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NYPD Red 4
By Marshall Karp
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The Red, Red Carpet
Leopold Bassett flitted across the room to where his brother, Maxwell, was quietly nursing a glass of wine.
“Max, I just heard from my spotter in the lobby,” Leo said in a giddy half whisper. “Lavinia is on her way up. Can you stop brooding for twenty minutes?”
“I’m not brooding. I was just enjoying this absolutely exquisite Sancerre and trying to calculate how much this latest junket of yours is costing us.”
“You can stop calculating,” Leo said, “because now that I know Lavinia is coming, it’s worth every dime. She’s the only one we really care about.”
“Then why did we pay fifteen thousand dollars for the Royal Suite at the Ritz-Carlton, and what are the rest of these freeloaders doing here besides pigging out on caviar and swilling champagne?”
“Max, I don’t tell you how to design jewelry, so don’t go lecturing me on how to plan a soirée de publicité. If Lavinia walked into an empty room, she’d walk right out. These people are cannon fodder. I papered the house.”
“For one lousy gossip columnist?”
“Gossip? Try fashion guru. People hang on every word this woman writes, every photo she prints. She’s a tastemaker, a trendsetter.”
The door to the suite opened, and Lavinia Begbie entered.
“Well, well,” Max said. “Judging by the arched eyebrows and frozen forehead, it looks like the hot new trend is Botox jobs gone horribly wrong. Her face looks like she had a stroke.”
“I hate you,” Leo said, and hurried across the room to greet the new arrival and her entourage: a photographer, an assistant, and a West Highland white terrier that Lavinia was cradling in her arms.
She set the dog on the floor, air-kissed Leo, and headed straight for Max. “Maxwell Bassett—jeweler to the stars,” she said, shaking his hand. “A pleasure to finally meet you. You’re quite the recluse.”
Max smiled. “Leo is a tough taskmaster. He keeps me locked up in my studio designing baubles for bold-faced names.”
“Locked up, indeed,” she said. “The last time I spoke to Leo you were somewhere in Namibia hunting white rhinoceros.”
“Please don’t print that,” Max said, folding his hands angelically against his chest. “PETA hates me enough as it is.”
“Leo, be a dear and fetch me a double bourbon, neat,” Lavinia said.
“Done,” Leo said. “How about your dog? Can I get her a bowl of water?”
“Don’t bother. Harlow loves cocktail parties. She’ll wait until someone drops a bit of food, then she’ll gobble it right up. I call them floor d’oeuvres.” She turned her attention to Max. “Let’s talk.”
“It took months,” he said, launching into his canned presentation, “but I finally found twenty perfectly matched four-carat emeralds—”
“Please,” she interrupted. “Spare me. Your publicist emailed me all the details, and my photographer will get a shot of Elena Travers on her way to the red carpet. I’m here to talk about the rumors.”
“They’re all true,” Max said. “Leo is gay. I told him you were onto him.”
“I’ve heard you’re planning to get into bed with Precio Mundo,” she said.
“Precio? The big-box store? How could they possibly market a brand like Bassett? Mark the hundred-thousand-dollar bracelets down to eighty-nine thousand and put them in an endcap display?”
“Don’t be coy, and don’t sidestep the question. According to my sources, they want you to create a line of—”
“Ladies and gentlemen, may I have your attention, please.” Sonia Chen, Leo’s publicist, stood outside the bedroom door. “I’ve met a lot of leading ladies, but none more stunning or more gracious than the young woman who will be walking down the red carpet tonight at the premiere of her latest film, Eleanor of Aquitaine. It is my honor to present Elena Travers.”
The actress stepped through the door wearing a strapless white Valentino gown that was perfectly set off by Max’s latest masterpiece. The guests applauded, cameras clicked, and from the other side of the room Leo Bassett called out, “At long last—I have found the girl of my dreams.”
The crowd laughed, and Leo rushed toward Elena, his arms spread wide. “Darling,” he cooed, commanding the room, “you look ravish—”
As soon as his foot connected with the West Highland white terrier, Leo’s body pitched forward. Harlow squealed, Leo shrieked, and hands reached out to break his fall. But nothing could stop his momentum until he crashed into a buffet table and landed on the rug, covered with sea bass ceviche.
A waiter helped him to his feet, and Sonia immediately materialized with a handful of napkins and began to brush the fish and salsa from his tuxedo. Leo waved her aside and stood center stage. “First rule of show business,” he said, playing to the crowd. “Never work with kids or dogs.”
Nervous laughter from the guests.
He smiled at Lavinia. “And how’s little Harlow?”
“She’s upset, but she’ll be fine,” Lavinia said, cuddling the Westie in her arms. “Leo, I’m so sorry—”
He held up a hand and turned toward Elena. “My dear, I’m afraid you’ll have to find another escort.”
