Disclaimer: For Fun and Fun Alone!
Spoilers: References to all 10 episodes of The Unusuals.
Pairing/Characters: All canon pairings, including Shraeger/Davis, Walsh/Beaumont, Delahoy/Crumb, and Banks/Demopolis
Word Count: ~10,000 (split between posts)
Summary: The situation intensifies as the Second Squad learns that the Hand Writing Killer is now targeting the people connected to them rather than random strangers.
“Okay,” Alvarez said, taking the lectern. “We don’t have much yet, but here’s what we’ve got: Masked attacker, male, medium build, roughly six feet tall, between the ages of eighteen and forty. Attacker is most likely right-handed, although I don’t know how that detail will help us—”
“—He’s the Hand Writing Killer, Eddie,” Walsh snapped.
“Fine,” Alvarez said. He turned to the enlarged map on the white board and pointed to the circle Shraeger had drawn there. “Attacker most likely lives in this area, is either jobless or self-employed. We have radio cars and patrol units sweeping these areas, and we’ve pulled traffic camera footage in order to isolate suspicious individuals fitting his description.” He paused, for dramatic effect. “That’s what we have as of now. Good work, team. We’ll get back at it tomorrow.”
As the briefing room cleared, Shraeger leaned over to Walsh. “You going home?”
“Beaumont’s meeting me at the diner,” he said. “You?”
“No, I thought I’d stay a while, fine-tooth those files.”
“Casey,” Walsh said. “They’re not going anywhere. If our guy does make a move, we’re a phone call away. Do yourself a favor: go grab Davis, knock back a few drinks, get some rest. You’ll be better for it.”
“Walsh...” she said, then trailed off.
“You’re not... concerned at all that this guy is... targeting us?”
“Yeah, I’m worried,” Walsh said. “We’re cops, Case. Bad guys hate us. If we’re not making enemies, we’re not doing it right. But we can’t let it get to us, ’cause when it does, we lose the ability to do the job.”
Walsh pursed his lips. “Yeah,” he said. “Bad guys hated him. Hell, most cops hated him, too. He played a mean game, and most times, he played it alone, on his terms. He made lots of enemies. And I agree with your thinking – this is connected to him.”
“Walsh, if you can think of anything—”
He was shaking his head. “I’d tell you,” he said. “I agree, there is a connection. I just don’t know what it is.”
“Or why,” Shraeger said.
“Or why,” he said. “Night, Casey.”
Shraeger stared at the files. She hovered, indecisive. She was tired, mildly hungry, in need of a shower, in want of a drink. She pulled out her phone. Her voicemail was full. She blew out a breath and dialed Davis before she could stop herself.
He answered on the second ring.
“I need a drink,” she said. “You game?”
“Always,” he answered.
Casey pulled her coat from the chair back. “Great. Apolo. 8:30?”
She’d almost made it to the door before turning back. She scooped the files from her desk and signed them out on the way down.
Monica Crumb wore white flannel pajamas and sat in the middle of the bed with the duvet bunched around her. Her black hair stood out in sharp contrast, and he kept thinking that she was like a little bird in a nest. It made him feel anxious and strong and protective all at the same time. It was weird.
He dropped into the chair beside the bed and slouched into its rigid frame.
“You’ll be safe here,” he told her. “There’s cable,” he said, pointing at the remote on the table. His fingers trailed to the room service menu. He flicked the edge of it with his thumb. “You want anything? Steak? Lobster? All courtesy of the NYPD.”
“No, I’m – I don’t think I could eat,” she said. “Also pregnant women shouldn’t have lobster.”
“Yeah, about that,” he said. He stared at her.
“Okay,” she said. “My last menses was August 12th.”
“That’s... really more information than I—”
“—You’re the only sexual partner I’ve had in over a year.”
“What?” This stopped him cold. “Really?”
“Don’t act so surprised. I practically attacked you in that supply closet, and you were already mostly naked, so I figured the chance of you running away was almost zero.”
“—I took four over-the-counter tests, all positive, so I confirmed with a doctor,” she finished. “I have the documents in my purse, if you’d like to see them.”
“You didn’t have to say any of that. I believe you—”
“That’s very stupid, Eric. Very naive. I could be using you.”
His brows furrowed. He said, “But you’re not, right? You wouldn’t—”
“How can you be sure? You barely know me. And given the inauspicious start to our relationship—”
“—It’s this thing called trust,” he said. “Thought I’d try it out. How ridiculous of me...”
“You have to take better care of yourself. Someone could take advantage of you.”
“Now you sound like Leo,” he grumbled.
