Chapter 6: The Cavern
Cassidy started her Saturday as she usually did when it was a day off from work. She attended to home and children with little thought for anything else. This was a well-practiced execution. She cared for her children’s hygiene and health, along with the disposition of the house, in a methodical order. This effort was greatly simplified when James came over at half past ten and took Cynthia and John out for a play date and lunch. For the next three hours, she gave the house her undivided attention. It was shortly before two in the afternoon when a visit from Andrea Dixon gave her reason to relax.
Andrea was a uniformed patrol officer who came through the academy with Cassidy. Their friendship began there. She was a reluctant bridesmaid at Cassidy’s wedding. She would have preferred to have been the other bride. This difference in their sexual orientation notwithstanding, the two of them maintained their bond of friendship.
“So, how’s this big case going?” Andrea asked with only a casual interest.
“I’m not sure,” Cassidy reported as she poured them both a glass of wine. “The more I learn the more twisted it seems to get.”
“One of those,” Andrea countered. “More questions than answers.”
“I think this is different,” Cassidy disputed halfheartedly.
Cassidy understood that Andrea was speaking of mystery cases where one or more elements of the crime are too enigmatic for anyone to understand. These were rare cases that became noteworthy because they continually defied explanation. If they did get solved it often occurred because a new piece of evidence added something to the investigation that started a chain reaction of explanations. These puzzle box cases were well known happenstances within the law enforcement community.
“Different how?” Andrea questioned with more curiosity than before.
Cassidy knew that she lacked the experience to say that the case she was working on was unique, but her instinct insisted that it was. She believed she would have heard of other cases that had any similarity to this one. After all, cataloging crimes and criminals had been a pastime of hers since her mid-teens.
“This doesn’t feel like some sloppy series of events that defies explaining,” Cassidy returned with a ponderous look. “I get the feeling that if I can just understand what happened then everything else will fall into place.”
James, Cynthia and John came through the front door of the house while Cassidy was making this diagnosis. The children gave note to their mother with a quick “hi” as they raced past the living-room entryway and up the stairs leading to the second level. This was not an unexpected act. The amusements in their bedrooms often superseded the social activities of the person they most took for granted, mom. James had no such indifference. Now that they were divorced he almost always took an interest in Cassidy’s life, and often to her annoyance. He walked into the house just in time to hear Andrea began to give a response to Cassidy’s analysis.
“Be careful, it sounds like you might be getting lost in this case.”
“Too late for that,” James asserted as he stepped through the entryway to the living-room. “Getting lost in her job is Cassidy’s reason for living.”
“How long has it been since the kids ate?” Cassidy questioned her ex with an intonation of irritation.
“Less than an hour,” James answered with a mildly derisive delivery. “I took them Perkins.”
Cassidy had no verbal response for this because she had no reason to complain. In place of speaking back she chose to ignore his report and wait for him to take the hint.
“You do know that you’re just wasting your time with that Greenbelt investigation,” James added as he commenced to move toward the front door.
“So, everyone keeps telling me,” Cassidy spoke back with exasperation.
“Maybe you should listen,” James stopped to say.
“Good-bye, James,” Cassidy snidely returned to encourage his departure.
Behind this James turned and left the house with no further comment. When he was out the door Cassidy took a moment to relieve the anger he generated in her. She did this with a shake of her head and a deep breath.
“You shouldn’t let him get to you. You’re not married to him anymore.”
“He doesn’t think I should be a police officer let alone a detective.”
“You’re good at your job. Everyone knows it. Why do you care what he thinks?”
“I don’t, normally.” Cassidy answered with a slight shake of her head. “It’s this case. Everyone is telling me I can’t solve it.”
“And why does that matter?”
“Because I think they might be right,” Cassidy answered with a downcast expression.
“And the great Cassidy Tremaine cannot live with a failure to succeed, to prevail, to amaze,” Andrea bellowed with exaggerated flamboyance. “You know what your problem is, you’re a perfectionist. You always have been.”
Andrea paused for the duration of a breath to give this remark emphasis, and then she began to speak again.
“No one solves all their cases, Cassidy. It’s not even possible. Stop tearing yourself apart from the inside. Give it your best shot and move on.”
Cassidy understood what Andrea was saying about her. It was an analysis that she had heard several times from several people. She knew that she had a drive to win, and she knew that she could not solve all her cases. This was a reality that she had faced many times over the past six months, but this case was different from those.
“I know this, but I fought for this case,” Cassidy explained behind a sip of wine. “I feel like I’m on stage, like I have to perform well or else people will think less of me.”
“No one will think less of you,” Andrea disputed.
