The detectives hadn't even noticed the two men were aquainted. One of the two men was in the holding cell because he'd inconsiderately shot a little Korean grocer who'd resisted his attempts to empty the store's cash register. The other one was just being led into the cell. He'd been caught running from the scene of a liquor store holdup on Culver and Twelfth.
Aside from their occupations, the two men had nothing in common. One was white, the other was black. One was tall, the other was short. One had blue eyes, the other had brown eyes. One had the body of a weight lifter, possibly because he'd spent two years upstate on a prior felony. The one being led into the cell was somewhat plump. Sometimes, the plump ones were the ones to watch.
"Inside, let's move it," Andy Parker said and nudged him into the cell. Parker would later tell anyone who'd listen that he'd automatically figured the arresting blues had frisked the perp at the scene. "How was I to know he had a knife tucked into his crack?" he would ask the air.
In this instance, "crack" was not a controlled substance. Detective Parker was referring to the wedge between the man's ample buttocks, from which hiding place he had drawn a sling-blade knife the instant he spotted the body builder slouching and sulking in the far corner of the cage. What Parker did the minute he saw the plump little magician pull a knife out of his ass was slam the cell door shut and turn the key. At that very moment, Steve Carella and Artie Brown were together leading nine handcuffed basketball players into the squadroom. Both detectives smelled trouble at once.
The trouble was not that any policeman was in danger from the chubby little knife-wielding man in the cage. But the body builder was in police custody, and presumably under police protection as well, and every cop in that room conjured up visions of monumental lawsuits against the city for allowing a black man -- black, no less -- to be carved up while in a locked cell -- locked, no less -- with a fat white assassin who kept slashing the air with the knife and repeating over and over again, "Oh, yeah? Oh, yeah? Oh, yeah?"
Carella fired a shot at the ceiling.
"A minute before I was about to," Parker would later claim.
"You!" Carella yelled, sprinting toward the cage.
"Don't get any ideas," Brown warned the nine basketball players, who, although they were not lawyers, were already spouting learned Supreme Court decisions on false arrest and civil rights and such. Just in case one of them decided to drag the rest of his handcuffed buddies after him into the corridor, Brown drew his own gun and stood massively and menacingly between the players and the slatted wooden railing that separated the squadroom from the hallway outside.
"Oh, yeah?" the knifer in the cage said again, and slashed the air. The body builder kept backing away, hands circling the air in front of him. He had seen a few knife-wielders in his time, this dude, and he was waiting for the next gunshot from outside the cage, hoping the cops would help distract this crazy fat bastard who kept coming at him with the knife and yelling "Oh, yeah?" as if he was supposed to know what it meant. "Oh, yeah?" the corpulent little shit said again and again came at him.
"You hear me?" Carella shouted from just outside the cage now. "Throw that knife down! Now!"
"Juke him, man!" one of the basketball players shouted.
"Oh, yeah?" the fat man yelled, and lunged again, and this time drew blood.
The body builder yanked back his right hand as if a searing line of fire had scorched the palm, which in fact was exactly what the knife slash had felt like. His face went ashen when he turned his palm up and saw the deep cut spurting from pinkie to thumb. By then, the knifer, smelling blood, smelling fear, was closing in for the kill.
Parker, standing outside the cage with his gun in his hand, Carella standing alongside him with his own gun in his hand, had to decide in the next ten seconds whether they would be justified within the guidelines to drop the man in his tracks. They were both certain that a man pulling a knife while in police custody was reason enough for them to have drawn their weapons and shouted a warning. They both shouted warnings again, "Drop the knife!" from Carella, "Freeze!" from Parker, but the fat little man was neither freezing nor dropping the knife.
He simply kept moving closer and closer to the black body builder whose palm was steadily and alarmingly gushing blood, the knife swinging in the air ahead of him as he advanced, muttering, "Oh, yeah? Oh, yeah?"
