C A S E   I


Chapter 1


“You’ve got a thing for blood, Stykes,” Hallworth greeted him at the door of the Starbucks just off Times Square.

“Yeah, I plan it that way,” he grunted. “What have we got?”

“Some kid, fresh out of college by the looks of it, hanging over the counter with slit wrists,” Hall explained as they entered and walked through the tidy café over to the side of the counter along the back wall.

The kid in question was slumped over the swinging door to the prep station, his head and upper torso dangling over the side with blood still slowly dripping from the deep gashes across his wrists. His pale face was purpling, as though he’d been punched a number of times, and Stykes noted that his shirt was ripped. His brown hair was matted to his head with sweat and coffee from the spill on the counter.

“COD is blood loss,” Guinn informed him, popping up from the other side of the counter like a bald, overly tall Jack-in-the-box. “But he’s also got a broken leg, severe internal bleeding from a few well placed kicks to his more vital organs, a cracked rib, and one hell of a bump on the back of his head.”

“Violent attack,” Stykes nodded. “Do you see the blade?”

“Yes, actually.” Guinn handed over a knife that was already in an evidence bag.

It wasn’t particularly special—just your run of the mill pocketknife. Stykes turned it over, noting the browning stains all over the handle.

“Did someone?”

“Rub it in a blood soaked rag to remove any prints?” Guinn provided. “Yep.”

“That’s oddly clever,” Stykes said. “Covers any remaining DNA with our victim’s.”

“Have to love a smart killer,” Hallworth’s partner Frack added as he met up with them. “Store owner, Gary Trainers, found him an hour ago when he came to open for the day. Security cameras catch the kid coming in at 3am. They’re sending the tape back to review for a spotting of the attacker.”

“His normal open time was 3am?” Stykes took out a pad to jot down the information.

“Yeah,” Frack gestured to the unfortunate young man, “Jason Kovis was the assistant manager.”

“Alright, well,” Stykes looked around for one of the assisting officers. “Pelosi,” he called. A freckle-faced man came over, his shined shoes clacking across the floor. “Take this back to CSU and get a team in here to sweep for prints. See if they can find anything that’s out of place, other than the broken mugs.”

The man took the knife, nodded and walked away. Stykes turned and found Guinn already putting the body on a stretcher. “You’re moving quick today, Mike,” he said while Hallworth and Frack began coordinating the clean up and dealing with the growing crowd outside.

“Olivia’s class has a play at 11, and I’d like to be there.”

“I’m sure someone can cover for you.”

“Yeah, well not if I’m in the middle of an autopsy. So, out of my way. I’ll ring you when I’m done. I’d estimate TOD around 3:30am, but I’ll know for sure back at the 14th.”

“Okay. Thanks Mike.”

Stykes watched as Guinn and the uniforms carted the body out. He looked back at the scene and took in what must have been quite a struggle. The back of the counter was a mess. There were shattered mugs and machines scattered across the floor; coffee grounds were everywhere. It looked like whoever attacked Jason had used him as a projectile and tried to demolish as much of the area as possible.

He turned around as he felt someone tap him on the shoulder and came face to face with his own personal snippet of hell—the Pale Woman in the floor-length black gown. He felt himself jump and leveled a glare at her.

“A little warning, maybe!” he exclaimed. He glanced around and noticed that he was the only one still in the café; the boys and uniforms were busy dealing with the crowd outside.

“Or you could just stop being so sensitive,” she shrugged. “I’m too late to see the body again.” Her pale, heart-shaped face fell and she looked up at him with wide, gray eyes.

“Why are you here?” he cut to the chase.

“Just curious. It’s not often you see a kid bled out where people normally get their coffee. Any leads?”

“We’ve been here for all of 30 minutes, so no. So sorry to disappoint.”

She grinned. “Guess I’ll just have to come back later. See you, Detective.”

He snarled as she vanished. He didn’t have the patience for his personal, creepy, hallucination, or whatever she was, today. He’d hoped he’d gotten rid of her with the last case. The memory of their first encounter still sent shivers down his spine.

 

Stykes stared at the pool of blood the body had left behind and leaned against the opposite wall as the rest of the officers filed out. He would wait for the crew to come to cordon off the area, and then he’d head back as well. He was tempted to light up, but he’d sworn this time he would kick the habit, so he settled for jingling the keys in his pocket.

A breeze wafted down the alley and he pulled his coat tighter, rubbing his hands over his stubbled cheeks and closing his eyes against the cold.

When he opened them, a woman was crouched on the ground, her fingers trailing through the puddle of blood the body left behind. She looked up at him after a moment and they stared at each other.

“This is an authorized site,” Stykes said, once he’d found his voice. “I’m going to have to ask you to stand and move away from the blood, and then come down to the station with me.”

