A Salvadorean Chinese man wearing a red Hebrew National apron with a black-checked kefiya around his neck and a Yankees hat on his head -- in short, a typical New Yorker -- jaywalked across Tenth Avenue at Fifty-second Street, contemplating, like so many of his fellow citizens, a minor offense. He was a food vendor, the January dusk was closing in, and he wanted to dispose of the considerable trash that had collected on his cart after twelve hours of dispensing edible garbage. He was supposed to carry it back to the cart depot, but he was now about to deposit a fat plastic bag in one of the row of trash cans he knew was kept behind the pizza joint across the street. The commercial trash collectors of the city were still recovering from a week of snow and ice, though, and he discovered that the five cans in the alleyway off Fifty-second were full, with bulging black bags stacked around them. The man looked over his shoulder to see whether anyone was watching and lifted up one of the bags. His plan was to secrete his own modest contribution behind one of these stinking blimps. Instead, he froze, goggling, and stumbled backward, knocking over one of the trash cans. Someone else had obviously had the same idea, because a dead baby was lying on top of the trash bag he had uncovered. It was slaty-blue, faceup, the little face shriveled like an old vegetable. It was a boy, with the exaggerated genitals of the neonate, and its long, ropy umbilical cord dragged down into the shadows beneath the trash.
"What's happening?" said a voice in Spanish behind him. A kitchen worker in whites and a cheap black parka stood behind him. The vendor was speechless. The kitchen man said, "Hey, man, what're you doing, kicking over my...," and then he saw the baby, too.
"Oh, shit!" said the kitchen man.
"Oh, shit, is right," said the vendor. He spoke both Spanish and Cantonese and was thus able to converse with nearly every low-level food-service worker in the city.
The kitchen man looked at him narrowly. "You didn't put that baby there, did you?"
"What're you, crazy? I just come here to stash my garbage from the wagon. That baby's been here awhile. Look, it's all blue and stiff."
"Poor little bastard! It's a boy, too," said the kitchen man. "Hey, man, where're you going?"
The vendor had turned away and was starting back toward Fifty-second. He paused and said, "I got to get back to my wagon, man."
"Hey, but we got to call the cops."
"You got a green card, man?" asked the vendor.
"Yeah, I got a green card."
"Well, you call the cops, then," said the vendor, and walked off.
What followed had happened well over a thousand times in the previous year, and already twenty in the current one, the digestion of a dead human by the bureaucracy established for that purpose. The police arrived, two patrolmen, who secured the crime scene and took an initial report from the kitchen man. Then the crime scene unit arrived in its van and examined the dead baby and its surround for clues. The baby was lying on some paper toweling, and they bagged that. Then the patrol sergeant arrived, and an ambulance from Bellevue, and shortly after that two detectives from the unit assigned to Midtown South. These looked at the baby and the scene and asked questions and found the Chinese Salvadorean vendor and yelled at him a little. Then the ambo took the dead baby away to the morgue. The next morning, an assistant medical examiner autopsied Baby Boy Doe Number One and discovered that it had died of exposure. Since exposing a baby to January weather in New York falls under the section of the homicide statute having to do with death resulting from a depraved indifference to human life, the death was ruled a homicide. The District Attorney's Office for the County of New York -- that is, the isle of Manhattan -- was duly notified, and thus it came, but only modestly, into the cognizance of the district attorney's chief assistant by means of a pair of lines on a computer printout. This printout was generated by the complaint bureau, an organization that was to the district attorney's office as the little ovoid plastic tube on the top is to the Cuisinart. The lines for Baby Boy Doe Number One indicated that this was a fresh case, that no arrests had been made on it. The chief assistant's name was Roger Karp, called Butch by everyone except his aged aunt Sophie.
Karp's eye moved on to the seventeen other people who had been killed in Manhattan since the beginning of the year. In ten of these, an arrest had been made, and these were naturally of greater interest to him. Karp had been doing this work for over twenty years. He had been a famous homicide prosecutor, and then the chief of the homicide bureau, and now he was the chief assistant district attorney, the operational head of the entire organization. He had not, he hoped, become callous, but he had a lot to do. The murder rate had risen rocketlike in recent years in pace with the citywide crack epidemic, and one more dead baby did not appear just then as pressing a matter as the legions of teenagers then roaming New York with heavy semiautomatic weapons. But he did not forget it, not entirely. Not forgetting the slain of Manhattan was one of his major talents.
