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FROM USA TODAY BESTSELLING AUTHOR J. ROBERT KENNEDY
Sometimes Life Gives Murder a Second Chance
It was the case that destroyed Detective Justin Shakespeare’s career, beginning a downward spiral of self-loathing and self-destruction lasting half a decade. And today things are only going to get worse. The Widow Rapist is free on a technicality, and it is up to Detective Shakespeare and his partner Amber Trace to find the evidence, five years cold, to put him back in prison before he strikes again.
But Shakespeare and Trace aren’t alone in their desire for justice. The Seven are the survivors, avowed to not let the memories of their loved ones be forgotten. And with the release of the Widow Rapist, they are determined to take justice into their own hands, restoring balance to a flawed system.
At stake is a second chance, a chance at redemption, a chance to salvage a career destroyed, a reputation tarnished, and a life diminished.
A chance brought to Detective Shakespeare whether he wants it or not.
A chance brought to him by The Redeemer.
From USA Today bestselling author J. Robert Kennedy comes the third entry in the acclaimed Detective Shakespeare Mysteries series, The Redeemer, a dark tale exploring the psyches of the serial killer, the victim, and the police, as they all try to achieve the same goals.
Balance. And redemption.
With over 800,000 books sold and over 3000 five-star reviews, USA Today bestselling author J. Robert Kennedy has been ranked by Amazon as the #1 Bestselling Action Adventure novelist based upon combined sales. He is the author of over thirty international bestsellers including the smash hit James Acton Thrillers. He lives with his wife and daughter and writes full-time.
"A master storyteller." — Betty Richard
"A writer who tells what we are thinking but sometimes afraid to say." — Bruce Ford
"Kennedy kicks ass in this genre." — David Mavity
"One of the best writers today." — Johnny Olsen
"If you want fast and furious, if you can cope with a high body count, most of all if you like to be hugely entertained, then you can't do much better than J Robert Kennedy." — Amazon Vine Voice Reviewer
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Stephen’s cheek twitched.
Only feet away. Inches. He could reach out right now and throttle the bastard. Or even better, get the penknife in his pocket, and plunge it into the beast’s neck; finish it all in one swift stroke.
But then he’d be the one going to prison.
And there was only one person in this elevator who deserved that.
He shuffled to one side, bumping into a guard escorting the prisoner, the object of his hate, to the courtroom. Why he had been brought up on the same elevator as him, only God knew, the twist of fate that had afforded this opportunity understandable to only the great unknown, but there he stood, just having met with the Assistant District Attorney, who had given him the unbelievable, unspeakable news that the world was about to learn.
His sister’s killer was going free.
Wayne Cooper. The man who had raped his sister for hours, stabbed her thirty-seven times, then raped her dead body for hours more. He sucked in a lungful of air quickly, noisily, at the memory.
Cooper turned toward the sound, and when their eyes met, he smiled.
“Hello, Steve. Did you hear the good news?”
Stephen’s heart slammed against his ribcage. He could hear the blood rushing through his veins as the roar of rage filled his ears. He reached in his pocket and gripped the penknife.
Just one swift stroke, and it would all be over.
But instead he nodded.
Cooper smiled. “Good. I’m glad my friends are here.” He looked up at the display as it counted down the floors. “We should go celebrate after I’m released.”
Stephen saw red. Spots appeared in front of his eyes, and he realized he had been holding his breath. He felt slightly lightheaded, the pounding continuing.
He gasped in a lungful of air, clarity returning.
And he pulled the penknife from his pocket. Slowly. Reaching over with his free hand, he extended the blade. It was short, not even three inches, but properly placed, it would do some damage, and if he had enough time, enough luck, it would kill the animal in front of him. He turned his shoulder inward, to position himself so the guard to Cooper’s left couldn’t see his hands.
He stepped forward, the knife rising from his side, his eyes focused on the back of the man’s neck, just at the base of the skull. One direct hit, and it’ll all be over.
The elevator chimed and the door opened, spilling its passengers into the hall. Stephen stood frozen, knife at chest level, his opportunity lost.
And he wasn’t sure if that was a good thing.
The taunting voice snapped him back to reality, and he stepped out just as the doors were about to close. He dropped the knife into a nearby trash bin, and walked in the opposite direction, toward the public entrance of the courtroom.
“See you soon, Stephen!” he heard the bastard’s voice call from around the corner. It echoed through the corridor, as if a haunted memory. He looked up and froze.
