The house looked just like all the others on the block—two stories, brick front porch right up against the sidewalk, barely two feet of separation from the next houses on either side. The Brooklyn neighborhood was a little seedy, a little rundown. Blue collar families, postage stamp lots, parking on the street. Private driveways were the exception.
The Agency bought and sold these properties on a regular basis, keeping each for only a few months to prevent the community from identifying the property as different and therefore suspect.
Inside, the drab rooms and even more drab furnishings furthered the sense of anonymity, right down to the fifties style chrome and plastic table and chairs in the large kitchen.
Sitting at the kitchen table, sipping black coffee, was a swarthy middle-aged man. He was wearing twill work pants and a matching shirt and jacket. On the pocket was a logo from a national moving company, along with an embroidered name—Al Jenkins.
Ceil and Carl used a key to open the front door. The dark skinned man put his hand under the newspaper in front of him. To a casual observer, he appeared unconcerned, a workman relaxing at his kitchen table, reading his newspaper. Under the newspaper, however, was a Glock nine-millimeter with the safety off.
“Hey, Big Al. Good to see you.” Ceil walked over to the table and held out her hand.
Al Jenkins pulled out the nine-millimeter and placed it on top of the newspaper. He stood up. “You’re lookin’ damn good, Ceil. Carl, you never change. How’s it going?”
Ceil looked forlorn. “Been better. Nice of you to come out here for us, Al. Nice outfit.”
“Yeah. Comfortable, too. Sort of goes with the neighborhood. You guys had any sleep lately? Your eyes look pretty bleary.”
Ceil smiled. “Like the old days, huh? You know the history here, Al? This one isn’t a walk in the park for you. Bob Logan and Jerry Mack were killed by this bastard. You know he’s the primary suspect on the serial murders, right?”
Al nodded. “I was surprised about Bob Logan. He trained me, for Christ’s sake. This guy Samuels must be pretty scary, to get the jump on two old pros like that.”
“Scary as hell. More than scary. Nothing is what it seems here. We made assumptions about safety, and they were inadequate.”
Ceil went on to describe the circumstances of the deaths of the two bodyguards.
“So nobody gets in here except you two.”
“Once I leave, nobody gets in here without full verification of their identity, including me. Don’t take a chance, Al. Both Logan and Mack were fooled into thinking I was the one at the door. If it’s me, I’ll remind you of where we stayed in Paris in ’78. You remember?”
Al smiled. “Yeah. So if I hear your voice and you don’t mention that, I can shoot you.”
Ceil nodded. “Fire away. Don’t miss.”
Carl took her by the hand. “We need some rest. We’ll take the living room, OK, Al?”
Minutes later, Ceil and Carl were seated in the two faded recliners in the small living room. The room was overheated, and within minutes Ceil was nodding off. When she realized this, she shook her head violently.
“Let it go, Ceil. You need a couple hours sleep. You look like shit. Go to sleep. Al and I can handle it for a few hours.”
Ceil considered it for a moment, then nodded. She leaned her chair back, and in seconds, she was asleep.
Carl watched her for a full minute, marveling at her ability to clear her mind and instantly fall asleep.
He pushed back a little then. He was not as fatigued as his partner, and in truth, he needed far less sleep than she did. It had always been that way. Six hours was a long night for him. Four was more typical.
From his jacket pocket, he pulled out the small gray metal box. It was, as before, warm to the touch. He conducted a careful visual examination of all sides.
He appreciated its simple beauty. The material was alien to him, but the design was quite elegant.
He suspected the dimensions were one of those ratios that the ancient Greeks had perfected thousands of years ago.
He allowed his imagination to wander a little, as he gazed at the box.
Without warning or noise, the box lid began to rise on concealed hinges. Carl’s mouth dropped open, as he tilted the box to view its contents.
Seconds later, without his even knowing it, his eyelids grew heavy, and almost at once he was in a deep sleep.
The box remained open, still held upright in his hands, for a long time. Then, as silently as it had opened, it closed.
When Ceil awoke, about three hours later, she found Carl asleep in his chair, the closed box still in his hand. Al Jenkins was still in the kitchen.
She decided to let Carl sleep. The few hours sleep had done her a world of good, and in spite of his lesser need for sleep, she was certain he was exhausted at this point.
On the cab ride back to her apartment, Ceil made a mental checklist of concerns that needed her attention and had suffered because of her obsessive focus on protecting Jennifer.
