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Night of the Juggler [Secure eReader]
eBook by William P. McGivern

eBook Category: True Crime
eBook Description: In New York, a psychopathic killer will strike on October 15, as he always does--the anniversary of his mother's death, when he will kidnap, rape and murder an innocent young girl by slashing her jugular vein. William P. McGivern's Night of the Juggler tells the tense story of the serial killer as he prepares to kill again and the New York cops who are trying to find him before he strikes. A task force has been formed in the NYPD to find the killer known as the Juggler. Detective Vincent "Gypsy" Tonnelli has insisted that something links a series of violent murders that have occurred each October 15, and his interest has placed him at the head of the task force. As the date draws near, the elements are falling in place for Gus Soltik, an illiterate and childlike giant, cut off from the rest of the world, who watches and waits for the right young girl to present herself. He is casing a particular part of Central Park, where he watches a young girl named Kate Boyd. What Gus Soltik can not know is that her father is Luther Boyd, a onetime Army officer with training in guerrilla warfare and the ability to find him and bring him in. When Kate disappears into Central Park, the clock begins to tick as the search closes in. Will Tonnelli and Boyd find her before it is too late? McGivern restricts his story largely to the area of Central Park in Manhattan, where Gus Soltik is pursued on October 15. Night of the Juggler captures the ever-tightening intensity of the search for a serial killer as the clock runs down, with flavorful touches of character and life in New York. It is a deft and intelligent thriller, superbly controlled and rich in suspense.

eBook Publisher: RosettaBooks, Published: 2002
Fictionwise Release Date: December 2002


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Chapter 1

His name was Gus. He had another name, of course, a last name, but sometimes he forgot it. When this occurred, when he was swept by a dreadful and chilling loss of identity, the experience made him as tense as a threatened animal and deepened a redness in his mind that caused him to shake with fury.

When they teased him about this in the fruit and vegetable store he helped keep clean, when the Puerto Rican clerks would laugh at him and say, "Hey, Gus! You Gus who? Gus who?" he would avoid their eyes and try to control the trembling in his hands, while wondering in his dim, lacerated mind at their cruelty.

When this happened, when the insolent clerks with their soft eyes and glossy hair and slurred, liquid English grinned at him and teased him, Senor Perez, who owned this decrepit vegetable shop in the South Bronx, would give them angry, warning headshakes, and the clerks would stop smiling and some might even shrug in a gesture that suggested an indifferent contrition, and then they would all return to their work, ripping brown outer leaves from heads of lettuce, watering mounds of green onions and young cabbages, waiting on the Puerto Ricans and occasional blacks who bought their meager orders of fruits and vegetables at Senor Perez's shop in this pocket of decay in New York City.

At these times Gus would go into the back room of the shop, and when no one was looking at him, he would hurry into the alley that ran through an area near 135th Street and St. Ann's Avenue. He was more at home in alleys and in darkness than he was in the shop or in daylight on crowded sidewalks. A tall, huge man, Gus went along the alley with the stalking strides of an animal, at home with the stink of garbage, the slithering sound of rats, and groups of Puerto Ricans in leather jackets bunched ominously at street corners; none of this fetid and potentially dangerous ambiance menaced him; it was not so much that he was confident in this environment, it was rather that he was simply unaware of it.

In the vestibule of the tenement where he lived with Mrs. Schultz in a small rented room, Gus would stare with an annealing sense of impending relief at the dirty oblong cards beneath the mailboxes. When he found Mrs. Schultz's name, he would drop his eyes an inch and there, penciled in below it, was his own name: Gus Soltik. He never received any mail; there was no one to write to him, but it gave him a sense of security to know that his name was written there under the mailbox. He couldn't read his name in a conventional sense, but he had memorized those particular letter shapes and knew the smudged pencil marks meant Gus Soltik.

While he could not make change and had only vague notions of the value of money, he was familiar with the concept of numbers and could easily make his way to the numerically designated streets in the various boroughs of New York City.

