Thelma Johnston holds her breath as she passes the dealers on the corner of St. Marks Avenue. She’s been sober five years, but the temptation to relapse never goes away. She inhales deeply once she passes and finally arrives home, arms laden with Christmas presents for her two children. She’s fumbling for her keys when a shape comes out of the darkness and presses her against the dark side of her stoop. Within seconds, she’s dead.
Thelma died just a few blocks from a precinct house, and while the cops could do nothing to save her, they’ll try their best to avenge her. But when Lt. John Vinda realizes Thelma’s death was part of a series of slayings, he knows he has to solve the case before the media catches on. It’s Christmas in New York, and there’s a killer on the prowl.
|Sold by:||Barnes & Noble|
|File size:||1 MB|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
By William J. Caunitz
MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated MediaCopyright © 1991 William J. Caunitz
All rights reserved.
The night was cold; November's snow banked deep along the curb. A young black woman climbed up out of the subway at Bergen Street, a shopping bag filled with gaily wrapped presents clutched in her right hand, and her pocket-book wedged tightly against her body. Waiting for the light to change, she gazed across Flatbush Avenue at the limestone fortress that was Brooklyn's 78th Precinct station house. A policeman was in front of the station house, fitting tire chains around the wheel of a patrol car. She looked to her left and saw the sign in the window of Pintchik's Decorating Center proclaiming a mammoth pre-Christmas paint and wallpaper sale. The clock in the window read a little past seven o'clock. The light changed. The woman looked in both directions before stepping off the curb and starting across the wide avenue. A car sped by, its tires churning up a wave of slush that she barely avoided. A blast of frigid air made her tuck her head deeper into her coat's upturned collar.
Stepping onto the curb on the other side of the avenue, she spotted two crack dealers loitering on the corner of St. Marks Avenue, a block away. Her pace quickened as she neared the sullen men. She turned into St. Marks Avenue, hurrying for the safety and warmth of her home in the middle of the block. She sucked in a mouthful of air, savoring the clean sense of life that it gave her, increasing her feeling of accomplishment and worth.
Thelma Johnston had been free of drugs for five years, and off the welfare rolls for two. Life was looking good to her again, real good. Instead of going home after work tonight, Thelma had decided to do most of her Christmas shopping for her two fatherless children. She was determined to make this holiday the best one yet for her kids. There were still thirty-two days remaining before the big day. Thelma wanted to get the shopping behind her so that she would be free to put in as much overtime as possible during the holiday rush at her job as cashier in Jerry and Ben's clothing store on Court Street.
She looked up at the moon; dark patterns etched its barren landscape. Hurrying along the deserted, windswept street, she became aware of the muffled clop of her own booted feet, and quickened her pace. She heard a movement off to her right and had started to turn to look when something cold and horrible shot out of the darkness and clamped over her mouth. Her eyes widened in terror as she was hoisted up off her feet, her legs and arms flailing in the night. Her children's presents tumbled over the snow.
"Dear Jesus protect me," she prayed, as she was bodily lifted into the dark on the side of the brownstone's stoop. Something was pressing in on her. Her terrified eyes stared up at her attacker. She felt his warm breath on her throat; her body shook with fear, and she begged God's protection for herself and her children. Suddenly she felt a pinching sensation in her throat, quickly followed by an overwhelming feeling of suffocation. And then, as abruptly as the nightmare had begun, it was over. She was free, floating along in a crimson abyss, with the inaudible words, "Help me, help me," forming on her lips.CHAPTER 2
The policeman assigned to the security booth saluted as the black sedan rolled onto the ramp leading down into the headquarters garage of One Police Plaza.
Chief of Detectives Sam Leventhal relaxed in the back of the department auto, reading the recommendations of the Mayor's Committee on the Consolidation of the Transit Police and the NYPD. The members had concluded that both departments should remain separate entities. I could have told them that and saved the taxpayers a lot of money, Leventhal thought, gathering up the papers scattered over the dark blue velour-covered seat.
