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It was past two in the afternoon when Rlker walked in the door, his eyes closing to narrow slits. He set his small bag of belongings on the coffee table, and sank down on the couch in the front room. He laid the assault rifle on the floor and slid it underneath the skirt of the slipcover and away from his host’s sight.

“Thanks, Charles. I really appreciate this.”

“My pleasure.” Charles was standing at the hall closet, pulling blankets and sheets from the top shelf. He was also making rapid calculations on the toll of sleep deprivation upon a man of Riker’s age, who drank too much and smoked too much. There were slowed reflexes to consider, and then-

“Mallory’s holed up at my place,” said Riker. “I’m looking at maybe six hours of sleep before I take the night shift with Andrew.”

“Couldn’t someone else do it?”

“It’s not a problem.”

Charles wondered if he had offended Riker, for it suddenly occurred to him-he would never have made that suggestion to Mallory. Oh, and there was one more thing to worry about. He tucked the bedding under one arm and searched the mantelpiece until he found the detective’s card. He handed it to Riker. “About an hour ago, this man came by with two officers in uniform. They were looking for Mallory.”

Riker held the card out at arm’s length. “Kinkaid? You didn’t tell this cop anything useful, did you?”

“Certainly not,” said Charles, as though cooperating with the authorities were something a gentleman would never consider. “But why does she have to hide? You don’t think Blakely would really harm her, do you?”

“No, not now he wouldn’t. He might want to kill her, but when he resigned this afternoon, they made him turn in his gun. And Robin Duffy didn’t leave him with enough money to hire a shooter.”

“So it’s over?”

“The business with Blakely? Yeah. Now she’s only in trouble with the commissioner.” Riker held up the business card. “This cop, Kinkaid? He’s attached to the commissioner’s office. Beale wants to have a little chat with her about the proper form for arresting suspects while cameras are rolling. She made the evening news last night.”

“But the worst is over, and Mallory is all right?”

“She’s fine. She called Coffey this morning. He got on her case right away. Told her it was her lucky day that Oren Watt wasn’t pressing charges for abuse of power, and if she ever pulled a stunt like that again, he’d suspend her in a heartbeat.”

“But under the circumstances-”

“He had to rag her. If he didn’t, she’d walk all over him. I taught him that.” Riker obviously took some pride in this. “Coffey still has a lot to learn, but he does learn fast. So then Coffey tells her, real sarcastic, it might be nice if she showed up for a meeting once in a while. And the kid says, ‘Why should I? All the important meetings are in the men’s room.’ Coffey told me that in the men’s room of Peggy’s Bar.”

Charles carried his bundle of sheets and blankets to the spare bedroom. When he returned to the front room, his houseguest was sitting up straight enough, but the man was fast asleep.

Charles gently lowered Riker’s body down, and then lifted his feet to the cushion and began to untie the shoelaces. When he was done with the pillows and quilts, one would have to admit that Riker’s own mother could not have done a better job of tucking him in.

Quinn stood by the large window in the dining room, watching the river rolling by, no longer aware of the Chopin etude in the background. In a polite ripple of baroque chimes, an antique mantel clock consulted with him about the passing time. His first appointment of the evening was with Gregor Gilette.

There was nothing he could do to ease the pain which Emma Sue Hollaran had caused, but he could do something to Emma Sue. He had tried to stop her, even threatened her, and the woman’s own stupidity had foiled him. She truly did believe she was invincible, and she would continue to believe that until she lay crushed beneath the wheels of the machinery he had put into motion. Too late for Gregor, however. The damage could not be undone. Revenge was only the next best thing, but he found it a necessary thing.

Quinn packed his sword and his mask in preparation to meet with Mallory later in the evening. As he packed the formal white fencer’s uniform, he planned out Mallory’s future as he would a military campaign. It was a strange warfare, this, for all his strategy was toward embracing the enemy, and preventing her from ever leaving him.

He avoided his reflection in the mirror above the mantelpiece as he zipped up his fencing bag.

Other women had come to him, not believing that he could care for them. Nothing in his eyes ever led them on, ever promised them anything. They had come to him without expectations; they left him without rancor. And it was always they who left him. For even when he did care for a woman, even when she moved him, his eyes were disbelieved. The woman would put all her faith in the unintended counterfeit contempt of his expression, and having a better opinion of herself, she would leave him.

It would be different with Mallory. She would never look outside herself for affirmation of her worth. She was made for the battle between man and woman. She promised an exciting tension that would last, always challenging, never abating, for she was young and had little need for rest. Tonight, he would beat her in the fencing match, and she would make him pay for that.

He smiled, or thought he did. The expression never made the translation to his eyes, and so it was unrealistic, unbelievable.

He wanted Mallory more than he had ever wanted anyone. He wondered if she knew that. No, of course she didn’t. He could depend on his cold eyes to never give away an honest emotion. But if he told her what she was to him, would he be believed? No. His eyes would always foil him. Perhaps one day he would tell her in the dark.

Charles watched over Riker as the man turned in his sleep. The room had grown dark. He pulled on a delicate chain, and a glass lampshade of colored panels cast a small pool of warm light. Now he could read the dial on the alarm clock he had placed by the couch. It was set to go off at eight-thirty, when Riker would rise to take his tour of duty on the roof. It was nearly time. But surely Riker needed more rest. Tonight the man looked ten years older than he should.

Charles leaned down and gently switched off the alarm. He pulled an old knapsack from the hall closet and began to pack Riker’s binoculars, a blanket against the chill night-what else? Riker would probably need his cellular phone, so he should leave that behind.

Riker rolled over in his sleep and never heard Charles stealing out the door to do his time on the roof.

Central Park was the only place where a New Yorker could be alone after dark. The average New Yorker seldom took advantage of this well-known fact. The rare tourist was sometimes found there, having parks that one can freely roam in his own part of the world. Such people’s bodies were usually recovered from the bushes in the early daylight hours by the sanitation crews, whose job it was to clean up the litter of tourists and muggers alike.

Even the muggers entered the park with some trepidation. They had been known to become confused and attack one another, anger escalated by the mutual insult of having been taken for an ignorant tourist. Though a police station was nestled in the heart of the place, the police never went walking in the park after dark.

Sabra did.

She came walking across the wide-open expanse of the great lawn, showing some strain, as though the cart she pulled behind her on the grass might be a solid block of lead.

She was headed toward the dark cover of trees. Coming finally to the footpath at the edge of the lawn, she dropped to a bench. The thousands of city lights, bright eyes above the tree line, had been following her, tracking her across the grass. They vanished now, blotted out by leaves and branches. She sat in near blackness, owing to a string of broken path lights.

Her body had become too heavy to drag around anymore. Would that she could leave the weight of it sitting on the bench, just abandon this body, this sack of ailments and sores, and go on her way. In a second more, she realized that this was possible, that the method was in her reach, resting on the top of her cart in the form of a discarded butcher knife. The handle was old and cracked, but there was nothing wrong with the blade. Why not? She hadn’t the energy to fight the city anymore.

Portrait of a falling woman, deadfall, making no shrieks, no useless flailing motions of the arms and legs. Ah, but the night was not over yet. There were places to go and things to do. Yet she found it near impossible to rise from the bench.

The near-dead always weighed more.

The high ceiling of the gymnasium was aglow with bright panels concealing long fluorescent tubes. Yet the flood of light was so diffused, it seemed to come from nowhere and everywhere, refracting off the cream-colored walls and illuminating every part of the room. And so, the lone swordsman dressed in white had no shadow.

He fastened the collar of his fencing jacket as he walked to the center of the hardwood floor. He stepped over the painted blue line which defined the narrow rectangle of the fencing strip-the field of combat. All the important lessons of Quinn’s life had taken place within this six-by-eighteen-foot boundary. Here, he had been taught philosophy and human nature, honor and deception. Despite his gold medal, he had also learned humility, for he well understood there was always something more to be learned on this strip.

His mask lay on the floor near his feet as he swung the sword and parried with an invisible partner. This would be an easy win, for he already understood Mallory’s style. In every conversation, she created a false opening, an invitation, and then she stabbed him in the heart. What was a fencing bout but a conversation of swords?

And now he realized he was no longer alone.

Mallory was standing just behind him. When he turned to face her, she was looking up at him. In the next moment, he had the disorienting impression that their eyes met on a level plane.

“How long have you been there?”

“Awhile.” Her body was a lean dark silhouette against the light walls, attired in blue jeans and a long-sleeved black jersey of silk.

“May I?” She held out her hand to take his sword, and he gave it to her. Her black running shoes made no sound as she moved across the room to the long brown leather bag by the door.

