New Year’s Eve

Times Square was packed. Nearly half a million revelers were squeezed in
as tight as the cork in a champagne bottle, ringed by barricades in an area
forty blocks square. Many had been there since that morning, waiting in
the cold for the glittering Waterford Crystal ball to drop.
Security was tight. It was the dawn of a new millennium which brought fears of a Y2K disaster bringing down computers and creating havoc amongst
anything electronic.

Over five thousand police officers were on hand to make sure nothing
went horribly wrong—although the crowd was well-behaved, many of them
wearing oversize glasses and waving banners as they cheered and yelled into the cameras.

No one was having a better time than the four young tourists from
Denmark who had arrived in the city the day before. Worming their way
through the crowd, the two men and two women pushed in as close as they
could to have a close-up view of the ball drop and watch the entertainment,
a popular band playing their latest hit.

One member of the group, Lukas Janssen, decided to step away from his
friends for a few moments to buy a souvenir for his younger sister. “I think
she would like one of those T-shirts,” he told his girlfriend, Isa Mulder, and
pointed to a man a few yards away selling shirts with a millennium logo on
the front. At six feet four inches, Lukas stood well above the crowd around
him and had no trouble plotting a path to the vendor.

“Hurry back, Lukas,” Isa told him, giving him a quick hug. “The new year
will be here in just a few minutes and I’ll want to give you a special kiss.”
She smiled as he walked away and turned back to her friends, Elias and
Sara, who were waving small Danish flags at a TV camera that scanned the

At ten seconds to midnight, the ball began its descent and Lukas was still
not back. Isa thought he may have gotten turned around in the mass of
people, and gave her attention over to the cheers and chaos that erupted at
the stroke of twelve, sure he would join them shortly.

The crowd dispersed soon after, but Lukas was nowhere to be found. His
three friends looked up above the sea of people leaving the area, searching
for the tall blond man in a red ski jacket. Isa’s eyes widened with worry. “I
don’t see him. Where did he go?” Tears began to spill from her eyes as she
fought her way through the remaining crowd, calling his name.

“Maybe he stopped for a beer,” Elias ventured.

“Not without us,” Isa told him. “He’d never leave us here wondering where
he is.”

She shook her head. “Something has happened to him. I know it.”
Three days later, Lukas Janssen’s body was discovered in Tompkins Square
Park on the east side of Manhattan. No one knew how or why he wound
up there. The young man had been stabbed through the heart and died
instantly—the first victim of the person who would become known as the New Year’s Killer.

Chapter One
New Year’s Eve

The ball was about to drop, and everyone’s eyes were fixed on the TV
over the bar. I guess it had been a good idea to follow my landlord
Sully’s advice and lug the flat screen down from my apartment for
the night. The Corner Lounge wasn’t the kind of bar where five TVs were
tuned to whatever sports games were being played, but being New Year’s
Eve, I relented from my prohibition of television in the restaurant, and it
seemed to be paying off. I just didn’t want to hear any “I told you so’s.” from
Mr. Smart Mouth.

“Three…two…one…Happy New Year!” The glittering Swarovski crystal
ball ended its descent, and the crowd in Times Square went wild, roaring
their good wishes into the faces of the numerous TV cameras that swept the

It was a bit more subdued at The Lounge, if only because the number
of people present was just slightly fewer than the crowd at the country’s
hottest New Year’s Eve venue—although the noise level seemed just as loud
as everyone shouted “Happy New Year!” before kissing the person closest to
them and lifting their glasses in a toast.

Dean, my head bartender, and I had been busy popping open champagne
bottles and filling flutes for the customers who numbered three deep at the
bar. I grabbed three glasses and moved down to where my boyfriend, Eric,
and Sully were seated. Handing one to each of them, I leaned over and gave
Eric a big kiss on his lips, then planted one on Sully’s cheek. “Happy New
Year, boys!” I clinked my glass against each of theirs. “Let’s hope it’s a good

Eric gave me another long, lingering kiss and nuzzling my ear, whispered,
“It will be, Jude. I promise.” Then one of his pals from work called out to
him and he went off for bro hugs and good wishes with his buddies who’d
joined him for the evening.

