It was 7.45am and Detective Luke Fox sat reading the daily newspaper casually sipping on his morning cup of coffee. With his shift due to commence at 8am he wasn’t even remotely ready to consider the workload waiting for him before his morning caffeine fix.
The intrusive warbling of Luke’s desk telephone interrupted his morning read. Luke’s eyes lifted from his newspaper to wall clock. He rolled his eyes. Luke knew from experience that an early morning call almost always resulted in an unpleasant job first thing.
Luke’s tone was short and abrupt when he answered the phone call interrupting his first coffee for the day. The caller was a police Sergeant from the 84th uniform division. One of his crew had earlier been called to the New York Marriott Hotel in Downtown Brooklyn after hotel staff discovered the body of a white female in one of the rooms. The attending police suspected homicide and requested the attendance of a Detective and Luke was it.
The uniform officer who called the job in was waiting for Luke in the foyer when Luke arrived at the Marriott Hotel.
‘What do we know, Jerry…?’ Luke asked as the men strolled towards the lift lobby.
‘The vic is a female by the name of Claire O’Connor, she was—’
‘Wait…’ Luke held up a finger. ‘Claire O’Connor…The journalist from the Daily News…?’ Luke asked.
‘Same one, apparently,’ the cop said.
‘Shit…’ Luke said. ‘I actually met her once. She’s a terrier in the journalist world. What room was she in?’
‘Ah…tenth floor…room 1014.’
’Was she a guest at the hotel…or visiting someone? Luke asked as he pressed the elevator call button and stood back to monitor the progress of the next available elevator car.
‘She was a guest. She’d booked in for two nights. She had requested a wakeup call and when she didn’t respond they sent someone to the room to manually wake her…you know, knock on the door.’
The characteristic ding sounded through the elevator lobby as the next elevator signaled its arrival. The doors sprung open and both cops moved inside. Luke pressed the number ten on the button panel and the doors swallowed them up.
‘What was the COD?’ Luke asked.
Both men stood with their eyes lifted to the horizontal row of numbers over the door, monitoring the floor-by-floor progress of their ride.
‘Looks like she was strangled…but we can’t be certain. The ME’s on the way…he’ll be able to give you a more accurate COD after he examines her. ’
The uniform officer on duty at the hotel room door nodded at Luke as he arrived at room 1014. Luke slipped on a pair of disposable shoe covers, followed by latex gloves before he entered the room.
Upon entering the spacious suite the visitor stared at a wall with a side table directly in front of them. To the left was an ensuite. Turn to the right and you entered the hotel room which opened up into a long rectangular suite. A full kitchen was on the left as you passed through. A few paces further in and you entered the dining room, complete with a full size dining table. Beyond the dining room, separated by a timber slat feature wall, was the spacious lounge room complete with flat screen television and comfortable two and three seat sofas around a six foot coffee table.
Luke noted this hotel room was bigger than his whole apartment. He gazed down at the fully clothed female victim lying on her back next to the two-seater sofa.
Luke continued through the lounge and into the spacious master bedroom, complete with king size bed. He noted that the bed was still made.
With a scratch of his head, Luke returned to the victim in the lounge room. The victim’s large purse was on the coffee table. Its contents were emptied onto the table beside the bag.
Luke examined the scattered property. He noted there was everything a guy would expect there to be in woman’s purse, but interestingly there was no cell phone, or note pad.
What journalist worth their salt didn’t carry a cell phone and a note pad? Something wasn’t right here…? And where was her laptop, or iPad? He scanned the room. She would most certainly travel with a computer or an iPad.
Luke knelt down beside the body. The victim’s lifeless eyes were frozen open. Evidence of petechial hemorrhage was present in both her eyes. He was no expert, but these tiny burst blood vessels usually suggested she had been strangled.
He ran his eyes down the woman’s fully clothed body as he considered the possible scenarios. Judging by her intact clothing there was no sign of any sexual assault.
Luke examined her fingers and arms. There were no apparent defensive wounds. So what was the motive for the killing? This was certainly no accidental death. Strangulation suggests extreme anger by the attacker.
Anyone who can wrap his hands around a woman’s throat and squeeze and squeeze until he literally squeezes the life out of her, clearly wanted this woman dead. But what did she do? Who did she piss off? Was she having an affair? Was she meeting someone in this room? We need to find out who was in this room with her…and why.
Luke checked the victim’s suitcase, hotel room drawers, cupboards, anything he could find that opened and closed.
The officer who accompanied Luke to the hotel room must’ve noticed Luke searching for something.
‘What you lost, Detective?’ the officer asked.
Luke cupped his forehead in contemplation. His eyes continued to dart around the room.
