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“But the homicide rate has gone down.”

“Well, it’s an election year. The mayor won’t let us drag the East River,” said Riker, over the rim of his coffee cup. “Don’t worry about it, Charles. We’ll snag all the bodies next year and bring the stats back up.”

Riker was reading Charles’s magazine, which detailed the new and improved New York. “Hey, Mallory, listen to this. ‘Fashionable New Yorkers adore the subways.’ ”

“They didn’t print that,” said Mallory.

“The hell they didn’t.” Riker slapped the magazine down on the kitchen table beside her plate.

Mallory set down her coffee cup and picked up the magazine. She leafed through the pages, frowning. “Why do you read this stuff, Charles?” Her tone implied that she had caught him with a porno rag and not an upscale magazine for well-to-do New Yorkers.

“I rode the subway once,” said Charles, as though this were an accomplishment. “But now that I think about it, it was an abysmal experience. The train was supposed to be a local, and then it turned into an express and dropped me a mile out of my way.”

Mallory leaned toward Riker. “Did Markowitz really buy that fairy tale about Quinn showing up at the gallery late because he took the subway?”

“Not at first,” said Riker. “But Quinn’s private car was parked in his garage all night. The garage attendant verified that, while Markowitz kept Quinn busy. It’s not like he had time to bribe the kid. And the only taxi log was for the dancer. Now if Quinn was running late, he might have taken the subway. Maybe he’d worry about a cab getting bogged down in traffic. He wouldn’t want his niece to spend any time in that neighborhood alone. The subway would’ve been the fastest way to get there.”

“Yeah, right.”

“That’s why I took the subway,” said Charles. “It was urgent that I-”

“And Charles screwed up too,” said Riker.

Mallory scanned the article titled “Gilette’s Last Building.” The unveiling of the plaza was slated for the day after tomorrow according to an interview with Emma Sue Hollaran. She closed the magazine. “Riker, what do we know about Emma Sue Hollaran?”

“I never heard of her.”

“She’s the chairwoman of the Public Works Committee,” said Charles. “That’s the group that made Andrew Bliss a respectable shoplifter.”

“And she was an enemy of Gilette’s,” said Mallory. “I got that from Quinn.”

“Waste of time,” said Riker. “The old homicide wasn’t a woman’s crime.”

“I’m a woman.”

“Okay, we’ll put her on the list.” Riker pulled out his notebook and made a scribble of Hollaran’s initials to pacify Mallory.

“Actually, I was thinking Hollaran might make a good victim. I’ve got two dead critics now. Maybe it’s worth a stakeout.” She turned the magazine facedown and smiled at Riker. “Speaking of critics, you know that scar on Quinn’s face, just above the moustache? He told me Charles did that.”

Now Charles had Riker’s complete attention as a coffee cup hovered in midair.

“It was a fencing accident,” said Charles.

Riker’s cup settled to the saucer with a small crash, and Mallory’s eyes were bright as she leaned forward. “You scarred him with a sword?”

“Well, it’s a long story.”

The detectives looked at their watches. “Give us the short version,” said Mallory.

“It started with my acceptance to Harvard. I didn’t want to go.” No need to explain to them that he was only ten years old on the eve of his freshman year at college. “My mother asked Jamie Quinn to talk to me because he had just finished his junior year, and she thought he might be able to convince me that I would like Harvard.”

Young Jamie Quinn had immediately understood the problem of a child leaving the shelter of a school for the unreasonably gifted to matriculate among tall people of normal intelligence.

“He gave me a fencing lesson. He thought it might be a good sport for me. He said it would give me confidence.” And it might prepare him for the more subtle combat of navigating among the older students as a child with freakish intelligence which exceeded all known scores.

“So we went out on the terrace of his parents’ apartment. He gave me the sword he had used as a child. But he had noticed the rust on the old mask and insisted that I wear his new one.”

Mallory had done some fencing in college, but Charles was certain that Riker had not, and so he described the mask as a protruding steel mesh that allowed for peripheral vision. “It fits on the head like a protective cage. It has a padding around the face, and there’s a biblike padding at the throat to-”

“Could we cut to the good part, Charles?” Riker poured another cup of coffee, and looked at his watch again. “I’m gettin‘ old here.”

“Yes, of course, sorry. It was a freak accident-in fact, a combination of accidents. My saber was at least ten years old and it had-”

“Sabers? Like the cavalry?” Riker cut a Z in the air.

“Yes. Well, no. I do have an antique set of cavalry sabers, but the saber you fence with is more of a vestigial cavalry sword. There’s no cutting point, no cutting edge. It’s a tapered rod of steel with a blunted metal bulb at the point. Unless you’re using a sword that’s electrified for competition, and then, of course, the tip is quite-” He noticed Riker’s eyes glazing over.

“Sorry. It doesn’t look much like the old cavalry saber, but the motions are the same. You make the slice and the stab, just as you would if you had a cutting edge and point. So I was using Quinn’s old saber. The sword seemed to be in good condition, but you can’t detect metal fatigue with the naked eye. He was going to give it to me as a gift, so I could-”

Riker made a rolling motion with his hand in an attempt to speed up the story.

“The tip of my sword broke off while we were fencing, and it made a jagged point of the blade. It was my first time with a saber in my hand. I was rather clumsy. I didn’t realize the blunt bulb was gone. I made a wild swing, and my sword went through the mask where the metal had rusted, and Quinn was cut.”

“I’ll bet he was pissed off,” said Riker.

“Actually, no. After the doctor patched him up, I tried to apologize. He just waved me off. Said he was honored and rather liked the scar. Then he thanked me for it. He really is the quintessential gentleman.”

“But you were just a kid,” said Mallory. “He must not be a very good swordsman.”

“He was superb, an Olympian. He was only nineteen years old when he won his first gold medal.”

“But if a little kid can beat him,” said Mallory, “he must have a weakness, an opening.”

“None that I’m aware of. And I didn’t beat him. I made a wild swing.” He turned to Riker. “You see, after a point is scored, you break apart. But I didn’t realize that, and I made the swing when he wasn’t expecting it.”

“So he was unprepared for the unexpected, and he’s well mannered to a fault.” Mallory turned to Riker. “I’ve got fifty dollars says I can beat him.”

“With a saber?” Charles stared at her as though she had proposed a flight to the moon. “You can’t be serious. A few fencing lessons at college do not prepare you to beat an Olympic champion. You can’t possibly win against him.”

“If you want to bet against her, I’ll take a piece of it,” said Riker. “Is a marker okay, Charles? I’m short this week.”

“Riker, I won’t take your money. She can’t possibly win.”

“Then why not bet with him, Charles? You don’t do well at poker. I’d think you’d want to win at something.”

“This is ludicrous. Quinn’s been a swordsman all his life. You fenced for one semester at school.”

“She’s half his age,” said Riker, “and she fights dirty. I think she can do him.”

Riker’s cellular phone beeped. He extended the antenna, and as he listened attentively, he made a fist. When he ended the conversation and folded his phone away, he turned to Mallory. “That was an old friend of mine in Blakely’s office. I hope you got what you wanted off Koozeman’s computer last night. Blakely’s boys impounded it, and they got all of Koozeman’s books.”

“How’s the chief going to justify that?”

“He won’t have to. We’re officially off the case. Blakely’s turning it over to a third-rate dick, and the FBI offered to assist. They’re giving a joint press interview right now. Special Agent Cartland is playing it as a stranger kill.”

“A what?”

Riker drained his cup. “A random murder, Charles. The perp doesn’t know the victim. It’s the crime where the FBI really shines. Cartland’s a local PR jerk, but their team at Quantico is first-rate.”

