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16

Lieutenant Jack Fawcett entered his office reluctantly. He had things on his mind, and he wasn't looking forward to writing up the dead-body reports on five cooling stiffs, not with all the other things he had to think about.

Damn Roger Smalley, anyway. And damn himself, for ever hesitating when the Gilman kid started spilling his guts down in interrogation room number four. Why in the hell had he ever thought of calling the commissioner — deputy chief then, he reminded himself sourly — to ask for advice on the case?

"Advice" my ass, he thought grimly.

He had seen a ticket to the gravy train, sure, and he'd put through the call to Smalley on the off chance that a hint in the right place might put him on board for a nice long ride.

It had turned out to be more like a one-way ticket to hell. At least for Jack Fawcett.

Smalley didn't have any complaints, of course. He was sitting up there next door to the commissioner's office and smoking his fat cigars without a single worry. Smalley had the world in his pocket, while Detective Lieutenant Jack Fawcett spent his days and nights wading in the sewer of man's violence. Smalley went to banquets while Fawcett went to autopsies, staring at rigid corpses under cruel fluorescent lights.

Five corpses in particular.

All of them under thirty, all female, all once attractive but bearing the trademark of an animal who mauled them and mutilated them, casting them aside like so much garbage in the street.

The first one of the five was free, okay. That one had been out of Fawcett's hands, beyond his control. But the other four...

He felt their ephemeral weight on his soul.

He knew, deep down where it mattered, that they were dead because of him, as much as because of the freaked-out psycho who wielded the knife.

The nightmares had started again, around the time of the Blancanales rape. Fawcett had thought, foolishly, that he was rid of them, but now he knew better. They were back to stay.

Each dream was the same — or almost. Each time he imagined himself at home, asleep in his own bed, when he was roused by a strange, indescribable sound outside the window. He would rise, picking up his service .38 from the bedside table, and pad softly to the window, peering outside into midnight darkness.

And the girls were always there. Pale and rigid, eyes locked open in death, crusty stains upon their fluttering shrouds. And each one held an arm outstretched, accusing fingers pointed straight at him, for Christ's sake, while they moaned and wailed their wordless accusations through pale, pale lips.

There had been one girl in the first dream.

Now there were four.

Jack Fawcett wondered how many his front yard could hold.

He flopped down in his office chair, and for the first time his eyes caught the note lying on top of his desk. He recognized the spidery handwriting of the dick on the graveyard shift, and he held the note close, reading slowly.

It said, simply: "Jack — Call Pinky."

Okay.

"Pinky" was one of several street snitches who served Jack Fawcett on a semiregular basis. As every working detective knew, the majority of cases could never be solved by the old Sherlock Holmes routine. You needed a good, reliable pigeon to finger your suspect and drop the case in your lap when the going got tough. Then a good cop could keep up his record, and the snitch could be happy with whatever crumbs were passed down the chain of command.

This particular snitch was a junkie, one of those burned-out zeroes who used to be called bums and dope fiends but how had been rechristened "street people" sometime during the late sixties. Fawcett had busted him once, long ago, deciding on a hunch to let him slide in return for a larger bust, his supplier. Pinky had come through with a righteous bust, and it had only cost Fawcett a tiny piece of the dealer's stash.

A good deal, yeah, although the details had made a younger Jack Fawcett slightly nervous in retrospect. Since the first time, he had dealt with his snitches strictly on a cash-and-carry basis.

Lately, Pinky had put Fawcett on to a couple of pretty good busts: a mugger who liked to go all the way with his marks, and a pair of Oklahoma cowboys with a penchant for stick-ups and a no-witness policy. Most recently, Fawcett's snitch had been keeping his ear to the street, seeking any rumbles on the possible whereabouts of a young man named Courtney Gilman.

Fawcett dialed a number from memory, and a familiar voice answered on the fourth ring.

"Yeah?"

The snitch sounded sleepy or drugged. Probably some of each at that hour of the morning.

"I got your message, Pink. What's shakin'?"

