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Greenwich Village had lost its edge long ago, becoming a stately old lady among New York neighborhoods. One of the grande dames children stood beneath the great stone arch in Washington Square Park. The boy wore trendy camouflage pants, all dressed up for a revolution should one come along, the way buses do.

A guitar case lay at his feet, open to donations from passersby, though no one slowed down to drop him a dime. People marched past, sweating and cursing the heat of August, hurrying home to cold beers and canned music. It would take spectacle on a grander scale to get their attention tonight.

An unmarked police car crawled by in air-conditioned silence. Detective Sergeant Riker rolled down the passenger window and listened to a ripple of melancholy notes on soft nylon strings.

Not what he had expected.

Evidently, the teenage musician had missed the point of being young. Thirty-five years ago, Riker had been the boy beneath the arch, but his own guitar had been strung with steel, electrified and amplified, ripping out music to make people manic, forcing them to dance down the sidewalk.

What a rush.

And the entire universe had revolved around him.

He had sold that electric guitar to buy a ring for a girl he had loved more than rock n roll. The marriage had ended, and the music had also deserted him.

The window closed. The car rolled on.

Kathy Mallory took the wheel for every tour of duty, but not by choice. Torn between drinking and driving, her partner had allowed his license to expire. The detectives were nearing the end of their shift, and Riker guessed that Mallory had plans for the evening. She was wearing her formal running shoes, black ones to match the silk T-shirt and jeans. The sleeves of her white linen blazer were rolled back, and this was her only concession to the heat. If asked to describe the youngest detective on the squad, he would bypass the obvious things, the creamy skin of a natural blonde and the very unnatural eyes; he would say, Mallory doesnt sweat.

And she had other deviations.

Rikers cell phone beeped. He pulled it out to exchange a few words with another man across town, then folded it into his pocket. No dinner tonight. A homicide cop on First Avenue and Ninth wants a consult.

The jam of civilian cars thinned out, and Mallory put on speed. Riker felt the car tilt when it turned the corner, rushing into the faster stream of northbound traffic. She sent the vehicle hurtling toward the rear end of a yellow cab that quickly slid out of the lane her lane now. Other drivers edged off, dropping back and away, not sporting enough to risk sudden impact. She never used the portable turret light or the siren, for cops got no respect in this town but sheer terror worked every time.

Riker leaned toward her, keeping his cool as he said, I dont wanna die tonight.

Mallory turned her face to his. The long slants of her green eyes glittered, thieving eerie light from the dashboard, and her smile suggested that he could jump if he liked. And so a nervous game began, for she was watching traffic only in peripheral vision. He put up his hands in a show of surrender, and she turned her eyes back to the road.

Riker held a silent conversation with the late Louis Markowitz, a ghost he carried around in his heart as balm for anxious moments like this one. It was almost a prayer, and it always began with Lou, you bastard.

Fifteen years had passed since Kathy Mallory had roamed the streets as a child. Being homeless was damned hard work, and running the tired little girl to ground had been the job of Rikers old friend, Louis Markowitz, but only as a hobby. Lost children had never been the province of Special Crimes Unit, not while they lived. And they would have to die under unusual circumstances to merit a professional interest. So Kathy had become the little blond fox of an after-hours hunt. The game had begun with these words, spoken so casually: Oh, Riker? If she draws on you, dont kill her. Her gun is plastic, it fires pellets and shes only nine or ten years old.

After her capture, the child had rolled back her thin shoulders, drawn herself up to her full height of nothing, and insisted that she was twelve years old. What a liar and what great dignity; Lou Markowitz could have crushed her with a laugh. Instead, with endless patience, he had negotiated her down to eleven years of age, and the foster-care paperwork had begun with this more believable lie.

Now Kathy Mallorys other name was Markowitzs Daughter.

The old man had been killed in the line of duty, and Riker missed him every day. Lous foster child was taller now, five ten; she had upgraded her plastic gun to a.357 revolver; and her partner was not allowed to call her Kathy anymore.

