Chapter One Excerpt
POLICE COMMISSIONER MICHAEL CODD, the six-foot-tall, 200-pound Chief Straight Arrow of the NYPD, never let anything faze him—a gentleman in the midst of chaos. Even when having to lay off thousands of cops. Even in the face of New York’s soaring murder rate, corruption scandals, and rampant mafia violence.
Today, Taylor detected a crack or two in that façade as Codd discussed the murder of a woman in Queens. This wasn’t your typical New York homicide. One person doing another in because of passion, fury, greed. A whole lot of greed.
The victim was the third killed by a single man in the past sixth months using the same .44-caliber revolver. The first homicide occurred back a ways, on July 29, 1976. The cops had connected the dots because of the current victim, Virginia Voskerichian, who was shot to death two days ago on March 8.
Mayor Abe Beame stood next to Codd during the press conference at the 112th Precinct in Forest Hills, Queens, to announce this news.
Taylor took down the details as Codd and the mayor doled them out. The point of the news conference was to enlist the public’s aid in investigating the “senseless murder” of three women, said Beame. The first had happened in the Bronx and the second and third in Queens, half a block and about a month apart.
Whatever the goal of this press event, Taylor knew the mayor would show up to any occasion recorded by a camera now that he faced a difficult—impossible?—re-election campaign in the fall. Five Democrats were coming after him in the primary race. Beame was, after all, the man who’d almost bankrupted New York.
At the word senseless, the guy from the New York Post got up and ran out of the room, probably to tell his desk he had a big one coming. The Post’s reporter, short and dark-haired, returned two minutes later. Taylor didn’t know him, which meant he was probably one of those imported by the paper’s new owner, Australian press baron Rupert Murdoch. This story would suit Murdoch’s strategy for the poor, ancient Post. Dive down-market as fast and as hard as possible.
Codd said police figured out the same gun was used in the homicides of three women after ballistics were run on the bullet that killed Voskerichian, a twenty-year-old Columbia University student who was walking home from the subway when she was shot in the face, a textbook held up to fend off the large caliber bullet. The gun was a Charter Arms Bulldog .44. Everyone wrote that down.
At this revelation, one of the two Daily News police beat reporters ran out for his call to alert his city desk. The New York Times reporter didn’t move and probably wouldn’t. He’d be lucky if his story made it into the paper.
“All New Yorkers have been shocked,” said Beame.
Taylor doubted they were shocked yet, not in a city with a couple thousand murdered a year and the news of the connection only being given out this minute. Tomorrow would be a different story, as people read that the same man had murdered three women at night in two boroughs for apparently no reason. The circus was coming to town.
Phones were provided for the reporters—all the better to enlist the public’s support, of course—and Taylor called in to the City News Bureau and reached Cramly, the small newswire’s dyspeptic rewrite man and de facto editor.
“Take a page of copy to facsimile to the radio stations,” Taylor said. “Everyone’s here and this is getting out fast.” Taylor read out six paragraphs he’d already written in his notebook.
“You think this guy’s really hunting women?” Cramly said.
“That fact hasn’t been established. It will be one of the many blanks the tabloids will fill in for us tomorrow morning.” In fact, Taylor could hear the Post man next to him, the strangely stretched vowels of his Australian accent stretching the facts as far as they would go without breaking.
Cramly returned from the facsimile. A whisper and the slightest crackling came over the phone as he puffed one of today’s cigars. “That wasn’t bad.” Even a compliment sounded like a complaint in Cramly’s creaky voice. “Give me the rest for our newspaper clients.”
Taylor did that, adding police were trying to link four injured since July by .44s, but so far, those crimes had not been connected using ballistics. Voskerichian had been shot at 7:30 p.m. Christine Freund, 26, had been killed sitting in a parked car in front of 1 Station Square in Queens on Jan. 30. A male companion wasn’t hit. This all may have begun—police weren’t sure—last July 29, when the same Charter Arms Bulldog revolver killed Donna Lauria and wounded Jody Valenti in the Pelham Bay neighborhood of the Bronx.
“The commissioner gave a description of someone they want to talk to, but wouldn’t call the man a suspect. He’s five feet ten to six feet, twenty-five to thirty years old, medium build, with dark hair combed back.”
“A lot of those in New York.”
“Cops want to talk to anybody who knows anybody owning a forty-four pistol.”
“Probably a lot of those too.”
“Fewer than men of that description, but yeah. A whole lot of guns in New York. All shapes and sizes.”
“What are you going to do now?”
“Find a story.”
“Find a story? You’ve got a fucking story.”