The door-how disconcerting. It was closed, and a chair was wedged under the knob. He gathered she didn’t want the match to be disturbed. Or perhaps she didn’t want any witnesses. If she had only done that to unnerve him, he would have approved.

She knelt down to unzip her fencing bag and free a pair of sabers. Now she slid his own sword into the bag and zipped it up. She came back to him again, carrying one cavalry saber and swinging the other, slicing the air in front of her as though she were cutting a path to get at him. She handed one sword to him, and he recognized the family heirloom.

“Charles loaned you these sabers?”

“No, I stole them.”

He touched the cutting edge of the blade and then the point. “You’ve been busy with a whetstone, haven’t you?”

“Yes. Razor edges and needle-sharp points.”

“It’s an interesting choice of weapons, Mallory, but too dangerous for sport. We’ll use my fencing sabers. My pair is rigged to score electronically.” Now he noted the round bulge in her fencing bag. So she had at least brought a mask and perhaps a glove, but apparently no jacket. “I have a body wire, all the electronic gear. You’ll find a spare jacket and everything else you need in the locker room.” He pointed to a door at the back of the gymnasium. “You can change clothes-”

“Thanks,” she said, hefting the antique saber, testing the weight of it. “But I’m already dressed.”

“Mallory, that silk jersey is too flimsy. Even with the blunted swords, you need the proper costume for protection. I won’t fence with you until you’re suited up.”

“I won’t need any protection. And we will use the cavalry sabers.” She pointed her sword to the mask on the floor. “Pick that up and put it on. I want to get this over with.”

He shook his head, incredulous. What was she playing at?

She dipped her sword into the helmet that lay by his feet, and raised it up to the level of his hand. He took it off her sword, but only cradled it in his free arm. “I won’t fight you with these sabers. It’s too dangerous.”

“Yes you will.” She backed up two paces and assumed the en garde position.

He smiled. This promised to be a marvelous evening. “No, Mallory. Even with the cutting edge and the point, you’re still at a great disadvantage.”

“You also have a cutting edge and a point. I wouldn’t like anyone to say I didn’t give you a sporting chance. Put on the mask, Quinn. You’ll need it.”

“You can’t be serious. I don’t think you really understand the damage-”

“Oh, I know all about damage.” She jabbed the sword close to his face and pulled back.

He never flinched, and he wondered if that didn’t disappoint her. “I won’t fight you while you’re defenseless.”

“I may be the least defenseless person you ever met.”

“You don’t understand.”

I don’t?” She slashed the air in front of his face. “This is a free kill for me, if that’s the way I want to play it. You’re the one with protective gear-not me. The bet is well known. I can get away with this. Put on the damn mask and put up your sword, or I’ll do you right now.”

“I won’t cut you.”

“Oh, I know that-I’m counting on it.” She lashed out with her sword, this time with the unmistakable intention of cutting him.

He quickly stepped back out of the reach of her blade. He put on the mask and raised his sword to en garde position. She followed him with a burst of short, unnerving jumps and lunges, her sword arm extended and the point within an inch of his chest, driving him back, slicing the air with her blade. He retreated with long steps to keep the distance between them. Where the line of the strip was marked on the floor, he held his ground and met her sword with parries, neatly killing the action of her swings in a long phrase of sharp reports, steel clashing on steel.

“You’re very selective about sportsmanship, Quinn.” She lowered her sword and stepped back to the line at the edge of the narrow playing field. “Koozeman didn’t have a sporting chance, did he?”

“Neither did Aubry.”

It was eerie to meet an opponent who lacked the cover of a mask. Within the cage of steel mesh, his own mask of a face was an accident of birth, an illusion, a counterfeit. Her naked automaton face was the genuine article.

She advanced on him in long steps. “And what about Sabra?‘’ Her sword was aiming a slice to his head. ”Now that’s what I call real damage.“

He parried, raising his sword to block the swing of hers. Oh, bloody hell. Without the offensive strike he was only treading water. She had all the reckless energy of youth, not even heeding his own sharp point.

“I’ve seen your sister, Quinn. I’ve talked to her. You’re a real piece of work, you bastard.”

Anywhere he touched her with the sword, he would draw blood. He could not come to grips with the idea of maiming her. It was ludicrous. This could not be happening. It was a fight to restrain the reflex instinct of the strike. “I tried to help my sister.”

“Yeah, right.” She made a thrust to his mask, and she did it with enough power to foil his parry, and to spread the metal mesh and send the point an inch inside the mask.

Her blade pulled free of the mesh and left him stunned. By this time, he should have been long accustomed to attack and well beyond shock. It was late to be learning the difference between games and life.

She walked away from him. His old lessons of humility deepened. She thought nothing of turning her back on him.

She spun around to face him, hovering on the strip, and hovering in time-waiting.

“I put Sabra in the best hospitals money could buy. She kept running away from them.”

Mallory rushed him, and he warded off her blade with a defensive fly of steel. She came at him again, and he parried this attack too, metal crashing again and again. “You put your sister in the same asylum with Oren Watt.” She was backing him to the wall. “You think that was a good idea?”

“No, Orwelhouse was her own idea.” He glided to the right.

She followed, advancing on him, relentless, thrusting toward his center. “So the institutional route didn’t work.” She made a slice to his head, and he blocked her swing. “And then you decided to help your sister in another way.”

He stepped back to parry another slice to his head.

She followed him with her eyes, her body and her sword, all parts of the same relentless machine. “You’ve been feeding Sabra information you got from me.” Her sword rose to the level of her hips. It hung in the air. He froze, waiting to see which way the blade would fall.

“You used me to feed her obsession.” Mallory’s sword angled in a half circle to strike his side. He met her blade with his, and parried ten times before one of her strikes broke through his guard. She cut the thick material at the throat of his mask. The padding spilled out in clumps. He warded off her next attack with a beat of his blade, and she stepped back.

“Poor crazy Sabra. Revenge is all she’s living for, isn’t it?”

“You don’t know what it was like, Mallory. You had to be there, to see what I saw.”

“I’ve been there.” She lunged and cut to his head, bringing her steel down on his blade again and again, as he held his sword high to fend off the rain of blows.

“Oh, God, the places I’ve been.” Her next slice was lower, and he parried to the right. She lowered her own saber and threw it from one hand to the other. It was an unnerving play he’d never seen before. And now the sword flew back to her right hand to cut his undefended side. He heard the material rip along the midsection of his jacket.

Sweat ran into his eyes, but she was dry, cool, so single-minded in her cutting and stabbing. Her reaction time was twenty-five years younger, and her speed was astonishing. She was a slicing machine-she never tired. He listened to his own ragged breath inside the mask.

She left the marked outline of the strip, going outside the parameters of the combat field. That fit so well, he should have seen it coming. Of course she wouldn’t recognize boundaries. Now all the wheels and works of his brain were stripping gears in their speed to devise a strategy to match hers.

Too late. She rushed him from the side, slashing at the padded bib beneath his mask. This time he felt the point close to flesh. Only the jacket’s high collar, one thin layer of material, protected his throat.

“How many times do you suppose I have to do that before I get down to the real thing?” Her sword was lowered to her side. It rose swiftly, faster than his eye could follow. She stabbed his mask at the level of his eyes, and he jumped back, hitting the wall, the last possible step of retreat.

“Can’t you guess?” She turned her back on him and walked to the far end of the strip. He moved away from the wall and resumed his own place within the marked outlines of the field. They stared at one another across this space.

“You watched me work over Koozeman at the gallery. Then you passed your guesswork along to your sister.”

There was no warning before the rush. Long-stepping, she came after him, jabbing holes in the air, coming closer, now lunging to thrust, recovering her move and lunging again. “You damn amateur!” Every attack maneuver was hers, leaving him only the defensive moves and the escaping backward steps.

“You’ve made so many stupid mistakes, Quinn. Aubry wasn’t the primary target. You were wrong about that.” Steel clanged with rapid strikes and counterstrikes, and in her swings he discerned the rhythm of a hammer on a nail.

“How can you possibly know-”

She broke off the attack and stepped back. “It was always a money motive.” She lowered her sword. “The killer stood to make money on the death of the artist, Peter Ariel. Aubry came in while they were cutting up his body.”

“No, it didn’t happen that way. I was called there to discover the bodies because Aubry was one of the victims. The setup was planned before she even died!”

“No, Quinn. The killers needed a critic to kick off the hype. Koozeman probably figured the police were too stupid to recognize a dead body as a work of art. So he used Aubry’s name as bait for you. But she was never meant to show up at the gallery. That was an accident. Something went wrong.”

She was dangling the sword carelessly in her hand. Now it rose suddenly to attack position. Forgetting forty years of training which told him to wait on her advance, he stepped back too soon, his sword rising to parry. But she never left her place on the strip. Now she let her saber dangle again. And his own sword came down. She smiled, and in that smile, she told him that she owned him now.