She had come late to the realization that she was obsessive about Jennifer. She had never been very good at examining her own motives. She wasn’t given to introspection. Re-examining her own actions wasn’t her strong suit, even when her actions had been less than perfect. Disastrous was more like it. Her in-your-face style had more than once put her at a disadvantage. She had used sheer force to overcome her poor use of her intelligence. She wasn’t stupid—her SATs and Agency intelligence tests confirmed that she was in the top two per cent of Americans. She wasn’t insensitive—well, maybe she was insensitive, in some situations. She was—goal oriented.
It had worked for her. Sort of. It was a different time, of course. Spies were spies then, not information gatherers. Assassination was a tool, just like any other. A useful tool, one to be employed selectively, rarely even, but in many places in the world, even today, selective assassination could clear up some unnecessary murkiness.
Thinking about assassination reminded her of Samuels’ contribution to her life—Steven Holt. His body needed disposal.
Carl had mentioned Steven’s body and the need for some help in disposing of it, to his friends at the Agency. The response had been a reluctant ‘we’ll try’.
She hoped they’d taken care of it. They could do it so easily. They had the resources, including the ability to conceal the remains during the removal, and later as well.
If she had to do it herself, without assistance, she’d need some type of gurney or conveyance to haul it. The thought was depressing. She had neither the time nor the patience to move Steven and to put him somewhere he wouldn’t be easily discovered.
She pressed her lips together tightly. He needed to be gone, and their Agency friends owed her the service. Briefly she considered who she might call if he was still there.
Satisfied that the Agency either would or had taken care of the problem, Ceil next turned to her upcoming confrontation with Samuels.
She was sure now that the confrontation would ultimately occur. Unfortunately, Samuels would be choosing the time and place. The recent events made her painfully aware that Samuels was leading this dance, and would continue to do so.
She made a resolution then. No matter what the provocation, she resolved to think before she took any action. She was badly overmatched here, and her normal ‘damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead’ approach would put her at an even bigger disadvantage.
This time she would use her head as well as her skills!
She entered the apartment at the ready and conducted a rapid search of the ‘public’ spaces. The place was as she had left it.
Not so in the inner room. At first she thought the body there was Steven, and the Agency had let her down. She was immediately incensed. They owed her! She would fry somebody’s ass if—the body wasn’t Steven’s!
For Christ’s sake! This isn’t the goddamned morgue! She put her weapon back into the holster and walked over to see who the new dead person was.
She didn’t know him.
She checked the hidey-hole where she’d hidden Steven’s body and was relieved to see that he was no longer there. Her anger dissipated quickly, and she returned to the corpse in the center of the room.
Pinned to the jacket was another of the Samuels notes. As before, the paper was high quality and the handwriting was somewhat florid.
This was Boyd Ranney, the muckraker from the Post. I used my discretion in deciding he was becoming a threat. I trust you can use the same resources that removed Steven to remove this miscreant’s remains. Thank you.
P.S. I’ll be in my shop in precisely two hours. The time at this moment should be 7:26. I’ll be waiting. D
Without thought, Ceil looked at her watch. It was 7:26. She shook her head slowly, then went to prepare herself for the battle of her life.
She was beginning to feel foolish about lurking in darkened doorways across from The Time Traveler. If anybody took notice, she definitely had a problem. She tried to remember if she’d been here twice before, or only once, but her memory was foggy now. Fatigue, plus the stress of being constantly a step behind Samuels, were to blame.
Her nemesis. That’s what he was. The term brought a smile to her weary face. “Never had a nemesis before. I was the nemesis. That was better. And I never reached the point of talking to myself before. You’re losing your edge, old girl. Time to take it to the enemy.”
Her cell phone jarred her unpleasantly out of her reverie. Without taking her eyes off the shop, she pulled it from her pocket and flipped it open.
“I just had a call from the hospital, Ceil. Silvia had another attack. They tried everything, but they couldn’t bring her back this time. She’s dead, Ceil.”
A huge emptiness developed in Ceil’s chest and spread quickly through her whole body. She couldn’t catch her breath for a long time. Finally she croaked out a response.
“You sure, Carl?”
“Yeah. I’m going to the hospital. I’ll meet you there.”
“Right. I just have one thing to do first, then I’ll be there.”
