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No one noticed him as he turned off the sidewalk and trod coolly down the side of his selected house to its back door, open as most such were; he slipped in and listened intently at the downstairs door. A child was wailing, its mother’s voice harried—no worries there. Up the rubber-sheathed stairs silently to the tiny top landing, which Maggie never used. She came in at the front, always. Of course she shared the top floor with another girl, but Carol was away at a seminar in Chicago and wouldn’t be back for four days yet.
Out came his lock picks. Expertly wielded, they got him inside within a minute. Now he could shed his knapsack—a relief, for it was heavy, weighted down by auxiliary equipment he didn’t plan on needing. First he toured the interior of every room to make sure nothing had changed, paying particular attention to the area around the front door. She would enter, carry her attaché case to the work table not far away in the same room, then head for the bathroom and a pee. His women all saved their urine, too fussy to use a public convenience. So, he had ascertained on earlier visits, his best position was over there, behind a tall wing chair that Maggie or Carol must have brought with them to Holloman; it was not the kind of piece a landlord included in rented furniture. What significance did it have for its owner, that she had lugged it a thousand miles?
Having decided on his opening gambit in this delightful game, Didus ineptus carried his knapsack to the bedroom he knew was Maggie’s. A tad unorthodox in its color scheme—he disliked beige women—yet extremely neat, the double bed made up as smoothly as a boot camp rookie’s, the dressing table’s oddments tidily arranged, the closet door and bureau drawers fully closed—oh, she was neat!
A chest stood against one wall, its big top free of objects—ideal for his purposes. Working swiftly, he put his tools on it in order before cutting off a piece of blue duct tape six inches long, then a yard-long piece of thick twine. Everything was ready; he walked to the living room and its huge mirror, there to prepare his body, and finally positioned himself behind the wing chair.
Her key sounded in the lock at exactly the correct time: within three minutes either way of six o’clock. She’d had a good day, he could tell because he hadn’t heard her on the stairs; a bad day meant she plodded, thump, thump, thump . . . In she came, attaché case in her left hand, and walked across to deposit it on the table, ready for some work later in the evening. That done, she aimed for the bathroom.
The duct tape was lightly fixed to the swelling curve of the chair back, and was across her mouth before she could think of screaming. In an extension of the same movement, he twisted her wrists behind her back and tied them with the twine, so cruelly hard that her face bulged with the pain of it. She was powerless!
Only then did he turn her around, only then did she see the man who had achieved this so quickly she hadn’t had a chance. Tall and splendidly built, he was naked and totally hairless, his penis erect, engorged; her eyes filled with despair, but she wasn’t done struggling. For about a minute his attention was fully taken up with subduing her, at the end of which she was utterly exhausted. He forced her into the bathroom, where he pulled her panties down and sat her on the toilet. Her bladder was bursting; she let the urine go in a stream, transfixed by a new terror: he knew she had needed to go!
He yanked her up and marched her to her bedroom, kicking her buttocks with what felt like all his might, then flung her on the bed and cut her clothes off with a wicked pair of dressmaker’s shears. After that he drew a white cotton sock over each foot and taped it around the ankle to keep it on firmly. Next he rolled her over onto her stomach, sat on the edge of the bed and cut her fingernails down to the quick with proper clippers, indifferent to the blood he drew when he cut too hard. Out of the corner of one eye she could see his hands gathering the clippings into a small plastic bag, and see too that those hands were encased in the thinnest of surgeon’s gloves.
Didus ineptus turned her over again. Beside herself with fear, Maggie stared up into a face concealed by a black silk hood secured around his neck—she couldn’t even tell what color his hair was! Inserting himself between her thrashing legs, he pinched and poked at her breasts, her belly, her thighs. She kept on fighting, but her strength was flagging fast.
Suddenly there was a rope of some kind around her neck; the world swam, went dark, retreated, returned only to the pain of his brutal entry into a vagina hideously dry from terror. He worked the rope as if it were a musical instrument, cutting off her breath, releasing it to let her have one convulsive gulp of air, or two, or even five before he tightened it again, and the world went dark. If he came to orgasm she didn’t know; only that, after what seemed an eternity, he lifted himself off her. But not to leave. She heard him moving about in the kitchen, the noise of the refrigerator door, heavy footsteps in the living room. Then he returned carrying a book, sat down in her easy chair, opened it and started to read—if indeed he could read through a pair of narrow slits. Swollen with tears, her eyes sought her alarm clock: six-forty. Ten minutes to subdue her, nearly thirty for the rape and its asphyxiations.
At seven he raped her a second time. The pain! The pain!
At eight came the third rape, at nine the fourth.
She was sinking into a stupor by this time, the rope around her neck doing its diabolical work faster and better—he was going to kill her! Oh, dear God, make it quick! Make it soon!
Between the rapes he sat in her chair and read the book—her book, because it had her initials painted on its spine in Liquid Paper—more naked than any man she had ever seen, so smooth and hairless was he. Not a scar, not a mole, not a pimple, anywhere. Oh, Carol, why did you have to go to that seminar? He knew, he knew! There’s nothing about me he doesn’t know.
At ten he approached the bed with a certain purpose she thought new, closed her eyes and prepared through the waves of terror for her death. But he rolled her over onto her stomach and raped her anally, an unendurable pain that seemed to go on and on, for this time he didn’t put the rope around her neck, and consciousness refused to go away.
At eleven he anally raped her a second time, using, she thought, his fist: she could feel tissue tearing, even worse pain. How to face the world after this, if he let her live?
Finally it was finished; he rolled her onto her back.
“Please kill me now,” she mumbled indistinctly. “Please, no more, no more, please, please!”
He lifted something off the bed and held it up so she could see it. A neatly printed notice, meticulously measured off.
TELL ANYONE AND YOU ARE DEAD. I AM DIDUS INEPTUS.
The notice disappeared. She lay and listened to him making his departure at eleven-forty in the late evening, while there were still people walking on Persimmon Street.
Maggie waited five more minutes before she got off the bed and forced herself to stagger to the front door, where she turned around and managed to open its single lock, using both bound hands to pull it ajar. That done, she collapsed to her knees and crawled to the kitchen, where she knew her gas stove shared an exhaust vent with the kitchen downstairs. After resting, she got to her feet, seized her meat hammer in her bound hands behind her back, and lifted herself on tiptoe to beat on the vent.