The homicide detectives were speeding toward a crime scene that belonged to another man. The East Side lieutenant had sweetened his invitation with a bet, giving odds of Tenll get you twenty that they had never seen a murder quite like this one.

Revolving red and yellow lights marked the corner where police units and a fire engine blocked the flow of traffic along the borderland between the East Village and Alphabet City. All the action was on a side street, but the fire escapes were crowded with people hanging off metal rails, as if they could see around corners of brick and mortar. Cars honked their horns against the law, and hollered obscenities flew through the air.

Mallorys tan sedan glided into the only clear space, a bus stop. She killed the engine and stepped out on to the pavement as her partner slammed the passenger door. Rikers suit was creased and soiled in all the usual places, and now he loosened his tie to complete the basic slob ensemble. He could afford dry cleaning, but he was simply unaware of the practice; that was Mallorys theory.

The sidewalks were jumping, buzzing, people screaming, Cmon, cmon!' Crime made do for theater in this livelier part of town. Young and old, they ran in packs, off to see a free show, a double bill murder and fire. And these were the stragglers.

The detectives walked in tandem toward the spinning lights. The uniforms behind the police barricades were doing a poor job of crowd control. The street and sidewalks were clogged with civilians chomping pizza and slugging back cans of soda and beer. What a party, said Riker.

Mallory nodded. It was a big production for a dead prostitute. The East Side lieutenant who owned this case had not provided any more details.

They had waded ten heads into the fray before the harried policemen recognized them and formed a human plow, elbows and shoulders jamming taxpayers. The uniforms yelled, Coming through! Make way! One officer pulled back the yellow crime-scene tape that cordoned the sidewalk in front of a red-brick apartment building. Riker moved ahead of his partner. He descended a short flight of steps to a cement enclosure below the level of the street, then disappeared through the basement door.

Mallory waved off her entourage of cops and remained on the sidewalk. Soon enough, she would be barraged with information, some of it wrong, most of it useless. She leaned over a wrought-iron fence to look down at the sunken square of concrete. Garbage bags and cans were piled near the basement window, but the bright lightbulb over the door would not give an attacker any cover of shadows. The arch of broken glass had no burglar gate a clear invitation to a break-in.

In the room beyond the shattered window pane, local detectives were getting in the way of crime-scene technicians as they slogged through water in borrowed firemens boots. Riker, less careful about his own shoes, splashed toward the dead body on the gurney, and dozens of floating red candles swirled in his wake.

The corpse wore a high-collared blouse with French cuffs, and her long skirt was tangled around cheap vinyl boots strange clothing for a prostitute in the heat of August.

Mallory recognized the chief medical examiners assistant. In the role of God Almighty, the young pathologist lit a cigarette despite the waving arms of an angry crime-scene technician. And now he ambled across the room to finally have a look at the body. After pressing a stethoscope to the victims heart for a few moments, completing the belated formality of declaring death, the doctor showed no curiosity about the short tufts of blond hair, evidence of a crude attempt at scalping. He seemed equally unconcerned about the clot of hair stuffed in the womans gaping mouth.

Mallory wondered why the firemen had not removed it to attempt resuscitation; it was their nature to destroy crime-scene evidence.

A police photographer made a rolling motion with his hand, and the pathologist obliged him by turning the corpse on its side, exposing the silver duct tape that bound the hands behind the dead womans back. The noose was removed for the next shot. The other end of the severed rope still dangled from a low-hanging chandelier of electric candles. The East Side lieutenant had not exaggerated. Beyond the era of lynch mobs, hanging was a rare form of murder. And Mallory knew this had not been a quick death. It would have taken a longer drop to break the womans neck.


She turned around to face the crowd and saw a man who had once been a uniformed cop in her own precinct. Six minutes away from losing his job, he had decided to quit NYPD, and now he was a fireman. Zappata? Who broke the window, you guys or the perp?

We did. The rookie fireman sauntered toward her. His smile was cocky, and Mallory thought she might fix that if she had time. He would not look up at her face, for this would wreck his delusion that he was the taller one. He spoke to her breasts. I need you to do something for me.

