It had been twelve months since the serial killer first struck. One single Friday night and sixteen were dead by the same hand, in the same manner, and dumped in the exact same place. The tragedy, terrible though it might be, was written off as the work of a one-time mass murderer by everyone, from the police to the press to the general public – at least, it was until the Friday night two weeks later, when another twelve were ripped apart.
A serial mass murderer – not unheard of, but certainly not orthodox behavior either. (Of course, it wasn’t like a single murder was very orthodox either, but it was at least expected.) In the first two months, his killings every fortnight ranged from four to nineteen victims. After that, his thirst for such extreme violence was seemingly satiated as the slayings fell to seven each time – or a death every other day, if you were fond of averaging it out like the papers were. People fled the city in droves, but there were always the ones who just knew nothing would happen to them, sure that they were above these senseless events and catastrophes that occur to the rest of the world. The same manner of people were the ones listed among the casualties of a hurricane or tsunami after refusing to evacuate. The killer had a vast group from which to choose his victims.
The victims themselves posed an impediment for the multitude of law enforcement agencies pooling resources in an attempt to track down the killer – or ‘Hell’s Monster’, as the papers had dubbed him nearly eleven months back, in a singularly inspired burst of idiocy. Most serial killers, however deranged, had a method to their madness, a similarity between who they chose to kill. The victims of Hell’s Monster were all over the place: young, old, teenaged; crippled, healthy, robust; male, female, undecided; genius, illiterate, normal; from the south end of the city, from the factories by the river, from the mansions in the north; doctors, mechanics, teachers, fast food industry burger-flippers. No group was safe, no group unfairly targeted. Not that this stopped every minority in the city from claiming it was a racist, sexist, homophobic white lawyer doing the killings.
The mayor, Charles Oliver, was doing his best to keep people from panicking, even if his own police force refused to patrol every other Friday night. Anyone who was intelligent, one detective argued, would be in their nice and locked-up apartment or house or shelter (All homeless shelters in the city were no longer allowed to turn away anyone on those Friday nights.) and if they weren’t, then maybe Hell’s Monster was doing them a favor by ridding the gene pool of idiots.
I nearly got busted down to a traffic cop for that crack and did receive a week’s unpaid suspension from the force, but I feel it was worth it. They never asked me to patrol on those nights again, anyway.
After twelve months of constant terror, people started getting used to it, went about their lives like normal for thirteen days before returning to their homes and cowering under their beds. On Saturday morning, they’d come right back out and take their kids to Little League games and picnics, and some would start planning the funerals. The resiliency of the human spirit never ceases to amaze. Or maybe that’s stupidity; I always forget how the saying goes. The theater owners were a bit miffed over the loss in revenue at the beginning (Fridays formerly being their biggest money day.) but most screens were sold out all of Saturday, so they got over it fairly quickly. The crime rate had even dropped to a record low since, aside from Hell’s Monster himself, criminals were just as afraid of everyone else of being killed. Murders other than those attributed to the serial killer became all but nonexistent. Max Garcia, salutatorian of my high school class, suggested (from a local prison where he’s currently serving a five year armed robbery sentence) this was because no one wanted to be caught and mistaken for the serial killer. Makes sense. When or if he was caught (When, according to my stalwart coworkers; if, according to my brother, who is a stock-broker and very well schooled in statistics.) he was definitely up for the death penalty, and our state doesn’t even have the death penalty. Don’t ask me how that works, I’m just a cop. It’s not like I have to know how the law works or anything.
Finally, Mayor Oliver (or Uncle Chuck, as we like to call him at Thanksgiving) sent out a plea to the federal authorities for help. The Federal Bureau of Investigation, with an undeniable air of smugness, sent over a team of their very best agents, post-haste. That had been well over a month ago, so the Feds weren’t feeling too smug now. The J. Edgar Hoover Building had come under fire for not catching the killer the very second they had set foot in the city, of course. The police were supposed to fail, they were just normal cops, but the FBI was supposed to be superior, gosh darn it!
And then word came. World-famous Benjamin Grant, the poster-child of the Central Intelligence Agency, was returning from whichever nation our wonderful country had decided to attack this week and had volunteered to solve the Hell’s Monster case. Oliver accepted immediately. The local police and the FBI may have failed, but this was Benjamin Grant. Benjamin Grant could do no wrong, could solve anything, was a modern day Superman without the loser alter ego.
And I was appointed to show him around.
“A great honor to you,” Oliver had said. I could have very well done without the dubious honor, since not only did it cut into my extracurricular time; it also made everyone around the office mutter under their breath about favoritism. They were probably right, but it brought up all the old insinuations that the only reason I had ever been made a detective was because my uncle ran the city. They had shut up about that after I solved my first case in nearly record time, a hit-and-run that turned out to be an actual hit from the Mob, which had made me laugh loudly and at great length when I found it out. Now that I think about it, it might have been the hysterical laughter that stopped the muttered comments, not my incredible talent and investigative skills. But whatever the reason, the remarks had stopped.
Benjamin Grant was tall, broad-shouldered, and entirely full of himself. I could tell the second he stepped into the building and all the normal chatter and laughter and shouting had stopped dead. He gazed around the squad room like a king surveying his land and I, resigned to my fate, stood to face him. His eyes narrowed a bit – on anyone else, it would have been a squint, but on him it was a princely glance, – likely at the temerity of my daring to stand and face him, the Almighty. Jackass.
I knew without looking in a mirror that I was sneering. I could feel my face screwing up, my lip curling, and my eyes glowering. I knew this because the same thing happened every family dinner I went to, and my mom would immediately start nagging me about why was I sneering, what was wrong, when had I become so arrogant anyway, don’t you dare give me that look young man. I don’t go to many family dinners these days, not the least because I mentally categorize my eldest brother in the same age group as my parents, and that’s just disturbing. My uncle dear had probably not intended for me to greet our savior with an ugly glare, but he had given the job to me, so I was going to do it my way. Or the highway. Hopefully he’d regret it and never give me something like this again.
