EIGHT

The caller was right about one thing. Doyle doesn’t get much sleep that night. He spends most of his time replaying the conversation in his mind. Over and over. Desperately trying to pick it apart for meaning. Looking for clues. Anything that will help him prevent another death.

Not for the first time he wishes he had asked for a trace on his phone, despite the warnings to the contrary he was given. But the only way he can do that is by making an official request to the Police Department, which is a sure way of alerting them to the cozy chats he’s been having with the killer.

He gets into work for six-thirty — an hour and a half before his shift is officially due to start. The desk sergeant tosses a joke at him about his wife throwing him out of bed. Doyle laughs it off and trudges upstairs to the squadroom. He spends the next hour reading through the DD5 reports — the fives — and all the other notes that have been made on the Cindy Mellish case.

And gets nowhere.

Interviews with dozens of people, but not a whiff of a solid lead. Doyle realizes he’s not going to find the killer this way. Not in the short time he’s got left.

People say goodbye and leave. New faces arrive and say hello. Doyle is largely unaware of the transitions taking place around him. His midnight chat is back on his mind. He flips to a fresh page on his notepad and starts making notes on all he can remember of the conversation. Trying to decide what’s relevant and what’s just filler. Looking for hidden meanings and subtle hints. Making connections, most of which he crosses out again as being absurd. But he has to consider all the possibilities, no matter how ludicrous they might seem. He can’t afford to get this wrong.

When he’s done that, he thinks about the only other possible pointer to the killer. The diary. If in fact it exists. And if Gonzo the wonder boy can find it. And if it does indeed contain some useful information, instead of being a pile of crap that’s going to be used to jerk him around some more.

All big ifs.

And time is ticking away, my friend.

The address has been used by many wishing to mock the New York accent. Toidy-toid and Toid. Meaning: Thirty-third and Third.

The premises are situated above a nail salon. It has never entered Doyle’s head to consider getting a manicure, and he is surprised at how many people are not of like mind. He imagines that they do pedicures there too, then quickly blots out the thought. He’s seen quite a few corpses in his time, in various states of putrefaction, but the one thing guaranteed to turn his stomach is the idea of working on other people’s feet.

Upstairs, he knocks on a glass-paneled door and enters. The room’s sole occupant — a young girl hiding her beauty beneath too much make-up — sits behind a desk uncluttered with any signs of work. She slides a metal file along her own highly polished fingernails. Doyle wonders if she’s getting in some practice to apply for a job downstairs, because this place is dead.

Alongside her desk, another door leads to an inner office. It’s half open, and Doyle can hear a man’s voice, presumably in the middle of a telephone conversation. He’s saying, ‘What the fuck, Marty? You can’t twist their arms a little? I’m offering them bottom-dollar here. Where else they gonna get peace of mind for a price like that? Jesus.’

Doyle approaches the girl’s desk. She presents him with a bright smile but nothing more.

‘I’d like to speak with Mr Repp.’

‘Do you have an appointment?’

Doyle displays his gold shield, and the girl responds by arching a perfectly plucked eyebrow. Through the door, the voice is saying, ‘Let me speak to him, Marty. . No, just put him on the goddamned phone, will ya?’

The girl tilts her nail file toward the door and states the obvious: ‘He’s on the phone just now.’

‘No problem,’ says Doyle, and heads into Repp’s office.

Travis Repp is lounging back in his executive chair, trying to look executive. Sharp blue suit and skinny tie. Gold rings on his fingers. Big flashy wristwatch. Blond hair flopping low over his forehead. He gives Doyle the once-over, but seems uninterested. He raises a finger, instructing Doyle to wait while he continues his phone call. Doesn’t even offer him a seat.

‘Mr Uterus. . I’m sorry, Mr Yurtis. I misheard my colleague. . Yes, I know what you told him, but I assure you that we can offer a better service than any of our competitors. .’

Doyle sighs and flashes the tin again. Repp glances at it, gives Doyle a look that says, So what? Then resumes his conversation.

‘Yes, Mr Yurtis. . Manpower? Of course we do. I have a whole team of investigators here that I can call on if necessary. .’

Doyle looks around the empty office and wonders where they’re all hiding. He decides he’s had enough of this, and that Mr Yurtis could probably do with a break too. He leans forward and announces his presence like he’s about to raid the joint.

‘Detective Doyle, Eighth Precinct.’

Repp clamps his hand over the mouthpiece. ‘Jesus! What do you think you’re doing? You wanna put me out of business here?’ He speaks into the phone again. ‘Mr Yurtis, I’m sorry about. . Hello? Mr Yurtis?’

He slams the handset down and glares at Doyle. ‘Great. You know you probably just cost me that gig? What is it with you?’