“Then he’s smarter than you are,” she fired back. She brought her hands down in a decisive sweep. “What we did... It was foolish and reckless and—”
“—I’m not sorry.” He fiddled with the curtains. He made himself look at her. He gave her a thin-lipped smile. “Are you? And in answering, please bear in mind my fragile mental state...”
She dipped her head, said nothing.
“You’re right,” he said. “I blackmailed you. Cost you your job. But to be fair, I did also impregnate you.”
“—Why not try and get some sleep, huh?”
He crossed the room, switched off the light, returned to his chair.
“What does this guy want with me?” she asked.
“I dunno,” he said. “Whoever he is, whatever he wants, we’ll figure it out, and we’ll catch him.”
A few moments lapsed. She said, “Are you going to sleep there?”
“Dunno about sleep, exactly,” he said. “I’ll keep watch. You’ll be okay.”
“I’d feel safer if you were... here. Instead.”
“There? You sure?”
“It’s ridiculous for you to sleep in a chair when we’ve already had sex and seen each other almost completely naked.”
“Hey,” he said. “I don’t take my socks off.”
“You want my cold feet touching you in the middle of the night?”
“No,” she said, smiling.
“’S what I thought,” he said. “Now slide over, I’m trying to comfort you.”
He shuffled his shoes off and edged onto the bed. He didn’t know what he expected, really; with her, it was either so up close he couldn’t see her, or so far away, she was out of reach. That was why, when she folded into his arms and tucked her head under his chin, he felt the thrill of it all the way to the soles of his feet.
It hurt him, too, that scary heart-clenching kind of hurt that meant it was already too late. He was gone for her, and the timing was so bad. Really, really, it could not be worse.
“Eric,” she said.
“I’m not sorry, too,” she said.
He snugged the duvet around them and kissed the top of her head.
She jumped. “Busted,” she said. She dropped her pen.
Davis came into the kitchen wearing his dark green robe and a look of sleepy bewilderment. He took in the drift of paperwork on the tabletop and said, “It’s three a.m.”
“I know,” she admitted.
“Did you sleep at all?”
“Some,” she lied.
He came to the table. “What is all this?”
“It’s a case. It’s THE case. I can’t seem to let it go.”
Davis pulled up a chair. “Okay. What’s so different about this one?”
“It’s... everything,” she said. “The guy’s MO, his patience, the level of planning, his attention to detail. It’s a puzzle, yeah – that’s what most cases are – but this one... it’s like—”
“—A work of art,” Davis said.
“That’s it,” Casey said. “Exactly. Like, you know that painting with all the little dots?”
“Of course. Sunday in the Park. Pointillism.”
“That’s what this is. It’s pointillism,” she said.
“I see,” he said. “I’m going to make an observation here, so don’t bite my head off, but up close, that painting is just random splodges of color. It only makes sense when you take a step back.”
“And I’m focusing on the dots.”
“But these dots are people’s lives,” Casey said, gesturing to the files. “He stalked these women for months, Davis. He followed them to appointments, to the homes of family and friends, to their jobs. He knows their spending habits, their activities. And here,” she pulled Amy’s folder forward. “He was able to predict Amy’s catering appointments. He knew she was going to be there last night. He knew when, and he was waiting for her...”
“Hmm,” Davis said. “Why’d he choose her?”
“I think it’s because of her connection to Cole...”
“No, I mean, last night. He had three options. Why did he pick Amy and not Ms. Kowalski or Dr. Crumb?”
“See, that’s something else I don’t get. Ms. Kowalski and Amy are connected to Second Squad in the same way,” Casey said.
Casey pulled Dr. Crumb’s file from the stack. “Maybe the guy’s after something else with her? I’ve focused mainly on Amy, since she was the one he attacked. And there’s another thing that doesn’t fit. In the other muggings, the guy wrote a number and left an object.”
“But with Amy?”
“He wrote the number 143, but he took her cell phone. Why would he take her cell phone? The only other person he didn’t leave an object with was Ryerson, the guy he killed. And why did he kill that guy and not the others? And why would he break into Dr. Crumb’s apartment? I mean, the guy’s precise so there has to be a reason for the variation, there’s just so much to wade through—”
“—which is why it should wait until tomorrow. You won’t be able to help anyone unless you get some rest.”
She blew a raspberry. “You sound like Walsh.”
“Walsh is a wise man.”
“Casey, come back to bed.”
She sighed, defeated. “You may have to drag me.”
“As in, physically?”
He swept her into his arms, toppling her chair, and then bumping her head on the light fixture.
