Carlson sat in the car. His tie was still knotted meticulously. His suit jacket was off, hung on a wooden hanger on the backseat hook. The air-conditioning blew loud and hard. Carlson read the autopsy envelope: Elizabeth Beck, Case File 94-87002. His fingers started unwinding the string. The envelope opened. Carlson extracted the contents and spread them out on the passenger seat.
What had Dr. Beck wanted to see?
Stone had already given him the obvious answer: Beck wanted to know if there was anything that might incriminate him. That fit into their early theories, and it had, after all, been Carlson who'd first started questioning the accepted scenario on Elizabeth Beck's murder. He had been the first to believe that the killing was not what it appeared to be - that indeed it was Dr. David Beck, the husband, who had planned the murder of his wife.
So why had he stopped buying it?
He had carefully reviewed the holes now poking through that theory, but Stone had been equally convincing in patching them back up. Every case has holes. Carlson knew that. Every case has inconsistencies. If it doesn't, ten to one you've missed something.
So why did he now have doubts about Beck's guilt?
Perhaps it had something to do with the case becoming too neat, all the evidence suddenly lining up and cooperating with their theory. Or maybe his doubts were based on something as unreliable as "intuition," though Carlson had never been a big fan of that particular aspect of investigative work. Intuition was often a way of cutting corners, a nifty technique of replacing hard evidence and facts with something far more elusive and capricious. The worst investigators Carlson knew relied on so-called intuition.
He picked up the top sheet. General information. Elizabeth Parker Beck. Her address, her birth date (she'd been twenty-five when she died), Caucasian female, height five seven, weight 98 pounds. Thin. The external examination revealed that rigor mortis had resolved. There were blisters on the skin and fluid leaks from the orifices. That placed the time of death at more than three days. The cause of death was a knife wound to the chest. The mechanism of death was loss of blood and dramatic hemorrhaging of the right aorta. There were also cut wounds on her hands and fingers, theoretically because she tried to defend herself against a knife attack.
Carlson took out his notebook and Mont Blanc pen. He wrote Defensive knife wounds?!?! and then he underlined it several times. Defensive wounds. That wasn't KillRoy style. KillRoy tortured his victims. He bound them with rope, did whatever, and once they were too far gone to care, he killed them.
Why would there be defensive knife wounds on her hands?
Carlson kept reading. He scanned through hair and eye color, and then, halfway down the second page, he found another shocker.
Elizabeth Beck had been branded postmortem.
Carlson reread that. He took out his notebook and scratched down the word postmortem. That didn't add up. KillRoy had always branded his victims while they were alive. Much was made at trial about how he liked the smell of sizzling flesh, how he enjoyed the screams of his victims while he seared them.
First, the defensive wounds. Now this. Something wasn't meshing.
Carlson took off his glasses and closed his eyes. Mess, he thought to himself. Mess upset him. Logic holes were expected, yes, but these were turning into gaping wounds. On the one hand, the autopsy supported his original hypothesis that Elizabeth Beck's murder had been staged to look like the work of KillRoy But now, if that were true, the theory was coming unglued from the other side.
He tried to take it step by step. First, why would Beck be so eager to see this file? On the surface, the answer was now obvious. Anybody who scrutinized these results would realize that there was an excellent chance that KillRoy had not murdered Elizabeth Beck. It was not a given, however. Serial killers, despite what you might read, are not creatures of habit. KillRoy could have changed his M.O. or sought some diversity. Still, with what Carlson was reading here, there was enough to make one ponder.
But all of this just begged what had become the big question: Why hadn't anybody noticed these evidentiary inconsistencies back then?
Carlson sorted through possibilities. KillRoy had never been prosecuted for Elizabeth Beck's murder. The reasons were now pretty clear. Perhaps the investigators suspected the truth. Perhaps they realized that Elizabeth Beck didn't fit, but publicizing that fact would only aid KillRoy's defense. The problem with prosecuting a serial killer is that you cast a net so wide, something is bound to slither out. All the defense has to do is pick apart one case, find discrepancies with one murder, and bang, the other cases are tainted by association. So without a confession, you rarely try him for all the murders at once. You do it step by step. The investigators, realizing this, probably just wanted the murder of Elizabeth Beck to go away.
But there were big problems with that scenario too.
Elizabeth Beck's father and uncle - two men in law enforcement - had seen the body. They had in all likelihood seen this autopsy report. Wouldn't they have wondered about the inconsistencies? Would they have let her murderer go free just to secure a conviction on KillRoy? Carlson doubted it.
So where did that leave him?
He continued through the file and stumbled across yet another stunner. The car's air-conditioning was seriously chilling him now, reaching bone. Carlson slid down a window and pulled the key out of the ignition. The top of the sheet read: Toxicology Report. According to the tests, cocaine and heroin had been found in Elizabeth Beck's bloodstream; moreover, traces were found in the hair and tissues, indicating that her use was more than casual.
Did that fit?
He was thinking about it, when his cell phone rang. He picked it up. "Carlson."