Gus Soltik's "thought processes" were unconventional, to put it as simply as possible. He did not "think" in consecutive patterns; it was as difficult for him to string ideas together as it would have been for a "normal" person to enumerate and define the physical objects of his environment without an alphabet. Thus, to "understand" concepts and emotions and things, Gus Soltik required a specific word, which appeared in his mind as clearly as if it were written in chalk on slate. Thus, the word "cage" was his reference for all animals. He had no name, however, for his physical needs. He had no way to get inside himself; he was conscious of his existence as an object, but there was no way he could assess or conceive of Gus Soltik in subjective terms.

He did not know that his odor was rank. He wasn't aware that people on the sidewalks frequently turned to stare after him. He did not understand why it made him feel so desolate and desperate when he forgot his name. It was one of many things he didn't understand, although it worried him the most. He didn't know that his physical strength was as great as the combined strength of several average men. He did not know, for another thing, that the small yellow leather hat he wore above his bulging forehead made him look ridiculous, as if he were a mongoloid child dressed by someone with a malicious sense of humor.

But Gus Soltik knew some things with the instincts of an animal. His eyesight was acute, and his sense of hearing was exceptional; he was always the first to be aware of approaching subway trains, for example, and in the old tenement where he lived, he could track Mrs. Schultz all through the house by her footsteps, even though she wore soft felt slippers indoors. His sense of direction was impeccable; he could drift through any of the boroughs of New York at any time of the day or night, but when he wanted to return "home," some indicator in his mind pointed straight at the Triboro Bridge in the lower Bronx. He could walk for hour after hour, mile after mile, sometimes breaking into a clumsy, lumbering trot but never feeling tired, never breathing hard.

And one other thing, Gus Soltik knew. He knew that he was thirty years old. His mother had died when he was twenty-five, and after she died, he did something each year, and he had now done it four times. And he would do it again within the next twenty-four hours, a total of five times in all, which made him thirty.

He knew vaguely that it was disloyal to his mother to forget his name. All he had left of her now was one of her dresses, black and shapeless but with a pretty collar made of tiny seed pearls. That dress hung in the small back room he rented from Mrs. Schultz, and with the dress were the dried flowers and the card.

It was all he had left of his mother.

But Gus Soltik, with the instinct of a wild creature, could always sense the approaching anniversary of her death. It was the time of year when the days were darker and shorter and the winds against his bulging forehead and massive hands were streaked with a coldness which would intensify until snow was falling in the streets and the gutters were noisy with the sound of running slush and water. And when it became cold, he listened and watched Mrs. Schultz with the wariness of an animal because the old woman did something each year that told Gus Soltik the exact day his mother had been killed.

On each anniversary of his mother's death Mrs. Schultz paid the priests at the crumbling heap of St. Stanislaus to celebrate a requiem high mass to deliver his mother's soul from all evil and from the torments of hell. She had tried to explain all this to Gus, but he understood nothing but the horror of his mother screaming in some place that raged with fire.

Mrs. Schultz had taken him to the first mass. But he had never gone again; he had been frightened by the three black-clad priests on the altar, and the sound of the vengeful, wrathful music from the choir loft had so terrified him that his heart had thudded and pounded like an imprisoned animal within his massive rib cage. So he had never gone again. But Mrs. Schultz was proud and happy to save her dimes and quarters until she had enough to pay for that dead mass which commemorated the soul of Gus' mother.

When she told him about it, he knew the time was coming; when she waddled off to the church thick with sweaters under her old black coat, Gus Soltik knew for certain it was now time to mark the day of his mother's death.

* * *

On an afternoon in the middle of October, Gus Soltik sat in the sunlight of Central Park and looked at little girls playing in the children's zoo at Sixty-sixth Street and Fifth Avenue.

There were blacks and Puerto Ricans and white girls, some running in shrill packs, others accompanied by young mothers or nurses. The sun was warm on the backs of Gus Soltik's hands and warm on his face, and the iron bench he sat on was pleasantly warm, excitingly so, under his heavy, powerful thighs.

It was early afternoon, and the sunlight on this lovely fall day dropped through the tawny crowns of changing maples and elms and struck the worn brick walks and green lawns like a shower of copper pennies. And the sunlight fell on the bare and flashing arms of little girls, brown and white and black, caressing them with a shimmering radiance and transmuting all the various colors of their flesh into tones of glowing gold.

