At seven thirty seven the next morning, Hannibal rang Amy’s home number from a payphone. The phone rang once and she answered sounding tense.
“Safe to talk?” Hannibal asked.
“Leave your apartment by the fire escape, see you in the alley.”
“What? You’re outside?”
“Fire escape. Do it now.”
He returned to the car where Murdock waited, listening to the morning news show on the radio.
“Alleyway. She’s on her way.”
A couple of minutes later they parked at the bottom of the fire escape on the back of Amy’s apartment building. Amy looked down at them from further up, and then went on hurrying down towards them.
“Don’t run. Don’t run,” Hannibal muttered. Rain overnight must have the steps wet and treacherous. A few moments later Amy jumped into the back seat of the car, tossing her briefcase and a large holdall across the seat as she climbed in. Hannibal frowned at it.
“That’s a big purse.”
“I just brought a few things with me that I might need.” She looked around, nervous, excited looking. “Are you being followed?”
“Nah.” Murdock drove out of the alleyway slowly, joined the traffic and proceeded at sedate pace, designed not to draw any attention.
“You had breakfast?” Hannibal handed Amy over a box of donuts.
“Thanks. I just had coffee.” She looked flushed and out of breath. Hannibal smiled, thinking she probably expected more of a daring escape, screeching round a few corners, not tooling along in morning traffic, eating donuts.
“Where are Face and BA?” Amy asked.
“Lying low. We’ll be there in twenty minutes. Wanna show me this info you’ve dug up, or do you want to wait and tell us all at once?” He smiled, as she seemed to be ready to burst with it. “Yeah, that’s the best idea. You just eat some breakfast there, and then you only need to explain it once.”
“Here, coffee.” He passed a thermos over to her. “Twenty minutes, Amy. Calm yourself down and get ready to give us what you’ve got.”
Amy stared around the windowless storeroom, just another anonymous unit in a facility with dozens more exactly the same. Crates and boxes stood around the wall. Like the warehouse, it had a workbench, though much smaller. This one held a small printing press Amy had seen the team use before, and a laminating machine. A couple of clothing rails held clothes, including uniforms of various types, from the team’s own army uniforms to cop and fireman uniforms.
“What is this place? Aladdin’s cave?”
“What, you think we keep all of our stuff in the van?” Murdock said, chuckling. “It would have to be bigger on the inside than the outside!” He rummaged in a nearby crate marked with the words “H’s dressing up box”, picked out a pair of ugly glasses and put them on.
“Most of it’s – ah – borrowed from one studio or another,” Hannibal said. “Murdock put those down. Okay, Amy, let’s hear what you’ve got.”
Amy dragged herself away from gazing around the room. She had guessed they must have some storage somewhere, she’d just never seen it. How many more secrets did they have? Wow, if Decker ever found this place… She gave a small smile. Of course if he did, there’d be another two – she glanced at Hannibal – no, three, elsewhere.
“Can I lay my files out on that bench?”
It took her nearly twenty minutes to go over the full story, showing them the clippings from the newspaper, court transcripts, police reports, her notes from her meetings, all her papers, all the evidence. They all asked questions, clarifying details, but Hannibal saved the big one until she finished her presentation.
“You believed this guy Bryant?”
“Yes.” For a moment she paused, trying to fold up the map she’d marked the hotels on. “The circumstances of his case are just too similar and, well I just had a gut feeling about him.”
Hannibal nodded, surprising her by not pressing her further. Amy knew a man could look you in the eye and lie without a sign; she’d interviewed politicians in her time after all. But Hannibal trusted her judgement on this and that made her feel just a little taller, as if she’d worn heels today.
“Okay,” Hannibal spoke to the rest of the team and they all turned their attention to him. “Let’s go over this guy’s M.O. For a start, are we all agreed that he must be a hotel employee?”
“Plenty of casual work in that field,” Murdock said, nodding. “Get a job for a couple of weeks, move on.”
“The hotels he’s hit so far,” Face said, looking up from a list of them, “they’re all similar, small to mid-sized, discreet.” He grimaced. “Just the kind of place a man might take a girl he’s not married to.”
“Several of the men in the cases are, or were, married,” Amy said. The similarities between the hotels had escaped her. Face perhaps knew them better. Possibly they exactly the kind of places he normally took his girlfriends. She didn’t want to inquire too much about that.
“The couples,” Hannibal said, “they’re all similar too. The men are in their thirties or forties, usually married. A lot of them are in show business, or on the fringes. See this one guy, he’s an entertainment lawyer. They have some power, some influence, but not fame, so the case doesn’t attract huge attention. The girls, all young, early twenties, great looking, aspiring actresses or models. Probably trying to sleep their way into the business.”
That remark earned him scowls from both BA and Face, Amy saw, though Hannibal remained oblivious.
“I don’t think he cares about the girls at all,” Murdock said. “It’s the men who are the real target. If he just wanted to strangle pretty girls then he wouldn’t care who they checked in with. But this is, well heck, it’s like it’s the same guy over and over.” He sighed. “Are people really so predictable?”
