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Chapter 5: A Whole New Level

“I’m guessing this is your doing,” Lt. Graham spoke while looking at Cassidy.

Cassidy and Alan had just arrived at their workstations when they were intercepted by Lt. Graham. His expression was stern. He crossed his arms in front of his chest when he came to a stop.

“You knew they were going to pull us off the case,” Cassidy stated with a sudden look of comprehension.

Lt. Graham looked to Alan for confirmation of his suspicion that Cassidy pushed back in the Mayor’s Office. Alan threw his hands halfway up in the air in response to the Lieutenants stern look.

“I was happy to let them have it,” Alan blurted out defensively.

“It’s our case,” Cassidy asserted with a defiant expression.

“This case is a whole lot of wasted time,” Lt. Graham countered. “It’s seven months cold and chances are those nine bodies didn’t know their killer.”

“I’m betting that they have something in common, and whatever that is it’s going to lead us to the killer,” Cassidy defended.

After blowing out a puff of air to calm himself, Lt. Graham spoke in a more conciliatory tone.

“Cassidy, I know you want to be a good detective, a great detective, but sometimes doing what is right for the job means passing the work on to more qualified people. We’re a team. We’re an army. We work together. We’re all doing the same job. Can you understand that?”

“Yes, Lieutenant, I understand,” Cassidy returned softly and with a nod. “And when I see someone more qualified, I will pass it on.”

Lt. Graham took a moment to give Cassidy a look of annoyance before advising her of adjustments he made to accommodate her investigation.

“Okay, for now this is your only case. I’ve attached the badges of two teams of detectives to all your other active case files. They will work those. Your inactive case files are unchanged, but that doesn’t mean you can revisit them. You’re off the on-call rotation schedule for the duration of this investigation and you have access to comp-time at your discretion, but only for the duration of this investigation and only for the purpose of this investigation. This is your only case until you make an arrest or I pull you off. I want two verbal reports a day on where you’re at with this case, midday and end of day. Call it in if you have to. And know this, the instant you hit a dead end I’m suspending the investigation. I’ve got better uses for your time other than chasing a cold case with no leads.”

Lt. Graham turned about immediately after this speech and set off for his office. Alan visibly relaxed behind his departure before taking his seat behind his desk. Cassidy’s disposition transitioned in the opposite direction. She knew that the mayor would not be impressed if this active case file was reflagged as inactive, and she had her suspicions that someone higher up was pressuring Lt. Graham to do just that.

This thinking that another person was telling her what she could not do made Cassidy all the more determined. Cassidy took a moment to ponder the situation with a growing sensation of anger. She was several seconds into this when she blurted out her supposition on what was happening.

“You know he’s going to tag this investigation as a cold case file.”

“Just as soon as he can,” Alan agreed as he logged into his computer.

“And when that happens, 1PP (One Police Plaza) is going to assign it to some nerds who are going to waste time trying to climb into the killer’s head.”

“Better them than me,” Alan returned impassively.

“We can do this,” Cassidy mildly asserted with a quick look toward Alan. “Stop being so negative.”

Alan gave no notice to the rebuke as he scanned through his list of intranet messages. His attention latched onto one in particular, and a second behind Cassidy’s address he opened it.

“We’ve got names,” Alan announced with an inflection of alarm.

Cassidy quickly sat up in her chair, logged into her computer and opened the E-mail from ‘J. McCullough, M.E.’ with a single-minded effort. The message inside was brief.

“All identifications verified thru dental records and crossed matched to missing person case files.”

Each name had attached links to their missing person case file in either a local or state law enforcement databases. Cassidy first took note of the fact that none of the victims had lived in Staten Island, but all lived in the vicinity. Only three of them lived in one of New York City’s five Burroughs and they were Angela Lindstrom of Queens, Zachary Bowman of Brooklyn and Linda Vaughn of Manhattan. The remaining six were Eric Hayward of Nassau County, Jacqueline Kim and Heather Kaplan of Westchester County, Amy Reyes of Suffolk County, and Diane Ressler and Luis Moreno of Hudson County New Jersey.

After taking an overall note of where each of the remains had lived when they were alive Cassidy commenced a one at a time analysis of each person. Their pictures and information were saved inside the case file that she had started for this investigation. When this was completed, an hour later, she and Alan started making calls to the detectives that worked these missing person cases. They advised the detectives that the missing person they were looking for was found. They provided information about where he or she was found and the condition of the body. They inquired about their missing person investigation and what they had learned about the individuals, and they requested copies of the case files. In the end, Cassidy and Alan got assurances that the detectives they spoke to would notify the next of kin.