‘Something we need to discuss.’ Doyle gestures toward a chair. ‘You mind?’

‘Make yourself at home, why don’t you?’ He makes a show of looking at his watch. ‘Is this gonna take long? Because I’m kinda busy.’

‘Yeah, I saw the long line of people waiting outside. But I guess if you share them out among all your other investigators here. .’

‘Hey! This is business. This is how you do things when you gotta fight tooth and nail for every buck, instead of just sitting there waiting for your share of the taxpayers’ money to land in your account every month. Now don’t you got criminals to catch or something?’

‘Is why I’m here,’ says Doyle. He doesn’t like Repp. He came here thinking he might be able to reason with the man. His inclination now is to take the secretary’s nail file and rasp this prick’s fingers down to the bone.

‘Meaning what?’ Repp asks.

‘You have a client. Mrs Sachs.’

‘Who?’

‘Mrs Sachs. A sweet old lady who lost her daughter on 9/11.’

Repp moves his jaw from side to side. ‘So?’

Doyle can see that he’s already rattled.

‘I need you to tell her the truth. I need you to tell her that her daughter’s dead.’

‘You’re obviously a very needy person, Detective. .’

‘Doyle.’

‘Detective Doyle. But I have to act in the best interests of my client. I can’t go making shit up just to please you. What is this, anyhow? Is this an official police investigation, or is it personal? Could it be you got the hots for Mrs Sachs?’

Doyle sighs again. ‘How much have you fleeced her for, so far?’

‘I haven’t fleeced nobody. Mrs Sachs is a client. She’s paying me for a service. A service I think I do pretty damn well, as it happens. I’m a licensed private investigator with an impeccable record. You want to start casting aspersions, take it up with my lawyers.’

‘I’m taking it up with you, Travis. Patricia Sachs is dead. I know it and you know it, and now her mother needs to know it too. And you’re the one who has to break it to her.’

Repp waves his arms wildly like he’s about to have an epileptic fit. ‘Who says she’s dead? Do you know that? Do you know it for certain? No, you don’t. Have you busted your ass investigating this case? No you haven’t. That would be me. And all the evidence tells me that Patricia Sachs may in fact be alive and well. And that’s what I’ve told her mother. No more, no less.’

Doyle pulls Mrs Sachs’s photograph from his pocket and slaps it down on the desk. ‘This your evidence?’

Repp glances at it, says nothing.

‘How long did it take you to fake that?’

‘What are you talking about?’

‘It’s a phony, Travis. Dozens of people all walking in the same direction, all looking where they’re going. All, that is, except one. How come she’s the only one who finds your photographer so interesting?’

Repp waggles his jaw again. ‘We have ways. Tricks to attract attention. Anyhow, I didn’t take this; it was one of my operatives.’

‘Neat trick, singling out one member of a crowd to look your way. Do Penn and Teller know about you? Where’d you get the headshot, Travis? From a corporate brochure? That looks to me like the face of somebody posing for a portrait. Neat cut and paste job, though, making it all grainy like that just to add the right element of doubt.’

Repp is quiet for a good ten seconds. ‘You finished? Because like I say, I got work to do.’

Doyle takes back the photo and stands up. ‘Finish it, Travis. Tell Mrs Sachs what she needs to hear about her daughter, and then leave her be. I don’t want to have to come back, and I’m sure you don’t want me back either.’

On the way out, Doyle receives a smile from the secretary. He gets the impression she really enjoyed listening to her boss being told what to do.

The worry returns with a vengeance once Doyle is back at his desk. The visit to Repp was a nice distraction, but it hasn’t gotten him any nearer to catching the killer that only he knows is of the serial variety. The weight on his mind is so intense it feels as though his brain is about to burst.

An hour later he sees Cesario heading toward his office. Cesario glances across, as if to say, Ready when you are, Doyle. Whenever you feel like unburdening yourself. .

Doyle starts to rise from his chair, ready to pursue Cesario. He hasn’t rehearsed this. Doesn’t know exactly what he’s going to say. The only thing he does know is that he’s about to be crucified for revealing the truth at such a late stage. But it has to be worth it. If it might improve the chances of saving somebody’s life, does he really have any alternative?

The phone on his desk rings. He looks at it, trying to decide whether to answer it or to follow through with his decision to see Cesario. Out of the corner of his eye he notices another cop looking at him, wondering why he’s hesitating.

He sits down again, answers the phone.

‘Doyle.’

‘Cal? It’s Marcus, downstairs. I got someone here says he wants to see you. Won’t say what his business is, though. Won’t give his name neither.’

Marcus Wilson is the desk sergeant. The station house’s huge black gatekeeper. Three months after Doyle arrived at the Eighth, Wilson took over the desk from the previous sergeant — a man named Hanrahan. Whereas Hanrahan didn’t even notice half the people who walked past him, Wilson rapidly gained a reputation as a man who was not beyond making visitors strip naked if he thought it was necessary to get them to prove they were harmless.

