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Joe shifted his substantial weight to his left foot, repeatedly stabbing at the up button. He had summoned the elevator fully two minutes ago from the ground floor of the Cambridge apartment building, but its descent to the lobby seemed to play out in slow motion, mocking his urgency. Exhaling audibly, he peered over his right shoulder where three bicycles leaned against the wall in a small alcove. To his left, stacks of free community newspapers lay scattered on a ledge next to take-out menus from neighborhood restaurants.

The tiled lobby was underlit and decidedly dated-—1960’s, maybe early 70’s, he thought, as he pivoted on his imported leather shoes to take in the full three-sixty. It was one of those buildings that, in its day, was probably regarded as upscale. Today, it would be considered rather generic, bordering on drab. A brass plaque at the entrance identified it as Goss Towers North and the entire building exuded a depressing ambience. The lobby bore distinct signs of neglect as Joe noticed a number of spent bulbs in the overhead fixtures that had been allowed to go unreplaced.

A single elevator shaft serviced the entire nine floors of this quiet college neighborhood building. On any normal day that would have been adequate for the grad students and faculty who called this place home. But the day had lost all pretense of normalcy when, at 10:45 in the evening, the third quarter of a televised basketball game was interrupted by the ringing of Joe’s cell phone.

“What’s wrong,” he barked. Joe had never been one for small talk, and often dispensed with pleasantries.

In his line of work, Joe was used to getting phone calls at all hours. Usually, he’d let callers leave their messages, and then listen to determine whether a situation was too important to wait until morning. Because the night shift was comprised of less experienced police officers, they often let their enthusiasm––or more likely, their uncertainty––override their respect for a superior’s off-duty time. Such was not the case this evening. He picked up as soon as he saw the caller I.D. Cassie was not prone to false alarms.

“Joe, you’re gonna want to be in on this one from the beginning,” asserted the strong female voice.

Although much younger than Joe, Cassie was highly educated and confident in her abilities. Joe had taken her under his formidable wing, imparting to her the benefits of lessons not found in any textbook, and seizing what might be his best chance for a lasting legacy. Attractive and ambiguously ethnic, she was well on her way to becoming, like Joe, a chronic workaholic. There was a time when Joe thought there existed the possibility for a relationship, but before the opportunity presented itself, the strong teacher-student bond had already been formed.

Now, alone in the dim lobby except for the Cambridge city police officer posted at the glass door through which he had entered, Joe pondered the cryptic phone conversation with Cassie that had lasted no more than a minute. Cassie had provided few details of what to expect upon arrival. It was the way Joe liked it—the way he insisted. He claimed it helped his objectivity and kept him “in the moment.” Too much thinking before one had all the facts wasn’t helpful. Drawing conclusions too quickly, he’d always say, is a sign of inexperience.

But tonight Cassie had been even less forthcoming than usual. And he had detected something uncharacteristic in her voice. Something he couldn’t quite discern. Something almost... smug.

It had taken Joe nearly twenty minutes to arrive at the address Cassie had given him. Time enough to hurriedly change clothes and make the short drive across the Charles River from his modest apartment in Boston’s Italian North End. Adequate time also to replay the phone conversation in his head. Joe prided himself on his keen sense of observation, and he had learned to trust his gut. Tonight, his gut was preparing him for something unusual. Indeed, the scene six flights above the stark lobby––the very reason for Joe’s presence––would eventually confirm his instinct.

Owing to his low center of gravity, Joe Antonelli was known in some circles as The Bull, though not to his face. His stocky frame would, indeed, be difficult to tip over were one foolish enough to attempt such an ill-conceived notion. His stature was well-suited to wrestling, an activity at which he had excelled years before at nearby Medford High School. He had made all-state his junior year, and could have conceivably pursued an athletic scholarship. But the call to law enforcement was a strong one and he knew this was where he belonged.