“Sorry,” he muttered.
Despite the pain, she brushed it off. “Just go,” she hissed. “Just keep dragging!”
Leo Banks arrived on time. He did this with regularity, no matter what his shift. Today it was eight a.m., so he was at his desk, as usual, on the dot. The only one who ever beat him in this regard was Eddie Alvarez. Eddie Alvarez was always early, but then, Eddie was a bit of prick.
“Banks,” Sergeant Brown said. “This came in for you.” He passed him a fax.
“Thank you, sir,” he said.
“You seen Delahoy?” the Sergeant asked.
“Yes, sir,” Banks answered. It was half-true. He’d seen Delahoy last night. “He took first watch over Dr. Crumb, but Dobbs is heading over to relieve him, so...”
Sergeant Brown studied Banks. “He’s been out a lot,” he said. “All the notes on that snatch-and-grab are in your handwriting.”
“Yes sir,” Banks said.
“If his life is getting in the way of his job, he needs to come see me,” the Sergeant said. “Eric’s a good cop, but if he’s going through something...”
“I’ll talk to him,” Banks said.
“Good,” the Sergeant said. “See that you do.”
Banks clenched his teeth as he sat down at his desk. He opened the file – a hit on the suitcase dog; someone at an animal shelter reported a golden retriever dropped off in a piece of luggage.
“Bingo,” Banks said. He dialed Miss Harper Wrenway. When she answered, he gave her the shelter address.
Before he hung up, she asked, “You wanna set up an appointment for a reading? I do all kinds, not just hands, you know?”
Leo squared his vest. “What other kinds?”
“Oh, you know. Tarot. Tea leaves. Numerology.”
“Oh, sure. You free tomorrow?”
“Uh.” He glanced around the office. Eddie Alvarez was on the phone. Two guys were passed out in holding. “I should tell you, I’m in a relationship.”
“I’m not hitting on you, Detective,” she said. “But there’s something weighing on you, I can tell. I may have some answers.”
To say that something was weighing on him was like saying that Hurricane Ike was a bit of a summer shower. “Yeah, okay,” he said. “How’s one o’clock?”
“Perfect. See you then.”
He hung up the phone. He turned around to find a much disheveled Delahoy at the water cooler, wearing the same suit he’d been in the day before. Delahoy acknowledged Banks with an arch of his brows as he drained his cup. Then he came over and dropped into his chair.
“So nice of you to come in,” Banks said.
“Don’t start.” He riffled in his desk, pulled out a bottle of pills, and popped one into his mouth.
“You have a nice night at the Belvedere with Dr. Crumb?” Banks asked.
Delahoy toyed with a pencil on his desk. He said, “Team’s sweeping her apartment now. I’ll take her in to have a look in an hour or so. She, uh...” he cleared his throat. “Had a rough morning.”
“I don’t wanna hear it, okay?” Banks said. “Let that be your thing that you keep to yourself.”
“Yeah, whatever,” Delahoy replied. “What else we got?”
“I had a snatch-and-grab, but I closed it this morning,” Banks said.
“Good for you,” he said. “What was it?”
Banks glared at him. “You woulda loved it. Girl put a dead dog in a suitcase to take it to the vet. Guy on the subway thinks it’s a computer, so he snatches it. I put in some calls, pawn shops, vet offices. Found it this morning, dumped it at an animal clinic.”
“You get the guy?”
“I got the dog, which was the point.”
Delahoy chuckled. “Carrion in a carry-on.”
“That’s... great,” Banks said.
Delahoy rocked back in his chair and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Hand Writing guy, what we got on him?”
“Nothing new. Oh wait, you missed the briefing—”
“—All right, back off,” Delahoy said, but it lacked the usual sting. He turned to face Banks. “I’m here now.”
It was then that Banks noticed the fatigue weighing on Delahoy. He saw the worry, the hunger, and far worse – the fear. Banks wondered then, for the first time, how long his partner had been shouldering this burden. Not the Dr. Crumb part, though that added to it, but the other. By the looks of it, a long while.
Banks sagged. “You should go home and shower.”
“You been bustin’ my balls from the moment I got in here, now you tell me to go home?”
“Yeah,” Banks said, a smile creeping into his eyes. “You’re giving the drunks in holding a run for their money.”
Delahoy considered a moment, then nodded.
“Go,” Banks said. “Get a shower, get some coffee. I’ll meet you at the Belvedere at 10.”
“You’d do that? You’d come with us?”
“Yeah, man,” Banks said, genuinely surprised. “You’re my partner.”
