Stargazer

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Chapter 24 The Devil is in the detail

Wednesday 9th August, Columbus Ohio

The IT problem with their internet connection took all day to fix. It was only by 10pm that Ware finally was able to view Petronal’s email. It took about an hour for the pictures to download for him in the office, but his mind barely felt the time going by.

He had spent his day making calls, desperately trying to make sense of the sheriffs phone call. The new missing boys were from Canton, the dead woman was supposedly known to be last seen leaving a trailer park at least 70 miles away. The spread of the victims where they first disappeared was still seemingly patternless across the state unlike their subsequent burial. A quick call to CoolPlay Sports camps downtown had confirmed that there had been no camp there run by them.

The company had received a lot of attention by him after Cinncinati and Marcella’s murder. Lewis had left some basic information he’d collected on his PC prior to being nearly killed. But all the employees had come through clean, each one interviewed, all 24 males employed in any capacity. Over 100 hours of interviews, cross referencing and cross checking alibis, background trawls, discovery of known aliases in one case. All resulting in nothing. A big fat zero.

As the images from Petronal’s email came in and were opened by his pc, he noticed they read like a grim familiar history of events. There were fragmented pieces of mostly readable segments like Image #41 which had details of the original investigation.

Some of the notes would ramble a little. After looking at the first one hundred or so, Ware’s head began to spin. There was constant repetition. Over and over. He started to skip through in batches of 20, the names of victims and scenes replayed to him in script form.

At one point, image #467, “Faurot?” was repeated and underlined a few times, as if given special importance. And then the last few images that Petronal had highlighted.

One was a close up of the word Raw, with the “R” capitalised, and burns all around the rest, with the last part of the “w” slightly burnt off. The next was a partial word “luc”, again with the “c” at the very edge of the burnt paper. The last was a four digit number, 1404, with each edge of the paper with both the “1” and the “4” burnt. This could mean this was part of a larger number, a middle segment, start or end, impossible to be sure.

So now what to conclude from this small difference in emphasis? These were the frenetic scribblings of what turned out to be a very disturbed man. The first four notebooks could be arguably have been previous efforts, the most current the one most badly damaged, and also the one with something new. Had McEvoy made a connection? Or was it just burnt ramblings? Ware knew he could stare at his computer screen for hours, going nowhere on this. He had to reach out to Lewis, but he had to do so knowing it would possibly cause Lewis enormous emotional distress. He began to gather what he needed for one of the toughest interviews he might ever have to do.

.........

Wednesday 11am

Lewis looked at the cell phone which he had finally persuaded the nurse to get him. It took three attempts at bringing the idea to the attention of the nurse to get her to understand what he wanted. First he had tried pointing at the tv if a cellphone advert came on in an agitated, then he tried to write “phone” one with the clipboard and marker, but the control of his left hand was so bad and combined with the mess that was the language section of his brain, he had failed miserably.

Finally he had succeeded when he had noticed the nurse using one beside him, and had grabbed it and pointed it to his chest. The handset was small and the buttons were difficult to press but he was beginning to get the hang of it. You needed to have it placed on a firm surface to be able to press down reliably on it if you only had the use of one hand. The easiest way to do that was to manoeuvre the meal tray he had over and be sitting as upright as possible. He’d had more dreams last night much like the same, but always with something slightly different and slightly new. He had been in last nights dream and for the first time ever, a physical image had stayed with Lewis of him.

Something else was happening to him now when he woke up from the dreams. Before, he would wake, gasping and trying to scream, fear having taken hold of him, pressing the call button for help. Now a new emotion began to embed itself in him, one he welcomed with open arms.

Now he would wake with a sense of anger, a sense of urgency. And it would be directed at him, Stargazer, the killer he had chased for almost two years now. The man who had brought him to this point, the man McEvoy had obsessed over. When Lewis woke now, he tried to remember everything he had just dreamt. Last night he had seen the killer, tall, tight red brown curls, curious patches of white on a pale face, wearing an overalls. And then there was the word that Marcella would try to mouth to him, that McEvoy now lying there shot, would try to word to him. One word. Lewis felt he was always on the cusp of realising what it was, like a man ascending an escalator but never managing to reach the top.

