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CHAPTER 8

The rear office was flooded with morning light. Charles thought the room temperature had chilled by a few degrees since he had last looked in, but little else had changed. Mallory was still averting her eyes from the paper storm on her cork wall, an anathema to someone who straightened paintings in other people’s houses. She sat at a metal workstation, but no longer communed with her network of computers. The three machines hummed amongst themselves while she leafed through Louis Markowitz’s old notebook. The only human sound was the tap of Lars Geldorf s pacing shoes.

Impatient to begin the day, the retired detective removed his suit jacket and loosened his tie, but this clue was lost on her. Occasionally, she looked up from her reading to watch his travels about the room – her room – as he inspected metal shelves stocked with electronics. Geldorf wore a brave pretender’s smile and nodded in a knowing way, though he had no idea what her machines could do. They were new, and he was old.

She rose from her chair and approached the cork wall to stand before a haphazard arrangement of crime-scene photographs. Charles observed tension in her face, a small war going on at the core of her as she struggled with the urge to place every bit of paper at perfect right angles to the next.

Lars Geldorf hurried across the room to join her. And now Charles understood what the last fifteen minutes of silence had been about. Mallory was teaching the old man to follow her lead. There should never be any doubt about the hierarchy in this room, and Geldorf should not call her honey one more time. Charles decided that she must like the old man, for this was the mildest and most drawn-out show of contempt in her repertoire.

She lifted the edge of a grainy photograph to expose a small square one pinned beneath it. Then she looked under the other eight-by-ten formats in this group, each one covering a picture from an instant camera. ‘All you’ve got are Polaroids and blowups.’

‘Yeah,’ said Geldorf. ‘So?’

‘Where are the originals?’

‘That’s all of’em, kid.’

‘Mallory,’ she corrected him.

‘Suppose I call you Kathy?’

‘Don’t.’ And that was a threat. ‘So there was no police photographer on the scene?’

‘Yeah, we had one, a civilian. But he didn’t last three minutes.’ Geldorf waved one hand to include all the images of a hanged woman, two days dead in the heat of August, an incubator of maggots. ‘The photographer got sick and dropped his camera. We couldn’t get it to work after that. So we borrowed one from a neighbor.’

Mallory stared at a shot of the hanging rope draped over a light fixture. ‘What’s that brown smear on the ceiling?’

‘Bugs on their way to a meal,’ said Geldorf. ‘Cockroaches love their grease. And here.’ One bony finger pointed to another photograph depicting a large brown glob on the kitchen floor.

‘Roaches swarming over a frying pan.’ He squinted. ‘You see those little logs on the floor? Those are sausages and more bugs. The ceiling light was coming loose and cracking the plaster. Must’ve been a nest of’em up there. I had more blow-ups made.’

Geldorf edged a few steps down the wall, where the medical examiner’s materials were grouped together. He perused the pictures of flies hanging with their spawn. ‘Charles? What did you do with my best cockroaches?’

‘They’re pinned up under the maggot pictures. Seemed like the only logical place for them.’

‘What?’ Mallory stared at him, clearly wondering where logic entered into this.

Geldorf answered for him. ‘Flies are the only useful bugs at a crime scene. Roaches can’t tell you nothin’.’

‘Right,’ said Charles. ‘So I pinned them up under the more useful – ’ There was not much point in finishing his thought, for Mallory had tuned him out. She was staring at her nails. Perhaps she had found a flaw in her manicure that would take precedence over an insect monologue.

She looked up. ‘Done? Good. Let’s get the roaches up front.’

When Charles had removed the covering pictures of flies and their larvae, Mallory appraised the giant cockroaches pouring out of the ceiling and making their way down the rope to the corpse. The photo that caught her attention was a shot of the victim’s apron and a rectangular stain spotted with brown insects.

Geldorf stepped close to the wall. ‘Looks like she dropped her frying pan in the scuffle and splattered the grease. There was a utility blackout at dusk, so – ’

‘No.’ Mallory looked down at the baseboard where the actual skillet leaned against the wall. She tapped the picture of the apron stain. ‘That’s not a grease spatter.’

Charles knew she was paraphrasing a line in Louis Markowitz’s old notebook, the words, No splash – a smear. Louis had found that observation worthy of an underscore but it was never explained until now. The two long edges of the rectangle were fairly well defined. This was not a splatter pattern.

Mallory turned to the retired detective. ‘Natalie was cooking a meal, maybe expecting company. You interviewed her friends?’