Gus heard the growling of the lions from the big zoo at Sixty-fifth Street. That told him the time. Two thirty. That's when they fed them. The growling that was like distant thunder made him think of Lanny Gruber. Lanny was his friend. Lanny talked slowly to him, and Gus could understand him.

Children were playing ball on the lawn near Gus, their voices a piping counterpoint to the guttural cacophony of the lions. Old men and women sat nearby feeding peanuts to squirrels. Some of them, with tired, sagging faces, stared with wistful hostility at the romping children.

Neatly groomed businessmen crossed back and forth on their way to Fifth Avenue or Central Park West. Gus was not afraid of them, but in some fashion they diminished him, with the arrogant swing of their briefcases, the fact that they seemed to know things. When Gus thought of them sitting in offices and phoning from one city to another (as he believed was possible) to tell people things, it made him feel small and vulnerable. Still, he wasn't afraid of them because he knew they wouldn't hurt him.

Then Gus noticed something that made his big body go tense with fear; a patrolman in a blue uniform was watching him. Policemen would hurt you, he knew. It was his worst fear; not so much being hurt, but knowing no way to make them stop it.

He vividly remembered one of his mother's anniversaries, and a basement with someone his mother had warned him about, teaching her a lesson, feeling strong and excited, when a door was kicked in and they came at him like raging animals, one big with orange-red hair, the other dark with a terrible scar on his cheek, and Gus had seen all this in splintered bars of light coming through the door they had smashed in. They had shouted at him, fury straining their voices, and had fired at him with guns, but with a strength made boundless by terror, Gus had knocked them down and fled from the basement. Yes, they would hurt you and never stop it, he thought, staring sullenly and fearfully, but from the corners of his eyes, at the young cop in the blue uniform.

* * *

Patrolman Max Prima, who stood rocking on his stout boots while watching Gus Soltik, summed up his first impressions of that hulking figure in one word: "weirdo." (Patrolman Max Prima had been named after his great-great-grandfather, Massimo Prima, who had lived in Florence and had been distantly related to one of the ancillary branches of the Medici family; Max Prima had become a welterweight finalist in the Golden Gloves as a result of a thousand fistfights connected with that unwelcome bequest from his great-great-grandfather, which his tough, alley-smart peers in Brooklyn had converted into various adaptations such as "Assimo" or "Masturbatio." After his triumphs in the Golden Gloves he had had no more fights, but he had become sick of the name Massimo, and despite his mother's tearful remonstrances, he had legally shortened it to Max.)

Patrolman Max Prima was twenty-four years of age. He had become a cop because he admired his uncle, Ernesto, who had been a police officer in the borough of Manhattan and had filled him with stories of historic exploits (largely crap, Max Prima later decided); but there was a primal truth in them which had stirred a romantic streak in his nature, and he had never regretted for an instant buying illusion for reality and putting in for the police department.

Other words were occurring to him as he continued to study Gus Soltk. Hype? No, probably not. Whipdick? Probably. But in the main it was Prima's instinct that told him Gus Soltik was bad news. A wrongo. It was the way he was looking at those little girls in the children's zoo. The fact was, this big, hulking man in the brown turtleneck sweater and silly yellow cap was pretending not to look at them. That was what had alerted Max Prima's interest. He was learning to trust his instincts, as Uncle Emesto had told him to. It was a thing, a fact, a vector, that veteran cops depended on with an almost implicit faith but that few of them could describe with any accuracy. Uncle Ernesto would say, "You see a woman sitting in a window all week. All month. One day the window is closed. Better check it out ... A family without children taking four quarts of milk a day ... the price of hash dropping ... you keep your eyes open, you see and hear things like that, you check 'em out, or buck the information up where action can be taken on it."

Patrolman Prima sauntered toward the bench on which Gus Soltik was sitting, but while he was still twenty yards away, the big man looked at him closely with glazing, narrowing eyes, then stood and walked with heavy, lumbering strides along the curving pathway that would bring him out to Fifth Avenue in the upper Sixties.

