LAWYER ARRESTED IN AFTERMATH OF BIZARRE MURDER TRIAL
---(AP) New York attorney Celeste Maher was arrested this morning in yet another strange twist in the most controversial trial in recent history. Ms. Maher was charged as an accomplice in the jailbreak of her client, though the DA’s Office indicated that DNA testing may result in a charge of first degree murder.
Count Velimir Radojka of Peja, Kosovo, presumed to be in his 60’s, was arrested last week as the prime suspect in a series of ritual murders that resulted in the biggest manhunt in New York history. Radojka was accused of slitting the throats of his victims, then draining their blood in a Satanic ceremony. Twenty people were identified among the missing, and police speculate the numbers may rise as the investigation continues.
Maher was accused of smuggling tools into Radojka’s cell as officials at the Metropolitan Correctional Center reported the inmate missing early this morning. Police investigators discovered Radojka’s uniform strewn with ashes that may be of human origin. Though sources declined to comment further, Maher could be charged with the murder of her client in a case the DA’s Office is calling ‘surrealistic’.
Homicide Detective Shea Tyrone arrived at the MCC hours after the story broke. He was met at the front entrance by a delegation of fellow officers before being led to an interview room where Celeste Maher was being held. Lieutenant Dwight Shreve was on hand at the behest of Captain Willard and Chief Madden, and he was the one who caught the fury of Shea’s wrath.
“Dammit, Dwight, I’m not going in there to interrogate Celeste!” he thundered. “I want you to have her returned to her cell so I can talk to her in private!”
“Don’t you realize what’s going on here?” Shreve squinted at him. “The most hunted killer in the City’s history is missing from his cell, and your girlfriend was caught on the scene red-handed. We’ve got her sedated but we need some answers. The Mayor’s Office is on the Chief like flies on shit. She hasn’t given us anything, and there’s no way I call the Captain and tell him that’s my final answer.”
“Look, Dwight,” Shea managed, “you owe me. This Department owes me. I’ve risked my life time and again in the line of duty. All I want is ten minutes with my girlfriend. You do whatever you have to when I’m outta here, but I need to talk to her. Please.”
“Dammit, Shea,” he hissed angrily. “Okay. Ten minutes, then she goes right back inside.”
“I owe you, man.”
“You got that right. Now, if she gives you some good intel, you gotta bring it to me. I’ll have your ass if you don’t, I can promise you that.”
“No problem. I want her out of here as bad as you want to bring that old bastard back in.”
“That’s my problem. There’s no way in hell he could have gotten out of here. We found a pile of ashes in there, and if she hasn’t found a way to do a smokeless cremation, then that son of a bitch walked right through the walls of that cell.”
Shreve turned to the MCC officers on hand, and they reluctantly escorted Celeste back to her cell. Shea noticed she appeared to be drugged, and did not even notice his presence.
He waited about five minutes before the officers indicated he could go in and visit.
He walked down the narrow corridor as the guards allowed him entry to the cell. They were slow to back away from the door, having been humiliated by Radojka’s disappearance just hours ago. He stared through the Plexiglas window at the guards before they retreated a few yards further down the hall.
“Shea?” the beautiful woman managed, appearing disheveled with strands of her chestnut locks hanging over her face.
“Celeste,” he came over as she rose from her cot to meet him. He embraced her as she wept against his chest, then sat her down as he dropped into the chair at the table alongside her.
“They gave me some Valium,” she mumbled. “You know they’re going to try and make me say something they can get on tape."
“Okay, baby, you know the drill,” he insisted. “You just keep pleading the Fifth until they get a lawyer in here. I’m sure lots of your friends will be down here trying to help you out.”
“If they think I busted Radojka out, they’ll be avoiding me like the plague. You know that.”
“So what happened?” he stared intently.
“It was Father Malloy. He told me there was only one way to get Radojka out of there. He gave me a package and made me swear not to open it. Radojka must have bribed someone. They passed it right over the metal detector.”
“What was in the package?”
“It was a huge stake, like the kind they use on carnival tents, and a mallet. I had no idea, Shea, I swear. You know me. You know I couldn’t kill anything or anybody."
“I know, darling, I know. Then what happened?”
“He just got up and fell on the stake, like one of those Roman soldiers in the movies,” her voice began trembling.
