C A S E   I

 

Chapter 4


They burst through. “NYPD, drop your weapons,” they shouted in succession, fanning out. Stykes caught movement out of the corner of his eye and dove for the floor just as a knife soared through the air and hit the wall behind him. So Harvey wasn’t packing heat, just metal. He could work with that.

Stykes army crawled behind the small settee against the wall and then rose to a crouch. Hodge and Boynton blocked themselves with two large columns near the door. Stykes peered around the settee and caught sight of Harvey rushing into the living room. They followed him and braced low, entering the room and leaving one of the couches between them and the mad man now standing on the window seat, peering through the window.

“Looks like there’s no fire escape to climb down this time,” Stykes announced, standing and training his gun on the criminal. Something clicked and he realized that Harvey’s alibi only checked because he hadn’t passed the security cameras on his way out. He was fond of that fire escape. But that was a detail for the arrest, not the takedown.

“We’ve got you surrounded,” Hodge added. Stykes could have punched him.

“You’re out of ammo and you’re out of time,” Stykes continued. “Put your hands up and come quietly, and perhaps we won’t have to add assault of a police officer to your murder charge.”

“And if I don’t?” Harvey asked with none of the cool Stykes had seen in the interrogation just that afternoon. He wasn’t running the show this time.

“If you don’t, you jump out an eight-story window, and I think prison might be better than that death,” Stykes replied evenly. “Where’s Carlton?” he added.

“Trying to save the girl,” Harvey replied with a relatively maniacal glint in his eye. Maybe he’d finally cracked.

“Hodge, Boynton, hold him,” Stykes directed. “Where are they?”

“Bathroom,” Harvey supplied.

Stykes waited for the man’s nod and then ran toward the room, stopping as he neared the door to take a ready stance. He braced his gun and then kicked the door to the bathroom open.

“NYPD,” he shouted.

“Thank God,” Tyler Carlton exclaimed.

Stykes gaped. He was covered in blood. It seeped into his starched, white button down and ran through the knees of his pants. Then Stykes noticed the girl in the bathtub. Vanchilt was naked and freakishly pale, deep red gashes running up her arms with blood simply pouring out. One arm was wrapped tightly with a rag and Carlton had at least had the forethought to get tourniquets around her upper arms. Stykes heard Frack and Hallworth burst into the apartment.

“Hallworth, Frack, get down here,” he yelled, keeping his gun trained on Carlton, who obediently stood and backed up until he met Frack and Hallworth’s waiting hands. “Call 911.”

“On their way up,” Frack replied, yanking Carlton away.

Stykes dropped to his knees and clipped his gun, reaching for another rag from the pile Carlton had already accumulated.

“Alexandra,” he prompted, wrapping the cloth tightly around her right arm. “Can you hear me?” Her lips moved and her eyes blinked, but there was no sound. “Okay, Alexandra, the paramedics are on their way. I need you to stay with me, okay?” He glanced around and grabbed a glass from the counter, quickly filling it with water. He held it to her lips and tilted, giving her a small sip.

She drank, but nothing changed, not that he thought it would. He just couldn’t imagine doing nothing while this woman died in front of him. Then he realized she was naked. He could take care of that. That was being decisive. He grabbed a towel and covered her as best he could without jostling her arms. She blinked again, in thanks? In anger? In pain?

Stykes could do bullets to the heart. He was good at CPR. He could do blood and gore and guts. But he wasn’t good at watching women in pain. It wasn’t that he was sexist; it just hurt. The therapist said it had something to do with his mother’s struggle and eventual survival of Cancer. Stykes thought he just didn’t like to see women in pain. Simple. Easy. Not psychological.

But Alexandra’s eyes were fluttering. He kept a hand on her leg, rubbing his thumb against her ankle. “I need you to focus on me, okay? Just another minute and they’ll be here.” They sure as hell better be.

He shivered. Was the room colder? Was he feeling sympathetic lack of circulation? Oh, no, it was the Pale Woman. But why was it cold?

Alexandra’s eyes popped open and she and the Pale Woman stared at each other. The girl shook her head, with more vigor than Stykes would have thought possible. “N…no,” she gurgled, her eyes wide as sweat broke out across her forehead.

