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GARY DRAKE LOOKED into his dead brother's eyes and knew that he had killed him.
No, that's not right. He was responsible for so much death that he was ready to take the blame for all of it.
Gary's older brother, his only brother, sat in front of a computer. His eyes were open, his head tilted up to one side, staring into space. His lips smiled slightly. He almost could have passed for someone simply lost in thought.
Gary Drake looked at the computer screen. "The Chronicles of a Madman." He never could stop tinkering with that manuscript.
"Do you know the victim?"
Drake turned to his new partner. She was too young for the job. Hell, so am I. "Don't phrase that as a question. It sounds weak."
"You know the victim."
"Only by his writings," Drake lied. "He's an author. Surely you've heard of Matthew Langhorn?"
"No. But is that why you insisted on investigating this case?"
"Before he retired, my partner was the senior on a case involving a serial killer or killers who may or may not be cops. When the patrolmen called this one in to Homicide, they thought it might be one of those."
"No doubt they hated to give it to IA."
"No doubt," Drake agreed.
"That would explain why we're investigating a homicide. But not why you couldn't tell me that on the way over here."
Drake ignored the barb. "Now I'm the senior because I know more about that case than anyone else and this looks like part of it."
"Cops who might be serial killers? You owe me an explanation."
Drake looked at his new partner. She was five feet six inches, with an athletic build, and probably weighed130 pounds. She wore her curly red hair short. Everything about her manner projected calm, detached professionalism. Seeing her in a pinstriped business suit, Drake found it difficult to picture her posing as a streetwalker.
Drake nodded. "Not right now, though. Your perspective might be useful. When you enter a possible crime scene, it's natural to form some kind of theory. And that's fine -- creative thinking is good in a detective -- but you want to keep an open mind."
"I'm new to IA, but I'm not a rookie."
Drake tried to smile. "I just wanted to tell you that it's wrong to go into a case with any preconceived notions, because I don't want you learning it from me. Tell me what you see."
Brooks studied the victim's body. She leaned over to examine his fingers and sniffed them. She looked around the room, then walked through an open doorway that led back the way they'd come in. After a moment she returned to the office. It had probably been added later, as it was off to one side and sat several inches below the rest of the house.
"There's a crack pipe in an ashtray," she said. "It looks like it was made of ordinary plumbing supplies. Beside it are some books of matches."
Drake had been the first one to enter his brother's house, meaning that he was the first to see the crack pipe and the matches. He had quickly pocketed a book of matches on his way to the office.
"The victim isn't a regular drug user," Brooks concluded. "He smoked crack shortly before his death, but I don't know that it's the cause. I don't see any readily visible cause of death."
"What makes you say it's not an OD?"
"It doesn't look like one. He wouldn't just sit there typing on his computer. An OD would hurt like hell. He'd thrash around and scream."
"Last week I found a guy sitting in a recliner, a remote control in one hand and half a can of beer in the other. He'd muted the television, probably during a commercial. His eyes were open, looking straight ahead and expressionless. He was dead as a doornail, though. Heart attack and respiratory failure caused by a crack overdose."
"That doesn't make sense," she said.
"A couple weeks before that, I found a stiff who looked like he was sleeping in his hammock. If I had a heart attack, I'd fall out. But this guy didn't even have string marks on his skin."
"What did the coroner find?"
"Nothing substantial. Ever heard of Doctor Halpern?"
She nodded. "He practically invented modern forensic science."
"There was this couple back in the seventies who were married, but not to each other. Neighbors, too. Her husband died of a heart attack, then his wife, but he ran off with another woman. So she told Halpern how her husband really died -- poisoning -- and he checked the guy's recently-dead wife and found the same poison in her body."
"It sounds like a soap opera. I'm guessing the poison is the relevant part."
Drake nodded. "Succinylcholine. Anesthesiologists use it as a muscle relaxant. A higher dose causes paralysis and an even higher dose stops the heart or lungs. The body quickly breaks it down into succinic acid and choline, both of which are normally present in muscle tissue. Halpern found elevated levels in the woman, but only because he knew to look for them."
"So, did our coroner find succinylcholine?"
"No. But Halpern was dealing with perfectly healthy people who were poisoned into having what looked like heart attacks. We're dealing with crackheads. Crack elevates the heart rate, blood pressure, respiration - - all kinds of things. So the body's already stressed. Just a little bit of succinylcholine could push it over the edge."
"What did our coroner find in the other victims?"