‘Her ID in her purse indicated she lives in Manhattan, right…?’ Luke began, ‘so she was visiting Brooklyn, presumably for work…’ Luke continued to scan the room. ‘So if an investigative journalist from the Daily News was staying in Brooklyn for work purposes…then you can bet ya balls she would’ve had a file with her...papers, documents, evidence, anything that would indicate why she was here, and who she was here to meet.’ Luke’s gaze returned to the cop. ‘But I don’t see it,’ he said gesturing vaguely around the room. ‘I don’t see anything like that in here. The room’s clean.’
Luke returned to the coffee table. He used his pen to nudge some of the victim’s purse property aside to reveal one of her business cards. Using his mobile phone he called the office of the Daily News and asked for the Editor.
After a brief wait he was put through to Lucy Carmichael. Lucy was able to confirm that the victim was in Brooklyn on assignment, but Lucy didn’t know who Claire was meeting. Lucy informed Luke that Claire had been conducting a lengthy covert investigation under the veil of confidentiality, and not even she, as the Editor, knew the target at this time. Lucy told how Claire recently received some information that took her to Brooklyn to interview some likely witnesses. But Lucy had no idea who the witnesses were.
Following a brief discussion with the Medical Examiner and Crime Scene Investigators, Luke made his way to the hotel security room to review the hotel foyer security footage.
The hotel Security Manager met Luke outside the ground floor Security room. The Manager swiped his security card over a proximity reader and both men entered the secure review room.
Luke stood just inside the door taking in a typical first time glance around. The room was a small, dark and uninviting. To the left a bank of three twenty-five inch computer monitors occupied the wall in front of the only desk. Two chairs, a camera console and a telephone were the only other furniture items in the room.
With the manager operating the security footage review equipment they were able to locate footage of the victim checking into the hotel at 2.10pm.
At 3.30pm the victim was depicted walking through the foyer to the lounge area off to the side of the foyer. Claire carried what appeared to be a manila folder as she approached a male person who was seated on one of the lounges. The security footage captured a clear identifiable description of this male.
They exchanged a formal business style handshake before she opened the folder and showed something to her guest. Both people then made their way to the lift lobby as she escorted her guest up to her room. Luke was satisfied the handshake greeting was formal. He was satisfied this male was not there for sexual reasons, such as an affair.
The same male was seen on the review leaving the hotel on his own at 5.10pm.
At 5.30pm Claire was again depicted meeting a second male in the same lounge area off to the side of the foyer. This male was also clearly identifiable in the security footage. The same business style handshake greeting was exchanged. After a brief discussion the victim showed this second visitor a document in the manila folder. They too made their way to her room. The male remained for forty minutes before being captured on video leaving the hotel.
At 6.45pm the victim was depicted meeting a third male in the lounge waiting area. Unlike the previous guests, this male wore a dark New York Yankees baseball cap. He was thick set and wore a dark jacket and jeans. They shook hands before moving up to the victim’s room. Strangely, this time Claire didn’t have the manila folder with her when she met this male.
The male guest never lifted his head at any time. Even in the elevator he kept his head down. The peak of his cap sufficiently hid any facial features. It appeared this guy knew where the security cameras were located.
He had to be our guy. Luke was certain this male would be ‘the somebody’ Claire was chasing.
At 7.38pm the same male was depicted walking briskly through the hotel lobby bef0re exiting onto Adams Street. Luke felt a certain eeriness wash over him at the realization the cap wearing mystery man had probably just killed the journalist minutes before he left.
Luke noticed the male didn’t appear to be carrying anything in his hands. The jacket he wore was baggy enough to conceal any of Claire’s files or records, or even her laptop or iPad that he may have taken with him.
Luke’s eyes narrowed. ‘Who are you…You sonofabitch?’ Luke said to no-one in particular, as he watched the male quickly walk across the hotel foyer. ‘Look up… Look up… Just once damn you, Look up…’ he pleaded. ‘Ah shit!’ he exclaimed as the male exited the hotel without lifting his head.
The Security Guard continued the review of the footage in fast forward until the time Claire’s body was discovered the next morning. She did not meet any other men in the foyer.
Back in Barnaby’s Bar Luke had finished relaying the last of his difficult murders to the Old Man…
Luke eyed his table guest. ‘That is the last of the cases that have been giving me grief now for weeks. The female journalist was strangled in her hotel room and apart from the footage of the suspicious male exiting the hotel…I have no idea who killed her. Well…’ Luke added, ‘I suspect it was that last male that killed her…but I don’t know for sure and I don’t who he is.’
‘What about forensics and the autopsy…any revelations?’ the old man asked.
‘Nope, nuthin. No transfer evidence, no DNA, no epithelials – nothin’. The CSU boys suspect he wore gloves.
‘You said her laptop was missing…?’ the old man asked.
