by W.E.B. Griffin
& William E. Butterworth IV
[ ONE ]
2620 Wilder Street, Philadelphia
Sunday, November 1st, 9:02 a.m.
Will Curtis—a frail fifty-four-year-old who was five-eleven and one-hundred-sixty pounds—drove the white Ford Freestar minivan rental up onto the cracked South Philly sidewalk, braking to a stop when the nose of the vehicle was even with the front door of the tiny rundown two-story rowhouse.
He studied it, and thought, Hope the sonofabitch is in there.
I can’t believe that that last sonofabitch’s address was so old the house was completely gone, burned to the damn ground.
Don’t want two dead-ends to start my day.
Curtis wore his Federal Express uniform, complete with the grease-smeared FedEx cap. The driver and front passenger doors of the minivan each had a three-foot-square polymer sign, with magnets he’d superglued on the back, that had the red and blue FedEx logotype and the words Home Delivery. He knew that it might not have passed muster as being a bona fide package delivery van with anyone back at the distribution warehouse, but so far it had looked like the real deal to everyone else.
Curtis got out from behind the steering wheel, adjusted the Glock .45-caliber semiautomatic pistol tucked in his waistband behind his belt buckle, and glanced around the neighborhood.
It wasn’t that early in the morning, but the street still was very quiet. There were only the sounds of dogs yapping down the block and, not too far off in the distance, the horn blare from a SEPTA light-rail train.
He saw a skinny mangy gray cat across the street. It was eating Halloween candies that somebody had dropped then squashed on the sidewalk.
Probably stolen from some poor kid.
Then again, some kid in another neighborhood.
Who’d go door to door for candy in this dump of a place?
Drugs, sure. Which is why it’s quiet now.
Damn lowlifes up all night chasing ass and doing dope.
But catching them now all good and sleepy will be some sort of justice.
He reached back inside the door of the minivan. There was a stack of six thin white paperboard envelopes on the dashboard, and he pulled the top one off the stack. Each of the envelopes was nine-by-eleven inches and also bore the distinctive FedEx logotype, as well as a clear plastic pouch holding a bill of lading.
Stepping carefully, Curtis carried the envelope toward the front door of the rowhouse. Parts of the crumbling sidewalk were broken down to bare dirt, and there were knee-high dead weeds in the cracks. He knew that it wouldn’t be hard at all to trip. And the last thing he wanted in his failing condition was to bloody his face, or worse, break a bone or two.
The damn cancer is bad enough without that happening.
The house itself, built of masonry blocks with a front façade of redbrick, also was in really bad shape. Not only were there large cracks in the brick wall from the missing mortar, but there also were gaps where bricks were completely missing from the wall. The house had not been painted in far too many years, leaving bare wood that had rotted in places. The solid metal front door and the four double-windows—two upstairs and two at street-level—were behind racks of rusty burglar bars. The lower half of the first-floor windows did not have glass. In place of the panes, ones presumably broken out before the addition of the burglar bars, there were poorly cut and badly fitting pieces of weather-warped plywood.
To the right of the concrete steps, on the sidewalk and up against the foot of the house, were five or six black thirty-two-gallon trash bags. They were packed full, piled high, one on the bottom with a big torn hole. They looked to have been there for some time, easily days if not weeks.
Curtis went up the flight of four concrete steps leading to the battered filthy-white metal front door. He caught out of the corner of his eye what he at first thought were two black cats. They’d been along the wall behind the trash bags. Then they’d bolted away, going behind some weeds that were near the small wood-framed window of the basement. The window was at the level of the busted dirty sidewalk.
Those aren’t cats. They’re goddamn rats!
He now noticed that the basement window was open, pulled inward from the top. The rats had disappeared into it.
Curtis shook his head in disgust.
As he reached the bar-covered metal door, there was a breeze, and it brought a stench. He gagged. That caused his stomach to turn, and then his lower GI to spasm.
Dammit! I may not make it . . .
After what felt like an eternity of sphincter squeezing, as he held his right sleeve over his mouth and nose, the moment passed without an unfortunate incident. But he now did feel a little dizzy from the exertion.
He looked at the garbage bags.
Jesus! Whatever it is has to be in there.
It’s like worse than raw chicken—or maybe dead rats—that’s gone bad.
He looked to the window where the vile rodents had run inside.
Or . . . could it be coming from the basement?
What a shithole!
He pulled back his sleeve, testing the air. The breeze had stopped, and the stench subsided.
I need to see who’s home, then get the hell out of here . . . .
He found that there was no doorbell—just a crude little hole where the wire once ran and a discolored circle where it had been mounted—so he balled his fist and reached between the bars and pounded the metal door.
As he waited for some kind of life to wake up and move inside—other than the vile vermin—he glanced at the FedEx envelope in his hand.
Its bill of lading had a return field that read:
United States Department of the Treasury
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20500
Will grinned. He knew that that was the address of the White House, and had listed it as an inside joke. He had no idea where the hell the U.S. Treasury had its main office—and didn’t give a damn, because he knew the “recipient” would not know, either.
Hell, how many overnight packages get delivered here anyway?
About the same number as there are honest lawyers with perverts for clients.
The bill of lading fields for “Recipient” read:
2620 Wilder Street
Philadelphia, PA 19147
Also on the bill of lading, there was a bold black “X” in the box beside the line that stated: Government-issued ID & Personal Signature of Recipient Required for Delivery.
After another knocking and another few minutes of waiting, he’d yet to hear anything moving inside the house.
Dammit! Not even another rat.
So, another dead-end.
Move this one to the bottom of the stack with the other dead-end.
Maybe try again later. At least there’s a house at this address.
Just as he turned to go down the steps to the minivan, he saw the curtain move in the top of the left downstairs window. The bottom of the window had the plywood in it, hiding the bottom of the curtain. But then he saw the knothole in the warped wood.
So, pull back the curtain and use that as a peep hole, eh?
Nervously, he readjusted the .45-caliber Glock in the waistband of his pants, right behind the buckle of the heavy strap-leather belt.
This morning’s work wasn’t wasted after all . . .
Will Curtis turned back to the door.
At five o’clock that morning, Will Curtis had awakened as he’d done for a long as he could remember, easily twenty years.
Then he’d gone downstairs, first to the bathroom to drain from his bladder what he hadn’t passed when forced to crawl out of bed over the course of the night, then to the kitchen to make coffee (which he knew was a damned diarrheic but twenty-plus-year habits were hard to break).
All the while careful not to wake up his wife.
Not even a week after Wendy had been brutally date-raped back in March, Linda had moved into her old bedroom. It was on the backside of the rowhouse’s first floor. It had not exactly been left as a shrine after Wendy had moved out and gotten her first apartment—if only because Wendy had needed a lot of the furniture and other items to kick-start her new independence—but it still had a lot of her personal items from growing up. Things like all the many trophies that she had won playing soccer in junior and senior high school. And the walls practically covered solid with framed and push-pinned photographs of Wendy and her countless gal pals, from birthday parties to summer trips to the Jersey shore, all at various points of her teen years.
A lot of memories for Linda to recall as she lay there. And, ever more the recluse, she spent more and more time in Wendy’s old bed. (They’d told Wendy that a new life required a new bed, and among the apartment-warming gifts they’d given her had been a queen-sized bed—the one she’d been attacked in after being drugged.)
I don’t know who’s going to take care of Linda when I’m gone, but I do know she won’t want for anything.
Especially with the house being paid off and the fat payout from my life insurance policy coming.
Which is damn convenient, because she’s barely holding on to her teller job.
And I’m feeling worse every day.
As the coffee brewed, Will Curtis went down in the basement.
Shortly after first moving into the house, he’d begun converting it into a recreational room. It had a pair of deep soft comfortable sofas and a freestanding bar he’d built in the corner. In just about every nook and cranny, he had put Philadelphia Eagles memorabilia. It was a collection that he’d started, then had help from Wendy, who’d grow into a genuine fan, too.
There was everything from Eagles beer mugs to a lifesize cutout of Swoop the mascot to framed newspaper articles about the team during the playoffs. He even had pinned up behind the bar a Donovan McNabb jersey, one he’d wanted forever to get the quarterback to autograph for Wendy but never had the right opportunity.
The room also held three TVs of various vintages, the newest one his pride and joy. It was a monster forty-five-inch flatscreen plasma high-definition model. Its picture was so sharp that made him feel like he was on the field with the Eagles and helping them do battle.
