The Witch Hunt
Alexi took in the peaceful environment, the white kitchen counter, the tastefully set table with the cheerful, bright red tablecloth, and the warm cloud of scents: apples, cinnamon, ginger, and spices. The Upper West Side apartment was large, high-end, and modern. The kitchen area was no different, with gleaming, high-performance, energy-saving household appliances, a stainless steel faucet, a white marble countertop and marble floor. Everything was trendy and expensive, but it was obvious that Golde Mueller was in charge in the kitchen. It was cozy, a safe nest for the family, a place to eat, laugh, and have a great time. Alexi looked through the window. Behind the large buildings, she could see the bare treetops of the Central Park. The streets below looked glorious. Holiday time was nearing, it was there everywhere in the city, in the falling snow, the white streets, in the piles of sweets and dazzling decor behind the glass storefront windows. Out there, on the streets, the atmosphere was celebratory.
Golde Mueller was an energetic, tiny woman in her mid-seventies. Her brown hair had streaks of white. She had fine features and a healthy, brown complexion. She was fixing dinner for her guest. Alexi watched her as she chopped spinach and onions, kneaded some dough, prepared the filling and, at last, started grilling the delicious food. Golde’s hands were elegant – until her retirement, she ran the family business –, but her fingers were moving very fast.
“Knish,” Golde explained. “I always prepare knish for holidays. For Steph. She’s very picky, but she loves what I cook for her.” She was proud of it.
Alexi flashed a smile at Golde, a big, confident, professional smile.
She came here to talk to Golde’s granddaughter, Dr. Stephanie Cohen. Stephanie was a suspect of a murder. Alexi Frest was a crime author, she gathered material from real life stories.
“I’m very glad that you came over,” Golde said. “I’ve heard that you’ve helped NYPD in rough cases.”
Alexi’s interviews and research had cast light in the shadows.
“Thank you, Mrs. Mueller.” Alexi was hoping that her work would get help for victims and make a difference.
“I’m sure you can help,” Golde said. She was not taking no for an answer. “Steph never harmed that bastard, um, that poor young man.” Her tone changed, it was cold. Alexi almost smiled again. She could tell Golde did not like Jim Wilson.
Six days ago, someone murdered Dr. Jim Wilson in a West Village apartment that he rented with his girlfriend, Stephanie Cohen. His death was torturous. The perp slashed and stabbed him twenty-four times. The sharp force injuries and the angles of the spattered blood showed that the murder weapon – which was missing – might have been a scalpel. Both Stephanie and Jim had access to a scalpel, Stephanie was an internal medicine specialist and Jim was a surgeon.
Jim died in his bedroom. Stephanie said she had been sleeping in the other room all the while. She had a hard day at the private clinic where she was working. She was tired and she did not wake up throughout the entire ordeal.
The heavy entrance door of the apartment was intact. The perp did not force their way inside. Stephanie or Jim must have let them in.
The cozy private apartment was insulated, soundproof. The neighbors did not hear anything. Neither did Stephanie. She woke up at 4.14. a.m. and had a hot shower. After that, she looked in on Jim. She did not notice anything unusual, she had no bad premonition.
She could not remember what she did when she opened the door of Jim’s room.
Jim’s blood was there everywhere, on the ground, on the bed, on the wall. As an internist, Stephanie has seen enough of human misery. When she was a resident, she has worked at the emergency room, she has seen broken bodies, maimed people, she has treated victims of accidents or violent crimes. Later on, she dealt with dying patients. This was different.
Jim was lying on the floor, on his back. As she looked at him, she knew that he has been dead for a while, but she had to be sure.
In a beat, she was there next to him, she sank on her knees. Her hands were shivering as she was seeking for his pulse. His neck and chest were cold, the flesh was strangely hard, unyielding. She knew too well what it was, rigor mortis, he must have been dead for hours. She tried to give him CPR, once, twice, for endless minutes, even if she knew it was too late. He was cold and motionless, her rational mind already knew it, but her subconscious mind could not comprehend it. Later she could not remember that she called 911 at 4.26.
It’s Dr. Stephanie Cohen. My boyfriend, Dr. Jim Wilson, died a few hours ago. Send an ambulance car. She told the address, she sounded very calm.
Paramedics arrived at 4.37. They could tell that Jim Wilson has been dead for several hours.
Then investigators arrived, too. They wanted to arrest Dr. Cohen as a suspect. Her father, a wealthy entrepreneur who had connections everywhere, intervened. Now Stephanie was out on bail.
Jim Wilson’s smartphone and laptop were gone. So were his expensive Omega wristwatch and his wallet that contained cash and his credit card. However, within a day, NYPD investigators have found the watch and the wallet in a garbage bin near the Village apartment. Probably the robbery was staged. Dr. Cohen wanted people to believe that the perps were after Wilson’s belongings. The laptop and smartphone never turned up again.