‘She didn’t have any,’ said Geldorf. ‘When she was married, her husband wouldn’t let her get a job. Never gave her any money. She hardly ever left the apartment. After the divorce, I guess she forgot how to make new friends.’ He stared at the close-up of the sausages on the floor. ‘It was probably a meal for one.’

Charles noted Mallory’s skepticism, then counted up the sausages. During a summer of utility blackouts that made refrigeration unreliable, Natalie Homer would not have purchased more food than she could eat at one sitting, and such a slender woman could not eat so many sausages – not by herself. Who was the dinner guest? He inclined his head toward the smaller man. ‘Natalie was also alienated from her family, right?’

‘Yeah,’ said Geldorf. ‘A year after she got married, her sister stopped talking to her. But that wasn’t in the statements. How’d you know?’

‘It fits a pattern of spousal abuse. Forced dependence, isolation.’ Charles turned to Mallory. ‘Her husband may have knocked her around a bit during the marriage.’

‘Right again,’ said Geldorf. ‘That’s what Natalie told me.’

Mallory’s voice was all suspicion now. ‘You talked to her?’

‘Yeah, of course I did. Twice, sometimes three times a week.’

‘I think I mentioned the stalking last night.’ Charles walked toward the center of the wall and a cluster of papers. ‘These are samples of her complaints.’ He unpinned the paperwork and handed her five stalker reports.

‘The trouble started right after her divorce.’ Geldorf leaned down to pick up an envelope propped against the baseboard. ‘This is the rest of’em.’

‘And after she died?’ Mallory stared at the thick envelope. ‘All those complaints – no leads on the stalker?’

‘She never saw the guy’s face,’ said Geldorf. ‘The first time she came in, we thought she was just paranoid. I mean, sure, men were gonna follow her around.’

‘Because she was pretty,’ said Mallory, though not one image on the wall could have told her that. In death, Natalie was grotesque.

‘She was beautiful.’ Geldorf bent down to the carton he had brought in that morning. He pulled out a brown paper bag and removed a packet of photographs. ‘I didn’t think these belonged with the evidence.’ He held up one smiling portrait of a young woman with blond hair falling past her shoulders. Natalie’s eyes were large and blue.

Mallory folded the envelope of complaints under one arm, then carried the pictures to a clear section of wall and pinned them up with machinelike precision, each border exactly the same distance from the next. ‘A pro took these shots.’

Charles agreed. The lighting was perfect, and the subject’s pose was not candid, but artful.

‘The photographer was another dead end,’ said Geldorf. ‘That woman was older than I am now.’

Mallory had yet to open the envelope of complaints. She merely hefted its weight in one hand. ‘Natalie spent a lot of time in your station house. A lot of time. When you figured out that she wasn’t paranoid – what then?’

‘We went after the ex-husband and told him to stay away from her. He was a cool one. Never owned up to nothin’.’

‘And after the murder?’

‘We hauled him in for questioning. But he had an alibi for the time of death. He was in Atlantic City all weekend. That’s where

he was gettin’ married to the next Mrs Homer. Jane was her name. They never left the hotel room all weekend. That’s what the staff said. But how much would it cost to buy an alibi from a maid and a bellboy? And the statement from the second wife, Jane – that was worthless. Two days married, and that bastard had her cowed.’

Mallory was not listening anymore. She had discovered one of the stalker’s notes in a clear plastic evidence bag. She took it down from the wall and stared at a brief message penciled on thin airmail paper. The letters were painstakingly drawn in varying sizes and scripts.

‘All seven of’em say the same thing,’ said Geldorf. ‘We figured they were traced from magazines. No newsprint smudges on the paper. Natalie found ‘em under her door at night when she got home from work. Be careful,’ said Geldorf, as she pulled them out of the bag. ‘That paper’s really fragile, and you don’t wanna smudge the pencil.’

Charles expected Mallory to be annoyed with this lecture on the handling of evidence, but she only stared at the paper, transfixed by the words, I touched you today.

Geldorf never noticed her reaction. Hands in his pockets, rocking on his heels, he stared at the photographs of the murder scene. ‘That kid photographer who dropped his camera – he wasn’t the only one who got sick that night. There was this young cop – the uniform who found the body – I can’t remember if it was Parris or Loman.’

Mallory looked up from her reading. He had her undivided attention now.