"You crazy sumbitch, what's wrong with you?" the black man yelled, but the knifer kept coming on like a tank in the streets, the knife swinging, "Oh, yeah? Oh, yeah?"
"Steve?" Parker asked.
"Drop him," Carella said, and fired the first shot, hitting the knifer in the right thigh, collapsing him to his knees. Parker fired an instant later, taking the man in the right forearm, causing him to release his grip on the knife. As it clattered to the cell floor, the black man lunged for it.
"Don't," Carella said very softly.
The reason there were only nine basketball players in the squadroom -- rather than the customary ten, five to a team -- was that the forward on one of the teams had been shot while running downcourt for a basket. Presumably, one of the remaining nine players had fired the shot, since this had been a practice game without spectators, on a deserted playground court, on a sizzling Friday evening in August.
The oppressive heat notwithstanding, the pair of blues riding Adam Four knew the sound of a gunshot when they heard one. Two, in fact. In rapid succession. Bang, bang, like in the comics. They rolled up outside the cyclone fence in time to stop nine youths from dispersing fast, as was the usual case in this neighborhood whenever the music of gunfire filled the air.
The kids ranged in age from seventeen to twenty-four, twenty-five, the blues guessed, all of them wearing T-shirts and what one of the Adam Four cops described as "droopy shorts," which meant they hung down below the knees. The white team was wearing white T-shirts. The blue team was wearing blue T-shirts. The kid lying on the ground with two bullet holes in his chest was -- or had been -- a member of the white team, but his T-shirt was now stained a bright red.
The Adam Four cops found a .32 Smith & Wesson revolver in the weeds lining the dilapidated court. None of the nine knew anything at all about the gun or how Jabez Courtney happened to have got himself shot with it. All of them -- presumably including the one who'd shot young Jabez -- complained that they were being rounded up and herded to the cop shop simply because they were black, the O.J. legacy.
Now, at ten minutes to eight, Carella and Brown started doing their paperwork. In this city, the tempo in August slowed down to what Lieutenant Byrnes had once described as "summertime," not quite the equivalent of "ragtime," a slow-motion rhythm that leisurely waltzed the relieving team into the sometimes frantic pace of police work. There were three eight-hour shifts in any working day. First came the day shift, from eight in the morning to four in the afternoon. Next came the night shift, from four to midnight. Lastly, and least desirably, came the morning shift, from midnight to eight A.M. Usually, the teams were relieved at a quarter to the hour, but not during the month of August. In August, a good third of the squad was on vacation, and many of the detectives were pulling overtime working double shifts. Which perhaps explained why Carella and Brown, who had both clocked in at a quarter to eight this morning, were still here more than twelve hours later.
At this hour, there was a sort of languid tranquility to the squadroom. Despite the clamor of the nine ballplayers and their arriving attorneys, all armed to the teeth with arguments pertaining to mass and indiscriminate roundups of suspects, all prepared to summon the spectres of the Holocaust and the World War II Japanese-American concentration camps...
Despite the arrival of a paramedic team, all urgency and haste in earnest imitation of the actors on ER, rushing the bleeding body builder onto a stretcher and down the iron-runged steps to the waiting ambulance even though the patient kept protesting he could walk, damn it, wasn't nothin wrong with his legs...
Despite the arrival of a second team of paramedics, no less skilled in TV emulation than the first, who briskly and efficiently lifted the plump little former knifer onto another stretcher, bleeding from forearm and thigh and shouting to his benefactors that the man he'd stabbed had stolen his wife from him, an accusation dismissed by one of the paramedics with the consolation, "Cool it, amigo," though the knifer wasn't Hispanic...
Despite the arrival of two detectives from Internal Affairs who wanted to know what the hell had happened up here, how come a man in custody had been wounded by another man in custody, and how come sidearms had been drawn and fired, and all that bullshit, which Parker and Carella -- and even Brown, who'd innocently been riding herd on the nine ballplayers -- had to address before they could call it a day...
