Chapter 24

February 29, 2012 at 1:34 pm (The Truth)

Steven chewed the end of his pen as he watched the cops process the scene. The ring had surprised him. He’d not know that it was there. He had tossed the watchman’s belongings over the fence onto the train tracks near the Roger’s Sugar Mill. The ring must have rolled around as he drove and gotten caught in the plastic he’d wrapped Nikki’s body in. He hadn’t noticed it when he’d tossed the belongings. Admittedly, he hadn’t paid any attention to what he’d been throwing away.

Now he worried that the cops would come up with something that would give them a clue to his identity. He wondered what else that medical examiner might find. He’d felt the anger bubbling to the surface when Mack had said Kovel thought he was breaking down. He was so in control, they had no idea where he was, who he was, or who he would take next.

***

Kovel exited the hospital at the back and walked toward her car. The autopsy on Nikki George had taken her several hours to complete. Then her regular day’s work had begun. Detectives Ingledue and Curcio had left directly after she had completed the autopsy, to brief Mack on her findings. No doubt they would spend the remainder of the day and some of their night analyzing angles, reenacting scenarios and generally pounding the pavement.

Kovel had always enjoyed her work. Early on in her career, it had been damn difficult to separate the person on her table from the people who were still living. She got too emotional, thinking of the waste and the violence. Her rocky start had led to a minor drinking problem that she had recognized before it got out of hand. It had also led to a rather uninspired affair with her boss. He was the staid older man with all of the experience and she was the fresh grad, too smart for some, too shy for others.

She’d finished high school at sixteen and had enrolled in Med School by the time she’d turned twenty. At forty to her twenty-four, her boss had seemed like such an interesting, appealing man. Kovel assumed that his wife had thought so, too. He had given her all of the tired excuses. His wife was a cold fish who didn’t want to be touched. She was holding up the divorce by behaving like a shrew. Honestly, he loved her and would marry her once the divorce was final. Yes, his wife was pregnant, but he didn’t think the child was his.

Kovel had taken far longer to ditch the jackass than she should have. She’d chalked that one up to experience and used it to toughen her hide. In the eight years since then, she’d had four promising relationships with men who had appeared to be interested in the same things she was. Turns out they were only looking for sex. Now, Kovel preferred celibacy.

And she realized she was lying to herself.

Her boss had made another play for her today, not realizing that Ingledue was in her autopsy room. Curcio had left to use the washroom and Ingledue had stepped into the supply closet to find some scrubs. Nikki George’s body had already been moved into the room. The annoyance aside, it had seemed beyond tacky to suggest a rekindling of their intimacy while a woman’s ravaged body lay five feet away.

When Kovel had turned her boss down again, he’d gotten annoyed enough to grip her by the shoulders. Ingledue had slipped from the supply closet and asked if she’d needed any assistance. Her boss had unhanded her and she had suggested that he was leaving, which he did. She’d thanked Ingledue for his assistance and then pushed it all aside.

Now, with her mind free of her responsibilities, she could replay it over and over again, analyzing the details to see if she could have handled it better. Her boss didn’t seem to understand that she would never take him back. He was still married. He’d had another child with the wife he’d said refused his touch. He’d had several other affairs with women from the hospital, which brought Kovel a small amount of relief. At least she wasn’t the only intelligent woman to make a stupid mistake like that.

Kovel approached her car, lost in thought, and didn’t notice the danger until it was too late. The car parked next to hers blocked her view from the hospital. As Kovel rounded its back end to head for her door, he jumped out at her.

Steven grabbed Kovel by the throat and closed off her air supply. “Think I’m breaking down, do you, bitch?” He slammed her up against the side of her car. He wore a black balaclava to hide his features and his clothing was nondescript. His head swiveled from side to side as he checked to make sure they were alone.

He punched Kovel in the side of the head and she saw stars. Balling her hands into fists, Kovel sent one into his testicles and one into his throat. The force behind both punches was weakened by lack of oxygen, but still had enough power to get his attention. His hand slipped from her throat and Kovel gasped for much needed air. She got a shortened scream out before he clamped a hand over her mouth. Fumbling for the keys in her pocket, she pushed every button on her key fob, opening her trunk and unlocking her door before she hit the one for the alarm. Her car’s horn started blaring into the night.

