All around the frenetic circus of Times Square, car lights blinked and traffic lights glared. Above the din of horns and shouted obscenities, neon signs flashed and clashed with messages on every surface that was for sale. The wraparound sign on the old Times Building sent headlines in a band of bright letters running around the facade. Mounted over the running words was a giant motion picture screen with an ever changing array of full-color commercials.
At street level, less electrifying messages rode the backs of men with sandwich board signs. Pedestrians moved in quick streams of intricate traffic patterns, flying through the rush hour, dodging those who moved into their path to hand them bright-colored ads for local stores. The beggars also worked this fast-paced stream, moving along with their marks to flash broad smiles and holler pitches for spare coins. And on every corner, there was a great war of odors from the street vendors’ carts, as pretzels battled with roasted animal parts.
Only two people, a man and a woman, were not in motion, and the whole world moved around them.
The woman stood near the curb, flashing white teeth and large breasts. Both her profession and her unnatural shade of red hair fit well with the advertising atmosphere. “Care to dance?” she called to every passing stranger. And then her eye fell on the elegant lone figure in the expensive suit.
With a predatory stare, she watched this man from the distance of a few squares of the sidewalk. He didn’t belong here. She checked the length of the curb for the limousine that should accompany such a man, but there was none in sight.
He was staring up at the roof of the building across the street. Only this afternoon, a derelict had hovered at the edge of that roof. And then, the ragbag had spread her skinny arms on the wind and sailed off the high brick wall. So like a bird she was, even as she fell, and caused no more than a brief interruption in the flow of the square, only the time it had taken to improvise the foot traffic around the body and over it, and some had trodden on it. But to compensate for that indignity, the dead woman had received two minutes of fame on the evening news.
Now the man in the expensive suit seemed fixated on that same ledge. The woman strolled over to him and lightly touched his sleeve to call his attention back to the earth, to her.
“Sugar, if you’re waitin‘ on another jumper, I’d say you’ve got some time to kill.” She rolled her shoulders back and thrust her breasts out in a none too subtle offering.
“Thank you.” He inclined his head, and she knew if he’d had a hat he would have tipped it. “But I’m afraid I have an appointment,” he said, addressing her as a lady and not a whore.
His dark hair was threaded with silver, and his moustache did not quite conceal the line of a faded scar. The scar made him look a little dangerous, and she liked that. And there was something about his mouth that would make any woman wonder what it might be like to sleep with him. She was wasting her time here, and she knew it. Yet she lingered awhile. Perhaps it was the challenge of those eyes hooded in shadow.
She came closer.
The beams of a turning car flashed on his face, flushing out the shadows with brilliant light. And now, though it was spring and the evening was mild, she wrapped herself in her own arms. Her sudden shiver was not caused by any expression of his intentions, for surely he had been born with those eyes.
Imagine a baby with eyes like that.
Obediently, her imagination conjured up the face of an infant with alien irises the color of blue frozen water, and with black pupils like onrushing missiles.
Well, ain’t that cold?
She looked up to the man with another question in her thoughts. Did your mama shiver when she suckled you?
In a burst of intuition, the woman, who truly understood men, realized that this man’s entire life had been shaped by his eyes, which could not convey any semblance of humanity-only bullets and ice.
She forgot the pitch to sell her body. In silence, she stepped back and watched as he turned away from her and entered the Gulag. The restaurant’s glass door swung shut behind him.
The Gulag was brightly lit to obliterate any trace of ambiance which might induce the patrons to linger over their food. Eat and get out! said the overhead fluorescent lights. The strong aroma of coffee dominated the single room, riding over the stale odors of bygone meals.
J. L. Quinn threaded his way through tables of tired conversations and the quiet islands of solitary book readers. A cockroach ran for its life across the cracked linoleum in advance of the man’s handmade shoes. Quinn sat down at his regular table, a small square of Formica in company with two plastic chairs.
Few people knew that he frequented this place. Those few had often pressed him with variations of “Why in God’s name would you eat in a hole like that?” The famed art critic always responded with high praise for the cheeseburgers. This from a man who had authored four books on fine art, whose suits were tailored by maestros, and whose moustache never trapped crumbs.
He glanced at his watch. Detective Sergeant Riker would be arriving soon. Riker’s urgent business could only be the recent murder of that hack artist-and this made him smile. The police department was so right to suspect an art critic. In his youth, Quinn had taken a postulant’s vow to kill off bad art before it could spread.
Near his table at the back of the room, a long countertop bore the ravages of the last shift of rush hour in the deserted dishes and crumpled napkins. The two men seated on counter stools were not regulars, and unlike the other patrons, they eyed him with grave suspicion. In unison, they bulked up their shoulders to make themselves larger than they were. By the warehouse logos on their T-shirts, Quinn guessed their vocations as manual labor, and in their expressions, he intuited avocations of mindless violence.
Out of habit, the art critic touched one finger to the scar above his moustache. The two customers abruptly ceased to ogle the man who smelled of money. They swiveled on the counter stools to turn their backs on him. Quinn flirted with the idea that his scar had the power of a talisman. This was the single fanciful thought in his otherwise pragmatic mind.
His regular waitress was standing at the next table, piling dirty dishes on a tray. She saw him now and walked to his table to take his order. He noted all the signs of the long day’s warfare in the food stains on her clothes. The blue-jean legs below the hem of her apron were stained with an artist’s rainbow of oil paints.
“I’m waiting for someone, Sandy. Will you give me a few minutes?”
“Whenever, Mr. Quinn.”
She was his type, attractive and intelligent, but she was a painter. He had never bedded an artist, though not for the lack of offers. A sense of ethics had always prevailed and prevented any forays into the art community. There were women enough elsewhere when he wanted one.
Sandy deposited a second menu on his table as she passed by with her tray artfully balanced on one arm. “For your friend,” she called back over her shoulder.
He glanced at the door. Detective Sergeant Riker had arrived.
Though more than a decade had passed since they last met, Quinn recognized the man’s slouching silhouette on the other side of the glass, which was too fogged with grime and scratches to allow for much more detail.
Sandy was already appraising Riker as he pushed through the door, and by the dip of her mouth on one side, the waitress judged him to be a bad tipper. Her eyes opened a little wider as the man with two days’ growth of beard walked to Quinn’s table and the art critic stood up to greet his guest.
At fifty-five, Riker was not much older than himself, but Quinn thought the detective wore his years less well, and certainly with less style. He would not have been surprised to learn that Riker was dressed in the same suit he had on twelve years ago when they had sat down to this same table to discuss a more personal murder.
As Riker shook hands with Quinn, there was a tone of apology in the rituals of “Hello” and “Good to see you again.” There was great regret in the detective’s brown eyes as he took his seat opposite the art critic.
One might believe Sergeant Riker’s suit had been slept in. Not true. The wrinkles were determined by the way the garments landed when tossed onto some piece of furniture or, missing that mark, the floor. And the network of red veins might mislead anyone who didn’t know how red his eyes could be when he was living in the bottle. This evening he was only showing the wear of a night without sleep, and the heavy reading of old case files.
“Thanks for seeing me on short notice, Mr. Quinn.” He noted the art critic’s tan, a side effect of having a summer home in the Hamptons. Quinn’s glowing good health and trim figure fit well with Riker’s idea that money could buy absolutely everything. Now he caught his own pasty, dregs-of-the-booze reflection in the mirror behind the counter, and he turned away.
