If I Should Die Before I Dieby Peter Israel
To save his boss’s wife, a clever lawyer must unmask a silent serial killer
Another woman has died, just like all the others who have been targeted by the so-called pillow killer—her life snuffed out without a sound. He smothers each of them carefully, and they seem to go without struggle, as though the killer were their friend. As each new/b>… See more details below
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To save his boss’s wife, a clever lawyer must unmask a silent serial killer
Another woman has died, just like all the others who have been targeted by the so-called pillow killer—her life snuffed out without a sound. He smothers each of them carefully, and they seem to go without struggle, as though the killer were their friend. As each new body is discovered, the women of New York come closer and closer to outright panic. Finally, one of them is about to fight back.
Philip Revere is a few blocks away from his office, the stately brownstone of brilliant attorney Charles Camelot, when he sees his boss’s wife sobbing outside Central Park. A sex therapist, Nora is convinced that one of her clients is the pillow killer, and she has begun to fear for her life. With Revere’s help, she will do whatever it takes to put the culprit behind bars.
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If I Should Die Before I Die
By Peter Israel
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1989 Peter Israel
All rights reserved.
By 9:30 A.M. I already knew it'd be one of those days. I'd slept through the radio for starters, and it wasn't till I realized that I'd heard the sports report at least once already that I jumped awake. It was 8:17. I'd set the alarm for 7:00. The alarm, though, was in the bedroom. I'd just awoke on the living-room couch. My neck and shoulders ached, and the lights were on, and there was a half-full bottle of Moosehead on the floor.
I kicked the Moosehead over when I swung to. It spilled onto some papers.
I remembered being at Laura Hugger's the night before till after midnight. We'd had a fight, not the first in our on-again off-again relationship. Maybe our last. I'd been unable to sleep when I got home. I'd sat up with a Moosehead six-pack and a folder on the Magister case, and at some point I'd stretched out, and the papers must have slipped onto the floor.
I started to clear up the mess, but it hurt my head too much to bend over. I showered instead, and shaved, dressed, and listened to the news and weather along the way.
There was only one news story that morning: the Killer had struck again, the first time since July. The city, I figured, would be like a zoo again, only the women who'd been wearing blonde wigs all summer long were going to have to do something else. Like shave their heads. Ditto on avoiding Brooklyn. This time the victim was blonde—a first—and married—another first—and she'd also been discovered in her own Riverside Drive apartment.
Also a first: Manhattan.
She'd been smothered, as usual. This time she'd also been violated.
The case was weird in a lot of ways. Because of differences in detail and the seemingly random rhythm, it had taken the police four murders to discover the links. And quiet too, almost without violence or struggle, as though the victims knew their killer. Once the media had got hold of it, though, and the so-called Pillow Killer had been christened, the city's brunette population had gone into a frenzy such as we hadn't seen since the days of Son of Sam.
Now a blonde, now Manhattan. In September.
Even Revere's Full-Moon Theory had been shot full of holes this time, for the moon, I found out later, had been in a quarter phase that night.
I realized with a start, hearing the radio report again, that the Riverside Drive address was only a couple of blocks from Laura Hugger's apartment. I started to call her. Then I remembered our scene the night before and thought better of it. Then I felt lousy about thinking better of it, so I hit the streets.
The radio had predicted partly cloudy followed by clearing, but the sky hung low and dribbling when I headed east. It had been that way for days, a sky the color of ashes, the kind of weather where you can't tell what the temperature is because the wet air chills you one minute and stifles you the next. I couldn't find a cab, the corner of Columbus and 86th was overflowing with people huddling for the crosstown bus, so I headed toward the park on foot. I slanted toward the Seventies along the sodden paths. You couldn't see the towers south of the park for the fog, and the co-ops and condos of Fifth Avenue loomed dimly out of a gray nothingness. I passed a few late joggers, trudging in hooded sweatshirts through the murk. All male, I noticed. Most mornings I'd have been one of them, though an hour or two earlier, and there'd have been as many woman as men. But the Pillow Killer had struck again.
I'd just rounded the corner at Madison, heading for the brick townhouse where I work and hurrying because I was late and the Counselor would be pacing the floor, when a beige blur hit me thigh-high, wet paws on my London Fog: Muffin, the Counselor's Wife's cocker bitch, yanking her owner behind her.
This too was out of sync. By the time I reported in most mornings, the spaniel had already been walked and the Counselor's Wife had already left for her own office, a few blocks north on Park. But if I was an hour late this morning, she was even later.
What's more, she was crying.
It took me a moment to realize it. She's almost my height, with angular features and ashblonde hair that billows around her when she unpins it, and a graceful, athletic body even when the cocker bitch is pulling her this way and that. She's made the Ten-Best-Dressed lists, the only shrink, I imagine, ever to be so honored, and the adjectives the media usually use to describe her are striking and stunning. Beautiful too. To me, her eyes are her best feature. Shrink's eyes, I've always thought, because they can be wide, limpid blue pools one minute, the kind even the most bottled-up neurotic could open up to, and sharp blue glitters the next, with crinkles at the corners, when she knows she's got the upper hand.
