AT 9:15 THE NEXT morning, Kenny Cox, Steven Klein, and Cam entered one of the homicide squad’s interview rooms. The room was built like a small conference room, with a plain rectangular table, eight chairs, four on a side, and a large television screen mounted just above head height on one end wall. There was no one-way mirrored window. In its place was a microcam mounted just underneath the television monitor, and there were four microphones mounted flush in the ceiling. One place at the table had eyebolts to which a prisoner’s handcuffs could be secured. Flash was sitting at that place, although he was not handcuffed.
“They were callin’ him ‘Splash’ last night down in the tank,” the escorting officer said as he let them into the room. Cam wondered if Butts would be up to what he was about to see, given his appearance. His normally dark brown face had a grayish tinge and his eyes were bloodshot and jumpy. The skin on his face was tight across protruding cheekbones, and his county jail jumpsuit hung loosely on his wire-thin frame. He was sniffing hard every thirty seconds or so, and shifting around in his seat almost continuously, as if his butt bones hurt. Cam thought he looked old, even though his record said he was only thirty. He froze when they trooped in, looking from one to another as if trying to determine which one of them was going to start beating on him. He settled on Kenny, who obliged him with a withering glare.
“Mr. Butts,” Klein began. “Relax, okay? You’re not in any trouble with the law, and you’re going to get out of here this morning. You need a cigarette?”
Flash blinked as he tried to process this unexpected information, and then he focused on the offer of a cigarette. Flash
lit the cigarette with trembling fingers and sucked half its length into his lungs in one go. He was well and truly wired.
“Mr. Butts, I’m Steven Klein, the district attorney. Let me say at the outset that you’re here because we’re actually concerned about your safety.”
Flash spoke for the first time. “Say what?” he said after a second deep drag on the cigarette. He inhaled every molecule of the smoke, then didn’t exhale for almost thirty seconds. Cam found himself holding his own breath. They’d agreed that Klein would do the talking. Kenny continued to look at Flash the way one would look at a rat who’d appeared next to the family picnic hamper. Cam stared into the middle distance and pretended he wasn’t very interested in what was going on.
“Mr. Butts,” Klein continued in his most sincere voice, “do you by any chance know where Mr. Simmonds is? That guy they call K-Dog?”
That guy whom you helped to kill three people, Cam thought, but he kept his silence. He exchanged looks with Kenny, who, he could see, had the same thought. Butts was shaking his head.
“Me’n K-Dog, we split, man,” he said. “Muhfukah’s crazy.”
“When was the last time that you did see him?”
Butts shook his head again and finished the cigarette in one final intense drag.
Butts was thinking about the question, and it was painful to watch. “In the courtroom,” he said. “You know, when the bitch let us go.” He glanced over at the cops for the first time, a faint spark of defiance in his eyes until he saw the expression on Kenny’s face. His eyes bounced off Kenny’s venomous stare like a moth hitting a hot lightbulb. Cam tried hard to keep his own expression neutral. The man’s a halfwit, a crackhead, he told himself. K-Dog’s the one, not this cocaine-soaked idiot.
“Well,” said Klein, nodding at Kenny. “Mr. Butts, we have something to show you.” He explained what a Web video was, then said that what Butts was about to see might or might not be real. He might as well be speaking in Greek,
Cam thought, but then Kenny turned the television on. Butts turned in his chair to look at the television, his thin body making jerky little contortions in the chair. Cam could actually see the man’s pelvic bones outlined against the back of his jumpsuit. Crack, he thought. For all too many impoverished black Americans, it was the new slavery, just like crystal meth was becoming for impoverished white Americans.
They all watched Butts’s face intently as the drama played out. They saw his head jerk backward with a spark of recognition when K-Dog appeared in the chair, and his rising apprehension as the hooded figure rose from behind the chair and began to speak in that voice-of-doom tone. His mouth dropped right open when the electrocution began, and he unconsciously began to push his chair back, as if to get away from the television as the scene played out. He actually cried out when the second jolt hit. When it was over, he had backed his chair all the way against the wall and was gripping the armrests as if he was about to flee, his eyes flitting from them to the now-darkened television.
“Whutdafuck, man, whutda
” he shouted, his eyes huge and his voice rising to a falsetto. “Y’all do that shit?”