Steven swore as Kovel tried to give him a Charlie horse. His mind scrambled to process the situation through the pain and the noise. He’d had it all planned out and she’d fucked it up, just as she was fucking with his work! The horn was going to attract attention and he knew he wouldn’t be able to get her away. Pulling his knife from its sheath, he brought it around and tried to slice her throat.

Kovel used her arm to block the knife. The blade sliced through skin and muscle, cutting right down to the bone. When the knife changed angle, she was a fraction of a second too slow and she felt the blade glide into her belly.

Steven pulled his blade free and dumped Kovel’s body on the ground. Kovel bounced off her own car, leaving a streak of blood down the driver’s door. Steven jumped into his car and roared out of the parking lot.

Staff from the hospital came into the parking lot to investigate the alarm. It had happened before, someone had driven themselves to the hospital rather than calling an ambulance, but were unable to get all the way inside. Setting off the horn attracted attention and got them the help they needed. Once Steven’s car was gone, the hospital staff had no trouble seeing the blood smear on Kovel’s car and the body heaped on the ground.

***

Mack sat at his desk, trying to locate the owner of the wedding ring Kovel had handed him. It wasn’t in the system. It was possible that the ring wasn’t part of an investigation and the owner may not have reported it lost or stolen. Still, it was the best lead that they had. Mack got up and knocked on Inspector Hilbert’s door.

“Come in,” Hilbert called out.

Mack pushed the door open and crossed to Hilbert’s desk. He held up the evidence bag containing the ring and explained that it wasn’t listed in any of their databases. “I’d like to put it out to the media to see if anyone recognizes the inscription and can tell me who it belongs to.”

“You think it could be the killer’s?” Hilbert asked.

“It’s possible. Other serial killers have been known to lead dual lives, with the wife usually unaware of her husband’s activities.” But the idea didn’t sit well with him. Their killer was getting too irrational and violent for any sane woman to ignore the signs. “I think it’s more likely that the killer was in the same area as the person who wore this ring and either took it from him or didn’t notice that it was there when he collected Nikki George’s body.”

Hilbert held out his hand for the ring and read the inscription. “‘Forever in love, RS 06’. Well, at least it’s a fairly unique inscription. Are you going on the air or will you hand it to the media liaison?”

“I’ll do it.” Mack took the ring back from Hilbert and exited his office. Returning to his desk, he was about to place a call to the media liaison to have her get the ball rolling for him when Ben Ingledue dropped by.

“Kovel found several hairs and a number of other fibers during the autopsy, but it’ll take a bit of time to get them analyzed. She’s put a rush on it, but we’re still looking at a few days.”

Mack nodded and motioned for Ben to continue. Kovel’s initial assessment appeared to be accurate. Their killer was breaking down, becoming more violent with each new victim. He made mistakes with Nikki George that Mack hoped to use to hang him before the killer could take another woman.

“Kovel seemed a little off her game though,” Ben admitted. He explained about the run-in she’d had with her boss. “It seemed to be quite personal. I guess they must have had an affair at some point and he was looking to start it back up again. When she said no, he grabbed her, so I made my presence known and he backed down. She said she was fine, but maybe she wasn’t.”

“Do you think she made a mistake during the autopsy?” Mack asked.

“Not anything that was apparent to me. She is quite methodical in her procedures, because she knows how often her work can get thrown out of court if a corner is cut somewhere. And I didn’t see anything that concerned me, but I wondered if there’s something she would have caught if she hadn’t been so distracted.”

“That’s grasping for something we don’t even know is there. Kovel is one of the best in the field and I have every confidence that if there is something to be found, she’ll find it,” Mack said. He knew that his team, Kovel included, was getting a little punchy with all of the hours they’d been putting in, but suggesting they take a little time off would be futile. No one wanted to be off getting some rest when their killer took another woman.

