The media dubbed him LAX because no one knew his real name. He had worked hard to keep it that way. As an assassin, it was his best life insurance.
He was crowned with the LAX label after a job in a terminal at the Los Angeles International Airport. It had been a bold murder, carried out in the thick of one of the busiest airports in the country. The murder was discovered two hours later, when a Southwest employee finally realized a man in a gray business suit had not moved from a bench near the ticket counter.
The employee, a young, dark-haired girl who loved the bustle of the airport and meeting so many diverse people, checked on the man. To her credit, she didn’t panic, didn’t scream, hardly batted an eyelash as she noted the pale skin, vomit, and odor of someone who had released his bowels. Most of the bodily fluids were hidden by the attaché case he still clutched in his hands on his lap. She walked stiff-legged over to the counter and picked up the phone. Her voice cracked a little as she notified the airport police, and within twenty seconds an officer, who had just been by on a security check, retraced his steps to the gate.
Stephen Reinhardt was a Los Angeles Times crime reporter flying to Tampa Bay for a series he had been writing on the Mexican drug cartels. He had been an accomplished reporter writing a high-profile story about Mexican drugs and violence, naming several government officials as pawns of the cartels. He was to have met with DEA officials upon invitation to observe the hammer fall on two long-term drug cases.
Reinhard’s autopsy determined he died of a heroin overdose–approximately 400 to 500cc via mainline injection. Airport police reviewed every frame of security video from the entry gates to the Southwest terminal for evidence of how someone like Reinhardt, who had no history of drug use, could have overdosed. That was when they discovered a fit-looking male approach Reinhardt from behind as he rolled his suitcase through the doors near the Southwest ticket counters. Reinhardt had arrived in yellow cab, the driver easily tracked down later but insistent everything about the fare had been normal.
The unknown male wore a black leather jacket, jeans, and black tennis shoes. He had shaded his face with a red-and-white ball cap and was possibly wearing a few days growth of beard. He appeared cool and unhurried as he leaned close to Reinhardt, his right hand concealing something close to the reporter’s side. Possibly a firearm, maybe a knife, but it could never be determined through the video. Since he never attempted to pass through a security checkpoint, he could have well been armed.
The unknown male walked with Reinhardt to a men’s restroom, and they disappeared inside for approximately five minutes. Law enforcement learned later from an airport custodian, who had left shortly after Rienhardt and his companion walked in, that the two went to one of the larger stalls designed for the handicapped. Although the custodian found it odd enough to remember, he didn’t think it was far enough out of the ordinary to alert security. He had seen it all, anyway.
A police sketch artist developed a rather generic composite based on the custodian’s description and the video surveillance. Nothing was a close match to the reality of LAX, who always took painstaking care to disguise himself.
Alex read the write-up in the Los Angeles Times and smiled. He liked the moniker; it had a nice ring to it. Some wise ass at the Times had conjured it up, so to speak, and it was evident the police were clueless about his identity.
He enjoyed reading about the murder in the Times and found it satisfyingly ironic the paper his victim worked for was writing about his death. The reporter covering the homicide had gotten decent facts from the police, but it wasn’t like Alex was trying to be completely anonymous as he carried out the contract. His benefactors had paid four times his usual fee for him to take some exposure. The Juárez Cartel wanted to flaunt the murder in the face of Mexican and United States law enforcement. It was part of the reason he killed the reporter in the airport. If you were not safe in an airport, where could you be safe? No one was safe from a competent assassin.
The police were happy to have witnesses and video of the assassin. He could imagine the giddiness, the fervent focus of resources they employed to build on the small tidbit of information he had allowed them to have.
When the cartel had first insisted he violate his standard of absolute anonymity, he balked at the idea. But now that he was finished with the contract, he had to acknowledge how much he enjoyed the thrill. He had tossed out a few crumbs for the authorities to contemplate, kept them engaged, and made the game more exciting.
Alex smiled, then went back to reading.
The column suggested Reinhardt was killed by a forced lethal injection of heroin. Yes, true. The speculation was over how the murderer had convinced the reporter to accept his fate without a fight. He rested the paper in his lap for a moment and folded his hands over his stomach, satisfied the operation had gone exactly has planned despite the complication of timing.
By the Times’ deadline, the police had not yet released the information that Reindhardt’s wife and seven-year-old daughter were forced to undress and kneel on a sheet of plastic in the kitchen of their home while two of his best contractors stood over them with silenced pistols to the backs of their heads. A third streamed it live with a smartphone. Alex showed it to Reinhardt when they were in the stall. He removed syringes and surgical cord from his jacket pocket and told Reinhardt what to do, assuring the reporter his wife and child would not be harmed if he complied without argument. Should he resist or stall, they would be executed while he watched.
Reinhardt hesitated. For a moment, Alex knew, he considered fighting for his life. “These men will kill your wife and daughter in two minutes unless you do what I tell you, Mr. Reinhardt. The only way they can be stopped is to hear the order from me. If they do not hear from me, they will kill your family, I assure you.”
Reinhardt set his briefcase on the floor beside him as he sat down on the toilet seat. He took the surgical cord with shaking hands and, using his mouth to assist, tightened it on his upper left arm. Alex put the phone in his pocket, grabbed Reinhardt’s wrist, and injected both syringes into a vein so quickly it had left the reporter stunned.
Reinhardt’s eyes bulged with fear, but he didn’t cry as Alex suspected he might. Many people he had killed often did when they knew death was inevitable. He ripped off the surgical tubing and told the reporter to find a seat in the terminal. Alex only had a few moments, and he wanted Reinhardt sitting in public when his body was found. He told the reporter someone was watching to make sure he did not alert law enforcement.
Alex picked up the paper again, but the story was woefully inadequate to someone who had actually been there and knew exactly what had happened.
One of the largest American newspapers had solidified him as LAX. It was a good moniker for people to know and fear. The more Alex read the name, the more he liked it.