Lokesh was finding it difficult to focus on the road. He needed a strong dose of caffeine to enter his body…sooner the better. GPS showed that they were only fifteen minutes from their destination, a fact which was preventing him from making a pit-stop. He nudged the steering of his brand new Jeep Cherokee SUV to the right and it went around the soft bend in the inter-state Highway # 87 as smooth as an ice-skater in full flow. Filling his windshield was a large hill, covered in different shades of green, red, orange and yellow…colors of the fall. This area was nestled in the northern reaches of the Great Appalachian mountain range. The Sun was going down and as a parting gift, it’s last rays were creating a mesmerizing dance of light and shade on the hill-side. Nights in the mountains are abrupt…there is not much of a dusk…one moment its sunny and bright,the next, its dark and gloomy. The Jeep’s powerful headlights were now coming into affect, a fact that Lokesh started to appreciate. He didn’t enjoy driving in the evenings…never liked the passage of time when neither the natural light, nor the headlight were in a position to help him figure out the path ahead. It seemed more like they canceled each other out, instead of enforcing.
Tanisha had been napping through the last hour, in the passenger seat, with her leg up on the dashboard. Tomorrow, was their first wedding anniversary, which Lokesh had planned to celebrate at a famous resort in Upstate New York. He had just taken the exit from the highway and slowed down for the traffic signal ahead. As they turned left, Tanisha could make out the shimmering waters of Lake George…a large lake measuring eighty kilometers in length and more than a mile at its widest. It was formed by a receding glacier getting stuck and melting in the valley. The Lake was massive, deep and very picturesque with tall green hills forming its perimeter. Lokesh’s white Jeep was now traversing the road cut through these hills to reach an island which was connected by a bridge. As the jeep turned onto the narrow bridge, both the occupants got a first glimpse of their host for the next few days.
The Grand Sycamore hotel was built on an island in Lake George. It was connected to the mainland by a narrow arch bridge. The resort was built in the late 1800s and had distinct Victorian architectural features. A central dome rising about eighty feet was a masterpiece in its own right. The two- storey, L shaped wings running on either side of the central dome housed the guest rooms. This building was originally constructed as a summer retreat for a railroad tycoon from New York, but had been converted into a hotel later on. Geologically, the hotel was located on top of a flat hill which was rendered into an island as the glacier melt filled the valleys around it. This also meant that the waters around the resort were fairly deep, in excess of a hundred feet. The island was only half a mile long and a quarter of a mile wide…there were lush green lawns and landscaping, surrounding the main building, with benches and flower-beds to complement. The blue waters of Lake George, Green lawns and the white structure formed a rather photogenic setting but also had an eerie touch.
Tanisha could not hide her excitement and decided to give Lokesh a hug, while he was driving. Lokesh didn’t protest and as a reward also got a peck on his cheek. Their honeymoon was still going on…as Tanisha had arrived two months ago from India to join him in New York city, where he worked at a well known Trading firm. The Jeep was purchased with full cash down…courtesy the bonus Lokesh had got for the stellar performance by his team in the last half-yearly report. Lokesh was an intelligent, young man who was more keen on splurging, than saving for future. Tanisha has been asked by her mother-in-law to put a few checks and restraints on her son…which she had tried to, unsuccessfully till now. Lokesh was a charmer from hell…with a great ability to outwit and gently nudge anyone to his side of the argument. They parked in the foyer and walked into the reception. The attrium was full of eye-catching renaissance art and the dome looked more grand, from the inside.
‘Wow, Lokesh, this is so nice, I can’t believe you would bring me to such an amazing place’, Tanisha exclaimed.
‘I wanted to do something special for you love…so glad you like it’ Lokesh was satisfied to see Tanisha so happy.
Lately, he had noticed how she felt bored and a little out of place in the glitzy cocktail parties that he took her to.
‘Let me see if I can do something special for you tonight’…Tanisha said with a twinkle in her eyes. Lokesh could feel all his tiredness melting away as they took the keys from the reception and walked to their room. It was the last room in the corner, at the end of the eastern arm of the hotel building, providing a panoramic view of the southern part of the lake.Tanisha pulled the curtains aside on the large window of their room. It had got dark by now and all the lights had come on. She could make out the vast expanse of the lake and outlines of hills forming the horizon. While she strained her eyes as she pressed her face against the glass, Lokesh came from behind and hugged her. The curtains were pulled back in place.
The clock showed the time as quarter to two AM in the night. Tanisha and Lokesh, lay in each other’s embrace in the cushy bed. Lokesh was snoring softly while Tanisha was still awake. She pulled herself out of her husband’s arms as slowly as possible and went on to check the small fridge in the room. There were some chocolates inside, she grabbed a Kitkat and came back to the window. There was a fog-bank moving in from the hills onto the lake…it seemed like the lake was going to sleep and pulling a white shroud for warmth, before snoozing off. Tanisha had always been mesmerized by fog and in her hometown of Jallandhar in northern India, fogs were a frequent phenomenon in winter. She loved walking to school in the fog…denser the fog…more fun it was. Although, it was late, she decided to take a late night walk outside and feel the mist on her face after such a long time. She didn’t fear any harm as she at was an isolated hotel in Upstate New York and not a secluded street in Delhi. There was an stairway right alongside their corner room. As she came out of the exit door, the coolness of the air startled her for a moment. Temperatures in these parts, would swing around a lot and she remembered how pleasant it was when they had arrived in the evening.
Tanisha had been walking slowly towards the part of the island which was well-lit and had a few benches. The fog bank was now engulfing the hotel and visibility dropped drastically. The street-lights were more ornamental in nature and didn’t have any affect on the fog. She felt the cold mist on her face and was transferred back to her childhood. It had been fifteen minutes now, since she had come out and it was getting colder by the minute. As she turned around one last time towards the milky expanse which was getting illuminated in patches by the street light, she got tingling feeling in her spine.
‘Was that someone’s outline?’ she thought as she felt a change in the patch of scattered light. She tried to strain her eyes…
‘No…maybe I was hallucinating. Time to go back’ she thought.
She started walking back to the door with a glowing EXIT sign on the top.
Salamat Khan had come to the United States as an Afghan refugee, about five years ago. He wanted to escape the brutal war and give his children a more stable and happy life. They had all come to Lake George to celebrate Asma’s fifth birthday. Eager to see the lake early in the morning, they had taken the first cruise to go out on the lake. It was very chilly and slightly foggy and they could make out only a few of the landmarks the cruise pilot was pointing out to them on the coast. As the cruise ferry came close to the Grand Sycamore, it made a U-turn to go back. There was a gap in the fog bank and the Khan family used it to take pictures. They all stood on the top-deck, by the railings…Asma staring at the dark and deep waters. She noticed a White piece of cloth floating by…it was just a t-shirt…then she saw something which her father had tried so hard to protect them from…Death. It was the body of a female, bereft of all clothing…floating in the water…slightly bloated by the water retention. Asma screamed and everyone looked around to see the dead body of young Tanisha, bobbing up and down in the wake of the cruise ferry.
Detective Bob Armando was having a quiet day. He was tall, slightly above six feet with broad shoulders and a broader jawline…with a fierce face of a medieval warlord. The small town of Lake George village didn’t need such an imposing figure, for a detective. He would have looked more at place in the dangerous neighborhoods of big cities like New York or Chicago. Lake George was a sleepy place…nothing much happened in these whereabouts. It was Saturday morning and the town population would have tripled in size, because of the weekend visitors from the big cities to the east. His day would consist of desk work and a few visits to the famous pubs by the shore…when they would call for assistance..most of the brawls ended the moment he appeared on the scene. Right now, he was staring at the empty mug of coffee, sitting in the coffee-maker.
‘That has Randy written all over it’ he thought.I will give him a piece of my mind once he comes back from the patrol’.
As he started to pour water in the mug, the Phone on Sheriff’s desk rang.
‘This is the Sheriff’s office’
‘We are calling from the US Marshal’s service, NY State office. This call is to report for a prison break in the Woodbury Maximum Security Prison last night. There are indications that the two fugitives may have passed through your jurisdiction’
An urgent sounding voice conveyed the message from Albany, about sixty miles to the south.
‘So, What do you want me to do about it…do you know what kind of circus this town becomes on the weekends and we are already low on staff’ Armando mentioned as a matter of fact.
