The first in a new high-concept police procedural series, set in Albany with an Alice in Wonderland theme.
Frankie Bailey introduces readers to a fabulous new protagonist and an Alice in Wonderland-infused crime in this stunning mystery. The year is 2019, and a drug used to treat soldiers for post-traumatic stress disorder, nicknamed “Lullaby,” has hit the streets. Swallowing a little pill erases traumatic memories, but what happens to a criminal trial when the star witness takes a pill and can’t remember the crime? Biracial detective Hannah McCabe faces similar perplexing problems as she attempts to solve the murders of three women, one of whom, a Broadway actress known as “The Red Queen,” has a special interest in the story of Alice in Wonderland. Is the killer somehow reenacting the children’s tale? This smart, tough mystery will appeal to fans of high-concept police procedurals.
DATE: Thursday, 24 October 2019
TIME: 0700 hours
WEATHER TODAY: Mid 90s. Air quality poor. Evening storms.
DISPLAY ON WALL: Wake- up News
“Good morning, everyone. I’m Suzanne Price.
“First, the news from the nation. The federal government says, ‘No hoax, no conspiracy, but still no definitive answers.’
“The administration denies suppressing portions of the commission report on the November 2012 close encounter between NORAD fighter jets and the black boomerang- shaped UFO that appeared over the Mojave Desert, creating worldwide awe and panic before disappearing in a blinding flash of light.
“In Las Vegas, preparations are underway for the now- annual spectacular celebration of that close encounter.
“However, a warning from alien invasion survivalists, who say this seventh anniversary will be the year the spacecraft returns leading an armada. Survivalists plan to retreat to their bunkers on November 2. Gun shop owners report sales of firearms are up, as they are every year as the anniversary approaches.
“Meanwhile, the National Weather Service says another eruption of solar fl ares could cause more communication and power disruptions early next week.
“Forest fi res in both Canada and breakaway nation New France continue to burn out of control, sending smoke southward.
“Scientists taking part in a climate change conference in Philadelphia disagree about the explanation for the significant improvement in the acidity levels of the world’s oceans. ‘It shouldn’t be happening,’ an MIT oceanographer said. ‘Nothing in anyone’s data predicted this turnaround. But I think we can safely rule out divine intervention and UFO babies.’
“Out on the presidential campaign trail, a political firestorm erupts as Republican front- runner Janet Cortez accuses in dependent candidate Howard Miller of ‘rallying angry, frightened people to commit hate crimes.’ During an arena speech yesterday, Miller called on several thousand supporters to ‘reclaim America for Americans’ and ‘restore our way of life.’ Cortez says Miller is ‘morally responsible’ for the attacks that have been escalating since he announced his third- party candidacy.
“Now, here at home . . . a chilling scenario posed by a local crime beat threader. Is there an ‘Albany Ripper’ in our midst?”
“Dammit!” Hannah McCabe jumped back as the grapefruit juice from her overturned glass splashed across the countertop, covering the still- visible display of the nutrition content of her father’s breakfast.
“Bring up the sound,” he said. “I want to hear this.”
“Half a second, Pop. Hands full.” McCabe shoved her holster out of the way and touched clean up before the stream of juice could run off the counter and onto the tile floor.
“. . . Following last night’s Common Council meeting, threader Clarence Redfield interrupted a statement by Detective Wayne Jacoby, the Albany Police Department spokesperson . . .”
In the chief of police’s office, Jacoby struggled to keep his expression neutral as the footage of the press conference and his exchange with Redfield began to roll.
“The Albany Police Department remains hopeful that the Common Council will approve both funding requests. The first to expand GRTYL, our Gang Reduction Through Youth Leadership program, and the second to enhance the surveillance—”
“Detective Jacoby, isn’t it true that the Albany PD is engaged in a cover- up? Isn’t it true that the Albany PD has failed to inform the citizens of this city of what they have a right to know?”
“I know you want to off er your usual observations, Mr. Redfield. But if you will hold your questions until I finish—”
“Isn’t it true that we have a serial killer at work here in Albany, Detective? Isn’t it true that a secret police task force has been created to try to
track down a killer who has been preying on women here in this city?”
“That is . . . no, that is not true, Mr. Redfield. There is no secret task force, nor is there any cover- up. We . . . the Albany PD does not engage in . . .”
From his position by the window, Chief Egan said, “Stammering like a frigging schoolgirl makes it hard to believe you’re telling the truth, Wayne.”
“The little bastard caught me off guard,” Jacoby said, his annoyance getting the better of him.
The others at the table avoided his glance, their gazes focused on the wall where his confrontation with Redfield was continuing.
“So, Detective, you’re telling us that there aren’t two dead women who—”
“I’m telling you, Mr. Redfield, that we have ongoing investigations into two cases involving female victims who—”
“Who were the victims of a serial killer?”