“What’s going on?” Stykes asked, confused as to why this young woman could see his hallucination, or whatever she was. “What are you doing here?”

The Pale Woman didn’t look at him. Instead, she kept staring at Alexandra until, after a moment, she nodded. The EMTs burst into the room and she vanished, leaving Stykes pressed up against the wall while the Emergency unit took care of Alexandra, immediately getting her on oxygen.

He watched in confusion, unable to make sense of everything. What had just happened? What did it mean? Did Alexandra really see the Pale Woman, and if she did, what did that make his spectral shadow? The questions spun at a dizzying pace in his head while adrenaline coursed through his body. When it was obvious that Alexandra would live, he eased his was from the bathroom and stood in the small hallway. He scrubbed at his face with his hands and then took a deep breath, squared his shoulders, and strode back into the living room. He needed to be Gabriel Stykes, Detective, right now. Later, he could worry about his mental state and change out of his blood-soaked clothing.

“Frack,” he prompted, coming up behind the detective.

“Harvey and Carlton are being taken back to the 14th. Carlton’s a mess and already confessed to being part of the Kovis murder—threw Harvey under the bus in front of six Cops. Harvey wasn’t pleased,” the younger man chuckled. “But you’ll get time with Carlton to get the rest of the facts. Harvey…well, Harvey kind of blew up after that.”

Stykes raised an eyebrow and Hallworth turned from the uniform he’d been speaking to. “Yeah. Once Carlton confessed, he started screaming at the kid, all about how he’d agreed and said he’d needed the money. It was his stupid idea to con the Vanchilt girl, and then he had to go and get soft on him. So Harvey’d killed the Kovis kid because Carlton was getting messy. And if Carlton had just manned up, he wouldn’t have had to kill Vanchilt. It was impressive, really. He completely incriminated himself. You missed quite a show,” Hall finished, caught somewhere between amusement and horror.

“So did you,” Stykes replied, lifting a blood-drenched sleeve. “Girl bleeding out in the bathtub. She’ll make it, but it was close.” He wouldn’t say more on the subject. He didn’t want to remember what she looked like, pale and shivering, with her entire life pouring out of her wrists. And the Pale Woman standing above her—there were a number of things that he wished he could unsee.

“You got a spare change back at the Precinct?” Frack asked, eyeing Stykes’ shirt and pants. “You look pretty gnarly.”

“I do,” Stykes nodded.

“Go, we got this,” Hall added. “Meet you back there.”

“Right,” Stykes replied, turning and striding out of the room. He kept his steps measured and even as he left the apartment and got into the elevator, nodding to all of the personnel that had been called in while he’d been with Vanchilt. The doors closed and he allowed himself a moment to slump against the back railing.

“Close call.”

He opened his eyes slowly, unwilling to let his body startle. He was simply too exhausted. “What do you want?” he asked, hearing the fatigue and displeasure in his voice.

“You did well back there,” the Pale Woman replied. “Very level-headed.”

“What the hell are you?” he asked. His filter had turned off and the question came unbidden. But he didn’t care. He was tired of trying to figure her out.

“I told you, I’m a Paige.”

“A Paige for what? For whom?”

“Good use of whom,” she grinned. He wanted to slap her. He didn’t slap girls.

“Stop being cute. Who are you?”

She sighed and stepped in front of him so that they were eye to eye, bent over as he was. “I’m a Paige. Listen to me and internalize that, will you?”

“For whom?”

“You’re supposed to figure that part out. We’ve been through this.”

“I’m not up to parsing riddles tonight,” he groaned. “So either tell me who you answer to, or leave me the hell alone.”

“I would have thought tonight would have answered your questions,” she shrugged. “But, gotta go.”

The elevator dinged and the doors opened, leaving him staring out at the lobby through the place where she’d been standing a second earlier. He stepped out, letting his feet carry him out of the building, sparing a glance for the empty doorman’s station. He was supposed to be celebrating the coming close. They’d gotten a full confession from the killer, without an interrogation, and he’d been assured compliance from the accomplice. He shouldn’t be worrying about who his mysterious shadow answered to.

He got into his Crown Vic and pulled away from the curb, wondering. She thought this night should have explained her. But how was that possible? What did it mean, that she showed up just as Vanchilt teetered on the brink of death? His foot slammed the break, tossing him forward into his steering wheel as he came to a halt at a red light. He was glad that his autopilot obeyed traffic laws.