One muttered, whirlwind tour of the station later (and a bit of deliberate misinformation about which department was where), I threw the full case file at Grant and told him to read it that night. (I was slightly impressed that he didn’t collapse from having the file hit him dead on, the thing weighed twenty pounds easy.) Then I left. He rushed after me for a few steps, demanding to know where I was going and wasn’t I going to stay and help him learn the case? I informed him that it was my bowling night, and that I assumed he was able to read, but if he couldn’t I’d gladly catch him up. He glowered, and I left. The insulting of another’s intelligence was a surefire method of getting one’s own way, I had always found. It had the slight side effect of pissing them off, but most things I did had the same result, so I didn’t let it bother me.
Unfortunately, I did eventually have to work with Grant. This evil monster had to be captured, after all. (Now, I was all for letting him continue as long as he kept the crime rates down, but no one in the office seemed to agree with that opinion. Well, Rivera might’ve, but she was too busy yelling about how we always assumed it was a man as the killer, and couldn’t it very well be a woman mass murdering around the city? O’Keefe shut her up by pointing out that a serial killer wasn’t a good thing and that women should be happy that the vast majority of serial killers are men.) The morning after Grant arrived – Friday morning, natch – he had already formulated a daring plan to root out the evil being. One that included both of us going undercover in the old Heriot section of town –Heriot being some ancient, obscure word referring to a tribute paid to a feudal lord that some enterprising young landowner had decided would be an excellent, dandy name for a neighborhood of young urban professionals in the city. His fine vision of a rich land separate from the squalor of usual city living was dashed not long after everything was built, as many tenants found the cost of living too high and moved out, allowing the empty buildings to be overtaken by squatters and fall into disrepair. Heriot was now half slums and half brave (and/or) crazy rich guys with strongholds full of guns and a distinct lack of moral convictions. According to Grant and his fancy-ass algorithms or what-the-hell-ever, nearly ninety percent of the victims were either from Heriot or were killed there or dumped there or worked there or had family there or friends. Had some connection to the place, anyway.
I seriously doubted this; with all the billions of people on the case, wouldn’t one of them have figured it out before he did? But the Chief was all smiles and thankful praise to Grant, our savior, praise him, praise him, our savior hast come at last. I mimed aiming a gun and shooting CIA spook in the back of the head, making sure it was at an angle that only O’Keefe, who was currently on ‘guard duty’, could see. He bit his lip and coughed into his hand to muffle his giggles. I grinned, and then tuned back into the conversation just in time to hear the Chief give the go-ahead. I couldn’t help myself. I blurted out, “Are you insane?!” and stared at the Chief in slack-jawed incredulity. It was one thing for Grant to propose some half-assed idea in which we wind up as bait with a ninety-nine percent chance of falling off the hook, it was quite another for my boss to actually agree with the idiot (or for anyone above age eight, for that matter).
The Chief glowered at me, and I had a sudden, sinking recollection that he really didn’t like me, and had protested my appointment as a detective at the top of his lungs violently and long-windedly. I have this problem, you see, in which I tend to believe that everyone loves me right up until the point they shoot at me. I get shot at a lot, but most generally miss, either because they weren’t aiming to hit or because I’m rather twitchy (mostly the latter). My old partner, a couple years back, actually got a bullet in me. He still swears it was an accident, but he swears with this little half-smirk on his face, so I’m not sure I believe him. “No, I’m not insane, but I do have half a mind to take you off the case!” the Chief snapped, bringing me back from the nostalgia of cute nurses in the hospital.
I blinked, and signs of my joy at that statement must have shown on my face, because then he sneered at me, “But the rest of me is hoping that you become a tragic causality in this trap. So you’re still on the case, Galloway. Oh, and you’re now under Special Agent Grant’s command. Have a nice day.”
He wasn’t serious, he couldn’t be serious, he just couldn’t! I stumbled out of the room, just a little bit horrified by the prospect of kowtowing to Mr. CIA. And, you know, the prospect of my own death looming uncomfortably near. O’Keefe patted me on the back sympathetically and almost managed to bury the amusement in his eyes completely. I could tell it was there, but the sheer effort he had made touched me. Really, it did.
I’ll admit that Grant didn’t take control with malicious glee like I would have had the situation been reversed. You’d think it would make me like the guy, but it just made it worse. There’s some saying, I bet, about how the graciousness of the great is more than any mortal man can take. And if there isn’t, there damn well should be.
The smart side of his plan was the fact there was a definite scarcity of anyone on the streets on Friday nights, so the killer was pretty much guaranteed to come after us. The idiotic side of his plan was that the killer was guaranteed to come after us. I actually planned on living a long, full, happy life, with billions of little brats. (O’Keefe’s response is generally to ask why on Earth I decided to be a cop, and how I expected to have any children at all when my longest relationship was all of five weeks long and had been in ninth grade.) Maybe my methods weren’t the best, but I still hoped to achieve the same end result. Eventually.
As traps went, it was fairly simple: we wander around Heriot until one of us is grabbed, then we get him. Grant says he likes his plans to be a little flexible, just in case we run into some problems. I thought about pointing out the “problem” of the many, many cops who had already attempted to capture the killer and had wound up dead, but in the end I kept my mouth shut. I had already mentioned it nine times (and counting) and he still wasn’t paying attention.
So alas, here I stand on some random street corner, attempting to drink a cup of piping hot coffee (which, by the way, I detest) without burning off anything important, waiting to become a statistic. An event I was almost looking forward to, as this endless, nervous anticipation had to be far worse than any death. It was almost as bad as walking the beat back in my thankfully short patrol officer days before the promotion.
When a hand reached out of the darkness and covered my mouth, gripping hard, I abandoned all the years of advanced police training I had under my belt and reacted instinctively. Not so much the instincts nature had give me as the natures two older brothers had instilled, though. An elbow to the gut of the guy – who had to be the killer, because what kind of idiotic jackass would be mugging people on a killing night? – standing behind me, treading over where logic dictated his feet should be, flailing my arms in an attempt to grab hold something that would be incredibly painful.
