The soft heat of dawn lies stretched across the city like a warm blanket as the two men step out of Lombardo’s cruiser and onto a busy downtown sidewalk lively with people. Across the street, in a twelve-story beaux art building, the lobby bleeds a soft red carpet. A wide corridor leads to an open ballroom with large wood-paneled walls, barrel-vaulted ceilings, and several tall windows draped in a unique scarf treatment that provides for no exterior light. Lit by several brass wall lamps and three large chandeliers, the room glows brightly. A dozen and a half neatly arranged tables play host to over sixty retired men and women from every facet of law enforcement, including, local and federal officers, private investigators, coroners, county prosecutors, and psychiatrists. At the front of the room, a small red-curtain stage is made smaller by two projector screens on each side and a podium with a microphone in the middle. The projector screens feature separate, contrasting images, one of a woman, fully-clothed, her body splayed out across a tile floor, the other a body, badly charred, lies laid out on an autopsy table.
As servers make their way around the room, distributing plates of juicy, blood-tainted T-bone steaks, a side of scrambled eggs, Rosemary roasted russet potatoes, and cornbread stuffing with apples and sausages, a woman at the microphone continues her explanation.
“The body of the first victim, here, on the right, is that of Mary Morris, a middle-class housewife, mother of two, discovered inside her vehicle after firefighters were called to put out what appeared to be a random car fire. Initially, ruled an accident by crime scene investigator’s, the coroner’s report later revealed two gunshot wounds to the back of Mary Morris’s head.”
“How the hell do you convince people to eat a meal while staring at images like that?” Lombardo whispers.
“It must be the free drinks,” Furor answers.
“Yeah, well, you’d just about have to be a little hammered to stomach this stuff.”
“Most of the guys in this room have over forty years’ experience working homicide, Furor says. “I doubt there´s much that can weaken their stomachs.”
Frank turns, levels his gaze. “I have nearly forty years’ experience working homicide and this place gives me the creeps.”
“Let’s get you a drink,” Furor says, directing them to the bar at the back of the room, just left of the entrance.
Lombardo asks for a whiskey, finishes it in one pull.
Back at the podium, the woman continues. “An investigation into Mary Morris’s background found nothing in her life that would warrant such an attack, no spiteful coworkers, no jealous ex-boyfriends, no unpaid debts, no skeletons of any kind. For that reason, the case quickly went cold. After a year or so, it was passed on to us here at the One-Eyed Kings Society. During our initial repass, we ran into an anomaly. Another woman, three days after the first, had been found strangled to death in her kitchen just six blocks away. That’s the image you see, here, on the right. Her name? Mary Morris. Two women, with the same name, murdered six blocks away from each other, and only three days apart. By all indications, the women were not acquainted with one another. However, the second Mary Morris was a receptionist at the same chiropractic office the first Mary Morris had visited the morning she was killed. To make matters more interesting, they both drove a Kia, different models, but a similar tinge of red.”
Head pulled low, Furor leans his back against the bar, crosses both his legs and arms, scans the room with his eyes. “Our killer could be in this room right now,” he says.
“You think it’s her?” Lombardo says, nodding to the speaker. Short and thin, with wavy brown hair, and a ballerina-like figure, she couldn’t have weighed more than ninety pounds.
“Do you see her managing to tie a hundred and twenty-five pounds of dead weight from the ceiling?”
“I see her tying me to the bedposts,” Lombardo says, laying his elbows across the counter.
Furor is about to respond when a man approaches. His face is large and distinct. It carries a look of infinite suspicion, especially around the eyes where dark, arched eyebrows give the impression that he’s never quite trusting of anyone or anything.
“Detective Furor?” he says in a low, rattling voice. “Robert Hightower, we spoke on the phone earlier.”
“Nice to meet you, director,” Furor says, extending a hand to shake.
Hightower doesn’t take it, eyes as if not quite sure what it’s doing there.
Retreating his hand, Max adds, “This is my partner, Deputy Ops Vince Lombardo.”
Hightower looks Lombardo up and down, offers a dispassionate, “Uh-huh,” before turning back to Furor.
“Is there some place we can talk,” Furor asks.
“Sure,” he says, shifting his weight from the balls of his feet to his heels.
When it’s clear Hightower intended that to mean they could talk right there, Furor clears his throat, presses the director for information about the key. “Long and thin, it carries your organization’s insignia at the base. Do you know the one I’m talking about?”
“Of course,” Hightower says.
Furor straightens his posture. “We have reason to believe the owner of that key may be responsible for over a dozen serial murders.”
Hightower nods his head. “Great, how can I help?”
Furor inclines his head, looks over at Lombardo then back to Hightower, as a silly smile parts his lips. “Did you not just say you know the key to which I’m referring?”
“That’s right,” Hightower confirms.
“What am I missing here? Do I need a warrant for you to tell me who I’m looking for?”
“No,” Hightower says. “I just don’t think you know quite what it is you’re asking. The key you describe, there isn’t just one.”
“How many are there?”
“Hundreds, honorarily given to anyone whose assistance in a cold case investigation leads to a conviction.”
Furor’s shoulders slump as disappointment curdles his face.
Lombardo steps in. “What about record keeping?”
“What about it?” Hightower asks.
“Does your organization maintain a list of the people who’ve received the keys?”
Hightower thinks about it, nods his head. “I suppose so.”
“How far back do the lists go?”
“How far do you need them to go?”
“Five years,” Furor says.
Hightower expels a weighty sigh. “Wait here,” he says, stepping away from the men. The detectives watch as he makes a wide sweep around the room.
“That guy has got all the finesse of a mudslide,” Lombardo says.