When Bob Simpson from downstairs found her door open and came in to investigate, she was still banging away with the big wooden mallet, gagged, tied up, naked, and appallingly bruised. The warning notice loomed in Maggie’s mind as Bob picked up the phone to call the cops, but Maggie Drummond didn’t care. She wanted Didus ineptus caught, yes, but she wanted far more than that: she wanted him dead as a dodo.
Captain Carmine Delmonico saw her in the Emergency Room at the Chubb Hospital.
“She’s been beaten, partially asphyxiated and raped a total of six times—four vaginal, two anal,” said the senior resident. “No foreign objects except, we think, a fist for the last anal assault, which tore her up badly enough to need surgical repair. It’s a bad one, Captain, but, all considered, she’s in remarkable shape mentally.”
“May I see her? It sounds as if I shouldn’t.”
“You have to see her, otherwise she’ll give us no peace. She’s been asking every two minutes for a senior cop.”
The young woman’s face was still puffy from weeping, and a crimson line around her throat told Carmine that the rapist had used a sleek, thinnish rope to apply his asphyxiations, but either she had passed beyond this most frightful of all ordeals, or she was made of sterner stuff than most women. Her eyes, he noted, were a clear grey in a face that, under normal circumstances, most men would call very attractive.
“There’s no point in asking how you are, Miss Drummond,” he said, diminishing his height, bulk and masculinity by sitting. “You’re extremely brave.”
“Right now I don’t feel it,” she said, reaching for her water glass and sucking through a bent straw. “I was—I was petrified. I really thought he was going to kill me.”
“What’s so important that you’ve badgered the medical staff to let you see a senior cop?”
“I needed to tell the police while it’s still fresh in my mind, Captain. That rope around my neck made me black out so often that I’m scared the asphyxia might have latent effects—you know, like damage due to cerebral anoxia.”
Carmine’s brows rose. “Spoken like a medical person?”
“No, but I am a physiologist, even though I specialize in birds. That’s a part of why I wanted to talk tonight. You see, he called himself Didus ineptus.”
“The old Linnaean name for the dodo,” said Maggie Drummond. “Taxonomically the dodo is now Raphus cucullatus. I assume the monster who raped me is trying to appear better educated than he actually is. He must have gotten that name out of a very old encyclopedia—prior to the First World War, say.”
“Believe me, Miss Drummond, the monster’s garotte hasn’t harmed your brain,” Carmine said, startled. “That’s a detective’s deduction, and a valid one. You think an old encyclopedia?”
“Some old source, anyway. The dodo has been Raphus cucullatus for quite a long time.”
After a keen look at her face, which had, remarkably, grown less tormented, Carmine decided to stay for a couple more questions. This was an amazing woman. “Didus ineptus or Raphus cucullatus, it seems an odd kind of name for a rapist. I mean, a dodo?”
“I agree,” she said eagerly. “I’ve been racking my basic bird knowledge for an answer, but I can’t find one. The bird really was what we think of as a dodo—stupid to the point of imbecility. All animals trust men when they first run across them, but in no time flat they’ve learned to run, hide, fight back—whatever it takes to preserve the species. Not the dodo! It let itself be eaten into extinction, when you strip all the fancy language away.”
“The island of Mauritius, right?”
“So he’s calling himself incredibly stupid, but why does he think he’s incredibly stupid?”
“Don’t ask me, I’m a bird physiologist,” she said dryly.
“Another question. What did he wear?”
“A black silk hood over his head, not a stitch more.”
“You mean he was naked?” Carmine asked incredulously.
“More than merely naked. He was absolutely hairless, even around the genitals, and his skin was flawless—no moles, spots, freckles, scars.”
“No blemishes at all?”
“Not that I could see. It gave him an obscene look, somehow. He raped me at hourly intervals. Each rape lasted half an hour. In between he read a book.”
“Did you see its title?”
“No, but it was one of my books. It had my initials on the spine, and no dust jacket. I always remove the dust jackets.”
“What was his voice like?”
“He never spoke. He never even cleared his throat.”
“So how did you find out his name?”
“It was written on a card that warned me not to tell anyone, or he’d kill me. It was signed Didus ineptus.”
“Is it still in your apartment?”
“I doubt it. He was very organized.”
“Don’t answer this if you don’t want to—did he climax?”
She winced. “How disgusting! Frankly, Captain, I don’t know. He made no sound of any kind. The staff here found no semen, as I understand.” She blushed a dull red. “I—I was dying to pee when I came in. Once he had me bound and subdued, he pushed me into my bathroom, pulled my panties down and sat me on the toilet as if he knew I had to go.”
“Anything else, Miss Drummond?”
“He was there when I got home, and jumped me. I fought back, but I didn’t stand a chance. He wore me out. After he had his rope around my neck, all the fight went out of me. Awful!”
“Everything you’ve told me indicates that the Dodo—we’ll call him that—stalked you for some time before he acted. He knew your habits, right down to your need of the bathroom.”
Carmine got up, smiling down at her. “Miss Drummond, you are what an English colleague of mine would call a brick. High praise! Try to get some rest, and don’t worry about cerebral anoxia. Your brain’s in great shape.”
After a little more talk with Maggie—she was determined to instruct him about this and that, evidence of a methodical mind and a good memory—Carmine left the hospital in a dark mood, thankful for one thing only: that the Dodo had chosen a victim whose fighting back wasn’t limited to their actual encounter. Maggie Drummond was such a fighter that she was genuinely thirsting to testify against him in a court. But she wasn’t the first of the Dodo’s victims. His act was far too polished for that. How many had there been, all too terrified to speak up? The Dodo—what a name for a rapist to give himself! Why had he chosen it?
“How many have there been?” he asked his two detective sergeants, Delia Carstairs and Nick Jefferson, the next morning.
“At least this answers the true purpose of the Gentleman Walkers,” said Nick, a scowl on his handsome face. “Someone’s girlfriend is out there in Carew too scared to report what happened to her, hence the Gentleman Walkers.”
“We have to persuade the other victims to come forward,” said Delia, “and the best way is to remove men from the cop equation as much as possible. Give me Helen MacIntosh and I’ll guarantee to prep her well enough not to put her aristocratically narrow foot in her mouth. I’ll go on Luke Corby’s drive-home program this afternoon, and Mighty Mike’s breakfast show at six tomorrow morning. By noon, I guarantee I’ll have winkled almost all the victims out of the Carew woodwork. Between those two programs, I can reach every age group in Holloman.”