Joe was always well-dressed, even when called out after hours. The gray suit hugging his broad shoulders was clearly not an off-the-rack garment. Few were built to such bullish proportions. His shirt was still neatly pressed as if he had been sitting at home waiting for the call that would bring him to these bastions of higher learning in the shadows of Harvard University and MIT. Gold cuff links embossed with the official seal of the city of Cambridge––a gift on the occasion of his twenty-fifth year on the force––protruded just below his well-tailored cuffs. The crease of his trousers broke at precisely the right spot above his shoes. This was clearly a suit hand-tailored and fitted perfectly to the generous contours of The Bull.

His perpetually black hair belied Joe’s sixty-three years. Slicked straight back from an ample forehead, it became progressively wavier toward the back of his head, terminating in tiny flips just behind his ears. This was Joe’s thirty-seventh year on the force, and likely one of his last. A second-generation Italian-American, he had worked his way up through the ranks by shear grit. What he lacked in refinement and finesse, he made up for in determination.

The elevator signaled its arrival with a weak sounding bell.

“Christ sakes, it’s about time,” he muttered under his breath as he expectantly straightened his posture.

After a brief hesitation, then a shudder, the stainless steel doors slid open to reveal a young police officer.

“Evening, Lieutenant.”

“Evening.”

Joe stepped past the outstretched arm that held the door open, and squeezed into the cramped compartment. The button for the sixth floor had already been pushed, and after several seconds, the doors tentatively slid together and the compartment started up with a jerk. Both men faced straight ahead, eyes fixed on the panel above the doors, as the floor indicator ticked off their slow progress. The interior of the elevator was well worn and the plastic overhead panels cast a fluorescent pall that made even The Bull’s custom suit look cheap. The two ascended in silence. Joe’s attention was on what awaited him several floors above, and, sensing this, the officer refrained from small talk, respecting Joe’s need for the mental focus he would undoubtedly bring to bear on the situation.

Joe was an intense individual. There were those who mistook his gruff persona as a sign of insensitivity, but aside from being prone to occasional outbursts of impatience, his true nature was a very caring one. His keen awareness of social injustice was demonstrated by a summer sports program he had helped establish for underprivileged, inner-city children.

The light above the doors blinked “6” indicating that they had reached their destination, and a deep, metallic groan signalled that the compartment was preparing to disgorge its passengers. A moment later, Joe stepped out onto the stained carpet of a long hallway and was greeted immediately by an eager young subordinate.

”Sorry about the elevator, Lieutenant. The building superintendent says it’s temperamental in the cold weather. He’s bringing over the key to open up the freight elevator in case we want to use that instead. The coroner will need it to remove the body anyway.”

Joe held up his hand as a signal for the young officer to withhold any further information. His short strides repeated quickly, trying to make up for the time he had spent waiting on the ground floor.

“Sorry about calling you out after hours, Lieutenant, but...”

“Stop saying you’re sorry,” Joe interrupted. “It’s what we do.”

“Yes, Sir. But we knew you’d want to see this one yourself, what with your hobby and all.”

Everyone on the force knew Joe was a collector of sorts. Conservator, perhaps, would be a more accurate term. Years of investigating had given him a fascination, even an appreciation, for unusual crimes. Not that he condoned them, mind you. It was simply what interested him. Some people collect stamps. Joe collected crimes. He believed that, in the long run, understanding the criminal mind made him a better investigator. Bookshelves in his small living room sagged under the weight of dozens of volumes recounting some of the most bizarre crimes throughout history. Many were rare, antique volumes obtained on Joe’s many outings to used bookstores. It’s what he did on vacations. And, perhaps, why his marriage of only four years had ended decades before. On more than one occasion, he found that his research into past crimes had provided new insight into current investigations when predictable leads had been exhausted.

In a strange way, Joe regarded himself as being in the same business as the criminal element. They just played for opposing teams. Once in the late 90’s, the insight that provided the breakthrough in a particularly frustrating investigation came directly from the annals of a crime committed in the 1800’s.

“Human nature hasn’t changed much,” he’d say. “People have always tried to break the law and get away with it.”

Despite state-of-the-art forensics and technical advances that now made relatively easy work of what might previously have been considered “unsolvable,” Joe was not naive enough to think there was no such thing as the perfect crime. He was quite sure it happened all the time. The perfect crimes, he insisted, are the ones where no one ever knows a crime’s been committed. How many “accidental” deaths were well-planned? One could only wonder. It was this irrational obsession for discovering the elusive “perfect crime” that perpetuated his ever-expanding collection of such obscure accounts.