He had speech therapy with Laura now, and she entered into the room, Ware did too, carrying a file. He had seen them talking for 5 minutes with one another outside. His ability to comprehend spoken word had come on hugely in the last few days even, like a fog slowly lifting off his brain. But still he was limited in his capacity to respond, making it feel like a one way conversation always with anyone. She had helped his frustrations with this hugely, using picture cards and word charts, even sharing jokes about it. One he did even manage a joint chuckle with her was the idea that everyone thought he was deaf for some bizarre reason. Rather than speak more slowly, people would speak more loudly as if this somehow helped. Laura introduced Ware and made her excuses and left the room. This must be serious he thought thought.

.......

Ware pulled up a chair on Lewis’s left side, his good side. Laura had said it was important to approach his side of attention now, to really engage him. He knew he had limited time now, no point in putting this off any longer, as hard as it may be on Lewis. He showed Lewis a scene picture from Cinncinati of McEvoy shot dead, lying smouldering in the apartment. Then a picture of a gun, then a picture of Lewis himself. As he slowly turned over each picture, Lewis’s eyes gave no hint of anxiety, before he finished and looked at Ware and nodded. Ware hesitated. He was about to cross a line now, that once crossed, might make Lewis hate him forever.

He took out the next scene picture, one of Marcella shot dead in the car. Her face was one of total shock frozen in death, large bloodstains spread all over her torso, her arms splayed out as if flailing. Large spatters of blood lay spread across the passenger seat and door and window. The picture had been lit by a flash because the ambient light had been so low at time of taking. This gave the colours an almost washed out look as the film faded. Lewis took the picture and stared at it. He stared at it for what seemed an age to him. A single solitary tear welled up in Lewis’s left eye and rolled slowly down his cheek. He let out a heave and a small shake went down his left side as he cried silently. Another tear rolled down his cheek before he looked up to Ware and then to the next picture in Ware’s hand. Ware handed him a single picture of a gun again, and then this time, a question mark, and a final picture, a Jewish Star drawn as two overlapping equilateral triangles.

Lewis looked at the sequence of images and then at the Jewish Star, his face suddenly becoming a snarl. He looked up to Ware, his pupils widely dilated, his face tragically contorted. Once Ware made eye contact, Lewis began to nod furiously up and down. They held one another’s gaze for at least a minute in total silence, unmoving, still, acknowledging now they both knew the stakes. They both now had common purpose again.

Ware restarted the conversation now. He motioned to the Jewish Star and to his eyes, in a weird game of charades now, wanting to get some answers to questions that had being flying around in his head now for weeks. Lewis grabbed his cellphone from the bedside locker and started to type a new message to a new unnamed contact.

Yes. Tall. White overalls. Red hair. White patches. Mixed race.”

It took what seemed an age to him for Lewis to type this but there was no distracting him from this task. Ware read the text and his mind began to reel. The guy at the elevator yesterday. His most striking feature was the vitiligo. There might be some CCTV images from around the hospital. Ware put in his own cell number as the contact and sent the text to himself. He then handed the phone back to Lewis.

He decided he had better focus on one or two more questions only. The alarms attached to Lewis were alarming on the monitor and his forehead was drenched in sweat. Ware showed a picture of McEvoy, standard mugshot from when he was arrested. He then showed a picture of a notepad burnt but recognizable, the Jewish Star picture, McEvoy and a speech bubble.

Lewis made a weak smile and put the pictures down, and instead texted

“Just try and say it I know some words! .

He read the text and jumped straight in, slowly saying in a loud voice, “DO YOU THINK MCEVOY HAD FIGURED OUT SOMETHING ABOUT HIM”.

Lewis texted again.

“I’m not deaf Ed”.

The smile on Lewis’s face was small, but it was a smile nonetheless. Ware spoke again. “Well? Do you think McEvoy had made a connection?”

Ware looked to Lewis again as he began to text. His phone buzzed a minute later.

“I dont know I dont know I dont know” .

He read it and looked into Lewis’s face. It was one of desperation and frustration. The nurse came running in at this point, pressing the silence button on the alarm, telling everyone to calm down in a manner that had the exact opposite effect. He picked up his pictures and put them back in his folder. Lewis had begun to gasp and gasp and the alarms began to go off again on the monitor. Eventually Lewis seemed to catch his breath and the tension in the room lightened a little. He decided it was probably best to make a tactical retreat or he could end up off the visitors list. Lewis looked spent from just this brief exchange. And now for the first time ever, Ware had a positive ID of a suspect that could be identified off CCTV, which was his next target.

