The sister motioned for us to come inside, and I noticed a hall table on which were two pocketbooks, as if Nina were still about. The apartment was comfortable and neat, with light bamboo and white-cushioned furniture. The whirr of a window air-conditioner was constant. A Lladro porcelain figure of a nurse was on an end table.
I was still sorting through details about the homicide scene, trying to connect the murder to the other Jane Does. We learned that Nina had attended a health-care charity dinner on Saturday night. William had been working overtime. The family called the police late Saturday night. Two detectives had shown up, but no one had been able to find Nina until now.
Then I was holding the baby, while Nina's sister took the chill off a bottle of formula. It was such a sad and poignant moment, knowing this poor little girl would never see her mother again, never know how truly special her mother had been. It reminded me of my own kids and their mother, and of Christine, who was afraid I would die during some murder investigation like this one.
The older little girl came up to me while I was holding her baby sister. She was two or three at the most. 'I got a new hairstyle,' she said proudly and did a half-turn to show me.
'You did? It's beautiful. Who did those braids for you?'
'My mommy' said the girl.
It was an hour later that Sampson and I finally left the house. We drove away in silence and despair, the same way we'd come. After a couple of blocks, Sampson pulled over in front of a ramshackle neighborhood bodega covered with beer and soda posters.
He gave a deep sigh, put his hands to his face, and then John cried. I'd never, ever seen him like this before, not in all the years we'd been friends, not even when we were just boys. I reached out and laid a hand on his shoulder, and he didn't move away. Then he told me something he hadn't shared before.
'I loved her, Alex, but I let her get away. I never told her how I felt. We have to get this sonofabitch.'
Chapter Eleven I sensed I was at the start of another homicide mess. I didn't want it, but I couldn't stop the horror. I had to try to do something about the Jane Does. I couldn't just stand by and do nothing.
Although I was assigned to the Seventh District as a senior detective, my job as liaison with the FBI gave me some extra status and also freedom to occasionally work without too much supervision or interference. My mind was running free and I'd already made some associations with Nina's murder and at least some of the unsolved killings. First, there had been no identification on the victims at the crime scenes. Second, the bodies had frequently been dumped in buildings where they might not be found quickly. Third, not a single witness had seen anyone who might be a suspect or the killer. The most we ever got was that there had been traffic, or people out on the streets, where one of the bodies had been found. That told me that the killer knew how to blend in, and that he possibly was a black man.
Around six that night, I finally headed home. This was supposed to be a day off. I had things to do there, and I was trying to balance the demands of the job and home life as best I could. I put on a happy face and headed inside the house.
Damon, Jannie, and Nana were singing 'Sit Down You're Rockin'de Boat' in the kitchen. The show tune was music to my ears and other essential parts of my anatomy. The kids looked happy as could be. There is a lot to be said for the innocence of childhood.
I heard Nana say, 'How about "I Can Tell The World"?' Then the three of them launched into one of the most beautiful spirituals I know. Damon's voice seemed particularly strong to me. I hadn't really noticed that before.
'I feel like I just walked into a story by Louisa May Alcott,' I said, laughing for the first time that long day.
'I take that as a high compliment,' Nana said. She was somewhere between her late seventies and early eighties now, but not telling, and also not showing her age.
'Who's Louise Maise Alcott?' Jannie said, and made a lemon-sucking face. She is a healthy little skeptic, though almost never a cynic. In that way, she takes after both her father and grandmother.
'Look it up tonight, little one. Fifty cents in your pocket for the correct answer,' I told her.
'You're on.'Jannie grinned. 'You can pay me right now if you like.'
'Me too?' Damon asked.
'Of course. You can look up Jane Austen,' I said to him. 'Now what's with the heavenly harmonizing? I like it very much, by the way. I just want to know what the special occasion is.'
'We're just singing while we prepare dinner,' Nana said, and stuck up her nose and twinkled her eyes. 'You play jazz and the blues on the piano, don't you? We harmonize like angels sometimes. No special reason necessary. Good for the soul, and the soul food, I suppose. Can't hurt.'
'Well, don't stop singing on my account,' I said, but they had already stopped. Too bad. Something was going on. I'd figured out that much. A musical mystery to be solved in my own house.