And, in the corner of the rec room, he had his desk that held a computer tower and monitor and printer.
Will Curtis walked over to it, and turned on the small desk lamp, the base of which was a plastic NFL football bearing the logotype of the Eagles. He booted up the computer, a two-year-old tower model. He preferred the tower because he never had any need for the portability of laptops and because desktops were half the price.
Every morning, about the time he’d finished checking his e-mail, enough time had passed for the pot of coffee to have finished brewing. He’d then go up and pour a big cup to bring back down and drink while replying to the e-mails he hadn’t deleted and then reading phillybulletin.com, the online edition of the Philadelphia Bulletin. Up until a couple years ago, he used to go out to the front stoop and pick up the paper version that he’d subscribed to forever. But, as it had never arrived until at least six in the morning—and on rainy days arrived wet—he’d let the subscription lapse after getting in the habit of reading the news on the internet.
And not just news.
Lately, he’d started following a new website, the name of which he really liked: CrimeFreePhilly.com. It had news articles, too, but so much more about crime and information on criminals. And, so, in the last month, he’d found that it had become an indispensable tool—especially in his tracking down of the really bad guys.
Now, a cup of freshly brewed coffee in his left hand, he used his right hand to manipulate his computer’s mouse, and clicked on CrimeFreePhilly.
The morning’s lead headline was:
Three Dead in Old City
Police Hunt Gunman in ‘Pop-and-Drop’ Murders
“Three dead”? had been Curtis’s first thought, as he sipped from his coffee cup.
Then: “Pop-and-drop?” That’s an interesting way to put it.
He noticed that Michael J. O’Hara had written the news article. Curtis had seen the byline in the Bulletin for a long time. He liked the kinds of articles the O’Hara guy wrote. But he hadn’t seen O’Hara’s name in some time, and he had wondered if something had happened to the reporter. But, now here was his name appearing on this new website.
Will Curtis read O’Hara’s news story. It was a short one, only six paragraphs, and didn’t really go into much more than just the basics of three men left dead in Old City at Lex Talionis, and then not even their names or how they were killed.
And it mentioned absolutely nothing about the pop-and-drops at the police stations.
Curtis saw that the article referenced both the reward offered by Lex Talionis and the speech made by Francis Fuller. And he saw that both references were underlined, meaning they were links to other pages with more information on each. When Curtis clicked on the Francis Fuller, the page with the pop-and-drop article was replaced with a much longer piece on Fuller’s speech on the evil-doers, written by someone named Dick Collier. He skimmed that, then went back and read it in its entirety.
Then, when he went back and clicked on the underlined Lex Talionis, the page changed to the exact same one that could be found at LexTalionis.com announcing the $10,000 reward program for information leading to the arrest and conviction of an evil-doer. He knew about the program, but read the page anyway to see if there was anything new.
There wasn’t, and Curtis again clicked back to O’Hara’s article on “Three Dead in Old City.”
Where the hell did the third body come from?
A coincidence? Oh, sure. Someone just happened to have one lying around, and dropped it off on Halloween!
Is some asshole copying me?
Except they’re not dumping bad guys at the police stations. Not that I know of, anyway. There haven’t been any stories about those, mine or anyone else’s.
In deep thought, he drained his coffee cup. Then he slammed the cup on the desk.
Some asshole has to be copying me!
What does that mean?
Well, for starters, it means more dead perverts.
Not that I have a problem with that.
But there’s gonna be cops on every corner looking for me and whoever else is dumping bodies.
And that means if I’m going to enforce the law of talion in whatever time I have left, I’m going to need to do something different.
[ TWO ]
Will Curtis had his balled fist inside the iron burglar bars and was again banging on the filthy metal door.
Now he could hear footsteps inside. They were moving toward the door.
There next came the sound of a chain rattling against the backside of the door, then a deadbolt unlocking, then the doorknob turning.
The door cracked open just barely.
Judging by the sliver of a gaunt face that Will Curtis saw through the crack, it looked to be a woman. She easily appeared to be old enough to be Kendrik Mays’s mother. She stared at him with only her left eye—and looked absolutely awful.
Well, what the hell did you expect to find here? Miss America?
Curtis held up the envelope so that she could see the bill of lading.
“Got a express delivery for a Kendrik Mays.”
The lone visible eyeball darted between Curtis and the envelope.
“Ain’t today Sunday?” she said.
“Look, I don’t like working weekends any more than the next guy.”
She nodded as she considered his answer.
After a moment, the woman said with a shaky voice, “He down at his cousin’s. Don’t know when he come back. You leave it with me.”
She pulled the door open wider, to where the chain became taut, and stuck out a badly bruised hand, fingers making a clawing motion for the envelope to be passed.
Now Curtis could see more of the woman, starting with the fact that the entire right side of her face, including all around the right eye, also was deeply bruised. She stood, her feet bare, maybe five-foot-two. She clearly was malnourished, and couldn’t weigh a hundred pounds. Torn and dirty black jeans and a ratty t-shirt hung on her.
Will Curtis, trying to get over his initial shock, pulled back the envelope.
“I’m sorry,” he said, “but it’s gotta be signed for by the person it’s addressed to.”
She squinted her sunken eyes and looked harder at the envelope. “Who it from?”
Will Curtis turned over the envelope, pretending to read from the bill of lading. “Says the U.S. Treasury in Washington.”
“Treasury? You sure you got the right address?”
He read it off the envelope, then said, “Kendrik Mays, right?”
She said, “Think maybe that be a check?”
In a tone he hoped sounded disinterested, he replied: “Yeah, that’d be my guess. Pension check, IRS refund, maybe some of that stimulus money the government’s been giving away. That’d be a good reason they want it delivered to the right person.”
Will Curtis looked her in the eyes and could see she was considering her options.
She said, “I sign for it. Kendrik my boy. I see he gets it.”
Curtis shook his head. “Sorry, ma’am. I’m just a delivery guy. And I got to follow rules. I guess I’ll come back—”
She slammed the door shut in his face.
What the hell? he thought.
Then he could hear the chain clanking against the inside. The door swung all the way open.
“Hurry up,” she said shakily. “Maybe he got money he don’t beat me no more. Maybe he move out for good.”
Curtis looked around the inside of the house. It was a shambles. The only furniture was a threadbare sofa with torn cushions and two white plastic chairs, the stackable kind commonly used on back patios.
“You know that’s not right. No one should beat you.”
She said, “I knows. I do. But he don’t mean to. It’s drugs. They make him mean. Different, you know?”
“No, ma’am, I don’t know. I can’t begin to understand it. Where is he?”
She pointed to the floor, indicating the basement, and started to cry. “He was such a sweet little boy. The street turned him bad . . .”
“That, I know.”
He held up the envelope, then grabbed the tab at the top, peeling it open. He reached in and pulled out a sheet. It was a Wanted poster from the listing of Megan’s Law fugitives at CrimeFreePhilly.com, one he’d downloaded and printed in his basement.
Next to a color mug shot of an angry young black man with a full beard and dreadlocks was:
Name (First, Middle, LAST):
| Kendrik LeShawn MAYS
|Black Male, 5’9”, 200 lbs.
Date of Birth:
Last Known Address:
|2620 Wilder Street
City, State, ZIP:
|Philadelphia, PA 19147
|3123 Involuntary deviate sexual intercourse & rape of an unconscious or unaware person
Phila Police Dept Case No.:
The “3123” referred to the statute: “A person commits a felony of the first degree when the person engages in deviant sexual intercourse with a complainant . . .” It then went on to list seven additional definitions, including forcible compulsion of the victim, drugging of the victim, and so on.
Kendrik LeShawn Mays’s mother raised her eyebrows. But she did not appear at all surprised. Nor at all concerned that Will Curtis had her son’s Wanted sheet.
“Yeah,” she said, “that him. Guess he lied. Said he took care of that.”
She looked at Curtis. “No check, huh?”
More like a reality check, Curtis thought.
He shook his head.
Will Curtis went down the unstable wooden steps into the basement. His left hand slid along the wooden handrail and his right hand, holding the .45-caliber pistol, followed the wall that was mostly busted sheetrock.
There was some light from the small window at the far end of the room—the one the rats had gone through—but not enough for him to make our anything but vague shapes in the pitch dark.
There was another stench, although not like the putrid meat smell that had assaulted his olfactory senses at the front door. Here the odor was a sickly sweet stench, and had gotten stronger the farther down the stairs he went. So far, though, it hadn’t triggered his gag reflex, and he was grateful for such small favors.
