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Beckett felt like he was dreaming. In fact, everything that had happened since the night Dr. Moorfield’s burnt colonial had been set ablaze for a second time felt like a horrible nightmare.
Every morning he awoke asking himself the same question: Did I do that? Did I really do that?
Everything pointed to the fact that he had: the newspaper reports—although they had thankfully kept his name out of it—this very inquiry, and, worst of all, the memories.
In his mind, he heard the sickening thud of the rock colliding with Craig Sloan’s skull, he could feel warm blood first on his hands then coating his wrists, and he could see the man’s eyes roll back in his head.
After spending more than a decade surrounded by dead men, Craig was the first he had personally been responsible for.
But there was something underlying all of these sensations that was even more alarming.
Something that truly terrified him.
“Please state your name and position for the record,” Officer Herd instructed.
Beckett leaned forward and cleared his throat before answering.
“My name is Dr. Beckett Campbell. I am the Senior Medical Examiner for the NYPD, and I’m also an associate professor of Medicine and Pathology at NYU.”
“Thank you, Dr. Campbell. As you overhead me say to Sergeant Adams, this is not a trial, but an inquiry. That being said, please acknowledge that you have waived your rights to having someone from the Royal College of Surgeons or from the American Medical Association to accompany you today.”
“Good. Then we shall continue. Please, in your own words, tell us what happened on the date in question.”
Beckett closed his eyes and scratched his forehead.
“I was with a close-friend—ex-NYPD Detective Damien Drake—and we were looking for the daughter of a fallen police officer whom we believed had been kidnapped by a man who had killed six people over the course of two weeks. I was outside in Drake’s car while he was inside a—” tread carefully, Beckett, “—a condo building in downtown Manhattan. When he came out, he had identified the kidnapper and murderer. We called Sergeant—”
“Slow down, Beckett,” Roger Albright interrupted. “You say you were at a condo in Manhattan. Can you be more specific?”
Beckett shook his head.
“No. It was dark, and I was running on very little sleep.”
Roger’s frown deepened.
“And did Damien Drake say who he was meeting? Who he had acquired the name of the alleged kidnapper from?”
Again, Beckett shook his head.
“He never told me. Perhaps you should ask him.”
“Damien Drake is unavailable for this inquest. Please continue with what happened after you left the condo.”
“I called Sergeant Adams with the name and she referred me to a house that Craig Sloan had burned down once before—when Dr. Moorfield used to live there. We believed that this was where he was keeping Suzan Cuthbert. When we arrived, the place was already on fire. As Drake tried to gain entry, he had an altercation with Craig Sloan down the side of the house. Craig was knocked unconscious, and Drake went into the house to see if Suzan was inside. He instructed me to put Craig in the car and to wait for the police to arrive.”
“He told you to put Craig in the car? Where in the car?”
“In the trunk. Drake was driving a civilian vehicle that didn’t have a cage between the front and rear seats. He also didn’t have a set of handcuffs.”
“So I put him in the trunk and then started toward the house to see if I could help Drake.”
“Did you ever actually go into the house, Dr. Campbell?”
“No. I was going to enter the house, but I never got there. I heard shots fired from inside the trunk.”
Officer Herd rubbed his temples before commenting.
“And you… ran? You ran away from the man as he came out from the trunk? I mean, he was, in your words, a murderer and he had a gun.”
Beckett thought back to that moment, the fire at his back, the flickering yellow and orange hues illuminating Craig’s snarl. The man had one leg out of the trunk when Beckett had picked up the rock.
“No, I didn’t run.”
“Because he had a gun, and I thought he was going to take Drake out when he came out of the house. Suzan, too, if she was still alive.”
“What did you do next?”
“I grabbed a rock and struck Craig in the side of the head. I think he was disoriented or maybe deafened by the sound of the gunshots inside the trunk, because he never saw me coming. ”
“How many times did you strike Craig Sloan? Once? Twice? Multiple times?” Roger asked.
Beckett re-read Chase’s letter that Screech had handed him back in the hospital in his mind.
“More than once, but I can’t tell you how many. No more than three or four, I think. I was just trying to knock him out, but he wouldn’t go down; he kept trying to turn the gun on me.”
Roger made a uh-huh sound. Then he opened a folder on the desk and took out a sheet of paper. He handed it to Officer Lincoln and told him to bring it over to Beckett, which he did.
“Are you familiar with this report?”
Beckett scanned the page quickly.
“Yes. This is the pathology report concerning Craig Sloan’s death.”
“And do you recognize the ME who prepared the report?”
“Yes, of course. Dr. Henrik Karl.”
“And in your professional opinion, is Dr. Karl a qualified ME? A competent doctor?”
“Yes, of course; I trained him myself.”
“Very well,” Roger continued. “Can you please read the official cause of death out loud?”
