SEVEN

When he takes the phone he tries to remain calm. He wants to scream obscenities into the mouthpiece, but he also doesn’t want to alarm Mrs Mellish. He turns away from her, tries to keep his voice low.

‘Doyle.’

‘Hello, Cal. How’s the search for the diary going?’

‘How’d you know I was here?’

‘Actually, I didn’t. But it seemed like a good bet. I thought once you heard about what happened to that nurse last night, you’d be keen to check out the diary. You’re starting to trust me now, isn’t that right, Cal?’

‘I don’t trust you as far as I can piss. How’d you get this number?’

‘Have you ever heard of the phone book, Cal? It’s a way of finding out somebody’s phone number. So have you found the diary yet?’

‘There is no diary. I looked everywhere. It’s not here.’

‘You’re not looking hard enough. It’s there, all right. Use your eyes, and think about what you see.’

‘I looked. It’s not here. You made a mistake.’

A sigh of exasperation. Then: ‘Do I have to lead you by the hand, Cal? Are you really that helpless? Come on, then — back into the bedroom.’

He says this as though he’s indulging a young child. Doyle bites down on his bottom lip. He wants so much to tell this sonofabitch to shove his phone up his ass.

He lowers the phone, looks across at Mrs Mellish.

‘I’m sorry, Mrs Mellish, but my colleague has just given me a few more ideas about where I might search for the diary. You mind if I take one more quick look?’

He can tell she’s unsettled now. And he can’t blame her. He’s not acting like a cop should. She’s probably wondering if he even is a cop.

‘I. . all right.’

He flashes her his most comforting smile and heads back into the bedroom. He pushes the door to but doesn’t close it. That would be just too suspicious.

‘Okay,’ he says into the phone. ‘I’m in the bedroom.’

‘Well done, Cal. At least you’ve managed to find something. Now all you need is the diary.’

‘I told you, I’ve looked. It’s not here. I’ve looked on every shelf and in every drawer and closet.’

‘You are so behind the times, Cal. Think like a teenager. The answer’s right there in the open.’

Doyle scans the room. What the hell is this freak talking about? How can it be right here in front of me? I’ve looked everywhere. What could I have missed?

His eyes alight on each group of objects again. The make-up. The cuddly toys. The CDs and DVDs. The magazines. The. .

Wait a minute. Rewind.

He steps toward the row of cabinets. The counter they support is covered in items. Every square inch is occupied by something. Except. .

Except where the chair is, pushed into the recess. In front of the chair is the only space in the clutter. Just a couple of square feet, but a space nonetheless. Doyle tries to imagine Cindy sitting on this chair. She would reach for those pens and pencils just on the right here. This is where she would make all those jottings in her notebooks. And to her left. .

Doyle slides the chair out and bends down to look into the recess. That’s when he understands.

He hears what sounds like the faint buzzing of an insect, and realizes that it’s the voice emanating from the phone that’s now down at his side. He raises the phone to his ear, but doesn’t wait to hear what’s being said.

‘The space,’ says Doyle.

‘What?’

‘The space. In front of the chair. Where Cindy worked and studied. There’s an empty space there. The only clear space in the room.’

Silence. Like maybe he has just surprised the guy.

‘Okay, there’s a space. So what?’

‘If she had a diary, this is where she would have written it. But not necessarily in one of these notebooks, right?’

A faint chuckle. ‘Way to go, Columbo. I’ll be in touch soon.’

There’s a click, and the line goes dead. Doyle goes back into the living room. Mrs Mellish is standing exactly where he left her, still looking uneasy. He goes over to her and hands the phone back. She is wary when she takes it, almost as if she expects him to grab her arm.

‘What’s going on?’ she asks. ‘Who was that man on the phone?’

Doyle knows he needs to get her back on his side. ‘Mrs Mellish, I’m sorry. There are things I can’t tell you right now. Things that have cropped up in our investigation. One of our sources has told us that Cindy had a diary, and that it might be important. That man who just called was giving me some further information to help me locate it.’

‘But you looked. You said there isn’t a diary in her room.’

Okay, thinks Doyle, here goes.

‘Mrs Mellish, did Cindy have a computer?’

