Gregor Gilette carried a steaming cup of coffee to the kitchen table and set it down beside the morning newspaper. By lowering the window shade only a little, he demolished every tall building above the tree line of Central Park. Five flights above Fifth Avenue traffic, it was almost possible to believe that he was no longer in Manhattan.
He glanced across the table at an empty chair and an empty space where Sabra might have been, if their only child had not been slaughtered. At some point in the past decade, acknowledging Sabra’s absence had become a part of his daily routine, and once more, he sat down to breakfast without her.
As he unfolded his newspaper, the jewel of his ring flashed a dazzle of blue light, calling for his attention as it often did. The stone was cheap. He wore it because it was the very color of Sabra’s eyes.
The doorbell rang precisely on the appointed hour, and that would be Detective Mallory.
Gregor ushered his young guest into the kitchen and poured her a generous portion of coffee. Visually, she had lost nothing in the transition from ball gown to blue jeans. But her manner had altered. He thought she seemed somewhat mechanical in the small civilized comments of “How are you, sir?” and “Sorry to bother you so early.” Of course, he realized she was not at all sorry to bother him, and now, done with courtesy, she launched into the business of her visit.
She settled a laptop computer on the kitchen table by her cup. “I need more information on the night your daughter died.” She opened the computer, and then reached into her blazer pocket to draw out a plastic device with a ball at its center, which she plugged into her machine. “You were planning to have dinner with Aubry that night?”
“Yes. I was to meet her at a cafe in the West Village.” He felt a vague disquiet. The night of the ball there had been conversation. This was interrogation, cold and impersonal.
“You brought her roses.” She began to tap on the keyboard, not meeting his eyes, almost disconnected from him.
“Yes, the roses were red.”
“Was it a special occasion?” Now she did look at him, and he wished she had not, for she might as well have been regarding his chair and not the man who sat close to her, sharing coffee.
“No. The flowers were to brighten Aubry’s apartment-a gift from her mother. Sabra was a woman of extreme color, and Aubry was very austere. So, every time we saw our daughter, Sabra would give her a gift of color-a scarf, a bright ceramic bowl. Sabra believed one could die for lack of color, so she continued to feed color to her child.”
“Where was your wife the night of the murders?”
“Sabra was visiting her mother, Ellen Quinn.”
For a moment, he thought Mallory was going to challenge that statement, but her voice was casual as she said, “I had the idea Sabra and her family didn’t get along very well.”
“They didn’t. But my mother-in-law was getting on in years, and Sabra was too big a person to hold a grudge against a lonely old woman.”
“Do you know why Aubry wanted to meet Quinn at the gallery that night?”
“No, Detective, you have it wrong. It was Jamie who chose the meeting place. Aubry called me to say she would be late for dinner, because her Uncle Jamie wanted to see her.”
And now he saw suspicion in her face, as though she had caught him in a lie, and he was puzzled over this. But as quickly as he put this together, the trouble in her eyes had resolved itself.
“You’re sure she didn’t ask to meet him!”
“Quite sure. She said Jamie wanted her to meet him at the gallery.”
“She spoke to him?”
“No. He left her a message at the ballet school. When I couldn’t reach Jamie by phone, I called the school’s director. Aubry had used Madame Burnstien’s phone to call her uncle at the newspaper. Her message had been garbled-too many instructions for the school receptionist to write down in a hurry. It was a clerk at the newspaper who told Aubry to meet her uncle at the gallery. When I spoke to that clerk, she looked up the name of the gallery on the message carbon.”
“Did you and Quinn ever speak about this?”
“I honestly don’t remember. There were so many things to distract me from the small details. My only child was dead, my wife was falling apart… there was the funeral to deal with.”
“Who broke the news to Sabra?”
“Jamie did. He took care of everything. He made the funeral arrangements and hired security men to keep people away from us. Sabra was going to pieces. Then, as I told you, she left me and checked herself into an institution.”
“You left for Europe after that?”
“Perhaps nine months later-only after it was made very clear to me that Sabra wouldn’t see me. The breakup of a marriage is a common piece of damage when two people lose a child. I had been in Paris for only a year when I heard she left the institution and disappeared. I did what I could to find her, but I failed.”
“Would you like me to find Sabra for you?” She looked up from her computer.
“The best private investigators in New York are still looking for her. I never stopped trying to find my wife. So, I thank you for-”
“The best PIs are ex-cops. They get most of their information from old buddies on the force. Now I’m a cop, and I’m better than the best you’ve got. And the service is free.”
He liked arrogance, but he mistrusted youth. “My people have been working the case for years. They’re familiar with every-”
“I’ll bet you didn’t have one decent photograph to give them.”
“No, I didn’t.” He smiled at this reminder of Sabra’s eccentric camera hatred. “I gave the investigators a photograph of my daughter. Aubry bore a strong resemblance to her mother.”
“Sabra was in her forties when she disappeared. Now she’s twelve years older. Your detectives are looking for a family resemblance to a twenty-year-old girl.” She tapped the laptop computer with one long red fingernail, and then turned it so he could see the full screen. “This is an identity kit.”
He leaned closer to examine a photograph of Aubry. “It is a strong resemblance to Sabra.”
“But the daughter wasn’t an exact copy of the mother, was she?”
“No. Aubry was very pretty, but Sabra was striking, dramatic. My wife was a great presence in every room she entered… But the day of the funeral she seemed small and tired. The ordeal added years to her face. Grief is an exhausting thing.”
Mallory revolved the ball device wired into her computer. “I’m aging the photo of Aubry.” A moment later she said, “Here, take a look at this.”
He left his seat at the table to stand behind her chair. And now he was looking at the woman his daughter might have become. Mallory was adding wrinkles to the brow. It was cruel, this aging process, but fascinating. She had taken away the softness of Aubry’s face and created lines around the mouth. The delicate nose was slightly enlarged, and the eyes were given their own lines. The black hair had been lightened with strokes of gray.
“That’s very good,” said Gilette. “Sabra’s eyes were a bit larger and more expressive.”
Mallory enlarged the eyes.
“Sadder,” said Gilette.
She dragged down the corners of the eyes.
“And the mouth was wider, the chin a little stronger.”
When she was done, he said, “That’s what Sabra looked like on the day of the funeral.”
Mallory folded down the top of her computer and picked up her car keys, preparing to leave him. Now she put the keys down again. “One more thing-how well did Andrew Bliss know your daughter? I have an old newspaper article that quotes him as a personal friend.”
“Andrew? Well, he saw Aubry at her mother’s art shows. He always made a fuss over her when she was a child. He even went to her recitals when she was a student at Madame Burnstien’s school. I like him for that. My daughter was a lonely little girl. There was a quality in Andrew that could speak to her, child to child.”
“You were there every time they met?”
“No. They sometimes saw one another when he visited the ballet school-Andrew was a generous patron. Sometimes he met with Aubry after her dancing class. When she was a little girl, Andrew would insist that she call home to tell us she’d be late.”
Mallory’s eyes narrowed. “He was seeing her alone when she was still a child?”
On one level, he liked this young woman tremendously, but just now he wanted to smack her. “He and Aubry would have tea in Madame Burnstien’s office after class. Does this sound like a sexual tryst with a pedophile?”
Apparently, it did. Her expression was cynical. She sat back in her chair, unconvinced that opportunity was not synonymous with the act. He thought her too young to be so hard on the world.
“Andrew was very kind to my daughter, nothing more. He might have been her only real friend. Their relationship was totally innocent, almost spiritual. My wife believed that Aubry and Andrew were like two lonely monks with different callings.”
“Andrew Bliss is a materialistic little bastard,” she said, calmly, evenly. “All the papers are touting him as the fashion terrorist of New York. What do you think Sabra would say now? You think she might buy the pedophile angle?”