The Stephanie Cohen case was one of the high-profile murders of the year. Journalists and news anchors were after Dr. Cohen. They tried to discredit her. Many of them told that she was guilty. It seemed Nancy Grace had a particular hatred against her. Journalists were quick to point out that Stephanie Cohen had plenty of time to mess with the evidence. They found out that she and the victim, Dr. Jim Wilson, were an unhappy couple. According to friends and colleagues, they fought all the time. Some of Stephanie’s colleagues and neighbors called her a manipulative, dishonest, and cold person.
People hated Dr. Cohen, the “killer doctor”. Her defense attorney received death threats.
Other sources, however, blamed the victim, Dr. Wilson. They said he was a possessive, controlling, and arrogant man, impatient and rude with his patients, and he always had to have his way in everything. Some said he was promiscuous and he had affairs, and he was a club goer. Others said he was greedy and he had ties with the mafia, his death was a vendetta and the real perps framed Dr. Cohen.
One of Jim Wilson’s colleagues, Dr. Michelle Warren, had committed suicide, or, as some said, she died under strange circumstances three months ago. Did it have to do something with Jim Wilson’s death? Nobody knew.
Alexi still watched Golde grilling the dough. It would be strange and sad to have dinner with Golde and Stephanie, knowing that Stephanie was a suspect.
The sky was getting dark, the streets down below had the bright, ambient glow of electric lights. It was snowing.
Dr. Cohen arrived after six p.m. She was a good-looking, tall, athletic woman, with brown eyes, and delicate features. Her coat and long, dark hair were damp with snow. She was pale, there were dark circles under her eyes, but she looked sophisticated. She wore well-cut, high quality clothes, dark blue top, black slacks. She kissed her grandma. For a second, she hugged her.
“Alright, grandma?” her voice was a tired murmur, but it still had an intense, compelling edge. There was concern and a warm smile in her green eyes as she looked at her grandmother.
“I’m fine, but how are you?”
Stephanie comforted her with a touch of her hand, signaling she was alright.
Alexi stood up to greet her. Dr. Cohen gave her the smallest of smiles as she offered her hand.
“Evening. Good to see you. I’m Dr. Stephanie Cohen.”
“Sorry for being late. I had a new patient at the last moment. I couldn’t leave any earlier.”
Alexi shrugged with a smile.
“I made myself home already. You’ve got a very cozy home. And a fantastic grandma.” As Alexi mentioned Golde, again, she could detect warmth in Dr. Cohen’s eyes. It seemed she was close to her grandma.
Golde placed some crispy, warm knish on everyone’s plate. Another smile on Dr. Cohen’s drawn face.
After dinner, Dr. Cohen invited Alexi to her study. It was a stylish room, dark colors dominated it. It had a large desk in the middle, with a laptop and stacks of files. Plenty of books on the shelves, many of them dealt with medicine.
Dr. Cohen signaled to Alexi to sit down in an armchair.
“I guess you’re here to ask me about the murder. I can’t say much,” Stephanie said. She seemed weary. “That day, I was just tired. I fell asleep in the living room. It was like a blackout. When I woke up, I took a shower.” She shook her head and held her hands up. “I know. I know. Evidence destroyed. I didn’t know that there was a corpse in the other room, clear?” She pointed at Alexi with a slender hand.
She referred to her murdered boyfriend as a corpse. Probably she was detaching herself from what happened.
“That was all I needed,” Stephanie murmured. Impatience crept in her voice. “I’ve got patients in critical condition, and now I have this.” She paused. “I’m not sure if I can stay in my position. I’ve got a bad reputation. Nobody trusts a doctor like this.”
“I’m so sorry. People are hard on you.”
“I get death threats almost every day. My attorney, my family, even my grandma got death threats. Can you imagine?”
Alexi thought of smiling, caring Golde.
“Some people are terrible.”
Dr. Cohen shrugged. There was a lull.
“Can you remember anything from that night?” Alexi asked at last.
Dr. Cohen shook her head.
“I was sleeping.” Her face darkened. “You know what’s strange? That night . . . in the middle of the night, while I was asleep . . . I was half awake, I thought someone was walking in the room. I thought nothing of it. I thought it was Jim. Perhaps it was just a nightmare, I don’t know. I didn’t wake up to see who it was. I just wanted to sleep.”
“It might have been the murderer,” Alexi guessed. Her voice was quiet.
“I’m afraid, right? I can’t sleep since then. I’ve moved back to my parents.”
“I think it’s natural.”
“I wake up at night and check on the entrance door. Twice or three times, every night. It’s always locked, but I can’t help it. I’m always afraid that someone comes in.”
“What about the door of the other place?” Alexi meant the crime scene, the apartment in the West Village.