Delahoy heaved himself from his chair. They clasped hands. “Thanks, man.”
Banks nodded. “Sure thing.”
Shraeger spent a good hour and a half assembling a timeline, arranging the victim’s photos along with the objects he’d left behind, and tacking up the roughed out profile of the Hand Writing Killer (they were going with Killer now since the guy technically sucked at mugging). Then she did as Davis suggested and took a long step back to stare thoughtfully at the board.
She was standing thus when Beaumont slapped the photos of Amy Burch’s collarbone onto Shraeger’s desk.
“The bastard bore down so hard he bruised her,” Beaumont seethed. “Her wedding’s in four days and that mark’ll still be there.”
Shraeger squeezed her hand. “How’s Cole?”
“Worried sick,” she said. “This guy better have Kevlar boxers, ’cause when we find him, I’m going for his balls.”
Shraeger grimaced. She took the photos and pegged them to the white board, along with the images from Patronelli and Carbajal. She and Beaumont studied them a moment, before Beaumont asked, “Got any leads on the number?”
“Not yet,” Shraeger said. “I can’t really find a pattern, so we’re just waiting for him to make another move.” She shuddered.
Walsh sidled up to stand with them. “Just got a call from the ME,” he said. “Zimsky says that Ryerson was dead before the killer carved Kowalski’s badge number into his chest. And get this,” he went on. “Ryerson was on the job.”
“A cop?” Shraeger asked.
“Prison guard at Attica,” Walsh said. “He’d taken a leave of absence in February due to a nervous breakdown. He told his superiors that a former inmate was harassing him, but there was never any evidence to substantiate the claim.”
“And Ryerson didn’t have a name for the man who harassed him?”
“No, but guess who helped Ryerson land the prison job twelve years ago?”
“Kowalski?” Shraeger said.
Shraeger wrote Ryerson knew Kowalski on a sticky note and stuck it to the board. “Meanwhile,” she said. “Check this out.” She pulled Crumb’s file from her desk and flipped to the last two pages. She huddled in and lowered her voice. “I found the former ME’s connection to Second Squad.”
Beaumont and Walsh read over the entries in the file and then brought their eyes to hers.
“Delahoy?” Beaumont asked, incredulous.
“According to this, he’d been to see her five times at the morgue,” Shraeger said. “They had lunch together at the Apolo, he took her to a Rangers game. Two weeks later, they met at the hospital. At midnight.”
Beaumont eyed them askance. “I know the guy’s a daredevil type, but that sounds like full-on kink,” she said.
“Well, Zimsky told us that Dr. Crumb recently lost her job,” Shraeger said. “Could be related to her late night hospital escapades with Delahoy.”
“Which explains his reaction last night, when he and Banks brought her in,” Walsh said.
“And it means the pattern’s the same,” Shraeger said. “All the targets are linked to Second Squad romantically—”
“—Walsh, is this a joke?” They turned to find Alvarez behind them, so livid that his skin appeared marbled with patches of red.
“What?” Walsh asked.
“This—” Alvarez shouted, gesturing wildly at the photo of Amy’s collarbone.
“It most certainly is not a joke, Eddie,” Walsh said, sounding legitimately confused. “That’s Cole’s fiancée.”
Eddie sputtered. “N-no. It’s not. It’s Nicole...”
“It isn’t, Eddie,” Beaumont said. “It’s the mark the killer left on Amy’s collarbone.”
For a moment, Eddie was too dazed to speak. “It’s Nicole,” he said again. “She has this tattoo on her neck. Right here, this very spot!”
“Nicole has 143 tattooed on her neck?” Walsh said.
Shraeger said, “Nicole has a tattoo?”
“What is it?” Beaumont said. “What is 143?”
Eddie looked away, embarrassed. Then he grabbed a marker from the whiteboard rail and wrote as he spoke. “One-four-three. I L-O-V-E Y-O-U. It’s a code. I have a matching one, on my chest.” He recapped the marker. “They line up... when we hug.”
“Aw, Eddie...” Beaumont said.
“Ho, wait,” Shraeger said. “Does anyone else know about this tattoo?”
“No, it’s secret,” Eddie said. “It’s our secret tattoo.”
Walsh and Shraeger struck upon the same idea at once.
“Eddie, call Nicole,” Shraeger said. “Get her on the phone. Get a guard on her.”
“What?” Eddie said.
“She’s the next target,” Walsh yelled.
Eddie stood there, stunned, his hands flexing into fists.
“Eddie,” Walsh said. “Go!”
“Anything?” Walsh said.
“Nothing,” Shraeger answered.
