Devil Within (Part 3)
Edison Palmer strode down North Jefferson towards the river, away from the leading edge of gentrification represented by the cluster of galleries around 26th Avenue. There were pay phones closer by - and by old habit, Edison knew them all - but the one he had in mind was more isolated.
In most American cities, pay phones were an endangered species.With cell phones firmly established as necessities, there simply wasn't much demand for the old-fashioned ambassadors of the local Baby Bell. And so pay phones were slowly vanishing from the urban landscape as vandalized or obsolete equipment was retired without replacement.
In Hudson City there was still a strong demand for pay phones. Whether that was because of a high percentage of people who couldn't afford cells, or a high volume of people who needed to make calls that couldn't be traced back to a personal number, Edison couldn't say. But he suspected there was a correlation between crime rates and payphone density.
These are the kinds of things a man thinks about when he's trying not to think about certain things. Things like the business card of Ophilia DiSantiago that Umberto had given him, and how that conversation was going to go. Things like breaking and entering, at a crime scene no less. Things like his scant but sufficiently unsavory knowledge of ritual murder, and how he didn't really want to learn any more about it.
Nevertheless he felt a thrill of anticipation as he reached his destination, a tiny patch of green that was more the suggestion of a park than than the real thing. Whatever happened tonight, it would be the most interesting thing to happen in at least a year. Edison walked past the four benches to the payphone. People took their lunch here, but the place was abandoned at night. Very abandoned, he thought, spotting a used condom.
Edison plunked some quarters in the battered phone and dialed from memory. Phone numbers were easy to remember. He just hoped he remembered enough about the rhythm and operations of the homicide department, from all those times Detective Cruz had kept him waiting in that uncomfortable chair. He didn't want to ask Cruz for a favor, but if this didn't work he wouldn't have a choice.
The phone system picked up the call. Instead of dialing Cruz's extension, Ed dialed "star, for a directory." A few more keystrokes, then a quick "pound, to go back to the previous menu." Lather rinse repeat, and he had the extensions he needed. Edison dialed the main number for RMS. Records Management Services was a hodgepodge of a department that handled some of the routine paperwork for active cases.
"RMS, Johnson speaking," a tired voice said.
"Oh, uh, what's RMS?" Edison asked. He wanted to hear more of the officer's voice.
"Records," came the annoyed reply. There was a trace of Texas in his voice.
"Geez, they sent me to the wrong extension," Ed said apologetically. "Could you transfer me to 215?"
"Yup," Johnson said, and the line went silent for a moment. Edison took a deep breath. "Yup," he repeated.
"Homicide. Ivers." It was a distracted male voice that answered the phone.
Edison pitched his voice a little higher than his usual smooth baritone. "Hey, this is Johnson, downstairs," he said. "I got two requests here for phone records at 312 Fuller. I can't run subpoenas if you guys don't fill out the paperwork right." He hoped he wasn't overdoing the twang.
"Waddaya need?" Edison couldn't hear Iver's utterance about being too busy with murderers to fill out paperwork correctly, but he could tell his mood by his terse tone.
"One of these dupes is for your D.O.A. Darcey.," Edison replied. "Is the Fuller address hers?" He should have brought some papers to shuffle. Details make a performance.
"Fuller? What? What do you need, Johnson? I've been here going on 24 hours." Edison could hear the sound of him pulling open one of his desk drawers and the shuffle of papers. "Darcey...Darcey...aha...Darcey Brown. What did you need to know on this one?"
"I need the primary residence and/or the crime scene." Edison smiled. He was hitting just the right note of patience, the kind that passively-aggressively called attention to itself. "Whatever it is you want us to start working on."
There was a significant pause on the other end of the line before Ivers spoke again. "You know what. I don't have time for this right now. I don't have squat on the residence, she's a vagrant as far as I know. The crime scene was Blackbridge Park, near the biker's trail...marker three. Listen, I closed this case already, just fill in your dots and file the damn thing."
