Spectrum (The Karen Vail Series)

BOOK: Spectrum (The Karen Vail Series)
3.8Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
A Karen Vail Novel
Alan Jacobson


known in my circles as “the real-life Karen Vail.” It seemed fitting that I dedicate Vail’s origin story to Mary Ellen, who, for the past seventeen years, has provided me with invaluable insight into the challenges and triumphs she experienced as one of the first female FBI profilers. Mary Ellen is a renowned and talented behavioral analyst, author, educator, and lecturer, and her fingerprints are all over the Karen Vail novels. But more importantly, she’s a special person, someone whose friendship I’m fortunate to have had for so many years.

Mary Ellen, this one’s for you.

“The only motive that there ever was was to completely control a person, a person that I found physically attractive, and keep them with me as long as possible, even if it meant keeping (only) a part of them.”

Jeffrey Dahmer, serial killer who murdered and dismembered seventeen boys and men

“The knife of corruption endangered the life of New York City. The scalpel of the law is making us well again.”

Ed Koch, mayor of New York (1978–1989)

“On the 22nd of April 1625 the Amsterdam Chamber of The West India Company decreed the establishment of Fort Amsterdam and the creation of ten adjoining farms. The purchase of the island of Manhattan was accomplished in 1626. Thus was laid the foundation of the City of New-York.”

Monument in Battery Park



American flight 425

Queens, New York

Present day: July 17

Something was wrong. FBI profiler Karen Vail felt it more than she knew it, but there were times in her career when intuition was all she had to go on. And this was one of those times.

Seated next to her on the Airbus A319 due to take off for Dulles International was her boyfriend, or very significant (and sometimes underappreciated) other, Roberto Umberto Enrique Hernandez, his right arm and hand encased in a hard plaster cast. At six foot seven, he was more than a little cramped in the seat. But Vail did not seem to notice.

“I know that look,” Robby said. When he did not get a response, he said, “That look. I’ve seen it before. You’re worried. And still pissed off.”

“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen.” Unlike Vail’s demeanor, the flight attendant’s voice was calm, almost uninterested. “Welcome aboard. This is a full flight, so we need everyone in his or her seat as soon as possible so we can close the door and push back from the gate.”

Vail looked over at Robby—and noticed him for the first time since they left the homicide squad. “Yeah, I’m pissed off. Frustrated. Hurt. But what’s bothering me most is that I might’ve made a mistake. I’m not sure. I can’t be sure. And it’s killing me.”

“So you said. Twice. On the way over here.”

Actually, it was five times. Weren’t you listening?

“What’s changed in the last fifteen minutes?”

Vail closed her eyes. “We’re sitting on a plane about to leave town. And I know that once that door closes, I’m not coming back.”

“The way you and Russo left things, I don’t think you’d want to go back even if we got off the plane right now.”

Vail thought about that.
Robby’s probably right, but how can I just go home? I pissed off one of the biggest supporters I’ve ever had in my career. My mentor, the guy who put his reputation on the line for me.
She opened her eyes and examined the bulkhead.
Am I right? Am I wrong? Am I missing something?

She had thought that she was too close to this case, was not seeing it objectively. Maybe it would’ve been better to hand it off to another profiler. But that would mean the NYPD would have to make an official request to the Behavioral Analysis Unit, and she doubted that was going to happen now.

At the moment, there was no time to take a step back and reassess. She was still in New York and they had a suspect in custody.

Vail watched the stewardess talk with the gate attendant.
What should I do? Stay or go?

“Maybe I didn’t approach it the right way,” Vail said.

“Wouldn’t be the first time.”

She looked at Robby, her brow knitted in annoyance. “Thanks.”

“Just saying. Yeah, it’s possible. But I don’t think it matters now.”

“I still feel like I should go back.”

“Karen, I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

Since when did that ever stop me?

Robby nodded toward the front. “Either way, I think the train has left the station. They’re about to close the door.”

“I can’t do this,” Vail said. “I can’t just leave. I can’t live with that.” She yanked open her belt buckle and bolted for the exit.

“Karen, wait!”