“Let’s go over the lies you told to Markowitz. You were late getting to the gallery that night.”

“Yes, but I explained that.”

“You lied to Markowitz. You’ll have to do better with me.”

“As I explained to your father, the cab was caught in a traffic jam on a street where a film was being made. So I had to get out and take a subway. I’m no good at navigating subways. I’d never used-”

“Markowitz knew you lied to him. I found his copy of the shooting schedule for that old movie and all the city location permits. It took me a while to work it out. The film location wasn’t between your apartment and the gallery. And that’s all the old man knew-that you lied. He never got to interview the family. He didn’t know Sabra was meeting your mother that night. But I did- after I talked to Aubry’s father. Then I noticed the shooting location was midway between your house and your mother’s. So you and your sister saw the movie crew on the way to your mother’s house. I even know you drove there in her car.”

“Sabra was never-”

She rushed him with long steps, a swing and a cut to the arm. His parry was too late. He looked down to the blood drops staining his sleeve. She had bloodied him, and yet he remained true to the brotherhood which refused to believe that the female could be the deadlier sex. The wound was hard evidence against her gender, and still he would only defend and retreat. His mind was coming apart; his code remained intact. He could finish her with one thrust, and yet he would not.

And she knew it.

“What’s the point of lying anymore?” She lowered her sword and stalked off to the far end of the strip. “You got the message at your mother’s house-you called the paper or they tracked you down. Then you and Sabra drove her car to the gallery. You were late, but not late enough to account for the delay in calling the police.”

“You couldn’t possibly know that.”

“Oh, no? Tell me what doesn’t fit. Sabra saw what they’d done to Aubry, and she went right over the screaming edge. You needed time to calm her down and get her safely away-time to plan. You had to keep the police and the media away from Sabra. You decided she couldn’t stand up to an interrogation-what a gentleman. You made up the subway story to explain why you were late calling the police, why there would be no record of a cab log. So they couldn’t follow the trail back to your mother’s house and Sabra. That was the first lie.”

She left the strip to walk around him, making side circles, slow and quiet. This was no maneuver learned at school-she was playing with him. His life had been lived within parameters of form, where all the moves were familiar, almost a ballet. Nothing in his experience had prepared him for what lay beyond the boundary lines. The sight of Aubry had ruptured his mind and not taught him a thing.

He turned to watch Mallory, moving as she moved, revolving to keep pace with her circles. All the aggression was hers, she picked the shots, began the dance and stopped it when she wished. She controlled the court, the game, himself.

She was so sure she was going to beat him-that much, but no more, was in her face. And worse, it was in his own mind as Mallory danced up to the mark to play, ignoring his blade, she thought so little of his chances.

His concentration was broken. He missed the parry and let her through to bloody his side. She backed away again to the center of the court. And now she broke with any pretense of form, running across the floor, her saber describing circles in the air. When she had closed the distance, she dropped to one knee and sliced low toward his unprotected thigh, a forbidden zone which no opponent ever aimed for.

He cursed himself for not anticipating her. He had heard the rip of material, but he would not look down. If she had cut him again, it would do him no good to see the blood. He parried the next rush, doing twice the brainwork to cover his body and his legs.

She broke off, stepping back, light as a cat, to the end of the strip. When she moved forward again, it was still on cat’s feet, an unhurried, stalking advance.

She began this bout in slow-action time, the cadence of casual conversation, as her blade met his in easy strikes and counters. The swordplay accelerated with more rapid strikes, but still no force, light touches only- You kiss my sword, and I kiss yours. Faster now, and faster-quick reports of steel sounded on steel. The tempo was more the breathless pace of something carnal, heart pounding-

Suddenly, Mallory broke with him and retreated to the edge of the strip.

Sweat blurred his eyes as she came dancing back to him with short steps and a rather ordinary gambit. He parried easily, and this should have made him suspicious. Instead of answering his parry with a riposte, she let her steel slide down his sword until she closed with him, hilt to hilt, swords pointing up, only a few inches between their bodies. She pressed closer until they stood corps-a-corps, in the forbidden contact of opponents.

Softly, she said, “I’m going to take you now.”

And he believed her. He was staring into the long slants of her green eyes. Her sword was disengaging, lowering. And this was the moment where he lost the match, even before he felt her metal slipping into the handle of his saber. With one elegant move, she backed away and ripped the steel from his hand with the pry bar of her own sword and sent his saber flying across the court, clanging to the floor.

He glimpsed the bright triumph of a child in her stance and in her eyes-and then the child was gone. Deadly serious now. “I won.”

Stone silence. She stepped forward, sword rising.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” he said. “It was my job to keep score, wasn’t it? Well, would you like me to tally up the bloodings?” He looked down at the cuts, thin lines of blood on his side, his arms and one leg. “There are a few tears in the material that didn’t get through to the skin, but of course they count too.”

“I want to collect my bet now.”

“Suppose I sign a confession to the murders of Dean Starr and Avril Koozeman. Would that be satisfactory payment?”

“No. You’re not the type. You won’t even make a strike to save yourself. And leaving your sister out in the rain-well, that doesn’t count as violence.”

“What was I supposed to do? Lock her up in a maximum-security ward for the rest of her life? She’d rather be dead.”

She moved in close to him. “I think you meant to say that she’d be better off dead.” Too late, he felt her leg hook around his own, unbalancing him as she pushed him to the floor. She stood over him with the sword to his throat. “Pay up! I want Sabra.”

“I don’t know where she is.”

“Liar!” She pulled the sword back only a little, slowly angling the point to his face. She thrust it into his mask again and again. “How many drives before I get your eyes? I won! Deliver what you promised.”

“Wait!” He raised one hand, and she stopped. He removed the mask and held it out to her. “This should make it easier for you.”

Her blade came closer. He no longer believed he understood her well enough to anticipate her. But he had well understood Louis Markowitz, and now he was betting his eyes on the man who had raised her.

She put up the sword. “You know, there’s stabbing, and then there’s stabbing.”

She backed away from him. “Aubry was never meant to die that night. I figured it out with the messages. You didn’t know about the message left at the ballet school, did you?”

He shook his head, and she continued. “I got that from my interview with Gregor Gilette. You figured they already had her when that message was left at your paper, right?”

He nodded and closed his eyes. Her next words came from behind him.

“According to her father, Aubry’s message was a long one. That’s what made me think she was being sent somewhere else-so you wouldn’t be able to reach her by phone when you got your own message. Aubry’s was garbled by the clerk, too many instructions to write down in a hurry. So she killed a lot of time trying to decipher the message, and then more time trying to locate you. Finally, she called your newspaper. By then, a message had been left for you. A receptionist probably checked your message box and confirmed the meeting at the gallery. It’s the only scenario that fits the two messages. Too bad you wouldn’t let Markowitz near the family. He could’ve worked it out twelve years ago. It only took me five minutes with Gregor Gilette.”

“Oh, God.”

“Markowitz usually went for the money motive. My father was a smart cop, but with Aubry as the primary target, he had nowhere to go with this case.”

She was very close to his side, speaking into his ear. “If he’d only known that Aubry was there by accident, he would’ve gone after the man with the profit motive to kill Peter Ariel, someone who knew your family connections.”

He opened his eyes. She was in front of him now, leaning down, her face close to his.

“Everything pointed to Koozeman,” she said. “The killers would have been jailed-if you’d only stepped out of my father’s way. And Sabra? She’s been strung out on the street all these years for nothing.”

His head lolled back, eyes rolled up to the ceiling. He felt as though he had been mortally wounded. As she had said, there was stabbing, and then there was stabbing.

“So, Quinn, would you call this a clear win?”

He nodded.

She sat on the floor beside him and laid down her sword. “You knew the link between the old murders and Dean Starr. How did you know he was one of the killers? Did Sabra tell you, or did you tell her?”

“I didn’t send that letter to Riker.”

“I never said you did, Quinn. I know who sent that letter. I figured that one out a long time ago. How did Sabra know about Dean Starr’s connection?”

“Sabra surfaces now and then. When she turns up, I give her walking-around money and a place to stay. I keep an apartment for her-she keeps losing the key. But there are times when she seems fairly rational. She visits old haunts, old friends. For a while, she’s almost herself, almost sane. But then in a few days, she’s back wandering the streets again, looking for-”

“Answer the question! How did she know about Dean Starr?”

“I’m trying to tell you she doesn’t exist in a vacuum. She has sources in the art community. Koozeman has no idea how much the gallery boys hate him-they talk about him incessantly. So she was in Godd’s Bar one night and heard something strange, just snatches of conversations among the gallery staff. Sabra thought Starr might be blackmailing Koozeman. She asked me to find out more about it.”