“She’s an Assistant D. A.,” Walsh said. “She’s high profile. She can’t just disappear. We’ll find her.”
“Walsh, what if it’s someone she knows?” Shraeger asked.
“Someone who knew about that tattoo,” Walsh said. “It’s possible.”
“But you don’t think it is.”
“No I don’t.”
“Walsh, you don’t know her like I do,” Shraeger said. “In high school—”
“—We’re all very different people when we grow up, Casey.”
“And while I know that to be true, don’t rule out the possibility that Nicole Alvarez had an affair.”
They heard Eddie’s voice in Sergeant Brown’s office. He was shouting, hysterical. When Nicole didn’t answer her cell phone, Eddie had panicked. He’d then called the DA’s office. The secretary told him that Nicole was due in court at ten; she hadn’t made it in. Proceedings were delayed, and no one had seen her. Now Eddie was all but calling for the National Guard, and Sergeant Brown was trying to talk him down.
“Who is this guy?” Shraeger said aloud. “What is he doing?”
“We need to figure out why,” Walsh said. “We figure that out, we can predict what he’ll do next.”
“Okay, so what’ve you got?” she asked.
“I still say it’s revenge,” Walsh said.
“Yes, but against who, and again, why?”
“We’re chasing our tails here...” Walsh said.
Delahoy and Banks came in, all swift and serious. Delahoy tossed an evidence bag onto the table between them. “That’s what the bastard left at Monica’s,” he said.
Walsh smoothed the outer plastic. He and Shraeger stared at it for a moment, before Shraeger said, “A newspaper?”
“Take a closer look,” Banks said.
Walsh said, “The crossword—”
“—With only one clue answered,” Shraeger said.
“One down,” Delahoy said. He stroked his mustache. “Heh. Get it.”
“Nicole,” Shraeger said.
“Okay, man,” Delahoy said. “Who is this guy? He’s starting to piss me off.”
“Eric, you’re dating Dr. Crumb?” Shraeger asked.
“It’s your connection to her that put her on his radar,” Walsh explained.
“Yeah? Then why hasn’t he targeted Beaumont? Hm? Or Leo’s girl? Why not Bridget Demopolis? Or the guy you’re banging, Mr. Stuffed Shirt? Hm? You wanna tell me that?”
“Hey, whoa, calm down,” Walsh said. “We’re just trying to piece this together.”
“Yeah, well, let’s try and keep some perspective, all right,” Delahoy said.
Shraeger’s jaw unhinged. “That’s it,” she said. “That’s what he wants.”
They all stared at her, until Banks said, “Um, you wanna spell it out for us?”
“He doesn’t want revenge,” Shraeger said. “Or, he does. But it’s secondary. He wants us on the edge. He wants chaos. He wants excitement and emotion. So we can’t think clearly.”
“We still don’t know why,” Walsh said.
“Think about it. He told Patronelli and Carbajal that they were pieces of a puzzle, that there were bigger things at work. It’s a distraction,” Shraeger said. “He wants to divert our attention from something bigger.”
“That’s very Joker of him,” Delahoy said. “But what’s this bigger thing?”
“Maybe a court case,” Banks said. “What was Nicole working on?”
“No idea,” Walsh said. “But we can find out.”
They turned, each of them, toward Sgt. Brown’s office. From where they stood, they could see the top of Eddie Alvarez’s bowed head. The Sergeant was talking and Eddie would give an occasional dejected nod.
“Poor bastard,” Delahoy swore.
“Okay,” Walsh said. “Leo, Eric, get down to Nicole’s office. Pull her recent cases, get a last known. Look at security tapes, talk to people, but keep it quiet. We’ll put out an APB, but Sarge’ll want to handle press. Last thing we need is a media circus, ’cause our guy may be a killer, but I think he wants Nicole alive. He’s got plans for her. That’s what we want Eddie to know, when he gets out of there.” Walsh blew out a breath. “Now, Beaumont’s on her way to the hospital to switch with Cole. When he gets here, we’ll go through the traffic cam footage, see if we can’t get an ID on our stalker. He’s been playing us. Let’s not give him what he wants.”
Cole found Shraeger in the briefing room and pulled her into a gangly hug.
“How’s Amy?” she asked.
“Recovering. She’s tougher than she looks,” he said. “They’re gonna release her this afternoon. Beaumont said she’d call once the doctor signed off. Where’s Walsh?”
“With Eddie,” Shraeger said.
Cole’s frown deepened. He said, “Still no word on Nicole?”