“No!” The palm of his hand slapped the table hard. “And neither do I.”
Had she been baiting him? Yes, it was in her face. She had what she wanted from him, and damn the cost. Now he understood why Jamie Quinn had gone to such pains to keep the police from his door all those years ago. The questions, the insinuations-this was a rape of memory.
“Andrew’s friendship with Aubry was innocent kindness. Nothing can dissuade me from that.” He rose from the table, making it clear that it was time for her to go. “The suggestion of something sexual in her childhood is maddening. You have no sense of my emotions concerning my child, do you?”
“I think you’d like to kill the man who murdered her.”
A cockroach floated dead among the slags of cream on the surface of his coffee. Riker shook his head and set the cup down on the bedside table. The roach must have been in the pan he used to heat the water. Morning light was diffusing through the dust-gray lace of a curtain. Layers of cigarette smoke had dimmed and yellowed the windowpane to make the daylight kinder to his emaciated features.
Now he parted the curtain and caught sight of Mary Margaret rounding the corner with her arms full of groceries and leading a parade of four children. Her body had thickened some, but her hair was the same carrot red she was born to. The children, redheads all, were laughing, and she laughed with them.
If only they had had children together, Mary Margaret might have stuck it out with him.
Naw, that’s not right.
It was the drinking that drove her away, and not the dearth of babies. She was always meant for better than him, and the year after she left, she had found that better man.
She had lived three doors away for all these years, and they never spoke. He saw her most every day of his life, passing sometimes within touching distance, never daring to touch her once in all that time. He wished she had moved away from the old neighborhood when she left him. It would have been easier for her to leave instead of him. He had stayed here on this same street because she had stayed.
Every time he had seen her passing by his window with her brood of kids and her second husband, it had been a personal assault. In the march of children’s feet, all ducks in a row behind Mary Margaret, Riker could see generations of the life he might have had. No problem with her second husband. No sir. Not a sterile drunk like the first one.
Perhaps he should have crawled off to die with his drunk’s liver, years ago. What kept him alive he didn’t know. He sat down on the side of the bed and opened the drawer of the nightstand. He reached to the back, hand combing through the debris until he touched the small paper envelope. Inside it was his wedding ring and a bullet with his name engraved upon it, his rainy day bullet.
He seldom opened the envelope. It had more magic for him when he didn’t look inside. It was only important to him to heft the weight of the ring and the bullet in his hand, to know that there was one last place to go when he couldn’t live in this one anymore.
He kicked a pizza carton out of his way as he walked to the bathroom. A nest of roaches fled the cardboard box and took refuge in another take-out container with remnants of rice and noodles. Now he stood before the mirror over the small sink where he shaved, when he shaved. He checked his eyes in the mirror. He saw dense red road maps with patches of brown where his eyes leaked through.
By nine o’clock, bits of tissue paper with bright red centers marked all the places where he had cut himself shaving.
Drunks should only be allowed to use electric razors.
When he was bereft of tissue, bleeding stopped, he dressed in his best bad suit.
“I have been given a sign that God is on my side in this,” Andrew announced to the world, via his bullhorn. And now he cast a benevolent eye on the small crowd of ant-size, badly dressed people who gathered on the sidewalk below. He had come to think of them as his parishioners, his personal flock of insects.
“He would want you all to make the most of His gifts to the world. Why do you think He created Bloomingdale’s and Bergdorf’s? Sinners, can’t you see His grand design in Tiffany’s?”
The crowd was growing larger.
Oh, thank you, Lord, fresh victims.
He sized them up in the binoculars, and couldn’t get horn to mouth fast enough.
“You! Wearing that yellow, shapeless thing that makes your skin look sallow! Most of us have to hang out at laundromats to see that peculiar shade of polyester. Sinner, you’ll find the Suit Collection on the second floor.”
And now another. “Woman with the hideous purple tights. Don’t you realize what a steady diet of champagne and cigarettes can do to the human body? I’m dying for your sins. Get thee to Women’s Sportswear, third floor.”
He addressed the larger gathering. “Remember, we are all God’s creations, and we must dedicate our lives to the greater glory of His works. Charge card applications are available on the first floor. You may cosign a card for the less fortunate.”
He lowered the binoculars and bullhorn to uncork a new bottle and sip his lunch, forgoing the amenity of a glass. There were no glasses left. One blanked-out night he must have taken up the custom of smashing them against the wall each time he emptied one. Now he surveyed his plush aerie, ignoring the shards of broken glass and the growing litter of empty bottles. Even blind drunk, his taste in goods had been unerring.
And now he flopped down on his bed of quilts and stared at the mannequin behind her altar. He wondered why God had created Aubry if He was just going to kill her that way. It was all God’s work and God’s will, wasn’t it? All of it?
Aubry the Virginal, the perfect sacrifice. How holy.
Oh, beautiful Aubry. God can be such a bastard, can’t He?
Coffey stood in front of Blakely’s desk until the chief of detectives made a guttural noise and pointed to the chair.
Now the great man deigned to lift his head and squint his small eyes at Coffey, as though trying to remember what the head of Special Crimes Section was doing here in his office.
“Well, Jack, Commissioner Beale wanted me to pass on his compliments. He’s Mallory’s number-one fan this week. Course that makes it more difficult to take Mallory off the Dean Starr murder.”
“I was hoping you’d reconsider that.”
“No, Jack, I don’t think so. I want you to call Beale. Tell him it’s your idea to pull Mallory and Riker off the case. As long as the FBI is out of the picture, he probably won’t care if you have the janitor run the investigation.”
“Mallory and Riker make a good team. I don’t want to change the assignments.”
“This is not a good time for you to be making waves, Jack. The paperwork on your promotion is sitting on my desk. You don’t want it to park here for another year, do you?”
Coffey sat in silence. He had learned this from Markowitz. “Let the bastard flap his mouth,” the old man had said. “Let him knock himself out, and then you’re still fresh when you move in to shut his mouth.
“You’d be the youngest captain on the force, Jack. Of course, Riker was the youngest captain we ever had. You didn’t know? Well, that’s not too surprising-he wasn’t a captain for very long. This was on someone else’s watch, before my time-remember that. He was just doing his job, and a good job, too. One night, he interviewed a twelve-year-old boy who gave him the license number of a limousine and a very detailed description of a man. So Riker ran the plates, and matched up the description of the perp with the owner of the car. Then he wrote up his report like the good cop he was. The kid was raped by a prince of the church.”
“So that was Riker’s case? I heard the story about the arrest, but I always figured it was like one of those legends about giant alligators in the sewers. There’s no trace of the arrest report ever-”
“You looked for it, didn’t you? All the rookies look for it. Well, Riker’s report disappeared, and as far as Riker knew, the prince went on doing little boys in the park. Riker objected to that. He received a warning from the guy who had my job-a threat’s more like it-and then he got a promotion to captain. They were hoping he would get the drift. Well, that stupid bastard didn’t have a captain’s rank for five days before he goes out and busts a prince of the church with a kid in his car. Riker brought the cardinal in handcuffed. You can guess what happened next.”
“He was busted all the way down to sergeant.”
“No. He went back to the rank of lieutenant. And he still wouldn’t stop. Then he was busted down to sergeant. By then his wife had left him, he was deep in the bottle and next to useless. The department would’ve eased him out, but Markowitz grabbed him off for Special Crimes Section and sent him to a clinic to dry out. Markowitz had more power around here than God Almighty. Nobody else could have saved Riker’s ass. By the time Riker dried out, the prince was gone, and a new prince was in power.”
“Did Riker ever try to go outside the system?”
