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1

It appeared that the woman had died by her own hand in this Upper West Side apartment. It was less apparent that anyone had ever lived here.

The decor was a cold scheme of sharp corners, hard edges of glass and steel, with extremes of black leather and bare white walls. Though fully furnished, a feeling of emptiness prevailed. And the place had been recently abandoned-unless one counted the stranger, the corpse left behind in Kathy Mallorys front room.

The gunshot to the victims heart made more sense after reading the handwritten words on a slip of paper that might pass for a suicide note: Love is the death of me.

If only shed signed the damn thing, said Dr. Slope.

The homicide detective nodded.

Chief Medical Examiner Edward Slope had turned out for this special occasion of sudden death at a cops address. If not for a personal interest in this case, the remains might have been shipped to his morgue on a city bus for all the doctor cared. A house call was not in his job description; that was the province of an on-call pathologist. But tonight Dr. Slope had departed from protocol and forgotten his socks. And, though he wore a pajama top beneath his suit jacket, he was still the best-dressed man in the room.

By contrast, Detective Sergeant Riker had the rumpled look of one who had gone to bed in his street clothes. His face also had a slept-in effect, creased with the imprint of a wadded cocktail napkin. Drunk or sober, Rikers nature was easygoing, but his hooded eyes gave him a constant air of suspicion. He could not help it, and he could not hide it tonight of all nights. The gunshot victim had been found in his partners apartment, and now he awaited the official coin toss of homicide or suicide.

Because the medical examiner had known Detective Mallory in her puppy days, the older man was only mildly suspicious, only a little sarcastic when he asked, And where is Kathy tonight?

Riker shrugged this off, as if to say that he had no idea. Untrue. By a trace of credit card activity, he knew that Mallory had filled her gas tank in the states of Pennsylvania and Ohio. But he thought it best not to mention that his young partner was on the run, for the medical examiner had not yet signed off on a cause of death. The detective looked down at the dead woman, who appeared close to his own age of fifty-five. If not for the bullet hole in her chest, Savannah Sirus might be asleep. She looked all in, exhausted by her life.

Dr. Slope knelt beside the corpse. Well, I can understand why youd want a second opinion.

Oh, yeah.

And Detective Riker needed this opinion from someone in the tiny circle of people who cared for his young partner, though she did nothing to encourage affection. Both men had been forbidden to call her Kathy since her graduation from the police academy; she so liked that frosty distance of her surname. However, the doctor had found it hard to break a habit formed in Mallorys c hildhood, and so she was always Kathy to him. Brave man, he even called her that to her face.

Dr. Slope continued his observation of the corpse. Not the usual way for a woman to kill herself. Women were self-poisoners and wrist slashers. Their suicides were rarely this violent.

Yeah, said Riker, but it happens. This looks like a typical vanity shot to me. That much was true; men were inclined to eat their guns, but the ladies seldom messed up their faces with headshots. He saw the victims chest wound as a small blessing in Mallorys favor.

Theres no evidence that Miss Sirus held the muzzle to her breast, said Dr. Slope, raising a point on the debit side.

Absent was the gunshot residue, the smoky halo of point-blank range, and this had set off alarm bells for the first officer on the scene tonight. This wound more closely resembled a conversational range between victim and shooter. Rather than turn another cop over to Internal Affairs, the West Side detectives had shifted this case to the SoHo precinct where Mallory worked. Riker could still make a case for suicide if the woman had held the gun at arms length-and that scenario spoke to fear of firearms. Perhaps Savannah Sirus had even closed her eyes before she pulled the trigger.

Or maybe Mallory shot her.

After the corpse had been rolled over, Dr. Slope pulled a thermometer from his black bag. Riker, who was old school, averted his eyes as the medical examiner raised the ladys s kirt and pulled her panties down. The detective moved to the couch to wait out the findings on the body temperature.

Alongside the Polaroid shots he had taken of the dead body, a cheap handbag lay on the coffee table. It could only belong to the victim, for this was nothing that his partner would carry. Mallorys t aste ran upscale; even her blue jeans were tailored, and squad-room gossip had it that the studs were made of gold. Perverse kid, she did what she could to encourage rumors of illegal income. This was her idea of fun: Catch me if you can.

Hard rain beat down upon a speeding car that was far from home. The small vehicle was deceptive in its styling, for this was not a model rumored to eat up the road, and yet it raced at wild, outlaw speeds.

Nearing the western edge of rainy Ohio, a lone patrolman blinked rapidly to clear his tired eyes, but there was no mistake of blurred vision. His engine was powerful, pushed to the limit on this wet road-and the Vo lkswagen Beetle was leaving him behind.

