Let the Devil Sleep by John Verdon, a puzzling thriller, is the third book in the series featuring newly retired NYPD detective Dave Gurney (available July 24, 2012).
The most decorated homicide detective in NYPD history, Dave Gurney is still trying to adjust to his life of quasi-retirement in upstate New York when a young woman who is producing a documentary on a notorious murder spree seeks his counsel. Soon after, Gurney begins to feel threatened: a razor-sharp hunting arrow lands in his yard, and he narrowly escapes serious injury in a booby-trapped basement. As things grow more bizarre, he finds himself reexamining the case of The Good Shepherd, which ten years before involved a series of roadside shootings and a rage-against-the-rich manifesto. The killings ceased, and a cult of analysis grew up around the case with a consensus opinion that no one would dream of challenging—no one, that is, but Dave Gurney.
Mocked even by some who’d been his supporters in previous investigations, Dave realizes that the killer is too clever to ever be found. The only gambit that may make sense is also the most dangerous—to make himself a target and get the killer to come to him.
Twists and Turns
As the sun set, they had a quiet dinner of sweet-potato soup and spinach salad. Afterward, Madeleine built a small fire in the old woodstove at the far end of the room and settled into her favorite armchair with a book—War and Peace, a tome she’d been plodding through, on and off, for nearly a year now.
He noted that she hadn’t bothered to get her reading glasses and the book rested in her lap unopened. He felt the need to say something. “When did you ﬁnd out about the . . . ?”
“The suicide? Late this morning.”
“The director. She wanted everyone who’d had contact with him to come in for a meeting. Ostensibly to share information, absorb the shock together. Which, of course, was nonsense. It was all about ass covering, damage control, whatever you want to call it.”
“How long did the meeting last?”
“I don’t know. What difference does it make?”
He didn’t answer, really had no answer, didn’t even know why he’d asked. She opened her book, seemingly at random, stared down at it.
After a minute or two, Gurney got Kim’s project folder from the sideboard and brought it back to the table. He flipped past the sections titled “Concept” and “Documentary Overview” and quickly scanned the “Style and Methodology” section, pausing only to read more carefully a sentence that Kim had emphasized by typing it with an underscore: Interviews will examine the lasting effects of the original murders, exploring deeply all the ways in which the lives of the families were altered.
He skimmed through several more sections, slowing down when he came to one titled “Contact Summaries and Status.” It was organized in the sequence of the six Good Shepherd shootings. The information was laid out in the form of a spreadsheet, with columns under three headings: Attack Victims, Available Family Members, Current Attitude Toward Participation.
His eye ran down the victim list: Bruno and Carmella Mellani, Carl Rotker, Ian Sterne, Sharon Stone, Dr. James Brewster, Harold Blum. After Carmella Mellani’s name, there was an asterisk with a corresponding footnote that read, “Survived massive cranial trauma during attack, remains in persistent vegetative coma.”
He skipped over the second column, which provided a detailed list of family members (with their locations, life situations, ages, and personal descriptions), and glanced at the third-column summaries of their “current attitudes.”
The widow of Harold Blum was said to be “totally cooperative, grateful for the interest being shown, deeply emotional, still cries during discussion of the subject.”
The son of Dr. Brewster was described as “abusive toward the memory of his father, in open sympathy with the philosophy of TGS, obsessed with the evils of materialism.”
The son of Ian Sterne, dental entrepreneur, was “low-key, resistant to participating, concerned about the project’s disruptive emotional effects, skeptical of the intentions of RAM-TV, critical of the relentless sensationalism of their original coverage of the shootings.”
The son of real-estate broker Sharon Stone “expressed great enthusiasm for the project, spoke eagerly about his mother’s strengths, the horror of her death, the devastating effect on his own life, the intolerable injustice of the killer’s escape.”
There were more family members and more status descriptions, followed by the transcripts of two interviews—with Jimi Brewster and with Ruth Blum—and a twenty-page copy of the Good Shepherd’s “Memorandum of Intent.” As Gurney was about to put the folder aside, he noticed that there was a ﬁnal page that had not been cataloged in the table of contents—a page headlined “Contacts for Background Information.”
There were three names on it, with e-mail addresses and phone numbers for each: FBI Special Agent in Charge Matthew Trout, (Former) NYSP Senior Investigator Max Clinter, and NYSP Senior Investigator Jack Hardwick.
He stared with surprise at the third name. Jack Hardwick was a super-smart, super-abrasive detective with whom Dave had a complex relationship—having crossed Hardwick’s path in bizarre and contentious circumstances.
Gurney headed for the phone to call Kim. He was interested in talking to Hardwick, but before he did, he wanted to ﬁnd out why she’d listed the man as an information source.
