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As the cold wind whipped around her, FBI agent Suzanne Madeaux lifted the corner of the yellow crime-scene tarp covering the dead girl and swore under her breath.
Jane Doe was somewhere between sixteen and twenty, her blond hair streaked with pink highlights. The teenager’s party dress was also pink, and Suzanne absently wondered if she changed her highlights to match her outfit. There was no outward sign of sexual assault or an apparent cause of death. Still, there was no doubt that this was another victim of the killer Suzanne had been tasked to stop.
Jane Doe wore only one shoe.
Dropping the tarp, Suzanne surveyed the scene, trying in vain to keep her long, dark-blond hair out of her face. The relentless wind howled across the cracked, weed-infested parking lot of the abandoned warehouse in Brooklyn. It had also felled a couple of trees nearby; small branches and sticks skittered across the pavement. That wind most likely had destroyed any evidence not inside Jane Doe’s body.
Though the corpse didn’t appear to be intentionally hidden, waist-high weeds and a small building that had once housed a generator or dumpsters concealed her from any passerby’s cursory glance. Suzanne stepped away from the squat structure and looked across the Upper Bay. The tiny Gowanus Bay was to the north, the New Jersey skyline to the west. At night, it would be kind of pretty out here with the city lights across the water, if it weren’t so friggin’ cold.
A plainclothes NYPD cop approached with a half-smile that Suzanne wouldn’t call friendly. “If it ain’t Mad Dog Madeaux. We heard this was one of yours.”
Suzanne rolled her eyes. Even with her eyes closed, she’d recognize Joey Hicks by his grating, intentionally exaggerated New York accent.
“No secret,” she said, making notes to avoid conversation. Hicks wasn’t much older than she. Physically fit, he probably thought he was good-looking, considering the swagger. She supposed he had some appeal, but the cocky “all Feds are assholes” attitude he’d displayed the first time they’d met on a murder case had landed him on Suzanne’s permanent shit list years ago.
She looked around for his supervisor, but didn’t see Vic Panetta. She’d much rather deal with the senior detective, whom she liked. “Who found the body?” Suzanne asked.
“What’s his story?”
“Found her on his morning rounds, about five-thirty.”
It was eleven now. “Why hasn’t the body been taken to the morgue?”
“No wagon available. Coroner is on the way. Another hour, they say. NYPD doesn’t got the resources you Feds got.”
She ignored the slight. “What was the guard doing here last night? Does he patrol more than one building?”
“Yeah.” Hicks looked at his notes. Though Suzanne didn’t like him, he was a decent cop. “He clocked in at four a.m. for a twelve-hour shift. Rotates between vacant properties throughout Sunset Park and around the bay. Says he doesn’t stick to a specific schedule, ’cause vandals watch for that.”
“What about the night guard?”
“Night is either Thompson or Bruzzini. According to the day shift, Bruzzini is a slacker.”
“I need their contact information.” She hesitated. Then—remembering her boss’s command to be more collegial to NYPD—she added, “I appreciate your help.”
“Did Hell freeze over since the last time we worked a case?” Hicks laughed. “I’ll get Panetta; I’m sure he’ll want to at least make a show of fighting for jurisdiction.” He left, still grinning.
Suzanne ignored him. There were no jurisdictional issues—after the third similar murder, an FBI–NYPD task force had been formed. Her supervisor was administratively in charge, and she was the FBI point person on the case. Panetta was the senior ranking NYPD detective.
Tired of her hair flying in her face, Suzanne pulled a N.Y. Mets cap from her pocket and stuffed under it as much of her thick, tangled mess as possible. In her small notepad, she finished writing down her observations and the few facts she knew.
This victim, the fourth, was the first found in Brooklyn. Victim number one, a college freshman, had been killed up in Harlem on a street popular with squatters and the party crowd because every building was boarded up. That had been the eve of Halloween. The second victim had been discovered on the south side of the Bronx, ironically overlooking Rikers Island, on January second. The third victim—the one who brought the attention of the FBI to the serial murders—had been killed in Manhattanville, near Columbia University, eighteen days ago. By the time the task force was put together and evidence shared, for all practical purposes Suzanne had been working the case for less than two weeks.