Impossible.

His aunt owned a car like that one, and he knew the speedometer topped out at one-forty, though he considered that to be a private joke on the part of the manufacturer.

The convertibles color scheme of silver body and black ragtop was all too popular, and the lack of a visible license plate further complicated the problem of identification. It was a short chase-hardly a race. The other car was not speeding up, nor was there any wobble or weave to signify that the driver was in any way alarmed by the spinning red light and scream- ing siren. The troopers radar clocked the VWs cruising speed at a constant one hundred and eighty miles an hour.

Oh, fool!

What was he thinking?

He banged his fist on the dashboard. Damned equipment never worked right. Rain-slick road or dry pavement, that speed was an impossible feat for the little ragtop Beetle. But then, he had never met the driver.

And he never would.

At the subtle rise of road ahead, he could swear that he saw bright streaks of forked lightning under the wheels; the silver car had left the ground, flying, hydroplaning on the water.

The silver Beetle was out of sight when the troopers c ar stopped well short of the Ohio state line-beaten. There would be no official report on his patrol car being humiliated by, of all things, a V o lkswagen, for this would be akin to reporting alien spacecraft. And so, without a single speeding ticket, the small convertible would run Route 80 through the neighboring state of Indiana and across another border into Illinois. The drivers destination was the Chicago intersection of Adams Street and Michigan Avenue -the eye of the storm.

Behind his back, Riker heard the snap of the doctors latex gloves. The examination of Savannah Sirus was done.

The detective asked, oh so casually, as if there were not a great deal riding on the answer, So, Doc, what do I put down for the time of death?

Your absolute faith in rectal thermometers is really quite touching, said Dr. Slope. I dont s u ppose a helpful neighbor heard the shot while he was looking at his wristwatch?

The detective looked over one shoulder and smiled at the older man to say, No such luck. The neighbors had heard gunfire from this apartment on other occasions, and, good New Yorkers all, they had become selectively deaf to what Mallory was doing in here.

Well, then, said Slope, just put down todays d ate for now. Rigor mortis is always a crapshoot, and Ive got too many variables to call a time of death with body temperature. An open window on a cold night-dried sweat stains on her blouse. For all I know, the woman had a raging fever when she died. He circled the couch to stand before the detective. So whatve you got?

Riker upended Savannah Siruss purse and spilled her possessions across the glass coffee table. There were two clusters of house keys. He recognized a silver fob on the set that would open the door to this apartment. Looks like the lady was Mallorys houseguest. Another item from the purse was an airplane ticket from Chicago to New York. I dont t hink well be calling out a crime-scene unit for this one. He was testing the waters here, for the medical examiner had not yet made a pronouncement of suicide.

Dr. Slope turned to face his minions waiting in the hallway beyond the open door. He gave them a curt nod. The two men wheeled a gurney through the front door and set to work on bagging the victims remains. When they had cleared the room, taking the late Savannah Sirus with them, the doctor sank down on the couch beside Riker. You think your partner knows what happened here tonight?

Rather than lie, the detective said, Well, you tell me. One wave of his right hand included the leftovers of a take-out dinner, an empty wineglass and a saucer full of cigarette butts. Point taken?

The medical examiner nodded. He was well acquainted with Mallorys freakish neatness. The young homicide detective would never tolerate anything out of place in her apartment. She was the sort who compulsively straightened picture frames in other peoples houses. Ergo, the mess had been made after her departure. Dr. Slope stared at the open window. Riker? You think our victim originally planned to jump, then changed her mind and shot herself?

No. But he understood the other mans reasoning. This was the only open window on a cold spring night-and the screen had been raised. The woman knew Mallory reasonably well. Shes been staying here awhile. He held up the plane ticket. Got here three weeks ago. He neglected to mention that the ticket was round-trip; Mallorys houseguest had no thoughts of dying in New York City -not on the day she arrived. Savannah Sirus didnt know much about guns and ammo. Now this is the way I see it. She thought the bullet might pass through her body and mess up a wall. Well, Mallory wouldnt like that, would she?

The doctor was shaking his head in accord with this.

Riker continued. So the lady opened that window and pulled up the screen. Thats where she was standing when she shot herself. And it looks like shes been planning this for a while. He pointed to the gun on the floor. You didnt t hink that was Mallorys, did you?

No, said Dr. Slope. I suppose not.

The weapon on the carpet was a lightweight twenty-two, a ladys g u n. Kathy Mallory was no lady; she carried a cannon, a Smith & Wesson.357 with a bigger kick and better stopping, maiming, killing power.