“No, Mr. Butts, we did not,” Klein said, speaking quietly, trying to calm the man down. Butts was looking over at the door again, obviously ready to bolt. “Like I said, we don’t even know if that was real. That’s why we wanted to know if you’d physically seen Simmonds and, if so, when.”
Butts clearly didn’t get it.
“We want to see if that execution happened or not,” Klein said patiently. “If we find Simmonds, then that has to be a fake, okay?”
“Looked fuckin’ real to me,” Butts said, licking his lips but calming down a little bit.
“You agree that was Simmonds in the chair?” Klein asked.
Butts nodded. “Whut you want with me?”
“Did you hear what the man in the hood said at the very end?” Klein asked.
“Uh-uh. Heard that cookin’ sound, thass all. That dude on fire an’ shit.”
Kenny leaned forward. “He said, ‘That’s one,’ Flash. Know what that means?”
Butts shook his head, unwilling to look directly at Kenny. “I don’t know
’bout this shit, man,” he protested. “Whut you want with me? I ain’t done
“Whoever the man in the hood was, he electrocuted Simmonds in retaliation for what happened at that minimart,” Kenny said. “At the end there, the man says, ‘That’s one.’ But there were two dudes did that minimart, right?”
“Uh-uh,” Flash said. “That was all K-Dog. He done the shootin’, done all the crazy shit. This nigger wuz on his fuckin’ hands and knees, man, jus tryin’ to get the fuck outta there, man.” Then it finally penetrated. His voice went back up to falsetto again. “You meanin’
? You sayin’ that hood muhfukah be comin’ for
“That’s what we think, Mr. Butts,” Klein said. “He put K-Dog in the chair because of what happened that night. When he says, ‘That’s one,’ he’s clearly implying there’s going to be a number two.”
“And that would be you,” Kenny said helpfully. Cam wanted to kick him under the table.
Flash’s head looked like that of a string puppet as he looked at all three of them in quick succession. “You gotta stop this muhfukah,” he shouted, tears appearing in his eyes. “I didn’t
that nasty shit, man. K-Dog, he’s the one who done it. I was along for the fuckin’
man. Hands and knees, man. That’s what I was doin’ that night. Shit, man.
“Calm down, Mr. Butts,” Klein said. “Just calm down for a minute. We’re not here to talk about the minimart.”
But Flash was gone now, blathering away, protesting his innocence about what happened at the minimart, laying it all on K-Dog, who’d planned the whole thing—got the gun, got the ride, picked that station, everything. He became progressively more hysterical, until Kenny slapped a meaty palm down on the table. A paper coffee cup jumped clean off the table and startled Butts into sudden silence.
“Mr. Butts,” Klein said. “Look at me. Look at
Butts had his head in his hands, and he peered out between splayed fingers at Klein.
“Mr. Butts, like I said before, we don’t know yet if what you saw there was real. For the last time, do you have
idea where we can find him?”
Butts groaned and shook his head. “He gots this crib, over in a trailer patch. Said he had him two wimmens. Braggin’ on it, havin’ two. I seen one—that night we got out? Ain’t nothin’ to be braggin’ about. Know what I’m sayin’?” He banged his own hands on the table. “Shit!” he said.
“Mr. Butts,” said Klein. “If you want, we can place you in protective custody until we find out whether this whole deal is genuine or not.”
Butts eyed Klein suspiciously. “You talkin’ jail?”
“Uh-uh. I ain’t volunteerin’ for no damn jail, no fuckin’ way, man.”
Klein explained that he wouldn’t be hassled in the protective-custody area. He’d have three squares a day, a clean bed, television, no crap from the main-pop prisoners. “We think you’d be a whole lot safer in custody than you’ll be out there on the street. Remember, out there, you’re the prime candidate to become number two.”
But Flash was no longer listening. He’d heard the word
and there was simply no way. He shook his head again. “Uh-uh. Y’all ain’t been in jail. I have. I got me some places to hide. Know what I’m sayin’? Ain’t nobody find me, I want to stay hid.”
Klein looked at the two of them and raised his eyebrows.
Cam shrugged and got up, as did Kenny. “We’ll turn him loose,” he said. “Let him find out for us if this guy’s real or not.”
who’s doin’ that shit?” Butts asked Klein, but the DA had opened a flip phone and was making a call.
Cam answered him. “Nope,” he said. “And like Mr. Klein here’s been saying, that video may be bullshit.” He pushed one of his cards across the table to Butts. “I suggest you keep this. You feel someone’s setting up on you, you call us, hear?”