Despite the arrival of a man and his helper from what was euphemistically called the police department's Maintenance and Repair Division, here to fix the building's decrepit air-conditioning system, which of course was malfunctioning on a day with a high of ninety-two Fahrenheit, thirty-three Celsius...
Despite what to a disinterested observer might have appeared merely excessive motion and commotion, but which to the detectives coming and going was simply the usual ambience of the place in which they worked, give or take a few warm bodies...
Despite all this, there was a sort of familiar serenity.
As Carella and Parker and Brown reeled off guideline chapter and verse to the two shooflies eager to earn points with the Mayor's office by exposing yet more use of excessive force by yet another trio of brutal police officers...
As Carella and Brown together typed up their Detective Division report in triplicate on the nine ballplayers still protesting innocence in separate interrogations although almost certainly one of them had been the shooter and Jabez Courtney nonetheless lay stone-cold dead on a stainless-steel table at the St. Mary Boniface Mortuary...
As Parker kept complaining vociferously, first to the shooflies, and next to his fellow detectives, that the goddamn blues in Adam Four should have frisked the fat little bastard before cuffing him and bringing him up here for interrogation...
As Meyer and Kling came in from the field where they'd been interrogating a pawnbroker about a burglar they'd nicknamed The Cookie Boy, real life imitating art once again in that every cheap thief in every crime novel, movie, or television show was colorfully nicknamed by either newspersons or cops, fiction copying reality, the fake then feeding the actual in endless cyclical rotation...
"Leaves a platter of chocolate chip cookies just inside the front door," Meyer told Brown.
"Yeah?" Brown said, unimpressed.
"Better than shitting in the vic's shoes," Parker said.
"Which lots of them do," Kling agreed.
"You missed all the fun up here," Carella said.
"Looks like you're still having fun," Meyer said cheerfully.
As telephones rang, and voices overlapped and intertwined, Carella became aware of the summer sounds of August filtering up through the screened and open windows of the squadroom. There was a stickball game in progress under the glow of the side-street lampposts. On Grover Avenue, he could hear the clopping of horses drawing carriages into the park. Suddenly, there was the liquid trickle of a girl's laughter. He did not know how long ago he'd read the story, nor could he calculate how many times it had been brought to mind on how many separate summer days. But hearing the girl's lilting laughter, he thought again of Irwin Shaw's girls in their flimsy summer frocks, and smiled knowingly. Yellow. The laughing girl somewhere on the street below would be wearing a yellow dress.
Still smiling, he went to the wooden In-Out board -- admittedly an old-fashioned way of tracking in this day and age of E-mail and computer technology, but still serviceable and accessible at a glance -- and was about to move his hanging name tag from the In column to the Out column because finally, at ten minutes to nine on a long hot summer's day -- thirteen hours after he'd moved the tag in the opposite direction -- he was ready to go home.
The door to Lieutenant Byrnes's office opened.
"Steve? Artie?" he called. "Glad I caught you."
The dead girl lay sprawled in front of a bench in Grover Park, not seven blocks from the station house, on a gravel footpath only yards off Grover Avenue. She was wearing a white blouse and pale blue slacks, white socks and scuffed Reeboks. Flies were already buzzing around her. Not a sign of blood anywhere, but flies were already sipping at her wide-open eyes. Didn't need a medical examiner to tell them she'd been strangled. The bruise marks on her throat corroborated their immediate surmise.
"Touch anything?" Carella asked.
"No, sir!" one of the blues answered, sounding offended.
"This just the way you found her?" Brown asked.
He was thinking he didn't see a handbag anywhere around. Carella was thinking the same thing. The two men stood side by side in the dim light cast by a lamppost some five feet from the bench on the winding gravel path. Brown was the color of his name, six feet two inches tall and built like a cargo ship. Carella was a white man standing an even six feet tall and weighing a hundred and eighty-five in a good week. Summertime, with all the junk food, he usually shot up to a hundred-ninety, two hundred at the outside. The men had been working out of the Eight-Seven for a long time, partnered together more often than not. They could almost read each other's minds.
