home | login | register | DMCA | contacts | help | donate |      

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z


my bookshelf | genres | recommend | rating of books | rating of authors | reviews | new | | collections | | | add



CHAPTER 14

The man in the department store mirror was obviously another fan of daytime soap operas. Stella smiled at his reflection.

Yes, its me.

He did not acknowledge her smile, nor did he make eye contact like any normal person. The man stared at her as if she were an object all of one piece and without eyes of her own to see him. She stiffened her body, imitating his posture, then focused on her own reflection and watched her eyes go cold and colder. Her mouth became a simple line, committed to no expression. And now she had his likeness inside and out. There was no one home inside of her anymore just a little graveyard dust.

The man did not seem to appreciate or even notice her artful portrayal of him. Beneath the brim of a baseball cap, his face was unchanged, frozen, one inanimate object facing another herself. Pushing the likeness just a bit further, Stellas eyes had gone entirely dead, and she became -

The audition!

She was going to be late.

Stella broke off this eerie connection to glance at her watch.

When she looked up again, she saw the reflection of his baseball cap just visible above the heads of female shoppers as he moved backward, blending into the crowd, a player doing his walk-on in reverse.

Mesmerized, Stella did not move until he was out of sight. Again, she looked at her watch. More time had passed than she would have believed possible. Other customers were moving toward the cash registers. She ran full-out to beat a slow-moving elderly woman to the checkout counter. Hunched over, neck-and-neck with the stooped, white-haired shopper, Stella unconsciously mirrored the sudden alarm in her opponents eyes. The old woman put on some speed toward the end, then gave up the foot race to youth; panting and wheezing, support hose bagging at the ankles, the loser stood in line behind the grinning actress.

When it was Stellas turn to be waited on, her mouth dipped down on one side, copying the face before her, and she also assumed the overly efficient air of the sales clerk. Im in a big hurry. Just cut the tags. Ill wear it. Stella pushed her old skirt across the counter. And bag this, okay?

Suit yourself The clerks voice was the monotone of a telephone company recording. No returns on sales.

Stella held out one pale blue sleeve so the other woman could snip off the price tags. You be careful with those scissors, all right?

The clerks voice betrayed a sudden annoyance. Like I said, lady no returns. Not quite so efficient anymore, the woman allowed Stellas arm to hang in the air. Taking her own maddening time to put the blond actress in her place, the clerk picked up the old skirt twixt thumb and forefinger, then held it at the distance of a bad smell before dropping it into a bag. Finally, she reached for her scissors and slowly cut the tag strings from Stellas sleeve. The cashier glanced at the mirror behind the line of customers, saying, You know this jacket is damaged, right? Stained?

Oh, the makeup smudge.

No problem. I can get that out.

Yeah, sure you can. The clerk watched the blonde walk away with a black X scrawled on the back of the new suit. Then she turned a merciless eye on the next customer in line, an elderly woman slowly approaching the counter. Move it, lady!

Lieutenant Coffey watched the last actress leave the squad room in company with two detectives, the number of men it took to escort a pretty woman downstairs. The deputy commissioners son-in-law passed them at the stairwell door, and now he walked toward the private office.

So Mallory and Riker had managed to lose Deluthe again.

While the lieutenant checked his list of blondes for the second day of interviews, the younger man stood at a respectful distance and waited to be acknowledged. Coffey liked the deference to rank, but he had his doubts that this youngster was going to make it as a detective.

I thought you were watching Lars Geldorf

Hes staying home today. Im looking for Sergeant Riker.

Hell be here in half an hour. Coffey held up a tabloid with the headline: actress stabbed in broad daylight. Okay, kid, make yourself useful. He pointed to the handwritten notes and a telephone number scrawled across the top of the front page. This Midtown precinct never called back with a name on the actress. Find out who she is, then check the interview list. If we havent talked to her, get her down here today.

Yes, sir. Paper in hand, Deluthe swooped down on the nearest vacant desk and picked up the phone.

Jack Coffey had only a few minutes to settle in behind his desk before the rookie rapped on the frame of his open office door. The lieutenant waved him inside. Whatve you got, kid?