“And did you?”

“Yes. It only cost me a few hundred per gallery boy to get all of it. It didn’t really sound like blackmail. Starr was only pressuring Koozeman to make him into a hot artist. Starr said he wanted to use the same scheme he used for Peter Ariel. I never heard Koozeman’s end of that conversation.”

“Is that all you told her?”

“That’s all there was to it.”

“She was crazy, you knew that. You just let her draw her own conclusions?”

“Well, they were the right conclusions, weren’t they? I gave her whatever she asked of me.”

“And then you went down to the morgue to view the remains of the jumper, the homeless woman who died in Times Square. You thought Sabra had killed Starr and then killed herself, right?”

He nodded.

“But now you believe your sister killed them both, don’t you? Starr and Koozeman?”

“We never discussed the murders.”

“How convenient. Was that on your attorney’s advice? Were you worried about conspiracy charges?”

“Mallory, I have an idea you know that feeling of nothing left to lose. So does Sabra. She can’t depend on the police to finish it for her, can she? Look at the way they-”

“Are you telling me she’s not done? There’s another one on her list? You son of a bitch! Who is it? Andrew Bliss? Did you give her Andrew as a murder suspect? I told you his pathetic little confession was nothing-”

“What does it matter? Andrew is well away from harm on the roof of Bloomingdale’s.”

“Your own mother could make it up to that roof. Anyone who wants him can get at him.”

“But you have people watching him, right?”

“Yes, from the distance of the next roof and a street. If she goes near him with a weapon, she’ll be shot down. I selected that assault rifle to make a big hole. She won’t survive.”

The rain shower had ended. Charles wiped the lenses of the binoculars and looked again. He believed he was watching a religious ceremony-a baptism or purification rite. Andrew had been on his knees in fervent prayer for a long time. Then he had removed all his clothes.

Now he was standing in a circle of candles and pouring champagne over his head, letting the liquid run over his naked body. Andrew looked up at the mangled staircase twisting away from the roof door. He turned and stared at the storm cellar door of the second exit. The ground door was more than half covered by steel beams and large wooden crates. Andrew put his shoulder to a crate and tried to move it. No luck. He slid to the ground and banged his fist on the door handle like a tired child begging to be let back into the house. The door fell away under his hand, opening downward to expose a square of dull light.

Charles focussed on the opening in the roof. So the heavy material blocking half the door had never been an impediment. Mallory had been right. All this time, anyone who wanted Andrew could have gotten at him by simply opening the door inward.

Andrew was climbing down the rungs of an interior ladder, disappearing through the square of light and below the level of the roof, wearing nothing, only carrying a cellular phone.

Charles was thinking of the cellular phone he had left behind on the coffee table by the sleeping Riker. How foolish. That was the one thing he should have brought with him. Well, at least Andrew was moving slowly. Charles’s own roof had more floors. He would have to hurry.

When Charles emerged on the ground floor, he ran across the street to the fire exit Mallory had diagrammed on her bulletin board. He looked around in all directions. Andrew had not yet emerged.

He began to turn around at the sound of a squeaking wheel, but he was not fast enough. He felt the blow to the back of his head, and he was falling to the sidewalk as Andrew exited by the fire door, setting off the alarm.

Riker awakened under the cover of a toasty quilt. He looked to the clock on the end table by the couch. He was slow to register the fact that he had overslept-and there was no one watching over Andrew Bliss. He sat bolt upright.


He knew there wouldn’t be a response. The apartment had an empty feel to it. He was alone.

Now he saw the sheet of paper on the coffee table. It was Charles’s note to say he had taken the tour of duty on the roof. But the rifle was still under the couch, and the cellular phone was lying on the table.

Charles would never make it as a cop.

Riker threw off the quilt, smashed the phone into his pocket and looked for his shoes. When his laces were tied, he put on some speed, gathering up his gun and the rifle and heading out the door.

The alarm for the department store continued to scream and wail. Cars drove by, drivers hazarding a quick look at the trio on the sidewalk and then driving on.

“Is he all right?” Quinn raised his voice to be heard above the alarm.

He knelt down beside Mallory as she ran her fingers over the back of Charles’s skull. Next she rolled the large man’s unconscious body onto his back and gently pulled back one eyelid. She moved her hand to create extremes of shadows and light. Satisfied with the reaction time of his pupils, she nodded. “He’ll be okay. It’s just a scalp wound. I’m guessing she came up behind him and hit him with a bottle.”

“You don’t know that Sabra did this.”

“I know Andrew didn’t do it. He couldn’t beat up a bouquet of flowers-not in the shape he’s in.”

She pulled out the antenna of her new cellular phone and punched in the number for Riker’s. “Riker? It’s Mallory… Yeah, I’m here now… How far away are you?… Fine.” Closing the antenna, she turned back to Quinn. “I want you to stay with Charles until Riker shows up.”

“Where are you going?”

“I’m going hunting for Sabra. His wound is fresh, so she can’t be far away.”

“If you take her in, you know what will happen to her. She’ll be a circus freak for the media. Just let her be. I promise you I’ll find her again, and I’ll find another hospital. She’s weak and sick, she can’t do any real damage.”

“She did Charles in rather nicely, didn’t she? I think you know exactly what she’s capable of.”

“You don’t know what she’s been through. You can’t. Aubry’s skull was split up the back. Her brains were falling out through the bone fragments. I watched Sabra trying to force the tissue back into Aubry’s skull. And then the back of it fell off, and it was all in her hands, a piece of the skull, the blood and the brains. She was trying to fix the skull when I pulled her away. She was trying to fix her dead child.”

“That’s why it took you so long to call it in. You took her to a safe, quiet place and then you went back.”

“Yes, you were right about everything.”

“You believe she killed Starr and Koozeman. And you gave her Andrew. You told her about that pathetic little rooftop confession-all the sins he ever committed before the age of twelve. But all that Sabra knows is that he confessed. Am I right? For all I know, Andrew is already dead. Now I’m going to get Sabra, and you’re not going to stop me.”

He pushed her into the doorway and blocked her escape with outstretched arms, palms pressed to the stone wall on either side of her. He was surprised to see the gun in her hand. It just appeared. He never saw her pull it from the holster, and now it was leveled at his heart.

“Get out of my way, Quinn.”

“No, you won’t fire that. The game field is all different now. Different rules and weapons. I’m unarmed, and you’re a police officer. I know you a little better now. You do have rules, Mallory, and I don’t think you’ll break them. You wouldn’t maim me with a sword when I was helpless, and you won’t shoot me now.”

Mallory shot him.

He was so startled by the explosion of sound and the sight of the blood, he never felt the butt end of the gun as she pistol-whipped him and sent him to the ground.

A naked man can walk unmolested down any street in New York City. It is a place where people rely on peripheral vision for the imminent dangers of day-to-day living. If no figure rushes at them in peripheral, then no one else exists. There should be no eye contact with lunatics; they all agree on this. When the eye of the New Yorker does fall upon an unfortunate whose mind is absent without leave, said New Yorker’s eye, in the interest of preserving the life of the body, will often fail to inform the brain so long as the lunatic remains on some outer periphery. Eye contact might draw the crazy closer. Eye contact, they tell their young, is to be avoided.

And so it was that Andrew crossed all the traffic lanes of wide streets without incident or interference. No homeward-bound commuter, no hack-bound cabdriver ever thought of pulling over to alert the authorities. So Andrew continued to walk north, wearing only a broken smile that tipped up on one side of his mouth and down on the other.

Two men, standing on a street corner, were speaking in heated, rapid Spanish. He passed by them without causing a lull in their conversation. Near Seventieth Street, he walked by a young woman who was debating the affordability of a cheeseburger. After he passed by, she decided, yeah, she might as well spend the money. An old woman carrying a bag of groceries came out of the deli on the corner of Lexington and had to make a detour around Andrew when he paused on the sidewalk. The woman’s mind only registered the darkness. She wanted to be off the street while it was still only a semi-savage hour.

The naked man walked on, stopped by no one, safe in the constant that a cop was never where a cop was needed.

The cellular phone beeped. He raised the antenna. “Hello?”

“Hello, Andrew.”

“Oh, Mallory.” She asked where he was, and he told her.

“Look out for a bag lady, Andrew. I’m on my way.”

Mallory was coming for him. He had not long to make his last act of atonement. He should hurry.

He crossed the street.

Charles heard the beeping noise and opened his eyes to focus on the burning ember of a cigarette dangling from the side of Riker’s mouth. The spinning cherry light of a police car was illuminating his immediate surroundings in revolving bright red flashes. It was clear that he was not in his own bed, but spread out on the concrete. Riker’s worried face was relaxing to a broad smile of relief.