She stares at him. Either she’s not sure whether to tell him the truth, or else she’s trying to figure out how he knows this.

‘The DVDs,’ he explains. ‘She has lots of DVDs but no player, no TV. Underneath the counter where she sat and worked there’s a power socket and cables.’

She stares some more. Finally gives the faintest of nods.

‘A laptop. I bought it for her two years ago. For her birthday, and to help in her studies. It’s usually in her bedroom, but I asked her if I could borrow it for a while. I’ve been on the Web, looking for new jobs.’

‘Do you think it’s possible Cindy might have kept her diary on that computer?’

‘I. . I guess it’s possible. Maybe.’

‘Mrs Mellish, do you think I could borrow that computer? Just for a day or two, so I can get it looked at?’

He watches her body language. Sees the defenses going up.

‘I don’t know. Is this. . normal? I mean, do the police usually do things like this?’

‘There’s no such thing as normal. Every situation is different. In this case, it’s just possible there may be something useful on Cindy’s computer. I just want the experts to take a look. They won’t damage it, and I’ll get it straight back to you, I promise.’

‘But you can’t say why you think there’s a diary?’

He thinks, I want to tell her. I want to let her know there’s a psycho running around out there who has already killed two people and may be about to kill again, and the reason I know about the diary is that he’s been phoning me up and taunting me, and when I catch this cocksucker I’m gonna make him wish he’d never been born. I’m gonna do that for you, Mrs Mellish. For you and for Cindy.

‘It’s a possibility, that’s all,’ he says, not really answering her question. ‘But if we find anything, you’ll be the first to know.’

She looks into his eyes, and he hopes that his determination to get justice for her shines more brightly than his lack of candor. Eventually she turns and walks through one of the open doors into her own bedroom. She comes back a minute later with a laptop in her hands.

‘Please, be careful with it. I know it’s just a lump of metal and plastic, but, well. . it was Cindy’s.’

Doyle takes the computer and smiles his gratitude. As he leaves the apartment, he makes a promise to himself that the laptop is not the only thing he will bring back to this woman.

Sometimes they have to be called in.

It’s nice to know they’re there. Sitting in the background, acting as insurance. For when you really need help. You don’t want to use them frivolously — that would be a waste. They are far too valuable.

But sometimes cashing them in is the right thing to do.

This particular favor is owed to Doyle by a man called Lonnie Adelman. Detective Lonnie Adelman. Doyle was at the Police Academy with him, and although they don’t see as much of each other as they used to, they still get together socially now and then. It’s a relationship which, in itself, could probably act as enough of a basis for Doyle to approach him for help. But Doyle has additional leverage. Four years ago, he was involved in the arrest of a group of teenagers for possession of cocaine. One of those teenagers turned out to be Adelman’s son. Following Adelman’s representation and a promise that he would keep the boy on the straight and narrow, Doyle kicked the kid out and kept his name out of the paperwork.

Now it’s payback time. Because what makes Adelman especially valuable to Doyle is that he is a member of CCS, which used to be called CITU, cops loving abbreviations the way they do. CCS is the Computer Crimes Squad, while CITU stood for Computer Investigation and Technology Unit. Whatever the hell it’s called, the key thing to Doyle about both of those titles is the word computer. It means that Adelman knows all about that technology stuff, whereas to Doyle computers are little more than glorified typewriters that never want to do what he asks of them. It’s the reason Doyle called on Adelman when he wanted to buy a new computer system for Rachel, and it’s the reason he calls upon him whenever that system goes wrong.

It’s also the reason why Doyle now finds himself in the NYPD headquarters at One Police Plaza, the building known fondly to cops as the Puzzle Palace, the Big House, or — to use yet another abbreviation — simply 1PP.

Adelman looks delighted to see Doyle when he enters his office, but he also looks like a man who is late for an appointment. To Doyle he always looks that way, even when he’s supposed to be relaxing. His flushed face says that there just aren’t enough hours in the day. Doyle figures he’s an ideal candidate for an early heart attack.

‘Hey, Cal,’ says Adelman. He grabs Doyle’s hand, slaps his shoulder. He’s a big man, a couple of inches taller and broader than Doyle, and Doyle is no waif himself. ‘How’s it going, man?’

