Emma sue Hollaran had awakened on a bed of pain. Now she lay nude under the four-poster’s canopy of red velvet, which matched the flocked red-on-gold wallpaper. The carpets and curtains were deep purple, the sheets were shocking-pink satin, and every red lampshade was rimmed with black tassels. A player piano was all that was needed to complete the cliche of an antebellum brothel.
As the plastic surgeon examined Emma Sue’s swollen thighs, her maid of the week paced the length of the bedroom, eyes cast up to heaven and muttering prayers or curses in a language her employer had not yet been able to identify. The succession of maids had all been illegal aliens, the cheapest labor to be found. Some had done only a single day in hell, and others, like this one, had lasted an entire fortnight in Emma Sue’s employ. She could not remember the maids’ names from day to day, week to week, and so had taken to calling all of them Alien.
“Alien, stop that damn pacing!” she screamed.
This week’s Alien stepped quickly to the bed, having recognized only her own new name in the spate of words. She looked down at Emma Sue’s bare body and turned away in disgust to resume her pacing and muttering.
Emma Sue was a mass of red splotches from hips to knees. The swelling made her legs twice as big as they had been before the fat was suctioned out. She stared down at the offensive limbs.
“Drain that crap out!” she screamed, more outraged than pained.
“I warned you,” said the surgeon. “This was entirely too much to-”
“Make it go away!”
“Don’t you remember when we did your abs and buttocks? You were swollen then, too.”
“Don’t you remember? My stomach and butt were swollen because you nearly killed me, you idiot! You drained me then. Do it now.”
“I drained an infection. This is just the normal post-op swelling.” He was writing on his prescription pad. “I want you to take these pills. The swelling will go down in two to three weeks. Try to-”
“Weeks? You moron, I haven’t got two to three days. The ball is tonight!”
“You can’t possibly go anywhere.”
Within the hour she was attached to the medical apparatus. She did not seem to mind the sight of fluid draining into her veins from a plastic bag attached to a long pole, nor the other fluid coming out through the series of drains plugged into her legs. The maid fled the room, as the doctor monitored the cortisone IV. The air was foul. The doctor’s face was going to that pale vomit shade of green, and then he too left the room in search of a toilet.
The bad drawings of body parts had been taken down, and gone was the babble and the crush of television people and tourists who had wandered in off the street. The last cable for the camera equipment was pulled out of the wall and rolled up by a crew grip.
His back turned on the door, Sergeant Riker stood alone in the quiet emptiness of the high white walls. The room was all too familiar, a long rectangle, coffinlike in the convergence of parallels toward the end of the room. Though this space was vast, there was the feeling of walls closing in, the coffin lid coming down on him. Koozeman’s new location was upscale, high-rent SoHo, but it was only a larger version of the old gallery in the East Village, the site of a crime so brutal, the photographs had never been published.
Twelve years ago, in the blood and butchery of a double homicide, Riker had come close to understanding art. Never had he seen anything so compelling. The image of the bodies would never leave him.
On that long-ago night, he had reported to the crime scene, pressed through the crowd and past the guards at the door. Two rookie officers had been standing in the room with the bodies. The young cops were statues, struck silent and still by shock. Flashbulbs had gone off from every angle, and everyone was blinded by the light. The dark shadowy bodies were the stuff of bad dreams, but they took on a terrible clarity with each blast of light, intermittently real and illusory.
The forensic technicians had gone about the night’s work with only the exchange of necessary words. Orders were issued in the low tones of talking in church. There had been no black humor that night. The youngest officer had looked on the bloody face of the dancer and cried. Riker had gently wiped the boy’s face and sent him away.
Now his reverie was broken. He was aware of Mallory standing beside him, waiting.
“The room in Koozeman’s old East Village gallery was smaller,” said Riker. “But it’s the same layout. The killer didn’t do them at the same time. Peter Ariel died first. Markowitz figured the perp laid in wait for Aubry.”
Mallory moved to the center of the room. She was reading from a yellowed sheet of paper. “Quinn had blood on his shoes.”
“Yeah, we all did,” said Riker, pulling out a cigarette to kill the phantom smell of blood and spoiled meat, urine and feces. “You had to be there. You can’t tell what that scene was like from the paperwork and the shots. Then Aubry’s father shows up. He’d been waiting for her in a coffeehouse three blocks west of here. Aubry was hours late. Her father called everyone she knew to track her down. She was supposed to meet Quinn at the gallery earlier that night.”
The sudden appearance of Gregor Gilette had been the last heartbreak of the night. The artist, Peter Ariel, had been bagged and placed in the meatwagon. They had put the parts of the dancer into another bag and were loading her onto the gurney. Turning away from the ambulance, Riker had seen the damnedest thing, a man running toward him, stumble-running, strewing red roses everywhere. They were lifting the gurney into the ambulance. The doors were closing as Gregor Gilette reached the vehicle, and he was pounding on the doors even as they closed, pounding to be let in, yelling, “Aubry, Aubry!” Markowitz had pulled the man away from the ambulance doors, pinning his arms and holding him close. And then Edward Slope had tried his hand on a living patient with a merciful hypodermic to kill the father’s pain.
Mallory was only a little older than the rookie officer who had cried for Aubry Gilette. What would Markowitz think if he knew his kid was going into this black hole to finish what he had begun?
“I still want to talk to Andrew Bliss,” said Mallory. “What about fire code violations? He botched the roof staircase-that’s a legal fire exit.”
“I already thought of that. Somebody with influence got the commissioner of the fire department to look the other way. A lawyer from the Public Works Committee has a restraining order to prevent any interference with his free speech, so we can’t bring him down. And we can’t go up to the roof with a copter either. Blakely would find out you’re working the old case.”
“Well, there’s ways and ways.” She looked at her watch. “I’ve got that damn press conference in an hour. Did you make any progress on Sabra? Any idea where she might be?”
The woman was lying under a blanket of newspapers in an abandoned building on Essex Street. She had crawled through a basement window the night before and now lay dreaming late into the morning. It might as well have been night, for no daylight penetrated the window after she had replaced the boards, fitting nails to holes. A candle sat dark in a dish, burned to the end of its wick.
In dreams, her child stood on point in satin toe shoes, reaching up to a soft golden glow just above her straining fingertips. Suddenly, her soft red mouth formed the oval of a scream as the ghouls came dancing by her. Greedy mouths with yellow teeth sucked the wind from her throat. Clutching at the poisoned air, hand to her mouth, the child went reeling and running. And as she ran, she heard the sounds behind her of feet slapping floor, and sickly mucus noises. Phlegmy voices sang to her in a hellish choir. To her side the ghouls came dancing, eyes sewn shut, hands locked in prayer and grown together, skin merging into skin. Their mouths moved as one, making foul wind and words, weaving chains of obscenities. Then the child had lost her shoes, and through her tears, she could see her legs were gone.
The child’s mother opened her eyes in that dark and airless place, believing she was blind. Her hands were clenched together on her breast and she screamed out curses, damning God and all His minions, until the dead child’s brains said, “Hush, now. It’s only a dream is all.”
She slowly made out the dim contours of the tea tin on the top of the cart. The dead child’s brains crooned on, “It isn’t real, only dreaming.”
Sabra rose to a weary stand in sleep smells of used linen and dried urine.
Chief of Detectives Harry Blakely lit up a cigar in the close space of the hallway. His pasty white jowls jiggled as he rolled the cigar from one side of his mouth to the other. Draping flesh closed his eyes to gun slits, and the rolls of his chin obscured the knot of his tie. “The commissioner’s in a really pissy mood today, Jack.”
Lieutenant Jack Coffey could well understand that. He was looking through the glass window of the pressroom door. “I still can’t believe that FBI agent is here. Beale hates those bastards.”
