Murder Ring

Ramsey sat at his desk with a coffee and a copy of the NY Post. He got it for the sports section, the crime blotter, and the borderline satirical reporting. He had started reading it whenever he found a discarded copy on the subway, and it gave him a boost. The sports and news sections took him out of himself. They reminded him that there was a great big world out there, a world that would continue regardless of his personal successes or failures. A week into June and the Yankees were in first place. The Mets were in fourth. The Middle East still had problems. 

The crime blotter was his Page 6. If there were enough details, he could sometimes figure out who had handled the call and whether or not he knew the cops who had likely been involved. 

Ramsey never arrested anyone if he could help it. At a fit 6’4”, his presence alone was usually enough to de-escalate whatever conflict he might happen to run into. If two men were brawling or about to brawl outside a bar, he broke it up because he had to. He’d point to a traffic camera or an ATM and tell the men he had no choice. If one of them ended up killing the other one and there was footage of him walking by and doing nothing, the entire department would catch hell. If it was a man accosting a woman, he had to arrest him, but 99% of the time, it was the opposite. 

The men typically left immediately once he told them to beat it. Black and Hispanic women defended their man once he was gone, told Ramsey he was a racist pig, and cursed him and spat at the pavement as he walked away. White women almost unanimously demanded that he do something, that the man they had just been slapping and screaming at be arrested. He’d write down the man’s name and address, listen to her complain for a few minutes, and then thank her for cooperating and walk away. If she kept acting up, he’d threaten to arrest her, but he never did. 

Arrestling people is a pain in the ass. The paperwork isn’t as bad as it used to be and it would be cops doing it anyway, but he didn’t want to put anyone through the hassle. A cop arrests someone and he’s stuck with them. No one wants to be stuck with a drunk, hysterical woman for hours. Back when he had been a beat cop, a detective had called him in to arrest a bum. Once the detective was gone, he’d let the bum go. Bums smell. Some bums smell so bad you can smell them on patches of sidewalk they’d vacated hours ago. He wasn’t going to spend the rest of his shift with some filthy bum who’d stink up his car for months, then stink up the precinct. It didn’t win you any popularity contests. Unless a bum was suspected of murder or a witness to a felony, he was letting him go.  

No one cares about bums, junkies, or whores. If you just had to murder someone, they were all good candidates. All were easily led by the promise of money, food, or drugs. You just had to get them away from the cameras and stay inconspicuous while you did. Bums and whores were always getting battered; if they turned up in the winter they probably froze to death or slipped. Junkies OD’d, and they weren’t the most coordinated bunch, either. The way to do it would be to wear jeans, a dark hoodie, and a Yankees cap, and just push the person down a stairwell or in front of a bus or a subway. The NYPD liked to maintain the illusion of omnipotence, or at least competence, but in a city of 10 or 12 million (they didn’t even know how many people actually lived there) and a few thousand cops and maybe a few dozen homicide detectives, as long as whoever you killed wasn’t your girlfriend, boyfriend, coworker, or drug dealer, and you weren’t too blatant about it, you had a pretty good chance of getting away with it. Especially if the person was a bum, a junky, or a whore. 

Technology had improved and there were cameras everywhere, and homicide detectives were better trained than ever before, but there just weren’t as many murders as there used to be, even if you included all of the sketchy “accidents.” Of all the homicide detectives, maybe half a dozen of the old timers had really worked three or more homicides. Most of the people they caught were caught immediately by cameras or cops. And if you just sliced someone up a little or put them in the hospital, skipping town and staying quiet was usually enough even if they ID’d you. After a week, you were forgotten by everyone except the victim. There weren’t as many murders or violent crimes, but there were still enough to keep them busy. Maybe if you had money or were a pretty young girl or a child, you’d get the illusion of justice, but unless there was enough sustained outrage, you’d barely get that. 

