“So let me get this straight,” Police Chief Kai Goodman said, looking across the booth at the detective seated opposite him. “Your troopers set up a DUI checkpoint. Less than a quarter mile past the checkpoint, our guy, drunk, smashes into a deer, totals his car. The troopers hear the crash and drive over. Five minutes later the guy's in an ambulance, and ten minutes later he gets shot being carried into the hospital.”
“Something like that,” Detective Billy Farowski said.
“And you don't have a name or an ID?”
“And his BAC was...?” Kai asked, referring to Blood Alcohol Concentration.
“Point one four. Maybe even point one six.” The legal limit was 0.08.
“You're telling me a guy with almost double the limit drove right through a state checkpoint?” Kai was sympathetic.
“Something like that.”
“That's got to be embarrassing.”
“I mean, someone's gonna have hell to pay,” Kai said.
“Tell me about it,” Farowski agreed.
They were in a diner in the small village of Warwick, N.Y., about an hour out of New York City. Warwick was just close enough to the City for the commute to be manageable, and far enough away to have a country feel.
Kai Goodman, the 37-year-old chief of Warwick police, wore his official tan uniform, except for the hat and tie. The hat was in the car. He never wore the tie. He was leaning back with a cup of black coffee in his right hand. Somewhere around 200 pounds and just over 6 feet tall, Kai had the look of a man who kept himself in shape but who wasn't obsessed with it.
Detective Billy Farowski of the New York State Police — technically, “Inspector” Farowski — was dressed in a dark blue suit with a badge visibly clipped to his belt. He was halfway through a full breakfast of pancakes, eggs, and sausage. Also about 200 pounds, Farowski was only five-eight. He wore most of his weight around his middle.
“Any chance he didn't go through the checkpoint?” Kai asked.
“Sure. He could have driven round the bend toward the checkpoint, seen the police lights, hung a U, doused his own headlights, backed up for a tenth of a mile in the dark, then floored it.”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“He was driving a 4-cylinder Ford Focus. And he hit the deer at somewhere north of 60. No way he gets the car to that speed unless he was accelerating almost from the very second he left the checkpoint.”
“Any chance he was going the other direction, toward the checkpoint?”
“But your guys don't have a record of him going through?”
“We're not allowed to keep records. Civil rights and what not.”
“Tell me how it works.”
“You know how it works.”
“Tell me anyway.”
“We set up the checkpoint at that S on Route 94. You can't see it coming for more than about a quarter mile in either direction—”
“—Yeah, near Vallani Lane. So it's a surprise in both directions, but drivers still have enough time to slow down. Route 94 is only one lane in each direction there, but it's got wide shoulders. We light up the area with a few cruisers. Then one guy on either side stops each car for a quick chat with the driver.”
“ ‘How are you?' ‘Have you been drinking?' ‘Where are you headed?' ” Kai knew the drill.
“Yeah. Stuff like that. It's not rocket science. If we have any doubt, we have troopers waiting on the sides with Breathalyzers.”
“So if it's not rocket science, how'd our guy get through?”
“That's what I'm saying.”
“How much did he weigh?”
“The driver? One-eighty. Average build. Why?”
“So— what? Seven drinks to get to point one four?”
“Something like that. Six, seven, all in an hour. Maybe five if he wasn't a drinker.”
“Don't know. Wasn't an alcoholic. The M.E. said his liver was in pretty good shape. But none of that's the point. The point is that he got shot on the way into the hospital. Otherwise I wouldn't care. That's why I'm here. I don't give a damn about a leaky DUI checkpoint. You've got a murderer in your town. And we're hoping you know the vic, too.”
“Go back to the alcohol. You think he got drunk after the checkpoint? Maybe chugged a pint of Absolut?”
“I wish. But we know he didn't live long after the crash. And there was a bit of food in his stomach, but not a lot of alcohol. It was all in his blood.”
“What, after the crash?”
“The troopers called in the crash at 11:41pm. He was shot dead at 12:04.”
Kai put down his coffee, then pulled a pen and a small pad of paper from his shirt pocket. Instead of writing, he held the pen in the air, moving it forward, backward, sideways.
“Could be,” he said at last. “Hospital's only three minutes away. Response time, five minutes. A few minutes to load the guy into the bus. Not our most impressive show of responsiveness, but yeah. Could be.”
“It wasn't the slow response time that killed him. It was the shots to the head.”
“How close to Vallani were you?” Kai asked.
“Close enough. If he came from there we'd have seen him.”
“Maybe he was driving without his headlights. That would also explain why he hit the deer,” Kai said.
“We'd have heard a car turn off Vallani. It was a quiet night.”
“So the question is how does a drunk guy drive right through a DUI checkpoint.”
“No. The question is why a guy gets shot in front of a hospital.”
It was a good question.
“Even if you don't keep records, wouldn't someone remember seeing him?” Kai asked.
“Who? The vic? His face was pretty smashed up from the gunshots. And without ID, we don't know for sure what he looked like.”
“But does anyone remember seeing any average-looking guys weighing around 180? Sure. Lots of 'em.”
“Right before the crash?”
For the first time, the detective was silent.
“Okay,” Kai continued. “Was anyone following Mr. Average? Chasing him, perhaps. Or was he chasing anyone else?”
“No. Neither one.”
“But you don't keep records, right?”
“Right. Just an educated guess.”
“That's what I thought.”
“So we're back to where we started. A guy with no ID drives up to your checkpoint drunk as a skunk and a trained professional lets him through. The guy hits a deer, then gets sent to a hospital where he's shot dead.”
“Yeah. We've got the crime scene guys all over the area around the hospital. The M.E. is almost done with the body. We're running the vic's prints. We're running ballistics. We'll know more soon.”
“No, you won't,” Kai said slowly. “No, you won't.”
“What the hell?”
“One more question. Who'd your guys call on the radio?”
“And did these guys say who they were?”
“I mean, did they say the driver was drunk?”
“Guy's got point one three and they couldn't smell it on his breath?”
“But the guys in the ambulance could, right?”
The detective was silent for a second time.
Kai tried again. “When I get the radio transcripts, am I going to read anything about the guy being drunk?”
“Just one more question, detective,” Kai said again. “When the guy drove past the checkpoint, he was smoking, right?”
The detective's eyes widened enough to give Kai the answer. “We don't—”
“Right. You don't keep records.”
“Fine. Let's say, yeah, let's say he was smoking. Let's say he was drunk. Let's say our guys let him through anyway. Believe me when I tell you there's going to be an investigation. But these guys didn't work for me and I'm not IA. All I care about is why the guy got shot.”
“I understand. So you want to know— what? If I know anyone who goes around double-tapping incoming patients at St. Anthony's?” St. Anthony's was the hospital in Warwick.
“Yeah, and— Who said anything about a double-tap?”
“You said shots to the head. I just assumed.”
“The hell you did. What do you know?”