Detective Alan Beach discovers a tenuous connection between the apparent suicide of a prominent scientist and the assassination of a US Congressman. The suspense builds as he struggles to uncover the truth, and a team of mercenaries tries to permanently silence him, but a mysterious figure intervenes. Beach and his deadly new protector discover a dangerous conspiracy which runs far deeper than they imagined. In this must-read thriller, the race is on to stop one of the most powerful business moguls in America from assuming the role of puppet-master over the entire nation.
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
A long held passion for thrillers drove me to aspire to the ranks of my favorite authors, such as: Campbell Armstrong, Vince Flynn, Michael Connelly, Robert Ludlum, and others. I’d toyed with a number of ideas for years, until I came up with the medical technology around which I developed the plot for The Killing Code.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
The main characters in The Killing Code are basically composites of real life people who I know personally. The protagonists continue with the plot in the sequel, The Killing Chase, but I add some new allies and foes to expand the story.
Dr. Helen Benson stood quietly but impatiently in the modern chic elevator, waiting to reach her floor in the luxurious Eleanor building. She had been at an international psychotropic pharmaceutical seminar in Washington for the past two days and was excited to reunite with her husband, Jim, and her two daughters, Bethany and Crystal. Busy imagining the adoring faces of her darling little girls and the embrace of her loving husband as she opened the door and they came rushing to greet her, she hadn’t paid much attention to the strange-looking little man with piercing eyes standing behind her. Now though, she could feel those eyes on her, and her mind wandered to thoughts of him. He was in the elevator before she entered so she’d assumed he must have come from one of the parking levels below the ground floor but she couldn’t remember having seen him in the building before.
Helen and her family had been living in ‘The Eleanor’ since they bought their comfortable, modern four-bedroom condominium eighteen months earlier; and despite the grand size of the building, and the fact that it contained ninety six apartments, she was familiar with many of the occupants. It wouldn’t be unusual for a guest to be riding unaccompanied in the elevator, since the modern security system enabled occupants to allow entry to visitors via a camera-phone, but she couldn’t help feeling slightly uneasy at his presence. Despite her tickling intuition, Helen admonished herself for being mildly paranoid and tried to put it out of her mind.
As the floor numbers flowed past on the LED display beside the elevator doors, the anticipation of seeing her family was renewed. She longed for details of the last two days. She wanted to ask Bethany about her new school and talk to Crystal about her friends in kindergarten. Essentially, she just wanted her much needed dose of family time after all those endless dry hours of lectures, display booths, and scientific chatter that had consumed her time at the convention center in D.C.
Just as the display passed through floor ten and Helen was deep in thoughts of her family, she felt a slight prick in the skin at the back of her neck, near the base of her skull. Before her mind could properly process what had happened, the small, sharp-featured man’s hand darted out toward the twelfth-floor button and the elevator came to a smooth stop as Helen rubbed her neck with a puzzled look on her face. The man exited the car and, as the doors began to close, Helen wondered if the mild pinch in her neck had come from him. With his hands deep in the pockets of his overcoat, he turned and glared straight into her eyes.
“Good night, Dr. Benson, sleep well.” he said, in what felt to Helen like a menacing tone. Then he turned and paced briskly down the hall as the elevator doors met and he was lost from her view.
“What on earth was that?” Helen wondered aloud.
The pain was not intense, and had quickly subsided to nothing more than a tingle but she felt confused by her thoughts on the origin of the pain and her interpretation of the man’s intent. Could it really have been something he’d done to her or was it just an insect bite or perhaps a phantom pain from a pinched nerve? Her medical training and experience had taught her over many years that the human body and mind were capable of playing all sorts of tricks, so perhaps this was one. There was no reason to suspect that a man in her safe, up-market residential building, particularly one who knew her by name, would do anything to hurt her, so she wondered why suspicion had been her initial reaction? Her better nature was telling her that she must have imagined his “menacing” tone. He had an accent, so maybe he wasn’t a native English speaker and his slightly inappropriate intonation was purely unintentional.
“There must be a logical explanation for the whole scenario.” she thought. “Too much time away from home has got you imagining things, Helen!” Her brow furrowed. “Then again, why did he wait to select his floor until the elevator had almost reached it instead of when he first entered?”
She decided to push all such thoughts out and get on with the much more pleasant business of coming home to her family. As the elevator drew to a halt on the fourteenth floor, she waited for the doors to open and walked purposefully toward the door of her family’s condominium.
The familiar brass numbers, 1404, entered her field of vision, and she pulled excitedly at the keys in her bag. In one quick movement, she reached for the lock and inserted her key. As the bolt slid open with a familiar clunk, she pushed the heavy security door and breezed through the opening. As if on cue, her girls looked up simultaneously from their coloring books and with squeals of delight, ran toward their mother in flurry of excitement and giggles.
Bethany, the elder, was first to reach her destination; half running and half jumping into her mother’s arms. Helen hugged her tightly and began smothering her with kisses as Crystal followed closely on her sister’s heels, colliding lovingly into her mother’s side and melting into a warm three-way embrace. Helen gripped Bethany with her left arm as her right hand dropped to the middle of Crystal’s back and she bent to kiss her younger daughter.
“How are my angels?” Helen gushed. “Have you been good girls for Daddy while I was away?”
“More like little monkeys!” Jim Benson interjected playfully. “I’m only kidding girls. They’ve been very helpful and well behaved; even made me breakfast one day… and once was more than enough!” he teased. “How was the conference, honey?”
“Oh, I don’t think you really want to know about the conference.”
“Nope, you got that right! I’m just glad you’re home safe.”
Jim’s eyes were locked on those of his wife as he strode toward his tightly huddled family. He and Helen had been married for over ten years, and their love for each other had grown only deeper and more respectful during that time. They had been in college together when they met, and though they courted for a year and a half before Jim proposed and they waited a further two years before they married, they had always known their futures would be inextricably entwined.
Jim was a successful nanotech engineer at a private company with connections to M.I.T. when Helen became pregnant with Bethany, and with her career in psychiatric pharmaceuticals taking off, they mutually agreed that he would be a stay-at-home dad. Jim was overjoyed with the decision as it would enable him to spend as much time as possible with the children while allowing him to focus more on his own design research than he could while he was in a formal job.
Jim reached his wife and two daughters, and the grand hug was complete. They held their embrace for a moment, only letting go to look into each other’s eyes. As the excitement subsided, Jim asked his wife, “Are you hungry, honey, or did you eat on the plane?”