The woman stood slowly, her pale cheeks catching the dim glow of the streetlight. Her black gown billowed to the ground, its edges soaking up some of the blood as she stood barefoot before him. She cocked her head to the side and considered him.

“I’m afraid I can’t come with you to the Precinct.” Her voice was light, musical.

“Ma’am, please turn around,” Stykes said officially, even as he felt a slight tremor run through his body.

“No, sorry. You see, I have somewhere to be,” she smiled at him. “Have a nice evening, Detective.” And then she was gone.

Stykes blinked. There was no one in the alley with him. He looked around and saw nothing but the dumpsters and the grimy brick walls. He shook his head. It was stress. It had to be. Or exhaustion—he could handle that. Anything else would require worry, thought and a certain amount of fear. Detective Gabriel Stykes didn’t do fear. Instead, he apparently did schizophrenia. Wonderful.

 

“Detective,” a hesitant voice called from the doorway, breaking him from his memory.

“Yes?”

A man in an apron was poking his head through the main door to the café. “Do you have any idea when I’ll be able to be back up and running?”

Stykes walked over and extended a hand. “You must be the General Manager.”

“Gary Trainers.”  They shook. “So, do you know?”

“Well, Mr. Trainers, this is an active crime scene. We’ll need to keep it this way at least until CSU can do a sweep, and most likely until we close the case.”

“So I’ll have to stay closed?” he looked like he was suppressing a groan, his dark face pulled tight with a crease above his brow.

“Someone was just murdered—one of your employees was just murdered. I’d figure that you’d want to protect your patrons and other employees from a similar fate.”

The man looked contrite. “Of course. I’m just, well, money’s always tight, and this certainly can’t help.”

“We’re doing everything we can to try to get this cleared up as quickly as possible. In the meantime, what can you tell me about Jason Kovis?”

“He was a….good kid. Very chatty— he was always talking people up, holding up the line. Wanted to be an actor or writer or something, I think,” Trainers explained carelessly.

“Sounds like you didn’t think much of him as an employee,” said Stykes.

“He did his job. My supervisor, the owner of this location, knew him as a kid or something, so I was stuck with him.”

“Did the two of you get along?” Stykes felt that little tingle, the tick that told him something was off.

“He never had any complaints against me, that I know of. I didn’t love him, but he got the job done, and the customers loved him.”

“When did he start working here?”

“About a year ago. He came fresh out of college, somewhere in Michigan, I think.”

“Were there any issues with customers?” Stykes asked, watching as the crowd outside began to disperse. Times Square and the surrounding area were horrible for crime scenes. There were too many people with too little to do.

“Not that I know of,” Trainers shrugged. “Everyone loved him.”

“And where were you last night?”

Trainers glared at him. “Are you accusing me of murdering one of my employees in my store?” His heavy eyebrows rose as he frowned.

“I’m simply asking for your alibi, Mr. Trainers. It’s standard protocol,” Stykes replied coolly, keeping his face impassive.

Trainers didn’t look convinced. “I was at home, with my wife, in my building with a security camera, until 3:45, when I left to get here at four.”

“Alright,” Stykes nodded, jotting down the information. “We’ll be in touch. If you can remember anything, please let us know. Now, if you’ll come out and give a statement to a uniform, I think you’ll be able to go home.”

“Thank you, Detective,” Trainers said grudgingly as Stykes led him out and onto the street.

The Detective watched as he gave a statement to Pelosi, shoulders hunched and hands twisting at his sides. Frack approached him a minute later, pushing his always-too-long blond hair out of his eyes. “CSU is on their way. Do you want us to head back to the Precinct? We’re looking into Kovis’ family now. Parents from Connecticut are waiting for more information.”

“How…”

“Cell phone,” Frack grinned. “I love that speed dial.”

Stykes gave a wry smile. Frack was fond of his gadgets, which came in surprisingly useful at odd times. “Okay. Let’s head back, see if we can find anything about why someone would kill a nice kid from Connecticut.”

 

(…)

 

“Hey! He went to Ann Arbor,” Hallworth exclaimed thirty minutes later as they dug around in Jason Kovis’ job application, Facebook and acting profile.

“That’s nice,” Frack shrugged. He was currently pouring through the dead young man’s financials. “He was doing decently here. The job at Starbucks paid as well as it could, and he was doing a pretty good trade in night clubs on the side.”

“Not enough for a pay off though,” Stykes added. “So he could owe someone, maybe.”

The three of them were seated around his desk in the corner of the bullpen, files strewn among them. Kovis was now up on the center of their murder board, his tentative TOD and timeline drawn out to what they could find.

“What would a struggling actor need to pay off anyway?” Frack wondered. “Looks like he’s clean. There’s no evidence of drugs or illegal activity. So unless he had piles of cash just laying around, I doubt this is that kind of dirty work.”