Not likely, you prick.

Aloud, she said, Only one engine turned out?

Yeah, not much of a fire. Mostly smoke. He pointed to a young man with electric-yellow hair and a dark suit. See that idiot dick trainee? Go tell him he doesnt need statements from everybody on my damned truck.

Hes not with me. Talk to his lieutenant. And of course, Lieutenant Loman would rip off the firemans head less work for her. She turned back to the window on the crime scene. So your men cut the body down?

Nope, the cops did that. Zappata was too pleased with himself. She was stone dead when we got here. So I preserved the evidence.

You mean you left her hanging.

Yeah, a little water damage, some broken glass, but the rest of the scene was cherry when the cops pulled up.

This was Zappatas old fantasy, running a crime scene, as if he had the right. Mallory searched the faces of the other firemen, a skeleton crew gathered near the truck. There were no ranking officers in sight. If Zappata had not been an ex-cop, the rest of these men would never have followed bis lead. An ambulance would be here instead of the meat wagon parked at the curb. And now she understood why three departments had converged on the scene at one time. You made all the calls tonight?

Yeah, I got lucky. The meat wagon and the CSU van were only a few blocks away. They showed up before the detectives. Zappata grinned, awaiting praise for assuming powers that were not his -police powers.

She decided to leave the firemans destruction to the reporters hailing him from the other side of the crime-scene tape. Cameras closed in on Zappatas face as he strolled up to a cluster of microphones and a rapt audience of vultures from the press corps. Now he shared with them every rule and procedure he had personally violated to run the show tonight and run it wrong.

Mallory walked down the steps to the cement enclosure and stood before the basement window. From this better angle, she could see one end of the rope anchored to a closet doorknob. The floor beneath the chandelier was clear of any object that might have been used for a makeshift gallows.

She could picture the killer placing a noose around the womans neck and pulling the other end of the rope to raise her body from the ground. The victims legs were not bound. She would have struggled and tried to run across the floor, then kept on running, feet pedaling the air until she died.

The murderer was male an easy call. This hanging had required upper-body strength. And Mallory knew there had been no passion between the victim and her killer. When a man truly loved a woman, he beat her to death with his fists or stabbed her a hundred times.

She was looking at her partners back as Riker bent down to grab something from the water. When the man turned around, his hands were empty, and he was closing the button on his suit jacket. If she had not seen this, she would never have believed it. Riker was a dead-honest cop.

What did you steal?

And why would he risk it?

Riker joined the others, and they moved away from the body. None of them noticed when a young man entered the basement room. Zappatas nemesis, the rookie detective with bright yellow hair, approached the gurney and leaned over the victim. Mallory saw a wet wad of blond hair come away in his hand as he removed the packing from the corpses mouth.

That chore belonged to a crime-scene technician.

You idiot.

What else could go wrong tonight?

The young cop blocked Mallorys view as he leaned over the dead white face, as though to kiss it.

What are you doing?

In the next moment, he was straddling the body.

What the -

The fool was pumping the victims chest, performing emergency first aid on a dead woman. Now he grinned and shouted, Shes alive!

No! No! No!

Three detectives whirled around. The horrified pathologist moved toward the gurney. Riker was quicker. Hunkering down beside the victim, he held one finger to her nostrils. Oh shitl Shes breathing! In a rare show of anger, Rikers hands balled into fists, and he yelled at the younger man, Do you know what youve done? Unspoken were the words, You moron.

Too much time had elapsed since the womans death. An inexperienced cop had just turned a perfectly good corpse into a useless vegetable.

The chief medical examiner broke the silence of the hospital room with a dry pronouncement that Human vivisection is illegal in all fifty states. Dr Edward Slope had the physical authority of a tall gray general. This impression persisted despite the tuxedo, a physicians Gladstone bag and heavy sarcasm in the presence of a dying woman. The pale patient swaddled in bed-sheets took no offense. The involuntary movement of her eyes was mere illusion of awareness. I say the autopsy can wait until shes dead.

