ROGER KARP ARRIVED OUTSIDE THE Casablanca Hotel off West 43rd a little after eight on a Monday morning. It was no social call. He was the district attorney for New York County and upstairs in the hotel was the body of a man whose death was certain to be the lead story in newspapers and newscasts across the globe. He wanted to be out ahead of the cloud of media locusts that would soon descend upon his city to join their brethren already there.
As he approached the hotel entrance, a glass door opened and the broad coffee-colored face of Detective Clay Fulton appeared. “Morning, Butch,” he said, using the nickname that friends, family, and foes alike knew him by. The detective pushed the door open further. “This way.”
Karp followed the detective into the elegant lobby of the Casablanca, a boutique hotel a block off Times Square. He was pleased to see that so far there were no media types evident. Several people, presumably hotel employees by their uniforms and name tags, were over by the front desk talking to two plainclothes police detectives. A young woman in uniform cried inconsolably among them.
Fulton pointed to her. “She found the body when he didn’t answer the door for room service this morning.”
Karp nodded. “Where we going?”
“Sixth floor, room 648.”
The two large men, both about six-foot-five though the detective was a bit stockier, crossed the lobby headed for the elevator. A young, freckle-faced uniformed police officer was holding a door open for them. “Good morning, Mr. Karp,” the officer said.
Pausing for a moment to get a good look at the young man, Karp then smiled. “Aren’t you Jimmy Fallon’s son Richie? Wow, seems like it was yesterday your dad was a rookie working in the detective squad for DA Francis Garrahy, and I was a scrub assistant DA. Now you’re a cop, too. Like father, like son, eh?”
The young officer beamed. “Kind of you to remember, sir.”
“Say hello to your father for me.”
“Can’t do that, sir, he drank himself to death last year.”
“Oh, hey, sorry to hear that; he was a good man.”
“Yeah, he was. But you know us Irish cops, if we ain’t in church, we’re hittin’ the booze, though I never touch the stuff myself. Not after seeing what it did to Pops.”
“Your mom still with us?”
“Yes, sir. I want her to move in with me and the missus, but we can’t get her out of the old house in Queens. She says Pops’ ghost keeps her company, and she’s afraid he won’t be able to find her nowheres else.”
“Home is where the heart is, Richie. Say hi to her for me.”
“I’ll do it. Thank you, sir.”
After the door of the elevator closed, Karp shook his head. “Didn’t know that about Jimmy.”
“Yeah, he got bounced from the force for drinking on the job and hitting a pedestrian with his squad car. Next thing I heard, he went on a binge to end all binges, drank himself into a coma, and never came out. Guess he didn’t know what to do if he couldn’t be a cop.”
“It’s a tough job.”
“That it is, boss, that it is.”
The men fell silent for a moment then Fulton asked, “Any word on Lucy and Ned?”
Karp shook his head and had to clear his throat to answer. “Nothing new. Not much more than has been in the papers.” His voice was husky, and the detective let it be.
The elevator slid open again on the sixth floor and the two longtime friends and colleagues exited. Fulton pointed to the left. “Down here.”
They rounded a corner and Karp saw another uniformed officer standing guard outside a room at the end of the hallway. As they walked toward him a door opened halfway down the hall and an older woman in a robe, her face made up with too much eye shadow for that time of the morning, peered out. “Is everything okay?” she asked in a tremulous voice.
“There’s been an incident, but it’s under control,” Fulton assured her. “If you could just remain in your room for a little while longer I’m going to ask an officer to stop by and ask you a few questions, then you’ll be free to go.”
We’ll see about everything being under control, Karp thought as the woman gave a small cry and disappeared. The dead bolt slid home.
Twenty minutes earlier, Karp was just about to leave his family loft apartment on Grand and Crosby Streets for his office at the Criminal Courts building at 100 Centre Street. He’d been looking forward to the walk. The air was crisp with the promise of fall though it was supposed to warm up nicely into another lovely Indian Summer day on Manhattan Island. Perfect day for a brisk hike.
Then Fulton called from the Casablanca. Instead of a pleasant stroll to work, Karp hopped in an unmarked sedan driven by his omnipresent bodyguard, NYPD Officer J. P. Murphy, to take him to the hotel. On the ride uptown, he looked out the windows at the crowds on the sidewalks but hardly saw them in his shock and disbelief over the identity of the victim and the initial report from
Fulton regarding the cause of death. “Looks like suicide . . . an overdose. But I don’t know, Butch, something isn’t right.”