She was wearing a red rainslicker and matching red fisherman's hat. Not a Ten-Best outfit, you'd say, except it would have been hard for her to look bad in a burlap sack.
Maybe I'd seen her blubber before but never the eyes red-rimmed and puffed, and the wet glistens on her cheeks were tears all right, not rain.
"Nora," I said. "Hey, Nora, what's the matter? What's wrong?"
Or some such.
She couldn't answer though. She started to, but the words seemed to stick. Then she shook her head and lowered it, ducked, like she didn't want to see me or me her, and pulled west, tugging Muffin behind her.
I watched them go, her red hat bent into the mist, the spaniel still surging back toward me.
Then I headed down the street and in, under the white lintel above our doorway, with the white half-columns and the polished brass plaque that says:
Roger—pronounced Ro-jay—LeClerc was sitting at the reception desk in our entrance foyer, paging through the Daily News. That at least was normal. Roger's black, probably gay. As far as his color's concerned, he'd be quick to inform you that he was born in the Ivory Coast, in Africa, and reached New York via Paris, in France, with accent to corroborate it, whereas if you ever called him gay to his face, you'd be offending him unalterably, eternally. He comes on like he's at least as important to our operation as the rest of us working stiffs, whereas in fact he's as close as we get to superfluous.
Roger, I should add, was the Counselor's Wife's touch.
"Philippe ...," he began, glancing up as I strode past his desk toward my ground-floor office.
"I know, I know," I said back, halfway out of my raincoat, "he's been calling for me all morning, etcetera, etcetera ..."
"Not at all," Roger answered, imperturbable. "He's not even down yet."
"Not down yet?" I echoed, surprised. The Counselor's office is on the second floor of the building, his living quarters on the third, fourth, and fifth. Ms. Shapiro, his secretary, and Charlotte McCullough, our resident accountant and computer genius, also work on the second floor, LeClerc and I on the first. I couldn't remember a morning when the Counselor hadn't been in his office, open for business, by 8:30, 9:00 at the latest. Much as I hated giving Roger the chance to upstage me, I said: "What's going on? And what's with Mrs. Camelot?"
"With Nora?" he said, gargling the r in her name. "All I know," his accent Frenchifying, "she ask me to call her off-eece, tell them to cancel all her appointments. Ze whole day. Zis I did.
"And Philippe," he called after me as I went into my office, "Shapiro said he wants you to go downtown without him. And Monsieur McClintock? He called you. Deux fois. Twice."
I'd made his day, I thought, closing my door. I buzzed Ms. Shapiro. She confirmed what Roger had said: the Counselor wasn't down yet, I was to go to the Firm alone. Then I called Laura Hugger's office. She was in a meeting. I left my name. Then I punched through to McClintock and got his secretary.
"Is he there?" I said.
"Who's calling, please?"
"Oh yes, Mr. Revere. I know he wants to talk to you, but he's in a meeting now. I've got you and Mr. Camelot down for 10:30 this morning, is that right?"
"That's right as far as I'm concerned. But Mr. Camelot's not coming."
"Oh?" McClintock's secretary said.
"But tell your boss I'll be there."
I hung up, supposing that the meeting at the Firm might suffice to explain the Counselor's absence. Their relationship—his and the Firm's—was an unusual one. More than a decade before, he'd been a partner there. In fact that's where I'd first met him, when I was a summer intern trying to squeeze out enough of a living to get myself through law school. When he'd left to, as he liked to put it, "go private," he didn't, however, cut all his ties. We still use the Firm for various services. Our computer, for one thing, is cabled into their mainframe, they keep our database, and we have access to their electronic law library. The Firm, in exchange, gets to print a discreet "Charles Camelot, of Counsel" on its letterhead, an asset many New York law firms would pay handsomely for, and certain matters, usually of a sensitive nature, pass back and forth between the two offices, including the one McClintock was supposed to brief us on that morning.
I could imagine the Counselor saying it: If Doug McClintock wants to brief us, let him come uptown. The truth was that the briefing was for my benefit, not the Counselor's, but such is the protocol between attorneys that we had both been invited, and accepted, while the Counselor had orchestrated things in such a way that he could always back out at the last minute.
Which is what had happened.
The drizzle had stopped when I went outside again, and the sky had lightened considerably. The avenue was full of empty cabs by then, and two of them raced to a dead heat to get me. The Counselor still hadn't ventured downstairs, and, more surprising, the Counselor's Wife and Muffin hadn't returned either.
A matter of a sensitive nature, I said. The Magister Will. Wills and estates are usually among the most boring of legal work, if the most lucrative, but the Magister Will was, to say the least, an exception, and Margarethe von Heidrich Magister—known to the media as Margie, Margie with a hard g—had become a celebrity that year of a dimension New York hadn't seen since Jackie O came home from the Parthenon.
