Read The Monarch Online

Authors: Jack Soren

The Monarch

 

The Monarch

A
T
H
R
I
L
L
E
R

JACK SOREN

 

Dedication

For Kiersten

 

Epigraph

The difference between stupidity and genius is that genius has its limits.

A
LBERT
E
INSTEIN

 

PART ONE

Friday

 

1

The Cloisters Museum

New York City

7:30
P.M.
Local Time

J
OE
W
AGNER NOISILY
flipped through his notebook. He wasn't really looking for anything, he was just trying to distract the museum's curator from constantly looking at the dead guy over his shoulder.

Despite being a New Yorker for his entire life, Wagner hadn't been to The Cloisters Museum in Washington Heights until he was forced to chaperone his son's field trip two years ago. In the end, he quite enjoyed himself, but when he'd first arrived he hadn't even known what a cloister was. He was surprised to find out it was a combination garden and monastery. He found the stonework as intriguing as the fact that the cloisters were brought over, brick by brick, from France before World War I. Even then he thought the place looked more like a transported castle than a museum.

But tonight, he wasn't Joe Wagner, the conscripted parent marching tweens around, he was FBI Special Agent in Charge Joseph Wagner. He was running herd on an entire task force of law enforcement agents, just as he'd been doing for the past six weeks, since the first body had been found. Tonight, blood ran in the egg cup-­shaped, cream limestone fountain at the center of one of the outdoor courtyards; a mutilated, half-­naked body stretched out across the trickling feature where monks once bent to satisfy their thirsts. Tonight, he was up shit creek and the only paddle in sight was about to come down hard on his career.

“Who found the body?” Wagner asked the museum's curator, Roger Benoit, a small, pale, effeminate man who smelled of baby powder. Wagner's team was asking the other museum staff the exact same question just then, but there was protocol to follow here. If the curator felt disrespected, the complaint would go up the chain fast. That was the last thing he needed.

“Uh, Connie. Connie Baker,” Benoit said with a slight European accent. Wagner wasn't sure which country it was from or if it was even real.

“Was she alone?”

“I believe so, yes. She was on her way to the West Terrace and she noticed the fountain sounded muffled. We all heard her scream and came to investigate. The poor woman nearly passed out. Can you blame her?” Benoit kept dabbing at his forehead with a cloth handkerchief, picking up speed when he mentioned Baker. Wagner didn't think it had anything to do with the case but there was something there.

“When was this?” Wagner asked, scribbling in his notebook.

“Oh my, let's see. It must have been about an hour ago. Six-­thirty, I guess.”

“And why was she going to the West Terrace alone?”

“You don't have to put that in there, do you?”

“We're just trying to clear your ­people. Make sure no one was involved.”

“Involved? Good Lord, of
course
she wasn't involved.”

“So why was she alone?”

“She”—­Benoit leaned in so he could lower his voice—­“she was going out for a cigarette.”

“I see.”

Wagner asked several more pointless questions and thanked the curator for his time. No one on the staff had anything to do with this, but all the i's had to be dotted very carefully on this one. He made a few more notes and then joined Special Agent Mike Evans by the body.

“Anything?” Wagner asked, putting his notebook away and cinching his coat against the April evening chill.

“Naw,” Evans said. He was a little shorter than Wagner, but his crew cut stood straight up, evening their heights. “They're going to need some counseling, but they had nothing to do with it. Half of them are having trouble staying conscious. All they want to do is go home.” It was what Wagner had expected to hear.

“Explain to them they'll have to come in and give statements before that can happen. You know the drill,” Wagner said, turning to leave.

“Listen, we've got a problem.”

“No shit,” Wagner said, the aggravation getting the better of him.

“NYPD is screaming bloody murder.”

“Have they made the connection to the other killings, yet?”

“That's the other thing. The press were here before we were.”

“What?”

“When Duke and I pulled up they were already knee-­deep at the gate. We had to chase half of them back off the grounds.”

“How—­” Evans handed Wagner a fat manila envelope. Wagner pulled the contents out. It was an unmarked file folder and a paperback titled
The Monarch's Reign
. Wagner felt his stomach drop when he saw the cover of the book. The black butterfly symbol on the book's glossy white background exactly matched the bloody butterfly scratched into the victim's chest a few feet away. He flipped through the folder: police reports, FBI documents, and visceral crime scene photos of the first two murders. In a mere six weeks they were already on their third murder, all of them with the same grotesque postmortem mutilation.

“Jesus.”

“Yeah. Delivered to just about every media outlet early this morning. We're following up, but so far nothing; no postmarks and no prints.”

“When the hell was
this
published?” Wagner asked, flipping through the book's first few pages.

­“Couple years ago. Nothing about the murders, obviously. The author, Emily Burrows, lives in Washington Heights. A Brit with a work visa.”

“Why didn't we know about this? Scratch that,” Wagner said. “NYPD wants something to do? Tell them to get her in here before some reporter gets it in their brain to go find her. If they haven't already.”

“Doubt it. Her number's unlisted. We only found her address because of the work visa. It was a lucky hit.”

“I'm feeling all kinds of lucky today.”

“You haven't heard the bad news yet.”

“Of course not.”

“The director's on his way down.”

Wagner visibly winced.

“Perfect. This aside,” he said, waving the envelope, “did you get a look at the corpse's face?”

“No, why?”

“Take a look,” Wagner said as they walked over to the corpse where it lay posed over the fountain.

“Son of a bitch. That's Bob Cummings,” Evans said, recognizing the newscaster.

“None other. Somebody went to great lengths to make sure we couldn't sit on this one.”