“But it’s clearly not a stranger kill,” said Charles. “How could Coffey go along with that?”

“He didn’t, and that’s the worst of it,” said Riker. “Coffey wouldn’t play along with Blakely, and now he’s going down. The paperwork is in the machine for a demotion on grounds of insubordination and disobeying a direct order. There’s another list of bogus charges that might force him out of the department.”

“Blakely will never make the charges stick,” said Mallory. “Coffey goes by the book.” And by her tone, Charles knew she considered that one of Jack Coffey’s flaws.

“Blakely can do whatever he wants with Coffey.” Riker’s voice was all resignation. “Internal Affairs hasn’t gotten any smarter since the Dowd fiasco. Coffey’s going down, kid. Count on it.”

“No. I can fix this. A lot of the people on Koozeman’s A list were in city government, the mayor, the ex-commissioner, the lieutenant governor-”

“No you don’t, kid. You don’t go near any of those people. You think you’ve got more power than you have. You can’t blackmail the politicos to keep them in line, not even to save Coffey’s tail. The job is to keep the law, not to break it.”

“The ends don’t justify the means? You’re beginning to sound like Charles.”

Charles sat between them, sincerely not knowing whether or not to take offense.

“I was hoping one day you would sound more like Charles. I don’t expect that anymore.” Riker’s mood was darkening. “Don’t go near Blakely. He’ll get you. Don’t think of him as just one old bastard, think of the whole machine. It’s an ancient thing. You’ve got the talent, but you’re just not old enough to be that mean and dirty. Markowitz would tell you the same. You can’t save Coffey. He’s dead meat. Don’t go down with him.”

“Riker, I thought you liked Coffey in your own twisted way.”

“I got a lot of respect for the guy. But you’re the one who needs looking after. You think you’re such a hotshot. You don’t ever go after a cop-you got that?-and never a top cop. You think you’ve got your own power base, but you-”

“I do-in spades. Between the data off Koozeman’s computer and Markowitz’s old case notes, I can hurt Blakely.”

“Don’t ever tip your hand, Mallory. Don’t ever let on you’ve got those notes. What the old man put down in writing is court evidence. Don’t make Blakely feel threatened.”

“Markowitz would have covered Coffey’s tail.”

“Yeah, he would’ve. But you’re no Markowitz, kid. He used finesse-you use a hammer.”

Mallory did not stand at attention before the chief’s desk. Nor did she wait for an invitation to be seated, a courtesy Blakely rarely granted to those with the rank of sergeant. Uninvited, she settled deep in the chair opposite his desk and crossed her legs. He did not look up. The only clue that she had annoyed him was in the crumple of the paper in his hands.

“I want you to reconsider taking us off the Dean Starr case.” Her tone of voice did not frame this as a request.

The sheet of paper he had been reading was now a crushed ball flying into the wastebasket. “No deal. Now get out of here, or I might forget how much I liked your old man.”

She sat well back in the chair and gave no signs of going anywhere.

“Move your ass, Detective, or you’ll be going down with your boss.”

She was smiling when she said, “I don’t think so, Blakely.”

“You know the drill, Mallory. You will address me as sir or Chief, and those are all the choices you get.”

“Makes you wonder what I’ve got on you, doesn’t it? But I’m not here to talk about how you got your job.”

“Careful, Mallory.”

“I bet you’re wishing the old police commissioner had been more careful about the way he spent his payoff money-he’s a senator now, isn’t he? That must put a lot of pressure on you.”

“Mallory, don’t push your luck with me.”

“Milking the payoff from a mob bodega was really ballsy, Blakely. I liked that a lot. It made me wonder how much hard evidence you had on that operation to make them come across with the money.”

He was rising from his chair.

“I did a little digging in Markowitz’s personal notes,” she said. “I came across an interview with a dealer who did business out of that same bodega.”

He sat down again, slowly. She continued. “Quite a busy place, between the drug deals and the racketeering. Their delivery boys covered three states, didn’t they?”

His chair squeaked as he swiveled around to face the window. “So what’re you planning to do with all this crap, Mallory?” His fingers drummed softly on the red upholstery.

“Nothing. I’m sure the feds would like to know you shielded an interstate operation-but I don’t owe the FBI any favors, do I?” She looked down at her red fingernails. “So that’s old business. Right now, I’d rather discuss Lieutenant Coffey. You see, when you climb up his back, he climbs up mine. And I really hate that. So you will back off, won’t you? Sir? I think you can trust Coffey to assign his own detectives.”

“Anything else?”

She knew his voice was too calm. But he was not fighting back, so it was all going well, wasn’t it? “You attached a lot of charges and a bad review to Coffey’s record-you might want to rethink that. Markowitz always said, ‘What goes around comes around.’ ”

She could hear the old man saying that now, but Markowitz was saying it to her-a prickling warning from the back of her mind.

Blakely was silent. She wished she could see his face. He continued to stare out the window, and the only sound in the room was the soft drumming of his fat fingertips on the red leather arm of his chair.

Well, what had she expected, a signed contract? Their deal was concluded. There was nothing left to say. But she stood up with the uneasy feeling of unfinished business.

Mallory was across the room and through the door before she heard the squeak of Blakely’s chair swiveling around again.

Riker sat at the desk in Mallory’s private office, holding a telephone to his ear, and making an occasional scribble with his pen.

Charles sat down in the metal chair opposite the desk. He hated the decor of this room and wished Mallory would let him furnish her office with a few Oriental rugs and perhaps a desk from the last century. But he knew she was more comfortable in this atmosphere of stark simplicity.

Riker was speaking into the telephone. “What’s Blakely doing with the inventory sheet on Markowitz’s house?‘’ And now he listened and his face was clouding over with anger. ”Robin Duffy was the family lawyer. He got a ruling on the old man’s personal papers. All the personal papers belong to the estate and the estate belongs to Mallory. There’s no way he’s gonna get any of it.“ Now he covered the mouthpiece with one hand and spoke to Charles. ”You got a number for Duffy?“

“He’s on a fishing trip in Canada. He’s due back in a few days, but I suppose I could track him down if it’s important.”

Riker shook his head and spoke into the mouthpiece again. “Duffy’s out of town. I’ll have him call Blakely’s office when he gets back… Right.”

Riker put the receiver back on the cradle of Mallory’s state-of-the-art phone center, which spread tentacles to a fax machine, a recording device, and other equipment Charles could not readily identify.

Riker was not a happy man. “That was Coffey. He says Blakely wants all of Markowitz’s personal notes, and he’s doing paperwork with the DA’s office right this minute. Claims they relate to an ongoing case. Now I’ve got a charge on my record because my name is on the inventory for the old house in Brooklyn. Blakely claims I improperly handled department property.”

“This sounds serious. Let me track down Robin. He can probably fix this with a phone call.”

“A phone call from God wouldn’t fix this-not unless He’s got some good dirt on Blakely.”

The old Koozeman Gallery in the East Village was on a narrow street in Alphabet City, and just off a lettered avenue which had boasted ten predators to every taxpayer in the days when Koozeman ran this gallery. On foot, artists and hookers had passed through this neighborhood they called home. Yuppies had only come by cab and limo, reveling in dangerous chic. That trend had passed, and the galleries abandoned this section of town, moving to the safer chic of SoHo and its better class of criminals.

The storefronts had For Rent signs on the doors. Mallory stared at the dark windows, up and down the street. This was a good place to do murder with no witnesses. But even twelve years ago, the artist and the dancer could have screamed all through the night and no one would have come to their aid. Such sounds were common then-like crickets to country people.