“He…he burst into flames,” she began weeping uncontrollably. “It happened so quickly, I can’t even remember any details. I don’t remember if there was a particular smell, or if there was any smoke, or a flash, like an incendiary device. I just know that he didn’t scream or anything. It was almost like spontaneous combustion, like in those Internet clips. He was almost like Obi-Wan Kenobi, he just fell on the stake and disintegrated.”
“Obi-Wan Kenobi,” Shea said absently, staring at the wall.
“Shea, you’ve got to help me. They’re going to indict me for manslaughter if I can’t figure out what happened. You’ve got to get someone in the Evidence Room to see what was in that stake. You know the kinds of things the Government’s coming up with these days. I saw what happened here before my very eyes. I don’t know what kind of things Radojka was involved with back in Kosovo. All I know is that a lot of people wanted him dead. That’s why he came over here. They accused him of war crimes and worse. They said he was a mass murderer, a serial killer. I don’t believe it, but somebody else did. Someone set him up to kill himself and is trying to make me take the rap.”
“Somebody gave the package to Malloy. I’m gonna go talk at him. Whoever it was used him as the mule. It all makes more sense now. No one would suspect a Catholic priest of being involved in a suicide. Do you know of anyone who had words with Radojka, any strangers, anyone outside his normal routine?”
“My boyfriend’s a homicide detective,” she forced a smile. “I’m pretty sure I would’ve thought of all that.”
“What went down when Malloy gave you the package?”
“He was very distracted. I told you how he’d been over the past few weeks. He just told me that Radojka called him and asked him to give me that package. I have no way of knowing if he knew what was in it.”
“Geez, Cele, how did you know it wasn’t a gun or a bomb?”
“They’ve got metal detectors up the wazoo here, remember? I was expecting them to send it up the pipeline. I was stunned when they passed it over the scanner and handed it back to me.”
“All right,” he got up and hugged her as she rose from the cot. “I’ll go see Malloy before I go to the precinct and check out that stake. Don’t forget, you plead the Fifth until your lawyer gets here, don’t give them anything. I’ll have Luann call Willard and see if they’ll let us work the case. We’ll be on it even without a green light.”
“I love you, Shea,” she buried her face in his jacket.
“Love you too, babe,” he kissed her lips before rapping on the Plexiglas window.
He could hardly believe that, after months of this insanity, Radojka was finally gone and he left Celeste holding the bag.
Father Joseph Malloy was one of the priests faithfully serving at St. Paul Church on Broadway for over twenty years. He took the confessions of guilt-ridden Wall Street brokers on a regular basis, gave communion to office workers seven days a week, and marked crosses on the foreheads of thousands once a year on Ash Wednesday. He presided at the weddings and funerals of those who could afford it, and was a rock of encouragement to all those who sought him after 9/11. Only Velimir Radojka had come into his world as a tempest that wrecked his reputation and his career, and nearly cost him his very life. Now within a matter of hours, Radojka, Celeste and Shea had been shipwrecked alongside him.
Everyone knew where to find him these days. He had given place to the other priests at the daily services, and spent his days in prayer before the dimly-lit altar at the front pew once everyone else had gone. His rosary was as the chain that bound him before the altar rail, and those who did not know better would have sworn his parents had just died. Everyone else knew it was the death of Father Savic that had trampled his spirit into the dust.
“Father Malloy,” Shea greeted him quietly, patting his shoulder as he slipped into the pew behind the elderly priest. Malloy rose up from his hunched position and sat upright without responding, as if finishing his prayer.
“Did you hear about Celeste?” He never called her by her pet name before others because people thought he was calling her a seal. She didn’t care, but he did.
“Yes, I did,” Malloy exhaled hoarsely. “When is this going to end?”
“Did you know what was in the package?”
“It’s a priest-penitent privilege, you know that.”
“People vs. Phillips, New York 1813,” Shea grunted. “I can still take you downtown.”
“We are downtown,” Malloy’s old spirit resurfaced for a brief moment.
“C’mon, Father, help me out here. Celeste is behind bars right now. Who gave you the package? At least tell me that.”
“It was Radojka,” Malloy revealed softly.
“Hold on, wait a second. You mean Radojka came to see you, even though you accused him of killing Miroslav Savic?”
“Who told you that, Celeste?”
