The phone call was unexpected --- unbidden and out of the blue. It took him so much by surprise that Lee Campbell found himself stumbling for words. The last thing he expected on a Friday night was a call from a former patient --- and certainly not this former patient.
“Is this Dr. Lee Campbell?” The voice was high and breathy, petulance lurking underneath the seductiveness, like a bad Marilyn Monroe impersonator. He recognized it at once.
“Uh --- yes.” Yes, Ana, he wanted to say, but some part of him still hoped that it wasn’t her.
But of course it was.
“This is Ana Watkins.”
“Oh, yes --- hello, Ana. How are you?” His professionalism clicked in automatically, keeping his tone steady and objective --- or so he hoped.
“I’m downstairs --- can I come up and see you?”
“At McSorley’s, actually.”
How did she know where he lived?
As if reading his mind, she said, “You’re in the directory.”
Not true, but never mind. His explanation that he wasn’t in private practice anymore didn’t seem to put her off. She insisted that she wouldn’t take up much of his time, but that it was very important to her.
“Please? I wouldn’t ask, but --- ”
But what? he thought irritably. You didn’t cause enough trouble the first time around?
“I’ll come down and meet you at McSorley’s.”
“It’s too loud in here,” she said, and he could hear the din of clanking glasses and boisterous laughter in the background. McSorley’s was always loud on a Friday night.
He glanced at the clock. It was just after six.
“I have a dinner meeting at seven.”
“I won’t take long --- I promise.”
He peered out the window down at the street. It was August, but as evening drew in a cold rain whipped the naked branches of the trees on East Seventh Street. They shivered in the chilly gusts, shaking like frightened skeletons. He caught a glimpse of his own ghostly image staring back at him --- curly black hair, angular face, intense, deep-set eyes. He knew it was a face many women considered handsome, and wished that Ana Watkins weren’t one of them.
Lee had an impulse to pour himself a Scotch, but decided against it --- he needed his mind clear for the encounter. When the downstairs bell rang he took a deep breath and buzzed her into the building.
Her footsteps on the carpeted stairs were light and quick, the tread of a young person. He opened the door and fixed a smile on his face. She entered in a cloud of lilac perfume, and as soon as he breathed the aroma, he inhaled the memories of that time in his life along with it. It all felt so long ago.
She had changed very little --- tall and thin and so pale that she always reminded him of an albino. She wasn’t an albino, she had told him in their first session together, but her pallid skin lacked the shade and depth of ordinary skin; it looked two dimensional, like paper. She wasn’t exactly pretty --- her nose was too big and her lips were too thin --- but she was striking, and she knew it.
She took in the apartment with one nervous glance, probably noticing more than she appeared to. Lee remembered her IQ was 160, or so she had claimed. That could have been a fiction, of course --- much of what she had told him was. She was one of his earliest patients, and he had not yet acquired the skill of seeing through the myriad lies and obfuscations of the narcissistic personality. Still, there was no doubt that Ana was bright --- very bright. Her sessions may have been frustrating, but at least they were never dull.
She slipped off her gray raincoat and dangled it from her outstretched arm, as though she expected Lee to take it from her. That was so like her --- her helplessness always had an aggressive quality, and she could turn even a small gesture like removing her coat into a demand. Evidently years of therapy had failed to change this. He suppressed a sigh and took the coat, hanging it on the antique bentwood coatrack his mother had found at an estate sale in Bucks County.
“Do you have any coffee?” she asked, rubbing her thin hands together and blowing on them.
Another demand. Lee was flooded with relief that they would not be continuing their sessions together. He had always done his best to disguise one of the uglier truths of the therapeutic relationship: there were some patients he just didn’t like. If his enmity toward a patient ever threatened to compromise his effectiveness, he would find an excuse to suggest they seek out another therapist, but in the case of Ana Watkins, his dislike of her didn’t become entirely apparent to him until after their last session together.
“I can make some coffee,” he said in response to her question, though from the way her fingers twitched and her eyes roamed restlessly around the room, he thought coffee was the last thing she needed.
“Never mind --- I’ll be all right,” she replied, the familiar tone of self-dramatization in her voice, as if instead of coffee, she were speaking of a rare and lifesaving drug.
“It’s no trouble at all,” Lee insisted. He wasn’t going to let her win this first stab at manipulation --- she had requested coffee, and coffee she would have.
Instead of thanking him, she tossed her tiny red leather knapsack on the nearest chair and flopped down on it as though this were her apartment, not his. It was, of course, his favorite chair --- but that was probably why she had instinctively chosen it.
