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Bizarre serial killer out for blood in new novel

“Skeleton Justice” is a novel by forensic expert Dr. Michael Baden of the HBO series “Autopsy” and trial attorney Linda Kenney Baden. In the book, pathologist Dr. Jake Rosen investigates a killer who stalks his victims to extract their blood. An excerpt.
/ Source: TODAY books

“Skeleton Justice” is a new novel by forensic expert Dr. Michael Baden of the HBO series “Autopsy” and trial attorney Linda Kenney Baden. In the book, world-famous pathologist Dr. Jake Rosen investigates a bizarre serial killer in New York City. The perpetrator is a strange kind of thief who stalks his victims for the purpose of extracting a vial of blood, earning him the tabloid nickname “The Vampire.” An excerpt.

Chapter one
The harsh buzz of the doorbell shocked the knife out of Annabelle Fiore’s hand.

She jumped back to avoid being nicked by the blade as it clattered to the floor. Just what I need right now ... chop off my own toe.

As Annabelle put the knife safely on the counter, the microwave clock rolled to 7:00. The Linggs were unfashionably punctual. She had been counting on their tardiness to give her time to finish making the salad.

But Rosemarie and David weren’t expecting to be entertained. Her friends were here to distract her from pre-opening-night jitters, relax her — they’d be happy to sit in the kitchen while she cooked. Annabelle crossed the foyer and opened the door of her Greenwich Village brownstone. The final aria from Tosca, piped through her high-end sound system, tumbled into the rain-darkened street.

“Welco—”

A person dressed in black — not Rosemarie, not David — pushed Annabelle backward. A hand, gloved despite the balmy night, grasped her forearm. A steel-toed boot kicked the door closed.

Annabelle opened her mouth. The quick intake of breath needed to scream accelerated her downfall. A cloying, harsh scent burned her nose and mouth as a thick square of damp cloth pressed into her face. The bold tones of the Roger Selden abstract paintings on the foyer wall faded into the distance. Annabelle’s knees buckled, and the gloved hand released its grip.

Falling, she glimpsed a flash of metal.

Her attacker’s fist opened, revealing a small glass vial. Annabelle’s last coherent thought formed. Why me, dear God, why me?

Chapter two
Get back where you belong.

Dr. Jake Rosen could hear his boss saying it as he looked down at Annabelle Fiore. The opera singer’s olive skin had blanched to white; her arms lay stiffly at her sides. Jake reached out to touch her wrist. Her eyelids fluttered.

The living are not your concern.

That’s what Pederson would say if he knew his leading forensic pathologist was at St. Vincent’s Hospital conducting a physical exam of a living victim. As deputy chief medical examiner of the City of New York, Jake spent most of his working hours at crime scenes or in the autopsy suite of the morgue. The chief ME, Charles Pederson, frowned on unauthorized field trips.

Gently, Jake turned Fiore’s right arm to examine the inner side. There, in the crook of her elbow, was a tiny puncture where a needle had been inserted to draw blood. He studied it closely. No multiple attempts, not even much bruising around the site.

The emergency room physicians and residents who had treated Fiore the night before wouldn’t have noticed this. They had saved Fiore the night before wouldn’t have noticed this. They had saved the opera singer's life by evaluating her injuries from a medical standpoint. To them, the lack of trauma at the blood-extraction site was good news: no treatment required, so they could focus all their attention on her compromised central nervous system. To Jake, that tiny, perfect puncture was significant.

Whoever had attacked Fiore knew how to extract blood from a vein. This was not the work of an amateur. Not a random act of violence.

His gaze traveled down the length of her arm. There, near the wrist, were three distinct bruises. Her assailant had gripped her arm tightly and held her until she stopped struggling. Just as with the first four victims.

Jake hadn’t examined them, but he’d been briefed by Vito Pasquarelli, lead detective on the case. The first attack had occurred over a month ago. A young mother on the Upper West Side had responded to a knock on her door in the middle of the day. The next thing she remembered was waking up groggy from ether-induced unconsciousness. She, and the police, had assumed the attacker had come to rob her. Except nothing was missing from her home.