There was the man whose fault this all was. The man who had lost the evidence that would have assured this bastard’s conviction.
There was Detective Justin Shakespeare, NYPD.
Detective Shakespeare looked up from the bench he sat on when Vincent “Vinny” Fantino, head of the crime lab, tapped him on the shoulder.
“Look,” he whispered.
Shakespeare leaned forward to see where Vinny was looking and frowned. It was Stephen Russell, brother to the first victim of Wayne Cooper, a notorious serial rapist and murderer they had taken off the streets five years ago.
And today, thanks to you, he goes free.
“I should talk to him.”
“Are you sure that’s a good idea? If I were him, I’d be hating us right about now.”
Vinny looked at Shakespeare. “Yeah, ‘us’. You may have lost the gun”—Shakespeare’s chest tightened at the memory—“but it’s my evidence they’re tossing today.” Vinny shook his head, his cheeks flushing. “Fucking justice system. They know damned well the evidence is good, but just because I make a paperwork error, they toss it. Goddamned lawyers. Punish me, but keep the evidence in.”
Shakespeare grunted as he pushed on his knees to get himself up, his bones feeling far older than they should, tired of carrying his bulk around. I gotta lose weight.
Shakespeare shrugged. “Just looking forward to that sweet sweet relief a massive heart attack will bring.”
Vinny frowned, looking at Shakespeare, as if trying to figure out whether or not he was joking.
But he was.
Ever since his doctor had indicated he might have a problem and scheduled him for testing, every twinge, every discomfort, had him thinking ‘this is it!’. The sad thing was these were the same twinges and pains he had always felt, probably his entire life, and most likely the fitness freaks like Vinny even had them and didn’t think twice. But when your doctor says the left side of your heart may be larger than it should be due to high blood pressure caused by weight and stress, every little thing in the chest area becomes a pending heart attack.
Now he was afraid to even get on the treadmill. His doctor had said not to worry about it—yeah right!—and continue on as before. Try to lose some weight though, and reduce your stress. Shakespeare shook his head at the memory. Doc, diets cause me stress. His doctor had smiled, that all knowing smile doctors seem to have when they don’t want to give you an answer, because they don’t have one.
He looked at Stephen Russell and stepped toward him, but Russell glared at him, then turned on his heel, marching out of sight.
“I guess that solves that,” said Vinny.
Shakespeare grunted, debating whether or not to sit down again.
The courtroom doors opened, ending the debate.
“Let’s go watch our careers tank.”
Shakespeare nodded, following Vinny into the courtroom. The decision by the judge hadn’t been made public yet, but everyone ‘in the know’ knew what was about to happen. The evidence, the key piece, a strip of tape with DNA on it, found at the scene of the last victim, had been mislabeled. The wrong apartment number. 401A instead of 410A. And these were the exact type of screw-ups defense attorneys spent days and dollars on finding.
And they had found it.
In a Hail Mary effort they had claimed the DNA evidence against their client had been faked, and requested it be provided for their own testing, using the most recent techniques. The court had agreed, and when the evidence was delivered, they had found the error. And that was all it took. They immediately went to the press, then the court, claiming there was no way to know for certain if the evidence was actually from the crime scene, since it had been five years, and all along it had the wrong address.
It was bullshit, everyone knew it, but since it was the only piece of evidence, what with the gun stolen from Shakespeare’s car, the entire case would fall apart without it.
And the killer of seven women would be set free.
Free to do it all over again.
Shakespeare sat on the bench behind the prosecution’s table, the Assistant District Attorney who had been handling the case since the beginning already there. Vinny slid in beside Shakespeare, followed by Lieutenant Gene Phillips and the DA himself. ADA Susan Turnbull looked over her shoulder and glared at Vinny, then Shakespeare.
Both looked at their shoes.
Lt. Phillips leaned forward slightly, looking at Vinny and Shakespeare. “How are you two holding up?”
“Uh huh. Well, as soon as we’re out of here, we’ll reopen the case.”
Shakespeare leaned forward.
Lt. Phillips looked at him, a slight frown on his face, and Shakespeare knew he was about to lose the case. He didn’t blame him. It had been his fuckup that nearly cost them it in the first place. He was a diabetic. Only none of his co-workers knew it. He had been stuck at the crime scene all day, and when he left with the gun to bring it in for testing, he had felt his blood sugar drop. He knew from past experience if he went hypoglycemic he could slip into a coma and die, so he pulled over to get something to eat. In his confusion caused by the low blood sugar, he had left his car unlocked, and the gun sitting on the passenger seat.
