“Of course!” Hannah said. She started counting off on her fingers, “The killer knows how to get around detection, the killer knows where certain body organs are, the killer apparently knows the city and the system.” She sighed. “That could be a lot of New Yorkers.”
“Concentrate on the limo drivers and the principals in the movie first—and look up everything you can find on Samuel Vintner, retired cop, dial-a-guard.”
“I already did,” Hannah said. “And you know I would have let you know immediately if I’d found anything on him. No college degree, and he passed the police academy as a C student, I guess you’d say. He was on a beat—in Brooklyn—for twenty years, and retired. He never came near the morgue, the best I can find. He never worked in a grocery store as a butcher, much less in a slaughterhouse. Detective Sayer’s people interviewed his wife, and she said that he was home in time for dinner, just like he was supposed to be, and he wasn’t covered in blood.” Hannah paused, looking at the two of them. “You guys are a mess. You slept in those clothes, after digging all day. Ugh.” She grinned suddenly. “I should have made you get up when I left last night, but you were so cute sleeping. And I’m guessing you’re not getting a lot of sleep these days.” She wrinkled her nose. “But, if you’re representing the NYPD and the bureau, you might just want to take showers!”
“Soon, Hannah, I promise,” Jude told her. “What about Angus Avery? He may be our man.”
She nodded. “I did a background on him right away, Jude,” she said, sounding hurt. “He went to NYU, and then to the University of Southern California. He has all kinds of writing and directing credits. As far as information I can track goes, he has never worked in the medical field, or in groceries—as a butcher, or in a slaughterhouse. He grew up in the Village, though, so, I would assume he knows Lower Manhattan well. Oh, he wrote the story—the screenplay—for O’Leary’s. And it was considered a coup for him when he was able to hire Sherry Blanco for the leading role.”
“Just Sherry? What about Bobby Walden?” Whitney asked.
“Well, they both have confidentiality clauses in their contracts,” Hannah said, her eyes rolling. “I think Bobby got even more money because Sherry agreed to be in the film when she found out that Bobby was her costar. He’d been slipping, you know. That turkey called A Slice of Christmas? I mean, come on, a Christmas slasher film? Anyway, Bobby is still stardust, I guess. Must be all the action flicks he did.
“Sherry’s a little different. She went to UCLA for one year, and then she was hired for a music-video show, and she has been working nonstop since then. She never even had to wash a dish or bartend—her parents were putting her through. Bobby Walden was a child prodigy, and was already on the kids’ channels by the time he was eighteen…tutors on set and all that stuff.”
“Dig deeper,” Jude said.
She might have been upset, but she was looking past him—at Whitney. He wasn’t sure what kind of expression Whitney had given her, but it caused Hannah to smile.
“Your wish is my command. Go. Go get cleaned up!”
“Can’t yet,” Whitney told her. “We’re on our way to the shelter for the veterans of foreign wars.”
“Why? What happened?” Hannah asked.
“Someone drugged, kidnapped and deserted Captain Tyler,” Jude explained. “And I need to get my car—can you give us a ride?”
Ellis Sayer had already arrived at the veterans’ home and was questioning patients and workers in one of the employee lounges. As Whitney listened to Jude speak with the desk clerk, she heard the conversation recede as if she’d moved to a distant place. She felt her heart break as she looked around; no one deserved the finest the American public could give more than the men and women who served in the military. She knew that they—just as she had—signed a contract with their branch of service, one that explained that they were putting their lives on the line. Every police officer, every National Guardsman and woman, every person in law enforcement, as well as in the military, knew that they put their lives on the line.
But none did so with the expectation of facing enemy fire in the way that these soldiers had.
At first, she thought that the hallways were just busy. Then, with a chill sweeping over her, she realized that she was seeing the dead.
She swallowed hard, frozen at first.
It had started in the autopsy room. She had looked at the bones on the tables, and she had imagined them rising and acquiring surreal bodies out of the air that surrounded them. She had seen the gaping mouths, opened in horrendous screams that she thought she could hear.
And now, it was worse…
They walked by her sadly; soldiers who had made it home, but not made it back to health. Men minus arms and legs, limping along on prosthetic legs, or with metal and rubber extensions where arms had once been attached to their bodies. There were those who were pale and gaunt, and had evidently died from organ damage that just couldn’t be repaired, or diseases that just couldn’t be cured. This was not really a hospital; it was a shelter that offered medical aid.