“It was an automatic lock. When you stepped out and closed the door behind you, it clicked on its own. You couldn’t open it from outside, unless you had a key. However, it did have a handle inside. You could open it easily, you didn’t need the key. The door also had a deadlock, but it wasn’t on when I let in the paramedics.”
“It means someone may have exited your place, yet the entrance was locked.”
“How did you get along with Jim?” Alexi asked suddenly.
Dr. Cohen shrugged, she locked her arms.
“Oh, it was awful. At first, yeah, we were happy. Lately, we’ve fought a lot. He had to have his way all the time. When he wanted to go out and meet friends, we had to go out. He had to decide about all of our finances. When he wanted a car, we bought a car. I paid most of it and I never wanted one. Jim loved controlling me. He was polite and nice with everyone, but I guess there was a lot going on with him.”
“What do you mean?”
“Anger. There was plenty of pent-up anger in him. It was creepy. He yelled at me when I asked him to go to the grocery, since I had an urgent case at the clinic and I’d come home late. When I said I wanted to meet my friends, he slammed me against a wall. He hated when I spent time with my parents. He hated my grandma.”
“Jerk,” Alexi agreed.
Dr. Cohen was in her late twenties. Right now, she looked at least ten years older than her age.
“I wanted to move back to my parents,” she admitted. “They would have understood it. I’m crazy that I didn’t do it earlier. Why did I have to wait until this happened?” She was almost crying.
“Can you think about someone who might have wanted to kill him?” Alexi asked.
Again, that desperate look. Stephanie shook her head.
“Not really. He was a jerk if you were close to him, but that’s it. He was nice to others.”
Feldman and Associates Private Clinic was a large and inviting place on the Columbus Avenue. It was a high-tech clinic, it had trendy waiting rooms, white and dark grey walls with colorful op art paintings, splashes of neon green, orange, and purple.
Dr. Mark Feldman’s office was a stylishly furnished, well-lit room, with heavy, large bookshelves made of dark polished wood. Dr. Feldman had plenty of books, encyclopedias, classic literature, and crime fiction; he must have been a well-read and intelligent person. Alexi could not detect white medicine cabinets or chrome-and-steel medical devices that looked like tools of a torture chamber. Everything was comforting and pleasant in this environment. There were bright green potted palms near the large windows.
Dr. Feldman was a board-certified cardiologist, he dealt with nuclear cardiology and echocardiography. He often published in journals on cardiovascular diseases. He was also a gifted entrepreneur, he has been in private practice for several decades. He was the founder and owner of Feldman Private Clinic.
He must have been well over sixty, but he looked younger. He was a tall, lean man, certainly he took care of himself. He had spectacles, grey hair, and well-trimmed grey beard.
Dr. Feldman, along with two fellow doctors, was willing to meet Alexi and talk about the Cohen case. His colleagues were Dr. Joe Rossi, a stocky internist with round cheeks, brown eyes, and oily, brown skin, and Dr. Lawrence Palmer, an athletic, thin surgeon with sharp features, glowing eyes, and tanned complexion.
“Steph is a good doctor.” Dr. Feldman was serious. “I’ve known her for years. Our patients trust her. She cares about them. She follows up every case. She’s meticulous. When your average doctor can’t see an issue with you, he shrugs it off. When Steph Cohen can’t find what’s wrong with you, she makes sure you get screened, hormone levels checked, get blood work, x-ray, you name it, until she finds what your issue is.”
“I’m afraid I can’t tell you much about Dr. Cohen. She’s always kept her distance.” Dr. Joe Rossi was unsmiling, his eyes were almost hostile. He did not like Stephanie Cohen. Or he just hated the Cohen case, it was giving the clinic a bad name.
“She’s very private,” Dr. Palmer said. “A bit stubborn, but one fine young woman.”
“She wasn’t worse than the rest of us. You should’ve seen poor Jim when he was in a mood. It always seemed to me that he was the difficult one,” Dr. Feldman agreed.
“Jim was very straightforward,” Dr. Palmer said with a casual smile. “If he didn’t like something, he let you know.”
“See, Ms. Frest, we’re not happy with the kind of attention we get because of Dr. Cohen,” Dr. Rossi said. His small, dark eyes were hard. “We don’t like the media circus.”
“I understand, Dr. Rossi,” Alexi said. “I’m here to help.”
Dr. Rossi gave a small grunt. As if he found her annoying. Or he thought she was lying.
Dr. Feldman intervened.
“We know that you want to help, and we’re grateful for it,” he said.
“I’m not sure if Dr. Cohen is honest with the police,” Dr. Martin said. He has already made up his mind. Stephanie Cohen was a murderer, a burden on the clinic. “I’ve been working with her for years. For all I see, she’s a manipulative person. She’s polite, but you can tell she’s angry. And she’s a social creeper. Likes to rub shoulders with those who have high positions. Sure as hell she’s kind to Dr. Feldman, but see when she argues with me. There’s no way in hell that she will accept what I say. I’m a clinic manager and she wants my position, that’s why she hates me.”