“We have two female homicide victims. Both deaths were drug- induced and both occurred within the past six weeks. On each occasion, we made available to the media, including yourself, information about—”
“But you didn’t release the details that link the two cases. You didn’t tell the media or the citizens of this city that both women were—”
“We do not release the details of ongoing homicide investigations, Mr. Redfield. And you are not aiding these investigations with your grandstanding.”
“My grandstanding? Don’t you think it’s time someone told the women of Albany that the police can’t protect them? That they should stay off the streets after dark, get inside when the fog rolls in, and lock their doors? Shouldn’t someone tell the taxpaying citizens of this city that in spite of all the hype about your Big Brother surveillance system, a killer is still moving like a phantom through the—”
“What the citizens of Albany should know is that the Albany PD is bringing all its resources and those of other law- enforcement agencies to bear to solve these two cases. Veteran detectives are following every lead. And the citywide surveillance system the department has implemented—”
“When it’s working, Detective Jacoby. Isn’t it true that the solar flares have been giving your system problems?”
One of the captains sitting at the conference table in Chief Egan’s office groaned. “Is he just guessing?”
On the wall, Jacoby’s jaw was noticeably clinched.
“As I was about to say, Mr. Redfield, before we began this back- and-forth, the DePloy surveillance system has been effective both in reducing crime and solving the crimes that have occurred. That is the end of this discussion.”
“You mean ‘Shut up or I’m out of here’?”
“Ladies and gentlemen of the press, I am now going to finish the official statement regarding funding. I will only respond to questions on that subject. . . .”
Chief Egan said, “Not one of your better performances, Wayne. You let him rattle you.” He walked over and sat down at the head of the table. “Her Royal Highness, the mayor, was not pleased when she called me last night.”
On the wall, the anchorwoman took over.
“Detective Jacoby then completed his statement about the proposals before the Common Council. When a reporter tried to return to the allegation made by crime beat threader Clarence Redfield that a serial killer is at work in Albany, Detective Jacoby ended the press conference and left the podium.
Mr. Redfield himself declined to respond to questions from reporters about the source of his information. We’ll have more for you on this story as details become available.
“In another matter before the Common Council, a proposed emergency expansion of the existing no masks or face- covering ordinance to include Halloween night. The new ordinance would apply to everyone over eight years of age. The recent outbreak of crimes involving juveniles . . .”
“Now, they’re even trying to take away Halloween,” Angus McCabe said from his place at the kitchen table. “Well? Any truth to it? Do we have ourselves a serial killer on the loose?”
McCabe put her empty juice glass on the shelf inside the dishwasher. “Since when do you consider Clarence Redfield a reliable source, Pop?”
“He ain’t. But I’ve spent more than half my life grilling official mouthpieces, and the way Jacoby was squirming—”
“Jacoby can’t stand Redfield. You know that.” McCabe snagged her thermo jacket from the back of her chair and bent to kiss his forehead. “And you’re retired now, remember?”
“I may be retired, but I’m not dead yet. What’s going on?”
“Got to run, Pop. Have a good day.”
“Have a good day nothing.” He rose to follow her into the hall.
“Hank McCabe, you tell me what’s—”
“Can’t discuss it. I’ll pick us up some dinner on the way home. Chinese okay?”
He scowled at her, his eyes the same electric blue they had always been, the bristling brows gone gray.
“No, Chinese ain’t okay. I’m tired of Chinese. I’ll cook dinner tonight. I’ve got all day to twiddle my thumbs. What else do I have to do but make dinner?”
“I thought you might intend to work on your book. You do have that deadline coming up in a couple of months.”
“Book, hell. There ain’t no book. I’m giving the advance back.”
“If that’s what you want to do,” McCabe said. “On the other hand, you could just sit down and write the book.”
“You try writing a damn book, Ms. Detective.”
“Not my area of expertise. But you’ve done it a few times before. Even won an award or two.”
“This one’s different. Nobody would read it even if I wrote it. And don’t ‘If that’s what you want to do’ me. We were talking about this serial killer that Redfield claims—”
“Sorry, Pop, I really do have to go. I want to get in a few minutes early this morning.”
“Why? What are you—”
She closed the door on his demand that she get herself back there and tell him what was going on. Striding to her car, McCabe tried to ignore the whiff of smoke that she could taste in the back of her throat and the sticky air, which made her want to step back into the shower. The heat was due to break to night. That would clear the air.
And Pop would pull himself out of his funk. He always did.
Of course, the other times, he’d had an office to go to . . . and no restrictions on his alcohol consumption.
“I have every confidence in your ability to get what we need, Mike boy.”
“Right.” Baxter fl ashed his best cocky grin. “You know you can
count on me.”
His caller nodded. “I know I can.” He pointed his finger at Baxter. “Watch your back out there, you hear me?”
