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Cotton FBI - Episode 08

Contents

  1. Cover
  2. What is COTTON FBI?
  3. The Author
  4. Title
  5. Copyright
  6. 1
  7. 2
  8. 3
  9. 4
  10. 5
  11. 6
  12. 7
  13. 8
  14. 9
  15. 10
  16. 11
  17. 12
  18. 13
  19. 14
  20. 15
  21. Next on Cotton FBI

What is COTTON FBI?

Your name is Jeremiah Cotton. You are a small-time cop in the NYPD, a rookie that no one takes seriously. But you want more. You have a score to settle with the world. And anyone who calls you “Jerry” will be sorry.

A new time. A new hero. A new mission. Experience the birth of a digital cult-series: Cotton FBI is the remake of JERRY COTTON, the most successful series of German novels with more than one billion copies sold, and it tells an entirely new story in e-book form.

Cotton FBI is published twice a month, with each episode a self-contained story.

The Author

Peter Mennigen was born in Meckenheim near Bonn. He studied art and design in Cologne before he turned to writing fiction. His novels have been published by Bastei Lübbe, Rowohlt, Ravensburger and other publishing houses. He also writes scripts for graphic novels and audio dramatizations as well as screenplays for TV shows and series.

1

It was 0900 hours by the time Cotton arrived at the crime scene. The 26-mile drive behind him had taken him across western Manhattan, the industrial region of New Jersey, and then up to North Caldwell, a town he knew only from the TV show The Sopranos.

He turned a corner onto a picturesque tree-lined street and slowly drove on. The colonial-style houses gleamed in the bright whiteness of the morning sun. Everything in this neighborhood looked well taken care of, very clean. Cotton had seen shootings in worse areas than this; actually, he was used to downright ugly areas, where shootings are the norm.

Cotton parked his car behind a collection of other FBI vehicles and police cars. He got out and followed a gravel pathway leading past rows of flowerbeds. At the front door, which was framed by grapevines, he pulled out his FBI ID card and showed it to the police officer standing there. Having passed muster, he entered the foyer of the house.

The floor was made of marble, and a pompous-looking chandelier hung from the high ceiling. The walls featured a collection of heavy-framed, professionally taken photos that displayed an upper-class white family. The way the family was posed, their hairstyles and clothing, the lighting — no details had been neglected. The photos showed an attractive couple in their forties. The man looked like someone who had spent his life signing documents. Except for a few tiny wrinkles, it appeared that his wife hadn’t aged a day since her thirtieth birthday. The daughter, who looked to be about eight years old, had straw-blond hair and a charming smile. Her teenaged brother had a face covered with acne.

Cotton followed the muffled voices and other noises coming from somewhere ahead of him. He entered the kitchen, which was about half the size of his entire apartment. Almost a dozen uniformed and plain-clothes police officers stood behind a cordon of yellow tape that had been strung straight across the room.

He saw his partner standing among the law enforcement officers: Philippa “Phil” Decker. She seemed rather absent-minded at the moment. Her arms were crossed close to her chest, as if she were freezing cold despite the dark pantsuit she was wearing. Her face was as white as a sheet, perhaps due to the depressing sight before her: 9-millimeter shells strewn across the floor in puddles of blood.

Cotton looked over to Sarah Hunter. The G-team’s forensic expert was crouched on the floor, searching for tiny traces of evidence. She wore a one-piece protective suit, which prevented her from contaminating the crime scene. With an experienced hand, she directed the beam of a powerful flashlight to illuminate one small section of the floor after another, while she carefully studied everything she saw. Once in a while, she would pick up something tiny off the floor with a fine-toothed set of forceps and put it into a small plastic bag.

Joe Brandenburg, Cotton’s former partner in the NYPD, stood a few steps away. He watched Hunter at work with an expressionless face, his hands buried deep in his pockets. His grim appearance was reminiscent of the old-time cops who had solved crimes with brawn rather than brains. The black leather jacket he was sporting fit this image well.

“Hey, Joe,” Cotton said as he walked over to him, thinking fleetingly of the Jimmy Hendrix song.

“Why are you guys getting involved with this case?” Brandenburg asked Cotton sullenly. Tact was not one of Joe’s strong points. “Do those jerks at City Hall think that we can’t even solve a simple murder case?”

“I’m pleased to see you, too,” Cotton said dryly. “What are you doing here?”

Brandenburg knew what Cotton meant. “The town asked for an experienced homicide detective to assist with this case,” he said, just as dryly. He added with a smirk, “Just goes to show you the level of my skills!”

Cotton shrugged his shoulders and turned around, almost colliding with an FBI photographer. The pale man was taking dozens of photos from all sorts of angles. His objective lens was fitted with a ring flash, allowing him to take spectacular photos, especially in macro. The pictures this camera was taking, however, would turn out gruesome, no matter how high the resolution.