“You know the routine, Jack,” said Blakely. “They need a little good press after that last hostage situation blew up in their faces. So we’re gonna let them put on a little dog-and-pony show for the reporters. The press just loves all that psychiatric bullshit on the killer profile.”
“The profile of a psycho, right? Christ, I can see the headlines now. ‘Crazed killer loose in Manhattan.’ They’re gonna blow the case all out of proportion, and you know it. I thought you wanted a quiet investigation.”
“Doesn’t matter now.”
Blakely exhaled a cloud of smoke, and Coffey stepped back to the wall, his usual position in all his dealings with this man. He could feel Blakely’s smoke all around him, stealing into his hair, his clothes, his skin. He knew the smell of Blakely would hang on him for the rest of the day.
“I think we might give this case to the feds,” said Blakely. “They really want it, and we have enough bodies to go around. They’re so pumped up on this profile, they tell me they can wrap the case in two weeks.”
“Why not give your own people two weeks? The Bureau has no jurisdiction.”
“Oh, officially the case will stay with NYPD. I thought I’d assign it to Harriman and let him work with the feds.”
“Harriman’s a worthless idiot. He’s just treading water waiting for his pension to kick in.” It was a fight for Coffey to keep the frustration out of his voice.
“Who cares?” Blakely’s smile was unsettling. “He only needs to show up for the collar and the closing press conference. The feds promised to kill the Oren Watt connection. So I did a little deal with ‘em. I’m gonna put Mallory on something else.”
“I’ll bet this isn’t Beale’s idea,” said Jack Coffey. “He hates feds with a passion.”
“Commissioner Beale has all the political savvy of a twelve-year-old girl. I hope you’re not suggesting that we actually let him run the police department.”
“He specifically asked for Mallory at this press conference. He wants her on this case. What’s he gonna say when he finds out you climbed into bed with the FBI?”
“How would he find out, Jack? All he knows about his own police department is what he reads in the papers and what I tell him. Beale promised to play nice with the feds today ‘cause I told him it might save the city a few million in lawsuits if they took the heat off Oren Watt.”
“How are you gonna tell Beale we’re giving the whole case to the feds?”
“I know how to handle him. I’m not worried about it. Now we’ve got another case we need Mallory on-computer fraud. We’re sending her out to Boston to follow up on a similar case. Boston’s cooperating. So tell her to pack her bags and drop off her case notes on my desk tomorrow morning.”
“I want Mallory to stay on this case.”
“That’s tough, Jack. I don’t think I owe you any favors this week. Here she comes now. Don’t tell her she’s being reassigned until after the press conference.”
Mallory walked up to Coffey as Blakely turned and headed down the hall at a faster pace than his usual rolling mosey. She stared after his retreating dark bulk. “I guess he’s pissed off about the article in yesterday’s paper.”
“No, Mallory, that’s been smoothed over. Blakely understands how it happened. He’s been misquoted often enough.” He motioned her to look through the glass of the pressroom door. “You see that guy at the end of the platform? He’s FBI. It’s going to be a joint press conference.”
“Why would the feds want in?”
“The art world makes sexy press. Blakely only wants them to support the idea that Oren Watt is not a suspect. The feds agreed, so Blakely did a deal.”
She turned away from the window. “I don’t like the sound of that.”
“Commissioner Beale wouldn’t like it either if he had any idea what was going on.” He stared through the window, eyes on the far door beyond the dais. “If the feds get a piece of this case, they’ll go for a quick and dirty wrap. They’ll pick up all the neighborhood freaks, and nail the one with no alibi.” The back door of the pressroom was opening to admit Commissioner Beale and his entourage. “It’s time, Mallory.”
They pushed through the door and into a loud room, filled to capacity with television crews, photographers and reporters. Bright, white-hot camera lights were trained on the long table which spanned the dais. Clusters of microphones in nests of wires were set before each of the three chairs. The short gray police commissioner was climbing the two steps of the platform. As he moved toward the center chair, flashbulbs went off, and thirty mouths closed simultaneously.
Coffey took her arm and pulled her back into the reach of intimate conversation. “Mallory, I don’t care how you do it. Just go up there and dazzle the shit out of them. Do whatever it takes to make Beale and the department shine. NYPD is in control of this case. You got that?‘’
“You smoke over the old case and concentrate on the new one. The feds’ interference is driving Beale nuts. He’s the one you need on your side, so do all the damage you can.”
She was smiling, and that worried him. But Commissioner Beale’s little washed-out gray eyes actually sparkled when Mallory walked up the stairs of the dais and took her seat beside him. She looked out over a sea of faces and bright flashes from every quarter of the room. When Beale introduced her, he mentioned that, in the area of computers, Detective Sergeant Kathleen Mallory had no peer. There were other words to the effect that she could turn water into wine. And now the old man gave a terse introduction to the special agent from the FBI, who apparently was not so talented in Beale’s estimation.
Special Agent Cartland shuffled his papers and looked up, smiling for the cameras with the practiced ease of a fashion model. He was the perfect specimen, a walking argument for eugenics, with youthful good looks, light brown hair and strong white teeth.
Coffey stood at the back of the room and watched Mallory seated at the left hand of the commissioner. Coffey suddenly understood why Beale had asked for her. Harry Blakely had underestimated the little man in the gray suit. Commissioner Beale understood image and press and public relations. Mallory, tall and wonderfully made, was more than a match for the FBI agent. If she only sat there and said nothing, Beale would have won the argument that God was on the side of the cops and not the feds. A reporter was rising, hand in the air. “Agent Cartland, what’s the FBI interest in this case? The terrorist line in Bliss’s column?”
The FBI agent leaned into his collection of microphones, each bearing a network logo. “If the case did develop along the lines of terrorism, we would certainly take a very active interest. Terrorism is an area best left to experts.”
Well, this was not part of the deal.
Coffey could see that Beale was not at all happy with that remark. The commissioner’s little head swiveled right, in the manner of a schoolteacher about to pounce on a student who has gotten out of line.
Beale spoke into his own group of microphones. “There is no planned FBI participation in this case. The press is making an unfounded and highly sensational connection to the old murders of Peter Ariel and Aubry Gilette. Special Agent Cartland tells me the FBI has a profile on the perpetrator that puts that speculation to rest. You may proceed, young man.” And the implication was that the young man should proceed with extreme caution.
“The FBI is always willing to help local law enforcement in the art of profiling a suspect,” said the smiling, unflappable Agent Cartland. “Based on the evidence of the crime scene, we can give you a rather detailed portrait of the man.”
“Why do you think it’s a man?” called out a feminine voice in a sniper shot from the back of the room.
“The overwhelming majority of psychopaths are male.”
A reporter stood up in the front row. By the back of his dark-skinned, bullet-shaped head, Coffey knew the man. It was McGrath, a seasoned journalist who had swapped lies with Markowitz for several decades. McGrath was recognized with a nod from Beale.
“So we’re looking for an insane killer?” McGrath addressed his remark to the FBI agent. “Say-oh, shot in the dark-someone like Oren Watt?”
Beale’s right hand wormed around the microphone at the center of his cluster, and his knuckles went white, as though he were choking it. He managed to lock eyes with the agent before the younger man responded to McGrath.
“Well, there are similarities,” said the FBI agent, and Beale covered his face with one hand. The agent continued. “In the old case of the artist and the dancer, the perpetrator used a fire axe he found at the crime scene. The killer of Dean Starr used an ice pick, also a weapon he found at the scene. And the word ‘dead’ was written on the back of one of the gallery’s business cards. Both the old killing and the recent one showed lack of premeditation. Both crimes were the spontaneous acts of disorganized personalities.”
McGrath remained standing, holding the floor. “Oren Watt arranged the body parts as artwork. The killer of Dean Starr arranged the body as performance art. You don’t think that calls for a little planning?”