At the foot of the stairs, he stopped and listened. He could hear snoring about midway in the room.
That’s two people snoring!
One deep as hell.
He felt around on the wall for a light switch. As best he could tell, there wasn’t a switch, just busted dry wall, like someone had used it for a punching bag.
He took another step, reaching farther down the wall, then felt his foot catch on a rope or cord or something.
Some kind of trip wire?
He carefully reached down with his left hand till he felt it.
It was a vinyl covered electrical extension cord that had been run from upstairs. When he tugged on it, something at its far end started sliding across the basement floor toward him.
He pulled and pulled, and finally found at the end what had once been the guts of a lamp. All that was left from the lamp was a threaded metal rod attached to the receptacle that held a lone bare light bulb. His thumb found the stick push-switch on the receptacle, and, after positioning himself in a crouch and aiming the pistol in the direction of the snoring, he pushed the switch on.
The lone bare bulb burned brightly, damn near blinding him until his eyes adjusted.
The only response from the middle of the room was another loud deep snore.
After a moment, after his eyes adjusted, Will Curtis could not believe what he was seeing.
The basement was the worst thing he’d ever seen in his life. It was completely trashed. The walls were in fact nothing but busted sheetrock, as if someone had taken a sledgehammer to them in search of whatever treasure might be hidden beneath. And then he saw that they had: the wiring had been ripped from the wall power outlets and light switches.
It probably was cheap aluminum, not copper, wiring, making the effort mostly worthless. Idiots.
Desperate idiots . . .
Trash was strewn all across the floor. There were piles after piles of dirty clothes that hadn’t been touched in years. Dust and dirt was everywhere. And, in a far corner by a plastic bucket, he saw the source of the sickly sweet stench: mounds of dried human waste.
Animals wouldn’t live in this!
Just then, a rat ran across his booted foot, away from the light and toward the darkness of a far corner, along the way scattering what looked like rolling waves of cockroaches.
Jesus H. Christ!
This place should’ve been condemned a decade ago!
Then he looked to the middle of the room, to the source of the snoring.
There he saw a dirty and torn mattress set up on wooden pallets—presumably to keep it safe from the sea of cockroaches below—and on the mattress were two human forms side by side.
One, the deep snorer, was a black male whose coarse face made him look older than the one pictured in the Wanted mug shot. His hair was cut short, and he had a short goatee.
The other was a very young black girl.
That son of a bitch!
Both were naked, the girl curled under a dirty bath towel she used as a makeshift blanket. Kendrik had a rolled up jacket under his head, his right hand under it and his left hand resting on the girl’s exposed bony buttock. It looked at if they had been together but the girl had crawled forward, away from Kendrik.
They look so dirty—so foul.
Will Curtis called out: “Kendrik Mays!”
Mays didn’t move. The girl’s left eye opened suddenly, then closed. She pretended to still be asleep.
Curtis walked closer to Mays, then kicked the mattress. “Kendrik!”
He saw a groggy Mays struggle to turn his head. Then he opened his right eye to look at whoever was disturbing his sleep.
From under his jacket he suddenly pulled out a small snub-nosed revolver.
Oh, shit! Curtis thought as he instinctively leveled the Glock at Mays.
Then Curtis saw that Mays’s hand was shaking so severely he couldn’t keep a grip on the gun butt.
Curtis kicked the hand, his heavy boot causing the pistol to fly across the basement. It landed in a pile of dirty clothes.
“Sit up, you son of a bitch!” Curtis barked at Mays.
It took Mays forever to comply.
When he had finally done so, the girl turned to look at Curtis.
And Will Curtis ached.
She was as badly bruised at Kendrik’s mother. She wasn’t as young as he thought—Still can’t be over seventeen, eighteen—but she was terribly skinny from the drug-abuse. Her breasts were not firm at all, just scrawny and hanging like droopy tubes of flesh. Her buttocks skin was wrinkled and saggy, the outline of her hipbones easily seen.
When Kendrik raised his hand to scratch his head, the girl flinched.
She’s conditioned to getting hit for the slightest thing . . . .
“You,” Curtis said to her, kicking a ratty dress toward her. “Get dressed and get the hell out of here!”
She looked back wordlessly, her sunken eyes wide.
Then she looked to Mays, seemingly for permission.
Mays, his head cocked, stared belligerently at Curtis, his look saying, Who the fuck is this honky think he is aiming a fucking Glock at Kendrik Fucking Mays?
Curtis motioned with the pistol toward the female. “Go! Now!”
Kendrik said, “Go on, bitch. I deal with you later.”
She slid the dress on over her head, not bothering with putting on any panties, and then moved to the wooden stairs. She looked back over her shoulder, then turned and went upstairs as fast as she could manage.
Curtis, the pistol aimed at Mays’s face, handed him the sheet of paper that was his Wanted poster.
“This you?” Will said.
He looked at it, then at Curtis. Then he smiled.
Will Curtis thought: Jesus! What rotted teeth!
At least the ones he still has.
He must be living on crystal meth.
Kendrik then said: “Fuck you! What if it is, old man?”
He spat on the floor.
“You do what it says you did?”
“Fuck you!” Kendrik repeated.
He tried to stare down Curtis. But then he suddenly started to shake uncontrollably.
After a moment, he said, “Maybe. What’s it to you?” He shook again, then tried to puff out his chest. “Yeah. I done it. All that and more. Two years ago. Why you here now?”
“I’d say, ‘May God have pity on you,’ but I think you’re past that point.”
Kendrik barked: “Fuck you, motherfucker!”
Will Curtis nodded.
And he squeezed the trigger of the Glock.
The .45-caliber round entered Kendriks’ right cheek, making an entrance wound just below the eye that looked like a pulpy crimson hole and taking out two more of the rotted teeth—then, exiting the back of his skull, blew out a hole the size of a baseball.
Kendrik LeShawn Mays’s eyes rolled back as he suddenly slumped onto the filthy torn mattress.
When he got to the top of the stairs, Will Curtis found Kendrik’s mother standing solemnly in the middle of the shabby living room. She had her head down, her face expressionless. Her arms were tightly crossed over her chest, hands squeezing her biceps. The girl was nowhere in sight.
“I’d like to say I’m sorry for your loss,” Will Curtis said evenly. “But you lost your boy a long time ago. That wasn’t him down there.”
She shook her head, and said, “No, it wasn’t. You right. It ain’t no good. Ain’t none of it no good.”
She looked up and met his eyes. He saw that hers were stone cold.
“Had it coming to him,” she said. “He hurt a lot of folk, good folk, not just me. That girl? He abuse her long time. Months. Now, she won’t be. And I won’t be beat up no more for his meth and shit.”
He walked toward the door, then he paused.
What the hell. I can’t take it with me. And Linda’s set for life.
He reached in his pants’ front right pocket, came up with a wad of cash folded over and held together with a rubber band. He peeled off five twenties and a one-dollar bill.
“This is for you,” he said, handing her the twenty-dollar bills.
Then he pulled a FedEx ballpoint pen from his shirt pocket and on the one-dollar bill he wrote, “Lex Talionis, Third & Arch, Old City.”
“You find someone to help you get Kendrik down to here. There’s a $10,000 reward”—he paused to let that sink in—“for criminals like him. You won’t go to jail; if I have to, I’ll call and say I did it. But you make sure you get the reward money. Maybe it will help you start a new life.”
Then Will Curtis turned and went through the front door.
Behind the wheel of the rented Ford minivan, Will Curtis pulled the envelope that was on top of the stack on the dashboard. He read its bill of lading. Under “Recipient” was:
2408 N. Mutter Street
Philadelphia, PA 19133
Kensington—what a lovely part of town!
As least when the drug dealers aren’t having shoot-outs on the street corners . . .
He put the rented Ford minivan in gear, and accelerated off the busted sidewalk.
[ THREE ]
Executive Command Center
Eighth and Race Streets, Philadelphia
Wednesday, September 9th, 12:04:01 p.m.
“You’re on in fifty-nine seconds, Mister Mayor,” Kerry Rapier said.
The master technician was seated in a wheeled nylon-mesh-fabric chair behind a black four-foot-wide control bank, also on wheels, that had a series of panels with buttons and dials, its main feature a keyboard with a joystick and a color video monitor. A fat bundle of cables ran from the control bank to the wall and, ultimately, to a rack of video recording and broadcasting equipment and up to the soda-can-sized digital video camera that, suspended at the end of a motorized boom, seemed to float overhead.
