The basement window gave her a ground-level view of the suburban backyard, with its green lawn and shade trees. This had been Louis Markowitz’s piece of the American dream.
The glass pane was streaked with water from the lawn sprinkler, and the grass was neatly trimmed. Mallory knew this was Robin Duffy’s work. Markowitz’s old friend and neighbor did what he could to create the illusion that people still lived there. The old lawyer had raked the leaves in the fall, shoveled the walks in the winter, and brought her offers from young families who wished to buy the place and bring it to life once more. But to Robin Duffy’s consternation, Mallory always refused to sell, and she never explained her reasons for wanting to keep a house she would never live in again.
When was she here last?
She could not remember if it had been weeks ago or a month. She reached up and opened the window. A fresh breeze cut through the basement to kill off the musty smell of abandonment.
Helen had been the first to abandon the house when she died under a surgeon’s knife. Then Mallory had moved out of Brooklyn and into a Manhattan condo with no reminders of home and grief. Markowitz had spent his last years working late hours to avoid coming home to empty rooms, unoccupied furniture and all the memories of Helen ganging up on him in the dark. After Mallory had put her father in the ground and finished his last case, she rarely visited the old place, though this was home and always would be.
No, she would never sell the house, never evict the Markowitzes, or what survived of them in closets, boxes and drawers, from the attic to the basement. She could not imagine an afterlife for them-so where were they, if not here?
Today she had one more piece of her father’s unfinished business, and she had come home again to look for answers among his personal notes in the boxes and files of his disorganized, unfinished life.
She ran her fingers across the dust which had accumulated on the record albums of the swing bands and the cassettes of the Rolling Stones. There were also ancient reel-to-reel recordings, Markowitz’s prized collection of vintage radio programs from the late thirties and forties. She blew more dust from the elaborate recording equipment she had brought to the house a year before his death. She had used it to preserve his most precious recordings on CDs before the old-fashioned tapes could rot on their spools.
Markowitz had been unreasonably happy when she told him he could play the CDs over and over, and never wear them out. She opened the plastic boxes now, all of them, and then she smiled. Though she had a mania for order and neatness, she was pleased to see the CD covers and discs completely mismatched to tell her he had made good use of her gift in the time that was left to him.
Now Riker sat in Markowitz’s favorite chair. Helen had wanted to throw it out. To save it, the old man had dragged it down here to his basement sanctuary. He had never been able to throw anything away. Once she had chided him about that, but today she was counting on it.
Riker was bent over an open cardboard carton. “Your old man’s filing system really sucks.” He reached into the box, his fingers raking through the mess of match-book covers, notepaper, one cocktail napkin, three dinner napkins, and all the assorted materials that would take the scratch of a pen or pencil. He read some of the notes and shook his head. “I’ve known Markowitz forever, but his shorthand still throws me. It could take a year to wade through this, and another year to make sense out of it.”
“We’ll just separate the critical notes by the dates. He dated everything.” Mallory pulled up a small wooden chair which had been her own when she and Markowitz spent the rainy Saturday afternoons of her childhood in the golden age of radio, sipping cocoa and listening to the opening lines of The Shadow-Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?
Riker held up one paper napkin, yellowed with age. “This might be worth something. The date is right. Listen to this. ‘Weight twelve pounds, four ounces with bone. Started twelve-oh-five a.m. Finished twelve forty-five a.m. Time out to rest, five minutes. Time out to send the kid back to bed, fifteen minutes. Dull now. The next one would take longer.’ Now what’s that about?”
She took the napkin from his hand. The date was four days following the murder of the artist and the dancer. How old had she been then? Twelve? She looked at the time and the reference to the kid. Herself? It couldn’t be. She had never been allowed to stay up that late.
Suddenly she remembered exactly when Markowitz had written that note. She looked up to the basement ceiling, as though she could see into the kitchen on the floor above them.
All those years ago, she had left her bed and gone down the stairs, minding the steps that made the most noise. She went stealing through the rooms of the dark house, hours beyond a child’s bedtime. Young Kathy had been heading for the kitchen, tantalized by the knowledge of half a pie at the back of the refrigerator. Food was never begrudged in this house. Food was love. But being caught out of bed so late on a school night, that was another matter.
She had come upon Markowitz standing at Helen’s chopping block and working over a leg of beef with a meat cleaver. So intent was he on his hacking, he never heard the small bare feet on the tiles as the child slipped into the kitchen behind his back. She retrieved the cordless electric meat carver from a drawer, making no sound until she switched it on and the metal came to life in her hand, motor buzzing, the serrated blade working back and forth.
Markowitz had whirled around in a near pirouette, so graceful for a man his size, excess weight hanging around his belt as a tribute to Helen’s cooking. He had been shocked to see the child standing there in her pajamas. There were sweat stains under his arms, and his face was flushed with unaccustomed exertion.
“Kathy, I swear I’m gonna hang a bell on you. ”
And then he had thought to look at the kitchen clock, wiped his hands with a dish towel and scribbled a note on a white paper napkin. He smiled down at her and ruffled her hair. When he smiled, she smiled. It was an uncontrollable reflex, even when she was angry with him, and sometimes it drove her nuts that he could make her do that against her will. She recovered her solemnity quickly and held out the meat carver.
He had thanked her for it, and agreed that yes, the electric knife would be a lot faster than the cleaver. Then he read her mind and pulled the pie from the refrigerator and set it on the kitchen table. He poured them each a glass of milk, and they sat down together in companionable silence for a few bites.
“So, what’s the deal with the meat?” the child had asked, nodding toward the chopping block with some suspicion. Not counting this slice of pie, she knew all food came from Helen’s hand, not his.
“Don’t talk with your mouth full,” he said.
When she had demolished her pie to the last crumb, Markowitz motioned her to stand, turned her around and gave her a very gentle push in the direction of bed and sleep.
Now Detective Sergeant Mallory sat under a bare lightbulb in the basement, staring at the notes on the age-yellowed napkin. She handed it back to Riker.
“These are the old man’s stats for the time it took to cut through the meat and bones of Peter Ariel and Aubry Gilette.”
Morning came with rude bright light, which penetrated the tender, pink membranes of his eyelids. When Andrew Bliss opened his eyes, he wondered if the bedroom ceiling didn’t look rather like the blue sky, replete with fleecy clouds. He rejected this as impossible and closed his eyes again. But now there were car horns in his bedroom as well, and they played havoc with the fragile nerve endings behind his eyeballs, where his brain was fermenting in yesterday’s wine. Unaccountably, his hair hurt, but he would think about that later.
He pushed aside a layer of down quilts, which he instantly recognized from Bloomingdale’s Domestics display. Memory was stealing up on him. He looked around at the cables and the tall pipes, the black ductwork and vents, the surrounding buildings, and the mountains of stolen goods.
In a salute to recovering memory, he slapped his forehead. He instantly regretted that. Holding his poor, freshly injured head, Andrew murmured an apology to it as he began to rise.
On your feet now, one leg next to the other. Good boy, you remembered.
He was attired in striped silk pajamas. A matching robe was laid out on an armchair. How had he gotten that heavy chair up to the roof? Ah, well, in the manic phase nothing was impossible. The door of Bloomingdale’s roof was set high in a narrow shaft of brick standing twenty feet above the rooftop. The exit was sealed with industrial tape and bound by a heavy chain. The metal stairs leading from the door and down to the roof had been ripped away and twisted outward to hang in the sky as a staircase to nowhere. A second roof exit, resembling a storm cellar, was set into the ground. Half of this door had been barricaded with two steel beams and six large wooden cases topped by a pile of designer raincoats. The door handle was clear of debris, but useless.
Well, haven’t I been thorough. But why?
It was a mercy the espresso maker from Housewares was already plugged into the roof cable. He could never have found the electrical outlet this morning, certainly not before a cup of coffee. He switched it on and smiled feebly when the red light glowed.