“Eat on the plane – really? I wanted to make it home alive, thank you!”
“Oh come on, honey, it can’t be all that bad, can it?”
“It can and it was! One bite was all I could bear. I’m starving, and I need a shower.”
“OK, I’ve got the makings of a nice chef’s salad waiting for you, so go and get comfortable while I put it together.”
Helen started toward their bedroom but found that she had developed a limp from the excess weight that was daughter number two. She had attached herself to her mother’s left leg like a limpet and showed no signs of letting go.
“Come on now, Crystal, let Mommy put her things away and have a shower, then I’ll be back out to see you soon.”
Crystal’s grip released, and she pouted dramatically as Helen towed her wheeled case behind her down the hall. Once in the bedroom, she decided that unpacking could wait and headed straight into the en suite bathroom for a well deserved shower. As the warm water pulsed on her head and neck, she felt a wave of relief and relaxation from being safely at home with her family. She loved her cutting-edge work in psychiatric pharmaceuticals and neurohormones at Blue Sky Biotech but she had always tried to maintain as much balance in her life as possible, so any conferences that went for longer than a day were an annoyance.
Helen finished her shower, dried herself and sat on the edge of the bed in her bathrobe. She suddenly felt overwhelmingly tired and, despite her hunger and knowing that Jim was busily preparing a delicious meal for her, she felt strongly compelled to lie down.
“I’ll just have a ten minute lie-down…” she thought as she moved up the bed to lay her head on her pillow. “…and by the time Jim’s got the salad ready, I’ll be fine.”
Despite her best intentions, Helen fell into a deep sleep and within a few minutes, Jim came in to check on her. He knew she was even more exhausted than he had expected, so he decided to leave her to sleep. He went back into the dining room, took Helen’s salad to the fridge then cautioned the girls not to disturb their mother while she rested.
Helen woke with a start just over an hour after she’d drifted off and anxiously peered at the bedside clock.
“Damn!” she admonished herself. “The girls will be asleep already, and Jim’s salad will be wilted.”
She was disappointed that she’d fallen asleep before spending as much time with her family as they all needed. She secured the knot in her bathrobe, turned the doorknob and went to apologize to her husband; but entering the hallway, she noticed that everything was quiet – too quiet for this time of night. White noise emanated from the television in the living room down the hall, coming from a station that must have finished broadcasting for the night… but that didn’t make sense, since it was still early in the evening.
Helen stepped slowly and deliberately so as not to disturb the girls in their rooms as she made her way in the darkness to the living room to talk to Jim. She could see the snow on the television screen and began to wonder if she had misread the clock on her bedside table. Standing at the back of the main sofa where Jim would often stretch out to watch TV, she thought he must have dozed off since there was nothing on this particular channel and he hadn’t bothered to change it. She leaned forward and gently put her left hand on Jim’s right shoulder; partly to wake him and partly to hold her weight as she reached with her free hand for the remote to turn off the TV. Strangely there was no response from Jim, so before she turned off the TV, which would have extinguished the only light in the room, she gave him a little shake. When he still didn’t respond, she reached higher to stroke his hair and felt a strange, warm wetness covering his head. Helen stood to look at her hand, and a sudden wave of adrenalin swept through her body. Her hand began to shake uncontrollably as she realized it was coated in thick, dark blood. She felt a scream welling up inside her but her throat clamped shut and refused to allow it to come forth. She leaned over to shake Jim hard as her logical mind tried to fight the fear, shock, and disbelief. Her constricted voice box squeezed out his name as she shook him but still he didn’t respond. Her mind was darting from thought to thought, unable to focus. After long desperate seconds searching in vain for a pulse at Jim’s carotid artery, she realized he was gone and reeled back in horror. Despite her intellect, she could not gather her thoughts to process the situation. Disbelief was giving way to shock and confusion as she turned to face the dining room, where a terrible new vision lay before her.
Stark realization hit her like a baseball bat. Her beautiful daughters were at the dining table sobbing quietly, their eyes brimming with fear. Bethany was on a chair beside her little sister, who was held tightly on the lap of a madman. Helen immediately recognized the face of Bryan Adler, and she knew with fatal realization, the tragedy that had befallen her family and the fate that awaited her.
Bryan Adler had been Helen’s patient while she was working at a West Virginia government facility, which housed some of the country’s most dangerous criminally insane inmates. Bryan wasn’t the average psychopath; he was an utter monster, bred and created by the purest of evil and the worst case she had ever seen. Her sadness for his victims was enough to shake her faith, yet she also pitied him for his own suffering, and that pity had been unsettling.
For many hours before her first session with him, Helen had pored over Bryan’s file, examining his family history, home life, eventual foster care, and other relevant details, before finally moving on to his crimes. They were shocking, horrific events that had brought enormous notoriety to his case throughout the country. He had been dubbed “The Orphan Maker” by the press; a glibly inadequate nickname that Helen found repulsive in its diminution of the monster’s ghastly acts.
She knew Bryan Adler’s motives and desires, and she knew the outcome that awaited her was inevitable but she could not understand how he could have escaped from the maximum security mental facility where he had been held all these years or how he had found her home and gained access. He had been on long-term injected sedation plus a cocktail of anti-psychotic drugs for his entire incarceration. How was he able to overcome not only the effects of the drugs but the security measures of possibly the most secure psychiatric institution in the country?
But the answer to that question would not help her now anyway. Bryan ordered Helen to sit in the empty chair opposite, and she complied. She was all too familiar with his modus operandi. As he held the girls close to him, his signature drone began. Bethany had been gagged and her hands were bound in front of her since she was older and possibly capable of running from him. Crystal had the look of shock with which Helen was so familiar, from observing child victims of psychological trauma.
Had they been forced to watch their father die? she wondered fearfully. Will they ever recover from this trauma?
Her thoughts were completely detached from her own personal peril. She was only concerned that Bryan would leave her babies unharmed as he had always done with the children in his previous crimes. She was certain this was an essential component of his psychosis, so she steeled herself to follow his instructions without hesitation, even though it meant her own death and a life without real parents for her daughters.
Helen knew Bryan could see the resignation in her eyes, just as she had always felt he could see her inner thoughts in their therapy sessions. He stood up now, slowly but purposefully, holding Crystal in his left arm, and came around to Helen’s chair. He handed her a sharp knife, then calmly returned to his seat.
