Shafer shifted his thoughts back to the present. He was doing that a lot lately, fading in and out like a radio with a bad connection. He took a settling breath, then pulled the taxi out of the garage. Moments later, he turned onto Rhode Island Avenue. It was beginning to rain again, a light mist that made the passing traffic lights blurry and impressionistic.
Shafer drifted over to the curb and stopped for a tall, slender black man. He looked like a drug dealer, something Shafer had no use for. Maybe he would just shoot the bastard then dump the body. That felt good enough for tonight's action. A sleazebag dope dealer whom nobody would miss.
'Airport' the man announced haughtily as he climbed inside the taxi. The inconsiderate bastard shook off rainwater onto the seat. Then he shut the creaking car door behind him, and was on his cell phone immediately.
Shafer wasn't going to the airport and neither was his first passenger of the night. He listened in on the phone call. The man's voice was affected, surprisingly cultured.
'I think I'll just make the ten o'clock, Leonard. It's Delta on the hour, right? I picked up a cab, thank the Lord Jesus. Most of them won't stop anywhere near where my poor mom lives in Northeast. Then along comes this purple-and-blue absolute wreck of a gypsy cab, and merciful God, it stops for me.'
Christ, he'd been identified. Shafer silently cursed his bad luck. That was the way of the game, though, incredible highs and vicious lows. He would have to take this asshole all the way out to National Airport. If he disappeared, it would be connected to a purple-and-blue cab, an 'absolute wreck of a gypsy cab'.
Shafer stepped on the accelerator and sped out toward National. The airport was backed up, even at nine in the evening. He cursed under his breath. The rain was heavy and it was punctuated by rolling thunder and spits of lightning.
He tried to control his building anger, his darkening mood. It took nearly forty minutes to get to the bloody terminal and drop off the passenger. By that time he'd settled back into another fantasy, had another huge mood swing. He was cycling up again.
Maybe he should have gone to see Dr. Cassady, after all. He needed more pills, especially Lithium. This was like a carnival ride tonight - up and down, up and down. He wanted to push things as far as he could. He also felt crazed. He was definitely losing control.
Anything could happen when he got like this. That was the thing. He pulled into the queue of taxis waiting to get a fare back to DC.
As he moved closer to the front of the line, there was more thunder. Lightning crackled high above the airport. He could see the prospective victims huddled under a dripping canopy. Flights were undoubtedly being postponed and canceled. He savored the cheap-seat melodrama, the suspense. The victim du jour could be anyone, from a corporate executive to a harried secretary, or maybe even a whole family back from a trip to Disney World. But not once did he look at the queue of potential victims as he inched closer and closer. He was almost there. Just two more taxis in front of him. He could see the queue out of the corner of his eye. Finally, he had to snatch a quick peek.
It was a tall male.
He peeked again, couldn't help himself.
A white male, a businessman, stepped off the curb and was climbing inside the taxi. He was cursing to himself, pissed off about the rain.
Shafer looked the man over. He was American - late thirties - full of himself. InvesI'ment analyst, maybe, or a banker - something like that.
'We can go - whenever you're in the mood.' the man snapped at him.
'Sorry, sir.' Shafer said, and smiled obsequiously into the rearview mirror.
He dropped the dice on the front seat: six! His heart began to hammer.
Six meant immediate action. But he was still inside National Airport. There was a heavy lineup of traffic and cops, bright lights glittering everywhere. It was too dangerous, even for him.
The dice had spoken. He had no choice. The game was on right now.
A sea of red rear-lights glowed at him. Cars were everywhere. How could he do this here? Shafer began to perspire heavily.
But he had to do it. That was the point of the game. He had to do it now. Had to murder this asshole right here at the airport.
He swerved into the nearest parking area. This was not good. He speeded down a narrow lane. Another bolt of lightning flashed overhead; it seemed to underscore the madness and chaos of the moment.
'Where the hell are you going?' the businessman shouted at him. He slammed his palm into the back of the seat. 'This isn't the way out, you ass!'
Shafer glared at the business creep in his rearview mirror. He hated him for calling him an ass. The bastard also reminded him of his brothers.