He disconnected, his image fading from the screen. Baxter closed his ORB and leaned back on his cream leather sofa.
He stretched his arms over his head, fingers clasped. His gaze fell on the framed photograph on his desk. Himself in dress blues. Graduation day from the Academy.
Baxter grunted, then laughed. “You should have seen this one coming, Mike boy.”
He rubbed his hand across his mouth, whistled. “Well hell.”
Baxter reached for his ORB again. He pulled up a file and began to update his notes.
When he was done, he grabbed his thermo jacket and headed for the door.
His mind on other things, he left the apartment on cooldown and the lights on in the bathroom, but the condo’s environmental system had gone into energy- saver mode by the time he reached the lobby.
In the garage, Baxter paused for his usual morning ritual, admiring the burgundy sheen of his vintage 1967 Mustang convertible.
Then he got into his three- year- old hybrid and headed in to work.
McCabe was stuck in traffic on Central Avenue, waiting for an opening to maneuver around a florist van.
In Albany, double parking had always been considered a civic right. With more traffic each year and the narrow lanes that had been carved out for Zip cars and tri- bikes, Central Avenue in the morning was like it must have been when Albany was a terminus for slaughter houses, with cattle driven along Central Avenue Turnpike.
Stop, start, nose, and try not to trample one another as they moved toward their destinations.
McCabe tilted her head from side to side and shrugged her shoulders. What she needed, yearned for, was a long run. Even with geosimulators, five miles on a machine was never as good as running outside.
McCabe’s attention was caught by a fl ash of color. On the sidewalk in front of Los Amigos, a young black woman in a patchwork summer skirt laughed as an older man, suave and mustachioed, swirled her in a samba move. Still laughing, she disengaged herself and scooped up her straw handbag from the sidewalk. Hand over his heart, the man called out to his impromptu dance partner. Giggling, she went on her way.
Stopped by the traffic light at the intersection, McCabe lowered her window enough to hear the music coming from the open doorway of the restaurant. Before it was Mexican, the place had been Ca rib be an, and before that, Indian. The owners of the hair salon on one side and the discount store on the other had complained about this latest example of ethnic succession. Loud music, spicy smells— in other words, the threat posed by “Mexs” moving into this block as they had others. Some legal, some American citizens, some neither, arriving in Albany in greater numbers during the years when the convention center was going up. Now the resentment was more vocal, the sense of being in competition greater. Even the imagined threat of an interplanetary invasion hadn’t changed that dynamic. Earthlings still distrusted other earthlings. They defended what they thought of as their turf.
Since the UFO, old episodes of Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone had become a cult favorite with teen “space zombies.” According to Pop, the zombies weren’t the only ones who should be watching the series. He
claimed that in the event of another close encounter, Rod Serling had left instructions. Rule number one: Even if the spacecraft looks flashy,
check to make sure it isn’t a balloon from a Thanksgiving Day parade. Rule number two: Even if the lights do start going on and off ,
don’t turn on your neighbors, assuming they must be the aliens. Rule number three: Even if the “visitors” introduce themselves and seem friendly, ask for additional information about how they plan “to serve” mankind before hopping on their spaceship.
Meanwhile, daily life continued on Central Avenue, where Zoe
James, the black female own er of the beauty shop, refused to patronize the Mexican restaurant next door.
At least she and Sung Chang, the Korean- American owner of the discount store, had stopped calling the cops every time the music and dancing overfl owed onto the sidewalk. Of course, the janet cortez para presidente sign now on proud display in Los Amigos’s front window might set them off again. Both James and Chang had signs supporting the current vice president, who was male, black (biracial, actually), and likely to be the Demo cratse nominee.
But according to Pop, the candidate they all needed to be worried about, should be scared to death of, actually, was Howard Miller, that smiling “man of the people.” Howard Miller, who was as smooth as the churned butter from that family- owned farm he boasted about having grown up on.
McCabe stared hard at the traffic light that was supposed to adjust for traffic flow and right now was doing nothing at all. She decided to give it another thirty seconds before she reported a problem.
They hadn’t looked at that kind of hate crime because they had two white female victims. But the murder weapon . . . What if one of Miller’s crazy followers . . .
McCabe was reaching for her ORB when the traffic light flickered and went from red to green.
More horns blared.
Three women, pushing metal shopping carts, had decided to make a last-minute dash across the busy intersection. White with a hint of a tan, clad in light- colored shorts and T-shirts, they were too clean to be homeless.
The women were almost to the other side when a bike messenger zipped around a double- parked produce truck.
The women darted out of his way. He skidded and went down hard. Sunlight sparkled on his blue helmet, but his work- tanned legs were bare and vulnerable.
One of the women looked back, peering over her designer sunglasses. She called out something. Maybe it was “Sorry about that.”