It wasn’t until hours later that she noticed the tiny needle mark in the crook of her arm. The police shrugged it off. She hadn’t been harmed. It was weird, but weird was status quo in New York. File a report and move on.

Then it happened again. A teacher in the Bronx, an investment banker in Battery Park City, a foreign tourist attending a pharmaceutical conference in midtown. None of them seriously hurt, all of them thoroughly freaked-out. It didn’t help that somewhere along the line the tabloids started calling the stalker “the Vampire.”

Although Jake didn’t subscribe to the media melodrama, he did understand the public’s fear. New Yorkers, blasé about drive-by shootings and shoves onto subway tracks, were terrified by a guy with a needle. He’d seen it often enough in his medical training — hulking football players who stoically endured compound fractures, then passed out when the nurse arrived to give them a tetanus shot; gang members who survived knife fights, only to whimper when it was time to be sewn up. Needles were scary.

And now the Vampire had nearly killed someone, a famous someone, not with his needle, but with an overdose of ether. Jake pulled a stethoscope from his pocket. He’d had to search to find one; it wasn’t an instrument he had much use for in the normal course of his day. Fiore stirred slightly as he listened to her heart. The beat was steady, but the rate was slow, consistent with having been drugged into unconsciousness. This is where the Vampire analogy fell apart. Vampires, the kind who lived in Transylvania and flapped around in black capes, didn’t anesthetize their victims. And apparently, New York’s vampire wasn’t too adept at it.

Of course, even a trained anesthesiologist could easily make a mistake with ether. That’s why it wasn’t used much anymore. And if you were administering the drug via a soaked rag, getting the dosage right became even more problematic. Perhaps the biggest surprise was that an overdose hadn’t happened until Fiore, the fifth victim.

Annabelle Fiore’s central nervous system had been seriously depressed. She would have died had her friends not arrived shortly after the attack. The effects still hadn’t worn off. Jake would have liked to ask her some questions, but although she stirred slightly as he examined her, she was only semi-conscious. An interview would have to wait.

Jake turned away from the hospital bed just as a short, rumpled man entered the room.

“Hey, you made it!” Detective Vito Pasquarelli shook Jake’s hand enthusiastically. “Thanks for coming. Have you looked at her?”

“Yes. It’s hard to draw much of a conclusion, given that I didn’t get to examine the others. But if their blood-draw sites were as perfect as Ms. Fiore’s, I’d say you’re dealing with someone with some medical training.”

Pasquarelli nodded. “What about the ether?”

“Hard to know if the overdose was accidental or intentional.

He seems to have given her quite a bit more than the others.” Jake ran his hand through his hair, moving his style further along the scale from casually wild to unkempt. “But here’s a thought that occurred to me. I know you said none of the victims is acquainted with any of the others. But you might want to ask them if they have any ties to a person who works around laboratory animals.”

“You mean like rats and mice? Why?”

“When researchers conduct experiments on animals and then have to autopsy them, they often kill them with an overdose of ether. That’s the most common use for the drug these days.” Vito perked up as they walked toward the elevator. “And a medical researcher would know how to draw blood, right?”

Jake nodded. “And how to test it. Which is what I’d like to do.”

“Our CSI guys already did that. No trace of drugs in any of them. Nothing hinky.”

Jake grinned. “Funkiness is in the eye of the beholder. Send the samples over to me. I’d like to run my own tests.”

“You got it.” The packed elevator arrived and the men descended in silence.

“What do you think he does with it?” Vito asked as the impatient crowd pushed past them into the lobby.

“I think he tests it, just like I’m going to do with it,” Jake said.

The detective looked relieved.

Jake raised his hand in a mock toast. “Unless he drinks it.”

Excerpted from “Skeleton Justice” by Dr. Michael Baden and Linda Kenney Baden Copyright © 2009 by Dr. Michael Baden. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.