That was the first dead baby. The second dead baby was found two days later, on January 12, by a track worker on the Broadway line, just south of the Ninety-sixth Street station. It was wrapped in newspapers and stuffed in a supermarket shopping bag. The complexion of the first dead baby suggested it was Hispanic, and this one was a girl and black. The track worker had called the cops immediately. A different team of detectives arrived, and another crime scene unit arrived, who collected and tagged the newspaper wrapping and the grocery bag. Service on the Broadway line was delayed for several hours, as a result of which the second dead baby created somewhat more of a media stir than the first one had. On autopsy, the second dead baby proved to have been smothered, and thus after the usual grinding, Baby Girl Doe Number One also appeared as a homicide line on Karp's daily computer printout, along with the four other people who had been killed (all drug-related shootings) since the last time he had looked. Baby Girl Doe Number One attracted rather more of his attention than her predecessor. Karp was not a political creature -- far from it. Still, Karp understood that the New York DA's office existed in a corrosive bath of media attention, and two murdered babies in a week was perhaps unusual even for the Big Apple. He paused and made a note to give his boss, DA Jack Keegan, a heads-up, so that he would be prepared for any questions should one of the city's many journalists choose to do a bleeding-heart piece.
That note proved, in the event, somewhat de trop, because on January 17, the third dead baby appeared. The third dead baby was different, and different for reasons peculiar to New York. On the late afternoon of that day, a young man named Raul Jimenez, a communications student at the Tisch School of New York University, was walking along 112th Street near Lexington Avenue. He was working on a school assignment, which was to make a three-minute video on "animals in the city." Jimenez had grown up in this neighborhood, had avoided, more or less, the drugs, gangs, and cops, and was now rising, but rising, he felt, with an edge. The other kids were going to do pigeons, puppies, and squirrels, he figured, while he was going to do bad dogs. It had lately become fashionable among the guapos on the street to keep large, nasty dogs, pit bulls or ridgebacks or rotties. Given the average life span of this class of person, and their average level of responsibility, many of their pets were abandoned, scavenging in garbage for food, menacing people, and usually ending up gassed in the pound or shot by the police. These feral dogs of Spanish Harlem were Jimenez's subject, and the location he now gingerly approached was a burnt-out building and an adjoining vacant rubble-field, where he knew the beasts congregated.
He heard a scrabbling sound and a growling from the rubble. Slipping through a gap in the ragged chain-link fence, he advanced cautiously, holding his Panasonic VHS camcorder up to his eye. Movement. Louder growling, a real dogfight, now. He came closer, correcting the focus. A white pit bull and an emaciated, mangy young Doberman were fighting over some garbage. The Dobe retreated, snarling. Perfect, thought Jimenez, good action, the contrast between the colors of the dogs, perfect. He used the zoom to close in on the pit bull, at what the dog was eating. Bile rose in his throat, but he kept the camera going. Suddenly the Doberman lunged and grabbed a piece. That was the beauty shot. The pit bull heaved harder and trotted away with its prize, leaving just a small piece for its rival, and vanished down into the weed-grown cellar of the former tenement. Jimenez sat down on the bricks and threw up his lunch. Later that day he brought the tape to his professor, who helped him negotiate the sale to NBC and the Post. The network used a doctored version of the tape that evening, with blur zones to water down the awfulness and also on advice from legal, but the Post gave it a full front page that evening: under the headline horror! a picture of two dogs, one black, one white, tearing apart a baby in the city of New York in the last decade of the twentieth century.
Karp was, as it happened, working late that day. His wife and daughter were out at his daughter's school for some event, and his seven-year-old twin boys were being taken out for pizzas by their nursemaid and her boyfriend. Karp was, in fact, a workaholic, but he thought he had it under control. Yes, he got to work at seven and worked weekends, but he dined with his family nearly every evening and saw his wife and children at least once each day. The job he had -- managing a system that ate three hundred thousand serious crimes each year including three murders a day, with over four hundred assistant district attorneys -- was frankly impossible to do; it would have consumed any three people. Nor was it one he particularly liked, although he had become fairly good at it. What Karp liked to do was try murder cases, and he was very good at that. With the recent increase in workload, Karp had acquired his own secretary, an Irish girl named Flynn, and a special assistant, a willing infant named Gilbert Murrow, and a nice many-windowed office in the DA's suite on the eighth floor of 100 Centre Street, the New York County courthouse.