“Oh, c’mon, Deels!” Nick exclaimed. “Take Madam MacIntosh as your assistant, and all you do is shoot yourself in the foot.”
“Horses for courses,” Delia said, looking smug.
“Save it, Nick,” Carmine advised. “You can have your turn with our trainee over lunch today in Malvolio’s—on the Division, so eat up. Helen’s been living in Talisman Towers ever since she quit the NYPD eight months ago, so she has to know a bit about life in Carew, including the Gentleman Walkers.”
“Didus ineptus! Hardly flattering,” said Delia. “We still use the phrase ‘dead as a dodo’ in ordinary speech—is that what he’s after? A glorious death, shot down while raping?”
“We won’t know until we catch the bastard,” Carmine said.
“It’s in-your-teeth contempt,” Nick said. “Kind of like ‘catch me if you can.’ It’s hard to believe he’s done that to other girls and not been reported.”
“I think Maggie Drummond is an escalation, Nick,” Carmine said, “one more reason why we have to find his earlier victims. Until we see how he’s progressed, we don’t know anything about him. Delia, when you have time, I think you should talk to Dr. Liz Meyers of the Chubb rape clinic. She’s going to have more work shortly, I predict.”
“A naked rapist!” Delia cried. “That is so rare! Invasive rapists have to keep some clothes on in case they’re disturbed. A man without clothes is so vulnerable, yet this fellow doesn’t seem to feel at all threatened. Was he wearing shoes?”
“Miss Drummond says not. It’s possible, of course, that he has a cache of clothes outside somewhere, but he’s still very vulnerable. What if he gets cut off from them?”
“His degree of confidence is extraordinary,” Delia maintained.
“He takes fine care not to be marked or scratched,” Carmine said. “Socks on their feet, fingernails pared and the clippings collected, Miss Drummond said. She described his skin as quite flawless—not even a freckle. He was tall and extremely well built. Like Marlon Brando was how she put it.”
“And no hair, even around the genitals?” Nick asked.
“So she said.”
“Then he has his body hair plucked,” Delia said decisively. “The skin there is too sensitive for depilatories and too hard to negotiate with a razor.”
“Who in Holloman caters for that kind of hairlessness?” Carmine asked. “There’d be talk, and I’ve never heard Netty Marciano mention a beauty parlor half so adventurous.”
“New York,” said Delia. “The homosexual underground. They are beginning to come out of the closet, but not every kind. If the Dodo’s been having the hair plucked for some years, what hair does grow back would be minimal. All he would require would be occasional touch-ups, and I doubt anyone in that world is going to assist in police enquiries.”
Carmine’s face twisted in revulsion. “Pah!” he spat. “This guy isn’t a homosexual. He’s not straight either. He’s a one-off.” He nodded a dismissal. “Spend the morning working on your tactics, but Nick, don’t try to see any Gentleman Walkers. Lunch at noon in Malvolio’s, okay?”
His own morning was spent with his two lieutenants. Abe Goldberg was in the throes of handing off the Tinnequa truck stop heist to the Boston PD, and would proceed to a series of gas station holdups that had seen two men killed for reasons as yet not entirely apparent. Abe and his two men, Liam Connor and Tony Cerutti, were a good team firmly bonded; Carmine worried about them only as a conscientious captain should, because they were in his care and sometimes too brave.
Lieutenant Corey Marshall was rather different. He and Abe had been Carmine’s old team sergeants, moved up to occupy a pair of lieutenancies only nine months old. For Abe, a piece of cake; for Corey, it seemed a leaden weight. Corey had inherited Morty Jones from the previous lieutenant, which handicapped him from the start; Buzz Genovese had just joined him after his second-stringer dropped dead at forty-one years of age, and while Buzz was a very good man, he and Corey didn’t see eye to eye. Not that Corey valued Morty any dearer; he occupied his position as if he could work his cases unaided, and that, no man could do, no matter what his rank.
“Word’s come to me,” said Carmine to Corey in Corey’s office, “that Morty Jones is both depressed and on the booze.”
“I wish you’d tell me who your divisional snitch is,” Corey said, his dark face closing up, “because it would give me great pleasure to tell the guy that he’s wrong. You and I both know that Ava Jones is a tramp who screws Holloman cops, but she’s been doing that for fifteen years. It’s no news to Morty.”
“Something’s happening in that home, Cor,” Carmine said.
“Crap!” Corey snapped. “I talked to Larry Pisano before he retired, and he told me that Morty swings through cycles with Ava. It’s a trough at the moment, that’s all. The crest will happen in due time. And if Morty chooses to drink in his own time, that’s his business. He’s not drinking on the job.”
“Are you sure?” Carmine pressed.
“What do you want me to say, for Chrissake? I am sure!”
“Every Thursday you, Abe and I have a morning meeting to talk about our cases, Cor. It’s intended to be a combination of case analysis and a forum for bringing our problems into the open. Every Thursday, you attend. To what purpose, Cor? With what effect? If I can see that Morty is a drowning man, then you must see it too. If you don’t, you’re not doing your job.”
The glaring black eyes dropped to Corey’s desk and did not lift. Nor did he say a word.
Carmine floundered on. “I’ve been trying to have a serious discussion with you since you returned from vacation at the end of July, Cor, but you keep dodging me. Why?”
Corey snorted. “Why don’t you just come out with it, Carmine?”
“Come out with what?” Carmine asked blankly.
“Tell me to my face that I’m not Abe Goldberg’s bootlace!”
“You heard me! I bet you don’t hound Abe the way you hound me—my reports are too scanty, my men are on the sauce, my time sheets are late—I know what you think of Abe, and what you think of me.” Corey hunched his shoulders, his head retreating into them.
“I’ll forget you said any of that, Corey.” Carmine’s voice was calm, dispassionate. “However, I suggest that you remember what I’ve said. Keep an eye on Morty Jones—he’s a sick man. And tidy up your part of our division. Your paperwork is pathetic and Payroll is querying your time sheets. Do you want me to have words with the Commissioner?”
“Why not?” Corey asked, a bite in his tone. “He’s your cousin—once removed, second—how can I work it out?”
Carmine got up and left, still reeling at the accusation that he had favored Abe over Corey—untrue, untrue! Each man had his strengths, his weaknesses. The trouble was that Abe’s did not retard his functioning superbly as a lieutenant, whereas Corey’s did. I have never favored one over the other!