Geldorf continued, ‘We couldn’t get him back inside the apartment again. An hour later, he’s at the station house, still batting off flies and stomping his feet to shake roaches out of his pantlegs. Well, there weren’t any bugs on him – not one – not then, but he could still feel them. Oh, and the stink. You can’t take a picture of that. But you know what I remember best? I could hear it outside in the hall when I was walkin’ toward that apartment. When I opened the door – it was so loud, so many of ‘em. Scared the hell out of me.’ He closed his eyes. ‘I can hear it now. The roar of flies – thousands of flies.’

Sergeant Riker entered the office, arms laden with the bags of a delicatessen breakfast. ‘Did I miss anything?’

Riker lured Geldorf down the hall to the office kitchen with promises of coffee and food. After settling the deli bags on the table, he fumbled with the wrappings, hunting for a bacon-and-egg on white toast dripping with heart-attack grease. He spread the packages on a red-checked tablecloth, the only bit of charm to survive the ruthless takeover of Mallory’s machine decor.

After writing down the delicatessen’s phone number, he handed it to Geldorf. ‘Lose this and you’ll starve.’ While he and Mallory covertly worked on Sparrow’s case, Geldorf would have to fend for himself. Charles would be no help in foraging for food around the office; on principle, the man ignored all kitchen appliances with control panels more complex than the dashboard of his Mercedes.

‘Deluthe should’ve made the deli run. What good is a slave if he doesn’t do errands?’

Geldorf grinned. ‘Mallory’s got him chasing down personnel files for all the cops from my crime scene.’

‘Well, that should keep him occupied.’ A whiteshield in training pants would have to stand in line all day long at One Police Plaza. But Duck Boy’s report would reinforce the fiction that they were working on Natalie Homer’s murder. He handed a paper coffee cup to the retired detective. ‘I hear you’ve been working cold cases for six years. You missed the job, huh?’

‘Yeah, I like to keep – ’ Geldorf was facing the kitchen door when he stiffened slightly, then sat up very straight. This was Riker’s clue that Mallory was standing behind his own chair. Obviously, she had been training the help again. Every time she entered a room, Duck Boy had this same conditioned response.

She laid a stack of paperwork beside his coffee cup. Riker leafed through the familiar forms of citizen complaints. Natalie Homer had been a frequent visitor to her local police station. This was a replay of Lieutenant Loman’s squad making a station house pet of Kennedy Harper.

‘There’s a big gap in the dates for these complaints,’ she said.

Geldorf nodded. ‘The pervert gave her a breather. Two weeks later, he was stalking her again, and he was escalating. That’s when he started leaving those notes under her door. And phone calls – no conversation, and no heavy breathing either. I think he only wanted to hear her voice.’

Riker fished through his pockets for matches and cigarettes. ‘Was the ex-husband in town during those two weeks?’

‘Oh, yeah. The guy never missed a day of work at the post office. But I knew he was guilty.’

After emptying the cigarettes from his crumpled pack, Riker hunted for one that was not broken. ‘So you never developed other suspects.’

‘What for? Erik Homer did it,’ said Geldorf. ‘If only the bastard hadn’t up and died on me. He had a heart attack a year after the murder.’

Mallory laid down another sheet of paper. ‘This is the ex-husband’s statement. There’s just one line about Natalie’s son. How old was the boy when his mother died?’

‘Oh, six or seven. The kid’s father had sole custody. After the divorce, she never saw her son again.’

Mallory’s eyes locked with Riker’s. He nodded, holding the same thought: Natalie’s son would be twenty-six years old today, a prime age group for serial killers. He lit a cigarette, then exhaled and watched the smoke spiral up to the ceiling. ‘You know where that kid is now?’

Geldorf shook his head. ‘After his father died, the stepmother told me she gave the boy to Natalie’s sister – a cop hater. Zero cooperation.’

‘So she’s holding a grudge.’ Riker looked back at the kitchen counter, seeking something to pass for an ashtray. ‘All this time and no leads on her sister’s murder. I can’t blame her.’

‘Me either,’ said Geldorf. ‘But Natalie’s sister didn’t have the boy. That’s all she’d say. I figure she fobbed him off on another relative. A few months after I checked out the Cold Case file, I asked her to tell the kid that I never gave up on his mom. Then I left her alone.’

Riker stole a glance at Mallory. Was she also wondering if Lars Geldorf had triggered a murder spree?

The old man grinned at each of them in turn. ‘I know what you guys are thinking. You figure the boy’s grown up and gone psycho, right? You think he’s your perp for that hooker hanging?’ He shook his head. ‘How would he get the details? Only the killer could’ve told that little boy about the hair packed in his mother’s mouth. I don’t see his dad sharing that with him.’

Mallory pulled up a chair at the table. ‘So you never talked to the boy.’

