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CHAPTER 3

Riker watched the sidewalks roll by the passenger window of Mallorys tan sedan. The landscape kept changing on him. Early memories of beatniks in funereal black gave way to colorful flower children, hippies with love beads, and bless the girls with diaphragm earrings who had bedded every boy with a guitar.

Rock n roll. Salad days.

Nose rings were the next new thing in another parade of fearless children with hair every color of the chemical neon rainbow. Girded in tattoos and vintage corsets with cruel metal spikes for nipples, they had flung themselves into the badlands of the East Village.

This morning, he saw a girl in a white polo shirt and jeans still creased from the store hanger. Another yuppie strolled by in a similar uniform. One day, while Rikers back was turned, the kids had all gone shopping at The Gap.

He turned to his partner behind the wheel. Maybe I should do the interview with Tall Sally. He might as well have added the words, just to be safe. It was not the size of the ex-convict that worried him, but Sals history with Sparrow when Kathy Mallory was a child. Its not that you cant handle it

The car stopped before the light turned red. No warning! Not fair! She hit the brakes hard and slammed him toward the dashboard. His teeth were saved by a seatbelt, but it was a near thing. So thats a definite no, said Riker.

After the silent wait for a green light, the car moved on, and Mallory lowered her dark glasses. You think I should do the old woman instead?

Enough said. According to a police report, the elderly witness was very fragile in mind and body. Mallory might want to take her out for a drive.

The detectives pulled up to the curb in front of the crime scene. Riker stepped out of the car and watched it drive off, passing only one other moving vehicle. Sparrows street had a tranquil character in the early morning light. There were flower boxes on some of the window ledges, a sign of gentrification, law and order, though last nights mob had made off with all the blooms, and now the headless stalks were turning brown.

The detective on loan from Lieutenant Loman was hovering near the front steps of the apartment building. All dressed up in a suit and shiny new shoes, the youngster shifted his weight from foot to foot, suspecting that he was in trouble and he was.

Rikers gaze traveled over the smoke-stained bricks, then down to the yellow crime-scene tape lying on the sidewalk. It had been pulled aside so a man in coveralls could board up the broken window. A familiar uniformed officer stood guard over Sparrows basement apartment. Riker smiled. Hey, Waller. Go grab some food. Im gonna be here awhile. He nodded toward the workman and the young detective. Ill make sure they dont run off with anything.

After the patrolman had crossed the street and passed out of earshot, Riker turned to face the worried young cop in the dark suit. The new man was in that whiteshield limbo between a uniforms silver badge and a detectives gold. And he was too young to have been promoted without a father-in-law at Number One Police Plaza. His sole distinguishing feature was bleached hair that went beyond blond; it was yellow, the color of a baby duck.

And Riker christened him accordingly.

Department politics dictated that he handle Duck Boy with great care, and so he held up the young detectives report and crumpled it into a tight ball, saying, This sucks. Riker was not usually that fancy with his critiques. The wadded-up paper should have made words unnecessary, but he was feeling expansive this morning. He looked toward the window of a first-floor apartment directly across the street, then squinted to make out a womans head piled high with white hair.

How he loved old ladies, the watchers of the world.

He opened the crumpled ball of paper, Duck Boys idea of an interview, and read the closing words aloud, Religious fanatic. Ramblings of senility. Thats it? What the hell kind of a witness statement is this? When I send you back to Lieutenant Loman, hes gonna think I didnt raise you right.

Officer Waller had returned with his breakfast in a brown deli bag, and now Riker crossed the street with Duck Boy following close behind, and they climbed a short flight of stairs leading up to the front door of a narrow building.

This is a school day. The senior detective pushed the buzzer. Keep your mouth shut and listen!'

The door was opened by a bespectacled elderly woman in a long and flowery summer dress. Her lenses were thick, and one eye was clouded with cataracts, yet she recognized Duck Boy immediately, and it was obviously not a pleasant memory. Oh, youve come back.

