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Outrage

Outrage


Robert K. Tanenbaum Outrage

PROLOGUE

    “All rise!”
    At the command of a rotund, jowly court clerk, those people still sitting in the gallery pews of the courtroom jumped up and stood at attention like soldiers waiting for the commanding officer to enter. The lawyers on either side of the aisle-prosecution on the right, closest to the jury box and witness stand; defense on the left-were already on their feet and now turned their attention to the front.
    Slowest to rise was the defendant, a slightly built young man with wavy dark hair and large, luminous brown eyes. Head down, defeated, he appeared incapable of committing the horrendous crimes for which he’d been convicted a few weeks earlier. But the big man standing at the prosecution table just a few feet to his right had convinced the jurors otherwise. Now his life hung in the balance.
    “Oyez oyez oyez,” announced the clerk, an Irishman named Edmund Farley, “all those who have business before part thirty-six of the supreme court, state of New York, New York County, draw near and ye shall be heard. The Honorable Supreme Court Justice Timothy Dermondy presiding…”
    As Farley droned on, Dermondy swept into the courtroom, bringing a black cloud of judicial decorum. The somberness of the moment was etched into his intelligent, angular face. He had never been one to tolerate fools in his courtroom, and it was clear to everyone present that he wasn’t about to start now. His dark eyes swept across those assembled within the confines of the dark wood-paneled room as if daring any one of them to disturb the sanctity of the proceedings as he stepped up onto the judge’s dais and sat down.
    “Representing the People, the Honorable District Attorney Roger Karp and Assistant District Attorney Ray Guma; representing the defendant, Stacy Langton and Mavis Huntley,” Farley said, continuing as he had for some thirty years without missing a beat. He looked at the judge and said, “Your Honor, all of the jurors are present and accounted for; counsel and the defendant are present. The case on trial is ready to proceed.”
    Dermondy gave Farley a quick nod. The clerk then turned back to his audience, smiled, and invited them to be seated.
    “Thank you, Mr. Farley,” Dermondy said. “Good morning, everyone, especially you jurors-your task has been arduous, but it is coming to a close. I would like to ask something more of you. I know you’re tired, but I urge you to focus now, more than ever, on this sacred task because a man’s life is at stake.”
    The judge allowed the comment to sink in as he studied the faces of the twelve jurors. “As you are aware, this is a death penalty case, and what you decide may eventually reach a finality that cannot be undone for the defendant. He sits here convicted by you of two counts of murder. The People are seeking the death penalty and both sides have presented their evidence to you over the past couple of weeks for why, or why not, the defendant should be put to death for his crimes. Yesterday, you heard Ms. Langton present her summation on behalf of her client, the defendant; today you will hear from the district attorney, Mr. Karp.”
    Again Dermondy paused to allow the jurors to keep up. They looked worn out, their faces set in stone-they just wanted to go home to their families. Murder trials were tough enough on jurors, especially when they had to be sequestered, but death penalty cases were particularly emotionally and physically draining. Still, he needed them to hang in there a little while longer.
    Then we’ll all get to go home, Dermondy thought. But he also knew from his lengthy prosecutorial background and distinguished service on the bench that this was a case no one would ever forget.
    “Let me remind you once again that during summation, the attorneys will tell you what they believe the evidence shows. However, what they say is not evidence, and it will be up to you to decide what weight, if any, to give their presentations. Do you understand?”
    He was pleased to see them all nod. “Will you promise to focus one more time on what is said today, and then after the lawyers give their final arguments, their summations, and I charge you on the law, meaning simply give my legal instructions to you, you will deliberate and render a fair and just verdict?”
    Again, twelve heads went up and down.
    “Good. I thank you.” Satisfied that the jury was in the proper frame of mind, Dermondy turned his attention to the prosecution table and said, “Mr. Karp, are you ready to proceed?”
    Roger “Butch” Karp, all six foot five of him, tapped the yellow legal pad he’d been making notes on and rose from his seat. “Yes, Your Honor.”
    “Then, please, the floor is yours.”
    Dressed in his usual off-the-rack, bar mitzvah-blue suit, Karp came out from around the table and walked over to stand in front of the defense table, limping slightly from having aggravated an old basketball injury to his right knee. He looked down for a moment at the defendant, who quickly averted his eyes, his face drained of what little color he had left after several months incarcerated in the Tombs, the hellhole otherwise known as the Manhattan House of Detention for Men.
    Shaking his head, Karp then turned to face the jury box, fixing his gold-flecked gray eyes on each juror for a moment before moving to the next. He nodded when he reached the last face, then began. “As you now have experienced, a capital murder trial has two separate phases. In law we say it is a ‘bifurcated’ proceeding. In phase one, the guilt phase, you the jury determined that the defendant is guilty of the murders for which he was charged. Phase two, the sentencing phase, deals with whether in your opinion, and based on the law, the defendant should be sentenced to death.”
    Karp let the finality of that sink in before continuing. “For the past couple of weeks, on behalf of the People, my colleague Ray Guma and I have presented evidence-what we call ‘aggravating factors’-that more than justifies sentencing this defendant to death. For example, you were shown additional crime scene photographs and heard from the People’s witnesses who graphically described the vicious nature of the defendant’s merciless attacks on the deceased, Olivia Yancy and Beth Jenkins. But other than a brief few minutes in which Olivia’s husband, Dale, spoke movingly, you heard very little about these women as real, living, breathing individuals.”
    Turning to point at the defense table, Karp said, “And as you know, the defense then presented its case, arguing that there were mitigating circumstances for why the defendant committed these crimes. The defense hopes this will persuade you to vote against invoking the death penalty. As such, you listened to a great deal about the defendant-his abused childhood, the violence he may have witnessed at an early age, the absence of convictions for other violent crimes, and how he may have been sexually assaulted while serving time in a juvenile detention facility some five years ago.”
    Karp walked slowly over to the defense table until he was standing in front of it. “If these things are true, then we certainly agree that no child should be abused or traumatized, and we may even come to understand what demons drive this defendant’s evil nature,” he said, fixing the defendant with a hard look. “But I also ask you to remember the testimony of Moishe Sobelman and the horrors he survived at the Sobibor death camp. And then remember that understanding does not mean that we forgive or excuse the brutal, vicious, methodical, and inhumane horrors that evil men perpetrate on the innocent-that the defendant perpetrated on two innocent women, Olivia Yancy and Beth Jenkins.”