While the espresso machine was busy, he surveyed his new domain. Bloomingdale’s roof was an island, one city block square and bounded by heavily trafficked streets on all sides. Ah, paradise. The potted palm tree in the corner might have been some idea of homage to other island exiles with a preference for sweaty tropics.
The espresso machine ceased its gurgling. When he looked down, he noticed the bullhorn plugged into the same outlet. What had he planned to do with that? And the binoculars? Or might this be something he had already done? He picked up the binoculars and adjusted the lenses in time to see a pigeon magnified to the proportions of Godzilla. Startled, he nearly dropped the glasses. He was unaccustomed to nature in the raw. He refocussed the lenses on the street below, and the next sighting was no less shocking.
Oh, the clothes, the clothes these people wore. How did these idiots manage to commit so many really criminal offenses in a single outfit? Had they not eyes to see?
It was coming back to him now.
He picked up the bullhorn in his free hand and cleared his throat, amplifying his phlegm a hundredfold. It worked.
But where… Oh, right.
He had broken into the security office last night. This was one of the bullhorns they used for fire drills.
Through the telescoping lenses, he scanned the sidewalk again. A heavyset woman was strolling past the store-his store. Oh, this was really too much. He raised the bullhorn and inhaled deeply. “No you don’t!” he blared in a voice so powerful it caught his hangover off guard, and the reaction time for pain to set in had a long lag. “You there! You in the black and white dress. Madam, you know damn well you’re too heavy to wear horizontal stripes. Your friends have all told you that. Might I suggest a dark rose ensemble to go with that Mediterranean coloring?”
The woman, trapped in the twin lenses, moved her head quickly from side to side. Her mouth fell open, and her head slowly bowed. As she turned away from the store, a newspaper fell from her hand and marked the spot where Andrew had scored his first direct hit. The young woman settled into the gait of an old woman, meandering down another street which was not Andrew’s street and of no concern to him. He had already moved on to the crime in progress at the bus stop.
“Oh, you can’t be serious!” he screamed. And now delayed reaction set in. His brain was throbbing and thrashing against the sides of his skull in a mad attempt to get free of it. In a lower pitch, and with the pathos of genuine agony, he said, “You can’t possibly take that gorgeous Armani creation on the bus.”
The perpetrator in the Armani suit was all eyes, and his eyes went everywhere.
“That’s right, you know what you’ve done wrong. Now go and flag down a cab. Show some dignity, for Christ’s sake. Let’s try and live up to the clothes, shall we?”
And the man did indeed put out his hand and flagged down a cab to carry him away as quickly as possible.
Andrew went back to his bed of ten down quilts and rested his damaged head on a pile of silk pillows. His head lolled from side to side as he took stock of his campsite. Fortuitously, he had remembered the larder of Le Train Bleu, and apparently he had removed their entire stock of premium wines. The cases were stacked in a solid wall of champagne and red wine. Cartons of imported cigarettes were strewn everywhere.
Did Bloomingdale’s sell…? Oh, right.
He had raided the locker of an executive.
Well, here was a snag. He had not had the foresight to steal a portable toilet before sealing the exits from the roof.
What about the fire escape?
No escape. The emergency exits were all interior. He looked up at the metal staircase which no longer led to the roof door. Distressed and mangled steel angled oddly away from the brick structure. Had he really done that? But how? Drunks could be so ingenious. He might have to get drunk again to figure out how he had managed it.
What else? Was that a year’s supply of espresso beans from the gourmet selection on six? It was.
He opened the half-size refrigerator. No cream. He was inconsolable. Ah, but two magnums of wine were cooling with companion tulip glasses. Light flooded his soul again.
None. Not any in the refrigerator, nor among the boxes and cartons. He counted fourteen smoking jackets, eight Dresden teacups, nine pairs of silk pajamas, two potted palm trees and no food.
During the bender, while he was in the genius mode, he must have resolved the problem of solid-waste disposal by eliminating the solids. Quite sensible. He could piss his liquid wastes over the side of the wall.
He returned to his post at the edge of the roof and slung the strap of the field glasses around his neck. He took up his horn just in time. There was another blight on the street. “You… in the too-mauve-for-words pant-suit.”
The mauve woman stopped and looked everywhere but in the right direction.
“Up here,” he guided her. “I’m up here with the pigeons and God. Look up! Good. What are you trying to do to me? Do you want me to hurl myself into the street? You can’t get away with that pantsuit, and you know it. Give yourself up on the second floor. Surrender to Alice. She’ll know how to deal with you.”
The woman was entering the store. So far, the pedestrian masses were rather good about taking creative direction. So he had finally found his true vocation- fashion terrorist.
Now if only he had his personal shopper, his life would be complete. He leaned over the roof once more and screamed into the bullhorn, “Annie! Annie, where are you?”
Charles Butler unsheathed his blade and slashed open an envelope. He was arrested for a moment by the shining surface of his antique dagger.
Mrs. Ortega had been polishing things again.
He would rather have the ancient piece of silver clouded with tarnish. He never cared to come upon his own reflection, or even the knife blade’s width of it, by surprise. But every now and again, he must endure a time when his housekeeper would go mad with metal cleaners, of which there were as many varieties as there were metals. And for a time, he could go nowhere in his own home without some bright piece of Mrs. Ortega’s handiwork throwing back the image of a man whose nose was too long, and whose eyes resembled heavy-lidded hen’s eggs with small blue irises.
Now he sat quietly awaiting his visitors’ knock on the door. No doubt the people advancing down the hallway were known to him. He hadn’t buzzed anyone into the building, so one of them must have a key. That narrowed the field to his tenants, his cleaning woman or his business partner. And of course the visitors were on their way to his own door, for this suite of offices and his apartment across the hall occupied the entire second floor of the SoHo building.
This particular room was the reception area of Mallory and Butler, Ltd. Queen Anne reigned with Louis XV in period furniture with graceful curving legs, which seemed always on the verge of dancing. Each morning, Charles sat down to this antique desk, opened his mail by the light of a tall triptych of arched windows-and wondered what his partner might be up to.
She so seldom stopped by anymore. He understood.
A consulting firm could not hold much allure for Mallory. The rather academic problems of quantifying, qualifying, and finding homes for the oddly gifted could hardly compare to the problems of Special Crimes Section. These days, she only stopped by to play with the computer toys she stored in her private office.
The footsteps in the hallway stopped. Now the door was opening without the customary knock. Only two people ever did that, Mrs. Ortega and Mallory. But his cleaning woman never traveled with an entourage.
Mallory was first into the room, carrying a large and dusty cardboard carton. She was in a black mood by her tone as she said to Riker, “I want to find that little twit, Andrew Bliss, and right now.”
Behind the safe cover of his own carton, Riker was making facial expressions to indicate that she was a brat. He in turn was followed by a young uniformed officer with his own load of boxes, and these bore the stamp of NYPD. The parade trooped past his desk with two “Hi Charles” ‘s from Mallory and Riker. And then the door to Mallory’s private office closed behind them.
Minutes later, the uniformed officer emerged, nodded to Charles in passing, and left him to wonder what was going on. Of course he could guess. He had read the morning paper. But most of the cartons had borne stamps from the NYPD evidence room. Now that was a problem, because they couldn’t possibly have four cartons of evidence in a brand-new case which, according to the newspaper, involved a single ice pick, no suspects and no leads.
Riker emerged from Mallory’s office, leaving the door ajar. “Charles, I’m gonna make coffee. You want some?”
“Oh, yes. Thank you.” He would have asked after Riker’s health, but the man was already ambling down the short hall leading to the office kitchen.
Charles leaned far over the desk to see through the open door. Mallory’s office might as well have been in another building in an entirely different solar system, where extreme order and high technology prevailed over charm and antiquity.
Mallory was sitting cross-legged on the floor, her back turned to him as she lifted something heavy out of a carton. It was an axe wrapped in clear plastic. The axe handle was short, and the blade was no wider than the meat cleaver in his kitchen. He didn’t care to hazard a guess at the stains visible through the clear cover.