She never turned to look directly at him, but she was aware of the thin man walking toward her at a cautious pace. As he slowed his steps, she realized she was his mark. The body movement she detected in peripheral was twitched and jazzed. A crackhead. Closer now. He must be thinking this was his lucky day-a woman alone on the street, and the nearest branch of authority was the Hell’s Angels clubhouse on the next block. Lucky day for the junkie-no waiting in line to pick off the suckers at the cash machines. Would he rush her? No. He would wait for the fear response, and then use it to his advantage. Closer now, all excited, he could probably taste her money, feel it gliding into his veins or up his nose in a cloud of white dust.

Mallory continued to stare at the building across the street, never even turning to look at him, and that made him a little crazy. He had to know she was aware of him. He circled around in front of her, and now she saw the perp in all his sick glory, eyes runny with infection, sores on his face. He smelled rank from soiling his clothes with his vomit and his bowels.

Did she want to touch that?

No way.

Hands behind her back, she worked on a pair of kid-skin gloves.

He was grinning at her, hovering. One hand was in the pocket of his jacket, and that would be where he kept the razor or the knife. There was not enough bulk for a gun.

The hand was pulling slowly from the jacket pocket. But now the junkie was all surprise as Mallory’s arm flashed out, and his straight razor went flying into the gutter. He was even more surprised to find himself kneeling on the sidewalk, feeling the pain in his testicles and staring at the hard steel of a large gun forced into his mouth. The gun barrel was set between an old man’s rotting rows of teeth, but he was just twenty-one, if that.

A car with NYPD markings was gliding silently to the curb alongside her. She never took her eyes off the terrified thin man, not even when she heard Heller’s deep voice.

“Mallory, you know the rules. If you can’t play nicely with the animals, you can’t play with them at all.”

After the backup unit arrived and the debris of the mugger was cleared off the street and shoved roughly into the back of the car, Mallory and Heller were alone again in front of the deserted gallery.

“Poor bastards,” said Heller, staring after the departing vehicle. “Their car is gonna smell like a junkie for the rest of their shift.”

He turned around now to see Mallory working a wire in the lock of the gallery door. It opened under her hand. Heller took her by one arm and pulled her away from the door. He reached around the wooden frame to depress the lock button in the knob, and then pulled the door shut. Mallory only stared at him as though he had lost his mind.

“Markowitz never taught you that,” said Heller. “I gather you don’t have a warrant.”

“I’m not supposed to be working the old case. How am I going to get a warrant?”

Heller said nothing. He only looked at her the way Markowitz did when he was waiting on a better explanation for what she’d done wrong this time.

“I’m not violating anybody’s civil rights. Before he died, Koozeman put the gallery up for sale. If you want, I’ll go find the real estate agent. But that will take time. This is-”

“Do that. I’ll wait.”


“Get the key from the real estate agent. Do it right.”

He was a solid man, a large bear of a man. Bears did not back down. Why should they?

She returned to the gallery twenty minutes later, her wallet lighter by one fifty-dollar deposit, and she was holding the legal key. Heller was waiting by the door, comfortable in his slouch and his cigar.

“It was a sad business,” said Heller as they legally passed through the door and into the small reception area. He flicked on the wall switch. A panel of fluorescent bulbs made buzzing noises overhead as the lights flooded the main room of the deserted gallery.

“We found the artist and the dancer over there.” He pointed toward the center of the back wall.

Mallory reached into her tote and pulled out a floor plan. According to the crime-scene diagram, this part of the gallery was sixty feet in length, and twenty-five feet wide. Beyond the side wall was another five feet of storage space running the length of the room.

“We were a long time recovering the body parts,” said Heller. “The heads were spiked on the rods, and the bodies were wrapped with wire.” Heller opened his briefcase and folded back papers until he found the plastic slide sheet. He pointed at the first slide pocket. “Now this is what Ariel’s work looked like before he died and became part of it. That hunk of metal used to be a car.”

She held the slide sheet up to the ceiling light and looked at the rusted metal sculpture with two iron rods shooting straight up from the center of the car, which had been crushed and compressed to the size and shape of a steamer trunk.

Now she walked the length of the side wall, until she found the gouge in the baseboard. She beckoned Heller to join her. “Wait here. I’ll be right back.” She walked to the rear storage area door, counting her paces, and passed into the narrow hallway which ran alongside the gallery space. Just as Charles had done, she entered the gallery through the hidden door in the wall behind Heller’s back. She tapped him on the shoulder, and he whirled around to face her.

“Jesus! Don’t you ever-” Suddenly dumbstruck, Heller stared at the open door. His eyes traveled over the interior side of wood slats. “I can’t believe this. I checked out the storage area. I must have taken this for part of the wall.”

“Not your fault. The door is a perfect job. No seams, no knobs.” She closed it again, and pushed on the edge. It popped open. “Pressure lock. You’d have to know just where to press. See the nick in the baseboard? Koozeman has the same door in his new gallery in SoHo.”

Heller bent down to see the small gouge in the board at the base of the wall. “So, the killer might have hidden back there-”

“And come out of the wall to join the crowd before the uniforms showed up to chase them out.”

“Shit, it could’ve happened that way. Markowitz figured the perp cleaned himself up and left the gallery. We found blood in the bathroom-sink traps. But I guess he could have stayed.”

Mallory pressed her floor plan to the wall and penciled in the site of the door. “That night, did Markowitz figure the girl for the primary target?”

“No, not at first,” said Heller. “But we got the prelim from the ME before I finished reconstructing the scene. I fixed Aubry’s blood type to the victim who took the most abuse.”

“You did a reconstruction?” Damn Markowitz and his tabloid paranoia. How many pieces of this case was she going to find squirreled away in someone else’s mind, someone else’s notes? “I thought the reporters botched all the physical evidence.”

“Oh, those bastards.” Heller’s words were hard, his head was shaking-unforgiving after all these years. “They tracked blood everywhere. The reconstruction took days, and days-and then the jerk confesses. All that work for nothing.”

“Did you work up any of the hair and fiber evidence? I’ve got all these bags and no-”

“No. The money for the case dried up after Watt confessed. There was no budget to do any tests. It would have been a waste of time anyway. This was a public place-people coming and going. There’s no way to tell when materials were left on the scene. So hair and fiber evidence wouldn’t have held up in court, even if we could’ve sorted out what belonged to the reporters. Same problem with latent prints.”

“But Markowitz the detail freak, he talked you into running tests off the books, right?”

“Sorry, Mallory, it didn’t happen that way. I gave him what I could on a cursory examination of the bodies- colors of stray hairs and some speculation on the clothing fibers. That was it. It’s no more good to you now than it was to the old man.”

“Go back to the early part of the night.” Mallory was looking at the entrance to the gallery. “Watt delivered the pizza and went back to the restaurant to collect his check. After he left the gallery, Peter Ariel would’ve locked up behind him. Didn’t you figure the next one through that door had a key?”

“No. Dr. Slope said the Ariel kid was really flying on dope. I don’t know that he would’ve bothered to lock the door.”

Mallory pulled out a notebook and flipped through the pages of her father’s scrawl. “Slope says the killer did the artist first, then spent some time torturing the girl.” She found the page she was looking for. Markowitz had underscored the word “torture” and added three question marks. “Did Markowitz have a problem with that?”

“Well, yeah, he did. The blows were pretty vicious, like the perp really wanted to kill her with every stroke. It wasn’t so much a drawn-out kill, not like torture. It was more like a botched kill. Aubry just wouldn’t lie down and die for the bastard. She was fighting to stay alive. That was one thing that really got to Markowitz, that and her freckles-just a light sprinkle across her nose. I think the freckles destroyed him.”

Mallory held out the notebook and pointed to the word “cavalry” followed by a question mark. “Any idea what that means?”

