CHAPTER 3

4-15-04, Wednesday

Undersheriff Roy Roebuck looks at the assembled group of detectives who are working on the Pamela Price murder case and notes the presence of a couple of visitors…

"Okay, does anyone know why Will couldn't be here for the morning briefing?"

Sgt. Williams responds, "Will had to make an appearance at the courthouse."

Toni knows that her deliberately vague answer won't be challenged as testifying in court is an unassailable excuse for missing work. She also knows that Will isn't testifying. He is getting search warrants from Judge Donald Baker and doesn't want that information spread around.

Roebuck says, "Then before we review progress on the case, Lieutenants Preston and Gordon, why are you here?"

George Gordon replies, "We want to know how the case is proceeding, if there is an arrest coming up anytime soon. Frankly Roy, Lucy and I are getting fed up with the way everyone in this building keeps looking at us."

"What do you mean?"

"Since The Bear, Lucy and I were the only ones who were for certain on the third floor at the time of the murder, we three are being given the scarlet letter treatment. My own men are looking at me with doubt in their eyes!"

Lucy Preston adds, "And since Miss Price was on her way to see me, I am especially being given looks of suspicion."

(Carlisle whispers to Toni, "Now she knows how she makes us feel.")

Lucy hears the comment but ignores it as she continues, "As for The Bear, a decorated former officer, he has taken a leave of absence until this matter is resolved."

Gordon says, "And all of this is made on an assumption that Miss Price was on her way downstairs when she was killed. Sure, her body was found in that position, but I've watched a lot of people die over the years, and their bodies don't always drop in a pre-determined pattern. Plenty of times, in the last second of life, the body will spasm, twist, and turn in all sorts of unexpected ways."

Freddie, from the Crime Scene Unit, retorts, "We all know that, and if you had bothered to read my report, you would see I only said that it was most likely the young woman was going downstairs when she was killed. I didn't guarantee that is how it happened."

Gordon says, "Yeah, but that detail is being overlooked by the rank and file."

Roebuck says, "Okay, I get what the two of you are saying, but what do you expect me to do? Can I order the people you work with not to be suspicious? Lt. Preston, you yourself pointed out that it was very possible that a cop committed this crime. Until we can prove otherwise, the two of you will just have to endure."

Lucy asks, "Then can we at least know if this detective team is even close to an arrest?"

Roebuck replies, "Normally you wouldn't be allowed to know the progress of an investigation that you are not connected to, but under the circumstances I will allow you to remain in this briefing. Sgt. Williams, status report."

"We have spent an enormous amount of time tracking down and questioning Miss Price's impressively long list of lovers, and most have solid alibis. Our own security footage of who went in and out of the building verifies none of her various lovers were at the station at the time of the crime. We even used facial recognition software to make sure none of them came in disguised as cops. They are all in the clear."

"With one glaring exception." Lucy says while staring at Carlisle.

He responds, "Two. The Bear was also in her sex journal."

"But he isn't working the murder case."

Carlisle hotly retorts, "If anyone wants me off of this team…"

Roebuck says, "Easy Detective, let's not get out of hand. Will Girardi runs the detective bureau, and I trust his judgment. Only he will decide whether or not you should be on this assignment. Sergeant, is there anything good to report?"

Toni replies with a sigh, "Sorry, no. We have been through Miss Price's phone records and finances, we have talked to her family, neighbors, co-workers and friends without anything to show for it. Pamela Price, with the exception of her thrill seeking sex life, led a remarkably dull existence. Nothing in her work indicates a source of danger, and everyone – including ex-lovers, liked the young woman."

Roebuck grumbles, "This is beginning to sound like a dead end investigation. That is not acceptable. Go back over everything, don't hesitate to be creative. At this point, no idea is too weak to follow up on, including the possibility of someone being hired to kill the victim. If this crime goes unsolved, we may never regain the public's trust. So get back to work, and I expect a better report tomorrow."

The detective team files out of Roebuck's office but the two lieutenants remain behind.