The agent’s smile was benign. Let me lead you out of ignorance, said his tone of voice. “These things were done after the fact. The act itself was not planned in advance. Neither perpetrator brought weapons or materials to their respective crime scenes. As to the arrangement of the bodies, a psychopath will often indulge himself with ritual mutilation of the victims, or some personal theme in writing or acts performed on the corpse. But the killer in this instance is not Oren Watt. The murder was cleaner, quicker, less violent. The brutality always escalates in the second kill. It never lessens.”
“So you think our guy is a young Oren Watt in training.”
“He fits the same profile as Watt. He acted spontaneously, with no fear of discovery. The trigger for the act was probably a recent traumatic event in his life. For example, he may have recently lost his job. We’re looking for a white male between twenty-five and thirty-five, no close friends, no stable relationships with women, no social graces. His father died or left the home when he was very young. He lives alone, or with his mother. He doesn’t take proper care of himself, he’s badly dressed. Now, about the shabby clothing-in SoHo that would not be a standout feature. It would even have helped him to blend in with the crowd at the opening.”
“Hey, Mallory,” sang out a veteran cophouse reporter in the back. “You goin‘ along with this line?”
Commissioner Beale was staring at Mallory, hope in his eyes as she spoke into her own cluster of microphones. “No, but all the FBI errors are understandable.”
The FBI agent was frozen in his best public-relations smile, and Commissioner Beale was grinning with joy and real malice.
“The FBI only asked for the crime-scene photographs and the preliminary ME report,” said Mallory. “They specifically asked us not to send our own conclusions. They said it would taint their profile.” Now she picked up a document and scanned it, as though she did not know it by heart. “According to this preliminary report, the wound was consistent with the ice pick found at the scene. Apparently, the FBI was satisfied with this.”
She crumpled this document into a ball and tossed it back over her shoulder. Then she leaned back in her chair to look at the FBI agent behind Beale’s back, and she gave him that special smile which women reserve for addled children. She was all business again when she turned back to the reporter.
“But NYPD had a major problem with a four-inch pick penetrating six and a half inches of fat and muscle to rupture the heart from the back. So we asked for a more extensive autopsy. Now we know that the weapon is much longer. No such weapon was found at the scene, so we assume the killer brought it to the gallery and took it away when he left.”
In his rush to contradict her, Agent Cartland leaned too far into his microphones, brushing his teeth against the soft cover of one. “It might be a mistake-” The microphone squealed with feedback as it was dislodged from the cluster.
Mallory rose gracefully to pass behind Commissioner Beale’s chair. She adjusted the FBI agent’s microphones. And now a crowd of reporters grinned as Mallory gave Agent Cartland lessons in the proper distance from the mike.
When she was seated again, the agent, dignity shot to hell, continued. “It would be a mistake to assume that because the weapon wasn’t found at-”
“Oh, it’s no mistake.” Mallory smiled at him to say, You lose, sucker. “Further evidence of premeditation is the card found on the body. True, it doesn’t take long to write the word ‘dead,’ but the letters were printed with a straight edge-like a ruler-to avoid handwriting analysis. And there were no fingerprints on the card. The perp either wore gloves or handled the card by the edges. So we assume he brought it to the gallery. The card was used to disguise the act and allow the murderer time to escape unmolested. The killer chose a perfect weapon for a crowded room-no blood splatters. A lot of thought and planning went into this crime.”
“You think it was a man?” asked McGrath.
“A woman could have done it,” said Mallory.
“It does take some force-”‘ the agent began.
“I could have done it,” said Mallory. “The weapon only had to penetrate one layer of light material, and more fat than muscle. It was a clean thrust between the ribs, and it cleared the vertebrae. The weapon was much thinner than the average pick, and probably needle sharp at the point.” She nodded to a reporter in the back row.
“Mallory, are you going to ask the FBI for a revised profile?”
“What for? When we know why it was done, we’ll know who did it.”
“So you don’t like the crazed-killer line, Mallory?”
“I suppose it could have been a more organized psychopath, or it could be a money motive. Revenge is good-I’ve always liked that one. We found evidence of habitual drug use in the second autopsy, so it could also be drug-related.”
If Beale smiled any wider, he would hurt himself.
“What about Oren Watt?” yelled another reporter.
“He didn’t do it.”
“You sure about that, Mallory?” asked McGrath.
“Because the murder was neater and cleaner! ”
“No, nothing that cute, McGrath. You and I both know it would be impossible for Oren Watt to go anywhere unnoticed. He’s more famous than a rock star. The room was crowded that night. Not one of those people could place him at the scene of Dean Starr’s murder.”
“Can you tell us anything about the killer?”
“The killer was reasonably well dressed. This wasn’t the typical art show. The opening was black tie, invitation only, and it was a money crowd. Mr. Koozeman tells us that at least ten percent of the gathering crashed the party, but a shabby dresser would’ve been stopped at the door. So we have very little interest in the unemployed, badly dressed psycho in the FBI profile.”
“You think the killer was an artist?”
“Well the idea was just creative as hell, wasn’t it? It’s someone with a background in art, but it could just as easily be a collector.”
Another hand went up, and Coffey noted that all requests for time were going through Mallory now. With a curt nod, she recognized a woman in the front row.
“What about this art terrorist angle, Mallory?”
“That’s a joke. Only the lunatic on the roof of Bloomingdale’s has made that connection so far. Oh, and I believe Agent Cartland mentioned it.”
“So the FBI is dead wrong on almost all counts, is that what you’re saying?”
“But we certainly appreciate all their help,” said Mallory.
The reporters politely restricted themselves to sniggers and other sounds muffled by tight lips. When the FBI agent had lost his ramrod posture to sink down in his chair, and Beale’s eyes were glistening with emotion, a small sprinkling of applause followed Mallory as she left her chair on the dais and walked toward Coffey at the back of the room.
Coffey put one hand on her shoulder and walked beside her through the wide door and down the quiet hallway. “I’ve never seen Beale look so happy. After that performance, you could commit murder and not wind up on Beale’s shit list.”
Coffey only had one bad moment, when it crossed his mind that she might translate that into a free kill. The moment passed in confidence that Markowitz had raised her to repress any grossly antisocial acts. But he wondered what the FBI profilers might have done with Mallory’s psych evaluation. He made a mental note to hunt down all her records, and to destroy the most damning lines. He was a good political animal, and if this case should go wrong, he would not like to find himself in front of the Civilian Review Board explaining why NYPD had a sociopath on the payroll.
A tall man was blocking the hallway. As they drew nearer, he recognized him, though he had only seen J. L. Quinn on two or three occasions. The man’s remarkable blue eyes drew Coffey in with fascination and then repelled him with their coldness. The art critic was a handsome man, and ageless. His ice-blue eyes were fixed on Mallory now, and Coffey felt suddenly protective. He wondered if Mallory understood how politically well connected Quinn’s family was. Would she even care?
Quinn dismissed Coffey from the immediate universe with a nod of recognition. He focussed all his attention on Mallory, as though they were alone. “I stopped by Special Crimes Section. They told me I could find you here. I thought we might have lunch. Perhaps we could discuss what else I might do to help you with your investigation.”
“I think we’ve covered that, Quinn.” She started to walk past him.
He put his hand on her arm to detain her. She looked down at his hand, and he drew it back as though she had burned him.
Coffey willed her to be careful. This man was money, influence and power.
“There must be some other way I could help,” said Quinn with insistence and the confidence that came from background, wealth and the sure knowledge that he could crush her if he wanted to. He would not be put off by her, yet she seemed determined to do just that.
Jack Coffey was suddenly very alert. There was something not right about this man. All his instincts told him a likely suspect was the one who tried to insinuate himself into the investigation. Well, maybe the attraction to the case was something as simple as Mallory’s pretty face.