    Without bothering to conceal the look of contempt on his rugged face, Karp stared down at the defendant. “He certainly doesn’t look like he’s capable of such horrors, does he? He’s young. Cleans up well-”
    “Objection,” said Langton, an attractive thirtysomething brunette. She didn’t need to address the issue further. While a defendant may have been arrested looking like he’d been living in a sewer, the prosecution was not allowed to comment when the defense team cut their client’s hair, shaved and showered him, put him through detox if necessary, and then dressed him up like a preppy Dartmouth premed student.
    “Sustained; continue, Mr. Karp,” Dermondy said.
    Karp nodded to the judge and then turned back to the defendant. “Here in this courtroom, the defendant hardly looks like the killer we all know him to be. He even wept for you on that witness stand with those big, brown eyes blinking away the tears. Listen to his tragic story, look at him frightened and demoralized in his seat now, and it’s easy to feel sympathy for him.”
    Karp whirled and strode over to the prosecution table, where he picked up two eight-by-ten portrait photographs depicting the murder victims as they’d appeared in life. He held them up for the jurors to see. “But I would suggest that such sympathy is misplaced. It rightfully belongs to these two women. A young wife, Olivia Yancy, eager to move into a better, safer neighborhood, so that someday she could feel comfortable raising her children there. But she was instead ambushed by an evil and manipulative predator, the defendant, who stalked her because she was defenseless and vulnerable and lured her into his murderous trap under the guise of friendship.”
    As he spoke, Karp handed the photographs to the jury foreman and again pointed at the defendant, who quailed but did not look up. “And her mother, Beth Jenkins, a sixty-year-old widow, who went to help her daughter pack her family possessions for the move but walked in on Olivia being brutalized by that man here in this courtroom sitting so meekly at the defense table.”
    Stepping back from the jury rail, Karp allowed his voice to rise along with the genuine emotion he felt boiling to the surface. “So often evil men are made to seem like victims-they say they were only ‘following orders’ in Nazi Germany, or hitting back at the oppressors of Muslims everywhere… or they were abused as children. At the same time, it’s almost obscene how quickly we forget who the real victims are, that they weren’t just the numbers tattooed on their arms, or nameless, faceless office workers, or merely photographs to be passed around a jury box. Take a good look at the women in those photographs, ladies and gentlemen, and remember, they were real and they were the victims.”
    Karp pointed at the defense table. “Yes, ladies and gentlemen, we can understand that outside forces may help lead a man to commit evil deeds, but it does not justify or excuse the sort of horrors and suffering he may inflict on other human beings… as this defendant inflicted on Olivia Yancy and Beth Jenkins.”
    He paused, looking up at the ceiling for a moment. “You may ask, ‘Aren’t all murders horrible?’ And ‘Isn’t the taking of any life equally reprehensible?’ Good questions. So how do we differentiate between a murderer who deserves life in prison and one who deserves to be executed? And isn’t it enough to remove the offender from the population and lock him away with no hope of ever getting out?”
    Karp rocked slightly on his heels and leaned on the jury rail, facing the jurors eye to eye. “Make no mistake, my colleague, Assistant DA Ray Guma, and I considered these very issues before deciding to seek the death penalty in this case.” He then stepped back and continued. “And we decided that because the defendant’s outrages were so cruel, unspeakable, and inhumane, if there is to be a death penalty, then beyond any and all doubt, this defendant’s evil qualifies. Let me suggest that perhaps the best way to demonstrate to you how we reached our conclusion, and the conclusion we are asking you to reach, is by going through the same process we did of reviewing the evidence and recalling what happened on that terrible day a little more than a year and a half ago.”
    The courtroom hushed; all eyes were on Karp. Even the defendant felt compelled to look up. “It was early afternoon when the deceased, Olivia Yancy, finished packing for the move to her new apartment and walked three blocks to her neighborhood grocery store. That night was to be the Yancys’ last in the old apartment, and to celebrate, she was going to make a special dinner. She was happy. Her husband Dale had just been promoted to full professor at Columbia University. And the new apartment had two bedrooms, one for the child she intended to conceive… Life was good.”

1

    It was one in the afternoon on a smoking-hot July day in Manhattan with the humidity and stench of the city hovering above the asphalt and concrete as a noisome translucent vapor. Ahmed Kadyrov wiped the sweat from his forehead as he watched the pretty young woman struggle with two stuffed paper bags, one in each arm, as she exited the mom-and-pop grocer on 110th Street on the Upper West Side. He waited until the auburn-haired beauty started off down the sidewalk and then hurried to catch up.
    Despite being a methamphetamine junkie beginning to show the signs of his addiction-a deteriorating complexion with dark circles under his large brown eyes-Kadyrov was still a decent-looking young man of twenty-two who was often mistaken as Hispanic with his neatly coifed black hair and trim mustache. But he was Chechen, having immigrated to the United States at age twelve, and still spoke with an accent, which women found attractive.
    However, the only thing Ahmed Kadyrov liked about women was terrorizing and raping them, and then robbing “the bitches” to feed his demanding drug habit. Lately, he’d been getting a kick knocking them around a little too, and the last time had been particularly gratifying when he used the switchblade he carried in his pants pocket to draw a few drops of blood from his victim’s neck.
    As a boy he’d watched as a Russian army squad raped his mother and sisters. It was an event the psychiatrist at the Horizon Juvenile Center in the Bronx, where he’d served a year for his first sexual assault, had told him was at the root of his “issues with females and predilection toward sexual violence.” But he didn’t give a shit what some “fag shrink” thought; if anything he identified with the Russian brutes. Women, especially pretty ones like his mother and sisters, were whores and got what they deserved.
    Kadyrov found the areas around the colleges in the five boroughs to be good hunting grounds. There were lots of pretty young women, especially in this neighborhood near Columbia University, which increased his odds of finding one in need of a “Good Samaritan,” the ruse he used to win their confidence. They could be so incredibly gullible. For instance, he usually struck during the day, when such women thought they were safer accepting help from a neatly dressed stranger in a short-sleeved button-down shirt and khaki pants with a nice smile and friendly attitude.