And it had been stolen.
He and Vinny had a rip-roaring fight over it, in public, but Shakespeare had been too ashamed to admit what had really happened. That he had been sick, that he was a diabetic, and that it was because of his weight. The two had barely spoken for five years except to exchange insults, and had only recently patched things up.
And his career had taken a nosedive.
He had basically said ‘fuck it’, and began to coast through life, letting his new partner, Detective Hayden Eldridge, handle things. It wasn’t until Eldridge’s last case that Shakespeare began to reclaim his life, some hope restored by finding a woman who actually loved him, rolls, folds and all.
And he thought he had done quite well since.
He needed this.
He needed this to fully reclaim his life.
“LT, I need this.”
Phillips’ frown creased his face deeper.
Shakespeare leaned in. “You know me. I’m back. I’m my old self again. I need to make this right. It was my fuckup that got us where we are today.”
“And mine,” interjected Vinny.
“Let me make this right.”
Phillips looked at Vinny, then the DA who said nothing. Turnbull had spun around in her chair, delivering her opinion through narrowed, angry eyes. Phillips looked at Shakespeare.
“Fine, it’s yours.”
Shakespeare smiled, exchanging a fist bump with Vinny. He held his fist up to the lieutenant and raised his eyebrows. “Come on, LT, you know you want to.”
Phillips shook his head, a smile breaking out, giving him the love. Turnbull let out a burst of disgust through her lips and turned to face the front of the court.
“All rise!” ordered the clerk as the judge entered. Shakespeare pushed himself up with a grunt, and by the time he was standing dropped back onto the bench with the announcement of, “You may be seated.”
He felt a pounding in his chest that wasn’t normal, then the tightness set in. He took a deep breath, closing his eyes, then exhaled slowly. He repeated this a few times.
He nodded to Vinny’s question without opening his eyes. “Just”—deep breath and exhale—“relaxing.”
“Well, you might want to keep those eyes closed.”
Shakespeare’s latest exhale stopped and he opened his eyes. “Huh?”
Vinny jerked his head slightly to indicate the rows behind them. “Looks like our fan club is present.”
Shakespeare looked over his shoulder and saw the bench behind them occupied by “The Seven” as he had taken to calling them. One representative for each of the victims. One stalwart who had never missed a day in court, whether it was arraignment, trial, motions. It didn’t matter. The Seven were always there.
And they didn’t like him.
That he knew. He had lost the gun, he had nearly lost the case, and now, he was about to actually lose it. At least now he had Vinny to keep him company in The Seven’s doghouse. He gave Rebecca Sorenson, the sister of the third victim, a nod and turned back to face the front of the court before she could sneer at him, but instead found himself staring at the defendant’s “side” of the court.
It was packed.
It appeared Wayne Cooper had quite the following. And he did. His mother had sworn he was innocent since the beginning, claiming he had been at home with her every night one of the murders was committed. Her statement was dismissed as that of a mother who would lie to protect her son. The prosecution had blown the alibi to pieces with footage of the house, a humble, unkempt home, where Cooper lived in the basement, his mother upstairs.
A basement which had its own entrance.
The prosecution had successfully convinced the jury that Cooper could have left the house at any time without his mother knowing, and besides, what mother wouldn’t lie to protect her son.
But what Shakespeare had found troubling, in fact most people attached with the case had found troubling, was the enjoyment Cooper seemed to get from the limelight. His mother had set up a Facebook page for him, Twitter accounts, a website—essentially every type of social media she could think of, to garner support. They had fundraised over the Internet, successfully paying for most of his legal fees, but what was truly sickening to those who knew how guilty he was, was the fact that he had tens of thousands of fans on his Facebook page, almost forty thousand followers on Twitter.
It was disgusting.
Shakespeare, by no means tech savvy, had let his girlfriend’s son, Tommy, set up Facebook and Twitter on his phone so he could ‘experience the twenty-first century’. He had taken the opportunity only this morning to check out what this monster had been posting through his mother’s fingers.
“Be seeing you all soon!” was the last thing Shakespeare had read on the Twitter feed.
Shakespeare’s eyes shifted and he shuddered as he caught Cooper staring at him, a strange look on his face—eyes glazed over, the muscles on his face slack, his head tilted slightly to the side, the left half of his mouth opened a tad more than it should be.