Karp had never imagined himself as the sort of person who had special assistants, but he had swiftly become used to the pleasures thereof. Murrow was quiet, efficient, good-humored, and relatively free of the mental diseases to which special assistants were susceptible, such as megalomania and paranoia. He was fresh out of law school but had not taken the bar and was wondering whether, in fact, lawyering was really his thing after all, so this job suited both him and his boss. Murrow lived in a tiny cubicle outside Karp's office, summonable by a bellow.
Karp bellowed now. No answer. He punched the intercom button: "Flynn, where's Murrow?" No answer. He looked at his watch: five past six. They wouldn't have simply gone home without telling him, hence a mystery. Karp rose, stretched; a remarkable sight, this, for he was over six feet five inches tall, still reasonably lanky in his mid-forties. He walked out of his office, observed without surprise that Flynn was not at her desk, and proceeded to the DA's outer office, where he found that Mary Margaret O'Malley, the DA's secretary, was not at her desk either, which was rather more surprising. He recalled that the DA himself was busy upstate at some political do. There were sounds emanating from behind the paneled doors of the DA's office proper. Karp went in.
Murrow, Flynn, O'Malley, and a few other late-staying eighth-floor workers were grouped around the DA's huge TV. Karp noted with astonishment that O'Malley, a hefty woman with jaw and hair of iron, was dabbing at her eyes, although the rumor had it that O'Malley had shed her last tear on the occasion of JFK's assassination. A couple of anchors were on the screen, looking grave. Somebody's been shot, was Karp's immediate thought: the president, the DA...
"What's going on, O'Malley?" Karp asked.
"It's horrible, Butch," she said. "Unbelievable, in this day and age. I beeped him already, he should be calling any minute now."
Karp was about to ask again what was going on when the screen changed and flashed the startling Post front page: HORROR! Then, a talking head began talking about the decline of morality among the young and conflating the recent years of teenaged gunplay with the murder of babies: now the girls were getting into it, too, was the conclusion. Somebody flicked the remote at the screen, the channel changed to NBC, and Karp got to see the Jimenez tape, slowed down to provide more news, the Doberman tearing away a white blur that was clearly a baby's arm. Then the news moved on to other things, and the group stood around the noble office, gasping and murmuring.
Murrow said, to no one in particular, "This is a going to be a firestorm. Unbelievable!" Karp felt the eyes of the room on him. He looked at Murrow and frowned unconsciously, both because of the remark and because of Murrow's dress, which was a hairy tweed sports jacket worn over a navy sleeveless sweater, a foulard bow tie, tan whipcord trousers, and shiny Weejuns loafers. This was not how Karp thought junior staff members should dress. (Murrow had shown up for work one day in a red brocade waistcoat with shiny buttons. Karp did not say anything to him about it, but had stared at him throughout that day as if observing a particularly gruesome traffic accident, and the item had not reappeared.) Karp himself was not interested in clothes and always wore the same outfit: a dark, pin-striped, single-breasted suit, of appropriate weight for the season, a white shirt, a tie with some infinitesimal dark pattern, and highly shined black shoes. Despite this civilized apparel, Karp often looked as though he should be unshaven and wearing crossed bandoliers. He had the roundheaded, flat-faced, high-cheekboned, quasi-oriental look of his maternal ancestors, a rapacious band of Odessa Jews, horse traders, petty criminals, and head-breakers. His eyes were gray, with peculiar yellow flecks, and were used to good effect in his famous laser stare. Around the office, Karp was considered cold, and something of a stiff, since he failed to find incompetence amusing. It made him grind his teeth and look fierce and stare unforgivingly. Among his few close friends and with his family, however, Karp was a different man, humorous, a dead-on mimic, boyish, occasionally goofy, a peaceable man actually, and quite even-tempered. It was not his fault that he looked like Ivan the Terrible's first cousin. (His wife, on the other hand, looked like a Bernini angel, but she had a short fuse and occasionally shot people with a pistol in disagreements. Yet another thing that was not fair.) Meanwhile, Murrow, who did not understand this, writhed under the stare.
"I mean," said he, gulping, "the press is going to be all over this. It's not going to go away."
"And, what? Do you think we should be extrahard on infanticidal mothers because a dead baby got chewed up by dogs on the TV?"