‘We are sending out an APB to you…be alert…a few extra patrols both on the streets and the lake would be appreciated…and as you have a chopper unit…just ask the pilot for a quick trip in the mountains…we shall need a daily report’
The voice sounded more authoritative this time.
‘How long do you want us to do the charade?’ Armando was not taking all this laying down.
‘At least for a week…unless we catch those murderers earlier’
‘Murderers…you mean we have two murderers on lose?’
Armando was now all ears..the detective in him, taking the wheels.
‘Both of them have multiple counts…violent murders…they were serving life without parole…extremely dangerous’
‘Let me see what we can do here’
Armando responded with greater sincerity in his voice which was appreciated by the Marshal.
‘Trust you Mr.?’
‘Armando…Bob Armando…I am the senior detective with the department’
‘Thanks Bob…and you were talking to US Marshal Dave Abbott…hoping to hear from you soon’.
The call got disconnected. Bob wrote a note for the Sheriff, who was in the restroom. As he was done jotting down the relevant points…the phone rang again, it was Randy.
‘Hey Bob, we got a situation here at the Sycamore…you better come down’
Armando wanted to bash him for the coffee mug misdemeanor, but held back
‘Whats the deal Randall?’
Randy knew that he was called by his formal name only when Armando was really mad at him.
‘We got a dead body in the lake…they are fishing it out’
Armando’s brain was now in an overdrive…he was wondering if these two new cases, which had flipped his uneventful weekend on its head, were somehow connected.
‘Well, she looks like a south Asian…Indian maybe’…mumbled Randy.
The dead young woman lay quietly in the black body bag. Armando was standing besides him with his eyes doing the initial analysis of the subject. A few signs of struggle, scratches, broken nails…and a strange looking mark around the mid-section.
‘Must be one the guests, Get the hotel staff here’.
The Manager and concierge were not able to identify the body, the were not on duty when Tanisha and Lokesh had checked in. Bob called the Forensics, then, came back to the register to check for any east Indian guests, who came in late yesterday evening. It didn’t take him long to figure out.
Lokesh was in a deep sleep…he had a high-paying but a demanding job and would get only 3-4 hours of sleep each night. His body was trying to compensate for the sleep lost over the last few days. He was dreaming about an Alaskan cruise when his sleep was broken by someone knocking on the door. His hands swiped across the bed looking for Tanisha…He sat up in the bed. Tanisha was not in the room…toilet was open too and it was empty. Lokesh grabbed his phone…it was 10 AM.
‘Maybe, she went down to get the breakfast and forgot the room key’…he was about to get off the bed when he heard someone with a heavy baritone, utter the ominous words.
‘Open up…its the Police’.
Lokesh got a jolt which even a hundred cups of espresso coffee can’t deliver in a single shot. His brain started doing all sorts of worst case scenario calculation about what was the Police doing at his hotel room, while his wife was nowhere to be found.
‘Open up or we shall walk-in…we have the master-key’…Lokesh mumbled something back and put on a house-coat.
As he opened the door, he was dwarfed by the imposing figure of Det. Armando staring down at him. Behind him, were two other cops staring at him suspiciously.
‘Mr. Lokesh Goopta’ Lokesh gained his composure and nodded in affirmative.
‘Good…do you mind if we come in’
Armando didn’t wait for Lokesh’s response and walked past him. The room didn’t show any indication of a struggle or fight.
‘Do you know where your wife might be?’…Lokesh had digested the fact that something terrible had happened to Tanisha and he would be held as a prime suspect until proven otherwise, he had to choose his answers carefully.
‘I am not sure, she maybe downstairs’
‘Well she is not…When was the last time you saw her’
Armando kept on with his line of questioning.
‘It was yesterday night, she was sleeping right there, when I last saw her’…he pointed to the starkly empty spot in the bed.
‘Hmm…are you sure?’
Lokesh couldn’t take it anymore
‘Do you know where my wife is?’
‘Well, I am the one asking questions here’
Armando tried to get as much information he could before Lokesh would block him out.
‘I am not answering anything without my Lawyer present by my side, now, Do YOU know where my wife is?’
He said with tears welling up…Armando realized there was no point in pushing hard…his initial assessment of Lokesh had mixed results.
‘Please come with me’.
Lokesh knew what a body-bag looked like. He had seen enough of them on the crime shows, which were his favorite genre. He was walking along side Armando…with a lump in his throat and tears in his eyes. As he saw the black zipped bag lying on the grass, his heart sank deep in his belly…he had prepared himself for the worse, esp. with Police waking him up and the line of questioning he was subjected to. Armando sat down and opened the zipper to let Lokesh catch a glimpse of his soul-mate…now bereft of any soul…eyes closed…pale skin…Lokesh sat down by her side…and wept softly. He could figure out that Tanisha had undergone an assault based on the cuts and bruises on her face. He had never experienced such a dramatically shocking moment, in his life…he never thought he would…his life had been perfect..a swan-song till now…all of that had come crashing down today.
Lokesh had no friends or family around to share the grief…it is said that when a person encounters a deeply sorrowful event, the tendons in their heart break…he could feel the pain of each microscopic tendon, tearing apart in his heart. Gradually he gained composure and looked around…there was a crowd of onlookers…some of them with sympathetic look in their eyes….others staring at him suspiciously. Lokesh looked at Armando,
‘How are you looking at this case?’
Armando understood the hidden question,
‘We are not looking at this as a suicide, if that’s what you are asking. Prima facie this looks more like a sexual assault gone seriously bad, ending in a murder’.
Lokesh’s anger had overpowered the sorrow he felt earlier,
‘I beg for you to investigate my wife’s case as professionally as you can and catch the bastard who did this, to a gentle soul like her’
Armando could make out the sincerity in Lokesh’s voice…he nodded to him and signaled for him to come inside the hotel. As they were walking back towards the Exit door which Tanisha had used last night and were about to open it…Randy came running…’Don’t touch the door’…Armando’s stretched hand halted mid-way.
‘She used this to go out last night…its in the security tapes…her finger-prints must be there…and may be her killer’s too’
Randy was panting now.
‘Good job, now stop panting like a dog and take me to the security room’.
The security room was small…even for the two personnel for which it was designed. Right now, there were six people in the room…the large screen showed Tanisha walk up to the door and step out. This was captured from the camera inside the lobby. The tape was scanned to catch if anyone else had walked out of that same door…no-one had…neither did Tanisha come back. There was one more camera on the terrace which covered most of the area between the door and the lake shore. It also showed Tanisha, walk out slowly to the water. Then, the fog bank swooped in and visibility was reduced to nil. The cameras were not advanced enough to look through thick fog. Armando was more or less convinced that keeping Lokesh in the suspect list would be a mistake. He asked Lokesh to go back to his room and have a moment. He and Randy then decided to go through all the camera footage that was available, to catch any clue. The time of death had been pegged at between 2-4 AM. After scanning all footage, most of which had been rendered useless by the fog, Armando decided to take a crack at the footage from the parking lot camera. The footage again was mostly milky white mist drifting across the lens…but at the time-stamp of 3:36 AM, the camera caught the tail-lights of a car brighten-up. As red color gets scattered the least by fog, Armando could make out the peculiar pattern of the tail-light cluster. They were not the tail-lights of a run-of-the-mill Honda or Toyota…this was a premium sports car…but he couldn’t tell which one…as the car went out of the lot and turned left…the blinkers came on in a beautiful pattern.
‘Do you know sports cars’
he looked at Randy.
‘Nah…I am more of a Truck Nut…but I can tell you…that’s a real sweet ride disappearing in the fog’
‘You are right Randy…that is a real sweet ride’.
Armando had asked the manager to get hold of all the employees who were there for the late-night shift.Only three of them…Tony the bell-boy…Jasmine at the Room-Service and Alex at the small bar of the exclusive Sycamore Cigar Club. The club used to be open till late night…till the last super-wealthy customer left. The Cigar club was frequented by most of the millionaires and billionaires who had residence in a Gated community also known as the Billionaires cove. The lakeside community was a expensive piece of real estate and only high net worth individuals like IT moguls, Hollywood A-listers, Famous sportsmen and Wall Street Royalty, could afford a chunk of the land and the cabin on it. Armando had a simple question for all of them.
‘Who was around the premises between 2-4 AM’.
All of them had just one name for him…’Keith Samburg’…he was sitting at the bar till 2:30…till the time Alex was attending to him. Around that time, Alex had closed the bar and handed Keith his last shot of single malt scotch. Keith had tipped him with a twenty dollar bill and bid good night. Although, no-one had seen him walk-out or knew when he left the premises.