“I’ve given you everything from the press conference. P.T. Barnum is setting up his tents. The News and the Post will put twenty reporters each on this, which means the Associated Press will get all those stories as will our clients. Our stations and papers want something they’re not getting from the AP.”
“You’re supposed to be the hotshit police reporter.”
“I can’t stay ahead of forty others unless I’m on something they’re not. That’s not even counting the sideshow boys from TV and radio. I go after the stories no one else is doing. There’s going to be even more of those now.”
“We’ll talk when you get back.”
Taylor hung up, scanned the detective squad room that had been used for the press conference, and saw a guy working at a desk in the far corner. As Taylor arrived, the detective, with a bird-like face and horned-rimmed glasses, was talking on—more like at—a phone.
“I understand your concerns, ma’am,” the detective said. “That’s why we’re making this announcement. That’s why we’re putting more people on the street.” He listened. “Yes. Yes, I’ll have someone come over and talk to your neighbor. Yes, feel free to call me back. Detective McCauley.”
“All-news radio put it right on. Phones are jumping. Neighbors who look like psychos. It’s not gonna stop. How can I help?”
“Wondering if you got anything?”
He chuckled. “You’re kidding, right?” McCauley looked behind Taylor at the chairs used for the news conference. “Weren’t you listening to the big tops?”
“I was. What else is in?”
“Never fucking understand reporters. They want what you don’t have. Don’t want what you do have.”
“This forty-four guy will get covered. Don’t worry about that.”
McCauley pulled a file off a stack. “This came in same night as Voskerichian. Martha Gibson. Twenty-four years old, Negro,” he looked around to make sure it was okay to use his preferred word, “lived in a building in Richmond Hill. She came out of her sixth-floor apartment to dump trash down the chute. As she was heading back, a man bolted out of the stairway with a gun. She screamed and turned to run. God knows where. She was shot in the back and died on the way to the hospital.”
“Purse and cash were in the apartment. She didn’t know the killer.”
“She talk before she died?”
“In the ambulance. Talked to a uniform riding in the wagon. Couldn’t ID her killer. Last thing she said.”
“Bet the gun wasn’t a forty-four.”
“Got that right. Thirty-two.”
“What’s the address?”
McCauley read off the street address: 115-99 89th Avenue. “Apartment Six Thirteen. Survived by her sister Abigail at that address and her parents in Bed-Stuy.”
“Anything else that night?”
“Really? What’s your angle on this?”
“I’m a police reporter. I do police stories.”
“Yeah, and you want these when you heard we got this nut running around?”
“You been on a case when the press funhouse starts up?”
“More than once.” He shook his head. “More than once. I already got my sergeant crawling up my ass, and he’s got his lieutenant crawling up …. You get the idea. Not comfortable.”
“Another thing happens is stories get missed. Even with you guys working the cases, the press runs as a pack, chasing the one big bad guy. Victims deserve to get their stories told. The News and the Post are going to do a bang-up job with the victims of this forty-four guy. Probably too good. Families’ privacy invaded. Photographers in backyards. They won’t need my help with that.”
“Whatever floats your boat. Here’s the other from that night. Sixty-Ninth Avenue, the other side of Queens Boulevard. Tommy Noxon, sixteen, shot at six in the morning. Dead on the pavement.”
“Thanks. I’ll let you know if either ends up a story.”
McCauley looked like he couldn’t care less as he picked up his ringing phone.
Taylor walked out of the 112th Precinct, a big building because it was also Queens headquarters for the NYPD. The Eyewitless News van had already parked and men were pulling out wires and doing other TV sorts of things. The NewsCenter 4 van turned onto the street. All three rings of the circus were almost in place.
The temperature danced around 50 under a sharp blue sky, positively balmy after the second coldest winter on record in New York. He turned toward the Forest Hills subway stop, happy to breath the air of Queens—borough of his birth—and be done with the press conference.
There were two kinds of journalists in the world. Those who loved press conferences because they liked the protection of the herd. Everyone got the same quotes, the same facts.
Then there were those like Taylor—a minority, but he wasn’t the only one—who loathed pressers. Men and women who wanted the story no one else had. He didn’t doubt that journalists would get all sorts of scoops out of the .44-caliber killer, climbing over each other to get them. That wasn’t the same as nailing the story no one else knew about. Like he’d told Cramly, chasing the man with the Charter Arms Bulldog revolver didn’t make sense for the City News Bureau. City News was a secondary wire service set up to give radio stations and suburban papers stories they weren’t receiving from the Associated Press, which moved all the stories from its members, including the three New York papers. Sure as shit, the AP would stay on top of the story Beame and Codd put into the world with their announcement today.