Three murders so far. No apparent motive; no link between the victims; none of them have been robbed. One item ties them together: a can of spray gas known as Chill has been left at the scene of each crime. Is someone killing for kicks? With no leads to pursue and no witnesses coming forward, all the cops can do is wait for murder number four.
As rumours emerge, Archer realizes there’s a pattern taking shape. Could there be more to these seemingly random killings than meets the eye? Teaming up with voodoo queen Solange Cordray, Archer begins to uncover evidence of a shocking conspiracy.
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By Don Bruns
Severn House Publishers LimitedCopyright © 2017 Don Bruns
All rights reserved.
Kim Hammond rounded the corner from Barbara's Bridal Boutique, pulling a wool scarf tight around her shoulders and shrugging off the chill. After alterations, the white lace gown would be perfect, and the apricot bridesmaids' dresses had been what she'd dreamed of. The tall thin black man blocking her path was not something she'd pictured on this idyllic day.
'Not your lucky day, lady.'
She paused, looking left and right and over her shoulder. Please, someone drive by. Something. She saw no one. Her heart raced and she remembered what her father had said. 'When in danger, kick him in the balls.'
The long blade on the knife in his gloved right hand suggested a kick might incite him. If it was money he wanted she didn't have much. There was her engagement ring. She panicked. Oh, God, not the ring. Maybe he'd just take the cash. Please, let her keep the ring.
'I don't have much money.' Her thin voice quivered. 'Maybe forty dollars and it's all yours.' She reached inside her leather purse.
'It's not money, lady.' His left hand was buried in his baggy jeans and she briefly wondered if he had another weapon in there.
'What do you want?'
He was a boy. Staring into his face she realized he was sixteen, seventeen at the most. She kept digging into her purse, finally producing her wallet.
'Everything I've got,' she said. 'Listen, my fiancé is a banker.' Grasping for anything. 'I'm sure I can raise more money.'
The young man nodded and she saw hesitation in his eyes. Hesitation and a sleepy look, almost like he was drugged. Hopefully he was having a change of heart. Dropping his knife hand he frowned.
'I'm truly sorry, but you're the one,' he said.
She side stepped him ready to run. The slender boy stepped in her way.
'Please, my car is just over there,' she pointed to a street spot. 'For God's sake, take the car.'
'You're the first person in five minutes,' he said. 'I've got to do this today. If I don't, there may not be another chance.'
The girl quickly darted to her left. He was there, and when she stepped to her right he again countered.
'What do you want? I'll give you anything,' she cried now, tears rolling down her cheeks.
'I want ...' He paused, then raised the threatening knife again, 'I need to kill you. It's what I have to do.'
'Oh, God no. No, please no. I'm about to get married. Why? Oh, please.' And instead of screaming she spoke in a soft, little girl voice. She wanted to shout, scare the assailant off but her words came out in pathetic sobs. 'I'll do whatever you ...'
He grabbed her by the shoulder, squeezing hard. It was crazy but she kept thinking,He's going to leave a bruise.
'Nothing personal, lady.' His words were slurred and he lurched at her. 'You just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.'
She watched in horror as he plunged the knife into her chest, again and again. Finally the girl screamed. She screamed as she watched blood flow from the wound but by then it was too late. She closed her eyes and saw no more.CHAPTER 2
Detectives Quentin Archer and Josh Levy stood on the corner, a cold mist blowing in their faces. Archer had turned up the collar on his sport coat, but still the chill went bone deep. The owner of the bridal boutique, a frail looking gray-haired lady, leaned against the brick wall, a black umbrella in her right hand. She kept shaking her head back and forth.
A second lady, wearing a yellow windbreaker, stood by her side, wringing her wrinkled hands.
'We didn't hear anything, we didn't see anything,' she said. 'This part of town is very safe. And usually very quiet. Especially in the afternoon. This is just so, so sad. And especially here. These kinds of things just don't happen here.'
Archer knew she was wrong from the start. There was no part of this town that was safe.
'Did anyone come in the store shortly before or after she visited you? Someone who might have been stalking her? Asking about her?' Archer asked.
'No. It was a slow day.' The gray-haired lady's gaze shifted to the body bag as two uniformed attendants lifted it up into the ambulance. 'There was no one. She was the only one who visited us today. We usually work by appointment and there was no one else scheduled.'
'Think hard about anything you might have noticed. A car driving by that didn't look right? A motorcycle? Delivery van? Did you have any deliveries today? Any packages or special mail?'
'There was nothing unusual, Detective. It was pretty much a normal day.' She paused, taking a deep breath. 'I imagine this is going to be on the news, right? And they'll mention our shop?'
'I'm certain the press will be here before day's end,' Levy said. 'They tend to gravitate to scenes like this.'
'This can't be good for business,' the lady said.
'It wasn't very good for the victim,' Archer replied.
She nodded. 'I suppose not. She was a sweet young girl. But then they all are, you know? They're getting ready for the most important day in their life. Who will tell the groom?'
'We contact the immediate family,' Levy said. 'Mother, father, husband, wife. It's up to them to tell anyone else.'