‘What’s he look like?’ Doyle asks.

‘Geeky-looking kid with red hair and a squeaky voice. Acts like something’s missing upstairs, if you know what I mean.’

Shit, thinks Doyle. What the. .

‘Keep him there. I’ll be right down.’

Doyle ends the call and heads for the stairs. Cesario will have to wait.

When he gets down to the first floor, Wilson looks at him, then directs his gaze toward the waiting zone opposite his desk. Gonzo is sitting between two doped-up hookers and looking petrified that he’s about to have his virginity snatched away from him. He holds a black cloth bag firmly on his lap, as though using it as a groin shield.

Doyle beckons him over with his finger. As Gonzo gets up, one of the hookers pinches his ass, and he scampers across for Doyle’s protection.

‘Outside,’ says Doyle.

‘But-’

‘Outside.’

They exit through the large double doors of the station house, Gonzo now clutching the bag tightly under one arm. Doyle takes him by the sleeve and drags him along the street.

‘What are you doing here?’ Doyle demands.

‘What do you mean? And where are we going?’

‘I said not to come here. I said to call me on my cell.’

‘No. No you didn’t. You said your cell number was the only one I should use if I wanted to phone you, but that I shouldn’t phone you on the precinct number. You didn’t say anything about making personal visits. I have a good memory for things like that.’

Doyle stops and spins Gonzo to face him.

‘Did you have to take it so literally? Wasn’t there a small part of that gargantuan brain of yours that said, Hey, maybe that means he wants to keep this under wraps?’

Gonzo blinks at him. ‘Why would you want to keep it quiet? This is a homicide investigation. You never said it was a homicide. Does Lonnie know about this?’

Doyle stares back at Gonzo for several seconds. He brings his hand out of his pocket in a sudden move that causes Gonzo to flinch. In his hand is the key to his car.

‘Get in.’

Doyle opens up the car, and they both clamber inside. Doyle doesn’t start the engine.

He says, ‘How do you know it’s a homicide?’

‘This computer belongs to Cindy Mellish. Her name is in lots of her files on here. She’s the same Cindy Mellish who worked in that bookstore, right?’

‘Maybe,’ says Doyle. He thinks about it for a while. Realizes he has to admit at least something if this conversation is to go anywhere. ‘Okay, yes. The computer belongs to the homicide victim from the bookstore. Happy now?’

Gonzo pushes his glasses up his nose. ‘I don’t get it.’

‘Get what?’

‘This. The cloak and dagger stuff. I mean, it’s really cool and everything, but-’

‘Wait! Wait a minute. Cool? Why is it cool?’

‘Well. . it’s exciting. Working with you like this. I don’t normally get to-’

‘Gonzo! Hold on. We are not working together, okay? I’m not looking to set up some kind of long-term relationship here. I just asked you to do a little job for me. That’s it. End of story.’

Gonzo looks crestfallen. Like he’s just had his favorite toy snatched away.

Doyle adopts a more mellow tone. ‘Look, it’s complicated. Don’t ask me to explain. There are things happening on this case that I can’t tell anyone about. It’ll all come out eventually, but right now it has to be kept quiet.’

‘A secret,’ Gonzo says.

‘Yes.’

‘Just between us.’

‘Yes.’

‘I won’t tell anyone.’

‘Good.’

‘Does Lonnie know?’

‘No, not even Lonnie knows about this.’

‘Just you and me.’

‘Yes.’

‘Wow.’

Gonzo sits there nodding and smiling and staring into space. This is the high point in his week. Maybe even in his whole sad life. It almost pains Doyle to break the spell.

‘So. .’ he prompts.

Gonzo raises his face. ‘What?’

‘Did you find anything?’

‘Where?’

Jesus, thinks Doyle, not for the first time.

‘On the computer?’

It’s as if Gonzo suddenly realizes where he is and what he’s doing here.

‘Oh. Oh! The diary. What you asked me to look for.’

‘Yes. Did you find the diary?’

Gonzo unzips his bag and starts rummaging around inside. ‘You are gonna love this. You are so gonna. .’

‘Gonzo.’

‘. . love this. I mean, when you see what. .’

‘Gonzo!’

‘. . I found on this baby, you will just. .’

‘GONZO! Did you find the freakin’ diary?’

Gonzo pulls out a sheaf of paper and holds it up triumphantly. ‘I found it. It was hidden in her pictures folder and it was encrypted.’

‘It was what?’

‘Encrypted. It was in code. That’s what took me so long to get back to you. I had to break the encryption.’