They said it happened during birth. Forceps had damaged his facial muscles, and according to the defense, had led to a life of bullying and heartache. A life of living at home, going out only for school where he was constantly taunted, and church where he was constantly stared at. He rarely left home, except for his morning job of delivering newspapers, which is how the prosecution had tried to show he had met his first victim.
She was one of the newspaper’s longtime subscribers, and described as a saint by those who knew her, including her brother, Stephen Russell who sat amongst The Seven, her husband dead just months before her murder. But the defense had blown the newspaper link out of the water, able to show his delivery area ended one block away, and there had been little if any chance he would have ever met her what with him being a near shut-in.
Leaving another widow with no link to her killer.
Shakespeare’s chest tightened even more, leaving him thinking of his own impending doom. If he were to marry Louise, would he leave her a widow in just a few years?
You’re not dead yet. Let it go!
He took in another deep breath as he stared at Cooper, the killer’s attention now on the proceedings that were droning on. Seven victims. Six widows. It had earned Cooper the nickname of “The Widow Rapist”. Splashed across the headlines of every major rag the city had to offer, vile banners like “Widow Rapist Strikes Again!”, “Widows, Lock Your Doors!”, “Widows, Remarry Now!”
Only Sandra Gray, the last victim, had been married, her husband Carl, a mailman, had come home early in the hopes of surprising his wife. Instead, he walked in on the crime in progress.
And it had caught Cooper off guard.
In his rush from the house he had left his gun before getting a chance to put his customary bullet in the back of her head, something he did to each victim at the end of their ordeal, despite them already being dead. They ran the serial number directly from the crime scene, and traced it to an Eileen Cooper. Detectives Walker and Curtis were immediately sent to the address, and Shakespeare, the lead detective, took charge of the gun, realizing it could be the key to solving the case and linking them all together. All they needed was to fire the weapon in their lab, and match the ballistics to the bullets from the other six crime scenes.
Walker and Curtis interviewed Eileen Cooper as the crime scene continued to be processed. Of course the gun couldn’t be produced, to which she pled ignorance, claiming she never owned a gun. Further interrogation revealed she had a son, Wayne, who lived in her basement. They ran his name and found he was on the sex offender registry, where Cooper had a conviction for propositioning a fifteen year old girl when he was twenty-one. He had spent three years behind bars, and that night was nowhere to be found.
They knew they had their man.
But the gun had been stolen, the only link between all seven crimes.
With the gun stolen, the arrest warrant was denied as the gun evidence was tainted, ‘fruit of the poisonous tree’. So Vinny and his crew had returned to the scene and scoured it again from top to bottom, eventually finding the DNA on a piece of tape holding a broken door jamb in place. And with Cooper in the sex offender’s database, with his DNA on file, they had a match, and the charges were laid.
But for only one murder.
The gun had been used to shoot the first six victims in the head after he had raped and stabbed them repeatedly, his fetish sickening by any standards. But without it to perform ballistics on, they couldn’t prove the link. He hadn’t left any other evidence at any of his previous murders.
And today that single, vital piece of evidence, the lone, solitary link between Cooper and the crime scene, was being tossed due to two transposed digits.
Shakespeare heard the gavel drop and cheers erupt from the other side of the courtroom, along with angry shouts from behind him.
Wayne Cooper stood, a smile on his face as he stared at Shakespeare, mouthing the first words Wayne Cooper would utter as a free man, the system having once again failed the innocent.
“Thank you, Detective.”
Sam Bishop sat in his car and waited.
It had been two hours since Cooper had been released, and he had yet to make an appearance. The front steps of the courthouse were filled with supporters, protesters and the press. Bishop knew Cooper could have gone out any number of exits, but he was counting on Cooper’s ego to take charge and have him exit where the press was.
But two hours?
Bishop shifted in his seat, his bladder demanding attention. He had assumed Cooper would sign some paperwork and leave, which was why when the verdict was announced, he had left the courtroom immediately to get his car.
When he left, his motivation was clear. He was going to follow Cooper home and kill him. Justice had to be served. But as the rage cooled, the fantasy encounter in his head, where he surprised Cooper and beat the living shit out of him before killing him by stabbing him seven times, one for each victim, turned. The fantasy began to change, and Cooper would gain the upper hand, and Bishop himself would be the one killed.
It had been enough to cool his jets.