“Thanks,” Cassidy responded with a smile followed by another sip of wine.
Andrea gave her a suspicious look and then began to speak of her suspicion with a scowl.
“You’re not listening to a word I say.”
Cassidy gave this remark a momentary laugh to herself before responding.
“I’m listening. I am, but I can’t stop being who I am.”
“Don’t I know it,” Andrea returned with a chuckle and a shake of her head. “So, what are you going to do, detective? Can you figure this one out?” Andrea queried with a look of disbelief.
“We’re going to canvass some clubs tonight,” Cassidy answered without any enthusiasm.
“You’re taking the kids to your parents,” Andrea questioned more than stated.
Cassidy answered with a “yeah” and a nod.
“Oh, I was wondering why you weren’t cooking,” Andrea spoke with a look of sudden awareness. “You don’t sound thrilled about this plan,” she continued with a new look of awareness.
“I don’t know what I’m looking for, Andrea,” Cassidy confessed with a shake of her head. “I don’t even know if there’s anything there to find.”
Andrea had no reply for this and Cassidy had nothing more to add. They spent the next half hour conversing about things that were more entertaining to them. At the end of this time Andrea excused herself and left for home. Cassidy devoted the next three hours to preparing for her night of work. She then took Cynthia and John to her parents in time for dinner there. When she finished eating dinner with them Cassidy said her good-byes to her kids and took off for the 122nd Precinct and from there on to Manhattan.
Alan did not care for this planned endeavor. This disposition had nothing to do with the fact that he believed it had little chance of producing results. So far, he thought much of what they had done was unproductive but necessary to effect a thorough investigation. This was no different. What troubled him about what they were doing this evening was the fact that it took him away from his weekend diversions. This was a feeling he expressed several times. Cassidy endured his sullen demeanor without response or apology.
The sun was several minutes below the horizon when Cassidy and Alan entered the first nightclub. They queried the manager and the staff for any memory of their nine victims. They inquired if they had security video from the days that they went missing. They inquired about complaints from patrons concerning other patrons. The answer to the first two questions was no. The answer to the third was too numerous and varied to be of use. After less than half an hour of canvassing they moved on to the next nightclub.
Cassidy and Alan concentrated on the nightclubs in Midtown Manhattan that their nine victims were not known to patronize but could have gone to per their friends. It was Cassidy’s hope that one of these nightclubs would turn out to be the connection between them. The information from the missing person’s investigations told them that none of the nightclubs that each of the victims regularly patronized was common to them all.
It was just past midnight when they finished questioning employees in the last of these could be nightclubs within Midtown and Lower Manhattan. By the end of this time it was agreed between them that they did not learn anything worth knowing. This news was of no surprise to Alan and it had little effect on him. He was simply glad to be done with the canvass. Cassidy was not surprised by the result either, but she was terribly disappointed that a new piece of evidence capable of unlocking this mystery did not pop up.
“This was always a long shot,” Alan declared less than a minute out from the last nightclub. “A serial killer is not likely to stalk his victims in nightclubs that he frequently visits.”
This statement alarmed Cassidy to the extent that she quickly turned to look at Alan with a mixture of concentration and amazement in her expression.
“Turnaround, go back,” Cassidy instructed after a few seconds of study of Alan’s words.
In a sentence, Alan pinpointed for Cassidy a flaw in her thinking.
“Go back? Go back where?” Alan questioned with a stunned expression.
“We’re going to The Cavern.”
This destination did not immediately register with Alan. It took a reminder from Cassidy that The Cavern was not picked as a nightclub that any of the Greenbelt victims would consider going to. The fact that it was dismissed by all the acquaintances of the nine is what made it stand out in Cassidy’s memory.
Cassidy and Alan flashed their badges to get past the bouncer at the door. When they entered The Cavern, it was clear to them the club was different from all the others they visited that night. Where the other clubs concentrated on high energy dance music and alcohol, The Cavern was a jazz cabaret club with emphasis on cocktails, light dinning and socializing. They were immediately buffeted with the sound of a live jazz band.
The vestibule of the club was not large—no more than ten yards across from the front entrance to the wall on the opposite side. On the right end of the vestibule was a cloakroom. On the left side was a small ticket office. Entryways to the main room were situated at either end of the wall opposite to the front entrance. Cassidy and Alan passed through the entryway at the left end.
The main room of the club was long and spacious. A bar was situated on the other side of the vestibule wall. Twenty small round tables filled the center of the room. Each table was just large enough to easily accommodate four chairs. Along the side walls were five booths, two to the right and three to the left. The seating within the booths were comprised of red leather and were capable of uncomfortably accommodating ten people. With the addition of chairs, they could accommodate a total of fourteen individuals. A 16-foot by 12-foot rectangular stage, elevated one foot up from the floor, was situated at the back end of the room. A small jazz band was performing on top of it. There was no dance floor between the patrons and the stage. The kitchen doorway was to the left of the stage.