One man in particular stopped and stared at her. Whitney stared back, and realized that he knew that she saw him, and was surprised. She saluted him.
“Whitney?” Jude said and she started. “The night manager for C Wing is in with Ellis now.”
She followed Jude down a long hallway. He apparently knew where he was going, because he only paused once, looking at the doors around them. He opened one and walked in.
A heavyset woman was seated at a table, wringing a handkerchief in her hands. She stopped speaking when Jude and Whitney entered, eyeing them worriedly.
“It’s all right, Mrs. Dean, continue,” Ellis said, looking at Jude and Whitney. He grimaced. “They’re my colleagues.”
“Well, all right.” Mrs. Dean took a deep breath. “I saw Captain Tyler at nine o’clock—that’s our basic bedtime here. But, of course, our soldiers and sailors are not forced to go to sleep then. Medications have been given out. Dinner is long over, and it’s quiet time. I checked in on him because he’s such a sweet man. And I think he was going to adapt okay. A doctor saw him yesterday, and he was waiting for some test results before starting on a medication regime. I gave him a mild sedative, just to sleep—an ibuprofen with an added sleep aid, doctor’s orders. It wouldn’t have knocked him out, and it wouldn’t have done anything to his memory. And I was at the desk all night, except that if I wasn’t, Mary was there.” She gasped suddenly. “Except when the alarm went off in Admiral Clift’s room. We both went running—he’s one of the World War II vets, quite old and frail, and we both rushed in.”
“What was wrong with Admiral Clift?” Jude asked.
A look of realization came over Mrs. Dean’s face. “Oh, no,” she said. “Nothing.” She fumbled with her handkerchief. “That’s when someone got to Captain Tyler!”
“Do you know why no one was notified this morning that Captain Tyler was gone?” Jude asked.
“Probably because you’re not required to check out. Well, of course, we expect the courtesy of being told when our vets are leaving. We have only so many beds, and we’re trying to create a place where they can find homes and receive medical help without actually living in a nursing facility. Like assisted living, with a better quality of life,” she explained.
“Captain Tyler was brought in by the police. We should have been notified,” Ellis Sayer said crossly.
Mrs. Dean was upset, but she was also defensive. “You’ll have to speak to the day crew about the morning. I have no idea why no one was notified!”
Whitney stepped in then, smiling. “Mrs. Dean, could you show us Captain Tyler’s room?”
“Of course, dear, of course.”
Jude looked at Ellis, who grimaced. “Sorry,” he murmured.
Whitney had longed for Angela’s talent—a real ability to wait, to simply be there, sympathetically, in touch on a different plane, and allow the dead needing help or closure to see that she might see them, and come to her. Now, with the dead suddenly so apparent to her, filling the hallways, she felt a sense of overwhelming unease; she had never thought that she would see so many, so suddenly…so many…
She nearly walked into a member of the living, believing that he was one of the dead.
“Excuse me!” she told an older man. He was in uniform, and though frail, his physical health seemed to be fine. He lifted his hat to her.
“It’s all right, young woman, it’s all right. A lovely young woman may walk into me anytime,” he said, and moved on around them. “Heading to bingo, Mrs. Dean!” he said. He paused and looked back at Whitney. “Marnie! Would you like to come to bingo with me?”
Mrs. Dean whispered, “That’s Major Radison. He thinks you’re his daughter, Marnie. Just tell him that you have to go to work.”
“I’d love to come!” Whitney said. “I’m so sorry that I have to go to work.”
“Next time, sweetheart. Plan to come on a bingo night when you can stay!” he said.
“We offer many group activities here,” Mrs. Dean murmured. “Major Radison is another of our World War II veterans. His daughter, Marnie, died last year, and her family lives out in Arizona, so they’re not here often. Sad, truly. For him, the Alzheimer’s is a blessing. He doesn’t know that she died.”
She pushed open a door to a cheerful room. The bed was even made and decorated with a pretty quilt. The other furnishings offered utility with grace. There was a desk as well as a dresser, and on a counter at the back, a microwave.
“Very nice,” Whitney murmured.
Jude, she noticed, had paid little heed to the room. He had gone to the window. He didn’t touch it, but looked at the mechanism. “We’re on the ground floor,” he noted.