“You know what must be done, Dr. Benson.”
“Please don’t hurt my babies.” was all Helen could muster.
She gazed lovingly into her daughters’ eyes for a moment before looking down at the soft skin of her left forearm. Tears clouded her vision.
“Mommy loves you my darlings. Take care of your little sister, Bethany.”
With that, Helen drew the knife diagonally across her forearm with the precision of a trained medical doctor and watched the blood come forth. It flowed faster than expected, and she knew it wouldn’t be long before she would go into shock. The coldness would come over her in a wave then she would become sleepy and weak, eventually lapsing into unconsciousness. Finally, death would come.
Helen looked up into the eyes of her children, who were now sobbing uncontrollably. She wanted so desperately to comfort them and shield them from this violence and pain but she was already feeling the waves of shock come over her body. Blood was quickly pooling now on the carpet beneath her chair. As she became more and more drowsy, her daughters and Bryan Adler began strangely to fade from view. Yet she could still see the room. As she looked on in confusion, it became evident that there would soon be only vacant chairs, and she couldn’t understand what her eyes were telling her. Helen tried to lunge toward the rapidly disappearing image of her girls but she and her chair toppled to the floor. She made a final frantic search for her children but her field of vision began darkening into an ever shrinking circle. She vaguely sensed strong hands tugging at her body, then a powerful pressure on her injured arm. She even imagined she could hear the panicked voice of her husband but how could that be? Jim was dead.
The blood loss was too great now, and she was beginning to drift into unconsciousness. But with a final effort she managed to clearly whisper the name “Bryan Adler.” As she drifted away into the darkness, she thought she could see her husband’s face come into focus above her, frantic and fearful, as he begged her not to die.
Detective Alan Beach sat at his desk in a far corner of the Homicide Investigation Department of the Columbus, Ohio Division of Police. His slate grey eyes glanced up to survey the room as he ruminated on the wording of his latest report. His fellow detectives went about their business, some working at their desks, others talking or joking with one another. It was a typical day in the department where Alan had become used to being a loner. Not that being ignored by his colleagues particularly bothered him, as he didn’t much care for them anyway but he did find it disappointing that he obviously hadn’t escaped his past and the exclusion it had brought upon him.
An intelligent looking man in his late thirties, Beach carried a few extra pounds but certainly wasn’t fat. Of average height and medium build, he was always dressed in a well-cut, dark suit and tie. His sandy hair was neatly trimmed at the back and sides but the top was slightly tousled. The boyish hair, combined with vaguely rounded cheeks, made him appear younger than his age but his eyes betrayed an inner sadness.
He had moved to Columbus three years earlier from Boston, where he’d been a highly respected and successful homicide detective for ten years. Alan had been happy in Boston and had no desire to move; not until “the incident” and the ostracism that followed. His commanding officer in Boston had recommended the move to Ohio, afraid that, his star detective would leave the profession altogether or that one of Alan’s calls for backup in emergency situations would be ignored and he might face mortal danger on the job. Alan knew his boss had his best interests at heart, knew also there was nothing he could do to turn off his colleagues’ aggression toward him, so he followed the advice. The Divisional Commander of Investigations at Columbus, an old friend of Alan’s boss in Boston, was happy to have such a skilled investigator on her team and so the deal was struck.
Of course the scuttlebutt had arrived before Alan, so he was unsurprised by the cool welcome he’d gotten from his new “comrades.” At least his lieutenant, while reserved and authoritative in his manner, obviously appreciated the addition to his team of a detective with Alan’s level of success in closing cases. Thomas Walker was a big, solid man with sparkling blue eyes, a thick neck, and heavy jaw. His physical size and military haircut created an imposing appearance, and on those rare occasions he lost his temper and slammed a massive fist on a desk, there was no question as to who ran the department.
Columbus had a surprisingly high crime rate and more than a hundred murders per year. Lieutenant Walker was tired of fielding questions from the media and dealing with attacks from the local government about the city’s high murder rate. Despite having no direct control over crime rates, he believed firmly that a high closure rate in his division would increase the deterrent for potential homicides and reduce pressure on him. Beach had proved a strong asset, consistently outpacing the rest of the division in case closures, despite not having an assigned partner. Besides identifying with his new charge, Tom Walker admired the younger man’s character.
While it was standard operating procedure for detectives to be paired up, both for safety reasons and to increase effectiveness, an exception had to be made in Alan’s case because no one wanted to work with him. Walker, being a pragmatic man, figured there was no point trying to force the issue; besides, Alan had flourished as a lone wolf, so everyone was relatively happy.
As he observed the invisible line of demarcation between himself and his colleagues, Beach recalled with disgust the greeting he had received on the day of his arrival. How the room had fallen silent and no one had greeted him until his new lieutenant showed him to his desk. Not that he’d expected a receiving line of warm handshakes but he had secretly hoped he might have escaped the cold-shoulder treatment he was used to in Boston. He had settled into his chair and opened his drawer to find some stationery, only to discover a dead rat lying atop his pen shelf. The creature had congealed blood around its nose and something that resembled viscera trying to escape from its throat and anus, as if it had been stepped on. Alan was neither shocked nor startled at the crude joke but he was saddened at this obvious indication that his past had followed him to his new life.
Alan had wedged the end of his pencil under the rodent’s incisors, lifted it slowly from its resting place and toward his trash can, then dropped it in, pencil and all, watching as it thumped the bottom of the receptacle. Then he’d calmly turned back to his drawer to withdraw a new pencil and commenced writing his report. He preferred to hand-write his reports in pencil before typing them into his computer terminal, finding the old method more familiar and helpful in clarifying details rather than fussing with computer programs and two-finger typing.
“What’s up Beach, rat got your tongue?” Detective Richard Collier had rasped from across the room. Collier and the other detectives, watching from several feet away, broke out in sneering laughter clearly intended to highlight their disdain for their new colleague and to provoke a reaction. As much as Alan would have liked to retort and make a fool of Collier, he knew it was pointless. No one would have been on his side or appreciated his wit, so he’d held his tongue and quietly continued his work. By keeping his head down and not retaliating, Beach hoped he would make himself an uninteresting target and Collier and his followers would eventually move on. He was right; that first event and the obvious initial aggression had metamorphosed into a collective cold shoulder, a condition with which Beach could live and work in peace.