When Cassidy and Alan finished talking with the detectives who created the case files for these missing persons, they began a study of the telephone calls made by the victims over the month prior to their disappearance. This information was collected from the telephone companies by the detectives that initially investigated their disappearance. What they hoped to find was something that the first detectives did not know to look for, calls made to each other or to a common number. Cassidy and Alan were looking for some commonality between these individuals. Even though they were all buried in the same location, this search was soon driven by the fact that they all exhibited the same traits prior to their disappearance. They became distant and secretive with their closes friends and family members. This struck Cassidy and Alan as suspicious behavior. This was all the more intriguing to them when they factored in the fact that they all shared the same pastime. They enjoyed going out to the clubs on their weekends. This was doubly intriguing when they added in that they all went missing over a weekend.

“Okay, these people didn’t know each other and we haven’t found a common contact between them,” Alan complained after four hours of phone calls and study. “Clearly, they all came into contact with the same person, but he’s no acquaintance. He’s a stranger.”

“These weren’t forcible abductions,” Cassidy disputed. “They were lured away. This isn’t the work of a perp in an alley with a mask.”

“I’m not reading that,” Alan countered. “These nine people don’t appear to have anything in common other than club hopping. Plus, the perp is clearly indifferent to the sex of the vic. I think we could be looking at robbery murders.”

“No, you’re missing it,” Cassidy challenged. “The secretive behavior the weeks before their disappearance. They’re all single. They all live alone, and look at them. You saw the pictures… They’re all pretty.”

“You think they were killed because they were pretty?” Alan questioned with an inflection of disbelief.”

“That can’t be a coincidence. Some person or persons entered into their lives. I think they were targeted because they were attractive, and for a reason that I can’t explain yet they were killed.”

“I don’t know,” Alan halfheartedly disputed. “It fits, but that would take weird to a whole new level.”

“If I’m right about this,” Cassidy reinforced, “then there has to be a footprint somewhere. We just have to keep looking for it.”

“My money is still on robbery murder,” Alan returned with a yawn. “But let’s do this tomorrow.”

Cassidy could hear the exhaustion in Alan’s voice. She also knew that it was late in the afternoon and that she needed to get home to her kids. Despite these factors, it was her desire to keep searching. She knew that there had to be a commonality between the victims other than the person that killed them. The similarity in their habits, days and weeks before their disappearances, told her that whatever happened to these people happened over time.

“Okay,” Cassidy conceded with an intonation of reluctance. “We can call it an afternoon.”

“I’ll talk to the lieutenant,” Alan instructed after shutting down his computer.

Cassidy agreed to this and mused over the case file in front of her as Alan walked off toward the lieutenant’s office. A few seconds later Cassidy closed the file and noted that she had an E-mail from the Office of the Medical Examiner. The name of the person sending it, M. Harris, was unfamiliar to her, but there was nothing unusual about that. She suspected it was a clerical worker. The fact that it was coming from the Medical Examiner’s office gave it extra interest. She opened it a second after seeing it within a list of E-mails. Inside the E-mail she found a brief message and an attachment. The message read:

‘My instructions are to send this to you.’

Cassidy opened the attachment and found a file written in a language that she could neither read nor identify. Suddenly she was confused. She could think of no reason why anyone would send her a file written in a foreign language. She began perusing through it in the hope that she would find something written in English. A few seconds into this she found something that transcended language. The file contained more than two dozen pictures of bite marks that were similar to the ones found in the skeletal remains of her missing persons. Included within these were several pictures of the interior of a cave and dozens of desiccated corpses.

Over the next five minutes Cassidy was on the phone with the Medical Examiner Office. Michael Harris; a member of the administrative staff, advised her that Dr. McCullough left for home two hours earlier and that he was under orders to send to her and Alan any E-mails that came in pertaining to this investigation. He advised her that the NCIC sent the file and that he had no idea where it originated from. Cassidy, in turn, barked out instructions to the young staffer.

“Get back to whoever sent this file and see if they have an English version of it, and if not find someone to translate it. This is useless to me in Romanian.”

Cassidy had just hung up from this call when Alan returned and took notice of her continued interest in data on her computer monitor.