'We still on for boxing after dinner?' I asked cautiously. I was feeling a little vulnerable because I didn't want them to turn me down for the boxing lesson that has become a ritual.
'Of course,' Damon said, and frowned like I must be out of my mind to even ask such a question.
'Of course. Pshaw. Why wouldn't we be?' Jannie said, and brushed off my silly question with a wave of her hand. 'How's Ms Johnson?' she asked then. 'You two talk today?'
'I still want to know what the singing was all about?' I answered Jannie with a question of my own.
'You have valuable information. Well, so do I. Tit for tat,' she said. "How do you like that?'
A little later, I decided to call Christine at home. Lately, it had seemed more like the way it had been between us before I got involved with the Mr. Smith case. We talked for a while, and then I asked her to go out on Friday.
'Of course. I'd like that, Alex. What should I wear?' she asked.
I hesitated. 'Well, I always like what you choose - but wear something special.'
She didn't ask why.
Chapter Twelve After one of Nana's roast chicken dinners with baked sweet potatoes and homemade bread, I took the kids downstairs for their weekly boxing lesson. Following the Monday-night fight with the kids, I glanced at my watch and saw that it was already a little past nine.
The doorbell rang a moment later. I set down a terrific book called The Color of Water and pushed myself up from my chair in the family room.
'I'll get it. It's probably for me.' I called out.
'Maybe it's Christine. You never know." Jannie teased, then darted away into the kitchen. Both of the kids adored Christine, in spite of the fact that she was the principal at their school.
I knew exactly who was out on the porch. I had been expecting four homicide detectives from the First District - Jerome Thurman, Rakeem Powell, Shawn Moore and Sampson.
Three of the detectives were standing out on the porch. Rosie the cat and I let them inside. Sampson arrived about five minutes later, and we all gathered in the backyard. What we were doing at the house wasn't illegal, but it wouldn't make us a lot of friends in high places in the police department.
We sat on lawn chairs and I set out beer and low-fat pretzels that two-hundred-seventy-pound Jerome scoffed at. 'Beer and low-fat pretzels. Give me a break, Alex. You lost your mind? Hey, you having an affair with my wife? You must have got this bad idea from Claudette.'
'I bought these especially for you, big man. I'm trying to give your heart a break.' I told him, and the others guffawed loudly. We all pick on Jerome.
The five of us had been getting together informally for a couple of weeks. We were beginning to work on The Jane Does, as we called them. Homicide had no official investigation going on; it wasn't trying to link the murders to a serial killer. I'd tried to start one and been turned down by Chief Pittman. He claimed that I hadn't discovered a pattern linking any of the murders, and besides that, he didn't have any extra detectives for duty in Southeast.
'I suppose you've all heard about Nina Childs by now?' Sampson asked the other detectives. All of them had known Nina, and of course Jerome had been at the murder scene with us.
'The good die young.' Rakeem Powell frowned severely and shook his head. Rakeem is smart and tough and could go all the way in the department. 'Least they do in Southeast.' His eyes went cold and hard.
I told them what I knew, especially that Nina had been found with no ID. I mentioned everything else I had noticed at the tenement crime scene. I also took the occasion to talk some more about the rash of unsolved murders in Southeast. I went over the devastating stats I had compiled, mostly in my free time.
'Statistic like that in Georgetown or the Capitol district, people in this city be enraged. Going ballistic. Be Washington Post headlines every day. The president himself be involved. Money no object. National tragedy!' Jerome Thurman railed on and waved his arms around like signal flags.
'Well, we are here to do something about it,' I said in a calmer voice. Money is no object with us. Neither is time. Let me tell you what I feel about this killer,' I continued. 'I think I know a few things about him.'
'How you come up with the profile?' Shawn Moore asked. 'How can you stand thinking about these kinky bastards as much as you do?'
I shrugged. 'It's what I do best. I've analyzed all the Jane Does,' I said. 'It took me weeks working on my own. Just me and the kinky bastard.'
'Plus, he studies rodent droppings,' said Sampson. 'I saw him bagging the little turds. That s his real secret.'