“I assume your visit concerns the death of Dean Starr,” said Quinn in his cultured voice, which exuded breeding and a privileged education at the finest private schools on the eastern seaboard.
“Yes, sir, it does,” Riker said, with a rough New York accent that spoke of a night school education, paid for by blue-collar jobs. The policeman looked down at his hands. The left was scarred with a bullet wound, and the right still bore the marks of a felon’s teeth. He knew these hands could never, in one million years, touch the cool fair skin of the women Quinn was accustomed to.
Riker had always understood the art critic’s attraction to the Gulag. This place was Quinn’s source of women, the rare animals with beauty and talent. He had to trap them in their natural habitat of poverty, and the restaurant was a low-budget haven for actresses and writers.
“Mr. Quinn, did you read Andrew Bliss’s column yesterday?”
“No, I’m afraid not.”
Riker pulled a folded newspaper clipping from his inside pocket. “I’ll cut to the best part.” He held it at arm’s length and read with the squint of a man who would not wear reading glasses. “ ‘The new art wave was first heralded by the graffiti artist who defiled the city walls- artist attacks architecture. Then it progressed to the vandal artist who scarred the work of others-artist attacks art. And now we see a further escalation in the performance-art murder of Dean Starr-artist attacks artist. This is the new wave-full-blown now-Art Terrorism.’ ” Riker spread the clipping out on the table and looked up at Quinn.
“It’s absurd, of course,” said Quinn, “but quite interesting if you know Andrew. Have you met him?”
“No, I left messages for him, but he never called back. I’m gonna try to catch up with him at Starr’s wake.”
The art critic’s handsome face had hardly aged since their last meeting. There were no deep lines about the eyes to say the man had ever laughed out loud. Quinn had a limited range of expression, devoid of emotion even when he smiled, only communicating cool indifference and elan. Riker might be the only man alive who had ever seen him cry. And that had been an eerie sight- tears falling from dispassionate, ice-blue eyes.
“Mr. Quinn, do you see a direct connection between Dean Starr’s death and an artist?” And maybe another connection, an old connection?
“Not really,” said Quinn. “I suppose you could call the murder performance art, but it wasn’t very sophisticated-labeling the body that way. You wouldn’t actually have to go to school to do a thing like that.”
“You said if I knew Andrew-”
“Well, it’s interesting that Andrew Bliss would do anything this progressive on his own. He usually follows some other critic’s lead. Naming a new wave in art- that’s pretty daring. It might be the most courageous thing he’s ever done, however misguided and ridiculous.” Quinn pointed to the clipping. “May I?”
Riker turned the paper around and pushed it to the other side of the table. Quinn ran one finger down the lines of type, reading rapidly. Riker wondered if he did not detect relief in Quinn for what he had not found in Bliss’s column.
“It’s a bit of a stretch,” said Quinn, “from vandalism to murder.”
Riker leaned back in his chair. He could not shake the old memory of the night J. L. Quinn had cried. Riker had given the art critic shelter in the back of a squad car and kept guard over the crying man until Quinn was in control of himself again. Tonight, Riker was debating whether or not to prepare him for what was coming. Could he afford that?
No, he could not.
Inspector Louis Markowitz could have kept pace with Quinn, but the old man was dead, and Riker had drunk away too much of his own store of brain cells. He needed an edge in dealing with this man. He put his compassion away and proceeded like the good cop that he was.
“Would you take a look at this?” Riker pulled a plastic bag from his pocket and slid it across the table. Inside was a letter, neatly typed and unsigned. “Don’t take it out of the bag-it’s evidence.”
Quinn silently read the text which Riker knew by heart: “There is a direct link between Dean Starr and the old murders of the artist and the dancer. Twelve years ago, you knew that Oren Watt’s confession was a fraud.”
Riker reached across the table to tap the plastic bag with one finger. “Someone sent a clipping of Bliss’s column to Special Crimes Section, along with this letter.”
If Quinn was jarred by this reminder of his young niece’s murder, he gave away nothing, not even by the lift of an eyebrow. “I would have thought Koozeman was the obvious connection, since all three murders were done in his gallery. Are you really taking this letter seriously?”
Riker nodded. “The envelope was addressed to me. Not too many people would remember the name of a case detective on a twelve-year-old homicide. And the writer thinks Oren Watt’s confession was a fake. Would you say that indicates an inside view?”
The art critic lit a cigarette with steady hands, and no waver in the flame. “You’re reopening the old case?”
“It was never officially closed.” Riker fumbled in his pockets for a pack of cigarettes, and then a second thought stopped him. His own hands were not so steady before that first drink of an evening. He had missed his breakfast beer and worked straight through his lunch beer. “Markowitz never believed Oren Watt was the killer. And as I recall, sir, neither did you.”
Still no response from Quinn. The man seemed bored by it all. What the hell was going on behind that mask?
“Both killings had the same method,” said Riker, “if you consider the old double homicide as performance art. Do you? The body parts in the first-”
“The bodies were arranged as artwork,” said Quinn behind a haze of curling blue smoke. “I see the association, but I don’t know that it’s a strong one.”
“Well, a killer has his own style. It’s what we call his MO-modus operandi. Now Andrew Bliss is saying an artist killed Dean Starr. Could he be right? Could you call this an artist’s style, the way the murder was done?”
Quinn’s eyes followed the twisting plume of smoke. “The majority of artists in this town are mediocre hacks. Most of them have no style at all.”
“Did you send that letter, Mr. Quinn? You see, twelve years ago, everyone was so sure we had the right man. It was such an ugly murder-everyone in this town wanted to believe Oren Watt did it-except Markowitz and you.”
“Sorry, Sergeant. I didn’t write that letter.”
“Do you know anyone else who thought Watt’s confession was a fake?”
“Aubry’s father, for instance? No. My brother-in-law believed Oren Watt was the killer. He was rather unhappy when Watt’s psychiatrist started hawking drawings of his child’s body parts. But he’s gotten on with his life. When Watt was released last year, Gregor never even commented on it.”
“Mr. Quinn, I need to identify the new player, the one who wrote this letter. What about Aubry’s mother, Sabra? Do you know where we can find her?”
“No idea. I haven’t seen my sister in years.” His eyes ceased to follow the smoke and suddenly locked onto Riker’s. He leaned forward. “You always believed Oren Watt killed my niece. Have you questioned him about Dean Starr’s murder?”
“Interesting. And what about Koozeman?”
“I haven’t even talked to him. I have a direct order to stay away from the principals in the old case. And I’d appreciate it if you’d keep this conversation to yourself.”
“Understood, Sergeant.” As Quinn sat back in his chair, his eyes never leaving Riker’s face, it was clear that he understood on many levels. If the wrong man had been sent to the asylum, if the butcher had been at large all this time…
Riker lowered his eyes to keep Quinn from dicking around in his mind. “I just follow orders, sir. I’m only a working stiff.”
“I suspect you’re much more than that. Markowitz thought very highly of you.”
Riker studied his hands. If Markowitz had such a high opinion, why hadn’t the old bastard shared more of the case? Ah, Markowitz, always holding something back, even holding out on his own men.
Riker retrieved the plastic evidence bag and held it up to Quinn. “This letter says there’s a link between Starr and the old murders. I need that link.”
Quinn was silent, eyes drifting to that place beyond focus where the thinking is done. Then he waved one hand to show that he had come up empty of possibilities.