Rapier, a police department blue shirt whose soft features and impossibly small frame made him look much younger than his twenty-five years, had shoulder patches on his uniform bearing the two silver outlined blue chevrons of a corporal. He manipulated the joystick, and the camera overhead zoomed in to tightly frame the face of the Honorable Jerome H. “Jerry” Carlucci, who stood at a dark-stained oak lectern.
Carlucci, his brown eyes smiling, said, “Son, are you sure you’re even old enough be a policeman, let alone a corporal?”
Corporal Rapier grinned.
“With respect, Mister Mayor, that’s not the first I’ve heard that.”
Carlucci’s brown eyes, depending on his mood, could be warm and thoughtful or intense and piercing. Large-boned and heavy-set, he was an almost massive fifty-one-year-old with dark brown hair. He wore an impeccably tailored dark gray woolen two-piece suit with a light blue freshly-pressed dress shirt and a solid navy blue silk necktie that matched the silk pocket square of his suit coat.
Standing shoulder to shoulder behind Mayor Carlucci was a veritable wall of white shirts: Police Commissioner Ralph Mariana, wearing his uniform with four stars, and Denny Coughlin, with the three stars of the first deputy police commissioner, were directly behind the mayor. And standing on opposite ends of them were Homicide Commander Henry Quaire, whose uniform bore the captain’s rank insignia of two gold bars, and Homicide Lieutenant Jason Washington, with the insignia of one butter bar on his uniform.
Looming on the wall behind all of them was a grid of flat-screen TVs. The screens alternately displayed either an official seal of the City of Philadelphia—the newly designed one, a golden Liberty Bell ringed by CITY OF PHILADELPHIA LIFE LIBERTY AND YOU in blue lettering—and the blue Philadelphia Police Department shield, which bore the older seal of the city and HONOR INTEGRITY SERVICE in gold lettering.
(Earlier official city phrases had been “The City of Brotherly Love” and “The Place That Loves You Back,” the latter falling into disfavor after some wits in the populace reworded the slogan to read, “The Place That Shoots You In The Back”—and worse variants thereof.)
Carlucci was about to give a prepared statement concerning the previous night’s triple murders and the first five pop-and-drops. So that what he said would have the greatest impact, the mayor of the City of Philadelphia was borrowing from the playbook of the police commissioner by using the ECC.
Ralph Mariana held almost all of his press conferences in the Executive Command Center, and more than a few of these as only prepared statements—“No damned reporters means no damned annoying loaded questions”—that were broadcast as one-way feeds to news organizations.
For one, it was convenient for Mariana to do so. The nerve center of the Philadelphia Police Department was next door to his office. (Between his and the first deputy police commissioner’s offices—although Denny Coughlin, conversely, almost never set foot in the ECC if there wasn’t a real emergency to manage.)
For another, the fairly new ECC was a state of the art facility. It held an impressive display of the latest high-technology equipment. The electronics made for terrific photo opportunities—and more importantly, as Mariana said, helped give the public a sure sense of confidence that the police department had the best tools to safeguard its citizens.
The ECC’s main objective was to collect, assimilate, and analyze during a crisis a mind-boggling amount of wide-ranging raw information—people and places and events and more—in a highly efficient manner.
And then to act on it—instantly, if not sooner.
“And that's exactly what the hell we’re doing this morning,” Carlucci had bluntly told Mariana when he said he wanted everyone to gather in the ECC. “If this goddamn situation escalates, it has the potential to turn the city into something out of the Wild West.”
The bulk of the ECC’s enormous charcoal-gray-carpeted room was given over to a massive pair of T-shaped conference tables. Each dark gray formica-topped table seated twenty-six. And each of these fifty-two places at the tables had its own multi-line telephone, outlets for laptop computers, and access to secure networks for on-demand communications with other law enforcement agencies—from local to federal to the international police agency, Interpol—as necessary.
Along the back walls were more chairs to accommodate another forty staff and administrative types.
The focal point of the room, however, were three banks of sixty-inch high-definition LCD flat-screen TVs. There were nine TVs per bank on the ten-foot-high walls. Mounted edge to edge, the frameless TVs could create a single super-sized image, or nine or more individual pictures (depending on if any of the individual TVs were used in a split-screen mode).
Usually, when the screens were not showing live feeds from cameras mounted in emergency vehicles at the scene of an accident or crime, they showed continuously cycling images from closed-circuit TV cameras that were mounted all over the city—subways to public buildings to main and secondary roadways—and the broadcasts from local and cable TV news stations. Images could be from almost any source, even a cellular telephone’s camera, as long as the signals were digitized.
Each of the TVs was numbered in a manner so that the control panel could put an image on just a single screen, or blow up that image to fill all nine making up the bank, or anything in between.
In the table of organization of the Philadelphia Police Department, the ECC fell under the purview of its Science & Technology arm, which included the Forensic Sciences, Information Systems, and Communications divisions. Its two-star commander—Deputy Police Commissioner Howard Walker, a slender, very tall, fifty-year-old black man with a cleanly shaven head and thin long nose—reported to Denny Coughlin.
Acting on an order issued that morning by the mayor—one that was quickly passed down the chain of command, which was to say that Jerry Carlucci had directly told Denny Coughlin to ensure it got carried out—Walker had alerted the local news media that a live feed of Mayor Carlucci would begin at precisely 12:05 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. The timing gave the TV news programs the opportunity to start their noon newscasts with the announcement that an important statement by the mayor of Philadelphia concerning the rash of recent murders was coming up in five minutes.
“Stay tuned. We’re back with that breaking news right after this commercial break.”
“Thirty seconds, gentlemen . . .” Corporal Rapier said.
Three hours earlier, when Coughlin had led his group into the Executive Command Center, he’d found the mayor and the police commissioner already seated at Conference Table One. They had heavy china mugs, steaming with fresh coffee, before them on the table. Mariana’s mug read SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY EXECUTIVE COMMAND CENTER. The mayor’s mug read GENO'S STEAKS SOUTH PHILLY, PENNA.
Everyone in the ECC was casually dressed. Even the usually stiffly button-downed Carlucci didn’t wear a necktie, and had his shirt collar open. And Matt Payne and Tony Harris were of course still their rumpled messes, sartorial and otherwise, the result of having been up most of the night running down leads in the death of Reggie Jones.
“Good morning, gentlemen,” Carlucci said in a solemn tone suggesting he meant that it was anything but a good morning. He did not move from his chair except to grab his coffee mug handle.
There was a chorus of good morning’s in reply.
Mariana added, “Fresh coffee in there.”
He waved with his the mug across the room, in the direction of the doorway to a short passageway that gave access to two doors. One door led to restrooms, the other to a kitchenette. The latter held a standard size refrigerator, single stainless steel sink, and an institutional sized coffee machine.
Carlucci then said, “Sergeant Payne, no offense but you and Detective Harris look like hell.”
Twenty-seven-year-old Payne was six feet tall, weighed one-seventy-five, and had a chiseled face, dark intelligent eyes, and thick dark hair he kept trimmed short. Harris was thirty-eight, slight of build, and starting to bald.
“Considering what we’ve been through, Mister Mayor,” Payne said dryly, “hell sounds like an absolute utopian paradise. I enjoy the thrill of the chase as much as the next guy, but this one’s a real challenge. Right now we don’t know if we are in fact dealing with a single shooter-slash-strangler. Or if there are others, that is—as someone put it earlier—Halloween Homicide Copycats.”
Ordinarily, a lowly police sergeant speaking so bluntly to the highest elected official of a major city would be cause for disciplinary—if not more drastic—measures.
But for Carlucci, his relationship—both with Payne and most everyone else in the group—was anything but ordinary.
Carlucci, back when he’d been a cop, had known and liked Matt’s biological father. And that went way back, to when Sergeant John F.X. Moffitt had been the best friend of a young Denny Coughlin—and then had gotten himself killed in the line of duty, responding to a burglar alarm call.
Mayor Carlucci also was very well acquainted with Matt Payne’s adoptive father, who he also liked very much, and not only because Brewster Cortland Payne II was a founding partner of Philadelphia’s most prestigious law firm.
And there was another connection between Matt and Hizzhonor.
Carlucci was been Coughlin’s “rabbi”—his mentor—the function of which was the grooming of a young police officer with great potential for the larger responsibilities that would come as he rose in ranks of the department.