"No, but...," said Murrow, and he concluded weakly, stammering, "but, we have to do, or say, something. Don't we?"
"We do," said Karp. "In about two minutes, Mr. Keegan will be calling here, and he will order me to coordinate the office's response to that garbage. I want you to go down to Bill McHenry's shop and see what they're doing. We'll need a press statement from him tonight, and Mr. Keegan will want to be on one of the morning shows tomorrow, saying something suitably grave and meaningless. Get them to prepare some talking points for that. And, Murrow?" The young man was already preparing to dash. "Stir them up. Public affairs people, you know, they like to sit around in stained bathrobes, chatting to their pals on the phone and eating nougat. Not this time, okay? Let us have zeal."
"Got it. Zeal. No nougat."
Murrow vanished. Karp looked around and made shooing motions. "Go home, people, show's over." The room cleared of everyone but the two secretaries. Karp turned to his and said, "Flynn, why don't you call One PP and find Chief Torricelli for me. Tell him I'd like to discuss the dog problem in the city." Flynn nodded and departed. Karp rolled his eyes at O'Malley and stood like a lawn jockey, his hand out, palm upward. They waited. Almost immediately the phone chirruped. O'Malley picked up the extension on the side table near the TV. She said, "Mr. Keegan's office....Yes, sir, he's right here," and slapped the receiver into Karp's waiting palm like the runner does in the four-forty relays.
"Jesus! What a mess!" said the DA. "I talked to the commissioner already. We've decided to issue a joint statement tonight. Did you...?"
"As we speak. We should have a draft in about an hour. I'm looking for the chief of D, too."
"Good. You're handling it personally, the public affairs?"
"Personally," lied Karp.
"Okay, good. Any thoughts?"
"On the tape? Hell, Jack, right now it's an animal-control matter, not a DA thing at all. If we find it's an actual infanticide, i.e., the kid wasn't born dead or expired of natural causes, then we can start thinking about what to do. I assume you got my note on the other two?"
"Yeah, yeah, I did. Sweet Jesus, what ever happened to the basket left with the nuns?"
"What ever happened to switchblades and brass knuckles? Now they use machine pistols in gang fights. It's a changed world, Jack."
"I know it, and frankly, it stinks. Look, we're going to come under a shitload of pressure to crucify the poor godforsaken ladies responsible for these. That damned tape and that picture! The bleeding hearts and the string-'em-up crowd will be holding hands and yelling in chorus. This one's on you, boyo, by the way. Tight security, no leaks, and tell the cops that, too. I'm going to do some shifty moves until we get the mothers and see what's what."
"It could be the fathers, you know."
"Oh, it's always the mothers, this young. The fathers kill them when they're older. Look, I'm going to be tied up here for a while, and then figure I'll be by there around nine. We'll talk to the press about ten from Centre Street. You're staying to follow up, I presume."
"Yeah, Marlene and Lucy are up at some shindig at Sacred Heart. I was going to stay late anyway. Lucky for me."
"Ha! Sacred Heart, huh? Is she armed?"
"Christ! Better start praying she doesn't shoot a nun. It'd be the end of a perfect day."
There were no obvious nuns in the ballroom of the Convent of the Sacred Heart this evening. The mesdames had never gone in much for elaborate habits, and now they had settled into dowdy outfits with big plain wooden crosses around their necks. In any case, most of the teachers at Sacred Heart were now laypeople. It was part of the new Church, clearly, and Marlene, of course, approved of all that on an intellectual level, but still, there was something dissatisfying about all that earnest wrestling with celibacy and abortion and homosexuality and liturgy. Marlene had never paid much attention to the specific moral dictates of the Church during her girlhood, but she had respected the magic and welcomed the forgiveness, which she had certainly required in inordinate measure. The first time Marlene had seen this room, she had been fourteen, a brilliant little barbarian from Queens, and it had seemed to her the anteroom to paradise. She sipped her tepid coffee now and looked around at it. It was, famously, one of the most beautiful rooms in the city, high-ceilinged, floored with golden parquet, fitted with great Palladian windows and a noble fireplace, all perfectly proportioned and harmonious, as befitted the Renaissance palazzo from which it was copied. The space was an education in itself. Tonight it was full of alumnae and faculty, and rich people who might support the institution, circulating gently amid civilized conversation and soft music from a student string quartet. Marlene had not been a very good alumna in years past, but had resolved, upon her daughter's entry here, to improve, and she had.
