Sacred Evil

Page 7


She thought the site was empty and then she realized that there was a gate around the other side, and by the gate there was a small section with a tented roof. Sitting beneath it, watching the entrance and reading a magazine, was a guard.
“One guard watching the area,” Whitney murmured.
Jude pointed to a row of trailers on the other side of the street. “Yesterday, throughout the day, there was tons of security. That’s the tail end of the movie crew. There was no shooting today, and the producer announced, after the report of Miss Rockford’s murder, that they were done with the location.” He glanced her way. “I spent most of the day down here off and on, trying to get a real feel for what was going on, and what the situation was last night.”
“What is your feeling about it now?”
He glanced her way and actually smiled. “I have a feeling—ye olde cop gut feeling—that it does have something to do with the movie and the movie crew.”
Whitney mulled over his words as he drove her down to the morgue. She listened to the constant honking that was as natural as conversation in this city. She watched the rush of pedestrians along the busy streets. People flocking through the intersections, the occasional dog walker pausing along the sidewalk with a Baggie.
She’d been a film student herself in the city, and she knew the area. But now, she felt as if she was seeing it all through different eyes. She thought about the age and the history of the city; the city buildings forming a concrete tomb over the iniquity and depredation of what had been the Five Points region. Wall Street—once where the old wall built to protect the tip of the island had been. Few places rivaled New York City as a place where the sheer velocity of life trampled the pivotal spaces of history.
It all seemed new to her now: the slash of Broadway, the one-way streets, the parks, the people, the old and the new.
Well, her eyes were different now; she was different. And all because, once upon a time, she had determined to hold her own ground.
Life was different.
As was death.
As they headed for the morgue, Jude tried to forget the woman at his side.
Whitney Tremont. Special agent. Very special agent.
But, she did know how to be quiet. She was distracting, but that wasn’t her fault. His. He set his mind back to the situation, and tried not to think that she was definitely an interesting and arresting individual.
Captain Tyler. Now, there was a dash of cold water. He wanted to find him—and he would. Rush hour—that time when citizens took their lives in their hands just to step into the subway—would most probably bring Captain Tyler back to his home haunts; the subway station where those who knew him would be kind enough to drop spare change or a dollar his way. The autopsy would be finished by that point.
He had spoken with many people who talked about how strange downtown could be at night. By day, the world itself hummed because of all the activity that occurred at the New York Stock Exchange. By night, restaurants closed. The gates to the churches were locked. Office workers were gone, and the major hotels were by Battery Park and the South Street Seaport. Nearby Tribeca and Soho entertained nightlife and housed hundreds of thousands of people. But here, at this end with the financial district and the government buildings, the night brought on a haunting quiet, as if the little area needed time to recoup from the madness of the light.
His only hope was in finding Captain Tyler, he thought. Or someone else who was like a ghost, left to eke out an existence from those who passed hurriedly by day, and forget them once darkness fell.
Jude parked his car, still lost in the case as he did so, and hoping against hope that it might be one that was solved quickly. Though he had his task force questioning the hundreds of people who had been involved in the film shoot, and he knew that they’d be eliminating those with airtight alibis, they’d also be making lists of those he needed to interview himself, or who needed to be investigated further. He almost forgot Whitney Tremont; in fact, he might have if she didn’t give off a soft, underlying perfume, and if he didn’t just feel the warmth of the body beside his own.
She was out of the car door, though, before he could walk around to open it for her. She was pure motion and energy.
“Keep your thoughts going and don’t worry about me, Detective,” she said. “I’m right behind you.”
He grinned. So she was.
Jude Crosby was known at the morgue; he had no difficulty navigating the structure of the building, Whitney Tremont following closely behind him.
“OCME,” or the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, was housed on First Avenue. New York City held many firsts in the investigation of death; the Office of the Medical Examiner was established in 1918, the first of its kind in the country. OCME established the first toxicology laboratory and the first serology laboratory as well, at Bellevue Hospital, rather than the six-story headquarters where the executive offices, mortuary, autopsy, X-ray, photography and many labs were housed now.