"Choline levels on the upper edge of normal and succinic acid levels just above dead center. But if someone mixed succinylcholine with crack, he'd need a helluva lot less."
"We're guessing," she said.
"Call it an educated guess. It's all we had until last week. We were finally lucky enough to find a dead crackhead who hadn't smoked all of his crack. The coroner's office found succinylcholine in it, but only because he knew to look for it. It was such a small dose that it could have easily been overlooked."
"Of all the drugs he could have chosen, why did he single out this one?"
"He was playing a hunch. His third hunch, if I remember right. Succinylcholine is a muscle paralyzer. If the victims are paralyzed by it first, then have the heart attacks, it would explain why they look so tranquil."
"Dying of a heart attack but unable to move," Brooks said. "Or to scream." She shook her head. "Damn. That's a helluva way to die."
"Yeah." Drake looked at his brother's corpse, then turned to his partner. "Let's look around. We'll start in the bedroom."
Like his brother, Drake had straight, light brown hair and blue eyes. He was thirty-five, but he had the face of an eighteen-year-old and the wrinkles of a fifty-year-old. Yeah, the wrinkles stood out, but he still looked young. Too young.
Brooks followed Drake's lead. Brooks and Drake had pulled on rubber gloves before they entered the house and had several evidence bags in their pockets. For Drake, it was spooky looking through his brother's things the way he had a hundred times before, but this time seeing them only as evidence, as the effects of a dead man.
"How hard would it be for someone to get succinylcholine?"
Drake shook his head. "It's not the kind of thing you can go buy at the store or on the street, but for anyone who spends enough time in a hospital, it's no big deal. They lock it up, but it's not like a narcotic or something. Given the small doses we're talking about, one theft is all it would take to kill a lot more people than we've seen."
"If you know to steal it."
"With a little creativity, someone could also get it from a pharmaceutical supplier," Drake added. "He could just buy it out of a catalog."
"If he knew what he was looking for."
"There are lots of books about Halpern in the library. Old newspapers, too."
The first thing Drake noticed about the bedroom was that the bed wasn't made. That was normal. Not making their beds was a shared trait, aside from the time that Gary Drake was in the Army. Brooks moved to search the bed -- it was surprising how many people still thought "under the mattress" was a good place to hide drugs -- and Drake began looking through dresser drawers.
"What makes you think it's a conspiracy?" Brooks asked. "And why does the department think cops are involved?"
"When the first victims showed up, naturally the investigating officers looked for a pattern. But with each new victim, it became obvious there wasn't one."
There wasn't much to find in Matt's dresser. He kept his socks and underwear in the top drawer and the other three were empty. Drake moved to search the closet while Brooks continued examining the area around the bed.
"How many victims have there been?" she asked.
"Over the past six weeks, this is the ninth that we know about."
"That we know about?"
"If a drug addict ODs, there are lots of cops too jaded to care. But if we start with the premise that someone is poisoning the drugs, it has to be a supplier who sells to at least four different pushers. Two victims back, it was decided that all known suppliers could probably be eliminated as suspects."
"Who decided that?"
"Homicide and Narcotics were working it together. You're welcome to read their reports when we get back to the office. Given that, the only other place we know about with enough crack to pull it off would be a police evidence locker."
"Means, opportunity, motive," Brooks mused. "It'd be hard to find a cop without some kind of motive. Finding means and opportunity will be a major pain in the ass."
"Lots of overtime, lots of interviews with skilled professional interviewers who already hate us. Maybe you should wear something low-cut, a dress from your days in Vice perhaps. And save the angry glare for someone who cares. If looks could kill, I'd have died a long time ago."
There wasn't much in Matt's closet either. No one could ever accuse him of being a pack rat. Some people kept all sorts of personal effects they'd never use, like yearbooks and old letters and clothes that hadn't fit in years. Searching those homes took hours. At the other end of the spectrum was Matt's house. His home wasn't much more than a motel for one with his name on the mailbox. It occurred to Drake that his brother's house wasn't much different than his own.
Drake and Brooks returned to the office where Matt had died.
"There's a lot of speculation and guesswork between what we know and this vigilante cop conspiracy theory," said Brooks. "But if it's all true, what makes us think the drugs came from a Cochrane evidence locker?"
"We're investigating it that way because that's who pays us. The quantities of crack seized by the various departments help narrow that down some. If it happened in some other jurisdiction, I hope their bunch finds it."
"And if we're wrong entirely?" "Homicide and Narcotics will still be looking at reports. They'll just be looking at our reports now. When they're not too busy trying to get those drugs off the street."
