The Naked Eye - A Trilogy

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Chapter 15

By the time Furor reaches Chinatown, he’s tired from a lack of sleep and washed out from the emotional rollercoaster of the past week. Heading straight for his apartment, all he can think about is a soft pillow and a warm blanket, but as he rounds the corner, he’s met by a work crew setting up a barricade all along the street in front of his building.

Ms. Wang, the owner of the brothel, standing on the sidewalk, sees him. “New Year’s Parade,” she says

“Dammit. That’s today?” he says, checking his watch. Not only was the Dragon Parade scheduled for today, but it was scheduled to begin in just over an hour and would last another three hours after that.

“No good for business,” Ms. Wang complains, “no good.”

“No good for sleep either,” Furor mutters.

“You know how much business I lose in next five hour? This prime business time. I make complaint.”

An interesting fact Furor learned about the Chinese language back when he first moved to Chinatown is that verbs never change tense. Whereas in English a word like ‘eat’ becomes ‘ate’ in the past tense, in Chinese it’s always ‘eat’ with the addition of a time indicator like ‘often’, ‘yesterday’ or ‘in an hour’. And, while Furor had lived in Chinatown now for over half a decade, he still found the Chinese’s perennial use of present tense in English amusing.

“You no look so good,” Ms. Wang says. “You look like need sleep.”

“I do.”
“I know hotel. Good price. Pay by hour.”

“Yeah, that’s not going to happen,” Furor says, knowing exactly what a pay-by-the-hour hotel in Chinatown looks like at four o’clock on a Friday.

“Why no go movie theater? You pay less than hotel, sleep little bit, maybe watch movie, come back and parade finish.”

“That’s not a bad idea,” Furor says.

The Hunan Palace is an independent, four-screen theater with balcony seats that showcases classic American and Chinese movies for only three dollars a pop.

Among this week’s features is the 1971 Chinese masterpiece, A Touch of Zen about Ku Shen Chai, an unmotivated artist in his early 30s, who still lives with his mother, but is shaken from his comfortable rut by the arrival of the beautiful and mysterious Yang Hui-Ching, a princess on the run from the Imperial guard, responsible for murdering her entire family. As the princess brings Ku into her circle of protectors, including her enemies’ rival, Shih Wen-Chiao, and the nameless monk whose spiritual guidance transforms Ku into a valiant fighter, he’s soon plunged into an epic adventure that consists of arguably the most beautiful battle scenes of all time.

An epic at three hours and twenty minutes long, Furor passes out during the film’s opening credits and is woken roughly three and half hours later by a theater sweeper, tapping his leg with a broom.

Bleary-eyed, he makes his way out of the auditorium in search of a restroom, which he finds halfway down the hall. As he pushes through the door, the blast of halogen lights stings his eyes. With both hands he massages his eyelids, trying to rub moisture into his corneas which feel cracked and dry. After conducting his business, he steps to the counter to wash his hands. He’s just finished air drying them when the phone in his pocket rings.

“Hello?” he says, placing the receiver to his ear.

It’s Lombardo. “We’ve got something.”

“What do you mean?” Furor says, exiting into the hallway. “What have we got?”

“I’m not sure exactly, but you remember the security video we confiscated from the butcher?”

“Sure,” Furor says. “Why?”

“I just got a call from tech. They’ve finished processing the recording, and as far as they can tell, it’s authentic. However, in going through the footage itself they came across something strange.”

Furor pauses. “Strange how?”

“Strange as in somewhere around 3am Tuesday morning, Knox is seen entering the shop carrying a large, but empty duffle bag. He then disappears into the back only to reappear about five minutes later, the duffle bag now loaded with stuff.”

“Stuff?”

“All they could say was that it looked like there was a spool of plastic tarp sticking out, along with who knows what else.”

“You do realize there’s no crime against entering your own business and removing your own property, right?” Furor says, making his way down the long corridor decorated on either side with classic movie posters.

“That’s why I said I wasn’t sure exactly what we had,” Lombardo says.

