and then got picked up and left the country before they found the body. Haven’t been home since.”
“The revenge? No. The lesson it taught me about forgiveness? Yes.”
“Forgiveness?” Solomon asked, astonished.
“I kept expecting to feel healed, to have expunged this dark secret of mine and to feel vengeance. But it never came. I still hated him. I still wanted to kill him — but there he was, dead already, and I got to do it myself, even. I got to see the fear in his eyes and know that he knew that I was doing it, and that he knew why I was doing it. So I learned about forgiveness. It is not about forgiving the other person. Fuck them. It is about not carrying around your hate. It is about giving yourself permission to move on with your life so that one person and all the awful things they did to you don’t define who you are.”
Her phone rang. She picked it up and in fluent Russian had a brief conversation, mostly agreeing and acknowledging what she was being told. “We have terms,” she said as she hung up. “Justin landed at Port Newark-Elizabeth Marine Terminal in Newark Bay on August 15th. He was on a ship flagged from Cayman Islands called the Nautilus, in a container marked JFKU3976482.”
“Any point in me going to check that out?” Solomon asked.
“The container is still there. We may have cleaned it, maybe not. Maybe you find something? Probably you find nothing. But as soon as we open the container, our contract is finished and we don’t know what he did from there. So what are you going to do?”
Solomon stood, shaking Gertrude’s hand as she stood. “I’m going to follow the evidence,” he said.
Solomon stepped into the warehouse. Dim lamps hung fifty feet up. Dirt, grit, grime, and water from the day’s rain trailed in and out of the open doorway. He followed an impish man with a limp and a broad, graying neck beard. “Lucky,” the man said as he continued along midway into the warehouse. “Very lucky. This one is on the ground.”
Solomon smiled. “Not luck,” he said quietly. “Design.”
The man took a pair of bolt cutters and cut the lock on the door. Solomon took his flashlight and turned it on, looking inside. He turned back to the man and tried to hand him fifty dollars.
“No charge for the help,” the man said, waving him off.
“Not for your help,” Solomon said. “For your discretion.”
“Discretion’s worth double,” the man said, smiling, before shouldering his bolt cutters and leaving.
Solomon put the money back into his pocket. He turned and stepped into the container. Standing in the doorway, he trained his flashlight around the interior. On his right was a thin mattress and a blanket. On his left was a bucket. Throughout were empty bottles of water and wrappers from energy bars. He walked toward the mattress first, turning it over, inspecting the blanket. He sat on it. It was moist. He absently picked up one of the wrappers and read the label. It was written in German, but there was an English translation as well as French, Spanish, and Italian and half a dozen other languages he didn’t recognize.
His phone rang. He took it from his pocket and looked at the screen, and then answered. “So this is how the other half lives?”
“How did you know?” Justin asked.
“Unknown caller. I don’t get calls from unknown callers unless they are telemarketers. And honestly, it would have been funny if you were a telemarketer and I answered like that. But mostly, I figured you would be watching this container.”
“Is it alright for me to say that I expected you to have found this a little earlier? And to have found Paulie?”
“You can say almost anything. You know it doesn’t matter. And you and I both know why I’m here.”
“Why’s that?” Justin asked.
“It’s the game, Justin. I’m here for the clue. I’m here for the next step to finding Hyacinth.”
“Oh, it’s a great deal worse than that,” Justin said.
“You know, Justin, you don’t need to threaten my life if you want to talk. Just tell me where you are, and you will never have to worry about being lonely again.”
“I’m not lonely.”
Solomon’s phone buzzed. He took it from his ear and looked at the picture that had arrived in his texts. It was Hyacinth. She was unconscious, and Solomon could see the intravenous in her arm. Solomon took a deep breath.
“Not too many of those in here,” Justin said.
“Let’s get on with it.”
“I don’t see the point,” Justin said. “You’re late. You’re not going to have time to find us at this rate. Might as well go home to your island palace in the sea.”
“I live at the Y,” Solomon said.
“Sure,” Justin said. “And I didn’t piss on your father’s painting.”
“You didn’t,” Solomon said.
“No, that’s a masterpiece. I’m not a monster. That’s not my game.”
“How much time do I have?” Solomon said.
“Two days for sure,” Justin replied. “Three, tops. I’d say if you aren’t knocking on my door in seventy-two hours, you should absolutely put a bullet into your brain if you want Hyacinth to have a chance at avoiding brain death, like what’s-her-name.”
“Juanita. Yes. I should have remembered. I have a picture of her right here. Must have been hard for her mother to pull the plug. Such a difficult decision. And for it to be driven by finances — by the fact that she didn’t have the right insurance. Can you believe the state of our country? And they call me Psycho.”
Solomon stood and walked over to the door, drawing his weapon and putting the gun at his side in his hand as he exited the container. “We’re done here?”
“Yes,” Justin said, sounding disappointed. He hung up.
Solomon went back out of the docks and found a taxi. In the car, he took out his cell and found a picture of Juanita sitting next to her mother, Maria. In his memory, Solomon sat across from Maria at a table for two at Les Halles. He was reviewing the wine list. Maria looked around the room. She sat uncomfortably and shifted uneasily. Solomon put the wine list down. “It’s got to be hard,” he said, “and I don’t expect you to forget about your daughter, but if you’re not enjoying yourself, if it is too much, we can go.” He reached out and held her hand.
“It’s not that,” Maria replied. “Not entirely. It’s just that this place feels oppressive. That’s the wrong word. Impressive, but beyond me? I’ve never been at a place so nice. I’ve never paid forty dollars for a steak.”
“I’ve never paid less,” Solomon said, smiling.
Maria laughed. “The wood, the leather, the seats, and the bar. Look at all those expensive wines and booze. Every bottle up there is probably like fifty bucks. Not to mention the art. It’s intimidating.”
Solomon looked above Maria. “What do you think of that one?”
She turned around and look at the picture. It was a cow wearing a top hat. The picture was black and white. “I don’t get it. But it is probably expensive.”
“Too expensive,” Solomon replied. “They probably paid a thousand dollars for it. But it’s just a print, and a silly one at that. The frame is worth more than the actual picture. And that one?” Solomon said, nodding to his left.
“An old advertisement for camembert cheese?” Maria said.
“Exactly,” Solomon said. “That’s not art. It’s what people without art put on the walls to seem worldlier than they are. Or if you don’t feel like sounding like a pretentious asshole like I just did, you could say it isn’t art, it’s decoration.”
“And what do you have on your walls, Sol?” Maria asked.
Solomon looked at her, down at her breasts spilling out of her red dress and back up at her brown eyes. He smiled. “I will take you back to my apartment later tonight and show you.”
Later, Solomon opened the door to his apartment and let Maria walk through first. The apartment was mostly empty. There was a couch covered with a brown sheet and a large white tag in the middle of the living room. Two rolled-up, colorful carpets were leaned against the wall on the left. Opposite those was a row of five frames, each covered and tagged themselves. “The art is on your right,” Solomon said.
“Moving?” Maria asked.
“Yes,” Solomon said.
The two removed their shoes and their coats, placing them on the ground near the door. Solomon led Maria to the row of bagged frames. “I can’t open them,” Solomon said, “as they have already been tagged and bagged by the insurance guy. But I can tell you what they are.”
Solomon pointed at the piece furthest from the wall. “This is called A Battleship Loading Ammunition.”
“Is that the name or what it is?” Maria asked.
“For most real art, it’s one in the same. It is by William Lionel Wylie.”
“I’ve never heard of him,” Maria said.
“Most people haven’t. That’s why it is only worth about eight thousand dollars or so.”
“That’s a lot for a print,” Maria said.
“It’s … not a print.” Solomon said. “These are all originals. Real art.”
“This next one is by George Condo. It’s untitled. It is technically a collage.”
“Oh,” Maria said. “Like, cut-up magazines?”
“No,” Solomon said. “A lot of different images on the same piece, trying to tell a story.”
“What’s the story?” Maria asked.
“I couldn’t tell you,” Solomon said. “I inherited my interest from my father and grandfather, but I don’t have the passion. I know the value, though.”
“What is this worth?” Maria asked.
“About twenty-five grand,” Solomon said. “The next is called Summer by Guido Katol. Two kids hanging out in summer. It was about thirty thousand.”
“You paid that much for art?” Maria asked.
“No,” Solomon said. “I paid much, much less. This one, the Katol, sold for 122 percent above the estimate at auction last week. And I bought it for a fraction of that a decade ago. And the next,” Solomon said excitedly, carefully pushing the first three out of the way and exposing the plain brown paper-wrapped exterior of the fourth painting. “This is a still life called Still Life with Pomegranate. Painted relatively recently, 1990. Sold for one hundred thousand.”
“Wow,” Maria said.
“But this last, this surprised even me. By a Chinese artist named Zhou Chunya. The name is really simple — 4 Green Dogs. Beautiful and playful. I don’t do it justice. Sold for about four hundred thousand.”
“You sold all of these?” Maria asked.
“Why? You sound proud of them.”
“I’m proud that I made good investments. My father and grandfather would be proud.”
“Then why did you sell them? Because you are moving?”
Solomon put the pieces back where they were, leaning against each other and supported by the wall. “I sold them for Juanita. I sold them to pay her hospital bills.”
Maria gasped. “The insurance? They said…”
“It ran out. I kept it going, kept paying. Had to sell a few paintings — so what? It’s a life. It’s worth more than paintings. My father and grandfather taught me that, too. Taught me that they left every painting they had gathered, an entire life of paintings and valuables behind and took only what mattered. And that wasn’t paintings. That wasn’t money. That was family. That was people. Everything else can be replaced, and they came here and built a new life and replaced everything they could.”
“Why?” Maria asked.
“Because I couldn’t save her. Because I couldn’t get there in time, and I couldn’t catch her killer. Because she shouldn’t die. Because fuck him, he shouldn’t be allowed to think he took her life.”
Solomon was shaking. He turned away from Maria and asked if she wanted a drink. She came up behind him and embraced him. He turned around in her arms and they kissed.
“I’m sorry I couldn’t save your daughter,” Solomon said.
“You gave her life. For only a month, but a life. You let her find a better end. And you saved me, Sol. You saved me, and that’s enough.”
Justin’s first few killings years earlier were not easy. Around a dozen or so into the testing phase, the sleeper shuffled and rolled. The paper he was sleeping on crumpled noisily; the sound added to the constant beeping of the heartbeat monitor. He threw his hand up to his bearded face as if to scratch but stopped, his thumb and finger now resting on his mouth. Justin was standing on a stepladder nearby and stopped moving, turning his head at the noise. He watched the sleeper for another minute before continuing his search along the walls of the room.
The only source of light was a floodlight hooked up to a generator. Justin was running his hand along the plastic sheets covering the wall. At every divot or crack he would stop and cover it with tape. He stepped down off the ladder, moved it precisely one foot to his right, and then repeated the process of checking the wall for leaks. The sleeper shuffled again, and Justin came down off the ladder, perturbed. He kneeled on the ground next to the sleeper, careful not to rip the plastic sheeting. He picked up a clear bottle marked [_Propofol 10mg/ml _]and drew four milliliters into a syringe, which he then injected into the peripheral catheter.
Justin counted to twenty and watched the heartbeat monitor. The sleeper relaxed. The heartbeat slowed, and then crashed.
Justin stood, frustrated. He kicked the dead man twice. “Lucky fucker,” he said. “You have no idea what I had in store for you.”
He rolled the body in the paper and taped it shut. He lifted it onto a dolly nearby. He opened the door, and sunlight filled the room. Justin took a moment for his eyes to adjust and then rolled the body out of the shed and into the woods, where an empty grave was waiting. He dumped the body onto six others in the open pit and covered it with a tarpaulin and then returned the dolly to the shed, shutting the dull gray door and locking it behind him. He walked toward the log cabin and climbed the back stairs thirty feet to the back door. Inside were ten people drinking.
One of them, a young man wearing a plaid flannel shirt and jeans, was cooking in the open concept kitchen. “Justin!” he called out. “How are the chores coming? Still painting?”
“Sealing,” Justin said. “I need to get that shed waterproofed before winter, or my dad will kill me.”
“Not likely,” said a pretty girl sitting on the couch.
“No, not likely,” Justin replied. “But he will absolutely stop letting me have friends over to the cottage if I don’t do the small things he asks me to do.”
“Don’t you have people for this?” said the guy in the plaid shirt. “My dad has people for this kind of shit.”
“We’ve got people for everything but the cottage,” Justin said. “It’s the one place my dad goes to get away from people. I’ve gotta head into town. I’ll be back in a few hours.”
Justin left his guests to their drinking and got into his Mercedes SL500 and drove back to New York. He parked his car in the garage underneath his apartment building. He left and got into the subway, coming up at the 118th station. A block east he went into another garage and found a van painted with the NYCCAH logo. He took a single key out of his pocket, slipped it into the keyhole, and opened the door, using the same key to start the engine.
He drove out of the parking garage and went six blocks north, finding a homeless man. The man was sleeping under a streetlight shining a dim yellow. The man stood as the van pulled up and then approached the van. Justin got out and went around the back, opening the two swinging doors. Justin handed the man a package that contained a sandwich, a bag of potato chips, and some water. “Got a place to stay tonight?” Justin asked as he handed over the package.
“No,” the man said.
“Want one?” Justin asked. “There’s a new church up on Potter that has openings. I can call ahead and hold one for you.”
“Yeah, sure, man,” the homeless man said.
Justin smiled. “Get in the back.” There was a bench there, and the man sat, not bothering with the seatbelt. Justin started driving. “Want any pain meds or anything?”
“Sure,” the man said.
Justin passed back a bottle of Advil. The homeless man took a few pills and swallowed them with water, passing out a few minutes later. Justin smiled and drove the rest of the way back to his cottage. He backed the van down the hill, aligning it so the door opened into the pit. He got out of the van and went around the back, opening the doors. He slapped the homeless man a few times to wake him.
“We at Potter yet?” the man said.
“Did you even know you passed out?” Justin asked, laughing.
The homeless man laughed. “Not really, no.”
They shared a laugh and then Justin said, “There is no Potter.”
“No room? Oh, well. Thanks, man.” The man looked disappointed.
“No. There’s no church on Potter. There never was.” Justin stepped away from the door, and the man saw the pile of bodies. He jumped back into the van, swearing. Justin shot him with a Taser and hit the trigger, exhaling with satisfaction. “That makes it worth it, you know?” he said, dragging the frozen but conscious man out of the van and toward the shed. “You know, I’ve been having a terrible week. Started well. Suffocated one of your friends — fuck, I assume you all know each other, but I guess it’s possible you don’t. Left him in a coffin on Monday. That was boring. Picked up another one of you on Wednesday and was trying out this shed for the first time. By Friday, tonight, that fucker was still alive. I mean, there should have only been a few hours of air in there. Maybe a day. I went over everything twice.”