I grinned, and told them what I had so far. 'I think one male is responsible for at least some of the killings. I don't think he's a brilliant killer, like Gary Soneji or Mr. Smith, but he's clever enough not to be caught. He's organized, reasonably careful. I don't think we'll find he has any prior record. He probably has a decent job. Maybe even a family. My FBI friends at Quantico agree with that.
'He's almost definitely caught up in an escalating fantasy cycle. I think he's into his fantasies big time. Maybe he's in the process of becoming someone or something new. He might be forming a new personality for himself. He isn't finished with the killing, not by any means.'
'I'll make some educated guesses. He hates his old self, though the people closest to him probably don't realize it. He might be ready to abandon his family, job, any friends he has. At one time he probably had very strong feelings and beliefs about something - law and order, religion, the government - but not anymore. He kills in different ways - there's no set formula. He knows a lot about killing people. He's used different kinds of weapons. He may have traveled overseas. Or maybe he spent time in Asia. I think it's very possible he's a black man. He's killed several times in Southeast - no one's noticed him.'
'Fuck me,' Jerome Thurman said to that. 'Any good news, Alex?'
'One thing, and this is a long shot. But it feels right to me. I think he might be suicidal. It fits the profile I'm working on. He's living dangerously, taking a lot of chances. He might just blow himself up.'
'Pop goes the weasel,' Sampson said.
That was how we came to name the killer - the Weasel.
Chapter Thirteen Geoffrey Shafer looked forward to playing The Four Horsemen every Thursday night, from nine until about one in the morning.
The fantasy game was everything to him. There were three other master players around the world. The players were the Rider on the White Horse, Conqueror; the Rider on the Red Horse, War; the Rider on the Black Horse, Famine; and himself - the Rider on the Pale Horse, Death.
Lucy and the children knew they were forbidden to disturb him for any reason, once he locked himself into the library on the second floor. On one wall was his collection of ceremonial daggers, nearly all of them purchased in Hong Kong and Bangkok. Also on the wall was the oar from the year his college crew were Head of the River. Shafer nearly always won the games he played.
He had been using the Internet to communicate with the other players for years, long before the rest of the world caught on. Conqueror played from the town of Dorking in Surrey, outside London; Famine traveled back and forth between Bangkok, Sydney, Melbourne, and Manila; War usually played out of Jamaica, where he had a large estate by the sea. They had been playing Horsemen for seven years.
Rather than becoming repetitive, the fantasy game had expanded itself. It had grown every year, becoming something new and even more challenging. The object was to create the most delicious and unusual fantasy or adventure. Violence was almost always part of the game, but not necessarily murder. Shafer was the first to claim that his stories weren't fantasies at all, that he lived them in the real world. Now the others would do so as well from time to time. Whether or not they really lived their fantasies, Shafer couldn't tell. The object was to create the evening's most startling fantasy, to get a rise out of the other players.
At nine o'clock his time, Shafer was on his laptop. So were the others. It was rare that one of them missed a session, but if they did, they left lengthy messages and sometimes drawings or even photographs of supposed lovers or victims. Films were occasionally used and the other players had to decide whether or not the scenes were stage-acted or cinema verite.
Shafer couldn't imagine missing a chapter of the game himself. Death was by far the most interesting character, the most powerful and original. He had missed important social and embassy affairs just to be available for Thursday nights. He had played when he had pneumonia, and once when he'd had a painful double-hernia operation the day before.
The Four Horsemen was unique in so many ways, but most important, because there was no single gamemaster to outline and control the action of the game. Each of the players had complete autonomy to write and visualize his own story, as long as he played by the roll of the dice, and remained inside the parameters of the character.
In effect, in Horsemen, there were four gamemasters. There was no other fantasy game like it. It was as gruesome and shocking as the participants' imaginations and their skills at presentation.
Conqueror, Famine, and War had all signed on.
Shafer began to type.
DEATH HAS TRIUMPHED AGAIN IN WASHINGTON. LET ME TELL YOU THE DETAILS, THEN I'LL LISTEN TO THE GLORIOUS STORIES, THE IMAGINATIVE POWER OF CONQUEROR, FAMINE, AND WAR. I LIVE FOR THIS, AS I KNOW ALL OF YOU DO AS WELL.