Riker looked at his wristwatch, and reset it to the time of the wall clock. He pulled a small notebook and a pen from his shirt pocket. “Just for the record, sir…” Every move, every word conveyed the tired resignation of endgame. Riker’s eyes were cast down as his pen hovered over the open notebook. Then he looked up at Quinn, with the pretense of an afterthought. “What if Oren Watt was the wrong man? Suppose Dean Starr was the one who slaughtered your niece? Oh, Christ, the things he did to her. ‘Slaughter’ is the only right word for it, isn’t it, sir? Who could blame you if you stabbed the sick bastard with an ice pick?”
Riker waited on a sign of damage from his salvo, some emotional disturbance in Quinn. Had he been hoping for fresh tears? No, he never wanted to see a sight like that one again. But there should be something-jangled nerves, if not tears-and there was not. He had just bludgeoned this man with the worst memory of his life, and all for nothing.
The art critic wore the trace of a smile, as if to say he understood and there were no hard feelings. Then he absently touched one finger to the scar above his moustache.
The Koozeman Gallery had the proportions of a modest gymnasium. High bare walls glistened with the sheen of a recent whitewash. The floors had been waxed and now were beaded with the spilled wine of reporters.
The press corps was feeding by the back wall on the far side of Dean Starr’s coffin. Mountains of food were laid out at long tables and lit by ceiling track lights, as though the Fourth Estate might ever have trouble locating the staples of caviar, smoked salmon, and a spectacular array of strange but edible objects skewered on toothpicks. Glasses were filled by gallery boys in bow ties, black pants and starched white shirts. They passed among the throng of reporters, carrying magical, inexhaustible wine bottles. The tone of the babble was jovial, all liquored up for the show.
The night’s main attraction sat on a long pedestal at the center of the large room. The white coffin wood was covered with four-letter words and bad drawings of obscene gestures. One small and gangly man stood behind a lectern near the casket. He seemed too young for vestment and a clerical collar. Horn-rimmed glasses greatly magnified his eyes. His gaze was fixed on the bare surface of the lectern as he tried to pretend this funeral service was not odd and unseemly, even by New York standards.
Rows of empty benches were lined up in the staggered height of bleachers at a sporting event, and this, J. L. Quinn pointed out to Sergeant Riker, was not far from reality. The art critic and the detective nodded to the little minister as they approached the coffin together.
“Oh, sweet Jesus,” said Riker, as he looked over the scrawled writing on the white wood, and then walked around it to read all the obscene words on the other side. “Damn kids.”
“Oh, no,” said the critic. “You don’t understand. This is art. See?” He pointed to the lower right-hand corner of the coffin. “That’s the vandal artist’s signature. You might recall the name from Andrew Bliss’s column. Later on, they’ll dump Starr’s body into a pine box and auction off this one.”
“You’re kidding me, right?”
“No, I can’t do that. I have no sense of humor.”
Riker looked down on the remains of Dean Starr. “Pretty messy corpse.”
Quinn leaned over the edge of the casket to study the face of moles and pockmarks, the thickened body straining at the buttons of a purple leather jacket, thighs threatening to split the green leather pants, creating the illusion of life in the stress of dead cow’s hide.
“Actually Starr looked about the same when he was alive,” said Quinn. “I would’ve expected an autopsy to do more damage.”
“Well, the chief medical examiner was out of town, so we got the discount version. That’s why my partner’s picking up the paperwork to have the autopsy done over. So the guy was always that ugly? Is his hair supposed to look like that?”
“Yes. It’s a neo-Mohawk. They had to trim the spikes to fit the coffin. You’re not really getting the full effect.”
“But this is no punk kid. This guy’s gotta be what?”
“Fifty-two years old.”
They took their seats in the bleachers, sitting front row center and facing the remains of Dean Starr. Beyond the coffin were twenty feet of empty space and a pure white wall. A few people, clutching black-bordered invitations, filed past the deceased. Their heads turned briefly to look at the carnage of the food tables by the back wall. Perhaps deciding the refreshments were not worth the battle, they chose seats in the middle rows.
Riker’s head swiveled slightly to admire a passing wine bottle in the hand of a gallery boy. He turned back to the white wall and sucked in his breath as he recognized Avril Koozeman, the gallery owner, a bald, heavy-set man in a dark suit.
What the hell?
Koozeman had suddenly appeared at the center of the blank wall beyond the coffin.
Where did he come from?
Koozeman was walking toward the coffin with enough momentum to suggest to Riker’s cracking brain that the man had just walked through that solid wall. Now the detective was torn between giving up drink and the longing for a triple shot of whiskey to make this idea go away.
As the gallery owner came closer, Riker focussed on Avril Koozeman’s small, regular features, an ordinary face but for the black, unruly eyebrows tangling above his small gray eyes. The man carried his bulk in a way that alluded more to prosperity than to overeating. Koozeman leaned over the coffin and stared at the corpse for a moment. His expression was inappropriately cheerful.
Riker took out his notebook and leafed through it, as he leaned closer to Quinn. “He owned a piece of the dead artist, right?”
“Yes, fifty percent of all sales.”
Koozeman walked to the bleachers and smiled benignly on Quinn, who nodded in reply. The large man snapped his fingers and two gallery boys ran up to him with trays of wineglasses in three of Riker’s favorite colors: red, pink and white. Riker accepted a glass, following Quinn’s lead and choosing the red. Koozeman was still smiling as he turned and walked over to the feeding frenzy on the far side of the room.
Riker shook his head. “I don’t get it. Starr was a real moneymaker for Koozeman, wasn’t he? What you call a hot property?”
“The hottest,” said Quinn, tasting the wine and approving it.
“So why is he smiling?”
“Well, he has an inventory of work. After Starr died, Koozeman raised the price two hundred percent. Of course he’s smiling.”
And now, another man, slender and slow-footed, made a more ordinary entrance, not emerging from a wall, but by the more conventional front door. An escaped shock of light brown hair hung over one eye, and his tie had gone awry, but otherwise, his well-styled clothes put him in the same species as J. L. Quinn. He seemed to drift toward the coffin by accident. In a confusion of manners, he sighed at the little minister and waved to the corpse.
Riker was watching the man and flipping through his notebook. “Should I know that guy?”
“That’s Andrew Bliss,” said Quinn. “The art critic who wrote the review on Starr’s death.”
“Not one of your favorite critics?” Riker made a note.
“Actually, he writes very well, but he always waits until the other reviews are in, and then he goes whichever way the wind blows. That’s why his last column was so unusual.”
Riker found the background sketch in his notebook. According to the bio, Andrew Bliss was forty-eight years old, but the detective was looking at the face of a boy. This illusion was helped by Bliss’s large blue eyes and full lips. Riker felt suddenly uncomfortable. Old children were wrong in the world.
“And how did Mr. Bliss feel about the dead artist? Was he-”
Conversation broke off as a gallery boy replenished Riker’s wine. He looked down at his glass, and Quinn graced him with a smile.
“It’s because you’re with a critic. The boy won’t allow your glass to go even half-empty. He could be fired for that.”
Riker stared into his wine and wondered how his own religion would square with the gallery philosophy, for he believed it was a sin to allow a glass to remain half-full.
He looked back to the second row where Andrew Bliss was seated. And now Riker noticed that Bliss’s gray hairs were fast overtaking the light brown. As he stared at the man with the young face and the old hair, Riker noticed the reddened nose. Broken veins? The slackness of the jaw, the slow-moving eye which was not obscured by strands of hair, all were familiar signs he remembered from his own shaving mirror.
So Andrew Bliss was a drunk.