The room had a slightly claustrophobic feel to it. The lower than normal ceiling and the dim lighting contributed to this. Half of the lighting came from lamp fixtures that were setup to illuminate the tables. The other half of the lighting came from the illumination of the stage and the bar.
Cassidy and Alan stopped several feet inside the main room of the club. They stood there for near to a minute and took in what they could see in the low light. The seating in the room was at half capacity. The play of the music drowned out much of the talk from the patrons. There was no disco ball or strobe lights. Tables for drinking and dining filled the bulk of the room and appeared to be the priority of the club. The employees of the club were smartly dressed in white shirts and black vests, skirts and slacks. The attire of the patrons was less than formal. The sign outside the club advised that respectable attire was a requirement for entry.
“Now I see why none of our victims came here,” Alan commented chuckle. “It definitely isn’t pandering to the in crowd.”
Cassidy declined to respond to the comment. After a short period of study, she and Alan walked over to the bar. Cassidy flagged the closest bartender, displayed her badge and spoke.
“I’d like to speak with the manager.”
The bartender noted the badge and then the words before responding with an “okay.” He then picked up a phone from behind the bar, pressed a speed dial button, waited a moment for an answer and then spoke into the phone.
“There’s a couple of NYPD detectives at the bar who want to speak with you.”
The bartender listened for a moment after speaking, and then he hung up the phone.
“He’ll be right up,” the bartender instructed Cassidy and Alan with a point towards the entryway at the left end of the bar.
Cassidy and Alan turned their attentions to this location and waited. Near to a minute later a lone man came through the entryway and approached. His age appeared to between the mid to late twenties. He was attired in a dark suit and tie and was seemingly groomed to perfection, by Cassidy’s estimation.
“Are you the detectives?” The young gentleman questioned after stopping in front of Cassidy and Alan.
Both Cassidy and Alan were in the process of producing their badges and ID’s as he spoke.
“Detective Mercer, NYPD,” Alan announced with practiced ease.
“Uh, Detective Tremaine,” Cassidy followed less deftly.
At first sight Cassidy was momentarily stunned. She thought him to be an exceptionally attractive man. This perception was a distraction to the point that she had to shake it off to concentrate on what she was there for. Alan took a comical view of this boyish looking owner of a nightclub.
“Detectives,” the young gentleman responded with a hint of a head and shoulder bow. “I am David Burrell, proprietor of The Cavern. How can I help you?”
“We’re canvassing all the clubs in Midtown Manhattan,” Alan commenced to explain. “We have reason to believe that several missing persons were in one or more of these clubs on the night they disappeared. We would like to show your employees some pictures.”
David Burrell gave the request a second of thought before responding to it with a hint of surprise in his expression.
“May I suggest we use my office for this.”
“Yes, you may,” Alan answered with a bit of mockery in his speech.
David Burrell took this with a smile. He then led Cassidy and Alan back through the entryway he came out from. On the other side was a dimly lit hallway. The hallway going left passed by a door labeled Personnel Only which came to an end at a doorway labeled Kitchen. The hallway going to the right passed by doors for the men’s and women’s restroom and came to an end at a door labeled Office. David Burrell led Cassidy and Alan through this doorway.
The office was a moderate size room that opened out to the left of the door. There was a single desk with a chair behind it and two in front. A computer monitor and keyboard were situated on the desk. A file cabinet was against one wall, and a two-person sofa was situated against another.
“I’m sorry for appearing hesitant to help,” David explained while directing Cassidy and Alan to the open chairs in front of the desk. “I started to think how it would look to my patrons seeing detectives questioning my employees.”
“That’s quite alright, Mr. Burrell,” Cassidy returned in a pleasant voice. “We’ve being doing these interviews in kitchens, hallways and store rooms. The last thing we want to do is cause you any inconvenience.”
Cassidy felt some discomfort when their eyes met. She feared that he would see her attraction to him. This thought immediately steeled her against this man that dared to fluster her with a look and a smile. This newly fortified resolve notwithstanding, she turned her eyes away from his and set them to the task of retrieving her tablet and stylus.
“I’m glad to hear it,” David returned with a frown and a smile that looked to be holding back a laugh. “How long will this take?”
Cassidy was instantly offended by the smile. She worried that she had done something that made her look foolish.
“Don’t worry, Mr. Burrell, we’ll be out of your business in no time,” Cassidy spoke with an enunciation of cold sternness.