Fawcett could hear his informer coming alive and alert at the other end of the line.

"Oh, hey, right, man. I knew you'd want to hear it right away. I tried your home number, but..."

Fawcett interrupted him brusquely.

"Hear what, Pinky?"

"Huh? Oh, yeah, man, I'm pretty sure I got your pigeon."

Jack Fawcett tensed, craning forward in his chair and gripping the telephone receiver in a stranglehold. His knuckles whitened.

"I'm listening," he snapped.

Pinky gave him the address of a cheap fly-by-night hotel not far from Riverside Park, and the number of the room where his suspect was last registered. Fawcett noted the address and number on a scrap of paper and pocketed it.

"If this pays off, I owe you one, Pinky," he said.

The drugged voice cooed back at him.

"Okay, man. This is the real skinny, no shit. I wouldn't shine you on."

"You'd better not."

The guy's voice took on a new tinge, that of fear.

"No sweat, man, it's straight."

"Okay."

Fawcett hung up and hurried downstairs to his cruiser. The drive to the fleabag hotel took him twenty-five minutes, and he cursed every red and amber traffic light on the way.

The detective parked in a red zone next to a fire hydrant and went inside, unbuttoning his jacket on the way to make his bolstered .38 more readily accessible. Inside the dump, a sallow-faced desk clerk laid his body-builder magazine aside and leaned across the registration desk on scrawny arms.

Fawcett knew at once that the guy had made him as a cop.

"What can I do for you, officer?"

The sneer was barely concealed in his voice. Just well enough to avoid the certainty of loosened teeth.

Fawcett scowled, marking the bum down as a smart-ass.

"Who've you got in number twenty-six?" he demanded.

The desk clerk spread his hands.

"I ain't the nosy type. Anyway, I just came on at six."

"Let's check the register, shall we?"

The clerk feigned shock at the suggestion.

"Ain't that an invasion of privacy or somethin'?" he asked, wide-eyed.

Jack Fawcett flashed a disarming smile, then reached quickly over the desk to snare a handful of the guy's fishnet shirt, half dragging him across until their faces almost touched. The detective's smile was gone, and his free hand held a stubby blackjack, lightly stroking the thick leather across one of the desk clerk's pallid cheeks.

"I didn't quite hear you, scumbag."

The guy was shaking, suddenly anxious to please.

"The register, sure, right away," he gasped, sucking air like a fish out of water.

Fawcett shoved him roughly backward, and the guy took a second to recover his balance, then produced a battered ledger from beneath the counter. He thumbed through several pages, paused, and read aloud.

"Tha— that'll be a male single, man. Gave his name to the night clerk as Joseph Smith."

It was Fawcett's turn to sneer. "How original."

The guy considered a reply, but thought better of it. He shrugged.

"He in?" Fawcett asked.

Another shrug.

"No idea, man. Probably, this early, but who knows?"

"You got phones in the rooms?"

The clerk shook his head jerkily.

"Naw, just a pay job on the second and fourth floors. Your man's on the second."

Fawcett aimed a warning finger at the guy's face, pistollike.

"Let's make sure that phone doesn't ring, eh?"

As he stowed the blackjack in a pocket, he let his jacket flare open to reveal the holstered revolver at his waist.

Jack Fawcett took the dirty steps two at a time, bypassing the ancient elevator. Upstairs, a murky hallway carried the pervasive odors of age and accumulated filth.

He paced off the hallway until he stood before the door to room twenty-six. Gingerly he tried the knob and, of course, found it locked.

Damn.

It had been a long shot, anyway.

Fawcett drew his .38 and thumbed the hammer back. He took a short step backward, then hit the door with a flying kick just beside the lock. There was a sound of splintering wood as the ancient door exploded inward.

Fawcett charged into a small, half-darkened room. Greasy curtains admitted dappled light, producing surrealistic nightmare shadows. Directly across the room, a slender figure was coming suddenly awake, thrashing around in tangled bed-sheets.