As he passed by the nurses station, he noticed Columbus uniformed PD taking a statement from a weeping nurse. He stopped another nurse and made a gentle inquiry as to what was going on, flashing his badge discreetly.

“Oh that’s after last night” the nurse replied back. “Dr Murtaz, one of our attending docs here was carjacked last night and murdered. They found him out in the Franklinton projects”.

Carjacked he thought? Seeing their killer here yesterday was more than a coincidence. He took out his cell. Yesterday evening Quantico had released two local FBI vice investigators, Piketty and Reynolds to him, as well as Sam Johnson from ’98’s investigation. They were to beef up the effort immediately and all secretarial support at their office was to be commandeered for this, what was now a manhunt. He rang Piketty first who didn’t answer so he left a voicemail.

“George, Ed here. I need you down at Grants Critical Care immediately. I’ll explain as soon as you arrive. Ring me on the cell once you’ve got this message.”

He knew Reynolds was already headed to Canton to the latest abduction site on his orders. Sam should be in town,she had landed from NYC last night. He called her next. She picked up immediately.

“Hey Ed, things are heating up I hear.” She sounded fresh, and maybe a fresh set of eyes on those images Petronal had sent him would inspire them. But first he knew she’d like to set eyes on their target.

“Sam, we may have a visual. I’ll fill you in later. Meet me at the security office for Grants hospital. It’s off the main reception, behind and to the right. I’ll be there.”

There was a pause on the line before she replied. “Grants. He’s been at Grants?. That’s where Lewis is right? Jesus Ed. Are we on that?”

“There are uniforms here on a related matter. I’ve asked Piketty to make his way here. He won’t try anything with the attention. He’s too careful.”

He hung up and made his way over to the uniformed PD, flashed his ID and asked them to remain on the unit until Piketty arrived.

He made his way quickly down to the security office on the first floor. The security supervisor was a balding slightly overweight guy by the name of Weston, ex cop. He explained he needed CCTV footage of all the last few days including particularly the elevator and car park approaches, particularly around 4 o clock when he had accidentally bumped into the killer at the elevators. Weston wasn’t best happy his mid morning routine involving a bagel and coffee was being hijacked, but reluctantly began retrieving it.

“Just so you know, we have only limited car park and west wing coverage, we’ve had a problem with that in the last day or 2. Vandals or car thieves have been painting out cameras. But the Critical Care Unit, we got. It’s not as hi fidelity as the newer digital systems in the new building, and it’s not colorised but we’ve got a few there no doubt. They’ll give you some wide angle corner views at the entrance and nurses station”

They started to scroll through the timeline from 3:45 pm to 4:15 pm on the main carpark entrance. The car’s driver became the focus on one camera and the cars plates on another. Curiously most people seemed to look absentmindedly at the corner camera as they used the ticket dispenser to get in. Ware slowed it right down. He recognised himself entering. And then their target came into view. Ware knew it was him immediately from the curious white patches of vitiligo. But crucially, the killer never looked up to the camera. You could still see his tight curly hair, and even without color you could just about make out the vitiligo patches on his face, but it wasn’t the quality image he needed. The side profile however was possibly enough to extrapolate an artist’s impression from. And there were a multitude of cameras he may have passed after this point. They would be here for awhile yet.

“You need another coffee?” Ware asked him.

“Nah I’m good” the security cop replied.

He looked at the panel of 8 different screens with real time imaging cycling through various angles. He nodded in their direction and looked back at the security guard before speaking. “Trust me. You’re gonna need another coffee”.

----------

Johnson sat at the computer screen with Ware looking over her shoulder. They were back in the Bureau’s office in downtown Columbus. It was 3pm and he was conscious of the media deadline. If they had a photo fit, CCTV still frame, and finally an artist’s impression, in order to get a slot on the evening news, his contact at the three state wide news channels wanted anything by 6pm in terms of a press release and preparing audio visual content for a late evening piece. The problem was how their killer might react if he saw anything about himself. Sam was of the opinion that they should run even a bad photo fit because of the vitiligo aspect- it was such an unusual feature that whilst it would be impossible for him to continue his public life and he would go to ground, they were bound to get at least a few members of the public who’d offer a name or identity within days that fitted.

He was worried about the capability and desire of their killer to hide in plain sight, all the while destroying any evidence he might have. After all, he had almost certainly gone to the trouble to kill the attending doctor for reasons as yet unclear. To gain access to Lewis? To gain information about Lewis? Ware had confirmed to himself that he had not jumped to conclusions on this when he rang Columbus PD to check what prints they had lifted off Murtaz’s car. None bar the doctors.

