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Darker Than Night in for the Kill Night Kills Urge to Kill Mister X
By JOHN LUTZ
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2004 John Lutz
All rights reserved.
Jan Elzner jolted awake in alarm.
Something ... a sound from the kitchen, had intruded in gentle dreams she could no longer recall. She reached over to prod her husband, Martin, but her hand found only smooth sheet, cool pillow. Maybe he'd been awakened before her and had gone to investigate the sound.
Jan smiled, drifting back into shallow sleep, sure that her husband would return to bed and everything would be all right. Probably the sound was nothing, the icemaker doing its work, or a delicately balanced object falling in one of the cabinets. Martin would handle the situation, as he did most things. He was a man who —
Unintelligible, but she was sure it was Martin's.
Who could he be talking to at — she glanced again at the clock radio by the bed — three A.M.?
The talking stopped.
Jan opened her eyes wider and lay in the still darkness. The distant sounds of a half-awake Manhattan filtered in through the bedroom windows. A faint, faraway shout, a siren like a distant wolf on the hunt, a growling whisper of traffic below. Night sounds. She rolled over on her back, listening, listening....
Frightened. Though she shouldn't be.
I'm not afraid! There's nothing to fear!
But she knew she was wrong.
Martin never talked to himself. She couldn't imagine it.
Something clanked, bounced lightly, then rolled over the kitchen's tile floor.
She swiveled to a sitting position on the edge of the mattress, her heart drumming a rapid message of alarm. She remembered what her grandmother had told her years ago. The heart knows before the head. Knows everything first. Beyond the bedroom doorway she could see a rectangle of light from the kitchen, angled over the hall floor. Then the light altered as a shadow passed across it.
What is Martin doing out there?
She stood up, one bare foot on the woven throw rug beside the bed, the other on cool hardwood floor. That was one of the things she and Martin had liked most about their Upper West Side apartment, the polished oak floors. They knew somehow they could be happy there.
And we were happy. Are happy!
What did her heart know that her mind didn't?
Fear was like a drug, yet it propelled her through her dread toward the light near the end of the hall. She had to find out — had to know what it was that terrified her. She walked stiff-legged in her silk nightgown, her pale fingers clenched around her thumbs. The only sound she heard now was the faint thump, thump of her bare heels striking the wood floor as she lurched toward light and a horrible knowledge she couldn't avoid.
She turned the corner and stood in the kitchen doorway.
Her breathing stopped as she took it all in — the bright kitchen, Martin curled on the tile floor in what looked like a black shadow, the plastic bag and groceries scattered on the gleaming gray surface of the table. A tuna can lay on the floor near Martin's right arm. That's what I heard fall. It must have rolled off the table.
She heard herself utter Martin's name as she took a step toward him.
She wasn't surprised — not really — when a dark figure straightened up from behind the cooking island and moved toward her. It was more like a confirmation of what her terror had already told her. Something in his right hand. A gun? No. Yes! A gun with something attached to it. A gun with a silencer.
"Please!" She saw one of her hands float up in front of her face. "Please!" Not me! Not me! Not yet!
She barely heard the sput! of the gun as the bullet ripped through tissue and bone, between her breasts, into her heart, a leaden missile tumbling and tearing through her world, her life, ending her past, her future, everything.
She was still alive on the floor, beyond pain but not horror, as the man with the gun momentarily bent over Martin, then delicately stepped over her, careful not to get blood on his shoes, and continued toward the door.
For an instant she glimpsed the expression on the face of the monster who had taken all that she had and was. Him! He was so calm, smiling contentedly, like a simple workman who'd accomplished a routine and necessary task.
He glanced down at her with faint curiosity, then obviously dismissed her as dead.
He wasn't wrong, only a few seconds early.CHAPTER 2
Fedderman blinked as yet another photo was shot and the auto winder on the camera whirred like a miniature blender. The crime scene unit was all over the apartment, photographing, luminoling, vacuuming, plucking with tweezers.
The Elzners didn't seem to mind the intrusion. Or the carnage in the kitchen. Not even what had been done to them.
Sudden death did that to people. In the midst of all the horror he'd seen during his time in the NYPD, Fedderman had often thought that was the single mercy.
"About done with these two?" his partner, Pearl, asked the ME, a self-important, meticulously groomed little man named Nift, who, if his life had taken another direction, might have had a film career playing Napoleon. He'd been fussing over the bodies for the last fifteen minutes, giving Pearl and Fedderman some first impressions.
"Sure. You can diddle with them awhile now. Just be sure and zip up when you're finished."
A nasty Napoleon.
Fedderman watched Pearl step hard on Nift's instep, perhaps deliberately, as she moved toward Martin Elzner's body. Those comfortable-looking black shoes of hers, with the two-inch heels to make her appear taller than her five-foot-one stature, could be dangerous.
