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The Deliveryman

Jeffery Deaver

  The Deliveryman

  A Lincoln Rhyme Short Story

  Jeffery Deaver

  New York Boston

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  Table of Contents

  A Preview of The Steel Kiss


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  Thursday, 8:30 p.m.

  What's the story, Sachs? How was the scene? Complicated? Difficult? Impossible?"

  Lincoln Rhyme turned his motorized wheelchair from his computer, where he'd been reading an email, toward the arched doorway of his parlor.

  Amelia Sachs was walking into his parlor-cum-laboratory on Central Park West. She deposited on a nearby evidence table the large gray milk crate she was lugging, then pulled off her black 511 tactical jacket. She was clothed in blue jeans and a T-shirt--off-white today--that were typical of what she wore beneath the Tyvek overalls when she walked the grid at a crime scene. Her pretty face, her former fashion model face, eased into a smile. "The scene? Challenging, let's say. You're in a good mood."

  "He is. It's pretty disorienting." This came from Rhyme's aide just entering the room behind Sachs. Thom Reston, a slim young man, was impeccably dressed in dark gray Italian slacks and a solid taupe shirt. Rhyme was a quadriplegic--his spine damaged at the C4 level--and largely paralyzed from the neck down. Accordingly, and not surprisingly, he was given to swings of temperament that could be quite dramatic. (Of course, even before the accident that rendered him disabled, as head of the NYPD crime scene operation, he'd been dour to insufferable quite often, he'd been fast to admit.) Thom was in a good position to voice an opinion on the matter; after years of caregiving, he knew his charge's emotional gravity quite well, the way one half of a long-married couple knows the other's by instinct.

  "My moods are hardly relevant. Why would they be?" His eyes were on the crate--containing evidence from the complicated, difficult and, if not impossible, then challenging homicide scene Sachs had just run in Manhattan.

  Sachs seemed amused by the half-hearted denial. She asked, "The Baxter case?"

  "If I were in a good mood--though again, irrelevant--that might be a source."

  The Baxter prosecution had been a particularly tough one, unique for Rhyme; he could not recall handling another purely white collar criminal case in his years as an NYPD detective or, more recently, a forensic consultant. Baxter, an Upper Eastsider/Long Islander, had been charged with scamming millions from other Upper Eastsider/Long Islanders (true, the vics came from all over the New York metro area but were all of the same pedigree). Most could probably afford to lose the money but, wherever your socialist or income inequality sympathies lay, one cannot take what belongs to others. The former stockbroker and bond trader devised exceedingly clever financial scams that had hummed away, undetected, for several years. An assistant DA had discovered the schemes, though, and she'd asked Rhyme to assist on the evidentiary side of the case. He'd had to bring all his forensic skills to the game to identify cash trails, drop sites, remote locations from which pay phone and other landline calls were made, meetings in restaurants and bars and state parks, physical presence on private jets, relevant documents and objets d'art purchased with stolen cash.

  Rhyme had managed to pull together enough evidence for a conviction on wire fraud and larceny and other financial offenses but, not content with those crimes alone, he kept digging...and found that Baxter was more of a threat than it seemed at first glance. Rhyme had found evidence that he'd participated in at least one shooting and discovered an illegal pistol hidden in a self-storage unit. The detectives and DA couldn't find any physical victims; it was speculated that he'd simply intimidated some poor mark with a well-placed .45 shot or two. The absence of a bullet-riddled victim, though, was irrelevant; possessing a handgun without proper license was a serious felony. The DA added the charge and, just today, the jury returned a guilty-on-all-counts verdict.

  Lincoln Rhyme lived for the--okay--challenge of forensic work and once his contribution to a case was finished, he grew uninterested. Today, however, the ADA had just sent Rhyme an email in which she reported the verdict while adding a footnote: One of the victims scammed by Baxter out of her nest egg had tearfully thanked the prosecutor and "anyone else who helped in the trial." The guilty verdict meant she would have a much easier path in suing Baxter to recoup some of the stolen funds. She'd be able to send her grandchildren to college, after all.

