Boston detective Ray Hanley returns to catch a deranged serial killer
BY DERIK CAVIGNANO
They were headed southwest on Washington Street, making their way from the Dorchester precinct to Coleman’s house in suburban West Roxbury. Coleman lived in a two-story colonial near the wooded sanctuary of Stony Brook Reservation. It could’ve been a great starter home for a young family or an idyllic location for empty nesters, but instead it marked the scene of a horrific crime.
Ray pulled into the driveway and killed the engine, his eyes shifting to the porch windows, where the blinds were drawn tight against the outside world.
They climbed out of the Explorer. “What are the odds he’s home?” Billy asked. “If I was Coleman, I’d disappear as soon as I hit the streets.”
Ray shrugged, keeping his eyes on the windows and his hand near his gun. With Coleman just released from jail he didn’t expect a struggle, but sometimes you just never knew. It was best never to let your guard down. That was a lesson he’d learned young, long before becoming a cop. Overconfidence had cost his father his life on a dingy subway platform when Ray was a freshman in high school. There were still times when he jerked awake in the dead of night, drenched in sweat, his ears ringing with the phantom echo of the mugger’s laughter, his mind replaying the moment his dad slumped to the ground, blood spurting from his chest in arterial gushes.
Ray shrugged off the memory as he would a physical chill and ascended the porch stairs, chiding himself for dwelling on the past. A breeze coaxed music from a nearby windchime and he wondered if Suzie Coleman had heard the same metallic tinkling as blood ran from her body in the upstairs bedroom all those weeks ago.
He rang the bell and dropped back, his eyes shifting to the windows on either side of the door. One of the slats of the blinds lifted a quarter of an inch before falling back into place.
“Left window,” Ray said, feeling his chest tense against his Kevlar vest. Ordinarily, the vest was a constant source of discomfort, but at times like this he welcomed its suffocating embrace. He used to slip on an exterior vest only for calls like these, but after the kids were born, Michelle talked him into wearing one underneath his shirt for the entire shift. But with the late spring days heating up, he was sometimes guilty of skipping it altogether.
The front door swung inward and Coleman appeared behind the storm door, visible from the waist up.
“Let’s see your hands,” Ray barked, drawing his Glock.
Coleman held out his palms like a mime trapped in a box. Dark scimitars underscored his eyes and Ray wondered if he’d been drinking. “My lawyer said I shouldn’t talk to you.”
“You got released from jail because of my testimony,” Ray said. “Did your lawyer tell you that?”
“He said a detective poked holes in the prosecutor’s case.”
“That’s right,” Ray said. “Mind if we come in?”
“I should probably call my lawyer.”
“Why?” Billy said. “You keep saying you didn’t do it. Help us figure out who did.”
Coleman settled his hand against the door, and for a moment Ray thought he might slam it in their faces. But instead he held it open and waved them inside. The place was decorated with high-end furnishings and accents of modern art, but it had the musty scent of a home that hadn’t been lived in for a while.
“Are you here to make sure I don’t skip town?”
“Something like that,” Ray said. It’d been weeks since he’d last seen the place. He gestured to the dozen or so paintings he could see from the foyer, which had a sight line into the living room and dining room. “Are you an art collector?”
Coleman shook his head. “Those are Suzie’s.”
“She works in graphic design, doesn’t she?” Ray said.
“Yes, but the paintings are just a hobby.”
Ray pointed into the living room, where he could see an empty bottle of Tito’s vodka lying on the floor beside the coffee table. “Mind if we sit for a chat?”
Coleman shuffled into the living room without answering, his gait clumsy enough to warrant a field sobriety test. He misjudged the height of the recliner and collapsed onto the cushion, his foot kicking the vodka bottle and sending it skidding across the hardwood.
Ray and Billy exchanged a glance and eased themselves onto a matching leather sofa.
Coleman’s eyes shifted from Billy to Ray and back again. “I don’t know what else I can tell you other than I didn’t do it.”
“Let’s walk through the timeline again,” Ray said. “The night Suzie went missing you were both at a bar with some friends. You had too much to drink and got into an argument with Suzie after she caught you hitting on a bartender.”
“Why were you hitting on the bartender in the first place?” Ray said. “Didn’t Suzie just catch you having an affair a few weeks earlier?”
Coleman averted his eyes. “It wasn’t an affair. I got drunk at a conference in New York and had a one-night stand.”
“How’d she find out?” Billy asked.
“She saw pictures on my phone. I don’t even remember taking them.”
Billy chuckled. “Rookie mistake.”
Ray shook his head at the inside joke. Billy’s own infidelity had unraveled in much the same manner a few years earlier. “You understand how bad this looks, don’t you?”
“Yes, but I swear I didn’t do it.”
“Then who did?” Billy asked.
“You guys saw the lab results. They say I took a bunch of sleeping pills. Now, why would I do that? I was so wasted my buddy Ryan practically had to carry me upstairs. You don’t need sleeping pills when you’re half in the bag.”
“Maybe you killed her and then tried to kill yourself,” Billy said. “Alcohol and sleeping pills can be a lethal combination. Just ask any number of dead rock stars.”
“I don’t remember taking them and we don’t keep sleeping pills in the house. Someone drugged me, someone set me up.”
“It seems a little far-fetched,” Billy said. “Especially since you never provided a single lead as to who might’ve set you up.”
“I didn’t do it. That’s all I know.”
“You’d better come up with a lot more specifics than that,” Billy said.
“He’s right,” Ray said. “You may think you got away with murder, but this is just the beginning. We’ll find your wife’s body eventually, and I’ve got a funny feeling that all the evidence will point back to you. So enjoy this little taste of freedom while you can, because if you weren’t fond of the city jail, just wait until you spend a night in the state penitentiary.”
“It’s a scary place,” Billy said. “Especially for a pretty boy like you.”
Coleman’s face flushed. “Do you have any idea how this feels? My wife is missing and is probably dead. And as horrible as that is, I’m being treated like a criminal on top of it. I’m telling you, I was set up. I didn’t do it.”
Ray studied Coleman’s face, trying to get a reading on his bullshit meter. “If you seriously believe someone framed you, then you’d better start thinking of people who might have done it.” He handed Coleman a business card and stood up. “Call us if you think of someone we should check out, or if you suddenly feel the urge to confess.”
Excerpted from The Art of Dying, ©2019 Dark Corners Press.