Thats just a technicality, said Riker. She used to be dead. And all the detective needed was a superficial exam by this man, whose word was never questioned in court.

Shell die again soon enough. The medical examiner held up a clipboard and read the patients chart. Her attending physician has a note here, Do not resuscitate. Shes brain-dead. Give her another ten hours without life support. Thatll kill her. He turned to the bald man beside Riker. Loman, bring the body to my dissection room in the morning. But first check for a pulse.

Lieutenant Loman seemed close to death himself. A virus epidemic in the East Village precinct had short-staffed his squad, and the longer duty hours were showing in his bloodshot eyes and pasty flesh. Not my case, Doc Loman clapped one hand on Sergeant Rikers shoulder. Its his body now.

No way! said Mallory. And now, for Lomans benefit, she glared at the patient, clearly estimating the value of a comatose hooker as being right up there with a dead cat.

Its your case, kid. The lieutenants voice was still in that cautionary zone of rumbling thunder. A deal is a deal. Sparrow was Rikers snitch. He wants the body.

Mallory gave Riker the squads camera, as if she might need two free hands to finish this fight. She turned to face Loman. So a John strings up his hooker. Thats not a case for Special Crimes, and you know it. As an afterthought, she remembered to say, Sir, then promptly abandoned the protocol for speaking with command officers. Palm it off on the cops in Arson.

The guys a freaking psycho!' Lieutenant Loman moved away from the bed and advanced on Mallory, yelling, Jesus Christ! Look at what he did to her!

What remained of the victims hair was a fright wig of wild spikes, and saliva dribbled from her lips. Adding to this portrait of dementia, her eyes rolled back and forth like shooting marbles.

Riker drew the curtains around the bed, closeting himself with the patient and the medical examiner. Just a quick look, okay?

No, said Dr Slope. Tie a note to one of her toes so Ill know who won the body. Im late for a dinner party.

Beyond the flimsy curtain, a fast, light rapping on the door escalated to two-fisted banging, then stopped abruptly. Riker could hear muffled words of argument from the guard he had posted in the hall. When the banging resumed, Mallory raised her voice to be heard above the racket. She was telling Lieutenant Loman, thanks anyway, but he could keep the dying whore. To his credit, the man never pulled rank on her when he went ballistic, shouting that he was understaffed, that his men were stacking up corpses in a heat wave when tempers were exploding and homicide rates soared.

August was a busy season for cops and killers.

Dr Slope had formed a shrewd guess about the incessant banging on the door. His wry smile said, Gotcha. The attending physician wouldnt allow his patient to be stripped for an audience of cops. Am I right? He stared at the camera in Rikers hand, as if he suspected the detective of being a closet pornographer.

The doctors a kid, an intern, said Riker. Even if he did the exam what good is his testimony in court?

The door-banging was louder now, accompanied by shouts of Let me in, you bastards!'

Dr Slope dropped his smile. And that would be our earnest young doctor trying to get to his patient. Any idea how many laws youre breaking tonight?

Well, yeah Im a cop.

Riker heard the door open. Mallory was speaking to the young doctor in the hallway, saying, This is a hospital. Keep the noise down. The door slammed, and her bargaining with Lieutenant Loman resumed. Ive got my own problems with manpower, she said. Id need at least three of your men to make it worth my while.

Youre nuts! NutsF The lieutenants voice was cracking. If Mallory had not been Markowitzs daughter, he would have slammed her into the wall by now.

Behind the thin protection of the curtain, Riker lowered his voice to plead with the chief medical examiner. Just five minutes? A fast exam, a few samples for

Not a chance. Slope turned in the direction of the banging. You have to let that doctor in.

Why? What can he do for her now? Hell stop the

If this woman has family, youre leaving the city open for a lawsuit. So well go by the book.

As Slope reached for the curtain, Mallory ripped it aside. Behind her, the door was closing on the East Side lieutenant. As a parting gift, Loman must have released his pent-up aggression on the doctor in the hall, for the banging had ceased.

I made Loman give us two detectives for grunt work. Mallory turned to face Dr Slope. Dead or alive, we need the exam. Now.