Heller smiled. “Markowitz thought the kid was probably raised on old cowboy movies. So Aubry was holding on, waiting for the bugle call and the cavalry charge to come over the hill and save her.”

“This is what Koozeman said.” She read from the notebook. “ ‘The gallery was full of reporters when I arrived.’ You know, Koozeman could’ve come out from behind the wall when the room was packed with sightseers. The reporters would have been at the back of the room, looking at the bodies.”

Heller shook his head. “That scenario works just as well for Oren Watt, and he was definitely on the scene that night. We took his footprints. He had blood on his shoes.”

“Everybody had blood on their shoes. The pizza place was six blocks west of the gallery, and Watt’s apartment was three blocks east. After he picked up his check, he probably killed an hour scoring some dope and then walked home this way. All that noise, all those people. Of course he was going to go inside.” She pulled a diagram from her tote bag. “Markowitz always had a problem with the time frame. Can you remember how you reconstructed the scene?”

“Like I’m ever gonna forget. I still have dreams about this one.” Heller walked to the back of the room and hunkered down to inspect the floor. Mallory knelt beside him. He took out a penlight and aimed the beam low. “Look close and you can still see the axe marks in the wood. This is where the artist’s body was cut. The wounds were all postmortem. There was blood, but not the same kind of flow you’d get if the heart was still pumping. Splatter patterns and blood type show all the work on the artist was done here. The girl was killed at the front of the room, and her body was dragged back here and laid three feet away from the artist.”

Heller moved over to his right and swept the dusty floor with his hand. His penlight picked up the indentations in the wood. “These are the marks for the dancer. Dismemberment was done after death. Small mercy, huh? There was blood trapped between the floorboards to separate her site from the artist’s. I tracked blood from the artist’s body to the site of the first strike on the dancer.”

Mallory marked the axe scars on her diagram. She pulled out the bundle of floor photographs and riffled through them. The boards were awash in blood pools, drops, smears and tracks. “And you found tracks? How?”

“Not tracks-drops of blood from the weapon and the first splatter pattern. I followed a line of drops from the artist’s body to the first attack on the girl. The reporter’s tracks passed through it and smeared it here and there, but it was still a definite line. It was Peter Ariel’s blood. That’s how I figured the perp was working on the artist’s body when the dancer came into the room. Then he went for her and the blood dripped from the axe as he was crossing the floor.”

Heller stood up and moved to the center of the long room, with Mallory following. “The drops were elongated, so the perp was moving fast. I figured the first blow was struck here. It was a hard blow to the neck to bring her down. She began to crawl.” He walked closer to the front of the gallery. “Bloody handprints toward the door. Then she was herded back.” He walked toward the center of the long room. “Here’s the spot where she made it to her feet, God knows how, but there were two partial prints matching her shoes. And then she was brought down again.”

Mallory was marking the strikes, when Heller took the floor plan and the pencil from her hand. “I’m gonna teach you a trade secret, kid.” He made lines on her diagram. “This is how I knew how many times he cut her before she died. I never even had to look at the bodies. Slope agreed with my figures.”

Now her diagram showed a march of lines moving across the floor and then changing direction and moving back. He handed it back to her. “Every time the attacker pulled the weapon back for another strike, he sent out a flying line of blood from the axe to the floor and part of the wall. That’s how you can tell where he was, what direction he was walking in. So here, you can see him walking along beside her, making the blows while she crawled.” He pointed to a change of line angles. “This is where Aubry turned and made one last try for the door.”

He walked back to the front of the room. “She’s crawling toward the door, and this is where the killer made the fatal strike. This is where I found skull fragments in between the floorboards. And then the body was dragged to the back of the room.”

Mallory walked back to the site of the first blow. “It doesn’t work. She didn’t have to come this far into the room to see what was happening to Peter Ariel’s body. She would have turned to run long before she got this far.”

“She could have fainted or frozen with the-”

“Aubry was no helpless bimbo. She was a dancer with good reflexes. She was young with good eyes. She wanted to live just like the rest of us. Maybe there were two killers.”

“Markowitz didn’t figure it that way.” Heller’s tone was skeptical.

“How do you know he didn’t? The old man was always holding out. He held out on everybody else-why not you? But this time, he played it too cagey. Everybody got information on a need-to-know basis. If he’d laid open all the problems with the case, Quinn might have told him about the ritual of whitewashing the gallery walls and waxing the floor the day before every opening. Peter Ariel’s show was scheduled for the next day.”

“Oh, Christ, all the-”

“Yeah, if you’d only known, you might’ve gotten latent prints and worked up the hair and fiber evidence. But I’m sure Koozeman never volunteered that information. And he never mentioned the door in the wall either. Not your fault, Heller.”

But Heller didn’t agree. He stared up at the ceiling, shaking his head, his expression wafting between anger and frustration. “So, what now, Mallory?”

“Well, Starr and Koozeman would make a neat party of two.”

“So you’re tying their murders together with a revenge motive?”

“Maybe. When Dean Starr was a critic, he gave Peter Ariel two rave reviews. Suppose Koozeman wasn’t the only one who owned a piece of the artist?”

“I can still run the old physical evidence. Would that help you any?”

“I can’t have any paperwork on a case I’m not supposed to be working.”

“I’ll do it off the books. I can bury the cost in other investigations if I spread it around.”

“You won’t let me break into an empty gallery, but you’ll risk your job to work evidence off the books?”

“If I break the rules, I’ve got a good reason. You break rules because you can get away with it. It’s a game to you. Time to grow up, kid.”

“Heller, I don’t want any-”

“Grow up or fake it. At least try to make it look like Markowitz raised you right.”

Blakely parked his car on Mott Street and fumbled with the childproof cap on a small medicine bottle. He dry-swallowed a pill as he looked down the street to the line of three limos along the curb. Young men, wearing dark suits and dark glasses, walked between the cars, carrying coffee containers and slips of paper. Blakely walked up to the second limousine in the parked parade. A conversation passed between a man wearing driver’s gloves and his passenger beyond the crack of the tinted-glass window. The car’s rear door opened and Blakely bent down to shift his bulk into the spacious compartment. He sat down beside an old man with yellow teeth and listless black eyes. The air smelled like a sickroom.

After a few minutes of Blakely sweating through his story, the old man laughed.

“She made you shit in your pants, Blakely.” And now the laughing man began to cough into a handkerchief, and small spots of red bled through the white linen. The handkerchief disappeared into a massive hand with bulging blue arteries, crepe flesh and a vestige of power in the clenched fist. “Markowitz did a good job raising his kid. You know, I always liked that old bastard. I even turned out for his damn funeral.”

“She knows all about the bodega,” said Blakely, listening to the desperate notes in his own voice. “She could cause us both a lot of trouble.”

“But she won’t. Sounds like she has Markowitz’s style. You know, if her old man had been for sale, he would have been chief of detectives, not you.”

“But you did a deal with him on the-”

“Not what you’re thinking, Blakely. It wasn’t a payoff. And why doesn’t it surprise me that you don’t know the details? What do you know about what’s going on with your own department?”

“I know he backed off the-”

“Markowitz didn’t care how you bought your job. He didn’t have any hard evidence, but I didn’t know that then. He ran a bluff on me, and it worked. But it was never about money. He only wanted that freak who was killing all the winos, and you wouldn’t give him the manpower to do the job. So he and I, we did a trade. I put a small army on the street for three days and three nights. One of my boys delivered the freak to Special Crimes, and without a scratch on him. A nice clean job, and the deal was done.”

“He might not have had any evidence then, but the kid has something now.”

“So? She won’t use it. Her old man made a deal, and his kid will honor it.”