Alan brought himself back to the task at hand and started making headway on his current report until Lieutenant Walker strode into the room with his usual purposeful pace and called out, “Beach! Suspicious death at ‘The Eleanor’ building, apartment 1404. Uniforms are at the scene.” He added, in his usual gruff tone, “Sounds like a suicide but look at the husband anyway.”
Alan knew that Walker had to speak to him in this manner so that none of the other detectives would feel the boss was playing favorites. His manner of speaking to the others wasn’t much different so Alan never felt slighted. Besides, Walker tended to throw the more complex cases his way, so he nodded his acknowledgement, pushed his report into his filing drawer and got up to leave.
“Yeah, go and solve that suicide and leave the real murders to the big boys, Beach.” jibed one of the other detectives.
“Shut up and get back to work, ladies! It’s like a goddamn sewing circle in here!” shouted Walker at no one in particular as he strode back into his office.
Alan repressed a smile as he brushed past his estranged colleagues and out the door. He had wanted to be a detective since he was a boy and relished any new assignment, even if it was labeled only a suicide. Things were not always what they seemed, and anyway, he preferred the challenge of cases that weren’t slam-dunks. As he got into his car, he stared at the “No Smoking” symbol stuck to the dashboard, standard in all city vehicles, pulled a cigarette from the pack in his pocket and lit it.
“Another advantage of having no partner.” he muttered to himself as he drove out of the parking lot and turned toward The Eleanor. It was only a couple of miles away, and the traffic was fairly thin, so it wasn’t long before he pulled into the no parking zone in front of the building, slid his windscreen sign identifying his car as a police vehicle into place and walked toward the front doors. There were three marked squad cars and a coroner’s van parked at different angles around the front of the building, and a uniformed officer was stationed at the entrance to screen people coming and going.
Alan respected the efficiency and professionalism of the uniforms, as they were called, and they seemed to realize this and generally treated him with due deference, despite the rumors they must have heard about his reason for coming to Columbus.
“Good evening, Officer.” Alan offered as he entered the building.
“Detective Beach.” acknowledged the uniform. “Straight through to the elevators and up to the fourteenth floor.”
“Any unusual movements since you’ve been here?”
“No, just owners and tenants going in and out.”
“Have a good night officer, and do me a favor, please?”
“If you do notice anything unusual, call me on my cell phone rather than waiting to report it later.”
“Of course, detective, and good luck on the case.”
“Thanks,” Alan called back as he made his way to the elevators just past the lobby.
The Eleanor’s lobby security officer sat at his desk and surveyed Alan walking past, as if he were any other stranger in his territory. There were surveillance cameras positioned throughout the lobby, and Alan guessed there would be a security room set up with monitors and digital recorders in such an upmarket building.
“Security seems pretty professional.” Alan noted, pushing the “up” button.
He immediately spotted the security camera in the upper left rear corner of the elevator. Exiting on the fourteenth floor, he looked at the direction sign on the wall opposite the elevator for “1404.” The door was open when he got there, and Alan flashed his detective’s shield to the uniformed officer as he entered the apartment. He hadn’t met this particular uniform before so he introduced himself before walking in and glancing around the room. The large kitchen and dining area were off to the right, the living room to the left. The coroner was hunched over the victim in the dining room, and Alan could see the body was lying in a particularly large pool of blood.
He was used to examining murder scenes and certainly didn’t have a weak stomach but he was always surprised at just how much blood there could be when a victim bled out completely, instead of dying quickly, from the damage of a bullet wound or some other trauma. There would have been about ten pints of blood in her body, and Alan guessed more than half of that had pooled and sunk into the carpet before her heart had stopped pumping it from her body.
“Bit of a mess for you, Beach.” the Medical Examiner called out.
“I see that, Dr. Wescott. What’s the damage?”
“Just the left forearm but both the ulnar and radial arteries were opened so wide there would have been no stopping it – unless she’d done it in a hospital emergency room. Someone really knew what they were doing.”
“Someone? You don’t think it’s a suicide?”
“That’s for you to find out, Detective. She was a doctor, and judging by the wound, and the position of the kitchen knife, it looks self-inflicted. But it seems strange that it happened out in the open here, while the husband and kids were home.”
“Where are they now?”
“The two young daughters are with a neighbor who sometimes baby-sits for the family. The husband is in the master bedroom but be warned – he was a mess when I got here. Don’t know if he’s calmed down much yet.”
“I’ll go and see him while you finish up, then I’d like to have a closer look at the body.”
“Your call, Detective.”
Alan pointed questioningly toward the hallway.
“Yes, down the hall, last door at the end.”
Alan took in the layout of the large luxury apartment as he moved down the hall. There were five doorways, counting the master bedroom at the end. He guessed one bedroom for each daughter, one main bathroom and one study or computer room but didn’t bother confirming yet. Entering the master bedroom, he saw the husband sitting on the end of the bed in obvious shock, blood smeared heavily over his arms and clothing, hands in his lap, palms up, shaking visibly. Standing in front of him was a uniformed officer with a notepad, asking questions quietly. Jim Benson looked up pathetically at each question but as he tried to form a response, his speech would tail off into nothing. He had the vacant, expressionless look of a truly broken man, a man facing incomprehensible loss.
It was a look that Alan knew too well. “Thank you officer.” he said. “I’ll take it from here, if you don’t mind.”
“Yes sir.” The cop turned and, moving close, whispered, “His name is Jim Benson. To be honest, he really hasn’t said anything since he went into shock. Basically just mumbling and sobbing. When we first arrived, he was hysterical – just kept repeating that he couldn’t stop the blood and asking how this could have happened.”
“I understand. Have the crime scene unit and photographer finished with Mr. Benson?”
“Yes, sir – all done.”
“OK, can I have the room please?”
Alan closed the door quietly behind the officer then sat gently on the bed next to the distressed husband. He put his hand on the man’s shoulder and spoke softly, “Do you know where you are, Mr. Benson?”
The man nodded slowly in acknowledgement.
“Do you understand that your wife has passed away?”
Again, the man nodded.
“Mr. Benson; may I call you Jim?”
“Jim, my name is Alan Beach. I’m a detective from the Columbus Division of Police, Homicide Investigation – do you understand?”
Slowly, as if struggling with a massive weight, Jim Benson lifted his head to look at Alan and spoke, his voice raspy and dry, “I understand.”
“That’s good, Jim. You don’t have to speak to me or any other police officer without legal representation. Do you understand that?”
