The Naked Eye - A Trilogy

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Chapter 6

Furor has two in the ashtray and on in his mouth by the time Lombardo emerges from the precinct, folder in hand. Through the rain splattered windows, Lombardo’s hulking figure rounds the left side of the car, which tilts a little to one side as he settles in.

“This could definitely be our guy,” Lombardo says, handing Furor the folder before reaching back for his seatbelt.

“You think so?” Furor says, staring absently out the window.

“Have a look at this copy of his driver’s license. And for God’s sake, would you not smoke in my car,” he says, pinching the cigarette in Furor’s mouth and grinding it out in the ashtray.

Furor opens the folder, studies the blown-up image of Wayne Knox’s driver’s license.

“Five-foot-eleven, Caucasian,” Furor says. “Must be him.”

There’s a groan in the seat as Lombardo repositions his weight to look his lead homicide detective in the eye. An uneasy expression taints his face as he probes Furor’s eyes for pretense.

“Am I missing something here? Is this a waste of our time? Is there a better lead we should be after?”

“Five years ago, a man murdered thirteen women. Thirteen. And, yet, after three years of hard investigating, analyzing everything and everyone in those victims’ backgrounds, we still couldn’t come up with a single viable suspect. Not one. How is that possible? The only thing that made sense was that the killer specifically targeted women he’d never met, who could never be traced back to him, careful never to repeat the same location, or women with the same physical description. The lack of affiliation and resemblance, that was the genius of it. It made the killings not only impossible to solve, it made them impossible to even investigate. So, what are we doing now? We’re going after the most obvious suspect in any murder investigation, the bitter ex. And you want to ask me if I think we’re wasting our time?”

“If you’ve got a better alternative, I’d love to hear it. But since you don’t, let me point something out. As sworn members of law enforcement we’re bound to exercise due diligence in our investigations. So, while it may seem trite following up on the most obvious leads, it is our job.”

It’s only a ten-minute drive to the butcher shop, a journey that’s made in relative silence as neither man attempts to engage the other. When they arrive at the address, Lombardo pulls up on the other side of the street, hugs the curb.

A chime sounds as they push through the front door of the butcher shop. Behind the counter, leaned against the wall and shuffling a newspaper, sits a man matching the driver’s license photo in Lombardo’s hand.

Wayne Knox, mid-fifties, a hulking figure of a man with grey hair and a rounded jaw.

“Slow day?” Lombardo asks.

“They´re all slow these days,” the man answers, folding the newspaper in half before tucking it away under the counter.

“I suppose it doesn´t help this county´s facing an obesity epidemic, does it?”

“Eating lean, high protein meat doesn’t lead to obesity,” Knox says, dispiritedly. “In fact, it’s one of the healthier ways to replace weight with muscle. The real problem is all these ethical vegetarians and their documentaries on how these animals are raised, treated, and slaughtered.”

“No kidding?” Lombardo says.

“They’re also under the impression the animals are pumped full of all sorts of unhealthy hormones.”

“Are they?”

The butcher shrugs a pair of ‘beats me’ shoulders.

“What’s the projection, long-term? Do you think you’ll be able to stay at it?”

“I almost have to now,” he says. “The family’s been peddling meat going on three generations.”

“You’ve practically got barbeque sauce in the veins,” Lombardo says.

Furor knew what his partner was doing, using conversation to build a friendly rapport before confronting him with interrogatory questions.

The man nods his head. “You know, back at the turn of the last century my grandfather opened one of the first hotdog stands on Long Island. At first, the people were a little wary, seeing as how no one knew for sure what it was or how it was made and all sorts of nasty rumors swirled about people using dog meat or sawdust. Either way, they didn’t trust it. So, my granddad, he goes to one of those medical surplus stores and buys a stethoscope and two pairs of white doctors’ scrubs. He then hires these two fellas to stand there during the lunch hour eating hotdogs. Because they were dressed up like a couple of real doctors, it gave the impression that hotdogs must be healthy for you.”

“Do you eat them?”

A strange smile wrinkles the corners of his eyes. “Heart disease is a hell of a way to go. But while I can think of worse ways to die, I can’t think of worse ways to live than eating only vegetables.”

“Agreed,” Lombardo says.

“Are you looking for any particular cut?”

“Actually,” he says, lifting his badge, “we’re here about your wife.”

The butcher settles back on his heels, folds his arms. “This is about the divorce petition? I told her I’d sign it only after she agreed not to come after the business.”

“Mr. Knox, we’re not here about your divorce. We’re here because two nights ago, somewhere between six and eight o’clock your wife, Katherine, was murdered.”

Nothing changes in the butcher’s face. Not a muscle of it moves. For a moment, it looks as if he might say something as his lips part only to close again.

Lombardo continues. “It’s standard procedure to investigate the spouse, especially in a case that involves divorce. So, forgive me for asking, but can you confirm your whereabouts the night before last between six and eight o’clock?”

The butcher straightens his back. This time when he opens his mouth the words come out strong and thick. “Right here,” he says. “Shop closes at eight every night, including weekends.”

Lombardo points up at one corner of the ceiling. “Does that camera work?” he asks.

“It does,” Knox says.

The detectives are led behind the counter and through a large, plastic strip curtain to the backroom where the temperature drops to just above freezing. A harsh animal smell assaults their nostrils. Distended from large meat hooks, hang several rows of gutted carcasses. Slabs of freshly cut meat cover the blood-streaked countertops. A bucket filled with severed chicken heads sits beside a pile of headless chicken bodies.

At the back of the room, a pair of doors leads to a restroom and a small office. The distinguishing feature in the office is a desk atop which sits a small television monitor. Grainy footage on a black and white screen looks down from an angle behind the counter and facing the front door.

“Looks cheap,” Lombardo says.

“It is, but then, who robs a butcher shop?” Knox says.

“What’s the storage capacity on this system?”

“Seventy-two hours and then I either change it manually or the system overwrites itself.”

“When was the last system over-write?” Lombardo asks.

Knox points to a number display in the corner of the screen that reads 57.22/72. “That first number is how long the video has been running. Fifty-seven hours and twenty-two minutes. When it reaches seventy-two, the over-write begins, but it doesn’t erase it completely. The remaining fourteen hours and thirty-eight minutes contain footage from two and a half days ago.”

“Can you pause it and take it back?” Lombardo says.

Knox picks up a remote, aims it at the monitor. The video stops, appears to reset. In the bottom corner, the date and time display read 3am, Sunday morning.

“From where do you want it to start?” the butcher asks.

“Take it forward to six o’clock that evening,” Lombardo says.

Knox fast forwards through the footage, watching the number display speed through the first thirteen hours of footage. When it approaches six o’clock, Lombardo directs him to slow it down, but to keep it in fast forward.

The speed of the frames slows. What they see is the butcher, his movements rapid and jerky. Five minutes before six, he enters from the backroom, takes up position behind the counter. Afterwards, his movements are methodical: arranging the meat display, standing around, pacing back and forth, wiping off the counter, more arranging, more pacing, counting the money in the till, sweeping, mopping, a last-minute customer comes in, buys something and leaves, more standing around, then, right around eight o’clock, he powers everything down and locks up, exiting out the front door.

“How is this footage recorded, internally or on DVD?” Lombardo asks.

“DVD,” Knox says. “Want a copy?”

“I’d like the original.”

Back in the car, Lombardo turns to Furor. “What does your gut tell you?”

“It tells me I’m hungry. And we’re wasting our time.”

“We’re not far from your part of town,” Lombardo says. “How’s about we pick up some noodles and egg rolls? And you can tell me your brilliant strategy for not wasting our time.”

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