“No, he wouldn’t do anything to hurt the department. He’s a third-generation cop, just like Markowitz was. And who was he going to go to-the cops? Maybe the newspapers? The church is a major political power in this town. He had no evidence and the kid was gone.”
“What happened to the kid?”
“Who knows? Who cares? You’ve got a great future, Jack. You could learn from Riker’s mistakes.”
“This case is small-time, compared to Riker’s.”
“Some very high-profile people could be embarrassed, Jack.”
“A senator, for instance? And what’s the old mayor doing now, running for governor, isn’t he?”
“If Riker couldn’t buck the system, what chance have you got? Call Mallory off.”
“You’d never touch Mallory, would you?”
“Of course not. Her old man and me, we had a lot of history together. I think of her as my own-”
“You can’t touch her, can you? She’s got everything the old man had. She must know where every single body is buried. Markowitz wouldn’t have left her defenseless in the shark pool.”
“Careful, Lieutenant. I think you’re bordering on insubordination here.”
“Maybe there was more to it than leaving the homicide books tidy when the mayor and the old commissioner left office.” Coffey was rising out of his chair. “Maybe they were afraid the real killer was somebody in a power position.” He turned his back on Blakely.
“That’s enough!” Blakely pounded his desk. “Come back here and sit down, Lieutenant!”
“Just call me Sergeant,” said Coffey, closing the door behind him.
Orwelhouse Sanitarium had been home to Oren Watt for eleven years.
Mallory looked around at the trappings of the trendy New York asylum for the artistic and crazy. The reception-area walls were lined with cheap art in expensive frames. The furniture was chic and ugly, blending well with the loud geometric pattern of the carpet.
Perhaps the world did need a fashion terrorist.
In her pocket was Charles’s daunting list of all the mental institutions in the tristate area. Charles had put Orwelhouse dead last. He had reasoned that because Oren Watt was the star patient, this asylum would have been the last place Sabra would go.
Thank you, Charles.
Mallory had moved Orwelhouse to the top of her list. She was thinking along the lines she knew best-rage, obsession and revenge-which she believed were closer to Sabra’s mind-set in the aftermath of Aubry’s murder.
The receptionist was quickly exiting the internet server, blanking the screen of her desktop computer. There was time enough for Mallory to note the personal code and the erotic service the receptionist subscribed to, undoubtedly without her employer’s knowledge.
Now the pinch-faced brunette studied Mallory, eyes traveling from the expensive running shoes to the designer sunglasses. Mallory flashed a platinum credit card as identification, and now the brunette’s sudden toothy smile acknowledged her as a member of that exclusive sphere, the master class of money.
“I need a tour,” said Mallory. “I have all the paperwork for admissions, but I want to see the place first. My mother is a wealthy woman, so I’m concerned about your security.”
She was then introduced to a man with a used-car dealer’s smile and a Savile Row tailor. During her guided tour of the facility, Mallory checked the electronic locks on the doors, asked about the front-end system of the computers, and noted the security cameras mounted on the walls. She was not impressed. This was going to be entirely too easy. Before her guide turned her over to the director’s secretary, he had all but given her the keys to the door and the passwords for all the patient files. Best of all was the tour of the basement and access to the trunk line for the telephones.
Now she stood in the director’s anteroom and put one hand in her pocket to depress the switch on her scrambler. The secretary’s computer screen went berserk, changing all the text to math symbols.
“Oh, shit,” said the secretary.
Mallory watched as the woman powered down to lose the glitch. When the screen came to light again, the scramble was still there, and there were many more “Oh, shit”s before the defeated woman beat her hand on the desk.
“My computer does that once in a while,” said Mallory. “Do you want me to fix it for you?”
“I’ll give you my firstborn child,” said the woman with the frazzled eyes. She stood up and pulled out her chair for Mallory. “Can I get you some coffee, hon?”
“Thanks. Black, no sugar.” Mallory sat down at the computer station. When the woman was out of sight, she turned off her scrambler and restored the screen. Now she went into the main directory and created a back door in the system to bypass every security code. The coffee appeared beside the keyboard as she was calling up the secretary’s word-processing program.
At the end of the afternoon, she was back in her office at Mallory and Butler, Ltd., sitting at her own computer. She waited for the trip lights to tell her she had access. The amber light glowed. The asylum’s closed system was operating on the modem now, accessing the internet, which made it an open system with a back door.
As she tapped into the phone line for the Orwelhouse lobby, she found herself intruding on a sexual liaison. The receptionist was hooked into an internet service which catered to the erotically deprived. Mallory checked the user’s personnel file with a purloined password. The receptionist was high school graduate Sylvia Ulner, who was passing for a psychiatrist on the anonymous internet connection. At the moment, Sylvia was typing out a pornographic analysis of her body for an amorous correspondent in a private cyberspace room.
Of course, there were no private rooms in cyberspace. Any cut-rate burglar knew there was no such thing as an inviolate system. But Sylvia and her keyboard stud were oblivious to Mallory’s intrusion as they were busy violating one another.
Welcome to the goldfish bowl.
Mallory stepped lightly on the information superhighway, tiptoed past the lovers in the circuit boards, and entered the hospital system to roam the patient entries of twelve years ago.
There was no medication on the charts for Oren Watt or any of the other Outsider Artists, and no one was paying the bills. The accountant was reporting this group as a loss, though each had a growing trust fund for sales of insane artwork. The insurance companies of the non-artistic patients were paying the moon for drugs and counseling. She found only one female patient in Sabra’s age bracket with no insurance and no scholarship. Well, that fit. Gilette had mentioned that Sabra never used their medical policy.
The computer called the woman Sarah, and itemized the counseling sessions and rounds of medication for depression. When Mallory called up the complete file, she was looking at the patient’s photograph, a blurred face twisting away from the lens, unrecognizable but for Sabra’s hallmark camera avoidance. The bills for her care had been paid directly by a blind account in a foreign bank until the account ran dry two years later. Her entire fortune was gone, and coincidentally, she was discharged that same month. No forwarding address.
Did the bastards give you bus fare, Sabra?
While the receptionist and her lover were trysting in cyberspace, taking off a hundred bytes of panties, Mallory was downloading all the patient files. The lovers were in printed throes of ecstasy as Mallory left the hospital records, closing the back door softly behind her.
MORE, MORE, MORE, wailed Sylvia at her keyboard.
Now Mallory scanned Sabra’s file on her own system and at a more leisurely pace. There were reams of charts which only told her Sabra’s deep sadness had never responded to drugs or counseling. The personal notes of a psychiatric nurse mentioned Sabra’s only close friendship with another inmate: Sabra and Oren Watt had been inseparable.
Riker walked into Coffey’s office unannounced. He looked from the man to the bottle, which Coffey made no effort to conceal. That was a very bad sign. Riker pulled a chair closer to the desk and settled into it. Coffey wouldn’t meet his face. A worse sign.
“I got ten bucks says I can guess what’s goin‘ down.” Riker put his money on the desktop next to the lieutenant’s empty glass.
Coffey gave him a grudging smile and fished a back pocket for his wallet. He laid a ten-dollar bill beside Riker’s, saying, “Go for it.”
“You’ve been in here for less than ten minutes, and the glass is drained. Now that’s criminal, ‘cause it’s a real good grade of sipping whiskey. Your knuckles are white, and you look like a man who shouldn’t be allowed near a loaded gun. It’s Blakely, right? He’s messing with your command.”
Coffey pushed both tens to Riker’s side of the desk. “Yeah, he wants Mallory off this case. He wants that really bad.”
“And he threatened you, right?”
Coffey nodded, as he reached into the drawer of his desk and produced another glass, holding it up to Riker as though he actually believed his sergeant might say no to a shot of whiskey.
