Think Of a Number (2010)

BOOK: Think Of a Number (2010)
6.7Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

For Naomi


Title Page



Part One -
Fatal Memories

Chapter 1 -
Cop Art

Chapter 2 -
A Perfect Victim

Chapter 3 -
Trouble in Paradise

Chapter 4 -
I Know You So Well I Know What You’re Thinking

Chapter 5 -
Unpleasant Possibilities

Chapter 6 -
For Blood That’s as Red as a Painted Rose

Chapter 7 -
The Black Hole

Chapter 8 -
A Rock and a Hard Place

Chapter 9 -
No Such Person

Chapter 10 -
The Perfect Place

Chapter 11 -
A Unique Ministry

Chapter 12 -
The Importance of Honesty

Chapter 13 -
Nothing to be Guilty About

Chapter 14 -

Chapter 15 -

Chapter 16 -
The End of the Beginning

Part Two -
Macabre Games

Chapter 17 -
Quite a Lot of Blood

Chapter 18 -
Footprints to Nowhere

Chapter 19 -
Scum of the Earth

Chapter 20 -
A Family Friend

Chapter 21 -

Chapter 22 -
Getting it Straight

Chapter 23 -
Without a Trace

Chapter 24 -
Crime of the Year

Chapter 25 -
Questioning Gurney

Chapter 26 -
A Blank Check

Chapter 27 -
Getting to Know the DA

Chapter 28 -
Back to the Scene of the Crime

Chapter 29 -

Chapter 30 -
Emerald Cottage

Chapter 31 -
A Routine Call From the Bronx

Part Three -
Back to the Beginning

Chapter 32 -
The Cleansing to Come

Chapter 33 -
A Hell of a Night

Chapter 34 -
A Dark Day

Chapter 35 -
Stumbling Into the Light

Chapter 36 -
One Thing Leads to Another

Chapter 37 -
Bad Things Come in Threes

Chapter 38 -
A Difficult Man

Chapter 39 -
You and I Have a Date, Mr. 658

Chapter 40 -
A Shot in the Dark

Chapter 41 -
Back to the Real World

Chapter 42 -
Upside Down

Chapter 43 -

Chapter 44 -
Final Arguments

Chapter 45 -
To Rest in Peace, Act Now

Chapter 46 -
A Simple Plan

Chapter 47 -
Welcome to Wycherly

Chapter 48 -
A House with a History

Chapter 49 -
Kill them All

Chapter 50 -

Chapter 51 -

Chapter 52 -
Death Before Dawn

Chapter 53 -
Ending, Beginning


About the Author



“Where were you?” said the old woman in the bed. “I had to pee, and no one came.”

Unruffled by her nasty tone, the young man stood at the foot of the bed, beaming

“I had to pee,” she repeated, more vaguely, as if she were now unsure what the words meant

“I have good news, Mother,” said the man. “Soon everything will be all right. Everything will be taken care of.”

“Where do you go when you leave me?” Her voice again was sharp, querulous

“Not far, Mother. You know very well I never go far.”

“I don’t like to be alone.”

His smile broadened, was almost beatific. “Very soon everything will be all right. Everything will be the way it was supposed to be. You can trust me, Mother. I found a way to fix everything. What he took he will give, when he gets what he gave.”

“You write such beautiful poetry.”

There were no windows in the room. The sideways light from the bedside lamp—the sole source of illumination—emphasized the thick scar on the woman’s throat and the shadows in her son’s eyes

“Will we go dancing?” she asked, staring past him and past the dark wall behind him to a brighter vision

“Of course, Mother. Everything will be perfect.”

“Where’s my little Dickie Duck?”

“Right here, Mother.”

“Will Dickie Duck come to bed?”

“To beddy-bye, to beddy-bye, to beddy-bye.”

“I have to pee,” she said, almost coquettishly

Part One



Chapter 1
Cop art

ason Strunk was by all accounts an inconsequential fellow, a bland thirty-something, nearly invisible to his neighbors—and apparently inaudible as well, since none could recall a single specific thing he’d ever said. They couldn’t even be certain that he’d ever spoken. Perhaps he’d nodded, perhaps said hello, perhaps muttered a word or two. It was hard to say.

All expressed a conventional initial amazement, even a temporary disbelief, at the revelation of Mr. Strunk’s obsessive devotion to killing middle-aged men with mustaches and his uniquely disturbing way of disposing of the bodies: cutting them into manageable segments, wrapping them colorfully, and mailing them to local police officers as Christmas presents.

ave Gurney gazed intently at the colorless, placid face of Jason Strunk—actually, the original Central Booking mug shot of Jason Strunk—that stared back at him from his computer screen. The mug shot had been enlarged to make the face life-size, and it was surrounded at the borders of the screen by the tool icons of a creative photo-retouching program that Gurney was just starting to get the hang of.

He moved one of the brightness-control tools on the screen to
the iris of Strunk’s right eye, clicked his mouse, and then examined the small highlight he’d created.

Better, but still not right.

