In mid-March 1977, ballistics link murders going back seven months to the same Charter Arms Bulldog .44. A psycho, Son of Sam, is on the loose. But Coleridge Taylor can't compete with the armies of reporters assigned by the city's tabloids--only rewrite what they get. Always looking for victims who need a voice, he sees other killings are being ignored because of the police manhunt and the media circus. He goes after one, the story of a young Black woman gunned down in her apartment building the same night Son of Sam struck elsewhere in Queens.
Coleridge's research puts him in the crosshairs of a hit man and entangled with a wealthy Park Avenue family at war with itself. Just as he's closing in on the killer and his scoop, the July 13-14 blackout sends New York into a 24-hour orgy of looting and arson. Taylor and his PI girlfriend Samantha head out into the darkness, where a steamy night of mob violence awaits them. Duty demands that they separate, so Taylor is forced to track his quarry alone.
When the lights come back on, how many dead will be added to the body count? Lacking Samantha's skill with a gun, can Taylor stay alive until the lights come on?
Book 4 in the Coleridge Taylor Mystery series.
About the Author
Rich Zahradnik is the award-winning author of the critically acclaimed Coleridge Taylor Mystery series (Last Words, Drop Dead Punk, A Black Sail, Lights Out Summer).
The first two books in the series were shortlisted or won awards in the three major competitions for books from independent publishers. Drop Dead Punk won the gold medal for mystery eBook in the 2016 Independent Publisher Book Awards. It was also named a finalist in the mystery category of the 2016 Next Generation Indie Book Awards. Last Words won the bronze medal for mystery/thriller eBook in the 2015 IPPYs and honorable mention for mystery in the 2015 Foreword Reviews Book of the Year Awards.
"Taylor, who lives for the big story, makes an appealingly single-minded hero," Publishers Weekly wrote of Drop Dead Punk.
Zahradnik was a journalist for 30-plus years, working as a reporter and editor in all major news media, including online, newspaper, broadcast, magazine and wire services. He held editorial positions at CNN, Bloomberg News, Fox Business Network, AOL and The Hollywood Reporter.
Zahradnik was born in Poughkeepsie, New York, in 1960 and received his B.A. in journalism and political science from George Washington University. He lives with his wife Sheri and son Patrick in Pelham, New York, where he writes fiction and teaches kids around the New York area how to write news stories and publish newspapers.
For more information, go to richzahradnik.com.
Read an Excerpt
Police Commissioner Michael Codd, the six-foot-tall, 200-pound Chief Straight Arrow of the NYPD, never let anything faze him — a gentleman in the midst of chaos. Even when having to lay off thousands of cops. Even in the face of New York's soaring murder rate, corruption scandals, and rampant mafia violence.
Today, Taylor detected a crack or two in that façade as Codd discussed the murder of a woman in Queens. This wasn't your typical New York homicide. One person doing another in because of passion, fury, greed. A whole lot of greed.
The victim was the third killed by a single man in the past sixth months using the same .44-caliber revolver. The first homicide occurred back a ways, on July 29, 1976. The cops had connected the dots because of the current victim, Virginia Voskerichian, who was shot to death two days ago on March 8.
Mayor Abe Beame stood next to Codd during the press conference at the 112 Precinct in Forest Hills, Queens, to announce this news.
Taylor took down the details as Codd and the mayor doled them out. The point of the news conference was to enlist the public's aid in investigating the "senseless murder" of three women, said Beame. The first had happened in the Bronx and the second and third in Queens, half a block and about a month apart.
Whatever the goal of this press event, Taylor knew the mayor would show up to any occasion recorded by a camera now that he faced a difficult — impossible? — re-election campaign in the fall. Five Democrats were coming after him in the primary race. Beame was, after all, the man who'd almost bankrupted New York.
At the word senseless, the guy from the New York Post got up and ran out of the room, probably to tell his desk he had a big one coming. The Post's reporter, short and dark-haired, returned two minutes later. Taylor didn't know him, which meant he was probably one of those imported by the paper's new owner, Australian press baron Rupert Murdoch. This story would suit Murdoch's strategy for the poor, ancient Post. Dive down-market as fast and as hard as possible.