He dropped me to the pavement, and I whirled around in time to see a flash of metal coming at me too fast to be good for my well-being. This time, the training kicked in and I ducked under the whirl of the knife, although the action sent me sprawling across the rough pavement. I yelled off a curse or eight as I hit, managing to bite my tongue in the process. Brilliant. Blood was so the last thing I wanted to taste before meeting my maker – not that I thought I would, being all agnostic and so on, but it was a useful euphemism.
There was a shout from the next corner down and then the blast and echo of a gunshot going wide. Taking the opportunity so fortuitously presented to me, I rolled away from my startled attacker and quickly glanced down the street to the origin of the noise, although I was already pretty sure of whom it was.
Sure enough, Benjamin Grant was barreling down the street towards us, gun in hand. He had fired it off as a warning shot, and to distract the attacker from our tussle long enough for me to get away. The killer gave a mirthless grin and leapt to meet Grant, knife at the ready. I shuddered as I scrambled to my feet, getting my first good look at the knife. As long as my forearm and laced with jagged edges, the knife was definitely not something I’d want sticking in me and slicing open my innards like the other victims. Not that I had envied them before or anything.
They struggled for a moment, an unstoppable force meeting an unmovable wall, only without the whole ‘breaking the laws of physics and so destroying the world’ deal. Then a foot lashed up, and Grant’s gun flew through the air in a graceful arc. I watched with a detached sense of wonder as it soared upwards and then crested toward the ground, a detachment that ended as it hit the pavement and fired off the live round within, the bullet striking a nearby trashcan with a loud ding and ripping noise.
Grant, in response, kneed the guy in the groin. I winced in sympathy as he went down, momentarily. Grant took this brief respite to shout, “GALLOWAY! GUN!” at me. I stared at him for a moment before the meaning clicked into my mind, and I struggled to pull my Glock out of its shoulder holster. Ah, the shoulder holster. More convenient than an ankle holster but less obvious than a simple belt. Besides, I kept my cell phone and pager on my belt. The gun finally popped free and, after a quick check to make sure the safety was on, I threw it at Grant with my usual uncanny aim. It occurred to me shortly after the gun left my hand that maybe I should have shot the guy myself. But it was probably for the best. My aim while throwing is dead on, but when it comes to shooting my accuracy is spotty at best – even after years of being a cop, loud noises make me flinch, another side effect of having two older brothers – and that’s when I haven’t just been face-to-face with my own probable death.
He caught it easily, and pointed it down at the man currently on the ground. “Freeze,” he said. “You’re under arrest.” I stared at him. He was actually trying to arrest this psychopath? What was the point? The psychopath appeared to agree with me, as his hand zipped towards his butcher’s knife. Grant fired once, twice, straight into his chest, and the man stopped.
The world froze in that instant: the body of a murderer lying in a growing pool of blood; Benjamin Grant, standing over the corpse breathing heavily, face covered in blood spatter; and me, awkwardly crouching a couple of feet away and wondering if now would be a good time to ask for my gun back.
Grant had me use my cell to call headquarters and inform them that we were going to need a body wagon – okay, so he actually told me to go to the phone booth on the corner and call for an ambulance, but I was well skilled in the art of translating the language of noble technophobes into English. Or American, at least. I had unfortunately managed to get a hold of O’Keefe, who immediately started to babble in awe until I informed that he had to either shut up or I would hang up on him.
The body wagon arrived quickly and along with it a squad car to take us back to the station. Grant had insisted on us going in dressed in plainclothes and on foot, as otherwise the killer might suspect us of being law enforcement officers. I had then rattled off a nice long list of the officers who had gotten killed; it wasn’t like the guy was avoiding us. That made Grant insist that I was proving his point, that he was prepared for cops. But if he thought we were two hobos or businessmen or something, he wouldn’t take nearly as many precautions.
It hurts to admit it, but the guy had been right.
Thanks to Grant being CIA, the usual Internal Affairs investigation into officer-involved shootings didn’t even occur. It probably wouldn’t have happened anyway, if I had been the one to shoot, no one was going to stir up fuss that maybe the shooting of a mass murderer was unneeded. Except the usual fruitcakes who, after this, would claim every single murder, suicide, and accidental death (and some of natural causes) were the work of Hell’s Monster, and that we had killed the wrong man, and those guys were all nuts anyway.
I continued my career as a homicide detective with an assignment to the trail of some guy who had managed to slip out of death row and had been seen hanging around various exotic locales within our own fine city. Come for the veal, stay for the psychotic killers! The higher-ups (higher-up than the Chief, that is) had decided that I had to have picked something up from Grant, so I was the man for any insane and amazingly dangerous assignment that no one in their right mind would take. I took them, mostly because I have a true coward’s talent for avoiding death and dismemberment and taking these jobs would look good when it came promotion time.
Needless to say, Benjamin Grant went on to be the nation’s hero, and the Central Intelligence Agency enjoyed an era of popularity not seen by a government agency since the adoration of G-Men during the Cold War. He unearthed about fifty foreign terrorists in the space of a month – I had to assume he had help from others in the agency, because that was just ridiculous otherwise. He wasn’t Superman, or even Batman. Maybe the Human Torch. But the hundreds of articles that came out after the even lauded him as the single solitary hero in each and every case. He even took down the Dragon, the single most powerful Mafia boss in history. (Also supposedly single-handedly, if I worked at the Central Intelligence Agency I’d be way pissed at the guy for constantly stealing my thunder. Of course, the media didn’t give me any credit for the takedown of Hell’s Monster, but I’m camera-shy anyway. And I got a bonus in my paycheck. So it evens out.
Of course, sometimes – like when I’m staring down at Grant, smiling up at me from the cover of Time with a banner reading ‘Person of the Year’ – I almost wish his plan had failed. Of course, I only wish that if it would have ended with him and not me being killed, I wasn’t crazy. And hey, bonus in my paycheck!
“But it wasn’t supposed to be a threatening letter,” the scrawny little guy in front of me whined, wringing his hands nervously, his little rat eyes bouncing around the room.
For my part, I slammed my head into my desk. “For the last time, sir,” I said, spitting the last word out like it was poison. “This is the homicide department. Unless you actually killed her, you’re not supposed to be here.”
He gaped at me, clearly horrified. “K-kill her? Never! I love her!”