However, Riker knew that this gun on the floor did indeed belong to Mallory. She collected all kinds of firearms, none of them registered, and a twenty-two had its uses. But the matter of gun ownership might interfere with the doctors finding of suicide.

The detective slouched deep into the leather upholstery as he pondered where his partner was headed tonight. And why had she stopped showing up for work?

Mallory, what did you do with the time-all your crazy days of downtime?

Rising from the black leather couch, Riker forced a yawn, as if he needed to affect a blas'e attitude about violent death. In fact, he had been born to it, a true son of New York City. Im gonna check out the other rooms.

He passed by the guestroom and caught a glimpse of rumpled sheets and a blanket used by Savannah Sirus. Farther down the hall, another open door gave him a view of Mallorys o w n bedding. There was not a single wrinkle in the coverlet, as if no one had ever slept there, and this lent credence to a theory that she never slept at all. Mallory the Machine-that was what other cops called her.

Dr. Slope was walking behind him when Riker entered another room of spotless good order, his partners d e n, where no dust mote dared to land. Some people had dogs; Mallory kept computers, and they sat in a neat row of three, their Cyclops eyes facing the door, waiting for her to come home. Even her technical manuals were well trained, each one perched on the precise edge of a bookcase shelf. The back wall was lined with cork, and Riker was puzzled by what, at first glance, had passed for striped wallpaper. He turned his head to catch a look of profound shock in the medical examiners e yes.

And that was puzzling, too.

From ceiling molding to baseboards, the cork wall was covered with sheets of paper, each one filled with columns of figures. Riker guessed that these were telephone numbers by the separation spaces for area codes and prefixes. Though reading glasses rested in his breast pocket, he preferred to squint, and now he noticed that six of the numerals were arranged in random combinations, but one floating sequence of four remained the same in every line. So this was what she had been doing with the time since he had seen her last-apart from pumping bullets into her walls, blowing bugs to kingdom come when she could not find a fly swatter. And, given a dead body in the front room, he suspected her of worse behavior. Thankfully, in some saner moment, she had patched the holes in the plaster.

Dr. Slopes eyes widened as he took in the thousands of numbers on the cork wall. Most had red lines drawn though them, all perfectly straight in machine precision. He moved closer to the wall, the better to see with his bifocals. Oh, my God. She drew these lines with a pen.

And those hand-drawn lines could only indicate telephone numbers that had not panned out for Mallory. The detective gripped the medical examiners arm and turned the man around to face him. Youve seen this before. Rikers t o ne slipped into interrogation mode, close to accusation when he said, You know what this is all about. Talk to me.

The doctor nodded, taking no offense. I saw something like this a long time ago-on the Markowitzes old phone bills. As I recall, it was that first month after Kathy came to live with them. So she was eleven years old.

Yeah, sure she was.

Louis Markowitz, a late great cop, and his wife, Helen, had raised the girl as their own, but never would Kathy Mallory talk to them about her origins. She would not even give up her right age. At first, she had insisted on being twelve, and Lou had bargained her down by one year, though she might have been a ten-year-old or a child as young as nine.

The medical examiner stood at the center of the room, wiping the lenses of his bifocals with a handkerchief. Lou showed me his phone bills, line after line of long-distance calls. Kathy made all of them. The doctor stepped closer to the wall, nodding now. Yes, its the same. You see, when she was a child, she was prone to nightmares. Lou thought the bad dreams mightve triggered those calls. Sometimes hed come downstairs late at night and catch her with the telephone. She made hundreds of these calls that first month. This wall reminds me of the Markowitzes phone bill. In every long-distance telephone number, four of the numerals were always the same, and the others just seemed random. She wouldnt t e ll Lou anything helpful, but he worked out a good theory. He knew there was someone out there, some connection to her early life, but she could only remember part of a telephone number.

So Lou called the numbers on his phone bill.

Yes, all of them. And he found an odd pattern. Every call was made at some obscene hour of the night-so even the men were inclined to remember them. You see, when a man answered, she hung up the phone. But if a woman answered, shed always say, Its Kathy, Im lost.

That mustve driven the women nuts.

Yes, it touched their soft spots and their panic buttons. The doctor turned his face to a high-rise window on the dark city. According to Lou, all of the women begged Kathy to tell them who she was-and where could they find her? But the child would just hang up on them. Lou figured that Kathy never got the response she wanted. Those women didnt know who she was. So then shed dial the next combination of numbers trying to make a connection to someone who would recognize her.