"Great, less work for me. Thanks." Edison quickly hung up before he started to laugh. He couldn't believe how easy it had been to get the information from the stupid detective. He fished out Ophilia's lavender business card, slipped another quarter in the slot, and dialed.
"Hello, I'm calling about your cousin's dead hooker," he giggled as he listened to the rings.
"Hello?" The voice on the other side of the line was soft and had an inquisitive lilt to it.
"Ms. DiSantiago?" Edison said, all business. "I have an address for you."
"Edison, I presume?" She waited for affirmation before she continued.
"Yes, Ophilia. I got the name and location. Umberto mentioned I might be meeting another, uh, interested party?"
"Don't go all cloak and dagger on me." The tone of her voice remained light. "I won't be joining you, so I'll need to pass this information on to a friend of mine. His name is Nemesis, you may have heard of him, and he's going to be there to help with the investigation. If you run into any trouble, he should be enough muscle to handle it."
Edison started at the mention of Hudson City's newest vigilante. That brought up a whole host of questions, most of which Ophilia no doubt wouldn't answer. Better to focus on more immediate concerns.
"I'm heading to Blackbridge Park, near the bike trail. Marker three," Edison said. "I can be there as soon as, say, 20 minutes from now."
"Please wait for Nemesis before you get too involved in whatever it is that you do. Ideally I want that child found and turned over to the proper authorities. I don't know what Umberto may have indicated, but please try to keep things on the up and up." She paused for a moment before hurrying on, "not to suggest that you wouldn't, but I'm just wanting to be careful with this. Any wrong move could have the exact opposite effect and make Umberto look like he has something to hide."
And what if he does have something to hide?, Edison wondered. Another question for later. "Sure, sure," he said. "I'm not exactly eager, as you might imagine. If I remember correctly, the spot is near the Onondaga Street entrance. Why don't you tell him to meet me there?"
"Okay. I'll do that. I really appreciate your help in this matter. Rest assured that I'll take care of any expenses you incur and pay your usual fee. ...and unless you have a strong objection, I'd appreciate you letting Nemesis take the lead and make any important decisions, when and if they come up. I trust his judgment." Ophilia was all business now.
"That's fine. One more thing," Edison said. "As you said, we need to move carefully on this. I don't want to put a foot down wrong out of ignorance. Is there anything more you can tell me? Do you know anything about this Darcey Brown? Umberto didn't really tell me much."
"No, I'm sorry, but there isn't. I've filled my friend in on the situation though and he might have turned up something. He's the resourceful type." She paused for a second before continuing, "...is there anything else that I can help you with?"
"No, I guess not."
"Good luck." He could hear the smile in her voice again. "If you need any assistance from my end, feel free to give me another call. I'll have Nemesis meet you as soon as he can."
"OK. I'll call you - uh, we'll call you - when we know more."
"I'd appreciate that. ...and, I want to thank you for making yourself available on such short notice. Bye." With that, Edison heard the line go silent.
Luke’s mind was spinning. He’d worked some gruesome cases in the past, and he’d seen more than his share of amoral behavior, but this…this was something else. Three women murdered for their unborn babies. That smacked of psychotic ritualism, maybe Satanic or some such.
He perched on the rooftop and looked down to his target, a second floor apartment in a decent part of the city. There was a single plant on the stoop, but Luke had no idea what it was. Traffic was heavy on the main thoroughfare one street over, but only the occasional car drove down the street where he sat. The sun was going down, the daily grind was coming to an end, and the dark parts of the city were just waking up.
He hated this time of day.
He moved from the edge of the roof and took several long strides backwards. Taking a deep breath he ran forward, not even bothering to use his staff to cross the intervening distance between buildings. He rolled once and came to his feet, gave himself a cursory dust-off, then checked around the building to see if anyone had seen or heard anything. Once he was assured he was clear he made his way to the fire escape.
Down three floors—skipping the middle floor by dropping off the side because their window was open—and to Cleve’s stoop.