The first call came in at 6:15 a.m. Two garbagemen had found a body on a bench in Madison Square Park. They’d thought he was asleep at first, but something looked off. A lot of bums, it’s difficult to tell whether they’re dead or alive. This guy was too well dressed. Probably had too much to drink last night and was just sleeping it off. A couple of cops in Ramsey’s precinct had found a kid passed out drunk in a snowbank last winter. He had woken up and shaken it off like it was nothing. Killing someone, or dying, wasn’t easy, but this guy was definitely dead. When one of the garbagemen had tried to shake him, his head had rolled off the bench and dropped onto the pavement. 

Ramsey was halfway out the door when the second call came in. Another body on a bench. This time, a white girl. Probably a college kid. Her head was still attached, cause of death wasn’t apparent, but she, too, was definitely dead. Two murders in one day wasn’t too strange, and bodies were typically found in the morning, when people were waking up to go out jogging or start their commute. Still, he paused by the door and waited, listening to the chatter on the radio. Billy called in and told him he and Jean were at Madison Square Park. They had cordoned off the body and separated the garbagmen to question them. Ramsey told them he’d be there in five. He stared at the radio, then grabbed a walkie talkie and headed out. He stopped at a bodega to get a coffee and another call came in, a dead girl in Harlem. The super had found her on the roof. Maybe an OD. Ramsey added a Tylenol packet to his order and another call came in, a dead bum on a subway car at the trainyard in Sunnyside. Not a sunny day for him. The guy behind the counter asked him if he wanted cigarettes and he nodded yes and another call came in, another dead bum on the George Washington Bridge. Bums usually died in the winter. Benches and bums. Maybe all of this was just coincidence. Only one was definitely a homicide, but his mind was already starting to make connections. He had to stop thinking and interview the garbagemen. Outside of the bodega another call came in, a dead woman at a construction site just south of Central Park. Her body had been found in a wheelbarrow on the 14th floor. The construction workers had actually been looking for the wheelbarrow. They’d finished the 14th floor months ago and were already up to the 22nd. 

Ramsey crossed Fifth Avenue and headed toward the park. The tape was up and Billy and Jean were still talking with the garbagemen. He looked to the south as a news van parked on 23rd Street and cursed as he tried to tear open the Tylenol packet. He tore it open with his teeth and washed the pills down with coffee and another call came in. Another white girl, this time at Columbia. He shook his head, turned off the walkie talkie, and looked from Billy to Jean, who both shrugged. One of the garbagemen was about to say something, then stopped. Ramsey rubbed the bridge of his nose between two fingers and heard another call come in on Jean’s walkie talkie. Regulations stated that the beats had to keep their walkies on, or at least one of them if they were together. He waved her off to the side and heard the radio chirp in the garbage truck. He gestured to the older garbageman who had been about to say something to follow him to the truck. The dispatcher was reporting that they’d found a human head at the processing center by the pier. Ramsey looked at the garbageman. 

“This kind of thing happen often?”

“This is the second time in 20 years that we found a head. But we find arms and legs all the time.”  

Ramsey nodded. One of his first calls 15 years ago had been to check on an arm found in a dumpster. The arm had a tattoo of an anchor on its forearm like Popeye, it was a left arm cut off cleanly at the shoulder. Ramsey had gotten lost in thought staring at it and the homicide detective had asked him what he was doing, waiting for the rest of him?

He lit a cigarette and offered one to the garbageman, who declined, as he heard Jean’s walkie talkie beep again. The garbageman shook his head. 

“One of those days, huh?”

Ramsey looked over to the corpse on the bench, its head on the pavement next to a dangling arm. 

“Could be worse.” 