Nearing the end of the hallway, Joe approached two more police officers flanking a doorway through which he could see several of his colleagues milling about. From behind, he recognized one of them as Cassandra Navarro, the fellow Cambridge detective whose call had summoned him here. As he approached, she turned to him and walked toward the open door, holstering a cell phone on her way. A striking woman standing a good four inches taller than himself held out her hand and greeted him with a smirk.

“Hi Joe. This one’s a doozie.”

“What’ve we got?” Joe was anxious to get up to speed.

She turned to lead him through the living room, being careful to leave a wide berth for the crime team still working around a lifeless figure slumped toward one end of an upholstered sofa. Blood soaked black into the green cushions and Joe paused for an overview. The body was of a man in, perhaps, his early fifties, not well dressed, and, as Joe noted, somewhat overdue for a haircut. The man’s attire reminded Joe of the shabby lobby through which he had entered only minutes before. The man’s shoes were curled up slightly at the toes and had seldom seen polish. His corduroy sports jacket was worn smooth at the elbows and the profuse letting of blood had left much of the front of it slick and shiny. A close-cropped, but unkempt beard of salt and pepper coloring was awash with dark, inky blood, and the man’s pallor, now the colorless white of alabaster, was underscored by the stark contrast of the blood staining his throat.

The crime team was collecting evidence while carefully noting the position and placement of each piece. One investigator wearing rubber gloves was retrieving an apple that appeared to have rolled under the sofa. As Joe began a slow and deliberate walk around the room, he soon learned that it comprised most of the apartment. Joe’s interest was now everywhere but on the body. The apartment appeared to be typical of a middle-aged bachelor. The furniture was mismatched and stacks of papers in disarray covered most available surfaces—an affront to Joe’s obsessive need for precise order. A notebook and pen lay strewn on the floor near the body, where one of the sofa cushions had also haphazardly come to rest—indications of, at least, a mild struggle. Blood smeared the top of a portable cassette tape recorder lying on the coffee table. Being a similar type to the outdated model still used by Joe, instinct compelled him to look inside the machine which he noted was empty. Joe could also see by the indentations on the carpet that the coffee table in front of the sofa had been moved or knocked out of its original position. On a nearby side table Joe noticed a short stack of cassette tapes. He nudged them with the end of his pen in order to better read the hand-written labels.

“Well,” Cassie finally began as she turned to address her mentor. “The victim is Doctor Olek Janko. He teaches at Harvard—Psychology.”

“Olek?” Joe was not looking at Cassie, but still scanning the room for details to be mentally filed away and recalled later at will. He tipped his head through a doorway into the small bedroom where an unmade twin bed occupied nearly the entire space. A tiny adjoining bathroom showed obvious signs of blood in the sink as did a washcloth hanging on its rim. The two stopped at the far end of the living room where a wide doorway led to the small galley kitchen of the apartment.

“Yeah, he’s Romanian. Been here for about seven years,” she read from the notes she had penned on a palm-size pad.

“And?” Joe came to rest against the kitchen door frame, still surveying the scene as a camera flash lit up the room whose perimeter they had just navigated.

“And a suspect has been arrested and charged with the murder. He’s downtown now. His brother and his lawyer just turned him in to the police a couple hours ago. The brother saw the whole thing happen, and brother number one’s confessed to the killing. I just got off the phone with O’Malley at precinct two.”

“So, what’s the deal?” Joe’s eyebrows raised causing several rows of wrinkles to nearly reach his receding hairline. “Sounds like everything’s under control.”

“Well... the lawyer’s filing an emergency petition of Habeas Corpus so his client can be released.” Cassandra drew the words out slowly and deliberately for emphasis as she folded her arms across her chest and leaned against the kitchen counter opposite The Bull. “He’s insisting his client be released on the grounds that he’s innocent.”

“What the hell are you telling me, Cassie? I thought you just said he confessed. What lawyer would be stupid enough to...”

Cassie unfolded her arms, holding an upright palm toward Joe, who stopped mid-sentence.