The assistant medical examiner arrived some five minutes later, complaining about summertime traffic, greeting the detectives, whom he'd met before at other crime scenes, and then getting to work while the blues stretched their yellow tapes and kept the forming crowd back. Nothing the residents of this city liked better than a good sidewalk show, especially in the summertime. Brown asked the blues how they'd come upon the body. The younger of the two uniformed cops said a female pedestrian had flagged their car and told them a woman was lying on the park path here, either sick or dead or something.
"Did you detain her?" Brown asked.
"Sure did, sir. She's standing right over there."
"Did you talk to her?" Carella asked.
"Few questions, is all."
"Did she see anyone?"
"No, sir. Just walkin through the park, came upon the vic, sir."
Carella and Brown glanced over toward where a woman was standing under the light of the lamppost.
"What's her name?" Carella asked.
"Susan...uh...just a second, it's an Italian name," he said, and took out his notebook. Anything ending in a vowel always threw them. Carella waited. "Androtti," the officer said. "That's a double t."
"Thanks," Carella said, and looked over at the woman again. She seemed to be in her late forties or thereabouts, a tall, thin woman with her arms folded across her bosom, hugging herself as if trying to retain body warmth, though the temperature still hovered in the low eighties. The detectives walked over to her.
"Miss Androtti?" Carella said.
There was a stunned look on her face. It was not a pretty face to begin with, but the shock of having stumbled across a corpse had robbed it of all expression. They had seen this look before. They did not think Susan Androtti would sleep well tonight.
"We have to ask you some questions, ma'am, we're sorry," Carella said.
"That's okay," she said.
Her voice was low, toneless.
"Can you tell us what time you found the body, ma'am?"
"It must've been eight o'clock or so," she said. "It was so hot in the apartment, I came down for a walk."
"Here in the park," Brown said.
"Saw her lying there on the path, is that it?"
"Yes. I didn't know what it was at first. I thought it was...forgive me, I thought it was a bundle of clothes or something. Then I realized it was a woman."
"What'd you do then?"
"I guess I screamed."
"And ran out of the park, looking for a call box. A police call box. When I saw the patrol car, I flagged it down and showed the officers where the...the body was."
"Ma'am, when you came upon her, did you see anyone else in the vicinity?"
"No. Just her."
"Hear anything in the vicinity?"
"Any noise in the bushes..."
"Sound of anyone running off..."
"Where'd you enter the park, ma'am?"
"At the transverse road on Larson."
"Meet anyone coming toward you on the path?"
"See anyone going away from you on the path?"
"How long did it take you to walk from Larson to where you discovered the body?"
"Five minutes? A little less?"
"See anyone at all during that time?"
"Okay, miss, thank you," Carella said.
"We know this is upsetting," Brown said.
"We have your address, we'll contact you if we have any further questions," Carella said. "Meanwhile, try to put it out of your mind."
"I will, thank you."
"Goodnight, miss," Brown said.
She did not move.
"Miss?" Carella said.
Still she did not move.
"What is it?" he asked.
She shook her head.
Kept shaking it.
"I'm afraid," she said.
And he realized she'd been hugging herself to keep from trembling.
"I'll ask the officers to drive you home," he said.
"Thank you," she said.
"Well, well, what have we here?" someone said, and they turned to see Monoghan and Monroe waddling toward the bench. In this city, the presence of Homicide Division detectives was mandatory at the scene of any murder or suicide. Even though the actual case belonged to the precinct detectives catching the squeal, Homicide was always there in a supervisory and advisory capacity. Didn't used to be that way in the old days, when Homicide cops were considered elite and precinct detectives were thought of as mere general practitioners in a world of police department specialists. But that was then and this was now, and in today's Cop Land the arrival of Homicide detectives was greeted without enthusiasm by the precinct cops actually working the case. The ME had his stethoscope inside the dead girl's blouse now. Monoghan looked somehow offended. So did Monroe.