“How did Bliss and Starr get along?” He chugged back his wine, and in sidelong vision, he saw a gallery boy snap to attention.
“Hard to say,” said Quinn. “I only saw them together one time. Andrew seemed a bit tense at the gallery opening.”
“You didn’t tell me you were at the gallery that night.”
“Ah, but you knew, didn’t you, Riker? I’m not exactly a low-profile guest at a function like that. And now you want to know if I was there when he died. Do you know the exact time of death?”
“The jerk who screwed up the autopsy didn’t get the stomach contents. We know he was alive at seven-thirty, and the security guard found the body at ten-fifteen.”
The gallery boy was back and weighting down Riker’s glass again.
“I was there until eight o’clock,” said Quinn. “I never saw anything suspicious, unless you count the artwork.”
Riker tipped back his glass, the sooner to forget Koozeman’s walk through the solid wall. He might need reading glasses, he would cop to that, but there was nothing wrong with his long-distance vision. And what about the myopic hundred guests at the Dean Starr show? “I still can’t believe Starr got stabbed in a room full of people and nobody saw it.”
“Well, Koozeman’s patrons are a rather self-absorbed group,” said Quinn.
The reporters were being led away from the feeding tables by Avril Koozeman. He was flanked by gallery boys holding wine bottles as lures. Bearing full glasses and paper plates filled to overflowing, the ladies and gentlemen of the news media settled into the remaining seats.
One rowdy press photographer in the back row yelled, “Bring on the noise!”
The minister cleared his throat, and tapped the microphone on the lectern.
Riker was feeling the ten cups of coffee drunk before all the wine was slugged back. Seeing no signs with familiar men’s room symbols, he pressed his legs together as he leaned close to Quinn and whispered, “So where is the can?”
The minister’s voice was amplified in volume, but carried little weight with the crowd as he began to speak over the babble of conversation. “I’m afraid I know very little about Mr. Starr. I’m told he’s only been an artist for a short time. I know nothing about his life before that. Perhaps I may call on others to help fill in the gap.”
Riker’s I-got-to-pee-or-die body language was escalating with the crossing and recrossing of his legs.
Quinn inclined his head toward Riker. “Sorry?”
“Where is the toilet?” Riker spoke with the slow careful enunciation of foreigners and drunks, and in a volume to be heard above the minister, who was making his second appeal.
Quinn pointed to a hallway off the main room. “It’s that way, first door to your right.”
Quinn turned back to the second row and nodded a greeting to Andrew Bliss. It was a courtesy of long acquaintance, but not friendship. He noticed that Bliss was not his usual twitchy self today. In fact, the man was so inebriated, it could only be inbred good manners that kept him from sliding to the floor.
“Hey, Bliss,” called one of the reporters from the back row. “Loved the art terrorist column. How come you didn’t throw in the old Oren Watt murders?”
Ever the chameleon, Bliss’s complexion changed from a rosy, sotted flush to a pale cast of clammy skin, perhaps the better to blend in with the dead man. Summoning a burst of energy, Bliss gathered up his raincoat and fled the gallery with unnatural speed.
Now Quinn displayed that flicker of emotion that Riker had been hoping for in the restaurant.
He resumed his mask and willed his mind to other things-the increasingly rowdy guests and the little minister, who solemnly shook his head, taking this afternoon’s entertainment far too seriously from Quinn’s point of view.
A young woman entered the gallery and set off a flashbulb in the camera of a drunken, yet discriminating photographer in the bleachers. The light show spread across the rows in a chain of pops and blinding lights, accompanied by the music of low whistles.
She was tall, and it took Quinn’s eyes a while to travel over all of her. The black leather running shoes were top-of-the-line. Though he could not see the back pocket of her jeans, he knew it would bear a designer’s name. A long black trench coat was draped over the shoulders of her blazer, which was cashmere, and her T-shirt was silk. He would bet his stock portfolio that her curls were styled in a Fifty-seventh Street salon, but not dyed there, for this was that most unusual creature, a natural blonde in the spectrum of burnished gold.
In every other aspect of her, a lifetime’s experience in stereotyping humans had failed him. He could not hazard her occupation or her exact status in the world. All he knew for certain was that her eyes were green, and if it was true that one could read another’s soul by the eyes, this young woman didn’t have one.
She sat down next to him. Her perfume was expensive and discreet.
He knew they had never met; one did not forget such a face. Yet she was familiar.
Riker was back from the men’s room and tugging on his sleeve. “Be careful of that one. She carries a big gun.”
Quinn smiled indulgently.
“Okay, watch this.” Riker leaned across his person to say, “Hey, Mallory. You got the paperwork on the stiff?”
She reached into her blazer, which had an inside pocket. The garment was obviously tailor-made. Women who bought their clothes off the rack were denied such pockets. And now her upper body was turning toward him, her hand pulling out folded sheets of paper, and he could see the large gun in her shoulder holster. She ignored him, passing the fold of papers across his body as though he were merely an inconveniently situated object.
And now he placed her, but he had to travel back many years to do it. She was the child of Special Crimes Section.
He had only seen her on a few occasions in Inspector Markowitz’s office. All those years ago, he had found it amazing to see a little girl moving in and out of discussions of murder. She had been stealthy, appearing suddenly, lighting by the desk to hand Inspector Markowitz a stack of printouts, and then off again, later returning to Markowitz to wheedle money for the candy machine. In passing, the child had glanced at the art critic, found him uninteresting, and passed on.
“That’s my kid,” the inspector had told him then, behind the child’s back and with obvious pride. Though Quinn later realized that pride was not in the child’s beauty but in the quick intelligence behind her glittering eyes. He then learned that the girl frequently came in after school to jump-start the glitch-ridden computer system for her foster father. Markowitz had not resisted the urge to brag.
“Kathy can do anything with a computer,” Markowitz had said. “This afternoon, she taught it to fetch the newspaper. ”
The proof of this was in the copy of a crime reporter’s column, a fresh spate of information leaked from NYPD. It contained a plethora of typos and misspellings and could only have come from the city editor’s personal computer. This had been part of Markowitz’s plea for special cooperation, for concealment and covert assistance. And so Quinn’s conspiracy with this policeman had begun over an illegal computer theft by the baby hacker, Kathy Mallory. The other documents she produced had led them down dark streets of utter madness and up steep inclines of theory. The child had been a prolific thief.
“I was sorry to hear of Inspector Markowitz’s death,” he said to the young woman beside him. “I liked your father very much.”
And this was true. Markowitz had been a man of deep grace and charm, undisguised by his excess poundage and a bad suit. When Quinn had read of the man’s death in the papers, he felt the planet diminish beneath his feet because this policeman was no longer among them. He could count on three fingers the people who had so affected him.
“I believe I was of some assistance to your father. If I can help you, of course I will.” He handed her his card, and with it the unlisted number which was given out to few people in this world.
“I’ll need to talk with Gregor Gilette,” she said. “You might be able to help with that. We can’t work the old case in the open, so you could prepare him for the interview, ask him to keep it quiet.”
“That would be difficult. He spent so many years getting over his daughter’s death. He won’t want to deal with this again.”
“Well, that’s too bad, because it’s going to happen. It’s all new again. I’m starting over.”
Her speech patterns spoke of good schools beyond the salaries of most city employees. Whatever the cost and sacrifice, Markowitz had invested wisely in his foster child.
Her tone of voice strictly defined who was in charge here. And when Quinn ventured the proper form of address, he learned that he was to call her, not Mm, not Ms., nor by her given name, but only Mallory, and he was not likely to forget that-ever.
