Only 2 weeks left until my first book signing event in Toulouse.
Here's a new excerpt from 'The Perfectionist', a chunk from Chapter 10. Enjoy!
Night had fallen on Chicago. The regular Saturday evening hustle and bustle which engulfed Lincoln Park and its neighborhood had started to fade. Young families left the park. Yuppies were preparing for the night out. Happy children could be heard on their way back from the zoo. On Lincoln Avenue, occasional sounds of police car sirens and taxis honking accompanied the noisy talking and laughter of the foot traffic. In tandem, they filled the surprisingly warm late-April air, echoing all the way to the rooftops.
Such noises, however, didn’t make their way past the double-glazed and fortified windows of Gerry Stokes’s apartment, towering from the fourth floor on the street below.
The lights were on. They’d been on all day.
The apartment was half-buried in paper, stacks of newspapers and printed out documents. Paperwork, old and new, was piled up in corners of rooms, or scattered haphazardly on tops of furniture. Magazines and cardboard boxes occupied large spaces in the living room and in the kitchen. The kitchen sink was full of a week's worth of dirty dishes and scummy coffee mugs.
Among all the chaos, a tired Stokes had emptied his couch, turned it into a makeshift office. His laptop, placed on his knees, was overheating. He was oblivious to the switched-on TV facing him. It showed footage of the suspect apprehended in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings. The sound had been muted. At times he glanced at the screen passively, immune to the horror on display.
Another sound. Johann Sebastian Bach. The chords gradually filled the room after Stokes switched on his IPod with a remote control. He closed his laptop and placed it next to him. He spread his arms on the cushioned rail of the couch, and tilted his head upwards, stared at the ceiling. He wanted to absorb the early harmonious build-up of Bach's Suite for Orchestra, No. 3, in D Major.
Chords continued in an emotional crescendo in the overture. Stokes lowered his gaze and tilted his head to the wall separating his bedroom from the rest of the apartment. He’d redecorated it with a map of America which nearly filled the entire wall. Pinned on the map were small plastic red and gray flags with strings linking most of them together. On the borders of this giant map were a large number of newspaper pictures and Missing Persons database print outs. Pictures of the disappeared and deceased. A whole wall of death. Jane and John Does. Murder victims. Ghosts haunting his life.
He closed his eyes in a bid to forget the gruesomeness of it all. A desperate and naïve attempt to reach temporary salvation. He concentrated hard on Bach's Suite, soaked it all in, head bobbing slowly. He’d learned to appreciate and love the music. It bordered on perfection. He found refuge in the pleasant vibes. They didn't take him all the way to the Zimmermann Coffee House in Leipzig's Cather-Strasse, but it was enough to calm his thoughts for a while.
Bach's overture came to an end. Stokes switched off the IPod and stared at the TV screen as if it were a tool to suck him back into reality. The news channel had moved onto another matter. An FBI representative was being interviewed by a reporter. The man, in his late-forties, seemed to carry all the weight of the world. He spoke frantically in turn at the reporter and at the camera; his serious gaze suggesting urgency, seeking immediate attention from the audience.
Stokes flicked the sound back on in time to catch the end of the interview.
A banner at the bottom of the screen indicated the FBI agent's name, Elliot Keppler. He addressed the camera again, serious as a heart attack, requesting members of the public to come forward with any witness accounts as soon as possible. The FBI, he said, was counting on the citizens to help bring the perpetrator to justice.
The leads were scarce, but the motivation seemed high, thought Stokes.
The camera turned to the female reporter. She informed her TV audience that law enforcement was firing on all cylinders to catch who they suspected to be a repeat killer or killers. She signed off by stating her name, Heather Mills, and saying she was reporting live from Sun Valley, California, for CBS2/KCAL9, the Los Angeles branch of CBS. The broadcast ended.
Stokes was intrigued. The name Keppler rang a bell. He’d seen it before. Something he’d read recently.
He grabbed his laptop and entered the FBI agent’s name into the search engine.
Stokes had become a keen observer and reader of the daily news with a few specializations: homicide, violent deaths, abductions, mysterious disappearances. Every evening he searched the net and read as many credible sources as possible to find out about new cases all over the nation. He never ceased to be amazed by the magnitude of the new horrors he encountered. Sun Valley, California, was only one of multiple locations to have witnessed human tragedy in recent times. It sickened him.