Denny Coughlin then had gone on to groom Peter Wohl, son of Augustus Wohl, chief inspector (retired). And then Peter Wohl—indeed among the best and brightest, having at twenty graduated Temple University, then entered the police academy and, later, become the youngest staff inspector on the department—had been in recent years Matt Payne’s rabbi.
And more or less completing the circle: It was the elder Wohl who’d been the rabbi of an up and coming police officer some thought might at some point show some potential—a young man by the name of Jerry Carlucci.
“If I didn’t know better, Matt,” Mayor Carlucci now said, his face and tone suggesting more than a little displeasure, and surprising Payne, “I’d say you were on the street working all night.” He paused to make eye contact with the white shirt he’d mentored decades earlier, when the then-young man first wore a sergeant’s blue shirt, then went on: “But I do know that that’s not the case because we’d all agreed that the Wyatt Earp of the Main Line would stay the hell out of sight for a certain cool down period.” He looked again at Denny. “Or am I mistaken?”
Mariana, Quaire, and Washington—the direct chain of command also somewhat directly responsible for seeing that Payne drove a desk so as to stay out of the news—looked a little ill at ease.
Payne saw that Walker found the situation of Denny Coughlin being in the mayor’s crosshairs more than a little interesting.
But Coughlin, while deeply respectful of Carlucci, not to mention of his iron fist and occasional temper, was not cowed by him. Over the years he’d learned a lot from his rabbi, and one of the most important lessons was to make a decision, then come hell or high water stand by that decision.
Carlucci, time and again, had told him: “One’s inability to be decisive gets people killed. Make up your goddamn mind—based on the best available information, or your gut, or better both—and move forward.”
Denny Coughlin now said evenly, almost conversationally, “Jerry, I had the same initial reaction earlier this morning. But in light of what we’re dealing with, I decided that that period ended at midnight last night. Matt’s been all over these pop-and-drops, and if we have any chance of quickly figuring out who’s doing what—and we need to, or it’s likely going to get very ugly very fast—I made the decision that Matt needed the desk shackle cut loose.”
Carlucci looked thoughtfully at Coughlin a long moment, then at Payne, then back at Coughlin. He grunted, and put down his china mug with a loud thunk.
“For the record, Denny, color me not completely convinced. Maybe it’s because I recently spent so much time trying—key word trying—to dissuade the media that we have a loose cannon in our police department.” He exhaled audibly. “But I do know better than to micromanage the people who I know well and who I have absolute trust in.”
With a deadly serious face, he looked at Payne.
“Just try not to add to the goddamn body count. Got that, Marshal? I don’t want to have answer any more questions from the damned press about the you.”
Payne nodded. “Yessir. Duly noted, sir.”
Carlucci met his eyes, and added, “That doesn’t mean that I don’t support you in what were righteous shootings. You were doing your job, and you did it well.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“Okay, everybody have a seat,” Carlucci then said. “Let’s hear what you’ve got on the pop-and-drops, Matt.”
“Yes, sir,” Payne said. “But, as you noticed, Tony and I’ve been up all night. I can’t speak for Tony, but I could use some caffeine.”
“I’ll get ’em,” Harris said, and headed across the room as the others sat down at the conference table.
Sergeant Matt Payne drained his second cup of coffee, then made with his left hand a grand sweeping gesture at one of the banks of TVs.
On its screens were images of the first five dead fugitives—both their Wanted sheets with mug shots and images showing them dumped at the various police department district stations—as well as detailed maps and lists of data showing where the bad guys had lived, where they had committed their crimes, and, ultimately, where they had been found dead.
He looked at Mayor Jerry Carlucci, and said, “And that is essentially what I put together from the files of the first five pop-and-drops. There’s unequivocally no question that they were targeted killings by the same doer. It’s these new ones from last night that we don’t know. Yet.”
“ ‘Targeted killings’?” the mayor repeated.
Payne nodded. “Today’s buzzword for ‘assassination.’ ”
Carlucci made a sour face. “Let’s stick with ‘targeted killings,’ in the statement and elsewhere. Or even just ‘murders by perps unknown.’ At least for now.”
He looked around the ECC conference table, and everyone nodded agreeably.
“You said,” Carlucci went on, “that with the exception of one of the first five, all were dropped by the same doer at the district PD closest to the critter’s Last Known Address. And all had the same MO?”
Payne pointed to one of the TVs. “Yes, sir. That’s shown on Number Eight. All dropped bound at ankles and wrists. All shot either in the chest or head. And all with the same doer’s fingerprints. Which makes us”—he glanced at Tony Harris—“believe that we will find he’s also responsible for at least two of the three dropped last night. He left prints everywhere. Prints and piss.”
Carlucci cocked his head. “Did you say piss?”
When Payne explained about “the gallons” of piss poured all over the law office of Danny Gartner, Carlucci shook his head, and said, “If I’d known, I might have contributed. Never did like that Gartner.”
Carlucci went on, “So, piss and prints. Could be the doer’s just careless or stupid—or worse.”
“At least stupid, which most doers are, and that makes them careless,” Payne said unnecessarily, stating what everyone at that table innately knew.
Accordingly, there were grunts of agreement.
“Or maybe he wants to get caught?” Harris offered.
Payne raised an eyebrow. “Maybe. He’s damn sure making ample opportunity for that to happen. Just a matter of time . . .”
“So,” Carlucci said, “again, all we have for sure is one doer linked to the first five pop-and-drops—”
“That’s correct,” Payne said.
“—And maybe at least two of last night’s three—the two who were shot—if we find that the prints on them match those prints on the first five. Same for the third, even though he wasn’t shot.”
“Exactly,” Payne said.
“Strangled and beaten,” Carlucci then wondered aloud. “What could be the significance of that?”
Payne shrugged. “Maybe the doer ran out of bullets.”
“Let’s hope so,” he said. “If not, then we have two or more goddamn doers to collar. So, when do we—I mean, you; here I am thinking I’m back on the job—when do we get the prints that were taken last night back from IAFIS? Before noon, in time for the statement?”
IAFIS, the FBI’s Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System, was the largest biometric database in the world. It held the fingerprints and other information—collected from local, state, local, and federal law enforcement agencies—on more than fifty-five million people. Law enforcement agencies could access it at any time—every day, round-the-clock—and run a search with the fingerprints they lifted from a crime scene. It wasn’t uncommon, provided the submitted print or prints were clean, to get a response in a couple hours as to whether there was a match with any of the ten-point fingerprint records in the database.
Payne shook his head. “We have nothing from last night. We haven’t run any through IAFIS because we’re still waiting for forensics to process the prints that were lifted. You know what their motto can sometimes be . . . .”
“Enlighten me,” Carlucci said dryly.
“ ‘If we wait until the last minute to do it, it’ll only take a minute.’ ”
There suddenly was a cold silence in the room, and Payne then realized from the furious look on Walker’s face that given difference circumstances—say, the absence of Walker’s three immediate bosses—he would have reamed the hotshot Homicide sergeant a new anal orifice.
Nice job, Payne ol’ boy, Matt thought. Forensic Sciences belongs to Walker.
Screw it. Maybe this will get them moving faster.
Payne remembered Coughlin one night at Liberties Bar, more than a couple stiff Irish whiskeys under both their belts, let slip that he was not a fan of his. Walker, who spoke with a cleric’s soft intelligent voice, cultivated a rather pious air about him. Coughlin felt that Walker used all the gee-whiz that was Science & Technology as smoke and mirrors to cover up his more or less incompetence.
“But Ralph said he had his reasons for me giving Walker the job. And, write this down, Matty, never argue with your boss. Still, I’d love to know what angle Walker is working on Ralph.”
Mayor Carlucci guffawed, breaking the tension.
“I’m going to have to remember to use that line back at City Hall. Nothing gets done there, not even in the last minute. It’s always late, if at all.”
There were the expected chuckles.
“Okay,” Carlucci said, “then I won’t ask about NCIC. If we don’t have prints to run, we don’t a name to run.”
The National Crime Information Center—also maintained by the FBI and available to law enforcement at any time, day or night—had a database containing the critical records of criminals, which of course included fugitives. Additionally, NCIC tracked missing persons and stolen property. Its data came not only from the same law enforcement agencies that provided IAFIS, but also from authorized courts and foreign law enforcement agencies.
“I’ll go stoke the fire under them for those prints,” Walker then offered more or less lamely, and stood and went over to use one of the phones at the other conference table.
Bingo, Payne thought. That’ll get ’em moving faster.
Ralph Mariana then spoke up: “Jerry, what should be done about Frank Foster?”