“It’s impossible to get an appointment with Gilette,” said Quinn. “He’s in the middle of preparations to unveil his new building. I might be able to manage a brief social meeting. He’ll be at a charity ball at the Plaza. My mother hosts that ball every year.”
Even before she spoke, he realized he had been telling her what she already knew.
“I’ve seen the guest list,” she said.
“I could arrange an invitation.”
“It’s been arranged.”
Apparently, she didn’t really need him at all; that was made very clear as she turned her face away from his.
“Mallory,” said Riker, “is the meat wagon out front?”
She nodded. Riker walked across the room and placed the papers in Koozeman’s hand. When Quinn looked her way again, Mallory was staring at him. The long, slanted eyes were beautiful and unsettling. Her expression was inscrutable, though he did detect a kindred coldness there.
“Riker tells me you’re hoping to tie Dean Starr to the old murder case.”
“I won’t discuss that here.” She turned toward the coffin, dismissing him again.
Neither of them noticed the reporter taking a seat behind them at that moment. A pen scribbled furiously behind their backs.
Riker was back again, checking all the rows and asking, “Where did Andrew Bliss go?”
“He left right after you went to the men’s room,” said Quinn. “The other children were teasing him about his column.”
Suddenly he found himself sitting alone, watching Riker and Mallory moving across the wide floor toward the door. A reporter fell over his own feet to leave the bleachers and catch up to Mallory. He stepped into her path, and a second later, stumbled backward, though Quinn could swear she never touched the man.
The place Mallory had occupied was now filled by the less attractive person of a reporter, a man with sparse hair, a wide girth and grinning nicotine-yellow teeth.
“Mr. Quinn, would you say this death is a great loss to the art community?”
“Oh, I don’t think so. There are perhaps ninety thousand other hack artists in New York to fill the void.”
“What’s your personal response to the death of Mr. Starr?”
“One down and eighty-nine thousand, nine hundred and ninety-nine to go. Is there anything else?”
“Yeah. Don’t you think it’s a little odd they didn’t arrest Oren Watt?”
Quinn’s posture was aloof, his expression slightly bored, but beneath the skin, where everyone’s innards were equally inelegant, was the sickening confusion of emotions tied to his niece and all her butchered body parts.
Emma Sue Hollaran, head of the Public Works Committee, had pinned him to this appointment. Thus pinned like a butterfly, Andrew Bliss had been drinking steadily, wings astiffening throughout the day. Emma Sue, root of every bender, probably had no idea that he was drunk each time they met, for she never saw him in any better condition. She must believe he lay over every armchair as a second skin to the brocade, and that his eyes were always languid.
Among the evolved humans, Andrew was too quick to be kept track of. His normal everyday eyes were rocketing pinballs, powered by manic energy. And when he was in the depressive stage, his eyes were dark crawling slugs. But tonight, he was merely in the bag and unfocussed.
He stood up on wobbly legs and walked to the French windows, which opened onto the terrace. He inhaled the fresh air and eyed the near ledge.
If she doesn’t shut up, I’ll jump.
Ah, but they were only five flights up, and the fall might not kill him immediately. He abhorred messy scenes. He was trapped then, escape cut off-so scowling Emma Sue might have the pleasure of doing the same to his soft parts.
She droned on in a testy nasal twang. Few of her words penetrated his skull. Only the tone was clear. She was pissed off.
What is it this time?
Did she hate his review of her pet artist of the month? And however did she get those boys into her bed? Who had so much ambition and such control of the flesh as to keep it from crawling off the bones when she touched him?
There was one ugly drawback to being mercifully swacked out of his mind: his reaction time was poor. He was not quick enough to dodge the flying spittle as she stomped toward him.
At some point in her fifty-one years, Emma Sue must have noticed that people would not come close to her, not within spitting range. He credited her alienation from all things human and good to this one tragic flaw. Even with her gift for self-delusion, how could she be unaware of it?
The darker possibility was that she was aware of it.
As a personal quirk, spit did have its fascination. This woman was not a hairy biker, but a power broker in the art community, directing the funds of every architect’s budget to include the mandatory bit of sculpture which graced, or more frequently wrecked, each public plaza.
Her most glaring visible flaws began with the ankles of a plow horse. From there up, she bore a family resemblance to a succession of other animals, despite years of cosmetic surgery. No reputable doctor would touch her, for the best of surgeons could not make a muzzle into a human-scale nose, nor could they enlarge upon the piglet eyes. And so she had been relegated to the hacks of Fifth Avenue, putting all her faith in a good address.
She had the look of a jury-rigged job in the misalignment of her features. Deep chemical peels had tightened the skin of her face to expose the contours of fat deposits and bulging veins. The flesh was scarred and discolored beneath many coats of concealing makeup. And yet, with each new procedure, the magic mirror of her mind was telling her that she was becoming more beautiful.
On the upside, her wardrobe was flawless-and here he complimented himself. It was his chore, as her personal advisor, to dress her properly, though not literally. Saliva was their only intimacy.
Though her face was still puffy from her last surgery, her makeup was perfect, and kept perfect throughout the day, thanks to his scheduling of pit stops at the makeup counters of Bloomingdale’s. Now, out of habit, he checked her fingernails. Perhaps he should send her back to the shop for a nail wrap. It was always something, wasn’t it?
What is she going on about now?
Ah, the new artwork for the Gilette Plaza. So old Gregor hadn’t left her any room to sufficiently vandalize the plaza of his new building? Really? Brilliant man-the only architect in New York who’d found a way to foil her.
All her verbal defecation was being sifted and sanitized through a gauze of alcohol. His thick wine stupor prevented her from knotting his insides while she damped his skin.
Oh, that. Of course he had attended the funeral. He was an art critic, wasn’t he? Her feud with Koozeman shouldn’t be allowed to interfere with his own job. That was asking too much. He had half a mind to leave, and perhaps never to return. She’d be ruined then, wouldn’t she? Who but himself would tell the ignorant bitch when she had lipstick on her teeth? This heinous symbiotic relationship worked more in her favor than his.
What? Oh, right.
He bade farewell to the wine as he felt its effects abandoning his brain cells, being displaced by chilling sobriety.
The upper half of the office wall was solid glass, a wide window on the larger area of Special Crimes Section, where uniformed officers and civilian clerks moved in crisscrossing patterns through the labyrinth of file cabinets, desks and chairs. A score of taxpayers and suspects sat with detectives under the bright lights of the second shift. Across the room at the far desk, one of the taxpayers was crying. Her face contorted with pain; her mouth opened wide.
The woman’s scream never penetrated Lieutenant Coffey’s office. On his own side of the thick glass, it was a drawn-out silence that disturbed Jack Coffey. The muscles of his neck tightened as every quiet second was adding to the tension of the room.
Detective Sergeant Mallory had turned her back on him and faced the wall of glass. Her blond hair hung in curls over the collar of a long, black coat. Only a few inches of her blue jeans were visible below the hem. And now Coffey noticed Mallory was wearing her formal black running shoes tonight-all dressed up for the funeral service.
Sergeant Riker had made no such effort for the murdered artist. He was slumped in a chair by the desk, staring at his scuffed shoes. Coffey’s first indication of trouble was the absence of Riker’s cigarette smoke and sarcasm. This evening, the man was actually deferring to his younger superior officer, and this worried Coffey. How much damage could they have done tonight?