Max Prima stopped. So what could he do? Collar him for what? Read him his rights? Slate him at the 22d Precinct on Transverse Three? On what charge? Because I got a funny feeling in my gut that he's trouble? Because he looks sick? He could imagine what the sergeant would say to that.

But because Max Prima was an excellent young cop and would one day be an even better one, he took a pencil and notebook from an inner pocket of his tunic and wrote a careful description of the big man in the brown turtleneck sweater. He wrote:

"Subject: Caucasian, early thirties, six-three, two-twenty or more, moves like he's fast and strong. Thick blond hair, grows ragged down his neck. Low, round forehead, bulging. Eyes set wide apart. Small nose and mouth, big chin, thick neck. At about 2:30 P.M., October 14, subject was wearing a brown sweater, denim work pants, and Wellington boots with stacked heels. Small yellow leather cap. No cause to interrogate or arrest. But subject was staring at young girls in the children's zoo in a manner that looked suspicious and unhealthy. Seemed to have nothing else to do with his time, but took off when I started walking toward him."

Max Prima decided that the best thing he could do was to get this report over to Lieutenant Vincent Tonnelli's Special Unit, which had been set up a couple of months ago, with headquarters at the 19th Precinct on East Sixty-seventh Street. (Rumor had it that Gypsy Tonnelli's assignment came not only from the chief of detectives and the commissioner, but from the man in Gracie Mansion himself. But only after the Gypsy had fought for it.)

The Gypsy would know what to do with it. If anybody could stop the Juggler from making it five in a row, it was that legendary Sicilian cop, Lieutenant Vincent "Gypsy" Tonnelli.

* * *

As he circled back toward the arsenal and the lion house, the word blazing like fire in Gus Soltik's mind was "walls." This word was Gus Soltik's mnemonic unit to embrace concepts of fear and uncertainty and unfairness. It warned him that he was being threatened or that a trap was waiting to spring shut on him. The cop frightened him. But it wasn't fair. The cop was wrong. Gus wasn't planning to teach a lesson to any of those girls. He knew the one he would teach a lesson to. And it was too early. Not until three. He thought of her in a pair of separate references, which at times blended confusingly into a single baffling semantic unit. The words she caused to form in his mind were alternately "green skirt" or "white legs." But when the words on occasion mingled together in a mysterious fashion, they stood out in his mind as "greenropes."

Chimes sounded from the Delacorte clock. Two thirty. Now the cages were feeding. The clock, on a high arch above the peristyle linking the monkey house with the lion house, was surrounded by a cortege of humorously sculpted animals, all of which "played" a merry musical accompaniment to the clock's chimes.

As always, Gus Soltik watched with fascination and a sense of awe as the smiling beasts circled the base of the clock, providing a tinkling, bell-like concert for the appreciative audience that had grouped itself in the courtyard between the peristyle and the pond of sea lions. The chubby gray metal animals caught in prancing dance steps filled the air with sweet and innocent music.

The hippo bowed a violin, the kangaroo blew a horn, the bear shook a tambourine while the elephant played an accordion and the goat tinkled his pipes and the penguin pounded a pair of drums.

Lanny. This was where he had met him. The day he had brought the food. Gus liked standing here with the name "Lanny" forming in his mind. There were big people here, too, watching the show. Not just children. That made it all right for him to be here. While he enjoyed the prancing animals and occasionally clapped his big hands together in an attempt to show approval for their antics, the music disturbed him; it was frightening because he didn't understand it.

Gus went into the animal house where Charlie, the tiger, was feeding and the big lion, Garland, was pacing behind his bars with the regularity of a metronome, obviously having savaged and pulped and devoured his twenty pounds of raw meat, for his eyes were sleepy and there was blood on his whiskers and the floor of the cage.

Gus felt at home with the cages. He liked the smell of the animals, acrid and fetid, and despite the tang of ammonia in the air, the smell was wild and exciting.

Without realizing it in any way at all, Gus Soltik was also given a sense of annealment and strength by the behavior of many of the people in the lion house. They were afraid, and they held their children up to be frightened by the sudden, erratic roaring of the big cats. And for reasons he was forever helpless to define, Gus Soltik took some pathetic comfort from this spectacle.