    “Excuse me,” he said as he moved slightly in front of the young woman, forcing her to slow her pace and adjust her heavy bags, “may I help you, please, to carry?” He laid the accent and foreign word groupings on especially heavy when on the prowl; he perceived that for some reason, women also thought polite-seeming European types were less dangerous.
    The young woman smiled but shook her head. “Thank you, that’s very kind,” she said. “But I’m only going three blocks, and I wouldn’t want you to go out of your way.”
    Kadyrov was ready for the expected response and reached for what appeared to be the heaviest bag before she could protest further. “Is no problem, I am going this direction. Please, I help.” He turned up the smile a notch with a look in his eyes that indicated his feelings would be hurt if she refused his generosity.
    “Well, sure, if you don’t mind,” the young woman said with a smile. “I’m Olivia.”
    “Very good to meet you,” Kadyrov said. “I am Stefan.”
    They talked as they walked. He said he was a prelaw student at Columbia University, an irony that made him smile inwardly. She told him that her husband, Dale, taught English lit there. “He just made full professor,” she said proudly. “It means more money, so we’re going to be moving into a nicer apartment. I’m supposed to be packing now.”
    They reached the entrance to her apartment building, a ten-story, 1950s-era edifice of dingy yellow brick with graffiti scrawls on the walls as high as the “artists” could reach. Olivia stopped and turned to Kadyrov with a smile and reached out for the bag he carried. “I can get it from here, Stefan, thank you so much.”
    Kadyrov shifted the bag away from her outstretched hand. “Is no problem I take in for you, then I go,” he said with a grin. “Job is, how do you say, only half-finished. No?”
    Olivia hesitated, but she looked again at his smiling face and shrugged. “Well, sure, that’s very nice of you.” She stepped in front of Kadyrov so he wouldn’t see the access number that she punched in. There was an electronic buzz and click and she smiled over her shoulder as she pulled the security gate open. “Come on up.”
    Kadyrov smiled. He loved this period of stalking just before he pounced, when his prey still didn’t know that she was about to be savaged. Beautiful women, like so many pampered, stupid sheep, could be so oblivious to the fact that the wolf was walking among them dressed in a Brooks Brothers shirt, khaki pants, and loafers.
    Olivia led the way to the elevator, which they took to the fifth floor, and then walked down the hall to a corner apartment. Kadyrov was pleased that there were no sounds from the closest neighbors’ apartments. He slipped his free hand into his pants pocket and grasped the handle of the switchblade.
    Olivia turned the key in the lock and opened the door. “Would you like a glass of water?” she said. “It’s all I have. The fridge is empty and-”
    Whatever the young woman intended to say next was cut short by the hand that went across her mouth and the feel of the wickedly sharp knife blade held against her throat. “Don’t scream, sooka, or I’ll cut your fucking head off,” Kadyrov whispered in her ear as he kicked the door shut behind them. “Now we’re gonna get busy.”

2

    Sitting on the d train as it rattled North from Manhattan into the Bronx, Amy Lopez lifted her copy of the Post so that the young acne-scarred man with the peroxide-blond hair sitting across from her couldn’t see her face. He’d been staring at her since getting on the train at the 125th Street subway station, and she’d caught him glancing at her purse, which she had tucked closer against her hip. She read the headline that screamed from the front page.
    DA’S WITNESS COLLAPSES ON WITNESS STAND AT IMAM’S TERROR TRIAL
    She turned the page to read the report about the murder trial of a Harlem imam named Sharif Jabbar. It was one of those stories that had the city riveted to the various tabloids and the evening television news. A young woman had been decapitated in the basement of the al-Aqsa mosque in Harlem during some sort of frenzied buildup to a narrowly thwarted terrorist attack on the New York Stock Exchange the previous fall. And now, in April, the imam was being prosecuted for her murder.
    According to the story, New York district attorney Roger “Butch” Karp, who was prosecuting the case, had called an unindicted co-conspirator, Dean Newbury, the senior partner of an old, established white-shoe Wall Street law firm, to the witness stand the day before. And while testifying against the imam, the old man had toppled over and died. The “official” word from a court spokesman was that Newbury had succumbed to “an apparent heart attack.”
    However, the Post was reporting a more sinister possibility. According to a reliable source who was not authorized to speak on the record, Newbury had shown signs of having been poisoned. The source was quoted as saying, “He took a sip of water and kablooey, he’s on the ground frothing at the mouth and kicking around to beat the band. Then nothing. Nada. Dead as a doornail.”
    Amy finished the story and turned the page, dipping the paper ever so slightly and just in time to catch the young man watching her before he quickly averted his eyes. She looked down at the paper and a chill ran up her spine. The previous night, April 10, a woman named Dolores Atkins had been murdered in an apartment off Anderson Avenue in the Bronx. The police weren’t saying much, but according to another officially anonymous source, she’d been raped and “cut up pretty bad” by her attacker.
    “There were no apparent signs of a break-in,” an NYPD spokesman was quoted as saying. He’d declined to answer a question posed by the reporter, Ariadne Stupenagel, regarding the possibility that the murder was related to a double homicide that had occurred the previous July on the Upper West Side of Manhattan near Columbia University. The article had gone on to note similarities between Atkins’s death and the murders of the other two women-Beth Jenkins and her daughter Olivia Yancy. The cases remained open with no arrests made or imminent.
    When the train reached her stop at the 161st Street station near Yankee Stadium, Amy stayed in her seat as if she intended to continue riding. Then at the last moment, she jumped up and stepped through the open door. Hurrying along the platform, she glanced back just as she reached the stairs leading down to River Avenue. She cursed; the stalker had been quick enough to beat the door and was following her.
    She walked down the stairs as quickly as she could and started zigzagging through the late-afternoon crowd on the sidewalk. This time when she looked back, she didn’t see the young man and sighed with relief. She took him for a purse snatcher, and that would have made her a victim twice in two months. There wasn’t much money in her handbag, but replacing her driver’s license again, as well as having to put a stop on her checking and credit card accounts, would have been onerous.