The phone rang. “Stykes,” he answered.

“Your TOD is 3:30am,” Guinn said without preamble. “COD is definitely the blood loss, but he would have been unconscious before that; the blow to the back of the head would have knocked him silly. The leg is broken in two places.”

“Thanks, Guinn,” Stykes said for the benefit of the group. “There’s no signs of drug use or anything of the sort, right?”

“Not that I can find. Tox screen came back negative as well.”

“Great. Thank you. Is there anything else you found?”

“Nope. So I’ll be off. Call me later if you need something, but not between 11 and 3pm if you can help it.”

“Done. Have a good time.”

“I will. See ya, Gabe.”

“3:30’s our TOD,” Stykes relayed for the boys, standing to write it in on the board. “And he was out when he died.”

“So that scuffle was to knock him out. Why not just slit his wrists and have done with it?” Hall asked. “If you can knock him unconscious, you can get him in a lock to knife him.”

“Probably so that he couldn’t shout. He wouldn’t have been the only person at work that early. All of the restaurants in that area would have early workers,” Stykes replied. “But why the wrists at all? Why not just stab him and get it over with?”

“Maybe he wanted to make a statement,” Captain Brighton suggested as she emerged from her office.

“Do we know of any regulars who like to make that kind of statement?” Frack asked.

“I’m sure more than a few are fond of it,” Brighton replied. “Why don’t you check with the local Precincts and see if we find a pattern.”

The phone rang. “Stykes,” he answered.

“We’ve got a girl over here, Stykes. Says she’s a coworker and has information you’ll want.”

“Thanks Leth, send her over, if you would.”

“Will do. See you.”

“They’re sending over a co-worker. Maybe she’ll be more helpful than his boss was,” Stykes told Brighton while Frack and Hallworth went back to their pair of desks across the pen and made their calls.

“Angry boss?” Brighton wondered, perching on the edge of his desk as she tied her long, brown hair back in a low bun.

“More concerned for his business than his employee, at any rate. Vic’s got connections to some higher up, and the boss couldn’t fire him, which isn’t to say that he didn’t want to.”

“Sounds like motive,” she offered.

“I’ve got my eye on him, but I’m not sure I peg him as the ruthless type. Setting up a catastrophic coffee accident to get the kid fired, maybe, but not brutally killing an employee,” Stykes replied as he sat back down.

“You got started early,” she said as he ran tired hands through his short, black hair, staring up at the board from his chair. “Have a coffee, Stykes.”

“Will do,” he nodded absently. She got up and walked back to her office, nodding to the other officers who were just starting to file in. Murderers had a knack for killing at inconvenient hours. Really, was it too much to ask to keep the weapons drawn just from nine to five?

“Stykes,” Jenkins called, popping out of the conference room. “Co-worker’s here.”

“Thanks, Jenkins,” he replied, grabbing his notebook and standing to straighten his jacket. Jenkins smiled. He liked her. She was a nice young kid. Too young to be interesting, but nice all the same.

He entered the conference room and zeroed in on the nervous young woman sitting on the leather couch. She looked maybe 24 or 25, and was wearing all black, covered by an oversized NYU sweatshirt, with her red hair tied in two braids. She twisted her hands in her lap and stared out the grimy window onto the quiet alley beside the Precinct. Stykes stood in the doorway, observing her, looking for signs of guilt, or remorse. But this girl wasn’t guilty; she was heartbroken.

“Hello,” he said gently, causing her to whip around to look at him, large, red-rimmed blue eyes meeting his brown ones. “I’m Detective Stykes.”

He sat down in the armchair across from her and extended his hand. She shook it, her grip remarkably firm and steady for the amount of worry she seemed to hold.

“I’m Sarah Domini,” she replied. Her hands were steady but her voice shook. “I…I worked with Jason.”

“I’m very sorry for your loss,” he told her, watching as she took a deep, calming breath.

“Thank you.”

He watched her for a moment before deciding to dive in; she looked like she needed a distraction. “Officer Lethson said that you had information about Jason that might help us find whoever did this?”

She nodded. “Um, a few weeks ago this woman started coming to the café every day. Normal regular, you know? But then she started paying attention to Jason—watching him, asking him for things that she could find herself.” She gave a small laugh and looked down at her hands. “We thought it was cute, for a while. She was so awkward, and every smile he gave just…made her so happy. I’ve known him for a few years—we’re good friends—and he just makes people happy, you know?”

“I’m sure he did,” Stykes murmured as she fell silent for a moment.

“Anyway,” she looked up and met his gaze. “After a week or so, she started asking personal questions and staying until close. She had a laptop, so we didn’t think too much of it, but then she started following him home and standing outside. It was really creepy.”