‘No, there was no point in it.’ Geldorf rose from his chair. ‘I’ll be back in a minute.’

When the bathroom door had closed at the other end of the hall, Mallory handed Riker a twenty-year-old statement signed by a rookie patrolman. ‘Is that Lieutenant Loman’s first name? Harvey?’

Before Riker could respond, Jesus Christ, yes it is, Charles Butler entered the kitchen, saying, ‘I can tell you why Natalie had those photographs taken. It was an actress portfolio.’ He handed Riker a photocopy of a newspaper column. ‘I found that on microfiche at the library. It’s the only mention on the death of Natalie Homer.’

And the press had not wasted much type on the lying headline, Suicide. Riker skipped over the first dry lines and read the short story of Natalie Homer’s life and death. ‘„She served cocktails at a local bar from six o’clock till closing time.“‘ And every Wednesday afternoon she sat in the cheap seats of off-Broadway theaters, watching matinees in the dark and learning another trade. She was too poor to pay for acting lessons, so said her landlady. The rest of Natalie’s days were spent dogging miles of pavement, making the rounds of theatrical agencies that never found her any work. Every day she reminded them that she was still alive and still determined to make it in New York City. ‘ „That girl worked so hard,“ said the landlady. „She was tired all the time. You say that when you write about her. You say something nice.“‘ According to police sources, the young actress was found at the end of the day ‘ „at the end of a rope“.’

Mallory waited for Detective Janos at the address he had given her along with his promise that she would find it interesting, but he had said nothing about the actress connection, not within earshot of Lieutenant Coffey.

The lot next to the narrow building was a dusty construction site. The only structure was a portable restroom the size of an upended coffin, and a troupe of children formed a wriggling column at the door. The day-camp supervisor, a very tired woman, called out her thanks to the men in hard hats. Her young campers were making a toilet stop while roaming the neighborhood on a nature walk, though the flora of this East Village street was limited to scrawny city trees dying of heat and urine showers. And the wildlife only amounted to one dead squirrel in the gutter and a pigeon strolling down the sidewalk. The bird was followed closely by a homicide detective carrying a rolled newspaper. The children were impressed by the man’s large size and his brutal face. They laughed, pointing fingers like guns, and then used one another for human shields.

‘Hey, Mallory.’ Detective Janos joined her at the door of the narrow shop which now served as a makeshift theater for art films. ‘You were right. Everybody wants to be in show business. Kennedy Harper worked second shift. That left her days free for auditions.’

‘So she had an agent?’

‘No, she didn’t need one. There’s open auditions all over town.’ He handed her a page torn from an old copy of Backstage. ‘Heller found a sheet like this in her trash – ripped to shreds. I’m guessing the auditions didn’t go well.’ He handed her his rolled newspaper. ‘This is a recent edition.’

The pages were turned back to columns of dates and locations for open casting calls. ‘There’s at least five auditions a day.’

‘Not if you scratch the out-of-town locations and the song-and-dance gigs. More like one or two. I just came from an audition. Must’ve been a hundred actors standing in line on Spring Street. I figure that’s how he found Sparrow and Kennedy. He just walked down the line and picked out the blonde he liked best.’

‘So now we’re three for three,’ said Mallory. Natalie Homer, Kennedy Harper and Sparrow had all been aspiring actresses.

‘Yeah, and I think you’re right about consolidating the cases, but Coffey’s never gonna buy that. The boss figures our chances are better if we work the fresh hangings. And he’d go nuts if he knew I was here.’Janos’s implication was clear: there would be no more covert meetings. He turned to the grimy window of the Hole in the Wall Theater. ‘An actor in Sparrow’s play tipped us off to this place. They’re running a videotape of her dress rehearsal.’

A handmade poster taped to the window had retitled Chekhov’s play The Three Sisters as The Hanging Hooker. Alongside the poster was the attendant publicity. Front-page stories of New York tabloids had also given star billing to the comatose prostitute.

You’re famous, Sparrow. You made it.

And now, if only the whore would finish this dragged-out affair of her dying.

After Janos had walked back to his car, she paid the three-dollar admission at the door, then passed through a curtain to enter a dark room that stank of smoke and sweat. There were chairs for twenty, but only two other patrons watched the television monitor. One of the men rose from his chair, muttering, ‘Rip off.’ He was obviously disappointed that The Hanging Hooker was actually a classical play -no nudity and nothing lewd. The second man followed him out of the room, equally offended, leaving the detective to watch the video alone.