“Well, I think he’s overreacting,” said Riker, accepting his glass and emptying it before he spoke again. “There’s worse department cover-ups to worry about. This one is really small potatoes.”
“Blakely’s taking it pretty seriously.”
“And I’m sure he’s taking it personally, too. He’s the one who ordered Markowitz to close out the case.”
“But the case stayed open. Blakely never screwed around much with Markowitz, did he?”
“Well, you have to figure Markowitz had something on Blakely-the things the old man got away with? Lieutenant, you know what your real problem is? You got your promotions on merit. You didn’t come up through the patronage system. If you had, you’d have enough dirt to fend for yourself. You remind me of my old man. That’s high praise, ‘cause the old bastard was as straight-arrow as they come.”
“Riker, why did you stay on the force after they busted you to sergeant?”
“Well, my old dad was a cop. My grandfather, too. There was nothing else I ever wanted to be. So I quit the force and do what? You think I’m gonna go be a hairball private dick? Gimme a break.”
“You’re fifty-five. You could retire with a nice pension and a few-”
“And put a gun muzzle in my mouth after the novelty wears off? Naw. I still got Markowitz’s kid to raise. She thinks she knows it all. You can’t tell her nothin‘. She’s gotta learn everything the hard way. Somebody’s gotta be there with the bandages when she falls down and skins her little knees, or gets kicked in the head.”
Rather normal people, suited and gowned, filled the gallery and mingled with the freaks of SoHo antifashion. Among the better dressed, there were many obvious cases of plastic excess and cut-rate work. With an unerring eye for aesthetics, it was not difficult for Charles Butler to guess which of the noses and chins had come from the store.
Charles took Mallory’s arm to escort her around a leering little man in a long fur coat which probably concealed something lewd. Among the lunatics, his instincts were seldom wrong. Whenever he smiled in public, they gravitated to him, taking him for one of their own. He held his loony smile accountable for every mad confrontation on the streets of New York.
“Mallory, it’s not the same crowd that would have been at the last Dean Starr show. If that group was the A list, this is definitely the C list, the incompetents of art collecting.”
“How can you tell?”
“Koozeman brought out the circus freaks to entertain them. They’ll want to tell their friends back home in the suburbs that they spent the evening with famous artists. Any freak will qualify in that role. In my experience, the real artists are fairly normal in most respects.”
A young woman with a half-shaven head walked by in earnest conversation with a pin-striped suit.
“So Koozeman is trying to unload the unsold work in a hurry,” said Mallory. “That fits. He put both galleries on the-”
“Check out the metal jacket on my tooth, here,” said the small man in the fur coat, who had followed along behind them. Now the little man put himself in Mallory’s path, and she was suddenly confronted with a wide, grinning mouth. A grimy finger pointed to the shiny metal crown reflecting a small silver cameo of her face between his lips. The tiny mirror was set slightly off center in a crooked line of yellow teeth. She backed up and stared at his sweating face above the collar of the fur, taking in the spiked hair, and the gold rings which pierced both his nostrils.
He grinned at her, all but salivating as he looked her up and down. “Would you like to see the jeweled safety pin in my dick?”
Charles pulled her away while she was still in the fascination mode and had not yet thought to bloody the little man.
Koozeman was advancing on them, smiling and openly appraising Mallory’s black silk dress as he extended his hand to Charles. “Mr. Butler, how good to see you again.”
“Hello, Koozeman. I believe you’ve met Mallory.”
“Who could forget such a face? If I had known you were coming, my dear, I would have made up a guest list with a better class of collector.”
Charles nodded to the near corner. “I see J. L. Quinn is here.”
“Yes, he is,” said Koozeman, as though he could not figure out why Quinn had come.
Mallory looked around at the walls, stark and bare but for the small red bits of paper held in place with pins. “So where is the artwork?”
“The artwork?” For a moment, Koozeman seemed baffled by the idea of art in his gallery. “Oh, the tickets. See the tickets on the walls? They all have numbers. Dean Starr did it with numbers.”
“Pardon?” Charles knew he would regret asking for clarification.
“Numbers. See?” Koozeman waved a small red velvet bag in front of them, grinning like a master sorcerer. He opened the bag with a small flourish and offered Mallory a peek inside, wherein lay a pile of tickets like those on the walls.
“Every one of them matches up with an idea, just like the tickets on the walls. They all have numbers on them. Please pick one.”
She dropped a white hand into the bag and pulled out a red ticket. It was number twenty-two.
“All right, Dean’s idea for number twenty-two. Let’s see.” He pulled a folded sheet of paper from his jacket pocket. “Oh, yes. His idea for number twenty-two is a broad steel beam that goes half a mile straight up in the air.”
Mallory seemed skeptical. “What for?”
“To make you uncomfortable. You can’t see the base support, it just stands there while you wait for it to fall down. It’s meant to be threatening. Not his most original theme, though. He’s building on the work of a sculptor who once wrecked the side of a government building when the plaza sculpture fell down.”
“A half-mile beam. That’s a rather ambitious project,” said Charles, playing the good sport. “How are you planning to fund it? With drawings-like Christo?”
“Oh, no. Dean never intended to create the pieces. He just thought of them.”
Mallory tilted her head to one side, and Charles wondered if she was listening for the audible snap of her mind, which could only be moments away.
“Well, of course. He just thought of them.”
Koozeman missed her sarcasm, as he took her hand and kissed it. “You do understand. I sell the artist’s thoughts, his intentions. Very pure, isn’t it?” He handed a price list to Charles.
Charles scanned the list of numbers accompanied by prices in four and five figures. “And how are the sales going?”
“I’ve sold four of them in the past half hour.”
“You sell the artist’s thoughts.” Mallory gave equal weight to each word.
“Yes. I sit over there.” Koozeman pointed to the side wall where an armchair sat on a platform. “When you see a number you like, you come and tell me the number on the ticket, and I tell you the idea Dean Starr had for that number. Simple?”
Charles watched J. L. Quinn’s approach. “Charisma” was a word he called up easily enough, but he was also searching for something to describe an animal so much at home in its body, too graceful to be human. Now this was art, he thought, as he soon fell victim to Quinn’s talent for putting people at ease when he felt so inclined.
And then suddenly, Charles realized he had been robbed. Mallory was walking away with the art critic.
A matron, wearing a pearl choker, gasped audibly at the specter standing by the gallery window.
On the sidewalk outside the gallery, face pressed up against the window, a ragged derelict was holding a tea tin to her head and staring after the retreating figures of Quinn and Mallory. The woman’s mouth was working in a furious agitation of red gums as she slowly withdrew into the darkness beyond the light of the window.
The matron with the pearl choker made a mental note to send a nice check to the Coalition for the Homeless and drained her full wineglass in one swig. What dark thing had lived and brooded on the wrong side of the glass, she did not want to know, but thought it might have come from hell and felt rather at home there.
Mallory stood very close to the wall, eyes level with ticket number thirty-four. “Tell me again about the metaphor, the poetry of shape and color-”
“That pertains to fine art,” said Quinn.
“The demystification of art.”
“Well, thanks for clearing that up for me.”
“It’s not a technical term. It’s a eulogy.” Quinn only glanced in the general direction of a passing gallery boy, and two glasses of wine appeared in the next instant. He handed one to Mallory. “Actually, if Dean Starr hadn’t been such a fool, I might have given him credit for ingenious parody. Go to any Whitney Biennial and you’ll see scores of three-minute ideas executed by the untalented and curated by the blind. Starr just carried the premise a little further by not bothering to construct the idea. In fact, the more I think of it, the more I’m convinced that the idea for the tickets wasn’t even his.”
“Gregor Gilette said Koozeman used to be an artist.”