“Did Jason file for charges?”

Domini shook her head. “No. He said she was harmless. But then she asked him out, and he said no.”

“And let me guess, she wasn’t so harmless anymore?”

“She tossed a rock at his window and threw a coffee at him,” Domini shrugged. “And I just…now he’s dead.”

Stykes nodded as he jotted down the information. It didn’t necessarily sound like violent murder would have been this woman’s next step, but it was something. “Do you know her name?”

“Felicia Bravis,” Domini replied. “I don’t think she killed him, I think,” she added. “But…I…”

“Anything you can tell us will help,” Stykes assured her. “And if you think of anything else—anything out of the ordinary, anything strange—don’t hesitate to call or come back.” He extended his card to her and she took it, slipping it into the pocket of her black jeans.

He stood and she followed suit. “Thank you,” she said quietly. “And…you’ll catch him, or her, right?”

“I will do everything in my power to make sure he gets justice,” Stykes replied, giving her his warmest smile. She smiled back tentatively.

He prided himself on those smiles; they made people feel better. It didn’t matter that they were fake. Justice was well and good, but it didn’t bring anyone back. The dead were lost. The answers were just a comfort.

“Thank you,” she repeated, and then she left, walking slowly out of the bullpen and over to the elevator, where she leaned heavily against the wall.

“Girlfriend?” Frack asked as Stykes returned to his desk.

He shook his head and walked over to the murder board, writing Felicia Bravis’ name under the ‘Suspects’ heading in big block letters. “Co-worker. Friends.”

“Who’s Bravis?”

Stykes turned his back to the elevator and gave Frack a smile. “Stalker.”

“Nice,” Frack murmured, his blue eyes twinkling the way they always did when the team got a lead. “Violent?”

“Not enough to kill him like that, I think, but it’s something,” Stykes replied. “Run her down for me.”

Frack nodded and walked away just as Hallworth appeared from the Tech room. “Parents are on line one,” he told Stykes.

“Best part of the day,” he grumbled, sitting down and taking a deep breath as Hallworth clapped him on the shoulder and moved to look at the board.

Stykes hated family calls. They were trying at best, and heartbreaking at worst. He was good at them—good at managing emotions and showing sympathy—but he was not fond of listening to tears. Brighton told him that his empathy made him a better cop. He thought it made him an insomniac.

He picked up his phone and clicked over. “Hello, Mr. and Mrs. Kovis?”

“Will you tell us what happened to our son?” a tearful, female voice wavered across the phone.

“I’m very sorry to tell you that your son was found dead this morning at the café where he worked.”

“We know that,” the father barked. “We want to know how.”

“Art,” the woman murmured. “We know he’s dead, Detective,” she said with more composure. “But, how and why and…” she trailed off and he heard a sniffle.

“We’re not sure who killed your son yet, Mrs. Kovis, but we’re doing everything we can to find out.” Stykes watched the other detectives and officers move around the room, like an oiled machine that made sense, unlike the murders they solved.

“How…” the mother asked quietly after a small pause.

Stykes hesitated. They deserved to know, but it…he hated hearing people cry. Honestly, he had too many pet peeves for this business. “He was beaten and then his wrists were slit,” he replied quietly. “But he was knocked unconscious very quickly, and didn’t feel much after that.”

“So his violent death is better because he couldn’t feel it?” the father’s voice came back, this time with a barely withheld anger. “Thank you. I feel better now.”

“Mr. Kovis,” Stykes said gently. “I understand that you’re upset, and you have every right to be. But now I need to ask you if Jason had told you anything? Anything out of the ordinary? Was he acting strangely? Out of contact?”

“Nothing,” the mother replied quickly. “He called everyday. He was…he was good like that. And he said everything was going well.”

“Alright. Well, thank you,” Stykes replied kindly. Damn. “If you can think of…”

“That call,” the father interjected. “Two days ago. Do you remember Nic? He said he wanted to see me.”

“He had tickets to a Yankees game,” she replied. “He was going to surprise you tomorrow…”

He heard a quiet movement on the other side and reached for a pen, clicking the back multiple times as he waited. The Precinct was filling up and Frack was writing under Felicia’s name. “Mr. and Mrs. Kovis?” he prompted. “If you can think of anything at all, please don’t hesitate to call, or come down to the 14th. But, I need to go so I can find the person responsible.”

“Thank you,” Mrs. Kovis replied quietly. “You’ll call us when you know?”

“I will.”

“Thank you, Detective,” Mr. Kovis added.

They clicked off and Stykes set the phone down with a heavy sigh. There was nothing like being shouted at before nine. He turned back to the board as Frack stepped away and whistled.