“Come on, you’re not going to figure it out in one day,” Alan admonished.

“The M.E. Office just sent us a file,” Cassidy quickly returned. “Those bite marks on our missing persons, they found more remains with those same bite marks.”

Alan took a position behind Cassidy and looked at the pictures from over her shoulder.

“Where is this at?” Alan queried after a moment of study.

“Romania, I think,” Cassidy answered with a shrug. “That’s the language the file is written in.”

“Romania,” Alan returned with an expression of shock. “I think we’re going too far afield here.”

“I need to know what made these marks,” Cassidy insisted with a shake of her head.

“Why?” Alan challenged with a look of confusion. “It’s probably just some critter that was gnawing on their remains.”

“That’s just it, it can’t be. They were alive when this happened.”

“You know what I’m thinking,” Alan pondered out. “I think these Romanian bites and our missing person’s indentations are two different things. There are hundreds of marks on these bones and most of them look nothing like what we found on our remains.”

Cassidy was quick to object to this idea with a shake of her head. When Alan finished speaking she promptly vocalized her counterpoint.

“Yeah, but some of them are a match.”

“What are you thinking, Detective?” Alan questioned with a suspicious look toward his junior partner.

“Maybe the marks are the result of some kind of ritual,” Cassidy suggested with an inflection of reluctance.

Alan was tempted to laugh at this idea, but he kept this urge contained with some effort.

“A Romanian ritual killing?”

“Okay, it’s a long shot,” Cassidy acknowledged with an instant behind. “But there’s something off about these indentations. I just know it.”

Alan knew when his partner had the bit between her teeth. He knew Cassidy was going to research these Romanian bite marks, but she was not going to do it this evening. Subsequently, he elected to put an end to the discussion.

“Go home, Cassidy,” worry about it tomorrow.”

Cassidy came in for work Friday morning half an hour early. She was eager to get back into the investigation now that her nine human remains had names. This meant that they had backgrounds, acquaintances, family members and activities that she could examine. The Romanian file was not high on her list of things to look into. She was still suspicious about the similarity between the markings in the Romanian photographs and the indentations on the bones of five of the nine human remains that they found, but her thinking was that this similarity might tell them how the nine was killed. She very much doubted that there was a direct connection.

When she arrived this morning, there was no translated version of the Romanian file waiting and she gave no attention to its absence. In its stead, she began mapping the spending habits of the nine, especially over the six months that lead up to their disappearances. These records were in their missing person case files as well. The hope, once again, was to find some commonality between the nine that went beyond their propensity for attending nightclubs. Alan arrived for work at his scheduled time and joined the search. To better facilitate this effort, they secured an interview room to work in. Inside they setup a large magnetic display board and put a map of New York City on top of that. Then they used small multicolored magnets to highlight all the clubs that the nine patronized during the six months before their disappearances. This did not give them the name of a club that all nine attended, but it did give them an area of New York that they all favored.

“Okay, Midtown and Lower Manhattan looks to be the popular stomping ground for our nine,” Alan proclaimed after the last magnet was placed. “But we’re still looking at a couple of dozen nightclubs and no one nightclub that they all went to. So where do we go from here?”

Cassidy gave the question a moment of thought before coming to an answer.

“I think we should start with Lauren Proctor.”

Alan suspected that this person was a close acquaintance of one of the nine bodies they found, but he had no memory of the name or the victim it was connected to.

“Angela Lindstrom,” Cassidy spoke out in reaction to Alan’s look of confusion. “She was the last victim. Lauren Proctor is listed as a close friend and the last acquaintance to see her alive.”

“And what are we looking for that’s not already in the missing person case file?”

“Nightclubs,” Cassidy answered with a word. “I think we should see if she can add a nightclub to Angela’s list that’s not reflected on her credit card statements.”

Alan thought about this for a second and then gave the idea a shrug of approval while verbally responding with an “okay.”

Alan did not think that there was much of a chance that this would pan out as Cassidy hoped, but he knew there was nothing better to do. Questioning family, friends and neighbors again made sense now knowing they had multiple victims of the same criminal. This meant that they could cross check the answers of the family, friends and neighbors of all the victims. It was shortly past ten in the morning when they left the precinct and set off for Manhattan.