“I understand…” Jim replied weakly. After a moment he tried to speak again, but it took several seconds before any sound came forth. “But why would I need a lawyer?”
“Don’t worry, it’s just a formality but I am required by law to inform you of your rights. If you would like to have a lawyer present while we talk, I can arrange one for you unless you already have one you would like to call.”
“We have a lawyer…” He paused, then corrected himself. “…I have a lawyer but I don’t need him to be here.”
“Okay but before we start, we have everything we need from your hands and clothing, so I think it would be helpful if you wash your face and hands and change your shirt. Would you like to do that?”
Benson looked up at Alan and a small spark of cognition seemed to flicker in his eyes. “Yes.” was all he said as he stood slowly and began to unbutton his shirt.
Alan looked on as Benson peeled off his shirt and undershirt then slowly began to wash the caked blood from his hands, arms and face. After a few minutes of washing and splashing water on his face, Benson shuffled from the bathroom to a chest of drawers, drew out a T-shirt, pulled it on then sat down heavily beside Alan again. The man was obviously still in shock but the cold water had evidently brought him back to a more rational disposition.
“Have you ever been in love?”
Alan paused then said, “Yes, I have.”
Benson looked imploringly into Alan’s eyes and spoke with a rasping voice. “Helen was the love of my life. She was my best friend, my lover, and the mother of our children. I don’t understand. How could she do this?”
“I’m truly sorry for your loss, Jim, and I promise you that I will do everything I can to find out the truth.” Alan said, knowing that the truth might well implicate the husband himself.
“The truth…the truth is that I don’t know what to do any more, Detective. Everything used to be so clear to me. How do I tell my girls that their mother isn’t coming home again? How do I go on without my Helen?”
“Your daughters don’t know yet?”
“No, it was past their bedtime when she got home, so once I realized Helen was asleep, I put the girls to bed. They were still asleep in their rooms when the police got here. I asked an officer to carry them to our neighbors’ apartment. I couldn’t let them see her… us, like that…and the blood, so much blood…I just knew I had to get them out.”
“I understand. Maybe you should wait a few days until you’re more composed before you tell them. Do you have family nearby?”
“Helen’s parents live just outside the city.”
“Perhaps you should take the girls there for a few days and arrange for the scene to be cleaned before you come back.”
“But what about Helen…her body?”
“We are required by law to perform an autopsy. Her remains will be waiting for you when you return. I’ll need your cell phone number and the number for Helen’s parents. Now, do you think you can take me through what happened, step by step?”
“I’ll try.” Benson looked at the ceiling for a long moment then put his face in his hands and rubbed his eyes as though trying to wake himself from a nightmare. “We had been waiting for Helen to come home from her business trip. The girls were coloring at the table, and I was reading the paper in the living room. When she came through the door, we were so happy to see her…” Benson started to break down again.
“Please Jim, just focus and stay with the facts, so we can keep on track. What time was that?”
“I’m sorry, I’m trying. It was just after eight o’clock, I’d say eight-fifteen. Helen said she was hungry and that she needed a shower, so I put a salad together for her while she came in here. When I’d finished the salad and she hadn’t returned, I came to check on her. She didn’t seem that tired when she got here but she must have been because she was asleep on the bed when I came in to our room, so I left her to rest and came out to tell the girls they could see her tomorrow. It was their bedtime anyway and I had only let them stay up to see their mom when she got home.”
“How did she seem to you when she arrived home? What was her demeanor?”
“She was…she was just Helen. She was normal, happy to be home, you know, joking around and affectionate as usual.” Benson looked at Alan, uncertainty in his eyes.
“You’re doing fine – please continue.”
“Then I sat on the sofa to watch some TV and I must have dozed off. The next thing I remember is hearing a loud thump. It startled me awake and I looked across to the dining room to see what it was. That’s when I saw Helen on the floor. I thought she must have fallen or something so I called out to ask if she was okay but she didn’t answer so I ran over to her. There was so much blood!” Benson began to sob but continued relating the events. “I looked for where the blood was coming from and tried to put pressure on the wound but it was so big! I ran to the kitchen, grabbed a towel and tried to stop the flow with a tourniquet but it was too late! She stopped breathing. I tried CPR but she had lost so much blood.”
“Did she say anything or leave a note?”
“There was no note. She whispered a name just before she stopped breathing but I’ve never heard it before.”
“What was the name, Jim?”
“She said, ‘Bryan Adler.’ but I don’t recognize that name. It was only a whisper and I was in shock but my ear was very close to her face and I’m sure that’s what she said.”
“Is there any way that anyone else could have gotten into the apartment while you were asleep?”
“Not unless Helen let them in but visitors have to use the intercom system to get into the building and I would have heard it. Besides, I woke up as soon as I heard the thump and there was no one here.” Benson’s face contorted in hopeless confusion.
“Okay, we’ll need to go over your statement again at the station to confirm everything but I think we can leave it at that for now. The Crime Scene Unit must be nearly finished so we’ll leave shortly but I’m afraid we are going to have to take your daughters into protective custody until we can confirm it was suicide.”
Benson’s demeanor suddenly changed from hesitant and stricken to strong and protective. “What? No, no, you can’t do that! They need their father – they need me – or at least some familiar surroundings! I understand why you think you need to protect them but I can’t let you do this to them.”
“I’m sorry, Jim but the law requires it in such circumstances. It’s really beyond my control.”
“No, I can’t let you do this. Put me in jail if you have to but leave the girls with our neighbors instead!”
“Well, I suppose we could hold you at the station for questioning overnight. Are you certain the children are safe with the neighbors?”
“Yes, they love the girls and often baby-sit for us. They’ll be fine there but not in some cold, sterile social services shelter!”
“Okay, we’ll do it your way but you’ll have to sign a consent form to indemnify the city.”
“I don’t care. I’ll do whatever it takes to shield them from this.” Benson’s eyes were red and swollen but ablaze with determination.
“Alright then, I’ll have an officer organize the paperwork and we’ll have to inspect the neighbors’ apartment but everything should be fine. As soon as suicide is confirmed, we can leave you to take the girls to Helen’s parents’ house. I’ll give you a business card for a specialized cleaning company that can take care of the carpet and chair.”
“Thank you, Alan.” Benson’s face showed a vague glimmer of relief for the first time.