“She’s my girlfriend, you know that. We’ve been living in sin together.”
“Not quite. I know you have separate addresses.”
“Word gets around. C’mon, Father. Why would you hold a package for Radojka, and give it to Celeste to bring to him in the event he went inside?"
“I’m a Catholic priest, Detective. We forgive sins just as Christ forgives all men, regardless of the nature of their sins. Christ forgave the apostle Paul, who this church is named after, despite having sent dozens of Christians to their death. Why would you think I would reject a man who caused the death of just one priest?”
“You’re just a man, you’re not Jesus Christ. Did you tell Celeste what really happened that night?”
“If she wanted you to know, you wouldn’t be asking.”
“Okay, we’re beating around the bush here,” Shea sighed, reaching down and affectionately patting Malloy’s chest. “You know they’re gonna make Celeste tell them where she got the
package. If she doesn’t, she’ll be disbarred and probably face jail time. That means the cops’ll be coming by to ask questions, and they won’t give a damn about People vs. Phillips.”
“I guess I’ll have to take my chances.”
“Okay,” Shea dropped a business card on the bench beside Malloy. “You need anything, give me a call.”
Shea walked down the aisle on the way out of the church, hard to believe the clock was ticking again after they all thought it was over at last less than twenty-four hours ago.
Luann Pellegrino was a sexy Italian woman with a slender figure, a modest bosom, and an impish face that inexplicably created hard-ons whenever she was around alpha males. She and Shea had tried and failed in a relationship long before Shea met Celeste. They both knew that a cop-cop romance was never going to work for either of them, and it was the reason why Luann was still single. She and Shea were still close friends and made a solid team, and in situations like this, having her in his corner was priceless.
“So what do you think Malloy’s hiding?” Luann sipped her espresso as they sat in their usual booth at Starbucks near New York University in Greenwich Village. Luann had been a regular in the cop bars after hours but gave up drinking after her relationship with Shea had ended. He always teased her that it was the best thing she walked away with.
“I’m thinking the DA might accuse him of complicity,” Shea shook his head. “If he knew Radojka was going to kill himself in jail and sent him what he needed to get it done, priest-penitent privilege won’t be worth jack shit.”
“Why would Radojka kill himself without giving Celeste a fighting chance?” she wondered. “The guy’s a multi-millionaire. He could’ve kept it going all the way to the Supreme Court. Plus I don’t think they had much of a case against him in the first place.”
“Means, motive and opportunity, that’s what they teach us at the Academy,” he mused. “Only motive takes you to the psychiatrist’s couch. According to what EUROPOL came back with, he was being accused of war crimes and mass murder going back to the Serbian War. That’s how he got involved with Celeste in the first place. Means and opportunity, that’s the tricky part. None of his victims fit the DSM-IV. He took rich men, poor men, beggar men and thieves. That is, of course, if the DA can make a case stick on circumstantial evidence.”
“Could,” Luann corrected him. “He’s gone in a puff of smoke, or so they say.”
“Know anybody in Washington who has Pentagon connections? Someone who might have the latest on covert ops weapons, something that might’ve turned the old man into a smokeless barbecue?”
“I know Mob guys. Some of the old timers may still have some White House connections. I’ll ask around.”
“Atta girl,” Shea was grateful. “I’m running and gunning at this point. I’m not sure what to do next.”
“You try the Serbian Embassy?”
“You mentioned the guy was a Count. Serbia can’t be much bigger than Texas. If he was nobility, the Embassy would have some knowledge of him. They’ve got to be aware of the criminal case. They should at least be able to give you some numbers to call to find out more about Radojka. Don’t forget, if they can’t prove that Celeste had no idea what was in the package, they’ll have to let her go. If you can set up a case proving that Radojka never planned to spend a day in court, I’m pretty sure it’ll put the matter to rest.”
“All right,” Shea shrugged. “My girlfriend won’t be home anyway.”
Shea arrived at the Consulate General of the Republic of Serbia on West 45th Street later that afternoon. He took the elevator to the 7th floor to meet with Joachim Milosova, who was eager to offer any advice or help that he might provide.