Normally Karp wouldn’t have responded personally to a suicide in a New York City hotel. But given the prominence of the deceased and certain recent events there was no question that he would oversee this case from the get-go. A small voice in his head even speculated that there could be a connection between the man’s death and what had happened a week earlier to his daughter, Lucy. There’s certainly a nexus, he thought, however tenuous.
Nodding to the officer guarding the scene, Karp entered the room ahead of Fulton. Located on the top floor of the hotel, room 648 was a suite with a sitting area that contained a work desk, coffee table, and a couch with two end tables; through wooden double-doors, currently open, was the bedroom. The first thing he noted were the scattered remains of a room service breakfast the traumatized young woman downstairs apparently had dropped on the plush maroon carpeting in the sitting area when she noticed the body on the king-sized bed. He turned his attention to where two crime scene technicians were working at the desk, on which a laptop computer sat open.
“What’s up?” Karp asked.
One of the CSI techs, who was using a razor blade to scrape the dried residue of a liquid off the glass-covered desktop and into an envelope, stopped what he was doing and looked up. “Covering our bases, Mr. Karp,” he said. “Got a little spill here, looks pretty fresh; probably just some of the scotch he was drinking, but we’ll test it anyway.”
“I see the bottle. Where’s the glass?” Karp asked, looking around.
The technician pointed toward the bedroom. “In there.”
Karp looked at the other technician, who was moving his finger on the laptop’s touch pad as he watched the screen. “Anything interesting?”
“Mostly making sure I don’t lose any information before I shut
it down and take it to the lab to look over. . . . There is a note.” He moved his finger and then clicked on the pad.
A document file appeared on the screen, blank except for six words.
“?‘I’m sorry about everything. Forgive me,’?” Karp read.
“Short and sweet,” said Fulton, who was looking over their shoulders.
“What was he sorry about?” Karp wondered aloud.
“Wasn’t he supposed to testify before a congressional committee tomorrow?” Fulton said.
“Think there’s a connection?”
“Who knows? I’m sure the media will tell us soon enough.”
“Yeah, but will they get it right?” Karp asked.
“Since when did that matter? So long as they’re first and it doesn’t buck the status quo.”
Karp turned and walked into the bedroom, where several people were working around the corpse. The dead man lay on his back on top of a white down comforter, his head propped on a pillow. He was wearing a silk smoking jacket and long, striped pajama bottoms. His hands were clasped on top of his belly; his eyes were closed and his lips gave no hint of an expression. Except for the pallor of his skin and the absolute stillness with which he lay, he appeared to be sleeping.
Looking down at the familiar face, Karp felt a wave of sorrow pass through him. Here were the mortal remains of a dynamic man, a true American hero that he and many other people around the world respected. Karp couldn’t fathom what drove the man to take his own life. Something he was sorry for.
“So sad,” said a white-haired woman in a long medical coat who was gently examining the body.
“Yes it is. But good to see you, Gail,” Karp said.
Assistant Medical Examiner Gail Manning smiled, her kind blue eyes wet in spite of her long service to the New York Medical Examiner’s Office where death had been a constant companion. “I
always thought of him as a good man . . . sort of above it all,” she said.
“I think many of us felt the same,” Karp replied.
“I guess he had demons none of us knew about.”
“If so, they got the better of him and that’s our loss. Can you tell me anything?”
“Well, judging from lividity and his core body temperature, my preliminary finding on time of death, subject to revision, is about ten hours ago.”
Karp did the math. “About 10:00 p.m. last night?”
“That’s an educated guess. I’ll be able to tell more at the autopsy and after running a few tests.”
“How’d he do it?”
Manning pointed to a pill bottle next to a glass partly filled with an amber liquid on the nightstand beside the bed. “The old-fashioned way, tranquilizers with a scotch chaser. At least that’s what it looks like.” Her face screwed up as if she was trying to reconcile her answer with something running through her mind.
“Is there something else?” Karp asked.
“Well, he was drinking a twenty-five-year-old Macallan, a real connoisseur’s scotch—can’t afford it myself though I would if I could,” she began, then her voice trailed off.
“I don’t know . . . maybe it’s nothing, but he apparently emptied the capsules—diazepam, better known as Valium, according to the bottle—into the scotch and drank it,” Manning said, “as opposed to just swallowing the capsules and washing them down with scotch.”
“And that strikes you as odd because?”
“The Valium would have ruined the taste of the Macallan for someone who likes fine scotch, as apparently he did.”
Karp looked thoughtful and then nodded. “Great deductive reasoning, Mrs. Sherlock Holmes. I know you’re thorough, but let’s be extra particular with the toxicology and get me a report as soon as you can.”