“Don’t do this, Ceil. He’ll kill you if you confront him. We need a plan, friend. Otherwise we’ll both die.”
“Got a plan, Carl. I find the fuck, I kill him. Works for me. Then I’ll come and mourn our friend.”
She clicked her phone closed and put it back in her pocket.
As if on cue, the lights came on in The Time Traveler. She took a deep breath and crossed the street.
The door was unlocked. She already had her weapon in her hand, and without hesitation, she entered the shop and marched resolutely toward the rear.
She could see him now, sitting at an antique game table at the back of the shop. Both his hands were resting on top of the table.
She pulled out a chair and sat across from the smiling man. She kept the weapon in her hand, but held it at her side.
“Hello Ceil. I must congratulate you on your courage. You seem quite willing to face the lion in his own den, in spite of what must seem overwhelming odds in his favor.”
“Let’s get to the point, Mr. Samuels. I’m here to stop you from killing my family. The rest of my family.”
The smile stayed on his face. A part of her brain appreciated his entire act. He was handsome, he appeared to be fearless, and he maintained his gracious charm without a hitch.
“Call me Devon, please. I’m sorry this is ending, Ceil. I admit it’s been an obscenely long time since I’ve enjoyed anyone as much as I’m enjoying you. All that fierceness and fearlessness, yet you are as cool and composed as if you’re stopping by for tea. I hope you realize how unique you are.”
“Why Silvia? She never hurt a soul. She wasn’t worth your effort, yet you killed her anyway. Why?”
“Don’t be silly, my dear. To bring you to this table, of course. I trust you will come to appreciate the delicious irony of our little struggle. Not now, of course, but later, when you’ve had time to consider all the facts.”
He glanced at the expensive watch on his wrist.
“I’d love to chat, dear, but duty calls”
He stood up. Ceil jumped to her feet as well, knocking her chair over backwards.
Samuels made an exaggerated grab in her direction. He was six feet away, so there was no question of his actually reaching her, but for Ceil, whose grief over the death of her friend was almost overpowering now, it was enough.
She put two rounds into the right side of his chest. His body absorbed the shock of the slugs by moving forward slightly.
She expected him to show surprise, or shock, or anger. He continued to smile, and said “Not like you, Ceil. With far less provocation than this, you’ve dispatched your enemies with a single shot to the heart. Or the brain. Losing your touch?”
Ceil could hear the sirens now. They were close. She kept the nine millimeter aimed at Samuel’s chest.
When the SWAT team burst through the front door of the shop, Samuels crouched and prepared himself for a final leap toward her.
She shot him through the heart. Almost simultaneously, a wave of sadness swept over her. She realized, too late, that she had not wanted to kill him after all.
Samuels kept smiling, and standing, until the heavily armed officers were almost on them. Then he fell to the floor in a crumpled heap.
The interrogation room was small and overheated, yet Ceil barely noticed. She could recall only the highlights of how she’d gotten here. She had been holding her weapon in both hands, her small body in a shooter’s stance, when the SWAT officers had stormed around her. She remembered the shouting most of all.
“Drop the weapon! NOW! Drop the weapon!”
She hadn’t, of course. In spite of repeated shouts and three of the body-armored and helmeted cops pressing in on her, she had held onto it. Her gaze never left the body on the floor, and her weapon did not waver.
Finally, one of the cops had the presence of mind to reach out and take the weapon out of her hand. She did not resist then, as the others forced her to the wall and cuffed her hands behind her back.
“Clear! Man down!”
The team of people waiting in the aisles of The Time Traveler descended on them then. EMTs, plain clothes detectives, and later, a flood of forensics types.
She remembered Samuels being loaded onto a gurney. They’d had trouble with that. The body was much heavier than they had expected, and it took four of them to lift him onto the portable bed.
She had been shuffled off to one side. A female cop had been appointed to watch her, and together they had made their way about half way toward the storefront and found a small settee to sit on.
Ceil remembered Wilson being there. It was his crime scene, and she noted that he was quietly but firmly in charge. He didn’t make a show of it, but he created order from the initial chaos with decisive orders, quietly delivered. It was a large group of people, perhaps twenty at its peak, and Wilson’s management style quickly reduced that number to a minimum. No one questioned his authority.