Attending a victim’s autopsy was always paramount to him; no matter how great a medical examiner might be at a report, there was always something to be gained by attending. Many medical examiners did consider the autopsy to be the victim’s last chance to speak, and Jude believed them. You never knew just what a victim might “say.”
He knew that time had made him jaded; he’d seen the dead so often. He noticed the odor of decaying flesh, and the stronger odors of the chemicals that were used to mask the smell. He noticed them, but he barely thought about them. He thought of the place as sterile. He wondered if his religious teachings as a child kicked in when he saw the dead; the spirit didn’t reside in the flesh. The dead were far from feeling pain. They had gone to a better place.
He wasn’t sure if he completely believed that. He did believe that they suffered no more in the fragile shell of the flesh.
There was a saying on the wall outside the autopsy room, there for all to see, a Latin motto: Let conversation cease, let laughter flee. This is the place where death delights in helping the living.
He hoped that Virginia Rockford could help point them toward her killer.
There were eight steel tables in the room, and three of them had occupants. Thousands passed through the doors of the morgue yearly, but not all were murder victims. Suicides came here, along with those who died in accidents, and those who died while in apparent good health. There were those who had died “by violence,” and those who had died unattended. There were many reasons to come to the morgue. It was a big city; people died in strange ways.
Two assistants were working with Fullbright when they suited up to join the procedure. The body had been stripped and cleaned by the assistants, and somehow, that made the injuries done to Ginger Rockford all the more macabre. He could clearly see the gashes in her throat, and the hideous slashes that had been made in the lower abdomen.
He was aware of everyone around him, and especially, Whitney.
Whitney worked with her camera; he wanted to stop her. He had to remind himself that she was an agent, and not a gawker. Whatever photos and digital film she took would be for the purposes of the investigation.
Clothed in scrubs, Whitney might have blended in with the workforce, except that he could see that she was also wearing a pair of neat little fashionable heels that weren’t usually worn by techs in the morgue. When he had introduced her to Fullbright, she’d stood a slight distance back as well, as if trying to make herself unobtrusive.
When he looked at her, curious as to whether or not she could really watch the autopsy and learn from it, he discovered that he was almost transfixed by her eyes. They were nearly gold. The color had to be hazel, but the green and brown blended so remarkably that the color was almost like the sun. And her skin was the most amazing shade of golden copper he could imagine. It seemed as if every race into which humanity had divided had recombined in her, and that mixture was arresting; she was a beautiful young woman, but much more as well. She stood still, and yet seemed to be brimming with energy. Character, curiosity, passion and a certain appearance of honor seemed to be imprinted in the very structure of her face.
And she was young; too young to be jaded. He had the feeling she still believed in “Truth, Justice, and the American Way.”
“Jude, look well,” Fullbright said, and he clenched hard on his jaw, returning his full attention to the sad matter at hand. “The two great lacerations to the throat severed both the major blood vessels in the throat—just as in the case of Polly Nichols, the woman most detectives—past and present—believed to have been the Ripper’s first victim. And if you’ll note the mutilations on the abdomen, you see how jagged this first cut is, and you’ll see how violent and savage the rest are. Jude, these are nearly the exact wounds as perpetrated by a killer over a hundred years ago.”
He stared at the woman, holding back a groan. He didn’t discount the idea that they might be looking at a mimic who had an agenda that would send the city into a real panic, attempting to re-create the slayings of a long-gone killer.
But he didn’t discount the idea yet that they were looking at an isolated incident, and that Virginia Rockford had managed to really anger someone intent on killing her specifically. And solely.
Whitney spoke up. “I spent the hours on the plane here reading up on the crimes, since the press seems to believe there’s a copycat out there.” She walked to the side table where she had left her shoulder bag and dug in it briefly to produce a piece of paper with a picture on it. “Polly Nichols—a morgue photo. Care to compare the medical examiner’s report with our corpse?”
Jude looked from her unique eyes to the photo, and despite his determination to keep an entirely open mind, he had to give the comparison credence.
The Ripper’s victim had been older; life had not been kind. The image was not that of a pretty young woman.
Whatever else Virginia Rockford might have been, she hadn’t been old. She had been attractive; killed when it seemed that the world was waiting for her.
But, despite the difference in the living appearances and situations of the women, the wounds on the bodies were the same.