Page 54 of Detective


Was the type of music at the murder scenes significant? Ainslie thought it might be, especially when combined with another difference at the Ernsts' the presence of the dead rabbit, which, from the beginning, Ainslie was convinced was not a symbol from Revelation.

So, he asked himself, was it possible that whoever had committed the Ernst murders had heard of the Frosts' four cats and mistakenly believed another animal would fit the bill? Again the answer seemed a likely yes.

Also significant was that Ainslie's Revelation theorem had become known to a small group of senior investigators the day after the Ernst murders, and before that time the meaning of the murder-scene symbols was anybody's guess.

Another time factor raised questions, too.

After each of the preceding killings Frosts, Larsens, Hennenfelds, and Urbinas the elapsed time before the next double killing was never less than two months and averaged two months, ten days. Yet between the Urbinas' and the Ernsts' murders, the gap was only three days.

It was as if, Ainslie thought, wheels had been set in motion for the Ernsts' deaths, which would have occurred after the normal time gap if the Urbina killings had not abruptly intervened. And while news of the Urbina killings spread quickly, was it, perhaps, too late to stop the wheels rolling on the Ernst murders?

A fleeting thought occurred to Ainslie, but he dismissed it instantly.

* * *

As to Elroy Doil's final killing, that of Kingsley and Nellie Tempone, while the crime lacked some of Doil's previous hallmarks probably because he was interrupted and tried to flee the timing came close to fitting what had gone before, and Ainslie had a theory about that.

It was Ainslie's belief that, notwithstanding the court ruling about sanity, Doil was insane. If so, it was possible he had a compulsion to commit murder on a regular schedule and, tragically for the Tempones, Doil's killing time had come.

But the validity of that theory, Ainslie knew, would never be known.

Immediately following his two-day research, Ainslie went on an expedition to the Miami Police Property Unit.

* * *

Property, a pivotal, bustling organization, was located on a lower ground floor of the main Police Department building. Its commander, Captain Wade Iacone, a heavyset, graying, twenty-nine-year police veteran, greeted Ainslie in his office.

"Just the man I needed to see! How are you, Malcolm?"

"Fine, sir. Thanks."

Iacone waved a hand. "Forget the formality. I was about to send you a tickler, Malcolm about those Doil serials. Now that the guy is dead and the case is wound up, there's a mountain of stuff we'd like to clear. We desperately need the space."

Ainslie grimaced. "Forget the tickler, Wade. One of the cases has been reopened."

"Tickler" was jargon for a periodic memo sent to police officers who had brought in crime evidence for storage, perhaps, while awaiting trial, or in the hope of making an arrest eventually. In effect the tickler said, "Hey! We've held this for you a long time and it's taking up space we urgently need. Please consider whether you need it any longer, and if not, let's get it out of here." More often than not, removing the evidence involved getting a court order.

Another code word, "stuff," referred to vast quantities of items stored in the Property Unit, including narcotics cocaine and marijuana in case-numbered plastic bags, worth several million Dollars on the street; hundreds of firearms, including guns, rifles, machine pistols, ammunition, "enough to start an insurrection," as Captain Iacone once declaimed; blood and body fluids from homicides or sexual assaults and preserved in refrigerators; then more prosaic stolen TV sets, stereos, and microwaves, plus hundreds of sealed and stacked-high cardboard boxes containing the bric-a-brac of other crimes, including homicide.

As for space, there was never enough. "We're loaded full from floor to rafters, and then some," was Iacone's constant complaint, though somehow new objects and boxes were unfailingly squeezed in.

"So what's going on?" Iacone asked Ainslie.

"One of those serial killings may not be solved, so the evidence will have to stay. But you said 'mountain.' Is there really that much?"

"There wasn't a huge amount until Commissioner Ernst and his wife were killed," Iacone answered. "That's when the big bundle came. All sealed boxes. They told me there was so much because the case was so important."

"May I see them?"

"Sure."

The Property commander led the way through offices and storerooms where a staff of twenty worked five police officers, the remainder civilians producing remarkable order from the packed miscellany around them. Anything stored no matter how old, and twenty years of storage was not unique could be located in minutes via computer, using a case number, name, or storage date.

Iacone demonstrated the procedure, stopping unhesitatingly at a pile of more than a dozen large boxes, each sealed with tape bearing the words CRIME SCENE EVIDENCE. "These were brought in right after the Ernst killings," he said. "I believe your guys collected a lot of stuff from the house, mainly papers, and were going to go through it all, but I don't believe anyone did."

It was easy to guess what had happened, Ainslie realized. Immediately after the Ernst murders, Homicide's special task force began its surveillance of suspects, using every available detective and drawing on other departments, too. As a result, the Ernsts' papers and effects, while needing to be safeguarded, would have become a secondary concern. Then, with the Tempone killings and the arrest and conviction of Doil, the Ernst case was assumed closed, and the many boxes, it now appeared, had never been carefully examined. Ainslie told Iacone, "Sorry I can't take the Doil stuff off your hands, but what we will do is take a few of those boxes at a time, study the contents, then bring them back."