Sully nodded, knowing there was more to my words than their simple
meaning. The last year had been pretty tough on all of us, and it was definitely time to move on to something better.

“A good year? I’ll drink to that.” Sully downed his champagne in a few
gulps then held out the flute for a refill.

“Philistine.” I shook my head and poured him more of the bubbly. “Sip
this one.”

“Hey,” Art Bevins, one of my regular customers, called to me, “don’t forget
us.” He pointed to his spot in front of the bar.
“I’d never do that.” I smiled and handed over a glass to Art and one to the
young man with him.

“Jude, meet my brother, Michael. Michael, Jude. She owns the place.” Art
made a loose gesture with his hand that encompassed the dining room and
bar. “Mikey just got in and we came down to celebrate. I didn’t even give
him time to unpack. He’s staying with me over the holiday break.” Art was
smiling so wide I could practically see his tonsils.

I shook my head at Art and held out my hand to his brother. “Nice to meet
you, Michael.” He was tall, blond, and handsome in a hipster kind of way,
scruffy stubble on his face, plaid shirt with a black T-shirt under it, jeans and sneakers—a uniform—just like the black jeans and black turtleneck that I wore to work every day. Art had told me all about his younger brother, who was a senior at the University of Maryland, majoring in medical research.

“I think Art’s mentioned you once or twice.”

He laughed, assuming his brother spoke about him way too much. “You,
too. I’ve heard all about you from this guy.”

Art hooked an arm around his brother’s shoulders. Or tried to. He was a
several inches shorter and a few drinks ahead, and his aim was a little off,
his arm landing somewhere around Michael’s shoulder blades. Art’s dark
eyes shone with pride and you could see how much he loved his brother.
“Mikey here is the real brains in the family. A science wiz. Going to find a
cure for everything that ails you.”

“Starting with over-imbibing, no doubt,” piped in Tony Napoli, another
regular customer and one of the “10th Street Irregulars,” as I called them. He was with Oscar Lupe and Jim Deems, two more from the group, who’d come in just after midnight and finally managed to elbow their way to the bar.

I leaned over and gave each of the three men a peck on the cheek.

“Champagne?” I didn’t have to ask twice.

All three nodded like bobbleheads. I placed their drinks in front of them
and moved down the bar to see to my other customers as Art introduced
Michael around.

A little while later, Michael shrugged into his jacket and leaned over the
bar. “Nice to meet you, Jude. I’m heading out to another party downtown.”
He looked over his shoulder at Art and pointed up to the ceiling. “Make sure
my brother gets home safe,” he added before he went back toward the group.

After a while, when I glanced up at the Irregulars, Sully, Art, Oscar, and
Tony were laughing at something one of them had said and Mikey was gone.

I didn’t have time to dwell on it. Busy didn’t describe the scene at The
Lounge. Hey, not that I was complaining. I was in business to make money.
So was my partner, Pete, the chef and soul of the kitchen, who popped out
from his station at his huge 8-burner Garland stove to swoop me up for a
New Year’s kiss and grab a bottle of champagne for the kitchen staff.

Well, so far—an hour in—things looked good for the year to come. I hoped
it would last. But somewhere, deep inside, a little voice said, Good luck with
that, Jude.

I ignored it. How I wished I hadn’t.

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Cathi Stoler

Cathi Stoler’s Murder On The Rocks Series features The Corner Lounge owner, Jude Dillane and includes, BAR NONE, LAST CALL and STRAIGHT UP published by Level Best Books. She’s also written the suspense novels, NICK OF TIME and OUT OF TIME and the Laurel and Helen New York Mysteries. She is a board member of Sisters in Crime New York/Tri-State, MWA and ITW. You can reach her at www.cathistoler.com.
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