She picked up immediately. “Dave?”
“I was just going to call you.” Her voice sounded more strained than pleased. “Your conversation with Schiff got things pretty stirred up.”
“He came here to my apartment, I guess right after you spoke to him. He wanted to see everything you’d told him about. He seemed really pissed off that I’d cleaned up the kitchen floor, but too bad, right? How was I supposed to know he was coming? He said an evidence guy would be back here tonight to check out the basement. I guess it’s a good thing that I couldn’t bring myself to go down there and clean the stairs. Jeez, I get the chills thinking about it! And he’s insisting on sticking those creepy little spy cameras all around the apartment.”
“Is it true that you previously refused them?”
“He said that?”
“He also said he ran lab tests on the bathroom bloodstain.”
“I’d gotten the impression from you that he hadn’t done much of anything.”
She paused before answering. “It wasn’t so much what he did or didn’t do. The problem was his attitude. It was really sucky. He couldn’t have cared less.”
Although this response didn’t quite resolve the matter in Gurney’s mind, he decided to let it drop—at least for now.
“Kim, I’m looking at the background sources listed on the final page of your document—in particular a detective by the name of Hardwick. How does he happen to be involved in this?”
“You know him?” Her voice sounded wary.
“Yes, I do.”
“Well . . . when I started researching the Good Shepherd case a few months ago, I gathered the names of the law-enforcement people who were mentioned in news reports back when it happened. One of the earlier shootings took place in Hardwick’s jurisdiction, and he was one of the state police investigators who was temporarily involved.”
“Everything changed after the third weekend, I think it was, when one of the shootings occurred over the state line in Massachusetts. At that point the FBI took over.”
“Special Agent in Charge Matthew Trout?”
“Yeah, Trout. Control-freak asshole.”
“You’ve spoken to him?”
“He told me to go back and read the press releases issued by the FBI at the time. Then he instructed me to submit my questions in writing. Then he refused to answer any of them. If you call that speaking to him, then I guess I did. Officious jerk!”
Gurney smiled to himself. Welcome to the FBI.
“But Hardwick was willing to talk to you?”
“Not so much at ﬁrst—not until he discovered that Trout was trying to control the information flow. Then he seemed happy to do whatever would make Trout unhappy.”
“That’s Jack. Used to say that FBI stood for Fucking Blithering Idiots.”
“He’s still saying it.”
“So why is Trout on your information list if he refuses to provide any?”
“That’s more for the RAM people. Trout might not talk to me, but Rudy Getz is different. You’d be amazed at who returns his calls. And how fast.”
“Interesting. And what about the third name—Max Clinter?”
“Max Clinter. Well. Where to start? Do you know anything about him at all?”
“The name rings a distant bell, that’s about it.”
“Clinter was the off-duty detective who got entangled in the final Good Shepherd attack.”
The memory of the tabloid accounts came back. “Was he the guy with the art student in his car . . . drunk out of his mind . . . firing his gun out the window . . . sideswiped a guy on a motorcycle . . . got blamed for the Good Shepherd escaping?”
“He’s one of your sources?”
Kim’s voice was defensive. “I’m taking whatever and whoever I can get. The problem is that just about everyone involved in the case refers all questions to Trout—which is like dropping them into a black hole.”
“So what have you managed to ﬁnd out from Clinter?”
“That’s not easy to answer. He’s a strange man. With a lot on his mind. I’m not sure I understand all of it. Maybe we could talk about it tomorrow in the car? I didn’t realize how late it was getting, and I need to take a shower.”
Although Gurney didn’t believe her, he didn’t object. He was eager to talk to Jack Hardwick.
The call went into voice mail. He left a message.
Dusk was rapidly darkening into night. Rather than turn on the light in the den, he took Kim’s project folder out to the kitchen table. Madeleine was still sitting in her armchair by the flickering woodstove at the far end of the room. War and Peace had moved from her lap to the coffee table in front of her, and she was knitting.
“So have you ﬁgured out where that arrow came from?” she asked, without looking up.
He glanced over at the sideboard, at the black graphite shaft and its red fletching. Something about it made him feel almost queasy.
Then, as though the feeling had been the herald of a rising memory, he recalled an incident in the apartment house of his Bronx childhood. He was thirteen. It was dark out. His father was either working late or out drinking. His mother was at one of her ballroom-dancing lessons at a studio in Manhattan—a consuming mania that had displaced her former obsession with ﬁnger painting. His grandmother was in her bedroom, muttering over her rosary beads. He was in his mother’s bedroom—hers exclusively, ever since his father had begun sleeping on the living-room couch and keeping his clothes in a closet in the hallway.
