The weight of the world—or at least the entire steel empire and granite of Manhattan—seemed to be weighing down on him. He’d thought they could concentrate on the area where the construction site had been utilized by the movie crew. He’d thought they would find the killer in the midst of the filmmakers. But now, they were in the Bowery. Melody Tatum had been an escort, not an actress.
The killer’s sphere was widening.
Yes, he’d suspected himself, as an itching, back-burner thought, from the moment he had come to the site of Virginia Rockford’s murder, that the slashing deaths of his Jane Does were associated with the murder of Virginia Rockford. He just hadn’t wanted to believe that a modern-day Ripper could be at work in his streets.
Sayer called out to him. “Forensics is asking if they can move in. They’ve been working the perimeter. Are they good?”
Jude looked down at Fullbright. “Five minutes. I want the hands bagged. I want her body-bagged just as she is—we’ve a better chance of preserving evidence on the clothing and all if we get her down to the morgue.”
Jude walked over to Judith Garner, a woman he considered to be one of the city’s best forensic detectives. She was like an iron horse; wild red Irish hair turning gray, eyes silver, face gaunt—mind like a computer.
“Garner, anything and everything from the perimeter here. With any luck, the alley hasn’t been disturbed.”
“Cigarette butts, gum wrappers, dog hairs, coffee cups and the entire contents of the Dumpster—I got it, Jude. Hairs, fibers, footprints, but now we’ll have to take those of half the police force. I will be thorough…you know that,” she promised him. “We’ve got the purse, too. Doesn’t look as if the killer ever opened it, but this guy is wearing gloves. Oh, by the way, her business cards identify her as ‘a premium date for the businessman on the move.’ She might have been a high-class hooker, but it seems that her employment is on the books. She’s with Harold Patterson’s Elite Companions.”
He nodded. “Thanks,” he told her. She studied him, shaking her head. He knew, of course, that most of the force was feeling very sorry for him. This killer wasn’t leaving behind any evidence; he was apparently aware that any trace could help the police discover his identity. This was the kind of case where the suspects might be limitless, and if the killer wasn’t apprehended, he might as well leave the state and hide behind a gigantic tiki beverage on a distant island, under an assumed name.
He saw that Whitney was still back by the body. He could see her golden eyes and the empathy within them. She hunkered down by Fullbright as he bagged the hands. Fullbright nodded at something that she said.
Jude felt his muscles constrict.
He knew that they were making comparisons.
But this wasn’t the East End of London.
No, it was the East End of New York.
How in the hell did he get every woman in Lower Manhattan to stay off the streets at night? And how would Manhattan itself survive, if the killing continued and the panic increased?
His phone buzzed and he answered it.
“It’s Green. When you can, head in to the station.”
Jude was puzzled. “Sir, I’m on-site with the victim. When I leave here, I’m heading off to the victim’s place of employment—Harold Patterson’s Elite Companions.”
“We have a woman here named Daisy Harding who knew your Jane Doe wet. She recognized her from the paper. The young woman’s name was Sarah Larson. She wanted to be a Broadway dancer. She started turning tricks when that didn’t pan out. The girl was an orphan from Kansas City, Kansas. No family and only a few friends. Get on down here as soon as you can, Jude. The murder you’re covering is on all the news stations already.”
“They can’t have gotten that much information. The two officers who discovered the body did everything right—they barricaded the entire alley immediately.”
“Yeah, and I know they tried to shield the body as best as possible, but this is New York, Jude, you know that. That alley has windows and the neighbors have camera phones.”
“I can imagine exactly what the reporters are using as a headline,” Jude said wearily, aware that his search revolved around a nutcase who thought he was the mysterious and infamous Victorian killer.
“Jack’s back,” he said.
And, in a way, the killer was proving that it was true.
Life was all about perception.
Daisy Harding was a slender young woman with large brown eyes and short-cropped brown hair. She moved with tremendous grace, and Whitney wasn’t surprised to learn that she was a dancer. She had just gotten into the chorus of an off-Broadway play called The Girl Next Door, and she was quick to tell them that she’d been about to head back to her native Arkansas, since she’d been barely surviving.