Besides the one missing shoe and the age of the victims—all adult females under twenty-one—two other commonalities stood out: the victims had been suffocated with a plastic bag that the killer took with him, and they’d each been killed near an abandoned building with evidence of a recent party.
Secret or underground parties were nothing new. Some were relatively innocent, with drinking, dance music, and recreational drugs, while others were far wilder. Raves in the United States had started in Brooklyn in the abandoned underground railroad tunnels, and while they still existed, they’d peaked in popularity a while back. The new fad was sex parties with heavy drinking and hard-core drugs. Music and dancing were precursors to multi-partner anonymous sex. Even before these murders, there had been several drug-related deaths associated with sex parties. If the pattern held true, evidence inside this warehouse would show that this Jane Doe had participated in the latter type of party, which Detective Panetta called “extreme raves.”
The press had dubbed the killer the Cinderella Strangler when someone in the know had leaked the missing-shoe detail to the press. It may not have been a cop who had talked—there were dozens of people working any one crime scene—but most likely it had come from inside the NYPD. The press didn’t seem to care that the victims weren’t strangled—they were asphyxiated. The Cinderella Asphyxiator just didn’t sound as good on the eleven o’clock news.
Suzanne had sent a memo to all private security companies in the five boroughs asking them to be more proactive in shutting down the rampant parties at abandoned sites, but it was like a game of whack-a-mole—when authoritie shut down one location, two more sprang up.
Though only two of the first three victims were college students, she’d contacted local colleges and high schools to warn students that there was a killer targeting women at these parties. Unfortunately, Suzanne suspected that getting through the invincible it-won’t-happen-to-me mentality of young adults was next to impossible. She could almost hear their reasons. We won’t go out alone. We won’t leave with a stranger. We won’t drink too much. Plans for every day of the week, but when it was life or death, Suzanne didn’t understand why they couldn’t party in the relatively safe dorms and frat houses. Those venues had their own problems, but they probably didn’t have a serial killer trolling their halls.
She looked up and waved to Vic Panetta as he strode over. She liked the wiry Italian. He was her exact height, five foot nine, and wore a new wool coat, charcoal gray to match his full head of hair. “Hi, Vic,” she said as he approached. “New coat?”
He deadpanned her. “Christmas present from my wife.”
“It cost too much money for a label no one can see,” he grumbled. He gestured at the tarp. “We photographed the area, then put the tarp over the body so we don’t lose any more evidence.”
“Well, the way this wind has been going nonstop for the past couple days, I think we already lost it.”
“You take a look?”
“You noted the missing shoe?”
“Could be under the body.”
“Nah.” He shook his head, then pulled his phone from his coat pocket and read a message. “Good news, coroner is on the way. ETA ten minutes.”
About time, Suzanne thought but didn’t say out loud. “Hicks said you were talking to the security guard who found the body?”
“Yeah, he’s former NYPD—permanent disability, works three days a week. Takes his job seriously. Got an earful about the night shift.”
“Anything I need to know?”
“He suspects Ronald Bruzzini of being bought off. Too much cash in the guy’s wallet, but no proof.”
“Your guy knew about the parties?”
Panetta shook his head. “Not until after the fact, and he doesn’t work nights. He thinks Bruzzini looks the other way. Finds evidence of all kinds of wild parties nearly every week. Hicks and I will follow up on both the night guards, see what shakes out.”
“So you think this was one of your extreme raves?” she teased.
He rolled his eyes and let out an exasperated breath. “And then some. They did some cleaning up inside, but left the garbage on the other side of the building. The wind sent it all over kingdom come. The crime scene unit is working inside and out, but contamination is a huge problem. We’re printing the place, but getting anything usable—”