But Vail did not wait. She ran down the aisle, her FBI creds dangling from her left hand. “Don’t lock that door!”

The flight attendant spun around, her face knotted in confusion—and alarm. “What?”

Vail shoved her brass badge into the woman’s face. “FBI, I need to get off the plane.”

“But—I’m sorry, miss. I just locked her down.”

. And I don’t care if you just closed the door. Open it.”

“I can’t. It’s against FAA—”

“I’m not interested in whatever regulation you’re going to quote. Open the goddamn door or you could be responsible for—”

“Is there a problem here?”

Vail turned—a second flight attendant had come up behind her. She glanced down at his name tag. “As long as she lets me out, Ed, no. There’s no problem.”

Robby cleared his throat, now lined up behind Ed. Robby gave Vail a dubious look. She ignored it and turned back to the woman.

“I’m going to call the captain,” Ed said.

Vail pulled out her BlackBerry and offered it to Ed. “I’ve got a better idea. Why don’t you call Douglas Knox? He’s listed on my speed dial under ‘FBI director.’”

VAIL AND ROBBY caught a cab and headed back into the city. She had already placed a call and left a voice mail, but instead of putting the phone away, she started dialing again.

“Now who are you calling?” Robby asked. “For that matter, where are we going?”

Vail paged through the numbers on her device. “I’m calling Russo.”

“I don’t think that’s a good idea, Karen.”

“You keep saying that.”

“Maybe you need to start listening.”

Vail turned to Robby and stared him down. Then she hit a couple of buttons and her BlackBerry connected. After four rings, it clicked to voice mail.

“He’s not answering, is he?”

Vail clenched her jaw, then redialed. On the third ring, Russo answered.


“We need to talk.”

“I’m done talking. Go home, Karen.”

“I was. But I can’t. I feel the need to see this through. And when I feel something, feel it strongly, I can’t walk away.”

seeing it through. The BAU has done its job. Now it’s our responsibility. Go home.”

Vail felt Robby’s eyes fixed on her face. She turned away, toward the side window.

“I—I want to help.”

She heard muffled sounds—a woman asking Russo a question and then him giving orders to someone—a driver?

“Karen, I don’t have time for this. I’m on the way to a scene. I’ll get back to y—”

“Hang on a minute. Another vic? One of ours?”

There was a long silence.

“Russo, is there another vic?”


VAIL WALKED INTO the apartment in the Battery Park City high-rise, Robby bringing up the rear.

The crime scene detective, Ryan Chandler, had just arrived and was setting up shop. He looked surprised to see Vail, but then reached into his kit and tossed booties to her and Robby.

They slipped them on and continued into the room. Russo had arrived a while ago and was talking with Detective Leslie Johnson at the far end of the room. Russo looked up and saw Vail. His expression was a mix of—she wasn’t sure. Embarrassment? Relief at her presence? Annoyance? No matter. This was not about her or Russo; it was about the victim in the other room and their shared imperative to catch the offender before more women turned up dead.

Robby came up behind her and murmured into her ear, “Staring at each other isn’t going to get you anywhere.”

“Right.” Vail walked over to Russo and asked the obvious question: “Is this the same offender?”

“I thought you might want to answer that one for yourself.”

“Looks like the same killer to me,” Chandler said.

She turned to survey the apartment. It was a nice spread, well appointed, everything in its place. Not unlike the other crime scenes.

Vail started in the living and family rooms, getting to know the woman. She glanced at unopened mail on the coffee table and took the victim’s name to be Katherine Stavros.

Greek. Big surprise there.

Vail found the medical examiner, Max Finkelstein, and conferred with him on the time of death.

“Bottom line,” he said, “the guy you got in custody’s good for this.”

His answer clearly pleased Russo, but Vail was less than satisfied. She moved on to a wall that abutted the kitchen, where framed photos were prominently displayed. Vail looked them over and took in the story they told about the victim’s life. Katherine seemed to have traveled a great deal: there were several exterior shots of her in various cities with male and female friends. Many of them looked like the kind of pictures posted to Facebook, iPhone candids of people having fun, sharing a beer or standing on a bridge with a city skyline behind them.