Doyle reaches out for the paper. ‘That’s fantastic, Gonzo. Good job.’

Gonzo makes no attempt to hand over his document. ‘Don’t you want to know what’s in it?’

‘Well, I thought I’d just read it through and-’

‘It’s mostly crap. Girly stuff, you know?’ He gives Doyle a knowing wink, as if to lay claim to being a man of the world who knows all about girly stuff. ‘Most of it was written a while back, when she was with her boyfriend. What she thought about him. All that lovey-dovey stuff that makes you want to puke, you know?’

‘Okay, Gonzo. That’s great. So if I could just-’

‘And of course then he goes and dumps her, doesn’t he? That’s when she gets really emotional, and her whole universe is falling around her ears, and nobody loves her any more, and life isn’t worth living. I mean, puh-lease!’

Doyle puts his fingers on the papers. ‘Maybe if I was to take a look at-’

‘But then there’s the therapist. And that’s when it gets interesting.’

They both fall quiet. Each studies the other.

Doyle lets his fingers drop from the printout. ‘Therapist? What therapist?’

‘A certain Dr Andrew Vasey. Likes to be called Andy, apparently. She gets depressed about her boyfriend, goes to see this guy, and-’

‘Wait a minute. She goes to see a shrink? She’s a college student. Her mom doesn’t look like she ever earned much. How the hell does she afford to see a shrink?’

‘She can’t. It’s a favor. Cindy gets introduced to him by a friend at NYU. She gets talking to him, tells him her woes. Next thing you know, he’s offering to let her lie on his couch. He says it won’t cost her a cent. What he doesn’t tell her is that he’s got a different form of payment in mind.’

‘What do you mean?’

Gonzo slaps the sheaf of paper. ‘It’s all in here. Guy was a lech. Kept asking her all sorts of weird sexual things. Then he sat real close to her and put his hand on her knee. She got out of there fast. It really freaked her out.’

Doyle thinks about it. It’s strange, totally unprofessional behavior, all right, and he needs to check it out. But all the same, could this really be a precursor to murder?

‘Is that it?’

‘That, and the visit.’

‘What visit?’

‘When he came to see her. Ask me where.’

Doyle is reminded of the way Norman Chin engages his audience. He wonders if all scientists have such an annoying habit.

‘Where?’

Gonzo practically sings the next bit, which in his voice sounds comical. ‘In the bookstore.’

Doyle finds himself sitting up straighter. ‘He saw her at the bookstore?’

‘Yup. Told her he was crazy about her. When she told him she wasn’t interested, he started getting frisky again. He even touched her on the. .’ Gonzo drops his voice to a whisper and circles a finger in the air close to his chest, ‘. . in the thoracic region.’

‘He fondled her breast?’

Looking a little embarrassed, Gonzo clears his throat. ‘She slapped him then, and when he left he was really pissed. He told her she’d be seeing him again.’

‘When was this?’

‘Last November.’

Doyle stares through the windshield for a minute, thinking that this changes everything. Vasey coming on strong, showing up at the bookstore, making inappropriate comments, then getting his face slapped and threatening a return encounter — well, that’s a disturbing progression if ever there was one.

‘Okay, Gonzo. You done good. Thanks.’

‘So this Vasey. We need to go see him, right? I mean, the way he’s been acting-’

‘Whoa! Did you say we?’

‘I looked him up. His practice is on Fifty-second and Fifth. I thought we-’

‘Gonzo! Watch my lips. It’s the same message I already gave you. I ain’t looking to do a duet with you.’

‘But if you’re working alone-’

‘Who says I’m working alone?’

‘Well, aren’t you? If you’re trying to keep this so quiet for whatever reason, then I guess-’

‘Yes, okay, I’m working solo. But for now it has to stay that way, all right? You did a great job, kid, but you’re not a cop. Your contribution ends here.’

The disappointment on Gonzo’s face is so unmistakable it almost breaks Doyle’s heart.

‘Here,’ says Gonzo, pushing the printout toward Doyle. ‘You better take this.’

Doyle accepts the document in silence. He has the feeling that anything he adds will only make Gonzo feel worse.

‘I better get back,’ says Gonzo. ‘I’m supposed to be on my lunch break.’

Doyle watches him get out of the car. Before Gonzo closes the door, Doyle says to him, ‘Uhm, you forget something?’

Gonzo peers into the car interior, then gives Doyle a blank look.

‘The computer?’

‘Oh. Oh yeah.’

Gonzo digs the laptop out from his bag and passes it across to Doyle.

‘See you around,’ says Gonzo. ‘Good luck with the case.’

‘Yeah. Take it easy, kid.’

Doyle watches in his rearview mirror as the nerdy young man heads down the street with a gait that makes it look as though his shoelaces are tied together.

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