“Felicia Bravis. Two restraining orders and one charge of breaking and entering,” he relayed, turning to Stykes with a smile. “A couple DUIs and one arrest for disorderly conduct in college.”

“A winner,” he replied. “We got anything on where she is?”

“Bringing her in,” Hallworth said as he returned. He must have called for her while Stykes was on the phone. “Punched the Uniform.”

“Great, now we can keep her,” Frack grinned.

“Don’t string her up just yet,” Stykes chuckled. “It’s not even noon.”

“We don’t drink before noon,” Hallworth corrected. “There’s nothing about not hoping for a close before noon.”

“I don’t peg this girl for a violent homicide. Creepy stalking and a few sad bar fights, maybe,” Stykes replied. “Anyone wanna be in there with me?”

Both men shook their heads. “No way. I want to watch you take her down,” Frack replied as Hallworth nodded.

“Alright,” he shrugged, gathering the files they’d brought over and putting them into a manila folder to have on the table in interrogation.

Then he leaned back and read through the notes on Bravis’ priors. There was nothing violent or especially surprising about her other arrests. She was just a disorderly stalker, of the garden, harmless variety. And, even though they made cases more complicated, that was just how Stykes liked his stalkers—harmless.

“Not her,” a voice whispered in his ear.

He jerked forward and twisted his head around. There she was, leaning over his shoulder to read the file. And, as always, the bullpen was mysteriously empty.

“Why do you do this? Why are you here?” he demanded, spinning around to face the Pale Woman as she stood in front of him, the edges of her long dress brushing the tops of his shoes.

“I’m bored,” she replied easily. “And this is interesting.”

“Well, I’m busy, and this is maddening,” he replied, watching as she shrugged and smiled. “I thought maybe if I slept and ate better, you’d go away.”

“Oh please. Do you still think I’m some sort of hallucination brought on by stress and an unhealthy lifestyle?” She sounded almost disappointed.

“What else am I supposed to think?” he hissed, glancing around to make sure they were still alone. Where was everyone?

“You’re supposed to use the brain that got you to lead Detective younger than anyone else on the force,” she grinned. “But, as that’s obviously addled, I’ll have to make sure I show up more, to keep you on your toes,” she finished, cautiously touching a pale, bare foot to the tip of his black shoe. “Catch you later.”

A door slammed and she vanished into the air as a uniform skidded to the elevator, assisting Lethson and Pelosi as they hauled Felicia Bravis over to interrogation, her long, red high heels squeaking against the tiles. Stykes watched, listening to the woman’s constant babble that blared out over the empty room and watching the bounce of her over-done blonde hair. This would be fun.

He shook himself and turned around to grab the file, pushing the encounter with his…he sighed. He still didn’t know what she was. And her parting words the last time were hardly helpful.

 

“Fine. Call me your Paige then.”

He snorted. “If that were true, you’d never be here.”

She smirked knowingly. “Well, I am a Paige; that’s true. I guess you’ll just have to figure out who I answer to. That can be your assignment until we meet next.”

“My assign…what the hell? Who you answer to? When we meet next?” he repeated her words angrily. “I don’t want to meet again! Leave me the hell alone!”

She just gave him a twinkling smile and faded into nothingness. “See you when a body drops.”


He wouldn’t go there today. It was too confusing, and he had a trashy stalker to interrogate. He stood with purpose and strode across the pen and into interrogation, watching with some humor as Frack and Hallworth zipped into the observation room. He didn’t understand the fascination they had with watching him take down suspects. Then again, he’d be in there in a flash if Brighton were grilling someone.

He opened the door and walked inside, his back straight and eyes forward, barely giving Bravis a second glance. He sat down at the plain, grey table and placed the folder in the middle, raising his eyes to look at the woman across from him. Her hands were picking at the edge of the table and her eyes moved restlessly, scanning over the dingy white room with the large mirror and lone door.

After letting her stew for a minute, Stykes folded his hands on the top of the table and cleared his throat. “Miss Bravis,” he began. The woman snapped her gaze to his. “Do you know why you’re here?”

“Is this about the coffee cup? Because, really, it barely splashed him.”

Stykes would have smiled. She would talk all on her own if he let her. “What coffee cup?”

She blinked. “The one I threw at Jason Kovis the other day.”

“You threw a coffee cup at Jason Kovis?”

She looked at him, her large, blue eyes narrowing under deep purple lids. “Yeah. Why am I here?”

“Jason Kovis was found murdered at the café this morning,” he said slowly, watching as she gasped and went rigid in shock.

“What?”

“He was found slumped over the counter, pummeled within an inch of his life, and dripping blood onto the floor from his slit wrists.”

Her hands shook and she squeezed her eyes shut in a very genuine display of grief. She wasn’t their killer—not that it was much of a surprise.