THIS WEEKEND, I DROVE MY FANTASTIC TAXI, 'THE NIGHI'MARE MACHINE', ONCE AGAIN... LISTEN TO THIS. I CAME UPON SEVERAL CHOICE AND DELECTABLE VICTIMS, BUT I REJECTED THEM AS UNWORTHY. THEN I FOUND MY QUEEN AND SHE REMINDED ME OF OUR DAYS IN BANGKOK AND MANILA.
WHO COULD EVER FORGET THE BLOOD LUST OF THE BOXING ARENA? I HELD A MOCK KICK-BOXING MATCH. GENTLEMEN, I BEAT HER WITH MY HANDS AND FEET. I AM SENDING PICTURES.
Chapter Fourteen Something was up, and I didn't think that I'd like it very much. I arrived at the Seventh District Police Station just before seven thirty that morning. I'd been summoned by the powers-that-be to the station, and it was a tough deal. I'd worked until two in the morning trying to get a lead on Nina Childs' murder.
I had a feeling that the day was starting out wrong. I was tense and more uptight than I usually let myself become. I didn't like this early-morning command appearance one bit.
I shook my head, frowned, tried to roll the kinks out of my neck. Finally, I gritted my teeth tightly before opening the mahogany-wood door. Chief of Detectives George Pittman was lying in wait in his office, which consisted of three connecting offices, including a conference room.
The Jefe, as he's called by his many 'admirers', had on a boxy gray business suit, overstarched white shirt, a silver necktie. His gray-and-white-streaked hair was slicked back. He looked like a banker, and in some ways he was. As he never tires of saying, he is working with a fixed budget, and is always mindful of manpower costs, overtime costs, caseload costs. Apparently, he is an efficient manager, which is why the police commissioner overlooks the fact that he's a bully, bigot, racist and careerist.
Up on his wall were three large, important-looking pushpin maps. The first showed two consecutive months of rapes, homicides, and assaults in Washington. The second map did the same for residential and commercial burglaries. The third map showed auto thefts. The maps and the Post say that crime is down in DC, but not where I live.
''Do you know why you're here, why I wanted to see you?' Pittman asked point-blank. No socializing or small talk from the Jefe, no niceties. 'Of course you do, Dr. Cross. You're a psychologist. You're supposed to know how the human mind works. I keep forgetting that.'
Be cool, be careful, I told myself. I did the thing Chief Pittman least expected - I smiled, and said softly, 'No, I really don't know. I got a call from your assistant. So I'm here.'
Pittman smiled back, as if I'd made a pretty good joke. Then he suddenly raised his voice, and his face and neck turned a bright red; his nostrils flared, exposing the bristly hairs within.
One of his hands was clenched into a tight fist, while the other was stretched open. His fingers were as rigid as the pencils sticking up from the leather cup on his desk.
'You're not fooling anybody, Cross, least of all me. I'm fully fucking aware that you're investigating homicides in Southeast that you aren't assigned to, the so-called Jane Does. You're doing this against my explicit orders. Some of those cases have been closed for over a year. I won't have it, I won't tolerate your insubordination, your condescending attitude. I know what you're trying to pull. Embarrass the department, specifically embarrass me, curry fucking favor with the mayor, make yourself some kind of folk hero in Southeast in the process.'
I hated Pittman's tone and what he was saying, but I had learned one trick a long time ago, and it was probably the most important thing to know about politics inside any organization. It's so simple, but it's the key to every petty kingdom, every fiefdom. Knowledge truly is power; it's everything, and if you don't have any, pretend you do.
So I told Chief Pittman nothing. I didn't contradict him; I didn't admit to a thing. I did nothing. Me and MahaI'ma Gandhi.
I let him think that maybe I was investigating old cases in Southeast - but I didn't admit to it. I also let him think that maybe I had some powerful connections with Mayor Monroe, and God only knows who else in the City on the Hill. I let him think that maybe I was after his job, or that I might have, God forbid, even loftier aspirations.
'I'm working the homicides assigned to me. Check with the captain. I'm doing my best to close as many cases as I can.'