Justin reached the door to the shed. He put his key into the padlock and undid the shackle. “But there he was, breathing and shit on Friday. I don’t think I found the leak. Anyway, I’m in the middle of searching for the third time and he starts coming around. So I give him another dose of propofol — you’ll have some in a minute — and he dies. Just dies. Overdoses. Has probably filled his veins with heroin and his lungs with crack his whole fucking life and ODs on forty milligrams of propofol? What are the fucking chances?”
Justin rolled out a large sheet of brown paper and then dragged the man onto it. “But the week is over, and on to something better, huh?” Justin took a syringe and another bottle of propofol, filling the syringe. “I mean, thank God it’s Friday?” Justin looked at his watch. “Technically Saturday, but that will be our little secret.” He stood over the man, his legs spread across the man’s chest, and pushed his face into the man’s frothing face. “And the look you gave — when you saw the grave of your friends — that fear.” Justin inhaled deeply. “That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? To be able to see that little old me caused fear like that. To know at that moment that you knew that hole would be where you were stuffed anonymously after you died. It really brightened my day. And this is all about learning, isn’t it?” Justin stuck the man in the arm with the syringe, slowly pushing the propofol into his veins. “In a few months, I’ll know the perfect dosage to give. I’ll know how to wrap a room airtight. I’ll know how long someone can live in a ten by ten room.” Justin nodded to the corners of the room, where cameras were staring back. “I’ll know how to broadcast this live over the Internet, and I’ll know how to cover my tracks.” Justin smiled as the man went unconscious.
“I’ll be ready to introduce myself to the world,” Justin said, pulling the syringe out and focusing the lone floodlight on the patch of wall near the stepladder. He climbed back up the ladder and continued once more looking for and repairing holes.
Months later, Justin walked through the doors of Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School. He went straight to the main office and opened the door with a key he was carrying in his hand. Inside was a janitor vacuuming. The door locked again as it closed behind him. They nodded at each other as Justin continued on to a set of cabinets on the other side of the reception desk, toward the line of windows at the back of the open space. The blinds were all closed, the lights were off, but there was enough midday light for Justin to find the cabinet with the attendance records. He fished in his pocket for another, smaller key, found it, opened the cabinet, and took out a folder. He went to the nearby photocopier and made copies of the papers in the file. He then returned the file to the cabinet. He closed the cabinet, locked it, nodded again at the janitor, and left through the office door.
He went to a coffee shop nearby and ordered a large coffee. He sat in a stool looking out the window and set his coffee to his left and did not touch it again. He flipped through the folder to a set of records that showed the number of days each student had missed in a given month. He highlighted in yellow any student who had missed as much as ten days in a month. He found fourteen. He went through the list again and highlighted in red the students with obvious, male-sounding names, crossing them out. There were five names remaining.
He flipped through the rest of the folder, looking for the specific attendance records of those five students and retrieved them, putting them at the top of the stack of papers. One by one, he went through and highlighted in yellow the school days in a month that each student had missed, looking for stretches of at least five consecutive days or more. Only three of the girls had stretches that long. One of those three had only one month with ten days and one stretch longer than five, and according to the records it was for a legitimate medical concern. He put her record aside. That left two girls.
He put the two attendance records side by side and counted the instances each girl had been absent five days or more. One girl had five, the other three. He highlighted the name of the girl with five in yellow and put the other record aside.
“Francine Goodwin,” he said, kissing her personal attendance record. “You won’t be missed, but I will make you famous.”
Justin wrote down her address and contact information. He took the entire folder he had stolen outside and to the back of an alleyway. He emptied a trashcan, put the folder inside, and then added some lighter fluid and set it on fire with his matches. He watched as the folder burned. When it was done, he ensured the fire was dead and then returned the trash to the trashcan. He went back into the coffee shop, washed his hands, and went home.
Once home, he went to his small office. It had walls painted grey. Hanging on one side of the office was a television with a wingback chair and ottoman in front of it. Opposite that was a small metal desk, chair, and his MacBook. He went to his desk.
He looked up Francine’s name online. He found her Instagram account and clicked into it. He found a selfie of her and another girl with the caption, “me and my bae @bellynchic.” He saw a few more and took note of some of the places they visited together, including a Starbucks on Shuter in which they had taken four selfies. He clicked on @bellynchic’s handle and found another girl named Andrea Cruz. He searched online for Andrea’s name and found a public Facebook profile that included her email address, as well as the name of her boyfriend, Tom Grady.
He retrieved a cell phone from a shoebox marked burners. Using one of the phones, he then went online to the Whatsapp website and clicked on to their password recovery link. He opened up his AxHack software and entered Andrea’s email address and that he wanted to get into her Whatsapp account. AxHack ran for five minutes, during which time he got a bottle of water from one of his bookshelves nearby and then sat back down at his computer, drinking while watching the spinning ax logo of AxHack at work.
AxHack returned the answer to one of Andrea’s password reset security questions. Justin entered Andrea’s email address into the Whatsapp password recovery link and then answered the security question. He then reset Andrea’s password.
He turned on his burner. It loaded, and he downloaded Whatsapp from the Play store. He entered Andrea’s email address and the password he had set. The app loaded her contact list. Justin found Francine’s contact and messaged her.
OMG Tom just dumped me.
OMFG, bae! Whhhhyyyyy? Francine replied.
Meet at Starbucks on Shuter? Noooowwww? Justin typed.
Shure, Francine replied.
Justin left his house and went back to his food delivery truck. He got in and drove to the Starbucks on Shuter. Francine had already arrived and was messaging him. When he arrived, he parked on the curb precisely between two sets of lights in the direction of the nearest subway entrance. It was 11:00 p.m. and dark. Francine messaged him frantically again. Justin replied that he could not make it — Tom was coming over to apologize. Francine sent back a smiley face.
A minute later, she walked out of the Starbucks. Justin was standing next to the open back doors of his van, unloading a few empty boxes to look busy. His heart was racing. She turned in his direction, and his heart raced faster. As she passed him, he grabbed her, and in one fluid motion he had practiced two dozen times, he injected her and rolled her onto the floor of the van. He got into the driver’s seat and drove slowly and steadily down the street.
He arrived at an apartment building in The Bronx. He went to the back of the van and rolled Francine in a burlap carpet. He hauled her up three flights of stairs and then to the fifth apartment on the left. He took her inside and closed the door, locking it behind him. The apartment was bare except for a couch near the front door. There was a bedroom to his right, and he took Francine toward the bedroom.
Plastic crunched as he opened the door and then dragged her into the room. In the room were cameras in all four corners near the ceiling. It was covered in thick plastic sheeting on top of layers of foam insulation. On top of the plastic was clear, hard Plexiglas glued into place. There was a hospital gurney in the room with an IV pole attached to it and a heartbeat monitor nearby.
Justin unrolled the carpet and took Francine, placing her gently onto the gurney. He ran a pic line into a vein on her left hand and then hooked that up to a saline solution, as well as propofol. He opened her shirt to expose just her breastbone, careful to cover her breasts, and attached the heartbeat monitor. He waited a moment and ensured the IV was running and the monitor was working, and then he left the room and closed the door.
He sat on the couch and smiled.
Justin sat with his computer on his lap, still sitting on the couch in the room adjacent to the one where Francine lay unconscious. He stared at his screen. His finger hovered over the touchpad with his mouse pointer positioned over the broadcast button. His heart raced, and the strength of his heart beating shook his hand with each thump. He took a deep breath, exhaled, and pressed the touchpad, publishing the feed to goregoregore.com
The rectangle in the middle of the screen went black, with a grey circle spinning in the middle. After a minute, the video feed went live showing Francine lying unconscious on the gurney. Justin watched as the counter showed new people landing on the page and watching the video.
The text on the page described what they were watching: a live feed of a girl suffocating slowly. Justin promised to wake her up in the last hour so that everyone could watch her die. He claimed to have done this dozens of times. His screen name was Sideshow.
Justin smiled as messages and comments started showing up on the page. He hit refresh every few seconds. After an hour there were only fourteen comments. Mostly, the commenters derided his efforts. One asked if this was “goregoregore or boreborebore”? More than half asked Justin to get Francine naked, one plainly saying, “Tits, or it didn’t happen.” Another called the effort “clearly fake.”
The last comment enraged Justin, causing him to close his laptop. “This is a site made for sick people to enjoy sick things, not a place to post a Disney Sleeping Beauty remake.
“My modus operandi is so much more than a Disney movie, and they’ll see it soon enough,” he said, getting up and leaving the apartment.
Justin took the NYCCAH van back to its garage and got into his father’s old Lexus. He drove out of the city and back up to his cottage. His friends were already there, unpacking for their stay that week. Justin helped, and when they were done he went into the basement to his den. He sat in a leather chair in front of a grand oak desk.
He took another burner out of a box and searched for Francine’s name. The usual Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter profiles showed up, but nothing else. He searched for her name again, adding the term missing person, but it did not return significantly different results, and certainly no notices about a missing person. He tried missing teen NYC, and several stories came up, but none involving Francine.
He sat back into his chair, relaxed. “No one has noticed,” he said to himself, smiling. He then snapped forward with his eyebrows curled in anger and his eyes shrunken. “No one has noticed,” he said again, shaking his head.
He picked his phone back up and searched for missing persons detective nyc. One of the results was a page about the Detective Bureau for the NYPD. He opened that and read about the structure of the organization. He saw that missing persons, not reported as kidnappings, would not be immediately referred to a detective.
Justin put the phone down. “Then I guess I wait.”
He went back upstairs to drink with his friends.
Justin woke at 7:00 a.m. He stepped out of his room wearing only his blue pajama bottoms. He had to half-leap over a passed-out couple in the hallway to make his way down two flights of stairs to his basement. He took one of his burner phones and searched for Francine’s name. The first hit made his heart flutter:[_ Girl, gone 5 days, only just reported missing._]
The story centered on the mother’s attempts to explain that it was simply not unusual for her daughter to disappear for days at a time. She had a long history of similar behavior. She had a history of drug use, as well. And a history of prostituting herself to older men in exchange for vacations and jewelry. But this was different, the mother insisted. Francine was never ashamed and would answer her texts. She had never gone three days without telling her mother she was alive when asked. As a result, Francine was labeled an Endangered Runaway.
People with any information were encouraged to contact Detective Solomon Roud with more information. His contact information was included in the article. Justin scribbled it down feverishly and then got dressed and left the cottage. He drove north to a truck stop on Interstate 87.
He sent two texts to Solomon using a newly unwrapped phone that he activated at the truck stop. The first said, I’m so glad someone is finally looking for Francine. The second was the link to the video feed on goregoregore.com. He then ran his Autowipe app, wiping the data from his phone. He pulled the battery out of the phone. He got out of the car and put the battery in the trash and then put the phone under the back wheel of his car. He reversed over it, crushing it, and then drove back toward his cottage.
He stopped at a grocery store en route. He went in and picked up pancake mix, syrup, and eggs and then continued on to the cottage. When he arrived his friends were beginning to awaken. He mixed the pancake batter and heated his large cast-iron griddle on one half of the stove and a non-stick frying pan on the other. He began making pancakes and scrambled eggs simultaneously. One of his friends helped herself to making the coffee. Soon enough the dozen or so people staying in the cottage were awake enjoying coffee, pancakes, and eggs.
Someone joked that Justin forgot bacon. Everyone laughed.
Solomon and Greg were staring at his phone, looking for subtext and clues in the message Solomon had received. “I got nothing,” Solomon said.
They angled Greg’s computer screen upward so they could read it while they paced. The video feed was clear enough, and they recognized Francine. There was a timer in the bottom right with a countdown that ended in just over two days.
“We’ve got a serial killer in the making,” Greg said.
The two walked his phone down to the tech department. A kid named Kevin took the phone and asked a few questions. He made some calls, read out the return number for the phone that had sent Solomon messages, and came back. “It’s a burner. Bought with cash out of state. Only this morning.”
“Can you tell us where this suspect was when they sent the text? Can we trace the phone?” Solomon asked.
“Not right now. We’re working on it,” Kevin responded. “Phone went dead as soon as the second text was sent.”
“And the website? Can we trace the source of the video?” Greg asked.
“Not soon enough,” Kevin replied. “Not today, not tomorrow. There will be layers of security we can’t crack soon enough. Not before the countdown is done.”
“What’s our move?” Greg asked.
“We don’t sit on this,” Solomon said. “The link has a few dozen hits. People have seen it. People also think it is fake. Eventually, someone’s going to make the connection to the missing persons report.”
“Or he’s going to leak it,” Greg said.
“We need to tell the captain, and we need to narrow down where we are looking right now. And someone needs to shut that fucking site down before any of this happens.”
“You’re with us, kid,” Solomon said.
“But, the lieutenant. I’ve got a pile.”
“You’ve got nothing,” Solomon said, walking away. “Bring your laptop.”
Kevin stood and followed, awkwardly carrying his open laptop.
Greg and the two went up the three floors to the captain’s office. Her door was closed. Solomon peeked through the mostly opaque glass door and saw that she was speaking with Lisa. Solomon opened the door.
“Excuse me, Detective Kellogg?” Captain Bell said, standing. “I’m in the middle of something.”
“Show her,” Greg said, pointing at Kevin. Kevin put his computer on the captain’s desk.
“We found Francine,” Solomon said. “And we have a problem.”
The captain was silent as she read through the page. After a pause, she spoke. “Oh, fuck. Who knows?”
“Just us. I don’t think anyone who has viewed the site has made the connection. The perp sent me a text with the link.”
“Has he sent it to anyone else?” Captain Bell asked.
“No,” Greg responded. “Not that we know of. Used a burner. Can’t trace him. Kevin is going to need help tracing the video feed.”
“Who’s Kevin?” Captain Bell asked.
“Oh, hi,” Kevin said, waving. “I’m your point person on the eJusticeNY platform.”
“Don’t wave,” Greg said, shaking his head. Kevin put his hand down. “He’s a kid with a computer, and now he works for us.”
“Does he even work for the department?” Captain Bell asked.
“Technically I am a contractor. I work for the vendor.” Kevin ran his hand awkwardly through his hair. “Technically, I am the vendor. I was doing an onsite today.”
“You are the vendor?” Solomon said.
“Yeah. I made the software,” Kevin said.
“Didn’t we pay forty million dollars for that?” Lisa asked.
“Yeah,” Kevin said. “Thanks?”
“Whatever. He’s got clearance. If he can help, great,” Captain Bell said.
“I can help,” Kevin said. “I want to.”
“What do you need to find the source of this video?” Captain Bell asked.