He checked his internet history and retrieved the articles he’d read in the past few weeks. He had archived a whole list of local and national press reports, spanning over the past ten days. Many cited Keppler.
Then it all came back to Stokes. Keppler had worked on a previous case, one in which the body of a man in his early twenties was found in the basement of an empty house in San Bernardino, California, on the morning of April 10, 2013, by a group of junkie squatters. The tweakers had alerted the authorities, who arrived shortly afterwards. The police sealed off the house and tried to set up a roadblock, but were too late. Reporters had tuned into police radio dispatch frequencies and were quick to send film crews.
Although the police managed to prevent the cameras from penetrating the crime scene, a rookie blue was caught on camera vomiting in the house’s front yard. A journalist managed to get a statement from the young cop, who, feeling overwhelmed by the crime scene, hadn’t realized he was dealing with a member of the press.
‘I can’t fucking believe it. There was fucking blood everywhere. They slit his throat and jerked his tongue out from the wound!’ were his words.
By midday, the news of the killing had hit the wires, and a second wave of TV crews flocked to the house. They moved like flies on dog shit.
It was out there. Somebody had been executed the Colombian necktie way.
Obviously without pictures or footage of the victim, reporters had to be creative. For the very same evening CBS had managed to gather a panel of experts. Psychologists, ex-LAPD anti-gang squad members, even a writer who’d done research on Colombian drug lords. Although the experts had diverging opinions with regard to the origins of the Colombian necktie, they all seemed to agree that the perpetrator would likely be a drug-pushing gangbanger, using this method of assassination as a means to scare and intimidate whoever was associated with the victim.
The police departments of Los Angeles and San Bernardino gave a press conference the following day. Little information leaked out, and the victim’s identity was still unknown. This fact alone had caught Stokes’s attention. Reporters, however, discovered that the FBI was monitoring the situation closely due to the particularly gruesome nature of the crime.
I.D. was eventually confirmed on April 14. The victim, Jesus Reyes, was aged twenty-two, worked as a mechanic, and was a resident of Enterprise, Nevada. He’d been reported missing on April 2.
Stokes paused for a few seconds, got up from the couch, and walked to the map. He’d placed gray flags on Enterprise and on San Bernardino and linked them with some string.
The stories on the Reyes murder faded away for the next couple of days, only to be picked up again and given extra dimension on April 17, when a second Colombian necktie murder victim was found in Sun Valley. The corpse was discovered in a junk yard.
I.D. for the second victim was quickly confirmed during the course of the day. The victim’s name was Maximiliano Gutierrez. Gutierrez was twenty-four years old and worked as a clerk at a gas station in Henderson, Nevada, before disappearing on April 4.
Although LAPD had local gangs as the focal points of their investigation, it was decided that the FBI work on the case more actively, seriously consider non-gang motivations, and look at the case as a matter of either spree killing, or even serial killing. After all there was more than one murder victim and there had been, further to coroner examination, enough downtime between both murders.
The LAPD and the SBPD jointly organized a second press conference with the FBI, early on April 18. Elliot Keppler had been mentioned from that point onward as the agent representing the FBI and the man in charge of the investigation.
Stokes considered the map again. Gray flags were also placed on Henderson and Sun Valley. He crouched to the floor and picked up his bundle of string, snapped a bit off, and hooked the string between both flags.
He knew he’d be spending all night cross-checking the facts in both murders. It was necessary. He had to be sure they were connected before changing the gray flags with red ones. He had a strong hunch they were.
Either the killer had spent a few days in the Las Vegas area and dumped both bodies north of Los Angeles – that would mean a car trunk would not have been sufficient - or he had been travelling back and forth. In either case, he’d pulled it off again. This time though, Stokes wondered about the victims and how fast it’d been to identify them. Why was this? Why run such a risk? Stokes was puzzled.
The killer had proved himself to be cocky in the past. He’d gotten accustomed to freely roaming around the country and never being caught for his crimes. Maybe he was getting older and couldn’t cope with all the hassle of covering up his tracks anymore? In that light, why maintain the complications? Maybe he was getting sloppy? Or was he just plain confident that the police would never be able to trace it all back to him?