“You mean the Melissa Bryce case?” Dr. Feldman said. He sounded tired. “Steph was right on that one, remember? Thank goodness that she didn’t listen to us. Ms. Bryce has recovered since then. She couldn’t have, were it not for Steph Cohen. ” He turned to Alexi. “Joe and Stephanie put up a fight over it. Steph’s diagnosis was right.”
“Seems you forget all the cases when she wasn’t right,” Rossi murmured. “She’s paranoid. You haven’t seen a control freak like her. In her practice, everything has to be perfect. You know the type.” Alexi could tell that it was more than a personal dislike against Dr. Cohen. It was the power dynamics between a new, rising doctor and an experienced one. This was how Dr. Rossi reacted to a perceived threat.
Dr. Feldman did not say a thing, but he shook his head.
“See, lady,” Dr. Palmer turned to Alexi, with a wave of a slender hand, “we’ve heard the gossips on the Internet. Jim had mafia connections, he had many girlfriends, whatever. Most of it is rubbish. Steph is a great doc and so was poor Jim. He was, um, arrogant, true, but he was a good doctor. And a good person. I don’t think Jim did anything wrong.”
The night was peaceful over the meat district, as peaceful as a night can be in Manhattan, with the steady hum of cars, electric noises, and happy, bright Christmas illumination on the streets. It was snowing, and some of the soft snow remained on the sidewalks.
Alexi was working in her loft. Her room was a warm, safe hideaway. Her LED lamp emanated an orange glow.
There was something to the Cohen case. Some of Stephanie’s colleagues backed her up, some did not. The victim and her colleagues were interesting, too. The word obscure came to mind.
Alexi has already done research. She has made some calls. She had trusted contacts, among others, some investigators at the New York Police Department. Probably she was going to call Miranda Levinson, her long-time friend, the most successful media entrepreneur of Manhattan. Alexi and Miranda had a lot in common. They were driven, strong, intelligent women who had to get along on their own. They came from upper class New England families of doctors, teachers, and attorneys; however, their families consisted of serious, motivated people; none of them were the pearl-wearing, uptight crowd. Both Alexi and Miranda had BA degrees from elite colleges. They even had some physical semblance, they were thin, athletic, attractive women with classy features and dark blond hair.
Miranda was the nicer one, friendly and charismatic, a people pleaser. Her job required it. She had friends, valuable connections, entrepreneurs and politicians, so she was among the first ones to hear the latest events of the world. This was one of the reasons she was at the top of her industry. The others reasons were that she was a gifted communicator, a workaholic, an overachiever, she was intelligent, honest, and she had a brilliant mind for business. She worked night and day, so Alexi could call her if she wanted to. Miranda knew forensic computer experts who could have found data on the Cohen case. She knew data brokers who could find just about any data that ever hit the Internet. Some of Miranda’s acquaintances used legal methods. Others had shady ways. Miranda was not going to get involved with illegal data mining, but she knew people who knew people, she could recommend experts who helped collecting evidence, and it was not her fault that some of her associates might use illegal methods.
Alexi did not want to call Miranda. Not yet. For now, she could deal with her research on her own. She had her network of informants, Internet security experts. She could do some research herself, she was good at it.
She was seeking news and gossips on Internet sites. No interview source could tell more than anonymous remarks. No personal contact or real life interview could compete with the faceless, nameless, safe environment of Internet websites and chatrooms. The cyberspace was where people could gossip, make remarks, and bully each other without any consequence. Alexi could used net gossip when she was working on crime stories. Internet was an endless source of speculation, rumors, and useful background information. They remarks and stories were harsh, unfeeling, and very exciting.
Alexi was tracking down the doctors of Feldman Clinic, one by one. The result was unsettling.
She started with Dr. Palmer. She went through court records; criminal records of New Yorkers were available on some websites. She found that Dr. Palmer was accused of sexual assault.
Alexi Googled the terms “Dr. Lawrence Palmer New York sex assault”. She has found a couple of articles. In October, 2014, Dr. Palmer attended a party with a female friend and he took her home in the midnight hours. The next day, she filed a lawsuit against him. He was charged with sexual assault. She said she was afraid of him and had nightmares afterward. He said they had consensual sex. The bruises and injuries on the woman’s body suggested that she was assaulted. DNA test results matched with Palmer’s DNA samples.
Palmer hired high profile defense attorneys. They used techniques that they described as “aggressive attack”. They undermined the complainant’s credibility. They hired private detectives to research the woman’s past. They could prove that she was a college dropout, she had no job, she was a socialite, she liked “rough sex” and she must have been after Palmer’s money. Palmer pleaded “not guilty”. The prosecutor could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Palmer assaulted the woman. The judge dismissed the charge.