“Mallory doesn’t have a sense of honor. She’s a loose cannon. I know her.”

She’s a loose cannon? I think you’re confused, Blakely. Look at you. You’re sweating like a pig. You’re a man on the edge of a heart attack. You come to me to put out your fires? You have no control over your own people, and you know why? They don’t fear you.”

“It’s more than the bodega connection. She’s going back into the Oren Watt case.”

“What’s that to me?”

“Senator Berman collected the ghoul art. He’s one of the-”

“The senator? That clown is going down in the next election. You might owe him something, I don’t. I’m cutting my losses on him.” He began to cough again. “I’m thinking of getting out of politics. It’s not like the old days. If you want to buy a politician, you have to outbid all those special interest groups. There’s so many of them. They grow like cancer. This town is going down-hill, you know that? It’s one big flea market of souls for sale.”

The old Mafia don turned his head sharply, to stare out the window, and what he saw made him angry. Then the anger resolved itself into a sigh of resignation. “Blakely, do you ever think about retirement? No? Perhaps you should. You see that?” He pointed one palsied finger at the window.

Across the street a young Hispanic, walking at a leisurely pace, led an entourage of men all decked out in fur coats, though the day was mild. The sun glinted off the gold jewelry at the young men’s throats and the diamonds at their ears.

“Crazy bastards,” said the old man in disgust. “They shouldn’t be here, not today. But they’ve got no sense of fear, you know? That’s what makes them dangerous. Now watch our people, see what they do.”

Two well-dressed young men in dark suits stood at attention, faces swiveling slowly, tracking the walking men. Now they were in motion, moving in concert toward the troop of furs and jewels. The furs smiled at the suits, flashing every tooth of white mixed with crowns of gold.

The old man turned back to Blakely. “If I don’t call the boys off, the razors and the guns come out. I don’t like a bloodbath in my neighborhood. The one up front, the Dominican punk, knows that. He’s counting on it. He’s just playin‘ with us, you see? But he doesn’t know I’m dying. So-not today-but one day soon, I won’t call my boys back.”

Rolling down the window, he barked a short burst of commands to the men in suits and gave the fur men the finger as he closed the window again. The men in suits retreated to stand at attention beside their respective limousines. The smiling parade of fur coats and insulting hand gestures passed by, unmolested.

“The Dominican is your future, Blakely. He’s dangerous because he’s crazy and stupid and hot. If he thinks you’re crossing him, the razor comes out and your nose is gone. Or maybe he’ll take an ear, and then he’ll make you kiss his shoe. And you will do that. After I’m dead, you will sleep in a bath of sweat every night that’s left to you. If you can’t handle a little girl, what chance do you have against the Dominican?”

“I can get a handle on this case.”

“No, you can’t. Let Senator Berman go down. It’s going to happen anyway, and I want him to go down for something that isn’t tied to me. In fact, I like this a lot. He’ll be turned out of the Senate, but he won’t do jail time, so he won’t be looking to make any deals with the feds. And don’t interfere with Jack Coffey. You’re too clumsy, too obvious. It’ll come back on me, so I’m telling you to let him alone. Mallory did a deal with you, and it’s in my best interests that you honor it.”

“Coffey disobeyed a direct order. The son of a bitch gave me attitude, and then he worked around me.”

“So? Markowitz’s kid did a lot worse. She made you eat shit. But maybe she’ll save you from the punk in the fur coat. Maybe you’ll become her dog instead. Damn Markowitz had all the luck. Mallory should have been my kid.”

“I can’t let her get away with this.”

“Well, you’re right about that. Never let your people muscle you. But you’ve got enough dirty cops to do any job you want. You only ask me to handle it so it won’t come back on you. Well, if you wanted to go behind my back, I suppose you could get one of these Young Turks to do it.” He gestured to the man who stood outside the car. “These boys have no respect for the old ways. They’re punks, no style, no honor, not one good brain in the pack. Yeah, one of them might do the job for you, maybe figuring I’d never find out. They’d be wrong about that. I don’t miss much. If one of them tried to touch Markowitz’s kid, it’d blow up in your face and mine. I’d have to get you for that.”

“I need your-”

“If you can’t control Mallory, then maybe I bought the wrong man for the job. I’ll give you my advice, and then you and I will have no more conversation on this business. We will never speak of it again. Is that understood?”

Blakely nodded and the old man continued. “Fear works. Remember, you can’t touch her. All you can do now is teach her to fear you. But to pull that off, you’ll have to become a better man than she is.”

Long after Heller had gone, she sat in the center of the floor with crime-scene photographs and diagrams spread on the dust. Now she cleansed the room in her mind’s eye. She painted the walls white and waxed the floors to a high shine. After looking around at her imaginary handiwork, she began the slow work of willing the room into a bloodbath, just as it was on the killing night.

She looked down at the diagram of the crime scene, which exactly placed the spot where axe slices had been found in the floor. This is where the artist had been cut to pieces half an hour after he was dead.

She took out a gold pocket watch and opened it. She depressed the stem to check the stopwatch function. In the facing circle of gold was the inscription of her own name, just Mallory, which followed the generations of names back to Markowitz’s grandfather.

She imagined Peter Ariel lying on the floor and set the watch to Slope’s estimate for his time of death. Another half hour must pass before the first postmortem cut.

What was going on? What was the killer doing, saying?-conversation? Was there more than one person in the room?

Mallory stood up and began to pace back and forth between her mental re-creations of the artist’s body and the sculpture of iron rods and a rusted, crushed car. She went to the back room where the hanging wire was kept and brought the imaginary spools back to the gallery.

She looked down at the watch and allowed a few minutes more for the time the killer might have taken to remove his clothes and pile them away from the mess of the makeshift abattoir. Only minutes had passed. What was the killer doing with the time?

She moved the watch ahead, and knelt down beside the body that was not there. She began to cut away at Peter Ariel with the imaginary axe, a few sure blows for each of the hands and feet, a bit more work for the head. The axe blade was dulling with every cut. The meat was splaying out instead of the clean sever. It was harder work to sever the torso into two parts, to hack through the spinal column and the meat. She would need to rest periodically.

The minute hand of the watch swept several times around the dial, allowing for the rest period. Before the mutilation was half done, her watch said it was time to bring on the dancer.

Mallory looked toward the main entrance and created a vision of Aubry Gilette. She brought the dancer through the door with slow grace.

“Hold it, kid.”

She stopped the action in her mind and listened to another voice.

Naw, that’s all wrong, Kathy,”‘ said Markowitz. Though he was dead and in the ground, he sat beside her in the dust on the floor. “This is a critical moment. What’s Aubry thinking and feeling as she comes through that door?”

“I don’t know,” Mallory whispered to the dead Markowitz. “I can’t go where the ballerina goes.”

“You can do this, baby. Hell, a bright chimp could work it out. Now think. Aubry’s a young kid in a strange neighborhood after dark. She doesn’t carry a gun like you-she’s got no defenses at all. So you bring her in cautious, all tense, all eyes. She thinks something’s wrong. The message said it was an emergency, right? So she’s moving faster. Her face is all worried-she’s looking for bad news.

Mallory turned her watch back for the next try. Now the twenty-year-old dancer came through the door with more tension and energy. If Madame Burnstien told the truth, this would be a strange place to her-she would be wary. Mallory brought young Aubry across the small reception area and into the main room. Mallory rose and moved toward her, holding the axe high. The phantom Aubry turned and ran.

Stop!” Markowitz called time out. And Mallory stopped the watch.

She’s looking at a body hacked up in pieces and someone standing over it still hacking. Give her time to take it in, to be sure it’s not her uncle. Then give her credit for world-class reflexes and adrenaline, pure fear feeding her veins, giving her speed.