What does an axe have to do with an ice pick murder?
Mallory’s head turned quickly to catch him in the act of watching her.
Of all the bizarre talents he had ever been asked to study, Mallory’s were the most convoluted. In addition to her gifts in the computer mode, she had a hyperawareness of her surroundings which he found inexplicable.
She smiled unlike any other woman. Her expression now said, I caught you. But her smiles had a wider spectrum of meanings, which included, I’m going to get you for that, and he never wanted to be the recipient of that one. It was so seldom that she smiled for happiness. He suspected there was not much of that in her life. He had known her for years, and yet she was still a great mystery to him. He had once asked Riker what Mallory did with her off-duty hours. Riker had advanced the theory that she went into a closet at night and hung from the rod by her heels like a vampire bat.
Now she beckoned to him. He left the room of beloved antiques and crossed over the threshold of her office and into the world of high technology. Three computers dominated the room, metallic cyclopes, each with a large gray terminal eye. Other machines kept them company in links of cables and wires. The office furnishings were metal with cruel sharp corners. Technical manuals sat in perfect order on the purely functional shelving.
And then there was the incongruity of a bloody axe.
Mallory pulled open the flaps of another carton. Inside was a jumble of papers in all shapes and sizes. Charles recognized the scrawled lines of Markowitz’s handwriting on napkins, matchbook covers and envelopes. Mallory brushed these papers aside to reveal an old photograph. Wordlessly, she handed it to him. He recognized his own likeness first, all six feet, four inches of himself towering above the surrounding crowd of people. And then his eyes settled on the image of a dear friend, the late Louis Markowitz. It was a younger version of the man, perhaps by ten or twelve years. Louis’s hair was only beginning to gray in this photograph. The excess of forty pounds was there, and carried with the same elan, but the lines of his face were not yet so deep.
“That was taken at Aubry Gilette’s funeral,” said Mallory.
Charles looked down at the photograph with wonder. If he had only been standing one place to the right, he might have had the pleasure of Louis Markowitz’s company years earlier, and his own life might have been that much richer for it. He missed Louis sorely; he missed him every day.
And what effect had Louis’s death had on his only child? Well, no outward effect at all. He often wondered if, in the secret life of Kathleen Mallory, she didn’t spend part of her time in grief. He would never know. She was an intensely private person. There were questions one could never ask her, such as, Does it hurt you still?
Riker entered the room, juggling three coffee cups and the morning paper. He placed one cup in Charles’s free hand, and leaning down, he gave one to Mallory. Riker drank deeply, rushing caffeine into his veins until his eyes were all the way open.
“I don’t think you’re gonna find a money motive in this one, kid.” Riker hunkered down beside her. “That must put a real crimp in your day.”
“It could be revenge,” said Mallory. “I like that one, too.”
Riker held up the newspaper, folded back to the page Charles had been reading. “You wanna see your reviews?”
The headline at the top of the column read: NYPD HUNTS ART TERRORIST. In the subheading it said: Connection to Oren Watt?
Riker was grinning. “I think they’ve really captured your style, kid. Listen to this. ‘Detective Sergeant Kathleen Mallory would have walked over the body of the Times reporter had he not scrambled to get out of her way.’ ”
“And it’s a good picture, too,” said Charles, bending down to admire her portrait over Riker’s shoulder. “It’s worthy of a frame. But what did you do to the reporter?”
“I never touched that bastard.”
“She told him to get the hell out of her way or she’d shoot him.” Riker handed the paper to Mallory. “You’re damn lucky he had a sense of humor. We don’t want any more bad press on this case.” As Mallory held the paper, Riker tapped the caption under her photograph. “ ‘The photogenic green-eyed blond detective.’ I like that line.”
“On the next page,” said Charles, “there’s an interview with the FBI spokesman. The reporter was questioning him on the terrorist aspect of the murder- something to do with a critic’s column on art terrorism. The FBI man says they’re looking into it.”
“Oh, terrific.” Riker slugged back the last of his coffee. “Damn that jerk Andrew Bliss. Now we got feds in the house. Commissioner Beale’s gonna have an aneurysm. A damn swarm of feds with psychiatric Ouija boards.”
Mallory said nothing. In her own critique, she dumped the newspaper into a wastebasket. She pulled four plastic bags from the carton and read the labels. “What about all this hair and fiber evidence? Was all of this accounted for? I can’t find the forensic reports.”
“Never developed it,” said Riker. “The gallery was a public space with heavy traffic. All of it was collected and tagged, but most of it wasn’t, worth the tests.”
“That doesn’t sound like Markowitz. He was a detail freak.”
“After Oren Watt confessed to the murder, we couldn’t justify the budget for any more lab work. Blakely did everything but handcuff Markowitz. The chief just wanted the case wrapped and forgotten.”
Oren Watt? Charles stood over Mallory’s desk and looked down at the labels of other evidence bags. Each one bore Oren Watt’s name. “Why are you going back into this old murder? They have the man who did it. They caught him twelve years ago.”
“No they didn’t.” Mallory turned back to the carton and pulled out a paper bag. It came apart as she handled it, and a shred of stained clothing fell to the floor. “They caught a man to do the time for the murders. That’s not quite the same thing. Watt didn’t do it.”
Riker lowered his head only a little and turned his face toward the window. Charles recognized the subtle meaning of this simple gesture. Apparently, Riker did not share her theory.
“What about these tracks?” She held up a bundle of photographs. The first image was a pattern of red footprints on a hardwood floor. “Men’s shoes, women’s shoes.” She shuffled the photographs like a deck of cards. “There aren’t any notes on half of these prints.” By her tone of voice, she seemed to hold Riker responsible for this oversight.
“Damn waste of time,” said Riker. “Someone called an anonymous tip to the press that night. The news crews beat a patrol car to the scene by five minutes. They contaminated the evidence before the uniforms showed up. We corralled some of the reporters to print their shoes for elimination, but we didn’t get all of them.”
He took the photographs from her hand, riffled through them, pulled one out and turned it over to display a label. “This one has notes. It’s tagged for Oren Watt. That’s one set of footprints we had an easy match for. And his shoes were still bloody when his psychiatrist surrendered him to the police.”
Charles had the sense that Riker was playing a game of push and shove with Mallory. She chose to let him play alone. Her voice was casual, and her face turned down to the contents of the carton. “Any idea who tipped off the newspapers?”
“Probably Oren Watt,” said Riker, draining his coffee cup. “Watt wouldn’t be the first psychopath with a craving for publicity.”
“Oren Watt didn’t do it.” There was a definite edge to her voice this time.
“Both things could be true,” Charles suggested in the gentle manner of a peacemaker. “Watt could have made that call whether he did the murders or not.”
Mallory nodded, seeming to like that idea. Riker would not look at her. He moved away to stand by the door and stare into his empty cup.
Charles stepped between them. “What can I do to help?”
“You’re taking me to the ball tomorrow night,” said Mallory.
“You can’t mean the Manhattan Charities Ball. Is that tomorrow?”
“Yes, Charles.” She stood up and walked to her desk.
“But no one actually goes to the ball.”
“You buy the tickets every year.” She opened the desk’s center drawer and pulled out the printed invitations and receipts. Mallory held them up to him, as though she had just caught him in a lie.
She must have retrieved the invitations from the waste-basket in the reception room where he filed them every year. She could only have found the receipts in his private files. One day they really must sit down and discuss what his privacy meant to him, as opposed to what little it meant to her.
For the moment, he only shrugged. “Well, of course I buy the tickets. It’s a charity event. My mother was a friend of Mrs. Quinn’s. We’ve always bought the tickets, but no one actually goes to the ball.”
“The mayor goes,” said Riker.
“Well, yes, but he’s not-” Here Charles stopped himself from saying that the mayor did not come from a Social Register family, that he was merely the leader of the largest city on earth. “Yes, I suppose the city’s power structure will be there. You’re quite right. But I don’t know anyone who goes.”