“Riker, I think your phone is beeping.” Charles put one hand to the back of his head where it ached with dull, throbbing pain. When he tried to sit up, it hurt more. He lay back again, staring at the sky.

Riker was speaking into the phone. “Yeah?” He listened a moment and said to Charles, “It’s Mallory.” Into the phone he said, “Naw, Charles is fine. The other one’s still breathing too… Sure. No problem.”

Charles propped himself up on one elbow and looked down at Quinn’s prone body. He reached over and placed one finger on Quinn’s jugular. As he felt for the pulse, he was wondering if Riker might think it was rude of him to double-check on Quinn’s continuation among the living. Above the bloody wound on the man’s arm was the makeshift tourniquet, an Irish linen handkerchief with the initial M.

“Riker, did you call an ambulance?”

“What-for a little flesh wound like that? Naw, think of the paperwork. And Mallory would have to take another psych evaluation. It’s standard after a shooting. How many of those tests do you think she can take before the department finds out what they’ve really got here?”

“He has a big hole in his arm, Riker, and he’s losing blood.”

“Oh, I’ve seen a lot worse wounds than that one. She put the shot where she wanted it. That’s the least amount of damage it’s possible to do with a cannon like Mallory’s. And I’ve got twenty bucks says she didn’t even fracture his skull with the gun butt. Look at that scalp wound,” he said, turning Quinn’s head to the side and pointing at the cut as though offering up something to be admired. “See how low it is? She laid him out right. Her old man would’ve approved.”

“He’s not conscious, Riker. He needs medical attention, and right now.”

“When he gets to the hospital, they’ll file the mandatory report for a gunshot wound. No way you can pass that off as an accident with a knitting needle. If he mentions that a cop shot him, we’ll be going round and round with the paperwork and the newspapers for weeks. Quinn’s not gonna like that any better than we will. We’d have to nail him with obstruction charges to cover for Mallory, and her career would still go down the tubes. It’s just not a real good idea, Charles.”

“He’s right,” said Quinn. His eyes were not yet open as one hand was going to the base of his skull where Mallory had kissed him with the butt of her gun. “I’m sure we can manage without the ambulance.”

“You need a doctor.”

“But I don’t need the media circus. And then there’s Mallory to consider.”

Riker gave him the thumbs-up sign. “You’re a good sport, Quinn.”

Now Charles realized that he and Jamie Quinn had a great deal more in common than fencing. First she shot him, and now Quinn would rather bleed to death than damage her in any way. And Riker was right. She would not go on with her career after shooting a prominent art critic. It would not play well in the newspapers or the commissioner’s office.

“Jamie, you still need medical attention. There’s a doctor in my building who could patch that up in a hurry.” He watched Quinn’s face go slack again, fading out of consciousness.

Riker stood up and signaled to a uniformed officer leaning against a police car. “Charles. That kid’ll take you wherever you like. So I can tell Mallory we’re bypassing channels on the shoot, right?”


Riker held up his phone. “You need this?”

“Yes. Thanks.” Charles took the phone, and Riker stood up and walked to the car to speak to the young uniformed officer.

Quinn was back among them again, his eyes opening as he struggled to raise himself on one arm. “Charles, we’ll have to come up with a plausible story for your doctor friend.”

“Oh, I don’t think it will be much of a problem. Henrietta will understand.”

“According to Riker, she’s bound by law to report the bullet wound. It’s highly unlikely she’d risk her license for neglecting that bit of paperwork.”

“We’ll see.” Charles picked up Riker’s cellular phone and punched in a number. “Henrietta? It’s Charles… Fine, thank you. I’ve got a slight problem, an emergency really, with a bit of blood. Do you have your medical bag handy?… Good. Could I drop by in a few minutes?”

The doorman recognized Andrew Bliss immediately. He also recognized that Mr. Bliss was stark naked but for the telephone clutched in one hand. He wondered if he was expected to do something about that. He only had fifteen minutes to go before his shift was over, and so he elected to assume that Mr. Bliss was a mugging victim on his way to visit the friend who lived nearest to the scene of the crime, possibly seeking comfort and clothing.

Yes, that was a reasonable assumption.

And since Mr. Bliss had brought his own telephone, the doorman felt relieved of any necessity of making a police report. Now Mr. Bliss was entering the elevator, the doors sliding shut behind him. The doorman’s problem was out of sight, and therefore it did not exist.

However, when his gaze fell on the bag lady, that was another story. He knew his duty now, and he quickly shot out one arm, palm to her face, to block her way without the necessity of actually touching her and possibly contracting the dreaded head lice which New Yorkers feared more than AIDS. He was quite sure the old hag would get the message via his angry scowl and the flat of his palm. These people were only lazy, not stupid.

The motion was so quick. He saw the flash of light on metal, and then his white-gloved hand was a bloody rag of ripped cloth and flesh. The woman passed by him, entering the stairwell, as he sank to the floor with the shock of seeing the white bones of his hand exposed to the light.

“Andrew, you smell.” This was Emma Sue Hollaran’s first observation when she opened the door to him. He walked past her and entered the apartment in the manner of a sleepwalker. She waved the air between them to chase the odor away. Then she walked over to the French windows. “Andrew, let’s go out on the terrace, all right?”

He nodded, following docilely behind her as she opened the doors and preceded him into the night air. The deep cover of potted trees gave them privacy from the windows of the building across the way, but a scattering of small, bright eyes looked down on them from the sky.

“There has to be a confession,” he said, “and an Act of Contrition.”

“So you knew.”

His head tilted to one side, and his face gave the impression that some part of his mind might have tumbled out of his head. “Of course I knew. How could I not-”

“Have you discussed this with anyone?”

“No. Emma Sue, you must listen. I don’t know how much time we have. The confession is very important. I don’t want you to die with a stain on your soul.” His face turned up to the sky, and he was suddenly preoccupied with the stars. The clouds were parting to clear a wider space in the heavens so more of them could watch.

“Now don’t excite yourself, Andrew. If it will make you happy, I’ll confess, all right? But you know, I wouldn’t have killed Dean if he hadn’t been so greedy.”

Andrew was moving his head from side to side, as though that would help. What was she saying? How could-

“Dean was starting the old scam all over again with Koozeman.” She walked to the French windows and turned back to face him. “You know those tickets were Koozeman’s concept, not Dean’s. I think it was his idea of a joke. He couldn’t believe that people would buy them. Could you move back just a little, dear?”

She pressed on his chest to gently push him farther into the cover of the trees. “I didn’t want any part of it. Too risky.”

Emma Sue bent down to a large ceramic planter and began to root around in the dirt. ‘ “That little bastard Dean threatened me. He was still a junkie, you know. All junkies are dangerous. You can’t trust them. Then Koozeman figured it out. He read the article about the long pick.”

She pulled an ice pick from the pot and shook the dirt off its gold handle. “It is unusually long, isn’t it? Do you remember this, dear?” She held it up to Andrew’s passive face. “No? Well, Koozeman did. He asked me if I was still chipping ice with the murder weapon.”

Wiping the rest of the dirt off the pick with the hem of her dress, she polished the gold handle till it shone. “Then that pig Koozeman said I’d have to go along with the scam for a second showing of the tickets. He needed to make his profit fast.”

She held the pick up to the light of the door, and nodded in satisfaction with her cleaning job. “I think he was planning on leaving the country. He was going to have problems unloading those stupid tickets, and he needed me to prime the pump with publicity and a list of new suckers. I told him he couldn’t blackmail me. He was part of the original crime, wasn’t he? He laughed at me. Said that line hadn’t worked when he tried it on Dean. But Dean was only threatening to expose Koozeman’s list of clients in the ghoul market. Koozeman said, in my case, he could supply the police with physical evidence. Then, at the gallery, he pointed out a cop, a blond cop in a black silk dress.”

Emma Sue held the long ice pick out to Andrew. He only stared at it. She picked up one of his limp hands and closed his fingers over its handle. “Just hold on to that for a minute, Andrew. I’ll be right back.”

She disappeared from the terrace and reappeared a moment later. He looked at the gun in her hand, and then dropped the ice pick to the stone tiles of the terrace. It rolled to a rest at Emma Sue’s feet.

“Pick it up, dear.” She kicked it back to him. “Oh, do pick it up, Andrew. I really want to give you a sporting chance. Think you can beat a bullet? Want to give it a try?”

“You killed Starr and Koozeman?” He said this slowly, as though trying to make sense of a foreign tongue.

“Yes, dear. And it was just a matter of time before I got around to you. Ah, but now you’ve come to me.”

“Why did you have to-? No, wait. Perhaps it wouldn’t be proper for me to hear any more of your confession. We’ll wait till she comes.”