“Angela was different in the last few weeks before her disappearance,” Lauren Proctor reported with a look of dismay. “I didn’t know what was going on in her personal life anymore. She became closed off, but it was only about what she was doing when she wasn’t at work.”

Lauren Proctor was a Nurse Practitioner at Bellevue Hospital. She was young and attractive. Cassidy and Alan pulled her off work for a five-minute question and answer session, per their promise. This was the same hospital where Angela Lindstrom had worked as a Mental Health Nurse Practitioner.

“You told the detectives who investigated her disappearance that the two of you would go out to clubs together,” Cassidy spoke with a question look. “Is that true?”

Cassidy had already advised Lauren that Angela was dead and that her body was one of the nine that was found in the Greenbelt. She also told her that she and Alan were investigating her death. For Lauren, this information made sense of this re-questioning so long after Angela’s disappearance.

“That was before the change,” Lauren clarified. “After the change, I would call and ask if she wanted to go out, and the answer would always be no. I’ve got other plans, she would say. When I asked what those plans were, she would tell me that it’s something that she couldn’t talk about.”

“Something that she couldn’t talk about,” Alan repeated in a questioning intonation.

“Yeah, that was always her answer,” Lauren confirmed with a nod.

“Was it customary for the both of you to go to clubs in Midtown and Lower Manhattan?” Cassidy gently queried.

“Yeah, that was our usual destination,” Lauren confirmed.

“Were there any other areas?” Cassidy question with a look of ponder.

“Sometimes, but not often. Once we heard about a new club in Upper Manhattan and we went there, but only once.”

“We have a list of clubs that Angela patronized during the six months before her disappearance,” Cassidy explained as she activated her tablet and retrieved her stylus. “The highlighted clubs are the ones that appeared on her last six credit card statements. It will help us if you can indicate any other clubs in this list that she has gone to or might go to.”

Lauren took the tablet and stylus and scanned through the list. With a touch of the stylus she put two X’s in the ‘yes’ column and seven in the ‘maybe’ column. When she was done, she handed the tablet and stylus back to Cassidy.

“Thank you,” Cassidy acknowledged with a slight smile and a nod.

Per their promise, Cassidy and Alan allowed Lauren to go back to her work after about five minutes of questioning. They then repeated this process with Derrick Cook, a close friend of Zachary Bowman; and Eunice Sloane, a close friend of Linda Vaughn. The three of them were sought out first because of their proximity to each other. They then widen their area of travel so that they could speak with at least one close acquaintance of all nine of the Greenbelt victims. Each session was no more than ten minutes long, and the same questions were asked each time. It was just past six in the evening when Cassidy and Alan began to steer their car back toward the precinct. An acquaintance of all nine victims was found and queried. Cassidy allowed Alan to do the driving back to the precinct so that she could study the results of their queries. It was her hope that she would find one club that they all had in common, but this was not the case.

“They’re all over the map,” Cassidy mused as she continued to study her tablet. “But Midtown and Lower Manhattan continues to be the areas that they all have in common.”

“It has to be someone on the street,” Alan insisted with a soft delivery.

“Maybe,” Cassidy agreed reluctantly.

Despite this admission, Cassidy continued to study the map on her tablet that highlighted all of the information that they had collected. After a time, she began to take interest in something that looked unusual to her.

“This is interesting,” Cassidy mumbled out to herself.

“What’s interesting?” Alan questioned back.

Cassidy took a second to note that she had piqued Alan’s interest and then she responded to his query.

“There’s an area of Midtown, about half a mile square, that has a dense collection of nightclubs.”

“So, what about it,” Alan challenged for more.

“Well it’s just that every club in this vicinity was picked as a club that one of the victims might go to except for this one, The Cavern.”

An amused smile spread across Alan’s face in response to this report. A second behind this reaction he put his amusement into words.

“It doesn’t sound like business is booming.”

“I suppose,” Cassidy agreed with a whisper.

It was at this time that Cassidy’s cellphone began to ring. She quickly took it out of her pocket, noted that the caller was Janice McCullough and answered the call with a “hi, Dr. McCullough.”

“Hi, Detective Tremaine,” Janice responded to her greeting.

“Janice,” Cassidy spoke with surprise in her voice. “What are you doing in the office so late.”

“I’ve been waiting for the translation of that file that came in yesterday,” Janice explained. “I’m sorry, I wasn’t in the building when it came in from the NCIC. These are some really interesting pictures,” Janice finished with some enthusiasm.