Only the keenest observer would have noticed the change in Mallory as her young face took on the conviction of a stubborn child. She sat very still, eyes fixed on the screen, a window she watched with great expectation – waiting for Sparrow. She had been waiting for years.

An elderly crone appeared on stage in company with a young actress, a beautiful girl so far removed from the drooling, eye-rolling dementia of the coma patient. The voice that filtered through Mallory’s shock was familiar and not.

‘Nothing ever happens the way we want it to – ’

Sparrow was dressed in the clothes she had worn to her hanging. The southern accent had been erased, and a gifted surgeon had made her too young for the part of Olga. Years had passed since Mallory had last checked up on Sparrow, and now she saw another change in this woman, something surgery could not provide. The whore was lit from within – fresh fire. Even Sparrow’s eyes had made a comeback, clear and bright, seeing the world for the first time – all over again, an encore of youth. This was what she had looked like on the night they first met.

And how old was I, Sparrow? Eight? Nine?

It was winter then, a sudden storm, and a feverish young Kathy Mallory had crawled into the last remaining telephone booth in New York City, the only one with a door that she could close against the stinging snow. She had fed money into the coin slots, a daily habit and the only constant of a childhood on the streets.

More than a thousand miles away and years away, a dying woman had written a telephone number on the little girl’s palm. All but the last four digits had been smudged off her hand before that terrible day had ended. Kathy continued to obey long after her mother had died. Though she had forgotten the reason for these telephone calls, she continued making up numbers to replace the three that were missing. Whenever she heard a feminine voice on the line, the child would become inexplicably hopeful and say the ritual words, It’s Kathy. I’m lost.

None of the startled women on the receiving end of these calls had known who she was, thus giving themselves away as impostors. That night, one of them had cried into the telephone, ‘Won’t you tell me who you are? How can I – ’

Click. And another connection was severed, another woman left in tears, and hope died. The child had become an addict of hope, and the best part of this game was that she could get it back again every day, any time she wanted it.

The fever had given way to violent chills. Her small hands were shaking as she tried her last coins, her last call, saying, ‘It’s Kathy. I’m lost.’

Out of a thousand women, only Sparrow had responded, ‘Where are you, baby? I’ll come get you.’ This had been said with the lilt of the Southland – so like a dead mother’s voice.

Anticipation had kept Kathy from giving into sleep and death while she waited for the Southerner to come and find her. The little girl’s eyes had begun to close when she saw a shadow on the other side of the fogged glass. It was coming for her, moving quickly, flying through the storm. The door opened, and a woman’s arms reached into the telephone booth to gather up the shivering child, warming Kathy with fake fur and perfumed body heat.

While the delirium lasted, the little girl believed that her dead mother had come to carry her home, and all that was lost had been restored. The night of the snowstorm, pressed up against the warm breast of a whore, was the happiest time that Kathy Mallory had ever known.

‘ – our life is not over yet,’ said the actress on the screen.

The summer heat was stifling in the small theater, yet the young detective remained in her seat after the play was done. Head bowed, she sat in absolute darkness, awaiting the video’s next run – so she could continue to nurse her deep hatred of Sparrow.

Riker had already made a case for combining the investigations, and he had lost. Mallory should have handled this, but she had failed to show, and this worried him. Coming late to any appointment was outside the pathology of a punctuality freak.

She was still wearing dark glasses when she entered Jack Coffey’s private office and pulled up a chair without waiting for an invitation to sit down. Riker smiled in the belief that she had picked up this bad habit from him.

Lieutenant Coffey leaned back in his chair, only glancing at his wristwatch to remind Mallory that she was late. ‘Riker tells me the scarecrow has a type – stage-struck blondes.’

‘Hmm. His victims were stand-ins for Natalie Homer.’ Mallory seemed almost bored as she leaned toward the stack of newspapers at the edge of the desk. ‘Her case is the key to the scarecrow’s hangings.’

The lieutenant was not rising to this bait, but it was early in the game, only round one by Riker’s reckoning. The boss kept his silence, expecting Mallory to elaborate. She picked up a newspaper, cast it aside after a minute, and opened another. After folding back a page, she glanced at Coffey, her eyebrows arching to ask him why he kept her waiting.

‘The scarecrow is a copycat, and a bad one,’ said the lieutenant. ‘He was nowhere near Natalie Homer’s crime scene.’

Did that sound defensive? Riker thought so.

‘And I say he was there.’ Mallory lowered her sunglasses to scan a column of newsprint that interested her more.

‘Too many things don’t fit,’ said Coffey, ‘all those candles, the wrong noose. I know this perp never saw that crime scene.’