“Okay,” Hannibal went on, “so he picks his target when they check in. And if they call for something from room service, that’s when he slips them the Mickey.”
“He brings wine to the room and he offers to open it,” Face said.
“Then later,” Hannibal said. “Once he estimates they must be unconscious, he comes into the room. Since he has access to the passkeys he leaves no sign of forced entry.”
“Why don’t he take the wine bottle and glasses away with him after?” BA asked. “Get rid of the evidence?”
“That wouldn’t work.” Murdock shook his head. “The wine would be on the bill, so if the bottle was missing from the room the police would know someone else had been there.”
“And they’d know about the drugs from blood tests anyway,” Hannibal said. “But probably assume they took them for fun.”
“That’s mentioned in the trial transcripts.” Amy riffled through some papers, found where she’d made a note. “Yeah, the presence of drugs is noted, and it’s assumed they were recreational, or the man drugged the girl to subdue her, and even, well look at this one. The defence lawyers for one guy claimed the victim actually gave him the drug without his knowledge and that a reaction to it caused him to commit the murder.”
BA snorted in disgust and Murdock said, “Blame the victim, huh? Defence lawyers are real nice guys.”
“Still, gotta be risky going into the room,” BA said. “What if they didn’t even drink the wine? What if they woke up?”
“I’d guess he carries some kind of backup to knock them out again if they wake up. Or he double checks they are out of it before he starts anything. If they even twitch, he runs. By the time they’re fully awake they probably just think someone got into the room to rob them. If they don’t wake up then he does…” Hannibal glanced up at Face and at Amy. “He does what he came to do and leaves. Perfect crime.”
“And few days later,” Amy said, finishing the story, “when all the fuss dies down, he quits his job and moves to another hotel.”
“Never does the same place twice,” Hannibal said. “Too likely to form a pattern. It just takes one of the other staff to say something like ‘this is just like that thing that happened last year’ and a smart cop might make a connection.”
“Speaking of the cops,” Face said. “Do we get this to them?”
“They’ve already got it,” Amy said. “I gave a list of the cases to the lead detective. They can do even more with it than we can. They can check employment records at the hotels.”
Hannibal nodded. “Okay, so the cops have the same information we have. The question is, will they follow it up?”
“I think their focus is still finding Face.” Amy thought of her meeting with Turner and Decker. “Even if they think it’s worth following this up, they won’t do that until they’ve got Face.”
Hannibal nodded again. “Yeah. I guess that’s the way they have to play it. Okay, so we have to do this ourselves.”
“And just how are we going to get access to employment records? At all these different hotels?” Face asked.
“We’re not.” Hannibal got out a cigar. A small smile began to show as he lit it. “This killer doesn’t plan ahead, in the sense he marks his calendar with ‘Thursday: commit a murder’. He waits in ambush for the victims to come to him. I’ll bet he carries his knockout drops with him at all times.”
“Who doesn’t?” Murdock said. BA glared at him and gave a small rumble in his throat. Hannibal ignored the two of them and went on.
“He’s an opportunist.” Now the smile became almost a grin. “So what we need to do is give him an opportunity.”
“Hannibal!” Murdock jumped up from where he’d been sitting on a crate. He scowled at the colonel. “Hannibal, would I be right in thinking that at this very moment the word ‘bait’ is putting on its running shoes and sprinting in the direction of this conversation.”
“You’d be right.”
Amy felt a thrill run through her, fear, excitement all mixed as her mind raced ahead, seeing Hannibal’s plan. Before she could say anything though, Face took a step towards Hannibal, hands on his hips.
“No way! No way do you put Amy in that situation. Because that’s what you’re thinking isn’t it? Amy and –”
“And me,” Murdock said. “It’s got to be me, doesn’t it? It can’t be Face, he’d be recognised. You’re too old. BA is, um, unlikely.”
“You sayin’ I can’t pass for no high class executive?”
“Did you say, ‘old’, Captain?”
“Okay, let me rephrase. BA, if you want to do it, you’ll need a haircut and about six months of elocution lessons. Hannibal, you know you’re the, um, wrong age. It has to be me doesn’t it?”
“Yes,” Hannibal said, still not looking pleased, though Amy felt sure he’d intended Murdock all along. “It has to be you. And.” He looked at Amy. “It has to be Amy. If she agrees.”
“Oh yeah, that’s real fair on her!” Face protested before Amy had a chance to respond.
“What’s the alternative?” Hannibal demanded, turning to him. “Because as far as I can see only one member of this team fits the bill, unless you want to put on a dress and a hell of lot of makeup!”
“I won’t let you endanger her life!” Face took another step towards Hannibal. In this small space, only one more step would put him right up in the colonel’s face and Amy didn’t want to see that.
