THIRTY-ONE

Of course, he tells them everything.

When they arrive in droves — the cops, the medics, the fire department — he tells them all he knows.

He tells them how he got a phone call from Mrs Sachs, saying that she wanted to talk with him about her problems with Repp, and that when he got to her house he was confronted by this madman, who had forced Mrs Sachs to make the call and who was now intending to kill both her and Doyle. He tells them how the guy was screaming that this was to teach Doyle to stop poking his nose in where it didn’t belong.

They ask Doyle what the perp meant by that. He tells them he doesn’t know. It doesn’t make any sense.

And when he has said all this he has to swallow down the sour taste it leaves in his mouth.

In the hours that follow, the bodies are examined. Partly melted credit cards are found in the man’s wallet. Enough to identify him.

His name is John Everett.

The investigating detectives search Everett’s house in Queens, and what do you know? They find detailed notes on a number of people who have been murdered in the city recently. Notes about where they lived, their likes and dislikes, their personal habits, their daily schedules, and so on. Especially noteworthy is information on how these people indicated their desire to end their miserable existence.

Well, well, well, the detectives say. Isn’t it funny the way things pan out sometimes? Turns out that Detective Doyle’s theory wasn’t so wacky after all. And if Doyle hadn’t kept plugging away at it, maybe the killer would never have showed himself like he did.

So what the cops get is an instant clearance of several unexplained homicides and a perp they don’t even need to prosecute, seeing as how he’s been burnt to a cinder. Everyone in the NYPD is happy.

Everyone, that is, except Callum Doyle.

He’s tempted to let it go. As time passes and the evidence against Everett continues to stack up, Doyle is sorely tempted to accept that the cases are solved and that he should move on with his life.

The investigators find a pair of shoes in Everett’s bedroom that match up with footprints left on Vasey’s wooden floor. They find a leather biker’s jacket with a tag missing from one of the sleeve zips, the tag having been found in the bathroom where Helena Colquitt was drowned. Fingerprints found on the SUV used to kill Lorna Bonnow match those found all over Everett’s house. The shotgun used to kill Hanrahan is also found at Everett’s place. And when photographs of Everett start to appear in the media, several people come forward to say that they saw him near the scenes of crime, one of those helpful citizens being the owner of Peppe’s Pizza Piazza, who says he served Everett not long before Helena Colquitt was murdered.

There seems no doubt about it. The evidence is too overwhelming. Everett murdered all those people. Case closed.

Well. . maybe it’s still open a crack. For Doyle, at least.

For one thing, how did Everett get to know so much about his victims? Has anyone even tried to explain that? Some of those details were intimate, personal things. How did he find them out? Hanrahan wouldn’t have gone around telling everyone he met that he was thinking of swallowing his piece. Tabitha said that she told only Mrs Serafinowicz and Doyle that she considered suicide. Vasey was too worried about his reputation to have gone blabbing that he threatened to hang himself in a pathetic effort to win back his wife.

How did Everett discover all this information about his victims? Did he know them? Did he work with them in some way?

And then of course, there’s the glaring omission from Everett’s otherwise detailed notes.

Doyle himself.

The man on the phone knew a heck of a lot about Doyle. The names of his wife and child. Where he was born. Being abandoned by his father. His phone numbers. Even that he was working on a case involving Mrs Sachs.

So where’s all that in the notes? Doyle doesn’t get so much as a mention.

In a way he’s glad, because it would have meant answering a lot of awkward questions. But still, it seems curious that he’s not in there.

All these things he could probably overlook. With a little effort he could dismiss them with a remark such as, ‘I guess I’ll never know.’ And, over time, he would come to forget the unexplained and just be happy that he, Callum Doyle, was responsible for stopping a serial killer.

He could do all this were it not for one problem. The gnawing problem that keeps him awake at nights:

The voice of Everett that he heard in Mrs Sachs’s home is not the same voice he heard delivering clues to him over the telephone.

He has tried telling himself he must be imagining things, that he is looking for demons that cannot possibly be there. Voices sound different on the phone. At Mrs Sachs’s house the adrenalin was free-flowing: the way Everett spoke then was probably nothing like his usual speaking voice, and Doyle was not exactly calm enough at the time to analyze the guy’s speech patterns. So he tells himself he should forget it. He’s chasing shadows.

But Doyle doesn’t always believe what he tells himself. The voices were different. He’d bet his life on it.

So what does that mean?

Everett was the killer. Doyle believes that much. But if Everett wasn’t giving Doyle all those clues, then who was? And why? The caller never claimed to be the murderer; Doyle simply made the assumption that he was. It was a natural enough inference: the man knew so much about those already deceased and those about to die. Who else but the killer could know those things?

Someone did. He knew many things about many people.

So how?