There were posed portraits as well, with what appeared to be family members—parents and great-grandparents, perhaps. Judging by their strong features and olive complexions, Katherine had Greek DNA in her cells.

Vail’s phone rang.

As she started to turn away, her eye caught something. She leaned in closer, then lifted the frame off the wall and examined the photo—

Wait, what the hell?

Vail was trying to work it through her brain as she reached for her BlackBerry.

And then it hit her.

Oh my god.



Sunday, JANUARY 6, 1973

The bowling ball careened down the Astoria Lanes alley, spun left, and hooked into the pocket. All ten pins leaped off the polished wood lane and fell back with a satisfying crash.


Livana pumped her fist and grinned broadly. She turned to see Basil’s reaction, but he still wasn’t back from the café. Her joy faded as quickly as it had risen.
He will never believe me!

Livana had taken up the sport only a couple months ago. Despite her initial resistance to the loud, smoky environment, she had come to enjoy the Sunday night outings when she, Basil, Cassandra, and Dmitri would bowl a few lines—Dmitri spending more time in the arcade with the pinball machines than on the lanes—and then grab a large pizza, Cokes, and egg creams for dessert.

Their longtime friend Fedor and his ten-year-old son, Niklaus, had started joining them three weeks ago. Livana and Fedor’s wife, Ophelia, had met in the hospital in Greece, when they gave birth two days apart. Ophelia’s baby died a week later from an unforeseen birth defect, but she got pregnant several months later with Niklaus.

Livana helped Ophelia through an extremely difficult time, and their friendship was cemented by the tragedy.

The two women had much in common, and the families started getting together regularly. Upon moving to the United States, they made time to go to the movies, to Flushing Meadow Park for picnics, to Shea Stadium for Mets games—or to Fedor’s backyard for summer barbecues.

When Ophelia died of a massive coronary, her heart having been damaged by rheumatic fever she had contracted as a child, it hit both families hard. Together, they found strength to survive the void left by her death.

“Cassie,” Livana said to her eleven-year-old daughter, who was writing in her diary, “Let’s go find your father.”

They left the lanes and headed for the café, passing the arcade on the way. She peeked in and saw a couple teenagers playing a game of foosball and a few others slapping at controllers on pinball machines.

Livana continued on but slowed a bit when she heard shouting emanating from the café—and then a loud crash of breaking glass. She ran the last thirty yards, rounded the bend and saw, through the doors, her husband kneeling over a man lying on the floor, his face bloodied.

“Basil!” Livana rushed in and rushed over to him. She glanced at the man on the ground, at Dmitri and Niklaus a few feet away, and then turned to Basil. “What happened? What’s going on?”

“He started it,” Basil said.

Livana took her daughter’s hand. “Cassie, go back to our lane and wait there for me.” Cassandra’s gaze was fixed on the blood covering the man’s face. Livana gave her a shove in the rear. “Take Dmitri. Go on, get out of here!”

Cassandra and her eight-year-old brother left the café as Livana knelt beside the injured male. “Nik, go to the front desk where we got the shoes. Tell them to call an ambulance.”

Niklaus was staring at the downed man.


Livana’s tone jolted him out of his trance and he ran out as a woman entered from the kitchen. “Just called one. And the police.”

Livana felt her stomach knot up.
Basil, what have you done?
She pressed her fingers against the man’s neck and checked his pulse. “He’s unconscious but alive. I need something to keep him warm. Give me your sweater.”

“My sweater?” Basil asked, his voice rising. “That jerk started the fight.”

“Just give it to me!” she said, gesturing angrily for Basil to hurry. “We have to keep him from going into shock.”

Livana laid the wool garment across his body, then rose and frowned at Basil in disgust. “This was supposed to be a family day.”

“What’s going on?” Fedor asked.

Livana looked up to see Fedor standing there, his eyes moving about the room as he took in the scene. “Where are the kids?”

“They’re fine. Where were you?”

“I went to the bathroom.” He rubbed his abdomen. “That Italian we had last night is still bothering me.” He took a step closer and appeared to see the body for the first time. “Whoa, what happened?”