Gordon says, "Roy, if this crime goes unsolved, the three of us from the third floor will always carry the stain of suspicion. How can we function like that?"

Preston adds, "That's especially true for my position. Internal Affairs has to be beyond reproach."

"I hear what the two of you are saying, but again, what can I do? I can't order doubt out of existence. If you feel you can no longer effectively do your jobs, I can arrange temporary transfers to county duty until this blows over."

Gordon says, "Retreat? Have our careers damaged because of beetle brained thinking? Never!"

Preston nods, "I agree. I didn't make the move from New Orleans just to have my career snagged by a bunch of cops who are acting like gossipy housewives!"

"Then we are done here. As I said, you will just have to endure."

Roy turns to the paperwork on his desk and the two lieutenants recognize their dismissal. They exit together and head for the front stairs, acutely aware that eyes follow them wherever they go. Once they are back on the third floor, they breathe a sigh of relief. At least in their own domain they feel reasonably safe from accusing stares. Gordon follows Lucy into her office and watches as she switches on her computer...

"Busy day?" Gordon asks.

"Routine. You?"

"I scaled everything back for the moment. I'm really fed up with my own guys having those guilty looks of doubt they try to hide from me."

"So...we have extra time on our hands. Are you suggesting we start our own investigation? That would be against the rules."

Gordon grins. "And of course you would never bend the rules."

Lucy smiles back. "We would need a starting point - something the other detectives haven't considered."

"Such as, why was Pamela Price really coming to see you?"

Lucy glares at Gordon. "You too? I keep getting these thinly veiled hints that there was something more between me and the Price girl than was really there. Yes, she flirted with me in bars a couple of times. Yes, I was on her 'seduction' list, but there was nothing between us! She really was coming here to get background information for some spec story she was considering. Maybe she would have flirted with me a bit more, but it wasn't going to do her any good."

"And you weren't flattered by all of that attention?"

"Well...maybe, a little. She was young and pretty and I never had another woman pursue me like that before. But honestly George, there was nothing between us, and there wasn't going to be."

Gordon sighs. "So much for having a fresh starting point. I guess I'll go back to my office and think. There must be some angle the others haven't thought of."

"If you come up with anything, let me know." Lucy calls after Gordon as he exits. Hmph, you would think George would know she was totally straight after all of the times she had flirted with him. Why does every cop have to be so loyal to his wife...?

X X X X X

"Helen, may I have a word in private?" Gavin Price asks.

Helen steps into the vice-principal's small office and wonders what Joan has been up to now.

Price hesitates before speaking. "Helen, I wonder if you can do me a small favor?"

"If I can."

"I've been trying to contact your husband to get a progress report on my cousin's murder case. So far, he's been ducking my calls."

"Oh...that's pretty normal in a case like this. The police usually don't discuss details of an on-going investigation with anyone, including family members. Will sometimes makes an exception, he always likes to consider the feelings of the victim's families, but for the most part he follows the rules."

"I can understand that, but my aunt and uncle have been pressuring me for details, especially for when they can get the body back for a decent burial."

"I understand, and I think that is something Will can help with. From the few details I know, the physical evidence is well established. I'm sure something can be arranged."

"Thank you Helen, that will be a relief to my family. Now if only the...sordid details of my cousin's life don't come out."

"Then you knew...?"

"That Pamela had a wild, private life? Oh yes, but thankfully her parents were unaware of Pam's excessive indulgences. She was honest with me and that's why I've been feeling so guilty. I had a stong hunch that the way she lived her life was going to end up hurting my cousin, but I never suspected it would go this far. Still, I feel I should have said something to discourage her, but at 22, Pam felt she was immortal. You couldn't convince her she was headed for a fall."

"You shouldn't blame yourself. Your cousin's lifestyle was her responsibility, and besides, we can't be sure that had anything to do with what caused...her murder. Give it a little more time. I sure Will is going to crack this case any time soon."