“Make yourself at home,” he said, knowing she couldn’t miss the sarcasm in his voice. He turned and went into the kitchen, glad for the opportunity to collect his thoughts and steel himself for what could be a very sticky conversation. Ana Watkins was, he felt, his first major failure as a therapist.
She was also the first patient who tried to seduce him.
And she had tried hard --- very hard --- and very nearly succeeded. And now she was sprawled out in his living room, in his favorite armchair, with God knows what in mind. He wasn’t normally afraid of his patients --- even the violent ones --- but he was afraid of Ana Watkins. There was something about her, an undercurrent of needy malice, which had made it very difficult to be her therapist. Even her attempted seduction had been more of a conquest, like a declaration of war.
As the coffee beans rattled around in the Krups grinder, he wondered what had brought her here, and whether she would tell him the truth or only her version of it. When the coffee grinder stopped, the silence made him wonder what she was up to in the living room. He shoved the filter into the coffeemaker, dumped some water in, jabbed at the ON switch, and ducked back into the living room.
Sure enough, she was standing in front of his bookshelf, a thick volume of poetry in her hands. Like a lot of narcissists, she had boundary issues: what was yours was hers, as far as she was concerned. As he entered, she turned and smiled at him, one lock of blond hair falling artfully over her pale blue eyes. He wouldn’t have put it past her to have planned that moment the whole time she was standing there. If she inclined her head just so, the hair would fall over her eyes, and then all she needed was to cap it with that sultry, come- hither smile.
“You have a lot of poetry here,” she commented, still smiling.
“I like poetry.” He tried to keep his voice neutral, to avoid showing his irritation.
“I guess so,” she said, slipping the book back into its place on the shelf. Lee recognized the jacket --- it was his Anthology of English Verse, from his days at Princeton. He knew its contents well: Wordsworth, Coleridge, Maxwell, William Blake, Songs of Innocence and Experience. The young woman before him could have been cast as Oothoon herself, with her wispy, waspish body --- except that she was only pretending to be innocent. Experience had hardened her into something else entirely.
He poured them both generous mugs of steaming coffee and brought them out on a tray, along with the lead crystal cream pitcher and sugar bowl --- more of his mother’s estate sale coups.
“Nice crystal,” Ana commented, helping herself to a heaping spoon of sugar and following it up with a lavish amount of cream.
“Thanks,” Lee answered. To another guest, he might have mentioned the amusing anecdote of his mother’s triumphal purchase, but with Ana he instinctively played his cards close. He sat on the couch opposite her and sipped his coffee.
Sticking her long nose deep into the mug, Ana slurped up the coffee greedily, and to his surprise, it did seem to calm her. Her bony shoulders relaxed, and her thin body seemed to soften. He realized only then how stiffly she had been holding herself. She shook herself, like a dog flinging excess water from its coat. Clutching the mug between her long fingers, she looked at him through lank blond bangs.
“You’re probably dying to know why I’m here.”
Lee noted the familiar, overly dramatic phrasing of the chronically narcissistic, but all he said was, “Yes, I am curious.”
She looked around, gulped down some more coffee, and leaned in toward him.
“I’ve recently recovered memories of --- being sexually abused.”
A dozen questions darted through his mind, but all he said was, “Really?”
“At first I wasn’t sure. It was just this one dream that kept repeating itself, you know, so I found a specialist in buried memories, and I’ve been working with him for about a year --- and then one day I woke up sure of it.”
Lee wasn’t sure how to respond. He didn’t entirely trust so-called recovered memories. Though repressed memory was a real, documented response to trauma, there was a subset of “specialists” in this field who, through a combination of subtle suggestion and hypnosis, could convince patients that they were the victims of anything from ritual satanic abuse to alien abduction.
In Ana’s case, of course, it would explain a lot: her belligerent girlishness, her passive-aggressive attitude toward men, her childlike affect. But there were other things that would explain these traits as well --- and the subject of abuse had never come up in their sessions together.
“When was this?” Lee said.
“I don’t have all the details yet. I think it happened when I was a child, and that it was someone I knew.”
“But you’re not sure?”
She shook her head. “I haven’t been able to make out his face. But Dr. Perkins --- he’s my therapist --- says it’s only a matter of time.”
“Why did you come to me? It sounds like Dr. Perkins knows what he’s doing.” What exactly he was doing was another matter, but Lee wasn’t going to dive headlong into that particular tar baby. Professional etiquette aside, he had no wish to challenge a colleague’s competence or motives based upon so little information.