Pittman nodded curtly - one nod. His face was still heart-attack red. 'All right, I want you to close this case, and I want you to close it fast. A tourist was robbed and gunned down on M Street last night,' he said. 'A well-respected German doctor from Munich. It's front fucking page in today's Post. Not to mention the International Herald Tribune, and every newspaper in Germany of course. I want you on that murder case and I want it solved pronto.'
"This doctor, he's a white man?' I asked, keeping my expression neutral.
'I told you, he's German.'
'I already have a number of open cases in Southeast,' I said to Pittman. 'A nurse was murdered over the weekend.'
He didn't want to hear it. He shook his head - one shake. 'And now you have an important case in Georgetown. Solve it, Cross. You're to work on nothing else. That's a direct order... from the jefe.'
Chapter Fifteen As soon as Cross walked out of Chief Pittman's inner office, a senior homicide detective named Patsy Hampton slipped in through a side door that led to the attached conference room. Detective Hampton had been instructed by Pittman to listen in on everything, to evaluate the situation from a street cop's perspective, to advise and counsel.
Hampton didn't like the job, but those were her orders from Pittman. She didn't like Pittman either. He was wound so tight that if you stuck coal up his ass, in a couple of weeks you'd have a diamond. He was mean, petty, and he was vengeful.
'You see what I'm dealing with here? Cross knows how to push all my buttons. In the beginning he would lose his temper. Now he just ignores what I say.'
'I heard everything,' Hampton said. 'He's slick all right.'
She was going to agree with Chief Pittman, no matter what he said.
Patsy Hampton was an attractive woman with sandy-blonde hair cut short, and the most piercing blue eyes this side of Stockholm. She was thirty-one years old, and on a very fast track in the department. At twenty-six, she'd been the youngest homicide detective in Washington. She had much loftier goals in mind.
'You're selling yourself short, though. You got to him. I know you did.' She told Pittman what he wanted to hear. 'He just internalizes it pretty well.'
'You're sure he's meeting with those other detectives?' Pittman asked her.
'They've met three times that I know of, always at Cross's house on Fifth Street. I suspect there have been other times. I heard about it through a friend of Detective Thurman.'
'But they don't meet while any of them are on duty?'
'No, not to my knowledge. They're careful. They meet on their own time.'
Pittman scowled and shook his head. 'That's too goddamn bad. It makes it harder to prove anything really damaging,'
'From what I've heard, they believe the department is holding back resources that could clear a number of unsolved homicides in Southeast and parts of Northeast. Most of the murders involve black and Hispanic women.'
Pittman tensed his jaw and looked away from Hampton. The numbers that Cross uses are complete bullshit.' he said angrily. 'They're dogshit. It's all political with him. How much financial resource can we put against the murders of drug addicts and prostitutes in Southeast? Its criminals murdering other criminals. You know how it goes in those black neighborhoods.'
Hampton nodded again, still agreeing when she saw the chance. She was afraid she'd lost him, said the wrong thing by speaking the truth. They think that at least some of the victims are innocent women from their neighborhoods. That ER nurse who was killed over the weekend. She was a friend of Cross and Detective John Sampson. Cross thinks a killer could be loose in Southeast, preying on women.'
'A serial killer in the ghetto? Give me a break. We've never had one there. They're rare in any inner city. Why now? Why here? Because Cross wants to find one, that's why.'
'Cross and the others would counter that by saying we've never seriously tried to catch this squirrel.'
Pittman's small eyes suddenly burned into her skull. 'Do you agree with that horseshit, Detective?'
'No, sir. I don't necessarily agree or disagree. I know for a fact that the department doesn't have enough resources anywhere in the city, with the possible exception of Capitol Hill. Now, that's political, and it's an outrage.'
Pittman smiled at her answer. The chief knew she was playing him a little, but he liked her anyway. He liked just being in a room with Patsy Hampton. She was such a doll, such a cutie. 'What do you know about Cross, Patsy?'
She sensed that the chief had vented enough. Now he wanted their talk to be more informal. She was certain that he liked her, had a crush on her, but he was too uptight to ever act on his desires, thank God.