60k words and closing in on the big finish… So proud of this book. If I can’t monetize this, I give up.
I’ve put up older versions of some of this, but… this is close to final. Enjoy 🙂
It doesn’t bother me, the sight of this young woman’s corpse. It was a messy death, blood everywhere, a nice juicy artery slit open while she was still chock full of fluid and very much alive. There’ll be plenty of work for ServPro in this apartment! The bed’s a total loss, and the area rugs, and I bet the walls are going to need more than just repainting.
It’s a horrifying scene, no doubt. But it’s just a dead body. And so its motionless tragic tableau fails to move me.
It got to a lot of the patrol cops, I could tell, and the EMS folks. It angered them, the permanently inert form of this twentysomething kindergarten teacher, a “citizen,” one of the good guys. Someone they’d have asked out on a date, if only they could have screwed up the courage before someone else had, and killed her.
“The door was locked when her friend came over to check on her,” my partner Carrie said. “No sign of forced entry. No broken vases or overturned tables.”
“She let her attacker in, or came home with them.”
I put on gloves and examined the wide abrasions on her wrists. “Bondage wrist cuffs, from the look of it. Tsk tsk, letting strangers tie you up is never a good idea. You never do that, do you?”
“With strangers? I use Academy training cuffs. The ones with knobs you turn to unlock them. No key to lose, or withhold. If you have basic flexibility, you can get yourself out pretty easily.”
“So sensible.” I sniffed the wrists for any trace scent. “I don’t smell leather.”
“Could be neoprene,” Carrie suggested. “It’s more practical, and cheaper.”
She shrugged. “If you’re seriously into this shit, you invest. Now, at the better bondage equipment websites, you can get neoprene cuffs fairly cheap, and they’re easier to clean. The leather restraints, you’re going over a hundred bucks, so if we find leather on her skin, we’re looking for someone who takes his perversions seriously.”
“This is why I keep you around.”
The body’s fingernails were clean, unbroken, no sign of skin or blood beneath them. She hadn’t fought when he’d tied her up (unless it was a she, sexist of me to assume). All the same, I put paper bags over her hands to preserve any evidence.
I spoke in a low tone, so only Carrie could hear me.
“What do you think? A pretty young thing, bored with all the ‘nice guys’ who asked her out, who nodded approvingly at her career choice. Nice guys who worked nice jobs and wanted a nice house in the suburbs some day.”
“She was looking for something darker.”
“Yeah. She’d think about it amidst the screeching children who can, alas, no longer be corporally punished into silence. She shepherded her charges on field trips, ruining the Natural History Museum for the rest of us, all while going to the ‘special place’ in her head where she could think about The Bad Man. Probably all that kept her from pushing the noisy little monsters into the traffic on Central Park West.”
“Remind me not to let you go on one of those Meet a Policeman days in the schools. Someone might not emerge alive.”
I got up and sighed. “Who was first on scene?”
I looked at her but she had her poker face on. “And how’s that going?”
“I think the question you’re asking me is, how did he secure the scene, the answer to which is, very well indeed, because he’s in love with me and terrified of you.”
“He couldn’t be sure we’d catch the case. I think Adam’s just very good at his job.”
It was a rare compliment from me. You’d be astonished how many cops fuck up a crime scene – not intentionally, just, you know, blundering through, or letting the neighbors or family or whoever burst in and pollute the scene.
Adam reminded me of myself as a young patrolman. By the book in a good way, checking for vitals, calling for EMS discreetly (always someone listening to the police bands for excitement), establishing the perimeter, taking as many cell phone photos as he could before anyone else got there and messed up the scene, taking a detailed statement from the co-worker who found her body, herding curious neighbors back into their apartments. Solid police work on patrol was still the fast track to making detective.
I looked out the window to see what he was up to and smiled. Hard to believe Carrie took such a big tall hunk of man, put a rubber tail in his ass, and forced him to drink from a dog bowl.
He was establishing an extra crime scene perimeter now, such a smart boy. The press, especially the New York tabloids, would be all over this.
And that meant the imminent presence of all the Ringwraiths who gathered around such events – someone from the Mayor’s office, the Commissioner’s, the local councilman, all mugging for the camera and assuring the city that justice would be served for Charlotte Lane.
That fake perimeter, well outside the bounds of potential evidence, keeps ‘em from being able to taint the crime scene, but, for appearances’ sake, makes them look like they’re “on the case,” answering questions from within the magic circle of the Insiders.
Did you really think that was just some TV shit? Nope! Even the author of the murder cop’s bible, Practical Homicide Investigation, stresses the importance of this extra perimeter.