Wiped clean- hardly the modus operandi of a car jacker. If their killer went to that much trouble to chase Lewis down, it indicated a high desire to remain at large.

And so he was here now with Johnson, hoping another set of eyes on Petronal’s emailed images would spark a connection, anything that might be added to their photo fit. They needed to send a message to him, one that said they had connected him to his crimes in another more certain way, that there was no escape, no way to elude them through destroying evidence.

Johnson might make a connection but so could Lewis. There was something about the frustration in Lewis’s eyes during their last exchange along with the repetition of the “I don’t know” in his text that made him think Lewis was on the cusp of something. Was there a risk the killer might strike again though if they delayed? By Ware’s calculations, another three boys would be murdered before summers end, and he had struck twice already since Lewis was shot in Cinncinati. The stakes were high.

...........

The nurse had given him something to calm him via his drip after Ware left. He had floated for an hour or possibly more, he couldn’t tell and he didn’t care. Then he had slept. And he dreamt.

He had appeared first, the lighter in one hand, a gun in the other. Smoke swirled around him, Lewis could see a dull amber glow behind him, Marcella screaming at him in the background. Then Marcella lay dead in the car, that look of shock and horror on her face as her mouth made an agonised contortion of an expression. McEvoy was sitting beside her, seemingly alive although bloodied, with his blue notebook in his hand, lazily flicking through the pages with the barrel of his .38 smiling.

“License and registration” Lewis would ask him leaning in the passenger window, and McEvoy would just sit there continuing to smile. Then he would turn his head slowly to Lewis and mouth something, a word, doing so almost in an exaggerated way, in slow motion, teasing him.

He awoke from the dream in a cold sweat feeling disoriented. He was pretty sure it was not yet evening time, the same nurse was on shift from the morning. The tv remote control was beside his cell phone and within reach. Increasingly his mobility in general was improving, he had even began to get some power back in his right arm. He grabbed the cellphone first and then the remote control, switching on the small 22inch tv. The travel channel was on, deals on Mexican holiday resorts were being compared. Lewis looked at the images as they flashed before him, a longing for a better time beginning to take seed in him. Young couples in love sharing a glass of wine to a beautiful sunset. Families playing mini-golf, kids jumping into the pool, water skiing, sailing...... kids jumping in the pool....

It didn’t hit him like a thunderbolt. It didn’t strike him in a flash like lightening. Instead it rose like a fetid bubble to the surface of his mind and burst, leaving a spattering of stains on it. Pool. Pool was the word and it was also so much more. McEvoy had said it to him. He had made the connection and now it was so obvious. The pool parties that Pintz and Miller went to. The Faurot Splash Pool. The pool in Medina. The boy on his way to swim training. He had seen them there first. He had been there working on them, blending in. Some sort of maintenance guy. Lewis flipped open the cellphone.

...........

Johnson had no inspiration on viewing the images that Petronal had forwarded. It was 5:30pm, deadline for tv was fast approaching. His phone buzzed in his pocket. From Lewis.

POOLS HE MAINTAINS POOLS THATS WHAT MECVOY SAID”

Ware felt a rushing sensation run through him as he realised the implications.

“Sam, plug in Ohio State Pool Maintence into the search engine.”

Johnson typed the search term on the keyboard and 5 different companies came up. They looked up the contact numbers of each but none had a sequence section like their pattern of burnt numbers or any of the lettered sequences either.

“These are only the ones with an internet presence though. Double check against a Yellow Pages listing.” she suggested.

He smiled - she was right, a more established business still may not yet have seen the need to use the internet to advertise. He searched through the drawers frantically looking for a Yellow Pages listing, eventually getting one on his third drawer. He went straight to the services section before getting to the plumbing sub section. And there it was, proudly occupying the top right hand corner of the first page of the plumbing segment.

Rawluc’s Ohio State Pool Maintenance.

Trenton Ohio. Phone (614) 414 1404.

He needed called Trenton PD, he needed a private residence location immediately.

Ware looked at his watch. It would take an hour and 40 minutes to get there, and 20 minutes before that just mobilising the people he needed. Five cars minimum, and whatever the local PD could manage. He’d let the media know straight away. If their killer went to ground so be it, but he’d find it hard abducting and killing children with a national manhunt underway..

.........

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