It couldn’t be that. She wasn’t…no, she couldn’t be. There were no such things as angels, or specters, or beings of the supernatural. She wasn’t Death’s Paige, or something ridiculous like that. It was preposterous.

And yet part of him was starting to believe. If he were looking at this like a case, he’d see that she showed up at crime scenes, and knew the names of the dead. She appeared as someone was dying and disappeared as soon as other people came into the room. She never showed up with people around, and she was pale, cloaked in black, and was obviously not quite human.

He shook his head. If all of that were true, and she was Death’s Paige, or Death, or the Reaper, or whatever, then why could he see her? Why was she bothering him? What made him so damn special and lucky? He snorted. He wasn’t lucky. If she was really one of those things, then he was about as unlucky as it got. But he didn’t have time to figure this out. He had a man to interrogate and a case to close.

He pulled into the Precinct garage and parked. He took a deep breath and then got out of the car, determined to slip into his role as Detective, and leave the confused man who’d driven back to the station behind. He squared his shoulders and strode into the building, riding up in the elevator with confidence. He was good at boxing things up. His therapist hadn’t been fond of it, but Stykes clung to that ability. Compartmentalizing was a Godsend.

He reached the bullpen and made his way to his desk, nodding to the few officers still at their desks. They all looked content, happy to know that the case was close to closed. Stykes threw his jacket over his chair and then turned tail to head up to the locker rooms. He peeled the bloody shirt from his skin, and ran a wet cloth over his chest, rubbing away the stains that had soaked through. But he was immune to it now—just part of the job. At least this time it wasn’t his blood.

Tonight was not the night to revisit those memories, just as much as it wasn’t the night to worry over the identity of the Pale Wom…

“Jesus,” he gasped, spinning around to face her as he caught her reflection in the mirror. “This is the men’s room,” he said perfunctorily.

She laughed. “Oh please.”

“Leave me alone, I’m begging you,” he told her. “I need to go interrogate Carlton, and I can’t be wondering if I’m going mad while I do it, so please, just go.”

“You’re not going mad,” she sighed, leaning back against the wall of lockers, her bare feet digging into the grungy white floor tiles. “In fact, you’re smarter than most.”

“Why me?” he asked.

“Why you what?”

He shook his head. He didn’t want to know. He couldn’t do this right now. If she’d just stay boxed up with the rest of the things he didn’t need to think about, life would be peachy. “Never mind. I’m going.”

He left the room, slamming his locker as he went. He didn’t look back, unwilling to give her the satisfaction. Part of him wanted to, though. He wanted to know. It killed him, but she was a mystery, and wasn’t that what he did for a living—solve mysteries?

“Stykes,” Hall called as he came down the stairs and back onto the floor.

“What’s up, Hall?”

“Carlton’s waiting in Interrogation one, sweating like a pig.”

Frack grinned next to his partner and flipped a dry-erase marker over in his palm. “He’s already said that he’s willing to do whatever he needs to do to cut a deal.”

Stykes nodded. “Great. I’ll be right in. One of you want to sit in?”

The boys looked at each other and Hall nudged Frack. “Take it.”

“You’re sure?” his partner asked.

“Eh. I got to cuff Harvey. It was worth it.”

Frack chuckled and then followed Stykes, falling into step behind him. Together, they entered the small, white room, casually taking their seats across from ‘Carlton.’ Both knew that this man was ready to spill his darkest secrets if given even the slightest pressure.

“So, Mr. Carlton,” Stykes opened, flipping through his manila folder. “What’s your real name?”

“Andrew Keefner,” he replied, wiping a hand across his face. “Andrew Keefner of Eastman New Hampshire. Went to Stanford.”

“So that wasn’t a lie,” Frack offered.

Keefner shook his head. “No. Look, I never meant to get anyone killed.”

“You just wanted to con one of New York’s wealthiest girls for all she was worth?” Stykes asked, relaxed. He loved these cases, when the criminals did the work. They were few and far between, and he was happy to savor them as they came.