"We got something," Stone said.
Carlson put down the file. "What?"
"Beck. He's booked on a flight to London out of JFK. It leaves in two hours."
"I'm on my way."
Tyrese put a hand on my shoulder as we walked. "Bitches," he said for the umpteenth time. "You can't trust them."
I didn't bother replying.
It surprised me at first that Tyrese would be able to track down Helio Gonzalez so quickly, but the street network was as developed as any other. Ask a trader at Morgan Stanley to locate a counterpart at Goldman Sachs and it would be done in minutes. Ask me to refer a patient to pretty much any other doctor in the state, and it takes one phone call. Why should street felons be different?
Helio was fresh off a four-year stint upstate for armed robbery. He looked it too. Sunglasses, a doo-rag on his head, white T-shirt under a flannel shirt that had only the top button buttoned so that it looked like a cape or bat wings. The sleeves were rolled up, revealing crude prison tattoos etched onto his forearm and the prison muscles coiling thereunder. There is an unmistakable look to prison muscles, a smooth, marble like quality as opposed to their puffier health club counterparts.
We sat on a stoop somewhere in Queens. I couldn't tell you where exactly. A Latin rhythm tah-tah-tahhed, the beat driving into my chest. Dark-haired women sauntered by in too-clingy spaghetti-strap tops. Tyrese nodded at me. I turned to Helio. He had a smirk on his face. I took in the whole package and one word kept popping into my brain: scum. Unreachable, unfeeling scum. You looked at him, and you knew that he would continue to leave serious destruction in his wake. The question was how much. I realized that this view was not charitable. I realized, too, that based on surfaces, the very same could be said for Tyrese. That didn't matter. Elizabeth may have believed in the redemption for the street-hardened or morally anesthetized. I was still working on it.
"Several years ago, you were arrested for the murder of Brandon Scope," I began. "I know you were released, and I don't want to cause you any trouble. But I need to know the truth."
Helio took off his sunglasses. He flicked a glance at Tyrese. "You bring me a cop?"
"I'm not a cop," I said. "I'm Elizabeth Beck's husband."
I wanted a reaction. I didn't get one.
"She's the woman who gave you the alibi."
"I know who she is."
"Was she with you that night?"
Helio took his time. "Yeah," he said slowly, smiling at me with yellow teeth. "She was with me all night."
"You're lying," I said.
Helio looked back over at Tyrese. "What is this, man?"
"I need to know the truth," I said.
"You think I killed that Scope guy?"
"I know you didn't."
That surprised him.
"What the hell is going on here?" he said.
"I need you to confirm something for me."
"Were you with my wife that night, yes or no?"
"What you want me to say, man?"
"And if the truth is she was with me all night?"
"It's not the truth," I said.
"What makes you so sure?"
Tyrese joined in. "Tell the man what he wants to know."
Helio took his time again. "It's like she said. I did her, all right? Sorry, man, but that's what happened. We were doing it all night."
I looked at Tyrese. "Leave us alone a second, okay?"
Tyrese nodded. He got up and walked to his car. He leaned against the side door, arms folded, Brutus by his side. I turned my gaze back to Helio.
"Where did you first meet my wife?"
"At the center."
"She tried to help you?"
He shrugged, but he wouldn't look at me.
"Did you know Brandon Scope?"
A flicker of what might have been fear crossed his face. "I'm going, man."
"It's just you and me, Helio. You can frisk me for a wire."
"You want me to give up my alibi?"
"Why would I do that?"
"Because someone is killing everyone connected with what happened to Brandon Scope. Last night, my wife's friend was murdered in her studio. They grabbed me today, but Tyrese intervened. They also want to kill my wife."
"I thought she was dead already."
"It's a long story, Helio. But it's all coming back. If I don't find out what really happened, we're all going to end up dead."
I didn't know if this was true or hyperbole. I didn't much care either.
"Where were you that night?" I pressed.
"I can prove you weren't," I said.
"My wife was in Atlantic City. I have her old charge records. I can prove it. I can blow your alibi right out of the water, Helio. And I'll do it. I know you didn't kill Brandon Scope. But so help me, I'll let them execute you for it if you don't tell me the truth."
A bluff. A great big bluff. But I could see that I'd drawn blood.
"Tell me the truth, and you stay free," I said.
"I didn't kill that dude, I swear it, man."
"I know that," I said again.
He thought about it. "I don't know why she did it, all right?"
I nodded, trying to keep him talking.
"I robbed a house out in Fort Lee that night. So I had no alibi. I thought I was going down for it. She saved my ass."
"Did you ask her why?"
He shook his head. "I just went along. My lawyer told me what she said. I backed her up. Next thing I knew, I was out."
"Did you ever see my wife again?"
"No." He looked up at me. "How come you so sure your wife wasn't doing me?"
"I know my wife."
He smiled. "You think she'd never cheat?"
I didn't reply.
Helio stood up. "Tell Tyrese he owes me one."
He chuckled, turned, walked away.