Doyle shrugs. ‘Still sliding down the razor blade of life.’

Adelman laughs. ‘Yeah, I know what you mean. I read about you in the papers. You been busy, dude.’

‘Life’s never dull. What about you and those cyber-crooks? You arrested that Super Mario guy yet? Mustache like that, he’s gotta be on the wanted lists, right?’

Another hearty laugh. ‘Can’t catch him. Boy drives like a motherfucker. ’

They chat for another few minutes, catching up. So as not to seem too pointed, Doyle waits until the topic of family crops up in the conversation before he asks about Luke, the son he arrested.

‘Still straight,’ Adelman says. ‘No doubt about that. He’s a man now. Even got himself a girl. Subject of drugs comes up, he just talks about how stupid he was back then.’

Doyle nods. ‘Good to hear. He’s a great kid.’

In the silence which follows, Doyle catches Adelman sliding his eyes toward his wristwatch.

‘Listen, Cal, it’s been great seeing you and all, and we should definitely get together properly soon, but I gotta shoot to a meeting in five minutes. Are you gonna ask me about that computer under your arm, or have you forgotten it’s there?’

Doyle looks down. ‘Hey, whaddya know? There is a computer here. And since you’re asking. .’

‘Go ahead. You wanna hide that trail of porn sites you been visiting?’

‘This doesn’t belong to me. I need you to search it for me.’

‘Search it? For what?’

‘A diary. I just been sitting in Starbucks for the last hour, looking through this thing, and I can’t find it. But then I don’t know what the hell I’m doing, and I don’t want to screw up the system. You think you could-’

‘Whoa, buddy. What diary? Whose computer is this?’

Doyle senses this isn’t going as smoothly as he hoped.

‘It’s connected with a case I’m working. My information says there’s a diary on here. If that’s so, I’d like to know what’s in it.’

Adelman looks at him. ‘A case, huh?’

It’s no surprise to Doyle that Adelman knows something is fishy. This isn’t how it works. It should go through official channels. The precinct detective squad investigating the case makes a formal approach for assistance to the CCS, which in turn allocates whatever resources it deems appropriate. Sometimes that may mean getting held up in a queue. What it certainly means is that there’s an official record of the request. A lowly detective strolling in here without an appointment and with a computer tucked under his arm is making such a blatant attempt to circumvent NYPD red tape it’s laughable. It’s so suspicious it stinks. Even given their friendship, even given the fact that he saved the ass of Adelman’s son, Doyle fully expects to be thrown out of here in the next five seconds. Put him in Adelman’s shoes and he’s not sure he would do any different, especially given the rep he has now after all the media coverage.

When Adelman stands abruptly, Doyle says, ‘Lonnie, let me explain. .’

Adelman holds up his hand. ‘No details. I don’t want to hear details. Come with me.’

He heads for the door, Doyle trailing.

‘Where are we going?’

‘I investigate cyber crime. What I don’t do is spend all my time poking around inside computers.’

Shit, thinks Doyle. He’s getting rid of me.

But then Adelman adds, ‘We have whiz kids for doing that kind of thing.’

He leads Doyle along to the end of the corridor, then opens a door without knocking.

‘Meet our resident genius,’ he says.

Doyle walks through the doorway. He sees a room that looks like the aftermath of an explosion. There are computers and bits of computers everywhere. He hears the whirring of fans and the chatter of disk drives. Behind a long desk, facing away from Doyle, a young man sits staring intently at a bank of monitors. On one of the screens, text scrolls upwards so quickly it must be impossible to read, and yet the man’s gaze remains fixed on it. His feet are up on the desk and he’s eating from a bag of corn chips on his lap. He wears a huge pair of headphones, playing heavy metal music so loud that Doyle can hear it clearly.

‘Hey, Gonzo!’ says Adelman.

Doyle’s eyes widen. Gonzo?

Oblivious to his visitors, Gonzo continues to nod his head in time to the music.

‘GONZO!’