“Okay, but, you’re telling me this happened on Tuesday morning, two days after Katherine Knox had already been murdered.”

As Furor is walking, he happens to glance to his left at the original movie poster of Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train, the story of two strangers who agree to carry out each other’s murders so that neither can be blamed for it. As he stares at it, an idea slowly forms in his mind.

“You’re right,” Lombardo says. “It doesn’t fit the timeline, but—”

“But what if that’s it?” Furor shouts.

“What if ‘what’s it’?” Lombardo says.

“The timeline! What if the whole reason why the timeline doesn’t fit is because they switched murders?”

“What? Who?”

“Dobbs and the butcher,” Furor says.

“What do you mean, like that Hitchcock movie?”

“Why not? It explains everything, why they both have ironclad alibis for the night of the murders, why no connection exists between them and the other victim, why Katherine Knox was found strung up the way she was, why Knox would be seen removing plastic tarp and who knows what other sorts of meat cutting tools from his shop an hour after Mary Angelis finished her shift at the club, why Dobbs would want to order a raid on the strip club, and why he appears to be working so hard to eliminate anyone who might be able to connect him to the stripper.”

There’s as a pause as Lombardo is clearly trying to weigh up the evidence against this latest theory. “All right, stay on the line. I’m going to see if I can get Disney on a conference call.”

Racing to the front of the theater, Furor listens as the line starts ringing.

“You still there?” Lombardo asks.

“I’m here,” Furor confirms as he comes crashing through the door only to run smack up against a wall of people backed up against the theater doors as a pageant of floats makes its way down the center of the street. Night had fallen, bringing with it the start of the Chinese New Year’s celebration. Amidst the tumult of noise, he hears the faint sound of the phone ringing again. As he swivels his head, he sees the sidewalks are swamped with people, stretching for blocks in either direction. The only way out of this chaos, he realizes, is to reach the streets. Fighting his way forward, the phone still pressed to his ear, he listens as the phone rings a third time, before being cut off by the sound of Agent Disney’s voice.

“Hello.”

“Disney, this is Lombardo, I’ve got Furor on three-way.”

“Lombardo,” Disney says. “I can barely hear you. What the hell is all that noise?”

“It’s the parade,” Furor hollers, as he fights to move in the contracted space.

“The what?”

“I’m in Chinatown,” Furor says. “It’s the New Year’s p—” A bottle of Tsingtao beer is emptied down his shirt by an old woman who, unhappy with the way she’d been so carelessly shoved aside, glares up at him, a fierce challenge in her eyes. Fighting back the temptation to return the favor across her face. Instead, he starts pushing, shoving, and thrashing his way to the front of the crowd where police officers, in full riot gear, are stationed every thirty feet or so, to ensure no one trespasses the metal barricade. Barely audible over the screams of the crowd, Furor listens as Lombardo offers Disney the theory about the murder swap between Dobbs and Knox. Meanwhile, directing his attention to the parade, he watches as a large, sixty-foot-long dragon puppet comes gamboling up the street, its long, silk torso propped up by the thirty or so men concealed inside. This is his chance, he thinks. While the officer ten feet away to his right struggles to unstick a fat kid who’d managed to get himself wedged between the bars of the barricade, the officer twenty feet away on the left is distracted by the machine gun-like snap of a lit pack of black cat fireworks that’s been tossed at his feet. This gives Furor just enough of an opening to make his move. Clearing the barricade, he dashes into the street, slipping, unseen, beneath the dragon’s ribboned covering. Through the thin silk mesh of one of its scales, he looks back, but neither of the officers seems to have noticed. Inside the dragon, the men propping up the puppet appear too preoccupied managing the poles to have noticed his intrusion. Returning to his phone, Furor sticks the finger of his free hand in his opposite ear to help block out the noise and listens as Lombardo is just rounding off his explanation.

“I know it’s all circumstantial, but it’s certainly feasible,” Lombardo says.

“It’s good enough for me,” Disney says. “Let’s bring them both in. I’ll dispatch a couple of my men to pick up Knox. As for Dobbs, how quickly can the two of you get over there?”

