Stargazer

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Chapter 22 Aftermath – the hunt

Veterans Day Center, Columbus, Ohio, 2 weeks later

David approached the reception desk of the Veterans Day Care Center looking perplexed. He was perplexed to a degree but he couldn’t of course reveal really why to the receptionist. He had seen it on the tv news last night. The murder of a female Columbus murder detective executing an arrest warrant in Cincinnati with another cop sustaining critical injuries. Somehow the one on the floor face down had survived. Some concerned citizen had pulled him from the burning apartment. He had observed that from a distance at the time as he watched the emergency services respond. He had avoided detection but the cop had lived. This was a problem.


The woman behind the desk could see he was upset, as he took out his cell phone, flipped it open and closed it again, sighing.

“I’m really sorry to bother you but I’m a bit lost” he opened with. “I’m from Cleveland and my brother had a heart attack last night. His neighbour directed me here but I think I’m in the wrong place.”

The receptionist was mirroring his concern and he hoped, eager to help. “This is a day hospital, I’d say he’s been sent to Grants across town” she replied. “If you’ve got details like a date of birth and name, I can ring them for you?”.

David decided he might as well try his little gambit, after all there was little to lose here. “The neighbours said he was very bad” He added a twinge of emotion to his voice next. “I’m not sure if he made it to be honest”.

The question now was whether the receptionist was willing to relay bad news or take the easy way out. He was betting on the weakness of human nature, it tended to pay off most times. She paused and handed him the phone receiver. “Maybe if I dial it for you, you can check with the switchboard at Grants and they’ll find him for you”.

She dialled the number and made to go to an urgent job in a small back office behind desk, to give him some privacy. Grants Hospital switchboard picked up after 5 rings.

“Veterans Day Hospital here” David replied authoritatively, “just looking for the Critical Care attending on call schedule for the week”. There was a brief interlude on the other end as the telephonist clicked on their computer, and the information David needed was provided seconds later. Dr Hazim Murtaz was on call tomorrow it happened. David thanked the operator as the line went dead on their end.

The receptionist came out from the back office. David smiled back to allay her concern. “He’s in Critical Care. He’s going to make it. Thank you so much”. He handed her back the receiver and walked back to his van in the parking lot.

Now he was going to have to wait and observe and no matter where and when, this would be a challenge. Hospitals were CCTV monitored. His best chance was if and when the doctor was to make a journey home late and make it look like a mugging and this was again not risk free. He needed information on the cop. And he needed specifics. The media covering the case so far had been vague, and David couldn’t just waltz in there and pick up the file. The only certainty was that the cop was alive and that was a problem. He had to somehow gain access to the doctor at the hospitals staff car park, assuming he used a car. But no matter what, he had to hope his quarry was at Grants now, he had to at least set eyes on him and know his routine.

-----------------

Grants Hospital, Critical Care Unit, Columbus, Ohio, 2 weeks later

She came to him now. He knew her but he could not remember who she was. She would turn to him in the car, remonstrating over and over with him. Her words would seem meaningless to him, but her tone was always of fear and desperation. They would argue and argue and then she would always turn away from him again to look out the window. One last time he would put his hand on her shoulder to get her attention. She would turn to look at him again, but now blood seeped from a gaping wound over her left eye socket, the eye gone and pieces of bone and brain oozing in the small eddies of blood coming out of the wound.

He would wake up, unable to manage more than a moan as he tried to empty his lungs. Some nights the nurse would need to give him an injection to calm him, sometimes he would moan constantly for an hour before exhaustion set in. His body had become a cage, his mind a one winged bird imprisoned in it. He would look in disdain at the dead arm that was his right arm, lying there. His right leg lying like a rotting log on the bed in front of him. The smell of his own healing flesh on his face mixed with whatever ointment gel they put in his face wounds, a sickly sweet oily smell.

And then there was the frustration as people spoke to him, in a language sometimes alien to him. They would say some things he could understand but even that which he did understand, he had no ability to reply to. The words would form in his mind but he couldn’t form more than grunts for words. People would come and go sometimes to visit him. Two men and a photographer came once, gave him a medal, took pictures and left. A woman would come and sit with him a lot, but he had no idea who she was. She was kind, she would hold his good left hand, kiss him on the neck, on his cheek, on his mouth. He cried silently when she left sometimes, feeling totally bewildered and crushed, and he didn’t even know why.