A woman. Riker fished through his pockets and pulled out a piece of paper given to him by the first officer on the scene. This note listed sketchy vitals of victim identification, including a home telephone for the late Savannah Sirus. One sequence of four numbers matched the ones repeated on the cork wall. I guess the kid finally made her connection.

Eight hundred miles away, another corpse had been found.

Hours after the windows of shops and offices had gone dark, an umbrella was snatched up by a gust of wet wind. Tearing and twirling, it scraped across the broad steps of the Chicago Art Institute. The only watchers were two great cats, standing lions made of bronze and blind to this broken trophy from the battle against horizontal rain. Their green patinas were altered by strikes of lightning and red flashes from the spinning lights of police vehicles. Cars and vans converged upon the construction site at the other side of Michigan Avenue.

Two homicide detectives were soaked through and through. They surrendered, throwing up their hands and then jamming them into coat pockets. Grim and helpless, they watched the heavy rain come down on their forensic evidence and carry it away. There it went, the body fluids, stray hairs and fibers, all flowing off down the gutter. The corpse, washed clean, could tell them nothing beyond the cause of death-extreme cruelty. There had never been a crime scene quite like this one in the history of Chicago, Illinois, nothing as shocking, nothing as sad.

The religious detective made the sign of the cross. The other one closed his eyes.

The dead man at their feet was pointing the way down Adams Street, also known as Route 66, a road of many names. Steinbeck had called it a road of flight.

The rainstorm had abated, but the owner of the gas station had no plans to do any legal business at this late hour. Locked behind the wide door of his garage was one happy crew of gambling men in the grand slam of Chicago crap games, high rollers only, beer flowing, dice clicking and folding money slapping the cement floor.

Big night.

A fortune was in play amid clouds of cigar smoke when the silver V o lkswagens d river, a young woman in need of gas, had come softly rapping at the door. Then she had banged on the heavy metal with both fists and kicked it a few times, calling way too much attention to the activities inside.

Stop the music!

And now he stood beside her under the bright lights of his gas pumps- and the crap game was forgotten.

Is that what I think it is? The man gazed lovingly upon her engine. Oh, yeah. He looked up at her with a wide grin. Girl, what have you done? A Porsche engine in a V o lkswagen Beetle?

And how had she done it?

Even if he had been cold sober, this problem would have given him a headache. It might have been possible to modify an old model with the engine in the rear, but this was a new Beetle with front-wheel drive, built for an engine under the hood. No kind of engine could work in the damned trunk. Yet there it was.

He had to take three paces back to see how this magic trick was worked. The silhouette of the car was slightly off, elongated, but otherwise a perfect job. The girl had fabricated a VW Beetle onto the frame of the 911 Twin Turbo Porsche. Before he stopped to wonder why she had done such a thing, he had already moved onto the problem of the convertibles roof: that tall hump of a ragtop might cut into the speed, but not by much. Now how would this counterfeit body affect the Porsches performance in cornering?

Hey, girl? If you take a curve too fast, youll roll this car. You know that, right?

Advice and gasoline were all that he could offer her. The tall blonde preferred to work alone. By frosty glare and body language, she had taught him to keep his greasy hands off her immaculate engine.

You got some time? he asked. I could put on a roll bar.

The girl shook her head. No sale. She selected another tool from a lambskin pouch and worked on the mounting for a wiring harness. He guessed there was a rattle that annoyed her. Well, it would never do that again. She made it that tight, stopping just shy of stripping the screws.

Girl, you might wanna think it over. If not here, then get one somewhere else. It was not her money he was after; he only wanted to keep this youngster alive. She appeared to be the same age as his daughter. With a roll bar, youd have a sporting chance to keep your pretty head if the car flips over.

And damned pretty she was with her milk-white skin, her cats eyes and those long red fingernails. The girl in blue jeans was downright unnatural; real people never looked this good at close quarters. And so he guessed that she was not from his part of the world, but maybe from someplace straight up and past the moon. Hers were the greenest eyes he had ever seen. If asked, he would not be able to describe their color in terms of any living thing. Electric, he would say. Yeah, electric green and bright like a dashboard light-not human at all. And he thought she might be carrying a gun beneath her denim jacket.

His gaze had lingered too long on that bulge where a shoulder holster might be. Her eyes were on him now-so cold. She seemed to be looking at him across the distance between a cat and a mouse, and he knew that this was all the warning she would ever give him. He had his choice of two creatures: she might be a stone killer, and then there was his own kind. Youre a cop, right? The mechanic pulled a wallet from the pocket of his grimy coveralls, and he did this slowly-no sudden movements to set her off. He showed her the identification of a retired Chicago police officer.