“Will do . . . uh-oh, what now?” A sudden commotion out in the sitting room made Karp and Manning turn their heads. They could hear but not see the participants engaged in the abrupt loud argument.
“This is a federal investigation, everybody out,” a stern male voice demanded.
“Like hell it is,” a voice Karp knew was Fulton’s growled. “Everybody keep doing what you’re doing!”
Karp reached the bedroom door just as a short man in a dark suit and sunglasses attempted to reach for the laptop computer only to be blocked by Fulton. “You’re obstructing a federal agent in the performance of his duty,” the short man snarled. His identically dressed partner, a taller, younger man who looked like a former college quarterback, stepped forward as if to intercede.
Fulton half-smiled as he met the younger man chest to chest. “Yeah, and you’re in New York City, which makes it an NYPD investigation until I say it ain’t.”
Everybody in the room turned when Karp walked out of the bedroom. “Mind telling me what this is about?” he asked the short man.
“Mr. Karp. I’m Special Agent Jack Robbins and this is Special Agent Ricardo Fuentes, FBI. This is now a federal case. I want that computer and I want everybody out of here, and that includes the big guy.”
“On what grounds?” Karp inquired mildly.
“National security. I’m sure you’re aware of the identity of the deceased. The president has asked the FBI to investigate and that computer may contain sensitive materials that require classified clearance to view,” Robbins replied curtly. “And I’m sure your techno-geek there doesn’t have that clearance.”
Karp’s eyes narrowed. “The president asked you to investigate? I just heard about this thirty minutes ago. How’d the president know and get you guys involved so quickly?”
The agent frowned. “I’m not at liberty to discuss that.”
“In other words, you don’t know because they don’t tell guys at your level those sorts of things,” Karp said, walking over until he was towering over the smaller man. “Whatever that computer may or may not contain, regarding national security, it may also hold evidence relevant to the cause and manner of the death of the deceased.”
“Evidence? Investigation? This isn’t a homicide.”
“We’re in the preliminary stages of determining precisely what has occurred, and your presence is, quite frankly, highly suspect. Nevertheless, since I’m the chief law enforcement officer in New York County everything remains under my jurisdiction and authority. So until I determine otherwise, NYPD will be the custodians of all the evidence, particularly the computer.”
Robbins glared up at Karp. “I’ll get a federal court order,” he said through clenched teeth.
“You do what you think you have to do, and I’ll see you in court,” Karp responded. “In the meantime, Detective Fulton, I want that computer locked up at the DAO. I’ll make it available for these gentlemen to look at there in your presence after you and the fine young computer savant behind you have had an opportunity to examine it. I’m sure the two of you will disregard any alleged sensitive materials bearing on national security.”
“You’ll regret this, Karp,” Robbins hissed.
“I doubt it,” Karp replied nonchalantly. “Now you’re obstructing the NYPD and DAO from performing their duties. So either remove yourselves, or I’ll ask Detective Fulton to escort you out of here in handcuffs and deliver you to the Tombs, where you can call your bosses to come bail you out.”
The agent started to reply but then looked at Fulton, who was grinning, and decided against it. “Let’s go, Fuentes, let the local yokels have their day,” he sneered. “We’ll be back, and with a federal SWAT team if we need it. Then we’ll see who ends up behind bars.”
When the agents stormed out, the others in the room broke into a loud cheer. “Way to go, Mr. DA,” Manning shouted.
“Yeah, kicked a little fed behind,” the technician at the computer added. “My mom’s the only one who gets to call me a techno-geek. Computer savant, I like that.”
“All right everybody, back to work,” Fulton said. He turned to Karp. “That was fun.”
“Enjoyed it, but they will be back. Work fast and like I said, get that computer down to the evidence vault and make sure you put in place a security team. No outside agency looks at that computer without my written authorization. I’m going into the office now; I’ve got some catching up to do.”
Fulton followed him into the hall where Karp paused for a moment. “I wonder who called those guys?”
Fulton shrugged. “Some young cop who wants to join the bureau and play G-man so he tipped them off hoping it would be noted on his resume.”
“Yeah, perhaps,” Karp said, then gave his friend a sideways look. “But, Clay, I share your initial instincts; this whole thing is wrong. I can feel it in my bones.”
“Yeah? Me, too. I was hoping it wasn’t something I was coming down with.”
Karp smiled. “The intuition flu, maybe. Anyway, let’s make sure we run this thing to the ground. Talk to the neighbors, check out the employees yourself. Maybe I am coming down with a bug but something about this has made me queasy.”