The chief medical examiner was a man who gave orders, and he was not about to take this from her. All of that was in his voice when he said, The victim will be dead by morning. This can wait.

Riker braced for a new round of hostilities, but Mallory surprised him. Maybe youre right, she said. A cover-up is better. And now she had the pathologists complete attention.

Dr Slope folded his arms, saying, What do you

A lot of mistakes were made tonight, said Mallory. No one called an ambulance. A rookie fireman decided the victim was dead. Maybe because she didnt blink who knows? He used to be a cop, so he preserved the crime scene. She pointed to the hospital bed. And he left that woman hanging.

Her foster father had been Edward Slopes oldest friend and the founder of his weekly floating poker game. The doctor had known Mallory in her puppy days, loved her unconditionally, and knew better than to trust her. He turned to her partner for confirmation of this highly unlikely scenario.

It happened, said Riker. Its the East Village virus. No senior men were riding on that fire truck tonight.

Mallory all but yawned to show how little this case mattered to her. So Lomans detectives go along with a call of homicide by a fireman. And then your man, a doctor the only one authorized to operate a damn stethoscope he confirmed the death.

If he confirmed it

I hear things, she said. I know all about the corpse that woke up in your morgue last month another victim who wasnt quite dead. Was your assistant on that case too?

Im sure this woman was dead at the time

Youll never be sure. She stepped back to appraise his tuxedo, then reached out to run one red fingernail down a satin lapel. But what the hell. Its a party night. This was one of Mallorys more subtle insults: the fireman, the police and Slopes own assistant had all done their part to turn a womans brain into coma soup but why should that spoil the doctors fun? No great loss. Mallory glanced back at the door, then lowered her voice to the range of conspiracy. Shes just a whore. Well let the nurses wash the body and destroy the evidence. No one will ever know what happened tonight.

She turned her back on an outraged Edward Slope, and this was Rikers cue to step forward and soften the damage, saying, I need this exam. Its gotta be now. And last, the finishing touch, he saved the doctors face with a bribe. Youll get a police escort to the party. Traffics murder tonight.

Youve won my heart. Dr Slope set his medical bag on the bed, then turned to Mallory. Kathy, take notes. This was the doctors idea of getting even, for she always insisted on the distancing formality of her surname. He smiled, so pleased by her irritation, as he pulled on latex gloves.

No makeup. Riker leaned over the bed to take the first photograph. Looks like Sparrow was in for the night. So the perp wasnt some John she picked up on the street. Any sign of drugs?

Dr Slope examined the womans eyes, then the fingernails. Nothing obvious. There was no bruising on her arms, nor any fresh puncture wounds. He clicked on a penlight and examined the nasal passages, then pulled an empty syringe from his bag. Shes not snorting it, but Ill get a blood work-up.

When the sheets had been pulled away and the hospital gown untied, an old stab wound was exposed on Sparrows left side. Looks like a knife was twisted to widen the cut sheer cruelty. Dr Slope was impressed. I gather this isnt the first time someone tried to kill her.

Through the cameras viewfinder, Riker watched the other mans gloved fingers explore the scar. It happened a long time ago.

A street fight?

Thats my guess. Riker knew Mallory could give exact details of that fight, but she was continuing the long silence of Kathy the child. Sparrow was real good with a knife.

In that case, Id hate to see the damage to her opponent. The pathologist looked up. Or perhaps I did on the autopsy table?

Riker merely shrugged, for he disliked the idea of lying to this man. It wasnt my case. And that was the truth. He turned the camera on Sparrows face. Even after seeing proof of her identity, it had taken him a while to recognize those naked blue eyes undisguised by mascara and purple shadow. Two years ago, the prostitutes hair had been bleached to straw. Tonight, what was left of it was a more natural shade of blond. And there had been other changes since he had last seen this woman.

Awe, Sparrow, what did you do to that wonderful shnoze?

Once, her broken nose had been a dangerous-looking piece of damage in the middle of her pretty face, hanging there like a dare. Now the nose was remade, and all that remained of her character was a slightly prominent chin that stuck out to say, Oh, yeah? the bad-attitude line of a true New Yorker.