Now the plan was just to find out where he would be staying, then report back to the others. Together they would decide what needed to be done. He sighed, closing his eyes. The group. The Seven. He had heard them called that. Initially at the trials there had been a large number of people for each victim attending the trial, but it had dragged on, and when the charges were tossed due to lack of evidence for the other six victims, most had left in outrage.
But not The Seven.
They had been more than seven initially, even after the dismissal of the other six cases. There had been about twenty of them, but over the months it had dwindled down to the seven of them, one person determined to keep the attention on Cooper for their respective loved one. And over the years, the five long years, they had become close.
They were their own support group. No one could understand what they had been through better than each other. When one was feeling down, feeling lost, feeling scared, a message merely needed to be sent on Facebook and immediately the others would stop what they were doing and begin to chat online. Or if someone really needed that human touch, a text message, a phone call, was all that was needed and they could count on the other six arriving to help them out.
They had become friends. They had become family.
Several had even moved to New York to be closer. New York, being the type of city it was, attracted people from all over the country, and the world, so seven random victims had little chance of all being born and raised in New York.
He was fortunate in that he lived here. He had moved in with his twin sister after the death of her husband in a freak accident to help her get back on her feet. She had been devastated by his death.
A feeling he now knew too well.
His chest tightened.
His eyes burned with tears as they escaped and ran down his cheeks. Desperately he tried to remember her face during happier times, but he couldn’t. All he could picture was her naked body, lying half on the bed, her legs draped over the side, her backside exposed, and the dozens of stab wounds to her back, some pre-mortem, some perimortem, but most post-mortem.
Detective John “Johnny” Walker pulled in behind the cruiser parked at the end of the block housing the Cooper residence. He and his long-time partner, Terry Curtis, both exited the unmarked car and walked up to the rear of the cruiser. The driver leaned out his window.
“Join the party, Detectives.”
Walker and Curtis opened the rear doors and climbed in, closing the doors behind them quietly.
“Are you Richards?” Walker asked the driver.
“Yup. Brent.” He stuck his hand back and shook Walker’s hand then Curtis’. “Are you Walker?” he asked.
Walker nodded. “This is Curtis.”
“This is Scaramell,” said Richards, jerking a thumb at the passenger seat.
“Gentlemen,” said Scaramell, nodding.
“Status?” asked Walker.
“We followed him from the court. They made a brief stop at the Trump International, came back out a few minutes later, then straight here.”
“Other than a pizza being delivered, nada. The press have pretty much surrounded the place, so he’s not going anywhere without someone knowing.”
Walker looked down the street at the frenzy of reporters, their lights blaring, highlighting the house.
“I’d hate to live on this street,” muttered Scaramell.
“You and me both, kid,” said Curtis. “But this’ll die down after a few days.”
Walker’s phone vibrated on his hip and he fished it from the clip.
“Where are you?”
It was Shakespeare.
“At Cooper’s residence, just about to take over from the uniforms.”
“Is he there?”
“Apparently. They saw him go in, and he’s got at least a dozen press cameras trained on the home.”
“Well, no, I didn’t see it for myself, but I think we can take their word for it that he went inside.” He gave Scaramell a wink at his concerned expression. Suddenly Walker felt a tightness in his chest. “Why, what’s wrong?”
He heard Shakespeare sigh.
“There’s been another murder.”
Shakespeare nodded to the officer keeping the scene log, showing him his badge so he could record his shield number. He stepped inside the sealed scene, his partner, Detective Amber Trace, close on his heels. As soon as he had received word of the killing, he had ordered no one enter until he arrived. He didn’t want to risk contaminating the scene. He didn’t want to risk anything. This was going to be by the book, with no chance of anything being questioned. No legal trickery. No defense lawyers getting evidence tossed. Everything would be double and triple checked.
By the book.
He looked at the booties he had on then back at Trace and Vinny. Vinny had insisted on booties, caps, gloves and face masks. He was as determined as Shakespeare to not have anyone contaminate the scene.
Trace fidgeted with her gloves, trying to get them to fit properly over a new ring she was sporting.
Shoulda taken it off first!
Shakespeare walked through the entranceway and down the short hall. Nothing was amiss. He rounded the corner and shook his head. Across the back of the couch lay the naked body of their victim. She hadn’t been positively identified yet, but according to the records search a Constance Reilly lived here.
Which was just the way Wayne Cooper liked them. Alone. Defenseless.
He stopped himself from jumping to the conclusion it was Cooper. He had to keep an open mind, otherwise he may miss some critical piece of evidence.