Riker detected a trace of the Southland in her accent. Emelda Winston? Im Detective Riker. May I call you Miss Emelda?

Why, of course you may. Her eyes lit up, and even her red-painted toes were thrilled, curling and uncurling in her sandals. She belonged to him now, charmed by this old custom of address never observed in northern climes.

Now you boys come right in. She stepped back to open the door a little wider. Ive got a nice breeze goin in my parlor.

When the two men had been seated awhile on a gigantic horsehair sofa, Miss Emelda returned to the front room, rolling a tea cart laid with white linen, glassware and a plate of chocolate chip cookies.

So youre here about Sparrow. She lifted the pitcher of lemonade and poured each of them a glass. You know, I was the one who called in the fire.

So that was you? Riker glanced at the younger man. No one told me. He bit into a cookie that was definitely homemade, for it lacked the preservatives to keep it from turning to stone. So, Miss Emelda, how well did you know Sparrow?

Not well at all, Im afraid. That poor girl. She just moved in a few weeks ago.

Then you dont know what she did for a living?

Oh, yes. She was an actress. But I dont see how she made a living at it. I went to her dress rehearsal yesterday. The play was in the basement of the elementary school, and they were only planning to charge a few dollars a ticket. I suppose theyll cancel it now.

Riker nodded. I wondered why Sparrow was wearing those clothes. Long-sleeved blouse, long skirt boots. So that was her costume for the play?

Yes, they were doing a period piece, something by Chekhov, I think. The old woman smiled. Sparrow was surprisingly good. A very moving performance.

After consuming two more rock-hard cookies and nearing the dregs of the lemonade, they were old friends, Riker and Miss Emelda.

Maam, said Duck Boy, violating orders of silence, why dont you tell him about the angel.

Oh, yes last night. Well, the crowd parted, just for an instant, mind you, and there was the angel floating in front of Sparrows window. Miss Emelda clapped her hands. Just glorious. But there was nothing about the angel in the morning papers.

Riker continued to smile, as if she had just said something perfectly rational. Can you describe the angel?

I think it was a cherub. She fished in the pocket of her dress and pulled out a small Christmas tree ornament. I showed this to the young man. She nodded toward Duck Boy, then spoke to Riker in a stage whisper, But he didnt seem to understand. He thinks Im pixilated.

Riker shook his head in sympathy. Kids today, huh? He stared at the ornament in her hand, a pair of white wings attached to the disembodied head of a child with gold curls. The detective turned to the window behind the sofa and its view of Sparrows apartment across the street. And now he knew that the old womans angel was a cop. Last night, Mallorys black jeans had disappeared in the dark; Miss Emelda had only discerned the blond hair and white blazer, a winged thing on the fly.

It was a miracle, she said, hands clasped in prayer.

Riker was satisfied that, thick lenses or no, the old woman could see well enough. He drained his glass, then leaned forward, speaking as one gossip to another, Just between you and me, who do you think did it? Who hung Sparrow?

The reporters. Naturally.

Duck Boy rolled his eyes, then winced when his supervisor kicked him. This act was hidden behind the safe cover of the tea carts linen. It was a clear shot to the shinbone, and Riker hoped it hurt like hell. He turned back to his star witness and smiled. I never trusted reporters myself She nodded. Theyre everywhere. Even in the trees watching us all the time. I saw one of them out there with his camera. And that was before I smelled smoke. Very suspicious, dont you think?

Yeah, said Riker. So this reporter did you get a good look at him?

Im sorry, no, not his face. His back was turned. I remember his camera. Oh and he wore a white T-shirt and blue jeans. He mightve had a baseball cap. Yes, he did. Im sure of it now. She made a delicate moue of distaste. I remember when reporters wore suits and ties.

Riker glanced back at the window, attempting to judge the zone of Miss Emeldas vision. She could not have seen anything across the street in great detail, or she would never have made Mallory into an angel. How close was this guy?