“The lawyer is the attorney for brother number two—the eyewitness.”

“What?”

“Maybe you’d better sit down, Joe. I think you may want to add this one to your collection. It’s so bizarre I’m still trying to wrap my head around the situation myself.”

“And are you going to let me in on it? I left right in the middle of a Celtics game just so I could spend time in this God-forsaken place with you and a well-educated stiff.”

“Okay, okay,” replied Cassie, again holding up an open palm in Joe’s direction. “Here’s what we know so far. We’re just learning about this over the past hour or so. But the implications are... well, let’s just say it’s one for the books.”

“For Christ sake, Cass. Out with it,” barked Joe, declining her offer to sit.

“Okay.” Cassandra took a deep breath as she gathered her thoughts. “The coroner says the victim’s been dead six hours, maybe longer. Knife wounds to the neck and chest. The right hand’s also cut up pretty badly.” Cassie gestured toward the next room. “He probably tried to grab the knife. That’s the weapon on the coffee table in front of the sofa. It’s a kitchen knife. Matches the ones here in the rack.”

Joe had already noticed the empty slot in the knife rack on the counter. His lifelong obsession for neatness had given him the ability to scan a room and immediately notice anything out of place.

“We have a body, a murder weapon, an eyewitness, and a confession,” Cassie said, recapping her earlier points.

“Let’s see...” Joe feigned a condescending tone. “And you need me to help crack this thing, huh?”

“I haven’t told you the bizarre part yet,” asserted Cassie, enjoying the fact that, for at least another moment, she knew more than Joe did. “This guy and his brother? They’re very close.”

Joe’s irritation was getting more difficult to hide and he gestured impatiently with his hand as if to say, “And... ?”

“They’re conjoined.”

Conjoined?” This time the shock waves of wrinkles covered the full expanse of Joe’s forehead. He wasn’t really asking. He’d heard the word just fine. “You mean like Siamese twins conjoined? They’re attached?”

Cassie nodded, through another smirk. “They’re from Virginia. Gary and Maynard Vaughn. They’re the subject of a study over at Harvard. The super was here earlier and was able to provide us with some background info.”

Joe twirled the gold cuff link on his left sleeve without speaking.

“So this lawyer,” Cassie continued, looking Joe straight in the eye, “he represents the second brother, Maynard. Claims the first brother confessed to the killing alright, but his client, brother number two, is innocent. Apparently, the first brother became enraged at the good doctor here. Something about the study he was doing with them. That’s why they were here at the prof’s apartment—interviews, research on conjoined twins, that sort of thing. The lawyer claims his client tried to stop the whole thing, but by the time he realized what was happening, it was over.”

Joe blinked hard and shook his head. “How is that possible? I mean, they live side by side, don’t they?”

“I’m just telling you what they’re telling me, Joe. And this lawyer guy, he’s not even a criminal lawyer. Apparently the Vaughn brothers panicked and went to the first attorney they found. I guess this guy sees it as a high-profile case––a chance to make a name for himself. So now he’s claiming his innocent client can’t be held for something his brother did. Like I said, he’s already asked the court to facilitate his release since he’s not being charged with a crime.”

Joe stared directly into Cassie’s eyes, but still remained silent.

“O’Malley said the brother who confessed was somewhat belligerent down at the station and showed no remorse. But he was adamant he acted alone, and kept insisting his brother had nothing to do with the professor’s death. His brother kept telling him to keep quiet––’Shut up’ I believe were his exact words.”

“So what you’re saying is...” Joe studied the kitchen ceiling as though important information was somehow to be discovered there. “What you’re saying is that we have a confessed murderer, but we have an apparently innocent man attached to him.”

“We detain the guilty party, and we detain an innocent man along with him,” Cassie added, cocking her head toward Joe and raising her eyebrows as if to say, “Your turn.”

As Joe offered no response, Cassie went on. “Apparently, the brother who did the killing finally took his brother’s advice and calmed down. He’s refusing to say anything more until he retains a lawyer.”

“So we can’t question him until that happens,” Joe responded.