Mallory set the watch back thirty seconds. She made another whack in Ariel’s torso and looked up to Aubry, allowing time for the shock to set in, then the fear. Mallory had already taken up the chase as the dancer was turning. Mallory ran fast, but not fast enough to overtake a dancer at physical peak and with a head start of at least twenty feet. No, Aubry would be out the door and into the street by now.

Mallory turned back her watch. This time, when she ran at Aubry, she created a companion phantom with no face. She placed this figure near the door. As Aubry recovered her wits and turned to run, the shadowy phantom reached for her and dragged her farther into the room. The body of Peter Ariel was thirty feet from the first spill of Aubry’s blood. Mallory was halfway across the room now, swinging the axe high over her head and bringing it down on the dancer’s neck.

Aubry would be screaming, so Mallory aimed the next blow at the front of the neck. This would have been the blow that flooded Aubry’s throat with blood, making breath near impossible. The dancer was down, rising on one arm to lock eyes with Mallory. Aubry’s young face was gone to shock and wild panic, not believing that this could be happening to her. Her hands flew up to ward off the next blow to create the defensive wounds found on her corpse.

Mallory swung again, and again. Aubry was crawling now, clawing her way back toward the door, as the axe came down again, and again. Mallory followed her victim the length of the floor, bringing the axe down with a rhythm as she walked.

How had Aubry managed that? She was choking on her own blood, every wound was a mortal wound.

“Why don’t you die?” Mallory said, as she raised the axe again.

She thinks help is on the way,” said Markowitz, standing off to the side of her mind, watching his own child hacking up the dancer as though he were supervising Mallory’s school homework assignment.

Mallory brought down the axe to strike the blow to Aubry’s head. Bits of the dancer’s brains leaked to the floor, near the door where the skull fragments were found.

At last, Aubry stopped her struggles and lay dead. Mallory reached down and picked up the phantom dancer under the arms and dragged her body along the floor as though the imaginary Aubry had real weight. When she reached the body parts of Peter Ariel, she set down Aubry’s body a few feet away, where the second set of slices still marred the floor.

Here she inflicted one last stroke to the dead body of Aubry, the only assault wound made after death. It was a listless stroke, only a drag of the axe across the body as a final token wound. And this might be more evidence of a conspirator in the room, a more withdrawn, not at all enraged conspirator.

Then she began the work of cutting up the dancer’s body in a more businesslike fashion, the same sure strokes, the same rest periods. She pulled off the ripped clothing. The shreds came away easily, so she allotted only a small amount of time to this task.

Now she was ready to create the sculpture of body parts. She skewered the severed head of Peter Ariel on one of the rusted upright rods. The crushed car was the level of a bench. She seated the lower male torso on the metal and bound it to the long spike with the wire which had been taken from the gallery’s storeroom. She completed this torso with the upper half of Aubry’s body, carefully binding it in place to create one body of the male’s head spiked above female breasts, and a penis below. It was close to the old Egyptian model of a god.

She moved on to the work of the second mismatched torso, skewering Aubry’s head to the second rod. The male chest was set above the female nether regions. She mismatched the legs which required no wire, but only needed to be settled in place on the bench and then intertwined. The feet of Peter were set below the bloody stumps of Aubry’s well-muscled legs. Her dancer’s feet now supported the hairy legs of the artist. The arms were more difficult, placing them into bloody proximity of open wound sockets and forcing them to intertwine, then reinforcing positions with wire, which cut into the bloody skin. At last, she bound the woman’s hands to the man’s arms, and his to hers. Their heads faced forward, eyes open, staring at the artist turned spectator, Mallory.

She stepped back in her mind to admire her artwork, the ghastly embrace of two crimes against nature. It was a hundredfold more intimate than sexual intercourse. Blood was everywhere, and she layered the stench of mingling body fluids and feces over this.

It was sensational, the crime of crimes, the mother of all horrors. And yes, there was dark genius here. Koozeman might as well have signed it.

Her next thought was that this was the kind of thing guaranteed to sell a million newspapers. Publicity savvy was Koozeman’s other signature.

She looked down at her watch. Quinn would have shown up at the gallery to discover the murder an hour ago. So the time frame didn’t work, unless two people were working on the bodies. One person working alone could not have done it all in time. She turned around to look at the shadowy faceless one who had dragged Aubry back into the gallery. Now this one took the form and face of Dean Starr.

She allowed time for another pair of helping hands, and turned back her watch, leaving time to clean up and get behind the door in the wall. The time was still tight. Could there have been more than two of them? She looked back to the door. Time for Quinn to show up.

In a grisly stage direction, she brought her last known player onto the scene. She had Quinn enter slowly.

Kathy, ”said Markowitz, in a cautioning reminder.

“Right.” Quinn was running late. He would be anxious to see that his niece was all right.

She backed up the watch and made her phantom art critic enter the gallery, not running, but moving quickly. She had him freeze as he took in the horror of the back wall.

She watched him for a moment more.

“Quinn, do you know what you’re looking at?” she whispered.

There was so much blood, he would not immediately recognize his niece from this distance. Mallory let him come closer, stepping slowly, disbelieving, and finally recognizing the head on the right-hand post as his niece. And now there is blood on his shoes.

She stood up and walked over to him. “What are you thinking?” She stood beside him, watching the sudden lift of his chin, the awful realization that he was late, that if he had only come in time-

He couldn’t know that his niece had come early to the gallery. The medical examiner would have to tell him that later.

Mallory came back to the most nagging puzzle. It had taken a long time to kill the dancer. What had kept Aubry alive so long after the first stroke of the axe?

She was waiting for the cavalry,” said Markowitz.

Mallory nodded. There might be something to that. Aubry had been a protected child. She must have been thinking that rescue would come, it would surely come. Quinn would be there any minute. A child raised on the street would have given up her life much sooner, knowing that the cavalry never came.

Minutes ticked by on her pocket watch as Quinn took in the total horror. Finally his eyes bludgeoned his brain to accept it. Now what? Would he fall to his knees? No. According to the old reports, there had only been blood on his shoes. He remained standing. Though he had been mortally wounded in his mind, he could not fall down and die. There was no escape from this.

“So much pain.” She bowed her head.

Markowitz, standing in the blood and the stench of murder, was smiling. For this had been Mallory’s longest lesson, and she had finally made the breakthrough to empathy.

The room was so quiet, she could hear the tick of Markowitz’s pocket watch, steady as a heartbeat. Five minutes had gone by since Quinn’s arrival. In another twenty-five minutes, Quinn would call the police. What did he do with the time?

She moved in front of him and looked deep into his eyes. “Did you cry?” she whispered.

Hard to imagine those eyes with any emotion in them. She let him stand there, knowing that this was wrong. What did he do with the time? It might have been different if there was someone else in the gallery. Then there would be conversation, planning, questions asked, plans laid.

But he had told Markowitz that he came alone.

“Well, that wouldn’t be your only lie, would it, Quinn?”

And now she created a shadowy figure to stand beside him. But who could it have been, and why would Quinn shield this player who had accompanied him to the gallery? She stared at this second dark form, the one made wholly of shadow. Who was it?

And then she knew.

She stood before the shadow figure. “I’ve seen your face before, haven’t I?”

Now the shadow wore Sabra’s face as Mallory had constructed it on her computer.

Suppose the brother and sister had both visited their mother that night, and both had come to the gallery. So this was what sent Sabra over the top of her mind-not just the news that her only child had died horribly, but the sight of Aubry in this horrific work of art. Perhaps it had been Sabra’s fault that they were late getting to the gallery. That would have bent her mind even more. If they had come in Sabra’s car, and if she had left by herself, then Quinn’s story about the subway would have a reason.