It was Maureen speaking, of course. Corey’s wife was the root cause of all his troubles; get him drunk enough, and he’d admit it freely. A bitter, envious, ambitious woman, she was also a relentless nagger. So that was the direction her mischief was taking, was it? Easy enough to deal with when they had been his team members, but now that Corey was to some extent free of Carmine, Maureen’s natural dislike of her husband’s boss could flower. And there was nothing he could do about it.
Back in his own office, he wrestled with a different woman, a different feminine dilemma.
Commissioner John Silvestri had always dreamed of a trainee detective program as a way of injecting younger blood into the Detectives Division. There were strict criteria governing the admission of a uniformed man (or woman) into Detectives: they had to be at least thirty years old, and have passed their sergeant’s exams with distinction. Silvestri’s contention was that they missed out on some of the advantages only youth could bring with it; his answer was to harass Hartford for a trainee program, admitting a university graduate with at least two years’ experience as a uniformed cop into Detectives as a trainee who would be subjected to a formal program of classes and tuition as well as gain experience on the job. Since he had been harassing Hartford for twenty years about it, no one ever expected to see it bear fruit. But sometimes strange things happened …
No one in the modest, little old city of Holloman could escape its most influential citizen, Mawson MacIntosh, the president of that world-famous institution of higher learning Chubb University. M.M., as he was universally known, had one promising son, Mansfield, who never put a foot wrong. Mansfield was currently working in a Washington, D.C., law firm renowned for turning out politicians. As far as M.M. was concerned, one day Mansfield would also be a president—but of the U.S.A.
Unfortunately M.M.’s daughter, Helen, was very different. She had inherited her family’s high intelligence and striking good looks, but she was stubborn, scatty, strange and quite ungovernable. Having graduated summa cum laude from Harvard, she joined the NYPD, flew through the academy at the head of her class, and was at once shunted to traffic patrol in Queens. For two years she stuck it out, then quit, alleging sexual discrimination. Working outside Connecticut had been a mistake; Daddy’s influence waned across the border. New Yorkers weren’t even true Yankees.
Helen applied to join the Detectives Division of the Holloman PD, and was refused courteously but firmly. So Helen appealed to her father, and everybody got in on the act, including the Governor.
Finally, after an interview with M.M. in which John Silvestri painted him a picture of his inexperienced, too-young daughter dead in a Holloman ghetto street, the two men cooked up a scheme that saw the Commissioner’s twenty-year-old dream become reality: Helen MacIntosh would join Holloman Detectives as its first trainee. M.M.’s share of things was to prise the money out of Hartford and guarantee that the trainee program would continue after Helen graduated from it. Silvestri guaranteed that Carmine Delmonico and his cohorts would give Helen superb training and background for anything from three to twelve months, however long it took.
Madam had not been pleased, but when her father made it plain that her only chance to be a detective was to be a trainee one, she dismounted from her high horse and agreed.
Now, after three weeks in Detectives, during which she was obliged to spend time in the uniformed division, as well as in Pathology, Forensics and Legal, Miss Helen MacIntosh was starting to settle in. Not without pain. Nick Jefferson, the only black man in the Holloman PD, detested her almost as much as Lieutenant Corey Marshall and his two men did. Delia Carstairs, who was the Commissioner’s niece as well as an Englishwoman, was sympathetic enough to act as Helen’s mentor, a role that Helen bitterly resented as surplus to her requirements. As for Captain Carmine Delmonico, Helen wasn’t sure what to make of him. Except that she had a horrible premonition he was a twin of her father.
When he entered Malvolio’s diner next door to the Country Services building on Cedar Street at noon precisely, Carmine was pleased to see one of the objects of his morning’s labors sitting in a booth toward the back. Now all he had to hope was that she hadn’t spent her morning at loggerheads with Judge Douglas Wilbur Thwaites, the terror of the Holloman courts.
He wished he could like her, but thus far Helen MacIntosh hadn’t presented as a likeable person. Oh, that first morning! She had turned up for work looking like Brigitte Bardot or any other “sex kitten,” as they were called. So inappropriately dressed that he’d had to spell out the kind of garb a woman detective ought to wear, from shoes that stayed on her feet if she needed to chase a fugitive to skirts that didn’t drive men mad trying to see her “breakfast,” as Carmine put it. She’d obeyed orders and dressed properly ever since, but it hadn’t boded well. Nor had she seen the necessity of spending time with the uniforms to find out how the Holloman PD worked on all levels, and she was chafing at the bit to join an investigation, something Carmine had forbidden until she was better prepared. Worst of all, she put men’s backs up. Three weeks into the program, and he despaired.
She was writing busily in her notebook—“journal” she called it, denying this indicated a diary.
“How did your morning go?” Carmine asked, sliding into the opposite side of the booth and nodding at Merele, who filled his coffee mug with an answering smile.
“Hard, but enjoyable. The Judge is so interesting. I’ve known him all my life, but doing law with him is an eye-opener.”
“He’s a nightmare for a wrongdoer. Remember that.”
Her laugh sounded; it was a good one, neither forced nor unmusical. “I bumbled until I got used to him, then I did better. I wish the law teachers at police academy were in his league.”
“Oh, he’s forgotten more law than they’ll ever know.”
Delia came in.
Carmine patted the seat next to him. I always imagine, he thought, that today’s outfit is the worst: then I see tomorrow’s. Today was orange, green, pink and acid-yellow checks, over which she was wearing a bright scarlet waistcoat. As usual, the skirt finished well above her knees, displaying two legs that would do credit to a grand piano. Her hair, thank all the powers that be, had gone from purple and green stripes to peroxide blonde, below which her twinkling brown eyes managed to peer between what looked like tangled black wire. The great debate within the Holloman PD was whereabouts Delia managed to find her clothes, but even Netty Marciano, whose sources of gossip were legion, hadn’t managed to find out. Carmine’s private guess was New York City’s rag district.
For three weeks he had been waiting for Helen to complain about Delia’s appearance, but she hadn’t said a word, just gaped at Delia upon first meeting. Perhaps even someone as rarefied as a MacIntosh could sense that Delia was exempt from criticisms about dress and appearance. Delia was a geniune eccentric, and apparently Helen had recognized the fact. Certainly when she opened her mouth and that mellifluous voice with its pear-shaped vowels and clipped consonants sounded, Delia was revealed as posh.