Payne put in: “I’ve had an unmarked sitting on Fuller’s Old City office.”
“That’s fine, Matt,” Mariana said, “but I meant what should be done about his now infamous rewards.”
Carlucci, his face showing a mixture of anger and frustration, said, “I’ve spoken with Fuller privately about that bloodthirsty reward system of his. I’ve tried to dissuade him, suggesting that it’s at best a misplaced sense of civic duty and at worst encouraging criminal activity. He said he didn’t care, that he’d spend his last dime on lawyers defending that eye-for-an-eye thing—”
“The law of talion,” Payne offered.
Carlucci shot a look of mild annoyance for the interruption, then went on: “—especially, he said, after what happened to his wife and child.”
“What happened to his family?” Mariana said.
Quaire offered: “I had that case in Homicide. It never got solved, primarily because, we believe, the doers involved killed each other before we could get statements, let alone bring charges. Anyway, the wife and the girl, a ten-year-old, I believe, made a wrong turn at the Museum of Art, and wound up a half-mile or so north in the wrong neighborhood at the wrong time. Cut down in a crossfire of single-aught buckshot.”
“Jesus!” Mariana said, shaking his head. “That’s tragic.”
The group was silent a moment.
Carlucci then said, “But I have no choice but to denounce him, or at least what he’s accomplishing with his reward.”
Denny Coughlin cleared his throat.
“You have something, Denny?” Carlucci said. “Say it.”
“Just a point, Jerry. Giving credit where it’s due, Matt did bring up that for us to do so—to condemn the reward system—would be somewhat hypocritical.”
Carlucci made an unpleasant face.
“You can’t be a little pregnant,” Payne said.
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” Carlucci said looking at Payne.
“We can’t say that Five-Eff’s paying out ten-grand rewards—”
“ ‘Five-Eff’?” Carlucci interrupted.
Payne nodded. “Francis Franklin Foster the Fifth long ago had his name boiled down to simply Four-Eff.”
“You said ‘Five,’ ” Carlucci challenged.
Payne looked around the table, and all eyes were watching him with more than a little curiosity. He thought there may have been a trace of wariness in Coughlin’s.
Payne raised an eyebrow, then said, “Francis can be pompous, as you well know, and when he annoys me, I call him Five-Eff, short for that Fucking Francis Franklin Foster the Fifth.”
Carlucci guffawed again. A couple others followed his lead by chuckling. Coughlin shook his head.
“All right,” Carlucci said, “as he’s come to annoy the hell out of me, I’ll now say: How does my denouncing Five-Eff make me pregnant?”
Payne grinned. He knew Carlucci understood what he’d meant by the analogy.
“My point is, sir, that our department has partnerships with other agencies that offer rewards. The FBI Violent Crimes Task Force, for example.”
He gestured with his thumb in a southerly direction. The FBI’s office, at 600 Arch Street, across from the Federal Reserve Bank, was damn near outside the backdoor of the Roundhouse.
“And, I’m sure you’ll recall that we have our own tips hotline,” Payne went on, “that, through the Citizens Crime Commission, pays out rewards that go from five hundred bucks or so on up to thousands. And when a cop gets murdered, the Fraternal Order of Police administers rewards for info that leads to catching the doers. So, we already do what Five-Eff does. We just don’t, as was pointed out to me”—he exchanged glances with Coughlin—“encourage the killing of the critters.”
Carlucci started nodding. “All right. I take your point. We can massage that in the message, so to speak. Now, let’s boil all this down to what I’m going to say.”
“Thirty seconds, Mister Mayor,” Corporal Kerry Rapier said from behind the control panel.
Jerry Carlucci, looking not uncomfortable but as if he rather be somewhere else, then scrunched up his face and suddenly looked serious, if not pissed off.
Corporal Rapier said, “In five, four, three, two . . .” then pointed to Mayor Carlucci.
Rapier, his right hand on the joystick on the panel that manipulated the digital camera overhead, looked at the monitor. Mayor Carlucci was perfectly framed, a tight shot of his face with parts of Mariana’s and Coughlin’s faces looking over his shoulders.
Carlucci said: “Good afternoon, citizens of the great city of Philadelphia. Thank you for letting me in your homes today. I respect your time, and will be brief.
“While it saddens me as your mayor to have to appear here today to address a rash of murders, I must tell you that I am very proud to be speaking to you from the Roundhouse and in the company of some of the finest law enforcement officials anywhere.
“As you may be aware, in the last month five known criminals—all fugitives guilty of sexual offenses—have been killed and brought to the door of the Philadelphia Police Department. And last night, three more murdered men were left at the door of an organization that offers rewards for the capture of criminals.
“The City of Philadelphia and our police department are grateful for any help in keeping our communities safe. We in fact encourage citizens—who can remain anonymous—to provide tips that lead to the arrest and conviction of criminals. Simply call 9-1-1, or 215-686-TIPS. Depending on the case, there are cash rewards for information that leads to a criminal’s conviction.
“While we do applaud the removal of any criminal at-large in our free society, we cannot condone, no matter how well-meaning, any such act that results in death. That is murder, and those so responsible will be prosecuted to the fullest.”
He paused to let that point sit with the various audiences.
“Since I have served both as your police commissioner and now as your mayor, crimes have declined in our fair city, major crimes such as homicides reduced by half. While we are not where we would like to be—one robbery or murder or rape is one too many—we are committed to crime prevention and criminal apprehension. It is what we are well trained to do. And I believe the statistics prove that we do it exceptionally well.
“Now, in response to last night’s criminal activity, today I am pleased to announce that Police Commissioner Mariana has formed a special task force to capture the armed and dangerous perpetrator. Operation Clean Sweep will be led by Homicide Unit Sergeant M.M. Payne—”
Carlucci paused as his image, caused by Corporal Rapier’s manipulation of the control panel, was replaced for a three-second count by one of Matt Payne and Carlucci. Payne, in a crisp Brooks Brothers two-piece suit and tie, was shaking hands with Carlucci. Their left hands held up a plaque that at the top was emblazoned with Valor in the Line of Duty.
“—whose name you may recognize as one of our highly-decorated officers. He could not be here in person as he already is fully immersed in the investigation.”
Carlucci now gestured to the white shirts behind him, and went on: “Sergeant Payne will be fully supported not only by the Philadelphia PD but also will have the full backing of any other State and Federal agencies who we partner with in such initiatives as the FBI Violent Crimes Task Force.
“And of course Operation Clean Sweep will have the full force of all departmental assets, which are legion.”
He motioned to the panel of TVs behind him.
Corporal Rapier worked his control panel, and each screen instantly was replaced with images of nearly everything in the department’s arsenal. There was a pair of the Aviation Unit’s Bell 206 L-4 helicopters hovering over a grassy field, their floodlight beams lighting up a suspect, his hands up, as uniforms on the ground converged. Members of the Special Weapons and Tactical (SWAT) unit were rescuing a hostage. A Marine Unit’s twenty-four-foot-long Boston Whaler, its lightbar on the aluminum tower pulsing red and blue, was screaming up the Delaware River. And more dramatic imagery of the police department in action.
“You have my word that our dedicated police department will apprehend the perpetrator, and soon.
“Again, thank you for your time and for your confidence. May God bless you and keep you safe.”
At least long enough for us to catch the damned murderer, Carlucci thought as he stared somber-faced at the camera as it swung on the boom, pulling back from him.
Payne was standing with Harris and Walker behind Corporal Rapier and the control panel.
Payne had moved there, and the others followed, to make sure that when the camera panned the ECC—And it will pan the room to show off the high-tech toys for the benefit of the viewing public, including the bad guys—“We’ve got the goods; better to give yourselves up now!”—it wouldn’t catch him standing there for all to see.
Especially looking like hell.
As he heard Corporal Rapier say, “And . . . we’re clear and off the air,” Payne felt his telephone vibrate.
He looked at its screen, and recognized the caller ID as that from the uniform in the unmarked in Old City.
He answered it: “Payne.”
Then after a moment, loudly said: “What? Oh, shit!”
He felt eyes on him, and looked up to see that everyone was indeed looking at him. Particularly Carlucci.
Payne was shaking his head as he listened to the phone, then after another moment, he said, “What’s the CCTV ID number there?”
He took a ballpoint pen from his pocket and, not quickly locating any paper, awkwardly held the phone to his ear using his shoulder while he wrote the code on his left palm.
“Thanks. I’ll get right back to you.”
He held out his left hand in front of Corporal Rapier.