The ride from the antique shop to the precinct was a blur. She was sure that she had not been booked yet. Instinctively she knew that her situation was definitely suspect. She had shot and killed an unarmed man. The police had all but witnessed it. To this point, almost two hours after the event, no one had attempted to talk to her.
Now Tim Wilson entered the hot room and took a chair opposite her. He placed a paper cup of coffee on the table in front of her, then noticed that she was still handcuffed.
“Oh Christ, you’re still in cuffs. Why didn’t you say something?”
Ceil smiled. “I figured that was part of the softening-up process.” She rubbed her wrists briskly, trying to get the numbness in her hands to subside.
Wilson sat back down and opened his own coffee. He didn’t seem to be in a hurry to begin.
“I doubt if sitting in handcuffs would have much impact on an old pro like you. You want to tell me what happened, or shall I go by the book and sweat it out of you?”
Ceil sipped her coffee. “Not much to tell. Samuels killed three of my friends and was about to do the same to me. I shot him when he came at me. I put two in his right shoulder just before you got there. As you arrived, he lunged at me again, and I put him away for good.”
“Let’s back up a bit. How did you know he’d be at the shop?”
“He left me a note. Along with another body. If you look in my hidey-hole, you’ll find both.”
Wilson pulled open a file that he’d placed face down on the table on his arrival and extracted a piece of paper. “This the note?”
Ceil could see that it was Samuels’ note. “Yep. You find the body too?”
Wilson leaned back. “Boyd Ranney. Yeah, we found it. How do we know you didn’t kill him, Ceil?”
She shrugged. “Didn’t know him. I was only in my apartment for a few minutes tonight, so I’m speculating a little here, but I’d say he was killed the same way that Bob Logan was. His neck was snapped. I’m a pretty scary woman, but it’s unlikely I could muster the strength or leverage to snap a large, healthy male’s neck. Or cart him into my apartment. This was Samuels’ work, we both know that. And he was taunting me to get me to his shop. Read the note.”
“I have read it. He mentions Steven’s body. Implies you got rid of that. Did you kill Steven Holt?”
“Of course not.”
Wilson took another swig of his coffee. Ceil could see that he was uncertain just who had killed whom. There were a lot of bodies to account for, and while Samuels’ killing might be fully justified, there was no solid evidence that Samuels had killed all the others.”
“You’re a pain in the ass, Ceil. I have three unsolved murders here, not counting Samuels himself, and….”
“Four. You have to include Silvia. He killed her just before I went into his shop.”
Wilson frowned. “Silvia Latrobe? Silvia’s not dead.”
“Of course she is. Samuels cut off her breathing, like he did several times before. And he did it just to drive me into a rage.”
The frown deepened. “So that’s why you shot him? Because you thought he killed your friend?”
Ceil’s normally sensitive antennae were not operating. “And because he killed Bob Logan, and Jerry Mack, and even that twit Steven. Not to mention God knows how many women. The bastard demanded killing.”
At that moment, a detective cracked open the door and motioned to Wilson to come out.
In the hallway, the detective was holding several pieces of paper.
“OK, the good news is, Samuels’ prints were on the note in Larkin’s apartment, and on Ranney’s wallet and glasses. He definitely had contact with Ranney.”
Wilson nodded slowly. “What’s the bad news?”
“We got a file match on Samuels’ prints. Makes no sense, but it’s a 99% match. With a dead FBI agent.”
“With what? I didn’t hear you right.”
“Yeah, you did. Samuels is John Christopher, a fibi killed in the line of duty just over twenty years ago.”
“Something’s screwed up here. Run it again.”
“I ran it three times, Tim. It’s a match.”
Wilson ran his fingers through his hair. “Look, I’m about to let the brass announce that we got the serial killer. I need a clean identity here. Meet be in the morgue in twenty minutes. We’ll take his prints again. All ten. I want a ten for ten match before we go off on some wild goose chase.”
The young detective shrugged his shoulders. “You’re the boss, but I got a clean set of his prints now, and they match up with John Christopher’s, ten for ten. But I’ll go check ‘em again. I’ll meet you in the morgue after I rerun these.”
Wilson stuck his head back in the interrogation room.
“You have a visitor, Ceil. Carl Demorist. He’s been here since you got here. I’ll let him in now. Don’t go anywhere. You’re not free to leave.”
“You arresting me?”
“Maybe. For the time being, you’re in protective custody. I’ll be back in half an hour. Need to see something about the man you just shot to death.”