‘What kind of car does he drive?’
Alex jumped at that question…
‘Its a Lamborgini Aventador, 6.5 L, V 12 seven speed beautiful monster’.
Armando was impressed at Alex’s passion for sports cars.
‘Does it have a tail-light which blinks like an arrow-head?’.
‘Yes sir, it does’
Armando had a new suspect within the space of two hours…Then, his cellphone rang…it was Sheriff Feldmann.
‘Bob, we got a call from one of the lake side residents…looks like someone had their boat stolen last night…could be the fugitives…the K-9 unit is out to confirm’.
Armando thought for a while and responded,
‘Do they know around what time’.
‘Their security camera caught some activity around 2 AM…but you know how foggy it was…but why do you ask?’.
Armando didn’t want to answer that question.
Boomer was not having a good day. He was tied outside as a punishment for his latest attempt of foraging from the garbage bin. Boomer was a handsome, playful and big golden Labrador retriever. He loved to run around the yard…play fetch with Mike Junior and also loved to eat fish. The MacFarland family had fish for lunch and their pet dog Boomer was lured by the smell of leftovers. In his eagerness to get to the fish, he had managed to topple the garbage can. Mr. MacFarland had enough of Boomer’s idiosyncrasies and as a punishment decided to put him on leash in the yard. Boomer was lying on the pavement, which was getting colder by the moment and now the stupid fog had rolled in. He was thinking about how Amber refused to acknowledge him, when he saw her go for her evening stroll.
‘What did I do wrong this time? She always finds something to get upset about’
‘Maybe I looked a little shabby…I had a bath more than a week ago and Mike thinks that letting me into the lake to fetch the ball would automatically clean me up…that lazy…’
His thoughts were broken up by his powerful sense of hearing. He could feel movement of more than one person…strangers…he could tell by the smell. He barked loudly…there were two of them…they stopped for a second…then started walking towards him. Boomer kept barking loudly…his brain was hard-wired to protect his masters and he could sense that these strangers, trespassing his master’s property, late at night…were the epitome of threat. Through the fog, he was the two shadows grow closer and closer…then they became apparent…two men…big men…in weird looking clothes.
‘I told you, he is on leash’
One of them said and smiled at the other man.
‘Well, in that case, better make him shut up’, second man responded.
‘No man, I had a dog when I was a kid…he was good dog…I can’t do it’
First man threw his hands up.
‘Look at you…getting emotional’
said the second man as he took out a long knife and thrust it in Boomer’s neck…just behind his collar. Boomer felt a sharp pain in his neck…it ran down his whole spine…then the pain stopped and he felt very tired…his eyes were closing…the made a last feeble attempt at snapping at the man whose hand was holding the knife, still plunged in his neck…then…it all went black.
‘Man..you are nasty…couldn’t you just knock him out’
First man was a little disgusted by what he was seeing.
‘Shut up’…Second man was now cleaning his knife on the soft and healthy fur of the dog he had just killed.
‘Lets get the boat and get out of here’.
They quickly walked over to the small marina and found the family’s twenty foot long Yatch moored in. They cut the rope and climbed in. As expected, keys were under the dashboard. Second man took the driver’s seat and gently pushed the throttle…the gleaming white boat glided over the black waters…deeper into the fog. Although the Law warranted navigational lights to be switched on…the occupants of the boat were least bothered. A high-end GPS system allowed the two men to nonchalantly cruise on a lake shrouded with thick fog, at 2 AM in the night.
Armando was staring at the cold body of Boomer. The police K-9 deputy, a German Shepherd known as Bruce had been to the scene and confirmed the presence of the two fugitives. Bruce also seemed to have been affected by the gruesome death of his own kind. Armando was trying to figure out how far the fugitives might have gone. Based on the timing of the events, cruising speed of the yatch and distance between the Sycamore and Macfarland family marina, the probability of the two fugitives being present at the other crime scene, was on the higher side. He jotted down a few points in his black note-book and decided to back to the Police station. Sheriff Feldmann was waiting for Armando it seems, as his eyes lit up, the moment he entered his cabin.
‘Bob, I hear that you had a pretty busy morning’, Feldmann said with a twinkle in his blue intelligent eyes.
‘Boss, two cases…that also on a saturday and my deputy is out fishing somewhere’.
‘So, what’s your take…any leads?’ Feldmann looked serious now.
‘We have a few…but some very big names in the play here’
‘Yeah…Keith Samburg is a pretty big fish…big enough to pull our boat in, if we try to net him…I would suggest to arrange for some good old badgering by the media, to soften him up, before you walk in’.
Feldmann was a veteran crime fighter…he had his share of action as Major in Boston Police Force. After more than twenty years of fighting big-city crime, he had enough…so he decided to take this low profile job, in a sleepy town as a retirement benefit. But he still possessed the uncanny police acumen and has many tricks up his sleeve. Armando respected him deeply and would always seek Feldmann’s guidance on every case that came in. He liked the idea of leaking a probable connection between a wealthy semi-celebrity and a murder case. Within half an hour all local tv channels were asking the question about Samburg’s murder connection.
The Forensic report had come in. Tanisha was killed in cold blood and then thrown into the lake. Her lungs contained very little water…which proved that she didn’t die by drowning. There were no evidence of any sexual assault although she had suffered substantial physical trauma. The peculiar marks around her waist were from a metal link-chain which the killer might have used to tie a heavy sinker to her body. This last fact got Armando interested…he decided to drive back and check the crime scene, again.
Crime scene was untouched and unattended. As he walked under the Police perimeter tape, Armando saw what he was looking for…he had noticed that earlier, but didn’t find it relevant. Now, the missing link-chain between two of the decorative pillars made a lot of sense for him…as he walked around it, Armando could make out the open space created by the removal of one of landscaping blocks which may have have been used as the sinker.
‘So, the killer wrapped the chain around the victim, tied it to a heavy rock and dropped her in the lake…hoping it shall never be found again’
‘Not a bad attempt at hiding your crime’…his culprit was not a novice at all.
Armando knew how deep the lake was, about ten feet beyond the shore, the lake-bed fell off like a cliff.
‘But he would have had to walk with the body and the sinker attached to it, from the shore to the edge of this underwater cliff…so there must be boot-marks’
Armando came to the edge of the water. The water was transparent…his hopes got inflated and deflated at the same moment…there were rocks and pebbles lining the lake bed. Armando decided to wade into the water…about five feet from the shore, the pebbles were replaced by mud and moss. Boot-marks…definite boot-marks, he almost jumped with joy, as his eyes could make out a pair of boot marks under three feet of water. Armando stopped in his tracks and observed the new evidence closely…the foot impression didn’t have much definition. There were not patterns to identify…the only thing he could do was measure it. Armando took out his 11 size shoe and put it gently beside the corresponding foot-print which was about an inch smaller. He took out his phone and took a picture. ‘Don’t wade any further, unless you can swim good’.
Someone shouted from the shore. As he turned around, he saw Alex the bartender standing at the shore, waving at him.
‘Get back behind the perimeter tape’, Armando was stern in his response.
‘I was just trying to warn you’ Alex looked disappointed.
‘Thanks, now get behind the line’. Armando came out of the water.
Tony was now standing behind the Police- perimeter.
‘Do you need help with those wet clothes, I can get them dry within ten minutes’ he offered the hotel laundry service to the detective.
‘Thanks for that offer, but I need to be somewhere’ Armando started walking towards his car with Alex following him at a distance.
‘Wow, you got a Dodge Charger’ he exclaimed,
‘I know the specifications of the normal version, how powerful is yours’.
Alex knew that Police cars were turbo-charged and packed with extra horsepower to aid in chases and emergency situations.
‘I don’t remember the exact number, but it is close to 300 HP’.
‘I could have guesses that’ Alex smiled at him.
As Armando got into his car, Alex rushed and closed the door for him. Armando drove straight to the nearest shoe store and a quick comparison with the image from lake-bed confirmed the shoe size to be 11 to 11.5. As he was putting the shoes back in the box, his phone rang, it was Feldmann.
‘Bob, we have got Samburg to come in for questioning…he is sitting here with his lawyer, can you rush back here’.