Iacone shrugged. "That's your privilege, Malcolm."

"Thanks," Ainslie answered. "It could be important."

13

"What I want you to do," Ainslie told Ruby, "is go through every one of those boxes stored in Property and see what you can find."

"Are we looking for anything special?"

"Yes, something that will lead us to whoever killed the Ernsts."

"But you've nothing more specific?"

Ainslie shook his head. A sense of foreboding he could not explain warned him that uncharted seas lay ahead. Who had murdered Gustav and Eleanor Ernst, and why? Whatever answer emerged would not be simple, he was sure. A line from the Bible's Book of Job occurred to him: The land of darkness and the shadow of death. He had an instinct he had entered it, and found himself wishing someone else was handling this case.

Ruby was watching him. "Is something wrong?"

"I don't know." He forced a smile. "Let's just find out what's in those boxes."

The two of them were in a small room on the far side of the main police building, away from Homicide. Ainslie had arranged temporary use of the space because of Leo Newbold's wish to keep the revived investigation as quiet as possible. The room was little more than a cupboard with a table, two chairs, and a phone, but it would do.

"We'll go down to Property," he told her, "and I'll authorize you to remove the Ernst boxes as you're ready for them. The whole thing shouldn't take more than a few days."

A prediction that, as it turned out, was wholly wrong.

* * *

At the end of two weeks, with some impatience, Ainslie went to visit Ruby for the third time in her temporary quarters. As on the two previous visits, he found her surrounded by piles of paper, much of it spread around the floor.

On the last occasion she had told him, "I don't believe either of the Ernsts could bear to throw away any piece of paper. They squirreled everything letters, bills, handwritten reminder notes, news clippings, canceled checks, invitations you name it and most of it's here."

Ainslie had said then, "I've talked with Hank Brewmaster, who had the case at the beginning. The problem was, there was an enormous quantity of papers in the house box after box, stored in almost every room. Well, because we were so swamped at the time, no one could be spared to go through everything, though it had to be preserved in case there was important evidence. So what happened is all that stuff was scooped up from the Ernsts' house, then afterward no one got around to going through it."

Today, Ruby had a tattered exercise book open in front of her and was making notes on a pad alongside it.

Gesturing to an open cardboard carton, he asked, "Is it more of the same?"

"No," Ruby said, "I may have found something interesting."

"Tell me."

''Mrs. Ernst was the one who accumulated the most paper, and a lot is in her handwriting spidery and hard to read. All innocuous, I thought, until two days ago, when I found what's turned out to be a diary. She wrote it in exercise books lots of them, going back years."

"How many?"

"Could be twenty, thirty, maybe more." Ruby motioned to the cardboard carton. "This was full of them. My guess is, there'll be more in others."

"What do they say?"

"Well, that's a problem. Apart from the difficult handwriting, it's in a kind of code a personal shorthand, you could call it for privacy I suppose, especially from her husband; she must have concealed her diary from him over all those years. If anyone's patient enough, though, they can learn to read it."

Ruby pointed to the tattered pages in front of her. "For example, instead of using names, she uses numbers. After a while I realized '5' stood for herself and '7' for her husband. Then I caught on 'E,' for 'Eleanor,' is the fifth letter of the alphabet; 'G.' for 'Gustav,' the seventh. A simple code. Two numbers with a hyphen between is two names. I figured that '4-18-23' meant 'Dr. W.' whoever he is, or was. And she compresses words, skips the vowels mostly. I'm getting the hang of it, but wading through all these will take time.''

He must make a judgment, Ainslie knew. Was it worth keeping Ruby on this tedious search, which could drag on much longer and most likely produce nothing? Other matters in Homicide were, as usual, pressing. He asked, "Is there anything at all you can tell me? Anything important?"

Ruby considered. "Okay, maybe there is, and I guess I was holding back, wanting to have more." Her voice took on an edge. "Try this for size. What the diaries show already is that our late, high and mighty City Commissioner Gustav Ernst was a wife-beater of the worst kind. He beat his wife from the beginning of their marriage, sending her to the hospital at least once. She kept quiet because she was ashamed and scared, and thought no one would believe her, which is what her bastard of a husband told her. In the end all she could do was transfer the pain and torment in her lonely private code to these miserable pages. It's all in here!"

Abruptly, Ruby flushed. "Oh fuck! I hate this shit." Impulsively she seized one of the exercise books and flung it wildly across the tiny room.

After a pause, Ainslie retrieved the book and returned it to the table. "She was probably right; she might not have been believed, especially all those years ago, when no one ever talked about battered wives; people didn't want to know. Do you believe it all?"

"Absolutely." Ruby was calm again. "There's too much detail to have invented it, and every bit rings true. Maybe you should read some."

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