“That’s nice. So get the hell out.” I tacked my best scowl on to the end of that command and made a slightly threatening motion, and then I thought of something. “Also, maybe quit stalking her.” He finally took the hint that I was getting a little fed up with him and scampered away, after well over five minutes of stupid, stupid arguing. I rested my head on the desk – it’s like slamming my head on it, only less painful and damaging to brain cells! Hooray for brain cells!
I’d been working reception ever since my old partner retired, a little over a week ago. Normally I’d be helping others in the office with deskwork and the like, but the captain has no great love of me. Actually, he’s got a lot of intense hatred. So it’s reception until my new partner, a complete rookie, arrives. I’ve only been a detective for three years myself, so I’m wondering who decided pairing up a rookie with a near rookie was a good idea. It’s probably because less and less people are deciding that being a cop’s a good thing, but I can’t help but think the captain did it on purpose. There’s always the chance that this guy, Peter something, isn’t a rookie and I just haven’t heard his name before by some weird quirk of chance, but Ethan O’Keefe knows pretty much every detective in the city and he’s never heard of this guy either.
Reception is dead boring, which is the reason it’s usually run by non-detective members of the police community. That, and detectives are usually too busy solving crimes to work the front desk. And if you don’t use your superior rank to force the street cops into jobs you don’t want – reception, dumpster diving, that sort of thing – what was the point of being a detective, really?
It was nearly time for me to leave – the one good thing about not being on a case, I had actual work hours and not work-until-we-catch-the-bad-guy hours – when the captain, glowering at me and crooking his mouth like he was tasting something horrible (a common expression for him when it comes to me), signaled me to come into his office. I managed to resist jumping up and dancing in joy, which was plainly unprofessional, and instead just punched my fist in the air and all but skipped over. O’Keefe, lounging in the doorway of the captain’s office, grinned and shook his head at me. I jutted my chin out and strode forward maturely, not even stepping on his foot as I so incredibly wished to. He closed the door after me and leaned against it, exuding coolness and confidence. Or so he thought. He actually looked like a kid dressed up in his dad’s clothes, as he was all of twenty-five and looked even younger. His own partner calls him “our little prodigy”, generally accompanied by a pat on the head and ruffling of the hair. His partner, Tally Rivera, was sitting in one of the myriad of chairs in front of the captain’s desk, prim and proper and glowering at the last person in the room with the white-hot intensity of a thousand suns. She does that a lot.
The guy… now this was a mystery. I put my best crime-solving skills on the case and came up blank. I do that a lot. He was easily the tallest in the room (probably the reason Rivera was glowering at him), built like a flagpole, dark hair, five to ten years older than me, and I had no idea why he was here.
“Sit down, Galloway,” the captain snapped at me, storming behind his desk. I fought back my urge to immediately drop to the ground, and took one of the empty chairs. The stranger was in my favorite chair, the only one that didn’t have its back to the door, so I gave him a subtle glare. Well, not so subtle.
“Galloway, this is your new partner, Peter Adessi.” That’s our captain, always straight to the point. He didn’t even bother introducing Adessi to me, and instead started throwing manila folders in all directions. I caught the one he tossed at me, and flipped it open interestedly. Hum, it appeared we were to be set on the trail of a team of bank robbers who had killed a couple of security guards on their crime spree. What was wrong with this picture?
Rivera had figured out what the problem was. “Uh, sir? Aren’t federal banks the FBI’s purview?” Only Rivera could use the word ‘purview’ with a straight face. And correctly, too. Well, I might, but I’d at least be sarcastic about it.
The captain glowered. Boy, he was in a bad mood. Rivera was one of his favorites. “Yes, and they handed it off to us. Said they had too much on their plates as is. But if you think you can’t handle it, we could always give it back to them.” The end of the sentence was said mock-sweetly. She pulled herself up, indignation rolling off of her in waves, and opened her mouth to say something that would probably get her suspended. I, ever the helpful friend, kicked her in the shin. Her mouth snapped shut with an audible click and she switched her thunderous look on to me.
For his part, the captain gave her a suspicious look, then glowered at all of us. “Well? What are you still doing here?” We nearly trampled each other in our haste to escape.
Once we were back in the squad room, I brushed imaginary dust off of my jacket. “Next time we get called into the captain’s office?” I suggested sweetly, “Let’s not pretend to be soccer fans upon making our retreat.” O’Keefe and Rivera ignored me, well schooled in the art of Galloway-speak, but Adessi stared at me for a moment. He’d have to learn.
The file on the bank robbers was incredibly thin, containing only the preliminary reports from the first responders, the security logs of the banks, and a profiler’s vague description – the FBI really had handed it off quickly. So far, the team had struck five times in less than a week. Twice at the same bank, which was more than a little odd. A few quick mental calculations aided by a desk calendar and clock, and I spoke up, waving the file in the air to get my teammates’ attention. “If my calculations are correct – and I’d like to think they are – they’re going to strike again tonight.”
Rivera was still a little ruffled from the earlier meeting, and muttered, “’Strike’, what are they supposed to be, lightning? Or union members?” I ignored her. That was the only way we ever get any work done, by ignoring half of what everyone else said.
“But the real question is where are they going to strike next?” O’Keefe said, brow knitted in concentration as he attempted to connect the dots between the different locations. He was going to have a hell of a time of it; they were all over the place. The only thing they had in common were high-end clients, and that was sort of a given. Who’s going to attack a bank in the ghetto if they want a good haul?
“We could always just station cops at all the banks we’d think they’d hit,” I suggested weakly, knowing it would be impossible. There had to be easily twice as many banks as there were cops in this city. Well, that’s America for you.
Everyone ignored my suggestion, but that was okay. The first principle of brainstorming was to spit out any idea that came into your mind, no matter how stupid. Because even if it’s stupid and implausible, something you say may spark an idea in someone else’s mind – an idea that could actually be used. Not that there was anything in my statement that could spark a good idea, but it’s the principle of the thing.