Alexi’s muscles tensed as she went through the articles.
She researched Palmer on social media: his education (Sarah Lawrence), his job, his friends, his likes and dislikes. She learned that he had plenty of friends, he had a wife and two young adult sons, he liked Volvo, Dolce & Gabbana, Dom Perignon, and exotic trips. He visited South Africa, Thailand, the Maldives, and Malaysia. In his free time, he enjoyed sports, whitewater rafting, horse riding, and sailing. He was a thrill seeker.
Alexi checked out his photos. Receding hairline, perfectly cut, very short hair, handsome face, sharp features and sharp eyes, probably a bit too sharp. High quality clothes, tanned skin. Tall, thin frame, perhaps a bit too thin.
Dr. Warren’s case was just as disturbing. Alexi ran a background check on her, but she could not find anything, she has never had a criminal charge against her. Alexi could find her birth data, education, professional history, nothing else. She browsed the web for terms like “Dr. Michelle Warren Manhattan doctor suicide”. In Internet chatrooms, people were speculating about her suspicious death. According to her colleagues, family, and friends, Dr. Warren was not depressed or unstable. She was a hard-working, driven woman. Level-headed. She had a Harvard education and a stellar career as an internist. It seemed there were no major downfalls in her life.
She was a teetotaler, she never touched drugs, she did not even take prescription meds or painkillers. She had savings on her bank account and no debt. She did not have a husband, but she was close to her mother and sister. Unlike many single women in their mid-thirties, she was not looking for a romantic partner; she did not want a relationship.
She was not the type to commit suicide.
Alexi was looking for Dr. Warren on social media sites. Her profiles were still up. So was her website that advertised her medical practice at Feldman and Associates as well as a private practice in a Park Avenue office. Her website and profiles gave the illusion that a tiny part of her was still around. Internet captured a small part of her for eternity.
Dr. Warren was a dark-haired, pale woman with keen features. She had glasses. She was light-framed, thin, downright fragile. She wore simple, reasonable clothes, elegant but inexpensive, high-neck pullovers, long coats, sensible boots, no jewelry, there was nothing flashy about her.
Alexi studied her images, guessing what has happened to her.
On the last day of her life, Michelle Warren has taken pills, then she hanged herself in the bathroom of her SoHo apartment. She has left no chance for her to survive.
Alexi went through the autopsy report. The medical examiner detected traces of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors in Dr. Warren’s blood. She took prescription drugs, antidepressants, prior to her death. The cause of death was suicide, asphyxiation due to hanging. Alexi compared the Warren case to other suicide cases. She has studied various medical examiners’ reports on hanging. According to medical examiners, it was almost impossible to tell only from the ligature marks on the corpse whether it was a suicide or a homicide. It was the knot, the angle of the body, the degree of suspension, and the scene that told tales about a murder.
There was no sign of blunt force trauma or abrasions on Michelle Warren’s body. No sign of beating or dragging. There were no defense injuries, no bruises, no lacerations, not even a scratch. Neither did the M.E. find DNA such as skin cells or blood under her nails. If someone had assaulted her, she would have tried to fight back. Provided she was aware of what was going on. According the result of the toxicology test, she must have been dazed, with all the SSRI in her bloodstream. Probably someone drugged her before attacking her. Probably she did want to defend herself and, unfocused and dizzy, she could not. Probably she was unconscious when somebody hung her. There was no way to tell.
Alexi found more articles on Dr. Warren’s death. The medical examiner who performed the autopsy said that the ligature marks on the corpse were consistent with hanging by suicide. However, he admitted that there was a possibility that someone murdered Dr. Warren.
Jim Wilson had no criminal record. Alexi could find hundreds of articles and ten thousands of comments on his death. Most people blamed Dr. Cohen. They sent supporting messages to Dr. Wilson’s family.
So sorry about your beloved son and brother. What a senseless loss of a life. Dr. Wilson was a great man, he saved lives.
So did Stephanie Cohen, but nobody mentioned it.
Internet users sent images of Jim Wilson. Wilson, in white cloak, with a polite smile on his face, it was a photo from the official site of Feldman and Associates. There were private photos that must have come from his social media profiles and photo sharing websites. Wilson, wearing hat and cloak on his graduation day. Having drinks with his friends, sometime in his university years. He was a handsome young fellow, with bright eyes and a big, laughing smile. There were photos from later stages of his life, the happy smile was gone from his face. He looked friendly and polite enough, but he seemed guarded. In some images, he was with friends and family members. One young man looked like him, according to the sender, it was his cousin. One picture featured Wilson with a girlfriend from his youth, a slender girl with sleek, dark blond hair.
More pictures of him, driving his first car, scuba diving, having fun with friends.