The police driver drove the car off the ramp, and steered it into the C-of-D's parking space alongside the cinderblock wall of the dispatcher's cage. Leventhal got out and walked over to the executive elevator set into the alcove behind the cage. He inserted his key into the lock, and when the door opened he stepped inside.
Leventhal was a tall man with wavy hair that he dyed black. At forty-six years of age he was the youngest, and vainest, chief of detectives in the department's history, a man who would never dream of appearing in public without giving meticulous attention to every aspect of his clothing and grooming. His lordly way of dressing had earned him the nickname "Sam Staypress."
Studying his reflection in the elevator door, he adjusted his tie and brushed down the sides of his hair with his palms. He bared his teeth, making sure that no trace of his morning bran muffin remained. His trim body was complemented by a brown tweed suit set off by a white shirt and paisley tie. A camel's-hair coat was draped rakishly over his shoulders.
He strode into the chief of detectives' suite of offices on the thirteenth floor, and was greeted by a babble of "Good morning, Chief," from his clerical staff. "Good morning," he replied, walking for his office, noticing Sergeant Jack Reilly, his lead clerical, anxiously waiting for him. A bad omen to begin the day.
"We gotta talk, Chief," Reilly said, following the C-of-D inside his corner office.
Leventhal slid off his coat and hung it up inside his closet. "What's up?"
"A homicide went down in the Seven-eight last night. Same MO as the Lucas homicide in the Eight-eight last week."
"Shit!" Leventhal snatched the case folder from his lead clerical and, walking to his desk, began reading the official reports.
Reilly left the office and returned shortly with a mug of black coffee, which he put down on the desk.
Leventhal opened the envelope inside the folder and took out the crime-scene photos that showed Thelma Johnston lying faceup in a pool of blood. He dropped the hastily dried color prints and picked up his mug of coffee. He sipped thoughtfully and then said, "The Seven-eight and the Eight-eight adjoin each other."
"Yeah, at Atlantic and Flatbush avenues. Could be the doer is a local guy."
Leventhal's mind worked at high speed. This could be big trouble. Who could he trust to handle it and contain it? He glanced at a picture in an old silver frame on his desk. The photograph showed two young policemen standing in front of a radio motor patrol car, with their arms around each other. They were uniformed in the outmoded dark blues of long ago. One of them was sticking his tongue out at the unseen photographer. Leventhal smiled in fond remembrance and asked himself where all those years had gone. He looked at the desk clock, saw it was 8:40 A.M., and asked, "Is the PC in the building?"
"The balloon went up at oh-seven-fifty."
"Get me copies of the Sixty-one on the Mary Lucas homicide," Leventhal said, dialing the police commissioner's phone number.
The Honorable James P. Coverton, the police commissioner of the City of New York, had come up through the ranks. A handsome man of fifty-eight years with a head of thick silver gray hair and a heavy jaw, he had been closeted inside his fourteenth-floor office for forty minutes with the commanding officer of the Office of Management and Analysis, going over the final details of the department's new closed-circuit arraignment procedure that was about to go into operation in Brooklyn and Queens. When the PC's lead clerical interrupted the conference to announce that the chief of detectives was on his way to see him, the PC let his pencil fall from his hand and sighed. Sam Staypress never ventured onto the fourteenth floor unless it was important. The PC turned to his C.O./O.M.A. and said, "We'll continue this later, Chief."
Three minutes passed before Leventhal was ushered in by the Commissioner's clerical. The PC beckoned his chief of detectives into the chair at the side of his desk. "What's up, Sam?"
Leventhal handed him the two homicide case folders. Coverton took his time digesting the Sixty-ones (U.F. 61 Complaint Reports) and DD 14s (Résumés of Homicide Cases). When he finished reading, he looked at his meticulously dressed C-of-D and asked, "What are we doing about it?"