A uniformed policeman handed Archer a plastic bag containing a blue aerosol can, the name Chill printed in white on the metal.
'Officer, is this something we should be concerned with?'
'Part of the crime scene, Detective. I thought we should bag it.'
'It was under her body, Q. Could be she just fell on it as she hit the ground,' Levy said.
'Possible. Or maybe the killer placed it there.'
'An aerosol can? Why?'
'I don't know, Detective Levy. It's our job to find out.'CHAPTER 3
A TV news anchor had coined the phrase thrill kills. The killings appeared to be random murders, possibly committed by someone or multiple someones who killed for the sport. There were three. So far. The young white bride-to-be was a bank teller. She was followed by a black janitor who worked in an office building in the Warehouse District and a gangbanger who was a member of the Nasta Mafia in Little Woods, East New Orleans. One item tied them together. A blue-and-white can at the scene of each murder. Other than that, there were no obvious connections, just three random people who had met untimely deaths. The girl had multiple wounds to the chest; the janitor had been shot at close range; the gangbanger had been stabbed repeatedly. Homicide was feverishly conducting background investigations, looking for connections. And after a week of no leads, no associations, there was just that one item that was identical to all three incidents.
When the department finally released information about finding a can of the pressurized gas named Chill at the scene of each of the three shootings, The Times Picayune bold headline read 'The Chill Thrill Kills'.
Quentin Archer had caught the first case. Therefore, the next two were his as well. And he'd never even heard of Chill.
'It's a spray gas, Q,' detective Josh Levy had explained. 'You can get it in some grocery stores or carry-outs. Let's say you've got a six-pack of warm beer, a liter of Coke, or a bottle of white wine and you need to chill it quickly, you spray some of this on the bottle and it chills. Almost instantly. Some chemical called nitroxicetylene.'
'I don't drink white wine.'
'That's why you don't know about Chill. That plus you're not some kid looking for a cheap high.'
'The kids like to spray it up their noses. It not only makes the nasal passages get ice cold, but if you breathe enough of this stuff it makes you a little crazy. If it wasn't this shit it would be furniture polish or cleaning fluid. Kids today, they'll huff anything cheap. Chill sells for like three bucks and you can get fifteen, twenty hits.'
One day later they sat in the bullpen, Levy straddling a chair and Archer at his desk. Eighteen desks filled the room and across the hall, in a matching bullpen, were another eighteen desks. Thirty-six places for harried homicide detectives, although only thirty-one were on duty. Thirty-six cops were needed for a full complement but the NOPD homicide division wasn't exactly deluged with resumes, and two detectives had walked out in the last three weeks. Homicide duty in the country's murder capital wasn't everyone's cup of tea. Besides, the pay was lousy.
'So we've decided there's no intention of robbing the victims?' Archer loosened his tie.
Levy shook his head. 'The bank teller, she had her engagement ring on and money in her purse. The janitor had a couple hundred bucks in his wallet and the pay stub from the check he'd just cashed. The banger had bling. A couple thousand dollars in gold hanging around his neck. They all had valuables, Q. You were there. You checked 'em out. Nobody was robbing anyone. It seems like the kill is what's important. Maybe that's all it is. The thrill of the kill.'
'We've been exploring the possibility of a vendetta?'
'We have,' Levy said, 'but the janitor? He was a seventy-five-year-old church-going grandfather. Hardly the model for a gangland slaying. The girl, she was about to get married. Loving family, close friends. Her fiancé was a respected bank executive. Hector Sanchez, now he was a bad ass. Couple of DUIs, did time for selling drugs, rape, a home invasion, and he was only twenty-four. I could see someone cutting him up. But nothing seems to fit together.'
'We need to look at the bank teller again. Jealous ex, or a girlfriend who was in love with her fiancé?'
'We will, Q, but there's nothing in any of their background checks that is a direct link to the others.'
'We keep finding out what doesn't work. What doesn't fit.' He closed his eyes, his fists clenched. 'Eventually,' Archer said, 'the only thing left is what does work. What does fit. Then we solve the crime.'
He leafed through loose papers on his desk. 'Look at this. We canvassed grocery stores and carry-outs in all the neighborhoods where the bodies were found. Made a list of all of them that carry Chill and viewed video from all the stores that had a camera. We got squat.'
'Problem is, Detective, it's hard to make out the images on some of the videos. The definition isn't that great. And in most of those stores they've got spray cans for dozens of purposes. Everything from whipped cream to spray that will fix a flat tire. You've got insecticides, shoe polish, lubricants, even spray-on cheese. We're studying the video images again, but it's a slow process. We've got maybe twenty stores and we're trying to go back at least a week before the victims were killed. That's a lot of hours of video.'
'And obviously the killers could have purchased the product anywhere. Maybe even online.'
'There's no trace of the chemical on any of the victims,' Levy said. 'The killer didn't use any of the gas on them.'
'And we're just guessing if we think there may be a trace on the killer. No way of knowing.'
'Why does the can show up every time?' Levy laced his fingers together, rocking back and forth. 'What's the purpose? It's a message. Like a graffiti artist who tags his work.'