The eyes were always the hardest—the eyes and the mouth—but they were the key. Sometimes he had to experiment with the position and intensity of one tiny highlight for hours, and even then he’d end up with something not quite what it should be, not good enough to show to Sonya, and definitely not Madeleine.

The thing about the eyes was that they, more than anything else, captured the tension, the contradiction—the uncommunicative blandness spiked with a hint of cruelty that Gurney had often discerned in the faces of murderers with whom he’d had the opportunity to spend quality time.

He’d gotten the look right with his patient manipulation of the mug shot of Jorge Kunzman (the Walmart stock clerk who always kept the head of his last date in his refrigerator until he could replace it with one more recent). He’d been pleased with the result, which conveyed with disturbing immediacy the deep black emptiness lurking in Mr. Kunzman’s bored expression, and Sonya’s excited reaction, her gush of praise, had solidified his opinion. It was that reception, plus the unexpected sale of the piece to one of Sonya’s collector friends, that motivated him to produce the series of creatively doctored photographs now being featured in a show headlined Portraits of Murderers by the Man Who Caught Them, in Sonya’s small but pricey gallery in Ithaca.

ow a recently retired NYPD homicide detective with a yawning uninterest in art in general and trendy art in particular, and a deep distaste for personal notoriety, could have ended up as the focus of a chic university-town art show described by local critics as “a cutting-edge blend of brutally raw photographs, unflinching psychological insights, and masterful graphic manipulations” was a question with two very different answers: his own and his wife’s.

As far as he was concerned, it all began with Madeleine’s cajoling him into taking an art-appreciation course with her at the museum in Cooperstown. She was forever trying to get him out—out of his den, out of the house, out of himself, just
. He’d learned that the best way to stay in control of his own time was through the strategy of periodic capitulations. The art-appreciation course was one of these strategic moves, and although he dreaded the prospect of sitting through it, he expected it to immunize him against further pressures for at least a month or two. It wasn’t that he was a couch potato—far from it. At the age of forty-seven, he could still do fifty push-ups, fifty chin-ups, and fifty sit-ups. He just wasn’t very fond of going places.

The course, however, turned out to be a surprise—in fact, three surprises. First, despite his pre-course assumption that his greatest challenge would be staying awake, he found the instructor, Sonya Reynolds, a gallery owner and artist of regional renown, riveting. She was not conventionally beautiful, not in the archetypal Northern European Catherine Deneuve mode. Her mouth was too pouty, her cheekbones overly prominent, her nose too strong. But somehow the imperfect parts were unified into a uniquely striking whole by large eyes of a deep smoky green and by a manner that was completely relaxed and naturally sensual. There were not many men in the class, just six of the twenty-six attendees, but she had the absolute attention of all six.

The second surprise was his positive reaction to the subject matter. Because it was a special interest of hers, Sonya devoted considerable time to art derived from photography—photography that had been manipulated to create images that were more powerful or communicative than the originals.

The third surprise came three weeks into the twelve-week course, on the night that she was commenting enthusiastically on a contemporary artist’s silk-screen prints derived from solarized photographic portraits. As Gurney gazed at the prints, the idea came to him that he could take advantage of an unusual resource to which he had special access and to which he could bring a special perspective. The notion
was strangely exciting. The last thing he’d expected from an art-appreciation course was excitement.

Once this occurred to him—
the concept of enhancing, clarifying, intensifying criminal mug shots
, particularly the mug shots of murderers, in ways that would capture and convey the nature of the beast he had spent his career studying, pursuing, and outwitting—it took hold, and he thought about it more often than he would have been comfortable admitting. He was, after all, a cautious man who could see both sides of every question, the flaw in every conviction, the naïveté in every enthusiasm.

s Gurney worked at the desk in his den that bright October morning on the mug shot of Jason Strunk, the pleasant challenge of the process was interrupted by the sound of something being dropped on the floor behind him.

“I’m leaving these here,” said Madeleine Gurney in a voice that to anyone else might have sounded casual but to her husband was fraught.

He looked over his shoulder, his eyes narrowing at the sight of the small burlap sack leaning against the door. “Leaving what?” he asked, knowing the answer.

“Tulips,” said Madeleine in the same even tone.

“You mean bulbs?”

It was a silly correction, and they both knew it. It was just a way of expressing his irritation at Madeleine’s wanting him to do something he didn’t feel like doing.

“What do you want me to do with them in here?”

“Bring them out to the garden. Help me plant them.”

He considered pointing out the illogic of her bringing into the den something for him to bring back out to the garden but thought better of it.

“As soon as I finish with this,” he said a little resentfully. He realized that planting tulip bulbs on a glorious Indian-summer day in a hilltop garden overlooking a rolling panorama of crimson autumn
woods and emerald pastures under a cobalt sky was not a particularly onerous assignment. He just hated being interrupted. And this reaction to interruption, he told himself, was a by-product of his greatest strength: the linear, logical mind that had made him such a successful detective—the mind that was jarred by the slightest discontinuity in a suspect’s story, that could sense a fissure too tiny for most eyes to see.

BOOK: Think Of a Number (2010)
6.7Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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