“Oh, Leo,” Elena said, “nobody cares about a little cocktail sauce. Come on. We’ll have fun.”
“For God’s sake, Leo, go.” It was Max. “Nobody’s going to be looking at you anyway.”
“No,” he said, lashing out at his brother. “Leo Bassett is not walking down the red carpet smelling like a fucking fish stick.”
He turned, stormed into the bedroom, and slammed the door.
Max stole a glance at Lavinia Begbie, wondering how she’d react to Leo’s theatrics. But her face had been injected with so much wrinkle-numbing botulinum toxin that it was impossible to tell.
Ian Altman scanned the people standing behind the velvet ropes at the Ziegfeld Theater, looking for someone to shoot, but there was nobody interesting.
In fact, there was practically nobody at all. The carbon arc searchlight beams that crisscrossed the sky were doing a piss-poor job of attracting a crowd to the premiere of Elena Travers’s new movie.
That was the problem with having these red carpet events in New York, Altman thought. In L.A., the glitterati showed up. In New York, anything that blocks the sidewalk is just another freakin’ inconvenience.
As if to prove his point, a man trying to skirt the police barrier crashed into him, practically knocking the camera out of his hands.
“Asshole,” the pedestrian yelled. “You people think you own the streets?”
Altman had been trained to avoid run-ins with the public. “Not own, sir,” he said. “I’m with the TV crew, and we do have a permit that allows us to—”
The unmistakable thunderclap of a gun blast cut through the air, and Altman instinctively swung his camera in the direction of the sound. In the same instant, a dozen officers from the best-trained urban police force in America kicked into full emergency response mode.
Guns were drawn, radios came alive, and orders were shouted. A second shot followed, and the cops fanned out—some heading west in pursuit of the shooter while the rest tried to herd the stampeding crowd in the other direction.
Bullets didn’t scare Ian Altman. He’d done two tours in Afghanistan as a combat photographer with the air force. He dropped to one knee and pointed his camera toward the action.
Through the lens, he could see it coming. A white stretch Cadillac careened out of control down West 54th Street, sideswiped a cop car, ricocheted off an NYPD traffic van, and plowed head-on into the pair of eight-hundred-million candlepower searchlights that had been lighting up the night.
Xenon bulbs exploded, and a hail of sparks and glass showered down on the cameraman as he zoomed in on the driver’s side window, where a body was slumped over the steering wheel.
The first wave of cops advanced on the limo, barking at the occupants to come out with their hands up.
Altman wheeled his camera around in time to catch a young man, his shirt covered in blood, stumble from the back door. Cops came at him from all sides screaming, “Down on the ground! Now, now, now!”
The man fell to his knees, threw his hands in the air, and screamed back, “She’s been shot! Get an ambulance!”
A sergeant yelled a command, and two cops approached the limo, peered inside, and then holstered their guns. The female cop crawled into the backseat while her male partner ran around the vehicle and entered it from the opposite side.
They slowly eased Elena Travers out of the car and set her down under the marquee—a rag doll, the front of her white gown as red as the carpet beneath her. The female officer knelt down and gently cradled Elena’s head.
The actress tried to speak, but all that came out was a pained whimper. The cop leaned in close, and Altman moved in tight enough to read her lips. “It’s going to be okay. It’s going to be okay.”
Ian Altman’s pulse was racing, but his hands were steady as he framed the tableau in his viewfinder. The actress and the cop, their eyes locked in an unfathomable bond. And then Elena took one last breath, and the light in her eyes went out.
Altman had captured death on video before, but it had always been surrounded by the horrors of war. This was almost peaceful, but at the same time so much more gut-wrenching.
Out of respect, he began to widen his lens, pulling back until he could compose his final shot, one that was going out on the air live, and would eventually go viral and be seen by hundreds of millions of people around the world: Elena Travers, flawlessly beautiful, even in death, except for the deep gouges on her skin where Maxwell Bassett’s one-of-a-kind, eight-million-dollar masterpiece had been ripped from her chest.
Nothing attracts a crowd like a dead celebrity.
By the time Kylie and I arrived at the crime scene, a wave of humanity had descended on the Ziegfeld Theater, bearing candles, flowers, stuffed animals, and, of course, pictures of the late Elena Travers.
The Daily News would sum it up with one word in their morning edition.
“Zach! Zach Jordan!”
I looked up and saw Stavros Kellepouris walking toward us. Sergeant Kellepouris was old-school, tough on his officers and even tougher on himself, which is why cops who work for him either respect him, hate his guts, or both.
“Zach, I knew they’d kick this one up to Red,” he said, shaking my hand. He turned to Kylie. “And you must be Detective MacDonald.”
“Kylie. Good to finally meet you, Sergeant. And for the record, it didn’t get kicked up. It came down from on high. What have you got so far?”