Then she and her fellow scavenger hunters sprinted away in the direction of Washington Park, where Radio KZAC must be holding today’s meet- up.
The taxi driver behind McCabe leaned on his horn. She waved for him to go around her.
She watched the bike messenger get up on wobbly legs. He looked down at his knee and grimaced. But the next moment, he was checking his bike. Then he grabbed for his leather satchel before a car could run over it. Hopping back on his bike, he pedaled off .
A car pulled away from the curb, opening up a spot a few feet away from Cambrini’s Bakery. McCabe shot forward and did a quick parallel park.
She got out and headed toward the intertwined aromas of fresh-baked muffins and black coffee. Maybe the day wasn’t going to be so bad after all.
The line wound back to the door, but it seemed to be moving fast. McCabe glanced at the old- fashioned chalkboard that always had the morning’s “featured muffin.” Not in the mood for pumpkin, she found what she wanted on the menu and sent her order from her ORB to checkout before joining the queue.
“Good morning, sister. Is God blessing you this fine day?”
She turned toward the deep voice and beaming smile of the man in the black New York Yankees baseball cap and the white suit and white shirt, which contrasted with his chocolate brown skin.
“Good morning, Reverend Deke.”
“I said, sister, ‘Is God blessing you this fine day?’ ”
“Yes, thank you, He is,” McCabe said.
“I’m pleased to hear that.”
Reverend Deke went out the door carrying his steaming coffee cup. By high noon, he would be bringing “the message” to any of the office workers who decided to leave the climate- controlled Empire State Plaza complex to patronize the lunch wagons lined up along the street. Some of the workers would pause to listen as Reverend Deke broke into one of the spirituals that he had learned on his Georgia- born grandmother’s knee.
McCabe watched him go, greeting the people he passed.
Ten minutes later, she was jammed in sideways at the counter by
the window, munching on a lemon-blueberry-pecan muffin. Half a day’s supply of antioxidants, and it even tasted like it was made with real sugar.
The police frequency on her ORB lit up. She touched the screen to see the message that Comm Center had sent out to patrol cars.
McCabe swallowed the last bite of her muffin and grabbed her ice coffee container from the counter.
Out of the sidewalk, she spoke into her transmitter. “Dispatch,
Detective McCabe also responding to that call. En route.”
“Copy, McCabe. Will advise,” the dispatcher responded.
Mike Baxter picked up the same dispatch as he was pulling out of the fast- food drive-thru. He shoved his coffee cup into the holder and reached for his siren.
“Dispatch, Detective Baxter also responding.”
“Copy, Baxter. McCabe’s headed that way, too.”
“Thought she would be. This could be our guy.”
McCabe pulled herself to the top of the fence and paused to look down into the alley. She jumped and landed on the other side, one foot slipping in dog shit. The man she was chasing darted a glance behind him and kept running.
In a half squat, McCabe drew her weapon and fired. Her bola wrapped around the man’s legs. He sprawled forward, entangled in the cords, crashing into moldering cardboard boxes and other garbage.
McCabe ran toward him. He twisted onto his side, trying to sit up and free himself.
“Get these ropes off me, bitch!”
“Stay down,” she said, training the weapon, now set to stun, on the perp’s scrawny torso. “Roll over on your belly.”
He looked up at her face, then at the gun. Either he was convinced she would use it or deterred by the minicam that was attached to the weapon and was recording their encounter. He sagged back to the ground and rolled over.
She stepped to the side, about to order him to raise his arm behind his back so that she could slip on the fi rst handcuff .
“You got him!” Mike Baxter said, running up. He was sweating, cheeks flushed, eyes bright with excitement. “That was great.”
“Cuff him,” McCabe said, trying not to let Baxter see that she was breathing hard.
She was thirty- four to Baxter’s twenty- nine, and, yes, she had outrun him. But she should be in better shape than this. Today’s air-quality reading was no excuse. Baxter snapped the cuffs into place and McCabe retracted her bola.
Baxter hauled the perp to his feet.
“Hey, man, this is police brutality, you hear me?” the perp said.
“I’m gonna sue both of you.”
“That all you got to say?” Baxter said.
“Say? You’re supposed to read me my rights, man.”
“You got it, man,” Baxter said. “You have the right to remain silent.
Anything you say can be used against you . . .” He recited the words with the controlled irony of a cop who had been saying them for several decades. But he looked like a college kid. That was why he had been recruited from patrol to work undercover vice. But word was that he had wanted out of that and played a commendably discrete game of departmental politics, involving his godfather, the assistant chief, to get reassigned.
Sirens screeching, two police cruisers pulled into the alley.
Baxter grinned at McCabe. “Great way to start the day, huh, partner?”
“Absolutely,” she said, scrapping her shoe on the edge of a mildewed cardboard box.
She hoped he realized that the likelihood that this was the guy they were looking for was about zilch.