He’d opened one of the two windows from the top. The air was cold and smelled of snow. He had a wooden bow—a real one, not a toy. He’d purchased it with money saved from two years of allowances. He dreamed one day of hunting with it in a forest far from the Bronx. He stood in front of the wide-open sash with the cold air flowing over him. He notched one scarlet-fletched arrow on his bowstring and, driven by a strange sense of excitement, raised the bow toward the black sky outside that sixth-floor bedroom window, drew back the bowstring, and let the arrow fly out into the night. With sudden fear gripping his heart, he listened for the sound of its impact—its thwack on the roof of one of the lower buildings in the neighborhood, or its metallic clunk on the roof of a parked car, or its sharp bang on a sidewalk—but he heard nothing. Nothing at all.
The unexpected silence began to terrify him.
He imagined how silent the impact of a sharp arrow on a person might be.
For the rest of the night, he considered the possible consequences. The possible consequences scared him to death. But the lasting disturbance, the piece of the experience that was indigestible, the piece that plagued him even now, thirty-ﬁve years later, was the question he was never able to answer: Why?
Why had he done it? What had possessed him to do something so patently reckless, so lacking in any rational reward, so full of pointless danger?
Gurney looked again at the sideboard and was struck by the bizarre symmetry between the two mysteries: the arrow he’d shot from his mother’s window, with motive and landing place unknown, and the arrow that had landed in his wife’s garden, with motive and starting place unknown. He shook his head, as if to clear it of some internal fog. It was time to move on to another subject.
Conveniently, his cell phone rang. It was Connie Clarke.
“There’s something that I wanted to add—something I didn’t mention this morning.”
“I didn’t purposely leave it out. It’s just one of those vague things that sometimes seems related to the situation and sometimes not.”
“I guess it’s more like a coincidence than anything else. The Good Shepherd murders all happened exactly ten years ago, right? Well, that’s also the same time that Kim’s father dropped out of sight. We’d been divorced for two years at that point, and he’d been talking all that time about wanting to travel around the world. I never thought he’d actually do it—although he could be amazingly impulsive and irresponsible, which is part of the reason I divorced him—and then one day he left a phone message for us saying that the moment had come, it was now or never, and he was going. I mean, it was absurd. But that was it. The ﬁrst week of spring, ten years ago. We never heard another word from him. Can you believe it? Selfish, thoughtless bastard! Kim was devastated. More so than she’d been by the divorce two years earlier. Completely devastated.”
“You see some significance in the timing?”
“No, no, I don’t mean to suggest that there’s any connection between the Good Shepherd case and Emilio’s disappearance. How could there be? It’s just that both events happened the same month—March of 2000. Maybe part of the reason Kim feels as strongly as she does about the pain of those families at losing someone is that she lost her own father at the same time.”
Now Gurney understood. “And the shared lack of closure—”
“Yes. The Good Shepherd murders were never fully resolved, because the murderer was never caught. And Kim hasn’t been able to close the door on her father’s disappearance, because she could never ﬁnd out what really happened to him. When she talks about the families of murder victims suffering from an ongoing misery, I think she’s talking about herself.”
After concluding his conversation with Connie, Gurney sat for a long while at the table, trying to digest the implications of Emilio Corazon’s departure from Kim’s life. He gradually became aware of Madeleine’s knitting needles clicking softly and steadily. She was sitting in a pool of yellow lamplight, a ball of sage-colored yarn at her side in the armchair, a sage-colored sweater taking shape in her lap.
He opened the blue folder to the section devoted to the Good Shepherd’s “Memorandum of Intent.” On a page of background information at the beginning of the section, someone, presumably Kim, had indicated that the original document had been delivered by express mail in a nine-by-twelve manila envelope, addressed to “The Director, New York State Police, Bureau of Criminal Investigation.” The delivery date was March 22, 2000—the Wednesday following the weekend of the ﬁrst two shootings.
Gurney turned the page and began to read the text of the memorandum itself. It began abruptly, with a summary statement consisting of numbered sentences:
1. If the love of money, which is greed, is the root of all evil, then it follows that the greatest good will be achieved by its eradication. 2. Since greed does not exist in a vacuum but exists in its human carriers, it follows that the way to eradicate greed is to eradicate its carriers. 3. The good shepherd culls the flock, removing the diseased sheep from the healthy sheep, because it is good to stop the spread of infection. It is good to protect the good animals from the bad. 4. Although patience is a virtue, it is no sin to lose patience with greed. It is no sin to take up arms against wolves who devour children. 5. This is our declaration of war on the vain carriers of greed, the pickpockets who call themselves bankers, the limousine lice, the Mercedes maggots. 6. We will free the earth of this ultimate contagion, carrier by carrier, replacing the silence of passivity with the shattering of skulls until the earth is clean, the shattering of skulls until the flock is culled, the shattering of skulls until the root of all evil is dead and gone from the earth.