    Oh, and my engagement ring is in there, she thought. She’d gained a little weight with her last pregnancy with baby A.J. and the ring had been uncomfortable, so she took it off and put it in her wallet. I’d hate to lose that…
    Amy’s last thought was interrupted by a violent tug on her arm. The young man suddenly materialized at her side and grabbed her purse. She tried to hang on as he took off running and screamed as she was pulled off her feet, losing her grip on the purse. “Help! Thief! Somebody help!” she cried as she scrambled to her feet.
    A few bystanders yelled at the purse snatcher, and a couple of men gave momentary chase, but the thief knew his game and that the pursuit would not last long. He dodged between the traffic on River Avenue and kept running until he was on the west side of the soon-to-be-demolished old baseball stadium. He slowed to a walk and began rifling through the purse, oblivious to the looks he got from passersby. This was the Bronx; asking a tough-looking, acne-scarred young man what he was doing pulling out the contents of a woman’s purse could only mean trouble.
    Only fifteen lousy bucks, he thought. He could probably get a little more for the credit cards and checkbook, though his victim was sure to report them stolen and close the accounts. He was well aware that sometimes victims didn’t act as fast as they should, and he might be able to make a few quick purchases posing as the husband of Amy Lopez. He’d eventually sell the cards to those who had ways of using them still-mostly knowing which businesses didn’t run them through electronic billing. He stared down at the driver’s license dismissively-it was worth only a couple of dollars.
    He opened the coin purse of the wallet. Seventy-three cents and a ring with a small diamond. Less than a half carat, he thought. Maybe worth a few hundred brand-new. He looked at the inscription on the inside of the ring: Always, Al. The sentiment could stay, but he’d file the “Al” out of it. I might get thirty bucks, if I can find the right loser.
    The thief found a buyer two hours later, standing with a dozen others in Mullayly Park near 166th Street and Jerome Avenue. He’d seen the Puerto Rican teenager around the neighborhood but had never talked to him. Skinny and awkward, with long, wavy dark hair and soulful brown eyes, which looked even larger behind the thick glasses he wore, the young man wasn’t like the others who hung out at that particular part of the park.
    Mostly loud punks and their slutty girlfriends, the thief thought. His target was shy to the point where he couldn’t look anyone in the eye for more than a second, even if the conversation was friendly. And he constantly shifted from foot to foot when nervous, as if he wanted to run away.
    I think somethin’s wrong with his brain, the thief thought, but he had to admit that the young man did seem to have one talent that got him tolerated by the others: he could repeat word-for-word seemingly every hip-hop recording ever made. Except for a slight Puerto Rican accent, he even sounded like the originals, although he had none of the attitude or hand gestures. I think his name is Felix, the thief thought as he watched the young man finish his improv rap and fall silent.
    “Felix, my man, you look like an hombre who needs a ring for his girl,” he said, sidling up to his target. “I got just the thing.” The thief produced the ring. “It’s worth four hundred, but since we’re compadres, I’ll let you have it for a hundred.”
    “I… I… I don’t have that much money,” Felix stammered, surprised that the acne-scarred man had spoken to him at all.
    “Hell, Felix ain’t got no money, and he ain’t got no girlfriend,” said a large black youth standing close enough to hear the exchange, guffawing.
    “I… I… I have a girlfriend,” Felix replied, looking down at his feet.
    “Hell yeah, Raymond, haven’t you heard, Felix is the dude that knocked up your cousin Cherise,” a short Hispanic girl with too much makeup said. “Ain’t that right, Felix? You the daddy?” She laughed. The locals hanging out at the park teased Felix, an easy target, every chance they got.
    “No… no no,” Felix replied, shaking his head swiftly from side to side and turning red as he shifted faster from one foot to the other.
    The large black youth, Raymond, scowled. “That right, Felix? You im-preg-nate Cherise?” He moved over so that he was only a few inches away from Felix and towering over him, then turned his head to the side and winked at the Hispanic girl. It was obvious: there was no Cherise, pregnant or otherwise.
    But Felix didn’t know that. He was beginning to look desperate. “No! It wasn’t me!”
    “You sure?” Raymond growled. He looked over his shoulder to make sure the others were watching and grinned. “Now, tell me the truth, is you the one who diddled Cherise?” he asked belligerently, turning back to Felix, his face set as if he was about to fly into a rage.
    Suddenly, Felix nodded so vigorously he had to push his glasses back up his nose. “Yeah, sure… okay. I… I… I diddled Cherise. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to-”
    “You didn’t mean to?” the big youth roared. “What did you think you was doing with that little pecker?”
    As the other youths laughed at the joke, Felix looked behind him as if he’d heard somebody call his name from a distance. “I… I… I got to go,” he stuttered.
    “You… you… you better,” Raymond said, mimicking Felix. “Cherise is trying to figure out which one of you peckerwoods forgot to use pro-tec-shun. Now that I know, she’ll be comin’ after your ass.”
    Felix looked like he might cry, then he turned on his heel and began to walk quickly away.
    The purse snatcher, who’d been laughing along with the others, saw his opportunity leaving and hurried after him. “Yo, Felix, wait up,” he said. “That was just plain wrong back there. You didn’t really get Cherise pregnant, did you?”
    Felix shook his head again as he continued to walk at a fast clip. “No. I don’t even know her.”
    “Then why’d you say you did?”
    Felix shrugged his shoulders and slowed down. “That’s what they wanted me to say.”
    “Well, it was wrong of them, dude,” the thief said sympathetically. “So, tell ya what I’m going to do. I know you got a girlfriend stashed away from those jokers, and she ain’t no whore like Cherise. Fine-looking young man like you-and by the way, I like the mustache you’re trying to grow there, brother, makes you look older, classy. Tell you what, I’ll sell you that ring for fifty bucks… and that’s a steal, bro.”
    Felix stopped walking. His face twisted with doubt. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a wad of crumpled bills and coins. He counted what he had and shook his head. “I only got twenty-three dollars and sixteen cents.”
    “Oh man, you trying to rob me?” the thief said, rolling his eyes. He paused before adding, as though reluctant, “Well, ’cause I don’t like what those pendejos was doing to you, I’ll take it.” He held out his hand and accepted the cash, and then handed over the ring. “You gonna make some bitch happy, she gonna take care of you reeeaaaal good.”