Jack Fawcett rushed to the bed and with one hand shoved the boy flat on his back, leveling his pistol at the upturned face. Familiar young-old eyes stared up at him with a mixture of fear and hatred. They were wild, animal eyes.

For an instant, the detective was overwhelmed by the temptation to squeeze the trigger of his .38 special and be done with it forever. His finger was tensing into the pull, his eyes narrowing, when he came to himself and shook the moment aside.

His voice was bitter, savage.

"Surprise, asshole. Flip over and assume the position."

Courtney Gilman did as he was told, rolling over and bringing clenched fists around behind his back. Fawcett cuffed them there, then used his spare set of handcuffs to shackle one of the boy's slender ankles to the bed frame.

The young man lay before him unmoving, silent. His entire being seemed to radiate an insolence — and evil — and once more Fawcett felt his hand tightening involuntarily around the .38. He controlled himself with an act of will.

Jack Fawcett knew what he had to do, what duty and circumstance demanded. He left the room, leaving the door ajar, and moved swiftly to the pay telephone at the near end of the corridor. He dropped a dime into the box and dialed the number of Roger Smalley's office.

Fawcett was surprised to note that his hands were trembling. A secretary took his call and patched him through to the assistant commissioner. In a moment, Smalley's curt voice filled his ear.

"What can I do for you, Jack?"

"It's what I can do for you, Commissioner," he said, resenting the man's haughty tone. "I've just taken delivery on that package you wanted. It's ready to be passed on."

Smalley's voice brightened instantly, losing its curt tone and becoming cheerful.

"That's excellent news. Jack, excellent. I couldn't be happier."

Fawcett felt something out of place in the man's tone, but he couldn't put his finger on it.

"Where, uh, should I deliver the goods?"

Smalley cleared his throat softly, hesitating.

"We've had a change of plans today," he answered at last. "Something unexpected. I'm going to have to meet you personally on this."

Fawcett's mind was filled with the sudden jangling of alarm bells. He felt the short hairs on the nape of his neck standing at attention.

And he remained silent, waiting for Smalley to continue.

"Jack? Are you there?"

Where the hell else would he be?

"Yes, sir, right here."

"I'm going to take delivery in Phalen Park, Jack. Follow West Shore Drive, and I'll meet you by the water. Give me forty-five minutes."

"All right. Whatever you say."

Smalley detected his nervousness, and the commissioner sounded concerned.

"Is there any problem with that, Jack?"

Fawcett's answer was hasty as he tried to cover his feelings.

"No, sir, no problem. I'll be there with the package."

Smalley's voice smiled back at him.

"Excellent. Goodbye, Jack. And thank you."

Fawcett listened to the buzzing dial tone for a full minute before hanging up. His mind was racing, trying to anticipate Smalley's plan, and coming up short each time.

Clearly, the guy had something up his sleeve, and whatever the hell it was, it could spell trouble. Jack Fawcett knew Smalley well enough by now to be suspicious of him. He only wished he had possessed such ultimate knowledge before he placed that very first call to the commissioner concerning Courtney Gilman.

Spilt milk, he told himself gruffly. No use crying.

He would keep his appointment with Smalley, there was really no choice in the matter. But he wasn't walking into it with his eyes closed either.

The assistant P.C. wasn't going to make a monkey out of Detective Lieutenant Jack Fawcett. Not a monkey, or a scapegoat. Or a corpse.

The change of plans could only mean unexpected trouble, and Fawcett knew in advance that Smalley would try to shake off as much of the shit as he could, to dump it on somebody else.

And Jack Fawcett didn't intend to make himself a handy target. It would all be so easy. Go back into that damned dingy room and unlock the handcuffs that held Courtney Gilman to the bed like a hobbled calf. Back off a few paces, and bam! One psycho in the bag.

So easy, yeah. And so impossible.

Jack Fawcett had chosen the path himself, with a phone call long ago. Now he had no choice but to follow the path he had set, and try, just try, to have some say in the way it ended up.

Cursing, the detective stalked back down the hallway to collect his prisoner.


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