She was staring at the man as though he had just crawled out of a sewer. “Quinn, I’m sure you told me everything you knew.”
The implication was What use are you to me?
“Well, I expect you’ll be taking the case in new directions. You may have new questions,” said Quinn. “I’m at your disposal. Ask whatever you want of me.”
“All right,” said Mallory. “I want to know who your sister’s friends are. I want to know all the places where Sabra hung out before she disappeared.”
Now Coffey saw regret in Quinn’s eyes. The man had not foreseen this. Twelve years ago, he had gone to a great deal of trouble to keep the police away from his family. And now that he had given Mallory carte blanche, how would he get out of this?
Suddenly, Coffey understood that Mallory had spent the last few minutes digging a deep hole for Quinn and covering it over with twigs and branches. And now she had him. It was the old man’s style. Markowitz would have been proud.
And what’s this? Plaid trousers? Flared? Andrew Bliss leaned over the wall, bullhorn at the ready, target in his sights.
“You down there, the man with the plaid clown suit!”
The man stopped.
“Yes, you! The sixties are done. Get yourself a life. Men’s-on the first floor-and hurry, for God’s sake.”
It was afternoon when he saw Annie on the sidewalk. She was smiling up at him and making the round “okay” with thumb and forefinger. Bless Annie, she had worn black pumps for the occasion. Now she gestured to the mobile news unit pulling up to the curb. More publicity, and hallelujah. Annie was motioning with a sweeping gesture which encompassed the small crowd massing at the foot of the building, and then she blew him a kiss.
Throughout the day, crowds gathered and dispersed, as he periodically retired into a bottle to rest his voice and kill the pain of the previous night’s bottles.
There was one small horror, realized on his second day out: he had no shampoo, deodorant, soap, none of the little niceties. And today, he was down to his last bottle of designer water for his morning espresso. He had thought to cart up two potted trees, but no toothbrush or paste. Though he had many changes of clothing, his body had begun to stink. His hair had become greasy and matted. Experimental bathing in champagne had only brought down a plague of flies. And then there was nothing for it but to get drunk and drunker, until he could no longer feel the flies running barefoot through his hair.
A fat dollop of water splashed the bridge of his nose, calling his attention to the sky and the coming rain. He began picking through the mounds of material, sheets, towels and silk pajamas, searching for the rope with which to make his canopy of raincoats. Now he uncovered a woman’s hand, and he drew back too quickly, losing his footing and landing on his rear end with a look of dumb surprise. On all fours, he crept close to the hand protruding from the pile of cloth. It was a mannequin, of course, but why had he brought it up to the roof?
He uncovered the mannequin woman with raven hair, a silver dress and dancing shoes. He dragged it off to a far corner of the roof and put a sheet over it. He retreated and sat down with his back against the opposite retaining wall, arms hugging his knees. He began to rock from side to side. Now that the mannequin was laid out and draped like the dead, it frightened him even more.
A small bell tinkled over the door as Mallory and Quinn passed under the amber light of the old Tiffany lamp. “That lamp was purchased in the early fifties,” said Quinn. “Every stick of furniture can be dated to that era. This place was Sabra’s favorite hangout.”
They settled at one end of the bar. There were patrons up and down the length of mahogany. Mallory picked up a cocktail napkin and stared at the logo for the Hilda-Godd Bar. “I thought it was called Godd’s Bar?”
“Well, Mike Godd died twenty years ago. Hilda Winkler is still alive, but she might as well be a ghost. Her name just dropped out of use. See that old woman over there? Even the bartender doesn’t know this, but that’s Hilda, the owner.”
An old woman sat in the far corner of the room, and tipped back a sherry glass. In the way of a specter, she kept to the darkest shadows of the place.
“Regulars of ten years’ standing have no idea who she is. The bartender only knows that the old lady drinks sherry and never pays a tab. She’s there when he comes to work in the afternoon, and still there when he leaves at closing time.”
The phone was ringing, and the bartender moved up the length of the bar to answer it.
“Watch the old woman now,” said Quinn.
The bartender picked up the phone and said, “This is Godd, whaddaya want?” and the old woman shuddered when he did this, as though she might be wondering if she was the ghost, and not her long-dead partner, whose name lived on.
Quinn looked toward the lineup of drinkers at the bar and then over his shoulder to the scattering of patrons among the polished tables. “Almost all of these people are painters or photographers.”
A young man dropped a coin into the jukebox, an elaborate art deco piece of ornate zigzag lines and curls of bright, colored lights. The music pouring out of the box was the big-band sound from a time when the old woman had been younger, prettier, more alive than the other permanent fixtures of Godd’s Bar. Mallory recognized the music from Markowitz’s record collection in the basement of the old house in Brooklyn.
When she was a child, Markowitz had played the old records for her and taught her how to swing to the big-band music which had filled the basement with a fifty-piece orchestra. The dancing lessons had begun with the waltz, leading into bebop and then on to rock’n‘roll- the old man’s real passion. But she suspected Markowitz had harbored a special feeling for the early fifties. He would have loved this place.
She was intent on the bartender’s back, waiting for him to turn around. When he did turn, he read her lips as she ordered a scotch and soda. He smiled and nodded at her, added a word each to two different conversations, mixed a tray of drinks for the cocktail waitress and splashed her scotch into a glass without a spill or a wasted motion. It was a magic act. He moved up the length of the bar, dancing to the music from the jukebox. One hand ringed a twist of lemon around the rim of the glass as he set the napkin in place on the bar. The glass appeared to settle there of its own accord, so sly was the hand. Long dark hair grazed his shoulders and he seemed to have no bones. Now he produced a bottle of sipping whiskey from the backbar and poured a neat shot without Quinn having to ask for it. The bartender was introduced as Kerry.
“Thanks again for the gig at Koozeman’s,” Kerry said to Quinn. “The opening is gonna be a big night. He packs a lot of money into those crowds. It’s a networker’s dream.”
“Don’t mention it,” said Quinn. “I did it for selfish reasons.” Turning to Mallory, he said, “Kerry is one of my best sources for news in the art community.”
Now Kerry was pointing to a patron sitting alone at the other end of the bar. “He just got the commission to shoot the plaza of Gilette’s new building. Gilette’s bringing down the wooden construction-site walls so they can photograph the place before the sculpture is installed.”
Quinn turned to Mallory. “Every time a building goes up, the architect is obliged to let the city put its own sculpture in the plaza. It’s usually something pretty awful. The architect always likes to get the before shot so he can remember it the way it was meant to be.”
Style, thy name is Kerry. She watched the bartender dance away to pour another round for a patron. Without facing Quinn, she asked, “Why were you at the old East Village gallery on the night of that double murder?”
“Don’t you ever shift out of the interrogation mode? I told Markowitz. I’m sure he left-”
“I don’t care what you told him. I can place you in each of Koozeman’s galleries at the time of two different homicides. That’s bound to make me curious, isn’t it? Now talk to me.”
“I was told to meet Aubry there. A message was left at the newspaper in her name. Later, I figured that I’d been set up. The killer wanted to be critiqued, or that was your father’s thought.”
“Was it? I don’t think you cared what Markowitz thought.”
“I think you spent all your time steering the old man in the direction you wanted him to take. I think you were obsessed with your own theories.”
“You’re interrogating me, aren’t you?”
“Cops do that.”
“Are you considering me as a suspect? You think I murdered Starr? That’s ridiculous. The only kind of artist a critic can kill is a good one. Mediocrity is indestructible. You can step on it and flush it down the toilet, if you like. Not only will it survive, it actually flourishes in the crap.”
While she quietly ruminated over his toilet metaphor, he signaled Kerry for another round of drinks.
The jukebox was playing a tune from the late forties. All the records were perishable vinyl, played with needles to grooves. Mallory understood to the penny at what great cost these collectible recordings were rounded up, played until worn and replaced with others.