Keefner sighed. “I need to pay off my student loans. Harvey sits down one day last year while I’m getting coffee, looking for work, and starts talking about this girl, and how gorgeous she is. And I think, why not? I’m smart. I could land a girl like that. And then I’d be sitting pretty, right? But Harvey wanted some of the cut.”

“And you were just that desperate?” Frack interjected. “You have a Stanford degree, man. Why sink that low?”

“Stanford doesn’t get you shit right now,” Keefner spat, with more vitriol than Stykes had expected. “When you’re a minute from living on the street, you take what you can get. I never expected…” he paused and took a deep breath, clenching his fists on top of the table. “I never expected that Harvey would kill that stupid kid. And then Alex started getting suspicious, and Harvey heard her over the phone, and it just…and Frank let him in from the roof…we were going to run. I wanted to save her and I…”

“Hold up,” Stykes broke in. “Frank?”

“Frank Loesser, the doorman,” Keefner supplied. “The real Carlton.”

Frack turned to the mirror and made a gesture Stykes didn’t have the attention to classify. He knew Hallworth would go make sure that Loesser/Carlton got picked up. “Explain,” he demanded, turning back to Keefner.

“Carlton’s son’s kid has cancer. He’s one of Harvey’s old friends. So Harvey decides that we can kill two birds with one stone. Carlton pretended to kick it so I could take his social, and he took his dead brother’s identity and got a job in Alex’s building.”

“A dead man impersonating a dead man?” Frack asked, his voice forcibly serious. Stykes wouldn’t deny that there was something almost comical about the entire situation, but they could laugh about it later.

“It’s stupid,” Keefner admitted. “But we were all desperate. And it didn’t…honestly, I never…no one was supposed to get hurt.”

“It always starts out that way,” Stykes said calmly. “But the trouble is that criminals are criminals, Mr. Keefner. And now you’ll get to know a lot of them.”

“There’s nothing you can do?” he rushed, leaning toward them. “Please. I’ll do whatever you need me to.”

Frack shook his head. “You won’t be charged with first degree, if that’s any consolation. But expect to go away for a long time, Mr. Keefner. And if you can swing it, get yourself a good lawyer. You’ll need one.”

Together, he and Stykes stood. “Have a nice life, Mr. Keefner,” Stykes said as they left, closing the door on the face of a haggard, guilt-ridden man.

If Stykes were a warmer person, he’d probably feel bad for the kid, mixed up in something he’d never expect to escalate so far. But criminals were criminals, and seeing the soul behind the mask would only lead him further down the path to insanity. And as he caught a glimpse of the Pale Woman in the corner of the room, vanishing too quickly to really understand, he shook his head. He was insane enough as it was.

Hall met them at Stykes’ desk, grinning. “Guess who we found trying to sneak out of Vanchilt’s building?” he asked, hopping up to sit on the edge of the desk.

“The real Tyler Carlton?” Stykes asked, walking around to sit down in his own chair.

“The very same,” Hall nodded. “And he’s not happy.”

“I’d bet. Hard to get caught impersonating your dead brother, when you’re supposed to be dead yourself. Did he have life insurance?”

“Yep,” Hall replied. “Of course, now that he’s alive, they’ll probably revoke that.”

“But his kid has Cancer,” Frack interjected.

Stykes simply frowned. “Hopefully, they’ll be able to work that out. Perhaps Harvey can pay it off as part of his charge.”

“With the money they never made from Vanchilt?” Frack wondered.

Stykes shrugged. “He’ll be in prison for life. He won’t need whatever’s in his account.”

The other two nodded. “You want the real Carlton when he gets in?” Hall asked.

“You guys take him,” Stykes replied, opening a folder to finish the paperwork for the case, which had just gotten exponentially more complicated. “I’ve had all the excitement I need for one day.”

They bumped fists. “You got it, Boss.”

Stykes glared at them and they walked back to their desks, laughing. He watched as they tossed Hall’s stress ball back and forth, talking strategy. Stykes looked around the empty floor and his eyes fell to the desk to the right of his, strewn with files and take-out containers. It had never been filled again, left instead as a kind of no-man’s-land for everyone when they worked a case. He’d found that interrogations now were never as much fun or as satisfying as they had been.

He looked up as Brighton reached his desk, realizing that he’d zoned out, lost in memories of times past. “Captain,” he greeted, glad that his voice was steady, not that she’d missed his little trip down memory lane.