*** 

By noon there had been 17 suspicious deaths. Everytime the department scrambled to secure one scene another call came in. People on third shift were kept on and second shift was called in early and they were still overwhelmed. There weren’t enough crime scene investigators, detectives, medical examiners, coroners, or cops. Even the media appeared to be spread thin. Any detective with experience in homicide was called back into the fray, regardless of where they were now or how long they had been out. Detectives who had been working bank robberies or narcotics for the last 10 years were taking instruction from the MEs. They were 10 years behind procedurally and most of them didn’t recognize half of the equipment. The Chief had even passed down a mandate to call in retirees. What was important was the illusion that they had this under control, especially since they didn’t. 

Priority was given to the college girls, the young professionals, and the other people who the voting public cared about. The junkies and bums were cleared as quickly and quietly as possible, at least officially, but enough COs agreed in the strong possibility of all of these deaths were related. Three or four or even six might just be some strange coincidence, but 17 by noon felt deliberate, like someone had a plan and was trying to send a message. 

Officially, Ramsey was working his headless man as usual, scheduling interviews with his friends, coworkers, anyone who might have seen him. Fortunately, the man worked right on the north side of the park for a construction company. He made a note to ask them if they had anybody working in the building near Central Park. Technicians were checking feeds from the closed circuit cameras mounted on stop lights, the corners of busy intersections, the doorways of delis, restaurants, shops, ATMs. A person doesn’t just dump a headless, relatively bloodless body in the park without drawing any attention to himself, or does he? Further inspection showed the man’s arms and legs had also been cut off and drained, then reassembled in his suit along with his head. The footage showed professional movers lugging boxes, man with a van movers, restaurant delivery guys on bikes with enormous, thermally protected backpacks the size of small refrigerators, Amazon delivery people lugging hand trucks loaded with large plastic crates, FedEx and UPS trucks and delivery people. The activity was nearly continuous for 24 hours. How difficult would it be for someone to cut through the park with a hand truck and unload a body? The way the corpse had been cut up, it could have been unpacked and arranged in about three minutes. 

There was no direct line of sight from any of the cameras to the bench. The most likely suspect had cut through the park dragging a loaded hand truck just before it closed at 11 p.m. He was of average build and height and wearing a Yankees cap, a dark hoodie, tan board shorts, and black sneakers. He had paused by the bench while obscured by the trees, then reemerged on the opposite side a few minutes later. A blur of light, probably a tossed cigarette, had entered the frame just before the man had. For all appearances, he had sat down to smoke a cigarette. The hand truck was still loaded with crates when he reemerged, but whether or not they had been unloaded was impossible to tell. The man had left and approached the bench with the same, steady gait. If the hand truck was lighter, he didn’t show it.

After watching the feeds Ramsey caught a ride to the victim’s place of employment. Everyone said he was a nice guy, kept his private life private, no wife, no serious girlfriends. No one rang any bells, but they did have a crew working in the building on Central Park South.   

By the time Ramsey had finished watching the feeds and talking to the victim’s coworkers, it was a quarter to 1 p.m. and the body count was up to 19. Passing the park he saw the tape was still up, but the body had been removed. CSI had kids from the academy collecting all the cigarette butts in the area.The press had moved on, but as he approached his precinct on 20th, he noticed a man and a woman he made for reporters lingering around outside, so he took a right and headed north. There was a bar on 24th street, a hipster bar. He could probably get some peace in there. 

He sat down and ordered a beer and gulped half of it down. Just as he was wiping his mouth with his sleeve a hand tapped his shoulder. It was MacGregor, a tech from his precinct, Computer Crimes, second shift. He sat down next to Ramsey and ordered a beer. 

“Aren’t you supposed to be helping out?”

“I’m on my way in. What are they going to do, fire me?”

Ramsey shrugged. The boat was already underwater. Throwing another guy in to bail wasn’t going to help. 

MacGregor looked at menu, caught the bartender’s eye and held it up, pointed to a cheeseburger, and set it back down to work on his beer. 

“So what do you think?”

Ramsey rubbed at his temples. 

“I’m too tired to think. I don’t think a goddamn thing. But what I know is that this a nightmare.”

MacGregor nodded as he drank and set his pint down. 