Keith Samburg was a handsome young man. More than six feet tall, with a full head of jet-black hair, styled with copious amount of hair gel…a narrow face…a sharp nose and sharper brown eyes. He was clean-shaven and looked more like a underwear model for Jockey instead of a multimillionaire IT Genius. Armando entered the room and stared him right in the eyes. Both the men had locked their eyes together…measuring each other up…then, Armando shot the first and rather shocking question –
‘What is your shoe size?’
Keith looked at this lawyer, who nodded in an affirmative, as a go-ahead for Keith to answer the question,
A number which basically meant that Armando had lost the prime suspect in this murder case.
Adirondacks National park is located in upstate New York, nestled in the northern portion of the Great Appalachian mountains. Dense green forest cover the mountains, the highest being close to two thousand feet. At six million acres, the park was bigger than Yellowstone, Grand Canyon and Glacier National park combined. A fact that had been plaguing US Marshall Abbott and his team as they drove into the town of Lake George Village. Adirondacks had more than a thousand lakes and Lake George was known as the Queen of Adirondacks for its beauty and size. Abbott had been contacted by Sheriff Feldmann, who confirmed passage of the two fugitives. Feldmann received the small team his office around 3 PM…it had been around 12 hours since the murder and fugitive activity.
‘Well, the bad news is that our chopper won’t be able to fly this week at all…some spare parts issue’
Feldmann explained it to Abbott.
‘And the good News?’
Abbott said after waiting for Feldmann to continue.
‘Oh, there is no good news, as of now…sorry’ Feldmann knew they had too much going on and not enough leads…they needed a break.
‘We have some technical gear which we shall take out on the lake…i hope the patrol boats work’, Abbott said in a slightly frustrated tone.
‘Oh Yes! they both work like a charm…I will send my top detective with you for the first two trips, I believe you have already spoken to him’
‘I did…Bob Armando…where is he? Can I see him for a couple of minutes’
Abbott pleaded to Feldmann,
‘Come with me’,
Feldmann took Abbott to the interrogation room.
‘The big guy?’
Abbott pointed towards Armando through the one-way glass.
‘Yeah..let him finish this…I don’t think it will take too long before the lawyer would want to justify his expensive rates’
Abbott then focused on the other two people in the room and immediately recognized on of them.
‘Isn’t that Keith Samburg…why is he being questioned? Is it related to the other murder case, you guys are looking into’
Abbott looked at Feldmann with substantial amount of concern in his eyes. Feldmann didn’t respond…he just made a gesture for Abbott to relax and wait for Armando to come out.
Armando was trying to piece together the puzzle. The clinching evidence for the boot-print hadn’t hit the jackpot for him, so he had to start from scratch.
‘What did you do at the Sycamore last night?’.
‘Nothing specific…just had a couple of shots and watched the football’
Samburg maintained a poker face.
‘A couple of shots?’
Armando said with dollops of sarcasm added to his tone.
‘Maybe five or six, I don’t remember the exact number. You can ask the hotel’ Samburg sounded irritated.
‘So, when did you leave?’
Armando fired the next salvo.
‘Around 3 AM, again don’t remember the exact time’.
Armando noticed something on Samburg’s clenched fist.
‘Where did you get those scratches?’ This time, the advocate signaled in the negative, but Samburg…an IT genius…a multimillionaire…self-made entrepreneur with fatal level of confidence, won’t let a two bit lawyer decide for him.
‘I got these while fishing’…he said in a dead -pan tone.
Armando had noticed the change in tone.
‘That seems to be one nasty fish who did that kind of damage’.
Samburg had realized his mistake and he had enough.
‘I think we are done for now…if you want me to answer any more question…put me in the stand’. Armando was like a bloodhound who had caught the scent…the initial set-back of boot size not matching had been replaced by the sudden awkward and incriminating behavior of Samburg. Those cut marks were not from any fishing line…Armando had been fishing since childhood…he knew Samburg was lying through his teeth. Before the other two men could walk out, Armando just thought of throwing out another line,
‘I hope you know about the two fugitives who are on the run in this area…they are somewhere on the lake. Be careful’.
‘We shall be careful detective…appreciate your concern’
Armando’s super-suspicious brain did catch a few hints in Samburg’s body language when he mentioned about the fugitives. He had the dots in place, but was not sure about how to connect them.
Armando came out of the interrogation room with a wry smile on his face…a smile which told Feldmann that his best detective had clinched onto a lead.
‘You look happy’ Feldmann teased him.
‘I’ve been happier…and you must be Dave?’
Armando extended his bear-paw like palms towards the Marshal.
‘Pleasure meeting you Bob…you were frying some really big fish in there’.
‘Yeah…that is one big suspicious fish…so, you want to start the search today’.
Armando said in a tone which conveyed his unwillingness to join the effort…he wanted to focus on the murder case.
‘We would need you on the initial run…I heard about the chopper being unavailable, so, we shall have to take the two patrol boats out. We have brought in some high-tech surveillance equipment, but to have a local guy look on-board will be very helpful’
Abbott’s last statement sounded more like a direct order than a request. Armando looked at Feldmann, who just shrugged to indicate his helplessness.
‘Let me grab a sandwich…I am starving…I will meet you guys at the dock’.
Armando walked out of the room.
It was already 5 PM when Armando reached the docks. Both the patrol boats were ready to move out. Abbott and Feldmann were supervising the team as Armando came along and stood besides them.
‘Its going to get dark soon and most probably, foggy too’
Armando said in a matter-of-fact tenor. Before the two senior officers could respond, he quickly added ,
‘So, what is the plan? Split up and search the two bays?’
Abbott was not amused by Armando’s reluctant attitude.
‘As I said earlier, we don’t care about the darkness or the damn fog. We are going in the east bay…you take the west. We shall not be using any radio…unless we really have to’.
Armando understood that any more passive resistance would be detrimental.
‘So, what we are supposed to do if we spot them? Shoot?’ he asked.
‘No, Shoot only when you are being shot at…try to capture them alive.’
Armando himself wanted to catch those two alive to figure out why Samburg twitched up when he heard about the two.
The patrol boats were powerful machines…sleek red hull, with lots of gadgetry sticking out of its small bridge which had space for three people. Both the boat had twin engines…each churning out 250 horsepower at full throttle…500 horsepowers in total…enough to propel the boats to a maximum speed of close to 100 miles per hour. Today, these figures didn’t matter a lot, as this was expected to be more of a search operation, at cruising speeds of about ten miles per hour. The bells and whistles which the marshals had brought with them could pick out an organism as small as a squirrel by its body heat and movements. The two boats moved out of the docks together but would have to split up at the point where the lake divided into two separate bays. There were no reports of any sightings of the stolen yacht. Abbott didn’t want to loose any more time as Canadian border was not too far from the northern shores of Lake George.
After about fifteen minutes of sailing together, the boats split up. Armando was with two other Marshals who had come along with Abbott. They were not big talkers and Armando appreciated that. Both were glued to their sensors while Armando was at the wheel. This part of the lake was pristine wilderness…no secluded mansions…no fancy resorts…just a few intrepid hikers around this time of the year. The sun was about to set…and the dark mountains on either side of the water appeared to be growing higher into the darkness as the night fell. Although, visibility was good and Armando didn’t have any trouble in navigating these waters. About ten miles into the bay, the radar picked up a large object on the water, about five miles north of their boat. Armando revved up the engine and the boat jumped out of the water, accelerating from ten miles an hour, to sixty. As they were closing in, Armando called Abbott…but couldn’t make contact. He decided against using the radio, till he had confirmed what was responsible for the radar signature. They could see it now, it was a white boat…floating about thirty feet away from the shore. Armando put on the search lights and the Yacht was now recognizable…it was the stolen one. The three law enforcement officers couldn’t notice any activity on the Yacht and assumed the occupants had abandoned it. The boats were now side by side and Armando decided to jump in. As he secured the two boats together, he made a quick analysis. A few empty cans of beer and an empty wrapper of beef jerky were strewn around. The anchor wasn’t dropped neither there seem to be any attempt to tie it down with a tree on the banks. It looked like the two fugitives had simply jumped into the lake and swam to the shore…an idea which Armando felt was brilliant if the fugitives wanted to render the sniffer dogs, useless.
Other two marshals were scanning the hillside for any heat signatures, resembling a human being. After about thirty minutes of futile effort, they planned to give up. Armando called up Abbott on the radio,
‘Dave, We found the boat, but no clue where the fugitives might be…we need to come back with a searching party tomorrow, over’.