  Rhyme regarded sentiment as perhaps the least useful of emotions, yet he was pleased at his contribution to People v. Baxter. Hence the, yes, good mood.

  But Baxter was going into the system, Rhyme's role was over and so: Time to get back to work. He inquired once more about the homicide scene Sachs had just run in Manhattan.

  She responded, "Victim was thirty-eight-year-old Eduardo 'Echi' Rinaldo, worked as a deliveryman. Had his own company, legit. But he also did a little street dealing--grass and coke mostly--and transported whatever the crews needed moved, which was a little less than legit: stolen merch, drugs, even undocumenteds."


  "That's right. Well, live ones." She shrugged. "He was freelance, worked for anybody who paid, but mostly the Latino crews. GT had next to nothing on him."

  The Organized Crime Division's Gang Taskforce, operating out of NYPD headquarters at One Police Plaza, was unequaled in tracking crews in the metro area. If GT didn't have info on the late Echi he was insignificant indeed.

  "So gangs've taken to outsourcing," he mused.

  "Why pay benefits and retirement plans, you can avoid it?" She smiled and continued, "He was slashed to death in an alley and I mean slashed. Don't have the weapon but I'd say serrated blade. Jugular, wrists. He tried to crawl to the street but didn't get very far. Bled out, ME says, in two, three minutes."

  The perp must've known what he was doing. The vast majority of stab wounds are superficial, and quick death from a sharpened edge requires attention to important veins and arteries.

  Rhyme's eyes had turned to the milk crate she'd brought in. "That's all you collected?"

  The doorbell sounded and Thom went to answer it. Rhyme noticed Sachs give a faint--and, it seemed to him, wry--laugh.

  He saw why a moment later. Two ECTs walked into the lab wheeling hand trucks on which were bungeed a dozen milk crates similar to the one Sachs had just carried in by herself. Each crate was filled to overflowing.

  "Ask and ye shall receive," Sachs said.

  "That's from one scene?" Rhyme asked.

  "You wanted impossible."

  "Not that impossible."

  She'd collected, by his count, perhaps five hundred items of evidence from the Rinaldo killing. As every criminalist knew, too much evidence was as troublesome as not enough.

  She said, "We've got cigarette butts, roach clips, food wrappers, coffee cups, a kid's toy, beer cans, broken bottles, condoms, scraps of paper, receipts. It was one messy alley."


  Sachs greeted the evidence collection techs--both women, Latina and Anglo--and directed them to place what they'd brought on examination tables. The darker-skinned woman cast a worshipful gaze toward Rhyme. Not many evidence collection techs--entry level at CSU--got a glimpse of the legendary criminalist.

  Rhyme gave a neutral tip of the head; he had as little need for reverence as he did
for sentiment, probably less.

  Sachs, however, thanked them and referred to some social get-together with one or both or someone else that was in the works and they left.

  Her phone hummed and she took a call, stepped aside to speak for a moment. Her face was grim. Rhyme deduced, though he wasn't certain, that the call was personal. Her mother had been having serious health issues lately--cardiac surgery loomed--and Sachs, both his professional and romantic partner, had been preoccupied with the woman's condition lately.

  She disconnected. He glanced at her and received a noncommittal shake of the head in response. Meaning: Later. Now, the case. Let's move on.

  He said to her, "Rinaldo? The details?"

  "He was driving a panel truck, a sixteen footer. Six p.m. he parked outside a bodega on West Three-one, for cigarettes. When he came out there was some altercation. Not sure what, exactly. Argument. Shouting. The witness couldn't hear the words."

  "Witness." This didn't encourage Rhyme much. He believed in the cold science of evidence and deeply distrusted accounts of those present at a crime, whether participants or observers.

  "His son. Eight years old. He was in the truck, waiting."

  "So he saw it happen." Rhyme could reluctantly accept that an eyewitness to the actual incident might make some contributions to investigators--if they remained suitably skeptical.