She listened to the clear, sweet notes of the girl singer and wondered who she might have been. It was a distinctive voice, but she didn’t recognize it from Markowitz’s collection. She left the bar and walked to the jukebox. The song was ended, the record slowed and stopped. The singer’s name was on the record label below the name of the band, and in very small type-Hildy Winkler, the owner of the bar. So Quinn had missed that, or else he would have thrown it into the tour ramble. What else might he have missed?
Hilda Winkler was shaking her head slowly as she waved one hand at the wide plate-glass window. Mallory caught the motion out of the corner of her eye. The old woman’s face swiveled quickly back toward the bar, and she was surprised to see Mallory staring at her. It was guilty surprise, a look Mallory knew well. She smiled at the elderly bar owner, just the line of a smile to ask, What are you up to, old woman?
Mallory turned to the window in time to see the back of an old hag dragging a wire cart down the sidewalk.
So that was it. Just waving off the riffraff. Move along, was all the old woman on the inside meant to say to the crone on the outside, No loitering, no rest for you-not at my door.
Charles rang the bell again. Punctuality was her religion. He was genuinely stunned that Mallory was not at home. They had agreed to meet at eight o’clock, and it was ten of the hour now.
He stood outside Mallory’s door as people passed by him on the way to a party in the apartment at the end of the hall. And every passerby looked at the man with the flowers, the tuxedo and the foolish smile. He was so transparently in love, they could read the plaque bearing Mallory’s apartment number through his soul.
The elevator announced itself with a metallic ping. The doors opened and Mallory appeared, striding down the hall, a canvas tote bag slung over one shoulder. “Hi, Charles.”
“You’re not dressed.”
“You said eight o’clock.” She looked at her watch. “It’s only ten of eight now.”
He followed behind her as she pressed through the door, dropped her tote bag on the rug and disappeared into her bedroom. “Clock me,” she called back to him as the door was closing.
He sat down in a massive armchair. He wished everyone’s furniture was so accommodating to his large frame. Every object in this room had been selected for simplicity of form and function. If he didn’t know this was her apartment, there would be nothing to give him a clue to the inhabitant’s character. This was a non-atmosphere, impersonal, with no imprint of background. All the furnishings were expensive, but nothing was sought for show. There was a Spartan quality to the bare walls where the giveaway photographs and paintings should be. There was not a single bookcase to tell anyone that Mallory had a life of the mind. Her reading matter was squirreled away in her office at Mallory and Butler, Ltd.-all manuals for machines, and no literature to show even a passing interest in human beings. He looked around him again. Yes, he could believe that a machine lived here.
The tote bag toppled over on its side and a slew of photographs spilled out onto the rug. He was staring down at the image of a man’s severed head. He looked away. He knew this must be the head of the artist who had been murdered twelve years ago. Though the photographs had never been published, no adult living in New York City had been spared one gruesome detail of the deaths in the old Koozeman Gallery. He did not want to look at the photograph, but could not help himself.
When his gaze was drawn back to the picture on the floor, the bloody head was partially obscured by one green satin dancing shoe.
Beauty triumphed over bloody violence. His eyes lifted to the stunning sight of Mallory, green eyes and flowing green satin, waves of golden hair curling just above her bare white shoulders. He would have wagered anything that no other woman in Manhattan could have managed this in less than an hour. She had done it in less than five minutes. But then she was beautiful in blue jeans. She needed little else but the red lipstick to go with her flawless red nails. More would have been less.
In years past, the ball had been the social event of the season and quite successful on this account. However, as a charity function, it never failed to lose money. The most lavish gala of New York society drew funds from the families of the Social Register Four Hundred and many power moguls of Fortune’s Five Hundred, but it rarely turned much profit to the coffers of any worthy cause. Most years it ran to red ink, and this year the ball had barely broken even.
The elderly chairwoman, Ellen Quinn, was photographed in the act of handing an envelope to the administrator of the Crippled Children’s Fund. There was, of course, very little in the envelope, the chairwoman hastily explained in a whisper, and alas, no more was forthcoming. And so the administrator of the fund was photographed with an authentic expression of shock and slack-jawed surprise.
Charles made an entrance with Mallory. They passed through the great doors and into the spectacle of cathedral-high ceilings and a chandelier of a thousand lights, a room of silks, sequins and brilliant color interspersed with black tuxedos. A full orchestra was on the bandstand in black tie. The acoustics were marvelous. Music swelled to all points of the room, and perfumes swirled past them on the dance floor. Mallory walked close beside him, her hand on his arm to complete the overload of all his senses.
As Charles and Mallory moved through the crowd, heads throughout the room began to turn, each head alerting the one behind. The ball photographer abandoned his model of the moment to flash picture after picture of Mallory, exploding the flashes only a few feet before her eyes. The photographer’s former model, the director of New York’s largest bank, was left to smile foolishly at nothing at all in a pose with his wife, who also continued to smile.
Other women in the room were carefully coiffed and lacquered. Eighty-mile-an-hour winds could not have dislodged a single hair. Mallory’s hair waved in natural-looking rivers and curls of blond silk slipping over silk, moving as she moved. Her eyes had a charming, startled look which was largely attributable to flashbulb blindness. People continued to stare, some boldly, some covertly, at the young woman in the sea-green satin ball gown.
Charles danced one dance with her and then lost her to another partner and another. The dancing men came in legion. The ball gown lived its own life, capturing the lights and threading them into the fabric. Twirling amid the green satin fireworks, Mallory seemed not to touch the ground at all.
J. L. Quinn captured her for a waltz. They made a striking partnership, opposites of dark hair and light, turning, twirling. The other dancers slowed to watch the pair, and some of them altogether stopped. The fascination for beauty overcame envy in the pinch-faced women with too little flesh, and the men with red-veined noses and too much flesh, socialites who had no breasts, and the gangly boys who had no beards.
Charles stood alone, not dancing and not wanting to watch anymore.
Quinn held her out to admire her, and then pulled her close again, dancing her toward the center of the room. “My God, it must have been sheer hell growing up with a face like yours.”
“I’ll tell you just one more time,” said Mallory. “Dance me over to Gregor Gilette and change partners with him. Do it now.”
“And give you up? I’d rather be killed outright.”
“I’m a cop, I can arrange that.”
Contrary to a direct order, Quinn was not leading her in the direction of Gregor Gilette, but quite deliberately leading her away. She regretted leaving her gun at home.
“There’s really no need to disturb Gregor. I can tell you anything you need to know,” said Quinn.
He probably could, but would he? She didn’t think so, not without a weapon to his head, and perhaps not even then. “Did your brother-in-law have any enemies twelve years ago?”
“Of course he did. He’s a profoundly talented architect. You can find a list of his enemies in any copy of Architectural Digest.”
“What about the art community?”
“He and Sabra had a few common enemies. I suppose Emma Sue Hollaran would be at the top of that list. The woman scorned-you know that song.”
“She was involved with Gregor Gilette?”
“Only in her dreams.”
“So she was jealous of Sabra.”
“Yes. The animosity was rather overt. Hollaran used to be an art critic for an upscale newspaper that’s since gone under. The editor thought her barnyard critiques would make a nice contrast to the good writing in the other columns. She tried to destroy Sabra in the column. But Sabra’s work was critic-proof. Now Hollaran is on the Public Works Committee and perfectly positioned to go after Gregor in a more direct fashion.”
Mallory caught sight of Gregor Gilette dancing closer. “Did you ever talk to Gilette about my interview? Did you even ask him if he’d cooperate off the record?”
“He can’t go into that horror again. I want you to stay away from him.”
“Is that his decision, or yours?”
“It doesn’t matter.”
“You didn’t talk to him, did you? I thought you wanted to help me.”
“I do, Mallory. But there’s nothing Gregor can tell you.”