“No. We’ve got an All Points out, limited press. We’re doing our best to keep it quiet. And Eddie’s... well, he’s a wreck.”
“I know what he’s going through,” he said. “My prayers are with him.”
“I know they are, Cole,” she said, squeezing his shoulder. “In the meantime, we’ve got these tapes to go through. If we divide them up they shouldn’t take us all night—”
Cole scanned the whiteboard display behind Shraeger and whitened. “This,” he said, tapping the picture of the silver pawn. “Where did this come from?”
“Um, Lupe Carbajal,” Shraeger said. “Our guy left it on him. Why?”
“Deep tactics,” he mumbled.
“I have a piece from the same set,” Cole told her. “A bishop. Frank Lutz left it for me in his apartment, right before...”
“You’re sure it’s the same?”
“Like enough. It’s a silver chess piece.”
“O-oh, wait,” Shraeger said. “You say Frank left you a bishop?”
Tears sprung into his eyes. “Oh Lord. I knew it. This is all my fault.”
“Stop it, you don’t know that.”
“Frank told me Walsh was his end game,” Cole said. “Now I don’t know a lot about chess, but I do know sometimes pieces get sacrificed to protect the king.”
“Pieces in a game,” Shraeger said. “Cole, this gives us another connection. Our perp knew Frank Lutz. Do you know anyone else he may have associated with?”
“Frank played chess, too, Casey. He played in the park.”
“Then we’ll bring ’em in,” Shraeger said, getting quickly to her feet. “Maybe they’ve played chess with our perp. Maybe they know him. If we’ve got a pawn, a knight, and a bishop, we could be dealing with an enthusiast. If our guy’s playing chess, we need to find out the king he’s trying to protect.”
“Nicole Brandt Alvarez was last seen leaving 261 Madison Avenue at about 9:30. The doorman saw her cross there,” Delahoy gestured to the crosswalk. “Then she turned the corner. After that, nada on Nicole. You got anything?”
“Her case this morning,” Banks said. “Jeff Blanch. Suspected mafia ties. Charged with enterprise corruption, racketeering, and alleged to be the mastermind of fraud worth over five million dollars.”
“I’d say that’s high profile,” Delahoy said.
“Pretty up there,” Banks agreed. “Mob boss named Jeff...”
“Sounds like a guy who can afford to spread some mayhem,” Delahoy said. “Let’s pull the case and his records, see if anything lines up.”
They rounded the corner and stared up the street at bumper to bumper mid-town traffic – buses, yellow cabs, black hired cars, and a mad flurry of pedestrians. The wind sliced down the street, razoring between the buildings. They burrowed deeper into their coats and kept walking.
“Here’s what I think happened,” Delahoy said. “Nicole came out, probably on her phone—”
“—Right,” Banks said.
“Car pulls up, maybe she thinks it’s someone she knows, maybe it’s like her regular hired car. Anyway, they grab her before she realizes what’s up.”
“Traffic cams?” Banks said.
“Neh.” Delahoy paced the sidewalk. “They’d ditch the car. They’ve got her somewhere.”
“You think she’s—”
“—No,” Delahoy said.
“You don’t even know what I was gonna say.”
“She’s not dead, Leo. It’s like Walsh says, he wants her alive.” Delahoy headed back to the car.
As Banks slid into the driver’s seat, he said, “I hope you’re right.”
“I’m right,” Delahoy muttered as he buckled in. To himself, he added, “I better be right.”
Shraeger and Walsh left the unmarked charger and struck across the Mall on foot. A blustery ice pick of a breeze blew in bursts between the buildings, and Shraeger knotted her scarf at her throat.
“Frank Lutz left Cole a bishop,” Walsh said. “What’s the bishop do on a chess board, anyway?”
“Moves diagonally,” Shraeger said. “Strategically, it works best when both bishops are on the board.”
“Hm,” Walsh said. “You a fan of the game?”
“Nah, I’m more of a lacrosse girl.”
“Sanctioned violence with sticks,” Shraeger said. “So do you think Frank and Cole were both considered bishops in this scenario?”
“Yeah I do,” Walsh said. “And I don’t think our guy counted on Cole taking out his other bishop.”
“So he had to alter his strategy.”
They entered the Literary Walk to find the chess tables already crowded with sundry scholars and geriatrics, all of them well-bundled against the chill. Walsh strode to the end of the rows, held up his badge, and said, “Good afternoon, gentlemen, I’m Detective Jason Walsh, this is my partner, Detective Shraeger. We’re with the NYPD. We’d like to—”
A man on the far end of the row perked up, then quickly ducked his head.