Joe pulled a chair back from the kitchen table against the wall and slowly lowered his burly frame down into it. His thick fingers drummed out an irregular rhythm on the small, Formica table as Cassandra sat down across from him. Joe’s gaze alternated between Cassie’s brown eyes and the surface of the table. Cassie sat silently. She could see that Joe’s mind was busy. Joe had this thing he did with his lower lip, and she could always tell when he was deep in thought. Over the years she had learned that his silence was not an invitation to fill the void with conversation. To interrupt at such a time would serve only to irritate The Bull.

Cassie looked forward to Joe’s insights at times like this. His ability to ask precisely the right question, or make an astute observation was uncanny. Joe’s mouth opened slightly and she thought he was about to speak, but he turned his gaze downward and returned once again to deep thought.

“Lieutenant,” came a man’s voice from the other end of the narrow kitchen. “The coroner’s ready to move the body. You want him to wait?”

Without looking up, Joe shook his head and waved the back of his hand in the direction of the inquiry, indicating he had no need to hold up the coroner’s process. The coarse rip of the body bag zipper followed some muffled conversation from the adjoining room. The familiar metallic sounds of the coroner’s gurney drew Joe’s attention, and he followed the sound until it disappeared down the carpeted hallway.

The voice again came from the kitchen doorway. “Lieutenant, the building super’s arrived again. He wasn’t on the premises when the whole thing happened, and we’ve already told him we’ll want to do a follow-up with him. Anything you want to ask now?”

Cassie interjected, “Joe, I already got some preliminary information from him when he was here earlier. He said Janko lived here alone. The twins lived downstairs. I told him we may want to do a follow-up if there’s an investigation.”

The officer stood quietly at the kitchen doorway, finally addressing Joe directly. “Is there anything you’d like to ask him before he leaves again, Lieutenant? He’s kind of freaked out by being here.”

“No,” came Joe’s first word in several minutes. “Not now. Thank you.”

Joe sat quietly for several more minutes, contorting his lower lip and still drumming his fingers. His gaze drifted around the room in seemingly aimless patterns. Joe’s observational skills were such that Cassie was certain, were she to later ask how many tiles comprised the kitchen floor, he would provide the correct answer without hesitation.

“It’s perfect,” Joe finally said, addressing his colleague across the table.

“I beg your pardon?” said Cassie, her eyes widening.

“It could be the perfect crime.” Joe leaned back slightly against the flimsy chair. Cassie studied his face to determine his degree of sincerity. His scowl had been replaced by the closest thing to a smirk she’d ever seen from him at a time of such seriousness. Their eyes met and a wide, full smile pushed Joe’s cheeks outward, making Cassie almost uncomfortable.

“It’s brilliant!”

Cassie had never seen him like this––almost giddy. He looked like a kid opening a birthday present. His eyes were absolutely alive with excitement. Seeing what she could only describe as glee at a time of such morbid circumstance, it was all Cassie could do but to smile back. The more Joe smiled, the bigger Cassie’s nervous smile grew.

“Are you alright?” She could barely get the words out without feeling that an inappropriate laugh might slip out at the same time.

Joe sensed her nervousness and broke the ice by laughing so hard that his whole chair shook. It was as if a dam of tension had burst and could not be held back. Joe laughed from his barrel chest until he was teary-eyed. Cassie blinked in disbelief, but tentatively laughed along with him. Joe laughed until he seemed exhausted and slumped in his chair, spent from his release. A few residual quivers lapsed into a sigh, then another.

“It’s perfect. Don’t you see? It’s what’s eluded crime historians for centuries. It may just be the perfect homicide, because it was committed by the perfect criminal. If what we’ve been told is true––that brother number two actually tried to stop the killing––then he’s not an accomplice, and brother number one is quite possibly immune from prosecution. It’s absolutely perfect.”

For years, Joe had tried to imagine what the perfect crime, indeed, the perfect murder might look like. Not a murder concealed by the guise of an apparent accident or suicide as so many are, but an out-in-the-open affair with motives, evidence, and unconcealed certainty. He had even fantasized about following its unfolding and about being so close to the proceedings that he might bring his analytical mind to bear on a piece of history. Never once, however, had he given any thought to what would be the perfect murder-er. He had overlooked half of the equation. Never had it occurred to him to look through the other end of the telescope to see not a series of events, but an individual whose unique circumstance would allow that series of events to be blatantly carried out in full view of the judicial system. Yet here he was, about to become an integral player in an event not unlike those of his over-active imagination.