This morning he decided to do one of the only things he had true control of now. His only relief now was the tv high up on a bracket in the left of the room beside the door. For more than a week now, he would channel surf, pressing the remote button constantly, no channel lasting more than a few seconds on the screen. The batteries were beginning to fade now, and this morning, Lewis reckoned, they might finally give up the ghost. Sooner or later he’d be stuck for eternity on one channel. After all, it would take an eternity to tell anyone he needed more batteries. Channel roulette, where would he land, now he was beginning to slow as the end of the religion channels approached, and transitioned into cable news. The red indicator light of the remote control finally extinguished, exhausted, the ball settling on a blood red slot.

WBNS-10TV was doing a crime special it appeared. The news reader spoke and none of it made sense. There were images of crime scenes and flashing police lights. And then they started. The first boy, a black teen, the chain around his neck with a Volkswagen badge. A sense of fear and dread began to build, as his stomach lurched. The younger boy, a Bobcats baseball cap on. The third boy, more a man, his football helmet tucked neatly under his arm. Pictures of victims. One after another, three more boys, three more adult men, then a woman. All people he knew. People he recognised. People he could not name but people he knew. The newsreader came on, and then another final picture of a woman. The woman in his dreams bleeding her face all over the car.

And then it came back to him. It all came flooding back, streaming through him. It was Marcella and he felt his body and mind hurtling down a dark tunnel, a tunnel which ended only in a consuming malevolence that overwhelmed him with fear. The man in the apartment, the tall man in white overalls, his tight red curly hair, his pale skin shimmering, patches of vitiligo on his right ear and neck. The man holding a notebook and a lighter. Him. He began to scream silently, only managing to groan as he frantically pushed the remote control button to turn off the tv. But like his right arm, it was dead, useless to him. Suddenly the screen went black and a man stepped into view. A man he knew. Ware.

.......

Ware had been observing him for a little while, over 5 minutes, from outside the room. Lewis had seemed to be lazily flicking from channel to channel, pressing the remote control for the tv. Eventually he had settled on a news channel. The channel was showing a piece on his story. It was the story Ware had been allowed leak. When he had approached his superiors days before in Quantico, he knew it might be the last throw of the dice on the whole thing. If they said no once, they were unlikely to reverse that decision.

He had laid everything out on the table. There was only one other potential lead, and it was a long shot, literally like putting a 100,000 piece puzzle together, the burnt remains of that apartment, currently being put together in the lab at Quantico, but he was not telling the bosses about that because it would sound too out there, too unbelievable.

He had made the case for a media leak that by creating a story that the killer saw, Ware might appeal to his ego and entice him into a pattern of leaving clues, because they had not much left now. After that all they had now would be what the killer chose to give them. He had meticulously gone through the investigation of Nov ’98, warts and all, including the failed attempt to bait the killer that resulted in the death of the prostitute. He had told them about the missing boy in Medina, the Jewish Star painted crudely in the pump house, the implications if he was right.

He hadn’t told him about his other theory, one he loosely held but couldn’t shake off. That their killer was also responsible for Marcella, for the fire. There was something about the clinical nature of it, the organisation of it which made Ware think of Stargazer. They had given him the all clear and he had approached three different news stations with it. He expected push back from Columbus PD but was ordered to kick that upstairs to his boss. What he had not expected out of all this was the reaction he was now witnessing from Lewis. As the piece wore on, almost every part of Lewis’s body began to creak as he tried to shout, his weak groans getting so loud as to be heard through the walls of the hospital room to the outside corridor. Ware could see the report was upsetting him, driving him in to a state of agitation, and Lewis seemed completely unable to turn the tv off himself as he frantically pressed the remote control with no result.

Ware stepped into the room and immediately switched off the tv directly as it hung from the wall. As he looked at Lewis, slowly quietening down a little in front of him, Ware realized something else. If his theory that the killer had been at McEvoy’s apartment that evening was right, that made Lewis the only person alive on this earth that may have seen him.