“Hey,” Shraeger said. “Isn’t that Dr. Zimsky.”
In repsonse, Dr. Zimsky bolted.
“How’s the head?” Shraeger scraped her chair forward and leaned on her elbows.
Dr. Zimsky lowered the ice pack to let her examine the crosshatched patch of bruising and abrasions she caused when she wrestled him to the street. He wore a tweed coat over a faded plaid shirt and red bow tie. On his lapel, he wore a blue button that said, “Trust me, I’m a Doctor!”
“You’re pretty tough for a girl,” Zimsky said. He gave them a tight smile. “Kudos.”
“You play a lot of chess, Dr. Zimsky?” Shraeger asked.
“Keeps the mind sharp,” Zimsky said. “Gets me out of the crypt every day. Gotta process that Vitamin D.”
“You good at it?” Walsh asked.
“I played competitively in high school,” Zimsky said. “Mostly to score chicks.”
“Funny,” Shraeger deadpanned. “He’s funny.”
“You ever play with this guy?” Walsh asked, sliding a picture of Frank Lutz between them.
“Oh, yeah, Frankie,” Zimsky said. “Played him a few times. More a risk taker than a finesse guy, but he had game. Haven’t seen him though...”
“So you were unemployed a while,” Walsh said. “That had to suck, right?”
“Tell me about it,” Zimsky said. “I missed Comic Con.”
“How long were you out of work before you took Dr. Crumb’s place?” Shraeger asked.
“Am I being charged with anything?” Dr. Zimsky asked.
“We’re just asking questions,” Walsh said.
“Well. Okay,” Zimsky said. “I left Pittsburgh in February, that’s when I lost my last job. I figured, New York – there’s probably lots of interesting dead bodies in that place, so I moved to Brooklyn—”
“Okay, I gotta ask,” Shraeger interrupted. “How’d you lose your job in Pittsburgh?”
Zimsky smirked. “My former employer was a bit of a stiff. Heh. We didn’t see eye to eye, so she let me go.”
“What sort of things?” Walsh said.
“Well, okay,” Zimsky said. “For Halloween,” he snickered. “I played a prank on the guys in the morgue. I dressed up the corpses...”
Shraeger and Walsh exchanged a look of mild distaste.
“What? They were crack-hoes,” Zimsky said, kneading his hands. “I barely had to do anything to them. I turned them into the cast of Jersey Shore.” He uttered a nervous laugh. “I mean, if you can’t laugh at death, what’s the point of living?”
“Okay, enough,” Walsh said. “Where is she?”
Zimsky paled. “Whoa, who? Snooki?”
Shraeger leaned way across the desk. “Why’d you run, Harold? Hm? That was a bold move for a man of your... stature.”
“I was concerned,” Zimsky said, his eyes bulging. “You have guns.”
“You do realize bullets are faster than people?” Walsh said.
“Why were you concerned, Dr. Zimsky?” Shraeger asked.
“Be...cause of Dr. Crumb?” Zimsky said.
“What about her?” Walsh asked.
“She’s not missing?” Zimsky said.
“Why would Dr. Crumb be missing?” Shraeger asked.
“You asked where she is,” Zimsky said. “All I did was follow her...”
“You followed Dr. Crumb? Why?” Walsh asked.
“Look, I don’t want to lose my job, okay?” Zimsky said. “I like the work. It’s quiet. It’s fun. It’s never, ever boring, and I’m good at it.”
“You’re good at dismembering bodies?” Shraeger said.
“No. I mean, yeah, but not... recreationally,” Zimsky said. “But, times are hard, y’know, and I really wanted the job. Memorial already had three full-time MEs on staff, and I was tired of working as a scrub. So when Dr. Crumb started acting peculiar, I did what I had to do.”
Shraeger said, “What’s peculiar to a guy like you?”
Zimsky snorted. “I don’t know how familiar you are with Dr. Crumb but she’s... Unpleasant. Unfriendly. A procedures lawyer. The going catchphrase was hard-ass bitch. Anyway, her cop friend would show up, and she’d get...” He raised his hands and waggled them.
“Did you just throw jazz hands?” Shraeger asked.
Zimsky dropped them to the table. “She’d go all loosey-goosey, like she couldn’t think straight,” he told them. “I actually saw her be nice to the orderly. Clearly, she was getting sloppy. So I followed her, which is sneaky and suspicious, I know, but lo and behold... I got the dirt. Using a twenty thousand dollar MRI as a sex-toy may be super hot in a lot of books – including mine – but admin tends to frown on that sort of thing,” Zimsky said. “I reported her, and presto, change-o, my app was at the top of the stack.”
