Detective Bowe answered, "No, sir. I don't think so." Her voice was nervous but controlled. She held a paper in her hand.
"This had better be good." Newbold's annoyance was clear.
"You said three double murders, sir."
"So? You questioning my arithmetic?"
"Not exactly, sir." Ruby raised the paper in her hand; she glanced toward the others. "No one is going to like this, but you'd better make it four."
"Four! What do you mean?"
It was Ainslie, seated opposite, who asked quietly, "What have you found, Ruby?"
She shot him a grateful glance, then returned to Newbold. "Couple of days ago, sir, you were worried about the size of the Tomorrow Pile. You asked me to work on it."
There were smiles at the reference to the Tomorrow Pile, Quinn's droll name for the perpetual inflow and accumulation of official paper.
Newbold acknowledged, "Yes, I did ask that. Obviously you've discovered something."
"I read it just this morning, sir. A BOLO from Clearwater."
Ruby Bowe's voice cut clearly through the silence in the room.
"BOLO to all police departments statewide. Double homicide of elderly man and woman occurred this city March twelfth. Exceptional brutality. Victims tied and gagged. Stabbed repeatedly and beaten savagely head and torso areas. Mutilation involved. Cash believed stolen amount unknown. Fingerprints other evidence nonexistent. Unusual items left at scene by offender or offenders. If any similar crime or crimes on record request contact Detective N. Abreu, Clearwater Police Department Homicide with all possible information."
Across the ensuing quiet, Major Yanes asked, "That date again, Detective?"
Bowe consulted her paper. "The murders were March twelfth, sir. The BOLO is stamped 'Received March fifteenth.' "
There was a collective moan. "Jesus Christ!" Hank Brewmaster said. "Five months ago!"
They all knew it could happen shouldn't happen, but did. Some things slipped lower in the Tomorrow Pile and continued to escape attention. But this was an all-time disastrous example.
Besides official police communication, the Florida media often observed similarities in serious crimes separated by distance, and would note a resemblance and report it; such connections had proven helpful to police investigators in the past. But with so much crime happening everywhere, some similarities escaped attention all around.
Newbold covered his face with his hands, his anguish plain. Everyone knew the lieutenant would be held responsible for the communications breakdown that had resulted in Homicide's failure to deal promptly with the Clearwater BOLO. Yanes said tersely, "For the time being, I suggest we move on, Lieutenant." It was obvious there would be more discussion, probably in private, later.
"There's a little more, sir," Bowe offered.
Newbold nodded. "Go on."
"Just before we came in, I phoned Detective Abreu in Clearwater. I mentioned that we have similar cases. He told me he and his sergeant would like to fly here tomorrow and bring everything they have.''
"All right." Newbold had recovered his composure "Check their arrival time and send a car to meet them."
"Lieutenant," Ainslie injected. "I'd like to ask Ruby a question."
Ainslie faced Ruby across the conference table. "Did Abreu mention anything about the items left at the Clearwater scene?''
"I asked what they were. One was an old, beat-up trumpet, the other a piece of cardboard." She consulted her paper. "The cardboard was cut in the shape of a half-moon and colored red."
Ainslie was frowning, concentrating, searching his memory, recalling again the bronze bowl at the Pine Terrace condo. Addressing no one in particular, he asked. "Have there been objects left at every scene? I remember there were four dead cats in the Frosts' hotel room."
Without waiting, Ainslie turned to Bernard Quinn. "Was anything left at the Hennenfeld killings?"
Quinn shook his head. "Not to my knowledge." He glanced at Sheriff-Detective Montes. "Is that right, Benito?''
As a visitor Montes had remained quiet, but now, responding to Quinn's question, he said, "Well, there wasn't something left that the perp brought with him. But there was that electric space heater, though it belonged to the Hennenfelds. We checked on that."
Ainslie asked, "What space heater? What about it?"
"It had been fastened with wire to Mr. Hennenfeld's feet, Sergeant, then plugged in. When we found him, the space heater had burned out, but his feet were completely charred."
Ainslie said sharply to Quinn, "You didn't tell me that."
Quinn looked embarrassed. "Sorry. I guess it was a detail I forgot."
Ainslie let it go, then turned to Newbold and asked, "Lieutenant, may I go on?"
"All yours, Malcolm."
"Ruby," Ainslie said, "can we make a list of all the different objects found at the scenes?"
"Sure. You want it on the computer?"
Newbold cut in. "Yes, we do."
Ruby moved to a small separate desk containing a computer terminal. Since joining Homicide, she had become known to fellow detectives as "our computer whiz," and even in other teams' cases she was often asked to lend her skills. While Ainslie and the others waited at the conference table, Ruby touched switches and ran her fingers nimbly over the keyboard. "Okay, shoot, Sergeant."
Referring to an open file in front of him, Ainslie dictated, "January seventh, Coconut Grove. Homer and Blanche Frost. Four dead cats."
Ruby's fingers moved swiftly. When they stopped, Ainslie continued, "March twelfth, Clearwater."