‘I would’ve thought just the opposite,’ said a friendly voice, and Coffey spun his chair around to stare at the tall man whose head barely cleared the top of the door frame. Misunderstanding the look of surprise, Charles Butler glanced at his watch, saying, ‘Oh, sorry. I’m too early?’

The lieutenant would be wondering why a civilian had been invited to the briefing. Riker gave up on the idea of damage control and braced himself for a shouting match. It was predictable that Coffey would do all the yelling. Mallory would sit back and let the man knock himself out. And perhaps then she would drop the bomb of Lieutenant Loman’s presence on Natalie Homer’s crime scene.

There were no free chairs, and Charles Butler was always self-conscious about inadvertently dwarfing people and their furniture. He leaned against the glass wall, believing this would make him smaller and more polite. ‘The inconsistencies make sense to me.’

The lieutenant was forcing a smile. ‘So you’re siding with Mallory?’

What a damn surprise.

‘Yes,’ said Charles. ‘The scarecrow is working from a twenty-year-old memory – bound to be errors. At least, he has a fair idea of how many flies were at the original crime scene. I understand he brings them in ajar.’

Coffey turned an accusing eye on Mallory, but before he could nail her to the wall for this breach of case details, she said, ‘He’s our consulting psychologist. I know how much you hate the department shrink.’

The lieutenant nodded, for this was true. The consultant on call for Special Crimes was an incompetent hack and an irritant to the entire squad. A year ago, he had offered the job to Charles Butler only to discover that the city of New York could not afford a man with more than one PhD. ‘It’s just too bad we don’t have the budget for him.’

Riker had the distinct impression that the lieutenant was overacting.

‘Not a problem.’ Mallory was still working through the stack of newspapers. ‘He can’t earn any more money this quarter.’

‘Right,’ said Charles. ‘It’s a tax thing. I’m at your disposal, free of charge.’

The lieutenant was rightly distrustful of something for nothing, but he had not yet worked out the potential for treachery.

Mallory folded the last newspaper from the pile on the desk. ‘There’s nothing in here on Kennedy Harper. And the reporters botched the story on Sparrow’s hanging. They’re still calling it a hooker’s sex game. Sounds almost accidental. Charles thinks this will send the scarecrow into a homicidal rage. The next kill could be any day now.’

Riker could see that this opinion was a big surprise to her new consulting psychologist.

‘If you believe the papers,’ she said, ‘the only women at risk are hookers. It’s time to go public’

‘All right,’ said Coffey, ‘we’ll give the actresses a sporting chance to stay alive.’ He turned to face his generous gift from Mallory – Charles Butler. ‘Let’s say you’re right about the scarecrow being pissed off. Why doesn’t he call the media and set them straight?’

‘It’s just my impression, but I think he wants the police to work it out.’

‘And he’s stalking the next victim right now,’ said Mallory. ‘We need the public tip lines up and running.’

Coffey shook his head. ‘We don’t have to panic every blonde in the city – only women who fit the profile. And we’re not gonna mention the Cold Case file to the press.’ He turned to Charles Butler. ‘Any more ideas about the scarecrow?’

‘I assume his tie to Natalie Homer is very strong. He’s restaged her murder twice.’

‘Well, that’s one theory.’ Coffey turned to his detectives. ‘I put Gary Zappata on the short list.’

Mallory abandoned her role as the Laid-back Kid. Her fist came down on the arm of her chair. ‘What possible – ’

‘Hold it.’ The lieutenant put up one hand to silence her. ‘Did you know his father was a detective? Yeah, Zappata wanted to be one, too.’ Coffey turned to Charles. ‘When this guy was a cop, he was real close to getting fired. That’s when our desk sergeant sold him on the idea of applying to the fire department. Sergeant Bell told the kid it was easy to make the fire marshal’s squad. Then he could carry a gun and play detective.’

Riker nodded. This friendly gesture fitted so well with Bell’s philosophy: Always stay on good terms with a psycho cop.

‘The other night,’ said Coffey, ‘our boy turns up on the scene of a murder and runs the damn show.’

Mallory’s red fingernails drummed the arm of her chair. ‘So Zappata is hanging women – as a career move.’

‘Hear me out.’ This was not a request. Coffey was ordering her to keep her mouth shut. ‘I can place him on two crime scenes. His face is in the crowd shots outside of Kennedy Harper’s place.’

‘So he’s got a police scanner in his car,’ said Riker. ‘You know three people who don’t?’