Emma Sue put up the barrel of the gun for a moment. “Who’s coming, Andrew?”

“An angel. She’ll hear your confession. But while we’re waiting for her, we could pray together and ask for forgiveness.” He sank down to his knees.

“No, Andrew. It’s really better if you stand. The police can be such sticklers for details. I don’t want to have to think up a scenario for shooting a man on his knees. Now take the ice pick and stand up.”

Andrew only bowed his head and clasped his hands together in prayer.

“Oh, well, a little improvisation.” She knelt down in front of him and leveled the gun at his chest. “The reporters have gotten bored with you, haven’t they? But you had enough time to make your voice heard. It was very considerate of you to demonstrate your insanity to the whole world. When they find your prints on the pick, I think I’ll have a credible case for self-defense.”

“How can you do this?” There was no panic in his voice. He felt very calm. He was trusting in a higher power-Mallory.

“You were always the weak sister, Andrew. Koozeman even mentioned that. And now you’re just not dependable anymore. You’re the last witness.”

Mallory found the doorman slumped to the floor just inside the glass door and cradling his bloodied hand. A woman with a grocery bag was kneeling beside him, only staring at the wound, making no move to actually help the man.

Mallory bent over the doorman. “Who did this to you?”

There was no response. He seemed utterly fascinated by his own blood. She looked closely at the hand.

A knife wound. Not a pick.

She hovered over the woman, who only now noticed the large gun in Mallory’s hand. “Did you call for an ambulance?”

“No, I didn’t.” The woman’s eyes were panic-round and full of the gun. “I’m not good at emergencies.”

“Call nine-one-one and tell them an officer needs backup and an ambulance. Do you understand?”

The woman nodded, and Mallory tossed her the cellular phone. “Plan on being here awhile. The response time for the ambulance is the pits, even in this neighborhood.” Mallory stopped to consult the mailboxes, then passed up the elevator and took the stairs at a dead run.

Andrew lifted his head to the sky. The field of stars was fading. He watched the slow creep of cloud cover blotting them out one by one. The gun barrel was rising. He stretched out his arms in the posture of supplication, and his head lolled back as he waited for death.

He heard the first shot, his eyes closed tightly, but he never felt the bullet. Then a second shot. And still he remained alive. When he opened his eyes, Emma Sue Hollaran was lying at his feet, hands stretching up to ward off the dark creature. The knife point was glinting in the light, the handle clutched tight in the fist of a woman in rags.

There were two bloody holes in this strange woman, this apparition from hell, and small rivers of blood pouring out of her. So she had taken Emma Sue’s bullets and Emma Sue had received this woman’s knife into her own body. Now the blood of the old hag merged into the blood of Emma Sue Hollaran, as the woman brought the blade down again and again. And all the while, someone was pounding on the door.

Behind him he heard the explosion of another gunshot. He turned to see the splintered wood of the door just before it flew open. The Angel Mallory with her avenging revolver was coming toward him with long strides.

His knees and his feet were wet with blood from the body of Emma Sue. He looked down at the eyes of a stunned animal, throat slashed. Her screams were gurgles as she strangled in her own blood. Just like Aubry.

The angel called out, “Sabra, stop!”


Was it possible? Yes, it was she, a dark animalistic form, rags flapping like bloody wings, bending over the body, cutting up the meat. Emma Sue’s hair had blended from brassy blond waves to bloody ropes that curled like snakes with each thrust of the knife, until the eyes of the Medusa head rolled up to expose solid whites.

Sabra bent low to look into Andrew’s eyes with all the hate in the world. Her knife raised up again. And the Angel Mallory raised her gun and yelled, “No!”

The two women stared at one another above his kneeling body.

“You don’t understand,” said Sabra, as she retreated a few steps.

“Everyone tells me that, and I’m getting damned sick of it,” said Mallory. “I understand revenge-I understand obsession. I’ve understood these things for a long, long time.”

Sabra looked down at Andrew’s sorry face, raising her knife, not heeding the gun Mallory leveled at her head, but only advancing on her next target-himself. He bowed his head. He was ready.

Mallory lowered the gun barrel and moved her own body between Sabra and Andrew. One hand flashed out, and she was holding Sabra’s knife hand by the wrist. Something close to perfect understanding passed between them. Mallory released her grip on Sabra’s bloody wrist, and the woman backed away from her, nodding. Mallory inclined her head in homage to the pain and rage in the older woman’s eyes. She stared into Sabra’s face as though it were a looking glass, a view into the madness of long-unfinished business, obsession without end.

“Andrew’s not a killer. Trust me to know my killers, Sabra. It’s my gift. Your brother told you about the letter that came to us with Andrew’s review?”

She nodded, and Mallory went on. “Andrew wanted the truth to come out. That’s why he wrote that letter. He wanted everyone to know. And now you have to let him live so he can tell the story. The story is important. It’s the end of unfinished business. It’s what you’ve wanted all these years. Let Andrew tell it. How could you live without hearing it? I couldn’t.”

Sabra sat down on the terrace flagstones.

Mallory looked at the blood on her hands. It was Sabra’s blood, streaming from the holes in her body. The gun in Emma Sue’s frozen grip was a.22. Still, the shots were well placed. What kept this woman going she did not know, unless it was this, the end of the story.

“I believe you, all right? I’m sure Dr. Ramsharan is a very decent person.”

Quinn had always genuinely liked Charles Butler. But early on, he had realized that this charming man didn’t live on the same planet with the rest of them. On Charles’s homeworld, people were all good neighbors and exceedingly kind to strangers. The lions all lay down with the lambs, and discord was restricted to the screams of fresh-cut flowers. He wondered how Charles’s ideal world fared in tandem with this stroll down the hall in the company of a man who was dripping blood on the carpet.

As they waited for the elevator, Quinn was saying, “We should agree on a story for the doctor. We’ll tell her I had an accident while I was showing you my gun collection.”

“Do you have a gun collection?”

“No, but it doesn’t- Oh, I see your point. Best not to clutter it up with unnecessary lies. We’ll say I slipped on a scatter rug while holding a gun. Now that’s reasonable. Most New Yorkers have at least one gun.”

“Do you have one?”

“Yes, everybody has one.”

“I don’t. And you were showing it to me? Henrietta knows I don’t care for the sight of guns. So it’s hardly likely that-”

“All right. I was removing the gun from my desk drawer to get at something beneath the gun.”

They stepped into the elevator, and Quinn slumped against the back wall, leaving a bloodstain there. As Charles pushed the button for the third floor, the large man’s face gave away his deep concern.

Quinn closed his eyes. So tired. His left hand was slick with the blood which leaked from the hole in his arm. His eyes opened again at the prompt of a gentle tug on the sleeve of his good arm.

“Now about the scatter rug behind the desk,” said Charles. “Odd place for a rug, isn’t it? And wouldn’t the desk chair tend to keep the rug from slipping around?”

“All right. I was removing the gun from the drawer of a table-which has a scatter rug in front of it.”

“Bit clumsy slipping on the rug that way. And do you usually keep loaded guns about?”

“So I’ll admit to being slightly drunk and inexperienced with firearms.” So tired. Not thinking straight, not straight at all. “Now you’ll swear you were there and witnessed the whole thing. That might persuade her not to file a report. But if she still insists on it, I can always buy her off. You can buy anyone in New York City. Remember, Mallory’s name shouldn’t enter the conversation.”

He had the idea that Charles was not listening to his instructions. The soft-spoken giant seemed somewhat distracted as they emerged from the elevator and walked toward the door of apartment 3A.

“Charles, perhaps you’d better let me handle it from here on. Somehow, I don’t think guile is your forte.”

Charles smiled gently as he nodded and pressed the doorbell. When the door was opened by a dark-haired woman in a long white robe, he pointed to Quinn’s bloody arm, saying, “Mallory shot him, and we want to hush it up, all right?”

“Yes, of course,” said the woman. “Come in.”

Quinn lurched forward. His last thought before he fainted was that this woman must hail from Charles Butler’s planet, for she opened her arms wide to receive his falling body and to stain her robe with the blood of a stranger.

“No one murdered Peter Ariel,” said Andrew, as he began his story in a monotone. “He was stoned on drugs and very clumsy. I was there when the artwork fell on top of him. He was killed instantly. Koozeman was furious. All that planning and promotion for nothing. He’d done such a brilliant job launching this career, despite the lack of talent. He had Emma Sue and myself as the critics to promote Peter in newspapers. Dean Starr doubled as a critic and a publicist. That’s all his art magazine ever was, you know, a public relations plug for artists who were willing to pay for their reviews. But then it was all for nothing. The artist was killed by his own work, a potential joke of the art world.