Another minute passed without much conversation. Once again a voice came from the kitchen doorway. This time it was Kevin Sweeney, the young subordinate who had so eagerly greeted Joe at the elevator. His quizzical expression told Cassie that the officer was somewhat confused by their raucous laughter.

“We’re done in here, Lieutenant. Okay if we close up?”

A self-satisfied calmness overtook Joe’s normally tough demeanor. “Detective Navarro and I were just leaving,” he responded, this time taking care to look directly into the eyes of the young officer. “Thank you, Kevin.”

Having surveyed the living room one last time, Joe and Cassie preceded Officer Sweeney into the long hallway, leaving behind the two officers still at their post outside the apartment door. The crime scene would be under round-the-clock guard until the investigation team completed their ongoing analysis. Joe could tell by the fluorescent glow spilling out onto the carpet that the elevator already awaited them at the end of the corridor.

The sluggish elevator, Joe thought, seemed much faster on its descent than it had in climbing to the sixth floor. Or, perhaps, it was he who was now more relaxed and less impatient. Upon reaching the ground floor, the doors shuddered open and Officer Sweeney politely held them open allowing his superiors to exit, following them into the lobby. Two middle-aged men at the lobby entrance were showing IDs to the officer posted there as their names were compared to a checklist on a clipboard. The men were allowed to pass into the building just as Joe, Cassie and Officer Sweeney reached the entrance.

“That really bothers me,” said Joe, turning to take one final and lasting look behind them.

“What’s that?” answered Cassie, thinking Joe was about to comment on the two tenants they had just passed.

“The fluorescent bulbs,” he noted, lifting his gaze toward the lobby ceiling. “They don’t even match.”

Cassie’s gaze followed. “Huh?”

“Fluorescent lighting’s bad enough, but mixing warm bulbs with cool without regard to...” He shook his head searching for the right word. “Well, I suppose it’s perfect for this place, isn’t it.” They passed by the guard at the entrance, exchanging nods and quiet “goodnights.”

Outside, the air had turned considerably cooler as the trio walked out onto the quiet sidewalk. The click, click of Cassie’s heels echoed on the hard surface. Officer Sweeney parted company directly in front of the building, having earlier vacated his cruiser as close to the entrance as landscaping would allow. Joe and Cassie walked on beside each other, as the earlier convention of official vehicles had required them to park several car lengths away.

The moon, large and high overhead, bleached the concrete where they walked. The crisp shadows of bare branches were cast so vividly they appeared almost three dimensional. Now, at nearly midnight, the quiet buildings were mostly dark, with only the occasional yellow glow emanating from within. The bluish cast of a TV flickered from a third-story window across the street as Joe and Cassie brushed through small scatterings of dry leaves.

They arrived at Cassie’s unmarked squad car first and she opened the passenger side door to place her briefcase on the front seat. Joe leaned back against the rear door and looked up at a black sky salted with stars. The air felt good, and he breathed it in like an elixir. A thin layer of frost had begun to form on the roof of Cassie’s car. She closed the passenger door and stood beside Joe in total silence. He watched her warm breath trail out in light wisps of condensation. Streetlights puddled blue on the ghost-white sidewalks and rimmed Cassie’s jet black hair with a faint halo. Years ago, Joe would have ached for a moment like this. Tonight, he would simply enjoy the closeness, holding his private thoughts in silence.

“You did the right thing, Cass.”

“What’s that?”

“Calling me in tonight. You’re right. This is one for the books.”

Cassie smiled, but did not speak as she walked around to the driver’s door and opened it. She looked back across the car roof toward Joe who had turned to face her, resting a hand against the cold steel.

“Good night, Joe,” she whispered before slipping down behind the wheel.

This time it was Joe who smiled back, but did not speak.



You have just read one chapter from David Random’s book, Connected.

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