Jim Wilson and Stephanie Cohen, together, in happier days. She was not hugging or kissing him, but she was standing close to him, smiling at him, or resting a hand on his upper arm.
Dr. Cohen was not just a suspect, she was the suspect.
What a cold bitch. It’s first degree murder. Sure she gets fried in the chair. No way, she’ll get the needle. How I hate this entitled woman. A spoiled bitch who got everything on a silver plate and always had her way in everything. I wonder how she’ll like it in prison for life. She’s evil. She’s a liar, a murderer. She thinks she’s better than everyone and always had to get everything she wanted. She couldn’t get her way in something and she killed the poor guy.
Most messages were obscene and offensive. Others were telling more about the story.
Some Internet users defended Dr. Cohen. They said Jim Wilson had a secret life. At daytime, he was a focused, friendly, disciplined surgeon. At weekends and at night, he was a regular to clubs like the Provocateur and 1OAK, he had drinks, even cocaine, he had plenty of girlfriends. Those few who were close to him knew that he was arrogant and jealous. Stephanie’s and his friends were talking about sudden rages and a temper from hell.
A witness was telling a strange story. A few weeks ago, the witness has seen a young couple in a downtown Manhattan club. The man was drinking too much. When his partner warned him to quit drinking, he hit her. Other guests intervened, and security guards walked the man out of the club. When the witness saw the Cohen case in the news, he recognized the arguing couple.
More stories emerged about Jim Wilson. Some of the nurses at Feldman and Associates did not like him, he made them nervous. When he was in a mood, he made hurtful remarks or yelled at them. He was unpredictable. Sometimes, rarely, he had violent outbursts of anger. Once he was so furious with an elderly nurse that she thought he was going to hit her. The next day, he was the nicest guy, and he brought the same nurse a cup of coffee, with lots of whipped cream and just a hint of artificial sweetener, the way she liked it. He could be kind and thoughtful when he wanted to. Mostly he wanted to.
Someone has added the images of one of his girlfriends, a pretty socialite who came from a rich family. She had silky blonde hair, perfect makeup, and a slim, toned body. Colorful, extravagant clothes.
Some Internet users mentioned Dr. Warren and they blamed Wilson for her death. People assumed they had an affair and Dr. Warren committed suicide when he broke up with her. Others thought Jim Wilson had a hand in her death, this was why there was no sign of forced entry or defense injuries. She let the murderer in her home and she let him near her neck.
There were rumors about a friend who called the police after Dr. Warren’s death, she said she received ominous emails from Dr. Warren and it had to do with some strange business in the private clinic. According to this friend, Michelle Warren was afraid before her death.
He killed his mistress, Warren, and staged it a suicide. When the Cohen woman learned about the affair, she went crazy and killed him. That’s what he deserved. He was screwing around and even killed his gf, he thought he could get away with it. He was wrong, the psycho bitch killed him. Justice was done. Very nice.
Alexi has collected data on the Cohen case for two days.
She decided to contact one of her computer security advocate acquaintances. She asked him to enter the mails of all the persons of interests, Michelle Warren, Jim Wilson, Lawrence Palmer, and Stephanie Cohen.
The online security expert has provided her with their passwords and she has been through their mails.
Dr. Cohen has mailed her cousins and a niece on birthdays and before family meetings. She has answered mails from her patients and doctors. She has received newsletters from medical websites and pharmacies. Alexi could not find anything personal in her messages. Probably she did not need the Internet, since she met her parents and grandma often, and she lived with her partner until his death.
Jim Wilson’s mails were discreet, too. No messages to Stephanie, not even a fun message or an image of a rose or a puppy. Forensic computer experts must have been through his mails – his murder was a high-profile case, an aggravated crime, investigators might have needed any details, any clues that they could find, but his mails were dull.
Dr. Warren has written most of her messages to her mother and sister. They were ordinary mails about everyday events, family meals, and programs. The messages – warm and friendly – sounded melancholic and sad now that their writer has died and would never have dinner with her mother.
There were some kind words in every mail. Dr. Warren might have been a private person, but she loved her nearest and dearest.
She has written some letters to various doctors, specialists, concerning possible health issues that Dr. Warren detected in some patients. Other doctors asked her advice, she answered these mails in details.
She has written messages to a couple of friends. One correspondence seemed interesting. She has exchanged mails with an old friend, a female architect named Kelly Hamilton, she lived in Chicago, and, based on the letters, she must have been friends with Michelle Warren for many years. Some letters had ominous hints. They were not unsettling, but, knowing that Dr. Warren died, they sounded strange.
21 Sep 2015
I’m so glad to hear that you got your promotion. Well deserved. I’m proud of you.