The actress is Stella Small. I talked to a police aide, Eve Forelli. She says it was just a publicity stunt.

The lieutenant nodded toward the tabloid in the younger mans hand. Did you read that article?

No, sir. I thought you wanted

Read it. Youll find the first mention of blood in the opening paragraph. Its a puddle on a hotel carpet. He leaned over the desk and ripped the paper from Deluthes hand, then pointed to the photograph of an unconscious woman. Oh, and the dark stain on her sleeve? Thats blood too. He slammed the newspaper down on his desk blotter, yet his voice remained calm. In my experience, very few actresses ever mutilate themselves for a mention in the tabloids. And now he stopped, for it was not his job to train the rookie from Lieutenant Lomans squad. At least you got her name. Thats something. He consulted his list of blond interview subjects and found Stella Small among them. Her agent set up an interview, but Small was a no-show. Apparently this woman doesnt watch the news or read the papers. Find her.

The police aide already took her statement, said Deluthe. The actress told her she had a street altercation with a tourist. You see, the guy hit this woman with his camera, and she needed a few stitches. Thats it. So then her agent shows up at the hospital and gets the idea to make the wound a little more newsworthy. Thats when it turned into a stabbing.

A police aide did the interview? A civilian! Well, thats just great. He tossed the newspaper to the rookie. Get a copy of that statement from Midtown, and get that actress down here.

But its just

Busywork? Most of my damn day is busywork. Im one goddamn busy man. Now can you handle this or not? What he had really wanted to ask Deluthe was why the man dyed his hair.

And of all the colors in the world, why choose glow-in-the-dark yellow?

Detective Janos stood at the front of the squad room and addressed the rest of the men. We got a thirty-second spot on the morning news and a full minute on radio. We might get lucky with the tip lines. He held up the newspaper page that listed the dates and locations of open casting calls. And theres two auditions today. We got twenty minutes to make the one on

Hey! Detective Desoto, who sorted the tip-line calls, yelled, Listen up! A woman with an X on her back just passed the corner of Sixtieth and Lex. I got a guy calling from a payphone. He says she was headed for the subway. Shes got blond hair, and shes wearing a light blue suit.

A suit, said Riker. Ill bet shes on her way to the midtown audition.

Its on the West Side.Janos was heading for the door, issuing orders on the run. Get a unit over there. Shell make the crossover over at Forty-second Street.

Maybe not. Arthur Wang grabbed his gun from a desk drawer. If she sees that X on her back, she might pack it in. I know my wife would

Subway! yelled Janos.

Every man but Deluthe was up and running. Sergeant Riker stopped to tap his shoulder, saying, Youre with us, kid.

And they were off. Lieutenant Coffeys busywork errand was forgotten as Deluthe fell in with the gang of running detectives heading downstairs for the cars. One by one, the unmarked vehicles raced their engines. Mobile turret lights were slapped on to the roofs as they sped down Houston, zooming toward the West Side Highway.

Heading uptown.

What a ride!

The police cars were strung out in a wedge, forcing cabs to dodge and weave, and terrifying the amateur drivers. Five sirens screamed, and bullhorns shouted, Outta the way! Move it! Move it? Every cross-town light was magically green until the convoy pulled to the curb in front of Forty-second Street Station.

The men left their cars at a dead run, hustling down the subway stairs in close formation, flying through the long tunnel, leather slapping cement, adrenaline rushing, hearts on fire, finally emerging in the shuttle bay.

Full stop.

Somethings wrong.

There were too many people milling around at this time of the morning.

Three detectives climbed up on a bank of concrete and scanned the heads of waiting straphangers, looking for the blonde with an Xon her back. Six men circled around to the other side of the track to search the rest of the crowd, then returned, heads shaking.

The woman was not here.

The surrounding passengers had the makings of a mob, feet stamping, voices rising, tempers close to exploding in the hot muggy air around the shuttle bay. Most had wandered away from the track, but hopefuls still stood on the edge, eyes fixed on the dark tunnel with a New Yorkers certain knowledge that watchers, not switchmen, made the trains come.