Codd said police figured out the same gun was used in the homicides of three women after ballistics were run on the bullet that killed Voskerichian, a twenty-year-old Columbia University student who was walking home from the subway when she was shot in the face, a textbook held up to fend off the large caliber bullet. The gun was a Charter Arms Bulldog .44. Everyone wrote that down.
At this revelation, one of the two Daily News police beat reporters ran out for his call to alert his city desk. The New York Times reporter didn't move and probably wouldn't. He'd be lucky if his story made it into the paper.
"All New Yorkers have been shocked," said Beame.
Taylor doubted they were shocked yet, not in a city with a couple thousand murdered a year and the news of the connection only being given out this minute. Tomorrow would be a different story, as people read that the same man had murdered three women at night in two boroughs for apparently no reason. The circus was coming to town.
Phones were provided for the reporters — all the better to enlist the public's support, of course — and Taylor called in to the City News Bureau and reached Cramly, the small newswire's dyspeptic rewrite man and de facto editor.
"Take a page of copy to facsimile to the radio stations," Taylor said. "Everyone's here and this is getting out fast." Taylor read out six paragraphs he'd already written in his notebook.
"You think this guy's really hunting women?" Cramly said.
"That fact hasn't been established. It will be one of the many blanks the tabloids will fill in for us tomorrow morning." In fact, Taylor could hear the Post man next to him, the strangely stretched vowels of his Australian accent stretching the facts as far as they would go without breaking.
Cramly returned from the facsimile. A whisper and the slightest crackling came over the phone as he puffed one of today's cigars. "That wasn't bad." Even a compliment sounded like a complaint in Cramly's creaky voice. "Give me the rest for our newspaper clients."
Taylor did that, adding police were trying to link four injured since July by .44s, but so far, those crimes had not been connected using ballistics. Voskerichian had been shot at 7:30 p.m. Christine Freund, 26, had been killed sitting in a parked car in front of 1 Station Square in Queens on Jan. 30. A male companion wasn't hit. This all may have begun — police weren't sure — last July 29, when the same Charter Arms Bulldog revolver killed Donna Lauria and wounded Jody Valenti in the Pelham Bay neighborhood of the Bronx.
"The commissioner gave a description of someone they want to talk to, but wouldn't call the man a suspect. He's five feet ten to six feet, twenty-five to thirty years old, medium build, with dark hair combed back."
"A lot of those in New York."
"Cops want to talk to anybody who knows anybody owning a forty-four pistol."
"Probably a lot of those too."
"Fewer than men of that description, but yeah. A whole lot of guns in New York. All shapes and sizes."
"What are you going to do now?" "Find a story."
"Find a story? You've got a fucking story."
"I've given you everything from the press conference. P.T. Barnum is setting up his tents. The News and the Post will put twenty reporters each on this, which means the Associated Press will get all those stories as will our clients. Our stations and papers want something they're not getting from the AP."
"You're supposed to be the hotshit police reporter."
"I can't stay ahead of forty others unless I'm on something they're not. That's not even counting the sideshow boys from TV and radio. I go after the stories no one else is doing. There's going to be even more of those now."
"We'll talk when you get back."
Taylor hung up, scanned the detective squad room that had been used for the press conference, and saw a guy working at a desk in the far corner. As Taylor arrived, the detective, with a bird-like face and horned-rimmed glasses, was talking on — more like at — a phone.
"I understand your concerns, ma'am," the detective said. "That's why we're making this announcement. That's why we're putting more people on the street." He listened. "Yes. Yes, I'll have someone come over and talk to your neighbor. Yes, feel free to call me back. Detective McCauley."
"All-news radio put it right on. Phones are jumping. Neighbors who look like psychos. It's not gonna stop. How can I help?"
"Wondering if you got anything?"
He chuckled. "You're kidding, right?" McCauley looked behind Taylor at the chairs used for the news conference. "Weren't you listening to the big tops?"