“I can almost assure you that we won’t, not in time. If you can get a warrant to force goregoregore.com to open up their user list, we can get the IP address for the source of the video. We probably won’t be able to trace it in two days, but I may be able to knock it out. So that nobody watches her…”
“I’ll get the court order,” Captain Bell said.
Greg grabbed Solomon by the arm. “That’s good enough. Keep up the work, kid.” Greg and Solomon left the room, Kevin followed behind them but went back to his desk rather than follow the detectives.
“Listen,” Greg said when they were alone. “Sol, this is a first for you, yeah?”
“First murder? No.”
“Oh,” Solomon said. “Yeah. First one.”
Greg led Solomon down the stairs and out into the street. “This stuff changes you,” he said, looking both ways as they crossed the street to the deli. “You’re about to look evil right in the face.”
“There’s no ready for this,” Greg said. “There’s just this. There’s just the job. There’s just me and you, Kevin and the captain, and it is us trying to make sure that girl does not die.”
“I get it,” Solomon said.
They reached the deli, and Greg took a seat in a booth in the corner, flipping their coffee cups over. Solomon did the same, and within seconds both were filled with coffee. “I’m not asking you to get it. Not asking you to understand. I’m asking you to take this one lead at a time, one step at a time, one person at a time. I’m telling you that we might fail.”
“It’s the job,” Solomon said.
“Not this, it isn’t,” Greg said, sipping his coffee after adding three creams and three sugars. “This isn’t anyone’s job. This is the stuff, you walk away from it before it is done, no one judges you. You leave homicide and end up on vice, or on white-collar crime, or pushing a fucking pencil or writing parking tickets and directing traffic, normally, they bust your balls. But then someone asks why you got busted down or you left, you say serial killer, they don’t bust your balls. They don’t judge. They nod their heads and go on with their fucking lives. This is the real shit. This is not something you process with logic at your own pace. This you can walk away from at any fucking time.”
“I’m not going anywhere,” Solomon said, sipping his own coffee, black.
“Say it now, sure. Don’t feel like you need to say it forever. If this isn’t for you, it isn’t for you.”
“Is it for you?”
Greg put his right hand to his mouth and then ran it through his hair. “Five years back, after six years as a detective in homicide, we get called in to a stabbing. A kid in an apartment. Second kid in the building in three weeks. So that’s suspicious. But it looks like one of the parents did the first, and the same thing for the next — the parents do the second. Both were on meth, so they don’t even know what is happening, can barely defend themselves. Before we knew it there was a third dead kid and a fourth in that building, and then it stops. A month later, another druggie’s dead kid in a building four blocks north. And another the same building two days later. We go in. Same MO: kid, druggie parents, stops after the third in the building, this time.”
Greg emptied his cup and put it to the edge of the table, waiting for it to get refilled. “Next month, another building, another dead kid. So we get a list of everyone that just moved in that month. Find one guy who lived there and the previous address. Obviously, that’s our guy. We catch him. We ask him about it. Doesn’t flinch. Doesn’t deny. Insisted he did those kids a favor. Should not be raised by druggies, he says. Eight fucking kids, Sol. Eight fucking kids. Three before we saw there was a pattern, and then we had to keep watching, keep our fucking hands in our pants watching this happen until the pattern tightened around a single fucking unsub. And there he was. Just waiting to get caught.”
“You made it through.”
“Lots of counseling, Sol,” Greg said, his coffee refilled. “Lots of talking to people. Lots of restless nights wishing I could have figured it out, pinned it on that fucker one kid sooner, two kids sooner. Hell, why not in the first building? There’s cracks, Sol, cracks everywhere in our city. You know what amazes me as a cop? It amazes me there isn’t more crime. It blows my mind every day that in a city of twenty million people, only a few thousand — less than one hundredth of one percent — are criminals. And of those, maybe only one hundredth of one percent are the truly scary fuckers who kill like this. You and I know how easy crime is. Fuck, I’ve walked into crime scenes, and the first thing I do these days is try to game out how it could have been cleaner, what could have been done differently so that someone like me doesn’t see the clues, find the leads, and get the bad guy. And it isn’t hard. Right?”
“Yeah, I get it.”
“Good. And that’s the point. Crime is easy. And if the twenty million people in this city knew how easy it was, fuck, Sol, we would have two problems. One: there would be so much crime, no amount of cops could stop it. And two: people would walk around all day just waiting to be victims, just walking along on sidewalks waiting for something terrible to happen, for something to hit them.
“But none of that matters,” Greg said. “What matters is that you’re only getting through this if you can remember, whether he kills one kid or eight, three kids or a hundred, not a single one is your fault. This isn’t on you. It’s your job to find him, your job to follow the leads and to try to stop him. But he’s choosing to kill, he is choosing how and when and who, and none of it is on you. If you’re blaming yourself, you won’t make it through this. You’ll be off the squad quick, and there’s no shame in that. But I’d like to keep you around.”
Solomon nodded, and Greg seemed to feel that he had made his point. They finished their coffee, and Greg paid. They left the deli, Solomon heading back to his fancy Manhattan apartment and Greg headed to his Brooklyn duplex, probably half the size of Solomon’s pad, and home to his wife and two kids.
After Francine died, Solomon came stumbling out of The Dog and Duck. Sean was supporting him, walking him to the curb, where he hailed a cab. Solomon slurred, “What do I owe you?”
Sean waved a cabbie down and opened the door. He pushed Solomon in. “Sol, you’ll never pay for a drink in my bar again, you understand? The shit you’ve been through, Sol. Jesus. Tell the nice cabbie where you live.”
Solomon recited his address, and Sean gave the driver cash to cover the fare. “I’ll come check on you tomorrow.”
The cab pulled up to the curb in front of Solomon’s apartment building. Solomon stumbled out but made his way through the front door and to the elevator. He waited for the elevator as he swayed uneasily on his feet. The door opened, he stepped in, and hit the top button. After more swaying and a few seconds, the door opened again. He stepped out of the elevator, turned right, and went two doors down to his front door.
He reached into his pocket for his key but could not manage to pull it out. He took off his coat, pushed the pocket up to his face, and turned it inside out. The key fell to the ground. He picked it up with his left hand and put it into the lock, turning it and putting his right hand on the doorknob. He turned the knob, and the door gave. He was inside.
He slipped off his shoes while holding himself against the wall for balance. As his shoes came off, he noticed a pink envelope on the ground. It had his name written on it. “Mrs. Leer,” he said, picking up the envelope and turning it over to see that it was Mrs. Leer’s personal stationary. He put it on the console table near the door in a bowl of wooden balls.
As he walked across his apartment toward his washroom, he began disrobing. He was naked by the time he crossed the threshold of the doorway into the washroom. He ran a cold shower, rinsed himself, and then turned the shower off and dried himself. He put on a pair of silk lounge pants and walked back across his apartment to his fridge, where he ate a banana. As he chewed, he went to the console table and clumsily opened the letter from Mrs. Leer.
My whole life, I did not know what I was looking for until I found you. I did not know how empty and meaningless my life was. I could not have imagined finding more fulfillment than I did last night. I look forward to getting to know you better.
When you answered your phone, I was listening. I don’t know what I wanted. I suppose I wanted someone to enjoy Francine’s death as much as I was. I guess that was always the plan, somewhere back there in my mind, to see if I could find another kindred spirit. Connections, human connections, matter. Failing that, I suppose I wanted someone to witness it and to be helpless — except you were not helpless. You found her. You almost found her in time, no less. So what I got was not a kindred spirit, which I suppose would have been nice, nor a helpless wreck, which may have been moderately enjoyable, but a capable foil, and that was thrilling.
I do wish that you did not immediately go out and get drunk over it. Seems it makes you an unfitting foil for me. But beggars can’t be choosers, right? You do have so much else going for you. You are wealthy — perhaps more so than me. You are well connected. You live in a beautiful apartment. And you gave up what could have been an easy life to become a detective and find, well, people like me. I don’t know why you’re doing it. Guilt? A lust for adventure? Maybe you just need to practice your detective skills, because you’re looking for something.
I was both excited and terrified as you inched closer to Francine. Naturally, I wanted her to die. In fact, I needed her to die — she had seen my face. She wouldn’t have known I was her killer, but maybe she would have guessed? Her survival would have forced me to run. I am not a very good risk-taker.
I watched her die — that I think you already knew. It was not the first person I’ve suffocated — that you probably guessed. I have known for a while that I needed to see victims both gasping for life and knowing that they are about to die. In the few instances I didn’t see it, I feel as if I hadn’t really killed anyone at all. In fact, I’d feel like I had to go out that same day and kill someone else. That’s not easy. This takes a lot of planning.
And then I discovered something even more thrilling than watching someone die: watching someone trying to save that life. Giving them just enough hope and then seeing them fail. Given how at-risk I am for being caught if you succeed, it is tantalizing and terrifying and gratifying in ways I did not know were possible.
It is something I need to explore. I need to push you closer and closer to catching me, give you more and more hope you’ll find my next victim in time. I need to choose better victims, too; ones that you will identify with, empathize with, care for, even though you’ve never found them. I have a hard-on just thinking about it.
I don’t know what any of this means. I only know I need to see this through. You understand.
The letter was not signed. It had been typed into a computer and printed on standard stock paper, then folded to fit into the stolen envelope. Solomon bagged it in a Ziploc from his kitchen. He reached above his fridge for a bottle of whisky and drank straight from the bottle, shaking his head. He picked up his phone and dialed.
“Yeah?” Greg said.
“You home?” Solomon asked.
“Yeah,” Greg replied.
“You get a letter?” Solomon asked.
“Nah,” Greg replied.
“I did. From the killer.”
“You sure?” Greg asked.
“Knew I was listening in when the girl died.”
“Fuck,” Greg said. “I’m on my way.”
Greg arrived twenty-eight minutes later and walked into Solomon’s apartment without knocking. Solomon was leaning on his counter with the bottle in his hand. He looked up at Greg and held out the bottle. Greg took it. “How much have you had?” he asked.
“Just the first sip. I couldn’t, after that.”
“The letter?” Greg asked. Solomon held out the Ziploc bag. Greg put on a pair of gloves and pulled it out, reading it to himself as he walked over to Solomon’s living room and sat on the couch. Solomon followed but did not sit. Instead, he paced back and forth, still holding the whisky bottle.
“So it is him,” Greg said. “Knew you were listening. Knew we were watching. Verified withheld evidence. We will take this in. Dust it for prints. Check for hairs or other DNA.”
“There won’t be any,” Solomon said.
“I know; doesn’t matter. We will do a writing analysis. When we find suspects…”
“We won’t find suspects.”
“No, Sol. This guy isn’t better than us. He’ll fuck up. He will make a mistake. He’s exactly the kind of killer that gets caught. He’s begging to get caught. He’ll get closer and closer until he is caught.”
“That’s what I’m afraid of,” Solomon said. “How close are we going to get? Will he need to kill once? Twice? Three times? A dozen?”
“We’re not responsible for that, Sol. We talked about this. You can get out anytime.”
“That’s not what I’m trying to say. This guy is a psycho, and we’ll catch him. Just fucking kills me to think that somewhere out there tonight, sleeping soundly in their parents’ home, are one or two kids that are going to be killed, and there’s nothing we can do about it.”
“That’s exactly how he wants us to feel, Sol. This is your first serial killer. Not mine. I’ve got fifteen years on the force longer than you, and this ain’t my first rodeo. Yeah, some kids are going to die. This psycho knows it, and we know it. But we will catch him. We know it. And he doesn’t know that; not yet. So let’s get on with it, already.”
Solomon nodded and took a swig of whisky.
The next day, Solomon entered the room in the coroner’s office behind Greg. There were two chairs in front of a desk covered in papers but none on the other side. There was a man standing by an open window, his right hand extended out of the window, holding a cigarette. When he took a drag, he brought his head to his hand, breathed deep, and exhaled, his whole head out of the window.
“Still smells like shit in here,” Greg said.
“Detective,” the man said. “I hope you’re not here to write me up for this,” he added, flicking the ash off the end of his cigarette onto the street below.
“Not likely, Doctor Maguire,” Greg said. “This is my partner, Detective Roud.”
“Sol,” Solomon said, extending his hand. The doctor dropped his cigarette, wiped his hand, and met Solomon’s hand with his own.
“Clive,” the doctor said. “Most coroners become coroners because they killed one too many patients during residency. We’re not all that attached to the idea of being called doctor.”
Greg sat, and Solomon did as well. Clive picked up his cell phone and hit a button. “Linda,” he said. He waited. “Linda!” He waited again and then yelled louder, “Linda, bring me the Goodwin girl file.”
A woman, much older than the doctor, came in. She was wearing a blue floral summer dress. “That’s your cell phone, Doctor.” She dropped a file on top of the pile on his busy desk and left.
“Well, I don’t know how to use the damn intercom, then,” Clive said.
“That’s because we don’t have an intercom, Doctor,” Linda said, exiting the office and closing the door. “It’s not 1970.”
“So what did we find?” Greg asked.
Clive, still standing, opened the file. “This guy is weird,” he said. “Pumped this girl with an IV solution and propofol. Kept her unconscious but very much alive for nearly seven days.”
“Does that mean he’s a pro?” Solomon asked. “A doctor or a nurse? Someone with training?”
“You might think so,” Clive said. “But fuck, no. This guy is an idiot. He’s lucky he didn’t kill her — and that wasn’t what he intended to do, kill her, for those seven days.”
“He wanted her alive,” Greg added.
“Yes, very much so. I gathered that much.” Clive flipped a few pages and then handed out pictures. “Notice the entry points for the IV. Sloppy. Very sloppy. Like someone who has learned how to do this reading a how-to on the Internet. He has likely never practiced on conscious people. My guess is he has indeed practiced this, trying to balance the right amount of propofol — it can be an art as much as a science. Got it right for this girl. But if you dig far enough, you will find a bunch more.”
“An amateur?” Solomon asked.
“A hobbyist,” Clive added. “Self-taught. Tougher to track that way, I suppose.”
“And the cause of death?” Greg asked.
“Asphyxiation,” Clive said, closing the file. “In a room that large, it would have taken a few hours at least to run out of air, but she did. And that’s how she died. That would have required practice, too, I assume, getting the room air-tight.”
“So you think there are more like this?” Solomon asked.
“I’m not a psychiatrist,” Clive said. “I rarely talk to my patients, and when my patients do talk back to me, it is normally because someone has made a grave error or I’m really rather drunk at work, which is much more rare since the nineties ended.”
The three spoke for a few more minutes until Clive broke the meeting, offering the two detectives a shot of whiskey. Both accepted. They left the office, saying goodbye to Linda, and then walked out of the building to Solomon’s car. There, they drove north to Georgia Goodwin’s apartment. They arrived early, so Solomon parked the car a block away and the two grabbed a coffee at a local shop. Solomon drank only half of his before throwing it away when the two detectives left to go to their appointment.
