A serial killer stalks pastors in upstate New York
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Michael J Scott Books
He calls himself the Coppersmith…
A religious fanatic bent on murder, he begins systematically eliminating pastors in Upstate New York. From small towns to large cities he selects his victims, seemingly at random, and subjects them to a torturous death.
Janelle Becker is the agent with the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit charged with solving the crimes. But even with the Bureau’s resources, she finds herself ill-prepared to unravel the Coppersmith’s message. Why do his methods keep changing? How can they know where he’ll strike next? And can she escape her own dark past before it’s too late?
As she and her fellow agents track down the clues of the Coppersmith, they find themselves following an ancient itinerary that hearkens back to the steps of the apostle Paul. It becomes a race against this faceless killer as they struggle to predict his movements and get ahead of his deadly message of judgment. Can they stop him in time?
The 9-1-1 phone call came in to the Wayne County emergency dispatch at 5:23 p.m. on Friday, a little more than thirty minutes before sundown. Nancy Gayle had been talking to her sister on her cell phone while painting her toenails. The moment the monitors flickered to life she dropped the phone and grabbed the headset. Her other hand fumbled with the nail polish jar before finally spilling its contents onto the counter. It dripped crimson onto the carpet. Heedless, she plugged in and blurted, “9-1-1 Emergency.” She forced herself to calm down. “How may I assist you?”
She swore under her breath. This had better not be another kid making a prank call. Her nails were ruined. That polish cost her twelve dollars. Not to mention having to hang up on her sister.
She scanned the monitor for the source of the call. 1411 George Street Clyde, New York. St. Paul’s Episcopalian Church. Again, she said, “Hello? 9-1-1 Emergency. Can you talk to me? Can you tell me what’s wrong?”
Still no answer. What was going on? Quickly she tapped out a message on the computer-aided dispatch system, advising the officer who’d respond of the indeterminate emergency. She said, “I have police on the way. Can you speak to me?”
If this were a prank, the kids would probably hang up. Maybe she could get her sister back on the phone. Instead, she heard two barely audible words in a tone which made her blood cold.
The line went dead.
Officer Glen Chesbro received the dispatch on his onboard computer. Of the twenty-five deputies and eleven part-timers serving the county, he was one of only five on call tonight. The others were scattered toward the north and east. The dispatch was indeterminate, possibly a prank call, but warranted at least a drive by. Setting his coffee cup in its travel container, he shifted the Caprice into gear and headed toward town.
Turning right at the next intersection, he looked ahead and saw the tall white spire of St. Paul’s Episcopalian Church. Most of the building was built of brick and trimmed in faded white, but the steeple had recently been replaced, and now it was a glowing spike of incandescence in the night sky. Slowing down, he approached the church on the left, passing surreptitiously in front of it. He flicked on his searchlight at some reclusive shadows in the alcove, then off again.
He pulled into the parking lot. The lot was empty but for scattered leaves matted wet with rain and snow from an early snowstorm, clumped together in whispered huddles across the asphalt surface.
Swallowing the last of the now cold coffee, he grimaced and crushed the Styrofoam cup before tossing it to the floor of his cruiser. A quick word into his microphone informed dispatch he was on the scene, and he grabbed his baton and climbed out.
The wind bit from across the parking lot, and he shivered. His footfalls echoed with every step, reverberating off the barren stone and asphalt. He paused and listened, but heard nothing. The front entrance was locked. He worked his way to the side of the building. The side entrance was a plain, gray door with a brass handle and deadbolt mounted above it. It beckoned a few steps down from the sidewalk. He reached for it, and skidded out of control, nearly losing his balance. The drain in the entryway was iced over. Gingerly, he recovered and stepped around it. Pulling his flashlight from his belt, he shone it on the door. Something had gouged the doorjamb in several places, forcing it open. No rust stained the metal peelings.
He swallowed and called it in. This was more than prank call. Somebody had broken in recently. He bit his lip, knowing he should wait for back up. On the other hand, someone could be hurt.
The door protested with a groan, echoing in the interior hall and reverberating from the slick concrete block and tile floors. He pulled out his firearm. Stepping inside, he pulled the door shut and shone his light down the hallway.
Various wooden doors with long, thin windows faced each other on either side of the corridor. He reached out and checked them as he passed, relieved they were secure. Opposite the bathrooms was a large meeting space strewn with tables and chairs. At the far end was the kitchen, separated from the fellowship hall by a door and countertop open on both sides. He crept through the maze of chairs and tables to the counter’s edge. The beam of his Mag Light flashed over the counter. Stainless steel range tops, refrigerators and oven doors diffused and reflected the light back to him.
A sound caught his ear. His heart skipped a beat. His finger tensed on the trigger of his gun. He aimed the light. Pencil-point green eyes stared him down and darted out of view. He let out a breath. Mice.
Satisfied the room was empty, he returned through the fellowship hall and climbed the stairs to the first floor. At the top a pair of doors loomed before him, open just a crack. He swung them inward to reveal a spacious auditorium filled with rows of velvet and oak pews. Farther up sat an altar bedecked with a linen cloth, a pair of brass candlesticks with white tapers, and a polished brass cross in the center. Above this, a round stained-glass window shone with the pallid glow of the streetlight outside.
Buried in the shadows, a huddled mass crouched low upon the floor, to the left of the altar. He shone his light on the figure and watched in alarm as the man heaved in a ragged breath. He swore.
“Dispatch, I need EMTs now,” he yelled into the microphone, “1411 George Street Clyde!” Rushing to the man, he holstered his weapon and grabbed the shoulder. He pulled his hand away, startled by the wet and sticky warmth clinging to his fingers. He turned him over, staring into the remains of his face. The man wore the garb of a priest, but something had shredded the black vestments to the point where they barely held together. Deep lacerations gashed his torso, and the wounds across his face rendered him unrecognizable. Glen stared in amazement as the man struggled to breathe.
“Hang in there,” he whispered. “Help is on its way.”
The man grabbed Glen’s hand with a shaky grip and opened his eyes, trying to raise his head. He opened and closed his mouth.
“Easy now. Just relax,” Glen said.
A brief shake of his head, and the man forced out the word he’d been struggling to form. “A-alex.” His head fell back to the carpet. A long, ragged breath escaped his lips. All was silent.
Glen dropped the flashlight and started CPR, crouching before the body of the priest. With each compression, blood pooled in the wounds across the priest’s chest, making a small sucking sound as Glen pushed. In the distance, he heard the ambulance as it neared. It was too late to do any good.