Death by Pride
a Kyle Callahan Mystery
by Mark McNease
Killing wasn’t as much fun as it used to be. He expected to be a bit rusty after three years, but he had never anticipated this … dullness, this sense that, in the words of bluesman B.B. King, the thrill was gone. Maybe he had just been away from it too long; maybe he needed to get up to speed. The man whose body he deposited into the East River just before midnight was, after all, only the first in his current series. There would be two more before the week was out, and maybe the old rush would return with the next one. He had to trust it would, to believe as a child believes that Santa Claus is real and will come shimmying down the chimney every Christmas Eve. Or how Dorothy believed, clicking her slippers in that dreadful movie. That might be a more appropriate comparison, given the occasion. Click, click, click … and he was home.
He did not come all the way back to New York to resume his annual ritual for something as lackluster as this first kill. Had it been the young man himself whose death stirred so little response in him? What was his name? Victor? Victor Someone. Dense and inattentive; he had been too easy, and far too handsome. Cute, really. The kind of cute that becomes very sexual in manhood. Innocent smile, calculated shyness. Victor Someone knew exactly what he was doing flirting in the store that afternoon, and he had succeeded, much to his regret.
Unfortunately, Victor wasn’t nearly as enjoyable to kill as he was to look at. Too easy, too unchallenging. Like a cat who had no trouble capturing a wingless bird, he had not had fun with this one. He would have to analyze the experience, figure out why it had not been as satisfying as it was before, and what he might need to do to reignite his excitement. Did he need to be more brutal? Did he need to introduce tools into the game, a scalpel, perhaps, or a drill of some kind? He would think hard on it. A decision had to be made quickly; he’d already placed an online ad looking for the next one and the emails were flooding into his special account, the one no one would ever trace no matter how hard they tried. A phantom as elusive as he was deserved a phantom email routed through Chicago, then London and Tokyo, server after server erasing any clue to its origin.
Deidrich Kristof Keller III—D to everyone who knew him well (a thought that made him chuckle, since the only ones who truly knew him died with the knowledge) had only been back in his townhouse since March. His tenants, the ones he rented to when he left for Berlin to take care of his mother, had a lease through February and D had waited patiently for them to leave. A lovely young couple with two small children. He’d never met Susan and Oliver Storch—the rental had been arranged through an agent—but they had taken very good care of the place, he would give them that. And you would never know they had children; no stray toys were left behind, no evidence, really, that anyone had been there at all for the past three years. His kind of people.
He was so glad to be back. He’d hated Berlin, all of Germany for that matter, though he saw very little of it and had no desire to see more. For D being German was as meaningless as someone being Scottish who had never been to Scotland, spoke with no brogue, and was only tied to the land by name and ancestry. His parents were from Germany, but they had moved to Anaheim, California, before D was born. His mother, Marta, returned to Berlin a broken, bitter woman, but that was not his fault. She was a coward. Cowardess? he wondered, making a cup of tea at his kitchen counter. It was an island counter, surrounded by a stove and refrigerator large enough to impress and too large to be practical—there was almost nothing in the refrigerator, and he rarely cooked. The entire townhouse was furnished for show—the furniture, the artwork, the paintings and photographs of nonexistent family members and forebears. It had been carefully put together to deceive. Anyone who came into his home would think he was just another wealthy man in New York City with a long lineage, should one wonder where he came from. Men with paintings of their grandfathers above a fireplace surely belonged in Manhattan’s upper reaches and had unquestionable pedigree. That was the point, to be unquestioned. By the time anyone got around to questioning him, to wondering about his authenticity, it was too late. He answered their questions with a belt around their necks. The belt he kept especially for them. You’re right, good man, I’m not who I appear to be. Please keep that to yourself. And they did.
He was tired now. He’d worked out how to get the bodies out of his house unnoticed some years ago, but he was getting older, forty-two this coming September. It wasn’t as easy as it used to be. And this one had been heavier than he’d guessed when he chose him.
Note to self: never, ever, pick a customer from the store again. No matter how cute or handsome, no matter how liquid and shining the eyes or seductive the smile. Stay online, stay hidden behind a dozen re-routers, change names each time, do not take this risk ever again.
He’d been away too long, losing his edge in his mother’s dreary Berlin apartment, saving himself for his return to the killing ground. He’d have to sharpen quickly; mistakes were something other people made. He’d made one this time—the only time in all his successes—and he would not make another one.
He would look at Victor Someone’s driver’s license in the morning. Sense memory was a beautiful thing, and nothing brought it back quite like his keepsakes. The license was his souvenir—his thirteenth. Lucky thirteen. The rest of the wallet stayed with the body. He wasn’t interested in making identification difficult. It didn’t matter if the police knew who had been killed, only that they would never find the man who did the killing.
It had been dark when he parked by the river. The new moon had worked to his favor, a first. No one had been around; he made sure no one saw a man with a heavy, strangely shaped object wrapped in black plastic trudging his way to the river’s edge. Then a simple heave and splash, and he was on his way home.
Bedtime at last. But before then, for a few minutes anyway, he wanted to go through those emails. He’d requested photos, knowing many of them would be old and meant to trick him, and that was okay. He was less interested in finding a man who looked exactly like his picture than he was in finding a man who made him want to kill. It was like falling in love with an image: he never knew which one it would be, but knew it when it happened. This one. Oh yes. This one will be here soon.
He turned off the kitchen light, took his tea cup with the little chain from the tea ball hanging over the side, and headed to his large master bedroom on the second floor. His laptop was open and waiting for him. He would sift through a dozen or so email responses and see if any of them struck his fancy. But first, the pictures of Victor. Victor Someone. He would enjoy those before sleeping. He always took pictures.