“Yeah,” Cassidy concurred with a lack of excitement. “What can you tell me about them.”

“Well, some of the markings in those pictures are a near perfect match for the indentations on our nine human remains,” Janice advised with a tame delivery. “But there is a big difference between these indentations and ours. I can say without a doubt that the indentations in the Romanian photos were made by teeth. You can see where the teeth of the mandibles bit in all the way down to the bone. These are savage bites. You can see impressions where the incisors bit into the bone. It’s all there. The indentations in those pictures are teeth marks. The indentations on the bodies we have here are barely more than scratches.”

“So, our marking and theirs are from two different causes,” Cassidy clarified out loud.

“I can’t say that for sure,” Janice answered back. “But if there is a connection than you’re definitely looking for some kind of animal, and it’s probably just one and likely a less voracious version of whatever made those indentations in Romania.”

“But it’s still not a snake,” Cassidy queried for confirmation.

“Snakes don’t have incisors,” Janice corrected.

Cassidy took a moment to ponder this. Alan noted the confused look and the ruffled brow of concentration and spoke to it.

“What’s wrong?”

Cassidy gave Alan a quick look, shook her head and responded with an, “I don’t know.” She then turned her attention back to Janice.

“What can you tell me about the file?”

“I sent a translated version of it to you via E-mail, but the interesting thing is that the file is from a fifty-year-old Romanian police investigation.”

Cassidy took a moment to assimilate this before asking the question that came to mind.

“What were they investigating?”

“The murder of four men,” Janice returned with an inflection of shock. “That was their remains in the picture.”

“Murder?” Cassidy rifled back at her. “They thought a person did this?”

“Eventually they concluded that they were killed by an unknown animal. The odd thing about this,” Janice began, stopped and then restarted. “I mean the really odd thing is that they convicted a Grigore Stefanescu of these murders. He was the only survivor of this attack that he claimed was responsible for the death of the four other men. When they found these remains three years later the conviction was overturned.”

“What was the grounds for overturning the conviction?” Cassidy asked with a confused expression.

“He couldn’t have done it,” Janice blurted out. “The bodies were too far away. They say he couldn’t have killed the four men, carried all four of their bodies more than ten miles into the forest, go back ten miles, call the police and be there when they arrived twenty minutes later.”

Once again Cassidy was momentarily mesmerized by what she heard. After a few seconds of thought Cassidy was awakened by Janice’s summon, “You still there, Detective?”

“Yeah, I’m here. Tell me, did this Grigore person have a description of the animal that killed these men?”

“Grigore Stefanescu,” Janice advised. “And he says it wasn’t an animal.”

“So, he saw them die,” Cassidy spoke back with a questioning inflection.

“He says he did,” Janice responded with excitement in his voice. “Are you ready for this?”

“What did he say?” Cassidy requested in a tenor that was just short of being a demand.

“Strigoi,” Janice responded in a word.

“What’s a Strigoi?” Cassidy questioned inquisitively.

“Vampire,” Alan answered.

“A vampire, really,” Cassidy repeated into the phone.

“Actually, Strigoi is a kind of catch all word for the undead, ghosts… magical beings,” Janice explained through the phone. “The description that Mr. Stefanescu gave the authorities there reads like some kind of gargoyle with fangs and claws.”

“Great, I’m looking for a gargoyle now,” Cassidy declared with exasperation in her tone.

Alan began to laugh after hearing this. Janice found no humor in this report from Stefanescu and promptly began to explain to Cassidy why she should not.

“He clearly saw something. Those men were eaten by something with fangs, and the fact that their remains were found in close proximity to each other suggests that these four men were killed at the same time and by the same thing.”

“Maybe he didn’t see anything,” Cassidy disputed. “Maybe he made it all up.”

“No,” Janice contradicted excitedly. “In the report, it says that there was a large amount of blood found at the worksite where they were. They were killed there and whoever or whatever killed them, it carried their bodies off and deposited all four of them in a ravine.”

“So, are you telling me we should start looking for gargoyles?” Cassidy questioned with an inflection of disbelief.

“No,” Janice responded without hesitation. “I’m still betting that some kind of instrument made those indentations.”

“But you don’t know what that might be,” Cassidy questioned.

“I’m still looking,” Janice answered.

“Okay, I hope you find it.”

Cassidy disconnected the call behind that statement.

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