And let’s be honest, all of this is happening out there for one reason: she’s a good looking middle class white lady.
I hate that shit, you know? Cops will talk about the victim that really stuck with them, and if it’s not a kid, it’s the “beautiful young woman” who got killed by her boyfriend or professor or a random predator. As if the fact of her good looks made her more worthy of their diligence than if she’d been some poor fat girl.
And my god, murder media is a multibillion dollar industry that relies on “beautiful young women” being killed at a regular pace to keep up ratings. If only ugly people got killed, they’d go out of business.
In my defense, I never kill women when they’re young. No, only those who’ve had decades to get set in their ways, committed to their awful selfishness, and proven over and over what mean old bitches they are. But enough about me!
No? More? Oh, I guess I let the cat out of the bag early on about that killing thing, didn’t I? Okay, let’s do this.
Well, hello there. I’m Brian O’Connor. I’m a NYPD homicide detective, and I’m very good at my job.
And I’m a serial killer.
I’m good at that job, too. I suppose that’s more of a mission, really. A calling. Catching murderers is fun, but it’s not my passion, you know? And you gotta follow your dream.
I am a psychopath, say it loud and say it proud. A white male in his 30s, the Platonic Ideal of the serial killer. I’ve got a 32 out of 40 possible points on the Hare psychopath checklist. But really, the test is flawed.
I missed four points because I’m not “promiscuous” and because I haven’t had “multiple short-term relationships.” The test assumes you’d want either of those, and, well, D.O.D. made sure that… But more about him later.
I missed another two because they’re related to recidivism and I’ve never been arrested. That’s a flaw in the test, because getting re-arrested doesn’t mean you’re a psychopath, it just means you’re dumb enough to get busted again.
And I missed two more points because I’m not “criminally versatile.” There’s only one kind of crime I commit.
It takes a score of 30 out of 40 points to qualify, and it bothers me sometimes that I just barely pass the test.
I think about killing a lot. Like a dry drunk thinks about a cocktail. They postpone the actual consumption, but sometimes slipping into the fantasia, the rapturous recollection of that first, best drink, can tide them over. Self control is crucial when you have dangerous cravings.
Just like you, I think about killing when I’m driving. I think about that asshole who cut me off because it would have been intolerable if I’d merged in front of him. If he hadn’t “won” whatever game he was playing in his head that required him to risk both our lives to score. We all want to kill that guy.
But (probably) unlike you, I also think about it in perfectly normal circumstances. Seeing three upscale ladies in their gleaming new outfits, jogging down the lane, Just Doin’ It like the commercial tells ‘em to, I think about “just” swerving my car onto the sidewalk, clump clump clump there go all three under the wheels. Bloody blond ponytails all mashed into the sidewalk, three Pilates instructors with decreased incomes this month.
And I wonder about the aftermath. Could I do it, just play it remorseful, OMG what a horrible accident, I’m so broken up… How long would I have to stay in touch with the victims’ families, sharing the tragedy? Going to schools and speaking out against reckless driving? And so on.
The hard work would be faking that many feelings for I don’t know, months? Everywhere, all the time. Before you could gently disengage from the victims’ families so we can all move on.
Of course, you can only do it once. Clump clump clump, oops I did it again, then eyebrows would probably be raised. So you kind of have to save a killing like that, maybe as a retirement present to yourself. Or when you’re really old and ready to give up your driver’s license. Then it would be such an easy get, if you played it off right. My vision is failing, dearie me!
And then, you wouldn’t even have to do all the compassion shit, you could just blame it on infirmity and shuffle home and have some ice cream.
No, alas, you can’t just turn the wheel. It’s all about preparation. Especially because you can’t do the Malcolm Gladwell thing. 10,000 hours of practice before you get it right isn’t exactly normal in this line of work.
It’s true there are fewer serial killers now than there used to be. There are a lot of factors. It’s not as easy to be a homicidal drifter, leaving no trail. Getting paid in cash, paying in cash, flying without a rigorous ID check, moving around the country when poorly faxed photos of you were the only way a sheriff’s office in a small town might recognize you, if they even had a fax machine.
Nor are your victims as easy to pluck out of their own rootlessness, already half disappeared from society anyway. Everything from ATM cards to your phone’s GPS leaves a trail of digital crumbs the size of Costco bread loaves.
Great strides have been made in identifying child abuse, so apart from my experience with a powerful man like D.O.D., many mini proto-killers are identified early, removed from the toxic environment, and given the mental help they need to stop them from turning into the next BTK or Green River Killer. Oh and they don’t beat them in public school anymore, either.