Alan took a quick look around the master bedroom and en suite bathroom then went out to inspect the rest of the apartment and the crime scene more closely. He knew that the body would have been jostled and moved during Jim Benson’s attempts to revive his wife, and the size of the blood pool made it difficult to detect movement and origin but the blood pattern on the seat of the chair showed that it began with her seated. She had obviously fallen to the floor as her strength waned but there was really very little else Alan could glean from what he saw, other than Jim’s bloody footprints that verified his story of running to the kitchen and back for the towel, and his bloody handprints on the telephone from when he’d called 911.
“I think I’ve got everything I can from this, Dr. Wescott.” Alan called over to the Medical Examiner, who was waiting in the kitchen. “If you’re satisfied, you can take the body to the morgue.”
“Thank you, Detective Beach. I was just waiting for your say-so. The Crime Scene Unit has already left so we’ll load the body, and I’ll start the autopsy when I get back to the office. Call me if you need anything.”
“Thanks, Doctor, I’ll do that.”
Alan spoke briefly with the uniformed officer at the door to arrange an inspection of the neighbor’s apartment and requested he take Jim Benson to be held for questioning at the police station and to sign an indemnity form for the girls. Alan then headed back down to the lobby to speak to the security staff. As he approached the security desk, he pulled his detective’s shield from his belt to show it to the guard on duty.
“Detective Beach, Homicide.”
“Homicide? I thought it was a suicide.” The large man behind the counter had a stiff, humorless appearance like that of a serious former soldier.
“All unnatural deaths are treated as suspicious until we can clear them, so it falls on us to investigate. May I see the security monitoring office, please?”
“Sure. Follow me, detective.”
The big man seemed even bigger when he stood and led Alan to the door of The Eleanor’s security monitoring room. He punched a code into the digital keypad beside the door and pressed his thumb against the biometric reader. The door opened with the loud clunk of a heavy-duty magnetic lock.
“That’s some security for a residential building.” Alan remarked.
“People pay top dollar to live here, Detective. They expect the best protection for their money.”
Inside the room Alan counted at least twelve monitors, each screen divided into four different picture feeds, a large bank of digital recording machines, an elaborate computer hardware rack and two seated guards watching the monitors.
“Gentlemen, this is Detective Beach from Homicide. He has a few questions for you and will want to see some footage, I assume.”
“That’s right, thank you.” Alan motioned to the monitoring system. “How many cameras are there?”
The lobby guard, who seemed to be in charge, began ticking them off: “One in each of the four residential elevators, one in the service elevator, four on each parking level, eight in the lobby, one each on the exterior at the front and rear of the building, three on each residential floor and four in the fitness and swimming pool areas.”
“That’s a lot of cameras. Before we look at footage, did Dr. Benson enter through the lobby or did she drive into the parking levels?”
“She arrived in a taxi at ten minutes past eight. I knew you would enquire so I already checked the log.”
“Did she seem okay to you at the time?”
“Dr. Benson was her usual, polite and pleasant self. She always took the time to say hello to us.”
“Okay, can you show me the residential elevator footage from eight minutes past eight tonight please?”
“Yes, sir.” replied one of the seated guards.
The monitor showed the interior of all four elevators simultaneously on the same screen. As the time code passed through into ten minutes past eight, they observed Dr. Benson enter one of the elevators where a small man in a hat and overcoat was already standing. They could not see the man’s face or physical features because of his hat and coat but he stood diagonally to the right and behind the doctor. As the car travelled upward, they saw the man’s hand dart out to the base of her skull then pull back and then his other hand thrust out toward the floor selector buttons.
“Stop it there!” Alan commanded. “Can you get rid of the split-screen and make that one elevator full screen?”
“Of course. These cameras are not the usual cheap black and whites you see in some places.”
The man pushed some buttons and the screen showed the one elevator more clearly now. He restarted the digital recording again from just before the man’s hand extended to the back of Helen’s neck.
“Do you want slo-mo?”
“That would be great!”
The image played at about one third of its normal speed and Alan squinted, straining to see exactly what was happening on the small security monitor. As the man’s hand reached the woman’s neck, Alan asked the guard to freeze the image. The man’s gloved hand held a small, strange-looking implement to Helen’s neck for a split second before withdrawing. Alan’s eyes narrowed into a frown, and he instructed the guards to give him a copy of the elevator footage five minutes before and after the event, so he could take it back to the crime lab and examine it properly on the large, high-definition monitors. He also asked them to forward a copy of all the parking level and front entrance camera footage for the previous fifteen minutes to the station as soon as they could get it copied.
Alan’s mind was racing now. According to Jim Benson, no one else could have gotten into their apartment, so the death had to be either spousicide or suicide but the image clearly showed a third party do something to the doctor before she got to her home. But if this man was to blame for Dr. Benson’s death, how could he have done it? What could someone possibly do to make another person commit suicide? Alan’s thoughts were now like a guided missile laser-locked on target. He grabbed the copy of the digital footage from the guard as soon as he’d burned the DVD for him and set off immediately toward his car. He was in no mood for traffic hold-ups, so he turned on the flashing police lights situated behind the radiator grill and in the rear parcel shelf then began speeding through the lights and traffic to the station. This was out of character for the normally patient and methodical detective but he sensed he had to get on top of this as quickly as possible.
He skidded to a halt in the police parking garage and hurried to the stairs, then quickly made his way to the Crime Lab. The instant he walked through the sliding glass doors he called out to the technician, “Larry, can you get this footage up on the big LED monitor right away please!”
“Sure can, Al. Is it a disc or a hard drive?”
Alan handed Larry the disc without speaking and watched as it was inserted it into a computer. The technician motioned for Alan to sit at the control panel and pointed to the controls.
“The joystick is to control forward and reverse motion as well as slo-mo and freeze-frame. This knob controls zoom. Be my guest.”
Larry Phillips enjoyed working with Alan. The detective was polite, obviously intelligent and thorough in Larry’s opinion but usually much calmer than he was now. Larry knew it would take something out of the ordinary to cause his haste, so he was happy to let Alan take the controls.
As the image came up on the high-def, fifty-five inch LED screen, Alan familiarized himself quickly with the controls. He moved the image forward until he reached the point where the man’s hand went to the back of Helen’s neck, then froze the image.
“I still can’t make this out, Larry. Any ideas?”
Both men went around the control panel to get closer to the monitor and peered intently at the image on the massive screen. The object looked like a very small glue gun but the image was slightly blurred because of the speed with which the man’s hand had moved.