    Felix smiled shyly as he inspected the ring, then frowned. “It says, ‘Always, Al.’ Who’s Al?”
    The thief thought fast. “Why, I am. Al Guerrero. My bitch decided to dump me and I got the ring back. That’s how come I knew it was a five-hundred-dollar ring.”
    “You said it was worth four hundred.”
    “Whatever, now it’s yours,” the thief replied. “All you got to do is get a little file and take off my name and you’re set with your lady friend. Now I got to go.”
    Felix felt a pang of guilt as he watched the man trot quickly in the opposite direction. He knew that his parents wouldn’t approve of what he’d just done. Especially his dad, who never approved of anything he did.
    His mother was always worried that others would take advantage of him and get him into trouble. It was true that they sometimes liked to play jokes on him-like committing some minor offense and then saying he did it, knowing he’d confess under pressure. Like the time at school when Raymond flushed firecrackers down the toilet, wrecking the pipes. Or when the police were called in to investigate when some other kids broke the front window of the Korean market on Anderson Avenue. Confronted, Felix had admitted he was the culprit in both instances even though he’d been nowhere near either scene.
    Felix didn’t know why he confessed to things he didn’t do. He was, his mom always said, “a people pleaser,” but more than that, he didn’t like it when people were angry with him, especially the people in charge, like his dad, teachers, and the police. He’d discovered at an early age that it was easier if he just went along and did and said what other people wanted him to. In the case of his dad, if Felix denied some transgression and waited for the old man to really get worked up, the beating was much more severe than if he confessed quickly and just got slapped around a little bit.
    Plus, as in the cases of the school prank and the Korean grocer, the authorities had quickly determined that he wasn’t involved. So other than a mild strapping with a belt from his dad “for lying,” which wasn’t out of the ordinary, nothing had ever come of his confessions.
    Felix reasoned now that he’d paid the owner for the ring and got a good deal, and that there was nothing wrong with that. Still, his parents would never believe that it was an honest transaction, so he was just going to have to keep it a secret.
    He wasn’t quite sure what he was going to do with the ring, but he was tired of everyone making fun of him because he’d never had a girlfriend. There was this one girl he liked. She worked as a waitress at the Hip-Hop Nightclub on West Thirty-eighth Street in Manhattan. Maria Elena. He was going there next week to perform for open mic night at the invitation of his friend Alejandro Garcia, who was a big-time rap artist.
    Maybe she’ll notice me, he thought happily as he stuffed the ring in his pants pocket and headed for his family’s apartment on Anderson Avenue.

3

    “Mr. Karp, that newspaper reporter Ariadne Stupenagel is here to see you. She says she has an appointment,” Karp’s receptionist, Darla Milquetost, said over the office intercom.
    “Tell her I’m not in,” Karp replied, loud enough that Stupenagel could hear him not only through the intercom but also through his open office door. He winked at his wife, Marlene Ciampi, who was visiting and waiting for her old friend Ariadne.
    Karp was kicked back in the leather office chair with his size-fourteen feet up on the ancient battle-scarred mahogany desk that had occupied the inner sanctum of the New York district attorney’s office since the days of his mentor, the legendary district attorney Francis X. Garrahy.
    He stood and stretched his still-trim, six-foot-five frame. It had been a week since the jury had come back with a guilty verdict in the murder trial of the Harlem imam Sharif Jabbar, and he was still enjoying the release of all the tension that came with such an undertaking.
    There was no gloating over the verdict. The way he saw it, the advantage was with the prosecution. As the chief prosecutor, he knew he would prevail if he did his preparation and was certain of the defendant’s factual guilt going into the trial, and if he had legally admissible evidence to convict beyond any and all doubt. Otherwise, the defendant never should have been charged in the first place, he thought.
    However, with Jabbar convicted, it was as if Karp had passed through the perfect storm. Now the sky was blue, the ocean a lake, and he was relaxed and starting to catch up on some of his administrative duties, as well as what was going on at the DAO while his focus had been fully occupied by the terror trial.
    The only thing rocking his boat at the moment was the impending court battle to make sure that Jabbar served his sentence of life without parole in New York and wasn’t whisked off by the feds into a witness protection program in exchange for information, thus escaping punishment. Even if he could keep Jabbar in a New York state prison for the rest of Jabbar’s life, Karp was still torn over whether the punishment fit the crime. He thought back to some of the discussions he’d had with several of the senior members of his staff over whether to pursue the death penalty for Jabbar.
    There was no doubt in Karp’s mind that Jabbar had deserved the death penalty-the victim had been cruelly tortured for hours before her execution, which had itself been painful, horrific, and slow. However, there’d been other considerations. One was that there was no evidence to prove that Jabbar knew about, or participated in, the victim’s torture-one of the aggravating factors necessary to warrant the death penalty. And two, witness testimony and the evidence clearly showed that the terrorist Nadya Malovo actually wielded the murder weapon; Jabbar had been more planner, facilitator, and cheerleader than executioner.
    This had not stopped Karp from prosecuting the anti-U.S. firebrand imam. For his role, Jabbar was just as guilty in the eyes of the law as Malovo. But when deciding whether to seek the death penalty, Karp had to weigh the possibility that jurors would make a distinction between Malovo and Jabbar.
    On the one hand, it wouldn’t make a difference; if they found Jabbar guilty but refused to vote for the ultimate punishment, Jabbar would automatically be sentenced to life without parole. However, in the past there had been death penalty cases in which jurors knew that a conviction might subject the defendant to an execution they didn’t believe the defendant deserved specifically because he or she wasn’t the “real killer.” Jurors finding themselves in this position sometimes balked at rendering a guilty verdict. And all it took was one holdout for a hung jury.
    Unwilling to take that chance in this case, Karp knew he had to be satisfied with the life-without-parole sentence… as long as it was served in New York. However, if he got the chance, Karp knew he would pursue the death penalty against Malovo, the always elusive, daring, and vicious assassin. She’d been apprehended in Manhattan by U.S. Marshal Jen Capers after murdering one of his star witnesses, Dean Newbury, near the end of the Jabbar trial. But for the moment, it looked like he wasn’t going to get the chance to prosecute her in a New York City courtroom. She was locked away in a federal maximum-security penitentiary awaiting trial on a variety of federal charges and he couldn’t get at her.