The lieutenant ignored this remark and spoke to his new consultant. ‘This man was voted most likely to come back here with a shotgun and blow away his ex-co-workers. Does that help you?’ Coffey shuffled the papers on his desk until he found the report he wanted. ‘Zappata started his shift the minute Sparrow’s 911 call came in. The firehouse was two blocks from the scene. I’m surprised their Dalmatian didn’t suss out the smoke a lot faster.’

‘You figure he hung her, then ran two blocks to the firehouse to set up an alibi?’

‘Yeah, Mallory.’ Coffey paused a beat, perhaps to remind her that sarcasm was insubordination. ‘The sloppy noose and a slow death bought him some time. But he did want her to die.’ He turned back to Charles. ‘According to a report filed by Zappata’s own crew, he physically restrained another fireman when the guy tried to cut Sparrow down.’

Riker faced his partner. ‘It’s got some merit.’ And this, of course, was code for, Play nice, or he won’t consolidate the cases. And when was she planning to bring up Lieutenant Loman’s connection? That would get the boss’s attention real fast. He caught her eye and mouthed the name.

Mallory shook her head, then turned to Coffey. ‘How would Zappata get details of a twenty-year-old murder?’

‘I think his old man told him,’ said Coffey. ‘Look at all the details

that don’t match up. He knew there were candles, but not how many. He knew there was a noose, but not what kind. This fits with third-hand information. Twenty years ago, Zappata’s father might’ve had connections to one of the crime-scene cops. We’re checking that now.’

‘There wasn’t any fire at Kennedy Harper’s apartment. If Zappata was – ’

‘Maybe he was practicing, Mallory. Or maybe he knew that woman. Suppose he killed Sparrow to draw us off the – ’

‘No,’ said Mallory. ‘You want it to be Zappata. I don’t like that creep either, but there’s a problem with your theory. Sparrow could’ve taken him down with a dull kitchen knife.’ She spoke with something close to pride in an old enemy. ‘Even without a weapon, that whore would’ve done a lot of damage. She was that good.’

Riker could attest to that. Sparrow would have been damned hard to intimidate. Once, the hooker had survived a stabbing that should have been fatal. Fifteen years later, she was still proving impossible to kill. Against the best medical advice of her doctor, she had lived through another night.

Jack Coffey was smiling at Mallory – always a bad sign. ‘So why didn’t Sparrow bone the perp like a fish? No answer? I’ll tell you why. He rushed her in the dark. The lightbulb over her door was unscrewed.’

Riker stared at his shoes. He knew what was coming. He had forgotten to tell her -

‘One more thing,’ said Coffey. ‘And you can thank your partner for this. He called CSU back to the scene to dust that bulb, and they found Zappata’s prints.’

Riker glanced at Mallory. To the extent that she was capable of pity, that would best describe her smile and the slow shake of her head. ‘That’s good,’ she said. ‘You found a fireman’s prints – at the scene of a fire.’

Damn fine shot. Elegant, simple. All that remained was to have her name engraved on the winner’s cup. But Riker could see that Jack Coffey was not about to concede. The boss was smiling when he said, ‘All right, here’s my best deal. We keep the motive open -the suspect list too. But you and Riker stay on the Cold Case file.’ He splayed his hands to say, See? I’m a fair man.

The actress hangings, old and new, would remain with their assigned primaries and their separate lines of investigation. Riker knew that was not going to change. But Mallory had poisoned the lieutenant. All day long, it would worry Jack Coffey that she might be right, that the next kill would happen on his watch.

While Mommy drank paper-cup tea with another mother, the child had been drawn away from her and toward the sound of flies round the other side of a garbage drum. He was quite impressed by the sight of them, a living, swarming blanket over something small yet wonderfully stinky at the center of a piece of wax paper. The grass of Tompkins Square tickled his bare knees as he knelt before the frenzy of insects and wondered what they were attacking. Might their prey still be alive and twitching? Hopeful, he prodded the fetid meat, using a common stick of the sort that is issued to all boys at their birth. He found the underlying flesh to be squishy but definitely dead, impervious to pokes. Somewhat disappointed, he continued to watch the writhing mass of legs and wings and fat black bodies. The loud buzzing was really evil, quite delightful.

The boy’s interest waned and wandered to a nearby bench and a man clad in jeans and a baseball cap. This figure was as rigid as any beast in a long parade of dead hamsters, songbirds and goldfish. He was as lifeless as the flesh beneath the flies, though not one winged thing dared approach him. The child solved this mystery as he drew closer to the bench and caught a whiff of insecticide on the man’s clothes. An open gray bag on the ground held a canister of the stuff Mommy used when she chased down lone bugs flying through the rooms of their apartment. The bag also contained a large glass jar half filled with dead dry flies and a few that were still alive.