Luke nodded. ‘Correct. Everything that you would expect an investigative journalist on assignment to have with her was not in the room,’ he said. ‘What complicates the investigation is the fact she kept everything to herself. Nothing was shared in her investigation.’
‘What about her office computer…’ the old man suggested. ‘Anything on that?’
Luke shook his head. ‘Checked it…Nothing at all. I assume she kept it all on her personal laptop or iPad, or whatever it was she used, for security reasons,’ Luke said. ‘Without it we don’t know who she was investigating or why. But the fact she was killed suggests she was close.’
The old man stared silently at Luke. He was clearly considering something but his expression was blank.
‘Any ideas…?’ Luke asked, knowing the old man hadn’t been short of ideas for the three previous matters.
‘I do have a theory,’ he said.
‘Well, I’d like to hear it coz I got nuthin’,’ Luke said.
The old man smiled. ‘I have investigated a number of these types of murders…’
‘Of course you have…’ Luke said sarcastically.
‘Every investigative journalist I have met always recorded their interviews, either by video or audio and usually covertly. From what you tell me about this young woman she appeared to be of the same character type. She would have recorded the meeting somehow…mark my words.’
Luke thought for a moment. His mind’s eye rewound back to the hotel room. ‘All that was left in the room was her suitcase and clothes and her purse, the contents of which was strewn over the coffee table. I can only assume the perp tipped it out looking for a recording device…Maybe he found it and took it with him.’
The old man shook his head to disagree. ‘No…this woman was too clever for something as obvious as a tape recorder sitting in her purse,’ the old man said. ‘No. She would be far too clever for something as primitive as that.’
‘Should I go back to the room and see if she had a camera or something hidden in the room somewhere…?’
The old man shook his head. ‘The purse…’ he suggested. ‘Check the purse. You said it was sitting on the coffee table near where she was found.’
‘I did but it was empty.’
The old man shook his head. ‘What did I tell you, son…Everything is not as it seems,’ he said with an almost disappointed shake of his head. ‘Check the purse, but don’t just look inside the bag…look inside the bag’s lining. She seems to me to be the type of journalist that would secrete a recorder, or maybe even a small video camera in her purse to record the meeting. Think about it. Why did she need to have her purse on the table where they were presumably sitting to chat? The purse could have been anywhere in that room, but it was on the coffee table.’
Luke cupped his chin as he contemplated. ‘Pretty high tech old man…This is CIA kind of stuff you are talking about here, isn’t it?’
The old man shook his head. ‘Not at all. These sort of devices are available almost anywhere nowadays. You should know that being a young man living with today’s technology world.’
Luke held his gaze on the old man while he considered the latest bit of advice. ‘So, you think some sort of recording device was secreted in the purse…?’
‘I am certain of it…’ The old man reassured. ‘Check out the purse and you will find the answer to your killer. Do you still have it?’
Luke shook his head. ‘No, all the victim’s non-evidence related property was returned to her parents. In fact, they only collected it from the police station about eight days ago.’
‘Well. Hopefully they haven’t discarded it. Where do they live?’
‘If I were you…I’d give them a call tomorrow to make sure they don’t throw anything away,’ the old man suggested.
Luke had already flicked open the cover on his note pad and quickly scribbled down notes as the old man made his suggestions. When Luke lifted his eyes he noticed the old man was smiling. He had a look of satisfaction over his face.
‘Now…doesn’t that feel better to have talked through your problems...?’ The old man asked. ‘Better than the alternative...’ He flicked an arthritic finger at the shot glasses.
Luke nodded and smiled. In the short time he had known the old guy Luke had actually grown to like him. The old man was harmless and just trying to help, possibly even trying to revive the passion he had back in the day. Maybe he was trying to relive the chase from when he was an active cop all those years ago.
The old man picked up his hat. ‘Well…It’s getting late for an old man like me...’
Luke raised his hand. ‘Do you have to go…?’ he asked. The old man paused while he regarded Luke and then placed his hat back on the table.
‘No…not right away. Why? What’s wrong? Are there more cases…?’
Luke smiled at the question. ‘No…’ he said shaking his head and grinning. ‘No, nothing’s wrong,’ Luke said. ‘It’s just that…I, well…It’s just…I don’t know anything about you. You have given me all this advice…which I really appreciate and I just thought I’d like to know more about you.’
‘Oh…OK,’ the old man settled back into his chair. ‘Not too much to tell. You know how it is… the life of a career cop is work…work…and more work,’ he smiled.
‘Is your wife still alive…?’ Luke asked.
The old man’s head lowered. He appeared to briefly reminisce. Luke thought he noticed a glimmer of a smile. The old man’s eyes returned to Luke. ‘My beautiful wife, Emma passed about five years ago…’ he said.