No news here. Something is up at the clinic. We’ve been selling plenty of sedatives lately. Seems that someone is messing with the insurance money. I guess Jim Wilson, one of our surgeons, has noticed it, too. I’m not sure about his girlfriend, Steph Cohen, she’s an internist. I think they don’t get along and Jim never told her. Sure as hell Dr. Feldman doesn’t know a thing.
26 Sep 2015
A good thing that I have a friend like you. A pity you don’t live closer, we should meet more often. Sometimes it’s lonely here and it plays tricks on my mind. A few days ago, I came home at 11a.m. Someone was walking the stairs behind me and I thought that they were following me. How crazy is it?
9 Oct 2015
Larry Palmer, a surgeon from the clinic, is overbilling some patients with prescription meds. I’m not sure if they’re patients or just people who sell painkillers and opiates. I’ve asked Larry about the bills. He just laughed it off and told me to relax.
Kelly Hamilton must have been the friend who alerted authorities, having suspicions. It seemed they never took her seriously, and they should have.
Lawrence Palmer’s correspondence was discreet. He was an entertaining, witty writer. He never said anything suspicious. Only a couple of remarks showed what kind of a person he was. Insulting remarks about older women. Taunting comments about patients.
Alexi leaned back in her chair. Now she knew what was going on, and she knew what to do about it. She looked at the clock on her laptop screen. Almost 9 p.m. Miranda Levinson must be still working. Alexi considered calling her.
She took her sleek cell phone and called Miranda’s number.
“Evening,” Miranda said. Alexi detected a trace of warmth in her voice.
“Good to hear about you.”
“And you. Listen, I need your help.”
“I’m all ears.”
“I can’t talk over the phone. We’ve got to meet.”
“At the Pleiades? Or rather Parkway Lounge. It’s closer for both of us.”
“Miranda, it’ very private. What I want to say has to remain between us. Your place or mine?”
A second of silence. Then, “I’ll be there in half an hour.”
Miranda Levinson looked radiant as she cozied up against the seat. Alexi was studying her. Miranda had a pale, elegant face, high forehead, strong jawline, and prominent nose. Her eyes – blue-green eyes with hints of gold – gave away her drive and brilliant mind. Miranda was in her late forties and she had a body that women half her age envied.
“Now? Go ahead, tell me,” Miranda said, her voice was casual.
Alexi felt insecure for a second. She exhaled a breath.
“I want you to talk one of your friends at the NYDP.”
Miranda was unflappable.
“You want details on the Cohen case?”
“No. I’ve found something the cops want to know. Some of my acquaintances have been in the mailbox of the doctors.”
“You got their accounts hacked, you say.”
“That’s why I can’t go to the police, but you can. You tell them that you’ve got a tip.”
“I guess you think you’ve found the bogeyman.”
“Yeah. I’m sure it’s not Dr. Cohen.”
“I see. You’re playing amateur detective again. Even worse, Anna Politkovskaya. I’m afraid someday you’ll end up like her.” Anna Politkovskaya was a Ukrainian-American investigative reporter who worked in Russia. She was one of the very few who criticized the Kremlin’s politics. In 2006, when she was working in Moscow, a couple of thugs shot her dead in the elevator of her building. The shooters went to prison, but nobody knows who sent them to assassinate Anna.
Miranda stood up from the chair and walked to the window. She was watching the street below. Then she turned back to Alexi. She was calm now.
“Why don’t you just write your stories? You shouldn’t go after the bad guys. That’s why cops are for.”
“Can’t you see, Miranda?” Alexi tried the bait. “A big story. Only for you. You’ll break the news in the Cohen case. And you’re doing a big favor to your NYDP pals. Sure as hell they’ll be interested in Dr. Palmer.”
Miranda took the bait. Her pupils dilated as she was listening to Alexi. She was almost licking her lips, like a greedy, large feline.
“Palmer had a motive to kill Dr. Warren and Dr. Wilson, then he framed Stephanie Cohen.”
“What did you find?”
“I’ve been through Michelle Warren’s emails. At the clinic, she has come across some mistakes in accounting, and she poked around. She didn’t write anything to her mother or sister. I guess she didn’t want to scare them. She has written to a friend. From her mails, it was clear that she was afraid. She thought someone was after her, and see how right she was. In a few weeks, she was dead.”
“What did she notice?”
“Dr. Palmer has prescribed tons of controlled substances. I’m not saying it went to drug dealers. It might have. One never knows. He sure overbilled them. He made at least two million dollars during the past two years. Dr. Warren mentioned in her mails that Jim Wilson might have noticed something, too.”
“Alright, Alexi. I’ll help you. I’ll call a friend of mine.”
Miranda’s home office was expensive, classy, and extravagant. It had black walls and black marble floor, so smooth and shiny that it reflected images. Miranda had high-end furniture, black chairs and sofas, and a handmade, carved heavy solid oak desk in the middle of the large room.
