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Mallory watched Charless Mercedes drive off as her partner slid into the front seat of her tan sedan.

Its that one. She nodded toward the building directly across the street. Natalie Homers sister lived in an area of Brooklyn prized for views of Prospect Park. Apparently Susan Qualen was doing well in the world. Its better if we catch her outside. Then the cop hater would have no door to slam in their faces. The neighbors say she runs in the park same time every day.

Must be a health fanatic Riker wiped the sweat from his brow. Shes gonna kill herself in this heat.

The front door opened and a trim woman in shorts and a T-shirt appeared at the top of a short flight of stairs. Natalies sister was tall and blond with a familial face. Before the woman could descend to the sidewalk, the two detectives were out of the car and moving toward her, each holding up a leather folder with identification and a gold shield.

Miss Qualen? Im Detective Mallory, and this is

The womans face turned angry and hard. Go away!

Riker stood at the bottom of the stairs. Maam? Wed rather do this at your convenience, but you

I read about your last hanging in the papers, said Susan Qualen. You bastards couldnt cover up that one. Not so easy this time, was it?

Maam, said Riker. We dont work that way. Sometimes we have to withhold details so we can

Ive heard that one before. Twenty years ago, the cops told the reporters my sister was a suicide.

The cops didnt tell you much, did they? Mallory moved up the staircase, advancing on the woman slowly. They told you it was murder, and you knew about the rope. But no cop would have revealed the details of the hacked-off hair jammed in Natalie Homers mouth.

Mallory was one step away touching distance. Nervous, Susan? So how did you make the connection between your sister and a hanged hooker?

I read the story in the damn papers.

Mallory shook her head. No, youre lying. The link had to be more than rope. All those details in the paper why did you connect them with

Im done with you. Susan Qualen started down the staircase.

Hold it. Mallory blocked her way. Where did you get the

My lawyer says I dont have to talk to you.

No, said Mallory. Thats what people say when they havent talked to a lawyer. Your sisters murder is still an open case, and you will talk to us.

Riker climbed a step closer to the woman. His voice was more reasonable and friendly. We turned up some inconsistencies in Natalies murder. We think her son might be able to straighten it out. So wheres the kid now?

I dont know where he is, said Susan Qualen.

I read a follow-up interview with the boys stepmother, said Mallory. She claims you took the boy after his father died.

And Riker added, That wouldve been a year after Natalies murder. His tone of voice said, Hey, just trying to be helpful.

But we had a problem with that. The threat in Mallorys voice was impossible to miss.

You see, said Riker, dialing back the tension, the little boy never went to school after his mother died. When summer vacation was over

So the family moved out of the school district.

No, Miss Qualen, said Mallory. The stepmother still lives at the same address. Mallory edged closer. She told a cop named Geldorf that you had the boy. Why would she lie? And when that same cop called you, why didnt you set him straight?

There was confusion in Qualens eyes. Civilians were amateurs at deception, unable to remember the details of lies told in the distant past, and they were all so easily rattled. Riker smiled at the woman, as if they were old friends discussing weather and books they had read. It would help if you could tell us what happened to Natalies son.

And where he is now. Mallory made the short step from accusation to attack. Talk to me! What did you do with him?

Susan Qualen lost her hard-case composure and made a mad sprint down the staircase, slamming into both detectives in her haste to get away. Mallory hit the sidewalk at a dead run, and Riker lunged to catch her arm, yelling, Whoa! First, lets interview the stepmother. Then we can nail Qualen for obstruction. Well toss her in the lock-up cage for a while. Itll be scary but legal.

Mallory watched the womans hands flailing as she ran down the sidewalk, escaping. Passersby must believe that they had drawn guns on her. Even now, the distance could be so easily closed, and when Mallory caught up to Susan Qualen, the woman would be vulnerable, breathless and frightened.

Trust me, said Riker. Itll be more fun my way.

Not likely.

William Heart cringed at the noise. The recluse was not good with human interaction and did what he could to avoid it. Worst was the knock at the door, the sound of a trap closing. He stood very still, hardly breathing, but his visitors would not go away, and now he heard the voice of the landlord saying, I know hes in there. Takes him all damn day to open the door. Bang harder.

However, the stranger was more polite, only lightly rapping, as he said, Thank you, to the dwindling footsteps of the landlord. And now the visitor spoke to the locked and bolted door. Hello? Mr Heart? Your gallery gave me your address.

The cultured voice was reassuring and carried the lure of a potential sale. William opened the door to see a fairy-tale bag of metaphors. This tall man had the body, the clothes and patrician air of a prince, but eyes like a frog and the beak of Captain Hook. The broad shoulders were threatening, magically enlarging in every passing second.