He was in a tree. Didnt I tell you that? Oh, yes, right in front of my building. Then that van showed up with the other news people from the TV station. The name of the news show was painted on the side of the van, but I cant remember which one it was Im so sorry. Well, as you can imagine, it was quite a time. The fire engines came a minute or two after that. Of course the fire didnt amount to much thank the Lord.

Amen, said Riker. So the guy with the camera climbed a tree before the news van showed up?

Yes, and before I smelled smoke. Miss Emelda walked behind the sofa to stand before the window. She pointed at a nearby oak on the sidewalk. It was large, one of those rare specimens that thrived in cement. Thats the tree.

Maam? Duck Boy took out his pencil and notebook. Did the suspects videocam have a network logo?

A confused Miss Emelda turned to the senior detective, silently asking what language the youngster was speaking.

I know, said Riker. All cameras look alike to me.

I can show you mine. The woman bustled out of the room, then returned with an old Instamatic. Now his was a bit smaller than this one, and maybe the brand was different. His couldve been a Polaroid. But the pictures popped out the front, same as mine. They develop themselves right before your eyes. Ill show you.

Duck Boy was blinded by the flash and caught in the act of snapping his pencil in two.

The carpenter was gone when Riker emerged from Miss Emeldas apartment and crossed the street with Duck Boy. He had one more piece of information from his witness, and serendipity the man he most wanted to hurt was within reach. Ex-cop Gary Zappata was starting down the steps to Sparrows basement apartment when Officer Waller grabbed him by the arm and roughly pulled him back to the sidewalk.

Back off I got business here! The shorter man puffed out his chest the better to display a fire department logo emblazoned on his T-shirt, as if this passed for credentials.

Riker guessed that Zappata had been asked to turn in his firemans shield and identification. Soon there would be a hearing on charges of gross misconduct, the prelude to being fired from his new job.

Officer Waller blocked the entrance to the basement room.

Get out of my way, said Zappata. I wont tell you twice.

Unimpressed, the policeman responded by tipping back a can of orange soda and draining it dry. The pissing contest was officially underway, and Waller was already winning. A true son of New York City, he bit into a bagel and looked up at the sky, ignoring the ex-cop, soon to be an ex-firefighter.

Zappata turned to see the two detectives step on to the sidewalk. He pointed to the senior man and yelled, Hey, you!

Riker so rarely answered to that form of address, and he liked the commanding tone even less. He waved the man off, saying, It can wait.

You weasel.

After opening the door to Wallers patrol car, Riker motioned Duck Boy to follow him into the front seat. When the windows had been rolled up, he said, Did you get all that?

All what?'

Sparrows acting gig. We just expanded her social circle. I want names for everyone at that dress rehearsal. And the reporters were on the scene before the fire engines turned out. Even if the old lady was slow to call in the fire they shouldnt have beaten the engines. Youre gonna find out why that news van was in this neighborhood. And I dont care who you have to sleep with. But you wear a condom when you bang a reporter. You dont know where those bastards have been. Riker reached across the other mans chest and opened the car door. Move!

The young detective was quick to scramble out, and then he was off and running down the street. The duckling was launched.

Detective Riker took his own time stepping out onto the sidewalk. Now he was looking down at the short fireman.

Gary Zappata rolled back his muscular shoulders, gearing up for a fast round of King of the Hill.

Of all the stupid kid games.

The detective made a point of looking at his watch to convey that his own time was worth a lot more. He glanced at the fireman, as if he had just noticed him standing there. Yeah, what?

Zappata nodded in Wallers direction. He wont let me in.

I got orders. Officer Waller leaned down to attach the crime-scene tape to a gatepost. Only Special Crimes detectives get in. Punk firemen dont.

Riker shot a warning glance at the man in uniform. Waller had never served with Zappata, the former loose cannon of the SoHo precinct. A nutcase ex-cop was too dangerous to have for a friend or an enemy.