'I'm not going anywhere.' he yelled back. 'But you're going straight to hell!'
The businessman blustered. 'What did you say to me? What did you just say?'
Shafer fired his Smith Wesson 9mm and hoped no one would hear it above the thunder and honking horns.
He was soaking wet with perspiration, and he was afraid his black face would run and smear. He was expecting to be stopped now. Waiting for policemen to surround the taxi. Bright-red blood was splattered all over the backseat and window. The businessman was slumped in the comer as if he were asleep. Shafer couldn't see where the bloody bullet had exited the taxi.
He made it out of National before he went completely mad. He drove carefully to Benning Heights in Southeast. He couldn't risk being stopped for speeding. But he was out of his head, not sure he was doing the right thing.
He stopped on a side street, checked out the body, stripped it. He decided to dump the corpse out in the open. He was trying his best not to be predictable.
Then he sped away from the crime scene and headed home.
He'd left no identification on the victim. Nothing but the body.
Just a little surprise - a John Doe.
Chapter Twenty-Two I got home from Christine's house at two thirty in the morning, feeling exhilarated, the happiest I'd been in years. I thought about waking Nana and the kids to tell them the news. I wanted to see the surprised looks on their faces. I wished that I had brought Christine home with me, so we could celebrate together.
The phone rang moments after I stepped inside the house. Oh no, I thought, not tonight. Nothing good comes from phone calls at two thirty a.m.
I picked up in the living room and heard Sampson's voice on the line. 'Sugar?' he whispered.
'Leave me alone.' I said. 'Try again in the morning. I'm closed for the night.'
'No you're not, Alex. Not tonight. Get over to Alabama Avenue, about three blocks east of Dupont Park. A man was found there naked and dead - in the gutter. The guy is white and there's no ID on him.'
First thing in the morning, I would tell Nana and the kids about Christine and me. I had to go. The murder scene was a ten-minute ride across the Anacostia River. Sampson was waiting for me on a street corner. So was the John Doe.
And a lively, mean-spirited crowd. A naked white body dumped in this neighborhood had prompted lots of curiosity, almost like seeing a deer walking down Alabama Avenue.
'Casper the Friendly Ghost been offed.' A heckler contributed his twenty-five cents as Sampson and I stooped down under the yellow plastic crime-scene tape. In the background were rows of dilapidated brick buildings that almost seemed to scream out the names of the lost, the forgotten, the never-had-a-chance.
Stagnant water often pools on the street corners here since the storm drains are hardly ever inspected. I knelt over the twisted, naked body that was partly immersed in the cesspool. There would be no tire marks left at the watery scene. I wondered if the killer had thought of that.
I was making mental notes. No need to write them down - I'd remember everything. The man had manicured fingernails and toenails. No calluses showed on either his hands or feet. He had no bruises or distinct disfiguring marks, other than the cruel gunshot wound that had blown away the left side of his face.
The body was deeply suntanned, except where he'd worn swim trunks. A thin, pale ring ran around his left index finger, where he'd probably worn a wedding band, which was missing.
And there was no ID - just like the Jane Does.
Death was clearly the result of the single, devastating gunshot to the head. Alabama Avenue was the primary scene - where the body was found; but I suspected a secondary homicide scene - where the victim was actually murdered.
'What do you think?' Sampson crouched down close beside me. His knees cracked loudly. 'Sonofabitch killer is pissed off about something.'
'Really bizarre that he wound up here in Benning Heights. I don't know if he's connected to the Jane Does. But if he is, the killer wanted us to find this one in a hurry. Bodies around here usually get dumped in Fort Dupont Park. He's getting stranger and stranger. And you're right, he's very angry with the world.'
My mind was rapidly filling with crime-scene notes, plus the usual stream of homicide detective questions. Why leave the body in a street gutter? Why not in an abandoned building? Why in Benning Heights? Was the killer black? That still made the most sense to me, but a very low percentage of pattern killers are black.
The sergeant from the Crime Scene Unit came strolling up to Sampson and me. 'What do you want from us, Detective?'
I looked back at the naked white body. 'Videotape it, photograph it, sketch it,' I told him.