The office wasn't neat, but it was organized. The paperwork that covered almost every available surface was stacked in large piles. The room contained lamps, stationery, a computer, a stereo, and a CD collection. Everything was in plain view. There were no drawers or closets. The body was the coroner's domain, so Drake and Brooks moved on to the living room.
Drake was six feet tall and weighed 170 pounds. He tried to bulk up, but he had more strength with less muscle than most men. He looked fit and muscular, but compact. In police work, it helped to have an intimidating appearance. Nothing much about him was intimidating -- except for his eyes. They were a cold shade of pale blue. He had stared down a Doberman and had made children cry just by looking at them.
"Brooks, look at my face. Would it scare your kids?"
"I don't have kids."
"If you did, would my face scare them?"
"You're lying, aren't you?"
"Yes. What was your posting before you came over to IA?"
"I worked Homicide for seven years. Before that I was a patrolman, a jail deputy, and a Military Policeman."
"Internal Affairs and an outsider," Brooks mused. "They must really hate you around here."
"I'm not too thrilled with them, either."
The remainder of the search was equally quick and fruitless. There was nothing non-prescription in the medicine cabinet. Throughout the investigation, Drake maintained his detached professionalism. Since this was his brother, he knew exactly what was or was not usual about the crime scene. Aside from that, he didn't let himself look at this homicide as the death of his brother. He was just another victim. But when they had finished the investigation of the crime scene, he felt a chink in his armor. A strong wave of emotion engulfed him and he despised his own weakness.
"Drake," Brooks said. Something in her voice made him turn to face her. She was staring straight into his eyes. "You know the victim."
He thought about lying again, of course. But the moment somebody looked up Matthew Langhorn's background in the Department computer, they'd know anyway.
"Yeah," Drake admitted. "He's my brother."
"Your brother? Dispatch wouldn't knowingly send you to investigate your brother's death."
"They'll find out soon enough."
"Why the different last names?"
"Our birth name was Drake, but we were adopted by our stepfather. I changed my name back, but Matt never got around to it. He's been published as a Langhorn."
"So you're investigating your brother's death," she stated.
"We are investigating a serial killer or killers who might be cops. My brother just happens to be one of the victims."
"The Captain might not agree."
"I'll win him over with my natural charm."
"You don't have any." She chuckled in spite of herself. "Sorry, sir."
"Don't be." Drake glanced toward the office again. "I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen it. What made him even try crack in the first place?"
"What ever makes someone try it?"
"You'd expect me to know better. You'd think I've been a cop long enough to have seen it all. But if someone had asked me yesterday if my brother would ever do drugs, I'd have probably bet my car that he wouldn't."
"It wouldn't be much of a loss. I've seen your car."
Drake smiled weakly.
"Did he live alone?"
"Yeah, but he wanted it that way. He was off in intellectual-land somewhere."
"Do you have any family here?"
Drake nodded. "Born and raised here. Pretty much all our family's around here. Nobody close, though, except each other. Maybe if he'd reached out to me." Drake remembered his last conversation with Matt. "Hell, maybe he did and I was too busy to notice."
"You did what you could."
"Part of being a cop is being observant. But when it comes to my own family, I always look the other way. My mother, my ex-wife, and now my brother."
Brooks' lips quirked. "At least you spoil your pets."
"Kiss my ass." Drake chuckled in spite of himself. "I mean that. You don't know me well enough to be such a smart ass."
"I notice you didn't mention your father."
"He died when I was very young. Mom remarried once, but that didn't work out because it was to an asshole."
"Oh, sorry." She paused. "You didn't do this. Matt lit the pipe, not you."
"When will the coroner get here?"
Brooks glanced at her watch. "Any minute now."
"Can you do me a favor and come get me when they get here? I'll be right out back. I need some air."
Drake was genuinely touched by the concern in his partner's gaze. "Sure."
Gary Drake walked out of the house and into the fenced-in backyard. The house was small, but nice. When Matt first quit his job in the electronics field to become a full-time writer, Gary thought he was nuts. But he had done well for himself. Until now.
Gary looked around and saw no one. Various vines and grasses grew up along the fence, giving the backyard a good deal of privacy. The coroner's van would approach from the front and Brooks would come get him, for which he was grateful.
Gary reached into his coat pocket and pulled out an aspirin tin. He reached inside to take out a green capsule that was not aspirin and swallowed it. Brooks didn't know about the pills. No one did. They would not have understood.
Copyright © 1996 by Michael LaRocca