Robert Worth Magister III, chairman of the board, chief executive officer and principal stockholder of the Magister Companies, Inc., had died earlier in the year of a massive coronary, just a week before his eighty-second birthday. He'd held his job for around half a century. Starting in the Depression with a near-bankrupt group of magazines which he'd taken over from his father, he'd built a "communications empire" which, at its height, had included twenty-three television and radio stations, a baseball team, part ownership in a film company, part ownership of a cable television network, forty-four magazines, eleven newspapers, three book publishers, a lumber company and chain of paper mills, and enough real estate from New Jersey to California to build, if it could all have been put together, a good-sized city. Though the company, or companies, had slipped some from his heyday and pieces had been sold off and Wall Street, during the last years of his life, had called the enterprise "ripe for takeover," Bob Magister still owned or controlled enough shares, at his death, to block the raiders. His personal estate, which had so far received more attention than the fate of Magister Companies, had been valued in the nine figures, which works out to the hundreds of millions.
Bob III had five surviving children, four sons, one daughter, ranging in age from forty-nine to twenty-nine, and a train of grandchildren behind them. Two of the sons and the daughter ran Magister companies and sat on the board. One of them, it had always been assumed, would succeed their father as chairman, but which one?
The answer, at least for the moment, might be: none of them.
Some three years earlier, while traveling in Europe, Bob Magister had suffered a stroke, a mini-version, say a four on the Richter scale, compared to the one which later took him for the count. He had convalesced in a house he owned on the Riviera, attended by an Alsatian nurse. When he came back to New York that fall, the nurse had graduated to "companion," and about a year and a half later, over the vocal objections of his children, she became Margie Magister.
That was Margie with a hard g, Margarethe von Heidrich Magister. Bob III had left her fifty percent of his estate, including the bulk of his shares in Magister Companies. The balance had been divided into fifths and left not to the children but to a series of trusts for their benefit. In other words, the will treated them as though they were still children. Worse, at least for the three who held executive positions in Magister Companies, it made their stepmother their boss.
The challenges, predictably enough, hadn't been long in coming. Several of the children, each represented by a different attorney, had already filed suit to contest the will. Then the siblings—maybe this was also predictable—had begun to squabble among themselves, in full view of the media, and most recently Margie, after spending the summer "in seclusion" and represented by yet another attorney, had countersued two of them for slander.
At first the media, by one of those weird choices which maybe aren't even choices but are dictated by what sells the most papers or gets the most people switching the knobs on their TV sets, had tended to make Margie their heroine. They depicted the children as silver-spoon types, independently wealthy no matter what happened in the courtrooms, whereas the French widow had been born in the aftermath of World War II, in one of the most war-ravaged parts of Europe, of simple origins, had plied her honorable profession in some of the most respected hospitals of Europe, then had devoted herself and her energies, while still young, to a sick and elderly man. That the sick and elderly man happened to be rich couldn't belie the fact that he had loved her, or that she had loved him. Etc., etc.
It was a Cinderella story of sorts. To put it another way, it was as though Margie Magister had won the lottery, the biggest lottery of all. And clearly she deserved it. And now "they" were trying to take it away from her.
Recently, though, the pendulum had begun to swing the other way. Maybe it was the end of her "period of seclusion" that did it. Once Margie was back in the Magister penthouse duplex on Fifth Avenue, the media all but camped out across the street. They criticized her when she wouldn't talk to them, made fun of her accent when she did. She was pictured getting into a limo on Fifth Avenue, "a diminutive figure, her dark and sulky expression half-hidden by bangs," and her clothes were reported, identified, priced, also that the limo was owned by Magister Companies, and where she went for lunch, who with, what she ate, drank, what it cost. Once the media found out that the "von" in her name was a fake, even though she'd added it over a decade before, they wouldn't let her, or anyone, forget it. And when, after the Magister kids had announced their suits, she hired Roy Barger to represent her, it was—you could feel it—time to take the gloves off. Roy Barger may have been a streetfighter by reputation, but he was also, or had become, a street-fighter for the rich, and his relationship with the media was strictly love-hate.
By the morning I'm talking about, you'd begun to hear people say that Margie's shadowy past had to be hiding something, didn't the fake von prove it? Wasn't Alsatian half-German anyway? Maybe she was a Nazi; maybe she was Jewish. In any case, she was foreign, and who knew what she'd been giving Bob III all that time along with the prescribed medication? Whereas the Magister kids, all right, so they'd been born with the proverbial silver spoons, but they were at least Americans, weren't they? Their father's children, weren't they entitled to something?
Evenly divided, maybe even tilting toward the kids. And either way, the Firm was caught squarely in the middle. And trying hard to duck.
Which is what brought the Counselor into it.
Douglas McClintock, senior partner, was clearly steaming.
"What in hell can we accomplish if Charles isn't here?" he asked, still standing behind his desk.
"Do you want me to leave?" I said, starting to rise from my chair.
Excerpted from If I Should Die Before I Die by Peter Israel. Copyright © 1989 Peter Israel. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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