'And take some of the trash in the gutter and sidewalk?'
'Take everything. Even if it's soaking wet.'
The sergeant frowned. 'Everything? All this wet trash? Why?'
Alabama Avenue is hilly, and I could see the Capitol Building brightly illuminated in the distance. It looked like a faraway celestial body, maybe heaven. It got me thinking about the haves in Washington, and the have-nots.
'Just take everything. It's how I work,' I said.
Chapter Twenty-Three Detective Patsy Hampton arrived at the chilling homicide scene around 2:15. The Jefe's assistant had called her apartment about an unusual murder in Benning Heights that might relate to the Jane Does. This one was different in some ways, but there were too many similarities for her to ignore.
She watched Alex Cross work the crime scene. She was impressed that he'd come out at this early hour. She was curious about him, had been for a long time. Hampton knew Cross by reputation, and had followed a couple of his cases. She had even worked a few weeks on the tragic kidnapping of Maggie Rose Dunne and Michael Goldberg.
So far, she had mixed feelings about Cross. He was personable enough, and more than good-looking. He was a tall, strongly put-together man. She felt that he received undeserved special treaI'ment because he was a forensic psychologist. She'd done her homework on Cross.
Hampton understood that she had been assigned to show Cross up, to win, to knock him down a peg. She knew it would be a tough competition, but she also knew that she was the one to do it; she never failed at anything.
She'd already done her own examination of the crime scene. She had stayed on at the scene only because Cross and Sampson had unexpectedly shown up.
She continued to study Cross - watched him walk the homicide scene several times. He was physically imposing, and so was his partner, who had to be at least six-nine. Cross was six-three and weighed maybe two hundred. He appeared younger than his age, which was forty-one. He seemed to be respected by the assisting patrolmen, even by the EMS personnel. He shook a few hands, patted shoulders, occasionally shared a smile with someone working the crime scene.
Hampton figured that was part of his act though. Everybody had one these days, especially in Washington. Cross's was obviously his charisma and charm.
Hell, she had an act herself. Hers was to appear nonthreatening and 'feminine', then perform contrary to the expectations of the males on the force. She usually caught them off-guard. As she'd risen in the department, the men learned that she could be tough. Surprise, surprise. She worked longer hours than anyone else; she was a hell of a lot tougher than the men; and she never socialized with other cops.
But she'd made one big mistake. She broke into a homicide suspect's car without a warrant, and was caught by another detective, a jealous older male. That was how Pittman got his hooks into her, and now he wouldn't let go.
At around a quarter to three, she walked to her forest-green Explorer, noting that it needed a wash. She already had a few ideas about the dead man in the street. There was no doubt in her mind that she would beat Cross.
Book Two Death Rides a Pale Horse CHAPTER Twenty-Four George Bayer was Famine among The Four Horsemen. He'd been playing the fantasy game for seven years, and he loved it. At least he had until recently, when Geoffrey Shafer started to go out of control.
Famine was physically unimpressive at around five-eight, a hundred ninety pounds. He was paunchy, balding, wore wire-rim glasses, but he also knew that his appearance was deceiving, and he'd made a living off of those who underestimated him. People like Geoffrey Shafer.
He had reread a forty-page dossier on Shafer during his long plane ride from Asia to Washington. The dossier told him everything about Shafer, and also about the character he played, Death. At Dulles Airport Bayer rented a dark-blue Ford sedan, under a false name. He was still detached and introspective during his thirty-minute drive into the city.
But he was also anxious: he was nervous for all of the Horsemen, especially for himself. He was the one who had to confront Shafer, and he was worried that Shafer might be going mad, that he might blow up in all of their faces.
George Bayer had been an M man, MI6, and he'd known Shafer in the Service. He was in Washington to check out Shafer firsthand. It was suspected by the other players that Geoffrey might have gone over the edge, that he was no longer playing by the rules and was a grave danger to them all. Since Bayer had once been stationed in Washington, and knew the town, he was the one to go there.