Thinks Doyle, I don’t have a fucking clue.

Three days after the death of Everett, Doyle is on a job that involves a trip to One Police Plaza. Before he leaves, he takes the elevator up to the eleventh floor. As he steps through the doors he bumps into Lonnie Adelman. The CCS detective is carrying a huge wad of documents under one arm, and his characteristically flushed face is that of a man who has just done a hundred-meter sprint to catch a bus, rather than that of someone who has merely walked along a corridor.

‘Cal! Hey, man, how’s it going? Nice work on the serial killer thing. Seems like I can’t read a newspaper these days without seeing your ugly mug staring out at me. You got the paparazzi following you around yet?’

Doyle shrugs. ‘I got lucky. Right place at the right time. The press are making it into more than it was. To be honest, I’m not sure all this coverage is good for me.’

‘Sure it is. And you deserve it too. Luck, my ass. From what I heard, you’re the only one who had the balls to push the serial killer angle.’ He drops his voice to a conspiratorial whisper. ‘Frankly, if it wasn’t for you, the white shirts would still be scratching their heads and crying over their COMPSTAT figures.’

Doyle feels his face becoming as red as Adelman’s. ‘Maybe. Anyhow, that’s why I dropped by. To give my thanks to you and to Gonzo. That work you did on that laptop I brought in really-’

Adelman stops him with a raised finger. ‘And now you’re giving me too much information. That was a favor for a buddy. A favor I’m not sure I want anyone else to know about, if that’s all right with you.’

Doyle smiles. ‘It stays between us. Just know that I’m grateful, okay? To you and the kid. Is he around, by the way?’

‘The Brain? Actually no. He called in sick a few days ago. Something about a bang to the head. I guess he has to look after his most precious organ, right?’

While Adelman laughs, puzzlement creases Doyle’s brow. He knows better than Adelman about the bang to Gonzo’s head, and didn’t think it looked serious enough to take time off work. But that’s not the only thing bothering him.

‘I’m sorry, what did you call him?’

‘What, the Brain? You don’t think it suits him?’

Doyle feels his stomach clench. A snatch of conversation jumps back into his mind.

Forget about what your heart tells you to do. It’s the Brain that’s important here. You don’t need anything more than that.

And then another one:

Brain power. That’s what’s missing here. Find it, Cal. Use it.

And then yet another:

Protect that Brain. It’s the only thing that’s going to get you out of this mess.

Brain. With a capital B. Not the organ but a person. Gonzo.

Nah, thinks Doyle. Now you’re getting ridiculous. How could he possibly have anything to do with this?

It would explain a lot of things, though, wouldn’t it, Doyle?

‘You okay, Cal?’

‘Uh. . yeah. Just thinking about Gonzo. Weird kid, ain’t he? That voice of his. .’

Adelman laughs again. ‘I know what you mean. Sounds a little like. .’

Marge Simpson, thinks Doyle. Say Marge Simpson.

‘Cary Grant,’ says Adelman. ‘Doesn’t go with his image at all, does it? Talk to him on the phone and you’d swear he looked like a movie star or a corporate executive. Maybe he should go into the voice-over business. He could even-’

But Doyle is already diving into the nearest elevator. ‘I gotta go, Lonnie. Thanks again.’

He doesn’t hear what Adelman calls to him after that. Doesn’t hear what the other occupants of the elevator are saying to each other. He hears only one voice: that of his mysterious phone caller. And the only picture in his head is that of Gonzo.

He finds it impossible to marry the two together.

And that’s what makes it the neatest trick of all. Cleverer than any of the clues given to him about the victims.

It fooled him completely.

He can hear the music from the hallway. A heavy, pounding bass that must drive the neighbors crazy. Doyle stands outside the door to Apartment 32 and pauses. He still doesn’t fully understand what’s been going on. Doesn’t know who Gonzo is anymore, or what he’s capable of.

What he does know is that he mustn’t underestimate the man inside this apartment. He’s not what he seems. Not by a long way.

And so Doyle slides his Glock from its holster and mentally prepares himself to use it on the nerdy kid he thought had become a friend.

Slowly, he raises his left hand. The hand containing the key he has just persuaded the building superintendent to hand over. As quietly as he can, he inserts the key into the lock. When it’s fully home, he takes a deep breath. In one fluid movement he twists the key, pushes open the door and steps inside.

His heart seems to stop beating when a voice screams at him, then revs up again when he realizes it’s just the rock group on the hi-fi. Most of the words are indecipherable. The only one he can make out is ‘hellfire’.

The place looks deserted, but he wishes the so-called music wasn’t depriving him of one of his senses.

And then a shape looms into view. Entering the room from the kitchen area. A male. Holding something in his hand.