“Kerry, please punch up the feed from this CCTV on the main screen.”
Payne nodded at the main bank of TVs, which had a realtime feed of the front façade of City Hall.
As Corporal Rapier’s fingers flew across the keyboard, and he manipulated other buttons on the console, the main screen went to snowlike gray pixels.
“What is it, Matt?” Carlucci said.
“You are not going to believe this. Looks like Five-Eff has had another charitable donation at his doorstep.”
“What the hell are you talking about, Matty?” Coughlin blurted.
“Not ten minutes ago, a woman arrived at the offices of Lex Talionis in a gypsy cab. It was a minivan—an older model tan Toyota—and when the side door opened onto the curb, the woman got out. She met the driver at the rear door of the van, and together they wrestled a rolled up carpet out of the back. They rolled it onto the sidewalk. Then the woman, like it was something she did every day, handed the driver his fare, and he sped away.”
Gypsy cabs—their drivers unlicensed, unregistered, and usually uninsured—were illegal. But they were plentiful because they charged far less than legit cabbies. And they were everywhere, making them hard as hell to crack down on.
The television screen came alive with the all too familiar view in Old City: The office building at Arch and North Third that housed Lex Talionis. Everyone looked to it.
They saw that on the sidewalk by the front door four uniforms had formed a perimeter of sorts around a blood-soaked ratty carpet. It had been unrolled—and on top of it was the motionless body of a naked black male.
Just to the left of the carpet and its perimeter of cops was a frail-looking black woman. She was gesturing wildly with a sheet of paper at the office building’s front door while another uniform, both hands shoulder high and palms out, tried calming her.
Payne, to no one in particular, announced: “Well, that makes pop-and-drop number nine. Shall we assume the old lady is our doer?”
Harris said, “You can’t be serious. You don’t really think—”
Payne turned and looked at him.
“Hell no, Tony. Not all nine, anyway. All I know is that my guy in the unmarked just now said that that paper she’s waving is a Wanted sheet, and she’s screaming at that uniform on the sidewalk, ‘I want my reward!’ ”
“Is that Mickey?” Jason Washington suddenly said.
Matt and Tony turned and saw the wiry Irishman with a video camera in his hands. He was holding it high above his head, and clearly recording the confrontation between the uniform and the woman as he circled them. He now wore the blue T-shirt with the white handcuffs and Make His Day: Kiss a Cop at CrimeFreePhilly.com.
Sonofabitch must have been staking out the place, too.
Going to take some doing to get him to sit on that video—if that’s even likely.
Then he felt his cellular telephone vibrate once, and he looked at the text message on its screen:
“Armed & Dangerous”?
When were you planning on telling me, Matt?
Last I heard was that you were going to Liberties to “talk” about the pop-and-drops.
Now, I have to find out from the mayor on the noon newscast that you’re not only back on the street but in charge of a task force?
“Oh, shit!” Matt said again.
“I have to agree with Matt,” Carlucci said, “ ‘I want my reward’? Oh, shit!”
[ FIVE ]
Loft Number 2055
Hops Haus Tower
1100 N. Lee Street, Philadelphia
Sunday, November 1st, 12:14 p.m.
Philadelphia City Councilman (At-Large) H. Rapp Badde, Jr.—a thirty-two-year-old native Philadelphian who was alternately charismatic and arrogant—was wearing baggy blue jeans and a red sweatshirt with TEMPLE LAW across the chest in white lettering. He was seated at the large rectangular marble-topped table in the breakfast area adjacent to the gourmet kitchen. He had the television remote control in his right hand, and was aiming it at the flat-screen that was mounted to the living room wall. He stabbed at the mute button with his thumb as he looked with some disgust at the image of a solemn-faced Mayor Jerome Carlucci.
Keep it up, Jerry, and you’ll make it even easier for me to kick your Italian ass out of office.
Badde turned his attention to twenty-five-year-old Janelle Harper, who stood across the table from him, skimming a mass-produced flyer titled: PENNSYLVANIA’S PROPERTY RIGHTS PROTECTION ACT & YOU. She was wearing a Bebe Sport spandex outfit, black with purple accents, that clung to her curvy frame like a second skin, and athletic shoes. She had her hair pulled back and wore a pair of black-framed Gucci designer eyeglasses.
“More murders,” he said almost happily. “I can probably run on the crime issue alone and get elected mayor.”
She looked away from the flyer and at him, her eyes squinting. “You’re not really taking any joy out of those people being killed, are you?”
“Sorry, honey. But only as much as they’re already dead. Hell, if nothing else, I’ve probably lost a voter.”
Or not, if whoever takes over for Kenny can register their name to vote absentee.
Speaking of Kenny, I wonder what the hell happened to him?
He glanced back at the television, and there now was a live shot from Old City. There were the usual policemen in uniform moving around purposefully, two of them stringing up yellow crime scene tape. The text at the bottom of the screen read:
Fourth Halloween Homicide ... Mother Turns in Fugitive Son’s Dead Body at Lex Talionis Offices for $10,000 Reward ... Mother Says Son’s Death was Drug-Related ...
“Jesus Christ!” Badde said.
Jan looked at him, then at the TV. “Oh my God! How awful!”
“They’re animals out there,” Badde said, then was quiet a moment. “Hell, look at the silver lining. At this rate, the outcry over all these killings might get so bad that Carlucci resigns, and I get appointed to take his place.”
Jan looked at him. “Don’t hold your breath.”
Badde gestured at the massive three-ring binder thick with loose-leaf pages at her elbow. Its cover had in black block lettering the title PHILADELPHIA ECONOMIC GENTRIFICATION INITIATIVE.
“When are we supposed to get the second wave of fed funds for PEGI?” Badde said, pronouncing the acronym “Peggy.”
The PEGI was a special program devised by the Housing and Urban Development Committee, one of dozens of such committees of the Philadelphia City Council. The city council had seventeen members, ten elected in their respective districts, the remainder elected at-large in the interest of balanced racial representation. The seventeen chose a council president from among themselves, and the president then appointed which council members would serve on which committees.
As the number of committees far exceeded the number of council members, it was common for the president to appoint each member to six or eight committees, occasionally even more.
Ask any council member, though, and they’d quickly but quietly admit that the sheer workload of serving on just one damn committee was daunting; serving on many others simply became a logistical impossibility. Thus, it also was common for council members simply to choose their favorite committee, and pay only lip service to all the others that they were appointed to by the city council president.
Not surprisingly, any oversight by fellow council members within the committees became replaced by a sense of You pay attention to the business of your committee, and I’ll pay attention to mine.
Or, in other words: Mind your own goddamn business.
And so the chairman of each committee more or less had free rein. He or she completely controlled the committee’s dealings with commerce in and out of City Hall, the letting of contracts, the hiring of vendors, and so on. It actually proved to be an efficient model in the sense that it avoided the very frustrating back-and-forth process of a decision literally being “made by committee.” Instead, something was decided and—viola!—it was done without further debate.
To the City of Philadelphia Housing and Urban Development Committee, the president of the city council appointed City Councilman (At-Large) H. Rapp Badde, Jr., as its chairman.
HUD Chairman Badde, upon returning from an urban renewal conference in Bermuda, conceived the Philadelphia Economic Gentrification Initiative. He then funded the special program with a modest $50,000 from HUD’s “exploratory” budget line—all of it being federal monies—and immediately entered into an open-term vendor contract (thereby avoiding a lengthy low-bidder selection process) with Commonwealth Law Center LLP of Philadelphia.
The law firm, its practice heavily vested in real estate law, would assist Chairman Badde and his committee—which in effect was to say only Badde and his executive assistant—in the exploratory steps for two major gentrification projects: Volks Haus and Diamond Development.
The latter created what was termed “a multi-purpose professional entertainment venue.” It would be an indoor coliseum with a retractable roof and convertible flooring. It could house sixty thousand fans of everything from sports (football, basketball, hockey, soccer, motocross racing, etcetera) to music concerts (rock and roll, jazz, and so on). It was planned to be built just west of Interstate 95 and in the upper end of the section of the city known as Northern Liberties. Thus, it also would displace thousands of residents in order to demolish a vast chunk of city.
The former, Volks Haus, was to serve as one solution for the relocation of those residents. The “People’s House” would be low-income housing constructed on ten square blocks a few miles to the west, in the Fairmount area, reclaiming what Chairman Badde called “a damned unsightly black hole of money-losing government property”—otherwise known as the Eastern State Penitentiary, which happened to be a United States Natural Historic Landmark smack dab in the middle of a struggling residential neighborhood.