Bayer didn't want to be seen at the British Embassy on Massachusetts Avenue, but he had spoken to a few friends who he knew would keep silent about having been contacted. The news about Shafer was as bad as he'd suspected. He was seeing women outside his marriage, and he wasn't being discreet. There was a psychologist, who was a sex therapist, and he had been observed going over to her place several times a week, often during working hours. It was rumored that he was drinking heavily and possibly taking drugs. Bayer suspected the latter. He and Shafer had been friends, and done their share of drugs while posted in the Philippines and, Thailand. Of course they were younger and more foolish then; at least that was true of Bayer.
The DC police had recently put in a complaint to the embassy about a reckless-driving incident. Shafer might have been high at the time. His current assignments at the embassy were minimal, and he would have been dismissed, or at least sent back to England, if it wasn't for his wife's father, General Duncan Cousins. What a terrible mess Shafer had made of his life.
But that's not the worst of it, is it, Geoffrey? George Bayer was thinking as he drove into the Northeast section of Washington known as Eckington Place. There's more, isn't there, dear boy? It's much worse than the embassy thinks. It's probably the biggest scandal in the long history of the Secret Service, and you're right at the heart of it. But of course, so am I.
Bayer locked the doors of his car as he pulled up to a traffic light. The area looked highly suspicious to him, like so much of Washington these days. What a sad, totally insane country America had become. What a perfect refuge for Shafer.
Famine took in the sights on the mean streets as he continued through the decidedly lower-class neighborhood. There was nothing to compare with this in London. Row upon row of two-storied red-brick garden apartments, many of them in dreadful disrepair. Not so much urban decay as urban apathy.
He saw Shafer's lair up ahead and pulled over to the curb. He knew the exact location of the hideaway from the elaborate fantasy tales Shafer had told the other players. He knew the address. Now he needed to know one more thing: Were the murders that Geoffrey claimed he'd committed fantasies, or were they real? Was he actually a cold-blooded killer operating here in Washington?
Bayer walked to the garage door. It took him only a moment to pick the lock and let himself in.
He had heard so much about the 'nighI'mare machine', the purple-and-blue taxi that Shafer used for the murders. He was looking at it. The taxi was as real as he was. Now he knew the truth. George Bayer shook his head. Shafer had killed all of those people. This was no longer a game.
Chapter Twenty-Five Bayer trudged upstairs to the hideaway apartment. His arms and legs felt heavy and he had a slight pain in his chest. His vision was tunneled. He pulled down the dusty blinds and began to look around.
Shafer had boastfully described the garage and taxi several times during the game. He had flaunted the existence of the hideaway and sworn to the other players that it was real and not some fantasy in a role-playing game. Geoffrey had openly dared them to see it for themselves, and that was why Bayer was in Washington.
Well, Geoffrey, the hideaway is real, he agreed. You are a stone-cold killer. You weren't bluffing, were you?
At ten o'clock that night Bayer took Shafer's taxi out. The keys were there, almost as a dare. Was it? He figured he had a right to experience exactly what Shafer had. According to Geoffrey, half the fun of the game was foreplay, checking out the possibilities, seeing the whole game board before you made a move.
From ten o'clock until half past eleven Bayer explored the streets of DC, but he didn't pick up a fare. He kept his off-duty sign on. What a game, Bayer kept thinking as he drove. Is this how Geoffrey does it? Is this how he feels when he's prowling the city?
He was pulled out of his day-dream by an old tramp with a crushed hat, who had wheeled a cart filled with cans and other recyclables right in front of him. He didn't seem to care whether he was run over or not, but Bayer braked hard. That made him think of Shafer. The line between life and death had faded to nothing for him, hadn't it?
Bayer cautiously moved on. He drove past a church. The service was over and a crowd of people were leaving.
He stopped the cab for an attractive black woman in a blue dress and matching high heels. He needed to see what this must be like for Shafer, for Death. He couldn't resist.
Thank you so much,' the woman said as she slid into the rear of his taxi. She seemed so proper and respectable. He checked her furtively in the mirror. She didn't have much to offer up top. Pretty enough face, though. Long brown legs encased in sheer stockings. He tried to imagine what Shafer might do now, but he couldn't.