She was distressed but articulate as she spoke to them, telling them how she had met the victim, Jane Doe wet, now identified as Sarah Larson, when they had both auditioned for a show the year before. Sarah had been a dancer, a good one, but the city was filled with hopefuls from all over the country who were auditioning for Broadway shows.
“I know that she did some extras work, and she got a job at a coffee shop,” Daisy said. “And then the coffee shop started cutting down on employees and hours, and everyone else was doing the same. She took a job at a place called Not Your Mama’s, and she thought she was going to be a dancer, but it turned out that it was a strip club. She actually started making some money, but she was miserable. And then…” Daisy paused, shaking her head. “Then she started taking drugs and drinking to cope. And then I think her drug habit got expensive, so she started working on the side.” Again, Daisy hesitated, wincing. “Hooking. The last time I saw her was about a month ago. She knew that I was upset for her, and she told me not to worry. She was going to get it together. She was going to go out and get more movie and television work as an extra, and she’d finally get out of what she was doing.” A large tear rolled down her cheek. Jude pushed a tissue box closer to her.
So she, too, had been involved in the film world, Jude thought.
“You were trying very hard to be a good friend, Miss Harding. I’m sure that you did everything that you could,” Jude told her.
“No, no, I didn’t. If I had, she’d be alive,” Daisy said.
Jude looked down for a minute. “That was a computer image we had in the paper, Miss Harding. But, now that you’ve given us a name, we can verify that she is your friend. She must have someone somewhere.”
“No,” Daisy Harding said. “She told me that she’d been in a home with dozens of kids, all of them just waiting to be eighteen and get out. She’d spent a couple of years working different places to get to New York. And…she had the kind of friends you look at when you’re at an audition and hope they break an ankle so that you get the job. It’s competitive out there. I don’t mean that we—as a whole—are hateful or would really hurt anyone. It’s just there are so many people trying to get work.”
“Of course,” Whitney said softly.
“Miss Harding,” Jude promised, “we’ll find out what happened to your friend. I promise, I won’t stop until we do.”
Daisy started to cry again softly. Whitney left her chair and walked around to the young woman. “You’re doing everything you can for her now, Daisy,” she said. “You’re helping us find out about her, and that will help us find out about her killer.”
“Please, yes, oh, please, at the least, get some kind of justice for her! I had a home and a family, and now, I’ve been lucky here. We weren’t rich, but my parents would send me money when I couldn’t get a show, or when I couldn’t get any kind of job at all. Sarah…she had no one. No help. It’s not…it’s not fair.”
Whitney saw Jude’s mouth tighten grimly; she could almost read his mind. No, life wasn’t fair. But what had happened to Sarah Larson went far beyond that sentiment, and he didn’t mean to let her die without catching her killer and bringing him to justice.
“You think…” Daisy began, her voice hoarse, “you think that the same man killed that actress in the street, and that he…he’s killed this new woman, too?”
“We don’t know, Miss Harding. We’re investigating every angle,” Jude said.
Tears still bright in her eyes, Daisy finished telling them everything she could about Sarah Larson. When she left the station at last, Ellis Sayer threw some sheets on the table in the conference room where they’d been speaking with Miss Harding. “Limo drivers of interest, six of them,” Sayer said. “I sent Alex Lacey and two other men to go through the company. The time cards, mechanics and bosses match on most points, but these guys were the last on the job, if you want to speak with them.”
Jude nodded. “They’re here?” he asked.
“Am I your second in command for nothing?” Ellis asked him dryly. Whitney liked Ellis Sayer; he always looked a bit down, sad and weary, but he seemed steady. So far, he’d followed through like a bulldog on the tasks he was given.
“Get Lacey in here with me,” Jude said. “That way he’ll catch any contradictions.”
He looked at Whitney. “I’d like to stay for this,” she said.
When Ellis walked out, she noted that Jude seemed anxious. “You want to get to the strip club, right?”
“Yes,” he said, rubbing his temples. “But Sayer has the drivers here. I know Lacey does a thorough job of questioning, but…we’ll keep the pressure on. There’s a lot I want to get to during the day. Melody Tatum’s boss, pimp or whatever. The strip club—it’s going to be damn hard to stay hot on a single trail when victims are popping up all over. But one thing I’ve learned is that people don’t like coming in. They feel that if we’re questioning them, we think they’re guilty, not just looking for information. The drivers are here…we’ll speak with them now.”