“A dead movie star, a limo driver in the OR with a bullet in his back, two perps in the wind, and a video which won’t give you much to go on.”
“You’re right,” she said. “We’ve seen it.”
“The whole damn city has seen it,” Kellepouris said. “There were maybe fifty, sixty people here when they thought she was showing up alive. But stretch her out in a pool of blood on the sidewalk, and an army of vultures shows up with their camera phones hoping to capture a piece of Hollywood history.”
“Give us a rundown of what went down before the shots were fired,” I said.
“Quiet night, just the usual paparazzi you have to wrangle and keep behind the ropes, but it was no problem. I had more cops than I needed.”
“It’s all part of the Hollywood bullshit game. Travers was wearing this zillion-dollar necklace, and somebody in PR thought it would look better with twelve cops to guard her instead of four. The studio pays the city for the security, so they can hire as many as they want. We were all just props in blue uniforms, until the shit hit the fan.”
“Tell us about the man who was in the car with her.”
“Craig Jeffers. He’s her personal trainer, but from what he told me, they had another kind of personal relationship going on that they kept under wraps.”
“What can you tell us that we didn’t see on the video?”
“It looks like it started out as a simple snatch-and-grab. Two mooks with guns stopped the limo. I don’t think they had any intention of hurting anyone. They just wanted to heist some bling.”
“What went wrong?”
“It was Jeffers. He’s a bodybuilder—macho to the core. He decided to go all Jason Statham and wrestle the gun away from one of the perps. It didn’t work out the way he planned.”
Kylie shook her head. “Men are such assholes,” she said.
Kellepouris grinned at me. “You got lucky, Zach. I like this one. She sounds a lot like my wife.”
“Anything else?” I said.
“I got stripes, Zach, no shield, so I didn’t dig very deep. Also, Jeffers seemed too devastated to handle a lot of questions. What he did was beyond dumb, but you’ve got to feel sorry for him. That poor bastard will have Elena Travers’s blood on his hands for the rest of his life.”
“That’s what I like about you, Stavros,” I said. “You never hold back on your opinions.”
“I hate to disappoint you, Detective, but that’s not my opinion. Those are Craig Jeffers’s words, not mine.”
We walked past the sandwiched remains of the limo and the searchlight truck and made our way to the red carpet, where Chuck Dryden was kneeling next to the body of Elena Travers.
Dryden, who has all the charisma of a medium security prison, looked up. His normally stoic facial expression softened when he saw Kylie, but he was still all business, no foreplay. “She took a 9mm slug to the abdomen,” he said. “She bled out.”
“Thanks,” Kylie said, giving him her practiced you’re-my-favorite-crime-scene-investigator smile.
“It’s my job,” he said, and returned to the work at hand, signaling that his report was over.
We entered the Ziegfeld, which was empty except for a few cops and a man sitting on the floor, his back to the wall, his head in his hands.
“Mr. Jeffers,” Kylie said softly.
He raised his head. His eyes were red, his face contorted with pain. “I told her I was sorry,” he said. “Before she died, I held her in my arms and told her I was sorry. She didn’t say anything, but I know she heard me.”
Kylie knelt beside him. “We’re going to find the men who did this.”
“I did it,” he said. “It was my fault as much as anybody else’s.”
“Can we talk?” Kylie said, standing up.
Jeffers stood. He was blond, six two, with wide shoulders, a thick neck, and bulging pecs that strained against his bloody shirt.
It’s possible that he’d hit the genetic jackpot, but I’m enough of a gym rat to know a steroid user when I see one. The disproportionately developed upper body, the bulging veins on his hands, and the prominent acne told the story. Craig Jeffers was a juicer.
“We were at a red light,” he said. “Two guys with guns came out of nowhere. They forced the driver to roll down the windows, and one of them pointed his gun at Elena. I’m sure she would have given him the necklace if he asked, but no—he had to dig his fingers into her chest and yank it off. The bastard drew blood. He hurt her, and she screamed. That’s what set me off—the scream.”
“What do you mean, set you off?” Kylie asked.
“I snapped. I went for his gun. I know they tell you not to, but you don’t think when the adrenaline kicks in like that. I had one hand on his wrist, and I was about to punch him with the other when the gun went off.”
I’d heard it before. A man, armed with nothing more than an overabundance of testosterone, decides to try his luck at hand-to-gun combat. It might work for Jackie Chan in the movies, but it failed for Craig Jeffers in real life.
“And then what?” Kylie asked.
“He fired another shot. I found out later that it hit the driver. But everything else is a blur. All I could focus on was Elena.”
“Can you describe the two men?” Kylie asked.
“They had their faces covered with green surgical masks, and they were wearing black knit caps. The one who reached in the back wasn’t wearing gloves, so I could see his hands. He was white.”
“What was your relationship with Elena Travers?” I asked.
“I loved her.”