We were all sitting around, frowning into our manila envelopes. Except Adessi, who was throwing things onto his new desk behind mine – normally partners have desks that face one another, but our section of the squad room had O’Keefe and me facing each other with our respective partners behind us. Probably because we usually worked as a team, not two sets of partners – without seeming to care where his personal effects landed. I winced and just barely managed to keep from myself from knocking him away from his own desk and arranging everything at ninety-degree angles. Instead, I turned around to my own desk and grabbed the phone.
O’Keefe looked up from where he was staring blankly at the first responders’ reports. “Who’re you going to call?”
“Ghostbusters.” This was one of very few occasions where I didn’t actually mean to reply sarcastically; in this case it was just an ingrained response. I shook my head for a quick second to clear it. “Um, I’m calling the lab. It says in the reports that they recovered a few shell casings and a gun from the various robberies.”
O’Keefe smacked himself in the forehead. “Oh, duh! I completely forgot about that!” He then made shooing motions at me, fluttering his hands around in the air like a kindergartner on a sugar high. (He could be a little over excitable sometimes.)
I glared at him, and lifted the receiver to my ear, squinting at the base before quickly punching in the number. It would have been nice to have wireless phones here, but to tell the truth, I was surprised they didn’t still have us on rotary phones what with our constantly-shrinking-nearly-nonexistent budget, so I didn’t mind too much. “Tommy!” I said into the phone, hailing the head of the forensics lab downstairs (many, many stairs). “What’s the good word?”
He replied with what sounded like a particularly naughty curse word that I happily overlooked. A curse meant Tommy was working hard and didn’t want to be bothered by the likes of detectives wanting to solve cases, which meant he probably had results for the likes of detectives wanting to solve cases.
Now, wheedling information out of Tommy was a fine art not to be attempted by amateurs. Of course, I had never been one for art, so I barged through the figurative landscape swinging a brush and dripping paint everywhere (which, actually, is considered fine art by some people, probably in France or somewhere equally European).
“What’ve you got for me, ol’ buddy ol’ pal?”
“Now that’s just obscene.”
“Well, fine, yes, but I need the results from the serial bank robber case.”
“Fine, be that way. Oh, and thanks. Call me to schedule that duel once you clear your schedule, alright?”
Conversations with Tommy never disappointed. Although I was rather worried about the duel he had promised me; as a lab rat, he never reneged on his promises, and he was totally into the Dungeons & Dragons scene. He could have meant a pistol duel (which, by the way, is a traffic offence here, which I find hilarious), but it was far more likely that he meant swords. I had held a sword once. I had promptly fallen over. Those things are freaking heavy.
But I had learned a new curse word to try out on the sailors when I next visited the docks, and had received the forensic information on our highwaymen. And/or women. Let’s not be sexist here.
I turned to the others. O’Keefe was nearly bouncing in his seat waiting for the results, while Adessi seemed mildly curious and Rivera seemed bored. “Tommy says that the prints they lifted from one of the guns left at the scene-“ Rivera started to interrupt so I raised my hand to stop her “-one of the guns left at the scene not by law enforcement personnel-“ she sat back in her chair, satisfied “-came back as those of a Canadian national, Paul Moreau.”
The quick clack-clack-clack of keyboard and O’Keefe was off. I didn’t know how good Adessi was at anything, but of us other three; O’Keefe is the only one who knows how to work a computer for anything. I’m a pretty mean typist on a typewriter, and Rivera can wow even the audio and video techs in the lab with her camera skills, but set either of us down in front of a keyboard and monitor and we’re lost.
“Paul Moreau, age twenty-three. “ Nods all around; the reckless behavior typical to the early twenties set fits the idea of bank robbing “Arrested for two separate cases of arson at eighteen and twenty, both counts were dropped. Current residence is listed as 154th Street, downtown.” He paused and squinted, trying to remember something. “That doesn’t make any sense. 154th Street is all warehouses.”
I sighed, stood up, and stretched before grabbing my gun and holstering it. “I so love it when no one even runs the most cursory check on addresses, don’t you?” O’Keefe looked confused for a moment – probably thought I was insulting him and not the system we all slaved for. “C’mon. Let’s go check it out.”
Adessi raised an eyebrow. “All four of us? Going to a place that he more than likely isn’t? Isn’t that called ‘overkill’?”
“Fine. We’ll go check it out, then,” I said, motioning this time to just the two of us. “Rivera and O’Keefe can apply their dazzling intellect to the files. Or go and bug Tommy for more information.” O’Keefe turned white and even Rivera looked vaguely ill at that suggestion. “And if they’re feeling particularly ambitious, they can try to get the Canadian government to give us more information on Paul Moreau.” The phone was in Rivera’s hand before I even finished the sentence. Okay then.
“I just thought of something. This Moreau guy, Canada’s going to make us extradite him, aren’t they?” Adessi asked as we pulled up in front of the old warehouse building on 154th. A street number that high made the city seem a lot larger than it was. At some point in the far off past, the founders on the city had decided to number the streets 1 through 39 and then skip to 140. After 178 it skipped again, to 579. Why they thought this was a good idea is beyond me and most of the city planning department.
“We have to find him first, genius,” I snapped at my ‘partner’. You could tell I was a younger brother; most people, even adults, would think twice about insulting someone ten years older than them. But the third boy out of three children never had any shame. I got out of the car and slammed my door shut with possibly a little more force than was absolutely necessary.
There wasn’t exactly a front door to go knocking on, being a warehouse and all, so we just wandered right on in. The specific building he had listed as his place of residence was one of the few abandoned warehouses in the city – people around here were very good at taking over abandoned property and doing something with it. It was pretty spooky, all shadows and echoes and no sign of human life. I was severely tempted to yell something and listen to the echo, but I had (against all evidence to the contrary) paid attention at the academy and knew better than to act like a total and complete moron.
“Paul Moreau! This is the police. Come out where we can see you!” I yelled into the emptiness. I wasn’t actually expecting anyone to come out – or, for that matter, for anyone to be in the warehouse aside from maybe a homeless guy or two – so I was surprised when I heard rustling (indicating someone attempting to leave the building quietly) followed by a loud crashing noise (said stealthy type running into something). The noise was coming from the other side of some huge metal box that had probably been useful for something, although I couldn’t think of what the use could be. I signaled Adessi to go around one side as I sneaked around the other.