‘Good job guys, lets meet back at the docks and chart a plan of action…I believe check-points on all the roads within ten miles range should be sufficient for now’
Abbott sounded happy at this change of fortune in the case. He was under a lot of pressure to catch the two fugitives, one of whom was a convicted cop-killer. Now, they knew where to look and he knew that the two escapees couldn’t get too far on the foot…in the darkness…through the dense forest in a hilly terrain. One point did bother Armando…why would the fugitives leave the boat about twenty miles from the northern shores and walk on foot through a treacherous terrain. Armando turned around the boat and saw the beautiful yet eerie spectacle in front of him. A haunting white shroud of fog was slowly reclaiming western bay of the lake. Although the boat was equipped with eyes which could look through the white mist, Armando still felt goosebumps whenever he had to deal with the ghostly mist. Their boat was now completely covered in the mist. Armando slowed down to twenty miles per hour and kept his eyes glued to the radar screen for any other boats in the area. As they were about to enter the main bay of the lake, he heard faint sound of a marine engine nearby. The fog was thick and he couldn’t make a visual contact. His radar screen showed nothing. He gave the wheels to one of the marshals and walked out to the port side of the patrol boat. The deep bass throttle of a powerful engine was very evident…it was getting closer…almost by their side now…then moving ahead of them. The sound got fainter and eventually died out. The other two occupants of the boat also heard it. Armando switched on the search light, but the fog rendered it useless. Although his human eyes and the boat’s electronic eyes, couldn’t sense it, a large black, state-of-the-art speed boat had just passed by them.
It was 6 AM…cold morning…fog still lingering over the lake. The search party had started at day-break. Armando was leading the boats with K-9 (search dogs) crews and cops from other police departments nearby. Feldmann was by Armando’s side on the pilot boat. Feldmann wanted to be part of the action and not just respond to radio transmission, while sitting in his office. This was maybe the first time in his tenure that so much was going on at the same time. He was also concerned about Armando, his star detective, who was handling two cases in parallel. There was no wind because of which there were no ripples or waves in the lake…it’s surface appeared like that of a mirror and the police patrol boat glided over it like silk. Feldmann put down his coffee mug and looked at Armando. He saw a man whose face didn’t betray his thoughts or feelings. Armando’s steely eyes were focused on the lake.
‘What do you think about the dead woman’s husband?’ …whatever train of thought was chugging in Armando’s brain, was derailed by this question from Feldmann. He thought for a few seconds before answering the question.
‘Well, we couldn’t find any immediate cause to implicate him…but I have asked Randy to dig deeper into his activity, over the last few months…Also, whatever he could gather from the man’s social media presence. I have asked him to reach out close friends and relatives on both sides to figure out if anything negative was going on’.
Feldmann had an impression that Armando had too easily allowed Lokesh to walk off from the list of possible suspects. With this fresh revelation, his trust in Armando’s capabilities went a notch higher.
‘Let’s find the two nut-heads and get back to some actual police work’
Feldmann gave Armando an appreciative pat on the shoulders and picked up his coffee mug.
All the four patrol boats were now anchored around the spot where the fugitive’s escaped yacht was found. Search party was on the small beach and getting ready to split up and start searching the dense jungle. All the five dogs were blood hounds…and they had been allowed to sniff up the stolen yacht to get a clue on what to smell for. Three of the search parties were to move north on the ridge which split the lake into two, while one party will go south. The ridge gradually rose from the lake’s surface to a height of about four hundred feet. The slope was gentle and about half a mile across. The parties would move about five hundred yards from each other and contact by radio on any sightings. As the probability of the fugitive’s movement was higher towards the north, due to the canadian border, bulk of the search party was directed to go northwards. Only one of the search party was asked to go south, to cover all scenarios…maybe the fugitives wanted to stay put and wait for thing to cool down before heading for the border. Armando and Feldmann were in the crews which started the search northwards. Although the fugitive’s were not believed to be armed, all the crews were still in full tactical gear, ready to respond heavily, if shot at. They all moved in reverse ‘V’ formation, behind the K-9 crew, with the dog and his handler leading the way. The jungle had started to wake up with a few birds chirping loudly. It was starting of the fall season and the forest was a myriad of colors…a fact which eased some of the tension and fear in minds of the men who were trying to find two escaped murder convicts. The progress was slow, due to heavy undergrowth and also because the dogs were moving very slowly…which basically meant that they were unable to catch any leads.
Suddenly, the radio in Armando’s hands crackled itself to life.
‘Dakota to Alpha, reporting status. We found the fugitives…repeat…we found the fugitives…over’ Armando was surprised. Team D or Dakota, was the one which was sent southwards and was least expected to report success on the search.
‘Alpha to Dakota…give us your exact location…do you have them in your sight?..over’ Armando responded.
‘Dakota to alpha…yes, we have them in sight…no need for any rush…take your time…they are both dead…over’
Armando had hit another dead-end…he was hoping to connect a few of the dots in Tanisha’s murder case…now his pencil tip was broken in half…again.
‘Roger that…we shall be there in ten’.
Dave Abbott’s relieved voice crackled on the receiver. Armando and his team turned around and headed to the GPS coordinates sent by Team Dakota.
The graves were not very deep…that’s why ‘Zack’ the 5 year old pure-bred bloodhound was able to discover them easily. It was a very sloppy job…dug by someone who was in a hurry. All four teams were now standing around the two graves. Both the men had been killed by arrows which had very accurately pierced their hearts. The arrows had been promptly removed. It looked like a job of a skilled hunter whose primary weapon was a crossbow, which is fast to load, easy to handle and noise-less. It also allows the killer to retrieve the ammunition and leave as little trace as possible. No bullets…no ballistics…no matching of patterns etc. Armando started to admire his subject’s ability to leave least amount of leads for him to work with. Dave Abbott on the other hand was happy as a punch. What he assumed would be a long tiring day of walking through the jungle with very low probability of finding any clues on the escaped convicts…had suddenly turned around for him in the best way possible. He wasn’t bothered too much about the convicts being dead.
‘Finally, the lady luck showed up. I don’t think we could have had a better result for this operation…this is like getting handed your promotion on the platter’.
‘But who killed them like this?’
Feldmann tried to bring in some seriousness into the proceedings.
‘Who cares…it could have been the Batman’
Dave didn’t allow Feldmann to dampen his enthusiasm.
‘Yes…we have more than our fair share of wannabe Bruce Waynes in our town…billionairs with swanky cars and swankier boats’ Armando spoke up.
Feldmann knew, who Armando was indicating to by that statement. The teams wrapped up the operations and prepared to go back the town, where a posse of National level media outlets was waiting eagerly to hear from them.
US Marshall’s team was expecting a quiet end to these operations. Dave Abbott did expect some media glare but had never imagined the number and kind of conspiracy theories that would start to float around. The fact that both fugitives were found dead and buried in the wilderness, had spun off multiple theories about a lone or a group of vigilantes, who had delivered swift justice. As the details came out, one of the media outlets got hold of the forensic report which pointed to death caused by a pointed object, like a crossbow arrow. They didn’t stop at that point…attempts were being made to connect the two fugitives to the many possible ‘Bruce Waynes’ of Lake George town. One name among all others, stuck out like a beacon…fulfilling all the criterion.
Armando was watching Dave Abbott take on the questions from desperate reporters. Abbott was trying to provide as much information as he could, but all his efforts to reduce the rumor mongering, were falling on deaf ears. He switched the channel. This channel was showing something very interesting. The image on the TV screen shocked Armando for a few seconds. Armando reached out to his mobile phone and opened his facebook application…he searched for a name and the small thumb size picture it brought up on his phone was same as the one he could see on the large TV screen…Keith Samburg, holding a dead rabbit in one hand and a cross-bow in another. Some of the dots were connecting after-all.
Armando went into Feldmann’s office, who was watching the same news channel.
‘Do you think it was Samburg’
Feldmann spoke first.
‘I don’t know’
Armando remarked, then added,’Can we get a search warrant?’
Feldmann nodded in affirmation and called up the state prosecutor’s office.