“You were also her personal trainer?”
“That’s how it started, but six months ago I asked her out on a date. I never thought it would go anywhere, but it did. I couldn’t believe it. Elena could have had any guy in Hollywood, but she only wanted to be with me. I was ready to spend the rest of my life with her. And now…”
He shook his head. The interview was over, but Kylie and I gave the man a few moments to reflect on his loss.
The three of us stood there in the vast open space of the Ziegfeld lobby, red carpet beneath us, crystal chandeliers glittering above, half a dozen larger-than-life-size pictures of Elena Travers assaulting our senses from every angle. Finally, Jeffers broke the silence.
“It’s all my fault,” he said. “If Elena had gone with Leo like she was supposed to, she would still be alive.”
And just like that, the interview was no longer over.
“Who is Leo?” I asked.
Leo, it turned out, was someone Kylie had met.
“I doubt if he’d remember me,” she said when we were back in the car.
“How is that possible? You’re the most unforgettable cop on the force.”
“I wasn’t a cop that night. It was an industry party, and I was there as Mrs. Spence Harrington. Leo was so starstruck he barely said hello to me. People like him don’t waste their time talking to the wives of people who make movies.”
We found Bassett’s number in Elena Travers’s cell phone. I called him and told him we had a few questions.
“My brother and I have some questions of our own,” he said. “Can you meet us at our place?”
By the time we got there, the street was clogged with news trucks, paparazzi, and the usual assortment of homicide junkies. Two squad cars and a pair of traffic agents wearing Day-Glo yellow vests had been dispatched to the scene to help maintain sanity.
Working for Red, I get a firsthand look at how the other half lives. Of course, the Bassett brothers weren’t exactly the other half. They were more like the 1 percent of the 1 percent, and their “place” was more like a palace.
Back when New York was in its industrial heyday, lower Manhattan was peppered with loft buildings intended for commercial or manufacturing use but off-limits for residential. In the early eighties, the law changed, and the smart money gobbled up the cold, bleak, rat-infested buildings for next to nothing.
The Bassetts got in early and transformed a six-story warehouse on West 21st Street into two spectacular triplex apartments. Leo occupied the lower half of the building, and Kylie and I took the elevator to the third floor.
The door opened into a vast room with vaulted ceilings, massive windows, and museum-quality furniture. The two men who were waiting for us looked nothing like brothers.
One was big and burly, with a smoky-gray beard and icy blue eyes. He was wearing faded jeans and a nondescript T-shirt. “Max Bassett,” he said.
The other was short, with soft, doughy features and ink-black hair that could only have come from a bottle. His outfit, a red smoking jacket over deep-purple silk pajamas, looked like it was right out of Hugh Hefner’s closet.
“I’m Leo,” he said. “Thank you for coming. We are devastated, and there’s no real information on television. Please tell us what happened.”
We sat down, and I gave them the highlights.
“I don’t understand,” Leo said. “We’ve been robbed before. Jewel thieves almost never get violent. Why did they have to shoot her?”
“You’re not listening,” Max said. “They shot her because her idiot boyfriend grabbed for the gun.”
Leo lashed out. “So you’re saying it’s all my fault?”
Max came right back at him. “Jesus, Leo, how the hell did you manage to make this about you?”
“Because I was the one who was supposed to go with her. If someone stuck a gun in my face, I’d have said, ‘Take the necklace, take my wallet, take what you want—just don’t hurt us.’ But I didn’t go, and now she’s dead.”
“Why didn’t you go?” I asked.
“It was a stupid accident,” Leo said. “I was—”
“More like a stupid decision,” Max said. “He didn’t go because he got cocktail sauce on his jacket. Elena didn’t care. She asked him to go anyway. But he said no.”
Leo stood up. “Thank you, Max. Because I didn’t feel bad enough as it is.” He turned to me. “I’m not feeling well. If you have any more questions for me, I’ll be happy to talk to you in the morning. Alone.”
He didn’t wait for an answer. He just turned and walked out of the room.
“There you have it, Detectives,” Max said. “My brother’s MO. Grand entrances and even grander exits. He’s a total drama queen even when the drama isn’t about him. This is a terrible tragedy. How can I help you find the people who killed Elena?”
“Can you describe the necklace?” I said.
“Seeing as I designed it, yes. There are twenty emeralds—absolutely superbly matched stones, four carats apiece. Each one is surrounded by a cluster of round and pear-shaped diamonds. They’re tiny, five points each, but the effect was dazzling. She looked gorgeous.”
“Who knew she’d be wearing the necklace?” I asked.
Max shook his head. “Everybody. It was one of Leo’s misguided publicity initiatives.”
“It sounds like you don’t see eye to eye with your brother,” Kylie said.
- On Sale
- Feb 9, 2016
- Page Count
- 400 pages
- Little, Brown and Company