Shafer had boasted he was killing people in the poorer sections of Washington, since nobody cared about them anyway. Bayer suspected that he was telling the truth. He knew things about Shafer from when they were in Thailand and the Philippines. He knew Shafer's deepest, darkest secrets.
Bayer drove the attractive and well-spoken black woman to her apartment, and was amused when she gave him a sixty-cent tip for the four-dollar ride. Fifteen percent to the penny. He took the money and thanked her graciously.
'An English cab driver,' she said. 'That's unusual. Have a nice evening.'
He continued to drive until past two in the morning. He drank in the sights; played the dizzying game. And then he had to stop again. Two young girls were hailing for a taxi on the corner. The area was called Shaw, and Howard University was very close according to several signs.
The girls were slender, delectable in stacked heels and shiny clothes that glowed in the dark. One of them wore a microskirt, and he could see the tops of black or navy thigh-highs as he stopped to pick them up. They must be hookers - Shafer's favorite prey, Bayer thought to himself.
The second prostitute was even prettier and sexier than the first. She wore white stacked sandals, side-striped white athletic pants, a teeny tank top in blue camouflage.
'Where are we going?' Bayer asked as they scampered over to the taxi.
The girl in the miniskirt did the talking. 'We're going to Princeton Place. Thats Petworth, darlin'. Then you're going away.' she said. She tossed her head back and issued a taunting laugh. Bayer snickered to himself. He was beginning to get into this now.
The girls climbed in, and Bayer couldn't resist checking them out in the mirror. The foxy one in the microskirt caught him looking. He felt like a schoolboy, found it intoxicating, didn't avert his eyes from hers.
She casually flipped him the finger. He didn't stop looking. Couldn't. So this was how it felt to Shafer. This was the game of games.
He couldn't take his eyes off the girls. His heart was pounding. Microskirt wore a tightly fitted ribbed tank top. Her long fingernails were airbrushed in kiwi and mango colors. She had a pager on her belt. Probably a gun in her handbag.
The other girl smiled shyly in his direction. She seemed more innocent. Was she? A necklace that read: BABY GIRL dangled between her young breasts.
If they were going to Petworth, they had to be hooking. They were certainly young and foxy; sixteen, seventeen years old. Bayer could see himself having sex with the girls, and the image was beginning to overpower his imagination. He knew he ought to be careful. This could get completely out of hand. He was playing Shafer's game, wasn't he? And he liked it very much.
'I have a proposition for you.' he said to microskirt.
'All right, darlin.' she said. 'Be one hundred for the half. Plus our ride to Petworth. That's my proposition for you.'
Chapter Twenty-Six Shafer liked to know when any of the other players traveled, especially if they came to Washington. He had gone through a lot of trouble to hack his way into their computers to keep track of them. Famine had recently bought plane tickets and now he was here in DC. Why?
It wasn't hard to follow George Bayer, once he got to town. Shafer was still reasonably good at it. He'd had plenty of practice at tracking and surveillance, during his years in the Service.
He was disappointed that Famine had decided to 'intersect' with his fantasy. Intersection happened occasionally in the game, but it was rare. Both players were supposed to agree beforehand. Famine was clearly breaking the rules. What did he know, or think he knew?
Then Bayer genuinely surprised him. Not only did he visit Shafer's hideaway but he actually took the taxi for a ride. What the hell was he doing?
At a little past two in the morning, Shafer watched the gypsy cab pick up the two young girls in Shaw. Was Bayer copycatting? Was he setting some kind of trap for Sharer? Or was it something else altogether?
Bayer took the girls to S Street, which wasn't far from the pick-up point. He followed the girls up the darkened stairs of an aging brownstone and then they all disappeared inside.
He had a blue anorak thrown over his right arm and Shafer suspected a pistol was under the coat. Christ! He'd taken two of them. He could have been seen by anyone on the street. The cab could have been spotted.
Shafer parked on the street. He waited and watched. He didn't like being in this part of Shaw, especially without his disguise, and driving the Jaguar. There were some old crumbling brownstones, and a couple of boarded-up, graffiti-covered shacks on the street. No one was outside.