“I’m already at the precinct,” Lombardo says. “Max, what’s you’re E.T.A.?”

“I can be there in twenty, I just need to stop off at the apartment, change my shirt.”

“All right,” Disney says. “Lombardo, I’m coming to you. Max, do want us to wait for you?”

“No, take him in. I’ll meet you back at I.A. headquarters.”

“All right, then, let’s move,” Disney says and all three men hang up their phones.

By now, the dragon puppet had reached an intersection that part of the parade route where the floats are forced to make a hard, right-hand turn. As they do, Furor ducks out from underneath the dragon’s belly and, walking normally, steps over the three-foot-high, metal fence, disappearing into the crowd before the nearest officer even realizes what’s happened. It’s a struggle to get through the crowd, but he manages to fight his way through to the open street. Once free, he tears off in full sprint down the muddle of intersecting alleyways leading to his apartment. Sweating and out of breath, he pulls up just as he rounds the corner to his building. Besieged by paradegoers, he’s forced to flatten himself against the wall as he edges his way toward the entrance. Wrestling the keys from his pocket, he hears his phone ringing and realizes it’s still in his other hand.

It’s Lombardo.

“You had better not be calling to tell me you shot him as he was resisting arrest,” Furor hollers over the noise of the parade.

“He’s not here,” Lombardo says. “His secretary says he walked out just before noon, blew off two meetings, one with the district attorney, the other with a representative from city council. No one’s been able to get ahold of him since.”

“Do you think he sensed us coming?” Furor asks.

“Perhaps he caught a glimpse of the stunt you were about to pull in the station this morning and hauled out. Either way, we put out an all points, notifying everyone from the Transit Authorities to TSA to the highway patrol to be on high alert.”

“As long as he’s on the run, he’s unlikely to hurt anyone else.”

“He may not be on the run,” Lombardo says.

“No?”

Lombardo offers his theory.

Furor listens, a concentrated look on his face. When Lombardo finishes, Furor asks what they should do. Again, Lombardo does the talking.

Furor thinks about it, then shakes his head. “I’ve got a better idea.”

After laying out his plan, Lombardo reluctantly agrees.

“I don’t know about this.”

“Trust me,” Furor says, sliding the phone into his pocket as he pushes through the building’s front door. Pausing briefly at the mailbox before charging up the single flight of stairs in four bounding leaps, he plunges his key into the lock, thrusts open the door.

Stumbling into the darkness of his apartment, he hears the crunch of what sounds like glass beneath his feet. Reaching back for the light, he feels along the wall until he grasps the tiny switch, but when he flips it, nothing happens.

Then from somewhere to his left, he hears the wrestle of movement as a large black shadow comes crashing down against his head with a loud THWACK!

It could have been seconds or it could have been minutes, but it’s the snap of fireworks and the clamor of voices that brings Furor struggling back to consciousness.

The ropes around his wrists groan against the wooden seat backing. Hands and ankles tied to a chair in the middle of his living room, it takes a minute for his eyes to adjust fully to the darkness. Sweeping his gaze around the room, he sees the shattered glass from the bulb above the front entrance on the floor near the front door. As his eyes continue to rove, they soon come to rest on the large black shadow bent up against the window frame in the far-left corner of the room.

“Where do you suppose they came up with the idea of a dragon?” Dobbs says, peering down at the street below.

Furor’s voice is hot with rage. “How else would you depict a monster that preys on indefensible women?”

Dobbs turns, his face partly cast in shadows.

“You think I wanted to hurt her, hurt any of them?”

“Of course, you did. What kind of question is that?”

Dobbs lowers his head a little. Moving slowly, non-threateningly, he comes across the room, around the back of Furor’s chair. Taking hold of the wooden back support, he turns the chair around, so that it now faces the opposite direction. As Dobbs takes a seat in front of him at the foot of the bed, Furor studies his captain’s face, which looks tired and defeated.