She wandered down to the end of the room and studied her reflection in the great oval mirror above the fireplace. She was wearing her plum-colored Karl Lagerfeld suit, the most elegant outfit she owned. It fit perfectly, with the added benefit that the lush cut and heavy fabric quite concealed the thin nine-millimeter pistol on her left hip. On her lapel hung a sticker that read "Marlene Ciampi -- '64." She'd had her hair done, too; it fell richly to her shoulders, a great faux-casual mass of crow-black curls, artfully designed to cast a heavy shadow over the right side of her face, where the eye was glass. She had already this evening met some of the girls she had gone to school with, and she wondered if she looked as good as the ones who looked good or more like the ones who did not and reflected yet again upon Camus's dictum that people over forty were responsible for their own face. She, with the help of various bad guys, certainly was. As she so mused, a voice behind her said:
Foeda est in coitu et brevis voluptas
Et taedet Veneris statim peractae.
Marlene spun around. Before her stood a plumpish woman of just her own height and age, with an unruly mass of red-gold hair frizzing out of her head, and a broad, big-toothed grin on her freckled face.
"Good God! It's Shanahan!" cried Marlene.
"Champ!" shrieked the woman, and they leaped into each other's arms.
"Wow, let me look at you," said Maureen Shanahan, pulling back and looking Marlene over. "Still gorgeous, curse you. What happened to you? You never come to these things."
"I always come to these things. I'm very socially responsible, as you'll recall, except when I used to hang out with you. I figured you'd remember the Petronius."
"God, yes! We thought we were so clever finding it and offering it for our free translation, not realizing -- "
"We were only the four thousandth nasty Sacred Heart girl to find that thing since the foundation. My God, I'm glad to see you! You won't believe this, but a week doesn't go by when I don't think of you."
"Maureen, that's crazy. Why didn't you call? I'm in the book. Or send a card? You're the orphan. I had no way to get in touch with you."
"I thought you hated me."
"What! Why would you think that?"
"Oh, you know, the last time we saw each other. Me and Ron..."
Marlene laughed. "Oh, God, that! The Odious Ron." She slapped her hand to her mouth. "Oh, Jesus, I'm sorry..."
"No, it's perfectly all right. The Odious Ron and I have parted ways. And you were absolutely right on about him. I put him through med school, produced two kids, and he dumped me for the usual beauteous intern. Pathetic and banal. The truth is...God, I don't know what the truth is. Ashamed? Embarrassed? Stupid? Ron was pretty good at cutting me off from my past life. Jesus, with you in particular it was hate at first sight."
"Likewise," said Marlene, and they laughed.
"Jeepers," said Shanahan, "I can't believe I'm standing here in the ballroom talking to Marlene Ciampi. What is it, eighteen, twenty years?"
"Or thereabouts, but who's counting? So what're you doing, Shans? You said you had kids?"
"Yeah, David and Shannon. David's a freshman at Georgetown law, Shannon's a senior, she's applying to colleges, if you can believe it. My baby. We live in Sherwood. It's just outside of Wilmington. You want to die of boredom? I have a walletful of pictures."
Marlene looked around the room, mock-furtive. "Do you think we could sneak out for a drink?"
Shanahan giggled. "I don't see why not. It never bothered us when we were juniors, and I doubt we'll get carded, although if we did, it would make my year."
"Great! We'll go to Hoyle's on Lex."
"Hoyle's is still there?"
"Oh, they couldn't close Hoyle's. Their French 75 is on the national register of historic treasures. Come with me, I have to go tell my daughter." Marlene clutched her friend's arm and together they left the ballroom and walked through the familiar halls to the Fifth Avenue lobby, where a table had been set up to welcome the alumnae and other supporters of the school. Behind the table were two sixteen-year-old girls, one a round-faced, pink-cheeked Chinese with small wire-frame glasses, a traditional bowl-cut hairdo, and a look of supernatural intelligence in her eyes. The other was a tall, thin, sallow girl with a punkish crew-cut and a hawk nose. Both girls were dressed in black jumpers with white collars showing.
Marlene said, "Girls, this is Maureen Shanahan, my best friend from high school. I haven't seen her in centuries and we're going to go out for a drink. Maureen, my daughter, Lucy Karp, and her friend Mary Ma."