X X X X X

Lt. Wade Parker looks up from his desk as he hears the perfunctory knock before Captain Will Girardi enters and closes the door. The serious look on Will's face tells him this isn't a friendly call. Parker waves Will into the chair in front of his desk.

"Will, you've been away from the station most of the day. I hear you were at the courthouse testifying?"

"Actually I was getting warrants to search phone records and properties."

"The Price murder case?"

"Yes. Parker, did Pamela Price ever contact you?"

"Several times, just as she did all of the senior officers on the force. As the head of Narcotics, she was particularly eager to get an interview with me."

"Did she discuss the nature of that proposed interview?"

"Okay Will, you've obviously got something on your mind. Spill it."

"In your position you gather more information about the city's drug dealers and gang members than any other man on the force. Every shred of intel that comes into us eventually crosses your desk."

Parker nods. "I know everything from their latest tattoos to their favorite brand of shoes. You never know what detail might help in nailing one of those s.o.b.'s."

"I've been doing some research and have verified what I was told yesterday. Over the last four years there have been eleven sniper attacks on various gang members in this city - all of them were notoriously mean, violent men with long criminal histories."

Parker smiles. "Do tell."

"Are you going to deny you knew about this sniper?"

"I seem to recall an unsolved shooting or two. You say it was eleven? Huh, how could I have missed a pattern like that?"

"And Miss Price didn't want to interview you about a sniper who was wounding drug dealers with only a .22?"

"I never got into details with Miss Price about the subject of her interview. All requests were forwarded to the public relations officer."

"So you're going to stonewall me, Parker?"

"If you are planning to make an accusation that might ruin my career, then yes. What do you want from me, Captain? Do you want me to admit that I long ago noticed a pattern that could only be some vigilante who was getting a little street justice from the scum who terrorize their neighborhoods and destroy innocent lives? Do you think I would admit to admiring such a person? That as long as no innocent people were getting hurt, I would be willing to look the other way? Well, of course I deny noticing such a pattern and so would anyone else who works the drug wars. So maybe some nut, probably with a comic book fetish, fancies himself a champion of justice. If such a person exists, then he's giving back to those low life criminals a taste of the fear they daily dish out."

"And where would you draw the line in looking the other way...the murder of a young reporter who did notice the pattern?"

"Wait, are you accusing me of killing the Price girl?"

"Figure it out, Lieutenant. This sniper, whoever it is, has accurate, detailed knowledge of the various drug dealers in this city. He's never made a mistake, never shot the wrong person and the ones he has shot are the worse this city has to offer. Only someone with an intimate familiarity with the town's drug culture could do that."

"Now hold on, Captain. I might have looked the other way, but I'd never take the law into my own hands like that - I have too much to lose. I've got three kids and a wife who depend on me, and I would never jepordize their future. That's why, before you brought down the old system, I was never one of those cops who took bribes or did favors. Besides, as much as I hate drug dealers, I know what it would be like for a cop in prison. You need to look elsewhere."

Will nods. "I know. There's one other cop who has all of the inside information that you do, and one much better equipped to be our 'vigilante'."

A look of dismay crosses Parker's face. "No...not him."

"I have the proof."

"Then why did you put me through this runaround?"

"Because I don't like cops who look the other way. I'm the head of the detective bureau Lieutenant, and it takes more than not taking bribes and doing favors to cut it on this job. An offical reprimand will appear in your file, and count yourself lucky I'm not bringing you up on charges."

Will exits the narcotics division office while a suitably subdued Wade Parker contemplates that his career is now permanently stalled.

X X X X X

There is no knock as Will, Sgt. Williams and Det. Carlisle enter Lt. George Gordon's office. With one glance the head of SWAT knows why they are here. Gordon sighs, slowly stands and allows Williams to confiscate his sidearm. Gordon sits back down and winces at the condemnation he sees in the faces of his fellow officers...

"I should have known I couldn't get away with it. You're too good of a detective, Will."

Will responds, "Before you say anything else George, you have the right to remain silent..."