Nift winced and jerked backward, almost kicking away the tuna can on the kitchen floor.
"Try not to step in any blood," Pearl said.
Then she ignored Nift entirely as she bent down and gingerly pried a Walther semiautomatic handgun from Elzner's dead fingers, then used a pencil inserted in the barrel to transfer the gun to a plastic evidence bag.
Nift glared at her and made for the door, taking his sick sense of humor with him and not looking back. One thing Fedderman knew about Detective Pearl Kasner was that she didn't take any crap from anybody, not even Napoleon. It was the character trait that had gotten her into trouble and sidelined her career. It was why Fedderman liked her but figured she wasn't going to be his partner much longer. Probably this time next year she'd be driving a cab or demonstrating perfume in Macy's.
She was a looker, Fedderman thought, with the great rack and nice ass, and could be an actress or model if she were taller. Searching dark eyes, wavy black hair, turned-up nose, a way about her. Fedderman sometimes mused that if he were younger, unmarried, didn't have trouble getting it up sometimes, didn't have bad breath, a chronically upset stomach, and wasn't balding and thirty pounds overweight, he might make a play for her.
Pearl handed one of the techs the evidence bag with the gun, glancing at Fedderman as if she knew what he was thinking.
She knows. They were partners. Had been for months, since Pearl's troubles began. Neither of them was getting a bargain, and they both knew it. That was the idea. If they got tired of each other's company, that was tough shit. Like with the couple on the kitchen floor.
Homicide had been called in after the radio car uniforms arrived at the scene, called by a next-door neighbor who noticed what looked like a bullet hole in her kitchen wall. When the super had let them in, they discovered the hole was indeed made by a bullet. It had gone through Jan Elzner, then the wall separating the Elzner apartment from the adjacent unit. The uniforms backed out and secured the scene.
Pearl and Fedderman had questioned the tenants on either side of, and above and below, the Elzners. None of them remembered hearing anything like a gunshot, but then Nift had said the killings occurred sometime between two and four in the morning. Sleep was deepest then. Or was supposed to be. Fedderman knew that when people were awake at that time, for whatever reason, terrible things could happen.
He glanced around at the carnage, feeling his stomach kick even after all the years, all he'd seen. He looked at the kitchen table. "How do you figure the groceries? It looks like one or both the Elzners had just come back from shopping and they were putting away what they bought."
Pearl gave him one of her sloe-eyed dark looks. "At three in the morning? In their pajamas and nightgown?"
"It doesn't make sense now, I know. But maybe they shopped earlier and forgot to put stuff away, then remembered and got up and were finishing the job when they started arguing. Hubby got the gun and did Wifey, then himself. It could happen in the real world."
"That would be our world?"
Fedderman didn't want to get into some kind of metaphysical conversation with Pearl. "So whadda we tell Captain Egan, murder-suicide?"
"I don't like telling the prick anything."
"Yeah, yeah ... that sure looks like what it was, murder-suicide. Stemming from the pressures of the big city and what comes of marital bliss."
Fedderman breathed easier. She wasn't going to buck the system and cause problems. He had enough problems.
"But it isn't complete."
"Nothing's ever complete," Fedderman said, "but we gotta go with the evidence. Two dead bodies. And what will no doubt be the weapon still in Hubby's hand, powder burns around the hole in his head. It appears he shot the wife, realized what a shit deed he did, then killed himself. The honorable thing. Murder-suicide. Crime solving being on a kinda assembly-line basis with new crimes always demanding our attention, we chalk this one up and move on to the next problem coming down the line."
"Move on but not up," Pearl said.
Fedderman knew what she meant. Even if somehow she kept her job in the NYPD, she wasn't going any higher. Promotions were not for Pearl.
She knew where she stood and so did everyone else, after what she'd done to Captain Egan.
Pearl and Egan.
Sometimes, when he thought about it, Fedderman caught himself smiling.CHAPTER 3
"Ah, it's Quinn, is it?"
The man who had spoken stood in the doorway of the West Side walk-up. He was middle-aged and balding, with a long, jowly face, fleshy purple bags beneath somber brown eyes, and a neatly trimmed downturned graying mustache. A big man, but sagging at the middle, he seemed to have been assembled with mismatched body parts so that his expensive tailored blue suit looked like something plucked off the discount rack.
As only four years had passed, he'd recognized Quinn, and Quinn knew it.
Quinn didn't move from where he sat on the threadbare sofa, facing the door. "It is Quinn," he confirmed unnecessarily to Harley Renz, NYPD assistant chief of police.
Frank Quinn was a lanky, hard-edged man an inch over six feet, with a twice broken nose, a square jaw, and short-cropped dark hair that wouldn't stay combed. But what people remembered about him were his eyes, green, flat, cop's eyes that seemed to know your darkest secrets at a glance. Today was his birthday. He was forty-five. He needed a shave, a fresh shirt, a haircut, new underwear, a new life.