Both girls rose and shook hands correctly. Shanahan looked at Lucy with some interest and was startled by the girl's return look, an unnaturally mature appraising gaze. Her eyes were startling, too: slightly aslant, large, and the color of Virginia tobacco. She looked nothing at all like her mother, except for the broad forehead and the heavy, straight eyebrows. It was not a girl-pretty face, but a memorable one, striking and severe, like that of a young saint rimmed with faded gold leaf on an icon.
Shanahan became aware she was staring and pulled her eyes away and started some chitchat with the two girls. Marlene was rummaging in her bag. "You'll need cab fare."
"We'll take the subway, Mom," said Lucy.
"Are you sure? It'll be late."
This was said with such a tone of forbearance, as to a dotard, that Marlene shrugged and put her wallet away. She looked around. "Where's Caitlin?"
"She had a rehearsal tonight," said Lucy. "Her folks came, though." Several people arrived to ask for directions, and Lucy turned to help them. The women retrieved their coats (a black leather trench coat for Marlene, a quilted nylon, knee-length thing, lavender with a fur collar, for Shanahan) and took their leave of the girls. The evening was chill and damp; the lamps on Fifth wore misty halos. They walked east on 91st Street.
"She's beautiful, Marlene," said Shanahan.
"Hah! According to her, she's dog food. I've given up trying, and I refuse to accept any blame at all for that haircut. She worships Laurie Anderson. Of course, I explained to her that it's one thing if you have a little round face with tiny gamine features...but does she listen? I wash my hands."
"It's a stage. Who's Caitlin?"
"Caitlin Maxwell, the other side of the triangle. The cabal. She's a ballet dancer, apparently a budding star. An exquisite creature in the bargain. I think the other two have something of a crush. Rich as God, too, the dad is some sort of Wall Street tycoon." Marlene sighed. "You know, they're terrific kids, and all -- by the way, Mary is also a little unusual, she does matrix algebra in her head, according to Lucy, not that I know what that means, but she's on full scholarship and MIT is already interested, but...sometimes I wish she would just hang out with regular kids."
"Kids have cliques. We did, if you recall."
"So I keep telling myself, and I would believe it if she was a normal kid, because as you'll also recall, I was something of a handful at that age, but Lucy is a little off the charts in a number of respects."
"So speaks every mother."
"Yeah, but in my case it happens to be true. It turns out she's a language prodigy."
"A language prodigy. Give her a dictionary and a grammar and seventy-two hours with a native speaker and she's essentially indistinguishable from someone who's spoken the language since birth. There's a whole laboratory over at Columbia P and S devoted to studying her brain."
"Really? But, Champ, that's marvelous! How many does she speak?"
"Oh, a dozen or so," said Marlene carelessly. "I can't keep track. And I suppose if I'd been a real nurturing mom, like, for example, the Mrs. Maxwell who's always being thrown in my face, I could have focused on her gift and got her past the thinking she was some kind of freak. But, given my chosen profession, she's had kind of a rough time of it, and I think she harbors resentment."
"You mean because you're a lawyer?"
Marlene looked sideways at her companion. "I'm not exactly a lawyer, Shans. Oh, right, you're not in the city anymore, so you wouldn't know."
"I wouldn't know? What, you're famous?"
"Infamous, actually. I run a security service for women who're being stalked. You know those vet ads where they say 'practice restricted to large animals'? Well, my practice is restricted to women in serious danger of getting killed. Keep walking, Shanahan, and don't goggle at me. Anyway, as a result of this, the loved ones sometimes get testy and go for me. Or Lucy. To make a long story short, she's been involved in a couple of shootings, she's been kidnapped twice, and I've had to shoot some bad guys, once right in front of Lucy. That doesn't count the clients who've decided to shoot the loved ones rather than be killed themselves."
"Wait a minute, you've actually killed people?"
"Only three. Here's Hoyle's. Still want to drink with me?"
"Are you kidding? Line 'em up! I'm shaking like a leaf."
Hoyle's was three steps down and about thirty feet long, dark and cozy, smelling of Manhattan saloon, with a long, shiny walnut bar, a banquette along one wall, ten round tables, and a tiny stage with a piano at one end. A young woman was playing "Paper Moon" with a lot of nice glissando as they entered and picked out a booth. The place was half full, mostly East Side singles and a few older couples. There were no Sacred Heart girls in evidence, nor were Shanahan and Marlene carded, nor did the waitress raise an eyebrow when, stifling giggles, they ordered French 75s.