A collector.

Well, now the world made sense again as the boy connected the man to the foul-smelling meat and the swarm. An excellent solution – no need to chase the flies down.

The man took no notice of the little boy, and this was odd behavior to a child who knew himself to be the center of the universe. The man never blinked, never moved. The boy’s eyes rounded as he watched intently for some sign of life. At the end of his attention span, perhaps half a minute, he pronounced his subject dead as a dead hamster. But just to be sure, and only in the spirit of scientific enquiry, he poked the dead man’s leg with his stick.

The corpse turned its head, and the child screamed.

Fast mother steps came up behind him, fleshy arms wound round his small body, lifted him and bore him away. As the boy bounced with his mother’s running gait, he looked over her soft shoulder to see the dead man don a pair of yellow rubber gloves. Now the man approached the mass of buzzing flies with his insecticide can and rained down clouds of aerosol poison on the swarm.

The young actress had won a seat on the subway by beating another straphanger to a crack between two passengers on the plastic bench. She carved a wider niche with her squirming backside and settled in for the long ride home to the East Village. After inspecting her suit jacket for battle scars, she removed one long blond hair from the lapel. The pale blue linen matched her eyes, and it was the most expensive outfit she had ever owned. Perversely, she regarded the suit as her lucky charm, though it had failed her in one audition after another.

In dire need of distraction from the sweaty press of flesh, she balanced a new packet of postcards on her knee and penned her weekly lies to the Abandoned Stellas. She borrowed a phrase from the rack of advertisements posted above the car’s windows, New York is a summer festival.

A canvas bag hit her in the side of the head.

‘Hey!’ she yelled, just like a real New Yorker. ‘Watch it!’ She looked up to see the crotch of a man’s faded blue jeans a few inches from her face. He reeked of insecticide. She lowered her eyes to the postcard and wrote the words, I love this town.

She wanted to go back home to Ohio.

Last year, as the family’s first college graduate, she had qualified for the traditional entry-level job of all theater majors – serving fast food to the public. And this had come as a bitter surprise to the Abandoned Stellas, two generations of tired truck-stop waitresses, impregnated and deserted before the age of seventeen.

Grandma, the original Stella, had cashed a savings bond to send the aspiring actress to New York City, a place with no roadside diners, and more money had followed every month. The second Stella, also known as Mom, still waited on tables and sent all the tips to her daughter, the only Stella ever to leave Ohio.

The train’s air-conditioner was not working, and Stella Small resented everyone around her for using up precious oxygen. She singled out the woman seated next to her for The Glare, a practiced stare that said, Die. The other woman, beyond intimidation, happily chomped a meaty sandwich that was still alive and moving of its own accord. Rings of onion and dollops of mayonnaise slithered from the greasy slices of bread and added a new odor to the stink of sweat and bug spray. Stella slipped the finished postcard into her purse and began to spin a new lie, this one for her agent. How would she explain losing a role to an idiot with no acting experience?

The train was one stop away from Astor Place and home. The smelly sandwich eater got up, leaving a residue of tomato slices on the plastic seat. This prevented other passengers from sitting down, but Stella could not stand up against the press of new passengers, nor could she edge away from the scratching man seated next to her. Had she already contracted body lice? The flesh of her upper arm felt crawly, itchy. Her hand moved to her sleeve to scratch it, then touched something alive and twitching.

Oh, shit!

A fat black fly. And now a rain of flies fell down on her head in the numbers of a biblical plague. Incredibly, most of them were dead. Others still twitched, only sick and sluggish, crawling slowly across her lap – down her legs.

Up her skirt! No!

She jumped up from the bench, wildly slapping her hair and her clothes. Insects dropped to the floor around her shoes and crawled in all directions. Stella screamed and set off a chain reaction of squeals from other riders. People were trampling one another to get to the other end of the car. Dry fly carcasses crunched underfoot as she jumped up and down, trying to shake loose the bugs that were still alive and crawling up her pantyhose. Other riders joined the hysteria dance, feet stomping, hands waving, fingers flicking. One passenger accidentally dislodged a note taped to Stella’s back; it drifted to the floor as the train lurched to a stop, and all the doors opened. The small piece of paper and its message ran away stuck to the bottom of another woman’s shoe.


ïðåäûäóùàÿ ãëàâà | Crime School | CHAPTER 9