“J. L. Quinn will be there, and you know him.” Mallory turned to face the rear wall. It was covered with cork and functioned as a giant bulletin board. “You were at Harvard the same time Quinn was.”
Charles wasn’t about to ask her how she knew that. He was staring at her computers, which sometimes did double duty as cyberspace burglary tools.
“Well, Quinn has to go,” he said somewhat defensively. “His mother hosts the ball.”
“And Aubry’s father-the architect, Gregor Gilette?” She pinned the old photograph of Aubry’s funeral to the wall. “He’ll be at the ball. You know him, too, don’t you?”
As if there was any doubt in her mind about any sector of his formerly private life. “Gregor also has to go. He was married to Mrs. Quinn’s daughter.”
“Sabra?” Mallory walked back to the carton and sifted through the paperwork bundles, scanning a page in each one. She turned to Riker. “Just the one name everywhere Aubry’s mother is listed. Why isn’t it Sabra Gilette?”
Riker shrugged. “Sabra was her full legal name, just the one name.”
Mallory looked to Charles for enlightenment.
“Sabra renounced the family name and walked away from the money. Then she became wildly successful on her own. She was an enormously talented painter. Later, she set a legal precedent when she married Gregor Gilette and refused to take his name. She-”
“Do you remember seeing Sabra at Aubry’s funeral?”
“Yes, it was the last time I ever saw her.”
Mallory was deep in the interrogation mode now. She had reached her limit for six minutes of semicivil conversation. “Did you like Sabra?”
“Yes, very much. I also liked her work. I have one of her early paintings.” Suddenly he wished he had not told her that. And now she would want to know-
“Where is it?”
Charles and Mallory walked across the hall to the apartment which was his residence. Beyond the foyer, a bank of tall windows made the front room light and airy, despite the heavy furnishings in dark woods spanning four centuries of craftsmen. All that belonged to his own era were the contemporary works of art. They should not have worked well with the older pieces, and yet they did. The colors of a splatter painting agreed with the bright details of the Persian rug and the upholstery of a George III side chair. Another abstract repeated the rococo lines of a Belter sofa.
They walked down the wide hallway, where late twentieth-century drawings were on close hanging acquaintance with framed pages of illuminated manuscripts. At the end of the hall, he opened a linen closet and pointed to a framed canvas sitting on the floor, face to the wall. He lifted it carefully and handed it to her. The painting had a lonely, sad feel to it. One small pale worm of an element writhed in a maelstrom of powerful bold color.
“Don’t you like it, Charles?”
“I like it very much. It’s one of her most accessible works. I bought it at a Christie’s auction a few years ago.”
“Why do you keep it on the floor of a closet?”
He shifted uncomfortably, not wanting to answer her. He kept it in the closet because what it communicated was so obvious, so blatant that his cleaning woman, Mrs. Ortega, had readily understood it. That high school dropout who loved baseball and hated art, Mrs. Ortega, had understood the painting so clearly that Charles had been embarrassed when the normally hostile cleaning woman had gone out of her way to be nice to him for several weeks after she had seen the painting on the wall of his front room. So this is what your guts look like, Mrs. Ortega’s uncharacteristic kindness had said to him, you poor jerk.
Now he wondered if Mallory was drawing the same inference.
“Charles, can we hang this in my office for a while? Just till I wrap the case? Oh, and your collection of art catalogs? Do you have one of Sabra’s museum retrospective?”
They returned to the office with the painting and the catalog. Mallory set the canvas against the cork wall, which Riker was littering with clippings, photographs and reports. Mallory followed behind him, straightening every sheet with machinelike precision. Finally, she slapped Riker’s hand away and forbade him to touch the board at all.
Charles sat at Mallory’s desk. Riker looked over his shoulder as he turned the pages of the museum catalog, hunting for photographs of the elusive Sabra. Here and there, Charles would point out a turned face, the line of a cheek. A hand raised to blind the camera’s eye.
“What’s with this broad?” said Riker. “There’s not one clear photograph of her.”
“She hated the sight of a camera,” said Charles. “Sabra was always reclusive. She very rarely appeared in public. An agent submitted her work through one gallery, and I’m not sure she ever met with the gallery director.”
Mallory turned away from her work on the cork wall. “Was it Koozeman’s gallery?”
“Oh, no,” said Charles. “Sabra was a major talent. She showed in the most prominent gallery on Fifty-seventh Street. In those days, Koozeman only had a small storefront gallery in the East Village-the one where Sabra’s daughter was murdered.”
“Here’s one of Sabra’s kid.” Riker pointed to the photograph of a young woman standing by a painting. “Pretty girl. Did you know Aubry very well?”
“No, not really,” said Charles. “Just a nodding acquaintance. These were people I ran into at weddings and funerals. I’m usually excused from christenings and graduations. I did see Aubry at the gallery shows. Sabra rarely attended her own openings, but Aubry and her father never missed one.”
Mallory was flipping through a notebook, checking off items. Now she hovered over Charles and dropped a card on the desk in front of him. “I made a hair appointment for you.”
“You need a haircut. My stylist will take you this afternoon. That’s your appointment card.”
“But this salon-”
“I know. They only do women. But I leave large tips. They’ll do you. So we have a date, Charles?”
“For the ball? Oh, yes.”
Oh, God, yes and absolutely.
Since his teenage years, it had been his fantasy to walk into a grand ballroom with a beautiful woman on his arm. In earlier fantasies of childhood, he had seen himself in the bedtime story of Pinocchio, the long-nosed puppet who ached to become a real boy. Now, in his fortieth year, as he looked across the room at young Mallory, he realized he had grown up into Cyrano, another poor hapless longnose who fell in love and found it to be a bleak place where he lived by himself.
And what of Mallory’s perceptions of this strange onesided romance? He wondered if she didn’t see him as a large and friendly, slightly shaggy dog in a three-piece suit.
As if in answer to his innermost thoughts and fears, she patted him on the head and told him to get out of her chair.
He had only closed his eyes for a moment, and then he had fallen into a deep sleep. In the next moment, his head exploded.
“ANDREW!” screamed the voice from hell.
Oh, no. She had her own bullhorn. If there really was a God in New York City, how did He coexist with Emma Sue Hollaran? The woman’s normal speaking voice had the unholy pitch of a cat set on fire. Now she was electrified, insanely amplified. And for the first time in years, he was not fortified to withstand it. This time, he was sober and all soft underbelly.
Brain asloshing, moving slowly, minding the pain, he crept to the short wall at the edge of the roof.
“GOOD MORNING, ANDREW!”
His body jerked back, the involuntary motion of a man whose head has been struck by a grenade. He ventured a second glance over the side. Another woman was taking the bullhorn away from Emma Sue.
Oh, thank you, thank you, whoever you are.
She must be from the haute couture police, for Emma Sue was dressed in the most awful rag. It had to be some wardrobe relic from the days when she was allowed to dress herself without his advice. Well, if this alone did not demonstrate his indispensability. The dress was a bright pink billboard plastered on her meaty frame, advertising choice cuts of bovine flesh, thick flanks and overhanging rump. And what was she doing here? He had only wanted her to handle a simple press release.
He picked up his bullhorn and aimed at her like a gun. Oh, would that it were a gun. “Emma Sue, go inside and have someone dress you. Now, before someone sees you.”
She was going inside. And he knew it would be a while before she dared come back. Wasn’t he brilliant? Oh, she must be seething. How secure was the roof door?
“Mr. Bliss,” said the more civil woman now in possession of the bullhorn. “I’m Harriet Marcan. Women’s Wear!”
“Call me Andrew. What may I do for you?”
“I’d like to interview you, Andrew. May I come up?”
“Not possible, I’m afraid. The stairs are torn away from one door and the other is barricaded. You simply can’t get here from there.” Annie had joined the reporter on the sidewalk. “But of course,” he continued, “I have no objection to the interview.”
“It’s a bit awkward, isn’t it?” With one hand, Ms. Marcan tossed off the flyaway gesture of You’re kidding, right?