Walsh said, “So you ran because...?”
“I thought you found out that I’d stalked Dr. Crumb and then used my findings for personal gain,” Zimsky said. “But I had clearance at the hospital, so it’s not like I broke in or was trespassing, and she’s just as guilty as I am for giving her boyfriend a midnight ride on the MRI.”
Shraeger flipped the file folder closed.
“Is that it?” Zimsky asked.
“You may be an opportunistic little weirdie,” Shraeger said. “But there’s no law against that.”
Walsh poured a cup of coffee. Shraeger scratched her head. “Zimsky’s story checks out. He’s clean. And I thought yesterday was the day for red herrings around here,” she said.
“Fish pun,” Walsh said. “Well-played.”
“Not only did we not get a lead on Nicole, if any of our chess guys in the park knew anything, we’ve successfully tipped them off.”
“He’s gonna make a move soon,” Walsh said. “That’s been his MO.”
She looked up to see Banks and Delahoy in the hallway and called to them.
“Hey, so turns out,” Banks said. “Nicole was working on a high-roller case – corruption, racketeering, and fraud connected to a Jeff Blanch...”
Walsh blinked. “Say that again?”
“Jeff Blanch,” Delahoy said. “Why? You heard of him?”
“Yeah,” Walsh said. “Big time mob guy, they call him The White.”
“Hm, well,” Banks said. “The White faces criminal penalties and mandatory jail time if the DA can make it stick. The guy’s slipped the noose a couple’a times before, but according to Nicole’s files, they’ve got irrefutable proof.”
“Like what? A witness?” Walsh asked.
“No mention of a what or a who,” Delahoy said. He popped a pill, filled up a cup with water, drained it.
Banks looked concerned. Shraeger shook her head. Walsh said, “We need to pull Blanch in, get him talking.”
“Except he’s in federal custody at the MDC,” Banks said. “We’ll have to go to him.”
“Then we’ll do that,” Walsh said.
Shraeger was shaking her head. “Nicole can’t have been the only person to know what this damning proof is,” she said. “Someone else must know.”
“Someone at her firm?” Banks guessed.
“No, it’s an old lawyer’s trick,” Walsh said. “Keep a surprise witness in the pocket. That way the defense can’t plan against it.”
“Deep tactics,” Shraeger said quietly. Then, “Is Blanch married?”
All three of the men shrugged. Walsh said, “Dunno. Why?”
“Because in chess, the queen always protects the king,” she said.
Just then Cole charged into the room, holding his cell phone in front of him. The Chorus of Angels ringtone sang Hallelujah but he continued to stare at it as if it was a poisonous snake.
“Dude,” Banks said. “What—”
“It’s Amy,” Cole said.
“Well then answer it,” Delahoy said.
Shraeger understood. “Amy’s phone—”
“—was taken. By the killer,” Cole finished.
Walsh held up a hand. “You have a speaker setting?”
“Answer it. Everyone keep still.”
Cole swallowed and thumbed the answer key. “This is Detective Cole,” he said.
For a moment, they heard nothing but muffled breathing. Then, a choked sob followed by, “Cole?”
“Yes. Yes, is this Nicole Alvarez?”
Her voice trembled. “You work with Eddie.”
“Yes. Yes, I do. Where are you?”
Walsh mouthed to Banks, “Go get Eddie.” Banks tiptoed from the room.
“I – it’s dark. I’m in a – a trunk, I think.”
“Like a car trunk?” Cole asked.
More shuffling noises, then, “No. It’s wood. Oh, god, It’s made of wood.” She dissolved into sobs. “I’m in a coffin.”
“Nicole. Nicole, listen,” Cole said. “We’re gonna get you out. You just need to tell us what you remember. Okay? Can you do that? Can you tell us what happened?”
“This is the only light I have,” Nicole whispered. “Is Eddie there?”
“He’s on his way, Nicole. Keep talking, all right. Tell us how you got there.”
“A man in a mask. I was getting in the car, but the driver wasn’t... there was someone in the seat. I think they drugged me. I woke up here. It’s so dark—”
Eddie burst in the room. “Nicole!”
“Eddie, baby. I’m so scared—”
A hollow crash drowned the connection, followed by a high pitched shriek, like metal tearing against metal. They all stared down at the phone as seconds of silence plodded by.
“Nicole?” Eddie said.
Her voice sounded frail and reedy when she spoke. “I’m moving,” she said. “Oh, god... I think it’s in motion. Eddie—”
Then the signal abruptly cut out.
END OF PART TWO