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Prologue

Jez couldn’t believe his life had disintegrated as quickly as it had. One minute everything had been fine and then next it had crumbled to dust. Sure, his marriage was a bit rocky – he didn’t know any couple who didn’t have their ups and downs, but he and Lauren had been married for 8 years and he wasn’t about to give up on it, even though he suspected she had had an affair last year. He had decided at the time that he was better off not knowing for sure, as he knew he had a temper and would probably make things worse if she confirmed it.

But the last month had been hell. There were constant hospital visits as Lauren’s health had visibly deteriorated. At first they hadn’t known what was wrong, just that she was sick and not getting any better. But then had come the diagnosis. She was suffering from AIDS, and at this very late stage, they were warned that it was unlikely she could be saved. He was tested too, and found to be HIV positive with a high viral load. He could feel the fury rise up in him like a furnace which had had kindling thrown into it. With his wife’s weakened state, she couldn’t withstand his anger and quickly confessed to her affair, and that they hadn’t used protection as she was on the pill. She had never considered that he might be HIV positive, despite him telling her that he was bisexual. She had been in love, until he left her for someone else.

A week ago Lauren had passed away from pneumonia, one of the cocktail of AIDS-related illness she had been suffering from. The funeral had been today, and despite the pain of his loss, Jez couldn’t put aside the anger that felt as if it was consuming him. He had felt as if he was sleep-walking through the funeral and the wake, helped along by a few shots of whiskey, and now couldn’t rest. He was determined to get revenge, not only for his wife’s death, but for himself. He had been started on antiviral meds, but they were making him feel sick, and it would take some time for them to find the right combination to help him.

He had found his wife’s lover, Philip Banks, after a bit of research. He stalked him at night, watching him go into a gay bar and flirt with men there, before leaving with one young man and having a sordid assignation in a back alley. The rage grew until Jez couldn’t contain it any more. The younger man slipped back into the bar with a smirk on his face, adjusting his low-riding jeans, without seeing Jez hiding in the shadows.

Jez slipped quietly further into the alley. He could feel the rush as he got closer to his prey, the man lounging against the brick wall smoking a cigarette. Jez took out the knife he had brought with him and advanced closer. He saw Banks’ eyes widen as he realized he was in danger, but before the man could say anything, he drew the knife across his throat. He felt the warm spurt of blood which pumped out of the man’s neck and saw the life drain out of his eyes, before he slumped to the ground. He was dead within a minute.

He looked down at the man he had just killed, feeling a rush of satisfaction at a job well done. Then he spotted a brown mark on the man’s chest where it hung open. He knew this mark was a sign of AIDS as his wife had had them too, and felt his anger rise up again. He leaned over the body and pulled the shirt aside, and quickly carved ‘MURDERER’ into the man’s chest. Then he moved further down and thrust the knife into the man’s groin. He smiled in satisfaction at his handy-work, before hearing a car horn and realizing he needed to get out of there, now. He slipped into the shadows again, putting his knife away and disappearing into the night.

***

Chapter 1; Two weeks later.

Detective Sonny Carisi looked at the board in the squad room resigned. Another new photo without any leads. Five men all killed by having their throat slit, and also mutilated by a knife to the groin. They also had words carved onto their chests. ‘Murderer’, ‘Faggot’, ‘Infected’, ‘Slut’ and ‘Adulterer’. It was obviously the work of one man, and he had military training they thought, as he showed no signs of hesitation, and had easily sliced the carotid artery. The men were all killed quickly before they could raise the alarm.

He heard movement behind him as the other members of his squad joined him. Lt Olivia Benson looked over the board with a frown on her face before facing the members of her team again. “Okay, we now have a fifth body. We have to stop this man, now. Where are we?” She glanced round at Sgt Fin Tutuola first.

“Between us we’ve spoken to as many people who we can identify who were in the bars where the men were found close to, but with no luck so far. Obviously this latest victim – James Andrews – hasn’t been investigated yet, but I’m not hopeful as this guy seems pretty good at covering his tracks. I’m going to head over there and see what I can find out this morning.”

Amanda was next to answer. “I’ve got hold of all the CCTV footage from the areas and been going through it, but I haven’t seen anything suspicious yet. The video from near last night’s scene is on its way to me now.” She rubbed her eyes and Carisi could see shadows under them from the late nights and hours she had spent looking at the computer screen watching video footage.

He felt his boss’s eyes on him so quickly answered. “I’m seeing the Dr Warner this morning. She has been backed up but is going to go through her findings with me. So far all I know is that she thinks the same knife is used in each attack. She found some dried blood on one of the victims which may be from one of the earlier ones. DNA analysis will take a few days though.”

Lt Benson nodded. “Okay, get at it. But if you get any leads or ideas let me know immediately. The press is all over this and so are 1PP. We’ve got to get this man off the streets before any more men are killed.”

Carisi picked up his jacket and put it on as he swigged the last of his barely-warm coffee. He grimaced. He was so tired from this case and felt dirty as he hadn’t had as shower in the last day, and was just getting a few hours sleep in the crib each night. He headed off for the medical examiner’s office, hoping he would get a lead. They really needed a break in this case now, before another man ended up dead.