Four bowls were standing on the kitchen table, each filled with blood-soaked corn flakes. Still sitting at the table, slouched over, was the married couple, the same one that Cotton had seen in the portraits hanging on the wall. Judging from the bullet holes riddling their bodies, the couple had served as target practice for someone — someone who must have been a maniac. It looked like he had emptied an entire magazine of ammo into their bodies. The male victim’s mouth gaped open as if he wanted to shout. The terror that his wife must have felt at the time of her death was evident in her eyes. Lying at her feet was a tipped-over chair and the lifeless body of her daughter. The son was lying at the other end of the kitchen, near the sink.

Cotton went over to Decker. “What happened here?”

“Don’t you see?” She avoided looking at her partner, trying to hide her distraught emotions. “The adult victims are Mr. and Mrs. Lancaster. They were just having breakfast when it happened.” Decker gestured towards the daughter with her chin. “That’s their daughter, Lucille. She was killed with a single gunshot to the head. The weapon used was a Browning registered to the father.”

“Lancaster shot his family and then committed suicide?” asked Cotton.

Decker shook her head. “It looks more like the son killed his family and then himself.”

“The son?” Cotton glanced over at the boy on the floor. Indeed, there was a pistol still clutched in his hand, half obscured beneath his body. “How old is he — fourteen?”

“Thirteen.”

“And how did he get the pistol?”

“Probably from his father’s gun cabinet. The key is still stuck in the lock.”

“Why would the boy do something like that? Do we know anything about a motive?”

“No. It could be anything, from revenge to an Oedipus complex. Family dramas often don’t follow rational paths of motivation.”

“Maybe it was someone else who wanted to make it look like the boy did it.”

“We thought of that already, but there’s nothing here to substantiate that theory. Let’s assume that an unknown killer shot the entire family. Why would he place the boy’s body where it is now? Then there’s the angle of the bullet that killed the boy. It was fired from below, pointing upward through his lower jaw. You can’t make that kind of shot from anything but close range.”

“I’ve never seen such a gruesome bloodbath before.” Cotton looked at the adult victims again. “Is the time of death known?”

“Neighbors called the police at around seven this morning when they heard screams and shots being fired. The officers had to break the door in. All the doors and windows were locked from the inside. That’s another sign that it wasn’t anyone from outside the family. Besides, the house is secured by an alarm system, video cameras, and motion detectors. We’ve checked the entire system, and there’s nothing suspicious. Although not all the videos have been viewed yet, we haven’t found anything on them so far.”

“What did Lancaster do for a living?”

“He worked for a large insurance company in Manhattan. Mrs. Lancaster was a housewife. The kids were still in school, naturally.”

“Did the boy have any problems in school?”

“Not at all. He also had never had any run-ins with the law. The neighbors say that he was always friendly and helpful.”

“I’m not sure why we’re involved in this case. It seems like a matter for the local authorities.”

“You’ll have to ask Mr. High that; he was the one who sent us here. We’re supposed to report back to him as soon as we’re finished.”

Sarah Hunter packed away all the evidence and her gear into a large case and went over to Decker and Cotton.

“Well, I’m done here,” she told them. “I’ll head back to the lab now and get started on analyzing everything.”

“Thanks, Sarah,” Decker said.

Over the following hours, the agents examined every room in the house, especially the boy’s room.

In the boy’s bedroom, there was a large bookshelf against the wall across from the doorway, reaching from floor to ceiling. The shelves held hundreds of books and a number of plastic models of luxury cars. The boy’s unmade bed and a nightstand stood to the right of the door. The wall behind the bed was adorned with posters of scantily clad women on motorcycles. Facing the window was a pine desk supporting a monitor and a printer. The tower of the desktop computer stood in a special niche below the desk.

Cotton positioned himself in the middle of the room and turned around slowly, attentively examining everything in sight.

“Does this complete normality give you a weird feeling, too?” Decker wanted to know.

Cotton shrugged. “Truthfully, there are things that would give me more reason to be concerned. Like pictures of dissected animals.”

His partner searched the desk drawers. She pulled out a manual for a DVD player. Between its pages, she found a photo of a pretty girl, who looked to be about fourteen. Was that a girlfriend no one was supposed to know about?

Cotton took a closer look at the boy’s computer. However, he found nothing on the hard drive or the USB sticks that could help them with the case.

Lying on the boy’s dresser was a smartphone that was still turned on. It looked like he had used it that morning. On its main screen, Cotton noticed an icon from an app. It was nothing special — just some funny-looking cartoon figure.

His own smartphone started to ring at just that moment, stirring the agent out of his reverie. He took it out of his pocket and answered the call. “Yeah?”

“Hey, man, it’s Zeerookah,” the G-Team’s IT expert said.

“What’s up?”

“A call for help was placed to the NYPD a little while ago. It was forwarded to the FBI and then to the G-Team, and it seems to have something to do with the case you’re working on now.”

“Could you be a little more precise?”

“Unfortunately, no. First of all, the caller was talking some pretty mixed-up nonsense, and second, he hung up abruptly. It seems to have something to do with a wedding.”