Ana tightened her fingers around the handle of her mug.
“I --- I’m afraid.”
“Of everything. I just have this feeling that something’s going to happen.”
“Is there any particular reason you should feel this way? Could it be a response to” --- he hesitated --- “the memory of your abuse?”
She frowned at her mug, as though it contained vinegar instead of coffee.
“That’s what Dr. Perkins thinks.”
“And what do you think?”
She got up and began pacing the room, restlessness running through her like an electrical current.
At first glance there seemed to be no connection between them.
A man in his twenties found floating in the Bronx River, cause of death: drowning. He was assumed initially to be a suicide.
Until the farewell note in his pocket was found to have been written by someone else.
A man in his forties found dead in his bathtub --- a careless accident, perhaps. His hair dryer had fallen into the water, electrocuting him.
Except that he was bald.
It didn’t add up, and whoever staged the bathtub “accident” had to know it didn’t add up. Therefore, the clumsiness of the crime had to be taken as purposeful, and the manner of it as a challenge --- no, a taunt --- to the police. As for the floater --- well, he wasn’t necessarily linked to the baldy in the bathtub, but there was that suicide note scribbled on the mirror in lipstick --- lipstick? --- that made the whole thing as fishy as the corpse the boys had pulled out of the river only two days before they found Baldy.
Chuck Morton had already come to these conclusions by the time he reached his office in the Bronx Major Case Unit on a warm morning in late August. He walked through the newly renovated lobby, across the polished marble floor to his cramped office in the back of the first floor. He plugged in his new automatic coffeemaker and added water and precisely six tablespoons of coffee, listening to the hum of the heating coil as it began to whir into life.
Charles Chesterfield Morton was a precise man. He liked his rituals at a certain time: black Kenyan coffee from Fairway first thing in the morning, with exactly one teaspoon of sugar and a dollop of cream.
His phone rang and he grabbed it.
“Ah, yes, Chuck…how are you?”
Morton scowled. He recognized the voice at once --- it was Deputy Chief Police Commissioner Steven Connelly, a man he despised. A call from him first thing on a Monday morning couldn’t be anything good. And when Connelly called him by his first name, it was an especially bad sign.
Morton sank down in his chair.
“Fine, sir,” he said, “and you?”
“Great, just great.”
Morton ran a hand through his short blond hair. Get to the point, for Christ’s sake. He knew from experience that the more Connelly stalled, the worse the news he could expect.
“And your lovely wife --- how is she?”
Morton suppressed a groan.
“She’s very well, sir --- thank you for asking.”
The deputy chief cleared his throat.
“Have you picked your team yet for this drowning business on Arthur Avenue?”
“Well, sir, I --- ”
“I’m sending someone your way, Chuck, and I want you to take her under your wing, so to speak.”
“Yes, sir. Who is it?’
But before he asked the question, he already knew the answer.
“Elena Krieger. She just finished working undercover on the Strickley Affair, so I’m assigning her to you. She’s a specialist in linguistic forensics --- one of the best in the department. You need someone who can decipher those fake suicide notes, right?”
Chuck had never met Elena Krieger, but had heard enough to convince him they weren’t going to get along.
But all he said was, “Yes, sir.”
There was a pause on the other end of the line, as if the deputy chief was waiting for him to raise an objection.
“Okay, then,” Connelly said finally, sounding surprised that Morton wasn’t arguing with him. Chuck knew from experience that it wouldn’t do any good. Connelly cleared his throat again. “Who’s the primary on this one?”
“Detective Leonard Butts,” Chuck said.
“Oh, yeah, that funny little guy who chews on cigars?”
“Okay, Chuck, give me a full report as soon as you have anything, will you?”
“Yes, sir,” he replied, and hung up.
Elena Krieger had risen quickly through the ranks to be come sergeant, then lieutenant, and now detective. Oh, she was brilliant --- and comely enough, so everyone said --- tall and red haired and curvy and all the rest of it, but that didn’t cheer him up one bit. Connelly’s solicitous manner made Chuck suspect that he had slept with her. He pictured the deputy chief’s skinny legs poking out from striped boxer briefs as he was straddled by a red-headed Amazon in a push-up bra. The image made him shudder.
There was a knock on the door.
“Come in,” Morton barked, gazing with dismay at the mounting pile of paperwork on his desk.
Sergeant Ruggles poked his pink, bullet-shaped head through the door.
“Message for you, sir --- came in just as you arrived.”
