To the Memory of Stephen L (Steve) Vinson Sometime Detective-Sergeant (Homicide) Miami Police Department Adviser and Good Friend Who died, at age fifty-two, shortly before completion of this book
Life resembles the banquet of Damocles;
the sword is ever suspended.
At 10:35 P.M. on January 27, Malcolm Ainslie was halfway to the outer door of Homicide when a phone rang behind him. Instinctively he paused to look back. Later, he wished he hadn't.
Detective Jorge Rodriguez moved swiftly to an empty desk, where he picked up a phone, listened briefly, then called to Ainslie. "For you, Sergeant."
Ainslie set down a book he had been carrying and returned to his own desk to take the call. His movements were ordered and easy. At forty-one, Detective-Sergeant Ainslie was solidly built, a half-inch short of six feet and not too different in appearance from his days as a high school fullback. Only a slight belly bespoke the junk food he often ate a staple for many detectives, obliged to eat on the run.
Tonight, on the fifth floor of the main Miami Police Department building, the Homicide offices were quiet. In all, seven investigative teams worked here, each team consisting of a sergeant supervisor and three detectives. But the members of tonight's duty team were now all out, probing into a trio of separate murders reported in the past few hours. In Miami, Florida, the pace of human mayhem seldom slackened.
Officially, a Homicide duty shift lasted ten hours, but was often longer because of continuing investigations. Malcolm Ainslie and Jorge Rodriguez, whose own duty shift had ended several hours ago, had continued working until moments earlier.
Almost certainly the phone call was from his wife, Karen, Ainslie thought. Wondering when he was coming home, and eager to begin their long-planned vacation. Well, for once he'd be able to tell her he was on his way, the paperwork completed, loose ends tied, and the lights now green for Karen and Jason and himself to board tomorrow's early-bird Air Canada flight from Miami to Toronto.
Ainslie was ready for a break. While physically fit, he lacked the limitless energy he'd had when he joined the force a decade earlier. Yesterday as he was shaving, he'd noticed the ever-increasing gray in his brown, thinning hair. Some extra wrinkles, too; for sure, the stresses of Homicide caused those. And his eyes vigilant and probing betrayed skepticism and disillusionment from witnessing, across the years, the human condition at its worst.
It was then that Karen had appeared behind him and, reading his thoughts as she so often did, run her fingers through his hair, pronouncing, "I still like what I see."
He'd pulled Karen toward him then and held her tightly. The top of Karen's head came only to his shoulders, and he savored the softness of her silky chestnut hair against his cheek, the closeness of their bodies exciting them both as it always had. Putting a finger beneath her chin, he tilted her face upward as they kissed.
"I come in a small package," Karen had said soon after they became engaged. "But there's lots of love in it along with everything else you'll need." And so it had been.
Expecting to hear Karen's voice now, Ainslie smiled and took the phone from Jorge.
A deep, resonant voice announced, "This is Father Ray Uxbridge. I'm the chaplain at Florida State Prison."
"Yes, I know." Ainslie had met Uxbridge a couple of times and didn't like him. But he answered politely, "What can I do for you, Father?"
"There's a prisoner here who's going to be executed at seven o'clock tomorrow morning. His name is Elroy Doil. He says he knows you."
Ainslie said tersely, "Of course he knows me. I helped send Animal to Raiford."
The voice came back stiffly. "The person we're speaking of is a human being, Sergeant. I prefer not to use your description."
The response reminded Ainslie why he disliked Ray Uxbridge. The man was a pompous ass.
"Everybody calls him Animal," Ainslie answered. "He uses the name himself. Besides, the way he killed makes him worse than an animal."
In fact, it had been a Dade County assistant medical examiner, Dr. Sandra Sanchez, who, on viewing the mutilated bodies of the first two victims in the twelve murders attributed to Elroy Doil, exclaimed, "Oh dear God! I've seen horrible things, but this is the work of a human animal! "
Her remark was repeated widely.
On the telephone Uxbridge's voice continued. "Mr. Doil has asked me to tell you that he wishes to see you before he dies." A pause, and Ainslie visualized the priest checking his watch. "That's slightly more than eight hours from now."
"Has Doil said why he wants to see me?"
"He is aware that you, more than anyone else, were the cause of his arrest and conviction."
Ainslie asked impatiently, ''So what are you saying? He wants to spit in my eye before he dies?"
A momentary hesitation. "The prisoner and I have had a discussion. But I remind you that what passes between a priest and a condemned man is privileged and -"
Ainslie cut in. "I'm aware of that, Father, but I remind you that I'm in Miami, four hundred miles away, and I'm not driving all night because that wacko suddenly decides it would be fun to see me."
Ainslie waited. Then clearly the priest made a decision. "He says he wishes to confess."
The answer jolted Ainslie; it was the last thing he'd expected. He felt his pulse quicken. "Confess what? You mean to all the killings?''