“Yes, he was. You know, the tickets could be Koozeman’s concept.”
“What are you doing here, Quinn? You said you didn’t review hack artists. And I had the feeling Koozeman didn’t expect you to show up tonight.”
“I’ve been planning a lengthy piece on Koozeman, not Starr. He really is quite the magician. I could hardly ignore a thing like this.”
“How will you write it up?”
“I intend to promote Koozeman as a genius of the new order. A genius of hype, and hype, don’t you know, is the art form of the era. He’s truly a man of his times. But it hardly merits writing. I can phone this one in.”
“Will anyone know you’re kidding?”
“What did you think of Koozeman when he was a working artist?”
“I thought he was very good.”
“According to your brother-in-law, Sabra thought he was a genius.”
“She was probably right. Some of his work was brilliant, and now he promotes hacks. Every third person you meet in this town is a creative artist. If you have an old can of spray paint knocking around in the garage, Koozeman can make you a star.”
“Must be tough for the people with the real talent.”
“New York City,” said Quinn, as though the complete explanation could be offered in those three words. New York, he explained, was tough on every artist. In the beginning, New York doesn’t seem to notice them at all, or so they think. They believe the city doesn’t even know they’re alive. Then, one day an artist trips on the sidewalk and his hand hits the pavement and New York steps on it and breaks all his fingers. New York has noticed him. Then New York steps on his face and breaks that, too, and that’s just to say hello. “So, who could really blame Koozeman for opting to roll in cash instead of always chasing after the rent money.”
Now Koozeman joined them with fresh wine and a gallery boy at his side to take away their empty glasses.
“Quinn, you mustn’t monopolize my prize celebrity this way.” He made a small courtly bow to Mallory. “It was lovely the way you demolished the FBI. So these killer profiles of theirs are worthless?”
“No, not if they’re done right. My own profile tells me the killer is successful. He’s rich and getting richer. I smell money every time I think about the case. So I’m looking for someone with a soul that’s interchangeable with a cockroach or an advertising executive.”
Koozeman stared into his wineglass as he spoke to her. “And you think the killer of Dean Starr-”
“Oh sorry,” she said. “I was thinking of the wrong murder. Sometimes I get confused. I understand you were once an artist. Is that true?”
“It was a long time ago.” His words were halting.
“What kind of work did you do?”
“Nothing of any consequence.” Koozeman sipped his wine, eyes reevaluating her over the rim of his glass.
“But I heard different,” said Mallory. “ ‘Genius’ is the word I keep hearing. Now let me guess. You were a sculptor, right?”
A few drops of wine spilled from Koozeman’s glass.
Mallory didn’t wait for her answer. She abruptly dismissed him with the turn of her back and drifted off toward the wine table, leaving Quinn to wonder. He turned to Koozeman.
If a face could fall, Koozeman’s truly did. His mouth opened slightly as the jaw fell first, followed by the excess flesh of cheeks and jowls. And at last, his eyes dropped, staring at the floor now, as though it might be coming up to meet him at any moment.
Mallory was standing at the long table, looking from bottle to bottle.
“Can’t make up your mind?”
She looked up to see the smiling face of Kerry, the bartender from Godd’s.
“You know, what you drink at an art function is very important.” Kerry said this as much to the small crowd gathered at the table as to Mallory. “It shows your true political orientation.”
Heads turned. Kerry flourished a crisp white bar rag and continued. “A major gallery opening serves wine, champagne and sparkling water. Now, champagne,” he said, holding up a bottle as a visual aid, “given the state of the world, is in the worst possible taste. It says, ‘I realize that people in third-world nations are starving and politically oppressed, and I don’t care.”
Emma Sue Hollaran, wearing a knockoff silk blouse made by third-world child labor, sipped champagne and nodded reflexively before she could call the gesture back.
“White wine is middle of the road. It says, ‘I have no political convictions of my own, but I would be happy to embrace yours if you would only explain them to me.’ It’s the wine of wimps.”
The reporter from StreetLevel Weekly had been reaching for the white wine. He withdrew his hand as though it had been slapped.
“How about a nice glass of water?” another man suggested.
“Oh, worst possible choice,” said Kerry. “Water says, ‘I’m in complete sympathy with the plight of the homeless, and now I’m going to grind my heel into your face, you fascist pig.’ Water is much too politically volatile. They really shouldn’t serve water here.”
“My personal favorite.” He held up a dark bottle. “Red wine only says, ”I don’t care if I do spill this on my suit.“
The sour-looking young man from StreetLevel set his glass of sparkling water down on the bar and edged toward the red wine. Then, perhaps thinking of the cleaning bill for his only good suit, he retrieved his glass of water and went off in search of some rich and pretty socialite whom he might kill with words.
As Emma Sue Hollaran walked away from the table with her champagne, Kerry formed his hand into a gun and shot her with his middle finger, thus combining an obscene gesture with an imaginary kill.
Mallory took a glass of red. “You have a problem with her?”
“I have a problem with art critics in general. I make exceptions for the good ones, but there aren’t many like Quinn.”
“I thought Emma Sue Hollaran was on the Public Works Committee now.”
“She still turns in columns in the art magazines,” said Kerry. “She likes to keep her hand in with the thumbscrews. But she’ll get hers. I know where New York art critics go when they die, and it’s not pretty.”
“You mean fire and brimstone?”
“No, more like self-cannibalism. Critic’s Hell looks just like New York-but without any artists. The critics have to make their own art and criticize themselves. So they start chewing on their own tails, and being what they are, they can’t stop until they reach their necks, and…”
Everybody wants revenge.
While Kerry went on with the bitter details of the critic’s afterlife, Mallory was watching J. L. Quinn in conversation with Emma Sue Hollaran. Quinn’s polite mask was fracturing. He wore a nearly human expression of dismay. As Hollaran walked away, he emptied his glass in one swill-not his style. What had Hollaran said?
He turned to see Mallory watching him. He came toward her now, and set his empty glass on the table with a nod to Kerry.
“Take this.” Mallory handed him her own glass. “You look like your stock portfolio just died.”
“I’ve just been told the name of the artist who’s doing the work for Gregor’s plaza.”
“How bad can it be?”
“It couldn’t be any worse.”
Kerry appeared with another glass of red wine and held it out to Mallory. She nodded her thanks, and turned back to Quinn. “Did she give you any idea what the plaza art will be like?”
“No, she didn’t. Hollaran’s forte is covert attack. It won’t be anything small, I can guarantee that. I only hope its removal won’t be too much of a problem.”
“You can have it removed? I thought the law protected-”
“The law? Oh, yes, I bought off the law. I have the paperwork on my desk to remove whatever travesty she decides to install.”
“You bought the law?”
“Mallory, you can buy anything in New York City.”
“I’m the law.”
“As if I needed reminding. Oh, please. We’re both grown-ups. This town has not had six continuous uncorrupted moments since its inception. What can’t you buy here? You can buy men, women, and children. You can have sex with them, or just remove the organs you need for spare parts. And it’s not getting more corrupt, only more imaginative. Before we developed the technology, they only used the spare body parts for trophies and souvenirs.”
“And artwork.” She was staring at his face. “Where did you get that scar? Did a woman give it to you?”
“Charles Butler gave it to me.”
Was he being sarcastic? No, he was serious. “Why?”
“You’ll have to ask Charles.”
The curator for a New Jersey bank’s art collection looked down at his red ticket and asked the computer software king, “Would you be interested in trading my football arena filled with marmalade and great white sharks for your mile-long line of bustless but sexy blondes?”
Quinn watched her walk away from him. It seemed she was always doing that. She walked past a neighborhood junkie, apparently uninterested in his unlawful act of demonstrating a drug fix for a small group of well-dressed out-of-towners.