Wheres your damn partner? Zappata demanded.

Right about now, Mallory should be walking into Macys department store in search of New Yorks tallest whore. Shes busy. So am I. The detective was more blase about making his own enemies. And now he flirted with the idea of putting this man on the short list for Sparrows hanging. Was that ludicrous? Would Zappata have the balls to beat up a Girl Scout in a fair fight? In this idle moment of indecision, Riker put a cigarette in his mouth, then slowly fished through his pockets for matches just to make the man a little crazier than he already was. You got one minute of my time. Did that make the fireman angry? Oh, yes, and so tense his facial muscles were twitching. Some days, Riker really loved the job.

Your partner got me suspended from the Fire Department, said Zappata. I guess I stepped on her toes last night.

Yeah, I heard about you playing detective on the crime scene.

That bitch is the one

Nobody heard it from her. She never rats on anybody.

Then how

You figure it out. And now maybe you can explain the damn lightbulb over the front door.

What?

Zappata, I got a witness who says that light was out when the firemen got here. Now, I dont figure you guys carry spare bulbs on the truck, so Im guessing some jerk figured the bulb might be loose. So this freaking idiot reached up, twisted it. And sure enough, it wasnt burnt out -just loose in the fixture.

Riker knew he was onto something. There was too much white in the firemans eyes fear. But this criminally stupid fireman never thought to mention it to the cops. I guess he figured we wouldnt care if the perp was some stranger hiding behind the garbage cans, waiting to surprise that poor woman in the dark. Naw, better we should think Sparrow opened the door for somebody she knew. Then we could waste a few days spinning our wheels.

There was no one Riker hated more than Zappata. If Sparrow had come down from the rope in time, her coma-blind eyes would not roll aimless in their sockets, and she would not drool.

He had one last salvo to take this man down. Im guessing this moron fireman took his gloves off before he touched the bulb. Riker turned to the uniformed police officer. Waller! Get a CSU tech over here. He pointed to the light fixture over the door. Have him take that lightbulb and dust it for prints.

Riker turned his back on the subdued Zappata and walked down the street toward his next appointment, on Avenue A, where he planned to kill off a ten-year-old girl for the second time.

The doors opened and the carnage began. Two inexperienced women were roughly pushed aside, and a man fell down on one knee. Shopping in the city was no game for tourists, otherwise known as the halt and the lame. Behind the display counters, men and women, flushed with adrenaline, waited on the enemy. Onward marched the hordes of customers and one tall blonde in Armani sunglasses.

Everything Detective Mallory wore flaunted the idea that she was a cop on the take. The silk-blend T-shirt allowed her skin to breathe in style, and the dark linen blazer was tailor made. Even her designer jeans bore the detailed handwork of a custom fitting. And with dark glasses to cover her green eyes, she bore no resemblance to a hungry child who had once robbed this store on a regular basis, ripping off items from the shopping list of a drag-queen hooker.

Tall Sally had always been fanatically devoted to Macys and prized their goods above items stolen from any other store. Over time, the sales people had become too familiar with Sals apprentice shoplifter, ten-year-old Kathy Mallory. Sometimes the clerks had departed from the armor of New York attitude to lean over their counters and wave. This had confused the little thief, for she had only targeted Macys once a week, and she had never been caught in the act of stealing.

How had they recognized her?

As a little girl, she had not seen the obvious answer in her own intense green eyes and a face that was painfully beautiful unforgettable. The homeless child had passed by a hundred mirrors in this department store, but failed to notice her own reflection in any of them. It had been a shock to discover that sales clerks could see her.

One day, the child had attempted to solve this old puzzle, deciding that unwashed clothing had made her stand out from the crowd. She had taken more care with her wardrobe, donning freshly stolen jeans before setting out for Herald Square. Her dirty hair had been swept up under a baseball cap, the better to blend with cleaner shoppers. And the little girl had added one more touch to her disguise, a pair of wildly expensive designer sunglasses with real gold frames which no one in that middle-class throng could possibly afford.