The question was natural. Throughout Elroy Doil's trial for a ghastly double murder, of which he had been found guilty and sentenced to death, Doil had maintained his innocence despite strong evidence against him. He had been equally emphatic about his innocence of ten other murders clearly serial killings with which he was not charged, but which investigators were convinced he had committed.
The merciless savagery of all twelve murders had aroused a nationwide sensation and horror. After the trial a syndicated columnist had written, "Elroy Doil is the most compelling argument for capital punishment. Pity is, from electrocution he'll die too easily, not suffering as his victims did."
"I have no idea what he plans to confess. That is something you would have to find out for yourself."
"I beg your pardon!"
"I said 'shit,' Father. Surely you've used the word a time or two."
"There is no need for rudeness."
Ainslie groaned aloud at the sudden dilemma he faced.
If, at this late stage, Animal was ready to concede that the charges at his trial were true and that he was guilty of other serial killings, it had to go on record. One reason: A few vocal persons, including an anti-capital-punishment group, even now supported Doil's claims of innocence, arguing he had been railroaded through the courts because an aroused public demanded the arrest of someone, anyone and fast. A confession by Doil would crush those arguments.
What was in doubt, of course, was what Doil intended by the word "confession." Would it be a simple legal one, or something convoluted and religious? At Doil's trial he was described by a witness as a religious fanatic mouthing "crazy, garbled mumbo jumbo."
But whatever Doil had to say, there would be questions that Ainslie, with his intimate knowledge of events, was the most qualified to ask. Therefore he must, simply must, go to Raiford.
He leaned back wearily in his desk chair. This could not have come at a worse time. Karen, he knew, would be furious. Only last week she had met him at one o'clock in the morning just inside the front door of their home with a firm pronouncement. Ainslie had just returned from a grisly gang-related homicide for which he had had to miss their anniversary dinner. Karen, dressed in a pink nightshirt, blocked his entrance and said forcefully, "Malcolm, our life simply cannot go on like this. We hardly ever see you. We can't rely on you. And when you are here, you're so damn tired from sixteen-hour workdays, all you do is sleep. I'm telling you, things have got to change. You have to decide what you care about most." Karen looked away. Then she said quietly, "I mean it, Malcolm. This is not a bluff."
He understood exactly what Karen meant. And he sympathized. But nothing was ever as simple as it seemed.
"Sergeant, are you still there?" Uxbridge's voice was demanding.
"Well, are you coming or not?"
Ainslie hesitated. "Father, this confession by Doil would it be a confession in a general sense?"
"I'm not sure what you mean."
"I'm looking for a compromise not to have to come to Raiford. Would you agree to have Doil confess to you in the presence of a prison officer? That way it would be official, on the record."
A long shot, Ainslie knew, and the explosive reply didn't surprise him. "In God's name, no! The suggestion is outrageous! Our confession is sacred and private. You, especially, should know that."
"I suppose so. I apologize." At least he owed Uxbridge that. It had simply been a last-ditch attempt to avoid the journey. Now it seemed there was no alternative.
The fastest way to the State Prison was by air to Jacksonville or Gainesville, with the prison a short drive from either one. But the commercial flights all left during the day. Now the only way to reach Raiford before Doil's execution was to drive. Ainslie glanced at his watch. Eight hours. Allowing for time he'd need there, it was barely enough.
He beckoned to Rodriguez, who had been listening intently. Covering the receiver with his hand, Ainslie said quietly, "I need you to drive me to Raiford now. Check out a marked car. Make sure it has a full tank, then wait for me at the motor pool. And get a cell phone."
"Right, Sergeant." Briskly, Jorge disappeared through the outer door.
The priest continued, his anger sharper now, "I'll make this clear, Ainslie. I find communicating with you distasteful. I am doing it, against my conscience, because I was asked by this pathetic man, who is about to die. The fact is, Doil knows you were once a priest. He will not confess to me; he has told me so. In his warped, misguided mind he wishes to confess to you. The thought is thoroughly repugnant to me, but I must respect the man's wishes."
Well, there it was, out in the open.
From the moment he heard Ray Uxbridge's voice on the phone, Ainslie had expected it. Experience had taught him two things. One, that his own past had a habit of surfacing unexpectedly, and clearly Uxbridge knew of it. Also, no one was more bitter or prejudiced toward an ex-Catholic priest than an incumbent priest. Most others were tolerant, even Catholic laity, and clergy of other denominations. But never priests. In his jaded moments, Ainslie attributed it to envy the fourth deadly sin.
It had been ten years since Ainslie quit the priesthood. Now he said into the phone, "Look, Father, as a police officer the only kind of confession I'm interested in concerns the crime or crimes Animal committed. If he wants to tell me the truth about that before he dies, I'll listen, and of course I'll have some questions."
"An interrogation?" Uxbridge asked. "Why, at this stage, is that needed?"
Ainslie could not contain himself. "Don't you ever watch TV? Haven't you seen those little windowless rooms where we sit with suspects and ask a lot of questions?"
"Mr. Doil is not a suspect anymore."