Read Crime Zero Online

Authors: Michael Cordy

Tags: #Medical, #Fiction, #Criminal psychology, #Technological, #Thrillers, #Technology, #Espionage, #Free will and determinism

Crime Zero

Crime Zero (1999)

(Aka The Crime Code)

Michael Cordy



San Quentin Penitentiary, California. Wednesday, October 29, 2008, 3:11 A.M.

It wasn't his pain that denied him sleep. It wasn't his fear that filmed his skin in clammy sweat and made him rise from drenched sheets to piss for the tenth time that night. And it wasn't his suffering that urged him to take his own life after seven years on death row.

It was their pain that made him do these things, their fear, their suffering.

Something had changed deep within him. He didn't know what it was or why it had happened, only that it was somehow fundamental, irrevocable.

Karl Axelman had taken many lives in his fifty-six years but had never once considered taking his own. He had always been untroubled by his past, savoring his conquests, using his photographic memory to summon up some exquisite detail of the girls he had raped, tortured, and murdered for his pleasure. But now their faces came unbidden, tormenting him day and night. For the first time in his life he could hear their pain, smell their fear, and understand their suffering.

After returning to the bed in his five-foot-by-ten-foot cell in San Quentin's East Block, he stared up through the bars at the faulty lamp in the corridor outside. But he found no comfort in the light. The beacon only exacerbated his distress, intensifying the gloom that surrounded him.

Sitting up, he looked around the cell that was his universe: the stainless steel basin and toilet in the corner; the shelf above the sheet metal bed stacked high with neatly ordered newspapers. He turned to check his pillow again. Strands of silver flecked the yellowed linen. His thick hair, although silvered with age, had always symbolized his strength. But now it fell in clumps from his scalp. His handsome face, once bait for his prey, was pitted with weeping acne more acute than any teenager's. Yet as he clasped his clammy palms together and his pounding heart drowned out the sounds of despair from the neighboring cells, he ignored these physical indignities.

He was aware only of dry-mouthed, heart-palpitating anxiety, an emotion he had never experienced before. Unwanted images of vulnerable flesh intruded on his mind, arousing the familiar desire to control and humiliate. Yet even as his erection hardened, his whole body crawled with revulsion. And the bile of acid guilt rose in his throat.

Reaching up to the narrow shelf above his bed, Axelman's hands shook as he selected a copy of the San Francisco Examiner. Except for a shoebox at one end, the shelf was bowed beneath the weight of crisply folded newspapers. Knowing what was happening in the outside world had always given Axelman a sense of control, allowing him to imagine he was influencing events. But no more.

Carefully unfolding the paper, he ignored the warmongering headlines about Iraq and the latest polls on the first ever female presidential candidate running for office in a week's time. These issues no longer concerned him. He would be gone by then. There was only one issue to resolve.

He turned to page three of the paper and studied the flash photograph of a man carrying a naked girl wrapped in his jacket out of a cemetery late at night. The headline said: FBI MIND HUNTER SAVES VICTIM NUMBER FOUR. Axelman stared at the man. Then he reached for the shoebox containing all the personal belongings he was allowed to keep with him. The old faded color photograph was on the top of the letters and other paraphernalia. Squinting in the flickering light, he compared the faded photograph with the newspaper picture, as he had done countless times before. Finally he reread the text in the article, noting once again the age and the surname.

Axelman sighed. He was sure he was right. But even if he was wrong, he would still confess all the details to this FBI agent for the first time. He had once savored frustrating the police and prolonging the mourning and pain of the relatives by keeping the location of the bodies to himself. But now their pain was his pain, and he could no longer keep the information secret. This man could do something with the knowledge.

Listening for the footsteps of approaching guards, Axel-man carefully replaced the photo and newspaper. He then knelt on the floor and lifted one corner of the bed. After slipping two long fingers into the hollow base of the tubular leg, he extracted a steel belt buckle from the chewing gum wedging it in place. The pin had been removed from the large biker's buckle, leaving a squared-off figure of eight about two inches wide and three inches long.

The buckle had cost six packs of cigarettes eighteen months ago, and the con who had sold it to him had smiled while pocketing the Marlboros. With no pin the buckle was useless and harmless. But over time he had chamfered one beveled outer edge against the concrete floor, the iron bed, and even the bars of his cell, filing the end into a crude but keen blade. At first, sharpening the steel buckle was something to do, a small act of rebellion, but now it had taken on a new significance.

Sitting on the bed, he passed his thumb over the nicked edge of the blade and drew blood. His atrophied testicles involuntarily retreated into his body, and for a moment Axel-man wished he could wait for the executioner. Release would be so much easier if administered by a different hand. But this wasn't just about release; it was about punishment. He himself must remove the source of the dark urges.

Rocking back and forth on the edge of the bed, Axelman didn't bother to lie down. Sleep wouldn't come, and if it did, he would gain no sanctuary there. He touched the buckle blade again, strangely reassured by its presence. Soon it would be dawn, and later he would unburden his soul to the FBI agent. He could do no more to find peace. After that he would play out the final act. And then, redemption or no redemption, at least the torture would end.