"I know my rights, and I waive them. In fact, since I know you will want the details, I might as well write out my confession right now."

Gordon takes a sheet of paper and a pen, begins to write but then hesitates. "How did you find out?"

Will replies, "I got a wise piece of advice: to go back to the begining and examine my assumptions. The one flaw we all made was to assume this was not a pre-meditated murder. That Pamela Price's killing came as a risky crime of opportunity. After all, who would dare commit a planned murder in a police station? But when I considered that possibility, it changed the whole picture - it had to be a cop. Miss Price was an ambitious reporter and something of a thrill seeking sex addict. Those factors had to be the root cause of why someone would want to kill her. The only story she could have been working on that was dangerous enough to get her killed was this vigilante sniper, who again, had to be a cop."

Gordon asks, "Evidence?"

"I got warrants for the phones of all of those who worked on the third floor..."

"But..."

"Yes, I heard about your attempt to muddy the waters over whether she was going up or coming down the stairs at the time of her death. I don't buy it. C.S.U. says she was most likely going downstairs, which means the killer came at her from the third floor. The Bear might have been capable of killing Miss Price, but obviously he hasn't been sniping at drug dealers from rooftops. These shootings have been going on for four years, so that eliminates Lt. Preston, who has only been in town a few weeks. That leaves you, George - an expert sniper, and as the head of SWAT, you share all of the intel that comes in on drug dealers because your team backs up Narcotics on all major drug busts. Cell phone records confirm what you told Toni - Miss Price called you four times, but your records show a dozen calls back to her. Were the two of you having an affair?"

"She called it: 'having fun'. My God, how this 'fun' has cost me. Can you prove I'm the sniper?"

"You have a small cabin near the base of Mt. Nashman. We searched it and found the .22 caliber target rifle - complete with telescopic sight and silencer. Ballistics confirms it is the gun that was used in the eleven shootings."

Gordon sighs and resumes writing his confession. "It started over a month ago. Pam was digging into the drug scene in Arcadia and heard the rumors of a vigilante who was wounding drug dealers. I'm not sure how, but she gathered enough evidence to at least point a finger of suspicion toward me."

Toni asks, "George, how could a man like you turn vigilante?"

"How could I not? The first time was after Officer Burnett...you remember him, Toni?"

"Yeah, a good kid with a lot of potential. We all felt terrible about what happened to him."

"I was a sergeant then - his squad leader. We made a routine bust at a meth lab, everything went down by the numbers, but then one of the suspects made a break for it. Burnett tried to stop the bastard and got splashed in the face with a jar of caustic chemicals. Burnett was scarred for life and lost an eye. Eventually he left the force and draws a small pension. And the scum who hurt him, some lowlife named Altman, got off on a technicality!"

Toni nods. "I remember. We were all bitter about that."

"Oh, I was more than bitter. I wanted to kill that piece of filth, and thought about how I would do it. But I realized that a murder investigation would never go away, and every memeber of SWAT would be suspected. So, instead, I shot him in the kneecap from two blocks away. Oh there was a fuss, but since he was in no danger of dying and gang members get shot as regular as clockwork, the investigation soon stalled and then ended. At the time I thought that would be it - my one time on the wrong side of the law, even if it was true justice."

Will interrupts. "But the scum keep coming, and year after year the violence and suffering continues. Having got away with it once, you couldn't resist trying again when another 'injustice' needed correcting."

"Yeah, yeah - I know I sound crazy, but it felt so good to get a little payback when the system failed."

"So how did Pamela Price get involved with you instead of printing what would have been a career making story?"

"We were here in my office, and she was questioning me about the sniper. It was why I agreed to see her, to find out how much evidence she had. It wasn't a lot, but it was enough to start an official investigation. I thought of denying everything, dumping the rifle in the river and daring I.A. to prove my guilt, but for some reason I felt the need to...confess."

Carlisle grunts, "Brag."

"Maybe. I told Pam everything, about the ten men I had shot up until then, what kind of horrible monsters they were and how good it felt to...punish them. Her reaction surprised me - it turned her on. The next thing I know, we're having sex on this desk..."

