CRYSTAL DEATH Chapter One It had been two months since Conor Bard had taken to the stage at the Rhythm Bar so he found it comforting that the joint was packed. It didn’t matter whether people were there to see him perform after his long absence or just seeking refuge from the torrential rain that had transformed the streets of New York City into white-water rapids. He had a lively, appreciative audience and his adrenaline was flowing.
Even though the place was a dive, it was still a venue. And to Conor, each venue was a step on the way to achieving his dream: signing with a major record label. So why hadn’t he been up there jamming for the past eight weeks?
It’s my own fault. I should just quit the job.
The job was NYPD. Conor was a cop, a detective in the precinct that encompassed the most high-profile sectors of Manhattan. Times Square. Fashion Avenue. The Diamond District. All the Broadway theaters. Hell’s Kitchen, which despite its recent gentrification still harbored remnants of its violent past. So there wasn’t much time to pursue a dream when every day someone else’s dream bled out on the pavement.
Conor strummed the nickel-plated strings of his electric guitar, a vintage Fender Stratocaster, then stepped up to the microphone and belted out the opening verse of the Temptations classic “I Wish It Would Rain.”
“Sunshine, blue skies, please go away …”
Now there was a song that struck an emotional chord—about a man so miserable he wouldn’t leave his house. When was the last time I was really happy?Maybe never.
Conor was forty-three. A hard forty-three. The crevices in his craggy face were growing deeper by the day and his brown hair was in a constant battle with encroaching strands of gray. But he didn’t dwell on these things. Instead, he spent most of his late nights in hollow hours of denial. Denial about getting older. Denial about his chances of actually making it as a singer. Denial about his aversion to romantic commitment. Denial about his drinking, which was becoming a real problem. Whenever someone asked him where he lived, he was always tempted to say, Where do I live? I live in denial.
“I wish it would rain …”
The crowd roared its approval at the irony inherent in his decision to sing that particular tune, considering the downpour that had lasted all day. As he soaked up the collective praise, he scanned the faces in the crowd. Many of them were familiar, particularly a pretty thirty-something blond woman he had met the last time he played there. He struggled to recall her name. Ingrid. Yes, that was it. Ingrid. She plays viola. Or is it violin?Something in the string section. He had intended to get her number that night but for some reason, he couldn’t remember why, he never did. Maybe I was drunk.Maybe it was because she was a musician. Musicians are fucked-up. What the hell? Maybe tonight I’ll get her number.
The door swung open, momentarily allowing the pelting rain to provide an appropriate, percussive accompaniment to the music. Conor was surprised to see Sergeant Amanda Pitts entering the bar. Amanda hadn’t been to see him play for two years. But he didn’t take it personally. She was always on the job, working twelve, fourteen hours a day, and when she wasn’t at the precinct she was likely passed out from exhaustion. Sarge looks different tonight, Conor thought. Then again, he usually saw her under the harsh fluorescent bulbs in the office, which tended to accentuate the worst of her thirty-eight years. That’s what bar lighting will do. Even though no one would ever call Amanda sexy, in the perpetual twilight of the Rhythm Bar, she was a contender.
Conor made eye contact with Amanda. She nodded an acknowledgment then moved her hand across her throat in a slicing motion as if to say: Cut!
Amanda drifted to the back of the bar and disappeared into the darkness where he could no longer see her. He finished the song but because he knew she was there and could feel her staring at him, his performance suffered. The paying customers didn’t notice, however, and lavished applause as Conor hit the final chord, then swung the long neck of the guitar upward with a flourish.
Conor leaned into the mike. “We’re going to take a short break. But we’ll be right back.”
That was the signal for Susie the bartender to trigger the iPod plugged into the sound system. She did this at the end of every set, to keep the energy level in the room from plummeting. But the band wasn’t due to break for another twenty minutes, so she had been caught off guard. After a few seconds of confused hesitation, Susie lunged for the Play button. Johnnie Taylor’s rendition of “Still Crazy” vibrated out of the speakers.
“Starting all over … I’ve got to find what’s left of my life …”
Conor looked at the band. “Sorry, guys.”
And he was. How many shows had he canceled because of the job? It wasn’t fair to the other musicians, especially not to Richard Shorter, the piano player. Conor and Richard had gone to high school together. Richard had stuck with him ever since, never complaining about the uncertainty of their schedule. Peter the drummer, who was a veteran known as the “Human Metronome,” and Gordon the bass player, a twenty-two-year-old African American who brought a youthful energy to the group, were recent additions to the quartet. But how long would they stick around without a steady or, more to the point, reliable flow of gigs?
Conor climbed from the stage and made his way to the back of the room, where he found Amanda propped against the bar.
“Hey, Sarge. Glad you could make it.”
“You were in great form tonight.”
“We’ve got a homicide,” she said abruptly. “And you’re up.”
He motioned to the stage. “I’m in the middle—”
“No problem. The house is full of detectives playing cards. I’ll give it to one of them. I just thought you might want this one.”
“Why?” Conor asked before he could stop himself.
“The victim’s name is Zivah Gavish.”
“Sorry. Doesn’t ring a bell.”
“She’s Israeli. One of the biggest dealers in the world for something you’ll never buy.”
“And what’s that?”
Conor grinned. “Maybe you’re right about the diamonds.”
“A Stanley Silberman called nine-one-one a half hour ago, at eight thirty. Owns one of those jewelry stores on Forty-seventh Street, in the Diamond District. According to Silberman, Zivah Gavish was supposed to meet him at the annual diamond dealers’ dinner tonight. When she didn’t show up at the hotel, I guess he was worried enough to phone it in.”
Conor rubbed the back of his neck. No way he was going to let the job pull him from the stage. Not this time. I’ve got a show to finish. Let her give this to someone else.
“S-A-P-S is already at the scene,” she continued, pronouncing each letter of the acronym.
“South African Police Service.”
“What’s their angle?”
“I don’t know. The victim’s a diamond dealer. South Africa produces diamonds.”
Conor felt himself being reeled in, which he knew was precisely what Amanda intended and something he was definitely trying to avoid. If he was going to get back on the stage, now was the moment. But his legs were like stakes driven firmly into the ground.
Amanda shrugged. “A dead diamond dealer? South African cops? As far as cases go, it doesn’t get any better than that.” She motioned toward the stage. “Anyway, you should get back up there. Don’t want to keep your fans waiting.” She started walking away.
“Sarge,” he called out.
She stopped, turned slowly.
“Meet you in front?” she asked, although she already knew the answer.
Screenwriter/Producer/Author Charles Kipps has won an Emmy, a Peabody, and an Edgar Award. His early career as a journalist, included a stint as Features Editor for Variety. He is the author of two non-fiction books, Out of Focus and Cop Without A Badge (recently reissued)and the novels Hell's Kitchen Homicide and Crystal Death (coming September 2010).