“Freeze!” I shouted, aiming at the darkened blob that was maybe Paul Moreau. The blob sprung at me and grabbed me around the neck before I could hit him with the gun. I wasn’t going to shoot the guy when I hadn’t seen any deadly weapons on him; the last thing I needed was an Internal Affairs guy combing through my records for the next year and a half. Maybe I’d take hand-to-hand self defense classes for the next year and a half instead, I thought as the guy managed to get my gun away far too easily, and held me in classic hostage position – left arm around my neck, right hand holding gun to my head. Sadly enough, this was not the first time I’d been on the bad end of a hostage situation. It had actually happened often enough I was almost complacent about it. Do anything often enough and you’ll get used to it, I guess.
Adessi had come around the other side and was doing that creeping-slowly-forward-with-gun-out move that I seriously thought was only used in movies and TV shows. He looked like an idiot anyway.
“Stop! Stop right there, or I swear to God I’ll shoot him!” yelled a hysterical, French-tinged voice next to my ear. Yeah, probably Moreau. And boy, would it be embarrassing if I wound up killed by a Canadian. I wouldn’t put it past my brothers to mock me at my funeral, possibly with a crude slideshow, no matter what I had put in my will.
Adessi didn’t seem to notice the possibility that there could be a gaping hole where my right ear used to be; he kept sliding forward silently.
“Stop! Stop!” Moreau cried, getting more and more agitated by the second before finally whipping my gun around and firing off a few shots in Adessi’s general direction. And by general, I mean he wasn’t firing behind him. The kid was an even worse shot than I was, which was saying something.
Adessi shot back and a second later I was dropped to the floor, Moreau behind me and cursing in a mixture of French and English as he clutched his bleeding arm. I was too busy being deafened by the multiple gunshots – and grabbing my shoulder, where Adessi had ‘missed’. Moreau turned and ran, dodging behind things so Adessi couldn’t try and shoot him again. I stayed where I was on the ground, babbling “You shot me!” at Adessi in a wounded tone.
The hospital kept me all of two hours, saying that it had, after all, only been a graze, and they had worse things to worry about than a big crybaby cop. This had prompted me to start talking about the Johnny Depp movie called Cry-Baby (it came out when I was in college, me seeing it was inevitable), and I continued babbling about it as I was walked out of the hospital by Rivera and O’Keefe, who had so graciously come to pick me up (Adessi was busy explaining himself to both the captain and the Internal Affairs Bureau). I blame the small amount of drugs the doctor had given me, unless the drugs were actually placebos, in which case I blame genetics.
We went right back to headquarters; brush with death or not, we were on a case. They had actually offered to let me go home, but I had refused. Sure, I was now about twenty six hours without sleep, and had just been shot, but more important than sleep to me was catching the jackass who decided taking me hostage was a brilliant idea. And possibly shoot him. If such a thing should become necessary during the course of my daily duties, that is.
They had combed the warehouse, looking for any hint of whom the others were or where they were planning to strike next, but had no luck. Aside from a little nook occupied by piles of blueprints (all of which were from previous heists) and a computer, there was zip. Either they had never used the warehouse for anything, or they had cleared out before we got there. I was inclined to think the former, mostly because I was paranoid. If they had cleared out right before we got there, it meant they were either incredibly lucky sons of bitches, or they had been informed by someone at the station.
Guess which I thought it was? If you guessed I thought they were lucky, you would be wrong, and also not paying attention.
O’Keefe had disappeared while I had been ruminating and forming my conspiracy theories, so I began to look around the squad room in confusion. Rivera didn’t bother to look up from whatever she was typing, but did inform me in a monotone that he had gone down to forensics while I was staring into space.
I thanked her, better known as ‘sticking my tongue out at her when I was pretty sure she wouldn’t catch me’, and got up. I took a moment to rearrange my sling and then started down to the lab reluctantly. Rivera was probably fulfilling the paperwork leg of our investigation – she liked doing paperwork, oddly enough – which meant O’Keefe was doing the interesting part. And to help with the interesting part, I’d have to brave the dark depths of the dungeons and hope that the geek squad didn’t swallow me alive.
Not that the forensics guys weren’t nice, because they were. They were just a little… intense sometimes. O’Keefe didn’t mind them and they didn’t mind him, since he was an honorary techno-geek, but I was just this side of the crotchety old man hollering about newfangled ideas like the ‘tellyphone’ ruining this great country. Tommy especially hated me, since I tended to poke around and stare at things suspiciously the entire time I’m down there. I can’t help it; most of the equipment they supposedly use looks like something out of X-Files.
“Hey Tom-o!” I called cheerfully as I came into the lab. He and O’Keefe had their heads bent over Moreau’s computer system in geekish delight, but both turned to look at me when I came in. Tommy immediately began with the snickering and the mocking, as I had counted on him to do.
“I heard you finally pushed one of your partners to assault. And on his first day, too!” he crowed gleefully. Sometimes I can’t help but think that O’Keefe and Rivera are the only ones in this joint who like me. Well… O’Keefe, anyway.
“Yeah, yeah, shaddap,” I muttered at him before switching my attention over to O’Keefe, who was bouncing up and down like a puppy. A puppy on some serious drugs. He was also gesturing at the computer system hyperactively. “O’Keefe? You have something to say?”
“Yep! See, we were able to get some data off of the hard drive, even though they went through some crazy lengths to try and wipe it. We’re thinking they probably transferred the crucial data over to a portable drive, or possibly onto data cards like the kind used in digital cameras, in order to hide it. But it’s pretty hard to permanently erase anything on a computer, everything gets imprinted a billion different places the second it comes into existence,” O’Keefe said, trying to cram it all into one breath.
“And aside from making me glad that I don’t use the computer often, what does that mean?” I asked dryly. He looked confused. “Repeat it again without the geek-speak, okay?”
“It means we’ve got their plans for the next heist because they didn’t erase it enough,” Tommy said shortly, with a bonus glower for my lack of knowledge in all things geeky.
