There's a twisted serial killer stalking the streets of New York City, dealing his own perverse version of justice. He kills swiftly and silently, leaving his calling card--a red "J"--on the bodies of his prey. His victims have one thing in common: they've all been jurors in the city's most infamous cases--cases in which the killer was found "not guilty." Overnight, the Justice Killer has the city in a stranglehold. And there's only one man who has a shot at finding him . . .
Homicide detective Artemis Beam made his reputation hunting down serial killers. After getting shot by an armed robber--and stepping on the wrong toes in the NYPD--he's been retired. The city needs him now, and finding the killer is his chance to get back into the life he loves. As the body count climbs and the city's legal system fails, the Justice Killer thinks he's outsmarted the cops. But Beam isn't officially a cop anymore . . . and he doesn't have to play by the rules . . .
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Chill of Night
By John Lutz
Kensington Publishing Corp.Copyright © 2006 John Lutz
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThings are never as they seem.
The area was supposed to be clear, marked off with yellow NYPD crime scene tape, but Beam caught a glimpse of movement behind one of the parked cars and moved toward it.
One step, that was all he'd taken, and the figure hiding behind the parked Mercedes was off and running toward the garage exit. Beam could see by the way he moved that he was young, teens or twenties. Beam had just turned fifty-three. Convert that difference in years to distance, and there was a lot of it to make up. Still, Beam was on the run and gradually gaining.
The victim's body had been removed, and the crime scene unit and other detectives had left. It was part of Beam's method to hang around alone at a murder scene and take in what he could in the immense silence and stillness that followed violent death. Now and then, he discovered something.
He'd sure as hell made a discovery this time-probably the shooter.
His feet pounding the concrete floor, Beam yelled, "Halt! Police!"
That seemed to speed up the guy, a skinny kid dressed in jeans, a dark watch cap, and a black jacket, flailing his arms, and with long legs that could eat up the ground. He was making for the vast rectangle of light that was the exit from the garage to freedom, where he'd be lost in thecrowded New York streets. Beam couldn't risk taking a shot at him and would soon be outdistanced. The probable killer of the garage attendant, and he was getting away.
Can't let that happen!
Beam had seconds to act or he'd lose the angle, and his bullet might ricochet out onto the sidewalk.
"Halt or I'll shoot!"
Should it be a warning shot at the concrete ceiling? Or should he try to bring down the fleeing man before it was too late? One of those split second decisions you read and hear about in the media.
"Stop, damn it!"
The suspect lifted his knees higher, trying to draw more speed from his adrenaline-jacked body.
Beam stopped, spread his feet wide, and raised the revolver and held it before him in his right hand, bracing with his left.
But not for Beam.
The fleeing man suddenly skidded to a halt, at the same time whirling and dropping to one knee. It was a graceful, dancer's movement made possible by youth.
He shot Beam.
It was like getting whapped in the thigh with a hammer.
Beam was on the hard concrete floor without knowing how he got there, fire pulsing in his right leg. He craned his neck and peered toward the garage exit and saw that the kid was getting away.
Rubber screeched out on the street, and there was the dull sound of impact. A woman shouted something over and over that Beam couldn't understand. He reached for his two-way. If the damned thing would work in the garage, he could get help, maybe nail the bastard on the street.
Then weakness came with the pain.
Beam thought, Lani ...
Chapter Two"What's it been, bro?" Cassandra Beam asked. "A week?"
"Nine days," Beam said. That was how long since he'd been released from the hospital into a bright spring day. His right leg still ached and wasn't as strong as his left. He'd lost twenty pounds while laid up, and his clothes hung on him as if they were somebody else's.
He was wearing a pale gray shirt with the sleeves unbuttoned and folded neatly halfway up his forearms. His face was so gaunt as to be almost vulpine, with blue eyes that could charm or cut steel, and an intensely curious, slightly lopsided expression due to a missing right earlobe that had been bitten off in a saloon fight his rookie year as a cop. Beam looked like a guy who'd been dragged bumping and thumping through life, resisting every inch.
The bullet fired in the parking garage had done only minimal damage to the bone, so he'd be able to walk soon without a cane. He was having lunch at Fostoria's, on Central Park West, with his sister, Cassie, who was a psychiatrist with her office nearby. A long way from downtown, where they'd spent their childhood.
The restaurant's tables were small and round, with lacy white tablecloths, and the place was filled with brilliant winter sunlight. They were waiting for their server to bring them their orders of croissant sandwiches. It looked to Beam as if everyone in the restaurant was eating something on a croissant.
Their table was by the window, and both had been watching people stream past out on the sidewalk. It was easier than talking.
"You were thinking about retiring anyway," Cassie said.
She hadn't done well in the gene pool. Unlike Beam, who was tall and rawboned, his older sister was short and blocky, in a sturdy way that dieting would never change. Her eyes were darker than his, too, staring at Beam now from beneath black bangs.
"Thinking about and doing are two different things," Beam said.
Cassie gave him her gap-toothed smile. "You're telling me that?"
Beam had to smile back. "Sorry. Sometimes I forget what you do for a living."