One of the nicely dressed people obligingly held a lighter under the junkie’s spoon as the man filled his needle with a liquefied dope. The junkie expertly tied the elastic cord around his upper arm to make a vein bulge out. And now he inserted the needle, and the spectators watched him fly away to the land of Wynken, Blynken and Slow Death.
This was not the first junkie Quinn had seen up close.
He had seen Oren Watt outside the gallery on the night Aubry died. He had only taken note of the dark glasses and the bizarre mouth. All the other features had been wiped out by the headlights of three police cars, all trained on Oren Watt. His limbs had been jerking to a music of the mind with only half its notes intact. Between his lips, his tongue had darted in and out like a small pink mouse, keeping the rhythm of his spasms, as Watt’s feet tap-danced in codes of pain. He had fallen to the ground, and then scrambled back to his feet.
“What a trouper,” one cop had called out.
“Encore,” yelled another.
And Oren Watt had done his junkie’s song and dance one more time.
Quinn, Markowitz and Riker had been passing by the drug addict and his art critics in blue uniforms when Quinn brought the parade to a halt. He had pointed to the junkie, and Markowitz shook his head, saying, “Not enough blood on him.”
Quinn remembered looking down at his own clothes that night, the blood on his shoes and pantlegs. And the policemen and technicians filing past them, going to and from the gallery, all had blood on them.
Koozeman jerked his head to the sound of her voice. She smiled. It had taken less than twenty minutes to instill this lab-rat reflex in the man.
“Miss Mallory.” His smile was forced this time.
“Just Mallory is fine. I suppose your next opening will be an Oren Watt show?”
“No. I told you I don’t handle him, and I never will. The television people only rented the gallery for the shooting. Just business. Nothing to do with art, really.” He was perspiring, and his hand went to the knot of his tie, unconsciously working it loose.
Feeling the heat, Koozeman?
“Don’t you think Oren Watt is a genius?”
“Of course not,” said Koozeman. “He knows nothing about art, and it shows. He could never work outside that narrow market of ghoulish souvenirs. The drawings are poor by any standard. If you’re thinking of investing-”
“No, but I am interested in art-more and more every day,” said Mallory. “The most fascinating piece of art I ever saw came out of your old gallery in the East Village.”
“But you would have been a child when I was in that location.”
“I was. All I have now are the photographs of the artist and the dancer when the butcher was done with them. I study them every day, every damn day. I can’t stop looking at them. I’d say there was a dark genius to the arrangement of the bodies. Wouldn’t you?”
“In the context of the crime, perhaps-”
“But Oren Watt is no genius, is he?”
Koozeman’s forehead was filmed with sweat. And now, not wanting to lose the momentum of a hit-and-run, she went off in search of Charles Butler. She had a few questions for him, too.
“The scar? Quinn told you about that?”
“He says you did it.”
Charles took Mallory by the arm and led her to the only corner of the room unpopulated by tickets or patrons.
“I’ll tell you some other time, all right? Here,” he said, presenting her with a red ticket. “A souvenir.”
Mallory looked down at her ticket. “I can’t believe you paid good money for this.”
“I didn’t. Koozeman would never insult me that way. He gave me an obscene discount. I think he wants to cultivate me for the A list. I hope you like it. Dean Starr’s idea for this one was an elephant museum. His plan was to reenact all the elephant jokes with stuffed elephants. The real thing. Only dead.”
“Oh, lighten up. It’s only a joke.”
“So, that wasn’t really one of his numbers.”
“Oh, yes it was-one of his best.”
She smiled at him. It was one of those rare smiles, not meant to convey anything threatening or sinister, but only the pleasure of the moment. And to think he had bought that pleasure with an elephant joke.
Then the moment was over, the smile was gone. “Quinn thinks these tickets were Koozeman’s idea.”
“Well, that would only fit if it was a joke. He’s always been a man of extremes. But he-”
“Maybe it was a joke. I’ll bet you even money that Koozeman was surprised when some of the tickets actually sold the night of the first show.”
“No bet, Mallory. I’m sure you’re right. Koozeman does have an interesting sense of humor. Let me see if I can guess where you’re going with this. You think Koozeman was setting up Dean Starr to look like a fool in public, am I right?”
She nodded. He continued. “When Starr was a critic, his writing showed a lack of native intelligence. Odds are the joke would have gone over his head. So the scheme would suggest some animosity, a-”
“A falling-out among killers?”
“That’s reaching, Mallory.”
“Not really. Koozeman still owns the old gallery in the East Village. He rents it out through a real estate agent. According to the agent, he put both of the galleries on the market this morning. He’s planning to liquidate and run.”
“That theory won’t hold up,” said Charles. “He’d be running very slow, given the current real estate market.”
“He’s greedy. He wants to leave, but he can’t let go of the money on the hoof. The tickets are worth money, but only if he sells them fast. It all hangs on money, the old murders and the new one.”
She seemed so comfortable inside of Koozeman’s skin, it seemed a shame to point out the obvious flaw in her logic, which was also the flaw in Mallory. “You always force everything to a money motive. And I blame this on your father. That was his all-time favorite, wasn’t it? But twelve years ago, most people just looked at the evidence of butchery and said, ‘Psycho.’”
“Charles, twelve years ago, Quinn didn’t buy the psycho theory. Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?”
As J. L. Quinn approached them, Mallory turned and glided away. The critic stopped and watched her back for a moment. Then he smiled at Charles. “She asked you about the scar?”
“Yes, but I put her off.”
“You must tell me how you did that. I’ve never met anyone more tenacious than Mallory.”
“It’s an old magic trick.” Charles pulled a coin from his pocket, displayed it in his spread hand, and then made a fist. “You do it with distraction, replacing one thing with another.” When he opened his fist again, the coin had become a twenty-dollar bill.
“I’m in your debt, Charles.”
“Good. Perhaps you could explain something to me. I understand you think the tickets were Koozeman’s idea. I like that theory. It suits Koozeman. But it doesn’t explain why people are actually buying the tickets. They’re all grown-ups. Not a four-year-old in the pack.”
While they discussed the big production of the little tickets, Charles took slower, more careful measurements of the man who might be stalking Mallory. Jamie Quinn was a cool one, and always had been. Charming manners and eyes that chilled. As Quinn had once instructed him in the art of fencing as a child, he now guided Charles Butler through the unfathomable.
“So, it’s just business? If you don’t have the talent of an artist, you can make do with the talent of a businessman. Close?”
“Yes, Charles, it’s very close.” Quinn pulled a pack of cigarettes from his pocket. “But why not carry it just a bit further?”
“Somebody makes it, somebody else sells it, and some other somebody buys it.”
“Yes, go on.” Quinn lit his cigarette, disregarding the laws against smoking in public buildings.
“So the sellers and the buyers are cutting out the middleman. They’re cutting out the artists.”
“And so a new order replaces the old, entrepreneurial talent supersedes artistic talent. Superb reasoning, Charles, as always. My compliments.”
The hidden door in the wall opened a crack, and a hand deposited a standing ashtray on the floor next to Quinn. The door had closed again before Quinn looked down at the ashtray. He seemed to take its presence for granted as he deposited an ash. So Quinn knew about the door and never thought it worth mentioning to Mallory.
“If this movement ever caught on, what would happen to the real artists?”
“You mean,” Quinn corrected, “the artists of the old order.”
Charles sensed that roads of deep feeling and roads of conversation were merging here. Perhaps in Quinn’s mind the farce was already a sad fait accompli.
“Some will drown and some will be absorbed,” said Quinn. “Others will become accountants, perceiving accountancy as a related field. And it is.”
“Is that woman sucking on a rat?”
