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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


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CHAPTER 15

The blinking light on the answering machine was pulsating to the beat of a human heart Stellas. The message could only be from the police. They would want to know why she had blown off her appointment at the SoHo station, and she had also missed the morning try-out for a play. Her agent had given her one last chance to redeem herself, a late evening audition, and it was not the standard cattle call. This time, she would be one of four actresses up for the part.

And Stella had nothing to wear.

The contents of her closet and drawers were strewn about the apartment in piles of thrift-shop clothes and hand-me-downs. When she wore these garments, they changed her into something lesser, lower. And now, in her mind, she had already failed the last-chance audition. Before days end, she would have no career, no agent and no point in living. Stella sat on the edge of the sofa bed, then fell back and stared at the ceiling, eyes wide, unblinking, playing dead -just getting used to the idea.

The brand-new suit jacket lay on the floor, marred with another X. She had discovered the stain on the subway after removing the jacket to sew on a button. And now her eyes were raw and red from crying. The rent money was gone, and she could not ask for more. The egos of the Abandoned Stellas had been worn away so long ago; they would never understand the fragility of hers and the great importance of a magic mantle of pale blue linen.

She could not go home to Mom and Gram, though she pined for them. Tomorrow, she would send another postcard, another lie: Fame and fortune can only be hours away. Then she would find a job as a waitress and never tell them that their worst fear had come true.

Another thought overshadowed failure and the loss of home the stalker. She could not go to the police for help, not after spinning a lie to get her name in the papers. That woman, Forelli, would have informed them by now. She imagined the police department as a colony of telepathic spiders, all busy weaving traps to catch her. Adding to her crimes against them, she had missed the SoHo interview for vandalized blondes. And now that she had a suit jacket with a legitimate X, she was no better off. The cops would never believe it was the real thing.

Stella rose from her bed and straightened her spine. She was an actress. She would make them believe her. All it would take was attitude and the right persona, but which one? Turning to the mirror on the wall, she asked, Who am I today?

Nobody, said the mirror. Youre just a little girl from Ohio.

Stella nodded, then picked up the ruined suit jacket and traced the nasty black X with one finger. Every nice thing was ruined in this town, Bitch City.

Heavy footsteps were coming down the hall. They stopped outside her apartment. The police? She held her breath and played the statue, eyes fixed on a white envelope sliding under her door. It must be a summons. Oh, she was in so much trouble. The footsteps trailed off toward the stairs. Overwhelmed by dread, her feet weighed a hundred pounds, each one, as she approached the envelope on the floor. It was another few minutes before she gave herself up for dead and opened it.

Impossible.

It was a gift certificate from a Fifth Avenue department store where she could not afford to breathe the air. So much money. This would replace her ruined suit with something from the designer section and shoes, new shoes.

Fifth Avenue was singing to her, Get your tail down to the store, babe.

On her way out the door, she considered the source of this bounty, quickly ruling out her Sunday school God, Who would not have survived for six minutes in New York City. Her savior could only be an apologetic vandal, a disturbed soap-opera fan who had gone too far and wanted to make amends.

Blessed are the mental cases.

Halfway down the stairs she stopped. There was no air-conditioning in the common areas of the building, yet she felt an icy sensation in her chest. In movie lore, scary cold spots marked the presence of haunts in abandoned houses. And women?

He knows where I live.

Sergeant Bell sat behind the front desk facing the door of the police station. He was waiting for Lieutenant Coffeys order to send up the suspect. In peripheral vision, he kept watch over the fireman. Gary Zappata was working the cops in uniform, slapping backs and politicking, though he had never had a single friend in this precinct. The detectives walked in the front door three of them, if Sergeant Bell counted the whiteshield from the East Side squad. Riker had a few words with Deluthe, who then raced up the staircase to Special Crimes Unit, his feet hitting every third step like a galloping puppy.

Riker and Mallory were in no hurry as they crossed the wide floor, walking in tandem. They ignored the rookie fireman swaggering toward them.

Zappata squared off, legs apart, hands on his hips, then yelled, I know what you did to me, Riker! You cheap shit! You snitch!

The desk sergeant silently begged, Please, Riker, dont do anything stupid. It was worth a lawsuit if the detective slugged this man. And perhaps that was what Zappata was hoping for, since he was out of a job with the fire department and could never come back to NYPD.

The fireman strutted toward the partners. You ratted me out. He glared at Riker, then puffed out his chest. You drunken asshole. Zappata turned his smug face to Mallory, saying, Well, if it aint the Ladies Auxiliary. Stay out of my way, bitch. He glanced over his shoulder and smiled at the battery of men and women in uniform, as if expecting applause for this very big mistake.