‘ I have a strong feeling that the two prisoners were killed because they were witness to another crime…how ironical though,’
Armando declared. Feldmann seemed to disagree with Armando on this point and he pointed to the TV screen where a News anchor was running a story about a tragic event in Samburg family, which was caused by a escaped convict, ten years ago. It resulted in the death of Keith Samburg’s young sister. Dots had connected, but not the ones which Armando wanted. The News channel was now showing a speed-boat which appeared to be straight out of a Hollywood sci-fi flick. Reporter went on to explain that this was a highly advanced stealth speed-boat, originally meant to be used by the Special Forces like the Navy Seals. Designed to defeat Radio/heat/sonar sensors, one of the prototypes used for testing, had recently been acquired by one Keith Samburg. Some of the locals had reported sighting the awkward looking boat in the lake, around Samburg’s marina. Armando wondered if this was the boat which passed by them, in the fog.
The Lake George Police Department was now ready for a house call. They had got a search warrant against keith Samburg. Armando was leading the team as they waited for the gates to open at Samburg’s lakeside ranch. As the police cars rolled around to the residential complex, Samburg himself came out to receive the entourage.
Armando had the warrant in his hands.
‘Mr. Samburg! state of New York-Justice Department has issued a search warrant for these premises. I would request you to be cooperative and not obstruct my men as they search your property. Here is your copy’
He handed over the envelop to Keith.
‘Be my guest’ muttered Samburg.
There were ten officers in the party and they split up into two groups. Armando was leading one of the groups whose first target was the living room area. Ironically, the living room was filled with Dead animals. Animals which had been hunted by Samburg…then mummified by highly skilled taxidermists. Armando was looking for Samburg’s weapon of choice…the crossbow. There was none to be found.
‘What are you so eagerly looking for Detective?’
Samburg questioned Armando, with a heavy tone of sarcasm.
‘Why don’t you take a guess?’
Armando said softly as he turned around to face Samburg. The two big men faced each other. Armando was sure of the fact that Samburg would have got rid of the murder weapon. It may be lying somewhere in the deep reaches of Lake George. No murder weapon…No Charge. Other team also returned without much to report. Samburg was an intelligent man…a legend in the world of hackers…someone who knew how to get in, finish the job…then wipe out all his foot-prints. Armando understood that at the moment, it was better to focus on the girl’s murder, instead of trying to outwit a highly intelligent, wealthy and powerful rival. The teams returned back to Station. News channels were still trying to link up all the circumstantial evidence and portray the culprit of this gruesome double murder as a Hero…a vigilante…who brought down the wrath of Justice on the criminals who deserved it. Armando wanted to catch hold of Randy. Randy had been tasked with investigating Lokesh…husband of the murdered girl at Grand Sycamore.
Randy had been going through Lokesh’s social media profile. Lokesh was not an avid social media buff as most of his activity was intermittent and dull. He had just received Lokesh’s credit card activity reports in his email. He made a cursory glance at the report and the entries looked normal. Most of it done for grocery or gas around the Manhattan. As his eyes glided from top to the bottom of the computer screen, one entry caught his eyes. He hit a print for the page and went through rest of the pages.
Lokesh in his testimony to the police had explained about his recent marriage with Tanisha. He had also provided brief details about his work, his lifestyle and his future plans with Tanisha. Armando hadn’t found any red-flags in the testimony. The remorse that he had noticed in Lokesh, appeared fairly genuine. There was no apparent reason, however improbable, that Lokesh would murder his young and beautiful wife, in such a gruesome manner. Armando was fairly convinced that Randy would be doing a redundant task while collecting information about Lokesh. For Armando, Samburg appeared to be pivot on which this murder case rested. But, the way evidence, however circumstantial, was turning out to implicate Samburg, it was bothering Armando deeply. Were the fugitives connected to Tanisha’s murder? Did they become an accidental witness to another crime and had to be silenced? Was it the same person or persons responsible for both set of murders? All these questions were bouncing around in Armando’s head as he drove back into the Sheriff’s office. He needed a break…and Randy was standing in front of him with his twisted smile…a smile which Randy flashed only when he was onto something.
‘What is that?’
Armando looked at the sheet in Randy’ hand.
‘Well, this could be the most important piece of evidence in our murder case’ Randy’s smile turned bigger.
‘All right, go ahead, make my day’
Armando was more than happy to let Randy provide some actionable intelligence on the case.
‘Our guy was in the town…about a month ago… guess where he stayed’
Randy said with a twinkle in his eyes.
‘The Grand Sycamore’…Armando responded involuntarily.
‘But our guy is pretty smart…loves to watch crime based drama…that’s all I could gather from his facebook profile’.
‘Hmm…what gave him up’, Armando was intrigued.
‘He made all transactions in cash, but made one slip at the petrol bunk in Queensbury’.
Queensbury was a small town, about five miles south of Lake George. Most of the tourists, filled their tanks here, while driving back to their hometowns, after doing last minute shopping in the factory outlets.
‘Once I noticed the transaction…rest of it was a cake-walk…I got his Ez-Pass records which show toll collected on the New York Throughway toll plaza both ways…on the weekend of August 8th…then I went to the Sycamore, to check their guest list and there he was…he stayed alone…paid in cash…but couldn’t arrange for a fake identity…do you think this is enough to bring him in? I don’t think he mentioned this small trip to our wonderful town in his testimony’
Randy finished with a flair…Armando was impressed with the analysis.
‘We can definitely ask him this question…he should still be at the Sycamore…we told him not to leave town, till we tell him to’.
Lokesh was still in shock from his wife’s murder. He had moved out of Sycamore as his room was also made off-limits by the police. When Armando showed up at his doors, Lokesh had just got off a long phone conversation. Armando greeted him rather coldly as they both sat down in the living area of the small log-cabin which Lokesh had moved into.
‘Any luck in finding the murderer’ Lokesh didn’t waste time.
‘Well, we have some leads…we are looking into those deeply as we speak’
‘I need to ask a questions about the testimony you gave…are you comfortable answering them or do we need to get you in the interrogation room with your attorney’.
Lokesh thought for a second,’ Go ahead Detective, please’.
Armando relaxed a bit and shot his first salvo
‘Was this your first trip to Lake George?’
‘No’, Lokesh gave a blunt reply and put the ball back in Armando’s court.
Armando was aware of the fact that he had to frame his line of questioning in order to extract maximum information out of Lokesh, before he shuts him off.
‘When was the last time you were here?’ Armando kept on the pressure,
‘Last year, during the fall’ Lokesh responded without hesitation.
‘Are you sure about that?’ Armando locked his eyes onto Lokesh.
Lokesh tried to put forward his best poker face which had earlier won him thousands of dollars in the various casinos of Atlantic city…Armando was impressed and also intrigued to know why Lokesh was trying to keep his latest trip a secret.
‘So, what if I tell you that you visited Lake George last month and stayed in the Grand Sycamore…was that to plan something out?’
Armando leaned a bit towards Lokesh…whose face was now turning white with stress. He stumbled with his response…not knowing how to start…and how to end.
Armando was waiting for Lokesh to speak, whose face had gone white for a few seconds when Armando had revealed all the information, about Lokesh’s last visit to the Sycamore.
‘I knew you will be able to dig that out’
‘Why didn’t you mention that before?’
‘You never asked’
It was true. Armando knew that Tanisha’s murder investigation had not been accorded the kind of attention it deserved. The escaped fugitives had snatched away focus and resources from this case. Tanisha was dead…the fugitives were alive and dangerous…they were given higher priority.
‘Well…I ask you now…what were you doing here?’
‘I came here for discussing a job offer’
‘Don’t kid with me…I warn you…not in the mood right now’
‘I am not kidding with you detective. Do you know whom I work for? It’s one of the largest financial institutions in the world…I design algorithms which make millions of dollars in the stock market within the space of nanoseconds…that kind of talent attracts other players in the game’
‘Hmm…so why can’t they talk to you in New York itself’
‘It’s all about the risk…if my firm realize that I am looking out and someone is avidly interested…they generally become vengeful and can stop bonuses and other perks…to avoid such situation, I came here and had a few meetings…if you want, I can give you the contact details and you can cross check’
‘Please do’ Armando’s disappointment was apparent. He came in thinking he had nailed his suspect. All he ended up was a few phone numbers and the names to whom they belonged.
While walking back to his squad car Armando took a glance at the spot where Tanisha was supposedly attacked and murdered. It had been three eventful days since that incident. He had got leads which ended up in dead ends. What was missing in his investigation? Had all the probable suspects been vetted extensively. Armando needed some clarity of thought and he decided the best way to attain it would be to go to a strip club…where at least for a few hours his brain would have something else to focus on. ‘Pink Sandals’ club was right on the way back to town…and he turned his car into the parking lot.
