Chapter 31

"His name is Eric Wu."

Perlmutter was back at the hospital. He had been working on getting a warrant compelling Indira Khariwalla to tell him who her client was, but the county prosecutor was running into more interference than expected. In the meantime the lab boys were doing their thing. The fingerprints had been sent down to the NCIC, and now, if Daley was to be believed, they had an ID on the perp.

"Does he have a record?" Perlmutter asked.

"He was let out of Walden three months ago."


"Armed assault," Daley said. "Wu cut a deal on that Scope case. I called and asked around. This is one very bad man."

"How bad?"

"Poop-in-your-pants bad. If ten percent of the rumors about this guy are true, I'm sleeping with my Barney the Dinosaur night-lite on."

"I'm listening."

"He grew up in North Korea. Orphaned at a young age. Spent time working for the state inside prisons for political dissidents. He has a talent with pressure points or something, I don't know. That's what he did with that Sykes guy, some kung-fu crap, practically severed his spine. One story I heard, he kidnapped some guy's wife, worked on her for like two hours. He calls the husband and tells him to listen up. The wife starts screaming. Then she tells him, the husband, that she hates his guts. Starts cursing him. That's the last thing the husband ever hears."

"He killed the woman?"

Daley's face had never looked so solemn. "That's just it. He didn't."

The room's temperature dropped ten degrees. "I don't understand."

"Wu let her go. She hasn't spoken since. Just sits and rocks someplace. The husband comes near her, she freaks out and starts screaming."

"Jesus." Perlmutter felt the chill ease through him. "You got an extra night-lite?"

"I got two, yeah, but I'm using both."

"So what would this guy want with Freddy Sykes?"

"Not a clue."

Charlaine Swain appeared down the corridor. She had not left the hospital since the shooting. They had finally gotten her to talk to Freddy Sykes. It had been a strange scene. Sykes kept crying. Charlaine had tried to get information. It'd worked to some extent. Freddy Sykes seemed to know nothing. He had no idea who his assailant was or why anyone would want to hurt him. Sykes was just a small-time accountant who lived alone  -  he seemed to be on no one's radar.

"It's all linked," Perlmutter said.

"You have a theory?"

"I have some of it. Strands."

"Let's hear."

"Start with the E-ZPass records."


"We have Jack Lawson and Rocky Conwell crossing that exit at the same time," Perlmutter said.


"I think now we know why. Conwell was working for a private investigator."

"Your friend India Something."

"Indira Khariwalla. And she's hardly a friend. But that's not important. What makes sense here, the only thing that makes sense really, is that Conwell was hired to follow Lawson."

"Ipso facto, the E-ZPass timing explained."

Perlmutter nodded, trying to put it together. "So what happened next? Conwell ends up dead. The M.E. says he probably died that night before midnight. We know he crossed the tollbooth at 10:26 P.M. So sometime soon after that, Rocky Conwell met up with foul play." Perlmutter rubbed his face. "The logical suspect would be Jack Lawson. He realizes he's being followed. He confronts Conwell. He kills him."

"Makes sense," Daley said.

"But it doesn't. Think about it. Rocky Conwell was six-five, two-sixty, and in great shape. You think a guy like Lawson could have killed him like that? With his bare hands?"

"Sweet Jesus." Daley saw it now. "Eric Wu?"

Perlmutter nodded. "It adds up. Somehow Conwell met up with Wu. Wu killed him, stuffed his body into a trunk, and left him at the Park-n-Ride. Charlaine Swain said that Wu was driving a Ford Windstar. Same model and color as Jack Lawson's."

"So what's the connection between Lawson and Wu?"

"I don't know."

"Maybe Wu works for him."

"Could be. We just don't know. What we do know, however, is that Lawson's alive  -  or at least he was alive after Conwell was killed."

"Right, because he called his wife. When she was at the station. So what happened next?"

"Damned if I know."

Perlmutter watched Charlaine Swain. She just stood down the hall, staring through the window of her husband's room. Perlmutter considered going over, but really, what could he say?

Daley jostled him and they both turned to see Officer Veronique Baltrus walk off the elevator. Baltrus had been with the department three years. She was thirty-eight, with tousled black hair and a constant tan. She was in a regulation police uniform that somehow hugged as much as anything with a belt and holster could, but in her off-hours she preferred Lycra workout clothes or anything that revealed the flat tan of her stomach. She was petite, with dark eyes, and every guy in the station, even Perlmutter, had a thing for her.