Mallory never flinched, but Rikers hands balled into fists. Sergeant Bell thought of calling the lieutenant down to end this before it -

The desk sergeant looked up to see Jack Coffey standing at the top of the stairs, hands in his pockets, quietly watching.

The short fireman moved to block Rikers path.

Another big mistake.

You couldnt face me like a man, said Zappata. You back-stabbing piece of crap.

The two detectives closed their distance with the fireman.

Any second now.

The phones stopped ringing. The only noise came from a civilian clerk, fingers typing, lightly skimming the keys.

tap, tap, tap, tap -

The fireman was playing to his audience of uniforms, and he was so cocky, rocking on his heels, smiling too wide for a man so off balance. The dead silence from the uniforms gave him no clue that Riker was about to pound him into the ground.

It was not a sucker punch, though Zappata never saw it coming, not from the Ladies Auxiliary. One moment he was standing up Mallorys fist shot out fast and sure as a hammerfall, and then he was lying on the floor, having a quiet nosebleed.

She stood over Zappatas prone body, braced like a prizefighter awaiting the payback that would surely follow when this man found his feet again. With one quick glance at Riker, she warned him away. Sergeant Bell smiled, and there were nods of approval all around the room. Markowitzs daughter would not look to her partner or anyone else to finish off Zappata. By Mallorys stance, he could even guess which knee she planned to smash into the firemans testicles.

The man at her feet was conscious, but he would not or could not move. He lay on his back, staring at the ceiling with an idiot gape of wide eyes and slack mouth.

The clerk stopped typing. The uniforms were stealing glances at Mallory, the bomb at the center of the room. A telephone rang to jangle nerve endings, and then another phone went off. Papers shuffled, typing and conversation resumed. Officers walked to and fro, some stepping over Zappatas body on the way to the door -life went on.

Once the squad room door was closed and Jack Coffey was facing Mallory, she missed her opportunity to say, I told you so, but the sentiment was clear when she turned her back on him and walked down the hall toward the incident room.

Sergeant Bell opened the stairwell door and leaned in, asking, Hey, Lieutenant? You still wanna question Zappata?

No, just roll him out on the sidewalk. Coffey planned to follow the lead of ten uniforms and the desk sergeant, to say that he had been looking elsewhere when the fireman tripped. A blue wall of cops was securely closed around Mallory. Not that Coffey worried about consequences. What were the odds that Zappata would file a police brutality suit against a girl? Mallory was going to get away with this. The lieutenant watched her disappear through the door at the end of the hall.

Maybe you noticed. Riker slumped down in a chair. Your favorite suspect has a glass jaw. He pulled out a cigarette. Now Sparrow was a big girl, and real good in a street fight better than Mallory. Theres no way that twerp couldve taken her down.

Even with a razor in his hand?

You think hed know what to do with it? I dont. Were looking for somebody a lot scarier than Zappata.

Riker stood before the back wall of the incident room and cleared a space for a photograph from Natalie Homers actress portfolio. The hangings had finally been merged into one case. He pinned the womans smiling face to the cork alongside the effigy made of clothes. Now they hung together, Natalie and the scarecrow, mother and child.

Detective Janos pinned a note near the newspaper account of a stabbed actress. I talked to Stella Smalls agent and the doctor who treated her razor cut. They both say the assault happened on a crowded street. Now that works with what you got from Lieutenant Loman. All the hassling went on in crowded places.

That pattern wont hold up for Sparrow, not the week before the hanging. Riker walked over to the next wall and pulled a statement down, then handed it to Janos. Thats the interview with the director of the play. Sparrow told him she was between day jobs, and she spent four days learning the lines of the play before she auditioned. Well, that just impressed the shit out of him. Thats why he gave her the part. And there were no open auditions the week before she died, so she wasnt commuting on the subway at rush hour.

Okay, said Janos, but you know this whole town is one wall-to-wall crowd.

When the big man had left the room, Riker turned back to the wall and the job of merging the paperwork of all the cases. Janos was right. New York City was one big swarming -

Crowds of hookers, said Mallory.

He jumped in his skin. She was standing right behind him.

If you see one hooker, she said, you see eight or nine.

Riker shook his head. No, Daisy said Sparrow was out of the life. Maybe the scarecrow marked her while she was

Sparrow was still working the streets.

And how do you know that, Mallory? Were you stalking her again? Only someone who knew her well would see the sign of damage in her face, her frozen stance. And now Riker added his words to the list of things he wished he had never said.