From the lobby, Solomon hit the code for the Goodwin apartment: 1-8-7. No one answered. He tried again, and no one answered. Greg made a call on his cellphone. “We’re downstairs.” He said. “Okay.” He added. He hung up, and then, speaking to Solomon, “She doesn’t answer the buzzer anymore until someone calls ahead. Try again.” Solomon tried again, and someone on the other end picked it up, said nothing, hit 9 on their phone, and the door unlocked. They walked through.
The building was old and not particularly well appointed but otherwise neat and tidy. The carpets were a well-worn but tough, simple gray with a triangular pattern. The walls were a builders’ beige. The elevator doors were stainless steel, and the inside of the elevators had dark wood paneling. The detectives took the elevator to the eighth floor and then got out, took a right, and knocked on the door of apartment 8F.
A woman opened the door with the chain still engaged. “ID?” she asked.
Greg flashed his badge and his identification card. He then slipped it through the crack in the door so she could inspect it closely. Satisfied, she closed the door, disengaged the chain, and opened the door. It was spotless, small, even by New York standards. To the right was a galley kitchen with few appliances. To the left were a bathroom and two small bedrooms. Straight ahead was the living room, cramped but efficiently decorated with proportionately small furniture.
“Beautiful home, ma’am,” Solomon said.
“You’re wondering why it is so clean, aren’t you?” the woman asked. Before either man could answer, she added, “I clean when I’m worried or upset. I’ve never been so upset. So this place has never been so clean.” She smiled and then stopped and went to sit in a chair in the living room.
The detectives followed and sat on the couch, both leaning forward, their arms on their knees. “Thanks for taking the time to meet with us,” Greg said.
“If I can help catch…” Georgia began before trailing off and grabbing for a tissue from a box close by. “I will help. Can I get you two coffee or tea?”
“No, we are fine, Miss Goodwin,” Greg said, shooting a quick glance at Solomon.
“Okay,” Georgia said.
“Now, Miss Goodwin, before we start, I want you to know a few things. This is a very high-profile case — a case of extreme importance to the NYPD. The person who murdered your daughter, given the circumstances of her death, is very likely to repeat. It is also very likely that this was deliberate and planned well in advance. This leads us to believe it is very likely the person who perpetrated this crime knew your daughter on some level, in some way. So although I recognize these questions may make you uncomfortable, you can stop them at any time, and any information you give us may in fact help us catch this person and bring them to justice before they can do this again.”
“I understand,” Georgia said, dabbing a tear coming to her right eye.
“I understand that it was not unusual for your daughter to disappear for a few days at a time here or there?” Greg asked.
“No,” Georgia responded. “It wasn’t. She had done it five or six times before.”
“Did this start recently?” Greg asked.
“No, about a year ago. She’s a teenager. She was always responsible, from what I knew. But I didn’t have time to watch her, and she didn’t want to be watched. It was a terrible combination.”
“Did she have a friend that she would disappear with?” Greg asked.
“Usually a friend named Andrea Cruz.” Solomon wrote this down. “They’d go everywhere together. It made me feel like at least she was being safe. I’ll give you her phone number.” Georgia read out the number, and Solomon wrote that down as well.
“Did these two have anyone else that would join them regularly?”
“Not that I know of.”
“Do you know where they went?”
“No. I preferred not to know,” Georgia said, more tears coming to her eyes.
“I understand. I have a little girl of my own.” Greg bit his lip slightly and nodded. “Did she ever talk about anyone? Probability says this would be a man older than she was — any older men come around, or call her, or contact her on the Internet?”
“Not that I know of.”
“Did you monitor her computer use?” Greg asked.
“She never touched the computer, except for school projects. She did everything else on her cell. She took that with her the day… And I never got it back.”
“We did not recover it,” Solomon said. Greg looked at him, and Solomon returned to note-taking.
“Miss Goodwin, did your daughter say or do anything unusual at all in the last few days before she disappeared?”
“The night she left,” Georgia said, “she didn’t take a bag or anything. I thought it was strange when she didn’t come back the next day. She usually planned these things in advance — she left in the night but always packed a bag. I should have known…”
“You could not have known,” Greg said.
Georgia cried, and the conversation broke down. Greg consoled her, holding her hand and stroking her back. “So she did not plan to leave.”
“No,” Georgia said, sobbing gently. “Does that help?”
“It does,” Greg said. The two detectives stayed for a few minutes more. Once Georgia composed herself, they thanked her for her time and left.
In the elevator on the way down, Greg asked Solomon, “What do you think?”
“Nothing,” Solomon said. “I didn’t get anything useful.”
“You weren’t paying attention,” Greg said. The elevator reached the ground floor, and the two exited through the lobby into the shaded outdoors. “She left that night not expecting to go anywhere in particular for any amount of time. That means she either spontaneously decided to just leave — which doesn’t seem like her, given how her mother described the relationship with, what’s her name?”
Solomon took his notepad from his inside right jacket pocket. “Andrea Cruz.”
“Yeah. Not likely that she just spontaneously decided to leave. Which means she was called somewhere, and went somewhere, and somewhere between home — where she would have returned to that day or the next — and that place, this guy grabbed her. We just need to find that place. So what’s next?”
“We follow the leads,” Solomon said. In the car, they radioed for Andrea Cruz’s address and then drove a few blocks west to find her apartment.
Andrea’s mother was home. She told the two detectives that her daughter was working her after-school job at the Starbucks on Shuter Street. The detectives thanked her and went to find her. At the coffee shop, Solomon pulled up slightly onto the curb, and then the two got out and went into the store. They waited in line at the counter but asked to see Andrea when they got to the front. Andrea was at the espresso machine finishing a latte. When done, she came around the side of the bar and went outside with the detectives.
“Cops, huh?” she asked. The detectives paused. “You park on the curb, walk like cops, wear suits like cops, my friend is dead. It doesn’t take a detective to figure this out.”
“Fair enough,” Greg said. Solomon took out his notepad. “Did you speak to Francine the night she disappeared?”
“Sure,” Andrea said.
“And what did you talk about?”
“Boys, clothes, mostly.” She smiled.
“I know you’re grieving,” Greg said. “And it isn’t easy at any age to lose a friend. And I know you don’t like cops — I’ve seen the records, I know you’ve been returned home by cops half a dozen times. I get it. But I want you to be angry at the man who did this, not me. I can catch the guy who did it. You can help. And then you can be in court the day he gets what is coming to him. Is that a deal?”
Andrea nodded sheepishly, crossing her arms and tilting her hip to the side.
“So did you speak to her that night?” Greg asked.
“We didn’t speak. We chatted on Whatsapp. And we were talking about our next trip.”
“Where were you going?”
“North Carolina, probably. But it wasn’t for sure.”
“Were you planning on taking anyone with you?”
“No. We don’t usually take anyone.”
“You meet people there?” Solomon said.
“We meet men there,” Andrea said. “We go to cities with big universities, usually when they are having massive parties on campus. Easy to blend in. We’re not that bad or stupid.”
“Did you finalize the plans?” Greg continued.
“No,” Andrea said. “The conversation just went dead.” She put her hand over her mouth. Her arm was shaking. “I didn’t mean to say that.” She sobbed.
“I know,” Greg said, rubbing her arm. “You’re doing great. So, what did you mean?”
“I mean, we were chatting minute by minute, and then it stopped. I just assumed she fell asleep or something. It happens. But no one else was speaking to me either.”
“No one else?” Solomon asked, looking confused.
“Yeah,” Andrea said. “I was having like four conversations at once, and they all stopped. That was weird. So I got some food and watched some Netflix, and an hour later it still wasn’t working. I had to reset my password, and then it was fine.”
“Is that normal?” Greg asked.
“Not even, like, a little bit,” Andrea said. “Do you think it has something to do with Francine going missing?”
“It’s possible,” Greg said. “Is there a way to recover the messages from that missing hour?”
“Yeah,” Andrea said. “They all get saved to iCloud. After work, I can get home and send them to you.”
“You’re off work now,” Greg said. “I’ll go tell your boss.”
Andrea nodded. Greg went inside and spoke to the manager, and then came back out. Andrea was looking at her phone. “So you’re off for the afternoon,” Greg said. “Do you need a computer?”
“No,” Andrea said. “I’m almost done.” She made a few more swipes on her phone. “There. Here’s the history. And it looks like I got a bunch of messages that night during that hour.”
“Did you send any to Francine?” Greg asked.
Andrea put her hand over her mouth. “Oh my god.” She tossed the phone to Greg and put her other hand over her mouth. “It says I asked to meet her here.”
Greg looked at the phone and then handed it to Solomon. He did the same. “Did you send those messages, Andrea?”
“No!” Andrea said. She sat on the ground. “Do you think it was…?” she said before stopping short.
“You’re certain?” Greg asked. Andrea nodded.
“Can we keep your phone?” Solomon asked. Greg looked at him sharply.
“We will take you home,” Greg said, squatting, getting eye level with Andrea. “You have no idea how helpful this has been.”
Greg arrived home late. His wife had fallen asleep watching television on the couch. He kissed her forehead and snuck past her, into the room that held his two baby girls. Ashley was ten and Veronica was seven, but always his babies. He hugged them and kissed their foreheads and whispered that he would always be there for them.
When Ashley was two years old, she was a terrible sleeper. She would fight sleep every night. She would get up constantly, leave her room, seek attention and get it — positive and negative. Greg and his wife Bea did not want to sleep-train their kid. Did not believe in leaving her to cry. Tried to console. But in two years, they had maybe a dozen or so uneventful bedtime routines where Ashley simply went to bed. The rest of the time they simply went without sleep.
One night, Ashley crept out of her room and asked for milk. Greg brought it to her in a sippy cup. He tucked her back into bed. Delirious from his own exhaustion, he said something he had never said before at night. “You’re safe; I love you; good night.” She did not get up again that night.
The next night was more of the regular routine: Ashley getting up, stretching boundaries, trying to stay awake. Greg went up to see her, tucked her in and said, “You’re safe; I love you; goodnight.” She went straight to sleep. The next night, after reading her the book they read her every night, he said the same thing, “you’re safe; I love you; goodnight,” and to sleep she went. He did that each night for the next week, and every night she went to sleep.
That was all she wanted, Greg thought. She wanted to know that she was safe and she was loved. That was what it was all about. So as he stood over his baby girls that night, he said the same thing he had said every night for the better part of the last decade.
“You’re safe; I love you; goodnight.”
Solomon sat in his car. Lisa knocked on the window, and he unlocked the doors. She entered and sat with a thud. “What did you find?”
“I found the container,” Solomon said.
“And what was inside?”
“Literally, shit,” Solomon said. “Nothing but a bucket of shit, food wrappers, empty plastic bottles of water. He called me when I arrived. But there was no clue, no next step.”
Lisa shook her head. “That was the clue.”
“What?” Solomon replied.
“He saw you. It means he’s watching the place. It means there is a remote camera somewhere there. Or something.”
“Something,” Solomon said. He picked up his phone and made a call. “Kevin, can I take you for a ride?”
Solomon drove. Kevin sat in the car, fiddling with the radio, and stopped on a pop station. Solomon shot him a disappointed glance, and Kevin said, “I listen to it ironically.”
They drove back to the harbor. When they arrived, they got out and walked to the warehouse where the container was located. Solomon let himself back into the warehouse. It was open, and no one was around. “It was in here. I figure if we stand at about where the container was located and look around, we could probably find a camera that doesn’t fit. Something like that.”
“Got it,” Kevin said
“Good,” Solomon said, walking forward.
“No,” Kevin said. “I got it.”
“Already? Found the camera?” Solomon said.
“It’s not a camera,” Kevin replied. “It’s an IMSI.”
To Solomon, it sounded like he said imm-see. “I don’t get it. Dumb it down for me, Kevin.”
“A fake cell tower. It’s a man-in-the-middle attack. It picks up cell signals from phones and then snoops around before passing it on to the real cell tower. There are thousands in America. Mostly they’re ours — CIA, NSA, etc. But plenty of Chinese, Russian, German, and general baddies. Almost impossible to find them all. They act with near impunity. There’s one here.” Kevin held up his phone. “I’ve got an app on my phone that warns me when I connect to one. Blocks the signal so I’m not passing my info along.”
“He made one? Or bought one?”
“Well, probably made one. It isn’t that hard. Then he waited for you to connect, knew you were here, and called you through the tower. It’s what I would do. A lot of what he would do is what I would do.” Solomon looked at him askance. “Minus the murder,” Kevin added. He walked back outside of the warehouse toward a telephone pole. His phone was beeping faster and faster as he approached and emitted a near continuous beep when he arrived at the foot of the pole. “Here it is.”
Kevin scampered up the pole and removed a black box about eight feet up. He jumped back down and opened it. Inside was another cell phone, as well as the guts of the unit itself. “Can you trace him with this?” Solomon asked.
“Not likely,” Kevin said. “He left this to be found. So once he made contact, he’d be sure to burn any traces to him.”
“Except that he wants to be found,” Solomon said.
Kevin shook his head. “No, Sol. He wants you to think that he wants to be found. He wants you to have hope, and then he wants to take it away when you fail.”
“He’s not making it easy, but I know this guy.”
“You’re lying to yourself, Sol. The only way to win this game is not to play. Feedest ye not yonder trolls, as the saying goes. You lose just by playing the game, Sol. Even if you win, you lose. Engagement is the loss, here.”
Solomon took the phone. It was an iPhone 4. He opened it and navigated to the pictures. There was Hyacinth — the same photos Justin had sent before. “He used this phone to send me these photos,” Solomon said. “So what should I do, Kevin? What would you do?”
“The only way to win the game is not to play, Sol. Don’t play. Let Roger and Thomas do this.”
“He’ll kill her,” Solomon said.
“That’s his problem,” Kevin replied.
“No,” Solomon said. “That’s her problem.” He held up the phone, showing the picture of the unconscious girl. “I’m not saying that what he is doing is fair, Kevin. But it doesn’t have to end in her death, and if there is anything I can do to make sure that doesn’t happen, I will.”
Kevin shook his head.
“So where does this lead, Kevin?” Solomon asked.
Kevin examined the unit. “He made this himself. It has an Arduino motherboard. Lots of places sell those. There’s no technological fingerprints here. “
Solomon took the box. He flipped it over. On the bottom of the black plastic shell of a box were eight digits: 100101001. “It’s binary code for something,” Kevin said. “What could that mean?”
Solomon laughed. “It’s a fucking zip code, Kevin.”
The zip code led to a high rise on 26th Street. Solomon came alone. He had dropped Kevin off at the precinct. He checked his phone. He had ignored calls from Lisa and Sham. He stood in front of the building and looked at it. A block away he heard the sounds of children playing in the Penn South Playground and the cacophony of bouncing balls at the court next to the playground.