The exploratory process was completed within twenty-four hours—although on paper the period was listed as three months—and two minority-owned constructions firms were awarded contracts conditioned on (a) federal dollars fully funding PEGI and (b) the completion of the eminent domain process.
Janelle Harper looked over the upper rim of her Gucci eyeglasses at Rapp Badde.
She said, “Those additional fed monies, I was told, after I finally got my calls returned from Commonwealth that—”
Badde interrupted, “Why can’t you just say her name?” He paused and shrugged, and with a weak smile said, “Wanda’s not that bad.”
“Why? I’ll tell you why: Because your wife treats me like your little girlfriend—actually, sometimes more like your little ‘ho’—and not like your goddamned executive assistant.” She pulled at the spandex at her hips, adjusting it, then added, “I’m damned tired of it. She’s not the only one with a law degree from Beasley.”
Temple University, and its Beasley School of Law, was about a couple miles west of the condo tower, on North Broad.
Jan met Rapp’s eyes, and said, “She needs to be your ex-wife.”
Badde suddenly sat up, almost spilling his coffee.
“Are you kidding?” he said, his voice almost squeaking. “Do you know what the hell that would cost me? I mean, not only in money. I’d lose political capital, too!”
“So? You don’t want to do right by me? Make me an honest woman?”
“Yes! I mean, no!”
Jan put her hands on her hips and cocked her head. “Well, which is it?”
He sighed. “It’s not that simple, honey.”
“Don’t goddamn ‘honey’ me, Rapp.”
“It’s just better this way. If I sued for divorce, a lot of things would change.” He knew how much Jan liked living in the luxury high-rise, especially for free. “This condo would go away, for one.”
She considered that a long moment.
“What if she sues you for divorce?”
“For infidelity. Everyone saw that photograph of us in Bermuda.”
With more than a little confidence, if not arrogance, he shot back: “Pennsylvania courts don’t give a shit about that, about cheating. And my wife knows it. How do you think I got away with that photo being run?”
He saw her eye him more carefully.
Like that was painful proof that she ain’t the first regular piece on the side I’ve had.
Or maybe not the last . . . .
“I know because I asked,” Rapp went on, more evenly. “My lawyer told me.”
“Even if the photos are in flagrante delicto?”
“In the act, Rapp. Screwing.”
“Oh. Yeah. Even that. I asked.”
Now, why the hell did she ask that?
Would she go to that low—send Wanda photos of us fucking—thinking she could become Mrs. Mayor instead?
“But she could sue for other reasons. Could even say you beat her, if she got mad enough to go after you.”
He didn’t say anything.
Jan quoted, “ ‘Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.’ ”
Badde sighed, and said, “She won’t.”
“How can you be so sure?”
“She’s like the wife of that billionaire guy, the business hotshot from Iowa? Owns all those insurance companies. And jets. Anyway, for whatever reason, something had to happen in their marriage, because they’ve lived separate lives forever. But they stayed married. It wasn’t even for the kids’ sake, because they’re all adults. He even appears at events in New York City with his ‘dates’ on his arm. Meanwhile, she’s happy playing Grandma back in Iowa. She got the name, got all that money, and everything that comes with it. Why change? And that’s what Wanda got.”
“What if she blows the whistle on PEGI?”
“Oh now that won’t happen. She likes the money too much. Once you been broke, you don’t ever want to go back. If all the padded payments from PEGI go, so do all those billable hours we—Commonwealth Law Center—get handling the business that will come from Volks Haus and Diamond Development. And she can kiss goodbye those big steady retainer checks Kwame Construction has paid from the start.”
Jan looked at him a long moment, and shook her head.
“Rapp, I’m telling you that wives get revenge for a lot of reasons. And they’re not thinking about money when they do it.”
“And I’m telling you she won’t,” he said smugly. “Look, we’re kind of like the U.S. and Russia were with that Mutual Asset Deduction.”
“You know, with missiles aimed at each other. To knock each other out. One fires, both sides are toast.”
After a moment, she figured it out, and corrected him: “Mutually Assured Destruction.”
He looked at her, thought about that, and shrugged. “Same difference. If she tells on me, I tell on her, and away goes all her money and her license to practice law or anything else. It’d be suicide.”
They met eyes again.
Badde thought: And if you haven’t realized it yet, honey, you and I are now in the same boat.
You know that kickbacks are funneled through Commonwealth, which also happens to be a nice contributor to my campaign for mayor.
And you’re helping funnel them.
After a moment, she nodded.
“Okay. I guess you’re right, Rapp. I sure hope so.”
She pointed at a thin sheaf of papers, stapled at the top left corner.
“The fed funds, at least the low-income housing matching dollars, for PEGI were due here last week. As was the paperwork that turns over possession of the prison to PEGI and the Volks Haus Initiative. We need those funds before the next step there. We’ve already cut checks for the first empty properties in Northern Liberties—bulldozers began some demolition last week—and then we’ll be cutting checks for those holdouts. Maybe the bulldozers will convince them it’s time to take the money and move on, and we won’t have to evict.”
“And tell me again: what’s the next step at Volks Haus?”
“Same as it was for the Diamond project.” She picked up the thin sheaf of papers, and handed them to him.
He glanced at the cover sheet. It had the expected familiar letterhead:
Commonwealth Law Center
1611 Walnut Street, Suite 840
Philadelphia, PA 19103
The law center office, he knew, was two floors below his accountant’s office.
Below that was printed in large lettering:
Title 26 Eminent Domain
Just Compensation and Measure of Damages
“Eminent domain has two stages,” Jan said. “The first is to see that it’s legal to take property and, meeting that, the second is to decide what’s a fair price for the property.”
He nodded, then turned to page two of the document, which was a table of contents, and began reading:
26 Pa.C.S.A. # 701 Just compensation; other damages
26 Pa.C.S.A. # 702 Measure of damages
26 Pa.C.S.A. # 703 Fair market value
He felt his eyes start to glaze over, then scanned the rest, stopping at the last one:
26 Pa.C.S.A. # 716 Attempted avoidance of monetary just compensation
He tossed the papers back on the table.
“Jesus, I’m glad I hired you to deal with this bullshit.” He smiled at her, and when she’d smiled back, he added: “Hope we don’t have any trouble with that last one. I mean, what’s a fair price for abandoned buildings?”
“Condemned buildings,” she corrected him. “The Supreme Court fixed that for us with the Kelo vs. City of New London decision. There won’t be any Fifth Amendment problems saying we can’t condemn the properties.”
Badde then motioned at the long cardboard tube that was on the table.
“Has the Russian seen the architect’s drawings?”
“Yuri had his assistant personally messenger them over from the Diamond Development office in Center City.”
She grinned slyly, then added, “You know, I think that messenger boy of his is really his concubine.”
“His young lover, his concubine.”
Rapp stared at her with an incredulous look. “You shitting me? What’s a billionaire Russian businessman doing with something like that? I mean, I’ve seen him with some incredible hot women.”
She shrugged. “Blame it on female intuition.”
“Maybe. Just don’t say it to him. I just know he has a mean goddamn temper.”
“Guess that’s how you get to be a billionaire,” Jan said as she pulled from the cardboard tube the large sheets of architectural drawings.
H. Rapp Badde got up from the chair and walked around the marble-topped table. As he stood behind Jan Harper, looking over her shoulder at the architect’s renderings for Volks Haus, his hands slipped down to her waist. He rested his chin on her shoulder as he squeezed her hips.
“Come on and pay attention,” she said.
“I am paying attention,” he said, as he buried his nose in her neck and inhaled her lightly scented perfume. “Attention to you. I’ll pay even better attention with this fancy outfit of yours off . . . .”
She giggled, then left her head drop back toward his. Just as she said, “I surrender,” Badde’s Go To Hell cellular telephone started ringing.
“Dammit!” Badde said, grabbing it and quickly checking the caller ID. It read UNKNOWN CALLER. “Dammit!”
He stepped back from Jan, and started walking toward the sliding glass door to the balcony. “Yes?”
The caller was yelling so loudly that Badde had to hold the phone away from his ear.
Jan could almost clearly hear what the caller was telling Badde: “Reggie’s dead! They’re coming after me!”
From THE VIGILANTES — Book
X in the best-selling BADGE OF HONOR series.
August 10, 2010.
Order copies here.
©2010 W.E.B. GRIFFIN. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.