Part 1

Project Conscience


His head aches, and he wants to go home, but he still waits in the cemetery under cover of the short fir tree. The damp bark smells as strong as any perfume. It is 1:57 A.M. The two San Francisco Police Department officers left an hour ago. After three days of staking out the area, they and their replacements have been recalled to follow up other leads. The police say they will return in the morning, but he knows they have lost the faith. Fourteen-year-old Tammy Lewis is missing, and they are concerned she will end up like the other three. Special Agent Luke Decker should leave too; he has only adviser status here, and other cases are piling up on his desk at Quantico.

But Decker can't go yet. He knows deep in his gut that the killer will return here at night and bring the girl with him-- perhaps even alive.

The night air is cool on his face, and above him through the branches of the fir a crescent moon gazes down. Seventeen miles from San Francisco and nine miles from Oakland, the Gates of Heaven Catholic Cemetery is still. Nothing moves, and even nearby Interstate 80 is silent.

He retrieves a pair of night vision glasses from his coat and rereads the inscription on the headstone twenty yards away:

Sally Anne Jennings Taken August 3, 2008 Aged 15 years You were taken from us too soon. But we shall meet again in a better place.

Decker grinds his jaw, remembering the crime scene photos of Sally Anne's violated body. The killer's most recent victim must also be his last.

Car tires on gravel break the silence. He turns to his right and sees a Domino's pizza van pull into the cemetery's deserted parking lot. Sweat breaks out on his forehead. Decker knows the psychological profile of the killer because he wrote it. And the pizza van fits. His heart is beating fast now, but he feels no triumph about being right again, no excitement of the chase, just weary sorrow and a vague disquiet that he should know the mind of a killer so well.

A sudden scream from the van rips through the night. It is short and quickly muffled, but Decker crumples inside, feeling her pain and terror himself. He reaches for his cell phone and calls the incident number.

He whispers urgently that the suspect is here. He needs backup.

A sleepy detective snaps awake. "Two squad cars will be there in ten minutes--max," he promises.

The van's rear doors open, and a muscular young man with red hair and a black T-shirt drags something white out of the back and drops it on the gravel. Decker realizes then that ten minutes will not be soon enough. The silent white bundle is moving, and even before he puts the night vision glasses to his eyes, Decker knows it's a naked girl. Tammy Lewis is gagged and bound, her eyes round with terror. The young man is strong because he easily lifts her over his shoulder and carries her toward the cemetery.

Decker reaches for his gun and releases the safety. He has won the FBI shooting competition at Quantico with the SIG semiautomatic every year for the last five years. But he dislikes using the gun for real. It means he's failed. But he has no choice now. If he does nothing, the man will carry Tammy Lewis to Sally Anne's grave, where he will lay her down, torture, and rape her. Then, when he is satisfied, he will kill her and defile her body. Decker knows this with a gut-wrenching certainty as absolutely as if he'd already witnessed the crime.

He waits for the man to lay Tammy down on the grave and start to untie her ankles before coming up behind him. Decker is ten feet away when he sees a knife flash in the man's hand.

"FBI," he shouts. His voice sounds alien in the stillness of the night. "Drop the knife, put your hands up, and back away from her."

Crouching over his victim, the red-haired man looks over his shoulder, his long face surprised and uncertain. He hesitates.

"Now," orders Decker. But the man doesn't drop the knife. He turns and raises it high into the air. The curved blade mirrors the white sickle of the moon as a bellow of rage cuts through the darkness. Then in one furious movement he brings it scything down toward the girl with the force of a guillotine....

"The defense calls Dr. Kathryn Kerr."

It was her name that jolted Luke Decker from the events in the graveyard nine weeks ago and back to the warm, stuffy chamber of the San Francisco Court of Appeals. Above the judge's bench the clock showed 10:07 A.M., and the calendar below it the date: Wednesday, October 29, 2008. The hushed oak-paneled courtroom carried every sound, but when the woman's name was called, Decker couldn't believe he'd heard it right.

What the hell was Kathy Kerr doing here?

Reorienting himself, Decker blinked his green eyes and ran a hand through his cropped blond hair. Shifting in his chair, he looked around the paneled court. The judge, a bald man with a permanent pained frown, sat at the front of the chamber with both the prosecution and defense teams arranged facing him on either side. Decker sat with the prosecution behind the district attorney. This wasn't a full trial, and there were few people in the public gallery behind him, except some junior press. No relatives of the dead girls had come, but Decker gained some satisfaction from noting that Tammy Lewis's family wouldn't have been among them. At least she had been saved.

Turning to his right, the first person he noticed was Wayne Tice, sitting beside his defense attorney. The red-haired killer's right arm was still in a sling from where Decker had shot him in the shoulder. Tice caught his eye and flashed his crooked teeth in a cold, unrepentant smile. Decker ignored him. The man had been found guilty and condemned to death almost a month ago. This hearing was just an attempt by his defense team to gain Tice leniency and a chance for rehabilitation. As the FBI forensic psychologist responsible for catching Tice, Special Agent Decker had been asked by the DA to comment on his psychological state and ensure the man wasn't allowed back on the streets.

Now it appeared that Kathy Kerr, the woman he hadn't seen for almost ten years, was here to help Tice.

He watched her take her seat and be sworn in. Decker couldn't help staring at her, although she seemed oblivious of his presence. She was slimmer, and her glasses were gone, no doubt replaced by contacts, and her navy suit was smarter than the jeans and T-shirt she'd favored in their Harvard days.

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