“Another case for early retirement,” Furor says, coughing into his fist.
Across the room, Hightower, having reached a table at the front corner of the stage, bends over to whisper something into the ear of a man whose face and body are shielded by the director’s back.
“Do you think it’s personal?”
“I think this job breeds distrust,” Furor says. “Regardless, we know what we’re looking for, a left-handed male, roughly five-foot-ten, two hundred and twenty pounds.”
By now, Hightower is making his way back across the room accompanied by a thin, bright-faced man with wispy white hair. When they reach the detectives, Hightower introduces him as Gus van Sant, the Society’s Material Resource Clerk in charge of all record keeping and inventory control.
“He should be able to help you out with anything you need,” Hightower says.
Van Sant offers each of them an eager handshake. “Robert tells me you’re looking for a list of all Key Masters prior to October of 2012.”
“Key Masters?” Furor says.
“Not my invention,” Gus tells him, throwing up his hands in a gesture of innocence. “Come, this way.”
The men are led from the room down a series of short hallways until they reach a small office just one door from the employee entrance to the hotel kitchen. The room accommodates a desk, a small sofa, three floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, and two black, four-drawer vertical filing cabinets. On the desk, van Sant fires up the PC monitor. Password protected, he enters a series of keystrokes that accesses the system’s main database. From a dropdown menu, he selects a tab entitled Key Masters that links to a screen with a spreadsheet style list of names, dates, and other information. There’s a filter tab in the upper right-hand corner into which he sets the appropriate date range. The screen then transforms, shrinking from five pages to three.
“How many names are on there?” Furor asks.
“Eighty-one,” Gus says, as the printer activates.
“You’re telling me, y’all managed to wrap eighty-one cold case in thirteen years?” Lombardo says.
“Oh, no,” Gus says, shaking his head. “Eighty-one is the number of keys awarded, the number of cases solved is much smaller. Although cases are presented generally to the entire Society, members often choose to partner up in teams of two to five. Sometimes the groupings happen naturally as threads cross or the workload grows. It’s actually rare for a case to be solved by a single person, but there are a few mavericks out there who insist on going it alone.”
“So, how many cases does this represent?”
Gus collects the papers from the printer tray. “If you check the date of remittance,” he says, pointing to a column at the far right of the list, “you can see how many keys were purchased in a single order.” Running his finger down the far-right column, he totals the number in his head. “It looks like there were thirty-four orders made.”
“Thirty-four cold cases in thirteen years,” Lombardo says. “That’s still impressive.”
“Have you been with the One-Eyed Kings since the beginning?” Furor asks.
“Since its inception back in 1999,” Gus admits.
“So, you know most of the people on this list?”
Gus glances at the list of names, nods his head. “Several have died, but yes, I recognize all of them.”
“How many of them have died?”
“Let’s see,” he says, reaching for a pen and a ruler. Starting at the top of the page, he slides the ruler down, drawing a straight blue line through the names of every deceased person on the list. Once he reaches the bottom of the last past, he then goes back, counts the blue lines. “Thirty-seven,” he says.
“What does that leave us with,” Lombardo asks, “forty-four? Not bad for the first two minutes.”
“What about women?” Furor says.
“You know there are women serial killers, too,” the clerk tells him. “You’d be surprised.”
“Trust me,” Furor says, recalling the hand he saw over his shoulder, “this one is a man.”
“Fair enough,” the clerk shrugs, placing his ruler at the top of the page again.
When he’s finished, an additional twenty-four names have been removed.
“That’s a lot of women,” Lombardo says.
“Funny thing,” Gus tells him, “women make up less than one-fifth of total membership, yet, they’re responsible for closing nearly one-third of all cases.”
“Why do you suppose that is?” Lombardo asks.
“I suspect it has something to do with non-linear thinking,” the clerk says.
“Twenty-four from forty-four is twenty,” Furor says. “How many of those are still active members?”
Gus reads over the names, counting in his head. “Twelve,” he says.
“And the other eight?”
“Got too old, I guess.”
“I don’t suppose you’d recall how many of them were left-handed?”
The clerk shakes his head. “Sorry.”
“The other twelve, are they here today?”
“I’d imagine so.”
“I’d like to speak with them, have them submit to a handwriting test, see if any are left-handed.”
Returning to the hotel’s ballroom, Gus passes the list to Hightower along with the detectives’ request for a handwriting sample. List in hand, Hightower makes his way to the podium where he calls off all twelve names, asking the men to meet at a table near the back of the room.
As the men gather together, Lombardo explains that he’d like each of them to copy down a paragraph from one of the hotel’s front desk brochures, once in cursive, once in print, and once with their non-dominant hand. While it’s possible for someone who’s ambidextrous to write flawlessly with both their right and left hands, it’s not so easy to fake the inelegance of the non-dominant hand’s script. One-by-one, each of the men take turns scribbling out three versions of the short sample paragraph. Only one of them, an octogenarian with such severe arthritis that he can barely wrap his nodular fingers around the pen, is left-handed. Watching the man’s trembling hand struggle to grasp the pen, Lombardo and Furor both look at each other and shake their heads.
“That’s only eleven,” Lombardo says. “Who’s missing?”
Furor looks at the list. “It looks like Roy Cavanaugh.”
“He never showed today,” Hightower confirms.
“Do you have an address for him?”
Hightower looks to van Sant who nods, “It’s in the office. I’ll grab it.”
“Go ahead and text it to me,” Max says, jotting his phone number on the back of the hotel brochure.
“Thank you for your time,” Lombardo says. “We’ll let you know if we need anything else.”