“Who?”

“Well, Miss Bravis, you were following him, were you not?” Stykes asked, waiting for her nod before continuing. “Where were you this morning between the hours of 3am and 5am?”

Her head snapped up and she gaped at him. “At…at home, asleep. You think I did this?”

“Can anyone corroborate that?”

“My roommate. You think I did this?” she asked again, this time with more outrage and less shock.

“No, Miss Bravis, I don’t,” Stykes replied with a small smile. “But I had to ask. We’ll be checking with your roommate.” She gave a small, frightened nod. “Now, you admit to stalking him?”

“Stalking’s a harsh word,” she began, but, seeing his glare, she sighed. “Yes. Okay? I liked him. It’s not a crime.”

“Actually, it is,” Stykes snorted. “But, as he didn’t press charges, that’s not why I’m asking.”

“Okay?”

“You were stalking him. Did you notice anything odd or out of place within the last week?”

She shook her head. “No. He went home after his shift, like always, and then played a few shows. Nothing big. And he looked happy every day.”

It wasn’t his preferred method of gathering information, but it was a start. “Was there anyone at the shows who looked questionable?”

“No. Just the normal crowd. Honestly, you think someone he knew killed him? Like that?”

“Miss Bravis, everyone is a suspect in a murder investigation.”

She just stared at him for a moment. “Oh.”

Stykes jotted down the few notes she’d given him. The shows would be something, maybe. Otherwise, they were no further than they’d been before this. Perhaps the boys had found something, if they’d given up on watching. It wasn’t like this interrogation had been anything spectacular.

“Have you looked at the other customers?”

“Other customers?” Stykes asked, pausing as he went to stand up.

“There were other people, a few of them, who came in every day. I mean…He didn’t have a big group of friends, you know? So, it just…find them, please?”

“Find who?” Stykes asked, making a signal to the boys to start running down the regulars, if Trainers knew who they were, assuming Hall and Frack were in there.

“Find the people that killed him,” Bravis replied in a strained voice. “He didn’t deserve this.”

“We’re doing everything we can,” Stykes assured her. “Thank you for your time.” He stood and left the room, leaving the heartbroken stalker behind.

“That was dull,” Frack informed him as they walked to Stykes’ desk, where Hall was adding the little information he’d pulled from Bravis onto the board.

“Can’t all be firecrackers,” Stykes replied. “Anything on the regulars?”

“Trainer’s cell is off, so we’re gonna head down. Café’s still closed, right?” Frack asked.

“Until we find the guy, yeah,” Hallworth replied. “I’d wanna redecorate, myself.”

“Who knows? Maybe the blood will make a statement,” Stykes suggested to a round of appreciative snickers. “You’ll call with what you get?”

“Of course,” Frack grinned. “You gonna start looking into the shows?”

“There’s nothing I like better than running through Facebook profiles and matching names to our lists,” Stykes nodded as he sat down. “Makes my day.”

The boys chuckled and grabbed their jackets before walking to the elevator, arguing over the latest game. Stykes couldn’t tell whether it was basketball or baseball, but Frack was gesticulating, so it was probably the latter. He shook his head and found Kovis’ Facebook, scrolling through until he found the latest update for a gig. There were two hundred people invited, and 116 had attended. Joy.

He passed a quiet hour punching names into the database, and coming up empty. He’d had a few hits for disorderly conduct, DUIs and one for assaulting a police officer, but nothing substantial, and nothing that rang of violent, premeditated murder. People passed through the room, waving or stopping to greet him and check up on the board. Paperwork wasn’t as interesting as a fresh homicide.

He reached the bottom of the attended list, and typed the last name into the database. The page that popped up made him straighten in his chair, and he punched a fist into the air in excitement.

Alan Harvey was a man he’d heard of, talked about with some amount of awe by the boys over in Vice. He’d done a nickel upstate for drug trafficking and been kept down in holding for more than one instance of resisting arrest, or all out tackling different officers. He’d been seen out in California, getting his face all over the tabloids for trying to make off with an heiress’ money, and once in Las Vegas for the questionable disappearance of a Senator’s daughter. Mostly, he got away scot-free. He was rather notorious. And he’d been flying under the radar for a while, seemingly making a ‘clean’ go of it.

Brighton appeared at the side of his desk just as Stykes was writing down Harvey’s last known address.

“Got something? You’re smiling.”

“I do that on occasion,” he chuckled, looking up at her as he finished. “And yeah, actually. Remember Alan Harvey?”

“Sweet talker from Vice? Oh yeah. He was on the radar when I was in your seat.”

“You seem almost fond of him,” Stykes observed. Brighton was smiling and relaxed, her hip against the side of his desk.