The crowd was still growing, not conversing but growling, voices rumbling in one sentiment, Death to all transit workers kill them all. Here and there, a passenger went off like a firecracker, screaming obscenities. It could only be a matter of minutes before the first punch was thrown. This vast space would become a bloodbath from wall to wall.

Near the police booth, a band of musicians were unpacking instruments and plugging in amplifiers. This was the citys emergency response to impending violence among disgruntled subway riders.

Janos folded his cell phone. We got uniforms at the exits. No sign of her yet.

Detective Desoto had disappeared into the mob, and now he was running back to them. The good news? A suicide. A jumper got himself smeared across the tracks. All these people are from the rush-hour crowd. Thats how long theyve been waiting.

And now the bad news, said Riker.

They just finished cleaning up all the blood and guts. The shuttles are on the way. Were gonna lose the whole crowd in five minutes flat.

Deluthe understood this worst-case scenario. What were the odds that any of these stressed-out citizens would miss a ride out of hell to talk to a cop? Cant we just stop the trains?

Desoto gave him a look that asked, What hick town are you from? Maybe you didnt hear me, kid. The last guy who stopped the trains is dead.

We got five minutes, said Riker. Deluthe, you work the passengers near the track. Hit on the women. Men are useless. They only see breasts, not backs. The rest of you guys are with me.

The detectives moved in tandem, walking toward the small band of musicians. Their body language changed as they drew closer to the light Latin tempo intended to soothe ugly tempers with the soft strings of a guitar and a bass and a drummer with nothing to do.

While Deluthe was taking statements of I didnt see nobody and I dont know nothin, Riker was taking a guitar away from one of the teenage musicians.

Deluthe watched the action through breaks in the crowd near the track. The senior detectives hand flew up and down the neck of the electric guitar, playing riffs of rock n roll, and he was good damn good. The younger passengers were drifting toward the music, fingers snapping, heads bobbing to the beat reborn.

The musicians were playing backup as Riker was gliding and sliding, strings zinging, the crowd cheering. He ripped out notes in a one-handed frenzy as he rolled the other hand toward the band to jump up the tempo. The bassmans fingers moved faster and faster. The drummer went insane with his sticks, smashing cymbals and beating on skins.

Janos pulled a woman from the crowd, and now they were gyrating, twirling and writhing. Other detectives grabbed strange females, danced them ragged and discarded them quickly. All the people were in motion; the place was rocking, cooking, jumping. The beat vibrated across the concrete and came up through the soles of Ronald Deluthes shoes.

The crowd formed a ring around Riker, hands clapping, whistling high and shrill. Janos swung a new partner around, then lifted her high off the floor and let her go airborne. She squealed with delight when he caught her. Riker ripped out another riff, and the crowd went wild. A shower of coins chimed into an open guitar case, and the band went demonic, pushing the tempo, faster, harder, louder. The trains came; the people stayed stoned on music. The detectives changed partners and fired questions, never losing the beat.

Two hands shot up with high signs.

Finale.

Riker made a cutthroat gesture to the band, and the music died suddenly, as if a door had closed upon it.

And the world stopped moving.

The musical detective wiped the sweat from his eyes and took a deep bow to thunderous hand clapping. He turned to Janos, hollering to be heard above the racket, Whatve you got?

A woman spotted the X. Our blonde didnt cross over. She stayed on the downtown Lexington line, and she was crying.

Shes going home, yelled Desoto. Yesterday another woman saw a blonde with an X on her shirt. Now heres where it gets a little weird. She was fighting off a gang of dead flies in the station at Astor Place, and thats where she got off the train.

Deluthe moved against the flow of boarding passengers and fought his way out of the mob in time to see the squad of detectives flying into the pedestrian tunnel. When he emerged from the subway at street level, the other men were piling into their vehicles. The caravan drove off, sirens squealing, red lights spinning. And the young policeman was left standing alone on the sidewalk, breathless, as if he had also danced to the music of Sergeant Rikers band.


| Crime School | CHAPTER 15