The next nineteen pages reiterated these sentiments at length, the manifesto drifting back and forth in its tone from prophetic to academic. The rational aspects of the argument were supported by extensive wealth-distribution data, purporting to demonstrate the unfairness of America’s economic structure—complete with trend statistics showing the nation’s drift toward a Third World economy of extremes, in which enormous wealth is concentrated at the very top, poverty is expanding, and the middle class is shrinking.
The main body of the document concluded:
This gross and growing injustice is driven by the greed of the powerful and the power of the greedy. Moreover, the control exerted by this vile and devouring class over the media—society’s primary engine of influence—is virtually absolute. The channels of communication (channels which in free hands might be agents of change) are owned, directed, and infected by mega-corporations and by individual billionaires whose interests are motivated by the virulent quality of greed. This is the desperate condition which forces us to our inescapable conclusion, our clear resolve, and our direct actions.
The document was signed, “The Good Shepherd.”
In a separate note, clipped to the ﬁnal page, the writer had included information on the precise times and locations of the two preceding attacks.
Since these facts had not yet been released to the public, they provided support for the writer’s claim to be the killer. A postscript to the note indicated that copies of the entire document had been simultaneously delivered to a long list of national and local news organizations.
Gurney went through it all again. When he put the folder down half an hour later, he understood why the case had achieved its iconic status in criminology—and why it had replaced the earlier Unabomber case as the academic archetype for societal-mission-driven murders.
The document was clearer and less digressive than the Unabomber’s manifesto. The logical nexus between the stated problem and the murderous solution was more direct than Ted Kaczynski’s messy letter bombs to victims whose relevance to the issue was questionable at best.
The Good Shepherd had neatly summed up his approach in the ﬁrst two numbered statements in his memorandum: “1. If the love of money, which is greed, is the root of all evil, then it follows that the greatest good will be achieved by its eradication. 2. Since greed does not exist in a vacuum but exists in its human carriers, it follows that the way to eradicate greed is to eradicate its carriers.”
What could be more direct than that?
And the Good Shepherd murder spree was inherently memorable. It had the elements of riveting theater: a simple premise, a concentrated time frame, high suspense, a vivid threat, a dramatic assault on wealth and privilege, easily defined victims, horrific moments of confrontation. It was the stuff of legend, and it occupied a natural place in people’s minds. In fact, it occupied at least two natural places: To those who felt threatened by an attack on wealth, the Good Shepherd was the incarnation of the bomb-throwing revolutionary, intent on bringing down the structure of history’s greatest society. To those who viewed the rich as pigs, the Good Shepherd was an idealist, a Robin Hood, rectifying the worst injustice of an unjust world.
It made sense that the case had over the years become a favorite in psychology and criminology classes. Professors would enjoy presenting it, because it made the points they wanted to make about a certain kind of murderer and—a rare blessing in the soft sciences—it made those points unambiguously. Students would enjoy hearing about it, because, like many simple horrors, it was grotesquely entertaining. Even the killer’s escape into the night became a plus—giving the affair an open-ended currency that had a tingly appeal.
As Gurney closed the folder, pondering the visceral power of the case narrative, he found himself with mixed feelings.
He looked up, saw Madeleine gazing across the room at him, her knitting needles resting in her lap.
He shook his head. “Probably just my constitutional crankiness.”
She was still looking at him. He knew she was waiting for a better answer.
“Kim’s documentary is all about the Good Shepherd case.”
Madeleine frowned. “Hasn’t that been done to death? Back when it happened, it was pretty much the only thing on television.”
“She has her own angle on it. Back then it was all about the manifesto and the hunt for the killer and theories about his hypothetical background, hypothetical education, where he might be hiding, violence in America, lax gun laws, blah, blah, blah. But Kim is ignoring all that and zeroing in on the permanent damage to the victims’ families—how their lives were changed.”
Madeleine looked interested, then frowned again. “So what’s the problem?”
“Nothing I can put my ﬁnger on. Maybe it’s just me. Like I said, I’m not in a great mood.”
Copyright © 2012 by John Verdon
As far back as he can remember, John Verdon wanted to be someone else. After working as a stunt man, he devoted himself to martial arts, motorcycles, and sports cars, even woodworking and getting his commercial pilot’s license. After his wife left her teaching job in NYC, they moved to the Catskills where she encouraged him to write the novel he’d always wanted to write. That became the first puzzling thriller featuring Dave Gurney, Think of a Number, followed by Shut Your Eyes Tight and now Let the Devil Sleep. Join him at his new Facebook author page.
I am excited to read the third book. Hoping to see his wife more involved this time.