“You stopped the police from interviewing the family twelve years ago. You’re not going to do it again.”
“Oh, but I will. He’s been through quite enough. Now that’s the end of it.”
Quinn’s elderly mother waltzed by in the arms of a young man. The old woman was a graceful dancer, but Mallory noticed the wince when the young man pressed her hand for the turn. Mrs. Quinn was probably arthritic, though she hid the pain well.
So, the old lady was fragile. Good.
“You know, Quinn, I don’t think anyone ever got around to interviewing your mother, either. She looks like she’s pushing eighty.”
Quinn held her away at arm’s length as though she had just bitten him, and rather viciously. “There was never any reason for the police to talk to my mother. No one even suggested it.”
“I can question Gregor Gilette. Or I can go after your dear old mother. Choose one.”
And now they had come to a standstill in the center of the room, as all the dancers swirled around them.
“You know I could-”
“Have me fired? And I suppose you thought Markowitz was afraid of losing his job? He wasn’t! Markowitz let you get away with a lot because he figured he could use you. You were his tour guide through the art community. But I don’t think you were as useful as you could’ve been. I think you held out on my father, and I think you’re holding out on me.”
“You can’t possibly believe-”
“It’s a given. Everybody does it. Who wants to strip naked for a homicide investigation? If you want to go after my badge, go for it. But if you get it, I’ll have to get even with you, won’t I? I’m good at revenge. I’ll turn your life inside out, and I know how to do that. I’ll see you in tabloid hell. You only think you know what naked is. And you don’t want to think about what I could do to an old woman like your mother. I could do her with my eyes shut. Now change partners with Gilette.”
Emma Sue Hollaran began the tortuous journey across the ballroom floor. She was moving slowly, smiling despite the pain and nausea. Her swollen, bruised legs were encased in the tightest long-line girdle made. Every step was agony in this grotesque parody of the little mermaid of fairy tale, whose every step on human feet was the thrust of knives through her soles. Emma Sue was in constant pain now, but she had become accustomed to it over the years of surgeries.
Resplendent in her designer gown of iridescent colors, she was closing the distance on Gregor Gilette. He was stirring every part of her mind and the nether regions of her body where pain could not obliterate simple longing, ungodly desire that never ended. Once she had sent him love letters every day. He had never answered one of them. It was Sabra who eventually responded, if one could call it that.
Ah, but Sabra was gone, and Gregor was back from his long exile in Europe.
Emma Sue Hollaran banished Sabra from her thoughts and all the way to hell where she belonged, for Gregor Gilette was turning around now. Any moment he would see her in her finest hour, her new-formed body, her much worked-over face.
She was closer to him, nearly there, almost within touching distance. And now she was staring into his remarkable eyes, which penetrated her facades and knew her secrets; they probed the places of heat and sex, all the soft places. She felt herself being drawn into him as if she had no more substance than light. For this one stunning moment, she was young again, with all her possibilities intact.
Her hand fluttered up to her chest to quell the havoc there of blood rushing unchecked through her veins, heart pumping faster, chasing blood with blood, filling her with warmth and flooding her face with a vivid redness. Every step toward him was a knife wound, but she would have endured much more for this moment of triumph. She had waited so long.
His eyebrows shot up with recognition-followed closely by the revulsion in his eyes.
He turned away from her as introductions were being made to a young woman in a green satin gown. And now, Gregor and this woman were revolving, spinning away from her, locked in one another’s arms, moving across the floor with grace and speed.
He was out of her reach.
She turned away from the dancing pair and, trembling, she walked aimlessly through that room, awash in physical pain and the worse agony of humiliation. Finally, she summoned a cab to take her home to a bed that was too wide.
At fifty-eight, Gregor Gilette was far from old. His white hair was incongruous with the bull’s chest and the limber, supple motions of the body. His golden-brown eyes were remarkably young, and the craggy contours of his face also insisted on youth and strength. It was a face where paradox lived, beautiful and yet strikingly grotesque, animal sensuality and keen intelligence.
“I like your work,” Mallory said. “I was wondering what kind of sculpture was planned for the plaza. I understand the chairwoman of the Public Works Committee is an old enemy of yours. Does that worry you?”
Gilette laughed. “Emma Sue Hollaran? She’s not big enough to be an enemy. She’s a barnyard animal. A small one.”
She could hear the trace of a foreign accent, not the French of his father’s people, but a lingering influence of his Hungarian mother. According to Mallory’s background check, he had immigrated with his mother at the age of seventeen. In his spectacular rise from poverty and obscurity, he was the American dream machine at its best. And his daughter had been the American nightmare. Aubry had won the national lottery of the victim with the most extensive media fame.
“This new building is your first American commission in years, isn’t it?”
“So you do know my work. Yes, this building is my swan song. It’s the last commission I will ever take. I want to end my career at the height of my powers.”
“I suppose you spent all this time in Europe because New York had too many reminders of your daughter.”
“No, that’s not it. I carry reminders of Aubry everywhere I go. I must have a hundred portraits of her. No, my problem was just the opposite. Here in New York, no one ever spoke of her anymore. Friends and relatives were all afraid to mention her name, afraid to cause me fresh pain. In every day which excluded any mention of my child, I felt she was being erased.”
Charles was surprised to see Mallory leaving with Gregor Gilette. As she was passing through the doors, he saw her turn to search the sea of faces, and finding his, she waved. There was the lift of one white shoulder to say, It can’t be helped.
The tilt of his head to one side asked, Why not? But the doors were already closing behind her. The tight line of his mouth wobbled in a foolish, self-conscious smile.
The music began again and the dancers whirled around the floor, making a circle of hushing fabrics, a rushing blend of perfumes, a mosaic of brilliant color and motion all around the solitary man with the sad face, who was staring down at his shoes.
Just as Andrew Bliss had assembled his canopy of raincoats on a loose net of ropes, the rain had stopped. Well, that was life. Now a wet breeze licked the edges of his designer raincover. Traffic noises were sporadic. The night was cool and ten-thirty dark. A heavy truck was making wet static in the street below, and now a car. A siren, far off, was fading down some other street. And on the street below, two boom box radios dueled rap music to heavy metal.
Exhausted, Andrew fell on his bed of quilts and relapsed into fitful sleep, mangling satin sheets into a damp and winding rope. His dream blew apart in pyrotechnics of brilliant red flashes. His hands clutched the air, reaching for the blasted color fragments.
He mimed a scream as his body jerked with spasms and slowly folded in on itself to resemble a twitching fetus with hands pressed to its gut. The dream slid away from him, the pain subsided and his body unfolded in a free fall, floating down into deepest sleep.
“No, I never dream,” he would say, when conversations turned to that subject. And he believed that this was so. He never did remember his dreams, though this one had been much the same every night.
His face was composed now, the flesh smoothed back. He was forty-eight years old, and there should have been at least a character line, a laugh line about the eyes or mouth, but there was nothing there. No ancient scar to prove any rite of passage. But for the size of his body, he might have been a child.
He was child-size in his dream, and the world inside his head was bright as day and hot, a touch of hell in the afternoon. He rode silently, covertly inside a bag lady’s trolling cart, resting on a buttonless blue coat, the find of two trash cans past. A salty drop sweated down his shaded face. He made no sound, lest she find him there and drive him out. No free rides in New York City. In the rolling wire nest of junk, he found a Chinese fan, cracked lacquer and one hole, but useful still and soothing. Now his hand found the axe, wet and red. He screamed, but only the smallest squeak could be heard, no louder than the creaking cart wheels.
The old woman stopped the cart. “Get out! Get out!” the woman screamed, baring toothless red gums. “No free rides in New York City.”
He stepped out onto the sidewalk, watching her move on, laboriously rolling down the steamy street with her wire cart.