Melinda smiled at him as he walked into her office and he slumped down in the chair opposite her, giving her a tired smile before taking a sip of his fresh coffee. He really needed the caffeine today. She got straight to business.

“I’ve not had time to do more than a preliminary exam of the latest victim, but his wounds are consistent with the others. All 5 men were killed by a single slice to the throat, which cut their carotid artery. They wouldn’t have suffered much as death would have been very quick. The other wounds were post-mortem. As I mentioned on the phone to you, I found some trace evidence of blood on the third victim, Lucas Stacey, which I am having analyzed. The knife wounds are consistent and I believe all the cuts on all the men are by the same knife, which could be a standard hunting knife, of the type used in the military. The lack of hesitation marks and the single wound to the throat also could indicate military training.”

Carisi caught up with his notes and looked up. “Anything else? We need to try and figure out if these men were targeted and there are any similarities between them or if they are random.”

Melinda hesitated. “All 5 men show signs of recent sexual activity, and all of them have indications of anal trauma, which could indicate they are gay or bisexual. There is no semen though or DNA from anyone else on the first 4 victims. I don’t know about James Andrews yet. The word ‘faggot’ on Peter Smith’s body points to that too. Justin Price had ‘infected’ on his chest and was HIV positive, as was Philip Banks who appeared to have progressed to having AIDS.”

Carisi felt his heart speed up. This could be something useful. He smiled at Melinda and thanked her before getting up and heading out again, this time with the autopsy reports she had passed him. He got back to the squad room and knocked lightly on Lt Benson’s office before walking in. She took off her glasses and leaned back in her chair as she looked at him.

“Please tell me you’ve found something,” she said wearily.

“Maybe,” he answered. “Dr Warner thinks all the men may be gay or bisexual as they show signs of anal intercourse and two of the men were HIV positive. Philip Banks had AIDS. I was thinking that he was the first victim which is often the key to the case, and he had ‘murderer’ carved into his chest. We couldn’t find any criminal record though or signs of violence in his past. What if he infected someone with HIV and that is why some man out there considers him a murderer? It could be one of his past lovers or a relative of someone he infected. The Department of Heath can’t share information about people who have HIV to the police but we may be able to get information with a warrant.”

Lt Benson smiled. “Good idea Carisi. Call Barba and see what he can do, and in the meantime dig into Banks’ background. Let me know as soon as you find anything out.”  

Carisi got up and headed back to his desk with a spring in his step despite his exhaustion, already on the phone to Barba’s office. Finally they had a lead they could follow.

***

 A day later, and Carisi was back in his boss’ office feeling triumphant. “Lieu,” he said to attract her attention as he walked in “I think I’ve found him. The Health Department coughed up the HIV information when I gave them the warrant. Philip Bell infected 4 partners that they are aware of – 3 men and 1 woman.”

“A woman? I thought he was gay?” the Lieutenant questioned.

Carisi nodded. “I thought so too, but he was bisexual. Looking into the men didn’t lead anywhere; one is dead and the other two don’t appear to be angry about their HIV status and there is nothing in their history to suggest any military training or triggers. But the woman is a different matter.” He paused for dramatic effect, and was pleased to note he had his boss’s full attention.

“Lauren Johnson appeared to have had an affair with Philip Banks a few years ago. She went back to her husband when Bell dumped her, from what I found out from her best friend and social media. She never realized she was HIV positive until about a month ago when she was diagnosed with PCP – an AIDS illness. By then it was too late, and she died three weeks ago. Her husband, Jeremy, was also infected and was only diagnosed when his wife’s illness made it obvious she was HIV positive. He used to be in the army before he was dishonorably discharged for fighting. He is apparently very angry at his wife and her lover, according to the friend, who saw him last at Lauren’s funeral, which was on the 16th.”

 He could tell the date rang the same bells in her head as it did in his; this was the date of the first murder. It looked like the funeral was the trigger that set Jeremy Johnson off on his killing spree.

“Take Fin and pick him up now,” Lt Benson said in a grim tone of voice as she picked up her phone. Then she glanced at him again as he turned to walk out. “Well done Carisi. It looks like you’ve broken this case.” He felt his face break out into a grin. It never got old, being told he’d done a good job.

***

Jeremy Johnson was a big man, and rough looking. He had come in without a fight when they had picked him up, and didn’t look too surprised either. Carisi was sure this was their man. He had a feeling in his gut about it.

“So, Mr Johnson, we want to talk to you about Philip Banks. I believe you know him, or at least your wife did,” Fin started, in a serious voice. They had decided that he was going to be the ‘bad cop’ to Carisi’s ‘good cop’. It was a role Fin was very good at, and one Banks was more likely to believe, given they both had military backgrounds. He saw Johnson’s face harden as the name of his wife’s lover was mentioned.

The suspect shrugged. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said in a belligerent tone of voice.