“The focus is on the murder of Dean Starr,” said Coffey. “We are not resurrecting the old Ariel-Gilette case. Is that real clear, Mallory?”
Was she even listening to him? Jack Coffey thought not. His own ghostly reflection wafted in the glass behind Mallory’s, the image of a man thirty-six years old, not tall or short, hair and eyes neither dark nor light-best described as average in every aspect but his rank. In a bygone era, Coffey would have spent five more years in the slow mentoring process before he got his own detective’s shield. Now, the younger investigators dominated every squad room. But at twenty-five, Mallory was the real standout. And in this young woman, Coffey could see all the flaws and virtues of the new NYPD cult of youth.
Lieutenant Coffey looked from one detective to the other. Riker was too easy a target. There were entirely too many things he could threaten this sergeant with; first among them was the aroma of wine imbibed on overtime. Jack Coffey was not one to press unfair advantage on a man.
So he turned on Mallory.
“Sit your ass down, Mallory! I want to see your damn face when I’m talking to you. I don’t want to hear any crap later on about how you didn’t quite hear a direct order.”
She turned to glare at him. Well, that was something. Even Riker was impressed enough to lift his sorry head.
“I want to know where these orders are coming from.” Her tone of voice put her on the borderline of insubordination. She had been straddling that line from the moment she walked in the door with Riker. Coffey had to admire her tactics. Whenever she was in deep trouble, she always went on the offensive.
She continued, not waiting for his reply, not wanting to lose momentum. “Oren Watt is out of the asylum less than a year, and we’ve got another body fixed up to look like a work of art. That bastard should be sitting in an interview room right now. Don’t you think it’s just a little strange that we can’t touch him?”
Her sarcasm stayed within the gray zone, where Coffey could not challenge her without playing the fool.
“You know she’s right,” said Riker. “This is trouble. The press is already carping about it. Everybody’s gonna think it’s odd if Watt doesn’t make the short list.”
“Oren Watt has been vouched for,” said Coffey. “He was never in the gallery the night Dean Starr went down.”
“Who vouched for him? His quack psychiatrist?” Mallory faced the window, stepping on his authority by the simple act of turning her back on him again.
“Senator Berman vouched for Watt,” said Coffey. “You might remember Berman. He was the police commissioner when you were just a little girl.”
Riker was trying not to smile, and Coffey knew he had scored a game point by knocking Mallory down in size. He walked over to the window, tapped her on the shoulder and said, “Sit down, Sergeant.”
She shrugged off the trench coat and folded it neatly over one arm. And now, as though it were her own idea, Mallory pulled up a chair and settled into it. She stretched out her long legs, and avoided looking at him-yet another sign of trouble.
He addressed both of his detectives. “Senator Berman says Oren Watt wasn’t there, and none of the other guests saw him either. When Berman was the commissioner, Oren Watt’s art show was the biggest, bloodiest case of his career. Watt’s face was all over the papers for months, so it’s not likely the senator would forget what the bastard looked like. None of us will. If Berman says the man wasn’t there, we take his word for it.”
“You talked to Senator Berman?” There was a light incredulity in her question. It was a well-placed shot, for he had not been allowed near the senator.
Good guess, Mallory. “Blakely interviewed him.”
“That figures,” said Mallory. “The chief’s one hell of a political animal, isn’t he? So this is all coming down from Blakely’s office, right? Twelve years ago, it was Blakely who tried to force Markowitz to close out the double homicide.”
“That’s bullshit, Mallory! It made sense to close out the case. Watt was insane-he couldn’t stand trial, and you know-”
“And what about the gallery owner?” Riker’s voice carried a suspicious amount of respect this evening. “Do we ever get to talk to Koozeman?”
“No,” said Coffey. “We already have his statement from the first officer on the scene.”
“He should be at the top of the suspect list.” Mallory turned to Riker. “Can’t you just smell the money? I want to go over Koozeman’s books.”
“You don’t go near him!” Coffey’s gut sent him a sharp message of pain, and then he realized that she was only torturing him for fun. Well, shot for shot, Mallory. “If you can’t follow orders, I’ll bury you in the computer room, and you’ll never get out on the street again. Is that understood?”
Oh, she didn’t like that one bit.
He could see her return volley coming, the predictable threat to quit the force. The slight lift of her chin was all but telegraphing a reminder that she could make twice the money in the private sector. Maybe she would escalate her illegal, unauthorized fiddle and become less than a silent partner in Charles Butler’s consulting firm. Coffey stood a little straighter, squaring off his body, gearing up his mind for the inevitable fight. Just let her try to jerk his-
“You’re right,” she said softly. “It was a bad idea to go after Watt. And the less the gallery owner knows, the better.”
What did she expect him to do with all this excess adrenaline? Maybe she was hoping it would burn a hole in his veins.
She crossed the room to settle on the corner of his desk. One long blue-jeaned leg draped over the edge of it. One black running shoe dangled as she smiled. He had to wonder what she was planning to do to him. Boxing with Mallory so fascinated him, he was ruined for every other form of blood sport.
“You think I don’t understand your position,” said Mallory. “But I do. If Blakely found out you disobeyed an order, he’d go after you, wouldn’t he? It makes a lot of sense to keep a low profile.”
He was digesting her if-you-only-had-a-spine implication when she reached down to the canvas tote bag on the floor and pulled out a set of photographs.
“These are the old shots of the dancer’s funeral.” She held out one panoramic view of a large group of people. “The Gilettes hired security to keep the circus out. Only friends, relatives and police. Look at this figure two heads away from Markowitz.” Mallory was pointing at the one outstanding mourner, remarkable for his height of six four, and his large nose. “Look at that. It’s Charles.”
Charles Butler had been one of her foster father’s closest friends. Though Louis Markowitz came from humble environs and Charles was descended from Park Avenue stock, commonalities had outweighed their differences- Charles was also a charming man with a giant brain. But years before Charles and Markowitz ever met, they had attended a funeral together.
“This is gold,” said Mallory. “I’ve got my own connection to the Gilette family, and I can work it quietly. Charles has Social Register connections and art connections. He spends a fortune at the galleries. You want to keep it quiet, right? Do you know anyone more discreet than Charles Butler?”
Coffey knew he was about to be sucker-punched, but not quite how she was going to do it to him.
“Riker and I can work the case out of the office in Charles’s building,” she said. “It’s perfect. Nothing in print lying around for a clerk to sell to a tabloid. And if Blakely asks you what’s going on, you won’t know, will you?”
Did she really think he was that stupid?
“Oh, but I like to know what’s going on with you, Mallory. Just every damn minute of the day.”
“Markowitz never did.”
True. When Markowitz had command of Special Crimes, things had been quite different. Every time she had illegally raided a computer to pull information, Markowitz knew he could claim the ignorance of a computer illiterate. Well, he had inherited Markowitz’s job, but thanks, Mallory, he would rather run the place his own way.
He pulled his sportscoat from the hanger on the back of the door. “We’re going to run a clean investigation.” He put one shirtsleeve into the coat to signal to his detectives that this meeting, in fact, this day was at an end. “I give the orders, Mallory, and you follow them. It’s a novel idea, but you’ll get used to it.”
“I have to work the old case to-”
Well, that tears it.
“The old case is off-limits.” His coat was off again and roughly slung over one arm as he turned on her. “Off-limits! That’s the last time I’m going to tell you, Mallory.”
Her body was stiffening. Her leg ceased to dangle over the edge of his desk. The running shoe was frozen at an angle of tension. He never moved, but in his mind, he was putting up his own fists as they squared off from opposite sides of the room.