The performance artist nibbled on the rat’s ear, basking for three seconds in J. L. Quinn’s glance as he turned around to confirm that she was indeed sucking vermin. Then the performance artist jammed the rat back into her sleeve and hoped it would suffocate. Nasty creature. It gave her the creeps.
She turned her attention back to the blind portrait artist. He had misplaced his white-tipped cane and was currently at her mercy in his quest for directions to a drink. He was a sour man, not at all the cheerful clich'e she had anticipated.
“I think it’s so brave of you to go into portraiture without being able to see the model.” She stretched out one foot to nudge his fallen cane against the wall. “It’s a new frontier, isn’t it? I mean, working with color you can’t even-”
“Could you point me toward the bar?” His voice was plaintive, whining.
“I give you so much credit for being blind.”
“Being blind is a pain in the ass. Could you-”
“And all that corporate grant money. I was wondering how you pulled that off. I had a double mastectomy. Do you think I could use that as a-”
“Point me toward the bar, you moron.”
She obligingly turned him around and gave him a push in the direction of a blank wall, and the blind portrait artist promptly smashed into it.
Koozeman leaned against the back wall, eyes trance-gazing on the line of Mallory’s cheek. His mind was completing a pratfall that had begun twelve years ago. If she turned now, if she saw what she had done to him.
He took his seat on the platform. A woman was standing before his chair, inquiring about a ticket.
“What? Number fourteen? Just a moment.” Koozeman squinted at the sheet of paper in his hand and simultaneously appraised the value of the diamond bracelet on the woman’s arm. “Oh, yes, fourteen. Mr. Starr’s idea for that one is a big red wheel a quarter mile across. It’s being airlifted by a blimp, you see? And it’s absolutely useless because it has no reason to be there, but there it is.”
Off to one side, Mallory suddenly appeared. She was watching him sweat. Now she came closer, walking slow. What beautiful green eyes, eyes of an assassin. A muscle in his chest constricted. Her voice was soft in the mode of casual conversation.
“I understand you still write art reviews. Charles gives you a lot of credit for never reviewing your own stable of artists.”
“I try not to be obvious.”
“Now that artist who died with Aubry Gilette-Peter Ariel? Before Ariel was one of your artists, you trashed his work in a review. I read it. Pretty brutal stuff.”
“Peter’s work improved considerably over the next season.”
“Then it’s lucky you didn’t kill him earlier.”
“Quinn tells me your reviews were better at killing emerging talent than nurturing it. I suppose it’s wise to stick with what you know best-the butchery.”
And now she looked down at her empty hand. She turned around, head bowed, searching the ground for something lost. She slowly walked away from him, her eyes scanning the floorboards.
Sweating profusely, Koozeman rose from his chair and walked around to the back of the platform. He pressed his hand to a place on the wall, and the hidden door swung open.
A minute after he had closed the door behind him, two muffled, angry voices were bleeding through the wall.
Mallory kept her eyes to the floor, looking everywhere for the lost red ticket, her gift from Charles. He would be hurt if he thought it meant so little to her that she could lose it so easily. Though this was true.
She drifted near a small cluster of people and glanced up to see a blind man delivering a lecture to a stone pillar, as the surrounding people, including Charles, politely watched on.
“You’re showing your ignorance, Mr. Butler,” said the blind man to the pillar. “Sabra was overrated. Women will always hold an auxiliary place in the art world. They haven’t sufficient power of personality to create meaningful work.”
Mallory backed up a few steps to the spot where she had seen a dead fly. She scooped it up and pitched it into the blind man’s wineglass and continued scanning the floor for her lost ticket.
The small group surrounding the blind man wondered, each one, if it might be rude or, worse, politically incorrect to mention the dead bug in his glass. Wouldn’t that call attention to his blindness?
Ah, too late.
A small group of prospective ticket buyers had collected around the chair on the platform. Koozeman was unresponsive to any of their questions. He had a red ticket in his teeth, and the number was just visible. When the matron from Ridgewood, New Jersey, consulted the sheets in Koozeman’s lap, she found the line giving the artist’s idea for that number. The original description had been a reconstruction of elephant jokes, using dead elephants. How amusing. All but the heavily underscored word “dead” had been crossed out with the line of a pen.
She stared into Avril Koozeman’s unblinking eyes for a full minute more. Then her own eyes drifted down to the small spot of blood on his chest, and she began to shriek. Four gallery boys converged upon her with the mistaken idea that she had run out of wine.
Her hands fluttered, and she nearly dropped her glass. She turned in time to see a young blond girl disappear into a solid white wall. The matron put her glass on the floor, and then she put herself down beside it.
Behind the wall, Mallory ran down a narrow corridor and collided with a gallery boy, knocking him to the floor. “Did anyone come this way?”
“No, ma’am.” On hands and knees he scrambled after a rolling wine bottle. “I didn’t see anybody.”
“Could anyone have gotten past you?”
“I don’t know, ma’am.” He got to his feet and slapped at the dust on his black pants. “I just came back from the main room.” He was staring at the wine bottle in his hand. “Damn, the label is torn.”
Mallory turned back the way she had come. With the brightness of the gallery behind the seamless door, one shining point of light stood out from the rough boards. She put her eye to the pinhole. It gave her a view of gallery patrons gathered near the wall.
“This hole?” she prompted the boy, who had come to stand beside her.
“The peephole. Yes, ma’am, that’s so we don’t open the door and jostle a wineglass in someone’s hand. You could get fired for that.”
She reentered the main gallery and grabbed a cellular phone from the hand of a collector, disconnecting his call and giving curt instructions to the operator. As she came closer to Koozeman’s body, she noticed the ticket number was forty-four. Her lost ticket.
Koozeman left the gallery in a zippered body bag. Heller and his forensic team stood with Jack Coffey and Mallory at the far end of the room.
“Well,” said Heller, “the wound is from the front. That usually means it’s someone the victim knew, but under these circumstances, anyone could have gotten close enough to kill him.”
Charles Butler joined them. “Actually it could-” Mallory took his arm and walked him away. “Charles is a little drunk,” she said over one shoulder. “I’ll be right back.”
“I’m not drunk, and you know it. I was just going-”
“You were going to tell them about the door in the wall. I don’t want you to do that.”
“But you know it could have been Oren Watt.”
“No, Charles. It couldn’t. Don’t muddy up the water, okay? I want you to go home now. It’s going to take a few hours to clean up loose ends and do paperwork.”
“But you must-”
“Good night, Charles.”
This time Riker heard her coming up behind him with the tap of high heels. He turned around to the rare sight of his partner stalking across the roof in the soft rustle of black silk. An ancient schoolboy’s drill of lines crowded his mind with images of the tiger “burning bright in the forests of the night.”
He smiled. “Mallory, I wish I’d memorized more poetry when I was in school. ‘Dynamite’ just doesn’t do you justice.”
She ignored him, letting his words go by with no nod or thank-you. He knew she distrusted every compliment on her beauty. If only Markowitz had found Kathy the child before the damage was done. What twisted thing did Mallory see when she looked into the mirror every morning?
She glanced over the edge of the roof, and quickly ducked her head back. Andrew Bliss was looking skyward in all directions.
She turned to Riker. “Quiet night?”
“A lot quieter than yours, kid. Did Coffey ream you out?”
“No, he was even sympathetic when I told him Koozeman was murdered right under my nose.” She seemed almost disappointed in Coffey.
“Wait till the press gets onto this.” Riker made a mental note to caution Coffey never to go easy on her again; it was costing him respect. “Too bad you’re so damn photogenic. You know the newspapers are gonna run a picture.”
“Maybe after Coffey sees the morning paper he’ll decide to pull me off the case.”