"As you can see, both victims were black, and both had their throats sliced open in exactly the same way, which would indicate the same killer. Until last night there was no indication we were dealing with serial killings. I think we had better give some thought to forming a task force."
Coverton leaned back, stroking his jaw. "I don't like task forces, Sam. Experience has taught me they usually get sucked in by the media. And we end up with a bunch of television stars instead of detectives. Has the press gotten wind of this yet?"
"Black homicides generally aren't big news for the papers or TV. So far we've been able to keep it in-house."
"Any hue and cry coming from the black community?"
"I want you to reach out to some responsible community leaders in Park Slope. Let them know about the two homicides, and tell them we're on top of the situation."
"We could take a few of our best people and assign them to the case. Keep it compartmentalized within the detective division, use only solid guys who can keep their mouths shut."
"Has the National Crime Information Center been checked?"
"This morning. NCIC has no record of a similar MO. Looks like this guy is just getting started."
"The prick would have to pick New York for his playpen. I'm going to have to brief the Mayor on this one." Coverton toyed with a crystal ashtray on his desk. "Sam, the job does not function well under the glare of publicity. We have two black women with their throats ripped out. This could be racial. This is just the kind of case that can slide downhill fast, pulling us all into the shitter. Solve it, and solve it fast. Have you given any thought to a Whip to head up the investigation?"
"No, but he'd better be the best we got."
"Pick your Whip, Sam, and make sure he's camera-shy and has congenital lockjaw."
Five minutes later, Chief of Detectives Leventhal was looking out his office window at the people scurrying along Pearl Street. The door opened and Inspector Paul Acevedo, the detective division's executive officer, entered carrying several folders tucked under his arms. Acevedo's portly frame always bulged out in his badly fitted suits. "You wanted to see me, Chief?" Not turning from the window, Leventhal said, "We need a Whip for a homicide investigation."
"A sergeant or a lieutenant?"
"There's Kelly in Midtown North, and Howard in One-fourteen, and Greenberg in Safe and Loft."
"Where is he, Paul?"
"You know who."
The detective guide stated that the duties of the Missing Persons Squad were to locate missing persons, investigate and establish the identities of persons and dead human bodies, and cooperate with other members of the department in cases of missing and unidentified persons or dead human bodies. One of this squad's many unofficial duties was to provide a parking place for flopped detectives until such time as the celestial powers on the thirteenth and fourteenth floors of the Big Building considered them rehabilitated.
Lieutenant John Vinda was one such fallen angel. He had been dumped into Missing Persons when the stakeout unit he commanded was disbanded. His current make-work duties included verifying the accuracy of the DD 8 (Index of Missing Persons) and the DD 13 (Missing-Unidentified Persons Report). He was a tall, handsome, well-built man with a slight olive cast to his skin and the sharply defined features characteristic of his Portuguese ancestors. He wore his long black hair brushed straight back without a part to where it formed a turned-up tuft in the back. His intelligent black eyes glared out from under his heavy brow, and his jaw tapered to a diamond-shaped dimple in his chin.
Sitting at his desk inside the glass cubicle that he had been assigned on the eleventh floor of One Police Plaza, he looked warily at the telephone when it started to ring, wondering who it was this early in the morning. "Lieutenant Vinda, file clerk, how may I help you?"
There was an almost deliberate pause before a very familiar voice came over the line. "Lou, this is Inspector Acevedo," the detective division XO said, addressing Vinda with the diminutive for lieutenant that was routinely used in the Job.
"Morning, Inspector, how's everything on the thirteenth floor?"
"Leventhal wants to see you, forthwith."
Vinda slowly put down the receiver and got up. Walking over to the coatrack, he took his blue blazer off the hook, wondering why he had been summoned into the chief of detectives' august presence. Maybe I've been using too many paper clips, he thought, going over to check himself out in the locker's mirror. Dark gray slacks, yellow tie with blue dots, and a sky blue shirt with a white collar. He occasionally sneered at himself for having acquired that Palace Guard look.