Well, good. Let’s get this out on the table. And right now!
“Twelve years ago,” she said, voice on the rise, “Markowitz didn’t just think Watt’s confession was a fake,” louder now, “he knew it!”
“Markowitz doesn’t work here anymore! That case is closed!”
“Not officially! Markowitz never closed it!”
“Well, I’m closing it! Don’t you remember? Watt confessed!” he outshouted her.
“The hell with Markowitz! That wasn’t the only time your old man screwed up!”
Riker shot him a warning glance. You’ve gone too far, said the slow shake of the sergeant’s head. The last time her father made a bad mistake, the only bad one in living memory, it had gotten him killed in the line of duty.
Coffey felt the heat rising in his face. Why had he said it? Markowitz had been his mentor, quietly cleaning up the debris each time the rookie had made a mess of something. The old man had given out more second chances than Coffey deserved. And now he had just thanked him.
Too late-Mallory was staring at him with solid hatred.
She eased off the desk and came toward him. Coffey recognized the gait of the pugilist. Her hands were curling into fists, and there was a physical menace in the movement of her body. In peripheral vision, he could see Riker rising from his chair with the same idea and perhaps a plan to slow her down before the damage was done. But Mallory stopped dead, her face a bare three inches from Coffey’s.
“All right,” she said, “forget Markowitz.”
As if he could.
“Blakely’s interference is as dirty as it gets,” she said. Actually, she spat the words out. “I can link the old double homicide to Dean Starr-a fresh murder, and suddenly the chief’s hot to bury it.” Her voice was on the rise again. “And all you can say is the case is off-limits? Don’t try to snow me, Coffey. I’m not a kid anymore.”
And she couldn’t be snowed when she was a kid. She was not much changed over the years he had known her. The anger had always been there, beneath the tightly controlled veneer of manners. Her foster mother, Helen Markowitz, had installed that rough coat of etiquette on Mallory’s psyche when she was ten. When that good woman died four years ago, her handiwork had not faltered. When Louis Markowitz died, it had developed cracks to drive a truck through, yet somehow it held.
Mallory’s voice was lower now. “You want me to work around department politics? Okay, I will. Let me run this case my way, and I promise nothing will come back on you.”
The orphan standing in front of him now was hardly helpless or pitiable, was she? But a ten-year-old street kid was always lurking under the skin of her, peeking out to remind him of her baby days on the road, stealing every necessity, biting every hand that tried to reach her.
As much as he had loved Louis Markowitz, sometimes he cursed the man for dying and leaving her so alone.
Mallory walked over to the desk and pulled another photograph from her tote bag. She came back to him and placed it in his hands-a present.
It was one of the old crime-scene photos of the artist and the dancer. He had never wanted to see this piece of cruelty again, and now he could not look away. It was truly stunning, the effect of these two young corpses, eyes wide for the camera. He was staring into the heart of Special Crimes Section, the core purpose of its inception-the abyss-and it was looking back at him.
Suppose Markowitz had been right? What if the butcher was still out there?
He met her eyes as she took the photograph from his hands. Seconds dragged by as Coffey and Markowitz’s daughter played the staring game which would determine where the power lay. And now, she confounded him by dropping her eyes and giving him the scoring point of the match, in full view of Riker, and thus saving his face.
“Okay, Mallory. You and Riker work it your way.”
Andrew Bliss had no memory of crawling out of Emma Sue Hollaran’s apartment. When vision and mind achieved parity of clarity, he was standing on the first floor of Bloomingdale’s.
Of all the department stores in all the world, only Bloomingdale’s had parishioners, and Andrew was one of the faithful. His greatest fear was not death, but being locked away from his store of choice. It was a psychedelic womb. His raison d’etre was here in the mazes of color and light, a vast array of goods on floor after floor, enough to shut down the neural synapses of the novice shopper. There were no less than five restaurants in Bloomingdale’s, if one counted the espresso bar, but his favorite was Le Train Bleu, and he was on his way to it.
On the first floor, the salesclerks held fragrance bottles in a vaguely threatening manner, fully prepared to recondition any offensive odors which might enter the store on two legs. Other women with perfect makeup and clipboards were suggesting to shoppers that their faces would not do, in fact needed to be completely made over.
Nearing the escalators, he observed the confusion of an amateur shopper, and he knew the woman was searching for a way to get to the cleverly hidden second floor. Sometimes even hard-core veterans couldn’t immediately find their way to the escalators. Andrew could do it blind drunk, and he did.
One hard-boiled shopper found the escalator too slow. She ran up the moving staircase, leading a charge of tourists who chatted only in Japanese. “Trust me,” the woman said to the confused faces of a party of obviously non-English-speaking people. “I know where to find it. I know their stock better than they do.” Her foot soldiers smiled and nodded. Somehow she had communicated product without foreign-language skills. Well, product was everything, wasn’t it? Truly transcendent.
He changed escalators on the second floor and rode upward and onward, heading slowly toward last call for wine at Le Train Bleu. Rising to the third floor, he rode into the spectacle of a raven-haired mannequin in a silver gown, all dressed up to go dancing. The mannequin reminded him of Aubry Gilette, the young dancer who had died with artist Peter Ariel. On the fourth floor, two workers passed the escalator with a headless, handless mannequin, and this was Aubry too.
On the fifth floor, as he stepped off the escalator and walked to the next moving staircase, he looked down at the carpet, which had always brought to mind the color of red wine. Now it was more the color of blood, blood all over the floor, every bit of it. He nearly slipped in it, so complete was the illusion of the guilty eye.
Finally, he stepped off the mechanical stairs on the sixth floor and headed for Le Train Bleu. The restaurant was open late this evening to cater a party of fashion designers. He approached the maitre d‘ and extended his invitation. The man smiled at his most loyal patron and escorted Andrew through the space arranged in Orient Express ambience. The dimensions of the pale green room, the banks of square windows, and every appointment of brass, wood and crystal kept to the design of a train. Crisp white napkins graced linen tablecloths, and plush green chairs completed the atmosphere of fine railway dining from an era gone by.
His personal shopper, Annie, was seated at his usual table. He was oblivious to the crowd as he sat down. He beamed his widest smile on Annie, for she was his treasure. She made his lunch and dinner reservations, called for his cabs, did his shopping, and rearranged his business appointments when they interfered with special shipments and sales.
“I’m going to change my life.”
Annie had her own style-minimalism. Each day, she wore the same dress, a classic black shift which never showed stains. He often wondered if she washed it out each night, or might she have a closetful. In the time he had known her, she had gone from salt and pepper to solid white hair. Her fingernails went everywhere naked, and she wore slippers around the department store. He tolerated the slippers and the lack of polish because he loved her best.
“You know, Annie, I worry about this place when the lights go out. But I imagine the security is rather good. I suppose they just let a pack of dogs roam at will- something like that?”
“No, the dogs go around with a guard. Employees have been here pretty late some nights.”
“So they give the employees lots of overtime, do they?”
“No, dear. That was in the holiday season. No one does overtime this time of year.”
“Annie, tell me more about the store security. I find this fascinating.”
Riker turned on the wall switch and an overhead light bounced off the rows of metal filing cabinets. There was no one on duty in the records room this time of night, no one to remind him that the law forbade smoking in public buildings. The antismoking activists closed in on him tighter and tighter every day-for his own good, they said. But though he coughed himself to sleep every night, and the stale smell of smoke clung to all his clothes, this dirty and unhealthy habit had become more and more attractive. Now it was a bona fide sport, a real challenge to find the odd room where he would not be caught. He reached in his pocket for the outlaw cigarettes.