Solomon stepped to the door. It pushed open with ease. He stepped into the lobby and then looked at his phone again. He went back outside, still holding the phone in his hand. He sat on the curb and waited. Every thirty seconds or so for five minutes, he clicked the home button on the phone and waited. He stood up and walked down the street to the court and watched some teens play basketball. He leaned against the fence and forgot about his phone. He put it back into his pocket. After twenty minutes he turned away from the game and headed back toward the high rise, and then took his phone out of his pocket, looking at it one last time before putting it away. He walked past the high rise and kept walking to the subway entrance, getting in and heading to The Dog and Duck.
Sean stood behind the bar feeding dirty glasses into and taking clean glasses out of the dishwasher as quickly as it turned. Solomon sat in a booth at the far end of the room. There were six other people in dining room with him. Whenever someone new came in and made their way to the row of booths, Sean told them it was closed. One patron asked why that guy got to sit in the booth, pointing at Solomon. “Sol owns the fucking place,” Sean said. The patron nodded and found another spot in the bar.
Solomon was making notes and texting on his phone. After a few minutes it rang. “Sol,” Solomon said, answering. “Lisa, good. No, I’m out. Hand it all over to Roger and what’s-his-name.”
“Glad to hear it, Sol,” Lisa said. “Where did you leave off?”
“I was just running around,” Solomon said. “I wasn’t helping that girl.”
“It was a game, Sol,” Lisa said reassuringly. “Just a fucking game.”
“He’s here, somewhere. And if they find him first…”
“I’ll call you,” Lisa said before hanging up.
Sham came into the bar and walked up to Solomon. “So where we at?” Sham asked.
Solomon handed him the notes he was making. He was drawing on a blueprint of the house. “The house itself was torn down about a decade ago. They bought the design of the house from the builder, who has probably built a thousand of this exact house across Jersey.”
“This is shit right off the net?” Sham said. “What if he’s updated it? Made changes? Moved a fucking wall?”
“He hasn’t,” Solomon said. “We’ve been inside. It is exactly as he has bought it.”
“So, tomorrow we go in?” Sham said.
Reginald came into the bar next and sat next to Sham. They exchanged greetings and Solomon passed him a copy of the blueprint. “So, tomorrow is it?” Reginald asked.
“Tomorrow it is,” Solomon said.
“Should we wait for Vince before we go over this?” Reginald asked.
“He’s just a driver.”
“But he’s got a safe to crack and a bag to carry.”
Solomon shook his head. “No, he’s just a driver.”
“What you’re saying,” Sham said, “is he’s just an asshole and who gives a shit if he gets caught.”
Solomon put his right index finger to his nose.
“And what if he fingers us?” Reginald asked. “What if he gets caught and he implicates us?”
“I won’t be in the country by the time he gives his statement,” Solomon said. “And you two fuckers are cops, so I’m not sure why you’re so worried.”
Reginald looked at Sham. Sham kept his gaze on Solomon.
“We’re all on the same team,” Solomon said. “This isn’t about busting me, and it sure as fuck isn’t about busting Vince. It’s about our mutual employer. The guy is suspected of knocking off a dozen or so jobs worth almost fifty million. Our job is to get in, get out, get the goods, and get them to The Man in Black so that they can track it back to our employer. That’s our job.”
“Does Lisa know we know you know we know?” Sham asked.
Solomon shook his head. “If you’re asking if Lisa is aware that we are all in on the job, probably. She knows Reg, and I know. I don’t even know myself if she told either of you that you were both involved, though I assume she did. Look. I’m not a cop. I’m just not. I haven’t been for a while, and after the last week I probably never will be again. So there’s only so much she can tell me. But she did tell me about the two of you, and we probably should have had this conversation earlier. So go back and talk to her, and maybe we all meet up and go over the plan, because I’m not playing any games, here. I’m putting my ass on the line to help bring a bad guy in. That’s what I can do. That’s what I can control.”
“She thinks you were in on the other jobs,” Sham said. “She thinks maybe there is no big bad guy, and maybe they were your jobs.
“I was in on those other jobs,” Solomon said. “I absolutely was in on the other jobs.”
“So you are a crook,” Sham said.
“I am,” Solomon said. “And I’m proud of the work I did. Do you know how hard it is? And it isn’t the crime that’s hard — any ex-cop knows the system enough to do this. You know what is hard? Not being greedy. Sitting in a fucking vault with a hundred million dollars of gold and taking just twenty-five. Breaking into a bank and taking just the safety deposit boxes with stuff that no one will want to report stolen. Flying under the radar. I’m not just a crook, I’m a good one because I’m not being greedy.”
“So why hasn’t she taken you in?” Reginald asked.
“Because I’m not the mastermind behind it all. There’s a bigger fish. So if I get away with a few million dollars, she doesn’t care. The NYPD doesn’t care. The FBI doesn’t care. The world is full of small criminals who eked out a great fucking life bringing down men bigger than them, and my new retirement plan is to be one of those small criminals.”
“So,” Sham said, picking up the blue print, “where’s my safe?”
“The brown credenza is in the study,” Solomon said, pointing to the blueprint with his pen. “We will go in through the entrance off his balcony on the second floor, so when you go in, turn right.”
Solomon sat in his boxer shorts in his room at the YMCA. He wrote a short text on his phone and breathed heavily. The air smelled like fish — there was someone cooking it in the hall three doors down. A few other men gathered around the chef to chat and share a drink. Solomon waited.
His phone rang. He answered and said nothing.
“You told them everything?” Lisa said.
“Yeah,” Solomon said.
“That wasn’t the plan,” Lisa said.
“I needed to,” Solomon replied. “I was starting to think one of them would shank me on the job, or shank each other, or shank Vince. I wanted them to know we were all on the same side.”
“That wasn’t the plan, Sol,” Lisa said. “I’ve got two deep-cover kids who are barely onto the force, and now they are taking orders from you instead of me. One of them actually said he would check with you on something before taking an order from me today.”
Solomon smiled. “I can tell them this is still your operation.”
“I don’t have any operational control right now, Sol. You screwing with us?”
“No, Lisa,” Solomon said. “I’m just trying to make this work. The job was not going to work if they did not do everything I said, and they were not going to do everything I said if they did not trust me and trust each other.”
“Sol,” Lisa said, exasperated. “This is a shit-show. Captain wants to see you tomorrow.”
“No,” Solomon said. “She’s got eyes on me; always does this late in the game. If I step into a station now, it’s over, you’ll never get a chance to catch Mr. Big again. And I might end up dead. Your two cops, too, and that fuckhead Vince for good measure. It’s going forward. And now the kids won’t question me if something goes sideways. The plan’s the same.”
“Oh yeah?” Lisa asked.
“Yeah,” Solomon said. “It was always the plan. We go in. We get out. It’s a clean robbery. I get out of the country, you follow the money. That’s it. That’s my end.”
“Fuck, Sol,” Lisa said. “This is my ass.”
“It’s my life, Lisa. My life.”
Justin sat overlooking his laptop. He jumped back and forth between three different tabs on his browser — one for porn, one for goregoregore.com, and another showing a video feed for the high rise on 26th Street. It was dark, and he could not see much. He went back to his porn, then back to the video feed, moving his cursor over the bottom of the video and rewinding.
He pulled the video back to midday. He stopped when he saw Solomon in his taupe suit approach the building and go inside. Justin shook his head. “Why did you leave?” he asked. “Why the fuck did you leave?”
He shook his head and watched the video. Solomon came out, walked around, just off camera, and then came back and sat down and picked up his phone. “Did you get a call or make a call?” Justin asked. “Why did you just leave?”
Justin watched Solomon walk off camera and not return. He was furious. “What did you see? Why didn’t you go in?”
He stood up and paced the large, sparsely decorated room. It was bare except for a chair and a desk with his computer on it. He slept in a sleeping bag on the ground. There was plenty of room for him to pace and to think. “Why?” he asked, hitting himself on the head. “Why, why, why?”
He shook his head and went to his computer. He scrolled through a few porn sites, watching the loudest and most violent movies he could. He dropped his pants but could not get an erection, so he left the porn sites and went to a few gore sites instead. Those got him going. He blasted death metal into his earphones and masturbated to a disappointing finish before bringing up a game of online poker. He opened six games simultaneously, and after losing three or four hands in a row, he decided he was on tilt and stopped playing. “Oh,” he said. “I get it. You’re not playing my game anymore. Think we can play your game instead? Think you know my game? Think you know what is happening? Not fucking likely, Detective Roud.”
He took off his pants completely and walked around his apartment naked. He went to a bucket of phones in one corner and pulled a new one out of its wrapper, activating it and putting in a new SIM card. He went to his front door, opened it, realized he was naked, and went back to get dressed. Dressed, he left his apartment wearing a fake hipster moustache and thought about how much he would like to kill every hipster he met for the next thirty years, and maybe that would be his next engagement once Sol was dead.
He rode the subway to Queen’s and found a residential street where kids were playing stickball. He felt like he had gone back in time. Who played stickball? He was surprised to see that was still a thing, especially since gentrification guaranteed that these kids’ parents had money. Poor people did not live in New York anymore. There was poverty, yes, but that was always a relative thing. As far as you could go in any direction, if you could afford to live in New York for a year, you were wealthier by far than any average American.
He found a park and waited. He sat with his hands in his pockets playing with his pocketknife, opening it and closing it. The sun set, hidden by rows and rows of buildings. He did not see it dip below the horizon, but he did see the streetlamps light up slowly but surely, and soon enough the natural light had faded. He stood and he walked in no particular direction until the street started to come alive again with people returning from work, popping up out of subway exits with bags full of food to bring home to family.
Justin continued walking as the darkness of the sky descended and the brightness of artificial lights — streetlamps, neon signs, apartments — claimed just a little bit of that darkness’s territory. It was brighter at 9:00 p.m. than it was at dusk in New York. Always would be, Justin thought. So he waited until that tide turned once more, until 2:00 a.m., when the apartment lights would dim and the stores and bars started to close and turn off their lights. Those brief hours where darkness almost won out against the city.
Justin found his victim. He could barely make out what he was wearing or what he looked like, but he precisely fit the bill: smallish, alone, walking slightly askew and likely drunk enough to stumble in a light breeze. He followed off the main strip and onto the side streets once more, where either the man lived or he was visiting someone for the night. But either way, it was the man’s last stop.
Justin played with his knife in his pocket, opening it and closing it, careful not to cut his fingers on the blade. He sped up and was set to pass the man. As he pulled even with his victim, he pulled his hand from his pocket, jabbed the knife into his victim’s back, stumbled, pushed, and then righted himself, pulling the man back up. “Sorry,” Justin said.
“No worries,” the man replied.
Justin kept walking. He took the knife out of his pocket and looked at it — still closed, but that was not the point. It could have been open and, if it was, the man would be dead. “It’s still that fucking easy,” he said to himself. “It will always be that fucking easy to kill. Anytime I need it.”
He picked up the burner phone from his pocket, and he remembered when he first called Solomon in the middle on the night. It was just after killing Francine.
He woke Solomon at two thirty in the morning to the sound of his phone ringing. Solomon answered with a grunt.
“I just wanted to hear your voice,” Justin had said.
“No,” Justin replied. “Psycho.”
Solomon pulled the phone away from his ear and looked at the number. He grabbed a pen and paper nearby and wrote it down. “So when can we meet?”
Solomon started getting dressed. “Tonight?”
“No. I’m busy.”
“You’re getting close. In fact, I think you’ll figure out where I am soon. More importantly, you’ll figure out where she is.”
“It means I need to kill again.”
“Well, this is just a game. Detective, we are just playing a game. You and me. Except I’m playing chess, and you’re playing checkers. You’re not on my level. I’m out to kill someone, and you are out to stop me. It’s that simple. And if you are getting closer, I either stop or I kill sooner, before you have the chance.”
“But you can’t stop, can you?”
“No, Detective. I can, I assure you. But you need to beat me. Or you need to admit that you will never beat me.”
Solomon said nothing.
“Just say that I won. Say that you can’t catch me. Give up. You’re a rich kid. You probably grew up playing chess. Know what chess players say when they know they are beat? When checkmate is inevitable? I have checkmate. I’m going to kill again, and you can’t stop me unless you throw down your king and resign.”
“I’m not going to give up.”
“Admit checkmate. Resign.”
“I don’t see it that way.”
“Fine. Then the game continues. Ready. Set. Go!”
Justin hung up as Solomon started to respond.
Solomon picked up his phone and dialed the last number that called him. Someone answered but said nothing.
“Justin,” Solomon said.
“Gave up?” Justin said.
“Not at all,” Solomon said. “We were not finished talking. Sounded like you wanted to ask me something.”
“You just walked away from the clue. You miss it? You too old and dumb to save her?” Justin said. “Why did you just fucking leave? Don’t you care?”
“Justin,” Solomon said, “It’s two in the morning. I’m not playing this game.”
“Then the girl will die.”
“I didn’t say I would not pay the price to save her.”
“So you’re going to off yourself?” Justin asked.
“What then?” Justin asked. “She dies or you die. That’s the game.”
“I’ll die,” Solomon said. “But you can kill me. Isn’t that a better idea?”
Justin did not respond. He took the phone away from his ear and paused.
“Did you hear me, Psycho?” Solomon said. “You want me dead be a fucking man and do it yourself.”
“I heard you,” Justin said. “I’m just trying to decide how I will do it.”
“Well, you just fucking think about that and call me back when you get a fucking clue.”
Solomon ended the call and tossed his phone back onto the dresser. He tapped his right index finger against his thigh and exhaled. He lay back down in bed and tossed and turned. His phone rang again, and he ignored the call. He stood up and stretched out as far as he could, wincing in pain and grabbing at his back when he went too far. He shook his head and grabbed a towel, walking out his door toward the showers.
He passed a trio of old men speaking Russian in the hall. They sat around an electric stovetop where large shrimp were grilling. They nodded at Solomon, and he nodded in return. He made it to the shower and took a short, cold turn, enough to soak himself but not to wash. He shut the water off and took a long breath, patting himself mostly dry and walking back to his room with the towel tied around his waist.
Back in his room, he closed the door and dropped his towel. He picked up his phone and made a call. “Clive?”
“Yeah?” Clive asked.
“What are you doing?” Solomon asked.
“Oh, you know. Sleeping. I was fucking sleeping, Sol. I assumed you were dead. Is someone dead? I don’t normally get calls like this unless someone is dead.”
“You’re a coroner, Clive,” Solomon said. “Someone is always dead.”
“So they are. And I get this type of call frequently,” Clive said. “Coming over, or are we just going to talk?”
Clive filled Solomon’s glass with another shot of whisky as Solomon stood in front of the fireplace looking at a painting of a knight on a horse. “Truly spectacular,” Solomon said.