Stokes fetched a Rolling Rock from the refrigerator, pressed the cool bottle against his forehead. The cold bite was comforting. He then returned to his laptop and opened up a document in which he planned to write down all the new thoughts and ideas he had with regard to the killing spree. He quickly typed his latest angles of thought and wrote a few notes on the more recent facts concerning Maximiliano Gutierrez, while taking swigs of his beer.
Over the past few years Stokes had accumulated an impressive amount of information, both factual and hypothetical. He had a full library of documented cold cases, reconstituted police files, and additional data to the publicly-available Missing Persons files. He’d spent time digging, and digging deep. He’d established a chronology of a likely killing spree, which spanned over years, prior and posterior the Cecilia Åkerblom and Ted Callaway cases. The map on the wall was a testimony to that. Interestingly, he’d also organized his information in a manner that provided him with a substantial backbone to a narrative. He’d written text here and there. He was already at 200,000 words and there were still gaps to fill. There were several loopholes in the chain of events, uncertainties he still needed to iron out, and his conclusion was still unclear. He’d also compiled a synopsis and a tentative title. It was his novel, the fruit of nearly three years of hard labor.
The two recent Colombian necktie cases, if his research linked them to the rest, were perhaps the breakthrough he was looking for. For Stokes the killer had stopped his deadly spree in 2005. Now with these two new cases, the killer was surely stalking his next victim and would be seeking to improve his surgical performances with a better necktie. If not, then he’d have achieved perfection with Gutierrez, and would be looking to carry out another method of execution. It would be consistent with his killer’s pattern.
Stokes never ceased to be both shocked and amazed by the killer as the man had been so imaginative and innovative over the years. In some strange way Stokes kind of admired the guy. He was out there somewhere, at large. His track record and resulting body count was impressive, even more so with the nation unaware of what he was up to for the past twenty-plus years. But one person would eventually disclose this killer to the world. And that person would be Stokes.
He put the bottle to his lips, sipped some more beer, felt triumphant.
He had the documentary evidence. He’d made the connections between the disappearances and the murders. He’d established the guy’s patterns. Now he needed a name. He’d find a publisher for his novel who would want to go to press quickly and cash in on the scoop. After all, who wouldn’t be interested in a book called Tracking America’s Greatest Serial Killer?
Sure, Gary Ridgway, the Green River Killer, confessed to the murders of seventy-one people; Ted Bundy killed thirty-five or thirty-six; and John Wayne Gacy wasn’t far behind; but Stokes’s killer had just claimed his eighteenth and nineteenth victims. That placed him above crazies like Jeffrey Dahmer, Robert Hansen, and Richard Ramirez.
Interestingly, Stokes’s killer had been stalking in different killing zones over the years and wasn’t confined to a single sector. He operated interstate. For the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit and the National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime, most serial killers have very defined geographic areas of operation. They conduct their killings within comfort zones that are often defined by an anchor point, such as their place of residence, their employment, or residence of a relative. Serial murderers will, at times, spiral their activities outside of their comfort zone, when their confidence has grown through experience or to avoid detection. However, still according to the FBI, very few serial murderers travel interstate to kill.
Stokes had spent considerable time studying the FBI’s criminal profiling theories and didn’t necessarily agree with their categorization of serial killers. Nonetheless, he knew his killer conformed to the FBI idea that a serial murderer operating outside his comfort zone was either an itinerant individual who moves from place to place, or a homeless, transient person. Stokes was of the opinion that his killer’s employment lent itself to interstate travel. But there were many jobs in that category. There were truck drivers, salesmen, military service, even clowns working for fucking travelling circuses, for Christ’s sake… The list was long.
One thing was certain. His interstate killer definitely had a travelling lifestyle, which provided him with many comfort zones in which to operate. He also had a vehicle, most likely a discreet utility vehicle, enabling him to abduct victims and exit locations rapidly and comfortably.
His killer simply defied the odds.
Stokes raised his arms behind his head and yawned. He accidentally knocked over his beer bottle, dumping it all over a file on the floor. ‘Goddammit!’ he shouted.