“No, the only reason I ask,” David explained with a dismissive shake of his head, “is because we’re getting close to closing time.”
Cassidy had no response for this. Alan stepped in and spoke in her silence.
“We just want to show your staff some pictures and see if they recognize anyone. It shouldn’t take more than thirty minutes.”
As Alan was speaking Cassidy set her tablet on the desk in front of David Burrell.
“Do you recognize anyone in these pictures?” Cassidy questioned an instant behind Alan’s last word.
David Burrell picked up tablet and began flipping through the pictures. He momentarily studied each picture before moving on to the next. When he finished going through them he extended the tablet back toward Cassidy.
“No, none of them are familiar,” David Burrell answered with a look of suspicion at Cassidy. “Are you saying all of these people disappeared after going out to a nightclub?” he continued after a brief pause.
Both Cassidy and Alan hesitated to answer this question. After a moment of thought Cassidy ended this hesitation.
“We are investigating that possibility.”
“And you think they all might have come into my club?” David challenged with a look to Cassidy then Alan and back again.
“Mr. Burrell, we don’t know where these individuals went after they left their homes,” Alan explained to ease David’s concern. “We’re just investigating possibilities.”
David Burrell took a moment to think about everything that was said. Cassidy and Alan studied him as he did.
“These people aren’t missing, are they?” David questioned at the end of his deliberation.
“Not anymore,” Cassidy answered. “Their bodies were discovered three days ago.”
“The Greenbelt,” David Burrell retorted with a knowing inflection. “So, this is a murder investigation.”
“The people in those pictures frequented nightclubs in this part of Manhattan,” Cassidy explained. “And we have reason to believe they went out to a club on the night they disappeared. If you have security video from seven months back that would be a great help.”
“Seven months ago, that’s the previous owner,” David Burrell explained as he pondered the question. “I can’t speak for what he did, but the system I have erases surveillance data every two weeks.”
“How long have you owned this club?” Cassidy questioned with clearly intoned surprise in her voice.
“It will be three months in another week,” David answered after a thought. “So, there’s no way I could have seen any of these people.”
This answer did not add up for Alan. He saw no reason why he had to be the owner of the club to see one or more of the nine victims. He immediately became curious as to why David Burrell thought this way, and he began to question him on it an instant later.
“I’ve only been in the states for five months now,” David returned without hesitation.
“Five months and you already own a nightclub?” Cassidy questioned out of curiosity.
“It’s old money,” David declared with a bashful smile, “an inheritance from my grandmother. My family is—financially secure,” he spoke modestly. “I have commercial property in London and Northampton. I have a small estate outside of Caen, and now I own a nightclub in New York, New York,” David finished with a smile.
“You’re quite the businessman,” Alan responded with an articulation that suggested he found the subject tedious.
David Burrell was clearly amused by Alan’s remark. He spoke to it after pulling back a wide smile.
“I hope so; this is a big investment for me.”
“How did you come to own a Manhattan nightclub?” Cassidy queried with a plain expression and a fixed stare.
“Doris Farber, she’s a close friend of my aunt,” David answered as he returned her stare. “She elected to sell it after her husband passed and I took it off her hand.”
“I see,” Cassidy responded with a look of comprehension. “So, if we could interview your employees, Mr. Burrell.”
“Would you need to interview everyone, or can the kitchen staff be excused from this,” David asked with a steady look toward Cassidy.
“I can take care of the kitchen staff,” Alan quickly assured as he stood up. “There’s no need to bring them in here.”
Alan was motivated by a desire to be around the food and not the preparers.
“Okay,” David agreed with a smile and a nod of his head. “I will send them in one at a time,” he finished with a questioning inflection.
Cassidy agreed to this and began interviewing the employees of The Cavern a few minutes later. David remained in the main room and directed his employees into his office one at a time. The interviews lasted three to five minutes each. Cassidy saw no need for them to be seated for this. She met each new employee at the office door, had them look through the pictures and sent them back to their jobs when it was over. A couple of the employees were not even working at The Cavern seven months ago, and all could not recall ever seeing any of the nine inside the club. When Cassidy inquired about hostile occurrences five spoke of separate anecdotal events. When asked about strange regulars all spoke about booth three.
“How long has this group been coming here,” Cassidy questioned Jerry Adams at the back end of the interview.
Jerry Adams was a bartender at The Cavern. His employment there went back five years.
“Oh, that group has been coming here longer than I’ve worked here,” Jerry answered with a shake of his head.
“Is that normal?”
“I’ve seen other people who become fixtures at bars and restaurants. What makes the beautiful people unusual is that it’s not just one or two regulars. There’s six of them. That’s not normal in my experience.”