“It’s like Criss Cross.

“Except with a lot more crosses.”

Ramsey held on to this thought for a second, then turned to MacGregor. 

“If you wanted to do something like this, how would you do it?” 

MacGregor held a finger up as he lifted the burger that had just been dropped in front of him and took a big bite of it, then started to talk while he was chewing. 

“I’d do it like Criss Cross, except no one would know each other. Complete anonymity. And I’d loop in as many people as possible. Maybe five times as many as I expected to actually go through with it. Overwhelm the NYPD completely. And once some of the holdouts see the anarchy, maybe they start to get in on it and it just keeps snowballing.”

Ramsey drained his beer and knocked on the bar for another one. 

“How do you do that? Set up such a large enterprise anonymously? And how is there any accountability? There’s got to be a financial stake, or some kind of cost for not going through with it.”

MacGregor nodded as he took another bite. 

“You do it online on private chat rooms. Dark web, VPNs, anonymous third party escrow. No ticky no laundry.” 

Ramsey took a long pull of his beer and set it down. 

“So you how do you find out who’s involved?”

MacGregor shook his head as he washed down a bite of hamburger. 

“You don’t.”

Ramsey looked at short, fat, dumpy little MacGregor in his tennis shoes, t-shirt and hoodie. He’d probably come to this bar intentionally. 

“Don’t or can’t or won’t?”

“Can’t and won’t.”

MacGregor was paying more attention to his food. He hadn’t even turned around to answer. Ramsey stood up, picked up MacGregor’s barstool, and it turned it 90 degrees so MacGregor was facing him, then dropped it. MacGregor nearly choked on his beer when the stool hit the floor. 

“What the fuck?”

“19 people are dead. By now, probably 20. By the end of the day, who knows? So I’m asking you again, can’t, or won’t?”

MacGregor put his glass down and napkinned his shirt off.

“These sites aren’t indexed, meaning I can’t just google this, and even if I could find any one of the thousands of sites out there that might be doing this, everything is encrypted. And it isn’t like there’s just one or two vendors that handle escrow. There are literally thousands.The server could be in Bangladesh.”

MacGregor tried to turn back to his food and Ramsey grabbed his stool and spun him back. 

“That’s the can’t. What’s the won’t? And don’t give me any of that free web bullshit.”

“The free web isn’t bullshit. Cameras, smartphones and chips are everywhere.” He gestured to a camera at the corner of the bar. “Nothing you do is private, not even in your own home. Unless you have a VPN and a Tor browser, your entire life is for sale.”

Ramsey rolled his eyes. 

“I know it sounds naive and petty. You have dead bodies out there and I’m talking about concepts like civil liberty.”

“For mass murderers.”

“For everyone. There are people out there, good people, who need to buy drugs and medical equipment they can’t afford. Or need a gun to protect themselves because the police obviously can’t.” He waved a hand to indicate the world outside the bar. “They don’t feel safe doing anything and it’s our fault.”

“You seem to know an awful lot about it.”

“I’m just saying I have my reasons. Christ, Ramsey, the reasons are right there in the Constitution. Freedom of speech, a right to privacy. You can’t do those things in the real world anymore.”

“You never really could.”

“All the more reason.” 

Ramsey’s phone buzzed and he looked at it. 

“We’re up to 22. I’m thinking mine is unrelated. Or tangentially related. A serial killer caught up in the loop.”

“Ramsey–”

“The feds are coming in anyway. We need them. Department meeting is at 2 p.m. Got it?”

MacGregor nodded as Ramsey stood up and headed to the door. 

“You didn’t pay for your beer.”

Ramsey kept walking.

“That’s mighty observant of you. And generous.”