Ben knew that Mack was right and that Kovel was too professional to let anything get in the way of her doing the best she was capable of. “I just hope her boss isn’t going to be an unnecessary distraction for her.”

“I’ll have a chat with Kovel about it. If it sounds like her boss is behaving like a jerk then I’ll send Pike out to have a few words with the man.” Very few men could ‘have words’ with Pike and not be intimidated by his forcefulness.

Ben nodded, leaving the issue with Mack. He walked back to his desk to write up his reports. Mack reached for his phone to call the media liaison when Pike sauntered in from the cafeteria. Mack motioned him over and asked if he knew Kovel’s boss.

“I’ve met him. Spineless dick, if you ask me. Why?”

“Apparently Kovel had an affair with him and now the guy is looking to start it up again. She’s not having it, but it sounds like the boss isn’t letting it go.”

“I’ll go have a few words with him,” Pike offered, making Mack smile. “Kovel is one sexy lady, but she has damn lousy taste in men.”

“Because she keeps turning you down?” Mack asked.

“Never asked for her,” Pike admitted. At Mack’s raised eyebrow, Pike smiled. “I know, I ask just about everyone, but she’s too far out of my league and I know it. Doesn’t mean I’d let that bastard harass her though.”

Mack’s phone rang, reminding him that he still had to call the media liaison. “Detective Novak,” he answered.

“Detective, this is Rosie Franklin. I’m a nurse at VGH.”

“What can I do for you, Ms. Franklin?” Mack asked.

“Detective, it’s Dr. Kovel. She’s been brought into emergency.”

“I didn’t think Dr. Kovel did any rotations in the ER.”

“She’s not on rotation, detective, she’s on the table. She was stabbed in the stomach just outside our doors.”

Mack stood up and motioned for Pike. He grabbed his coat as he demanded to know if the perp had been caught.

“Whoever stabbed her got away. They drove away, detective, and left her lying there in a pool of her own blood.”

Mack could hear the sniffles the woman was trying to stifle. He asked if there was anything else before he headed over to the hospital.

“Detective, Dr. Kovel insisted that we call you. She said her attacker was the killer. She said to tell you that he said ‘you think I’m breaking down’.”

Mack thanked her and tossed the phone down. Inspector Hilbert stood in his doorway, alerted by Pike. “The killer went after her.” Mack gave them the details as he finished putting his jacket on. “She’s in surgery now, but when she comes out I want to be there.” He handed the evidence bag with the ring in it to Hilbert.

“Go,” Hilbert said. “I’ll get the details on that ring out to the public.”

***

Steven paced a path inside the warehouse, back and forth across the empty floor. That bitch, Kovel, wasn’t dead. He’d heard about it on his police band radio. Oh she was hurting, sure enough, but she was still hanging on. Maybe she wouldn’t make it through the surgery. He could hope.

There was no way for her to identify him. He had stolen the car that he’d driven to the hospital. The balaclava had covered his entire face. She’d never met him before, so she couldn’t have recognized his voice.

But he’d gotten sloppy and he knew it. He should have made sure that she was dead before he’d left. He’d panicked. He didn’t like having to admit that. He was used to being in control. Used to being the one with all of the power. He didn’t enjoy the rush of adrenaline that came with fear. It wasn’t at all the same as the rush he got when he killed something.

He’d had such plans for Kovel, if she’d only cooperated. She’d have been his own little hiatus from his teacher’s master plan. He could have done anything he’d wanted with her. Kovel was the first person he had tried to abduct without his teacher’s instructions. He’d thought that he had it all worked out. He’d done it so many times before, with immense success.

What had he forgotten? What had he done wrong? It couldn’t be that he needed his teacher. The student was about to surpass the teacher. That was the way of it. It had to be. But maybe he needed one more lesson. He would have to go to his teacher and confess what he’d done. Then he would ask for the next part of the plan. His teacher already had the woman picked out.

Steven needed to prove that he was still in control. Kovel was wrong. He wasn’t breaking down. He was transforming into the man he was meant to be.

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