“Sorry Alan but with the speed of movement, there doesn’t seem to be a clear frame.”
Alan suddenly lurched back from the monitor to grab the desk phone. He picked up the hand piece and quickly dialed the medical examiner.
“Dr. Wescott, it’s Alan.”
“Yes, Alan, did you forget something?”
“No, Doctor. Please don’t take my tone the wrong way but this is urgent. Can you examine the back of Dr. Benson’s neck right now and tell me what you see.”
“Well, okay, detective but…”
“Now please, doctor!” “Okay, I’m on it. I’ll put you on speaker.”
Dr. Wescott carefully rolled Helen’s body on the examination table and drew the fluorescently lit magnifying glass toward her on its folding arm. He gently pulled her hair away from her neck and searched for anything out of the ordinary. As he came to the hairline approximately three-quarters of an inch to the right of the centre of her spine, he called out, “I’ve got something here. Looks like a very small puncture wound!”
“Can you tell what it was made by?”
“Not really but I can tell you that it was smaller than a normal hypodermic needle, maybe even smaller than an insulin needle as far as I can tell. If you hadn’t specified the location, I might not have picked it up at all. Does it tell you something, detective?”
“It tells me three things: This wasn’t suicide, the husband is innocent, and I need to find out who Bryan Adler is. But first, we need to examine the rest of the security footage.”
Beach’s frustration was palpable and filled the crime lab like a fog as he stared intently at the big screen. Larry was wary of interrupting the detective’s thoughts but decided it was time to break the deadlock.
“I’m sorry, Alan, but there really is nothing there. We’ve been through every frame of the security footage from the parking levels, the entry and exit, the elevators and the twelfth floor hallway that the Eleanor guards couriered over. This guy really knew what he was doing. Not once did he expose any recognizable feature to any camera.”
“I know – it’s not your fault, I’m just frustrated! I apologize for my mood and for the wasted hours.” Alan said.
“I don’t think it was a waste of time. At least you know that this guy is a professional, which indicates he had a specific agenda.”
Alan looked thoughtfully at his colleague.
“You know what, Larry? You’re right. I’ve been looking at this the wrong way and you’ve corrected my focus. I was so knotted up trying to find some physical identifier that I missed the subtlety. That is a wise observation and I commend you.”
“Thanks, glad I could help. What’s your next step?”
“I’ve got to go with the only other lead I have for now and find Bryan Adler. If that doesn’t lead to anything, then I’ll have to start interviewing friends, neighbors and colleagues. Thanks again. See you later.”
“Good luck, Alan.”
Back at his desk, Alan woke his computer and began searching the police database for his quarry. There were two Bryan Adlers in the local database with minor traffic violations but neither had a history of violence. One was a retired school teacher in his late seventies, the other a former soldier who had recently been paralyzed by an IED while on a mission in the Middle East. Alan couldn’t see any kind of connection between either of them and Helen Benson so he dismissed them both and widened his search. Accessing the national crime database, he came across some more interesting characters but one stood out in particular.
“Bryan Adler, convicted serial killer and diagnosed psychopath,” he murmured to himself, “now here’s something I can work with.”
He scribbled down the details of the psychiatric hospital where Adler was being held and picked up the phone to make an appointment. The facility was about one hundred and fifty miles away near a small town in West Virginia. His appointment was set for ten o’clock the next morning, so he decided to drive there that night and stay in a hotel to be fresh for his meeting with the serial killer. He then went to Lieutenant Walker’s office to get the necessary permission to investigate across the state line. It was a request that would require a good deal of paperwork so Alan prepared himself for an unpleasant conversation with some shouting thrown in, so he decided to come straight to the point. As Alan finished his request, Walker looked up, his face tight in a grimace. Alan steeled himself for the tirade but it didn’t come.
“This is a major pain in my ass, Beach! But I trust your judgment, so go ahead.” Walker’s head tilted down toward the pile of paperwork in front of him as he sighed loudly. “I’ll start on the documents and call the West Virginia State Police to get clearance. I assume you’ll be armed?”
“You know me boss, safety first.” Alan smiled.
“Don’t be a smartass – just go! I’ll have the approval by the time you hit the border. Call me with the name and fax number of your hotel so I can send you the form. And don’t make any trouble over there!”
“No, sir, I’ll be in and out before you know it.”
“Yeah, yeah… Well, what are you waiting for? Go!” Walker waved dismissively.
Alan always found his boss’s gruff manner bemusing. He knew that underneath the tough exterior, he knew, Walker was a great father, a loving husband and a truly good man. He supposed the gruff demeanor was designed to convey an air of authority but the man wasn’t fooling Alan.
“Thanks, boss. See you in a couple of days.”
Alan returned to his desk, shut down his computer and grabbed a couple of things from his drawer. As he rounded the corner that led to the stairs, he saw Richard Collier ascending from the parking lot with a look of malicious intent. In no mood for any of Collier’s childish nonsense, Alan decided to preempt him with some nonsense of his own. “Walker is looking for you and he doesn’t seem happy.” he lied.
Collier shot back a skeptical look but picked up his pace, Alan noticed. What he’d done was stupid, Alan knew, and would come back to bite him later but it had the desired effect. He made it to the parking lot unmolested and Collier’s footsteps tailed off in the distance. He jumped into his car to drive home and pack an overnight bag.
Once home, Alan showered and changed clothes, then took a moment to reflect on the investigation so far. As he did so, his sad, slate grey eyes were drawn to the wall in front of him and a black-and-white photograph from his wedding. The ornate, silver-framed picture showed a couple very much in love and full of hope for the future. That was over ten years ago. He and Kelly had two wonderful years of marriage before he lost the only woman he had ever loved to a car crash. Alan clearly recalled the unbearable pain of the event and how his initial disbelief and anger had eventually faded to emptiness and hopelessness. His loss was so profound it had very nearly consumed him. He couldn’t see a path forward and didn’t know how to go on without Kelly. In the end, the only thing that kept him going was his work, into which he threw himself entirely, to drown out the pain.
Over time, Alan’s total immersion in cases began to numb the pain and he was left in a kind of emotional no man’s land. Over the years, friends and family had tried several times to set him up with other women but the wall he’d built around his heart prevented any chance of intimacy, and he remained alone. The one positive outcome of this great loss was that through his focus and dedication, he had developed into the most successful homicide detective in the city of Boston. His talent and potential as an investigator were obvious; he had been promoted to the rank of detective much younger than the norm. The tragic irony was that Alan would probably never have realized his full potential as a detective if Kelly hadn’t died on that terrible day all those years ago.