Veronique Baltrus was both exquisitely beautiful and a computer expert  -  an interesting albeit heart-racing combination. Six years ago she had been working for a bathing suit retailer in New York City when the stalking began. The stalker would call her. He would send e-mails. He would harass her at work. His main weapon was the computer, the best bastion for the anonymous and gutless. The police did not have the manpower to hunt him down. They also believed that this stalker, whoever he was, would probably not take it to the next level.

But he did.

On a calm fall evening Veronique Baltrus was savagely attacked. Her assailant got away. But Veronique recovered. Already good with computers, she now upped her ability and became an expert. She used her new knowledge to hunt down her assailant  -  he continued to send her e-mails discussing an encore -and bring him to justice. Then she quit her job and became a police officer.

Now, even though Baltrus wore a uniform and worked a regular shift, she was the county's unofficial computer expert. Nobody in the department but Perlmutter knew her back story. That was part of the deal when she applied for the job.

"You got something?" he asked her.

Veronique Baltrus smiled. She had a nice smile. Perlmutter's "thing" for her was different than the rest of the guys'. It was not built simply on lust. Veronique Baltrus was the first woman to make him feel something since Marion 's death. He wouldn't take it anywhere. It would be unprofessional. It would be unethical. And truth be told, Veronique was waaaaay out of his league.

She gestured down the corridor toward Charlaine Swain. "We might have to thank her."

"How so?"

"Al Singer."

That, Sykes had told Charlaine, was the name Eric Wu used when he pretended to be making a delivery. When Charlaine asked who Al Singer was, Sykes jolted a little and denied knowing any Mr. Singer. He said he opened the door anyway out of curiosity. Perlmutter said, "I thought Al Singer was a fake name."

"Yes and no," Baltrus said. "I went through Mr. Sykes's computer pretty thoroughly. He'd signed up for an online dating service and had been corresponding fairly regularly with a man named Al Singer."

Perlmutter made a face. "A gay dating service?"

"Bisexual, actually. That a problem?"

"No. So Al Singer was, what, his online lover?"

"Al Singer doesn't exist. It was an alias."

"Isn't that common online, especially at a gay dating service? Using an alias?"

"It is," Baltrus agreed. "But here's my point. Your Mr. Wu pretended to make a delivery. He used that name, Singer. How would Wu know about Al Singer unless...?"

"You saying Eric Wu is Al Singer?"

Baltrus nodded, rested her hands on her hips. "That would be my guess, sure. Here's what I think: Wu goes online. He uses the name Al Singer. He meets some people  -  potential victims  -  that way. In this case, he meets Freddy Sykes. He breaks into his home and assaults him. My guess is, he would have eventually killed Sykes."

"You think he's done this before?"


"So he's, what, some kind of serial bisexual basher?"

"That I don't know. But it fits the action I'm seeing on the computer."

Perlmutter thought about it. "Does this Al Singer have any other online partners?"

"Three more."

"Have any of them been assaulted?"

"Not yet, no. They're all healthy."

"So what makes you think it's serial?"

"It's too early to say for sure one way or the other. But Charlaine Swain did us a huge favor. Wu was using Sykes's computer. He probably planned on destroying it before he left, but Charlaine flushed him out before he had time. I'm piecing it together now, but there's definitely another online persona in there. I don't know the name yet, but he's working out of Jewish singles."

"How do we know it's not Freddy Sykes?"

"Because whoever accessed this page did so in the past twenty-four hours."

"So it had to be Wu."


"I still don't get it. Why would he go to another online dating service?"

"To find more victims," she said. "Here's how I think it works: This Wu has a bunch of different names and personas at a bunch of different dating sites. Once he, shall we say, uses one, like Al Singer, he won't dip into that dating pool again. He used Al Singer to get to Freddy Sykes. He'd have to know that an investigator could track that down."

"So he stops using Al Singer."

"Right. But he's been using other aliases at other sites. So he's ready for his next victim."

"Do you have any of the other names yet?"

"Getting close," Baltrus said. "I just need a warrant for"

"You think a judge will grant it?'

"The only identity we know Wu accessed recently is the one at the yenta-match site. I think he was seeking out his next victim. If we can get a list of what name he used and who he contacted..."

"Keep digging."

"Will do."

Veronique Baltrus hurried out. Wrong as it felt  -  he was, after all, her superior  -  Perlmutter watched her go with a longing that made him remember Marion.