Agent Ramiel parked near 56th street and paused to look over the notes he had written so far that morning. His notebook, though small enough to fit in his breast pocket, was meticulously organized by subject and date. His handwriting was small and precise. He liked to write his notes in the car after an interview, not during. It was too easy to miss contradictory expressions in the eyes, or subtle clues in gesture while trying to transcribe. He listened, he watched. His memory was infallible. And sometimes, as with writing down his dreams upon waking, he found that answers and understanding flowed from solitary contemplation after the fact.
Carol’s murder was different from the others he had worked on or researched in ways that were especially puzzling. There was something deliberately wrong about it. He had no doubt that it was the same killer. But it was almost as if he had been forced to hurry, or not allowed to do things as he preferred and so had thrown caution out the window. Ramiel was sensing an almost belligerent attitude in the choice of victim. She was a nice, respectable girl. Her death might not be forgotten by the end of the day. Leaving her out in plain sight like that in an alley where it was well known that street walkers would pass by was a cruel act in and of itself. He wondered if any other women besides Ruby might have seen her and been too frightened to do anything but run away.
He got out of his car and walked the couple of blocks to the precinct. It was a crowded, chaotic neighborhood filled with people who were happy to keep the cops busy night and day. Inside the precinct, he followed the sound of Detective Finn’s voice carrying above the general hubbub and stood in his doorway for a moment before Finn looked up and saw him.
“So, there you are, come in,” Finn said. Ramiel sat down in the chair that faced Finn’s desk. The detective's gaze was sharp and interested. "Our young lady is in the capable hands of the coroner."
Ramiel nodded. "Good. The sooner you get the autopsy reports the better. It will be useful to see records from the other cases. I can help with that."
Finn leaned back in his chair and fixed Ramiel with a calculating stare. "You're a narcotics officer."
"Yes. I'm currently assigned to narcotics." Ramiel met his stare with an absence of expression that may as well have been a shrug and a "so what?" "The FBI is a law enforcement agency, Detective. We cooperate when we can with other departments. Especially where murders are concerned."
"Oh, we're always grateful for cooperation," Finn said dryly. "So, how many murders you think this guy's good for?"
"I think a great many, but it's hard to say for sure. We haven't recovered as many bodies as I suspect are out there. He usually goes to some trouble to conceal them. There were eight on record, this would be the ninth," Ramiel said.
"If this is the same guy," Finn reminded him.
"Have you ever seen anything like this before? Does this look like just any garden variety killing to you?"
Before Finn could answer, he was distracted by a man standing in his doorway. Ramiel glanced over his shoulder at a hard-featured man, dark, sunburned skin stretched tightly over the bones of his face. He wore his hat down low over deep black eyes that were difficult to see behind thin, shiny spectacles that reflected the light in glittering flashes as he moved his head. The man smoked a cigarette that glowed red hot like a coal at the bottom of a fire.
Ramiel had a chance to think, So rude to come into the detective's office like this...
It seemed to Ramiel that the man introduced himself... his name was... and came into the room speaking as if he were in the middle of telling a story. Part of the story was about Ramiel, and how he was going to go back to Virginia because his prisoner had a good lawyer and he wouldn't be traveling back there to be tried after all, he would just stay right here in New York where he belonged. And another part of the story was about how Finn had done a fine job of cleaning up that neighborhood...
A roaring sound, blood pounding in his ears, the inside out version of breathing and he was up and walking. Hallways and sidewalks were confused beneath his feet, he stumbled and reached out to steady himself on the edge of a desk, but his hand came down on the edge of a parked car instead.
It was his parked car. He was sitting inside his own car gripping the inside edge of the driver's side window. It was rolled down, all the way open, the man's face was leaning in and Ramiel could smell fire and cigarette smoke on his breath. He was still telling stories, packing them into Ramiel's ears like cotton wads, and the inside of his car spun around like he was driving on ice, and then he crashed.
Blood gushed out of Ramiel's mouth as his head flew back from the steering wheel and his car came to a halt. His horn and many other horns were blaring discordantly. He turned his head to look back at the man in his window but there was a different man staring in at him.
The new man asked, with a mixture of anger and worry, "Hey, hey mister, are you all right? What the hell was the matter with you, are you drunk or something? Didn't you see that truck was stopped?"
But Ramiel couldn't see him anymore, his vision was swimming, he was passing out.
He heard someone shout, "Get an ambulance!" from a great distance away. He was trying very hard to remember the girl in the alley, he didn't want to forget her. "Her name was Carol, he muttered through his bloodied lips, "her name was Carol..."