"I was. What else is in?"
"Never fucking understand reporters. They want what you don't have. Don't want what you do have."
"This forty-four guy will get covered. Don't worry about that."
McCauley pulled a file off a stack. "This came in same night as Voskerichian. Martha Gibson. Twenty-four years old, Negro," he looked around to make sure it was okay to use his preferred word, "lived in a building in Richmond Hill. She came out of her sixth-floor apartment to dump trash down the chute. As she was heading back, a man bolted out of the stairway with a gun. She screamed and turned to run. God knows where. She was shot in the back and died on the way to the hospital."
"Purse and cash were in the apartment. She didn't know the killer."
"She talk before she died?"
"In the ambulance. Talked to a uniform riding in the wagon. Couldn't ID her killer. Last thing she said."
"Bet the gun wasn't a forty-four."
"Got that right. Thirty-two."
"What's the address?"
McCauley read off the street address: 115-99 89 Avenue. "Apartment Six Thirteen. Survived by her sister Abigail at that address and her parents in Bed-Stuy."
"Anything else that night?"
"Really? What's your angle on this?"
"I'm a police reporter. I do police stories."
"Yeah, and you want these when you heard we got this nut running around?"
"You been on a case when the press funhouse starts up?"
"More than once." He shook his head. "More than once. I already got my sergeant crawling up my ass, and he's got his lieutenant crawling up. ... You get the idea. Not comfortable."
"Another thing happens is stories get missed. Even with you guys working the cases, the press runs as a pack, chasing the one big bad guy. Victims deserve to get their stories told. The News and the Post are going to do a bang-up job with the victims of this forty-four guy. Probably too good. Families' privacy invaded. Photographers in backyards. They won't need my help with that."
"Whatever floats your boat. Here's the other from that night. Sixty-Ninth Avenue, the other side of Queens Boulevard. Tommy Noxon, sixteen, shot at six in the morning. Dead on the pavement."
"Thanks. I'll let you know if either ends up a story."
McCauley looked like he couldn't care less as he picked up his ringing phone.
Taylor walked out of the 112 Precinct, a big building because it was also Queens headquarters for the NYPD. The Eyewitless News van had already parked and men were pulling out wires and doing other TV sorts of things. The NewsCenter 4 van turned onto the street. All three rings of the circus were almost in place.
The temperature danced around 50 under a sharp blue sky, positively balmy after the second coldest winter on record in New York. He turned toward the Forest Hills subway stop, happy to breath the air of Queens — borough of his birth — and be done with the press conference.
There were two kinds of journalists in the world. Those who loved press conferences because they liked the protection of the herd. Everyone got the same quotes, the same facts.
Then there were those like Taylor — a minority, but he wasn't the only one — who loathed pressers. Men and women who wanted the story no one else had. He didn't doubt that journalists would get all sorts of scoops out of the .44-caliber killer, climbing over each other to get them. That wasn't the same as nailing the story no one else knew about. Like he'd told Cramly, chasing the man with the Charter Arms Bulldog revolver didn't make sense for the City News Bureau. City News was a secondary wire service set up to give radio stations and suburban papers stories they weren't receiving from the Associated Press, which moved all the stories from its members, including the three New York papers. Sure as shit, the AP would stay on top of the story Beame and Codd put into the world with their announcement today.
At the Forest Hills-71st Avenue subway stop, Taylor caught the E train. He'd have a short walk to the bus and then another to the late Martha Gibson's apartment building.
On the subway, he pulled the Times out of his Army field jacket. The coat was almost too heavy for today's weather. The cold of the winter had gotten so deep into his bones, he was still layering up, always finishing with the winter-issue military jacket, a gift from his late brother Billy. Still listed as MIA in Vietnam. Taylor knew he was dead, not missing. He wore the jacket until it was too warm to keep it on — a physical way to remember Billy. He needed it. His memories of his brother were fading. Clear scenes had become cloudy. Images of Billy at different ages were blurring and falling off into whatever hole swallowed memories.