“You think so?” Clive asked.
“Truly. One of the worst paintings I’ve ever seen in my life. Did a teenager do this? Someone talented but stupid? I mean, it shows skill, but why this subject matter? It was done less than ten years ago. The only people who would paint a knight on a horse now are deluded children.”
“Or coroners,” Clive said.
Solomon stepped closer to the painting and noticed the CM in the corner. “Truly terrible, Clive.”
“Well,” Clive said, pouring himself another drink. “You said it showed some skill.”
“That was when I thought a child did it.”
“Now that you know I did it?” Clive asked.
Solomon sat down. “It’s shit, Clive.”
“But could you sell it?” Clive asked, sitting across from Solomon at his pair of club chairs.
“I probably could,” Solomon said.
“I’d pay you a commission,” Clive said. “Why don’t you go straight?”
“It isn’t about the money.”
“You have plenty, I know.”
“And I don’t have that much. None of the family money. Just the stuff from the force, a little here or there. I’m not wealthy.”
“Then why, Solomon? Why the robberies? Why get all caught up in all this shit?”
Solomon shrugged. “I had bills to pay.”
“Not your own?”
“No. That girl’s mother. That girl. Juanita.”
“A few million. It’s done now. They’re paid.”
“Then why keep going?”
“It’s not about the money, Clive. I found myself in a bad spot — off the force with time to kill and bills to pay. The guy I fell in with loves ex-cops or new cops or long-term cops. Loves cops. The system is easy to avoid if you have lived it. And he just does not let you go. You keep working for him or you die. So if I can get him caught … if I can get him in jail.”
“He can’t kill you,” Clive said, nodding.
Solomon put his right index finger to his nose and tapped twice.
“But doesn’t this guy have connections? He’ll be able to reach out from beyond jail. Any relatively good criminal mastermind should be able to, at any rate.” Clive took a long drink of whisky and finished his glass, pouring another drink.
“Not where I’m going,” Solomon said.
“And where’s that?” Clive said.
Solomon sat at the desk inside the storage unit where he had laid out his plan for the robbery. He had erased the names and the corresponding dollar amounts from the whiteboard. Sitting around him were Reginald, Vince, and Sham. Everyone was looking at a large blueprint on the corkboard hanging from eight red tacks.
“This is the house,” Solomon said. “Circled in brown is the credenza. Mostly cash in there, Sham, but look for three diamond rings. Just three. They are small, not in boxes, might be easy to miss. Here they are.” Solomon handed Sham pictures of the rings.
“How did you get these?” Vince asked.
“We were inside. We had to catalogue everything for the insurance. It’s really that simple. Vince, circled in blue on the second floor is the bedroom with the wall safe. It’s the master bedroom. The safe is behind this picture.” Solomon handed Vince a picture of a vase.
“Picasso — I know that one,” Vince said.
“No, you don’t,” Solomon said. “You think you do — you’ve seen his other vases, but you’ve never seen this one. It’s Matisse, not Picasso. Very limited edition print. Not available for sale, and you’ve never seen a photo of it, I guarantee.”
“Should I take it, too?” Vince asked.
“No, fuck no. Inside the wall safe is probably the best stuff in the house. There’s a blue diamond in there.” Solomon handed him another picture. “Worth millions. A few hundred thousand in cash — Euros and US dollars mostly, but some Mideast currency because he travels there a lot, and a few pounds sterling. Take it all.”
“Clear out the safe?” Vince asked.
“Fuck, no, what’s wrong with you?” Solomon handed him another picture. “See this? Memorize this. If you remember nothing else about the night, this is what will keep you out of jail: do not take it. Do not touch it. Do not even think about it. It has a GPS on it, and if it leaves the house, it activates and all sorts of good guys will come and find you.”
Vince looked at the picture. It was an analog watch with a sapphire crystal face, gold band, and diamonds on the bevel. The face said it was a Rolex.
“Reggie, the black leather chest in the middle of the living room has a few small pieces that are very fragile. There is a sketchbook that belonged to Alex Colville. It contains some of his studies from his time at the front during WWII. There is also a small statue that is a study for Hiram Powers. Don’t fucking break it.”
Solomon handed Reginald the pictures. The picture showed a small statue of a naked man.
“What about the wang?”
“Be careful with the wang,” Solomon said, smiling.
“Wangs break. It is just sitting there.”
“Don’t break the wang,” Solomon said.
“What if I break the wang?” Reginald said, laughing.
“I’ll break your fucking wang.”
“So what are you taking, boss?” Sham asked.
Solomon pinned three pictures to the basement on the blueprint. “In the red chest in the basement is about twenty pounds of gold.”
“Holy shit,” Sham said. “That’s almost four hundred thousand dollars.”
“Not for this gold,” Solomon said. “Three quarters of the gold is traditional coin; the rest date from between 1500 and 1850.”
“Pirate booty?” Sham said.
Solomon nodded. “Pirate booty.”
“All this talk about booty and wangs,” Vince said. “Anyone else think we should hit a strip club to relax?”
“We can relax after,” Solomon said. “First the job.”
“I thought you said after we drive out of there, we won’t see each other for months, if at all,” Vince said.
“We won’t,” Solomon said. “I won’t be doing my relaxing with you.”
“And he sure as fuck isn’t going to drop any money at a strip club, Vince. Sol is the cheapest motherfucker in the world.”
“I’m not cheap.” Solomon said.
“I’m frugal,” Reginald and Sham answered in chorus.
“We’re all set,” Solomon said to Captain Bell.
“Any word from Psycho since you stopped following him?” the captain asked. Roger and Thomas sat forward to listen as the group was gathered around the captain’s desk.
“Not a peep. Not a word,” Solomon said.
Bell nodded. “We appreciate that you kept him talking for so long. We checked out that high rise and like you didn’t find a thing.”
“The girl?” Solomon asked.
“We’re going to find her, Sol. It isn’t your fight,” Roger said, putting his hand on Solomon’s shoulder. “We never should have let you stay involved.”
“He might have just killed her,” Solomon said. “It’s our game, in his head.”
“Only in his head,” Roger said.
“And it’s there, in his head, where the decision about whether she lives or dies is going to be made,” Solomon said.
“You know the price of admission,” Roger said. “You know that getting involved means you can’t take blame.”
“See your psychiatrist, Sol,” Bell added. “Talk to her. Unpack this. You need to talk about it and if it goes badly…”
“It’s not your fault,” Thomas said.
“I know it won’t go badly,” Solomon said, smiling. “I know she’s going to be okay.”
“We’ll find her,” Roger added.
“I know she’ll be okay,” Solomon said. “I have faith.” He took a pill bottle out of his jacket indiscreetly and popped a single pill, swallowing dry. The three cops turned away as he did so.
Solomon sat waiting at the diner counter eyeing a cup of coffee that cost him a dollar. He had been waiting for an hour. The waitress behind the counter was wearing a blue dress with a broad white apron. Her hair was gray and long, tied up in a high ponytail. She came up and asked if he wanted anything else. “Just waiting,” Solomon said.
“Me too,” she replied, eyeing him cautiously and then moving on.
Lisa arrived ten minutes later. She sat on the stool next to him and ordered breakfast before her ass hit the seat from the same waitress: “Two eggs once over hard with white toast and bacon as burned as the kitchen will allow. And so much coffee.”
Solomon took a sip of his coffee. “You’re late. I almost left.”
“You have anything other than coffee?” Lisa asked.
“Not a damn thing,” Solomon said.
“It’s a dollar.”
“And bottomless. Great place to wait for someone who might be an hour and a half late.”
“Got it. Don’t need the lecture. You know how it is, Sol.”
“I get it.”
“So what’s happening?”
“We’re set. You can pick the kids up on the New York side of the Lincoln tunnel around three in the morning.”
“Vince?” Lisa asked.
“You’re going to have to let him walk.”
“I know. Know where he might walk off to?”
“A dumb kid like him with a quarter million dollars?”
“No, a dumb kid.”
“Yeah. Just watch him.”
“I know, Sol.”
“If you pick him up, Captain Klepto won’t take delivery of the goods, and you’ll never trace him.”
“I know, Sol.” Lisa’s breakfast arrived, and she started eating quickly. “So where are the bags going?”
“We go in. We turn off the alarms. We break into the safes. We clear them out into the bags. We get into the car and drop the bags off with the skinny guy in black. He fences almost everything — the gold, the jewels, launders the money, takes his cut, and the rest flows back to the real boss.”
“And what are we looking for? Does he touch anything?”
“One thing,” Solomon said, sliding a picture across the counter, not looking at it as Lisa picks it up. “It’s a Francis Bacon.”
“I’ll take your word for it,” Lisa said, putting the picture in her purse.
“He wants it. It’s the only thing he’s wanted in the five jobs I’ve done for him. I’ll slide the tracer into the tube carrying the painting. The skinny guy will find a way to get it back to our employer.”
“If they find the tracer?” Lisa asked.
Solomon shrugged. “Then it is over. They’ll come looking for the kids, Vince and I. They’ll kill us. And he’ll go back underground. But they won’t find it. It is sewn right into the fabric, looks and works like a snap-button, and Kevin set it up so that it won’t even turn on for three days. So if they do a scan, they’ll find nothing. It’ll work, Lisa.”
Solomon raised his cup of coffee, and Lisa did the same, clinking glasses. “This is the last time you’ll see me, kid.”
“Sol, I’m not a kid. I’m older than you.”
Solomon smiled. “I’m not telling you where I’m going. That was the deal.”
“You’re leaving New York? You’ve lived here your whole life.”
“I used to have a life here. I don’t anymore. Just got an apartment I used to own and a job I used to love. Now everywhere I go I see the kids Psycho has killed, and I see the jobs I’ve done and I don’t want to be here.”
“Where are you going?” Lisa asked again.
“Myanmar. Yemen. Oman. Wonsan. Nigeria. India. Samoa. Latvia. Argentina. Niger. Denmark. You know, somewhere I can get lost.”
Lisa threw twenty dollars on the counter and wiped her face with a napkin. “Sol, you couldn’t get lost anywhere hot. You stick out like a sore thumb.”
She put her hand on Solomon’s shoulder and then smiled, walking out of the restaurant.
Solomon took the twenty-dollar bill and waved down the waitress. “What’s the damage?” he asked.
“Twelve,” she said.
“Can you get me six-twenty in change?” Solomon said.
Solomon was walking through Central Park. It was cold and slightly wet but otherwise agreeable. His phone rang. “Yeah?” Solomon asked.
“You all set for today?” Justin said, excitedly.
“All set,” Solomon said. “Just let me know where.”
“There’s a Starbucks on Shuter.”
“I know it. You picked up Francine there.”
“I did, didn’t I?” Justin said. “And just so you know, if I’m not back here in the same hour I pick you up, the new girl dies. So no fucking games.”
“The game is over,” Solomon said.
“Then say it.”
“When you do it. If I’m awake, I’ll say it.”
“You’ll be awake.”
“So you’ve decided how you’ll do it?”
“I don’t want to ruin the surprise,” Justin said with a forced cackle.
“Fair enough. And then you’ll let her go?”
“Her, yes,” Justin said. “But you know I won’t stop.”
“I know. But that’s not my problem.”
“It’s Roger and Tomas’s, and that Captain Bell.”
“No, Justin, it’s yours.”
Justin laughed again. “You have no sense of fun or accomplishment. I’m doing something no one has ever done.”
“You guys all think you are unique and original. But you’re not.”
“So you ready for your instructions? You need to be at the Starbucks in an hour.”
“No,” Solomon said.
“No?” Justin replied angrily.
“No. I’ve got things to do. You won’t see me until after sunset.”
“Fuck you! I’ll kill her,” Justin said.
“No, you won’t.”
Justin said nothing.
“I’ll be there after sunset, and that’s final, Psycho.”
“Fuck you,” Justin said before pausing and adding, “I’ll wait.”
“I’ll call you when I’m ready.”
“I’m not giving you a number you can trace.”
“Then text me after sunset, and we will make arrangements.”
From the park, Solomon walked west to Temple Beth Sholom. He went inside and was welcomed by someone at the door and given a tallit. He walked to the third row and on the right sat in an empty seat surrounded by other people observing the Kol Nidrei. He listened and prayed and participated in the service. Towards the end came an appeal for charity, and Solomon looked up from his feet and locked eyes with the rabbi. The service finished, and Solomon stayed in his seat.
The Rabbi came to him after the service, and the two men embraced. “Solomon!” the rabbi said.
“Josef,” Solomon said, patting the man’s back. Josef sat, largely ignoring the other people who came to say their goodbyes to him as he spoke with Solomon.
“Solomon, it is so good to see you,” Josef said. “We haven’t see you since your father…”
“Will we see you tomorrow?” Josef asked.
“Not likely,” Solomon said.
“Then it is good you came today.”
“I have something for you,” Solomon said. He reached into his pocket and took out a check. “It is everything that is left from my father’s estate.”
“Solomon, no,” Josef said. “Your family has done enough. Your father and grandfather helped to build this place. They were pillars of the community. We owe you so much. We cannot accept more. Not since your father…”
“Take it,” Solomon said, pushing the check into the rabbi’s hand.
“What will you do?” Josef asked.
“I’ll be fine.”
“Solomon,” Josef started before stopping. He took a deep breath and continued. “Solomon, I’ll take this. But you have to tell me. What happened to your father?”
“He lost almost everything,” Solomon said. “He trusted Friederick with millions, and it all disappeared.”
“And after? He just left and poof, nothing, not a word.”
“He’s dead,” Solomon said.
“This we guessed.”
“He had nothing but the apartment — now also gone — a few paintings and this money.”
“Yes, but where did he go?”
Solomon leaned in. “You know those paintings my father and grandfather were always talking about?”
“The eighteen that were stolen from them before they fled Germany?”
“He found one. Maybe two. So he went to get them back. My father didn’t care about the money. Didn’t care about losing it all — it wasn’t the first time in his life he lost everything. But those paintings represented something more. A debt the world owed his family, you know? A debt he took on from his father and a debt he wishes I took on from him. He went to get those paintings back. And I never saw him again. But I know he got caught, and I know he was killed. I know.”
Josef put his hand on Solomon’s shoulder and then picked up the check. “Solomon,” he said, “almost four million dollars?”
“It’s everything.” Solomon said. “I don’t need it nearly so much as some of the folks you can get this to. I might not need it at all.”
“What have you gotten yourself into?”
“Something that will play out one way or another. And there’s no going back.”
“I’ll pray for a miracle, Sol. And I will hold on to this until I know you don’t need it. Do you believe in miracles, Sol? Do you believe you’ll come out of this okay?”