“By the time Emma Sue arrived, Dean had come up with the idea to make it look like murder, to sensationalize the death and try to salvage something from sales of the artwork. Well, what was the harm in that? Peter Ariel was already dead. We’d pooled a lot of money to grease a lot of hands-editors of art magazines, and a promised slot in a museum group show. It was a major investment for all of us.”

He fell silent for a moment, losing the threads to this ramble. Mallory touched his shoulder and asked, “Was it Koozeman’s idea to butcher the body and work it into the sculpture?”

“Yes, Koozeman’s idea… Starr loved the concept and so did Emma Sue. All they had to work with was the fire axe from the box with the extinguisher. They underestimated the time it would take to cut up the body parts. All three of them took off their clothes and went to work. I stood by the door to keep watch. It was hard work, cutting up a body with that small axe, but once they got into the rhythm of it, it went much faster. My job was to call out if anything untoward happened-say if Quinn showed early. Had we left him a message then? I can’t remember. If anything happened, if anyone came, I was to call out and give them time to get through the door in the wall. I had no blood on me. I would say I’d just discovered the body. We’d thought of everything, almost everything.

“I could hear what they were doing in the room behind me. There was no door I could close. The noise was as sickening as the stench. Once, I turned around. It was an incredible sight, the three of them, naked and bloody, working over the body.

“It was then, while my back was turned, that Aubry came in. I swear I believed I had locked that door. But I was drunk that night-I’ve been drunk every night since. Aubry shouldn’t have been there. We’d left a message to send her to New Jersey. It was so incredible that she should show up at the gallery. It was the last thing we expected. We’d only meant to use her name to bait Quinn into coming. We needed him, his name linked to Peter Ariel in the press. Koozeman said Quinn would not be able to resist a comment on the artwork of the butchered body. You see, Koozeman had been a promising sculptor once, and now he was determined that this was to be the best piece of work he’d ever done. But now here was Aubry, and the whole thing was coming undone.

“I tried to stop her-to turn her around before she could see. ‘Don’t go in there,’ I said. She misunderstood. We’d left a message to say it was an emergency. She thought something had happened to her uncle. I couldn’t stop her. She ran into the room. And then she stopped, frozen. Koozeman was just turning around, naked and holding the head of Peter Ariel in his hands. Aubry turned to run. Emma Sue screamed, ‘Stop her!’ I did stop her, I was even trying to explain when Dean Starr dragged her back into the room. Emma Sue was already running across the floor. She brought the axe down on Aubry.

“No one had expected that to happen. Emma Sue did it again, and again. The others stood back, and I turned away. Aubry was screaming to me to help her. I’d known her since she was a little girl. We were friends, you see. And now she was bleeding, dying, and she was asking me for help. I turned my back. Then, all I could hear was the gurgling. I closed my eyes. It went on for a long time.”

And now he put his hands over his eyes as if it were all happening again. “She would not die. I listened to the sounds of the axe, the scrabbling on the floor. She was crawling back toward the door. Her hand was within an inch of me when I turned to see Emma Sue strike the final blow to the back of her skull.” His hands fell away from his eyes. “That ended it.”

He turned to Sabra. “Then the others made the pact. They were all involved now and there was no way out. They each took the axe and made a cut in her body. And then they came for me. They forced me to take the axe. Starr pressed my hands around it and dragged it across her throat.

“They sent me back to the window. Quinn was due, but Koozeman, that crazy man, he was intent on his work of art. Starr and Emma Sue left the gallery. I stayed by the window, crying, waiting for it to be over. When Koozeman was done with them, he forced me to look at what he had done with the bodies.”

Andrew looked at Sabra. “Well, you saw what he did. You were there. When Koozeman had cleaned himself up and put on his clothes, he dragged me through the door in the wall. You and your brother were just coming in as we were leaving.”

He bowed his head. “I remember you wore that fabulous multicolored coat. I saw you as the door was closing. You looked so much like Aubry. Koozeman watched you and your brother through the pinhole. He couldn’t resist. He wanted to see how his work would be received. You were to be his first critics. I left by the back door. I ran all the way home.”

When the story was done, Sabra rose and walked to the back of the terrace where the fire escape ladder cropped up from the low wall. She reached out to the curled rail of the ladder.

Mallory lifted her gun. “I can’t let you go.”

“I don’t think I’ll get far, but I don’t want to end here.” Sabra lifted her head. “You understand?”

Mallory nodded. “But I can’t-”

Sabra walked back to her. She brought her face close to Mallory’s and kissed her cheek. “Yes, yes you can.” Then Sabra returned to the low wall at the edge of the terrace and lowered herself over the side and down the rungs of the fire escape.

Mallory walked to the ladder and watched the descent. Sabra climbed down slowly; blood smeared the handholds and dripped to the rungs below her feet. She slipped and lost one foothold and then the other. She hung there for a moment, and then she was falling, screaming out as she fell past all the dark windows. She landed on a large metal trash bin parked below. She lay spread-eagled among the garbage, her head twisted at an unnatural angle.

An ambulance was parked outside the apartment building. The screaming sirens of two police units pulled up alongside of Riker’s car, all their spinning cherry lights flashing codes of fear and urgency to all the civilians hanging from open windows and clustering on the sidewalk. The young uniformed officers moved quickly out of their cars and into the building, guns drawn. As Riker left his own car, he heard the scream. It came from the alley to one side of the building. He ran into the narrow breach between the brick walls.

An old woman was spread out on the trash, which was piled high and overflowing the large metal bin. He didn’t need to reach out and touch her to know that she was dead. He stepped back and looked up to see Mallory leaning far out over the ledge of a terrace.

“No!” she yelled, as though ordering him to undo this death.

He held his breath as she swung her long legs over the side of the building and hung for a moment in the air, trying to gain a foothold on the slippery ladder, descending now to the fire escape. She skimmed the stairs with her running shoes, moving with fluid speed down the zigzag of the ironwork. When she was level with the trash bin she jumped from the fire escape and landed on her feet beside the body of the old woman.

“She’s gone, kid,” said Riker, as she knelt down beside the corpse. “I’ll put in a call for the meatwagon.”

Mallory eased herself off the trash bin, her running shoes slapping hard against the cement. She reached over the rim of the bin and tugged at the body.

“Hold it, Mallory. The meatwagon will take her.”

“No! Not like this.” She pulled Sabra’s body into a slide, passing it down the rubble of ripped plastic bags, eggshells and coffee grounds. She received the dead woman into her arms, and stood there for a moment, holding this ragged burden as though it weighed nothing. Then, slowly, so gently, Mallory laid the body down, taking great care in settling the corpse to the ground, as though afraid of causing the dead woman any more pain.

The alley was protected from the flashing lights, the noise and energy of the street. No wind blew here, no dust stirred as Mallory arranged the body in the pose of sleep.

“I’m sorry,” she said to the dead woman, as her hand moved across the face to close Sabra’s eyes. She folded the rag doll arms across the breast. “I’m sorry.”

Riker watched Mallory at her ministrations, gentle as a mother with a child. Deep inside of him, permanent damage was being done as the roles reversed again, and he watched the child bending down to the mother to kiss her brow and say good night.

When Mallory stood up and moved toward him, there was no emotion in her face, and that frightened him. He reached out to catch her arm as she stalked past him. She shook him off and continued down the alley toward the street. He watched her retreat for a moment, then looked back to the corpse on the ground. Caught in that sad middleground between the living and the dead, he didn’t know his own place in the world anymore, but thought he might have overstayed his life.

The first thing Riker noticed about his apartment was the smell of fresh air which had displaced the stale odors of garbage and ashtrays filled to overflowing.

He turned on the light and blinked twice. He had forgotten the color of the braided area rug in the living room. Gone was the litter of pizza boxes and old newspapers which had once protected it from dust. And he could see city lights beyond the window glass for the first time in the ten years he had lived in this apartment. The two-years-dead houseplant had been replaced with a live one.

He moved on to the bathroom. Everything was in order, every fixture sparkled and the porcelain gleamed. He pulled back the shower curtain. The garden of fungus no longer grew on the tiles of the stall.

Oddly enough, she had not made good on her threat to toss out the plastic Jesus night-light. She had only cleaned it, and now it glowed even brighter. Perhaps she thought he might need guidance in the dark hours when his drunk’s bladder awakened him.

It was predictable that the kitchen would be spotless, but inside the refrigerator all his beer bottles were upright glass soldiers, standing in formation. He pulled out one cold bottle and wandered into the bedroom.

He opened the drawer by his bed to see each thing perfectly aligned and all debris cleared away. In the back of the drawer was the small yellowed envelope with his wedding ring and the rainy day bullet with his name on it. He picked up the envelope, hefted it in one hand and found it was light by a few ounces. He crushed the paper in a tight fist and felt only the hard substance of the ring.