At their last meeting, Sparrow had been in her early thirties. The street life of drugs and whoring had aged her by another twenty years, but now she seemed brand-new again so young. She had a facelift, right?

Rhinoplasty too, said Slope, and dermabrasion. Her last surgery was a brow lift. Theres still some post-op swelling. Nice work expensive. I gather she was a pricey call girl.

No, nothin that grand. Sparrow had never been more than a cheap hustler with an accidental gift for making him laugh. When she was a skinny teenager, Riker had turned her into an informant.

You were soaking wet that night, too stoned to come in from the rain.

She had strutted up and down the sidewalk, shaking her fists at skyscrapers and hollering, praying, God! Give me a lousy break! All of Sparrows deities lived in penthouses, and she had truly believed that manna would fall from heaven on the high floors if she could only get the gods attention.

But you never did.

Over the years, she had peddled her body to pay for heroin, always vowing to kick the habit tomorrow and tomorrow. Lies. Yet Riker remained her most ardent sucker. He gently touched a short strand of her butchered hair. What did the perp use on her? Scissors or a razor?

The pathologist shrugged. Haircuts are not my area.

It was a razor, said Mallory, who paid hundreds of dollars for her own salon expertise.

Riker imagined the weapon slashing Sparrows hair, her eyes getting wider, awaiting worse mutilation as the razor moved close to her face her brand-new face stringing out the tension until she lost her mind.

Mallory moved closer to the bed. What about that mark on her arm? That looks like a razor, too.

It might be, Slope corrected her. So be careful with your notes, young lady. I will read every word before I sign them. He bent low for a better look at the long, thin scab on Sparrows arm. This is days old not a defensive wound. He consulted the patient chart. Her doctor did a rape kit. No semen present. No sign of trauma to the genital area. He glanced at Mallory. I cant rule out sex with a condom and a compliant hooker. So dont get creative. After rolling the nude woman on to her stomach, he examined the back of each knee, then checked her soles and the skin between her toes. There were no fresh punctures.

Sparrow had beaten her addiction. She was clean again.

And young again starting over.

Where were you going with your new face?

After reviewing the notes, Edward Slope signed them, thus completing his own hostage negotiation, and Mallory opened the door to set him free. He backed up quickly, making way for a man in the short white coat of a hospital intern. The young doctor crashed into the room with a jangling, rolling cart full of metal and glass equipment and a running nurse at his heels.

Dr Slope stayed to watch the intern and nurse as they outfitted their patient with tubes and wires. Whats the point of this if she

Shes got brain activity. The intern tracked Sparrows rolling blue eyes with the beam of his penlight. I never shouldve listened to the damn cops. They told me this woman was revived twenty minutes after death. That cant be true. He turned on a startled Riker. And you had no right to keep me out of here. Suppose shed gone sour before I got her on life support?

Thats enough. Edward Slope looked down at the smaller doctor, then held up a wallet with his formidable credentials. Satisfied that the younger mans testicles had been neatly severed, he continued. Your patient was never in any danger while I was here. He reached down to pick up the clipboard that dangled from a chain on the bed rail, then pointed to the bottom of the page. I see a clear order not to resuscitate. He glanced at the interns name tag. I assume this is your signature?

Yes, sir, but that was before I saw the EKG results.

Screwed up, didnt you. This was not a question, but Slopes opinion of inexcusable error.

The intern had the look and the whine of a petulant boy. I told the cop my patient needed life support.

Nobody told me anything, said Riker. I didnt know.

She knew! The young doctor whirled around to point an accusing finger, but Mallory was gone, and the door was slowly closing.

Riker settled into a chair beside the bed. He was fifty-five years old, but feeling older, shaken and suddenly cold. Yet he managed to convince himself that no cop would leave herself so exposed to a charge of manslaughter by depraved indifference to human life -and that Mallory had not just tried to kill Sparrow.

PROLOGUE | Crime School | CHAPTER 2