Oiled by the confiding atmosphere of the boite, and half-pints of low-end champagne spiked with shots of cognac, and her genuine delight in finding her old friend, Marlene found herself talking about her more memorable cases in some detail, which she rarely did, and the occasional celebrity-protection jobs she had taken under the auspices of Osborne, a local security firm. She dropped some substantial names. It was nice having an appreciative audience; most of Marlene's near-and-dear did not approve of any of this.
Which prompted the obvious question. "What does your husband think of what you do?" asked Shanahan, after the tale of a particularly naughty caper. "Christ, I don't even know who you married. Or is he still around?"
"Oh, he's around all right. His name's Roger Karp. We call him Butch. He's the chief assistant district attorney for New York County."
Shanahan burst into laughter. "You're shooting people and running guns to women and you're married to the DA? Champ, only you! How do you carry it off?"
"Not very well, from time to time." Marlene gestured to the waitress for another round. "There's tension, of course. The way we work it is, he doesn't ask questions, and I try not to rub his face in it too much. But you can figure it hasn't done Lucy any good."
"Yeah, but at least you're still together. What's he like, Butch? God, nobody's a Butch anymore. Isn't it sort of a turn-of-the-century name?"
"Well, yeah, but he's sort of a turn-of-the-century guy. Very different from the guys I hung out with back then, by the way. You'll recall I went for crazy Irishmen with swimming-pool eyes and tight little bodies."
Marlene cried out and covered her face. "Oh, Christ, how could you! Do you realize the mental energy I have devoted over the years to forgetting that jerk? And now I have to start all over again."
"I take it Karp is not a crazy little Irishman."
"An immense, serious Jew, since you ask. And the next obvious question is, why him, and so against my usual type." Marlene paused and drank deeply and was silent, staring at the piano player, who was doing "Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most."
"And the answer?"
"Ah, the answer," said Marlene, smiling. "The answer is a mystery, like the Holy Trinity. As for the mere facts: We worked in the same office. He was a star; I admired, but nothing particularly groin-involved. His wife ditched him. We were at an office party and he got drunk. He can't drink at all. I helped him get home. The next thing I knew -- and believe me, Shans, I didn't plan this and I didn't particularly want it -- the next thing we were in the shower together, and the rest is history. Oh, yeah, I got blown up by a bomb and he got shot and kidnapped, and I got kidnapped, too, and we helped each other out, which tended to bring us a little closer than we would have been ordinarily. And I got pregnant with Lucy, and so we got married. Not a trip to the moon on gossamer wings, but something...I don't know, I didn't expect, not for me. We fight like crazy, but we're still together. He's a remarkable man. You'll meet him, you'll see for yourself."
"Marlene, this is stupefying stuff. Blown up? Kidnapped?"
"But enough of me," said Marlene with a laugh.
"Tell me about groin-involved?"
"No, really, what about you? You severed the Odious, and what? You're practicing down there?"
"Yeah, criminal law, mostly court-appointed counsel, you know, the usual hopeless mopes." Maureen laughed. "Yes, right, old softy Shanahan."
"I remember the sick pigeon."
"Yeah, I brought it in from the cold and it died in my locker. The story of my life. In any case, I have recently achieved, for once, a fair level of racy notoriety, and I was reasonably full of myself, but compared to you, I feel like I'm doing wills and conveyances in Gumboro."
"A fair level...?"
"Yeah, I'm defending Sarah Goldfarb....What? You don't recognize the name? Oh, God, now I'm totally crushed. Marlene, it was on national TV, it was in Time, it was in Newsweek..."
Marlene was shaking her head. "I'm sorry, Shans, I can't place her."
"A couple of teenagers went to a motel, the girl had a baby, the baby ended up in the Dumpster -- "
"Oh, God, that one!"
"Wow, Shans, that's pretty high-profile. I am impressed. How did you happen to land it?"
"Oh, another long boring story. After they were arrested, someone at Mr. Goldfarb's work recommended a lawyer, a guy named Slotkin, and at the same time, the boy's parents hired their own lawyer, this Loreno character -- "
"Yeah, do you know him?"
"Slightly. Butch knows him fairly well. He used to be with the DA. Go on."
"Okay, the incident occurred last November. The kids have been in jail since then, because the state charged them with capital murder."
"Capital murder? For infanticide? That's loony!"