A group of adults loomed over him, angry and pointing to the body of a young woman lying at his feet. Her face was a mask of blood, and yet she would not die. He turned his back on her, and listened to the sounds of her struggles. What kept her alive? He turned back to look. A blade was cutting into her neck, aborting the scream in her throat. Next, it cut through her outstretched hand, shredding it. He covered his face and turned away. By the sounds, he understood what was happening behind his back. He could hear the sounds of gurgling blood in her throat and the soft suction noises of the blade working in and out of the flesh. The blood ran over his shoes in a trickle, and the trickle widened to a steady stream of rich red, and her banging heart beat out more blood to feed the river.
He woke up screaming. The rain had begun again.
The plaza was covered by scaffolding and wooden boards. He handed her the umbrella and gestured for her to step back as he pried open one of the boards and removed it. Mallory and Gilette stepped through the wooden fencing and entered the dark plaza. He led her across the paving stones, explaining the placement of each object and what he had done to foil Emma Sue Hollaran’s plans for this space.
“She really hated your wife, didn’t she?”
“Yes. But someone had to stop Emma Sue. Sabra thought the woman was crazy, and she didn’t want her near Aubry.”
“Perhaps. Emma Sue was stalking me. She telephoned and sent me letters every day. We were constantly changing the phone number, she was always getting the new one. She could simply not believe that I wanted nothing to do with her. Sabra took her letters and gave them to a tabloid reporter. Instead of printing them, the reporter sold them back to Emma Sue. The harassment stopped, but then she went after Sabra in her column. When that didn’t do any damage, she finally just ceased to be a problem.”
“Yes, but I think I’ve minimized the damage she can do.”
Mallory approved the layout of the plaza. The fountain was the centerpiece, a work of art in itself, and there were generous paths between it and the groupings of benches, but her eye for perfect symmetry could find no place to put another object.
“You haven’t left her any room for a large sculpture.”
“Exactly. Whatever they put here, it will have to be something rather small.”
The plaza itself was a perfect work of art, and nowhere in the scheme would it accommodate another structure. A strand of young trees lined the space and would not permit anything but birds among them. Benches had been built up from the plaza floor and could not be moved aside. Anything placed near the fountain would block the carefully planned walkways.
She entwined her arm with Gilette’s and led him to a bench by the fountain. Water music and sporadic sounds of traffic mingled with the rustle of the trees in a warm wind.
“I want to talk about the night Aubry died.”
“You’re wondering if I can do that? I prefer to talk about the time when she was alive-but yes, I can manage it.”
“Let me give you a scenario for Aubry’s death. You tell me if this works for you. Suppose she wasn’t the target that night. She might have come on the murderer in the act.”
He nodded. “That would make sense. If she heard someone calling for help, she would have gone running. She was at her physical peak, and she was fearless. You don’t know the chances she took as a dancer. Every leap might have been the injury to end a career. Yes, it could have happened that way.”
“She was in good shape. If she came on a murder in progress and she wasn’t taken by surprise, the bastard who killed her would have had to catch her first-if it happened that way. You’d have to figure it was someone large or in very good shape.”
“Yes, I never understood how Oren Watt could have done it, unless he came on her from behind. He was a junkie, wasn’t he? Maybe he had help.”
“So you had reservations about Watt? I had the idea that you were always convinced that he did it.”
“Oh, I’m sure he was there. He did confess. Jamie took the blame, you know. My poor brother-in-law thought someone had set him up and used Aubry for bait. Oren Watt was an artist. He would have fit with that idea.”
“Oren Watt didn’t become an artist until he made his confession. Before that, he was a junkie who delivered pizza and did occasional drug deals with the deliveries. I wonder if he even knew your brother-in-law was related to Aubry, or if he even knew Quinn was an art critic.”
It was dark, but she could follow the changes in his face as he digested this. This was news to him. Had he been lied to or sheltered? “How well did you know the gallery owner, Avril Koozeman?”
“We crossed paths at a few art functions. And once or twice we’ve bid against one another at auctions, usually charity affairs.”
“How well did Sabra know him?”
“They knew each other quite well in their younger days. They exhibited in the same gallery.”
“Koozeman was an artist?”
“Oh, yes, and a good one.”
“So he’s been a gallery owner, a critic and an artist?”
“It’s not so strange. People often float among related fields. A police officer might become a security expert or a criminal, or both, yes?”
“It’s been done,” said Mallory. “So you thought Koozeman was a good artist. And what did Sabra think of him?”
“She had a very high opinion of his work. She said there was a dark genius to it. But Koozeman wasn’t willing to pay the dues, so he applied his genius to promoting others. He tried to lure Sabra into his stable of artists, but by then she was established, a rising star. She was quite beyond him.”
“Did he hold a grudge?”
“No. I wouldn’t think so. He was always a driven man, too fixated on his own life. He’s made quite a success of his gallery over the past ten years or so.”
Mallory looked around the plaza. “It’s too bad your wife can’t be here to see this. You haven’t seen her in a long time, have you?”
“No. Sabra disappeared soon after Aubry died. I blame myself. I was so deep in grief, I didn’t see the changes in her, until she cut off her beautiful hair. She left me. She didn’t stop to pack a bag. I found all the cut strands of her hair lying on the floor of our bedroom. She didn’t even take that.”
“Did you try to find her?”
“But you never saw her again?”
She wondered if she believed everything this man told her. And what of Quinn? He behaved like a man with a reason to lie, to cover, but for what reason? Who was Quinn shielding? Not Gilette.
“You really have no idea where she is?”
“None. If I knew, I would be with her now. I’m still very much in love with my wife.”
And there was truth in this. His eyes were looking at a memory, and it was beloved. He turned to face her now, back in the present and curious. “Why are you so interested in Sabra? Do you think she might be able to tell you something about that night?”
“Maybe. I’ll never know. The police weren’t allowed to question her after Aubry died.”
“She could not have stood up to any stress.”
“Maybe she could stand it now. I’d like to talk to Sabra, but she’s sunk below my radar. She’s living under an alias, or she’s-”
“Dead? Yes, I’ve thought of that possibility, but she would never commit suicide. It’s against her religion. Would it help you to know that she was in an institution for a few years? It was a voluntary commitment.”
“If I had known the name, I would have settled the bill. She never used our insurance policy. She had to be there under an assumed name. My detectives couldn’t find her.”
“So how did you find out she was hospitalized?”
“Word got back to me. I won’t say from whom. It was a private affair, and I am a great respecter of privacy.” He looked away, and then his face came back to her, smiling with a change of subject.
“The man you came with, Charles Butler? I can’t say I know him well. I only saw him at family gatherings, but I did watch him grow up from wedding to wedding, funeral to funeral. I’m sure I remember him far better than he remembers me. He was so remarkable in any company-and I’m not referring to that magnificent nose. I gather he’s not a close friend of yours?”
“He’s a very close friend.” He was her only friend. “Why did you say that?”
“Well, he must be devastated now. I don’t imagine he enjoyed losing you that way.”
“Charles? He understood why I had to leave.”
“You think he understood why he was left to look like a fool in front of all those people?” He put up one hand to silence her, to stop her from denying she had done that. “When Charles was a little boy, his freak intellect made him a thing apart from other children, a different species. The things the normal children did to him-just following their nature, never missing an opportunity to be cruel. But you’re not a child, and you say you’re his friend.”
“I am his friend.”
“I wonder, Mallory. Would he have left you behind?”
“It wasn’t like that.”
“Oh, but it was. I’ve seen it before, at every wedding and funeral. His mother would shoo him into a crowd of children. The little monsters would torture him for a while, and then they’d run off. He would just stand there, very quiet, with this stunned look in his eyes. I think the cruelty always baffled him. That’s what I saw in his face tonight as we were leaving the ball-he really didn’t understand.”