“I hear you closed a pretty complicated case, Stykes,” she offered, leaning against the corner of his desk. “And an unexpected piece is coming in?”

“The boys are taking the real Carlton. ‘Killed’ himself so that his son could get the life insurance to make payments on his kid’s cancer treatment.”

Brighton whistled. “Ouch.”

Stykes nodded. “It’ll be messier after we finish up, I’d bet.”

“You calling the family?”

He nodded. He hated this part of the job as much as he hated the initial call. Giving justice gave closure, but it couldn’t bring back the person lost. And it always left Stykes feeling empty. He’d never gotten that call, not that he thought it would help. And they were long past working toward getting it.

“Gabe,” Brighton murmured.

He snapped his head up to look at her. “I’m fine.”

She pursed her lips but didn’t comment. “Go home after the boys finish up.”

“Yes, Captain.”

She nodded and walked away, pausing by Frack’s desk to speak with the pair. Stykes watched for a minute and then found the parent’s number. He punched the digits into his phone and held the receiver up to his ear, spinning the cap of his pen on his desk.

“Hello?” Kovis’ mother answered tiredly.

“Hello, Mrs. Kovis. This is Detective Stykes at the 14th.”

“Oh, Detective,” she replied, breathless. “Have…have you…”

“Yes,” he cut in, happy to save her the trouble. “Is your husband home?”

“Yes. Can you wait for a second?”

“Of course.” He sighed quietly as he heard her yelling frantically up for her husband. What a stupid thing to die for.

“Detective?” the husband asked. Stykes could hear both of them breathing; they must have him on speakerphone. “What happened to our son?”

“A man named Alan Harvey killed him to cover up an attempted con against Alexandra Vanchilt. Your son overheard Harvey and his accomplice, a man named Andrew Keefner, plotting to rob Vanchilt for all she had.”

“And they killed him?” the wife asked, her voice trembling.

“Harvey felt that he was a danger to the con,” Stykes supplied. “So yes, he killed him.”

“That’s outrageous,” the father spat.

“I know,” Stykes replied, giving them all the sympathy he could find. He was good at that—at connecting, even if he remained detached. They needed his support, and he needed to do his job. “But we caught them before Vanchilt succumbed to the same fate as your son, and both men will go away for a long time.”

There was silence on the other end of the phone. Stykes spun his pen cap again and watched as the sweaty doorman from Vanchilt’s building was escorted inside. So Stykes had been right; he was the man he’d seen in that obit. The real Tyler Carlton had been there all along. And now, he supposed, Frank Loesser’s family would get justice, knowing that their brother-in-law had stolen his own brother’s identity. It was like some sort of sick farce.

“Detective?” the wife’s voice broke him out of his thoughts.

“Yes, Mrs. Kovis?”

“Can we…when can we get our son, and…and bury him?”

“Everything should be processed by tomorrow afternoon,” he replied gently. “And our morgue will help you arrange to transfer your son to the funeral home of your choosing.”

“Thank you,” Mr. Kovis added.

“I’m very sorry for your loss,” Stykes intoned. He was. It didn’t hit him on a real level, but he respected their situation—knew how it felt.

“Thank you for finding out what happened to him,” the wife whispered.

“It’s my job, Mrs. Kovis.”

“Well, thank you anyway,” she sniffled.

“You’re welcome,” he replied. He didn’t want her thanks, but she wanted to give them, and he did this for them, for the families of those fallen. “Have a good evening.”

“Goodbye,” Mr. Kovis replied.

The line went dead and Stykes hung up. He shuffled his papers, found Sarah Domini’s number, and dialed again. He preferred to get it all done at once, like ripping off a band-aid. There was no use prolonging the experience.

“Hello, Miss Domini? This is Detective Stykes.”

“Do you know what happened to Jason?” she asked without preamble.

“We’re just closing the case now,” he told her. “Jason overheard the two men you recognized, Alan Harvey and Andrew Keefner, plotting to con Alexandra Vanchilt out of her money.”

“And they killed him?” she asked, her voice low and strained.

“And Harvey killed him,” Stykes replied. There was silence. “Miss Domini?”