Livana turned toward the injured man and instinctively put a hand over her mouth. His face was sliced badly, and it was all she could do to keep from vomiting.

“TELL ME WHAT HAPPENED,” Livana said, standing outside the café as the paramedics attended to the man they identified as Gregor Persephone. Fedor stood at Basil’s side, an arm around his friend’s shoulder. Fedor had started to talk, but Livana shushed him. “I asked my husband a question. And he seems to be having a hard time answering.”

Basil looked at her but didn’t speak.

“The police are going to be here any minute. You’re going to have to tell them. You may as well tell your wife, no?” She waited a minute, then said, “This is so unlike you, Basil. I don’t understand. I’m so disappointed.” Still nothing. “That man looks like he’s hurt real bad.”

“I was just defending myself.” Basil sighed, then rubbed his face with two bloody hands. “I ordered our pies and was drinking my beer. The waitress went back to put the order together. Then this woman comes up to me and—well, she starts coming on to me.”


“She’s dressed in this tight shirt, and she’s got all this makeup on, fake nails, and she touches my face, says she’s never seen me here before. I told her we just started coming. Then she touches my—she starts rubbing my crotch.”


“I grabbed her hand and told her I was here with my son and I’m married and she gets all mad and slaps me in the face, starts screaming at me. Then that guy comes up to me—”

“What guy? Gregor?”

“You know him?”

“Everyone knows him. He’s your boss’s son. How could you not know him?”

“I—I’ve seen him around. But I’ve never talked to him, and he doesn’t work at the factory. He’s my boss’s son?”


They all turned to see two NYPD officers standing near them.

“Which one a you’s Basil?”


“You really had to ask?” the other officer said to his partner. “The one with blood all over his hands and face.”

“Yeah, whatever. Better to be sure.” He turned to Basil. “I’m Officer Kennedy, this is Officer Morgan. We need a word with you.” He nodded his chin at Livana. “And you? You the wife?”


“We’ll need to talk with you too.” Kennedy pointed at Fedor. “You see the fight?”

Fedor shook his head. “I was in the bathroom.”

“You know either of those guys?”

“Basil. He’s my best friend.”

“Take a seat.” Kennedy indicated an area several feet behind him. “You two,” he said, pointing at Basil and Livana. “With me.”

Jethro Tull’s “Living in the Past” was playing on a jukebox as they walked upstairs and then outside to a trash-littered alley. The officer pulled out a spiral notepad.

“So how’d this whole thing start?”

Basil shook his head, seemingly at a loss for words. “I really don’t know. This woman just starts coming on to me. She touches my crotch, I grab her hand and tell her to stop. Then she slaps me, starts screaming at me, something like, ‘Get the hell away from me, you pervert,’ and this guy’s suddenly there, pushing her aside. He says, ‘You came on to my wife?’”

“‘This guy’—you mean Gregor Persephone?”

“Yeah. I’ve seen him around the neighborhood, but I’ve never talked to him.”

“You sure you’ve never talked to him before? This isn’t from something that happened a week ago, a month ago—”

“I never talked to the guy. Ever.”

“Ever talk to his wife? About anything?”

“I don’t remember ever seeing her before. And I’d probably remember.”

“Why’s that?”

Basil shrugged. “If you saw her, you’d know.” He must have seen the cop’s questioning look, because he added, “She’s real pretty.”

Livana turned away, shook her head.

“So,” Kennedy said, “then you can’t say for sure. About talking to her before.”

Basil took a deep breath and then exhaled, the vapor trailing off into the cold air. “Look, let me put it this way. I’ve never made a pass at another guy’s wife. I’m married. Happily. So it don’t matter who this woman is, or what she looks like. Even if I did talk to her once—which I don’t think I did—I’d never come on to her. I’m not like that.”

“You’re a good-looking guy and all. But you’re saying this woman you’ve never spoken to just walks up to you, touches you—grabs your crotch? A woman you say you don’t know?”

Basil shrugged. “That’s about it.”

Kennedy looked at him. “Does that sound right to you?”