Her face gave away nothing, not her next move, not anything at all. The situation could go sour at any second. If he had guessed wrong about her, he might wind up dead. In his sixtieth year, his reflexes had slowed. But now, as a sign of trust, she ignored him once more and turned back to a perusal of her engine.

He began to breathe again.

I was on the job for thirty-five years. He faced the bastardized car, and his voice carried just a touch of sarcasm. Thought Id seen it all. Still attempting to make conversation, he said, Nobody would ever figure you for a V o lkswagen type. Not your style, girl. Its a car for people my age, burnout rock n rollers who could never get past the sixties. Hell, this shouldve been my car.

The Porsche beneath the fabricated shell explained a lot-on several levels. A true VW convertible was a happy little vehicle with no hard edges, a cartoon of a car, and it got a smile everywhere it went. He took the young blondes measure again. Cosmetics-like this fake car body hiding a killer engine-could never so neatly disguise what she was. And if this young cop believed that she could work undercover, she was dead wrong. But he could think of no other explanation for a civil servant driving a car with an engine that cost the moon and the stars-unless the kid was on the take.

Her dashboard had another modification that never came from the factory. He made another foray to draw her out for a chance at shoptalk, and he meant copshop. Well, I see you got a police scanner. Me, too.

She studied her engine, forgetting that he was alive.

He tried again. So you know about the murder on Adams Street? No? Did silence mean no on her planet? They found the body right in the middle of the damn road. Real piece of work. I heard the cop chatter on my scanner.

Adams Street and what?

Michigan Avenue. He had a gut feeling that she already knew this address, but his guts had lied to him before, and a bullet fired when his back was turned had forced his retirement from the Chicago Police Department.

Casually, as if opining on the weather, the girl said, And theres something peculiar about the crime scene.

Though she had not asked him a question, he gave her a slow nod to say, Oh, yeah. This ones about as peculiar as it ever gets. Aloud, he said, I bet thats why you turned out tonight. Am I right? Force of habit from the old days, he would always chain one odd thing to another: this strange young cop, this bastard car with New York plates-this crime. A serial killer, right? And New York s got an interest?

Oh, how he missed the Job, his old religion of Copland.

The young blonde packed up her tool pouch and closed the trunk on that fabulous engine. The fuel pump rang its bell-the gas tank was full. She handed him a platinum credit card, giving him second thoughts about her status as underpaid police. She waited in silence for her receipt.

As she was driving off, though he had no hope of being heard, he called after her, You be careful out there! His eyes traveled over darkened buildings where innocent people lay sleeping. And the rest of you stay the hell out of her way, he warned them in a lower voice-in case he had guessed wrong about-what was she called? He looked down at his copy of the credit card receipt and read only one name. Well, dont t hat beat all?

American Express called her Mallory-just Mallory.

The mighty storm front, born in Chicago, had cut a sodden path eastward. It rained on a patch of the Jersey coast, and then, like many another tourist, it crossed the George Washington Bridge, entered New York City and died.

Only a few drops of water pocked the windshield of a sleek black sedan as it rolled out of a SoHo garage and pulled into the narrow street. The traffic was light, and this was good, because Detective Riker was hardly paying attention to the other cars as he rode out of town.

After another check on Mallorys c redit cards, he learned that she had bought a late supper in South Bend, Indiana, still traveling west on Route 80, and leaving no doubt that Chicago was her destination. With one cellphone call, Riker had activated the anti-theft device installed in her car. And then he had bartered his soul to the Favor Bank to bury the paperwork on her surveillance. Given her straight route and likely point of entry, her LoJacks s ignal had been picked up when the car crossed the state line into Illinois. And, thanks to a police car tracker in Chicago, Riker knew that his partner had stopped awhile at a gas station in that city-even before she had used her credit card to pay for fuel. Though she was definitely in flight, he took some comfort in her use of traceable credit instead of cash. And she knowingly drove a car equipped with a LoJack device; this alone spoke well for the theory that she had not murdered Savannah Sirus.

And everything else argued against innocence.

In his request for covert assistance from Chicago, the New York detective had traded on his reputation as a shabby dresser with a low bank balance; these hallmarks of a dead-honest cop made his badge shine in the dark. There were even rookies in the state of Illinois who had heard of Riker. And he planned to destroy the best part of himself-for Mallorys s ake.

He stopped for a red light and closed his eyes. More frightening than the corpse in Mallorys front room was the wall of telephone numbers in her den. If nightmares had triggered her childhood calls, then Riker had to wonder, Kid, what are your dreams like now?


Prologue | Find Me | c