Mallory closed her eyes and ended the gory art show.

At last she understood the crime. The artist and the dancer were very different kills, for different reasons, only coming together when the body parts were assembled into a single piece of bloody sculpture.

There was no one at home in the old house in Brooklyn, no one to hear the footsteps on the cellar stairs, squeaking under the old wood, nor the softer steps across the linoleum of the kitchen and the slam of the back door. It began in the basement. Louis Markowitz’s collection of rock’n‘roll records melted in the heat, the album covers turning brown and bursting into flames. His old recordings of the Shadow and other superheroes of radio days were consumed by fire.

Smoke wound up the stairs, invading the kitchen, where Helen Markowitz had made meals for the small family. The flames captured Helen’s sewing basket, then raced up the stairs to the room which had been Kathy’s, a room Markowitz had preserved until the day he died, a constant reminder to him of his only child. The flames licked down the hall to Markowitz’s den and ate his letters and his books, and at the bottom of his desk drawers it ravaged the pictures of Kathy Mallory’s growing up, beauty flowering into a woman who amazed him.

When Mallory entered the Gulag, Sandy the waitress was leaning on the counter watching the clock, probably counting off the last minutes of her shift. Sandy looked at Mallory with annoyance, her eyes saying, Go away.

Quinn stood up and waved to Mallory from the far table. Suddenly the waitress’s attitude changed. With a tired but pleasant smile, Sandy plucked a menu from the rack on the counter and handed it to Mallory.

Quinn was delighted to see Mallory, but even his own mother would not have noted the difference between this display of emotion and his facial arrangement for stepping on a dog turd. He was well aware of his own uncommunicative shortcomings, his limited repertoire of expressions.

Mallory ordered the cheeseburger on his recommendation, but when it arrived, she ignored it. She was gazing at him steadily, and he was quietly coming unhinged, but he was also assured that this would never show.

“Will you explain to me how a little weasel wakes up one morning, decides he’s going to be an art star and lands a one-man show in an important gallery?”

“Dean Starr wasn’t really an overnight success,” said Quinn. “He used a lifetime of public relations and marketing skills to pull it off. And his timing was good. His targeted market was a generation with conversational points of reference taken from the constant repetition of fifteen-second television commercials. This was the perfect age for it.”

“I like to keep things simple. I think he had something on Koozeman, something big-say the murders of Peter Ariel and your niece. I think he was there that night. Starr made a lot of money after those murders, but then most of it went into his arm with a heroin habit. So he was looking for another hype. So he went to Koozeman, the genius of hype. Wasn’t that what you called him?”

“Well, I suppose that would fit rather nicely, but it’s a moot point now that they’re both dead. If you’re quite sure that Koozeman was the murderer, then you’ve finished your father’s case, haven’t you?”

“I still have the small detail of who’s killing the killers. You didn’t think I was just going to leave that hanging, did you? Quinn, if I can prove you’re mixed up in that, I’m going to get you for it.”

“And how can I help you toward that end?”

“I need some background on Emma Sue Hollaran. What kind of critic was she?”

“Are you figuring her for the next victim? I did notice a plethora of critics in this case. But I think you’re wasting your time there.”

“Maybe the old case isn’t wrapped yet.”

“Seriously, you’re still looking for another killer?”

Mallory looked up as a new waitress, just starting her shift, refilled their coffee cups and then left them alone again. “She has the same name tag as the other one. Why are all the waitresses named Sandy? And why does a dive like this have real gold name tags?”

“The owner bought the name tags from a liquidator, who bought them from a bankrupt jeweler. And you’re right, they are real gold. But since they were already engraved, he got a good price.”

He went on to explain that the name tags had been the deluxe business cards of a prostitute named Sandy. The cards were all paid for, cash in advance, but never picked up because Sandy had died of a severe asthma attack. Her nine-year-old daughter waited an hour for the ambulance to come, not believing it would never come. Next, she called the fire department. The firemen were there in three minutes, but Sandy had stopped breathing five minutes before that. “And so, the phone number of Sandy’s answering service was covered with a pin glued to the back of the cards, and all the waitresses are called Sandy.”

“You went to a lot of trouble to find that out.”

“Yes I did.”

“You remind me of Charles. He’s a puzzle freak. He can’t let go of a problem until he’s worked it out. Hard to believe you ever stopped looking for Sabra-or the man who killed your niece. You had to wonder what had happened to your sister. You would have kept at it until you found her.”

“I never said-”

“A morgue attendant tells me you were first in line to view the body of a homeless woman, a jumper from Times Square. Did you think it was Sabra?”

He looked down at the table. Given his limited range of expression, he knew this simple aversion of the eyes must be tantamount to a confession.

“One more thing.” Her voice had a cold edge to it. “The night Aubry died-Sabra was in the gallery with you, wasn’t she?”

He lifted his face, and discovered that his expressions were not so limited after all. Mallory was nodding in agreement, as if he had answered her question aloud. Apparently, pain was something she could read in his face, for her voice was softer when she said good night.

On the bedroom bureau sat a wedding photo in a silver frame. Youthful and smiling, Louis and Helen Markowitz stared out of the frame. Two pairs of young, laughing eyes watched the flames racing toward them, consuming everything in sight, every memory of home and family until, mercifully, the glass of the picture frame was coated with soot and ash, blinding their eyes to the end of memories stored away in precious, irreplaceable things.

Mallory stood by the open door of her apartment, taking in the damage of pulled-out drawers, overturned tables and broken glass from the bulbs of fallen lamps. The doorman followed her into the front room.

“I swear I don’t know how he could’ve got past me, miss.”

“He probably walked in behind a tenant. If they want to get in, they will. There aren’t any safe places in this town.”

She walked into the kitchen to stand amid shards of crockery. The burglar had wiped the shelves clean of dishes and cups. Canned goods lay on the floor alongside the contents of her refrigerator. A canister of sugar was spilled over the contents of the flour canister.

Thorough little bastard.

Her den was less damaged. Since she had moved all her computer equipment to Charles’s building, Mallory had not thought to put this room to any better use than storage. Clothes were spilled out of trunks and onto the carpet, and the few remaining computer manuals had been ripped.

Not just a robbery.

She picked up a winter dress of good wool and found it slashed with a razor cut. In the bedroom the carpet was littered with silk blouses slit the same way. More drawers had been pulled out, and a wide selection of running shoes were strewn all over a jumble of blue jeans and blazers, linen and nylons. The mattress had been gutted and its stuffing coated the room. The feathers from her pillows lay on every surface.

The doorman was fidgeting beside her.

“It’s okay, Frank. I’m fully insured. Now tell me everything that happened. Who told you about the break-in?”

“A tenant. Mrs. Simpson. She comes down and says a cop told her to get me up here. He was waiting for me at the front door.”

“Are you sure he was a cop?”

“Yes, miss. He showed me a badge and his identification. And he gave me this.” The doorman put a white business card in her hand. “He said he’d get back to you for a list of what was missing, and I should tell you that you don’t have to file the report. He said he’d take care of it.”

Now she read the card and recognized the name of Blakely’s gofer. A push for a shove? She went to the bedroom closet and pulled out the side wall. Nothing had been touched, he had missed this cache where her valuables were stored.

“Thanks, Frank. You can go now.”

“I’m sorry, miss.”

She looked at his face grim with worry over his job. Well, she wasn’t about to break in an entirely new doorman. “I don’t think I’ll be mentioning this to the management company, Frank. And I’ll talk to Mrs. Simpson, all right?”

“Thank you, miss.”