Nick appeared a moment later, and was bidden sit on the same side as Delia. Three of them now occupied one side of the roomy booth, with Helen, alone, facing them.
The lush, ice-pink lips parted, the vivid blue eyes glared. “Why am I in the hot seat?” Helen asked.
“You live in Talisman Towers in Carew, right?” Nick asked.
“Yes. I own the penthouse.”
“I might have known!” Nick looked angry. “Completely exclusive, huh? Your own elevator and everything.”
“Not quite exclusive. I use the same two elevators everyone else does. There’s a slot for a key in them.”
“Do you have any contact with your fellow tenants?” Delia asked. “Any sort of contact.”
“I know a few of them, but the only one I’m on friendly terms with is Mark Sugarman. He’s three floors down, on the eighth. His girlfriend, Leonie Coustain, lives on the tenth floor. She’s French.” Helen pulled a face. “She used to be vivacious and outgoing, but about three months ago she had a nervous breakdown. Now, not even Mark manages to see her. She’s a snail inside its shell. The worst of it is she won’t get any help, Mark says. He’s very much in love with her, and I used to think that they were made for each other. Now—I really don’t know. Leonie sure doesn’t like him anymore, but he swears he doesn’t know why.” She flushed. “Sorry. That wasn’t a good report—I rambled.”
“Sometimes rambling is better,” Carmine said. “I don’t think Leonie fell out of love with Mark. She was raped.”
The color drained from Helen’s face. “Raped?”
“Yes, definitely,” Carmine said, not yet prepared to mention the Dodo. “What do you know about the Gentleman Walkers of Carew?”
“The Gentleman Walkers?” she asked, sounding bewildered. “They walk,” she said, and laughed. “Up and down and around and around Carew. They’re a great group of guys.”
“Do you know them as individuals?” Nick asked.
“Sure, some of them. Not all of them—Mark says there are over a hundred forty of them. Mark’s their head honcho.”
“Good, a name,” said Carmine. “A big group of men patrolling worried me—vigilantes. But so far they’ve kept well within the law, including when they apprehended a couple of Peeping Toms and a women’s underwear thief. Then last night a young woman named Maggie Drummond was viciously attacked and raped inside her Carew apartment. She notified us. Now we have sufficient evidence to act, including coming down harder on the Gentleman Walkers.”
Helen sat, her face a mixture of horror and eagerness. “But I know Maggie Drummond!” she cried. “She goes to all Mark’s parties—so smart! Well, you have to be smart to get postgrad work in bird physiology at Chubb. She’s doing a Ph.D. in bird migration under Professor Hart—the world’s authority.” Her face softened. “Poor Maggie! Will it ruin her, Captain?”
“Scar her, certainly, but she’s unusually resilient. She insisted on seeing me last night, while the ordeal was still fresh in her mind. He’d partially asphyxiated her multiple times, and she was worried that the trauma might cause her to forget details. She even gave us his name—Didus ineptus. That’s the old term for the dodo, now known as Raphus cucullatus.”
“Can’t I be of more use than giving you Mark Sugarman’s name?” Helen asked.
“Yes, you can,” said Delia, “provided you put yourself under my authority and do exactly as you’re told. Will you?”
“Yes, of course,” Helen said, face lighting up.
“Good. I suspect we’re going to meet a number of the Dodo’s victims, and it’s vital that women comprise the front face of the investigation. Ever since their individual attacks, these young women can’t cope with men, no matter how sympathetic. You and I, Helen, have to do all the victim contact until we can persuade them to seek help from Dr. Liz Meyers at the rape clinic. That means we spend as much time as we can this afternoon coaching you in how to behave—it’s a matter of technique as well as feminine bonding. I’m hoping to be taking calls tomorrow after Mighty Mike’s breakfast show, but it’s possible we’ll have some responses after Luke Corby. You’re my shadow, Helen—wherever I go, you go. Understood?”
“Yes!” said Helen fervently. It was here at last, her first case, and she was going to make sure that Delia shone. Because if Delia shone, so did she.
Carmine took himself off to Carew and the eighth floor of Talisman Towers, the only ritzy block of high-rise apartments in a district chiefly famous for its peace, prettiness, and hordes of women students at all levels of a tertiary education. Helen had explained that Mark worked from home, so Carmine fully expected to find him in his apartment.
“Like Helen, I own my condo,” Mark Sugarman said, leading the way into a big room that had been intended as the living room, but had been turned into a studio. He indicated two hard chairs at a table, and went to the kitchen area to fetch mugs and a coffeepot, then sugar and cream.
In all visual respects he was a large yet medium man, from his height of just under six feet to his face and coloring. What saved him from obscurity were his eyes: long-lashed, widely open, and a vivid green. He was wearing baggy, faded jeans and a short-sleeved shirt whose two breast pockets bulged with items including pencils, cigarettes, a short steel ruler and many lumps and bumps.
If typical artists are supposed to live in extreme disorder, he was not typical, for the room was immaculately kept; it was painted white and its natural lighting consisted of a whole wall of glass panes looking over the treetops toward Long Island Sound, dreamily blue in this lovely start to Indian summer. Rather than an easel, he worked on a drafting board, in front of which sat a bar stool. A tall table to either side held inks, pens, pencils, an electric pencil sharpener, various protractors and T-squares, a neat pile of rags, and a jar of water. As they passed the board, Carmine was amused to see that it held a black-and-white India ink drawing of a wacky-looking family of raccoons. It was very well done, its human element only subtly—but tellingly—suggested.
“I’m a book illustrator,” Sugarman explained, pouring the coffee. “This one’s aimed at a general market from teens to nineties, so the publisher wants classy drawings—no cheating with cross-hatching or other shortcuts. Therefore, hire Mark Sugarman. Few art schools teach classical ink drawing, so I’m in demand. I learned in London and Antwerp.”
“How long has the neighborhood watch been in existence?” Carmine asked, adding cream and sugar; the coffee was old. “I should tell you that Maggie Drummond was raped last night, and wasn’t frightened enough not to call us. Her rape was atrocious—particularly brutal and demeaning—but I come from her with a request that you tell me everything you know. Maggie is very emphatic. She wants this monster caught.”
The unusual emerald eyes had widened and shone with tears; Sugarman’s coffee slopped. “Oh, Jesus!”
“Time to spill the beans about the Gentleman Walkers, sir.”