There were not too many people inside. It was early in the evening and as darkness falls the seats shall get filled up. There was only one dancer who was also going through the motions as none of the customers was drunk enough to splurge their cash on her. Armando took a chair close to the bar, in the darkest corner. He ordered a beer and tried to focus his attention on the dancer who had a slight resemblance to one of favorites…Sandra Bullock. The beer arrived and he gulped it down along with some munchies. Half an hour and three beers later, Armando was feeling relaxed and slightly buzzed. He wanted to stay in that state of mind and body for a long duration…no stressful thoughts…no phones…he switched off his phone. There were some more dancers on the floor and one of them was really working the pole. All of a sudden, there was a scream from the booth behind him and a loud thud of someone falling down. Armando was in no mood to go around flashing his badge to calm things down, but the fact that a female was being assaulted made him ignore his lethargy and check on what was going on. He pulled the curtains to find a semi-naked petite blond dancer lying on the floor, a drop of blood trickling from the right corner of her lips. There was no one else in the cabin and Armando notices the cabin had another exit which was very well concealed. Armando pulled up the girl.
‘Yeah’ she responded weakly.
‘He went out of that door?’
‘Yeah…can you kick that bastard in the gut, for me, once you catch him’
‘I am not supposed to…but I will see what i can manage…what was he wearing?’
‘Blue hoodie with something written across in yellow, white guy with black hair…that’s all I could notice’
‘That should be enough for now’ Armando rushed after the assaulter.
The door opened into a dimly lit narrow hallway. Looks like it was a fire exit and the bar-owner not wanting to let all that space to go to waste, had built an extra cabin around it. Armando rushed through the hallway towards the door with a red EXIT sign gleaming over it. He came out on the street and looked around. There was a hooded figure walking away towards the intersection, about thirty feet ahead of him.
‘Hey, Stop’ he shouted.
The hooded figure turned around for a second, saw Armando standing by the door and decided to make a run for the crowded intersection.
Armando cursed under his breath and started running.
‘Stop him’ he screamed at the bunch of party-goers standing at the intersection. Before they could react, the hooded man suddenly changed direction and ran across the street, towards the old warehouse. A dark and deserted warehouse seemed like a better hiding place. By this time Armando had requested for back-up.
‘That kid is fast’ Armando thought, as he saw him running around the corner and disappearing. Armando came to the intersection…his subject was nowhere to be seen. There was an opening in the wall of the warehouse,he peeked through it. The area was covered in darkness and silence…both of which were wiped away as a muscled up engine came to life. Armando stepped in through the hole to see a low slung performance automobile’s head lights brighten up the parking lot. The driver trying to be a show-off, then burnt the rubber off his rear wheels, did a doughnut and then sped out of the parking lot. Most probably, the hooded assailant had assumed that he was being chased by one of the bouncers and not a cop.
‘Dispatch, this is Armando, put me through to all units’
‘Go ahead Detective’, operator had connected Armando through to all the patrol units in Lake George village.
‘All units, there is a Ford Mustang muscle car going south on Franklin street, black or blue in color, no tail-lights…driver allegedly assaulted a female…could be armed…proceed with caution’
Armando turned his walkie-talkie to ‘Receive’ mode and waited for the response.
‘This is unit 247, I see him, flashers on…going east on Cedar Ave…he is speeding away…requesting back up…i am going after him’
One by one all units in the area chimed in and joined the chase. Armando himself was back in his Dodge and speeding down the narrow streets with sirens blaring and lights flashing.
Deputy Sheridan was having a quiet coffee in his squad car. He was parked right outside the Dunkin Donuts outlet, waiting for his shift to end. When Armando’s message came through on the radio, he silently prayed for the subject, not to come his way. As he took the last sip of the coffee, the Black Mustang appeared in his rear view mirror…no sooner, his speed-gun beeped…85 miles per hour in a 45 mile zone. He threw away his cup and responded with the call-sign of Unit 247 as he began the chase.
His squad car was a Dodge Charger, engine souped up to close to 350 BHPs to allow for quick acceleration for catching up with dare-devil criminals like the one ahead of him. He turned on his flashers and siren. The road ahead was clear. It was just him and the Mustang, who showed no signs of slowing down.
‘He is good’ Sheridan thought, as the Mustang negotiated a tight curve without losing too much speed.
Then came a straight stretch of asphalt…and he noticed a few blue sparks coming out of the twin exhaust pipes.
‘Nitro…Damn…sneaky bastard’ Sheridan pressed down hard on his gas-pedal…the needle swept across the speedometer dial and settled close to 150 miles per hour. But the Mustang was way more powerful and the gap kept on increasing.
‘This is unit 247..chasing the Mustang…this guy has Nitro…we need to set road-blocks…any units on Dorset st…please respond’
Sheridan waited for anyone to respond. It appeared that there was no support for next 4-5 miles and he shouldn’t lose sight of the fugitive under any circumstance. He was also a little excited as high-speed chases was not something that happened very frequently in the sleepy town of Lake George.
In the meanwhile, Armando had called up the DMV office head, who had very reluctantly agreed to look up the registration details of all Ford Mustangs which had undergone engine capacity change. All hot-rod and muscle cars had to report any such activity for appropriate amount of registration tax. The DMV guy found a match and reported back a name and an address. Armando decided to check the address first. He had heard Deputy Sheridan’s messages and was not very optimistic about the assailant’s capture.
Armando stopped a block before the location and waited. He didn’t want to be part of another chase. Within a few minutes the Mustang appeared on the other corner…sped through the street. Armando could here a garage door opening and saw the car turn into the driveway and disappear into the garage.
‘This is Det. Armando. I have the location of the subject. Need back-up at Beaverton Street. Block both ends of the street…I am going to make a house call’
Armando started walking towards the house which was a typical suburban family nest. He saw Deputy Sheridan quietly appear at the intersection and block it. Armando pressed the bell. After about ten seconds, the door opened…it was Alex, the bartender from Sycamore…who loved powerful cars…and apparently owned a good one himself. As there eyes met, both men betrayed their shock at seeing each other across the screen door. Alex was first to speak
‘Detective Armando…how can I help you today?’
Armando pieced together a few things in his head. He didn’t want to rush to judgement and conclusions like he had done with his other prime suspects in the murder case.
‘I just thought of dropping by…heard you had a really sweet ride…a muscle car…can I get a look’
‘Oh…I wish I could…but it’s broken down and in my friend’s garage’
Armando admired the manner in which Alex lied to him…he was sure that Alex would cheat even the most advanced Lie-detector.
‘Never mind, maybe next time…you take care’
Armando walked back to his car and asked his units to fall back but stay close and keep an eye out. He hoped that Alex hadn’t got spooked out by his visit.
Armando came back to the HQ and started piecing together the facts. Alex was a Sycamore employee…he would be aware of where the cameras were…which ones were working…which ones not…any hidden pathways. The Sycamore was constructed as a castle just after the civil war ended. It may have a few secret entry and exit points, which the employees may be aware of.
‘Maybe, that is why we couldn’t find anything in the CCTV footage’
Armando was trying to connect all the dots and he was making good progress. He decided to try out the National Criminal Database and try to find a match for Alex. The initial statements file had a picture of each of the probable suspects and witnesses. He scanned Alex’s photo and requested for a match. The screen in front of him started running through scores of images…images on which one or more features on Alex’s face matched…but not all.
Randy was standing behind Armando. He had been watching Armando over the last few minutes, feverishly go through the files. Randy didn’t have to guess what Armando was up to.
‘Another lead in the murder?’
‘Sort of…I want to kick myself for not pursuing this earlier…now it seems so obvious…an insider’
Right at that moment, the screen on Armando’s computer froze. It had a positive match. The image was same…with a different name though.
‘Roberto Gomez…spent three years in San Diego Correctional Facility…for assault and rape charges…got out last year and looks like came here to stay as far away from his past as he could’
Armando couldn’t believe his eyes.
‘Chief, You look like you just had the best orgasm of your life’ Randy said in a matter-of-fact manner.
‘Well, slap my ass and call me Sally’ Armando was happy as a punch. It appeared that he had hit the Bull’s eye..this time around.
‘This Gomez fellow has got Mexico Drug cartel connections…that’s how a bar-tender manages to maintain a hobby of muscle cars and owns a sub-urban house in a resort town…we got to be quick and careful’
Armando called the State prosecutor’s office. It was late evening and everyone but the Chief prosecutor had left…and the chief was Armando’s golf-mate. A warrant was issued for remand of two days and house search.