Doyle swings his gun onto the target. When he sees Doyle and the gun aimed at his chest, the figure jumps and releases what he’s holding. The plate of waffles crashes to the floor, almost unheard above the music.

Doyle and the other occupant of the room stare at each other. In unison they yell the same question:

‘Who the fuck are you?’

It’s not Gonzo. Not even in disguise could this be Gonzo. He’s about forty pounds heavier, has a center parting in his lank brown hair, sports a wispy attempt at a moustache, and wears a T-shirt that says ‘Life, but not as we know it’. Another heavy-metal-loving nerd, to be sure, but definitely not Gonzo.

‘Turn the music down,’ Doyle shouts.

‘What?’

Doyle gestures toward the sound system. ‘The music. Shut it off.’

The young man holds his palms up as if pleading not to be shot. Not taking his eyes off Doyle and his gun, he sidles over to the hi-fi rack and powers off the amplifier.

The silence that greets Doyle is eerie after the cacophony.

‘Who are you?’ he asks.

‘M-Michael.’

‘Michael what?’

‘Michael Rowson.’

‘What are you doing here?’

‘I. . I live here.’

‘What do you mean, you live here? Since when?’

‘I. . I’ve lived here for about a year.’

Doyle glances at the doors to the bedroom and the bathroom.

‘Where is he?’

‘Who? What? Are you sure you’re in the right place?’

‘Turn around.’

‘What?’

Doyle reaches into his pocket and takes out his wallet. He flips it open to display his gold shield.

‘I’m a cop, Michael. Now turn around and put your hands on the wall.’

Michael does as he is told. Doyle frisks him, but finds nothing.

‘Don’t move a muscle.’

While Michael strains to maintain his position, Doyle checks out the other rooms. Still nothing. It’s as if Gonzo never existed.

‘All right, Michael, start talking. What the fuck is going on here?’

‘Can I lower my arms now?’

‘No. Not until I get an explanation. You don’t live here, Michael. I’ve been here. I’ve been in this room. You weren’t here. There was no sign of you. So cut the bullshit before I get really pissed.’

Michael pauses, thinking something over. ‘All right. I think I know what this is about. But I didn’t do nothing. I mean nothing illegal, okay? I was just. . finding stuff out. That’s not a crime, is it?’

‘Michael, what the fuck are you talking about?’

‘The hackers’ convention. In Seattle. I’ve been there for a week. Isn’t that. . isn’t that why you’re here? Did somebody rat on me?’

Doyle senses he’s telling the truth. He really does live here, and Gonzo doesn’t. Which means that he doesn’t know where the hell Gonzo is. Unless. .

‘Michael, do you know a kid called Gonzo?’

‘Gonzo? What’s he got to do with this?’

‘You know him?’

‘Sure I know him. He’s the one who told me about this apartment when I was looking for a place. I asked him to water my plants while I was away. Wait a minute — is that what this is? Has Gonzo done something wrong?’

‘Listen to me, Michael. This is important. Do you know Gonzo’s address?’

‘Are you kidding me?’

‘Why would I be kidding you? Do you know it or don’t you?’

‘Sure I do.’ He nods down at Doyle’s shoes. Doyle looks down too, wondering what the hell he’s supposed to see. And then it dawns on him.

‘Downstairs?’

Michael nods. ‘Apartment 22.’

Doyle continues to stare at the carpet, as if doing so could allow him to see straight into Gonzo’s apartment. And then he’s heading for the door.

‘Hey,’ Michael calls after him. ‘Can I lower my arms now?’

Doyle takes the stairs two at a time. He wonders how thin the ceilings are here. Gonzo must have heard the music being abruptly cut off. Did he hear any of the yelling too? Does he know that Doyle is here?

As Doyle reaches door 22, another question occurs to him. Why did Gonzo go to all the trouble of using Michael’s apartment when Doyle asked him to look after Tabitha? Why not simply use his own?

When Doyle leaps at the door and kicks it open, he gets his answer.

There are no sofas or armchairs here. No dining table or bookcases. No television. No normality. Gonzo could not have invited anyone in here without revealing that he was not simply the amusing social misfit or the endearing eccentric. He has gone way beyond that.

A better description might be ‘unhinged’.

Because this place is like a shrine. A shrine to technology.

Arranged in a large circle is a set of desks. There are over a dozen of them. And on each desk there is a computer, facing inwards. All of the monitors are blank, but the computer towers hum softly and their tiny lights wink at Doyle. He gets the strange feeling that they’re talking about him.

He pushes the door closed behind him. Keeping his gun at the ready, he steps through a narrow gap in the circle of desks. When he reaches the center of the arena, he turns slowly, looking at all these computers. Wondering what they’re for.

And then he hears it.

It’s behind him.

The silky-smooth voice of his helper.

‘Hello again, Cal.’

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