He stepped further into the room allowing Trace and Vinny to follow.
“Oh my,” said Vinny, making the sign of the cross. He stepped forward, beginning a cursory examination of the body without touching it. He pointed at her back. “Multiple stab wounds, pre, peri and post mortem by the looks of it.” He stepped around the couch and knelt down to examine her head. He stood up quickly, his eyes wide.
“What is it?” asked Trace.
But Shakespeare already knew what Vinny was going to say. And he didn’t know how to feel about it.
“She’s been shot in the back of the head. Exactly like the first six victims.”
Shakespeare took a deep breath. “Okay, take notes,” he said, glancing at Trace who already had her notepad out and ready. He smiled—on the inside. She had been a reluctant partner at first, a last minute replacement for Eldridge after his death, but after their last case together he had “proposed” to her, and she had accepted, and the LT had made it official. She now occupied Eldridge’s old desk, and now that he was taking his career seriously again, and actually sitting at his desk on a regular basis, he found he was slowly getting used to seeing her there.
When he had told Louise about asking Trace to be his partner, he had half expected her to be jealous. After all, Trace was mid-thirties and quite attractive if in a bit of a Tomboyish way. Shakespeare had seen her done up for some undercover work once, and she definitely cleaned up nicely, but when on the job, she was all business, and that meant pant suits and jeans if need be, but never skirts or dresses. Makeup was scarce, though she hardly needed it, and her hair was kept short, a look he had come to appreciate more after he had asked her about it.
“I chopped it off after some perp got a hold of it and nearly yanked my block off. I said ‘never again’.”
He surveyed the room, ignoring the victim. “Nothing’s out of place. Television is on showing the menu of some homemade DVD by the looks of it. ‘Vacation to Dominican’ is the title displayed. Happy couple shown, probably our victim with a husband or boyfriend.”
“Husband,” said Vinny, pointing at a mantle with wedding photos.
“Husband,” repeated Shakespeare. He pointed at Trace. “Let’s find out who and where he is.”
“No signs of a struggle. Nothing broken, nothing out of place.” Walking around the room slowly he examined the shelves, and all of the surfaces, along with the walls. “Nothing seems to be missing, no evidence of pictures or objects taken or moved.” He looked back at the entranceway. “Hall light is on, but only one light here in the living room. Suggests she was watching the home movie, then went to answer the door.” He looked at Vinny. “Have your guys pay particular attention to the door, doorbell, everything.”
Vinny nodded. Shakespeare knew he didn’t need to tell Vinny how to do his job, and just a few weeks ago would have expected some snide remark from him about just that, but since they had patched things up, Vinny didn’t even seem to be biting his tongue, instead taking things in the spirit in which it was given.
Shakespeare rounded the room again, flashlight out, examining the floor. “No evidence of any furniture being moved except for the couch. Looks like it’s been moved forward about a foot on one side, six inches on the other. Probably moved as our victim was sexually assaulted.”
He pointed at the table. A drained wine glass stood beside a bottle of Merlot, half empty. “Check the glass, our perp might have finished off her wine, could have left prints or DNA.”
“Good thought,” murmured Vinny as he too took notes.
Shakespeare picked up the cordless phone sitting on the table, sitting parallel to the remote control for the DVD player. He hit redial.
“She called nine-one-one according to this.” He turned to Trace. “Find out if that call went through, and if it did, what came of it.” Trace scribbled on her pad as Shakespeare returned the phone to the table. He stood behind the victim, her naked body, draped over the back of the couch, gave the impression of something discarded carelessly.
She was naked, head to toe. He pointed at the floor. “Looks like the victim’s pants—make that track pants—and panties are here on the floor, behind the couch.” He leaned over. “A sweatshirt is on the couch.” He frowned. “No evidence of a bra anywhere.” He motioned Trace over. “Woman’s opinion. Was she expecting someone?”
Trace shook her head. “No way. Not a guy at least. She was wearing comfortable pants, comfortable sweater. Not sexy. No bra. Single glass of wine—”
“Good catch,” congratulated Shakespeare.
“In my opinion, this girl was sitting down for a night alone.” She pointed at the table. “Box of Kleenex. Home movies.” She pointed at a waste basket sitting beside the couch, several wadded Kleenex inside. “She’s been crying, blowing her nose.”
“Breakup?” suggested Vinny.