Gregor Gilette was searching her face, probing her with his eyes. He seemed surprised by what he had just found. “Mallory, you don’t comprehend any of this, do you?‘’ He brought his face closer to hers. ”No, I can see that you don’t.“
Mallory looked down at her watch. “I have to leave now-I’ve got work to do. I’d like to talk to you again. Can I call you?”
“Yes, of course.” He pulled a pen and a card from his pocket and scribbled a telephone number on the back. “I’ll look forward to it.”
Charles stirred in the night, rising to half-consciousness with the light pepper of pebbles on glass. With mild annoyance, he rolled over and pressed his face into the pillow. He came rudely awake to the sound of a breaking windowpane, and his eyes snapped open in time to see a dark object fly into the room and land on the carpet amid a sparkling shower of glass.
Well, now he was wide awake. He rushed to the window and threw up the sash, ready with a small store of words Riker had taught him to relieve the angst of just such a moment. He leaned out the window, prepared with an opening gambit to cast aspersions on the parenthood of the rock thrower.
In the street below was a beautiful woman in a shimmering green ball gown. She was standing in the soft rain and staring up at him. The drops pocked her gown with dots of a darker green. Her face was misted and shining, her white skin luminous. Her hair glistened with rain and lamplight. She blew him a kiss, and in the next moment, she was gone, hurrying up the narrow street toward the wide busy lanes and bright lights of Houston. He leaned far out the window and watched until the last bit of her gown had disappeared into a yellow taxi.
When he finally stood back from the window, he wore the most foolish grin a human could wear outside of captivity. His hair was soaked through, and now he realized he was standing on broken glass. It had just dawned on him that his soles were bleeding, when he noticed the object at his feet-masonry which he hoped was a chunk off someone else’s building. A bit of paper was bound to it by string. He knelt down and untied the wet knot, carefully unfolding the limp paper as though it were a precious relic. He lifted his message to the window. By this poor light, he read the words, “I’m sorry.”
When he considered the source, this was nearly poetic. And to think, he had once criticized her for not having a jot of romance in her soul, or for that matter, a soul. And who but Mallory would have come up with the original idea of tendering an apology by rock?
In its original form, the newspaper clipping had been Sabra and Gregor Gilette’s wedding portrait from the society pages. It had shown only a small part of the bride’s face, only one eye unobscured by her flowers. Half that photograph stared back at Emma Sue each night from the ornate picture frame on the bedside table. She had cut off Sabra’s side of it in the way of a jealous lover. How she had hated Gregor’s wife. And yet, perversely, her most prized possession was one of Sabra’s paintings.
In her young years, before she had become a mover and shaker in the New York art world, Emma Sue Hollaran’s taste in art had always run contentedly with reproductions of Americana by the painter from Maine. His work was as quiet and unchallenging as wallpaper in the portraiture of neighbor folk and peaceful landscapes of an America that she never lived in, a made-up place that she might visit for a moment before turning out the lights.
All those years ago when she had seen the first of Sabra’s paintings, she had physically recoiled. It was the shock of cold water and the disorientation of a sleepwalker called rudely awake. It thrilled her. Sabra had painted a place that Emma Sue had known in her fantasies. The work was done in vibrant reds. The upper portion was a jagged raging violence and the lower part, a rolling, bleeding passivity. She stared into the painting, believing for one full second that she might actually enter it.
Untutored in abstract art, she had forced representation onto the canvas, and reorganized the atmosphere of raw sex, until the violence became a tumultuous fiery sky, roaring over the gently sloping earth below. Rushing across the red plain in the distance, coming ever close, was a churning blood storm. This, too, was another country. It was young, and it was passionate. She remembered it well from dark rooms where she had sat alone with imaginary men who really loved her.
The painting had been hung on her bedroom wall all those years ago. Even when she had come to hate Sabra, Emma Sue could never bring herself to destroy the painting. All these years later, she still found herself staring at it for hours, her head pressed into the pillows, hand hesitating on the lamp switch, watching, waiting for the passionate blood storm to come, in the delusion that, for her, it had not already passed her by.
She turned off the lamp and plotted in the dark.
Gregor would be sorry, very sorry.
Mallory had doffed her ball gown and her yellow taxi cab. Long after midnight, she had returned to what she was, a cop in blue jeans, carrying a large gun in a shoulder holster and striding across a rooftop on the east side of town, ten flights in the air.
Riker waved one arm to say hello. He had his binoculars trained down on the roof of Bloomingdale’s across the street. He was focussed on the thing beneath the makeshift canopy of raincoats. The wind whipped at the canopy, and a coat flapped up to expose the mannequin in the silver ball gown. Andrew Bliss was tenderly draping the plastic figure with a raincoat, as though he thought she might be cold.
“Strange little guy,” said Riker.
“What’s he doing?”
“I think he’s starting a new religion. Right now he’s lighting a candle in front of a giant Barbie doll.”
Mallory took the binoculars, and watched Andrew light the tall formal candles of a silver candelabra set on a table before the mannequin. “It does look like an altar, doesn’t it?”
She had been schooled in two religions, Jewish and Catholic. Both lit candles, but this little rite of Andrew’s was closer to the church than the temple. Now Andrew was making the sign of the cross. It was this very act, performed unconsciously as a child, which had tipped Helen Markowitz off to her real mother’s religion, and the foster mother had felt an obligation to condemn Kathy Mallory to four years of parochial school.
“Riker, how much food do you think he has in that little fridge?”
“No food. I saw him open it an hour ago. It’s packed with wine and one bottle of water. There’s no sign of food anywhere.”
“Take off, Riker. Get some sleep.”
After the rooftop door had closed on Riker, Mallory plugged in her directional microphone and scanned the roof, counting up wine bottles. When she focussed on Andrew again, he was stumbling to his bedding of quilts. He must be tired and weak from the dearth of food and the glut of wine. Yet he did not sleep except in starting fits. He was having nightmares, if Mallory understood those screams. She could remember a childhood of screaming herself awake in the night as Andrew did all the night long, until the candles failed, burning to the nubs and going out.
When he woke again, an hour shy of daylight, he discovered his melted candles, and he went ballistic. She watched him tearing through his entire stock of goods until he found another candle. He lit it and went back to sleep.
It wasn’t fear of the dark. Electric light bloomed everywhere on the roof. She counted ten lamps tied by a network of extension cords. The candles must mean something more to him.
Just before daybreak, he fell into an exhausted sleep with no more screams, and he did not wake again before Mallory left him.
Gregor Gilette remained in Godd’s Bar until closing time. Then he sat in an after-hours bar until near sunup, pondering the possibilities of dark genius.
When he did go home to his Fifth Avenue residence, he was weary in so many ways. He went to the large kitchen at the back of the apartment. He selected a bottle of red from the wine rack and carried it through the rooms, slowly working the screw into the cork.
Gregor unlocked the door of the only room in the apartment which his housekeeper was not obliged to clean. He entered his den and sat down in a chair opposite the enlarged image of a bloody severed head. He casually fumbled in a drawer for his cigar cutter. Behind his chair, Aubry’s murdered face, in full color with open, staring dead eyes, seemed to watch as he struck a match to a Cuban cigar, and then poured his wine into a goblet.
He turned to his left, seeking an ashtray. He was so accustomed to the wall covering on that side of the room, he never even glanced at it. From the baseboard to the ceiling molding, the wall was splashed with a collage of photographs and yellowed newspaper clippings, held in place by nails driven into plaster. Four of the photographs were large and glossy, in full color, and the predominant color was the blood of wounds.
The young woman in the photographs was more recognizably human in the newspaper clippings below. Each clipping told much the same story. Each said, in much the same wording, that here was a wildly talented young dancer who was going somewhere in this world.
There were retractions printed in articles at the base of the wall, which said in varied garish tabloid headlines that they had lied; she had died; she would never go anywhere now.