“I can fix that,” said Andrew. “Annie, have an armchair and a table brought down from Furniture on the fifth floor. And arrange a champagne brunch for our Ms. Marcan.”
Across champagne glasses and through dueling bullhorns, Andrew explained his modus operandi to the reporter from Women’s Wear. Fashion terrorism was the only way. She could see that, couldn’t she? For terrorism was horribly effective, wasn’t it? And who could fail to notice, in a daily perusal of the Times, that it worked best when there was a base of genuine and justifiable outrage. The world might not approve the methodology, but they did sit up and pay attention. And they became, against their collective will, aware of wrongs done.
So now there was a homeland for the beautiful people. Nothing fancy, just the one square block of Bloomingdale’s. And tomorrow? The entire island of Manhattan.
“Sorry, I’m digressing. Terrorism will out. You’ll see.”
J. L. Quinn followed her through the door with a few minutes’ distance between them. When he entered the Koozeman Gallery, it took him another minute to locate Detective Mallory among the bustle of art handlers, a tour group and the television crew.
Mallory stood by the entrance of the main gallery, removing the yellow strips of tape which had marked the crime scene. The television crew poured into this room as the last tape was stripped away, and she stood aside.
Oren Watt, confessed murderer in a dark suit, was leading the parade of cameras, women with clipboards and men with sound equipment and lights. The flesh of Watt’s head shone through the stubble of close-cropped brown hair. His dark glasses only concealed small, ordinary eyes, and could not begin to disguise him. His most prominent feature was an overlarge mouth, which made a long, thin-lipped line across the lower face, as if someone had drawn it there, and drawn it badly. The small ears were another odd feature, only half finished in their details. Perhaps his mother had pushed him out of the womb before her work was quite done. Watt’s child-size pug nose fit well with this theory.
When the trample of feet had come to rest in this room, Oren Watt was approving the placement of his artwork. The rather bad drawing of a dismembered foot was held to the wall at different levels and locations by a young woman in the art handler’s uniform of black jersey and jeans. The confessed murderer shook his head and waved the drawing farther along the wall and higher. The art handler was quick to follow his instructions, for this was the Monster of Manhattan, wasn’t it? The gallery worker was so young-Oren Watt had probably been the bogeyman of her childhood nightmares.
Mallory was the only one in the room who seemed bored by Watt. Quinn watched her as she turned her back on the Monster of Manhattan, and walked along the opposite wall, where the drawings were lined up awaiting the hanging process. Her face gave Quinn no clue to her thoughts as she scanned the artwork. Perhaps she was wondering which of the body parts belonged to his niece, the dancer, and which to Peter Ariel, the young artist who had died with Aubry. The sketches were all so badly drawn, there was no gender differentiation.
The sidewalk tour gathered at the entrance to the room. Two of the party snapped photographs. None of them needed their tour guide to tell them this was Oren Watt. One man nudged another to whisper that Watt was even uglier than his television image. The entire tour group stared at the strange-looking man as though he were a zoo specimen, and by Quinn’s lights, this was close to the truth.
Quinn kept track of Mallory as she wandered out of the main gallery and into a smaller room where the real art was hung. He followed her, wondering what he might say to make this meeting seem accidental.
The tour group was pulled away from the spectacle of the monster and led into the smaller room by the guide-cum-art-maven, who was babbling banalities. Twelve pairs of feet trooped up to the drawing Mallory was admiring. Conversation stopped as the group’s leader rambled on about the lines of the work, the texture of the paper and the artist’s intention-as if he had a clue.
Quinn appeared on the far side of the group. Respecting the etiquette of the docent’s lecture, he kept his distance and his silence, and never looked at Mallory directly or acknowledged that he was aware of her. The tension between them was strung across the baffle of words and a score of tourists.
He studied her now, as she studied the minimalist piece on the gallery wall. What held her attention was a soft embossing of three delicate lines of paper. The strokes were exquisitely feminine, as were the lines of a dreaming nude. There was no frame. It was fixed to the wall with four pins. The stock was pristine ivory and the embossing was visible only in reflective light, so faintly were the lines raised. He would later return to the gallery and buy it. Later still, he would put it away in a dark portfolio because it reminded him too much of Mallory.
Her head turned slightly, and for a few minutes they did the children’s dance of the eyes, each stealing glances at the other. And so their conversation began before they ever said hello.
Emma Sue Hollaran pulled the ball gown out of her closet. She held the hanger at arm’s length and studied the formfitting sheath, which was not intended for dancing beyond the confines of the box step. Before she even tried on the gown, she knew the long zipper would be a problem over the thighs and buttocks.
And she was right.
A full-length mirror of three panels afforded a global view of her body. The zipper held, but oh, what it held. The fabric was straining over large bumps and accentuating lumps.
She reached out to the telephone and tapped out the clinic’s telephone number, a number she knew by heart. After the frustration of dealing with the receptionist, who had no time slots left to give her, she screamed, “He’ll see me, or I’ll turn him in! I’ll burn his ass!”
And indeed she could send the plastic surgeon to jail if she chose to. He’d done procedures on her after four other surgeons had turned her down. Once he put her near death-never mind that it was at her own insistence. He had taken out more fat than her buttocks, stomach, arms and double chin could safely part with at one session with the high-tech vacuum cleaner.
The thighs had been left undone in the doctor’s haste to change her skin color from blue to something more like live flesh. After that near-death experience, she had been wary of having her thighs done, but now she had no choice, did she? And the buttocks had grown back to their former substantial proportions. Now that was definitely a breach of contract. Liposuction promised svelte forever, and lied.
When the receptionist returned to the phone, an opening had magically appeared in the doctor’s schedule.
“Where is Mallory?” asked Charles, freshly barbered- styled, actually-and smiling.
Riker was seated at the desk in Mallory’s office. “She’s out.” Now he looked up and whistled. “That’s a great haircut, Charles.”
Charles agreed. He was very pleased with himself today. Mallory’s hairstylist had convinced him that giving more volume to his hair would call attention away from his large nose. The man had cut his locks with the skill of a sculptor, and the effect was striking. Charles thought it highly unlikely that his nose could be minimized by a blow dryer, but he had managed to sustain this fairy tale all the way from Fifty-seventh Street to SoHo. And he had yet another reason for good spirits. He had something to contribute to the case.
“But where did Mallory go? I have good news.”
“She’s at the Koozeman Gallery.” Riker removed a carton from the desk and settled it to the floor. “The mayor ordered us to take down the crime-scene tapes. Seems they were getting in the way of the television crews. God forbid a homicide investigation should hold up a television shooting schedule. Get this, they’re doing a documentary of the old murders, and Oren Watt is the technical advisor. They want to reenact it in the Koozeman Gallery.”
“What uncanny timing.” Charles was staring at the cork wall. It was a bizarre combination of Mallory’s ultraneat positioning and Markowitz’s sloppy handwriting, interspersed with bloody photographs of footprints and articles of clothing. It was almost a chessboard.
“Yeah, those television jackals move fast,” said Riker.
“But it’s the wrong gallery. The murders were in the East Village location.”
“Charles, it’s only television. No one expects real. So what’s the good news?”
“I found Andrew Bliss.”
“Nice going. Where is he?”
“You think he might be there for a while?”
“I know he will.”
Riker was rising from his chair when Charles waved him to sit down again. “No, there’s no hurry. He’s there for the long haul. You see, my hairdresser-Mallory’s hairdresser-is having an affair with an off-Broadway set designer whose brother is one of Bloomingdale’s executives. They were talking on the speakerphone while I was having my hair cut. According to the brother of the Bloomingdale’s man, Andrew Bliss outfitted the roof as a luxury campsite. Then the chairwoman of the Public Works Committee sent out a press release declaring Andrew Bliss an artwork in progress. And an ACLU attorney is meeting with the store’s law firm to discuss freedom of speech versus liability. Bliss has already done his first press interview. Now he’s an official performance artist.”