’I’m sorry to hear that, ’Luke said.
’My biggest regret is I wasn’t there for her when it happened. You know how it is… The old man’s eyes stared blankly forward as he spoke. ‘She went to bed one night and simply didn’t wake up.’ His blank gaze snapped back to Luke and he smiled. ‘My beautiful young granddaughter found my Em the next morning when she visited.’ A sparkle appeared in his eye when he spoke of his granddaughter. ‘She always visited us, to look after us. She is a beautiful young girl…very caring,’ he said.
‘How long were you married?’
‘Just under fifty years, son. I was blessed. We have three fantastic children – two boys and girl. Out of everything I have done in my life…my kids were by far my greatest achievements,’ the old man said with genuine affection. ‘The eldest is a university professor—retired, the middle boy followed me into the force, and the youngest, she’s a nursing sister,’ he said smiling proudly. ‘And we have seven fantastic grandkids,’ he smiled. ‘But you asked about my wife…’ he said as a segue. ’There’s a funny story about when I proposed. The old man smirked. ‘I haven’t told this story to many people,’ he smiled.
‘Really…? I’d love to hear it,’ Luke said.
‘I was trying to be the romantic, so I took Em out in a rowboat on Prospect Lake. It was a beautiful day, no wind, sunny. Everything was going well. I got down on one knee in the boat and opened the ring case to show Em the engagement ring I chose for her.’ He raised his crooked finger to Luke. ‘A word of warning, son…Don’t ever try to kneel in a row boat, especially if you are proposing…’ he warned. ‘The boat rocked and jerked suddenly and when I tried to get my balance I dropped the blasted ring into the lake. I swore and Em laughed.’
‘Oh shit…Did you lose the ring…?’
The old man grinned and nodded. ‘Took me forty-five minutes of duck diving down…up for air, then back down again, dragging my hands along the slimy bottom through all that sludge and reeds, but I eventually found it. The water was only four feet deep… but I got it. I never give up on anything son…’ he said raising a finger. ‘So now I’m sitting in the boat, soaking wet…proposing to my girl,’ he said. ’We both had a good laugh about it… saw the funny side.'
‘That’s great...’ Luke said with a smile.
He didn’t know what it was, but this old guy was captivating Luke while he regaled him with his life stories. He was like the Grandfather Luke never had, or rather, never knew. Both his grandfathers died when he was very young, so he never had the opportunity to get to know them, and they him.
The old man picked up his hat. ‘Well…now you know a little more about me, son,’ he said. ‘But it really is time for this old man to go,’ he said. He smiled at Luke while he edged himself along the booth seat to the end.
At the end of the seat his eyes lifted back to meet Luke’s. ‘Forget about that girl, the one who left you…You’ll meet the right girl one day, son…You’ll find someone who’ll take your breath away. She’ll be the one…’ he said nodding and holding up a crooked finger. ‘You won’t know it straight away…but she’ll be the love of your life.’
Luke smiled and nodded.
Luke watched as the old man slowly and carefully rose to his feet, put on his hat and picked up his walking stick. Turning back to face Luke the old man said, ‘It’s been a pleasure meeting you young man. I wish you well with all those cases...oh, and just as importantly, finding your new love,’ he smiled then doffed his hat.
As a courtesy to the old man Luke stood. ‘No…thank you for taking the time to talk through my cases with me...I know it has helped me, even if only to stop me wiping myself out on them,’ Luke gestured towards the remaining shot glasses.
The old man nodded. ‘Good luck son,’ he said with a smile before making his way towards the street exit.
Luke sat for a moment while he processed the last ninety minutes spent with the old man. He glanced at his watch and noted it was nearing midnight – Barnaby’s closing time. He slid himself out from the booth, picked up the shot glasses and returned them to the bar.
Benny stood leaning his arms on the bar when Luke approached. He had a smile on his face as he watched Luke place the glasses still containing whisky onto the bar. ‘Thanks Luke,’ he said. ‘Three too many was it?’ Benny asked.
Luke smiled and nodded. ‘Yeah, I decided I’d had enough Benny,’ he said. ‘Least I’ll have a slightly clearer head when I wake in about …’ Luke checked his watch. ‘Shit…Six or so hours,’ he said raising his eyebrows.
‘That you will Detective,’ Benny offered.
‘So…What do I owe you Benny?’ Luke asked.
Benny removed the glasses from the top level of the bar. ‘Ah… Just make it an even twenty bucks,’ Benny said, heavily discounting Luke’s nine shots.
‘You’re too kind Benny.’ Luke peeled off two bills and dropped them onto the bar. ‘Let’s call it thirty,’ he said.
Benny scooped up the bills and held them up to Luke. ‘Thank you Detective,’ he said with a nod of gratitude and his trademark beaming smile.