Mallory. She had stolen the bullet.

He sat down on the bed, popped the cap off his beer bottle, lit a cigarette and decided to live.

“When will you people ever learn to lock your doors? This is New York City.”

Charles looked up as Mallory cleared the foyer of Henrietta’s apartment and entered the front room.

Oh, God, no.

There was blood on her face and the front of her T-shirt, and smears on the arms of her blazer. He was rising from his chair when she raised one hand to stay him. “Charles, it’s not my blood. Sit down.” He did as he was told.

Mallory in bloodstains and blue jeans was so at odds with delicate flowers in crystal vases, small pieces of sculpture and rose-colored afghans-all the ultrafeminine trappings of Henrietta’s front room. Mallory slung the fencing bag on the floor and knelt beside it to remove the antique sabers. He had not missed them all day.

“Thanks for the loan, Charles.”

The loan? You stole them.

“Mallory!” Henrietta was standing in the hallway, her face in shock.

“It’s not my blood,” said Mallory, weary of having to explain this simple fact to everyone.

Henrietta came into the room as the swords were pulled from the long leather bag. “Well, that explains a lot.” She walked over to the couch where Quinn lay in his bandages, a blanket and a deep sleep.

“Quinn didn’t tell you about the fencing match?”

“No. I did ask him about the cuts while I was stitching him up, but he wouldn’t talk. I told him he was going to have some scars, and he didn’t seem to mind that at all. I think he was almost pleased with them. Men,” said Henrietta, as though that word encompassed the explanation for every flaw of his gender.

Charles wondered what word she might choose to explain Mallory. No doubt it would be a long word with a psychiatric subtext.

Henrietta was holding Quinn’s wrist and looking at her watch, timing the pulse.

“Will he be all right?” Mallory might have been asking if Henrietta thought it would rain.

“He’s lost a lot of blood,” said Henrietta, “but he’ll be fine in the morning. I pumped him up with antibiotics and gave him a strong sedative. He’ll sleep for at least another six hours. I’ll take good care of him.” Henrietta handed Mallory a wet cloth which had been intended for Quinn’s brow.

“Thanks.” Mallory rose to her feet, and now Charles could see the day had taken a toll on her. She was tired, and moving sluggishly as she wiped the blood from her face.

“I have to change clothes, and then I’ve still got lots to do before the night is over. When Quinn comes to, tell him I was there when Sabra died. Tell him she finally got what she wanted. That’ll be important to him.”

“Oh, no,” said Henrietta, sinking down to the armchair beside the couch. Charles covered his eyes with one hand.

“Don’t worry,” said Mallory. “Quinn will take it very well. He’s been expecting it.” She walked over to Charles’s chair and lightly touched his hand to bring it down so she could see his face. “I know how much you cared about Sabra. But the only thing that was keeping her alive was unfinished business-she saw it through, and then she died. It wasn’t the worst death.”

“Why don’t you rest awhile? I’ll get us some coffee.” Henrietta took the bloody cloth from Mallory’s hand and turned toward the kitchen.

“Nothing for me, thanks,” Mallory called after her. “I have to go.”

No, don’t leave.

Mallory was moving into the foyer, and then she stopped, seeming to hover there with an afterthought. She turned to catch Charles staring at her.

Stay. Please stay.

She walked slowly back to him and stood before his chair, and closer now to stand between his parted legs. She leaned down, placing one white hand on each arm of the chair. Closer. He could feel her breath on his skin, and the delicate feathering touch of her hair, which smelled of some exotic flower that never grew in New York City. Closer now, her eyes growing larger, flooding his field of vision and coloring it green. She pressed her mouth to his, gently, softly, her lips opening to him as she fed him a paralyzing current of electricity and flooded his body with heat and butterflies. And now, pressing into him, she was waking the last of his senses-he could taste her.

She pulled back, startled. In the flicker and widening of her eyes-a flash of discovery-Mallory had finally been taken by surprise.

And then she was going away from him again, moving swiftly to the door, saying, “Goodbye, Charles.”

He sat very still, listening to the sound of the door closing behind her.

Goodbye? Not good night?

She was precise with her words, not liking to waste them.


He left his chair and walked to the window. He parted the curtains and watched the dark street below until she appeared there, crossing the paving stones, making a long shadow by lamplight. He leaned his forehead against the cool glass as he watched her enter the small tan car and drive off down the street. Behind his back, he heard slippered footsteps and the sound of a cup settling to the coffee table. Without turning, he said to Henrietta, “She won’t be back. It’s over.”

“What’s over, Charles? You never told her what was going on.”

“Well, how could I? She thinks of me as an old friend of the family. It would put her in an awkward situation. Don’t you see? It would be an imposition.”

“That’s not a word in Mallory’s vocabulary. I wouldn’t worry about good manners, Charles.”

“I can’t. I’m afraid she’d-”

“Now there’s the key word. That young woman walks around in bloodstains, and look at you-you’re afraid of an imposition. I think civilized behavior is overrated.”

The only one to see her enter the church was a cat which had crept in with another parishioner and hidden itself away in the alcove, resting on the vaulted relic of a saint. Now the cat, in haste to hide itself a little better, knocked over a candlestick and startled a man in the pews.

His lined, pale face, roused from prayers, turned round. The old priest rose from the pew and stood in silence by a column, covertly watching a young woman with lustrous golden hair and a dark stain on her hand. She lit a candle to the patron saint of lost causes.

The lamb had come back.

With a shuffle of slippers on stone, he walked around the column and into the light. “Kathy?”

“Father, you’re up late.” She never turned away from the candles, lighting one after another.

“There’s something I have to know. About your mother-”

“I made it up.” She raised her eyes to the statue above the flames.

“I don’t believe you.” He reached out and touched her shoulder.

Now she did turn to face him, to shake off his hand. “It was another woman who was murdered. So what? It was a beautiful mass. My compliments, Father.”

“You lied?” He shook his head in disbelief. “You could lie about a thing like that? So your own mother-”

“Who knows? I don’t remember her.”

She averted her eyes and moved away from him. He walked toward her, and quickly, to close the space between them. “Are you lying to me now?”

Mallory turned her cold eyes on the priest, and then turned her back. As she was walking toward the great doors and the night, the old man called after her, “Where are you going?”

“I’m going home.”

“Did you pay for those candles?” One white, gnarled hand emerged from the folds of his black woolen shawl and pointed at Mallory’s retreating back. “You haven’t forgotten the poor box, have you, Kathy?”

“That’s Mallory to you.” She kept walking, saying, “And no, I didn’t forget to pay the poor box. Now I suppose you’ll want to check the serial numbers on my bills.” With that, she was gone through the studded oak doors, her form fading into shadow, all but the gleam of bright hair, and then that gleam winked out in the dark.

Father Brenner’s hand hung in the air for a moment, and then quickly delved back into the folds of his shawl as though he were pocketing a soul.

Charles cased Mallory’s apartment house with the eye of a burglar-in-training. He approached the doorman with a twenty-dollar bill and a story about leaving an envelope under her door. He rode the elevator to the roof and exited by the fire door, coming out onto a clear night of shimmering city lights and the moon-bright slick of the Hudson River. He could smell the salt air, and he felt exhilarated.

The wind was on his face as he crossed over to the roof of the adjacent building and climbed down a fire escape ladder, a remnant from the old days before Mallory’s building had been joined with this wall to create a common air shaft.

Now he was level with a window on the opposite wall and looking into Mallory’s front room. Her apartment was a fortress. Only this window was not barred, the only portal inaccessible from the outside of the building by fire escape or terrace. It was a great expanse of glass from ceiling to floor.

He pulled a chunk of concrete from the depths of his coat pocket and hurled it at the window with all his strength. The plate glass broke into a million tiny pieces. When the violence of shattering glass had dissipated into a tinkling rain, he was staring at an enormous, jagged hole-and he was quite proud of it. His eyes adjusted to the dark beyond the window frame. He could see his missile lying amid the wreckage of a glass coffee table.

Better and better.

The alarm went off in a shriek of outrage.

Better still.

And it shrieked after him as he ascended the ladder to the roof door and made his escape.

She would find his message among the shards of glass when she returned home. The rock had a bit of paper wrapped round it and tied securely with a shoelace. His note bore that simple timeworn thing which he had found no way to improve upon: I love you.

And then the gentle man, unaccustomed to violence, unlawful trespass and destruction of private property, was exhausted from having done all of this. He walked homeward, slowly, hands in his pockets. She had broken his heart; he had broken her window. It was a break-even day.

CHAPTER 8 | Killing Critics | EPILOGUE