“Could be. But this girl was married. Usually a marriage ending builds over time. If it’s abrupt, it’s usually someone leaving to hook up with somebody else. If she’s sitting here crying over it, then he would have had to leave her. If he left her for another woman, I can’t see her leaving the photos up. She’d have taken them down, maybe even destroyed them in anger.”
Shakespeare nodded, not sure he agreed with everything being suggested, but impressed with some of the conclusions she had come up with based upon the evidence in front of her.
“Okay, we’ll talk to the neighbors, see if they know anything, saw anything.”
“If it wasn’t a breakup, then what was it?” asked Vinny.
And then it hit Shakespeare, sending his heart racing in excitement.
“She’s a widow.”
Trace’s jaw dropped.
“Just like the first six victims!”
Frank Brata looked up from his workstation to see who had knocked on the door. It was Harold Nonkoh, NYPD Homicide’s newest addition. He wondered for a moment if Eldridge’s death had created the opening that Nonkoh had filled.
He waved him in.
Nonkoh, early thirties, black, and if Brata remembered from an overheard conversation, a childhood immigrant from Ghana, opened the door, a seemingly permanent smile still on his face.
“What can I do for you, Detective?”
Nonkoh carefully closed the door, as if he didn’t want to make any noise that might disturb others in the various labs in Jamaica, Queens.
“Good evening, Frank, I’m glad to find you here. I’ve heard a lot of good things from the guys at the squad, and was told if I ever needed anything done, to see you.”
Frank looked away, uncomfortable with the praise. He pointed at a chair then winced, his recent gunshot wound still not healed completely.
“Have a seat.”
Nonkoh sat and drew the seat uncomfortably close. Frank pushed back slightly, leaving his legs extended so Nonkoh couldn’t close the gap.
“How can I help you?”
Nonkoh gestured at Frank’s shoulder. “How are you healing up?”
Frank shrugged then winced. “A little better each day. I just started back today”—he looked at his watch—“yesterday. Doctor said I should take it easy, but”—he motioned at his computer—“my Inbox is so full, I still haven’t cleared it out.”
Nonkoh frowned. “Perhaps I should come back another time?”
Frank shook his head. “No, no, no, I’m okay. Just tired. My girlfriend’s been badgering me to come home and get some rest. I promised her I’d be out of here in fifteen minutes, and I don’t like to break my promises, so tell me what you need, and I’ll get on it in the morning if that’s okay.”
“Absolutely. I’m hoping it’s simple.”
“Me too,” said Frank, smiling.
Nonkoh laughed, and leaned forward. “Listen. I had an idea. It’s pretty out there, I haven’t even run it by my partner. Shakes has me looking for similar cases going back to Wayne Cooper’s youth, and as I was entering search criteria into the computer, it suddenly dawned on me, that maybe we’ve missed something. Something big.”
Frank leaned forward, closing the gap himself.
Nonkoh looked around the room, as if he wanted to make sure no one overheard his outrageous idea.
He lowered his voice. “What if the last victim, Sandra Gray, was a mistake?”
Frank popped back in his chair. A mistake? Frank’s brain was running a mile a minute as he tried to process this new idea. It had always been the outlier. A piece of DNA evidence found, when no other scenes had any, no gunshot wound, a gun left behind. All those though could be explained away by the husband coming home.
“The husband! She wasn’t a widow!”
“Exactly,” whispered Nonkoh, looking over his shoulder after Frank’s outburst.
It had always been known that Sandra Gray wasn’t a widow and all the others were. This was a well-known fact, and it had been assumed that she had some personal connection to Cooper that had made him single her out, to deviate from his pattern. They had tried to find this connection, but Frank wasn’t sure how much effort had been put into it, once the weapon had been traced back to Cooper’s mother, and his DNA had been found. But now that the DNA was tossed, Frank was certain the detectives would redouble their efforts to find that link.
But what if they were wrong?
“So you think that he killed the wrong woman?”
Nonkoh’s head bobbed furiously, touching his nose then pointing at Frank. “That’s exactly it.”
Frank could feel his blood pound in his ears at the idea. It was incredibly exciting, because it was so plausible. It would explain the one discrepancy that couldn’t be explained.
Why had Wayne Cooper killed a married woman?
“What do you need from me?”
“I need you to run a records search to see if there are any widows, or more accurately, were any widows, living on Gray’s street or in her apartment building, at the time of her murder.”
Frank spun in his chair and began to hammer at his keyboard. “I’ll call you as soon as I have something, Detective.”
Nonkoh stood up and left the lab, again carefully closing the door.