“Of course,” Solomon said. “I’ve seen a miracle, Josef. And if there’s another miracle, I won’t need that money.” He paused and smiled before adding, “And if there isn’t another miracle, I definitely won’t need that money.”
Solomon sat in the Starbucks drinking from a bottle of water, staring at Justin across the table. Justin was smiling and wearing a t-shirt that looked like it was designed for a Norwegian black metal band and plain blue jeans. “I half expected the cops when I walked in here.”
Solomon shrugged. “Nobody here but me.”
Justin’s legs were trembling with excitement under the table. “I’m surprised you can just sit there. Don’t you want to hit me? Punch me? Kill me?”
Justin lifted his shirt. “It still hurts,” he said, pointing to his chest. “Where you shot me? Still fucking hurts. Bruises on bruises. Never really healed.”
“Good,” Solomon said. “I hope it never does.”
Justin dropped his shirt and laughed. It drew the attention of a few other people in the café. “We should probably just get on with it.” Justin stood and motioned for Solomon to walk ahead of him.
The two left the Starbucks and walked east. At the second alley they passed, Justin prodded Solomon, still walking arm’s-length in front of him, to go into the alley. There was a van there with the rear facing the street. “Open the door,” Justin said. Solomon did so, and as he did Justin injected him with propofol. A moment later Solomon was unconscious.
Justin drove but did not need to go far. He arrived at a warehouse that had been split into industrial workspaces near the coffee shop. He parked the van underground near the large freight elevator. Justin got out of the car and looked around. Satisfied, he went into the back of the van and rolled Solomon into a Persian carpet and then dropped him casually onto the cement. He rolled a dolly out of the elevator and struggled but managed to lift Solomon onto the dolly, and then rolled it into the elevator.
He took the elevator to the fifth floor. The space had large fifteen-foot ceilings, exposed beams, and the forty-by-forty space was empty except for a small room in the northwest corner constructed from MDF. The room had no door and was covered in layers of plastic.
Justin unrolled the carpet in front of the room, and Solomon flopped out. Justin sat Solomon up and bound his wrists with handcuffs and quickties and then bound his feet in rope and quickties. Solomon was slumped over but erect, and though unconscious, the first thing he would see when he woke would be the room covered in plastic.
Justin sat on the ground nearby and waited, smiling, watching his watch and checking the detective’s breathing and heart rate every so often.
Solomon woke slowly. His eyes were heavy. When he managed to keep them open, the sun was shining brightly onto him, and it took another few moments to adjust. As he adjusted and could finally open his eyes fully, his vision was blurry. He struggled against the bondage and then relaxed. He saw the room, and he shuffled on the carpet toward it.
“Like a dog wiping its shitty ass on the carpet,” Justin said, laughing.
Solomon stopped. He sat staring at the room. Justin was sitting off to his left and behind him. He could not see him.
“That’s what you look like, Sol. It’s fucking hilarious,” Justin said, clicking a photo on his phone.
“So this is your big plan?” Solomon said. He pushed his hands into tight fists, causing a short click that sounded like his knuckles cracking, and then relaxed.
“Oh so angry, Sol, and I get it. You’ve really lost the game now.”
“Can I still resign?”
“No. No, you offered me your life for her life.”
“Oh, was that her name? Whatever. I don’t really care.”
“You said you would let her go.”
“I didn’t mean her,” Justin said.
Solomon craned his head to look over his shoulder. He said nothing. When it became too uncomfortable, he turned back toward the room.
“Look, it’s not all bad,” Justin said. “I was trying to think of how I should kill you. I really was hoping you would just kill yourself, and, you know, once I set a goal I don’t like to give up. So here is what I’m thinking. I’m going to force you to watch another one of your failures — you couldn’t even kill yourself right. So, you get to watch this bitch suffocate. And then you’ll kill yourself like you were supposed to. I’ll untie one arm and give you a knife. And then, then, I won’t kill the next person. I’ll skip one. Trust me. I’ll skip one. And then I’ll continue.”
“How long does she have?” Solomon asked.
Justin brought over his laptop and placed it between Solomon and the room. On the screen was Hyacinth, as well as heads-up display showing her vital signs. Everything was green and beeping consistently.
“A few hours,” Justin said. “Won’t be too long. And you get to spend all that time with me! Plenty of time to contemplate your failures and decide how you’ll end it. I suggest seppuku. If I get a vote, I vote for that. But like I said, you’ve got plenty of time to think about it.”
Solomon smiled and stared at the laptop. “Plenty of time.”
“Yes,” Justin said, taking a step back. “What do you mean?”
Solomon said nothing.
“Plenty of time to think about how you’re going to kill yourself. Plenty of time to think about your failures. Plenty of time to think about how I won, you lost.”
Solomon said nothing, but continued to smile.
“It’s checkmate, Sol. It’s over and you know it.”
Justin walked away from Solomon and over to another computer nearby. He sat listening to loud death metal and watching hardcore porn for a few minutes — and a few minutes was all it took for three people in SWAT uniforms to come smashing through the large windows of the loft. Another five breached the door simultaneously, tossing in flashbangs. Solomon had ducked for cover when he saw it happening. Justin did not notice and was rolling on the ground trying to cover his ears and eyes at the same time.
One of the SWAT members cut Solomon loose with bolt cutters. Solomon touched his wrists where they were raw. Three others had put quickties on Justin’s wrists and were holding him upright on his knees.
Justin was laughing.
The room was empty. Hyacinth was not inside.
Justin laughed as they pried the door open, more and more as they peeled away the layers of rubber and plastic to discover that there was nothing inside. “So wonderfully predictable, Sol. Really, you have outdone yourself. She’s not here, man. She’s not here.”
Solomon kneeled in front of Justin to look him in the eyes. “It’s over. You’ve lost.”
“She’s not here. You’re not dead. I’m not dead. You don’t win. You know, I knew this would happen. I did think it would happen at the shop. I thought it might happen on the road. I genuinely did not think we would get all the way here — but boy I’m glad we did. I’m glad, Sol. I’m glad I spent the fucking money to get a dozen of these places all around the city. You’ll never fucking find her. It’s the sort of plan you could never pull off, you cheap fuck.”
“I’m not cheap,” Solomon replied. “I’m frugal. Now admit you lost. It’s over.”
“No. You haven’t done it yet. You brought some SWAT. Good for you. They have rules of engagement. They won’t kill me. And they won’t kill you. The girl dies. Unless you take one of their guns right now and fucking kill yourself.”
“Has anyone ever told you the difference between being frugal and being cheap?” Solomon said, standing upright and towering over Justin. “A frugal person is willing to spend the money when there’s value. A cheap person wouldn’t. A cheap person would call the cops. A cheap person would bring the SWAT. But I am not a cheap person. I am frugal.” Solomon nodded at one of the SWAT team members. The man handed him a gun.
“You know what it costs to embed a GPS panic button in your finger?” He stopped talking and waved his right index finger. He rolled his fingers into a fist and clicked the panic button several times, demonstrating an audible click that sounded like knuckles cracking. Justin gulped. “That wasn’t all that expensive. Maybe five grand. You know what it cost to set it up so that when I push this button, the signal goes to security specialists who then dispatch a helicopter and a band of rather awful but terribly well-controlled and well-paid men to my rescue?” Solomon put the gun on Justin’s temple. “Five million dollars or so. Worth every penny. Best money I’ve ever spent. Best value. I would have paid triple. Say it.”
“Where’d you get the money for that? Spent your own? I knew you had money, Sol!”
“No,” Solomon said. “I did the only thing better than spending my own money to kill you.”
“My father,” Justin said instantly.
“True, and worse than you can imagine. He paid me ten million to kill you. I would have done it for free. Say it.”
Justin smiled. “The entire back wall is a false wall. She’s in a room behind it. The painting is with her.” Solomon nodded, and three of the men headed toward the back of the room. Using explosives, they blew out the wall, exposing another room behind. Solomon waited, his gun still on Justin’s temple.
“She’s here. She’s fine,” one of the men called back. “She’s unconscious but alive.”
“Pay the price,” Justin said. “Me or you.”
“Say it,” Solomon said.
“Checkmate,” Justin said.
Solomon emptied the clip into Justin’s head, firing twice and letting the body fall over before continuing. He reloaded the gun and then emptied it again up and down his torso.
“Did you need the whole two clips?” a mercenary asked.
Solomon turned to him. “This guy is one of those assholes who just comes back to life if you only shoot him once or twice.” He took out his phone and snapped a few photos.
“Fair ’nuff,” The mercenary said. “I’ve had my share of those. Need anything else?”
“The girl needs an ambulance, and I could use a ride back to town?”
“It’s your dime.”
Solomon rode in the back of an armored Navigator twenty blocks uptown. He got out of the car with a tube carrying case and walked another three blocks to a parking tower, climbing the stairs to the third floor. In the northwest corner of the third floor, Vince was pacing in front of a midnight blue BMW X6. “You’re late,” Vince said.
“My fucking caper,” Solomon said, “my fucking time.”
Vince put up his hands, surprised. “Alright, old-timer. Alright. Take it easy. The guys have been calling, is all. Wondering if we are cancelled.”
“Are you ready?” Solomon asked. He was checking the trunk for his duffle bag and then taking the painting out of the case he was using to carry it and putting it into his bag. When finished, he opened the passenger door.
“Yes,” Vince said, getting into the driver’s seat.
Vince started the car and peeled out of the parking spot.
“Another stunt like that and I’ll kill you,” Solomon said. “Don’t draw fucking attention to us. This is not a fucking joke.”
“Damn,” Vince said. “Alright. I get it. Nice and slow, Miss Daisy.”
Solomon slapped Vince in the head. “I hate the sound of your voice.”
Vince drove carefully. He stopped fully at stop signs and slowed when coming to yellow lights. He pulled into a lot a block away from the Lincoln tunnel. Reginald and Sham were waiting with their duffle bags. They got into the car.
“Everything alright?” Sham asked.
“Don’t ask,” Vince said.
“I think we should know if something went wrong. This isn’t a good start,” Reginald said.
“Everything is fine,” Solomon said. “I had a rough night. We started late. The guy isn’t home, and it doesn’t matter. We have all night.”
“Oh, them you talk to, but me, I get slapped?” Vince said.
Solomon slapped Vince again. Everyone laughed — even Vince.
“Damn, son,” Sham said. “I knew I liked you, Sol. But now I fucking love you. Shit just got real. Let’s fucking do this!” He put his head out the window. “Let’s burgle something!”
“That’s not a word,” Reginald said.
The ride to Short Hills was loud. At Sham’s request, they listened to the entire first side of the Beach House album Bloom, which he called, “essential pre-heist listening.”
Solomon repeated, “This music is terrible,” or any of a dozen variations of that every chance he could. But he smiled and looked out the window and gazed at the homes that became more and more beautiful as they got closer to their destination.
As they passed the sign for Short Hills, Solomon turned around in his seat. “So where do we go in, Reginald?”
“Entrance off his balcony on the second floor. Only entrance without an alarm, and a battery was never installed on the motion sensor.”
“And your safe, Sham?”
“The brown credenza in the study on the second floor. First door on the right after going down the stairs.”
“I’m in the bedroom opening the safe behind the wall. It is a digital lock, and the code is 5-4-4-6-7-5-6.”
Solomon turned forward again in his seat. “Okay. Good. It’s one thirty in the morning now. We are eight minutes out. We are going to be a little over ninety minutes behind schedule, so let’s be efficient. The vic isn’t home. We will turn the alarms off. We will go in and out of the second floor entrance. You have pictures in the bags of the stuff you are supposed to target. You can leave everything else behind. No, you must leave everything else behind.” Solomon took the bottle of pills from his pocket and downed one. The three other passengers looked away as he did.
He put a hand on Vince’s shoulder. “I mean it, Vince. Take nothing else. Don’t be greedy. It gets people killed.”
“I don’t know what kind of rep you think I have,” Vince said, “but I didn’t get here because I’m a fucking idiot. They didn’t bring me in to drive the car and get caught.”
Solomon looked out the window and smiled. Other than the terrible music, the next eight minutes were silent.
Vince pulled into the driveway of the target house. All four men stepped out simultaneously. It was quiet, but the street was well lit. Vince opened the trunk and each man grabbed his bag. Vince closed the trunk, and the four walked around the side of the house. At the gate to the backyard, Solomon pulled the blue cord that opened the latch on the other side. They walked through. Sham was last, closing the door behind them and latching the gate again.
On their left a porch rose that rounded the corner of the house. They climbed the stairs and walked around the corner to the back. There was a ladder in the backyard and debris from workers who appeared to be replacing the eavestroughs. Sham and Reginald took the ladder and leaned it against the railing of a second-floor balcony. The four climbed up.
At the top, Solomon went to the door and produced a key. He slipped it into the deadbolt and turned. He engaged the handle, and the door opened. He pointed at Sham, who went in first, found the stairs on his left, and went down. Reginald followed. Vince went to walk in, and Solomon put a hand on his chest. “I know you can do this, Vince. You’re the lynchpin of this heist. Without you, it just couldn’t happen. Without you, we’d all get caught.” Solomon smiled.
Vince smiled back and lowered his head. “I got this. And thanks. For what it’s worth, I’ve really enjoyed working with you on this.”
Solomon allowed Vince to go in. Vince went in and then right and into the bedroom. Solomon went in and then down one flight of stairs to the main floor. He went to the front door, and at the touchpad next to the door he shut down the alarm. He turned around and found the stairs to the basement, descending. He was alone. He sat in front of the red chest and sighed. He took a key from his pocket and slipped it into the lock. The lock gave, and he opened the top of the chest. This revealed a long, hard metal safe shaped to fit in the chest. There was a digital keypad with a red LED. Solomon started typing the code, heard a thud, and a scream, and Vince yelling, “Fuck!” Solomon did not stop typing. He hit “enter” and the red LED went green. He opened the safe and saw a painting lying flat. He opened his duffle bag. Inside was the round, long cylinder that he had custom made with Kevin. He unzipped the cylinder. Inside was the painting he had taken from Justin’s apartment when he rescued Hyacinth. He rolled up the painting from the chest and slid it into the cylinder.
By now, Sham and Reginald were heading upstairs. Vince met them on the stairs and was telling them that the homeowner was home as Solomon emerged from the basement.
“What did you do?” Solomon asked, half-whispering.
“He’s fucking here, Sol. Fucking here. This is all fucked up. He was in the bathroom and came out right into the room, and there I am,” Vince said.
“And what did you do?” Solomon asked.
“I fucking tackled him and tied him up. He’s on a chair in his room.”
“Did you get into the safe?” Solomon asked.
“I didn’t have time,” Vince said.
“Well then, what the fuck are you doing standing here? Get it done,” Solomon responded.
“Fuck,” Vince said, heading back upstairs and into the bedroom.
“I’m gonna check this out,” Sham said.