“Um, can I speak?” Amy took a shaky breath to calm herself. Her heart still raced, her head spun as if she’d had a few drinks. Two shots of fear and one shot of Jazz. “I… well, it sounds scary, but I’d do it. I mean I’d have Murdock there and the rest of you would be close and –”
“You’d be wired.” Hannibal said, “Both of you. And of course, you won’t actually eat or drink anything they bring from room service. As soon as anything happens, we’ll move in. It would be over before you know it.”
“And supposing this guy has a gun?” Face said. “Starts firing before we get there?”
“Murdock will be armed too.”
“Oh, so we’ll be putting Amy in the crossfire of a gunfight?”
“Face –” Amy began, but Hannibal interrupted her.
“Amy will not be in the crossfire. At the first sight of a gun, Amy will be on the floor and in cover, like we’ve taught her.”
Amy nodded, agreeing. “Face, I’ll be okay. It’s a good plan.”
Face stepped up to Amy and put his hands on her arms. “Amy, I don’t want you to do this. It’s too dangerous. You don’t have to do it.”
She knew she didn’t have to. She’d done her job, brought them the information. None of them would blame her if she walked away now and let them take it from here. But she had made her choice. She’d made it a long time ago.
She turned away from Face to Hannibal.
Hannibal nodded, not smiling, serious. Grave. No, Amy, this is not the time to think about the word ‘grave’.
“Thank you, Amy. I promise, we’ll keep you safe. Now, we need to choose our targets. Face.” He waited a moment for Face to look up from glaring at the floor, arms folded. “Face, you know the hotels best of all, pick out the ones of that kind he’s not hit yet. He could already be working at one of them.”
“It’s only been five days,” Murdock pointed out. “Do you think he’ll have left the Regency already?”
“Well, with all the extra heat, there’s been, then yeah, I think he’d move on quick. Maybe he’d fear us coming after him there. Face?” Hannibal looked at Face again.
“I’ll make a list.” His tone was still stiff, his stance rigid.
“I’ll start making the wires,” BA said.
“Right.” Hannibal nodded, and then turned to Amy and Murdock. “Okay, you two. You need making over.” He directed a critical gaze at them. Amy became self-conscious about the clothes she’d chosen for practicality and rubbed the toe of one scuffed sneaker on the back of her jeans. “Murdock, a haircut and a good suit will do it. Maybe some expensive looking accessories.”
“I have a source for the very best fake Rolexes,” Face said, not looking up from the yellow pages he now had open at the hotels section.
“And Amy.” Hannibal smiled at her. “You need to get dolled up.”
“I’ve got a few things with me, make up and stuff,” Amy said, nodding at her holdall. She’d packed more than a few things that morning. Clothes, and not even certain why, she’d slipped in a few other bits and pieces. Her photo album. The engraved fountain pen her parents gave her at her college graduation. A little lacquered box of keepsakes. She shook herself. “Um, but no suitable clothes. Should I go back to my apartment?”
“Better not,” Hannibal said. “You can go shopping.”
“Yeah,” Murdock said. “You probably don’t have anything suitable anyway.”
There was a short silence. Amy raised her eyebrows at Murdock. “You don’t think I have any glamorous clothes?”
“Oh, I didn’t mean that!” Murdock protested. “Um, just maybe not the same type of glamorous. Yours are probably all really, ah, classy.”
“Are you suggesting Celia wasn’t classy?” Face asked, voice icy cold.
Murdock took a step back and raised his hand in a ‘don’t hurt me’ gesture. “Of course not! Just in a, well, a different way.”
“Murdock,” Hannibal said, “Either stop digging, or, when you get to Australia, say hi to the kangaroos. Meanwhile, I’ll go drop off Amy, for her shopping trip.”
As Hannibal drove the car away from the storage facility Amy said, “Hannibal, Murdock does have a point. I don’t really look like any of those girls. I mean you saw the pictures.”
“I saw their headshots, yeah, with their perfect makeup and hair and clothes. Fact is, Amy, that any half-way pretty girl can look like a goddess after a day in the hands of the specialists in this town.” He grinned. “So you’ve got a head start.”
“Hannibal!” She blushed and shook her head. “I thought Face was the flirt on this team?”
“Who do you think taught him what he knows?”
She laughed and felt some of her tension ebb away.
“Murdock’s right about something else,” Hannibal said. “About that different kind of glamour. Those girls were beautiful and glamorous, but in a very, shall we say, obvious, kind of way. You know what I’m talking about don’t you?”
“So that’s what I have to be,” she said, nodding. “Um, all of this is going to cost money. I’m not sure my credit card will stand it.”
“Look in the glove compartment.”
She found an envelope in there and gasped when she opened it to find it stuffed with cash.
“Spend what you need. A dress, shoes. Jewellery, ah, within reason on that. And all the rest, hair, nails, makeup.” He gave her a cheeky grin. “Waxing.”
“Hannibal! I could get out of this car right now, you know!”
He laughed and she did too. And she knew she wouldn’t get out of the car. She had made her choice.