    The situation made him uneasy on a personal level, too. Malovo had a grudge against him and his family, and he’d be able to keep better tabs on her if she was locked up in New York.
    In the meantime, the Karp-Ciampi household was in a state of flux. His wife was casting about for “something fulfilling” to do as she contemplated the last of their children leaving the home in a couple of years. An attorney herself, she’d recently successfully represented “Dirty Warren,” the vendor operating the newsstand in front of the Criminal Courts Building at 10 °Centre Street. He had been charged with murder in Westchester County. Flush with victory, she was considering taking on the occasional case in which she felt an injustice was being perpetrated; however, she wouldn’t take on cases in Manhattan to avoid any perceived conflict of interest with her DA husband.
    Meanwhile, his daughter Lucy’s summer nuptials had been postponed-apparently indefinitely. The reason given when Lucy showed up suddenly in New York from her home in New Mexico was that her fiance, Ned Blanchett, had been called away on “business,” which was code for an assignment with the antiterrorism agency they both worked for. However, Karp had been told by his wife that Lucy was having second thoughts about getting married.
    On a brighter note, their twin sons, Isaac and Giancarlo, were at long last going to have their bar mitzvah, a rite of passage that had been interrupted and delayed by a seemingly constant stream of “mayhem,” as Marlene referred to it. Although a couple of years beyond the usual age for the ceremony, they were now aiming at late summer/early fall.
    The boys were currently working on a Jewish history report that the rabbi of the bar mitzvah class was requiring, as well as the traditional reading of the Torah. Karp was pleased that they’d decided to interview his friend Moishe Sobelman, a Midtown bakery owner, about his horrific experiences as a prisoner in the infamous Nazi death camp at Sobibor, Poland.
    Karp leaned forward and pressed the button on the intercom again, smiling as he did at Marlene, a petite beauty with dark curly hair who carried herself with a grace and charm that still enraptured her husband. “Send her in, I guess,” he groused good-naturedly. “And thank you, Darla.”
    “You’re welcome, Mr. Karp,” his receptionist said with a tone that indicated she would have rather told the visitor to take a hike.
    The door to the office opened and a tall, redheaded Valkyrie in a lime-green dress blew into the room like a force of nature. “Very funny, Karp,” Ariadne Stupenagel said, rolling her eyes at Marlene. “You really know how to make a girl feel welcome… Oh good, I see that your only redeeming feature-your wife-is here.” She crossed the room and embraced Marlene, giving her a kiss on each cheek that left a smudge of her trademark crimson lipstick.
    Marlene laughed. Loud, abrasive, and one tough investigative journalist, Stupenagel had been her roommate in college at Smith and they’d remained friends ever since. She reached for the reporter’s left hand, whistling at the diamond ring perched there. “That’s some rock,” she said. “You and Gilbert set a date yet?”
    Karp groaned loudly, drawing glares from the two women. Gilbert Murrow was Karp’s office manager. He kept his boss’s appointment calendar, tried to steer Karp away from political pitfalls, and handled most of the administrative duties so that his boss could concentrate on his office’s efforts to mete out justice to the guilty and ensure that the unjustly accused would be exonerated. Bookish, pear-shaped, balding, and four inches shorter than his fiancee, Murrow had surprisingly won the heart of Ariadne, who by her own estimation had amorous relations with the Fidel Castros of the world if it helped her get a story.
    The reporter held the ring up to be admired. “It is a beaut, isn’t it? The poor dear probably had to save for a year, considering the wages his miserly employer”-she gave Karp a sharp look-“pays him for all his hard work and loyal service. We are thinking a winter solstice wedding.”
    “Then there’s still time for Gilbert to recover his senses,” Karp said hopefully.
    “Watch it, buster, I know where you live,” Stupenagel answered, turning back to Marlene. “And don’t worry, honey, I also know lots of good-looking, eligible, and civil men, should some unfortunate accident befall your husband.”
    After a little more of the pointed but friendly verbal jousting that was the hallmark of the relationship between Karp and Stupenagel, the three sat down. A freelance writer at the moment, Stupenagel wanted to pen a feature story for the Gotham City weekly magazine, tentatively titled “New York’s Number One Crime-fighting Couple.” Karp had cringed at the concept, and only Stupenagel’s blatant appeal to his sense of fair play and Marlene’s intercession had convinced him to go through with it. He’d been a little surprised that Marlene had been willing to do the interview-she’d never been one to seek publicity-but he was sure that Stupenagel had twisted her arm using whatever means she had available.
    Of course, he’d set some boundaries. He wouldn’t discuss open investigations or current cases, except in the most general terms. Nor did he want her writing about his children except in passing.
    The interview lasted nearly three hours. They discussed several of his most recent cases, including that of a college professor who’d killed her children because she said God told her to, a famous theater producer who murdered an actress and tried to claim she committed suicide, and, of course, the case against the Harlem imam Sharif Jabbar. They also covered several terrorist plots that, despite being outside the realm of their “official duties,” Karp and Marlene, as well as other members of their family and friends, had a hand in thwarting.
    Finally, Stupenagel appeared to reach the end of her questioning by asking Marlene about the case of Dirty Warren and her possible new career as a crusading defense attorney/private investigator. After Marlene answered the questions, Karp pointedly looked at his watch. “Anything else?” he asked.
    Stupenagel smiled. “Well, since I’ve got you here, I am working on another story about unsolved murders in the greater New York area,” she said.
    “This sounds like a story more for the police than the DAO, but go ahead,” Karp said.
    “Oh, I’ll be talking to the cops, too,” Stupenagel replied. “But I’d like your opinion as the chief law enforcement official in Manhattan. To start, I think there’s something like ten thousand unsolved murders in New York City going back to 1985, and roughly two hundred more go cold every year. In fact, at a rate of six hundred or so murders a year, almost a third of them will go unsolved.”
    “I’m aware of the statistics,” Karp replied. “More than half of all homicides committed are solved within a year; after that, the chances diminish. Still, with an overall clearance rate of about seventy percent, which last time I looked at statistics compiled by the FBI beats the national average by eight percentage points, New York’s finest are to be commended.”