Miranda was wearing a beige suit with golden jewelry. She gestured with her slender hands as she spoke. Her face was serious, her eyes were burning, there was an obsessive, relentless gleam in them.
“I know. I know. You were right all along,” she said, pacing up and down. “Forensic computer experts have gone through Dr. Warren’s emails. NYDP and the Drug Enforcement Administration started investigating Palmer’s case. They found that he’d issued ten thousands of prescriptions for medicines like Ambien, Xanax, Valium, and Vicodin. He charged $300 for each prescription. He billed $6 million to private insurance companies.”
“Cunning,” Alexi murmured. She closed her eyes for a second. She rested her head against the seat.
“Palmer lost his state license to practice medicine,” Miranda went on. “He’d have been investigated for many years until authorities filed charges against him, however, NYPD accuses him of murder. He’s in jail now.”
“Great.” Alexi’s eyes were on Miranda, she followed her with her eyes as she was walking up and down.
“At first, cops and special agents didn’t understand what was going on. Doctors rarely take chances to dispense and distribute controlled substances. If it turns out, at best, it ruins their careers. If they have no luck, they go to prison. True that Palmer has made plenty of money. Now that he was on the investigators’ radar, it turned out that false billing and drug trafficking was just the beginning. He had interests in real estate, he used his real estate deals to money laundering. He had ties to criminals, drug dealers, and a prostitution ring. He had a good reason to silence Michelle Warren and Jim Wilson. Dr. Cohen recalled an important detail. The day when her boyfriend died, Dr. Cohen was working all day. After work, at 6 p.m., he had a cup of coffee with Larry Palmer in the clinic. The coffee must have been laced with sedatives. That’s why she did not wake up when Palmer came over and killed Jim.”
Alexi stood up. Her eyes were intense on Miranda as she leaned closer to her. Miranda held her gaze.
“I just want to say ‘thank you’ for all your help,” Alexi said with a shadow of a smile.
Miranda looked interested. Her eyes were blazing, and she flashed a tiny, triumphant smile.
“Dr. Cohen has invited me for dinner tonight,” Alexi said. “She said I should bring a partner. I told her that I’d rather bring a friend who helped me a lot with the case. I guess Granny Mueller will like you a lot.”
New York City got heavy snow in the evening. Mist hovered over the streets, dimming the sharp, geometrical outlines of the buildings. Tree branches and fences looked like exquisite artwork. Street lamps faded into friendly orbs of light. The light polluted snow clouds seemed pale grey. The streets were bustling with people, as Christmas was nearing, everybody was purchasing gifts in the evening hours.
Alexi was walking on the snowy sidewalk, her feet crushed damp slush. She flashed a quick, delighted smile at Miranda Levinson who was walking beside her.
“We’re here,” Alexi said. They were standing in front of Dr. Cohen’s building.
The Cohens’ home was warm and inviting. This time, Stephanie’s parents were there, too. Her mama had hazel eyes and a friendly smile. Her father was a bespectacled man, he wore a dark suit.
Stephanie Cohen was very attractive. There was nothing vulnerable about her now. She had a great posture and compelling good looks, she looked infallible. Her unsmiling face commanded attention.
“You look majestic, Dr. Cohen,” Alexi said.
“Glad to meet you, Alexi. Please call me Stephanie.” Their eyes locked. “Thank you . . . for everything.”
Alexi did not tell her about getting mailboxes hacked, since it was illegal. However, Dr. Cohen was an intelligent woman. She could sense that Alexi and Miranda helped her case, but she did not ask questions.
Miranda was approaching them.
“Dr. Cohen? I’m Miranda Levinson. Nice to meet you.” The two women shook hands.
Golde greeted Alexi and Miranda, her big smile reached her brown eyes. She was preparing a lavish dinner, grilled vegetable salad, grilled artichokes, and potatoes. She was mincing garlic, chopping onions and parsley, and cutting up bell peppers.
“How’s the eggplant?” Golde asked Stephanie’s mother, observing the charred food. “You’ve got to grill it for a couple of minutes. Grill it soft, until the skin looks black.” In a beat, Golde returned to the countertop. She poured olive oil on a couple of steamed artichokes, then placed them over high heat on a grill.
“See my mittens?” She lifted up her hands with the potholders. “I love them. I bought them three years ago, and they last forever. If you use mittens, you’ll never burn your hands,” she explained.
Neither Alexi nor Miranda could cook, but they were listening with polite smiles on their faces. Stephanie and her parents joined the conversation. They were sophisticated people with a wide range of interests, books, arts, news of the world. Golde was a fan of Russian and Ukrainian literature and history, her family came from Ukraine. She was glad to hear that Miranda’s family came from Russia. Golde and Miranda had several favorite writers in common. They had much in common, they were born with amazing leadership skills.
Alexi nested up in the comfortable chair, listening to the pleasant murmur of talk and laughter. The Cohen case was solved.