When William stepped back a pace, his visitor took this for an invitation. The man walked past him and paused by the couch, a threadbare affair of lumpy cushions and barely contained stuffing. It was the only piece of furniture that might accommodate his large frame. The chairs were made of flimsy wooden sticks.

May I?

William nodded, and the frog prince sat down.

My name is Charles Butler. The mans grin was so foolish, William smiled against his will as Mr Butler handed over a business card. Your gallery dealer tells me you do crime-scene photography.

No, that was a long time ago. I dont do it anymore.

Butler was staring at a radio on the coffee table, and William wondered if he recognized it as a police scanner. He cleared his throat. I mean I dont work for the police anymore. I do car wrecks, that kind of thing.

Yes, I know. Your work is almost tabloid genre, wouldnt you say? High contrast, hard light, black shadow. And some cruelty in every image.

The photographer vacillated between flight and a faint. Charles Butler was obviously an art collector and well heeled, but several of the degrees on his business card related to psychology. William distrusted head shrinkers.

Id like to see your earlier work, said Butler. The crime-scene photos. Im particularly interested in Natalie Homer. Perhaps the names not familiar. It was twenty years ago. The newspapers called it a suicide by hanging.

I didnt keep William shook his head and began again. I couldnt do the job. My camera was broken. Even as these words trailed off, he realized that he was not believed. Charles Butlers face expressed every thought and doubt. William could actually see himself being measured and evaluated in the other mans eyes. He even saw a hint of pity there.

Its not a picture most people would want in their heads. This was a true thing. Only a specific type of ghoul sought that kind of image, and Butler did not seem to fit that category.

So you did take at least one shot. The man was not posing a question but stating fact.

William clenched his sweating hands, then looked down at the leather checkbook which had suddenly appeared on the coffee table beside an old-fashioned fountain pen. And now he relaxed again, for this was merely a money transaction, a simple purchase.

Thats one photograph Id be very interested in. Butler opened the checkbook. Very interested. He glanced up at William and broadened his smile, killing all trace of alarm and increasing the comfort level in the room then delivered his bomb. You knew Natalie, didnt you?

William could not have spoken had he wanted to.

Mr Butler continued, Its a reasonable assumption. Your landlord tells me youve lived here all your life. I understand you inherited the lease from your mother. And this building is only a block from where Natalie died. Mustve been difficult to photograph the body of someone you knew.

I didnt know her. William wrapped himself in his own arms to quell the panic. He could see that, once again, he was not believed. In that tone of voice reserved for the confessional, he said, She only lived in this neighborhood for a little while. I never spoke to her. Losing control of his nerves and his mouth, he continued in a chattering stammer, But I used to see her on the street sometimes. She was so pretty. She didnt belong here. Anybody could see that. God, she was beautiful.

He had never lusted after her as the other watchers did, for her smile had reminded him of the painted madonnas and statuettes that had adorned this apartment while his mother was alive. Pretty Natalie in her long summer dresses.

William studied Charles Butlers tell-all face, checking for signs that he had given away too much. It wasnt just me that watched her, you know. She turned heads everywhere she went. All those men, they just had to look.

And after she died, you took her photograph, said the visiting mind reader. Nausea doesnt come on in an instant. Im guessing you had time to get off one shot before you vomited. Youre such a fine photographer. It wouldve been a natural reflex action taking that picture.

So he knew about the vomiting too.

All right. Ill give it to you. William was actually relieved, though this certainly meant that Butler was a ghoul, the kind of customer who paid the rent, but a twisted type he had never wanted to confront outside of an art gallery. So this was really all the freak wanted, a grisly crime-scene souvenir.

Upon entering the bedroom, William locked and bolted the door behind him. When he emerged again, a print of the old photograph was in his hand.

After the man had departed with his purchase, William noticed that the amount entered on the check was more generous than the quoted price. He looked around at the evidence of his poverty, and he was frightened anew, for he suspected Charles Butler of being a compassionate man and not a freak after all.

William Heart returned to his bedroom. Again, he carefully locked the door and drew the bolt, though his landlord had no keys to this apartment. He lay down on the bed and stared at the opposite wall. Every night, before switching off the lamp, this was what he saw, a wall of a hundred pictures, all the same the same face, the rope, the massing insects. This photograph was the best work he had ever done. The flies had been so thick and fast that the camera could only capture them as a black cloud surrounding the Madonna of the Maggots and Roaches.

CHAPTER 11 | Crime School | CHAPTER 12