"Right next to your wife's picture. Nice." Will comments with heavy sarcasm.

"That sow? Fourteen years of marriage, with no kids, but that didn't stop her from packing on an extra sixty pounds. Over a year ago she tells me she is no longer interested in sex, and I was relieved! Then Pam came along, and for the first time I found out what hot sex is really like. So yeah, I started an affair with her. We had this dirty little secret that kept her coming back for more. She loved hearing all of the gory details while we were doing it. Then...that wasn't enough. She wanted the personal experience."

"Are you saying Miss Price...?"

"She wanted to shoot one of them. We started going to my cabin on the weekends where I would school her on how to be a sniper. She was eager and learned quickly. Then last week, we drove to the Thirteenth Street gang's territory and set up on a roof top a couple of blocks away from Tommy Wu's house. Tommy was already on my list - he deals not only in drugs, but also runs a brothel full of underaged girls for the local pervs who like that sort of thing. Pam was a real pro - I was so proud of her! As soon as Tommy stepped out of his front door, Pam nailed him in his left elbow. He'll never use that arm again. Then she and I had sex, right there on the rooftop even while the cops and ambulance were showing up."

"That must have cemented your relationship. So why kill her?" Will asks.

Carlisle comments, "Because she dumped him."

Gordon nods sadly, a few tears running from his eyes. "She got what she wanted, her perverse little thrill, and then she didn't need me any more. Damn, I knew what she was like, but I fell for her anyway. It was hard to swallow, the way she used me and discarded me, but I'm a big boy and I could take it. That would have been the end of it - the two of us going our separate ways with only our secret in common..."

"Then why?"

"Everyday Lucy - Lt. Preston, and I start our day with coffee and small talk. Monday morning, while we were talking, Lucy checked her schedule on her computer. I saw the appointment at noon with Pam. I thought, that little bitch, she's going to turn me in. That's why she was so careful about no one finding out about us, why she didn't include me in her sex journal...oh yeah, I knew about that. She could deny what she did, there was no proof we were ever together and certainly none that she had shot Tommy Wu. She got her thrill and was going to have her story too. I would just look like a desperate, guilty man trying to throw blame back on her."

Toni says, "But Lt. Preston said Miss Price was only coming for an interview."

Gordon shakes his head. "No, I knew her. Carlisle?"

Carlisle nods. "Yeah, Pam was all about getting what she wanted. She was going to turn you in."

"That's when I decided, she had to die."

Will asks, "Why here at the station?"

"I knew Pam would be spending the morning at the courthouse - security is tight there, even tighter than it is here. I also knew she usually used the backstairs, and I was one of the cops who was around when that night janitor told the desk sergeant about the broken lock on the display case of old weapons. I remembered the stiletto and knew I could quickly and quietly kill Pam with it. So, I got the knife and positioned myself at the top of the stairs just before noon. When Pam made it to the third floor, I stabbed her - making sure the blade stayed in and I got no blood on me. Of course I wore gloves. I was about to position the body so that it looked like Pam was going upstairs when I heard someone coming. It was that damn hooker on her way up to Internal Affairs. I had to drop the body and run to keep from being seen. If it weren't for that bad piece of luck, I might have gotten away with it."

Gordon finishes his written statement and signs it, including his title of lieutenant.

Will says, "Alright George, we have to book you now."

Gordon chuckles and looks at three cops he has worked with and liked. "Yeah...an ex-cop in prison. That's not a very pleasing prospect, is it? What a way to end a career. You know Will, when I first started, cops carried throwaway guns in case you shot a suspect who turned out not to be armed. Planting one of those spared you a lot of hassles with the police commission. I guess I'm just old fashioned..."

Will, Toni and Carlisle all realize what George Gordon is saying and rush forward to stop him, but...too late. The small automatic he routinely carried strapped to his ankle suddenly is in his hand and then to his head. All through the police station cops look about wondering where that shot...

THE END

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