“And that’s a relief, Captain.” He drew a breath, reached out automatically for a stack of paper napkins and wiped up his spill. “The first one we knew about was Leonie—my dear, sweet Leonie! I found her when I went up to see if she felt like a walk to blow the cobwebs away. She was—oh, a terrible mess! Not cut up or anything, but bruised and soiled. He’d raped her three times, once real pervert stuff. I wanted to call you, but she wouldn’t let me, swore she’d deny the whole thing. Babbling about her family in France, the disgrace.” He ground his teeth. “Nothing I could say would persuade her to change her mind.”
“Did you believe Leonie was the first victim?”
“I did, but Mason Novak—he’s my best pal—said his girl, Shirley Constable, had behaved so like Leonie that he was having suspicions that had never occurred to him before—he thought Shirley had had a nervous breakdown over her work, even though she loved it. After Leonie, he was convinced she’d been raped, but he can’t even get into the same room with her, so—who knows?”
Carmine put his coffee down. “Mr. Sugarman, even if the women refused to cooperate, you should have brought your suspicions to the police, not organized a neighborhood watch.”
“I see that now, Captain, but at the time neither Mason nor I did. I put an ad in the Holloman Post announcing that I was forming a walking club—Carew residents only need apply. And I was inundated with walkers! The Gentleman Walkers were an instant success.”
“Without further stimulus than the rape of Leonie Coustain, which I presume you didn’t mention? That sounds peculiar, sir.”
Sugarman laughed, a wry sound. “Vanity, Captain. We’d found a way to keep fit—walking. Most walkers give it up because of the loneliness, while we walk in trios, always the same three men—we vary the routes. Guys sorted themselves out into trios of like mind, if you know what I mean. And a man walks each second evening, not every single day. It’s enough to keep the waistline trim and the heart in good shape.”
“And no Gentleman Walker has ever encountered a man who might be a rapist?” Carmine asked.
“Definitely not. The closest we came were the Peeping Toms.”
“You did a real service there, anyway. Peeping Toms who are never caught often become rapists later.” Carmine cleared his throat. “I need a list of your members, Mr. Sugarman.”
He rose from his chair at once. “Sure, I’ll get it. I have full details of every Gentleman Walker, it’s one of the club’s strictest conditions.”
Carmine conned the beautifully typed list in some awe. Names, ages, addresses, phone numbers, occupations, days rostered to walk: a painstaking and lucid timetable as well as a list. There were schoolteachers, an occasional physicist, chemists, tradesmen, medical doctors, dentists, plant physical workers, city clerks, technicians, biologists—146 names altogether, ranging in age from twenty-one to sixty-eight.
“You must be a very persuasive recruitment officer.”
Sugarman laughed, disclaiming. “No, I’m the logistics man, not the demagogue. You want to talk to Mason Novak. He’s the soul of the Gentleman Walkers, the one who keeps us inspired—and the one who took over from me as the ultimate authority.”
Carmine found him on the list. “Mason Novak, aged thirty-five, analytical chemist with Chubb. Burke Biology Tower, or Susskind Science Tower?”
“Susskind Science. He’s inorganic, he says.”
“Do you have a meeting venue?”
“Mason requisitions a small lecture theater in Susskind.”
“Um—today is Wednesday, so . . . Friday, six o’clock?”
“For what?” Mark Sugarman asked.
“Oh, come, Mr. Sugarman! A meeting between the Walkers and Holloman detectives. On Friday, September 27. Call the meeting and emphasize that every Gentleman Walker is to attend. Okay?”
“It won’t be difficult to assemble your troops. Listen to Mighty Mike’s breakfast program. I predict that all the Walkers will be agog to discover what’s happened.”
Funny, thought Carmine as his beloved Ford Fairlane headed for home that evening, how troubles never come singly. I have to turn Helen MacIntosh into a first-rate detective when I’m not even sure she’ll obey orders; I have Corey Marshall failing to make the grade as a lieutenant—who could ever have predicted that? Today I learned that our prettiest, most tranquil suburb, Carew, is harboring a particularly dangerous rapist. And my fantastic, six-foot-three wife has been defeated by a twenty-two-month-old child. Desdemona! Twice she’s come face-to-face with killers and won the encounters, whereas a bullying, shouting, hectoring toddler has worn her down to utter defeat. My Desdemona, always hovering on the verge of tears. It doesn’t bear thinking of, yet it has to be thought of. Not merely thought of: it has to be dealt with, and fast. Otherwise I might lose my wife forever.
He parked the Fairlane in the four-car garage’s only free bay and trod down the sloping path to his front door, aware that his couple of visits after work had made him later than probably Desdemona needed. The house, a very big New England colonial with a square three-storey tower and widow’s walk, stood halfway down two acres that backed onto Holloman Harbor; they had lived in it now for more than two years and loved its every mood, from an idyllic summer’s day to the wildest storm to encrustations of ice in a hard winter. But the spirit of the house resided in its mistress, Desdemona, and she was failing.
Nothing he could say had talked her out of a second pregnancy soon after her first; Julian was only sixteen months old when Alex was born. The boys were true fusions of nobly proportioned parents: from Carmine they inherited muscular bulk and a regal presence; from Desdemona they got bones that promised basketball players; and from both they took a high degree of intelligence that boded ill for parental tranquillity. If Julian was already so hard to take, what would it be like when Alex grew into the horrors of toddlerhood, from talking to walking?
The woman who had efficiently managed an entire research facility had retired to a domestic world, there to turn into a superb cook and an indefatigable housekeeper. But ever since Alex’s birth five months ago Desdemona had dwindled, not helped by Julian, a master of the filibuster, the harangue and the sermon.
Okay, he thought, opening the front door, here goes! I am going to do my best to pull Desdemona back from the abyss.
“It’s good to see you, but even better to feel you,” he said into her neck, crushing her in a rather frantic embrace. Then he kissed her, keeping his lips tender.
Understanding that this was no overture to passion, Desdemona put her husband into a chair and gave him his pre-dinner drink.
“Julian’s in bed?” he asked.
“Yes, you tricked him for once. He expected you to be on time, but when you didn’t turn up, he fell asleep.” She sighed. “He had a shocking tantrum today, right in the middle of Maria’s luncheon party. I told her I didn’t want to come!” A hot tear fell onto Carmine’s hand.
“My mother is sometimes not very bright, Desdemona. So I take it our son spoiled things?”
“He would have, except that Maria slapped him—hard! You know how I feel about slapping children, Carmine—there has to be a more effective way to deal with small children.”