"Getting shot, so soon after Lani, it was like a one-two punch."
"Is that psychoanalyst talk?" Beam asked. "A one-two punch?"
Cassie took a sip of lime-flavored bottled water. "I'm not talking like an analyst now. More like a sister. Not that I don't think analysis wouldn't help you, but it should be done by another professional."
"I'll get through it," Beam said. His wife of twenty-three years, Lani, had for reasons unknown leaped from the high balcony of her friend and business partner's apartment, where she was attending a cocktail party and charity fund raiser. It was five months later when Beam had been surprised by the suspect in the parking garage, while investigating the robbery shooting of the attendant, and was shot in the leg. The shooter, who turned out to be twenty-two years old, with an impressive record of armed assault and burglary, had been struck and killed by a car in the street outside the garage exit. Beam's final collar.
Not the best way to end the career of legendary New York homicide detective Artemis Beam, the cop who'd made his reputation understanding and hunting down serial killers. He'd been kicked up to the rank of captain and unceremoniously pensioned off. Since then he'd had to use pills to help him sleep, and awake he wandered alone and uneasy in the shifting world of the retired.
Cassie was the first to tell him he'd never been one to adjust easily. She had a seer's gift for spotting trouble even before it appeared on the horizon, and she'd known Beam's retirement was going to be hell. As usual, she was right.
Beam still grieved for Lani.
Beam's leg still hurt.
Beam still missed the hunt.
Here came the croissants.
Chapter ThreeIt felt like butter.
Lois Banner stood in front of the bolt of rich fabric and again ran her fingertips over it along the barely discernible warp of the material that was so incredibly soft despite its high wool content. It was dark gray, with a faint black splatter pattern, and would be perfect for some of the fall lines she'd seen at last week's fashion show. Evening in Paris was the name the supplier had affixed to the material, and Lois thought they had it right. That was what the soft fabric reminded her of, her earlier, not-so-innocent years in the city that lent itself to sin.
Lois herself was a former fashion model, almost forty now, and twenty pounds beyond her working weight. But she would still look good in some of the clothes due in the shops next season. In fact, she would look fantastic. Her features were still sharp, her eyes a brilliant blue, and her dark hair was skinned back to emphasize prominent cheekbones that looked like swept back airplane wings. As a model she'd been considered exotic. She was still that, if she dressed for it. Which happened less and less often.
Lois preferred to spend time tracking fashions and buying the wonderful fabrics that her customers, gained from longtime business contacts, would purchase wholesale to make the most of what was new. And always, in the world of fashion, something-the most important thing-was new.
The main office of Fabrics by Lois was on Seventh Avenue. This fabric warehouse and showroom was on West Forty-sixth Street, in the loft of a building that housed offices below. Though most of the bolts of fabric were stored vertically to maximize space, at five feet, ten inches, Lois was the tallest thing in the unbroken area with its vast plank floor. It was evening and dark outside. The Forty-sixth Street end of the loft was shadowed but for dappled light that filtered through unwashed windows and skylights. The rest of the area was dimly illuminated by original brass fixtures suspended on chains from the high ceiling. Lois would not abide florescent lighting-the cruel tricks it played on colors!
She was dressed simply and casually in black slacks and blouse this evening, and wore white Nikes, no socks. On Lois, the outfit looked even more expensive than it was.
A breeze played across her bare ankles, as if a door had opened. But the loft was accessible by elevator. The only door was to the fire stairs that ran down the south side of the building.
The subtle change of temperature jogged Lois' memory. She glanced at her Patek Philippe watch, a gift from a long-ago admirer. Almost eight o'clock, and she was due to meet a buyer for drinks at nine. She barely had time to get to her apartment, shower, and change clothes.
Time to lock up. But she couldn't resist running her fingertips one more time over Evening in Paris.
A slight noise made her glance to her left.
She gave a sharp intake of breath. A shadowy figure stood silently among the tall fabric bolts. Almost like someone standing watching in a corn field. The bucolic image surprised Lois and, through her fear, unpleasantly reminded her of her childhood in Ohio. She belonged here! In New York or Paris or Berlin. She was no longer the early version, the early Lois Banion, who was no more.
"Who-" she began in a strangled voice.
The figure, a man, stepped forward, and she could see in his right hand a bulky object which she recognized as a gun with a silencer attached to its barrel.
Lois forced herself to speak. "If you want money, there isn't any here."
The man said something she didn't understand.
"Justice," he said softly, and raised the gun as if to point it at her like an accusing finger.
"My God," she said in a small girl's voice, "what have I done?" What haven't I done?
Oh, Jesus, what haven't I done?
The gun jumped in the man's hand, and she felt a fire and then a numbness in her chest, and she was on the floor. Terrified, she tried to get up and found herself entangled in fabric. Tried to get up. Tried not to die. Tried to get up.
The light was fading. She was staring up at one of the dangling brass fixtures, and it was like a distant star, moving even farther away.
There was no pain, she realized. Incredible! No pain! For that, at least, she was grateful.
If there's no pain, why should there be fear?
Evening in Paris enfolded and embraced her like a warm, welcoming shroud.