“Oh, great. Another performance artist.” Riker began to push the telephone buttons. “Let’s see what we’ve got on the little bastard.”
While Riker was talking to the desk sergeant in the East Side precinct, Charles turned his attention back to the cork wall. All but a few of the pictures and reports belonged to the old murders of the artist and the dancer. As he walked the length of the wall, he was aware of the father’s brain merging with the daughter’s. Here was Louis Markowitz’s mania for detail matching Mallory’s obsession with neatness. Every bit of paper was equidistant from each other, but the significance of some items should be beneath Mallory’s contempt for the small details. And she usually tossed out whatever did not agree with her.
Riker held the telephone receiver in the crook of his neck as he tapped his foot and played with his pencil, all the signs that his call had been placed on hold.
Charles continued down the length of the wall. The fine detail work was already falling away. Louis Markowitz’s influence was passing off. Most of Louis’s paperwork had related to Aubry Gilette. Now Charles encountered a smiling publicity photo of Peter Ariel, the artist who had died with the young dancer. All that accompanied this photo was a medical examiner’s report.
After a few minutes’ conversation, Riker put down the phone, and none too gently. “We can’t touch Andrew Bliss. No interviews, nothing. Bliss’s personal shopper signed a charge for the merchandise. Then his lawyer showed up with a check to cover damages to a roof staircase.”
“But surely this is criminal trespass.”
“The store isn’t filing a complaint. They like the little guy. He’s their most loyal shopper. And he’s good for a five-minute spot on the evening news.” Riker put his feet up on the desk and slumped low in his chair. “I don’t understand this, Charles. I thought the guy was a professional art critic, and now he’s a damn performance artist.”
“Well, there’s quite a bit of crossover in art. Artists sometimes write art criticism the way authors review books by other people. No reason why a critic shouldn’t make art.”
“But isn’t that a conflict of interest?”
“Perhaps, but crossover is common practice. Take your most recent dead artist, Dean Starr. As you know, that wasn’t the name he was born with. His-”
“Starr is an alias?” Riker pulled out his pen and notebook and scanned the first page. “All the identification on his body was in that name.”
“Sorry, I assumed you knew.” Charles retrieved his discarded newspaper from the wastebasket and opened it to the obituary columns. He tapped the boxed mention of former art critic, current murder victim, Dean Strvnytchlk. “That’s it. Under his original name, he used to publish a rather bad magazine of local art coverage. He was the chief art critic. He also contributed reviews to local tabloids.”
Riker stared at the obituary. “How do you pronounce that?”
“Too many consonants. You’re on your own.” Charles opened a desk drawer and pulled out a pair of scissors. “If you followed the art news, you would have seen a review of his own show written under his real name.”
“The bastard reviewed himself? You’re kidding me.”
“Not at all. There’s historical precedent-Walt Whitman once reviewed his own work anonymously.” Charles carefully cut the obituary from the paper, trying to make straight edges so as not to annoy Mallory with an imperfection. “Starr’s gallery dealer, Koozeman, is also a critic. He writes a regular column for an international art magazine. Oh yes, it goes on all the time.”
Charles tacked the obituary on the cork wall below the medical examiner’s preliminary report on the death of Dean Starr. And now he noticed the next item on the cork wall was a blank sheet of paper. On closer inspection, this paper covered a photograph. He turned to Riker. “What’s this about?”
“Mallory did that for you. It’s the crime-scene photo of the old double homicide. She covered it over because you knew Aubry.”
Charles and Riker exchanged a look which acknowledged that neither of them had believed she was capable of this delicate courtesy.
Mallory paused near a pile of the television crew’s paraphernalia. Quinn watched as she neatly snatched up a clipboard. Anyone might have believed it belonged to her as she studied the pages on her way out the door.
He caught up with her on the street outside the Koozeman Gallery. “Hello again.”
She nodded, acknowledging that she recognized him, but not that she was particularly pleased to see him. She turned away and walked down the street.
“I wonder if you could explain something to me.” He walked beside her, matching his steps to hers. “The drawings of the bodies? Oren Watt has been selling them for years, and I still can’t believe he’s being allowed to profit on murder.”
“He gets around the profit-on-crime laws because he was never brought to trial.” One hand shaded her eyes from the light of the noonday sun as she looked up at him. “But your family lawyer would have told you that.”
It was impossible to miss her suggestion that he was making up useless small talk. And of course, he was.
A warm breeze ruffled a bright silk banner overhead, and he could follow the wind down the SoHo street with the lift and swirl of similar banners which hung out over the sidewalk to advertise galleries and trendy boutiques.
He was walking faster now, to keep pace with her, and casting around for some bit of unfoolish conversation that might hold her attention for a while.
Mallory broke the silence. “Did you know Koozeman scheduled another show of Dean Starr’s work?”
“Yes. I thought it might be going up today. I was surprised by the Oren Watt drawings.”
Her face was telling him she didn’t think he was all that surprised, and he wasn’t. She quickened her steps, putting some distance between them. He walked faster.
“Koozeman never handled Oren Watt before,” he said, in self-defense. “So, it is odd.”
“Koozeman says he’s not handling Watt.” She consulted the stolen clipboard as she walked. At the top of the first sheet was a network logo followed by a schedule of places and dates. “He says it’s a temporary installation. The television crew rented the space for the day.” She made a check mark by the Koozeman Gallery and this day’s date. “The Dean Starr show goes up in three days. Do you know why Koozeman’s so hot to have another showing of Starr’s work?”
“He’ll want to take advantage of the publicity on the murder. Also, he has to unload the work as fast as he can. It’s such a crock, it even strains the credulity of the amateur collector.”
“What about the artist who died with Aubry? Was he any good?”
“Peter Ariel? Well, for a dead junkie and a third-rate hack, he had one hell of a run on the secondary market. But what a critic thinks of his work doesn’t matter.”
“Explain.” It was an order.
He obliged her. “Collectors don’t listen to art critics anymore. They listen to their accountants, who tell them how the artist is doing in the primary market. Then, they can make projections on the staying power in the secondary market.”
“What is this, Quinn? Are we talking art, or stocks and bonds?”
“Same thing. The actual art means very little in the greater schematic of finance. The initial buyers paid a low price for Peter Ariel’s sculptures. After his death, the work was worth a small fortune on the resale market. The early resale buyers were ghouls who collect souvenirs of messy homicides. The amateur collectors misunderstood, bought the work at the inflated price, and held on to it too long. Once the ghoul market was saturated, the price declined to the cost of the artist’s materials.”
She stopped walking, and he stopped. By only standing there, she was tethering him to the same square of the sidewalk. “You never mentioned any of this to Markowitz, did you?”
Now how did she manage to frame a question as an accusation? “No, I didn’t. The focus was always on Aubry, not Peter Ariel.”
She resumed her purposeful walking, and he kept pace with her, still tethered. “There was another artist mentioned in Bliss’s review-Gillian, the vandal artist. What do you know about him?”
“He has an exhibition of photographs in a gallery at the end of this block. You might find it diverting.”
“Photography? I thought vandalism was his style.”
“Wait till you see the photographs, Mallory.”
They entered the Greene Street gallery by way of a narrow stairway to the second floor. The rough steel door opened onto a large white space filled with light from loft windows lining the street front. People were milling around, some looking at the photographs on the wall. A man stood by a desk, holding sheets of slides to the light. Done with one sheet, he tossed it onto a pile at his feet and went on to the next.
Quinn pointed to this man. “Some artists spend a hundred hours on a single painting, and the gallery director spends a minute looking at twenty slides of their work. Occasionally, I time them. Call it a hobby. This man’s about average, a minute an artist.”
They drifted to the collection of photographs on the near wall. The work was an amateur’s effort in bad lighting, with no eye for composition. The first photograph was of a crack in an old statue. Gillian’s signature was printed in the fresh wound. All the rest were much the same, differing only in the statuary. Each work of art was harmed by a chip or a crack and signed by the assailant.
Mallory looked bewildered for a moment, but made a quick recovery. “Is this what I think it is?”