"You didn't lock your door," Renz said, stepping into the tiny, messy apartment. "Aren't you afraid somebody's gonna walk in and steal you blind?"
"To wanna steal anything from here, you'd have to be blind."
Renz smiled, which made him look like a dyspeptic bloodhound. Then his expression changed, but he still looked like a dyspeptic bloodhound. "I never told you, but I'm sorry about you and May, the divorce and all. You still see her much? Or the girl? Laura, isn't it?"
"Lauri. May doesn't want to see me. There's no reason to, except for Lauri. And Lauri isn't sure what she wants. What she believes about me."
"Have you told her your side?"
"Not lately. May has her ear and keeps telling her what to think. They're out in L.A. Went there to get away from me."
Renz shook his head. "About all you can say in favor of marriage is that it's an institution. Like prisons and mental hospitals. I was married twenty-six years before my wife ran away with my brother."
"I heard about that," Quinn said. "It was worth a laugh."
"Even I can laugh about it now. That's how things can change in this amazing world. Even your shitty situation could change."
Quinn knew what situation Renz meant. Four years ago, Quinn had lost his reputation, his job, and his family, when he'd been unfairly accused of child molestation — the rape of a thirteen-year-old girl. She was a girl he'd never met, much less molested. He knew why he'd been set up. The problem was, he didn't know how.
He'd been a good cop, even a great one, widely respected for his toughness and clever approach to cases. He didn't give up. He didn't back down. He got results.
And in the end, he'd been too good a detective not to notice little things during the investigation of a drug dealer's murder. Quinn had dug deeper, wider, and discovered a network of kickbacks and corruption that involved many of his fellow cops. He was anguished about what he had to do, but he knew, and they knew, that eventually he'd go to internal affairs with his suspicions. Quinn had spoken with his superior officer, Captain Vince Egan, and told him as much.
But somebody else contacted IA first. About the brutal rape of a young girl in Brooklyn. Quinn had been astounded, but not too afraid at first. He was innocent. The accusation had to be a mistake.
He was shown a button found at the scene of the crime, and it matched one that was missing from the shirt he'd worn the evening of the rape. Then, astounding him further, the girl picked him out of a lineup, identifying him by size and build and the jagged scar on his right forearm, even though the rapist had worn a stocking mask.
Quinn knew the accusation wasn't a mistake. It was a preventative.
They confiscated his computer from his desk in the squad room, and on it were three suggestive e-mails to this girl he'd never seen. And there was the worst kind of child pornography on the computer's hard disk.
It looked bad for Quinn, he was told. And he knew it was bad. He understood the game. He knew what was coming next.
They were going to show him a way out of his predicament.
And they did. Retirement with partial pension, or he would be charged with child molestation, the rape of a minor.
Quinn realized it must have been Egan who'd tipped off the corrupt cops, and who was part of the corruption himself.
And probably it was the politically savvy Egan who prevented Quinn from being prosecuted, thus keeping a lid on the rot in the NYPD. Quinn, knowing he wasn't going to be believed anyway, understood the arrangement, the addendum to corruption. He was if nothing else a realist.
So he preserved his meager pension, but lost his job and everything else.
He hadn't known the devastation would be so swift and complete. His reputation, credibility, and marriage were suddenly gone.
Not only that, he found himself existing only on his partial pension, a pariah unable to find a job or a decent place to live because he was on an unofficial NYPD sexual predator list. Every time he thought he was making progress, word somehow got to whoever controlled his future.
Whoever had put Quinn down wanted to keep him there.
After May left, he missed her so much at first that it affected his health. He thought his aching stomach would turn to stone.
Now, though he thought often of Lauri, he hardly thought of May at all. Renz was right. Things did change.
Quinn had never cared much for Captain Harley Renz. Ambitious, conniving bastard. He liked to know things about people. To Renz, personal information was like hole cards in a poker game.
"You been drinking?" Renz asked.
"No. It's only ten in the morning. What I am now is fucked up with a headache."
Renz drew a tiny white plastic bottle from a pocket and held it out toward Quinn. "Would some ibuprofen help?"
Quinn glared at him.
Renz replaced the bottle in his pocket. "This isn't such a bad neighborhood," he said, glancing around, "yet this place looks like a roach haven."
"The building's gonna be rehabbed, so the rent's cheap. Anyway, I've hired a decorator."
"Uh-uh. Can't afford him."
"Good fortune might change all that. Might throw you a lifeline of money and regained self-respect."
"You said it was a roach haven."
"It's good to know you're still a smart-ass," Renz said. "You're not completely broken."
Excerpted from Darker Than Night in for the Kill Night Kills Urge to Kill Mister X by JOHN LUTZ. Copyright © 2004 John Lutz. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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