“That’s stupid,” she whispered. “That’s so stupid.”

Stykes nodded, though she couldn’t see the gesture. “Yes.”

“It’s horrible.”

“Yes.”

She sighed. “Thank you for finding out,” she told him. “It doesn’t…”

“It doesn’t bring him back, no,” Stykes admitted. “But it’s something, right?”

“Right,” she whispered. “Have a nice night, Detective.”

She clicked off and Stykes stared at the phone. He hoped she had someone to talk to. She sounded extremely upset, and Stykes wondered, belatedly, if she and Kovis had really been ‘just friends.’ But that wasn’t his job; it wasn’t his responsibility to look after all of the secondary victims of a murder. He didn’t make it his job anymore. A man only had so much to give.

He set to mechanically filling out his paperwork, pushing the rest of the evening away. Thirty minutes later, Hall and Frack emerged from interrogation and gave him the thumbs up. Stykes could hear about it the next day. Tonight, he just wanted to finish his work and go home, a feeling he rarely experienced. But the day had been too strange, and he was eager to sleep it off—perhaps drink and then sleep it off.

He gave Brighton a wave an hour later when he’d finished up and nodded to the boys, who were deep into their own paperwork. He took the stairs, trying to pound the images of Vanchilt bleeding out in the bathtub and the Pale Woman standing over them out of his head. His drive home was quiet, and he trudged up to his apartment without thought, finally pleasantly numb, everything shoved into its respective box in his head. To hell with mental health and emotions.

He unlocked his door and hung up his coat, locking up and sliding the chain before kicking off his shoes. He flipped the light and jumped backward. The Pale Woman was leaning against his couch. He took his hand off of his service piece, where it had flown when he caught sight of her, and he took a deep breath.

“Why?” he growled.

“Knocking’s boring,” she shrugged. “You closed the case.”

“You scared the shit out of me.”

She waved him off. “I’m impressed, you know? You got all of the pieces, including Loesser. Told you he was dead.”

“Yes, yes, you’re so smart. Have your victory and leave me alone,” Stykes muttered, crossing the room and dropping his bag onto the armchair by the doorway to his room. “I’m tired.”

“I’m sure,” she replied, following him into his bedroom.

He’d had enough. He couldn’t do this tonight. He spun around and stamped a foot on the ground. “Go the hell away! I don’t want you here. I’m already crazy enough as it is, and I don’t need you here helping me descend those final feet into insanity.”

She laughed. The damn woman laughed! “You’re not crazy,” she giggled.

“Why me?” he asked, turning his head up to the ceiling, toward a God he’d long since given up on. “Why me?”

“Because you’re interesting,” she replied.

“Excuse me?” he snapped his gaze to look at her.

“You’re interesting. You see things differently, and you’re…you fit the bill.”

“What bill?” he demanded.

She cocked her head. “What do you honestly think I am?”

He stared at her, but he was tired and what normally kept him silent was gone. “What I think you are is impossible.”

She smiled. “Oh, I highly doubt that.”

“A Paige,” he sneered. “If that’s what you really are, then why are you here? Don’t you have more important things to do?”

“Even minions of the damned get bored,” she replied, her large gray eyes alight with humor. “Or haven’t you seen horror movies?”

“You’re not a minion of the damned,” he replied, suddenly exhausted and heavy, and not at all up to this conversation.

“No,” she smiled. “But I am a Paige.”

“For whom?”

She just looked at him. “Whom do you think?”

“I…”

“Because you’re smart, Detective Stykes. I know you are. So I think you know exactly who I answer to and what I do, but you’re afraid to say it.”

“With good reason,” he replied. She was not Death’s Paige. She just wasn’t. But, then again, if she was, at least she wasn’t a stress-induced figment of his imagination.

“Why don’t we just call me your Paige, and leave the rest for another night, then?” she suggested, leaning against the doorframe.

“I don’t want to leave it. I don’t want you here!” he exclaimed. “I just want to go to sleep.”

“Fine,” she smiled. “We can chat about it later.”

“Don’t you dar…”

“See you when a body drops,” she grinned.

He was left standing in his room, alone, angry, confused and more than exhausted. He was being followed by Death’s Paige.

“At least I’m not crazy,” he said to the empty room.

 

 

 

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