    “Yes, but many of the unsolved cases are the unusual ones,” Stupenagel said. “And by that I mean most of the time the killer and the victim share the same background, come from the same neighborhood, and are even the same race and approximately the same age. Black gangbangers shooting other black gangbangers. Not only do the killers have criminal records, their victims usually do as well. More often than not, the killer and victim knew each other; only about a quarter of all homicides are between strangers. And of those, most are the result of a dispute-somebody gets pissed off when someone cuts him off in traffic, pulls a gun, and shoots. Granted, stranger-to-stranger homicides have nearly doubled from what they were fifty years ago, but still, if you’re not involved in criminal activities, your chances of being killed by a stranger in New York City are small.”
    “You’re well versed in the statistics,” Karp said. He realized that the long preamble was leading to something, putting him on his guard. “So what’s your point?”
    “I’m thinking more about the sort of unsolved cases that don’t fit the statistical pattern,” Stupenagel said. “Those are the ones that the public remembers.”
    “Are you talking about any case in particular?” Karp asked, knowing that she was going there.
    “Well, yeah,” Stupenagel admitted. “I’m thinking about the Yancy-Jenkins double homicide-the so-called Columbia University Slasher case-from last July. Somehow a killer got into the apartment of Olivia Yancy, killed and raped her, and also killed her mother, Beth Jenkins.”
    “I’m well aware of the case,” Karp replied warily. “However, this is one of those ongoing investigations that are off-limits in this conversation.”
    “Is it true your office has an ADA assigned to the case? One Raymond ‘Formerly Known as the Italian Stallion’ Guma?”
    “Couldn’t tell ya,” Karp replied. “And why ‘formerly’? He’d resent that.”
    “Couldn’t or won’t?” Stupenagel shot back. “And ‘formerly’ because that bout with cancer a few years back turned him into a gelding from what I hear.”
    Karp rolled his eyes and said, “That’s out of bounds, even for you, Stupe. I thought you and Guma were old friends.”
    “Hey, Guma dishes it out as much as he takes it,” Stupenagel said. “He as much as told Gilbert that he boinked me back when we were both young and dumb. Now he’s just old and dumb, and he’s messing with my love life, so if I want to spread rumors about him, I will.”
    Karp shook his head and said, “Let’s stick to the subject. As I said, the Yancy-Jenkins homicides are part of an ongoing investigation, and I’m not answering those questions. What else you got?”
    “Are you familiar with the Dolores Atkins murder in the Bronx about a week ago?” Stupenagel said, and then shrugged.
    “Only what I read in the newspaper, why?” Karp asked.
    “Because the killer was another slasher/rapist, which I know are a dime a dozen in these parts. But just like in the Yancy-Jenkins killings, this guy also struck in broad daylight, and it appears that Atkins had just returned from grocery shopping, like Yancy. And the killer didn’t just cut her up and rape her; he tortured her and then took the time to clean himself up before leaving.”
    “So, Ariadne,” Marlene said, interrupting, “what’s your angle here?”
    “Well, I’ve been doing some digging and I think whoever killed Olivia Yancy and Beth Jenkins also killed Dolores Atkins,” Stupenagel said. “I think he already escalated, and I don’t think he’s going to stop.”
    “What makes you say that?” Karp asked.
    “Like I said, I’ve been doing some digging into a series of violent rapes-mostly in Manhattan, but some also in the Bronx and Brooklyn. Same description of the perp: slightly built, dark hair, brown eyes… maybe Hispanic… talks with an accent. Talks his way into the apartment by offering to help the women with their grocery bags or, in the case of a couple of students, their books. Pulls a knife and rapes them.”
    “You said he escalated,” Marlene said.
    “Yeah. If it’s the same guy, and I think it is, the first couple of times he mostly threatened. Then he started hitting and kicking. Finally, there’s a case where he actually cut the victim’s neck-not seriously, but enough to draw blood. And according to the police accounts taken from the victims, he seems to get aroused by the violence.”
    “You believe that he’s now gone from rapist to cold-blooded murderer,” Karp said.
    “I do,” Stupenagel said. “It’s my understanding that the Atkins crime scene was even worse than Yancy-Jenkins, which I heard was pretty gruesome.”
    “Couldn’t tell you,” Karp replied. “And wouldn’t.”
    Stupenagel laughed. “Of course not. But whatever makes this guy tick, it’s getting worse, and he will do it again unless he’s stopped.”
    “Then let’s hope he gets stopped,” Karp said.
    Stupenagel looked at him for a moment, then shook her head and closed her notebook. “Yes, let’s,” she said, standing to let herself out. “Well, if anything turns up…”
    “You’ll be the first to know,” Karp said, finishing her sentence.
    The reporter smirked. “Yeah, I’m sure you have my number on speed dial,” she said, and turned to Marlene, who also stood. “At least it was a pleasure to see you, my dear.”
    “As always,” Marlene replied, giving her friend a hug.
    When Stupenagel left the room, Marlene turned to her husband. “You have to admit, she may be on to something there. Violent sex offenders do tend to escalate. Do you think NYPD has made the connection?”
    Karp shrugged and pressed the button on the office intercom. “Darla, would you see if you can track down Ray Guma and ask him to come to my office please?”
    Marlene smiled. “So maybe Ariadne Stupenagel isn’t as bad as you make her out?”
    Karp grinned back. “She’s a reporter; she’s still the enemy.”

4

    “Mierda! Who in the hell took my last goddamn beer!”
    Even shut up in his tiny bedroom with the door closed, Felix Acevedo cringed as if he’d been struck by the sound of his father’s fury coming from the kitchen of the family’s tiny apartment. He’d been happily dressing for the night’s outing to the Hip-Hop Nightclub, trying to decide which hooded sweatshirt and baggy jeans looked best. He squinted at himself in the mirror and practiced the rap songs he planned to perform. But now he flinched as his father yelled again.
    “Felix! Get your skinny culo out here, goddamn it, or I swear to God, I’ll-”
    The man’s swearing stopped for a moment as a woman tried to calm him. She spoke soothingly but her voice was obviously tinged with fear. For good reason. She’d hardly said five words when there was the unmistakable sound of a slap followed by a cry of pain.