“Harvey actually helped us, once, when it wasn’t him. Gave us the suspect that broke the case. What do you need him for? Don’t tell me you got him on security camera killing that poor kid.”

“No. He went to a show of his though. And he has a Facebook. Can you imagine?”

“Criminals are people too.”

“Why Captain Brighton, you’re in an awfully good mood,” he laughed. “Don’t tell me you think he has a Farmville.”

“A what?”

“Nothing,” Stykes grinned. “You have a good night?”

“Chris gave a recital that was to die for,” she replied. “So, yes.”

“Tell him congratulations for me.”

“You really should come to the next one. I know you love classical music.”

“When killers stop calling at 3am, I’ll think about it,” Stykes replied. “But I’m glad you were able to go.”

“There are some benefits to this job,” she smiled. “So, what do you want to do about Harvey?” Casual conversation was over and it was back to the grind. That’s what he loved about Captain Brighton; she was fun, but she was all business, and he appreciated that. They weren’t there to have fun.

“Find out if he was a regular at the shows, and then if he was a regular at the café. If so, I’ll wanna talk to him.”

“Sounds like a plan. Your boys canvassing?”

“Trying to find out who the regulars were so we can talk to them. I’ll want to talk to the other baristas too,” Stykes replied as he stood and moved to the murder board, writing ‘Harvey’ under the suspects column.

“Keep it up, Stykes,” she smiled, and walked back to her office.

Stykes nodded and then stared at what they had so far. It wasn’t much to go on. But Harvey would be a good break, and maybe Hall and Frack would come back with something new. He could only hope. He sat down at his desk and began filling out his preliminary paperwork, trying to diminish the backlog he’d have at the end of the case if he let it go.

The boys strolled back in around one, grinning from ear to ear. “What’s got you so happy?” Stykes asked.

They dropped a hoagie on his desk and then rolled their chairs over, draping their coats on their own desks as they went. They crowded around Stykes’ desk and the three of them set to eating while Hall pulled out notes.

“Cameras are a bust, but we got the names of four regulars,” he told Stykes, mustard dribbling down his chin. He wiped at it with an impatient hand. “Gerard, Logan, Hoyte, and Carlton.”

“You know any more?” Stykes asked as he jotted the names down, copying them from Hall’s notebook into his own files.

“Logan and Hoyte are friends of one of the other baristas—artsy types. And they alibied out, because they were with said barista at a club until four. Gerard and Carlton are Consultants who ran freelance out of the café, and Trainers says they seem pretty harmless.”

“Why’s Harvey on the board?” Frack asked, pointing to the name and mug shot Stykes had printed up.

“He popped when I went through attendees at Kovis’ last gig.”

“What’s an ex-con doing at an acoustic gig?” Hallworth put in.

“Not sure. I want to run him down and see if we can get him in here for questioning.” Frack and Hallworth nodded just as the phone rang. “Stykes.”

“Hi, Detective Stykes, this is Sarah Domini.”

“Hi, Miss Domini,” Stykes replied. “What can I do for you?”

“I found a notebook under the counter when I was helping Gary grab our books so we can balance them, you know, while the café is closed.”

“What’s in the notebook?” he asked, fiddling with the edge of the paperclip chain he’d made a few days ago, in a fit of childish boredom.

“It’s Jason’s. It has…I don’t know, lots of notes about people in the café. I don’t know why he was taking them, but maybe…I just think it’s something that shouldn’t be lying around, you know?” She sounded grim, yet determined—a turnaround from the tears she’d shed earlier in the day.

“Of course,” Stykes nodded, jotting down ‘found notebook,’ on a scrap for the boys to see. “Can you bring it by?”

“I’m on my way right now,” she replied, her voice slightly breathy as a car honked in the background. “I don’t have…I don’t have anything better to do at the moment.“

“We’ll be happy to take it from you,” Stykes told her. “See you soon. Tell the officer at the door that I’ve cleared you.”

“Thank you.”

She clicked off and Stykes leaned back in his chair. “Well, it looks like we’ll be getting more dirt on our group of patrons,” he smiled. “Kovis took notes.”

“Took notes about customers?” Frack raised a thin, blond eyebrow. “That’s always bad if you’ve got a dangerous criminal drinking your coffee.”

“Could lead to something, at any rate,” Stykes shrugged. “Now, you were telling me about the consultants?”

Hallworth tossed his hoagie wrapper into a wastebasket and fist-bumped Frack as it landed cleanly inside. “Like I said, Trainers thinks they’re harmless. Gerard was legal, he thinks, and Carlton wrote columns for Internet newspapers—pretty good ones, too.”

“Does Trainers work the floor?” Stykes asked, adding information to the list of names. It seemed odd to know so much about your customers, especially at a Starbucks in Times Square.