“Holy shit, Bob Cummings. NYPD's going to lose their fucking minds when this gets out,” Evans said. Aside from being the highest-­rated newscaster in New York, Cummings was ex-­NYPD, as was Evans.

He leaned forward and looked more closely at the roll of material protruding from the corpse's twisted maw.

“That the cause of death?” Evans asked.

“Probably. ME's on his way. The mutilation is most likely postmortem, like the others,” Wagner said, nodding at the crude butterfly symbol scratched into the dead flesh.

“Not exactly like the others, is it,” Evans said, pointing to the bruising on Cummings's face. “He beat the shit out of this one.”

“Yeah,” Wagner said. The other victims had very few marks on them, besides the mutilation. “Not sure what it means, yet.”

“Hmm,” Evans grunted. He leaned in even closer. “What the fuck
is
that?”

“Damned if I know. Cloth of some kind, looks like. But get a load of this,” Wagner said, pointing at a protrusion under the skin of the exposed abdomen.

“No way.”

“Whatever it is, it's about three feet long and the only reason we can see any of it is because the killer couldn't push it in any farther.”

“SAC Wagner?” a young agent said from the stone stairs that led to the courtyard. Wagner looked up at him. “Director Matthews is here. He's asking for you.”

“Sucks to be you,” Evans said.

“Not as much as it does to be him,” Wagner said, nodding at Cummings's body. But he wasn't entirely sure about that.

“H
EY,
P
ETE,”
W
AGNER
said as he stepped into the museum's foyer, trying to set the tone of the encounter. From the look on Director Matthews's face, it wasn't going to work. Flashing red and blue lights pulsed through the fogged glass blocks around the museum's entrance. The upper drive outside looked like an extension of the Federal Plaza parking garage, there were so many FBI cars strewn about. Beyond the cars, a gaggle of reporters strained at their NYPD leashes.

“Not the way I wanted to start my day, Joseph,” Matthews said, staring out at the barricades. The men were the same size and build, but somehow Wagner always felt small around him.

“No, sir,” Wagner said.

“You promised me I wouldn't regret the suppression in this case. Do you recall?”

Wagner remembered, all right. Six weeks ago, the first mutilated body had been found by a group of teens on the edge of Central Park; a local artist with no enemies to speak of. Wagner had assumed the killer had chosen the young man at random, the real point being the location in an effort to garner attention. Why the killer wanted attention hadn't really mattered at that point. Wagner had been sure that if they denied the killer his publicity he would make a mistake—­a frustrated phone call to the cops or a letter to the media. Something. But as it turned out, the killer was methodical and patient. More patient than Matthews, apparently, Wagner thought. It would have been easy to let the NYPD have the case and be done with it. But Wagner's son had been among the teens who had found the body. It pissed Wagner off, and when he found out the first victim had worked part time for the post office, he used the technicality to take over the case. But worse, he used his old friend to do it.

The second killing had been three weeks ago, an independent art gallery owner again with no discernible enemies. The only connection between the two killings was the art world and the gruesome symbol carved into his flesh. He'd been killed somewhere else and then left strung up in St. Patrick's Cathedral on Madison Avenue, the corpse's arms outstretched like a crucifixion on an invisible cross, the same rudimentary butterfly carved into his bare chest. Still convinced of his tack, Wagner fought to keep that murder out of the press as well, the location making it even harder. Reluctantly, Matthews had finally agreed to go along and even use his influence with the Archdiocese. No small feat.

And now this.

“We're checking the security cameras as well as the traffic cameras in the area, but—­”

“But you're not going to find anything. Just like the others,” Matthews said.

“No, sir. Probably not. If this is like the others, he has pull like I've never seen before. The fact that he didn't set off any alarms seems to bear that out.”

“You're not helping your case, Joseph,” Matthews said. He turned around and faced Wagner. He was at least ten years Wagner's senior and had been a mentor to him when he'd first joined the Bureau, but their rank and methods had driven a wedge between them long before this case came along. “Give me a sitrep and then I have to go meet with the Archdiocese who want to tear a new hole in me for breaking the promises I made to them after the last murder.”

Wagner winced as he gave the situation report. He knew Matthews was referring to the work he'd had to do to get the Archdiocese to keep the murder quiet. He'd promised they wouldn't regret the move, just as Wagner had promised Matthews—­twice, now.

He told Matthews where the body was, described the scene, and explained who had found it. Matthews didn't nod or even blink through the recitation. Wagner was pretty sure it was taking all Matthews's willpower not to knock him on his ass for putting him in this position. He hoped Matthews wouldn't take any permanent heat for this. The man was made to be the director. If it had been Wagner, he would have taken a swing at hello.

“The vic is Robert Cummings, the local news anchor. He was the cop that beat the corruption charges a few years back.”

“Couldn't ask for a higher profile victim,” Matthews said.

“No, sir. But that's not all,” Wagner said before telling him about the little care package the media had received. Matthews's eye twitched at the news, and Wagner readied himself for that beating.

“Get. That. Woman—­”

“She's on her way. I've got the NYPD chauffeuring her here.”

“No, not here. Anything we do here is going to be too high profile. Clean this up and get the show shut down. I want this museum open by tomorrow morning. The Archdiocese is bad enough without a bunch of rich art patrons whining at me through their pit-­bull lawyers. Take her straight to the ME's.”

“Yes, sir. Will do. Anything else?”

“I think you've done enough, Joseph,” Matthews said before walking out the door, holding a newspaper up to hide his face from the press as he walked to his car.

“Joe!” Wagner turned and saw Evans rushing over to him. He never rushed or called him Joe unless he was excited. And if Evans was excited it was not good news.

“What?”

“I think we got an ID on that murder weapon.” “And?”

“You ain't gonna like it.”

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