“Vandalism of priceless art? Yes. There’s a more interesting show in the next room.” He took her arm and guided her into the adjoining gallery space.
“At least it doesn’t smell,” said Mallory, counting the spilled garbage cans. There were twelve in all, contents strewn about the floor. He led her down a clear passage, sans garbage, saying, “I want you to know that the garbage was authentically spilled, and not purposefully arranged this way. The artist is a purist. He has integrity.”
“Yes, but it’s also true.”
Other people stood in ones and pairs, inspecting garbage spills. One young man, wearing the art student’s slashed-at-the-knee-for-no-good-reason blue jeans, was standing in the corner making notes on the half-eaten guacamole which he had found in the garbage spill that he was fondest of.
“So why doesn’t it smell?” she asked.
“The gallery owner thought it might put off the paying customers. It’s coated with resin. The artist didn’t like that. He wanted it to rot naturally.”
“Naturally-he’s a purist.”
“Now you’ve got it, Mallory.”
“And that show in the front room, the vandalism?”
“All the statues are from the Greek collection of a major museum, and they don’t want to encourage any more of this. The museum director gave me a ‘No comment,’ but I noted all the statues had been removed. When they go on display again, there won’t be any trace of the damage.”
“I bet they bought out the show.”
He nodded. “You’re right, they did. This show will close as soon as their check clears the bank. They were very good-natured mugging victims. Rumor has it they ransomed the negatives, too.”
“I just can’t believe this,” she said.
“New York City. What’s not to believe?”
Twenty minutes later, Quinn was sipping espresso under the green awning of a sidewalk cafe on Bleecker Street and ferreting out Mallory’s tastes in art. It seemed she only liked minimalism, and only because it was neat and clean, not cluttered with tony metaphors and messy paints. She had no use for any extraneous line or shape.
When she was done, he said, “Well then, why not take a blue pencil to James Joyce, edit out all the extraneous stuff that doesn’t really further the plot? Most people don’t understand the metaphors anyway. So we could probably whittle Ulysses down to a manageable short story.”
He was smiling now, because she was smiling, and he was helpless to do otherwise. He wondered where she had learned that beguiling trick. An old memory brought him up short, as he realized she was perfectly mimicking the smile of the late Louis Markowitz. He was startled, but also confident that it did not show.
He continued as though nothing had happened, as though he had not just seen a ghost. “And then we’ll have literature that’s more accessible to a thirteen-year-old subnormal. Why make people reach for art, when they can pick it up off the floor?”
Her hand went up to say, Enough, I get the point. He went on anyway. And so began Mallory’s first lecture on the other language, the metaphor of subject, the symbolism of object, the poetry evoked by color and shape, by texture and line, what was said by the immediacy of a single violent stroke of a brush or the subtle shading of a pencil.
And then she asked, “So where’s my metaphor in the garbage and the vandalism?”
“All right, you win.” He sensed that winning was the main thing with her, the very key to her. “You’re still planning on attending the ball tomorrow night?”
“Yes, and I still need an interview with Gregor Gilette. You’ve got that covered, right? He’ll keep it quiet?”
He smiled and let her take that for a positive response. “But you must let me help you with something else. The opening for the next Dean Starr show is by invitation only. I could have Koozeman invite you.”
“I don’t need an invitation-I’m the police. Riker says you weren’t planning to review the first Dean Starr show. So I have to wonder why you were there that night.”
Like Riker, she had saved her best cut for last. Her style, however, was a departure from her partner’s-not a blunt and clumsy accusation, but a trap. She only stared at him now, defying him to lie to her and try to get away with it.
“Riker was right, I never review hacks. A bad review is counterproductive. Repetition of the name is fame in New York City. I only went to the opening for the food and wine. It’s so rare to find hors d’oeuvres served in galleries anymore.”
“Seriously, Mallory, you can hardly believe I went there to appreciate art.”
The woman ceased to drag her rolling wire cart, which was partially covered by a tarp. Tired, she leaned on the cart handle as she watched the art critic leaving the Bleecker Street cafe with the young blond woman. Quinn held open the door of a small tan car. The young woman disappeared into it and drove off. Now he crossed Bleecker Street and approached the woman with the wire cart. He looked into her eyes, where it was winter of weak iris skies and clouding cataracts. He nodded to her, and a bit of paper passed from his hand to hers as he passed her by.
Her palsied hand jolted the cart. Trembling fingers pulled back the tarp as the woman peered inside it, eyes fixing on a tea tin, believing she had heard a thought. Snow drifted through her mind and she lost the threads to where she was and why she was. The dead child’s brains gently remembered for her. “Move on,” urged the voice from the tin. The woman nodded and moved on down Bleecker Street.
She seemed a collection of things found and put together. Her four skirts were a concert, whispers of dead leaves shushing along toward Lafayette and turning south on that street. Her head of iron-gray hair wobbled on a slender bird’s neck. She crossed wide Houston with her free hand tucked in, giving one arm the appearance of a useless wing, atrophied or broken.
She tripped on the curb and lurched suddenly, upsetting the cart. The tea tin went tumbling as the cart settled in a gutter. The tin was rearranged among the other contents layered over and around it. A crusted knapsack spilled a shiny stream of bottle caps, broken pins, tin silverware and other small found things-pretty only, good for nothing.
The woman righted her cart and veered east on Houston. Forgetting, minutes later, that the dead child’s brains had ever spoken, she turned a corner onto Essex Street. Trash cans seemed to grow there in abundance. She looked over her newfound wealth with the eye of a connoisseur. A flash of metal caught her eye with a ricochet of sunlight. There, on one trash can, was a knife. It was crack-toothed and broken-handled, but still good for cutting meat. She stared at it until the voice from the tea tin cautioned, “Forget.”
But the mad persistence of memory won out. She began to shake. A cold miasma of fear settled about her shoulders and forced her to her knees and to ground. She clawed at her hair, eyes bulging at what memory was showing her, sobbing, shuddering, screaming, screams quieting now to moans as the dead child’s brains called up the blessed snow of forgetfulness.
Emma Sue Hollaran was sedated when her body was being transferred to the operating table. The nurse partially draped her in a green sheet. Her exposed legs were marked in sections with black crayon lines like the diagram of a cow in a butcher shop.
Her eyes slowly roved the small operating theater and the familiar gowned figures of the surgeon and the nurse. Another familiar person was the anesthesiologist. Since this man spoke not one word of English, she was certain that he was not certified to practice medicine in this country. So she could assume he worked cheap, and she never complained.
The plastic surgeon’s face hovered over her for a moment before her eyes closed, and her mind was swept away in the anesthetic whirlpool. She was well beyond feeling the first stroke of the scalpel as it cut into her body.
A long hose was inserted into a bloody hole in her left thigh. The music of youth and beauty began with squishy suction noises, the siphoning of fat sucking to the steady beat of the motor which powered the wildly upscale vacuum cleaner. What came out of her was the color and texture of yellow chicken fat, grease and blood. Another hole was made on the inside thigh, and the ugly bits of her body collected in a glass jar at the end of the hose. Another hole was cut in her skin, and another for the next leg-more globules slopped into the jar.
In a dream state she heard a voice say, “Time to roll the meat.”
More holes were made in the back of her knees. The long rod was moving under her skin, minding the black marks of the butcher shop diagram. The vacuum cleaner was slurping up fat, ripping away pieces of her body with its greedy incessant sucking.
Two hours later, her eyes were open again. The surgeon was standing over her, saying a polite variation of You’re nuts-totally insane! His exact words were, “At your insistence, I removed more fat than I should have. You’re going to need rest for at least three days, if not longer. No lifting, no bending, no stairs. Going to a dress ball is absolutely out of the question.”
The Manhattan Charities Ball was a networker’s dream. Every power figure in the city would be there. But best of all, Gregor Gilette would be there. She was nearly ready for him. Her triple chin had been suctioned away to a mere double roll of flesh. And her legs would be svelte beneath the tight wrap of a ball gown that was not designed for dancing, and most certainly not designed to be worn by the likes of Emma Sue Hollaran.