“Of course you do,” Fin continued. “Your wife had an affair with him at the start of last year – she seemed pretty keen on him too from what her friend Belinda told us. She was going to leave you for him.”

“Oh him. I never met him, and my wife loved me. She realized that it was a mistake and came back to me.”

Fin laughed. “Is that what she told you? According to her friend Banks dumped her so she felt she had no choice but to come home to you. It wasn’t what she was going to do.”

Carisi could see Johnson’s huge hands ball into fists and a flush start on his face at the provocation.

The older detective got right in his face. “That pissed you off didn’t it. Not only did he screw your wife, but he infected her with HIV which she passed on to you, and it killed her. I bet you wanted to get revenge on him didn’t you? He ruined your life and killed your wife. That’s why you murdered him.”

Johnson sprung to his feet and took a swing at Fin who quickly backed out of the way before ducking behind the suspect and pushing him back down into the chair. “Yeah, you’ve got an angry streak haven’t you? Easily provoked into violence. That got you kicked out of the army and now it’s really got you in trouble.”

Johnson was taking deep breaths in, obviously trying to control his anger. Fin nodded subtly to Carisi, who knew it was his turn to change things up and put the suspect off-balance.

“I know this last couple of months must have been hard for you Jeremy. Your wife is sick and no-one can figure out what is wrong. She gets worse and worse before finally they diagnose pneumocystic pneumonia. They tell you she has AIDS and test you for HIV, and then you find out you are positive. That must be a real blow. I can imagine that made you angry. It would anyone. At the same time you have to watch your wife die. You loved her, I can tell, so that must have been devastating.” Carisi was careful to appear sympathetic, and could tell it was working when Johnson looked up, with tears in his eyes.

“Yeah, I loved her. It’s been awful,” Johnson muttered in a low voice, barely looking at Carisi.

“If it was me, I think I would want to confront Banks, make sure he knew what he had done to my family. That’s what you wanted to do wasn’t it Jeremy? That’s why you followed him to that bar after your wife’s funeral.” Carisi paused, waiting for an answer that didn’t come.

“But talking to him didn’t help did it? Seeing him and knowing what he did to your wife just made you angry again and you couldn’t control yourself, could you? If that is what happened you need to tell us Jeremy. You weren’t in control of yourself after an emotional day where you buried the love of your life. It was a crime of passion. A jury would understand this, and if you confess, things will go easier for you. But you need to talk to me. I can’t help you otherwise.”

Carisi watched the suspect and Fin stayed perfectly still in the corner of the room, out of sight of Johnson. Neither of them really believed he would confess. If he had only committed the one murder, then what Carisi had said was true, but they knew he had killed four men after Banks, and those couldn’t be explained away.

Johnson stayed looking down at the table in front of him, and they could see he was getting himself under control. Finally he straightened up in his chair and looked up with a smirk on his face. “Nice try detective. Does that really work on anyone? Play ‘good cop’ and hope your suspect falls for your lies? Well it’s not going to work on me. I want a lawyer, now.”

Carisi sighed as he and Fin left the interrogation room. It was time to call Barba and get a search warrant for Johnson’s house. They would have to do this the old fashioned way and get the proof they needed to put this scumbag away for life.

***

When Carisi made it back to the precinct 6 hours later, he found Lt Benson and ADA Barba in her office. They looked up as he entered with a tired smile on his face.

“Looks like we hit the jackpot; we found the knife in a kitchen drawer, still with traces of blood on it. Of course DNA analysis will need to be done, but I recon he used this knife on all our victims. A jacket in the closet has blood in the pocket too, and there is clothing in the hamper and boots with what looks like blood splatter. I also found a notebook with doodling in. The names of all the victims are in it, along with information that wasn’t revealed to the press. It links the cases and proves that they were all committed by Johnson. This guy didn’t seem to care about hiding evidence.”

Lt Benson smiled at him. “Good work Carisi. Do you want to go in and arrest him for the murder of Philip Banks? We can save the others until the DNA results are in.” She glanced at Barba who nodded.

Carisi nodded. “It would be my pleasure.” He grinned at Barba, taking in the man’s well-fitting suit and colorful tie. Any time he saw Barba was a good day in his book. 

He headed off to the interrogation room and knocked on the door when he saw that their suspect was talking to his lawyer. The men stopped talking as he entered.

“Stand up,” Carisi said, looking at Johnson. The man looked at his lawyer who could see Carisi getting out his handcuffs, and nodded to his client.

“Do as he says, and don’t speak to anyone. I’ll see you at arraignment,” the man said to Johnson.

“Jeremy Johnson, I am arresting you for the murder of Philip Banks. You do not have to say anything, but anything you do say will be taken down and may be used in evidence against you. You have the right to a lawyer. If you cannot afford one, one will be appointed to you.  Do you understand your rights as I have read them to you?” Carisi recited by rote. By now it tripped off his tongue without him having to think about the words, which meant he could concentrate on cuffing Johnson and pushing him out of the room, past the other detectives and Barba and down to holding.

His evening would be made longer by paperwork and this arrest, but he could cope with that. It was worth it to finally solve this case.