Butts frowned and then pocketed the card without looking
at it. Cam knew it would remain in the jail jumpsuit when they let him go. Butts’s shakes had returned, and he was licking his lips almost continuously. “I can go now?” he asked.
Kenny stepped outside and signaled the escort officer, who took Butts downstairs to be outprocessed. Klein joined them in the hallway. “Well, we tried,” he said.
“Real shame he didn’t take us up on it,” Kenny said. “
“You think he knows where K-Dog is?” Klein asked.
Cam shook his head. “I think he knows his own name, and maybe where his next rock is coming from. We did tape that entire session, in case you were wondering.”
Klein made a so-what face. “Lot of good that’ll do us. Me? I’m betting on the hooded guy. You people any closer to locating Marlor?”
Cam shook his head. “We’re initiating an E-sweep, but so far, we got zilch.”
“How about Simmonds?” Kenny asked Klein. “Should we keep looking for him, too?”
“Truly?” Klein said, looking both ways down the hallway. “I don’t give a shit. Suits me if they both fry; they fucking deserve it.”
Kenny tried to suppress a grin as Klein walked away. “Took all that personal, you think?” he asked.
“Must have,” Cam said, remembering what Annie had said about judicial vacancies. “But we’ll keep looking for both of them anyway.”
“Shame to waste the hooded guy, like Steven was saying.”
“He was just venting,” Cam said. “I mean, here’s my real problem: What do we do if the next time he does the Mongolian barbecue, say with Brother Flash there, and then at the end he goes, ‘That’s two’?”
“Don’t understand,” Kenny said.
“What if he wants to make it a hat trick? Do the judge. Are we really up for that?”
“You’ll have to speak for yourself on that one, boss,” Kenny said with a rueful smile.
CAM HAD BEEN DREAMING something truly lascivious when his phone went off at 2:15 in the morning. “Richter,” he growled while fumbling for the bedside light. “And it better be dead, bleeding, or burning.” He was getting much too old for this middle-of-the-night shit.
It was the Major Crimes desk sergeant. There’d been an incident. “I just had me a hysterical mother on the phone, as in the mother of one Deleon Butts.”
“And why do I care, exactly?” Cam asked, and then the name penetrated and it occurred to him why he might indeed care. But he was wrong.
“Lady reports her darling baby boy, Deleon, was crashing at her place for the night after a tough day with the ‘po-lice.’ According to her, Deleon came out on the front stoop at around midnight to commune with the local gentry and maybe score a rock. Said gentry report a pickup truck came around the corner an hour later, about zero one hundred. Truck stops suddenly in front of the house, guy drops the curbside window, sticks some kind of machine gun out the window, and goes to town.”
Cam was fully awake now. Machine gun? Someone wanting to assassinate Flash? “They get his ass?” he asked.
“Seems all the homeys didn’t stay around to find out, seeing as there was a sudden general interest in finding a direct route to China. Anyways, when the smoke cleared, brother Flash was MIA.”
“MIA. But not dead on the sidewalk?”
“Just plain gone.”
“Any blood on the steps?”
“No, but other leakages aplenty, if you catch my drift,” the
sergeant said with a chuckle. “But interestingly, no blood. And no Flash. One extremely drunk citizen claims he saw a hooded MFer jump out of the truck, snatch Flash off the sidewalk, coldcock him, physically throw his ass into the back of the pickup truck, and then boogie the hell out of there.”
“And of course we have a full description of the truck, license plates, et cetera?”
“The consensus in that particular neighborhood is that all pickup trucks look alike to a black man, especially when there’s a machine gun working.”
Cam sighed. A hooded dude had abducted Flash. Here we go again, Cam thought.
“Lieutenant? You want me to roust the on-call detectives? Right now, the city cops have the scene.”
“No, not yet,” Cam said. “Abduction isn’t homicide.” Yet, he thought. “Have patrol collect what they can from the Triboro cops. I’ll be down in a little bit. Then I’ll make the call on whether we take it or leave it with the city.”
“Should I call the sheriff?”
“Negative,” Cam said. “I’ll do that when I know more.”
Cam arrived at the Sheriff’s Office complex forty minutes later. The watch commander was Bud Winters, the lieutenant who ran the community policing program. He filled Cam in on what few hard details they’d been able to retrieve from the city cops. Most interesting was that, in addition to there being no blood, there were no bullet holes in any of the buildings or nearby cars.