It took twenty minutes to determine that nothing had been taken. Simple harassment? No, Blakely had probably sent his gofer out to find something. Did Blakely know about the office in Charles’s building?

The sirens were screaming down the road as the flames shot up to the rafters of the attic, where Helen Markowitz had stored Kathy’s baseball glove and her school uniforms. The family albums of five generations were all burning. The book of photos on the top of the pile was stubborn, only smoldering, then finally catching fire, burning all the pictures of a child’s growing years from ten to seventeen, when she had her full height. Before the siren screamed up to the front door, every trace of young Kathy Mallory had vanished in the smoke.

She unlocked the front door of Charles’s building. He would be asleep now. She took the stairs slowly, gun in hand, listening for sounds that did not belong in this quiet building of sleeping tenants, but she heard nothing out of the ordinary. On the second floor, she walked the hall silently, approaching the office of Mallory and Butler, Ltd. She fit her key in the lock and worked the tumblers quietly, entering with no noise at all.

Nothing in the reception area had been disturbed. She opened the door to Charles’s private office. Nothing was out of place. She found her own office in the same perfect order. She settled down in the chair behind her desk and waited in the dark. If Blakely knew about this place, his gofer would come here next. She might have some time to kill.

She reached out to the desk phone and dialed the priest’s number. And she knew from the weary “hello” that she had awakened him.

Well, tough.

“Father Brenner, what’s the religious penalty for defiling a corpse?”

“You woke me for that?”

“It was my mother’s corpse. This is under the seal of the confessional, right? You can’t tell?”

“Oh, God. Yes, if you wish. Kathy, is this real?”

“Oh, Father, it’s as real as it ever gets. Let’s say I lost my mind. Maybe it was all that blood, and the way she died. I had to leave her, but I couldn’t leave. But it was too dangerous to stay. I had to go, to run and right now. So I took a little bit of my mother with me-her brain.”

And now she looked down at her fingernails, examining the polish for chips. “So, Father, what’s the penalty for that?”

“How old were you, Kathy?”

“I was almost seven.”

“The church doesn’t expect a small child to reason out morality when the child is half crazed and in fear of its life. You must have-”

“Let’s say I wasn’t a child. Suppose I was a normal, moral person.”

“All right, let’s use our imaginations.”

She could hardly miss the sarcasm in his voice, and the creep of skepticism. “Rabbi Kaplan won’t like it when he finds out you’re doing his act.”

“He steals my jokes. Well, I suppose we share them. We shared you once. We talked about you behind your back, and we worried over you. We split up the prayers. Less work. I liked that.”

Time for a little side trip to hell, Father.

“The killer used an axe on my mother. He hit her over and over again. There was blood everywhere. It was like a slaughterhouse. I can still smell the blood, Father. She was crawling toward me, holding out her hand. She thought I was going to save her. But I didn’t. I ran away.”

“You were only a child.”

His voice was strained, he was buying it-all of it.

“What’s the penalty, Father?”

The beep came from the cellular phone in her pocket. She hung up on the priest with no goodbye, and pulled out the cellular phone, lifting it to her ear. “Mallory here,” she said, and listened to the stone silence on the other end.

“Mallory,” a voice whispered at last. “Your house is on fire.” It was only a whisper-familiar though.

Blakely’s voice.

She stood in the front yard of the old house and watched the firemen wetting down the rafters of the attic, black charred ribs smoking and steaming under the arching waterfall from the hose.

“It was arson,” the fire chief was saying, though she barely heard him. “The guy didn’t even try to cover his tracks. We found the gas cans in the yard. Any idea who’d want to do this to you?”

“No,” she lied.

“Don’t bullshit me, Mallory. It’s like somebody went out of his way to leave you a message. Now is this connected to an ongoing case or not?”

She didn’t answer him, seemed not to see him anymore. Her eyes were fixed on the husk of the old house, her home. All gone now.

The fire chief leaned into her face and moved his hands across her eyes. She made no response. He drew away from her and turned to the man next to him. “There’s a doctor’s house three doors down the street. Go get him.”

She stood alone on the lawn, as firemen, going to and fro, made a wide circle around her. She stared at the ruins and rocked back and forth in a cage of solid hatred for a thing she could not put a name to. It was such a large beast, it threatened to become the whole earth.

Somewhere behind her, another siren was screaming up to the house. Now a car door was slamming, footsteps running.

The house was gone, that solid anchor to the world, all gone. She was airy and light, and in danger of being drawn up with the smoke. It was the sudden tight wrap of Riker’s arms about her that kept her bound to the earth. She was engulfed in rough tweed and the familiar scents of cigarettes, cheap spot remover and beer.

“So you went after Blakely,” said Riker, holding her close and watching the smoke twisting up to the sky. “Now how did I know that?”

Charles opened the door to Riker and Mallory. She walked past him, through the foyer to the couch in the front room. Charles turned to Riker. “Is she all right? Does she need a doctor? Henrietta’s just up the stairs.”

“No, she’s okay. I just didn’t feel right letting the kid go back to her condo. Some bastard trashed it. So put her up for the night, and don’t ask her any questions. If she cries in front of you, she’ll never forgive you for it.” Riker handed Charles her duffel bag. “I gotta go, Charles. Somebody has to look after Andrew Bliss.”

“There must be something else I can do.”

“If you really want to do something for the kid, send Mrs. Ortega over to clean up the place before Mallory goes home again.”

“You know the old house in Brooklyn was her real home.”

“Yeah, well, the condo’s all she’s got left now. Good night, Charles.”

Mallory was sitting on the couch when he returned to his front room to lay the duffel bag at her feet. “I’ve made up the bed in the spare room.”

Seconds crawled by before she seemed aware that he had spoken to her. She looked down at the duffel bag by her feet as though it had appeared there by magic.

“Are you all right?”

She nodded.

Clearly, she was not all right. He detected the signs of shock in her eyes, which had gone to soft focus, staring inward and not liking what she saw there. He hunkered down before her and gently turned her face to his.

“Would you like me to call Henrietta Ramsharan?”

“I don’t need a shrink.” Her words were slow to come out.

“But Henrietta is also an M.D., you know. She could give you something to help you sleep.”

“I don’t need her.”

She turned away from him to say that she didn’t need him, either. But when he took hold of her arm and guided her body up to a standing position, she allowed it. He carried her duffel to the back room and opened the door for her. Every stick of cherrywood and oaken furniture and even the patchwork quilt and the heavy velvet drapes could be dated to the early 1800s. The bedding of the antique four-poster was turned down, awaiting this child of the late twentieth century.

She looked so tired and worn. Without her energy and easy confidence, she seemed to have lost some of her size, and he worried over this.

Well, perhaps with rest, she would grow.

On the Upper East Side, a priest was turning in his bed, periodically rising to lean on one elbow and stare at the phone by his bed, wondering where she was and how she was. Finally, he tired of willing the telephone to ring, and Father Brenner burrowed deep into his blankets. Then came the misstep at the border of sleep, the foot kicking out into air, prelude to the long dark free fall into dreams.

In the first gray light of an indecent hour, the telephone did ring, awakening him. He knew it was her. It had to be. No one else would do this to an elderly priest. His first feeling was relief, and then he prepared himself to be disgruntled and short with her. Eyes stuck fast with sleep glue, he reached out one blind hand to grasp the receiver and hold it to his pillowed head.

“All right, what is it now?”

The only response was a stutter of breath brushing up against his ear, soft as moth wings. In the strange twilight state between waking and sleeping, only half shaken from dreams, he truly believed he detected the sound of rolling tears.

Now a small voice whispered that ancient complaint of the lost child, “I want to go home.”

CHAPTER 5 | Killing Critics | CHAPTER 7