Basil spread his arms at his sides. “I’m just telling you like it happened. Maybe she had an argument with her husband and was trying to make him jealous, and I was the lucky idiot who was in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Kennedy offered a slight nod, like that would not be the first time he had seen such a thing happen. As he jotted a note, he said, “What happened after that?”

“I told him, ‘You got it all wrong, it was your wife who came on to me. And I told her to leave me alone.’ He called me a liar and pushed me. I told him I was there with my kids and I didn’t want no trouble. He pushed me again and said I shoulda thought a that before I came on to his wife. I wanted to walk away, but he hit me in the jaw.” Basil brought a hand to his face and palpated the welt.

“Go on.”

“After I got back up off the floor, he tried to hit me again. But I got him first.”

“Then what?”

“Then … I don’t know. We fought. I was just tryin’ to keep from gettin’ hit. I yelled at him to stop, but he was nuts. Like he really believed I made a pass at his wife.”

“Basil.” Livana shook her head in disappointment, as if scolding him.

“What? What was I supposed to do, just let him keep hitting me?”

“Who else saw what happened?” Kennedy asked.

Basil rubbed his arms to ward off the chill. “No one else was there. Well, the woman behind the counter, I guess, but I think she was in the back getting our pizzas. Or maybe she was hiding. Gregor’s wife left, or something, I don’t know. I don’t where she was. But I was a little busy.”

“That it?”

“The kids were there. My son Dmitri and his friend Niklaus. Fedor’s son.”

“Did they see what happened?”

“They were playing around, chasing each other. But once that woman started screaming, yeah, they probably saw it.”

“Can’t you leave them out of it?” Livana said, “They’re just kids—”

“First things first,” Kennedy said. “We’re not done. What happened to Mr. Persephone’s face?”

Basil hesitated. “His face?” he stammered.

“Yeah. It was bloody, all cut up.”

“I, uh, I grabbed a Coke bottle, I swung it at him, smashed it across his face. He went down. Knocked him out, I guess, when his head hit the floor.”

Kennedy waited for more, then scribbled another note on his pad. “Anything else you want to add?”

Basil’s eyes roamed the dirt-strewn street before coming to rest on the cop. “That’s it, I think.”

Kennedy reached over and yanked open the fire door. “Wait inside while I sort this out.”

As they descended the stairs into the warmth of the bowling alley, Livana grabbed his hand and pulled him to the side. “What are you not saying?”

Basil looked up at the cop, who was now about twenty yards away. “What do you mean?”

“There’s something you didn’t tell the officer.”

“I told him everything I know.”

Livana examined his face a moment, then said, “I’m going to check on the kids, make sure they’re okay.” She shook her head in disgust, then headed off to find the children.

WHEN LIVANA RETURNED, the officers were standing behind Basil, handcuffing him. Fedor appeared to be objecting, to no avail.

“What are you doing?” she yelled.

Kennedy grasped Basil by the arm and turned him around. “Taking him in for more questioning.”

“But you’re arresting him. He didn’t do anything wrong!”

“This ain’t right,” Basil said.

Kennedy frowned. “Your husband assaulted the other man. Whether or not it was justified, or self-defense, or whatever, I don’t know yet.”

Livana looked at Fedor, then back at the officer. “Maybe—maybe someone else saw what happened. Did you talk to everyone here?”

“I don’t need you tellin’ me how to do my job. I talked to everyone there is to talk to. And there’s a discrepancy as to what went on before you walked in. We’ll sort it out at the precinct.”

“I told you what happened,” Basil said.

“But Mr. Persephone has a different story. So does his wife. And the woman behind the desk doesn’t remember hearing what you heard. Like I said, we gotta sort this out. Not gonna do that inside a loud bowling alley.”

“I’ll take the kids home,” Fedor said. “You go along, make sure Basil’s okay.”

Livana headed back to the lanes to gather their coats, frustrated at how a family outing ended on the brink of disaster, all stemming from a stupid incident that ensnared her husband.

But she could not know that this night, and the events that were to come, would forever alter their lives.

BOOK: Spectrum (The Karen Vail Series)
3.8Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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