"Tell me about it! It's a classic case of prosecutorial overkill. The state's attorney has been bloviating to the local press practically since the arrest, and the attorney general's appeared on a national talk show. The AG's a woman, I guess she wants to demonstrate the girls can be tough, too, or maybe she wants to be governor. In any case, to start off they had a joint defense agreement, Slotkin and Loreno, but meanwhile my kid is still in jail, and the Goldfarbs are getting nervous. Their guy doesn't seem to be doing anything, he's letting Loreno take the lead. The boy did the actual dumping, of course, so he's under the gun and maybe getting set to play a little hardball. I happened to know the girl's aunt, also a lawyer, but corporate, and she called me and asked me to talk to the parents. I did, I got the story as far as they knew it, I saw Slotkin, who didn't know his ass from a hole in the ground in a case like this, I saw Sarah, and I said I'd take the case."
"I assume from this the kid is simpatico?"
"Muy simpática. Honestly, Champ, a puppy who wandered out in front of a truck. Bright, sweet, helpless -- born yesterday."
"Not like us," said Marlene.
"No, not like us, but the last time I looked, poor judgment wasn't a hanging offense."
"How did the baby die?"
"Good question, and one the state never bothered to ask very seriously. The autopsy was a total botch. From what it looks like now, the poor thing never lived. Sarah was eclamptic and in convulsions during delivery. The boy said the baby was blue and never moved, didn't cry, didn't seem to be breathing, so the stupe bagged it and tossed it in the Dumpster. All he had to do was call 911 and yell for help."
"Why didn't he?"
"Oh, well, therein hangs the tale. All of this, the whole sad mess, came about because Sarah Goldfarb didn't want to tell her mommy she was knocked up."
"Don't tell me! She was hoping it would go away by itself."
"That, too. Her story is, she didn't know she was that pregnant. She had a medical exam a few months before and the doc didn't find any pregnancy, even though in fact she was six months gone by then, and also she was spotting, and she figured, 'Oh, my period, hallelujah!' So when she went into that motel, she thought she was at the most sixteen weeks gone. She thought she was having a miscarriage."
"Shans, excuse me, but that's somewhat hard to believe. She was full term and she didn't know? Nobody noticed?"
"Champ, I got photos -- she never showed during her pregnancy. And I got a sheaf of clippings like this" -- Shanahan held up her hand, the fingers stretched as if to grasp a Manhattan phone book -- "about girls delivering babies no one knew they were carrying. They sit on the toilet, they think it was something they ate, and then splash, wah! wah! It makes you want to cry. And this kid, Sarah -- all right, from a middle-class family, educated and all, but emotionally? I don't know: seven years old, eight? You have to see it to believe it. The kid was preeclamptic and suffering for months and wouldn't go to a doctor because she always went to the doctor with Mommy, and even if she went herself, she figured her mom would somehow find out and she was more afraid of her mom finding out than she was about maybe dying."
Marlene drained her glass and was motioning for a third when her friend said, "Whoa! I got to be at Penn Station in forty minutes. If I have another, I'll end up in Disneyland."
"Don't be silly! We'll get shit-faced and you can stay over at our place. We'll scandalize the children."
"Honestly, I wish I could, but I have pleadings in the morning and this judge is a bear. Another time, huh?"
A hurried exchange of addresses and phone numbers, hugs and kisses, and then Marlene watched her friend depart in a cab. She stood there on Lexington for a while watching the cab disappear into the traffic. Then she walked slowly west on 91st to where her car, an elderly orange Volvo DL, was parked. Marlene had a sticker on her window announcing that she was a retired NYPD officer, a gift from one of her numerous pals on the job, which protected her from being ticketed for any but the most flagrant parking violations. The school, she saw, was dark and deserted now.
A deep grunt sounded from the backseat, and she felt hot, damp breath on her neck at she settled into the driver's seat. In her rearview she met the red eyes of an immense black Neapolitan mastiff.
She started the car and said, "Yes, I was longer than I planned, Sweety, but I met my old best friend from high school." Growl, low. "Oh, you're my best friend now, Sweets, but that was then. It was extremely pleasant. It made me feel like a real person, a respectable Sacred Heart alumna. It struck me that nearly all of my most intimate recent pals are people who have for various reasons killed other people. Birds of a feather, right? But I'm tired, Sweets. Of the life. I think I want a different life."
Copyright © 2000 by Robert K. Tannenbaum