“You know how it is when you’ve known a woman for years, seen her dozens if not hundreds of times, and never thought twice about her, never felt any inclination for her, then one day you look and it’s as if you’re seeing her for the first time, as if your eyes had been out of focus right up until that moment when you realize just how absolutely beautiful she is. That’s how it was with my wife, Bonnie.”

Outside, the noise grows louder with the sound of tanggu drums.

Dobbs continues. “Our eyes are funny like that. It’s like those three-dimensional hidden pictures that when you first look at it all you see is a kaleidoscope of colors until your focus begins to relax and suddenly the image becomes clear. And what an image it was. Red hair and pale skin, her face flecked with hundreds of tiny brown freckles and a pair of hazel eyes that seemed to shift from green to brown depending on the sunlight. I always told her, her eyes were the first feature of her body I ever fell in love with.

“I suppose that’s why it seems so ironic to me now that when it all fell apart it was her eyes that were the first to go. One day, just like that,” he says, snapping his fingers, “her vision goes blurry, colors disappear, everything turns grey. Even moving her eyes from left to right felt like someone was stabbing a needle through her socket and into her brain. The doctors told us she was suffering optic neuritis, inflammation of the nerve that runs from the eye to the brain, an early symptom of multiple sclerosis. All I knew of MS, at the time, was its potential for partial or complete paralysis. Naturally, we began researching preventative treatments, which is how we came across the name Spirasi, a drug development company touting hope of a cure. Research was still in the developmental stage, but they were looking for volunteers to participate in a phase I clinical trial. Because part of the drug’s testing involved how it affected men and women differently, this particular study called for female-only participants. We signed up, signed the waiver, and in she went. Within hours of the trial, she began experiencing dizziness and slurred speech. I immediately rushed her to the ER where doctors found she was suffering swelling in her brain. They were able to stop the swelling, but not before she’d lapsed into a coma.

“For days, weeks even, I sat there, beside her bed, holding her lifeless hand in mine, eyes fixed on the brain activity monitor, praying that she’d open those beautiful hazel eyes, smile that coyish smile of hers, and we’d just go home, forget all of this had ever happened. But she never did.

“I wasn’t just furious, I was raging hell. I wanted answers. How could this happen? How could things go so wrong? The drug company assured me they’d followed all the protocols—as proof they pointed out that none of the other women had experienced any adverse effects. They even went so far as to brag about how successful the treatment had been.

“I cried. I cried for days. And when I ran out of tears, I replaced them with alcohol. Night after night, I’d drank myself into a rage, cursing and swearing revenge until I finally worked up the courage to forsake every professional oath I’d ever sworn. When I killed the director of the drug company, staging it to look like a mugging gone wrong, I thought it would bring a sense of satisfaction, placate my anger. It didn’t.

“That night, as I sat in the hospital room, watching my wife lying there, all I could think about were those twelve other women and the sheer injustice of chance. Why should they get to enjoy their lives while my wife sits here strung up like a marionette with a series of tubes and wires running from the various holes and folds in her body to all these different machines? She had one monitoring her heart, another her brain, one tube feedings her oxygen, another water and nutrients, catheters draining her bladder and bowels. That’s when I decided to redress the balance, to restore equality to fate.”

“And Jai Mei?”

Dobbs shakes his head, slowly. “It’s not that I feared being caught. Hell, I sorted hoped I would be. I’d have taken the chair over watching her like that for the rest of my life. But I still had four names, and, although you didn’t know it, you were getting close. The doctors, the hospitals, the MS symptoms, you were too close.”

“Why not turn yourself in afterwards? End your misery?”

“Everyone said I should just pull the plug on my wife, let her pass away with dignity, move on with my life. Even Bonnie’s own parents agreed it was the right thing to do. But I knew my wife. She was ethically opposed. For her, it was murder, murder or suicide. Either way, she would have never consented to my signing a Do Not Resuscitate order. And I knew, if I’d gone to prison, they’d have killed her. To honor my wife’s wishes, I buried my secret.”

“And the stripper, Mary Angelis, was she part of your wife’s wishes?”