“So how’s Doris?”
Dr. Edward Slope pushed back the Plexiglas face guard and looked up at her with a quizzical eye.
Kathy Mallory was one of few cops who could make idle conversation over the open chest of a dead man. The only thing that bothered him was that she never made small talk.
Now he left his assistant the chore of bagging the body parts and replacing them in the open cavity. He removed his gloves and gown as he walked Mallory to the door of the autopsy room. “Doris is just fine.” He tossed the bloody garments into a disposal bin. “She wonders why you never come by for dinner.”
“Oh, you know kids. Last week she wanted to be a veterinarian, and now she’s decided to be a musician. I can see the tuition bills rolling in from Juilliard now.”
“Is she giving you any problems?”
“We’re working it out.”
“So you’re going to keep her?”
“She’s a little girl. It’s not quite the same as returning an unsatisfactory pet to the Puppyland Kennels. And Doris is already planning on grandchildren. You could say it’s a done deal. So now you’re doing civilized small talk. Helen would be proud of you, Kathy.”
“Mallory,” she corrected him. “So, can we talk body parts now?”
“Sure.” He plucked a file from the rack and held the door for her. The air in the hall was warmer, and the odor of death was exchanged for the strong disinfectant smell of chlorine.
His office farther down the hall had the smell of stale cigar smoke, and a hint of the aftershave he slathered on for his wife’s sake. “You’re lucky Starr’s gallery dealer didn’t want to waste money on embalming.” As he sat down to his cluttered desk, he waved her to a leather armchair. “So tell me what you want first. Markowitz would’ve wanted to know what he had for breakfast.”
“Did he die instantly?”
“No, by the blood flow, I’d give him a full minute to live.”
“I want to know why he didn’t scream. He’d just been stabbed. That must have hurt like hell.”
“Not necessarily. He had enough drugs and wine in his system to dull the pain of major surgery. And the back isn’t the most sensitive area of the body. You’d be surprised how many people have reported not realizing they’d been stabbed in the back. They know something’s happened. There’s a localized pain, but they’re not aware of the penetration. I can tell you there’s evidence of long-term drug habituation.”
“Same as Peter Ariel, the artist who died twelve years ago.”
She handed him a copy of his own autopsy report on Ariel. He scanned the lines, and finding the entry he wanted, he nodded his head. “Both artists used the same combination of drugs. It’s a heroin cocktail with some interesting additives. Why in God’s name are you digging around in that old case? It was over and done with twelve years ago.”
“It’s being reopened… quietly. We never had this little chat, okay? So, the heroin cocktail gives me a link to Peter Ariel.”
“Well, no it doesn’t. You won’t find the exact same combination. They have brand names now. Even if the combo is close, a lawyer could argue that link is no stronger than two people sharing the same blend of tobacco or coffee beans.”
“What about the weapon?”
“I agree with the first postmortem. Ice pick probably. But you were right, it couldn’t be the one they found by the body. It had to be at least six to seven inches in length. I’m guessing the point of the weapon was filed down. The rod was thin for an ice pick, and razor sharp. No tearing on entry. Very smooth, very neat. There wouldn’t be any blood splatters on the clothing of the killer. It’s the perfect weapon for a public killing.”
“I need another link to the old murder.”
“Frankly, outside of the drugs, I can’t see the similarity at all. The first crime was brutal, insane. Kathy, I don’t-”
“Mallory,”she corrected him as she always did. They had played this game for all of the five years since she had joined the police force and forbidden him to use her given name.
“Well, you’re still Kathy to me. I’ve known you since you were ten.”
“Eleven,” she corrected him again.
“Ten. You lied that extra year onto your age. You put it past Helen Markowitz, but you never fooled me. So don’t expect me to treat you like a cop, when every time I look at you I see a ten-year-old brat. You haven’t changed all that much, Kathy.”
“All right, what else do you want from me?”
“I want to know about the detail that Markowitz held back.”
“I have no idea what you mean. We never discussed the case after the autopsy. I know Markowitz didn’t believe it was Oren Watt, but I did.”
“I know the old man was holding out-that was his trademark. There was something he didn’t want anyone else to know, not even his own men. It was a real bad year for department leaks. It seemed like every damn detail of a case wound up in the tabloids. He knew Oren Watt was lying when he confessed. I know the old man had something, and he used it to trip up Watt. It was something about one of the bodies, wasn’t it?”
“That was twelve years ago. I’ve worked on a great many bodies since then.”
“This was the most brutal homicide you ever worked on. Don’t tell me the details just slipped your mind. You know what I remember about that year?”
“You were only a little kid, and you lived inside a computer. Don’t go telling me that Markowitz discussed this case with you. He wouldn’t-he didn’t.”
Slope was right about that. The old man had only given her shopping lists of things he needed from other people’s computers. And Mallory had never cared to ask what the information was for. She had been perfectly focussed on the wonderful novelty of sitting at a computer terminal in a police station and raiding cyberspace for all the data she could steal, stealing until she was sated with theft. And getting away with it-that was the best-licensed to steal. It had been one great year.
“I’ll tell you what I remember best,” she said. “It was the weekly poker games. You missed three games in a row that year. Everybody knew you’d had a falling out with Markowitz. But I’m the only one who knows why. You were a long time forgiving him for asking you to bend the law and hide the facts.”
“You’re blowing smoke, young lady.”
Slope had been the best poker player among Markowitz’s old cronies. His face was always a model of composure, defying even God to guess what cards he held.
She reached into the pocket of her blazer and pulled out a sheaf of yellowed pages bearing the seal and signature of Chief Medical Examiner Edward Slope. She set the papers down on the desk in front of him and tapped them with one long red fingernail. “This is the first autopsy report on Aubry Gilette. It’s dated two days earlier than the report on file.”
“Where did you get that?”
Slope reached out for the papers. Mallory was faster, picking up the report and casually turning it over in her hands.
“I found it in the basement of the old house in Brooklyn. That’s where Markowitz kept his personal case notes.”
She leafed through the pages. “It’s much more interesting than your amended report. I think Aubry Gilette’s brain weight is a bit light. I have a weight of three pounds, one ounce for Peter Ariel’s brain-that’s standard, right? But there’s barely six ounces left of Aubry Gilette’s brain. I didn’t see any mention of missing organ parts in your second report, the official report.” As though she were merely confirming the time of day, she asked, “Now falsifying an autopsy on a homicide- that’s a felony, isn’t it?”
Edward Slope stared at the pages in her hand, his head shaking slowly from side to side. “Why on earth would Louis have kept it?”
“He probably wanted to protect you. If anything had gone wrong, he could have substituted this original for the one on file. The signature copy is the only one that could come back on you. None of the duplicate copies would be admissible in court.”
She understood the shock in Slope’s eyes. In her hand was damning proof of the worst crime in his profession- the collusion of police and ME to falsify and suppress evidence. “If you remember any other irregularities in the old case, call me.”
She slipped the papers back into her pocket.
“I think you can trust me with this,” she said softly, with only a suggestion of sarcasm, “because you know how well I can keep a dirty secret. You can trust me because you know I wouldn’t rat on you if you broke a hundred laws.” Her eyebrows lifted with the afterthought of a third reason for his trust. “Oh, and I’m a cop.”
Night and dark came on. Andrew Bliss settled down with a new bottle and looked up at the stars. There were hardly any. He had to hunt them down with his binoculars. They were faint, pathetic things, washed out by the glittering cityscape, only pinholes in the ceiling. He believed the poetry of stars would be more deservedly dedicated to the dazzle of city lights. The traffic of headlights and turn signals kept to the rhythm of classical symphonies. Great buildings loomed as shimmering behemoths footed in concrete. Poetry was here in every physical metaphor. An aureole of light crowned the city.
God lived here. Screw the cowboy lore of the western Big Sky Country. Mere stars could not compete with this.