Serial killing is no longer a blue collar job. You can’t find victims as you install basic security systems or work as a dog catcher/general community busybody and nuisance. You can’t pick up hookers or hitchhikers without the traffic cameras scanning your face against a database. Unless you smash your vic’s cell phone the moment you abduct them, you might as well slash their throats and hang their bodies out the car window to leave a trail of blood.
It takes advanced technical expertise to get away with it these days. See, your parents told you college would pay off!
And that expertise, coupled with my psychopathy, is why I’m so very good at being a homicide cop.
Nothing upsets me. No murder case ever “gets to me,” so I can work one indefinitely. Other cops, when they catch the dark shit, the senseless murder of an honor student or an old pensioner (or a pretty schoolteacher), it makes them crazy when they can’t solve it. They feel all burdened and shit. They can’t sleep, they’re consumed with guilt because they can’t close it, they drink, they fight with their wives, they eat their guns.
Not me! Cold cases, lost causes, dead kids, pretty girls, I take ‘em all. For me, a good murder is a challenge. Other than a major robbery, it’s the one crime people will really think out. You rob a liquor store, what do you do, maybe concoct an alibi. You get busted with drugs, “That dope isn’t mine.” Lame, right? But most people at least try to cover their tracks when they kill someone.
And I have a very high clearance rate. Why, I might have even put more murderers behind bars than I’ve… well, we’ll talk about that later.
I really shouldn’t be telling you all this yet. I want you to like me.
It’s what we do, you know, charm you, make you laugh, convince you to keep listening, keep believing what we tell you. Making a first impression so good that you’ll convince yourself that the second impression was a “bad day,” and the third was “not like him at all,” and so on until look at you, feeling trapped in a relationship you never should have started.
But I’m a cop who solves murders. So I’m one of the good guys, right?
And even if I kill people, they must have had it coming, right?
Of course I only kill bad people. Because every murderer believes that those he killed deserved it, that they had it coming.
You might not agree, when I start to tell you more. Once I’ve made you like me. Once it’s too late for you to turn back, to change your mind.
Just kidding! It’s never too late to turn back, to change your mind. But people don’t. I bet you won’t either.
“I’m so sorry for your loss,” I said to the pretty teacher’s mother, and boy do I look like I believe it. My head turned just so, my eyes warm (or at least framed warmly by the well practiced look on my face), my voice gentle, rich with sadness, perfect mimicry of every TV cop ever.
Because that’s what they’ve seen on TV, that’s what they expect, and all you have to do is give them what they’re waiting for, complete the tribal ritual to everyone’s satisfaction.
It’s funny. Even though she’s the one who’ll get upset later, when Carrie gives the news, it sounds as cold and heartless as a telegram. But when I do, it sounds like I totally care.
Splitting the heavy lifting is part of the division of labor with Carrie. It’s what makes us such good partners. I deliver the awful news to the vic’s family, and then Carrie starts to ask the questions about the Departed I’m clearly too moved to ask yet. Did Charlotte this, had Charlotte ever that, do you know if Charlotte etc.
Thus begins the victimology, the science of unpacking the life of the deceased.
When doing victimology, you’re the advocate for the dead, but you’re also the Devil’s Advocate. That’s literally a thing. When the Vatican wants to saint someone, they appoint the Devil’s Advocate to make the case against sainthood, to find out the dirt on ‘em.
Out loud, to the press, the family, you say you’re going to avenge this injustice. But really, she might have had it coming. You have to set aside the way things look, and see if there’s some secret badness behind all that goodness. Because otherwise, you might never find how that badness might have been what got her killed.
After compiling the interviews, cell phone records, internet history, contents of their porn folder, etc. a homicide cop knows the victim better than she knew herself. It’s like being a therapist, with a patient who can’t lie. Of course it’s too late to make any progress in their personal growth, but still.
Charlotte had no enemies the mother would know of, no surprise there. Maybe some Mean Girl from high school who resented her popularity, but of course she’d been student body president and on the debate team and did all that soup kitchen volunteering not because it looked good on her college application, but because… she cared! About homeless people!
I chimed in with follow up questions, was she dating anyone, had she had a bad breakup, the stuff that covers the causes of 90% of murders.
Then when the mother breaks down crying at last, overwhelmed, it’s Carrie who has to do the hugging.
She’s like my left tackle; she stops anyone from hitting me from my “blind side.” Seriously. We even choose the seating at the vic’s family’s house so that if someone inexplicably takes a run at me, to fall into my arms to cry, she takes the hit, there there, stroke stroke.