MacGregor shook his head. Bullies like Ramsey, big, strong, handsome guys who never had trouble getting a date, who never knew what it was like to be afraid to go to school because they were the reason everyone else was afraid, and they wondered why things like this happened, why people lashed out or needed a little corner of their own where they could talk and be themselves without having someone like Ramsey stomp their face into the pavement. There were men and there were women and then there were people like him, who were basically old looking children. He didn’t even feel like he was the same species as Ramsey, and women were just as bad. What woman would choose a guy like him over Ramsey? He was too short and fat and even ugly women thought they could do better, and they were probably right. It’d be easier if Ramsey was an idiot, but he wasn’t. He saw everything and he chose to be the way he was. He probably didn’t see it that way, but that was how he lived. The one thing he didn’t see was just how good he had it.    

“Excuse me?”

MacGregor looked up. The bartender, a beautiful girl in her early 20s, was standing in front of him. 

“You guys with the police?”

MacGregor nodded. 

“The food I’ve gotta charge you for, but the beers are on us. Tell the guys at the precinct.”

She winked at him and spun around, then looked back over her shoulder smiling to catch him watching her as she walked away. 

The last thing he wanted was for this to become another cop bar. There was no way in hell he was telling anyone. 

***

The Precinct was buzzing. Ramsey had to push his way past cops and techs to get to his desk, but it was too hectic for him to think, so he looked at his watch and pushed his way toward the main conference room. The smell of fresh human sweat sat on top of the smell of old BO and ammonia, the inevitable odor of every precinct, prison, and post office. He was a good fifteen minutes early, but could use the peace and quiet. The precinct CO, Hodges, must have had the same idea. He nodded at Ramsey as he took a seat, then closed his eyes and cupped his right hand over his face, dragging his thumb and fingers toward each other across his eyelids and pinching his nose, then blinking. He shook his head and sipped at his coffee. 

“Any ideas?”

“We work it.”

Each victim would become the heart of a social network of family, friends, coworkers, and acquaintances, like moons orbiting planets orbiting suns, dragging spiderweb paths through lattices pulsing with connection, entangled Venn circles overlapping and disengaging with the sweep of cell calls and signal radii as their owners went about the business of living and dying. When you have nothing and no one you have to look at everything, even the invisible and perhaps imaginary stringing it all together, an infinity impossible to escape but with endless nooks within which to hide. Any attempt to disappear would show like torn wiring, even subtle changes would cause ripples and gaps. The best move would be to keep moving as usual, and whoever or whatever had orchestrated this must have known it. Hunting them was an exercise in futility but at least it was exercise, and people were sloppy,stupid, and random. They worked off impulses unconsciously detected, and even those could be traced back to a missed call, a late lunch, a funny feeling. Murder causes turbulence like a fish speared through to the riverbed, the other fish have to slow and swerve around. A moving line has become a point, its intersections are no longer a matter of its own agency, but intersect it does, sometimes for years after the fact. There is no event without consequence, no silent tree falling in the forest. Life might be meaningless, but we all leave marks. 

“Sanderson is coming?”

The chief nodded. Sanderson was the head of Computer Crimes, and technically MacGregor’s boss. 

“What are you thinking?”

Ramsey shook his head. 

“MacGregor said he’d do something like this on the dark web. Like Criss Cross, only no one would know anyone. And that third parties would hold escrow, to keep everybody honest. I get what he’s saying, but I can’t put the mechanics of it together.”

Hodges put his hands together so all his fingertips were touching, making a little pyramid in front of his mouth. 

“Let’s say you and I want to kill someone. We meet online, usernames only. We each put money into escrow with conditions. Once we’ve both made our deposits, neither is refundable or claimable until we each okay payment to each other.”

Ramsey considered this. 

“So let’s say I kill your guy, and you never kill mine? What then? Even if you pay me, my money is still stuck. I’ve murdered your enemy for nothing. And if you don’t pay me, what can I do about it?”

Hodges tried to think of a self-enforcing rule or series of rules to compel anonymous compliance and cooperation, but came up empty. 

“Someone has to be in charge. There has to be someone running it.”

Hodges shook his head. 