  But Sachs said, "No. The killing happened in the back of an alley beside the store. The boy never got out of the cab of the truck. He says he saw a form--a man, he thinks, in a hat, but no other ID--run from the alley into the street, behind the truck. He flagged a cab. The boy said it was a regular car that pulled over. So, a gypsy."

  "Any leads?"

  "Not so far. Some detectives're canvassing but I don't hope for much more."

  Gypsy, or unlicensed, taxi companies kept few records and the owners and drivers were reluctant to assist the police, since they operated just below the surface of the law. "But the boy--his name is Javier--thinks he heard the perp tell the driver 'the Village.' He didn't hear anything else. Then the car took off."

  Greenwich Village embraced many blocks and hundreds of acres. Without more to narrow down his destination, the killer might have said "Connecticut." Or "New England."

  "Funny, though," Sachs said, "with Rinaldo's job--deliveryman for the crews? What was the perp's connection with the Village?"

  The colorful and quirky neighborhood was not--had never been--known for gang activity. Although the Village had been settled largely by Italian immigrants, the organized crime families did not live or work there; they were centered in Little Italy--south of the East Village--and in Brooklyn and, to some extent, the Bronx. Today the only "underworld" crew living on Bleecker and Greenwich and West Fourth worked on Wall Street and represented too-big-to-fail-whatever-nonsense-we-get-up-to banks and brokerage houses.

  Rhyme glanced at the evidence bags and jars Sachs had collected. The items inside might possibly tell them something about where exactly in the Village they had gone--if in fact he had a professional or personal connection with the place and wasn't just after a trendy meal or mixologist's signature cocktail; even murderers read the Wednesday food section of the New York Times.

  "Not a hijacking or robbery?"

  "No. The padlock on the back of the truck was intact, and the key was still in Rinaldo's pocket. And his wallet and cash--a few hundred--weren't touched. If he had anything else with him, why would the perp take that and leave the money?"

  "Anything inside the truck?"

  "No, empty. And there was no manifest or delivery schedule. Whatever he was supposed to deliver that day got delivered. The bodega clerk--who didn't see the perp, he claims--says there was another witness, a woman across the street. But I couldn't find her. Canvassing for her too."

  "Where the hell is Mel Cooper?" Rhyme grumbled. He'd called the evidence technician to come in and assist in the analysis. That had been a half hour ago and though Cooper had said it would take him sixty minutes or so to arrive Rhyme's impatience was swelling.

  Sachs didn't bother to respond. She pinned her hair up and stuffed it under a surgical bonnet. Then she pulled on latex gloves, goggles and face mask. She ordered the evidence according to, Rhyme instructed, the location where it had been collected at the scene.

  My, there was a lot of it.

  As she sorted the items she said, "Javier. He was pretty upset."


  "The son, Rinaldo's son."

  "Sure. Guess he would be." Rhyme asked absently, "He's with his mother?"

  "No mother." She may have smiled--he couldn't tell with the mask--as she added, "I asked him if he had a mother. He said, 'Everybody's got a mother.' Then he said she'd left years ago. I got him to Child and Family Services for tonight. Tomorrow he'll go into emergency foster care. I said I'd take him."


  "Because I wanted to. There's an aunt somewhere he hasn't seen in years but he remembers her and liked her. CFS is looking. But no hurry. I don't want him with relatives until we find out more about what dad was up to and who took him out. And the perp himself might think he was more of a witness than he was."

  She stood back, beside Rhyme, and, with hands on her slim hips, regarded the evidence.

  "My sense is it was just random. Not a professional hit."

  Rhyme supposed he agreed. But he wasn't much interested in the line of inquiry that sought to answer why someone was killed. The motive underlying a crime was far less important to him than the physical consequences produced by it. That is, the evidence.

  Which he wheeled forward to examine now.


  Friday, 9 a.m.

  The delivery had been shipped without problem. It had avoided detection by Customs, Immigration, Border Patrol, Coast Guard, FBI, Interstate Commerce Commission weigh stations...even state police, and local speed trap cops.