Ruggles had recently joined the NYPD after a stint as a beat cop in London. His accent was pure North Country, with the wide vowels and truncated consonants of that part of England. Chuck still hadn’t gotten used to how polite he was.
“What is it?” he said.
“Detective Krieger called to say she’s on her way and will be here in half an hour, sir.”
“The Valkyrie rides again,” he muttered. “Damn.”
Ruggles’s pink forehead crinkled. “Excuse me, sir?”
“That’s what they called her at Brooklyn South.”
“On account of her being German, sir?”
“That --- and other things.”
Ruggles coughed delicately.
“I’ve heard she’s very... good looking, sir.”
“Yeah, sure --- a goddamn Teutonic goddess.”
He looked up at Sergeant Ruggles, who was still lingering uncomfortably at the door, his thick fingers wrapped around the door handle.
“That’s all, Sergeant,” he said stiffly, and Ruggles withdrew, stumbling over his own feet as he backed out of the room.
Chuck frowned and opened the case file in front of him.
A lot of what he did as captain of the major cases squad was calculated to intimidate, impress, and control those under him. He kept the real Chuck Morton deeply hidden.
Squad commander was a role, and the script had been written long ago by people other than him. He knew that his success depended upon following it carefully: he must be strong, decisive, and, when necessary, intimidating.
For example, he liked Sergeant Ruggles, and had they met in a bar, might have asked him about his weekend, but as his superior officer he maintained a cool distance between them.
The coffeemaker on the windowsill, a recent gift from his wife, began to spit and pop, and the smell of freshly brewing coffee infiltrated the room. Krieger. How appropriate. He remembered enough from his college German to know it meant “warrior” in that language.
The phone on his desk rang. He picked it up and growled into the receiver.
“Hiya, Chuck --- it’s Rob Murphy.”
Rob Murphy had worked with Krieger at Brooklyn South, and had just about blown a gasket, according to Tanya Jackson, his ever competent and eavesdropping sergeant.
“What’s up, Rob?”
“I hear the Valkyrie is headed your way.”
“You heard right. Any advice?”
“Yeah. Play your cards close, and don’t take any crap.”
“I hear you worked with her on the Strickley Affair.”
“Jesus Christ, Chuck, I never came so close in my life to hitting a woman.”
The Strickley Affair was a delicate matter involving a corruption sting on a local union official. Krieger was working undercover, but had threatened to blow it all sky high when the official’s son hit developed a crush on her and started following her around. He was beginning to get suspicious just as they finally collected enough evidence to round up the whole lot of crooks.
“Let’s just say that Krieger wasn’t exactly a team player,” Murphy added.
“Thanks,” said Chuck.
“Let me know how it goes,” Murphy said.
“Okay,” Chuck said, and hung up. The room suddenly felt overheated; he rolled his shirt sleeves up over his muscular forearms and opened his collar.
There were rumors that Krieger had been transferred because of Murphy’s insistence he would never work with her again. And now Chuck was stuck with her just as he was about to investigate two very bogus-looking suicides.
He stared glumly at the full coffeepot on the windowsill. Normally he looked forward to this moment, when he could relax and enjoy a fresh cup of coffee after the long commute to the office. He had even splurged and bought some Jamaican Blue Mountain to mix with his Kenyan AA, but knowing he was about to meet the Valkyrie took away his enthusiasm.
Chuck poured himself a cup of coffee and took a sip, but it tasted bitter.
There was another knock on the door --- sharper this time, brisk and businesslike. Chuck took a deep breath and squared his shoulders.
He smiled grimly. Let the games begin.
After Ana had gone, Lee pulled out his cell phone and hit the CONTACTS button, then selected the second name on the list and pushed the dial button. His party answered on the second ring.
“Butts here.” The voice was a thick rumble, like a bulldog with a chest cold.
“Hi --- sorry I’m late. I’ll be there in five minutes.”
“Oh, hiya, Doc. Well, I’ll just have to order another beer.”
Lee smiled as he put on his coat. He and Detective Leonard Butts were an unlikely pair, but the bond they had formed was a strong one. In the course of their relationship, he and Butts had gone from initial wariness and mistrust to a comfortable familiarity and mutual respect.
They didn’t always see eye to eye, perhaps, but Lee had learned that Butts could be relied upon in a crisis. The squat detective’s gruffness masked a deeply loyal, even passionate nature. The more Lee worked with the NYPD, the more he came to see beneath the masks that cops wore as protective covering. The city was not a soft place to live, and daily contact with criminals and creeps made it necessary to develop a thick outer shell. Otherwise, he imagined, you could be crushed by the harshness of police work in this town.