"Sit down, John," Leventhal said, beckoning him to the chair at the side of his desk.
Vinda thought that the C-of-D looked unusually worried. Brushing an imaginary speck of dirt off his trousers, Vinda asked, "How have you been, Sam?"
"Pretty good, John."
Then there was a moment of awkward silence while each man looked appraisingly at the other.
Vinda tried to ease the strain. "How's your mother?"
A genuine, unforced smile broke across Leventhal's face. "You wouldn't know her. She moved into one of those swinging retirement communities in Daytona Beach after Dad died. Dyed her hair blond and changed her name from Gussy to Ginger."
Vinda laughed. "Hope springs eternal."
Leventhal looked over his nails, his expression somber. "How have you been getting along since ..."
"'Bout the same. Like they say, time heals all wounds." He picked up the picture frame from the desk. "We sure were young."
"A couple of white knights going forth to free the city of crime."
Vinda's eyes narrowed, forming tiny furrows around the edges. "I never thought my lance would get stuck in a pile of political bullshit."
Leventhal leaned forward, saying, "I did everything I could to protect you and your men."
Vinda set the frame back down. "Protect me? From what, Sam? I did nothing wrong."
"Your unit blew away forty-three people in twenty-six months. The press branded you the leader of the department's 'death squad.'"
"The scum we blew away were all killed while exercising their First Amendment right of free expression to rob and kill the victims of their choice."
"Spare me your sarcasm, please."
"Every one of those scumballs was taken down during the commission of an armed robbery. You personally formed the stakeout unit because the robbery and homicide rate had climbed into the ionosphere, and you made me the Whip because you knew I'd do a job for you. The rate took a nosedive after word got around that we were in operation. We saved lives, Sam — decent, working people's lives."
"But did you have to waste so many?"
His voice brimming with anger, Vinda answered, "Yes, damnit. In each and every case we identified ourselves and ordered the perp to drop his weapon — and in each and every case the mutt opened fire first, or made a threatening motion to do so. And in each and every case the grand jury and the Firearm Discharge Review Board found our use of deadly force justified under the Penal Law and department guidelines."
Leventhal absentmindedly ran his index finger over a large brown mole on his right cheek, the one blemish on his otherwise perfect features.
"You seem to be unable to appreciate the pressure I was under to disband that unit." Leventhal looked the lieutenant in the eyes. "Not one of your people got hurt. Each one of them was eased into less ... stressful assignments."
"Like filling out requisitions in the Quartermaster, or outfitting rookies in the Equipment Bureau. You cut the legs out from under some fine people who were out there doing a dirty job for you."
"What did you expect me to do?"
"Go to the wall for them!"
Leventhal's shoulders slumped; he said, softly, "Those days are long gone, John."
Vinda noticed the deep lines around his friend's mouth and eyes. The loving energy of life seemed to have been drained from him, replaced by a kind of resignation. He made a small shrug of his shoulders that clearly meant The hell with it, and said, "I ran into Izzy Cohen the other day. He now calls himself Inspector I. Jacob Cowan."
Leventhal laughed. "I hear he got married again."
"That guy gets married every time he goes out for cigarettes."
Leventhal looked down at the two case folders on his desk. He picked them up and handed them to the lieutenant. "Take a look at these."
Excerpted from Exceptional Clearance by William J. Caunitz. Copyright © 1991 William J. Caunitz. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
For a police drama, I felt this was one of the best reads. The characters are real, the scenes far more believable, the plot ugly enough and the story arc right on the money.This is the first Cauntz novel I've read, but definitely not the last.The scattering of sex scenes are somewhat graphic, but not so detailed as to put me off.I felt the ending was a tad too abrupt and left way too many questions - more appropriate to a continuing series. But then, I'm awfully picky when it comes to endings.