*** Excerpt from Chapter Two
“Did you see Vinnie when you picked up the mail this morning?” Danny asked, stirring creamer into his coffee and taking it to the table. He sat next to Kyle and picked up the mail, flipping through it so see what was his. Leonard stayed in the kitchen, staring up at the coffee pot as if he could not understand there were no treats in it for him. Smelly, the wiser of the two, followed Danny to the table and perched at his feet, knowing he would eventually relent and get the pouch of fish-flavored nuggets for her.
“Come to think of it, no. The relief guy was on duty, what’s his name?”
“Dayton? That’s an unusual name.”
The building had doormen. It was a perk Kyle had never known before moving from Brooklyn into Danny’s apartment. It took a while to get used to, but not too long. Having someone open the door for you and receive packages and visitors was luxurious without being too elitist. Vinnie—Vincent Campagna—had the overnight shift and was among the most reliable doormen the building had ever had. He was in his mid-thirties, and in ten years on the door had not been off more than three or four times. This was the second night he’d called in.
“Is Vinnie sick?” Kyle asked, scanning the paper. The city’s new mayor was making changes, many of which were controversial and demanded above-the-fold coverage.
“No, it’s some family thing,” Danny said. “Something about his brother missing, I’m not sure. There’s not that much communication between tenants and the doormen, but I’ve heard things in the elevator.”
Kyle kept reading the paper. The mayor was pushing for some new legislation, the mayor was insisting on a vote his way by the City Council, the U.S. Congress was at a stalemate again. He flipped the paper over to see what news hadn’t made it to the top … and he froze. An article just below the fold was headlined, “Man Found in East River Identified, Police Searching for Clues.”
Kyle started reading the story.
“You know, I think Smelly’s finally losing weight,” Danny said, looking down at the cat. She had been pre-diabetic for several years, but every effort at trimming her down had failed. “Maybe it’s age.”
“Shh!” Kyle said, focused on the article
“What’s so interesting that you have to ‘shhh’ me?”
Kyle ignored him, reading. “What is Vinnie’s last name?” he said after a moment.
“Campagna. Vincent Campagna.”
“He has a brother.”
“A brother who’s also a doorman.”
“Yes. I think their father was, too. A family tradition I guess, like the military. What are you reading? Is Vinnie in the news?”
“No, he’s not,” Kyle said, sliding the paper to the side. “But his brother, Victor, is.”
“In a good way, I hope,” Danny said, reaching for the paper to read about it himself.
“Not at all. In a bad way. A very bad way.”
Danny read the article quickly. “Oh my God,” he said.
“Oh my God is right. Victor Campagna is the body they found in the river Tuesday morning. You saw the story.”
“It was everywhere. But nothing about it being an accident or a murder.”
“This is awful.”
Smelly began meowing, an escalation of her demands for a treat. Kyle swatted her away with his free hand.
“He’s back,” Kyle said.
Danny looked up at him. The article hadn’t named a suspect. “Who is ‘he’?”
“The Pride Killer.”
Danny remembered then. Every year for four years at Pride weekend the East River had become a depository for victims of a man—assuming it was a man—who remained uncaught. The media had dubbed him the Pride Killer, because the murders only happened that weekend in June, stopping once the festivities were over. Then radio silence. No killing, no bodies, nothing for another year, and another.
“Three years,” Kyle said, as if he’d read Danny’s thoughts. “He stopped three years ago and they couldn’t figure out why. Everyone hoped he was dead, or that he’d come to his senses, if madmen have senses.”
“But the paper doesn’t say who—”
“It’s him. The hands and feet bound, the strangulation, the location of the body. Even if it traveled in the current they’ll trace it back to the general vicinity of where this guy dumps his bodies.”
“Now we know why Vinnie hasn’t been to work,” Danny said. “He must be devastated.”
“It says the body was found two nights ago. Poor Vinnie. And his family, I can’t imagine.”
The men grew silent. Smelly, sensing something was wrong, stopped her meowing and slinked off into the living room. She would get what she wanted, but later, when moods had returned to normal. Leonard was still staring at the coffee pot.
Finally, Kyle said, “He won’t stop.”
“How do you know that, if it’s even him? He stopped for three years.”
“Because this was the first. There will be a second, and a third. That’s the way he works.”
Danny had a sinking feeling. If timing was everything, it worked against them very well. Detective Linda visiting, a body in the East River; the stars had aligned in a way most displeasing to him as he watched Kyle’s face for the telltale glazed expression, the speeding, clicking thoughts. He worried Kyle would not stay out of it, and that sooner or later something terrible would happen to them. They were married now, together forever. What happened to one of them, happened to both of them.
“Listen, Kyle …”
“Don’t worry. This is one for the police.”
Danny had the feeling he had just been lied to. Not deliberately; Kyle had every intention of staying out of it. But it was his nature to wonder—wonder who this man was taking the lives of other men, where he lived, how he found his victims. Danny knew that as much as Kyle might try to ignore this, it would take root in his mind and grow until he had to do something.
“What’s cooking?” Detective Linda said, startling them both. Neither had heard her come out of the bedroom.
A sense of dread came over Danny as he blew across his coffee, cooling it. He knew Linda and Kyle would soon be lost in conversation about serial killers and floating bodies. Why can’t his husband just be an amateur photographer and a personal assistant? Why must he take it upon himself to rid the world of bad people? Sooner or later one of those bad people might rid the world of Kyle.