“It’s less than two hours from now, the United Federal on 581st and Evans,” O’Keefe added. “The plans say that Moreau is supposed to take out the cameras’ live feed by-“ he paused at my look “-he’s supposed to take them out, then two named Cantille and Pratt are to take out the security guards, and then the others go in and do the usual.”
I frowned thoughtfully. “Call Rivera, tell her to meet us at the car. Adessi won’t be coming; Internal Affairs isn’t going to be letting him go for anything short of Ted Kaczynski. Also call the local precinct down there; let them know we’re going to need some of their least conspicuous people. We’re not going to be able to stop the normal flow of people in to the bank without alerting the robbers, but we can at least get some police personnel in there and get the bank personnel out. Less of a chance of a teller freaking out and getting shot that way.” He started to place the calls on his cell as we walked out to the elevator and waited for it to take us to the garage. I was still thinking. “The other guards were all taken out by sniper bullets, probably from a building across the street. That’s where we’re going to be.”
O’Keefe nodded at me and then turned a little bit away to talk into his phone, leaving me to wonder why people never wanted to face others while talking on the phone. Sure, I could have put the time to slightly more constructive uses, but what’s the point in that? And now my shoulder was starting to hurt, the drugs they had given me at the hospital must have worn off. Why don’t they ever give you anything that last for longer than an hour? I mean, over the counter aspirin lasts longer than that. The particular hospital I had been rushed to had probably gotten sued in the recent past for giving drugs away too freely and creating a nice clientele of addicts. I patted down my pockets in search of my notepad, I had an entire section on which hospitals to never be brought to – mostly written while observing unsanitary conditions while visiting suspects and victims and the like. I couldn’t find it, and the search made my shoulder start stabbing pain at me.
I resisted the urge to reach up and rub the wound – the bullet may have gone clean through and only clipped my shoulder, but rubbing it was probably going to hurt – and instead tossed the keys for the car at O’Keefe, who managed to catch them with the hand not holding his cell phone although the gesture obviously startled him. He finished the conversation he had been having and flipped his phone shut with one hand before turning and looking quizzically at me. I rolled my eyes in response. “Well, it’s not like I can drive,” I said, waving my arm-in-a-sling at him. This hurt, however, so I switched to pointing at it with my good hand.
He had the grace to look chagrined. “Oh, yeah, forgot about that.” I couldn’t really blame him for it, as much as I really wanted to (blaming O’Keefe for everything that goes wrong keeps him on his toes and me amused), because even I had forgotten about it until it started to twinge.
“I get shotgun, though,” I said warningly. Give ‘em a yard and they’ll take a mile, as the saying went. Not that it had anything to do with that, but it’s a good saying. Unless it was actually ‘give them an inch’, not a yard. In which case that was a good saying.
“At least then you won’t be a backseat driver,” O’Keefe responded in a deadpan tone that I hadn’t known he possessed. I hadn’t thought he even knew what ‘deadpan’ meant, and possibly thought it was what you called a pan that was all black and charred from cooking without enough water, so I was appropriately surprised by this display of punning ability.
This extreme shock kept me quiet until we reached the car, where Rivera was leaning against the hood, exuding boredom from her very pores. She’s talented like that. I bet she could exude boredom from a rock. I’m not sure how that would be possible, but I bet she could anyway. “What took you guys so long?” she… didn’t so much snap as drawl lazily, but the intent was the same.
“This thing called modern technology,” I said, before holding up the hand on my good arm to stop O’Keefe’s protests. “And yeah, I know an elevator isn’t new technology, alright? So can it.”
Rivera just shook her head at me. In return, I stuck my tongue out at her and then got into the car and waited impatiently for the others to get in and get buckled.
Just under two hours later, we had cleared out every single bank employee and replaced them with cops decked in Kevlar vests under their new banking outfits. This wasn’t really going to matter if we didn’t get the snipers first, though, since they liked the head shots. Maybe they were model photographers in their non-psychotic-murderer lives.
O’Keefe, Rivera, myself, and about five others we had grabbed from the precinct that covered 581st and Evans were staked throughout the building opposite, one of us in each of the rooms that would give a shooter the angle the forensics reports said had been used. The building had, at some point previous, been a hotel; it was now an office building on the lower levels while the upper levels were as empty as the mind of a sixteen year old boy. Sounds like a weird analogy, but I’d always wanted to use that line before, and there are very few things that are that empty.
I was leaning against the wall inside the room I had chosen, to the left of the right-swinging door. It was probably one of the last rooms they’d pick of the group we were staking out, since it offered the worst angle. I had chosen it because I figured the wounded one shouldn’t be the one to try to take out two murderers.
Which is why I totally should have foreseen them coming to my room. Because my middle name was so not luck. It was actually Alexander, but that wasn’t the point. The point was that there were some nice loud thumping noises in the hallway that had just paused outside my door. The door scraped open and the barrel of my gun was pointing directly at a set of twins, who then glanced at each other and turned back to me, hands up.
We had waited another hour, and the rest of the robbing team hadn’t shown up. In retrospect, the snipers probably had an ‘all-clear’ signal to the rest of the group once they got situated. There had been no signal, the others had smelled something hinky, and had split. Which meant we were left with two snipers who probably wouldn’t cooperate too freely.
“You know what you did, we know what you did, and the press invariably knows what you did because they can’t keep their noses out of anything to save their lives. So let’s cut the crap and talk candidly,” I said cheerfully. The part about the press was probably not needed, but belittling reporters makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. I was interrogating Cantille, or maybe Pratt. I’d have to open up the file in front of me to check what the fingerprint file said to know who it was for sure, and I was so not in the mood for that. I also wasn’t in the mood for twins with different last names, but I was thinking one or the other had changed his name just to confuse people.
“The docks,” Cantille-or-maybe-Pratt said sullenly.
I gave him a blank look. “What about the docks?”
“You’re going to ask me where the others are, right? That’s what your plan was? To ask me where the others are so that you can go arrest them? Well, they’re at the docks. Pier 23, to be exact. There’s this old boat, the Good Ship Saint Something, that’s where our base of operations is, assuming they haven’t already split.”