The guy nearly falls off his chair. Corn chips spill onto the floor. Gonzo powers off the music and yanks the headphones away, knocking his glasses off his face. He pushes them back into place as he struggles to look calm and collected.

Adelman says, ‘Detective Doyle, meet Gonzo.’

Gonzo gives him a goofy smile and a meek wave.

Adelman continues, ‘Tell him what you need, and he’ll work his magic. If what you want is on that machine, he’ll find it. I gotta go. Nice seeing you again, Cal.’

They shake hands, and Adelman leaves them alone. Doyle approaches the desk while Gonzo watches his every move. Doyle looks down at the chair, which has a jacket crumpled in a ball on the seat.

‘You mind if I sit?’

Gonzo shakes his head, but makes no attempt to move.

‘This your jacket?’

Gonzo nods, puts some more chips in his mouth. Still doesn’t move.

Doyle picks up the jacket. He looks for somewhere to hang it, but can’t find anywhere, so he hands it across to Gonzo. Still munching, Gonzo takes the jacket, holds it for a few seconds, then tosses it onto the floor.

As Doyle lowers himself onto the chair, he takes a closer look at his host. Gonzo’s hair is red and curly and thinning at the temples, even though he looks to be in his early twenties. His thick-framed glasses are supported by a beak of a nose. His body is thin and wiry. On the window ledge to the side of the desk is an inhaler of the type that asthmatics use.

‘You want a Dorito?’

The shock is threefold. It surprises Doyle that Gonzo can speak at all; he is surprised by the spray of food fragments that hits him in the face; and he is surprised by the voice, which is a high-pitched squawk that sounds like it belongs to Homer Simpson’s wife.

Jesus, thinks Doyle. The offspring of Woody Allen and Marge Simpson. What a set of genes that is.

‘They’re my favorite,’ Gonzo continues. ‘Give me some Doritos and a salsa dip, and I’m your friend for life.’

‘Yeah,’ says Doyle, not sure how to progress that topic. ‘Anyways, I got this computer here. .’

He hands it across to Gonzo, who gives it the once-over before dumping it unceremoniously on his desk.

‘You like Lugzz?’

‘Are they anything like Doritos?’

Gonzo stares at him, then taps a finger on his headphones. ‘The band. Music. You wanna listen?’

‘Uh, actually I thought we might talk about the computer.’

‘Oh. Okay,’ says Gonzo, seemingly amazed that Doyle is willing to pass up such a golden opportunity. ‘What about it?’

‘Well, I’m trying to find something on it.’

‘Have you tried switching it on?’

Doyle looks across to check whether Gonzo is yanking his chain, but he seems serious enough.

‘Yes, I’ve switched it on. I just can’t find the file I want.’

‘The file being?’

‘A diary.’

‘A diary?’

‘Yeah. You know. A journal. A record of events in somebody’s life.’

Gonzo stares again. He pushes another fistful of chips into his mouth.

‘You sure you don’t want some of these? I got lots. Six more bags.’

Doyle is starting to wonder what planet this kid is on.

‘No. Thank you. Now, the diary. You think you can find it for me?’

‘Sure. If it’s on there, I’ll find it.’

The very words Adelman used. But Doyle is starting to find it hard to believe that this kid is capable of anything other than ingesting corn chips to a four-four beat.

‘Great. How long?’

‘How long is what?’

Jesus, thinks Doyle. Do I have to spell everything out?

‘How long will it take you to find the file?’

‘Depends on how well it’s hidden. Plus I got a whole load of other stuff I need to get done first.’

‘So how long?’

‘Give me till tomorrow. I’ll call you. What precinct are you at?’

Doyle reaches into his pocket and pulls out a card and a pen.

‘I’m putting my cellphone number on the back of this card. That’s the only number you call me on, okay? Not the precinct number.’

Just to be sure, Doyle crosses out the precinct telephone number.

Gonzo narrows his myopic eyes at him. ‘You don’t want me to phone you at the precinct?’

‘That’s what I said.’

‘Does Lonnie know about this?’

‘He knows,’ says Doyle, which isn’t strictly true. But then Lonnie doesn’t want to know.

Gonzo nods unconvincingly.