He could be the key to unlocking the mystery. But if Ware realised this, now Ware knew he might not be the only one who realised it. If the killer himself knew Lewis was alive, suddenly the pitiful creature that now lay trembling in the bed in front of him might be right to shake in fear. Because now Lewis himself would become a potential priority and target for a man who had so far taken as much as twelve lives ruthlessly and who had a bloodlust that seemed unquenchable. A man who had so far gone to extraordinary lengths to leave no traces of himself, and a man who would go to extraordinary lengths to keep it that way.

Ware looked into Lewis’s eyes. It had taken more than a few minutes for Lewis to calm down from the news piece. Ware could see that Lewis knew who he was. He started with simple yes or no questions, some which Lewis answered appropriately, some which Lewis stared back blankly at him instead.

He had an overwhelming temptation to rush straight into questions about Cincinnati which was hard to suppress, but he knew that he would have to tread gently. He spent 30 minutes with him before the nurse asked him to leave as visiting time ended. He needed to meet that doctor again, or someone who could help optimise their communication. As he passed down the corridor looking into the rooms, he couldn’t help but get a sense of desperation as other visitors left their loved ones to the staff and whatever process was ravaging them. Outside the Critical Care Unit, he bumped into Dr Murtaz going in. They exchanged pleasantries before Ware asked him if he’d seen any improvements.

“Well he has had a minor stroke, a heart attack, been shot, and he nearly burned to death. But all in all, he will make it and probably given his age, I’d expect a good functional recovery.” The doctor seemed to think he was being amusing. Ware simply stared back silently.

“We have been starting now some speech therapy and occupational therapy sessions, and we don’t do that without thinking that he has begun to improve. He’ll be leaving the unit for the rehabilitation unit housed in the Veterans hospital some time next week. We’re pretty pleased overall”

Dr Murtaz seemed very optimistic, but Ware felt that time wasn’t on their side.

“Can I ask you put me in contact with the Speech Therapist? I have some specific questions that I need answering as soon as possible” asked Ware.

“Lauren will be with him Wednesday morning after 11 if you can make that session. She might help directly and give you some tips” Murtaz replied. Ware thanked him and the unit to the elevators. He pressed UG for access to the underground car park and exited out into the dimly lit elevator foyer of the car park. He was weighing up the risk/benefits of quizzing Lewis so soon that he almost bumped into a tall repair man working on the CCTV camera overlooking the foyer. They exchanged pleasantries but not before Ware noticed the man’s unusual colouring and vitiligo around his ears and neck.

Ware’s next biggest priority was the lab at Quantico. He had gotten a voicemail from Petronal, the chief technician there to call him about the remains in McEvoy’s apartment when he got a chance. Something must have come up.

..........

David eyed up the man as he exited the elevator. The man was maybe 5’11 and wore glasses which the man subconsciously pushed against the bridge of his nose as he said hello to David. The man’s suit jacket was disturbed in the movement, revealing a holstered revolver for a moment. FBI possibly. David watched him leave and pondered the implications. Perhaps it was too late? Perhaps the dye was cast, the injured policeman had been able to give the FBI what they needed? There was only one way to find out reliably, and now his need to isolate the doctor was even more urgent. It was 4:30 pm. He would have to wait. Now he needed some good fortune, he needed to spot the doctor and isolate him. He would just have to wait here in his van waiting, eyes focused on the elevator exit.

Forty minutes later, as if the universe had heard his plea, Dr Murtaz came out of the elevator foyer, his bag in hand, conversing with someone, a colleague presuambly.

Murtaz made his way to a ’98 Mercedes Coupe while he hung back. Once the car left, David started to make his plan. The exit gate was unmanned. He counted only one CCTV camera trained on the exit, but at least two on the low hanging roof of the carpark itself. The elevator foyer camera would have to be neutralised as well. They would have to be smashed but he could leave the exit one, it was angled for driver side interrogation only, he could wear a hooded sweater when he got in the car itself. He would have to approach the doctor in the 100 or so yards to the car from the elevator and hope that this was done later tomorrow night with the doctor being on call, with less people around than now. Once in the car unnoticed, David was sure the doctor would comply under threat of his .45. He of course couldn’t ultimately use this given they had ballistics on it now. This was another issue he’d have to deal with, he needed a new weapon.But he could wait until the weekend for that. He had his box cutter knife with him, that would suffice for the purpose of neutralising the doctor.

.........

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