This was too easy. It was never this easy. I gave him my best suspicious glower, but it can hold no candle to Rivera’s. And whether or not this was a trap or a wild goose chase, the docks were the best lead we had right now, and the rest of the robbers were probably getting a little desperate. Desperate people who’d already killed enough for a row at a mausoleum probably wouldn’t be averse to killing more. Great. It wasn’t as if I was terrified of the ocean after nearly being swept out to sea when I was five or anything. Surely not.
“Any reason why you’re telling us this?” I asked.
“’Us’? Is that like the royal we?” he asked sarcastically. I glowered at him. “Look, you caught me and Cantille-“ Aha, so this was Pratt! “-with all of our… equipment, you obviously have us for a life sentence, the Feds could give us the death penalty if they feel so inclined, I might as well get the rest of them caught. It was their stupid lack of scouting that got us caught in the first place.”
Someone had some schooling. Most people liked to forget that banks were under the purview of the federal system, and that murders taking place on such property could subject you to death at the hands of the national government. Our own state didn’t allow for government-sanctioned murder, but handing it to the Feds was a neat way of taking care of that moral dilemma.
Then all of a sudden there came a tap tapping on the “mirror” behind me, and I knew at once that it must be the captain. I also knew what he was going to say – whether this was because I was psychic or because I had an ounce of common sense, you may decide amongst yourselves. Sure enough, as soon as I left the interrogation room, he immediately ordered myself and O’Keefe to check it out. That man has no imagination, no imagination whatsoever.
It was a dark and stormy night. It really was. It was terrible stereotype, but weather didn’t care whether or not it was so cliché that it caused actual physical pain.
It also didn’t care that we were walking along wet wooden planks that tended to slope towards the sea. Pier 23 was not, to say the least, on the good side of the docks. It was on the side that was slowly sinking into the water, like this was California or something. Had I known, I would have put on a pair of cleats. They would dig into the wood and keep me from falling in and drowning. (I do know how to swim, but only in water. The… stuff… around our piers does not meet that qualification on its best day.)
“Here we are, pier two-three,” I said, not pausing and just turning on to the even more precarious looking wood. There was a sudden cracking noise, and I closed my eyes as the ground fell out from under me and I fell down with it. Surprisingly, I didn’t smack into freezing mud that called itself water. Instead, I hit solid dirt and broken boards – which kind of hurt. But at least none of the boards were too splintered, so I didn’t get impaled or anything.
I sat down and stared slightly blankly at the far wall for a moment, regaining my senses and trying not to whimper in terror. I hate it when I do that; I sound like a kicked puppy. Eventually, my vision cleared and I realized I was sitting in a room with well over a million dollars in cash.
I’m brilliant, so it didn’t take me too long to put two and two together. And I didn’t even come up with five, neither. This was probably an old smuggler’s hold, from long ago. One of the robbers had gotten wind of it, or stumbled into it, and decided that it would be the perfect hiding place. And if wasn’t for centuries of rot and my not knowing how to step softly, they would have been right.
The door at the far end creaked open, and I immediately pulled out my gun and badge. Always identify yourself, or you could get shot. You’d probably get shot anyway, but at least you couldn’t also be sued.
“You’re under arrest,” I informed the darkened intruder. “Take a step forward.”
“Damn it. It’s those idiots Cantille and Pratt, innit?” the voice snarled. “I shoulda known better than to recruit from community service projects.”
“Just step forward, alright?”
A sigh, and then the figure complied. The mastermind of the team of robbers was… a teenaged girl. Uh. I blinked rapidly a few times. “…the hell?” I finally asked.
This seemed to annoy her. “What, only male adults can be hardened criminals?” she snapped, crossing her arms rebelliously.
I shook my head to clear it. “Look, just… turn around, put your hands behind your back.” She complied, and I snapped on the handy cuffs that I took everywhere, and managed to avoid landing on when I fell. I Mirandized her, placed a short call for backup and a Fed or two to collect the money, and marched her out of the holding room, back out the door she had come in.
It was a computer room, unoccupied except for a rather startling computer network. And Moreau. “Get up, slowly, or I swear I’ll shoot you.” He did, and even put his hands in the air like a good little boy. “You also have the right to remain silent, anything you say can and WILL be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney, if you cannot afford one, one will be provided for you. Do you understand these rights as I have read them to you?” He nodded, and I used some wire he was messing with to tie his hands behind his back. I needed to start carrying more than one pair of handcuffs, I really did.
Backup had been close at hand, just in case the sniper boys weren’t kidding, so they found us rather quickly. (I wasn’t stupid enough to take them outside without anyone else there. I watched TV, I knew what was what.) They dragged the girl and Moreau out and helped me search the place for any evidence of others in the group, but there was nothing.
I found out later what had happened to my original backup. O’Keefe had thought he heard a child crying, and gone off to investigate. He hadn’t said anything as he left because I had told them all to shut up, lest we alert those we were trying to capture. It had turned out to be a basket of kittens, which made him freak out more than a little – it seemed that O’Keefe had a deep-seated childhood fear of cats of any size, shape, or color. He had returned as quickly as possible, but that was after the boards had broken under me and I had taken my short terrifying ride, so he was left wandering around the docks looking for me. Not calling out, of course, because then the bad guys would be alerted. Sometimes O’Keefe can follow orders a little too well.
It turned out that Cantille, Pratt, Moreau, and the girl – whose name turned out to be Sharon Weiss – were the only core members of the group. For each individual job, they had hired a group to work with them, then paid them and cut them off. It was a pretty smart operation; just keep the boss, the hacker, and the snipers in the loop. You’d admire them, if it weren’t for them being sociopaths.
In exchange for the information, they all got reduced sentences. Which meant only three life sentences for Cantille and Pratt, two for Weiss, and twenty-five to life for Moreau, who turned out to be a little… simple. That would probably be the politically correct term for it, and that was the term that the captain used in front of the billions of reporters constantly camped out in front of the courthouse. Do those people even have lives?
Adessi was cleared of any wrongdoing, of course, but I still milked his shooting-me guilt for about the next year. Until the serial killer, because milking a shooting while there’s a serial killer on the loose is just morally wrong.