“Just because we’re too stupid to figure it out doesn’t mean someone else isn’t.”

Ramsey leaned back in his chair. 

“Isn’t this what people have been trying to figure out or relearning since the dawn of time? That anarchy doesn’t work? That the tools have changed, but we haven’t? Unless there’s something, or someone, holding these people accountable, their best move is to let the other person move first.”

But as he was saying this he had a flash. 

“But if you don’t go, you go up. You’re only anonymous for as long as you go through with it.”

Hodges rubbed his chin. 

“That could work. You set a clock. But what if someone decides to get pretty? Let’s say I want you dead. I pretend to be you, do nothing, and just sit back.”

Ramsey sighed. Anonymity and accountability were impossible to reconcile. 

“Maybe we should wait for Sanderson.”

Hodges shook his head. 

“Remember the jerk-off scam? Nevermind, it was before your time. Some lonely guy would be in a chatroom when lo and behold, an actual real live girl is talking to him. They Skype and she’s hot. Unbelievably hot. Should turn off the computer right now hot. They camera fuck and she has him lean in, scream her name, bark like a dog. Whatever’s the most embarrassing thing you can think of, she has him do it. Once it’s all over he gets a message. Deposit a grand or two or five to this account or the video goes live to all his Facebook friends, gets posted on Pornhub, YouPorn, everywhere. The works. So a person is in the middle of this “anonymous transaction” and suddenly flash. The webcam takes a picture of them.”

Ramsey shook his head. 

“I tape over the webcam. Right after I get the VPN and the Tor browser.”

Hodges laughed and shrugged his shoulders as the door opened and Sanderson came in. He was about Ramsey’s height but thinner and slightly stooped. They went over what they had discussed and he held his hand up when Ramsey got to the part about taping over the webcam. 

“You make the picture conditional in real time. Just like the money in escrow. And you make it a daisy chain. Ramsey kills your guy.” He indicated Hodges. “You kill my guy. I kill Ramsey’s guy. You have over half a dozen people, you keep people as far removed from each other as possible, but the basic principle remains. No two people have two direct connections to each other.”

“And there goes anonymity,” said Ramsey. 

“Only if you don’t hold up your end,” said Sanderson. 

“And how do you confirm you have held up your end?”

Sanderson considered this. 

“The best way is Scout’s honor. Or you wait for the blotter, or listen to the police radio. Or wait to hear about it from a friend. You know whoever you wanted dead. Once you know they’re dead, you release the other party.”

“I’m more concerned about myself,” said Ramsey. “Once I kill someone, I want to know I’m out. Once I kill Hodge’s guy, maybe I take a picture on a burner and send it. Or take a picture on the vic’s phone.” He turned to Hodges. “We get a phone off our guy in the park?”

Hodges shook his head. 

“No phones off anyone yet.”

That was an obstacle, but to Ramsey, it also felt like a confirmation. You take the picture, send it wherever you have to send it, maybe to a backup email address of your own just in case, turn the phone off and throw it into the river or take it home and flush the smashed pieces down your toilet. In a round robin arrangement, you could get paid out immediately. Confirm the kill, and here comes your picture or money. But still. 

“You’d have to be very trusting to do this. What’s to stop someone from screwing you? From holding your picture and money forever anyway? Or making copies of it?” 

“The picture is in a packet with a unique identifier. It could even be a part of the currency,” said Sanderson. “Each person has three jobs. The kill, confirming the person you wanted dead is dead, and confirming another person’s kill. Let’s say I kill Ramsey’s guy. I send the picture wherever I have to send it and Ramsey gets confirmation. He’s supposed to let me off the hook, but for whatever reason, he doesn’t. Hodges also gets the picture, the name of the vic, etc. You can set up the system to need one confirmation or both. I’d set it up for one. Hell, maybe Ramsey never even gets it and Hodges lets me off the hook. All he has to know is who I’m supposed to kill.”