Chapter FourTo his friends and enemies, Artemis Beam was simply "Beam." Ella, the waitress at the Chow Down Diner on Amsterdam Avenue, thought of him as "Over hard." The way he liked his eggs. The way she figured he was.
Beam sat in his usual booth near the window, where he could look out on the street over coffee and his folded Times, at people who had places to go in a hurry. He had no particular place to go, but he thought that if need be, he could still get somewhere in a hurry. Though he walked with a long, limping lope, the truth was that the leg didn't hurt much anymore, and he was still in pretty good shape and could move fast.
Another truth was that Beam hadn't been eased out of the NYPD four months ago only because of the gunshot wound. Politics had been involved. Beam had never been in his element within a bureaucracy-which the NYPD was-and had stepped on the wrong toes.
The resultant trouble had been all right with Beam, except that his job was at least partly the cause of his wife Lani's bouts of depression. Almost a year had passed since Lani's death leap from the apartment balcony near Lincoln Center.
Beam was still grieving for his wife, still trying to come to terms with the hard fact that she was actually gone, that the dark winds of her tortured mind had finally claimed her, and that in part it had been his fault. Because of who he was, because of not quitting the department sooner, because of all the things he hadn't done and all the words he hadn't spoken and she would now never hear. She had left him behind in a cold world that denied him peace and comfort.
Still feeling the effects of the Ambien he'd taken last night to get to sleep, he sipped his coffee and gazed out at the crowded sidewalks and stalled morning traffic on Amsterdam Avenue.
New York. His city, like clustered Towers of Babble, that he used to protect, that he still loved. Where he was born to a Jewish father and Irish mother, and, with Cassie, raised on the Lower East Side. His father, who'd been a cop.
The city still needed protection, needed to be set right again and again because that was its raucous, rowdy, and sometimes deadly nature.
The hell with it! Not his problem anymore.
Beam was getting accustomed to not thinking about his past, but it still scared the hell out of him to contemplate his future. His future alone.
He still didn't mind stepping on toes. And he didn't feel like being involved again with the NYPD.
He knew Andy da Vinci was going to ask him to do both those things.
Beam's eyes narrowed at the invasive morning light beyond the window. There was da Vinci, picking his way like a nifty broken-field runner through the stalled traffic before the signal at the intersection changed, engines roared, horns blared, and he might be run down and over and dragged. He was grinning, obviously relishing the challenge.
Dumb! Beam thought, but he liked da Vinci. It was just that needlessly risking a life wasn't Beam's game.
Ella was standing next to his booth, holding the round glass coffee pot, staring down at him with a questioning look on her long, bovine features.
"Sure," Beam said.
Horns honked wildly outside. Da Vinci hadn't quite made it all the way across and was really dancing now, his moves a graceful series of passes within inches of bumpers and fenders. He was still grinning, now and then waving, or flipping off an irate driver.
"Look at that idiot," Ella said, staring out the window as she poured coffee into Beam's cup. "He's gonna get himself killed."
"I know him," Beam said. "He's on his way here. Pour him a cup of coffee. I know he'll want one."
"You don't mind," Ella said, "I'll wait till I know it's necessary." And she did. Da Vinci was safely up on the sidewalk before she brought another cup from the nearby counter and poured.
"Mine?" da Vinci asked, pointing to the steaming cup, when he'd pushed inside the diner and slid into the booth to sit across from Beam. There were perspiration stains beneath the armpits of his otherwise pristine white shirt. It was going to be a hot summer.
"Yours. And on me."
Da Vinci flashed his handsome grin and shook hands with Beam. "It's good to see you again, Cap."
"No longer a captain," Beam said.
"Hard not to think of you that way."
"The waitress and I had a bet about whether you'd make it across the street."
"Ah! And you had faith in me."
"I knew you," Beam said. "And by the way, I still think of you as Deputy Chief da Vinci."
Da Vinci skipped cream but dumped three heaping tablespoons of sugar into the cup. Still living dangerously.
"Had breakfast?" Beam asked.
"Naw. Never eat it. My stomach doesn't like it. What I came here for's to talk."
"My stomach doesn't like that," Beam said.
Da Vinci sampled his coffee and smiled. He was handsome enough to be an actor, dark wavy hair, slightly turned up nose, strong chin and clear gray eyes. Young Tony Curtis, Beam thought.
Da Vinci was in fact the youngest deputy chief ever in the NYPD. He was clever and shamelessly ambitious, but at least he was up front about it. Despite his sometimes brash and manipulating manner, Beam liked him. Da Vinci had proven himself incorruptible and dedicated, two virtues Beam admired. It was also rumored that eight years ago da Vinci, as a young motorcycle cop, planted a "throw down" gun after pursuing and shooting to death a Mafia enforcer without giving him a chance to surrender. The thug had deliberately run down and killed an assistant DA's six-year-old daughter. A review board had, without winking, cleared da Vinci of any wrongdoing. That was fine with Beam.
Excerpted from Chill of Night by John Lutz Copyright © 2006 by John Lutz. Excerpted by permission.
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