Frack nodded and tossed his own wrapper toward the garbage, missing by a mile. Hallworth shook his head in disgust. “He said he likes to get to know people, to get them to come back. People like regulars.”

“They’re a drain on money,” Stykes countered. “They sit there and have one cup of coffee just to use the wireless all day.”

“But they create a studious atmosphere,” Hallworth chuckled. “Trainers was going for ambiance. Dead kid at the counter will probably kill that off though.”

“And our friend Trainers, how’s he doing?” Stykes prompted, shaking his head at the pathetic pun.

“He’s not too pleased that he’s got to stay closed, and can’t clean up. But he doesn’t strike me as the murdering type,” Frack replied. “Too jittery. And did you get a look at his arms? He couldn’t whip someone Kovis’ size around a counter like that.”

“Detective?”

They turned and found Sarah Domini walking up to Stykes’ desk, a backpack over one shoulder and a notebook in her other arm. The boys watched as Stykes stood and extended a hand, which she took. She was still walking steadily, but her eyes were even redder than the first time he’d met her that morning. Poor kid.

“Here,” she said quietly, handing the notebook over. “It’s just these weird notes, about coffee preference and descriptions of people. I think—he mentioned writing a book. Maybe he was using people from the café as characters or something.”

Stykes nodded and set the notebook on the desk. “Well, thank you. Anything is a good lead right now.”

She nodded and turned to leave, but then doubled back. “Who’s that man?” she asked, pointing to the picture of Harvey.

“Why?” Hallworth asked. All three of the detectives went on alert.

“I’ve seen him before,” she shrugged. “He comes in a few times a week.”

“Really?” Stykes asked, casting a significant glance to his partners. “Does he talk to anyone?”

“Yeah,” she nodded, her eyes still glued to the picture. “Some guy who’s always got a laptop. You know,” she cocked her head to the side and toyed with the bottom of one of her braids—like a sad, pensive Pippi Longstocking. “Jason was always watching them. For the last few weeks, he just…I don’t know. He thought they were interesting.”

“That’s great. Thank you, Sarah,” Stykes said.

“You’re welcome,” she replied, confused. “I’ll…I’ve got to go meet up with my friends. But, um, keep me posted?”

“Will do,” Stykes told her. “Have a nice day.”

“Thank you, Detectives.”

She left and the three of them leaned close over his desk. “So you think Harvey was involved with one of the consultants?” Frack asked.

“Could be. And if Kovis was interested,” Hallworth trailed off. “Well, that’s enough to get you killed.”

“Yes, but what would a convicted felon want with a Freelance writer, or legal aide? I mean, who needs the law when you can break it?” Frack replied.

“I think we need to talk to Harvey, and look into these two consultants. You boys want to run them down for me while I go have a talk with him?”

“You got it, Boss,” they replied in unison, one of their more annoying quirks.

Stykes shook his head and narrowed his eyes as he gathered his things and swung on his coat. “Call me if you get hits, got it?”

They nodded as they both rolled themselves back to their desks. Stykes left the bullpen and got into the elevator. He adjusted his jacket and touched his belt, feeling the secure presence of his piece. He didn’t expect any trouble from Harvey; it wasn’t his M.O. But it was better to be armed than sorry.

He stepped out of the elevator and into the garage, hopping into his Crown Vic and revving the engine. He pulled out of the Station and headed north on Bowery, toward Harvey’s last known address in the East Village. He turned on the radio and let Holst’s The Planets wash over him. It kept him focused and in no time, he was pulling up to a somewhat dilapidated stone building. A few windows were cracked up near the sixth floor and there were a bunch of young, dirty kids playing in the street as he parked and walked toward it.

Harvey lived on the fourth floor, and he counted the windows over. He was right on the front fire escape. Typical of a criminal—it was always good to have an alternate route out. He walked up the steps and knocked, but found that the door swung open of its own accord. Some security system.

He trudged up the stairs, listening to the sounds of overly loud televisions and crying children. The interior was nice enough, with new beige paint and finish, as though they were waiting to fix up the outside of the building, but had taken the time to make the inside as inviting as possible. He reached the fourth floor and made his way over to apartment 407. He knocked on the gray, metal door and waited, one hand resting casually on his glock.

The door swung open and he was greeted by the hardened face of Alan Harvey. His dingy brown hair was plastered to his forehead and he was wearing a wife beater and athletic shorts, like he’d been running. Even so, Stykes could see the man that had charmed young uniforms and gotten away with so much just a few years ago. He had a subtle charm about his face that spoke of a smile that could melt butter. He wasn’t using it at the moment.

“What?” he grunted.

“Detective Gabriel Stykes, NYPD,” Stykes began, before the door was abruptly slammed in his face and he heard heavy treads hurrying away, and then the creak of a window.

 

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