Years ago, Sparrow had told him about being covertly followed and catching the young cop in the act from time to time. Mallory had the bizarre idea that she could shadow people unnoticed, that she could walk down any street, enter any room, without attracting stares. At Rikers last meeting with Sparrow, the prostitute had turned to her own gaunt reflection in a store window, then covered her eyes with a bone-thin hand and said, I know why Kathys following me. The kid thinks Im dying and she wants to watch. Two years had passed since then, and he should have known that Mallory had not stalked Sparrow recently, for she had not recognized the crime-scene address or the surgically altered face. He had wounded her for no good reason.

Her voice was mechanical when she said, I found the plastic surgeon. He does a lot of work on battered women. Sparrows new face wasnt free, but he gave her an installment plan. Thats where all her money went. She was still turning tricks to pay for the operations and chemical peels. So Daisy lied to you. What a surprise, huh?

But you dont know

Yes, I do. Those payments werent cheap, and hooking was the only trade Sparrow ever had. That and one pathetic acting gig. She never had a pimp, so she always hung with other whores, lots of them. Safety in numbers in the crowd. Then youve got the summer conventions, the boat shows, car shows. Lots of men hooker heaven crowds.

All right, said Riker. Ill find her hangout whores. Even in a coma, Sparrow still had the magic to string him along, and the price of being blindsided was very high. Ill chase down Tall Sally and talk to Daisy again. If one of them could point him to a likely street corner, he would do a raid. He would wait until it was too late for arraignments and bail. Most prostitutes were junkies who would shop their own mothers before they would spend eighteen hours in lockup.

Deluthe pulled the new reports from the wall on Rikers instructions to copy updated material for Charles Butler. He was careful to keep his distance from Mallory, and she had almost forgotten he was in the incident room, until she found another mistake his.

She stared at the front page of a newspaper pinned to the wall. The actress in the photo was a blond stabbing victim. Deluthes initials appeared on a brief companion note in longhand, a few lines for the actresss name, her address and the words publicity stunt. But that would not square with the dripping blood reported in the article. Wheres the follow-up interview for Stella Small?

Deluthe looked up from the Xerox machine. I never got to talk to her. But I left a message on her answering machine.

Mallory searched the wall for other paperwork. Wheres the statement from the midtown precinct?

A police aide was supposed to fax it from the

This article mentions an ambulance. Wheres the attending physicians report? She turned to look at him. It was obvious that he had no answers. Still, she would not follow her first inclination, which involved a bit of violence. Mallory never lost control of her temper. The incident with the fireman did not count, not in her scheme of denial. She had not struck Zappata in anger. That blow had been the simple expedient of getting Riker through the day without a suspension. Yes, Riker was the one with the bad temper, or so she decided, founded on absolutely no proof of this defect in his character. And she, of course, had reined in her own temper, safely gauging her punch to harm no more than the firemans ego. She had hardly tapped him. Though Mallory had created this version of events only moments ago, she found no flaws in it.

The whiteshield detective stood beside her, nonchalantly gazing at the photograph of a recently assaulted blond actress, who lived in the East Village. Could this woman have more precisely fit the profile of the next murder victim?

Deluthe had his excuses ready now. I was going to call the actress again. But I had to put it off. Sergeant Riker

That was a mistake. Mallorys words all carried the same weight, and she kept her eyes on the board when she spoke to him. Dont phone her. Go to her apartment. Get a statement.

Still he lingered, and then she said, Now, Deluthe. Before she dies.

Mallory followed in the wake of the running rookie, though at a slower pace. Her feet were dragging, and she was feeling other effects of lost sleep. She pulled out a cell phone and placed a call to the police station with jurisdiction on the actresss assault.

Ten minutes after making contact with a midtown sergeant, she was sitting in the squad room. Her head rested on the back of her chair, and her eyes closed as she waited for the man to locate paperwork on Stella Smalls stabbing. Finally, he returned to the phone, saying, Sorry, Detective. I found the statement, but it wont help. Our police aide, Forelli shes been doing creative writing on the job again.

One hand tightened around the phone, but Mallorys voice was calm when she said, Read it to me.

All right. Professional bimbo collides with camera. Damn every tall blonde ever born. You see the problem?

Mallorys face was devoid of expression as she studied her right hand. The pain had ebbed away since decking Zappata. She flexed her fingers, then curled them tight, and her fist crashed down on the desk, bringing on fresh hurt and restored focus. And then, so that clarity would last a while longer, she smashed her fist into the wood a second time crazy naked pain.


CHAPTER 14 | Crime School | CHAPTER 16