“He shot the place up with blanks?”
“Those who were willing to talk all said the same thing—machine gun, looked military, spitting fire. Lotsa noise, big, kinda sideways muzzle flash. That’s consistent with blanks. They have casings. Our ballistics guys will be able to tell.”
“Son of a bitch. And Flash would have been paralyzed with fear.”
“Paralyzed and incontinent. One among many, apparently.”
“Can we believe this guy about seeing Flash getting tossed into the back of the pickup truck?”
The lieutenant consulted the patrol reports. “I quote:
‘MFer done throwed the nigger in the MFing truck, turned that MFing gun on the whole MFing street one more time, and then peeled that MFer the F out of there.’ Unquote. You interpret that as you will.”
Cam grinned despite himself. “So, no description of the vehicle or the shooter?”
“Nothing that doesn’t involve further and copious sexual interactions with various mothers,” the lieutenant said wearily, closing the report folder. “This incident is related to your Internet Fry Baby hair ball, if I’m not mistaken?”
“I got it,” Cam said reluctantly, taking the folder. “City still have the scene secured?”
“Yep,” he said. “There’s already book on whether or not this is number two, in case you’re wondering.”
Cam rolled his eyes. “I hate the crime, too, Bud, but in this case, if Simmonds was the teeth on that rabid dog, Flash here was the tail.”
Bud was unimpressed. “He was there,” he said. “And I’ll bet he spent some of the money they took. This whole hotseat idea works just fine for me.”
He gave Cam a wry two-finger salute and went back to the watch commander’s office. Cam drove himself down to the scene, talked to the street unit people, and then returned to the Washington Street complex. He went to his own office and cranked up the coffeemaker. Then he sat down and tried to figure out what the hell he was going to do next. The phone rang; it was Bobby Lee.
“What are you doing about this mess down in the projects?” he asked without preamble. “I understand you went down there yourself?”
“There really wasn’t a scene when I got there,” Cam told him. “Lots of yellow tape and two city patrol units, but by then the word was out that the gunfire was all bogus, and all the regulars had done their usual fade. I didn’t bother with CSI.”
“Was that wise?” Bobby Lee asked. “You did have an abduction. There could have been evidence on the street, something from the truck or the abductor.”
“The scene was hopeless. The city cops bagged what they think is Flash’s ball cap and what is presumably one of his shoes, plus some shell casings they want our lab to work.”
“How do they know it’s his shoe?”
“The shoe was full of urine, and it smelled a lot like the ball cap. The few people they did interview at the scene still had their shoes.”
The sheriff hesitated for a moment. “If this is what I think it is,” he said, “he won’t be needing shoes.”
Cam nodded to himself. He could still visualize Simmonds’s bony feet being welded to the frame of the footrest. He wondered idly if the executioner would clean the chair up before doing Flash.
“Why screw around any more?” Cam asked. “Let’s call in the Bureau, or the ATF, or both. This was a public abduction, a kidnapping, with a machine gun, even if it was shooting blanks. They’ll get a twofer.”
to be sidelined on this one?”
“To be honest, Sheriff,” Cam said. “I don’t share the popular notion that MCAT caused this mess, so I feel no personal affiliation with this chair thing.”
“Lieutenant, it was your—”
“It was Judge Bellamy who released them and dismissed the charges,” Cam said, surprising himself by interrupting Bobby Lee, something deputies rarely did.
The sheriff went silent, and then surprised him. “Reasons to turn it over to the Bureau?” he asked.
Relieved that they weren’t going to spend the morning squaring off like two male dogs, Cam laid it out. “We don’t have the assets to track the Internet video. Kenny Cox is the best Webhead we have in MCAT, and he says this would take some heavy-duty computer expertise. The feds are all over that. They have that program that watches everyone on-line, so they can probably find the source. Plus, we now have a terrorist-style street abduction of a subject related to the guy who supposedly got fried. The Bureau does kidnapping
cases. And finally, the Internet is, by definition, interstate. Crimes across lines also means the Bureau.”
“They come in, they’ll push you and your guys aside like so many annoying insects.”
“I’m ready to be pushed aside,” Cam said. “We’re not getting anywhere.”
Another silence. “Okay,” Bobby Lee said. “I’ll call ’em. Let’s just hope we don’t get act two in the meantime.”
“For what it’s worth, Sheriff, you might be all alone in that sentiment.”