“The beautiful people?” Cassidy questioned with a look of incredulity.
“Yeah, that’s what the waitresses call them. When they’re here as a group they sit together in booth three.”
“Yeah,” Jerry answered with a go figure look. “They usually reserve it for every Saturday night across two or three months.”
Cassidy took a moment to consider his answer and then asked the question that came to mind.
“That sounds expensive.”
“Five hundred dollars a night,” Jerry returned with emphasis.
Cassidy responded to this report with a slight shake of her head and a look of disbelief. Shortly she turned her thoughts to the very aspect of this group that was causing her to be so inquisitive.
“So, I take it that the members of this group are attractive?”
“Not overly so,” Jerry countered. “I wouldn’t say that they’re any more attractive than many other people that come here.”
Cassidy was instantly confused by this answer, and she just as quickly questioned it.
“Then why do the waitresses call them the beautiful people?”
“Oh well, that’s because they often entertain other people at these tables,” Jerry explained as if he had forgotten to mention it when he first spoke. “And they are always very attractive.”
This remark intrigued Cassidy greater than anything she had heard before about this booth.
“Booth number three?” Cassidy queried as though she was trying to make sure she heard him right.
“Yeah, there’s two of them there now,” Jerry replied defensively and with an affirmative nod of his head. “They like to stay late. I hear that they even like to throw after parties at their homes.”
Jerry emphasized the words after parties with air quotes. Cassidy had no trouble understanding what he meant by this. She would have entertained ideas about the possible natures of these parties without the air quotes. Cassidy closed out the interview behind this remark. Jerry Adams was Cassidy’s third from last interview. It took her little more than half an hour to complete them all. Over the course of these interviews she took note of the six regulars that regularly sat at booth three. Collectively the employees of The Cavern were able to provide her with the names of all six. She recorded them in her tablet and placed question marks behind each.
For the duration of Cassidy’s interviews Alan was in the kitchen. He finished his interviews there in far less time, but the chance of dining on food generously provided by the kitchen chef was too enticing for him to pass up. After David walked Cassidy back up to the main room he sent a waiter to the kitchen to summon Alan. While waiting for Alan’s arrival, Cassidy scanned the occupants of the club. Several seconds into this David noticed her interest in his club.
“I hope you will return someday when you’re not on duty,” David proffered with a pleasing deportment. “It would be my pleasure to entertain you as a guess.”
Cassidy ignored the invite and spoke of what was on her mind at that moment with a stern delivery.
“Which booth is number three?”
David was caught off guard by the question. He pondered the question for a moment and then answered it while nodding towards the third booth up on the left.
“Along the left wall, the booth in the middle.”
Cassidy immediately found the booth and the four-people sitting there, two men and two women. She could see that all four were somewhere between their mid-twenties and earlier thirties, but she could not discern from their looks which of the four were the two regulars. The woman she thought to be the most attractive of the two was wearing a blue violet, thigh high dress. Her long brunette hair was braided to one side and dangled to a length that stopped just below her breasts. Her eyes looked to be brown and she had a light tanned complexion. She was adorned with dangling gold color earrings and a gold colored bracelet. The other woman in the booth, two spaces to her left, was attractive as well. Her hair was blonde, unencumbered and fell to a length just below her shoulders. She was clothed in a thigh high strapless dress and adorned with a pair of diamond stud earrings. The man seated to her left was a little less than average height, a little on the thin side and had short, well groomed, dark brown hair and clean shaven. He was dressed in a dark gray suit and a black tieless shirt. The man seated at the opposite end of the booth was slightly above average height and had a mildly athletic build. His hair was dark brown, thick and it draped over the tops of his ears. His face sported a visible stubble. His suit was an almost metallic looking light gray. Beneath it he wore a white shirt with a light blue patterned tie.
After studying the occupants of the booth for several seconds Cassidy thought to query David about their identities. It was at this moment that the blonde woman at the table turned her attention away from the persons across from her and directly at Cassidy. Her look held without waiver. Her expression was bland. Cassidy could not help but wonder if this woman knew who she was or why she was there. Shortly into this exchange the thin clean shaven man seated to her left leaned over and whispered into her ear. A second later he turned his eyes toward Cassidy and held his stare. An instant behind this the woman whispered back to the man while holding her gaze on Cassidy.
“Are we ready to go?”
Alan’s question startled Cassidy. She looked around quickly and noted that he was standing behind her.
“Yeah,” Cassidy responded with a confused expression.
Before moving Cassidy looked back at booth three. No one there was looking at her anymore, but that did not stop her from thinking that there was something strange about the regulars that frequented that booth.