“No, I don’t think so. When they turn on the heat downtown, Coffey will tell them you had a good instinct in going to the gallery. He’ll hint around that you were following a lead. He knows how to work the brass and the press.” But that didn’t seem to cheer her up at all. “Mallory, don’t worry about it. Go get some sleep.”
“No, I’ll take the late shift,” she said. “I’m just going home to change clothes, okay?”
“Take your time, kid. Andrew’s not going anywhere. Oh, he’s run out of candles again. And I was right about him developing a new religion.” Riker pointed down to the late edition of the newspaper lying over the rifle at his feet. “The press is off the fashion terrorist angle. Now they’re calling him the messiah of Bloomingdale’s. Fits nicely with the altar, doesn’t it? That mannequin is really weirding me out.”
“Yeah, but think of what it’s doing to Andrew.”
He didn’t really want to think about that. He worried about the little man on the roof below, and the slow disintegration of Andrew’s body and his mind.
And what was this case doing to Mallory? “You know the FBI is gonna love the Koozeman murder. It’s a bona fide serial killing, and that’s where they shine-if you believe their own quotes to the press. We have to come up with our own profile to keep that idiot Cartland locked out of the case. You got any ideas?”
“Well, this killing was different,” she said. “I don’t think it was planned. This time it was the bartender’s pick. We found blood traces, but the pick was too short to reach the heart. Slope thinks the assault brought on a massive coronary. When he cracked Koozeman’s chest he found evidence of heart disease and a valve-”
“Hold it, Mallory. Slope did the autopsy tonight? How’d you get him to do that?”
“He owes me a favor.”
“Slope might owe Markowitz, but he doesn’t owe you anything. You’re not shaking him down, are you, kid?”
Now why had he said that? Slope was the last honest man in New York City. What could she have on him? Well, maybe the scenario just fit so well with Mallory’s own character.
She turned away from him. “Something happened in that gallery tonight, and it set the perp off. I told Slope I didn’t have time to sit around waiting on him-I might lose another taxpayer. There was a lot of thought behind the first kill, if this one was done in anger-
“A copycat killing?”
“No, it’s the same perp.”
He bit back the impulse to argue the difference between what she knew and what she wanted to believe. It was all the same to her. She was leaving now, crossing the roof, when she turned around with one last detail. “Oh, and now I’ve got Quinn on the site of three murders.”
Mallory locked her apartment door and headed for the bedroom, unzipping as she walked. After stepping out of the black sheath and stripping off the nylons, she opened a dresser drawer to stacks of expensive, but identical blue jeans. In the next drawer, her T-shirts only varied in the selection of color, and the materials of cotton and silk. Her everyday wardrobe had been designed for efficiency-no time lost in deciding what to wear. White running shoes were for daytime, black for formal wear. It had never taken her more than three minutes to dress- until tonight.
She pulled on the blue jeans, but left them unzipped. Her reason to hurry was forgotten as she stared at the candle on her bedside table.
When she was only ten, she had asked Helen Markowitz for candles, and Helen had bought her a night-light, believing the child must be afraid of the dark. Young Kathy had insisted on candles, and then Helen bought them in every color of the spectrum, and candle holders for every surface of the bedroom. When the child lay in her bed, between waking and sleeping, Helen would steal into the room and blow the flames out. And so her foster mother had become intertwined with this nightly ritual.
Now Mallory could not light one candle without thinking of her. But this candle habit had begun years before life with the Markowitzes. She had lost the origin of the ritual somewhere on the road. Why had she ever lit the candles? It had all slipped away from her.
Early on, Helen had tried to uncover her past. Forays into this area had been gentle, never pressing, but the child had only folded into herself. Don’t touch me there, said her posture and her eyes. It hurts. Every memory had hurt her.
Mallory sat down on the bed and lit the candle now, as she did each night without fail. She stared into the flame, searching for a memory, yet fearing if she concentrated, it would come and catch her in the dark.
Confront your demons, the priest had counseled her when she was fourteen years old. And she had done just that. She had hunted through the halls of the private school for girls, stalking the nun. And when she had found her, she made the woman scream. The priest was startled when she told him she had only followed his advice.
She never saw Father Brenner again.
The candle had burned down some before she found Helen’s old address book in the wooden box at the back of her closet. Mallory had never completed the task of clearing precious things from the old house in Brooklyn. And why should she? It was home, and it would always be there waiting for her. Home was where memories of Helen and Louis Markowitz were piled from the basement record collection to the store of school uniforms in the attic.
But in this wooden box, she had the personal things, papers which had belonged to Markowitz and might be dangerous, and small pieces of Helen-a thimble, her reading glasses. And now she held Helen’s address book, a connection to all people and things past. She flipped through the pages of the B section, and dialed the number. She finished dressing before the third ring was answered.
“Hello,” said the old priest, roused from sleep. “Hello, is anyone there?”
“It’s Kathy,” she said, in the presumption that he might recognize her name and voice out of all the students who had passed through the private school.
After a moment of silence, Father Brenner said, “Sister Ursula misses you. She tells me her shin still smarts on rainy days, and this reminds her to light a candle for you.”
“Why does she light the candle?”
“I believe the thrust of her prayers is that you’ll be better-behaved in the future… Kathy? Are you still there?”
But what do I light the candle for?
“Yes, I’m here.”
And who was Andrew praying for? The dead Aubry? There was no one in life he cared for. No parents. He’d been raised by a trust fund since birth. Who was he praying for? Or what?
“Kathy, may I tell Sister Ursula that her candles have had some good effect?”
“Tell me all the reasons for lighting the candles. What about guilt? Forgiveness for your sins?”
“No, that’s the province of the confessional. What sort of sin?”
“Suppose you’re a witness to murder and you never tell. Is that a mortal sin or a venial sin?”
“I’m so pleased that you remember all the buzzwords. Now, what murder did you witness, Kathy?”
“A woman. Let’s say it was my mother.”
“Oh, no, let’s not say it was Helen.”
“My mother before Helen. So what’s the payoff if I tell, and what’s the penalty if I don’t?”
“That neatly sums up your childhood philosophy of ‘What’s in it for me?’ Oh, and there was the companion tenet, ‘What’ll you do to me if I don’t?’ I believe those were your two guiding principles while you were with us.”
“Well, the ultimate payoff is forgiveness-you won’t die with a stain on your soul. But before you can be forgiven, you must confess your sin, and there must be an Act of Contrition and a devout intention never to repeat your sin, a sincere desire to change your ways.”
“Did you ever light candles when you were a kid?‘’
“What? Well, yes. For my father. He died many years ago when I was a boy. But I still light the candles.”
“So he won’t get lost?”
“Yes, something like that. People do get lost in time, don’t they? Images and memories fade. But when I was very young, I think I lit the candles so I would not be lost…Kathy?… Kathy?”
She stared at the candle, transfixed by a memory of hell. And the old priest continued to call out to her across the wires of the worldly telephone company.
Andrew’s eyes scanned the clouds for the hide-and-seek stars which winked on and off, appearing within holes in the overcast sky and then gone again. The night was chilly and he gathered his blankets about him, but never took his eyes from the heavens.
It was like waiting up for Santa Claus, who never showed until all the children of the house were fast asleep in their beds. He feigned sleep, lying back and closing his eyes to slits.
He had no sooner done this than he heard the sharp thwack on the roof. When he opened his eyes, three votive candles rolled out of a brown paper bag which also contained another small loaf of bread. He turned his face in time to catch the fleeting glimpse of his savior’s head, a cap of moon-gold curls in flight just beyond the edge of the roof. Slowly, he crept to the retaining wall and looked over the side, afraid of what he might see.
No one there.
He knelt down to light his candles, and an hour later, he was still on his knees.