"Hold it!" The voice was Quinn's. Heads turned toward him. "At Coconut Grove there were Mr. Frost's eyes. Something flammable was poured in them, then set on fire. If we include the Hennenfeld burned feet . . ."
Ainslie told Ruby, "Yes, add Mr. Frost's eyes." He turned his head with the hint of a smile. "Thank you, Bernie. I forgot. Happens to all of us."
They completed the Clearwater listing with the old trumpet and cardboard moon, added Fort Lauderdale with the space heater and the male victim's burned feet, afterward moving on to Pine Terrace condominium number 18.
"There was a bronze bowl," Ainslie said.
Ruby's fingers paused. She asked, "Was there anything in it?"
Pablo Greene said sourly from his seat at the table, "Yeah, piss and shit."
Looking around, Ruby inquired innocently, "Is it okay if I write that as 'urine and feces'?"
The room erupted with laughter. Amid it, someone said, "Ruby, we love you!'' Even Newbold, Yanes, and the assistant chief were laughing with the others. In an atmosphere where grisly death was an everyday occurrence, a sudden, unexpected flash of humor was like a cleansing rain. And then . . . as the laughter died . . . swiftly, clearly, plainly, Ainslie had it. Now he knew. All the pieces fit. It was as if an incomplete hypothesis, which had been forming tiresomely, vaguely in his brain, suddenly took shape. His excitement began to explode.
"I need a Bible," Ainslie said.
The others stared at him.
"A Bible," he repeated, his voice rising, its tone assuming the sound of a command. "I need a Bible!"
Newbold looked at Quinn, nearest the door. "There's one in my desk. Second drawer down, right side."
Quinn went to get it.
At Homicide the presence of Bibles was not unusual. A number of criminals, when brought in for arrest or questioning, asked for a Bible to read, some sincerely, others hoping their apparent religiosity might earn them a lighter sentence later on. There were precedents justifying that hope; certain offenders, notably white-collar criminals, had escaped heavy sentencing through religious "conversion" and claims of having been."born again." But at the investigating stage, Homicide detectives, while skeptical, were willing to oblige if a Bible would hasten a confession.
Quinn returned, Bible in hand. Reaching across the table, he handed it to Ainslie, who opened it near the back to the last book of the New Testament Revelation, or, for Catholics, the Apocalypse.
For Newbold, a light dawned. "It's Revelation, isn't it?" he asked.
Ainslie nodded. "Every one of those objects is a message."
He motioned to Ruby, still at the computer. "Here's the first." Then, glancing around the table, Ainslie read out, "Revelation, chapter four, verse six: 'And before the throne there was a sea of glass like unto crystal: and in the midst of the throne, and round about the throne, were four beasts . . . ' "
Quinn breathed, "The cats!"
Ainslie flipped back two pages, searched with a forefinger, then read again, "Chapter one, verse fourteen: 'His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire. . .' " He glanced at Quinn. "Mr. Frost, right?"
Quinn added softly, "Those two things the cats and Frost's burned eyes were within inches of each other. But we never connected them . . . not in the way we should have." '
The room was silent. Assistant Chief Serrano had leaned forward in his seat and was listening intently. Major Yanes had been scribbling notes but now paused. Everyone was waiting as Ainslie turned more pages. He asked Ruby, "A trumpet at Clearwater, right?"
She checked the computer screen. "A trumpet and a cardboard half-moon painted red."
"Here's the first. Chapter one, verse ten: 'I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet. . .' "
Ainslie turned pages again. "And I believe I remember the red moon. Right here. Chapter six, verse twelve: 'And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake and the moon became as blood . . .' "
Looking at Benito Montes, Ainslie said, "Listen to this. Chapter one, verse fifteen: 'And his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace . . .' "
"That's just the way Mr. Hennenfeld's feet were." Montes sounded awed.
Sergeant Greene spoke up. "How about the Urbinas, Malcolm?"
More page-turning. Then, "I think I have it. The dead woman was either touching that bowl or almost, wasn't she, Pablo?"
"One or the other, yes."
"Then this has to be it." Once more Ainslie read aloud from Revelation. "Chapter seventeen, verse four: 'And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet color having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness . . .' ''
A murmur of appreciation rippled around the table. Ainslie waved for silence, protesting, "No, no!" While the others watched, he put both hands to his face and held them there for several seconds. When he removed them his expression had changed from high excitement to chagrin. His voice, when he spoke, was halting. "I should have got to it, I should have figured out those symbols sooner, even at the beginning. If I had, some of those people might still be alive."
Sergeant Brewmaster asked, "How could you have got it sooner? The rest of us didn't get it at all."
Ainslie was about to respond: Because I have a doctorate in theology! Because for twelve interminable years I studied the Bible. Because all of those symbols stirred the past inside me, but I was slow and stupid, so it took until now to realize . . . Then he decided to leave the words unspoken. What good would they do? But shame and selfreproach seethed deep within him.