“And what exactly compels Hodges?” asked Ramsey. “He’s not off the hook until everyone is off the hook? That’s what it’d effectively add up to, and I don’t buy it.”

Sanderson shook his head. 

“I didn’t explain myself properly.”

Hodges put two fingers up to quiet them. 

“You have 24 hours to confirm or disconfirm or your picture goes up, regardless of whether or not you made your kill.” Sanderson was about to add something but Hodges held him off. “The time limits are arbitrary, but I think we have a pretty good idea of how this could work. Everybody happy?”

Sanderson nodded, but Ramsey just smiled. 

“What?”

“What if whoever wrote or built this thing doesn’t trust you or Sanderson or anyone? Maybe he doesn’t even care about you or Sanderson holding up his end. He just wants the murders to keep going forever.”

Hodges looked at Sanderson and back at Ramsey and their phones buzzed. Victim 23. The door swung open and MacGregor entered. It was five minutes to 2 p.m. They were waiting for a shrink, probably Louis, and perhaps others. 

“Is the FBI coming?”

Hodges nodded. 

“At three. What are you thinking on this?”

Sanderson gave MacGregor a brief rundown and he nodded, but didn’t see how the bums fit in. Who would care enough to murder a bum?  

“The bums and the junkie might be coincidence or distraction,” said Ramsey. “My guy, whether he’s in or out, is obviously different from the others.”

All of the victims had died from blows to the head, but Ramsey’s was the only one who had been quartered. Or sextupled.  

“Assuming they’re all connected, these people were instructed. Use a blunt, heavy object. Something common. A brick, a hammer, whatever. Something inconspicuously purchased, already owned, or easily borrowed. Something impossible to trace. And keep on hitting until you’re sure. The same goes for the clothes. A hoodie and a cap, an old pair of sneakers, and into the laundry when you’re done. Smash up the brick and flush it down the toilet. Soak the hammer in bleach. Leave no trace and leave no garbage.”       

Of course they were going to search every garbage can and dumpster within a 10 block radius of every scene anyway, and they’d have to work fast at the pier. New York City produced over 30,000 tons of garbage a day. No matter how many people got murdered, the garbage had to keep moving. 

Ramsey knocked on the table until eyes were on him and stared at MacGregor. 

“You see anything online you like for this?”

MacGregor reddened gripped the table. 

“It’s not the kind of thing I’m into.”

MacGregor smiled. 

“Really? You’ve never thought about killing anyone?” He looked at MacGregor’s fingers to draw the eyes of the others and MacGregor ungripped the table and put his hands on his lap. “Unmarried. Heterosexual. Celibate for how long now, one year? Two?”

MacGregor winced. 

“I don’t think that’s any of your business–”

“I saw you not looking at that barmaid. Trying real hard not to look. Hot stuff. Is that why you go there?” 

MacGregor looked to Hodges, then to Sanderson. Hodges kept looking at him and Sanderson looked down at the table. 

“I happen to have a healthy sex life.”

“Please. People with healthy sex lives don’t give a flying fuck about “net neutrality,” especially uptight little weasels like you.”

Hodges opened his mouth but Ramsey held a hand up. 

“If you started getting laid you’d stink of it. So where exactly do you go? You can’t jerk off 24/7, you work homicide. Kind of. So where do you go?”

MacGregor shook his head. 

“I don’t take my work home with me. Or at least I try not to.”

Ramsey laughed at him. 

“Sure you do. Look at me Mac. Look at me. You don’t hate anyone in this precinct? You gonna tell me that with a straight face?”

MacGregor cleared his throat and straightened himself. 

“I happen to like my coworkers.” He looked over at Sanderson, who was still looking at the table. It was only the two of them in Computer Crimes. Then he looked back at Ramsey. “And those I don’t like I don’t care enough to think about.”

Ramsey smiled. 

“Let’s say you did. Maybe one of your coworkers, for reasons you can’t begin to understand, rides you every time he has to talk to you.”