The plant was a ficus, he saw.
The window was easily jimmied and slid up noiselessly. Luke could hear the television in the other room; some pseudo-sci-fi drama rerun, it sounded like. He chuckled to himself and stepped inside the apartment.
It was a neat and tidy affair, about what one would expect from a thirty-something bachelor with little in the way of a social life. Cleve was clean, though, you had to give him that. For a medical examiner he appeared to do all right for himself.
Peeking around the corner revealed the man himself asleep on the couch, shoes kicked off, still in his work clothes and snoring lightly. He waited a slow count of sixty but didn’t see so much as a twitch. Luke smiled to himself and stepped fully into the apartment.
It appeared to be a one-bedroom affair, but spacious nonetheless. The décor was a mix of post-modern bachelor and late-last-century teenager, with glass-and-steel bookshelves holding Tolkien, Howard and a small snow-globe with a dragon inside and a wizard without. Luke, dressed as Nemesis, stood and watched the TV for a moment. He didn’t recognize the show. Then again, he tended to get out a lot.
The computer was on a small desk in the corner by the dining area. It, of course, was all modern. And on, Luke saw. The screen saver was that annoying multicolored pipe-maze thing. Luke touched the mouse and the screen went dark for a moment before revealing a pic of Angelina Jolie in her Tomb Raider outfit with a small “username/password” box over it.
The idea had come to him only after he’d gotten the information from Phi about the meeting. He still wanted to know about the previous murders, and that meant autopsy reports. The only way to get those was to bribe someone, steal them or ask for them. Options one and three weren’t high on his list of priorities, so that left stealing them. The city morgue was still busy this time of day--the evening shift wouldn’t be through for hours yet—and he had less than two hours to plan and execute a break-in into a government building. That just didn’t seem like a good idea.
The answer, of course, was Cleve. The normally-shy medical examiner had more than once complained of having reports to finish at home. It was his excuse for limiting himself to two beers, but Luke knew it was at least partly true. Which meant Cleve had some sort of access from home. And he was drunk. Hell, he was damn-near passed out when Luke got him into the cab earlier.
So here he was, breaking into the man’s home to hack his computer and hope he could get an idea of what he was up against.
Luke turned his head to ensure Cleve hadn’t moved—nope; still snoring—and sat down to go to work.
The computer booted fairly quickly, which told Luke Cleve knew his business. A password request came up almost immediately; Cleve’s protection was standard for an experienced user, but Luke wasn’t quite the hacker yet. A cursory search of the small desk turned up no hidden passwords. Luke didn’t expect any, so instead he let his mind relax and his eyes roam, starting with the desk area and moving to the bookshelf next to it, then around the room, then—
There on the shelf. EverQuest. Luke knew it was an online game but had never played before. He also knew it was addicting, and if he knew Cleve (and who knew people better than a bartender?) then the man was an online gaming geek of the highest order.
Luke grabbed the book and glanced at the front with a smirk before thumbing through the pages. There were, of course, notes here and there, but nothing jumped out at him. Until he got to the back of the book, that was, when he noted that Cleve had left his EQ account info and what Luke could only hope was a list of character names.
Luke set down the book and entered the EQ password into the computer. It didn’t work, but he hadn’t really expected it to. Neither did the first character name “Carvell D’Shavn”. Luke was set to try half-a-dozen other ideas when he noted something. The game password was Ang3l1na – Angelina with numbers instead of letters. Luke thought a moment and entered ‘Carv311” into the login prompt and hit enter.
Five minutes later Luke was logged into the HC Medical Examiner’s network—Cleve was good with passwords from a hacker’s standpoint, but once you knew his patterns they were easy to figure out. Luke quickly accessed the reports file and found the corresponding files he was looking for.