Looking at that wedding photograph always brought the memories and pain flooding back but doing so held a morbid attachment for him. Despite knowing the act was self destructive and part of the reason he couldn’t move on, he just couldn’t stop. Over the years his mind had twisted events to apportion blame to himself for his wife’s death, and this ritual had become a compulsive form of self-flagellation. Even though Kelly was driving alone when the accident happened, Alan’s mind had invented emotional tendrils to link him inextricably to the event. He would obsess over such unrealistic possibilities. If he had only been with her, for instance, he could have prevented it; or if he had bought her a safer car, she would have been better protected from the impact.
When Alan was in his deepest period of depression after Kelly’s death, his boss had demanded he see a police psychologist. Alan resisted as long as he could, until it became obvious the lieutenant wouldn’t take no for an answer. Seeing a shrink was the last thing Alan wanted to do but in the end he gave in and visited Dr. Sarah Kellerman, Psy.D, in the Boston Police Administration Building. Their initial meeting was not encouraging, mainly due to Alan’s unwillingness to open up but the doctor had anticipated his resistance and gradually, over the ensuing weeks, they started to make some headway. She had educated him in the five stages of grief and the effect each stage had in the recovery process. They talked about his unhealthy thoughts of self-blame and inability to let go and move forward with life.
“You know, Alan,” Sarah had explained at one point, “as strange as this may seem, the act of blaming yourself for something which you could not possibly have foreseen or influenced in any way is actually your subconscious mind’s way of coping with your conscious need for control.”
“There’s some well versed psychobabble.” Alan replied with a smile.
“That psychobabble as you call it, simply means that your conscious mind can’t cope with the reality of your loss, and the fact that you had no control over the event. This caused you to feel that you have no real control over anything in life, so you developed this coping mechanism to deal with it. Your subconscious found unreasonable ways to blame yourself and rationalizes these illogical thoughts to your conscious mind. It’s very similar to the phenomenon wherein children from broken homes blame themselves for their parents’ divorce so they can make sense of it in their own minds. It is a common coping mechanism which you must eventually overcome to move forward. For now though, it remains in place to keep you sane.”
“You psychologists have the most eloquently complex means of putting things in such a way as to be incomprehensible, hence the term psychobabble.”
She stared blankly at Alan and said nothing.
“I’m teasing now, Doctor. I understand what you mean and I’ll take it on board.”
Their sessions had continued for a few months until Alan decided that his subconscious was not ready to let go and likely would not be for some time to come. At their final session, he thanked Dr. Kellerman for her kindness and they agreed that he should reach out to her in times of need.
He had learned from his visits with Dr. Sarah Kellerman, but the lessons faded into the distance when he gazed at that happy moment frozen in time on his wall. How he missed Kelly. How he longed for the happiness and love they’d shared. How could he have let it happen, he would ask himself time and time again. He realized now why he’d been so gentle questioning Jim Benson, despite the fact that the odds always favor the husband as a suspect when a wife dies in suspicious circumstances. He had seen the pain in Jim’s eyes, the same sickening blend of soul-destroying emotions he had felt when he lost Kelly. His intense empathy wouldn’t allow him to cause further pain for the man.
Having had his fill of self-blame, Alan stood himself up and pulled an old leather overnight bag from his closet. He stuffed the required clothing and toiletries into it and dressed for the trip. With preparations complete, he grabbed a frozen dinner and tossed it into the microwave. Waiting for the timer to bleep, he thought about how he should eat better and exercise more but could never seem to spare the time. As the oven played its musical notification, he retrieved his dinner and plopped it on the kitchen counter. His mind wandered, imagining the frozen food factory with thousands of plates with little divided compartments rolling along the conveyer, machines dropping premeasured portions of prepared goo into their targeted spots then moving along to be packaged and sent off to the supermarket. He thought how this used to be quality time he would have spent talking to Kelly but now was just a void to be filled. Shaking himself out of his reverie, he finished eating and dropped the plate into the trash can.
“Time to hit the road.” he said to himself, scooping up his overnight bag.
Alan estimated the drive at just under three hours. He figured there was bound to be a motel in town or near the high security psychiatric institution so he hadn’t bothered to book ahead. The drive was uneventful and as fortune would have it, the facility was just off the main road on the way into town. A few miles farther on the edge of town, he spotted a cheap but comfortable-looking motel, parked his car and went to check in. Alan rang the bell and the night clerk emerged from his lodgings behind the registration counter. He was a thin fellow in his late fifties, with unkempt hair and grey stubbly whiskers. His smile of greeting revealed a number of missing teeth.
“Are ya traveling alone Mr… uh… Beach?” the clerk asked as he peered at Alan’s driver’s license.
“Yes, it’s just me, and just one night please.”
“Travelin’ salesman, are you?”
“No, just visiting someone.”
“Well, we don’t tolerate no funny business round here so I’ll be keepin’ an eye out.”
“You do that, sir.”
Alan bent to pick up his bag and the man suddenly froze in a macabre, toothless grimace of shocked fear. Alan very nearly laughed at the bizarre image until he realized that his jacket had opened, exposing his Glock 9mm in its holster.
“Don’t worry, friend.” Alan pulled his badge from his belt to provide the startled man some relief. “I’m here on official police business. In fact, I’d appreciate your fax number so my lieutenant can send me some paperwork, if you wouldn’t mind.”
The man’s face relaxed into a slightly less maniacally comical look as he leaned forward to examine Alan’s badge. “Oh, okay then, officer detective, sir.” The clerk began gently rubbing his chest over his heart.
The man gave Alan the hotel’s fax number, his room key, and breakfast order form, still wide-eyed and massaging his chest. “Goodnight, officer detective, sir.”
“Just plain ‘detective’ is fine.” Alan said smiling.
In his room Alan found a pizza delivery menu on the bedside table, picked up the phone to order and watched television to fill in some time. After eating he pulled his notebook out and flipped through the pages. His meeting was at ten but he decided to arrive a little early to give himself the chance to survey the building and security. Alan pondered what it would be like to have a conversation with this brutal murderer in the flesh and thought about the questions he would ask. Eventually, sleep came.
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