“Are the police on their way?”

“Yeah, but Mr. High thinks it would be a good idea for you two to take a closer look as well. I’ll send you the address on your phone. See you later.”

The address of the potential crime scene appeared on the display of Cotton’s phone. He made a mental note of the location and put the phone away. He also kept the boy’s phone — maybe the experts at G-Team headquarters could find something useful on it. On his way to the door, he told Decker, “We have to go to Queens.”

“But we’re not finished here yet!”

“This here can wait,” Cotton called back to her from the hallway. “High’s become clairvoyant.”

“How so?”

“If I knew that, it would mean I could see into the future, too, but I think I’ll leave that to the nutcases.”

Confused, she followed him.

The two agents hurried out of the house. A crowd of people had gathered in front of the property. The police had put up more yellow tape to cordon off the house. The first few reporters had also shown up, and it wouldn’t be long before the large vans from the TV stations would arrive.

Why, Cotton asked himself, why couldn’t he get rid of the feeling that the true murderer was still at large?

2

The agents drove to the address in Queens that Zeerookah had supplied. Their destination was across the Triborough Bridge, on the other side of the East River, at the end of a dreary-looking street.

The poorly maintained avenue pitted with potholes was lined by dilapidated warehouses, liquor stores with blackened windows, run-down apartment buildings, and tiny, shabby bars, second home to unhappy wretches trying to kill time with cheap beer. It would be pointless to try to sell any property on this street — no one would ever give it a second look.

It looked like the local police were already at the scene. Decker parked the FBI service vehicle behind a patrol car.

A high hedgerow stood between the street and the property where the wedding was taking place. The agents had to walk a bit before they came to a wrought-iron gate. Cotton opened it and the two stepped inside. They were surprised to find themselves in an unexpectedly large and well-kept garden. In the middle of the garden stood a restaurant built in a rustic style. It was as though they had stepped back through a time machine into another world. Nothing here was anything like the dirty browns and grays and the run-down appearance of the rest of the neighborhood.  Instead, this property seemed to be a holdout from the nineteenth century. There was a cobblestone pathway lined with roses that led from the gate to the front entrance of the restaurant.

“Odd,” Cotton said. “It’s very quiet here for a wedding.”

Reaching the restaurant, the agents walked past a window that had been shattered by bullets. The curtains were drawn shut. The front door was shaded by two birch trees. Cotton and Decker stopped nearby, off to the side, and pulled out their weapons before entering.

As Cotton pushed the door open, he was seized by the overwhelming feeling that something terrible must have happened inside the building. The walls, partly painted white and partly paneled in dark-stained maple, lent an eerie atmosphere to the place. There were about a half-dozen tables set with food, drinks, and silverware. The wedding guests were still sitting at their places, as if they were glued to their chairs. Some were bloody and moaning in pain. Others were lying motionless on the floor. Only a short while ago, this had been a place of joy and happiness as the guests celebrated the bride and groom, but now it resembled a slaughterhouse.

The agents stared at the scene in disbelief; two brutal mass murders on a single day only miles apart. What a bizarre coincidence. But Cotton didn’t believe in coincidences — at least, not with this sort of crime.

He took a moment to come to terms with the scene before him. It was not a pretty sight; the bride and groom were lying in a pool of blood. Also lying on the floor were two police officers. Obviously, they had arrived while the killer was still there and had been ambushed by him.

The thing that disturbed Cotton almost more than the dead bodies was the behavior of the wedding guests who were still alive. Why were they just sitting there? Why hadn’t they stood up and fled outside?

As if in answer to his question, he heard a metallic click behind him. He knew the meaning of this sound all too well. It was the sound of a rifle bolt being cocked.

Taking up much of the left side of the room was a massive bar made of brushed stainless steel. Behind it stood a compactly built man with broad shoulders in his late twenties. His face was puffy, and he had extremely short black hair. His dark eyes showed no expression, like black marbles. He was dressed as a waiter. He was holding a rifle in his hands, and Cotton knew that it was capable of causing great damage; even worse, he was aiming it at Decker’s head.

Mesmerized, she stared at the man, her eyes fixed on the rifle.

“You won’t get away with this,” Cotton said, trying to draw the man’s attention away from Decker. “I …”

“Shut your trap!” the killer spat, staring at Cotton and Decker with narrowed eyes. “You two are so dead right now …”

He fired the rifle, and a bright flame flashed from the muzzle. Everything happened so fast that Cotton could only react instinctively. Just as the man pulled the trigger, Cotton sprung over to Decker and pulled her down to the ground.

The murderer fired two more times, but only hit the table under which the agents were cowering. Then another two shots smashed some plates on another table. The wedding guests cried out in terror. Cotton waited until the man worked the bolt again, and then he dove towards the bar. The man tried to take aim at Cotton, but the agent had bounded over the bar and kicked the gunman’s hip with his right foot.

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