He heard the door open behind him, but had no time to turn around before a hand grasped his shoulder. It was not a warm and friendly grasp. Riker turned to face a young man with unruly blond hair and the much put-out pout of a giant five-year-old with a goatee. Dr. Daily was the newest staffer of the Medical Examiner’s Office, and the younger man was wearing a very unfriendly expression. Riker looked down at the hand riding the material of his suit. Riker’s expression said, Back off.
Daily’s hand dropped to his side.
“Well, Daily, you’re working late tonight.”
“All right, Detective, what’s the deal? Why does NYPD want Slope to redo my autopsy?”
“Nothing personal, Doc. We were just wondering how that ice pick could’ve ruptured the heart from the back. We only want a second opinion is all.”
“It was an ice pick. For Christ’s sake, you found it next to the damn body.”
“It probably was a pick. But it couldn’t have been the one we found by the body. That was the bartender’s. No blood traces.”
“So the blood was wiped off. So what?”
“Naw, Heller would’ve found something with his little bag of chemicals and magic dust. He’s the best forensic man in the country. The FBI’s been trying to seduce him away from the force for years. Oh, and the bartender’s pick was too short.”
“What the hell does it matter if it was one ice pick or another one?”
“Well, Daily, it’s always a good idea to know what the weapon looks like, just in case you trip over it while you’re making an arrest.”
“Okay, so you know it’s a long ice pick. What does that-”
“And it makes the case a little more interesting if the weapon was brought to the gallery. That makes it premeditation. We gotta nail these things down in case the perp tries to claim temporary insanity, crime of passion. We also thought it might be nice to have a few blood samples, stomach contents, stuff like that.”
“I should think it would be obvious he wasn’t poisoned. So I’m being criticized for trying to save the taxpayers a little money? Is that what you’re telling me? Do you know how much it costs to run those tests?”
“Well, my partner likes these little details.”
Riker smiled. He had made book that Slope would fire this kid long before the probationary period was up. He had picked the early date in the office betting pool, and he was hoping this would be the autopsy that won him the big bucks.
Mallory walked through the swinging door, followed by Dr. Edward Slope, the chief medical examiner. They walked to the far side of the records room, where Slope busied himself at a filing cabinet and spoke to Mallory in a low voice. He handed her a manila folder and disappeared down an aisle of cabinets. Riker heard the angry slam of a metal drawer from a distance of two rows of tall steel files. He wondered what Mallory had done to brighten Slope’s evening.
Dr. Daily was staring at her now. All animosity forgotten, he punched Riker lightly on the arm in the spirit of just-us-boys.
“Nice piece of ass,” said Daily, with a wide grin. As the young doctor swaggered off in Mallory’s direction, Riker only regretted that he had no time to place a side bet on Daily’s life expectancy.
Riker watched the young man begin the courtship dance, strutting up and down in front of her, picking up a chart, pulling out a drawer and checking a file. When at last he came to rest beside Mallory, his height was even with hers at five feet ten, and Riker could swear the man was stretching his neck to be taller.
Mallory continued to look at the photos. She put all but one of them into her tote and glanced at her watch.
The doctor must be feeling the pressure of impending loss of opportunity. Now he was puffing out his chest and his young ego.
Riker winced because he knew what was coming next.
“I’m off duty now. I thought we might go out for a drink,” said Daily, as though he were offering to do her a favor.
“Why would I want to do that?” Mallory’s face was incredulous.
The words Fuck yourself were in her eyes, but she would not say them. Her foster mother had not liked such words, and Mallory continued to defer to Helen Markowitz long after the woman had died. So now she only stared at Daily for one chill moment, just long enough to shrivel his testicles with frost and drive his penis back up into his body cavity in a mad quest for warmth and survival. Satisfied that Daily was indeed self-fucked, she resumed her study of a dead body, apparently finding it a thousand times more appealing.
The young doctor looked quickly to Riker, who refrained from laughing aloud. Daily turned back to her. “I just thought-”
He was talking to the air. The door was swinging in her wake.
He walked back to Riker, pointing one thumb toward the door. “Frigid little bitch, isn’t she?”
“Naw,” said Riker. “That ain’t it.”
“So just what is that cunt’s problem?”
“You don’t know about Mallory? Nobody told you?”
“Told me what?”
“She’s an escaped nun,” said Riker.
Chief Medical Examiner Edward Slope rounded a wall of filing cabinets to stand just behind Dr. Daily, the most junior member of his staff. The overhead light gave the elder doctor’s gray hair the shine of silver. Slope was a tall man, and his stony face was better suited to a general than a physician. When he cleared his throat, it had the effect of a gunshot.
The young doctor spun around to face his superior. Daily was all startled like a bird, and less the man now.
“She can’t have a drink with you,” said Dr. Slope, in tones of reined-in anger, “because I don’t think her mother would’ve approved of your language.” Slope bent down to bring his face level with Daily’s and to destroy all sense of personal territory. “Her parents were my oldest and dearest friends.”
After the younger doctor had fled the room with as much decorum as fear for his job would allow, Slope turned on Riker.
“Now what was all that crap about an escaped nun? Satan has no nuns.”
A long string of psychiatrists had told him that depression crept up on one so slowly and with such stealth, no victim could point to the hour of its arrival or even the day. But this was not true. Andrew Bliss could point out the very moment in the first whispers from the back of his own mind, which said to him, You are human garbage.
He had thought of visiting his current psychiatrist, but they would only have gone round and round again over the lithium. The lithium made him into a contented cow with slurred speech and hand tremors for all his waking hours, and he had long ago decided he would not forgo the epiphany of his euphoric highs in order to escape the black holes of depression. He preferred to self-medicate with alcohol, but the glow of it was wearing thin, and the calming effects were dissipating now.
The roller coaster was revving up its engine once more. The conductor of his moods was crying, All aboard, Andrew, and away we go! And he was climbing, soaring in his mind, looking toward the radiant lights of Bloomingdale’s ceiling. Gathering speed, Andrew. Never mind that safety belt, boy.
He raced up the mechanical stairs, and two blue-haired dowagers bounced off the rail at his passing. He roughly shouldered a tall brunette who was young and a true child of New York City. But Andrew was one second gone before she thought to put her knee into his groin; he was moving that fast in the body, and his brain was fairly electrified as it sped along its single rail.
In the late hours of the night, when the store had been swept free of consumers and staff, Andrew emerged from the shadows of Bloomingdale’s with a shopping list. He consulted his watch and then his notebook. The watchman and his dogs should be patrolling the second floor.
He stepped lightly on the frozen mechanical staircase, heading toward the rug department. Oh, but on his way he must rip off a dozen raincoats. He would need at least a dozen to make a canopy. A small refrigerator was copped from the employee lounge. Housewares provided the electric espresso maker. He ticked off other items on his list: satin sheets, ten down quilts for his mattress, tulip glasses, a reclining chair and a reading lamp. An hour later, he leaned against the furniture dolly which he had boosted from the stockroom. Leverage was everything. He wasn’t even sweating.
Andrew saw motion among the clothing racks, the shadow of a lithe and graceful dancer, sleek and young. No, wait. It was not a woman, but a large security dog. He had mistimed the watchman’s rounds. He quickly sprayed his entire person with perfume, the better to smell like Bloomingdale’s.