Beckett found the line.
“Craig Sloan died as a result of multiple blows to the skull with a hard, smooth object. He—”
Roger held up a hand.
“That’s good enough. I’ll ask you again, how many times did you strike Craig Sloan with the rock?”
“Like I said, more than once, but I’m not sure exactly how many.”
“And is that congruent with the pathology report?”
Beckett didn’t need to read the line again. He knew exactly what it said, in part because he had helped Dr. Karl draft it.
“Yes—multiple in this context means more than one, but the ME could not determine the exact number of strikes.”
Roger Albright locked eyes with him for what seemed like an eternity, before speaking again.
“Thank you for your cooperation, Dr. Campbell. My colleagues and I will now hold a brief, private discussion.”
With that, Roger turned to Officers Herd and Lincoln. The abruptness with which the questioning had come to an end surprised Beckett, and it took a few moments for his heart rate to settle.
The three men spoke in hushed voices, voices too low for him to hear, and Beckett resisted the urge to try and lipread. It was clear to him now that Roger and his IA posse had come to a conclusion even before this entire charade.
Like Chase had said, if they all stuck to their story, then there was nothing that they could do.
“My colleagues and I have decided that we are going to close this case. Craig Sloan murdered seven people, and we have no doubt that without your intervention he would have continued to kill. Although your actions were… how can I put this… unorthodox, they do not, in our opinion, constitute either a criminal or negligent act on your part.”
Beckett felt a massive weight roll off his shoulders, and he took a deep breath for the first time in what seemed like forever.
Chase was right… just stick to the script.
“However, that being said, we recommend that you take some time off, Dr. Campbell. You have been through an incredibly emotional and taxing ordeal, and we believe that it’s in everyone’s best interest for you to spend several weeks away from the NYPD, NYU, and any other related medical matters. Although we do not wish to tarnish your record by making this a formal request, I strongly suggest that you take our advice and heed our recommendation.”
Roger Albright adjusted his glasses before continuing. “Speaking plainly, Beckett, I think it’s time you took a vacation. A nice, long vacation in the sun. Get your mind off things, come back refreshed.”
Beckett glanced around nervously, not quite believing that this was finally over.
“Am I free to go?”
“You are indeed free to leave.”
Beckett shot to his feet, holding his hands out to his sides.
“Fuckin’ A. Then I’m out of here.”
He was halfway to the door, when Roger’s voice made him turn back.
“Off the record, Dr. Campbell, were you aware that Craig Sloan’s pistol was empty when he climbed from the trunk?”
In his mind, Beckett pictured the five holes in the trunk, and the one that had destroyed the lock.
“I had no idea,” he lied, and then left the room.
Chase was standing in the hallway, chewing her lip when Beckett skipped out of the briefing room. For a split-second he considered messing with her, telling her that he was going to prison, but seeing the concern on her face, he decided against it.
“They said I can go,” he said, eyes downcast.
Chase lunged at him and wrapped her arms around his back and shoulders.
“I told you everything would work out,” she whispered in his ear. “I told you.”
Beckett nodded and gently peeled her off of him.
“What are you going to do now?” Chase asked when they were separated.
“Roger and his goons suggested I take a vacation, so I might just do that.”
“You lying on a beach? I don’t see it.”
“Me neither, but I guess this is the new me.”
He had meant the comment to be a joke, but there was something unintentionally profound about the comment that made him uncomfortable.
“Anywhere in particular?”
“I have a friend with connections to a very exclusive island in the Virgin Gorda—St. Thomas area. He’s always asking me to come visit, so I think it’s about time to take him up on that offer.”
Chase’s smile grew.
Her phone buzzed and she took it off her hip and stared at the call display.
The smile slid off her face.
“I’ve got to take this,” she said, her eyes still locked on the phone.
“Chase?” Beckett said softly.
Beckett opened his mouth to speak, but sensing that she was preoccupied, instead of the words he had initially intended, he simply said, “Thank you.”
Chase offered him a tired smile.
“Take a break, Beckett. You’ll be fine.”
With that, Chase answered her phone and turned, making her way slowly down the hallway as she barked into the mouthpiece.
Beckett watched her go.
Chase was wrong, of course; he wouldn’t be fine. In fact, he doubted he would ever be fine again. After all, Craig Sloan had changed him.
Beckett had said thank you, but what he really wanted to say was, Craig got what he deserved. I killed him because he was going to kill again. He wasn’t going to just hang it up after he completed the pathology exam—the test was only the beginning. I stopped him the only way I knew how: by killing him, by smashing his head in with the rock until it was covered in his brains and blood and bits of skull. And Chase? I liked it.
It was this last part that scared Beckett most of all.
I liked it, Chase, and I’m afraid that I’ll do it again some day.