Frank pulled his phone off his belt and quickly typed a text message.
Sorry sweets emergency came up. Going 2 B late.
Shakespeare pulled up beside Walker and Curtis’ car as Trace rolled down the window. He leaned over, across Trace’s lap. “You’re sure he’s in there.”
“No way anybody’s leaving that place,” replied Walker, pointing at the camera crews camped on the front lawn.
Shakespeare frowned. “Okay, you guys stay here, we’re going to see if he’s taking visitors.”
“At three in the morning?”
Shakespeare shrugged his shoulders. “They say there’s no rest for the wicked, so this guy should never sleep a wink.”
He pressed the accelerator and moments later pulled up to the curb in front of the house. They were immediately assaulted with a dozen cameras and lights, the sleepy reporters trying to fire themselves up at the unexpected arrival.
Shakespeare climbed out of the car with a grunt, the shocks popping up too many inches once his bulk cleared. He barreled through the reporters, with the comparatively tiny Trace in his wake, and rang the doorbell.
Did you expect one?
He rang again, this time adding several hard knocks.
“NYPD, we need to speak to Mr. Cooper.”
A window-well to their right was suddenly bathed in light as somebody in the basement stirred. A few moments later the door opened, but it was still dark inside. A dozen camera lights quickly fixed that and both Shakespeare and Trace gasped.
“Who the hell are you?”
Shakespeare stared at the man standing before them, his eyes bloodshot, his breath reeking of alcohol, sporting pajama bottoms that barely covered his equipment, and a wife beater t-shirt that completed the classy ensemble.
“Who the hell are you?” he asked in return.
Shakespeare produced his badge. “Detective Shakespeare, Homicide. And I ask you again, who are you?”
“None of your business.”
The man’s words were slurred, and Shakespeare wasn’t entirely convinced he knew what was really going on. But there was one way to cut through the BS.
“I’d like to speak to the owner of the house.”
The man paused for a moment, looking from Shakespeare, then to Trace, then to the potted plant on the doorstep. He leaned over and heaved, most likely killing the plant. He stood back up, wiping his mouth and chin with the back of his hand, then smeared that across his wife beater, leaving a distinct yellow stain.
Shakespeare heard Trace mutter, “Classy.”
“Are you the owner of the house?”
The man shook his head.
“I’d like to speak with them, please.”
Again the head shake. “Not here.”
“Is there anyone else here besides yourself?”
“N-no,” he gulped, as if trying to hold down another batch of spew.
“Can you provide proof that you are on these premises legally?”
The man’s eyes shot open. Slightly. “Wh-what?”
“Well, sir, you refuse to identify yourself, you are clearly intoxicated, and you are inside a residence I don’t believe to be your own. Unless you can prove you are legally here, I’ll be forced to arrest you for trespassing.”
The man gripped the doorframe with both hands, his knees shaking as he eyed Shakespeare.
He leaned forward and heaved all over Shakespeare’s shoes.
“Hey, MJ, how they hangin’?” greeted Vinny.
Miles “MJ” Jenkins, one of New York City’s Medical Examiners, cocked an eyebrow at Vinny as he came through the door.
“If I answered that honestly, you’d never feel adequate as a man again.”
“Hey, new material!” laughed Vinny with a half-smile. His eyes narrowed. “You been practicing your standup on your customers again?”
MJ glanced around the room. “Has Trace been talking?”
Vinny ran his fingers across his lips as if fastening a zipper.
He tossed away the key.
MJ looked at the victim splayed across the couch and became all business.
“What’ve we got?”
Vinny’s lips unzipped.
“Female, late twenties, multiple stab wounds, single gunshot to the head, evidence of vaginal and anal intercourse.” He pointed at some of the stab wounds in the back. “Look pre, post and peri to me.”
MJ pursed his lips and grunted. “How about we let the expert determine that?”
“You mean you?” asked Vinny in mock surprise, leaning back with his hands on his hips.
“Wise ass. Sometimes I wonder why Shakespeare didn’t beat the shit out of you over the years.”
Vinny laughed. “Shakes may be able to kick my ass, but I’ll always be able to outrun him.”
A smile spread across MJ’s face as he nodded, examining the wounds.
“That man needs to get himself in shape, or I’m afraid we’ll be attending another funeral too soon.”
The smile left Vinny’s face. He could tell from MJ’s tone that he was serious. And more serious than a doctor making a general observation about an overweight man.
“Do you know something?”