Virage, the restaurant where he was meeting Butts, was one long block away from his apartment. The rain had slurred to a steady drizzle, the air thick with a hazy mist. Shoving his hands into his pockets, he strode rapidly east on Seventh Street toward Second Avenue.
Sure enough, Butts sat at a corner table, a tall, thin glass of pilsner in front of him. Pockmarks littered his face like craters on the surface of the moon. A smile spread over the detective’s homely face when he saw Lee.
“Hiya, Doc,” he said, pulling up a chair for Lee to sit.
Physically they could not have been more different. Lee Campbell was tall and thin (overly so, according to his girlfriend, Kathy Azarian), with the clear, pale complexion and deep-set blue eyes of a true Celt. Butts was short and thick and swarthy, his face a minefield of pockmarks, his thinning sandy hair as straight as Lee’s was dark and curly.
“Sorry to keep you waiting,” Lee said as he settled into the chair Butts offered him.
“That’s okay, Doc --- gives me an excuse to have an extra beer. It’s Belgian, I think they said --- pretty good. You want one?”
Butts ordered them both a round and smiled at Lee’s inquiring look.
“I’m takin’ the train home tonight, so no worries.”
“Muriel doesn’t mind you being out on a Friday night?”
Butts grunted and downed the rest of his beer, wiping his rutted face with the back of his sleeve.
“Wife’s taken up bridge. She belongs to this club --- duplicate bridge, they call it. Some kind of a round-robin thingy, where the hands are dealt ahead of time, and each team gets a chance to play them.”
“I dunno, Doc --- I’m not a card-playing man. All I know is they sit there playin’ for hours, and at the end someone wins fifty bucks or somethin’. Seems like a waste of time to me, and they pretty much take over the living room for the evening.”
“So you decided to be elsewhere tonight.”
Butts threw his arms up in surrender. “I’m just in the way. I can’t even go to the kitchen for a beer without havin’ to pass by a dozen people or more.”
“I understand. I felt that way sometimes when my parents had parties when I was a kid.” Lee remembered with a pang what a handsome, glamorous couple they were --- his tall, elegant father with his curly black hair and Italian suits, presiding over the arrival of smartly dressed guests, his mother hanging on his arm, her head thrown back, laughing --- a hearty, full-throated sound Lee hadn’t heard since the day his father walked out.
Butts took a swig of beer, wiped his mouth with his sleeve, and set the glass down on the table with a clunk. “Hey, listen, I’m glad the wife has her own thing, really I am. I just don’t happen to share her love of cards, is all.”
Lee rested one elbow on the white linen tablecloth and looked around the room. Virage had an easygoing East Village charm, elegant and casual at the same time, a relaxed atmosphere with seriously good food. The floor was done in the classic black-and-white Art Deco tiles used in so many building interiors in the twenties, and the décor reflected the French/Moroccan cuisine: comfortable green and white wicker chairs, white tablecloths, with French movie posters on the walls. With the slowly rotating ceiling fan and potted palms, the restaurant could have been a back room at Rick’s in Casablanca.
Lee glanced at his watch. Kathy was late, but he knew the rush-hour trains from Philadelphia often ran behind schedule.
“So what is this mysterious case you’re working on?” he asked.
Butts licked his lips and took another sip of beer.
“It’s very weird, you know, Doc --- very weird.”
“How so? Who’s the victim?”
Butts leaned forward and lowered his voice.
“Well, that’s the thing. There’s more than one.”
“Yeah? Tell me more.”
“Okay, but if they decide to call you in on this one, you didn’t hear this from me.”
“Really? You think they might call me in?”
“Who knows? Alls I know is that we’re not even sure yet these are homicides.”
“Is Chuck Morton involved yet?”
“Well, if we decide that these guys are vics and not suicides, he will be.”
Besides being the head of Bronx Major Case Unit in the Bronx, where Butts was a homicide detective, Chuck Morton was also Lee’s college roommate and best friend --- and was largely responsible for his appointment as the only criminal profiler in the NYPD.
Lee took a long swallow of beer. It was very fizzy and a little sweet --- it tasted yellow, like honey.
“Okay,” he said, leaning forward, “tell me the whole thing from the beginning.”
Excerpted from SILENT VICTIM © Copyright 2010 by C. E. Lawrence. Reprinted with permission by Pinnacle. All rights reserved.