“There was quite a bit of controversy surrounding Radojka’s visa application,” Miloseva, a stocky man with well-trimmed gray hair, folded his hands on his mahogany desk as Shea took a seat before him. “EUROPOL actually had a warrant out for his arrest. As it turned out, the Serdar (*Count) had powerful friends who interceded on his behalf. It appeared that Radojka had been a strong supporter of the Serbian Army under General Ratko Mladic. The rumor was that the Army had taken prisoners to Radojka’s castle during the war on numerous occasions. The prisoners were never heard from again. The Serdar claimed that he freed them after the Army left the area, assuming they would be recaptured or killed if they rejoined the fight. Only the villagers of Peja swear that no one who ever ascended Devil’s Mountain ever returned from Castle Radojka.”
“What about the Army guys?” Shea asked, leery of where this was going. “They were able to come back down after they dropped off the prisoners, weren’t they?”
“According to reports, the Serdar’s servants would take custody of the prisoners at the bottom of the mountain. You see, since Radojka is nobility, according to ancient law, he did have the authority to detain enemies of the people in time of war. There was nothing illegal in what he did. This is why he escaped prosecution along with Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic for war crimes. There is a warrant for his arrest, but it carries about as much weight as one here in New York for failing to appear in court over a ticket.”
“So, in essence, he got a ticket for making prisoners of war disappear in Serbia. There’s a new regime in power. Why don’t people in authority just reopen the investigations?”
“Things in Serbia are not so much different than here in America. You just look upon it differently,” Miloseva sat back in his chair. “In mountainous regions such as Peja, conditions are similar to those you have here in places such as Appalachia and the Ozarks. The local authorities simply do not have the resources to enforce standard ordinances up in the mountains. There is a higher rate of illiteracy as children are not forced to attend school, and it is easier for people to engage in illegal activity. As a result, there is a higher rate of vigilante justice whereby citizens take the law into their own hands. People have their own interpretations of right and wrong, and they often back up their opinions with violence. This is why so many criminals are never brought to justice. They simply disappear into the mountains.”
“So this is how Radojka managed to avoid prosecution and migrate to America.”
“Actually, one thing was quite different than the other as regards his recent vicissitude. He was able to avoid being indicted for war crimes because no one would dare testify against him. Moreover, no law enforcement agencies in the area would trespass upon the castle grounds. Not only was it protected by law as property of the Serdar, but there was also the local superstitions surrounding the mountain. As I mentioned, ignorance and lack of education can be the source of many social problems. In this case, people believe the superstitions as absolute truth in many places.”
“So why did he leave? Wouldn’t that be the safest place in the country for him?”
“As times change, so do the regional populations. The atrocities committed during the war made people believe that things could change, and those in power could be held responsible. When the Serbians saw that those who had slaughtered the Muslims were being held accountable, their thoughts turned towards the centuries of evil that surrounded Devil’s Mountain. They thought they could write a new chapter in their history, but when they sent people up to investigate, those individuals also disappeared. Eventually a furor arose so that groups were preparing to storm the castle and arrest the Serdar. I believe this is why he took steps to sell the castle and move here to America. Unfortunately, things did not turn out for him as planned.”
“Do you think there might have been a conspiracy to have him killed?"
“It is entirely possible. Many people blamed the deaths of family members in Peja on him, especially after the war. Keep in mind, however, the Mountain is located in an extremely untamed and hostile area of the country. People can be killed by bears, wolves, wild boar and wildcats just as easily as other human beings. Plus the fact that the Serdar would have been well within his rights to have remains such as human bones disposed of on his property. Those who wandered up there and vanished may well have met with tragic accidents. Those same accidents may have reinforced local superstitions and ignorant beliefs.”
“What kind of beliefs?”
“Did you not know that people accused Radojka of being a vampire?” Miloseva suppressed a wry grin.
“Yeah, well,” Shea tried not to laugh himself, though his own was more of incredulousness. This was rapidly going to where he had no intention of exploring. Yet it was along a road that both Celeste and Father Malloy had set out on long ago. “I know you’re probably aware that his lawyer is being held on suspicion of complicity in his rumored suicide. The NYPD’s investigating the possibility that someone had him killed. Anything you can contribute will be greatly appreciated.”
“Certainly, Detective,” Miloseva rose to shake his hand, escorting him to the door.
Shea already knew he was racing against time. Now he was beginning to realize this was going to become one of the most harrowing experiences of his career.