'Why the can of Chill?' Archer asked. 'What kind of tag is that? Just finding out what purpose the cans have would give us a huge advantage. It's a signature, but there seems to be no reason.'
'The one thing we've kept quiet,' Levy said, 'is that each can has been used. Somebody has sprayed some of the contents. None of the cans is completely full. We measured the content.'
'So the killer, or killers, drink white wine. They chill a bottle then go kill someone.' Q forced a smile.
'Or, the killers want to get high before they murder the vic.'
Archer stood up, pointing a finger at Levy. 'It's a dumb idea, but check the videos for anyone buying white wine.'
'Holy shit, Q, there might be thousands of people. And on a security camera all wine bottles are going to look alike.'
'What if we narrowed it to shoppers who buy white wine and Chill? Now that might be interesting. A bottle of wine and an aerosol can.'
'Still, that's going to be a lot of hours.'
'Oh.' Archer frowned, putting on his dark sport coat. 'Of course, you're right. Then we'll explore your idea.'
'I didn't have one.'
They walked out of the office, down the hall to the elevator.
'Not one solid lead, Q. By now ...'
'By now we should have had a concerned citizen giving us a tip. Because somebody besides the killer knows what's happening. Somebody should have called us by now. Somebody who doesn't like the killer, a girlfriend who suspects he's dangerous. A parent or sibling who has noticed strange behavior. Even the crazy people with hare-brained ideas have clammed up. It's too quiet. That I don't understand.'
'Yeah, and you know this isn't going to stop at three. It will happen again. No question.'
'It will,' Archer agreed.
'Three murders, Q. All of them looking like the same killer. And for no apparent reason.'
In different situations, in different parts of the city, they'd been killed, and a can of Chill spray had been left at the scene. In a city swarming with tourists, at the peak of Mardi Gras, with hundreds of surveillance cameras mounted everywhere, cops, sheriff deputies and state troopers on every street corner, no one had seen anything.
'Number four is going to bite us in the ass, you know that, right?' Archer nodded.
'You know, Q, New Orleans has probably the craziest assortment of characters in the country.'
They stepped off the elevator and walked out of the building.
'I give you my former residence, Levy. Detroit, Michigan. I mean, the craziness there is at an all-time high. About fourteen thousand violent crimes per year and ten times the national average of murders. I can't even tell you how many elected officials are in prison. It's staggering.'
'I've got twenty-one thousand violent crimes last year, Archer. We've got politicians in jail, and we've got the highest murder rate of any city in the US.' Levy stopped and folded his hands. 'Well, we trade those figures with Baltimore and Detroit, but still ...'
'Bragging rights.' Archer shoved his hands in his pockets.
'Finally, Detective Archer, does Detroit have a Chill epidemic? Is there a can of Chill beside your Motor City murder victims?'
Archer was silent for a moment. 'Not that I'm aware of.'
'Then shut up. I've got a city that tops your Mo-Town.'
Archer gave him a grim smile.
'Seriously, Q, New Orleans is an entity all to its own. You can't compare this city to any other.'
Archer nodded. The detective was right. Even though Detroit had been a huge thorn in his side, in his life, there was no comparison.
Archer checked his cell. A six-year-old black girl had been shot in a drug deal gone bad. She was declared dead at University Medical Center on Canal and they wanted him to respond ASAP. Jesus, it never stopped.CHAPTER 4
There was a chill in the air, the temperature never rising above the mid-fifties for the past several days. The throngs that clogged the city streets to see the parades and revel in the debauchery and festivities wore jackets, coats, boots and stocking caps. Only the hardcore tourists and the flamboyant partiers wore shorts and flip-flops or something even more revealing.
Solange Cordray walked briskly, working her way through the crowd that jammed up the French Quarter. From her small shop on Dumaine Street she moved up Barracks and turned left on Dauphine. Grown men and women meandered past her wearing green-and-purple joker hats, green wigs and the occasional sequined bra and thong. Men and women. Dozens of brightly colored plastic beads hung from their necks, and many wore half-masks made of glittery fabric and exotic patterns. Beside her a goth-looking woman walked a pig on a leash, the animal painted purple and yellow, and as Solange picked up her pace, a skeleton with a black top hat stepped into her path, a maniacal grin on his face and a green plastic Hand Grenade cup in his hand, filled with gin, whiskey, melon liqueur, rum and vodka. Recipe for a major hangover. The slender black girl dodged the bare-boned character and was immediately confronted by an older woman with fake cloth breasts hanging from the bottom of her T-shirt to her knees. There was no dress code during Mardi Gras. A ragged Dixieland band played 'Rampart Street Parade' in the middle of the street, and a rowdy mix of young people threw quarters at them, the coins bouncing off their wood and shiny brass instruments and covering the street.
'You are one hot mamma.' A glassy-eyed drunk reached out for her and she deftly moved, wondering if she should even be flattered by the compliment.
Excerpted from Thrill Kill by Don Bruns. Copyright © 2017 Don Bruns. Excerpted by permission of Severn House Publishers Limited.
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