Dobbs offers a remorse-filled smile. “For the first couple years, I couldn’t even look at another woman, wouldn’t think of betraying my wife. But we all have biological needs, don’t we? At first, it was just prostitutes. Uncomplicated, morally solvent. I had no feelings for them, they had even less for me. And my heart still fully belonged to my wife. But after a while, I realized just how much I missed companionship. I tried online dating, but you have no idea how difficult it is to find a woman over the age of fifty not interested in marriage. That’s how I wound up meeting Mary. At twenty-two, she was at least a decade away from wanting marriage, didn’t mind our age difference, and even seemed to like me for me. For that reason, I suppose you could say I fell for her. But what could I do, my wife was still alive? That’s when fate intervened. Just last week, I got a call from the hospital. My wife had died. I thought I’d be sad, devastated. Instead, I felt an overwhelming sense of relief. I was finally free, free to live, to love. All I could think about was Mary. It was like the dam broke and my mind flooded with images of the two of us. Like a fool, I went and bought her a ring. A ring. Can you imagine? My wife’s body isn’t even cold and I’m down at De Beers picking out an engagement ring. Thought I’d surprise Mary at home, take her out for dinner, pop the question over dessert. Only, as I’m heading up to her flat, I find another fella on his way out, wiping the sweat from his forehead. If it had been a once off, maybe I could have accepted it, gotten over it. But when she told me it had been going on for the past couple months, that she enjoyed it and not just for the money. All I could see was red.”

“Why not kill her yourself? Why swap murders with Knox?”

“Again, I credit fate, pure and simple. We met at a bar that night, started trading losses and before you knew it what started as a hypothetical began looking more and more like a blueprint for murder.”

“And the staging?”
“Knox was worried that his wife’s death would, in some way or another, lead back to him. So, I told him about a string of old unsolved serial murders—my murders—and how if I recreated the crime scene to match, the police would have no other choice but to reason the killer had returned, thereby giving him an out.”

“And now, what? You’re going kill me?”

“Wrong,” Dobbs says, reaching into Furor’s coat to remove his gun. “You’re going to kill you.”

“You don’t think it’ll look suspicious?”

As he stands up, comes around Furor’s right side, he says, “I think it’ll look like this investigation drudged up a lot of emotions you weren’t quite ready handle.”

“And Lombardo, Dykstra, Internal Affairs?”

“Turns out, you don’t get to be Chief of Police without acquiring a few less than reputable acquaintances. Some of whom still owe me a few favors.”

At that point, Dobbs steps around, places the gun to Furor’s temple. The cold metal rim of the muzzle activates his sciatica, sends a shiver down his spine. As Dobbs draws back the hammer with his thumb, cocking the weapon, Furor bows his head slightly forward, closes his eyes. He makes no attempt to scream or plead for mercy. Outside, the night is choked with the sound of people shouting, drums beating, music playing, and firecrackers snapping. As Dobbs rests his finger on the trigger, matching the squared edge with the crease of his index finger, he tightens his grip around the handle of the gun. Leaning slightly away, he squeezes the trigger, which releases a spring that snaps the hammer forward.

It only takes a fraction of a second for the echo of a hollow chamber and lack of recoil to register. As if by reflex, Dobbs yanks back on the trigger again, then again, and again. But each time, the hammer answers with a dull click.

Lifting his head Furor says, “Did I forgot to mention, I unloaded the clip in the mailbox downstairs?”

Dobbs takes an uneasy step backwards.

“That’s right,” Furor says. “You see, just before I came in, I got a call from Lombardo. He told me no one had seen you since this afternoon. I figured you’d hauled out. But he wasn’t so sure, thought maybe you were lying in wait for me here at my apartment. He wanted me to wait for backup. But I had a better idea. Why not let you get the drop on me, see if I couldn’t get you to confess not only to killing Katherine Knox, but Jai Mei, and the other women as well?”

Dobbs’ face fills with alarm.

“Lombo,” Furor cries, “did you get all of that?”

“We got it,” Lombardo says, pushing through the front door, phone in hand, followed by a SWAT team unit in full paramilitary gear.

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