Solomon put a hand on Sham’s chest and shook his head. He put a finger to his lips and shushed both Reginald and Sham.
Solomon sat on a couch in the living room. Reginald and Sham went back to their safes but did not have enough time to open them before they heard the sirens.
“Fuck!” Vince said. “The police are here! Fuck, there’s like five squad cars out there!”
Vince came running down the stairs. “What the fuck are we gonna do, Sol?” he asked. Reginald and Sham came into the living room.
“You’ve got two options, Vince. You leave the gun in your waistband on the table to your left — the gun I told you not to fucking bring — and walk out that door with your hands on your head and go to jail, or you get killed by pulling that gun out and fighting with the cops. Your call. Let me know when you’ve decided, because I’m not going out there until you decide.”
“How did this happen, Sol?” Sham said. “He wasn’t supposed to be here. We saw him leave.”
“Shit happens,” Solomon said. “But you gotta know when you’re beat.”
Vince pulled the gun from his waist and looked out the window. He counted eight cops, each with guns drawn and pointed at the house.
“We should make this quick,” Solomon said. “They’re not going to be patient.”
Vince looked back and started a stream of consciousness tirade of curse words as he put the gun on a table near Solomon.
“Good,” Solomon said. “Let’s get out of here.”
Solomon opened the door and showed his hands. He called out that he and his men were all unarmed, and one of the cops called back that they should come out with hands above their heads one at a time. Solomon went first and was tackled roughly by three cops waiting next to the door. Sham went next, and then Reginald. Vince went last, still swearing, now sweating and crying a little, and adding, “I can’t go back,” every so often.
Sham and Reginald were put into the same squad car by a short Latino fellow with teardrop tattoos and a giant man who did not say a word. When that car left the scene, it went west. Vince and Solomon each had their own car. Vince’s went west and then north.
Solomon’s followed but continued west.
Vince sat in the station handcuffed to the desk of one of his arresting officers as the officer filled out paperwork. He was quiet. His shoulders hunched downward, and he gazed at his feet. Not far away, the homeowner was giving his statement.
“Did he take anything?” an officer asked. He had a nametag that said Denninger. He was short, stocky, with salt-and-pepper hair.
“Nothing,” the man said nervously. He was wearing a pair of faded designer jeans and a white shirt. He had silver hair and looked respectable. “He didn’t have time to get into the safe before I got out of the bathroom. You guys showed up real fast after I tripped the alarm.”
“There was a safe in the basement that was open. There was cash and other valuables in it. You took a look? He didn’t get anything?”
“Nothing,” the man repeated, fidgeting with his hands. “I’ve accounted for everything.”
“And he acted alone?” Denninger asked.
“Yes,” the homeowner said. “There was no one else there.”
The officer did not ask any follow-up questions.
“What are you talking about?” Vince yelled at him across the station. “I wasn’t alone!”
His officer told him to shut up. Vince tried to struggle out of the chair. “I wasn’t fucking alone! I had three fucking accomplices! And this wasn’t my fucking caper! I was working for Solomon Roud!”
“Sol? Detective Roud?” his arresting officer asked.
“That guy is a fucking hero,” the officer said. “So sit the fuck down and shut the fuck up and wait for your goddamned lawyer.”
“I wasn’t alone,” Vince said. “And we did take something. A painting. An important painting.”
“That true?” Denninger asked.
“No,” the home owner said quickly. “I don’t know anything about any painting. I don’t own any originals or anything valuable.”
Reginald and Sham watched as the Latino and the giant who arrested them got back into their squad car. They stood on the side of a busy intersection as the two men, who introduced themselves as [_friends of Sol’s, _]drove off. Before leaving, the officers had removed Reginald and Sham’s handcuffs and dropped the duffle bags from the heist at their feet.
Reginald and Sham looked at each other.
“What the fuck was that?” Sham asked.
Reginald shrugged. He knelt down and opened his bag, pulling it open to show Sham the stacks of cash. Sham opened his. He laughed.
“What’d you get?” Reginald asked.
“Something I need very badly right now,” Sham said. He pulled a clean pair of underwear out of the bag.
Reginald sat on the ground. “Do you think Sol was our employer all along?”
Sham shook his head. “You know, for a smart guy, you’re real fucking dumb. Of course he was.” He took an envelope out of the bag. It had Lisa’s name on it.
A few minutes later Lisa pulled up. “Gentlemen,” she said. “How did the heist go?”
Reginald showed her the bag of money. Sham handed her the envelope. She tore it open at the top and poured the contents into her hand. It was a key to a Bentley with an address written on a note attached to the key ring.
Lisa shook her head. “Ah fuck, Sol,” she said. “And those bags are full of cash, I assume?”
“Cash and undies,” Sham replied.
“Where’s Vince?” Lisa asked.
“At the station, probably,” Reginald said. “Telling everyone about us.”
“Well, that is not a problem. You were supposed to be there,” Lisa said.
“The dude was there, Lisa,” Sham said.
“Did he see you?” Lisa asked.
“No.” Reginald said. “He didn’t.”
“Why?” Reginald asked. “Why even bother bringing us into this?”
“How the fuck should I know,” Lisa said.
“To catch our employer? I don’t get this, Lisa. Why all the trouble? Was there ever a bad guy to catch?” Sham asked.
Lisa nodded her head. “Sure was.”
“Who?” Reginald asked.
“Sol, you idiot,” Sham said. Lisa nodded.
“So what do we do?” Sham asked.
“Did Sol get the painting?” Lisa asked.
Sham laughed. “That fucker. But if it was all fake, who was in on it? What happened?”
“So we report it?” Reginald asked. “We have to, I assume.”
“We reports parts of this.” Lisa said. “Not the whole thing. I’ve got a new Bentley, and you guys probably have a cool million each. One day, you’ll get it, gentlemen. You’ll get what it means to owe the person next to you your life. You’ll tell a few lies for them. Not small stuff. Big stuff. Life-shaking lies. You’ll make up an elaborate conspiracy of thieves with a mysterious figure who runs it all. You’ll do whatever. And you’ll do it happily to help him out. And you’ll look the other way if they repay that kindness.”
“He save your life, Lisa?” Reginald asked.
“Yup.” Lisa nodded. “But you’re not going to hear that story from me, so don’t fucking ask.”
Solomon stepped out of the police car with the duffle bag in hand, walking briskly through the automatic sliding doors and into the fresh air of the airport. He continued straight toward the security gate. He stepped into the line for passengers on international flights, and the security guard stopped him. “Boarding pass, please.” Solomon showed his boarding pass, and the guard followed up by asking if Solomon had any medication, liquids, or flammables.
Solomon took the bottle of medication out of his pocket and tossed it into the garbage. The guard stood up straight. “Sir, you didn’t need to throw that out. Don’t you need your meds?”
“They weren’t meds,” Solomon said. “They were breath mints.”
As he approached the security checkpoint, a tall, blonde guard with a man-bun stepped forward and tapped the guard at the front of the line on the shoulder. “I’ll take this,” he said.
He motioned that Solomon come closer. “Sir,” he said, “you’ve been randomly selected for an enhanced search. Can I take your bag?”
Solomon handed over his bag and followed the security guard into a private room. The guard opened the bag, took out a stack of cash, and placed it into his pocket. He handed the bag back to Solomon. “You’re free to go, sir.”
Solomon exited the room and went down a flight of escalators. He turned right and headed into the nearest bathroom. He went into the large accessible stall at the end of the row. He stripped off his white shirt and taupe suit, tossing those into the trash. Out of the duffle bag he retrieved a Kiton suit tailored for travel and a white Tom Ford shirt, impeccably pressed. He slipped off his Ecco shoes and put on a pair of Salvatore Ferragamos. He stuffed the duffle bag into the trash as well, but not before taking out the cylinder and slinging it over his shoulder.
Solomon continued to his gate and sat quietly in a chair. Ten minutes later, they announced boarding for first-class passengers.
Solomon rose, presented his boarding pass, and went down the bridge into the plane. His seat was 1A, a window seat. As he sat, the flight attendant asked if he would like a glass of champagne while he waited.
“Yes,” Solomon said. “But not the cheap stuff.”
The plane landed a few hours later. Solomon was the third passenger to disembark. He stepped out into the fresh air and sunshine. The heat was intense. He slipped on a pair of sunglasses, put the painting on his shoulder, and descended the stairs.
As he approached customs, he went left, following the sign for citizens of Bermuda. His line was short. The customs agent took his passport, stamped it, and welcomed him home. Solomon continued on through the exit, past the baggage claim area, and through the final set of doors to the arrival waiting area.
He looked at the long line of tourists and shook his head. As he scanned the line, he found the man he was looking for and walked toward him. The man was dressed in a black suit with a white shirt open at the collar. There was no tie.
“Jeeves,” Solomon said, handing over the cylinder. “Is the car ready?”
“This way, sir. And I really do wish you would just call me Mario,” Mario said, leading Solomon outside to the waiting Bentley. The two men got into the back of the car and the driver set off for the coast.
“How was the caper?” Mario asked.
“Good,” Solomon said.
Solomon handed Mario his phone. Mario took it and scanned the photographs. “I’ll assume that is him and that he is very, very dead.”
“Very dead, Jeeves.”
Mario handed the phone back. “Very good, sir. I’m thrilled. I wasn’t sure which way it was going to go for a while.”
“Neither was I, Jeeves.”
Mario huffed and looked out the window. A few minutes later, the car turned into a gate that opened on their approach into the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club. The car took them up to the front door, where a valet opened the door and Mario and Solomon got out. “Time to eat?” Mario asked.
“No,” Solomon said. “Just want to get home.”
Mario nodded. The two proceeded through the club and out into the marina and straight toward a fifty-foot yacht called Juanita. The two climbed aboard and exchanged pleasantries with the six crew members before going out to the front of the boat as the ship headed to sea. Mario made negronis, and the two drank.
The boat curved along the shore out at sea, and after about an hour they pulled up to a small, private dock on a small, private island. Mario and Solomon went ashore. As they walked the long path to the beach, Solomon’s home dominated the view. It was a colonial villa built for an English governor in the 1800s and renovated several times since then. Solomon was not a big fan, but it came with the island, and that was his true love.
As they approached the steps leading to the front gate, a woman yelled with excitement. Carrying a baby, she came down the steps and into view. “Maria!” Solomon yelled back, throwing his arms open. “And Rebecca!”
Solomon embraced Maria, kissing her on the lips. He then took Rebecca out of Maria’s arms and swung her up in the air as she laughed and giggled. Mario continued on into the house with the paintings.
“I’m so happy,” Maria said. “It’s done?” She was crying.
“It’s done,” Solomon said, holding Rebecca in one arm and offering his phone to Maria.
“No,” she said. “I don’t want to see it.”
Solomon put his phone away.
“Juanita will,” Maria added.
The three went into the house and turned toward the west wing. In the first room on the left, they found Mario lying two paintings flat on the ground. “They’re good,” Mario said.
“How good?” Solomon asked.
“They are perfect,” Mario added. “They will fit the frames beautifully.” He looked up.
There were eighteen frames on the wall. Eleven had paintings in them. The other seven were empty. Two had X’s drawn through them. Solomon, still holding Rebecca, smiled. “Thirteen down.”
Through the door came Juanita. She hugged Solomon from behind, calling him Dad and saying, “I’m glad you’re home.”
Solomon handed her his phone. “I don’t want to see it. I thought I would. I thought I would want to see him dead. I thought I’d want to be there myself, and I thought I’d even want to pull the trigger. But I don’t. I had my miracle. He tried to kill me, and he couldn’t. I’m stronger than him. And I’m better than him. And if he’s dead, I’m happy, but only because it means no one else has to go through what I went through.”
Solomon nodded and put his arm around Juanita. “Come,” he said, “I got two. Justin had found the Metzinger. And that asshole in Short Hills had the Matisse. Just sitting in his basement. He didn’t even have the fucking balls to hang it up and enjoy it. Had some shitty print of the actual, original painting he had in his basement hanging on his wall. Heartbreaking, really. If you’re going to keep stolen art, you really should take the trouble to display it.”
“I think I found the Gierymski,” Juanita said, excited.
“I don’t think I can go find it right now. I need a vacation.”
“I bet you wish your dad was here to see this,” Maria said, putting an arm around Solomon’s shoulder as they looked up at the paintings on the wall and down at the new one on the ground.
“I do,” Solomon said wistfully. He put his hand over Maria’s and squeezed.
“He’ll be back in about an hour. He wasn’t expecting you home so soon. He stayed out a bit longer.”
“Oh, good,” Solomon said.
“Apparently he caught a marlin. Mario’s going to cook it for dinner.”
Dr. Maguire stood near the open window of his office, smoking a cigarette. He was reading a newspaper with a bold front-page headline: PSYCHO FOUND DEAD. He smiled and took a swig of whisky and coffee from the mug on the window ledge. Linda came into the room and asked him to put out the cigarette. “I’m not going to do that, Linda. Can’t you see I’m celebrating?”
“How long will you be celebrating?” she asked.
“At least a week.”
“And you’ll be smoking and drinking the whole time?”
“Yes, Linda. The whole time. We caught that motherfucker, and he’s dead and this isn’t going to happen again.”
“Well, if you’re sober enough, there is some work that needs to be done.” She laid a pile of files on his desk, cleaning a space by pushing wrappers from the morning’s breakfast into the trashcan.
Dr. Maguire put the newspaper down on his desk and picked up the first file. He leafed through it and tossed it onto the ground. He picked up the next and did the same. For the third, he stared at the photo on the first page.
“Linda!” Maguire yelled. “This file right here, when did it come in?”
“This morning. Girl died yesterday.”
“She died yesterday, or she was found yesterday?”
“Isn’t it your job to figure that out?” Linda asked.
“Enough, Linda,” he said, ashing his cigarette and tossing it and the coffee/whiskey mixture in his mug out the window.
“Not celebrating anymore?” Linda asked.
Maguire ignored her. He was already swiping through the contact list on his phone, stopping at Sol’s name and dialing. Sol answered. “We might have a problem,” He said. He tossed the file onto his desk and it sprung open.
On the first page of the file was a photograph of a young woman with X’s tattooed over her eyes.
"With the ferocity and black humor of a Quentin Tarantino film, this in-your-face chiller delivers lethal villains; flawed, dogged investigators; and a bevy of twists and turns." - Kirkus Reviews A team of NYC Detectives chase down a sadistic serial killer racing against a countdown to the death of a young woman. Former detective Solomon Roud, driven from the force by the killer, is tormented into giving up his new life as a master thief to help. With the girl in an induced coma, Solomon knows the stakes: he lost two girls while on the case, and when he figured out who the killer was his partner was murdered and the psycho escaped. Now he's back with a promise: one of them is going to die.