And then she had felt truly invisible.

Fifteen years later, Detective Mallory had upgraded to even more expensive sunglasses, and the sales people had also changed.

She scanned the unfamiliar faces as she passed the counters, hunting a clerk who was seven-feet tall with long platinum-blond hair. Apparently, staid old Macys had relaxed the hiring policy. Or perhaps Tall Sally had convinced them that a job in their store was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream and this was true. She found the transvestite working behind a cosmetics counter. Of course. Now Sal could steal all the makeup in the world, and without the assistance of small children. Voice jacked up to a high falsetto, the sales clerk said, May I help you, miss?

Dont you know me, Sal?

No, there was no sign of recognition in the heavily painted gray eyes. Mallory held up her gold shield and ID. This is about Sparrow.

Put that away. Tall Sallys voice dropped into a deeper, more masculine register. Whyre you guys hassling me? I see my parole officer every damn week.

Mallory lowered her badge. Does Macys know about your rapsheet? No? What a surprise. Sal had lied on the job application, failing to mention convictions for grand theft and corrupting the morals of minor children. Mallory laid her leather folder on the counter, keeping the badge in plain sight. Sals eyes were riveted to the detectives gold shield, regarding it as a bomb. Sparrow used to work with you. Does that help?

Its a big store, honey. What department did she work in? Cant say I recall the name.

What about me, Sal? Remember running out on me?

Aloud, Mallory said, You and Sparrow were booked for prostitution in the same raids. You both gave the same street corner as your employment address. Dont even try to jerk me around.

Well, back in those days, I knew a lot of whores. You cant expect me to remember every

Does Macys personnel director know that youre a man?

Im the real deal, Detective. Sal thrust out a chest of formidable breasts. In all my parts, if you know what I mean.

Sex change?

Tall Sally nodded.

The parole officer had not mentioned this, and Mallory knew the thief had been incarcerated in an all-male facility. The surgery must have been recent. Expensive operation. You didnt get that kind of money working in a prison laundry. Doing your own stealing these days? Or do you still use little kids?

I had some money saved.

In other words, Sal had stolen a lot of money. But Mallory had a vivid memory of Sal holding a set of lock picks just beyond the reach of a child and making threats, saying, Kid, if you get caught, forget my name, or Ill mess you up real bad. Ten-year-old Kathy Mallory had snatched Sals picks, then walked up to a delivery truck and opened the rear doors in record time. The student had surpassed the master.

Remember leaving me behind?

As always, the drag queen had been standing a safe distance away while Kathy had done the robbery alone, a little girl with puny arms struggling to unload VCRs into a grocery cart. At the first sight of a police car, Tall Sally had climbed into a station wagon, obeying all the laws and traffic lights while driving away and abandoning the child.

Two uniformed officers had seen Kathy standing just inside the open doors of the delivery truck nowhere to hide, no way to run. The small thief had walked to the edge of the truckbed, raised one thin white hand and waved at the policemen. Big smile. Grinning, they had waved back, and their car had rolled on by.

All these years later, Tall Sally did not recognize the child all grown up and still holding a grudge.

So its just a coincidence, said Mallory. You get a vagina installed about the same time Sparrow gets a new nose.

That junkie whore got her nose fixed? Tall Sallys voice had shifted back to fluttery high notes, for this was girl talk. So tell me, hows it look?

And now Mallory could believe that the two prostitutes had no recent history. Tall Sally had always been an inept liar, embroidering details to death and advertising every falsehood but not this time. There was no exaggerated protest. Sal had never seen Sparrows new face.

Along Avenue A, half-naked men with jackhammers ripped up the street, choking the air with particles and shaking the pavement in front of the bookshop. Riker had the taste of dust in his mouth as he stood before the display window and perused the titles of worn paperbacks. This morning, he planned to be the first customer.