Sit on it, Carmine, sit on it! “If there is, my love, you don’t seem to have found it with Julian,” he said—reasonably, he thought. “Tantrums are a form of hysteria, the child takes no harm from being jerked out of it.”
In the old days she would have flown at him, but not these days. Instead, she seemed to shrink. “It wore him out, at any rate. That’s why he’s in bed and asleep.”
“Good. I can do with the peace and quiet.”
“Were you serious when you threatened him with a nanny the other day? We can’t afford a nanny, Carmine, and a stranger in the house would make him worse.”
“First off, woman, I manage our finances. You shouldn’t have that headache on top of two babies. We can afford it, and I didn’t threaten Julian. I was warning him. It’s going to happen, my dear love, though not for the reasons you think. Not for Julian—for you. You’re permanently down, Desdemona. When you think no one’s looking, you weep a lot, and you can’t seem to find your way out of whatever it is plagues you. I went to see Doc Santini this afternoon because every time I insist you see him, you race in and out of his office pretending it’s Julian or Alex is sick. Desdemona, honestly! If there’s one thing Doc Santini’s not, it’s a fool. He knows as well as I do that you’re the one who’s sick. He says you’re suffering from a postpartum depression, love.”
She flung herself mutinously into her chair; when Carmine spoke in that tone, even God had to shut up and listen. And, she admitted as her anger died, there was something wrong with her. The trouble was, she knew it was incurable, whereas these men—what did men know about it—thought it was physical.
“Apparently they’re finding out a lot about women who become depressed after childbirth. It’s nothing Freudian, it’s a physical, hormonal thing that takes time and care to fix. You’ll have to see Doc tomorrow morning, and if you ignore me, wife, I’ll have you taken to the doctor’s office under police escort. My mother is coming round to babysit—”
“She’ll slap Julian!” Desdemona cried.
“Happen he needs a slap. Just because your father beat you as a child, Desdemona, doesn’t make a slap for a transgression cruelty. Sometimes it’s plain common sense. And let’s not get on to Julian, let’s stay with you.”
The tears were running silently down her face, but she was at least looking at him.
“Doc doesn’t want to put you on drugs. You’re a borderline case and you’ll get better naturally if we ease the pressure. In the main, that’s Julian. And the answer for Julian isn’t a slap, I agree with you there, because once a slap loses its shock value, he’ll ignore slaps. How am I doing so far?”
“Spot on,” she said gruffly. “Oh, Carmine, I thought it was your work preying on you when you come home, but it’s me! Me! I am so sorry! Oh, what can I do? I’m such a burden!”
“Desdemona, don’t cry! I’m giving you answers for your pain, not reasons. You could never be a burden. That’s a two-way street either of us could travel down. Doc suggested that I employ a young woman to help you. Her name is Prunella Balducci and she’s one of the East Holloman Balduccis, therefore some kind of cousin of mine. She usually works for megabucks on New York City’s Upper East Side. A couple of weeks ago she got tired of it and came home. Her savings account is loaded, so she isn’t interested in taking a megabucks job. What she wants is to be near her mom and dad for a while. Once she’s had a break, she’s heading for L.A. and a different set of emotional cripples than New York’s. By that, I mean that Prunella takes a job in an emotionally crippled household and gets its inhabitants organized enough for ordinary nannies and housekeepers.” He drew a long breath. “On my way home tonight I called in at Jake Balducci’s place and saw Prunella, who has agreed to come to us until Christmas. By then, she says, your troubles will be only a memory. We can afford what she’s asking in Holloman, Desdemona, so money is not an issue.”
“I don’t—I can’t—”
“Woman, of course you can! I am aware that you clean the house before Caroline comes, which is crazy, but you can’t do that with someone who’s staying here and eating meals with us and is really a part of the family, if only temporarily.”
Desdemona gasped. “Staying here? Where? Which room? Oh, Carmine, I can’t!”
“I also phoned my daughter at Paracelsus, ungrateful little puss that she is. Not a word to us in three weeks, but after I talked to her, I understood why, so she’s forgiven. She’s agreed to do her share toward your recovery by not coming home to sleep until Christmas. Prunella will live in Sophia’s tower. Caroline can clean it tomorrow, I’ve booked her for the day. Prunella is coming next week.”
By this, Desdemona was sagging in her chair, winded. “I see you have it all sorted out,” she said stiffly.
“Yes, wife, I do. Prunella’s chief task is to turn Julian into someone I look forward to seeing when I come home, rather than someone I could strangle for his treatment of you. At the moment he’s power crazy—bossy, manipulative and obnoxious, and if he goes on developing like that, the only career he’ll be fit for is a defense attorney. And I tell you straight, Desdemona,” Carmine said, only half joking, “that I won’t have a son who gets axe murderers and pederasts off. I’d be happier with a son who lived on welfare. There are traces of a nice person underneath Julian’s bluster, and now’s the time to make sure the nice person wins. Do you hear me?”
“I hear, I hear,” she said, trying to smile. “Was it Shakespeare who said, ‘Let’s kill all the lawyers!’? You are absolutely right, we can’t produce a defense attorney. In fact, even a D.A. would be unacceptable.”
“Then is it settled?”
“I suppose so. Yes, Prunella comes—but for Julian’s sake, not for mine.” Her face grew horrified. “What if I dislike her?”
“You won’t. You’ll love her.”
“Will she spank Julian?”
“I think she has better ammunition in her arsenal than that, dear love. Try to move farther away from your own childhood and see Julian for what he is, not for what you were. He’s only half you. His other half is tough Italian-American.”
She climbed to her feet, a long way. “Dinner,” she said.
No matter what her mood, and even when the meal was, as tonight, a simple one of steak, French fries and salad, Desdemona was a superb cook. She sprinkled the outside of the meat with a special salt before broiling it, and her French fries were out of this world—crunchy on the outside, feathery inside.
“Now,” she said after they were finished, “tell me how things went today, Carmine. I heard Delia on Luke Corby earlier.”
“It’s too soon to know much about the Dodo—that’s what we decided to call him, though he prefers the Latin—Didus ineptus. Any idea why he’d think like that?”
“Yes. He’s a poseur.”
“Who got it wrong. The term was a Linnaeus classification, out of date now.”