He'd read the News over breakfast this morning because it had the best police coverage. The Post, the city's sole remaining afternoon paper, would be on the streets in a couple of hours, probably when he got back to Manhattan.
The Times' lead story — under a three-column, three-line all-caps head — was the invasion of three buildings in Washington by Hanafi Muslims. They'd killed one person, wounded 13 and held more than 150 hostages. Small bands of gunmen had taken over the B'nai Brith Headquarters, the Islamic Center and Mosque, and the District of Columbia city hall. Among their demands was cancellation of a movie about the prophet Mohammed.
International terrorists. All the domestic terror groups on the radical left. They and their bombs, kidnappings, and takeovers were a grim smear across the decade. How did so many grievances come into the world?
On the other side of the front page was a story reporting Beame had found the money to pay almost $1 billion in short-term debt and avoid default. Again. Taylor shook his head but held in a laugh so as not to become this subway car's reigning nutcase. The city had been threatening default since the fall of 1975, when then President Ford told the city to "Drop Dead," as the News neatly put it. Ford reversed himself, and the feds had been bailing and bailing ever since, like men in a rowboat with a hole they couldn't plug, with schemes and money shuffling and default deadlines and court rulings along the way. Taylor didn't think New York would ever be out of financial trouble — or not for some long time — nor would the city go belly up. It was simply an ongoing government-sanctioned Three-Card Monte game.
He'd had a big murder and police corruption story that was tangentially connected to the crisis in 1975, but even then, he couldn't get a handle on how the game was being played.
Martha Gibson's apartment building was six stories of redbrick at a corner, similar to the other buildings in the area. Those little white flowers that were the first to bloom in spring — snow-somethings — were sprinkled like snow itself in well-tended beds next to the building, their heads bent to the ground like they were embarrassed to be the first thing up after the long, miserable winter. A mix of contrasting bricks in the façade above the roofline — some sandstone-like, some even lighter — was the one thing that differentiated the building from its neighbors. Was it a decorative touch or did the builders run out of red bricks when they got near the top? It was the kind of question he'd never get answered; all sorts like it popped into his head all the time. Some ended up gaining a telling detail in a story. A few sent him after the big story itself. Like why was Martha Gibson gunned down, shot in the back, after throwing away her garbage?
Also at the top of the building, in the multi-colored part of the façade, were three seals or coats of arms set into the brickwork. He couldn't make them out — not even what they were made of. What house royal claimed 159-99 89 Ave?
No doorman, but a buzzer. He pressed the button for 613. Queens wasn't much of a doorman borough. That was for Manhattan, across the East River. Taylor could list many other differences between the two. He'd been born and raised in Queens and owned his first home here (firebombed by dirty cops; he'd been forced to sell when the contractors disappeared with his insurance money). Now, he and Samantha Callahan lived in a Murray Hill sublet, which probably meant another move was in their future. They'd had to take that place when their Brooklyn Heights landlord kicked them out to make room for a brother-in-law's family. He'd expected to hate living in Manhattan. Turned out the opposite. Manhattanites cracked him up. They were the best free show in town.
The lock buzzed. Taylor opened a front door of black wood with wrought-iron grillwork. He crossed the lobby to the elevators.
He'd been living the gypsy life for the past two years, and was now in his fourth place in his fourth New York borough. Only Staten Island remained. As he pushed the button to call the elevator, he shook his shoulders with an exaggerated chill at the thought of getting stuck on that island borough located closer to Jersey than New York. Where you commuted by ferryboat if you worked in Manhattan. He couldn't count ten stories — any stories, forget good stories — he'd covered on Staten Island. Even the crime was distant, different out there. Maybe because the cops and the mobsters lived cheek by jowl, and that kept things quiet. Taylor didn't care. He didn't want any part of the place.
The elevator rose to six.
Am I crazy doing this?
His gut tightened in answer to the question.
If he had a job at the News or the Post, they'd think he was completely nuts to care about Martha Gibson.
Excerpted from "Lights Out Summer"
Copyright © 2017 Rich Zahradnik.
Excerpted by permission of Camel Press.
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.