Three women murdered in two days. All were blond and blue-eyed—Luke made a note of that—and all were pregnant at the time of their murders. In addition, there was evidence to suggest all were prostitutes, homeless or drug users, or some combination of the three. They were dregs of society, no doubt about it. The scientific terminology was annoying, but after a rapid perusal Luke pulled out more pertinent facts. As Cleve had mentioned, the women had been sliced open while still alive, their babies removed. In the case of the first one—a sixteen-year-old runaway—the baby had been killed, as well, and left at the scene. Apparently the murderer had sliced the umbilical cord as well as the baby’s abdomen. There was no evidence of any methodology in the cutting; the murderer was an amateur, plain and simple. Large knife, maybe a hunting knife, and simple cuts.
All three women had been given a powerful neurotoxin, a distillate of batrachotoxin, about fifteen times more potent than curare. The women had essentially been paralyzed but aware, and possibly felt their violation before bleeding to death. Even without exsanguination they would’ve died from neural paralysis soon thereafter. Each had been injected with a needle in the neck, but no needle had been found.
Two of the babies were missing. All had happened in the same area of HC, close to the university. Which was odd, since normally one wouldn’t look for pregnant drug users near the university.
Luke sighed heavily and rubbed his hands over his face. This was not a happy case. He checked his phone as an excuse to look away; he was still expecting a call and had the phone on ‘silent’. He almost wished it would ring; reading through the disturbing and clinical facts of the case left a bad taste in Luke’s mouth. He felt a pang of sympathy for Cleve but shrugged it off and scrolled further down the screen.
The murders had a ritual angle to them. The scientific fact-finding of the autopsy prevented actual speculation, but Cleve’s notes were informative enough. Each of the bodies had some sort of symbol on the abdomen prior to the cut. The author of the symbol (presumably the murderer himself) had used the victim’s blood to trace the symbol. It was the same on all three bodies. Parts were smudged or bled over on all three, but enough remained to put a basic picture together: a circle with what looked like a four-pointed shuriken in the middle, with wavy lines on each side and another, smaller circle in the middle. It meant nothing to Luke but he stared at it long enough to remember it anyway. It might be the important factor.
Definitely a ritualistic killing, then. Even if the girls were all low class the authorities should have been pursuing this. If the media got wind of it there’d be a panic, that’s for certain.
Luke sighed again and scanned the documents to see if there was anything else he’d missed that might be important, then began shutting down the computer. He had just hit the ‘shut down’ option when his phone lit up. It was Ophelia.
He answered it with a whispered “Hold” and headed back toward the window. She stopped her hello, midbreath, and fell into an obedient, albeit surprised silence at his request. Once on the stoop he put the phone to his ear again. “Okay, go,” he said, lowering the window behind him.
"Okay, go? Now I can talk?" There was more than a hint of amusement in Ophilia's voice when she replied, she obviously wasn't used to being told when she could talk.
"I got a call from Palmer, a few minutes ago, and he was able to find the crime scene. He wants you to meet him at Blackbridge Park, he specified that it was near Hudson City University. He'll be waiting for you near the Onondaga Street entrance." She hesitated for a brief moment before continuing, a bit uncomfortable being in the role of dispatch. "You catch all that? He's headed over there now."
"Yeah." Luke scanned the surrounding area for possible witnesses, then started back up the fire escape to the roof. "Blackbridge Park. I know where that is.” Luke hurried up one flight, then another, doing his best not to clank and clatter on the steel ladder. “Palmer…that’s the guy’s name? Anything else I should know going in?”
"Edison Palmer. He's a psychic detective of some sort. Some of my family are convinced that he's legit. I've told him that you'll be taking the lead on this." She paused for a second before continuing. "That's all I can think of. Be careful."
"Always," Luke replied automatically before disconnecting. He levered himself up to the roof and paused to get his bearings. Blackbridge Park. He sighed and ran through a mental checklist of his current inventory. Satisfied, he nodded once to himself and set off for his meeting with a mysterious psychic to investigate mysterious murders. As he leaped to the neighboring building he began whistling. Anyone hearing him would swear it was the theme to "Mister Rogers'".