John Warwick was walking toward him now, thin and wasted, moving slowly, doing his old mans shuffle. He bowed his white head, unwilling to meet the eyes of passing pedestrians. And now he paused at the door to his shop.

Hey, John. Remember me?

The bookseller turned his face to the window and spoke to the detectives reflection in the glass. Riker. Whats it been, fourteen, fifteen years?

Sounds right. I came about that old western you tracked down for Lou Markowitz.

The bookseller drew back, as if he feared that Riker would strike him. Its not for sale. You cant have it. It belongs to the girl.

Shes dead, Riker lied. And you know that. Markowitz told you

No. Warwick shook his head. After fifteen years, he still believed that a ten-year-old Kathy had merely been lost. How close to the truth he had come. And he had sussed out his truth aided only by his paranoid distrust of police.

So you still have the western? This was impossible, for Riker had found that book in Sparrows apartment, but evidently Warwick had lost track of the shops inventory.

Of course I have it. You think Id give it to anyone but her?

Its over, John. The kids never coming back. And now he posed a question disguised as frustration. When was the last time you heard anyone ask for that book?

Every day for the past two weeks. Warwick winced. This woman a tall devil with blond hair.

Close, but Riker knew that the man was not describing Mallory.

Sparrow, said Warwick. That was her name. She wrote it down on a piece of paper her phone number too. I threw it away.

But before this woman came along? Nothing, right? Not a whisper in fifteen years. Doesnt that tell you

The child is alive, said Warwick. You couldnt catch her. No one could. His thin arms were rising as if to defend himself from a blow. And you cant have her book.

Riker wondered how he would phrase questions about Sparrow. He needed a time line for the last days of her life, but he could not interrogate this man in the name of the law. Given Warwicks psychiatric history, that would mean knocking at the door of a very scary closet. John? Can we sit down and talk about this? Just for a few minutes. Then Ill go away.

Warwick pulled out a gray linen handkerchief. He removed his glasses and made a show of cleaning them while casting about for something to say. Markowitz put me through a lot of trouble tracking down that novel. He told me to

Shes dead. She cant come back for the book.

You cant have it! Warwick shouted, then shrank into himself, hunching his shoulders and furtively looking from side to side, as if he believed those loud words had come from someone else. He continued in a hoarse whisper, Because she might come back.

John Warwick was a member of Lou Markowitzs choir. He would never give up his vigil, but the threat this posed to Kathy Mallory was very small. Riker was satisfied that this man had never known her name. In the worst possible case, the bookseller might meet her on the street one day and recognize the remarkable green eyes. Or was he still waiting for a ten-year-old child?

Riker stepped back to reappraise this fragile little person, who had always teetered on the edge of sanity. The threat of any authority figure terrified John Warwick. Yet he was making a stand against the police, though he trembled to do it. And this was bravery in any mans philosophy.

Please. Dont make me do this the hard way.

The detective sat down on an iron bench in front of the store. Now that he no longer loomed over Warwick, the smaller man relaxed. I cant make you talk to me, said Riker. And I cant go away until you do. He would not risk another cop canvassing this street and stumbling on to a connection between Sparrow and a green-eyed child who loved westerns. He looked down at the sidewalk and whispered, Please.

Shaking his head, Warwick unlocked the door to his shop and shuffled inside. Two minutes later, he was out on the street again, eyes wild and close to tears. She stole it! Yesterday that book was on the shelf behind my register, and now its gone. That woman stole it when my back was turned.

Playing the public servant, Riker pulled out his notebook to take down a citizens statement on a theft. You said her name was Sparrow? So she was in your store yesterday.

And every day for two weeks. Yesterday she was the last customer. It was just a few minutes before I closed the store. So I know shes the one who stole it. You write that down.

Riker glanced at the hours posted in the shop window. Poor Sparrow. She had wanted the book so badly, but there had been no time to read it before she was mutilated and hung.


CHAPTER 2 | Crime School | CHAPTER 4