I can do the face. I can do the words, carefully framed in the voice. But don’t fucking touch me, or you might join your dearly departed over the rainbow bridge.
I hate being touched. I’m not autistic, no. I just have… reasons.
The worst part of solving a big case, for me, is that everyone wants to hug you. And you’ve already told Janice from Accounting that you don’t like being touched, right? But she runs at you anyway, saying “I know you’re not a hugger, but…”
And that’s when I have to haul out the big gun and say, “I was touched a lot when I was a kid and that’s why I don’t like being touched.” That puts a stop to that.
If your spouse dies, your child, anyone else, they’ll move in on you, so sorry for your loss. Tell them you got kiddie-fucked and they run for the hills. It’s awesome!
I have no scruples when it comes to lying when it gets me out of a sticky situation, but in this case I don’t even need to. With the right attitude, even the worst horrors that ever happened to you can be turned to your advantage.
It was my job to run in to the café and get the coffees, while Carrie idled curbside. She did all the driving, which, given my homicidal tendencies, was a good idea in Manhattan traffic.
I handed over her latte. “You wanna lay five on the headline?”
She checked her seven o’clock, saw a cab flying up the street, and pulled out anyway, causing the cabbie to swerve into the other lane and honk furiously.
Carrie thought about it. “How about ‘School’s Out Forever’?”
“Doesn’t incorporate the bondage stuff. Kinky school teacher murdered during kinky sex thing… Kinky Kinder Killer?”
“KKK? I don’t think even the tabs would do that.”
“I got nothing. We’ll have to leave it to the pros.”
“Next stop, Miss Slade,” I said as Carrie continued to endanger innocent lives, flashing the cop lights in the dash at anyone who looked like they had retribution in mind. “Are kindergarten teachers allowed to have first names? Or do you just have to change it to Miss?”
“I believe that’s part of the certification process, yes.”
It was a fairly long drive to Washington Heights, which gave me plenty of time to think out loud.
“The only sex toy we found was a vibrator hidden deep in a drawer, which isn’t the behavior of an inveterate kinkster, is it?”
“I saw the first 50 Shades movie on her shelf. Maybe she’d been dreaming of finding her own personal Jamie Dornan for a while, and then she finally busted loose.”
“You mean Christian Grey.”
“Fuck that guy. The only reason to watch 50 Shades is to forget about him and look at Jamie.”
“How about laying five that the browser history involves some ‘kink curious’ searches?”
Carrie shook her head. “You broke or something, you need a fiver so bad? Whose history doesn’t? Just because you get bored and look up some weird shit doesn’t mean you’re going to do it.”
We pulled up in front of the New Era Charter School, in a yet-to-be-gentrified part of the Heights. It was a step above most of the grimy, ancient public schools in Manhattan, but not by much.
I’d done some searching on my phone on the way up.
“It appears that our victim was buying school supplies because the school is having ‘issues.’ The charter school money’s not going where it should.”
“Lavish staff parties in the Hamptons with the principal riding in on a white horse, that kind of thing?”
“Maybe she knew something about that she shouldn’t have.”
“Money’s a powerful motive.”
We parked in the yellow drop off zone (hey, it’s Manhattan, you try and find a spot) and entered the building. Our first interviewee was waiting for us.
“I’m Miss Slade,” she said, extending her hand. Carrie and I kept our poker faces at the absence of a first name.
“You found Charlotte?”
“She didn’t come in, or call in, or answer her phone. So I went to check on her. I had a key because she kept the school supplies she bought at home, and we could just pick them up when we…”
She broke down, and Carrie did the necessary with the hugging and shit.
“You said we,” I asked after she gathered herself. “How many people had a key?”
“Oh, I keep it, but anyone can borrow it when they need to load up. We don’t keep them here because, well, some of our students have light fingers.”
“Some of your administrators, too?” I asked.
Her eyes narrowed. “I don’t think I should talk about what I can’t prove.”
“Was she dating anyone?” Carrie asked.
“No, I mean not that I know of, but I would have known, I think. We were pretty close.”
“Did she have any exes you know about, bad relationships?”
“No. Everybody loved her. You saw her on NY1, right?”
“No,” I admitted.
“They did a segment on her, called her a hometown hero. The schools are so underfunded, and someone found out she’d withdrawn her 401(k) money and spent it on school supplies.”
“I remember that,” Carrie said. “There was a GoFundMe set up for her.”
Miss Slade nodded. “It brought in ten times what she spent, and the damn thing was, she said she was going to spend all that too.” She teared up. “Who kills someone like that?”
Carrie took her hand. “That’s what we’re going to find out.”