‘I gotta go,’ says Doyle. He gets up and walks across this computer junkyard of an office. Just before he leaves he adds, ‘Call me tomorrow.’ Because genius that this kid is supposed to be, he seems like someone who could forget everything, including his own name, as soon as Doyle walks out the door.

For the rest of Doyle’s working day, nothing much happens. Which is not such a good thing. Because what he hoped was that someone would make a connection between the Mellish murder and the Bonnow murder. And nobody has. As far as the NYPD is concerned, these two killings are related only by the fact that they remain unsolved. They have different MOs, they were in different precincts, and there is nothing so far to suggest that the two women even knew each other. So why should anyone even conceive of a link between these two? Hell, it’s not as if there’s anyone calling up cops to suggest such a thing, now is there?

Officially, he’s still helping out on the Cindy Mellish case. Unofficially, he’s just going through the motions. He continues to chase up bookstore customers. He continues to call up people that might have known Cindy. He continues to feel guilt over his knowledge that it’s probably all such a waste of time and manpower.

He is so glad to get home. Away from other cops. Away from eyes that seem to dare him to reveal what he knows. For a few hours he can put all that to the back of his mind. He can enjoy a roast dinner with his family, a bicycle ride in Central Park, bath time with Amy, a glass of wine with Rachel. And when he finally goes to bed and melts into the warmth of his wife, he is almost convinced that there is nothing to worry about, that it will all work out in the end.

The call comes at midnight precisely.

When he blinks at the clock and the pale fuzzy light gradually forms into recognizable numerals and he sees 12:00 written in front of him, he knows the time has been chosen as a signal that this is no ordinary call. It’s the witching hour. Expect to be scared.

He hears the music before the phone even reaches his ear. It’s purely instrumental. An Irish jig.

‘Hello, Cal,’ says the smooth-talking sonofabitch.

Doyle climbs out of bed and staggers out of the bedroom, the phone clamped to his ear.

‘What do you want?’

‘I was just wondering how your day went. Did you find the diary?’

‘I’m working on it.’

‘You’re too slow, Cal. You’re wasting time.’

‘Time for what?’

‘For saving lives. Speaking of which, it’s a shame about poor nurse Bonnow, don’t you think? You didn’t save her. Despite all the help I gave you, you didn’t do anything about it.’

Now in the living room, Doyle listens again to the song. He doesn’t recognize it, doesn’t know what it’s called.

‘You’re enjoying this, aren’t you?’

‘I enjoy helping people, if that’s what you mean. That’s why I’m calling now. To offer my assistance again.’

‘Why me? Of all the cops in this city, why pick me?’

‘Oh, I don’t know. Why does anyone donate to certain charities and not others? Let’s just say I think you’re a particularly worthy cause. I like to give where it’s most needed.’

‘Thanks, but I think you’ve done enough. I’m already overwhelmed by your benevolence. I’m sure they’ll put up a statue in your memory once you’re dead. Which I hope won’t be much longer.’

A low chuckle. ‘Do you like the music, Cal? Remind you of home? Making you thirsty for a drop of the black stuff?’

‘Not really. This time of night, I’m more of a milk and cookies kinda guy.’

‘Really? Cops do like a drink, though, don’t they? Even guys who aren’t cops themselves but who are the sons of cops have been known to find themselves in the company of drink. Like it’s passed down in the genes or something. Your father wasn’t a drunk, was he, Cal? You have other reasons for detesting him.’

Doyle decides he’s not getting into this. He’s not giving this guy the pleasure of screwing with his mind.

‘Get to the point, asshole. I got a warm bed waiting for me.’

‘Okay, Cal. Get back to your bed. But I don’t think you’ll get much sleep. You’ve got work to do. And you’ve got less than twenty-four hours to do it in. Midnight precisely. That’s when it will happen. That’s when somebody else will die.’

‘That’s it? That’s all you’re going to tell me?’

‘I’ve told you all you need to know, Cal. Like I said before. Use your brain. Use your senses. Use what you’ve heard. Show me what a brilliant detective you are. Oh, and one other thing about the person who has just started their last day on this earth.’

‘What’s that?’

‘It’s somebody you know, Cal. Somebody you know pretty well.’

Contents

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