  It had arrived in the borough of Manhattan.

  But then...

  The glitch.

  And a major one it was.

  The delivery was missing. The delivery he had spent $487,000 for (currency exchange issues, otherwise the purchase price would have been an even half million).

  This cool spring morning Miguel Angel Morales sat in his brownstone, on East 127th Street. He owned the whole building--and those on either side as well, as much for security as for rental income. Well, more for security; a wealthy man, he was more worried about losing his life, or those of his wife and sons, than his money. Morales ran the 128 Lords, a nondenominational crew numbering about fifty strong in Spanish Harlem. It was a blend of Mexican (the majority), Honduran and Guatemalan, some papered, some not. Whites too. They could be helpful--for instance, if you didn't want your man stop-and-frisked while out on a job, even though the cops weren't doing that any more, absolutely not. Civil liberties rule. Hilarious thought.

  Anglos were as far as Morales's open arms extended, however, and Jamaicans, Cubans, Colombians, blacks, Chinese, Vietnamese could apply elsewhere.

  The handsome man, compact and strong, sat by the window and looked out over the dark street, sipping coffee (Cubano--he was happy to embrace the food and culture from what he believed to be an overly self-important island, if not the people themselves). The brew, sticky and sweet, tickling the intersection of upper and lower jaw, normally brought him comfort. Now it did nothing.

  His buy money was gone. And his deliveryman had not delivered. He waited at the agreed meeting place, no show. He'd called the man's burner five times--the maximum he allowed--and when there was no answer, he threw his Nokia out and left the restaurant fast. Just because you didn't buy a phone with a credit card didn't mean it was untraceable. At forty-five, Morales was not as tech savvy as some in his crew--or even his ten-year-old twins--but he was well aware of pings and cellular towers.

  "Miguel Angel?" His wife of eighteen years stepped into the doorway of his study.

  The room, dark and quiet, was Morales's and his only. He ran his cr
ew from a social club a block north. This was his private place. And although she was helpful in running his crew and a powerful, and dangerous, woman in her own right, she waited until he gestured her in. Which he now did.

  Connie was more Anglo than he, by blood, and had a light complexion and brown hair (his was jet black, though some of the shade came from a bottle). She had a voluptuous figure, which never failed to appeal even after all these years of marriage. Now, though, he merely took in her concerned face and turned back to the window.

  "Still nothing?" she asked.

  She knew of the problem.

  "No word." A nod, indicating the whole of the New York City area. "It's out there somewhere. But it might as well be on Mars."

  "You need something?"

  He shook his head. She returned to the kitchen. She was baking--a process that was a mystery to Miguel Angel Morales. He'd never cooked a single thing in his life. Oh, he appreciated the processes involved: chemistry and heat. But he employed them in a slightly different way: an acid attack on a rival last year and burning to death an interloper from the Bronx (he could still summon the unpleasant scent of burnt skin and hair).

  This morning his wife was baking coffee cakes. The smells were orange and cinnamon.

  Morales sipped coffee, then set down the tiny cup, painted with pictures of blank-faced birds. Chickens, he supposed. They were yellow, their beaks blood red.

  He was regarding the street before him--brownstones similar to his, women going to stores, returning from stores, boys playing soccer, even though this was a school day.

  His phone hummed. Today's burner, good for another ten or twelve hours.

  The caller was Morales's main lieutenant.

  "Yes?" Please let there be good news.

  Four hundred eighty-seven thousand dollars...

  "I just found out why our deliveryman didn't show. He's dead. Got knifed in Midtown."

  "What? Who did it?"

  "No idea. Never heard Rinaldo was at risk."

  "I didn't either. Wouldn't have used him if he had been."

  Echi Rinaldo worked freelance for a lot of crews. He had no territory of his own and no allegiance, except to ply his trade of getting "difficult shipments" (the term the wiry man used with some humor) into the hands of purchasers or borrowers. He never cheated anyone and kept his mouth shut.