    Felix clenched his fists in anger and for a moment imagined storming out of his bedroom to the kitchen and beating his father, Eduardo, unconscious, as he’d seen the old man do to his mother on more than one occasion. He hated Eduardo-he was a mean drunk who hadn’t worked a steady job in years but drank and gambled all day, sometimes all night, before eventually coming home. If Felix and his mother were lucky, Eduardo would then continue drinking until he passed out. However, if they crossed him, or if he simply felt like it, he’d take out his anger on them with his fists and feet, and sometimes a leather belt.
    Eduardo Acevedo had brought his family to New York from Puerto Rico when Felix was a young boy, but his sloth and drinking prevented him from ever realizing the American dream, and his wife and son paid the price. Felix’s mom, Amelia, was the sole support for the family. She worked nights cleaning offices in Manhattan. She left each evening after fixing her husband and son dinner and then didn’t return until early the next morning.
    “Felix, I’m gonna count to three and if you’re not…”
    It was no use. Felix relaxed his fists and felt his shoulders sag in defeat. He did not have the courage to confront his father, much less attack him. He’d just have to take his medicine for whatever he had, or more likely had not, done.
    “I’m coming,” he shouted. He put his glasses back on and gave himself one last look in the mirror, contemplating the piles of secondhand clothes he’d left on the floor of his messy room, wondering if there was a better combination than what he was wearing. But another bellow from his father reminded him that the longer he took to respond the worse it was going to be.
    As he approached the doorway leading into the kitchen, he considered bolting out the front door. If it wasn’t for the fact that his mother would then have to take whatever punishment his father thought necessary, he might have fled. He certainly had no idea what his father was screaming about regarding beer. Neither Felix nor his mother drank alcohol, having witnessed its effect on the other member of the household for so many years. If the beer was gone, it was because the bastard drank it, but the truth wouldn’t matter to him now.
    Felix shuffled into the kitchen with his head down so that he wouldn’t have to look into the angry, bloodshot eyes of his father. But as if against his will, he eventually glanced up.
    Dressed in a dingy wife-beater undershirt with yellow stains beneath the armpits, Eduardo stood glaring at him from the open refrigerator. His hairy arms were covered with faded green-black tattoos from two stints in Rikers Island prison. His mother, a tiny woman with a strawberry-shaped birthmark on her right cheek, sat mutely in a chair at the small kitchen table, using a tissue to dab at the blood that trickled from her mouth.
    Eduardo caught Felix glancing at his mother and the look of sorrow that passed between them. He pointed at his wife as he snarled at his son, “See what you made me do, you little hijo de puta?!”
    Felix nodded his head. “Yes, sir. I… I… I’m sorry.”
    “Sorry? Sorry don’t cut it. Where’s my fucking beer, pendejo!”
    The words slammed into Felix like fists. His father rarely spoke unless it was to yell with the occasional Spanish curse word tossed in. “I don’t know,” he said, lowering his eyes again. “I didn’t take it.”
    “Liar!” Eduardo screamed, slamming the door and moving toward Felix with his fist raised. “There was one more in the fridge when I left for work this morning! You took it, fucking thief!”
    By “work” Eduardo meant gambling and boozing, but Felix wasn’t about to throw gasoline on the fire. “Okay, okay,” he cried. “I took it. I… I… I’ll go buy you-”
    The attempt to mollify his father was cut off by the backhand blow across his face that knocked his glasses off. “I’ll teach you to steal my beer!” Eduardo started to remove his belt.
    Amelia Acevedo jumped up from her seat and darted behind her husband to look in the refrigerator. “Look, Eddie, there is another beer, it was behind the carton of milk,” she said, holding up a forty-ounce bottle of cheap malt liquor.
    Eduardo looked at her suspiciously. Then he nodded as if he’d just realized some great truth. “Puta!” he spat. “You bitch! You hid it on purpose! What? You got some asshole over here doing you all day while I’m at work? You giving him my beer?” He raised his hand again and started for the cowering woman.
    “No! It was me, I hid it,” Felix said. Without his glasses his dad’s face was fuzzy, but he knew it would be a mask of rage. “I was going to the park, and I wanted to bring some beer so that the other guys would think I’m cool.”
    Eduardo stopped and looked back and forth from his wife to his son as if he couldn’t figure out which one to hit first. With a snort of disgust, he reached out and grabbed the bottle from his wife. “You owe me a six-pack for trying to steal my beer,” he snarled at Felix, though he stopped shouting. He then turned to his wife. “This ain’t gonna last, bitch.”
    “I was just going to the store,” Felix’s mother responded with a look at her son that signaled it was time for them both to leave. “I’ll be back in twenty minutes.”
    “Make it ten if you know what’s good for you.”
    As quick as they could, Felix and his mother left the apartment and were soon standing on the sidewalk in front of the run-down tenement building. “You… you… you should leave him,” Felix stammered.
    His mother didn’t raise her head. “Where would I go? This is my home.”
    “Home?” Felix cried. “A home for rats and cockroaches, you mean-at least until winter, when even they won’t stay because we can’t pay for heat. You could live better if he wasn’t around to drink and gamble all your money away.”
    “He’d find me, and when he did…” Her voice trailed off but they both knew what she was going to say.
    Felix flushed with anger. “Someday I’m going to be a famous rapper, and I’ll buy you a nice house. And if he comes around, I’ll get the dogs on him.”
    Amelia looked up at her son and smiled through her tears. She reached out and patted his cheek where a bruise was already beginning to show from the blow his father had given him. “You’re a good son, Felix. Now, you be safe tonight and stay away from people who can get you into trouble.”
    Felix thought about the ring that was making a lump in his wallet. He’d filed the name Al off but left the “Always.” He wondered what his mother would say about his dreams of someday giving it to Maria Elena, the pretty girl with beautiful dark eyes he hoped to talk to that night. “I’ll be safe,” he promised. “I’m just going to see my friend Alejandro.”
    Amelia looked worried. “Wasn’t he in a gang?”
    “The Inca Boyz over in East Harlem,” Felix admitted. “But that was a long time ago, Mama. He doesn’t do gang stuff anymore. He’s a famous rapper now, and he’s my friend.”
    “Well, he better take good care of my son or he will have me to deal with,” Ameli