He stood looking at the big lion called Garland because it was too soon for "greenropes."

Garland was eight years old, a black-maned African male, a gift to the city of New York from Jomo Kenyatta, President of Kenya. He had been named by the schoolchildren of New York in a contest conducted by the Daily News. The name which had, in fact, topped all others had been Bert Lahr, but this had been disallowed (privately) on the assumption that the children's votes had been influenced by adults who remembered the great comedian from The Wizard of Oz. The contest officials decided to name the little cat Judy, which they thought would satisfy all age groups, but Jomo's gift had turned out to be a male, and so they had decided on the lovely but epicene Garland, a name which had not received a single vote in the contest.

He could not tell time, but he could estimate it with reasonable accuracy. And now he knew it was time to look at "greenropes."

The growling of the lions waiting to be fed had fixed the time for Gus Soltik. Soon, very soon now, he thought, as he hurried toward a place of concealment he had already chosen, thick privet underbrush just behind the wall bordering the eastern side of Central Park at Fifth Avenue in the upper Sixties -- soon, he was thinking with a surge of agitation, because he mustn't be late. The bus would be stopping at the intersection, and she would get off and stand talking to her friend, the winds blowing their green skirts about their white legs, and it was very important that he see her now, because tomorrow was the anniversary of his mother's death.

Shortly after three o'clock a yellow bus with black trim from Miss Prewitt's Classes stopped at Fifth Avenue in the upper Sixties of Manhattan. When the front doors opened with a gentle pneumatic hiss, a pair of chattering youngsters climbed down the steps and stood at the intersection waving good-bye to friends, who waved back to them from behind the windows of the bus which was accelerating, heading toward the southern boundaries of Central Park at Fifty-ninth Street.

The names of the two girls were Kate (Katherine Jackson) Boyd and Tish (Patricia) Tennyson, and they were eleven years of age and wore identical uniforms, which consisted of smartly cut black blazers, short green flannel skirts, green berets, white socks, and black moccasins. The girls lived in adjoining apartment buildings whose drawing-room windows faced the verdant and dramatic views of Central Park.

Kate Boyd had shining blond hair which she wore in a pony tail, secured by a green ribbon, and a pale, unblemished complexion from which her cherry-dark eyes blazed with an almost comical intensity. It was apparent from even a superficial view of these youngsters that the confident excitement and aggressiveness in Kate's manner completely dominated her friend, Tish Tennyson, whose skin tended to be sallow and whose chubby hips and rounded stomach had scored permanent diagonal creases in her green flannel skirt.

As the crisp gusting winds whipped their hair about their foreheads and cheeks, the two girls hugged their book bags to their chests and chattered at each other with ferocious intensity. Their present preoccupation and stimulation stemmed from a mix of heady ingredients: boys, older boys at that, practically men, and the girls' shabby betrayal by these adult and arrogant males.

Kate and Tish had scored a coup for their fifth-grade class. They had worked up their nerve to approach Bob Elliott, who was seventeen and the leader of a rock group called The Purple Dreams, with an offer to play the Prewitt School's "sweet young thing" afternoon tea dance. To their surprise and delight, Bob Elliott had accepted; The Purple Dreams were cool and "in," thus an impressive catch indeed for a fifth-grade tea dance. Even though the fee was high, one hundred dollars for a three-hour gig, plus fifteen dollars for the transportation of their electronic gear, Kate Boyd had committed the class funds to the project without reservations, knowing that whatever the price, it was a triumph and worth it.

But this morning their excitement and dreams had collapsed, after Bob Elliott had called to tell them the gig was off because two of The Purple Dreams were down with the flu. This, while wretchedly disappointing, was something they could live with, but at lunch in a pizzeria near Miss Prewitt's, Kate had learned a bitter, unacceptable truth: Bob Elliott had simply dropped them to play a more prestigious date at Darwin Prep's senior dinner dance.

Kate Boyd, who was flamingly outraged by any and all degrees of injustice, had cabbed across town to Bob Elliott's apartment immediately on learning of his betrayal.

"He just laughed at me," Kate said for about the fifteenth time to Tish.

Copyright © 1975 by William P.McGivern


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