As Roberto’s cartel connections were revealed in the file, Armando decided to do things quietly. Three police cars went out…packed with deputies and officers…with body-armor and lots of high caliber hardware. Armando turned his car into Roberto AKA Alex’s driveway, totally blocking his escape route.
Alex was enjoying a football game while having a not-that-cold beer. ‘Maybe the refrigerator needs some fixing’ he thought. The security system had been armed, right after Armando had dropped in and enquired about his beautiful Mustang. Alex hadn’t realized that it was not one of the bouncers, but Armando who had followed him around the strip club. The cop-car which followed him for a brief period was doing so because Alex was speeding…he had assumed. Suddenly, the security system let out a warning about possible intruders…triggered by Armando’s car moving into Alex’s driveway.
Alex came up to the window and saw the cop-cars through the one-way glass. Alex didn’t assume anything. His best guess was that maybe he had hurt that blonde hair bitch, more gravely than he thought he did. But now the cops were here…and if they take him in and did match, they will definitely know who he was…or maybe they already knew. He didn’t panic and went into the bedroom. In the bed-stand, there was a black Beretta 9mm and an additional magazine. He didn’t bother to turn of the lights or the TV. As he moved down into the Garage, he heard the first ring of the bell. Alex moved a lever on the wall and the fake wall of the garage, started to slide open, rather quietly. But his next action would betray Alex’s motives. The 550 horsepower engine was designed with the license to growl and roar…and it did so, when Alex pushed the ignition button. As he eased on the gas pedal for a second, Alex could hear the feverish frequency of call-bell ringing.
Armando heard the powerful automobile come to life. With no time to waste, he signaled the deputy hold the battering ram to come forward and destroy the door. They all ran towards the source of the loud sound…echoing in the garage…all they could catch was the silhouette of a low-slung Mustang…barging through a wooden fence…barely missing a mini-van, twisting…swerving…gaining control and speeding into the street.
‘Where the heck is the goddamn chopper?’ Armando shouted in his radio.
‘We are right above…we see him…heading north on SH-17’
Sheriff Feldmann sounded excited…he had managed to get the chopper in the air…as both he and Armando knew that executing this warrant won’t be as easy as it normally is. The kid had cartel connections…won’t give up that easy. But for now, Armando had eyes in the sky. Feldmann ordered the powerful searchlight on the chopper to be focused on the suspect.
Armando and rest of the crew with sirens blaring and flashers flashing was following the finger of light beamed down from the chopper. Alex, in spur of the moment had decided to take the northerly route on state highway 17, to get into the mountains. But was regretting the decision now as the meandering highway which cut across the mountainside and had some very tight curves which required him to slow down. Alex was not able to utilize to the hilt, the powerful capabilities of his state-of-art machine.
Armando was also trying hard to catch up with Alex. He knew the tree cover will grow denser and if Alex decides to ditch the car and run for cover, it won’t be easy to find him. Armando could make out from the chopper’s searchlight beam, that the suspect was right beyond the next curve. He gunned the Powerful police cruiser…the Charger’s suspension and tires screamed out their disapproval for the speed at which Armando negotiated the curve. Now, the Mustang was in sight for the moment, as another tight curve beckoned in the distance. Beyond the curve was a close to hundred feet free-fall into the dark and cold waters of the lake.
Alex could see Armando’s flashing lights in his rear-view mirror. He took out the Beretta and with his right hand wrapped around his chest, fired two shots at Armando…both missed the target. Frustrated, he took the gun in his left hand and started shooting at the chopper which had his car in the spot-light for too long now. He had fired three wayward shots when his eyes found their focus back on the road…not much of which remained ahead. It was a very tight turn to the right…nearly impossible to make with just one hand on the steering wheel…albeit the wrong one. Alex pressed hard on his brake pedal..then pulled up the hand-brake…while turning his steering clockwise. Even a high performance machine has it’s limits…limits of stress it can take…limits of punishments it can endure before a failure. Alex had pushed his vehicle beyond all those limits…the suspension creaked…the tires screeched and skidded across the asphalt…forced against their will…by the immense side-ways momentum. The Mustang smashed against the guard-rail which tried its best, but gave-up eventually.
Alex could feel the moment of weightlessness…being airborne…then, hitting the water, front bumper first…almost like an arrow. The car disappeared beneath the dark waters…then, got slowed down by the viscous friction and started sinking. Alex had been thrown around violently in his seat. He had gained some composure by now as water was filling inside the car. He knew that car door won’t open till the inside was also full of water. He took a few deep breaths as water neared his chin and opened the door. A large bubble of remaining air escaped before he could make his move…he never wore seat-belts and that came in handy today. Alex guessed that he must be at least thirty feet below the surface…he could see the faint image of the car going further deep into the lake. Alex was not a good swimmer…and a poor diver at that…but this was life-death situation. All the adrenalin in his blood brought his focus together in this highly disorienting situation. It was dark…underwater…for a few milliseconds he couldn’t figure out, which was was up. Then, his survival instinct kicked in and he started to float up. Alex was not sure how far he was from the surface, when his lungs started to give up. He forced himself, but it seemed that the lungs had enough…last ounces of air came out of his nostrils and water rushed in to take its place. Alex felt like someone had pinch-closed his nostrils…he started beating against the water in a last ditch effort…and it all fell silent.
Armando who was close behind the Mustang, saw it skid, smash through the guard-rail and disappear in to the gaping darkness. Not at all willing to meet a similar fate, he pressed hard against the brakes. Police cruisers are designed for both fast acceleration and De-acceleration. His Dodge Charger twisted, swerved, danced and finally stopped just a few feet from the gaping hole which had just eaten up a beautiful Ford Mustang. All the occupants came out and looked down at the spot where the chopper’s spot light was at. There was nothing to be seen…just a few circular waves emanating from the spot where the Mustang went in.
‘Do you think he would have survived that?’
Randy was first one to speak.
‘We will find out soon’ Armando said and ordered for divers and patrol boats into the part of lake, they were in.
‘Look, something came up’
Randy pointed to the center of the spot-light…it was the dead body of Roberto Gomez AKA Alex.
‘I know you didn’t want this to end this way’ Randy teased Armando.
‘Well, sometimes God decides to take matters into his own hand and deliver justice’ Armando tried to sound philosophical, but his voice betrayed the disappointment he felt for not arresting this criminal and take him punish him thoroughly for his deeds.
The patrol boats had picked up the body and took it back to the docks. Armando and crew had also driven back to town.
Armando reached the docks while dead-body of Roberto AKA Alex was being put into the body-bag. Armando could notice a wry smile on the dead man’s face.
‘Maybe he was just happy that he died while doing something he loved so much…driving his Mustang…or maybe he was happy that he could at least avoid the arrest…’ Armando thought.
‘Hold on…let me check something to connect the final dot in this puzzle’
Armando bent down and checked Roberto’s shoe size. It said ’11’…too big for a man his size…as was the body bag.
Armando reconstructed the crime scene of Tanisha’s murder in front of the state prosecutor and Lokesh,
‘The victim was having a quiet stroll outside…the suspect may have come out for a break from one of the hidden exits in the bar-room…no cameras there to record any activity. He would have seen a young female…alone…this may have triggered the wild urge inside Roberto’s twisted brain to force himself on the victim…who appears to have resisted viciously…which might have enraged our suspect and a fit of rage, he killed the victim in cold blood. Then, he tried to hide the evidence by tying the body with a heavy rock and throwing it in one of the deepest parts of the lake…unfortunately for him, he did a lousy job of tying the chain around the victim…which came loose and her body floated back to the surface…the print of the shoe found under water, also matches a pair of boots at suspect’s home. So, it’s pretty much settled now…we have our murderer whom unfortunately we can’t prosecute…so we can close the case now’
Lokesh thanked Armando ‘I wish I could see him handed a punishment by a Jury, but I will take this too without any qualms…thank you so much for your work detective…if you want some tips on investing…feel free to call’
‘Sure…will do’ Said Armando and came out to bid good-bye to Lokesh who got into the driving seat of his Jeep. On the passenger seat, there was an urn filled with Tanisha’s ashes. Lokesh looked at the urn for a few seconds, then caressed it a few times while his lips gently curved into a smile.
Then, he pressed his size ’11’ boots on the gas pedal and put on the fog lights…the fog had arrived on the lake…again…right in time to obscure everything…every truth and every lie.