“I don’t think that bothers him. That particular phrase clicks with some idea in his mind. But the Dodo isn’t what’s worrying you,” she said, sipping her tea. She had persuaded Carmine to switch from coffee to tea after dinner, and he was sleeping better. “Tell me, love.”
“Morty Jones is drinking, and Corey won’t see it.”
“Ohh! Drinking is a firing offense, isn’t it?”
“On duty, yes. Instant dismissal, the works—it’s in our contracts. John Silvestri is an iron man about liquor, and the Holloman PD is famous—lushes need not apply.”
“But Morty! He’s a weak man, I know, yet . . .” Desdemona’s plain face grew plainer save for her pale blue eyes, which Carmine fancied were the same color as pack ice, ethereal and slightly eerie; they grew moist. “I suppose it’s his wife?”
“When isn’t it? I caught him coming in to work Monday, and we had a talk. Seems their relationship came to a head last Saturday night when Morty found Ava sneaking to the spare room at three a.m. When he told her he’d had enough, she told him that his kids weren’t his, and he decked her. On the floor, blood everywhere from a broken nose. Ava packed her bags and left him to the tender mercies of his mother—” Carmine threw his hands up and clutched fruitlessly at the air. “It seems he spent all of Sunday in the Shamrock Bar, so you can imagine what he looked like—and smelled like!—Monday morning.”
“Oh, Carmine, that’s terrible! According to Netty Marciano, the boy—Bobby?—was fathered by Danny Morski, and Gidget belongs to the nonfamous Holloman cop Harpo Marx. I must say the likenesses are speaking, but Morty never knew, did he?”
“Didn’t want to, I guess. He’s in denial, that’s why he’s drinking. Corey’s playing ostrich, head in the sand. Morty’s mom agreed to look after the kids for the time being, but told him to find a housekeeper.”
“Oh, dear!” Desdemona’s English accent wasn’t as posh as Delia’s, but it showed strongly in exclamations. And at least, thought Carmine, watching her, Morty Jones’s troubles were giving her something other than Julian to think about. “What can you do, Carmine?”
“Keep talking to Morty and hope Ava comes home again. No other cop would put up with her out of a bed.”
“Corey’s bothering you in other ways, isn’t he?”
“Clever chicken! Corey’s jealous of Abe. He implied that I’m biased in favor of Abe. It was hard to take.”
Why don’t they leave him alone? Desdemona asked herself, all traces of depression burned to ashes in the furnace of her rage at Corey, Ava, Morty—anyone who didn’t see her husband for the great and good man he was. I must get better, I must! The last thing Carmine needs is an emotionally crippled wife. But what her heart was telling her lay beyond her ability and capacity at this moment; Desdemona sat, huddled in her chair, without the strength to offer him any kind of comfort. All her little spurt of anger had done was to stimulate the ever-lurking tears. When she tried to wink them away, they overflowed, and again it was Carmine who had to summon up the energy to offer comfort.
By noon of the next day, Thursday, September 26, Delia Carstairs, in charge of gathering information about the Dodo’s possible rapes, had accumulated a total of six young women she deemed highly likely to have been victims prior to Maggie Drummond. Done in the form of a dialogue between Delia and the host of the program, the radio broadcasts had proven astonishingly effective; Delia suspected that all six young women had yearned for somewhere feminine to go, and that, as was usually the way, it hadn’t occurred to any of them that a medical school as prestigious as Chubb’s would have a rape clinic rather than merely an emergency room. Delia used her accent to present as a very classy woman who really would, as she assured her listeners, see and talk to victims in privacy and without a male presence.
A delighted Helen was severely cautioned.
“Have you ever been raped?” Delia asked her.
“No, not even close.”
“Then strictly speaking you’re as ignorant as any man. All you have in facing these devastated women is your sex, which I require be used as a reassurance. Never appear indifferent.”
“Are you implying that men dismiss rape as a fabrication?”
“A minority of men only. A few men have been falsely accused of rape—you’ll never convert them. Some have been brought up to regard all women as liars and cheats. There is always an element of ignorance. Samson and Delilah is a good illustration—women are seen as stripping men of their power, their authority.”
“Why tell me stuff I already know?”
Delia drew a patient breath. “I’m telling you this because it’s a rare man who empathizes with a rape victim, but Captain Delmonico is one such rare man. The Dodo case will be worked, and not just because the rapist is escalating.”
“Why?” Helen demanded, eyes glistening.
“Don’t take your mind there, Helen!” Delia snapped. “Don’t go romantically endowing the Captain with a raped girlfriend, or anything even remotely so personal. No such person exists. What I am trying to get through your unversed head, madam trainee, is that you’re extremely lucky to be working here.”
“Yes, Delia,” said Helen meekly. “What do I do?”
“If a victim chooses to come here, you sit in the interview room with her and me. If the victim prefers to be seen at her home, you accompany me to her home. You are purely a witness. You say not one word unless I indicate you may. You don’t ask curious questions either, even if you believe your question will solve the case. You write it down, hand the paper to me, and I will decide. Our best advantage is that we’re women, so don’t blow it. Understood?”
“Should I take notes?”
“Unobtrusively, yes. None of them will consent to a tape recorder, unfortunately.”
There were seven rape victims: Shirley Constable on March 3; Mercedes Mendes on May 13; Leonie Coustain on June 25; Esther Dubrowski on July 16; Marilyn Smith on August 6; Natalie Goldfarb on August 30; and Maggie Drummond on September 24.
When Helen offered to drive each young woman into County Services in a private car and return her the same way, Delia managed to persuade all six earlier victims to come in. Her trainee assistant, Delia noted when Shirley Constable appeared, had handled this most damaged of the victims with a cheerful insouciance that had revolved around her green Lamborghini sports car; she hadn’t mentioned the coming interview.
The erstwhile Carew character had retreated so far inside herself that it took Delia almost an hour to get her talking, but when she did, it poured out. She had been a virgin for religious reasons and regarded herself as ruined for life; but that, Dr. Liz Meyers and the rape clinic would help. Delia had already been in touch with Dr. Meyers, a brilliant psychiatrist whose sole interest was rape.
What preyed more cruelly on Shirley’s mind was her conviction that the Dodo would return to kill her, and a large part of her felt she deserved to die. Oh, we women have to get over this mind-set, Delia said to herself. The value society puts on virginity is a way to make sure a man fathers his children—look at poor Morty Jones.
Having assured Shirley that the Dodo was too busy moving on to bother going back and killing earlier victims, Delia sent her o