"What is she, eighteen?" he said.
"Nineteen?" Monoghan said.
"Barbarian takeover," Monroe said, and glanced at the girl's face. "What do you think, Doc?"
"My immediate guess is strangulation," the ME said.
"Was she raped?" Monroe asked.
"Can't tell you that till we get her downtown."
"Guys who strangle teenagers usually rape them first," Monroe said. "Hello, Carella."
"Hello," Carella said.
Brown noticed that neither of the Homicide detectives ever said hello to him, but maybe he was being overly sensitive. "Has that been your experience?" he asked. "That strangled teenagers are usually rape victims as well?"
"That has been my experience, yes," Monroe said. "Most strangled teenagers have been violated first."
"How many strangled-teenager cases have you investigated?" Brown asked.
Carella tried to keep from smiling.
"A few in my time, kiddo," Monroe said.
"Nothing's hard and fast in homicide cases, of course," Monoghan said, defending his partner. "But as a general rule, you can say strangled teenagers have usually been violated first."
"Be interesting to find out," the ME murmured, almost to himself. "Besides, she looks older."
"I'd appreciate your letting us know," Monroe said.
"How old would you say?" Monoghan asked.
"In her twenties, easily," the ME said.
The two Homicide detectives were wearing black on this hot summer night, black being the color of death and therefore their color of choice. Black was the traditional color of all Homicide detectives in this city. Black suits and black hats. In this city, the Homicide detectives needed only sunglasses to make them look like the Blues Brothers. Or like the two alien-chasers in the movie Men in Black. But one of those two had been black, and Brown had never seen a black Homicide cop in his life, except on television. He wondered how these dressed-in-black, lily-white guys felt, drawing down salaries for virtually nonexistent jobs. Supervisory and advisory, my ass, he thought. This was featherbedding of the highest order. Worst part of it was, they earned more than either he or Carella did. And it still rankled that they never said hello.
"Any witnesses to this?" Monroe asked.
"No," Carella said.
"How'd she happen to turn up?" Monoghan asked.
"Woman out for a stroll found her."
"Talk to the woman?"
"Few minutes ago. Saw no one, heard no one."
"Any idea who she is?"
"Her name is Susan Androtti."
"The dead girl?"
"No, the woman who..."
"I meant the girl."
"No ID that we could see. You find anything?" he asked the ME.
"Like what?" the ME said, looking up.
"Anything around her neck, or her wrists? Any kind of identification at all?"
"Jane Doe," Brown said.
"Mrs. Jane Doe," Monroe said. "That's a wedding band, isn't it?"
The men all looked down at the slender gold band on the third finger of her left hand.
"Child bride," Monroe said.
"Nice knockers on her, though," Monoghan couldn't help observing.
"You got this?" Monroe asked.
"We've got it."
"Send us copies."
Brown wondered if they'd say goodbye to him.
"So long, Carella," Monroe said.
Monoghan said nothing. He followed his partner off, two black suits disappearing into the blackness of the night. The ME sighed, snapped his bag shut, and stood up. "I'm done here," he said. "She's yours."
"Okay to remove the wedding band?" Carella asked.
"She's no child bride," the ME said, as if Monroe's earlier remark had just registered. "Maybe twenty-two, twenty-three."
"Okay?" Carella asked again.
"Sure, go right ahead."
"Tell the paramedics I'll need a few minutes."
"Take your time," the ME said, and walked toward where a man and a woman in hospital gear were leaning against the ambulance. There was the incessant chatter of invisible insects on the soft night air. Carella knelt beside the dead girl.
Rings were often difficult to remove in the summertime, but this one came off with very little effort. He held it up to the light. There were three initials engraved inside the band: IHS.
"She's a nun," he almost whispered.
Copyright © 1999 by Hui Corp.