MacGregor thought to himself that he understood alright. It was as old as time. The strong fucking with the weak because they could. 

Ramsey shook his head. 

“How many murderers I bust, chief?”

Hodges exhaled and rolled his eyes up as if he were trying to look back into his brain, back through time. 

“Five here. I think maybe three more before.”

Ramsey kept his eyes on MacGregor. 

“It’s about to be nine.”

Hodges leaned forward in his chair. . 

“That’s enough, Ramsey.”

Ramsey’s eyes stayed on MacGregor. 

“Let’s say you wanted to kill me. Where would you go? What would you do?”

Hodges put a hand up. 

“Sanderson. What’s your petty cash limit?”

“About $20.00.”

Hodges nodded. 

“I can clear you for 10k now.” He looked at Ramsey and shook his head. A cop would cost more. If the department didn’t pony-up the FBI would. “I’ll get you another 40k before 5 p.m.” He turned to MacGregor. “Go to the chatboards, forums, whatever the hell you call them. See who’s talking about this. If you can, buy your way in.”

“Be sneaky about it,” said Ramsey. “Don’t tell them I’m a cop. Try to weasel whatever the going rate is.”

MacGregor felt like he was a part of the team again, like Ramsey liked him, and it was a relief. He hated himself for it. He put his hands up, involuntarily apologizing, and he hated himself more. 

“Really, Ramsey, I’ll see what I can do, but I’m basically starting from scratch. I don’t go to those sites. That’s really not what I do.”

Ramsey nodded. He knew it. Computer Crimes was 30% tracing money and phone calls. The other 70% was mostly solitaire. And he could imagine MacGregor jerking off 24/7. People thought about killing each other all the time, but actually taking steps to do so, or even just testing the waters, took a certain level of commitment.  

“Well maybe you’ll get lucky and the guy will get me.” 

He pulled a cheap cell phone, a burner, from his coat pocket, and slid it across the table to MacGregor, then moved his chair so there was nothing but plain, off-white wall behind him. He looked at Sanderson. 

“Even the cheap ones have cameras now. It’s amazing.” He turned to Hodges. “I paid with cash. It’s untraceable.”

He had actually paid by buying and filling an anonymous debit card at a chain drugstore, then ordered a case of 24 phones from Amazon and having them delivered to a PO Box. Hodges was eyeing him, but Hodges was old school. Still, he eyed back. 

“What? You want to check me for a throw down?”

“Definitely not,” said Hodges. 

MacGregor looked at Sanderson and shook his head and of course Ramsey caught it. He winked at MacGregor and smiled. 

Hodges stood up, his chair scraped against the floor as he did and all eyes were on him. He looked at MacGregor. 

“We have to break this case today.”

The general public wasn’t aware, but after any major disaster, there was almost always a spate of murders of opportunity. What’s one more body? Just toss it into the rubble or the water with the others. He looked at his watch. 

“Ramsey, you’ve got interviews. Sanderson, run the vics. Call me if anything comes up. Anything. MacGregor, try to hire someone to kill Ramsey. I’ll deal with the FBI. We all meet back here at eight.” He looked from face to face. “And you call me if you’ve got anything. Got it?”

Everyone nodded and moved to leave except for Ramsey. 

“MacGregor.”

MacGregor turned and Ramsey pointed at his own face. MacGregor was confused for a second, until Ramsey looked down at his hands. He had forgotten about the burner he was holding. 

“Just in case you don’t have one already.”

MacGregor turned on the phone and took a picture of Ramsey. Even in the picture Ramsey looked smug and mocking. Like someone a person would want murdered. 

“And MacGregor?”

He paused, but didn’t turn around. 

“Good luck.”

H. Seitz

H. Seitz is the author of the Sci-fi novella "Iron Manimal" and a contributing writer at The Skull Island Times.
H. Seitz

Latest posts by H. Seitz (see all)

Share this post:

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *