Authors: John Lutz
Tags: #Mystery fiction, #Police, #Serial murders, #Mystery & Detective, #New York (N.Y.), #General, #Psychological, #Suspense fiction, #Thrillers, #Suspense, #Fiction, #Quinn; Frank (Fictitious character), #Detectives - New York (State) - New York
They moved toward the living room and the door.
“I always liked your mother,” Fedderman said as they were leaving. “The few times we met, she seemed like a real lady.”
“She mentioned to me she hated your guts,” Pearl said.
She didn’t look at Fedderman as they went outside into the heat. There was no doubt in her mind the bastard would be smiling.
Quinn, she noticed, had both newspapers folded under his arm. He was irked, but at the same time oddly energized by the sharper focus of the media and the name they’d attached to the murderer. The .25-Caliber Killer.
Name something and make it real. Make it more threatening.
The dial had been turned up. The pressure increased.
It was the kind of pressure Quinn feasted on.
Quinn was having difficulty concentrating on his driving. Having Pearl so near him in the car was affecting him more than he’d imagined.
He understood why she felt the way she did about her mother, but Quinn rather liked the woman. She could be a pest, insistent and insufferable, but she had her finer points. Would Pearl be like her when she grew older? Maybe. Would Quinn still love Pearl? Probably. Simply being so near to Pearl, smelling the subtle combination of her soap and shampoo, being aware of the energy that seemed to emanate from her compact and curvaceous form, made him understand that he would never really get over her. That didn’t mean they’d ever be able to coexist as lovers, but he’d always feel something for her. As for Pearl, it seemed to Quinn that she’d completely gotten over him. He wondered if he could do anything about that.
“You missed your turn,” Fedderman said from the backseat.
His thoughts interrupted, Quinn glanced over and saw that he’d passed West Seventy-ninth Street.
“Woolgathering?” Pearl asked.
“Whatever that means,” Quinn said.
He drove around the block and parked by a fireplug in front of the building where Renz had found them city-provided office space.
The three detectives climbed out of the Lincoln and stood in the heat, looking up at the three-story brick and stone structure. The windows on the top two floors were boarded up. The first-floor windows had aluminum frames and looked new.
“Renz said the place used to be a meth lab,” Quinn said. “There was an explosion on the second floor that damaged a lot of the building, including the third floor and the roof. First floor’s okay, Renz says. That’s us.”
Pearl shook her head. “You gotta admire the way Renz keeps finding us cheaper and cheaper space in a city like New York.”
“The city actually owns this building,” Quinn said. “It was confiscated from the perps running the meth lab.”
They went up half a dozen worn concrete steps and entered the vestibule. Lots of cracked gray tile there, and a bank of tarnished brass mailboxes. Also some black spray graffiti that was illegible but might have been some kind of gang code none of them knew. It was hard to keep up with the city’s gangs. For some of them, graffiti was their lives.
Pearl wrinkled her nose. “Jesus! You smell that?”
Fedderman and Quinn sniffed. There was a slight but acrid scent in the still, warm air.
“I told you,” Quinn said, “it used to be a meth lab. There was what Renz called a minor explosion.”
“Smells like it might explode again,” Pearl said.
They went up another short flight of stairs to the first-floor apartments, one on each side. Quinn tried the door on 1B and found it unlocked. He opened it to see a spacious apartment stripped down to lathing and wooden studs. The bare wood floor was littered with trash, and raw lumber was stacked high in the middle of what must once have been a living room. Several wooden sawhorses and a stack of metal folding chairs stood along the far wall.
“Tell me this isn’t for us,” Pearl said.
Quinn was thinking the same thing. He crossed the hall, tried the door to 1A, and found it unlocked.
It opened to an apartment whose interior walls had been removed except for the kitchen and bathroom. It was one large space, in need of paint to cover the grimy raw wallboard. There were unpainted vertical strips of rough concrete where interior walls had been detached. From inside the spacious room, the new windows appeared dirty and streaked. Some of them still had triangular blue stickers in their upper right corners with the name of the manufacturer. The acrid burnt wood and meth odor had permeated here, too.
“This is more like it,” Quinn said dryly.
Along one wall were three gray steel desks with identical swivel chairs sitting on top of them. Two dented three-drawer black file cabinets sat nearby. Also on each desk was a computer. Lettering on cardboard boxes alongside the desks indicated they were from a used electronics shop in Times Square. Renz doing it on the cheap.
They pushed all the way inside.
“Busy, busy,” Pearl said.
She was talking about the four people in work clothes, three men and a woman, scurrying about with tools and ladders. They ignored the three detectives, concentrating on running wires across the scarred wood floor and taping them tightly so no one would trip over them. The woman, young and wearing a Red Sox cap with her blond ponytail flouncing out the back above the plastic size-adjustment band, was up on an aluminum stepladder with both arms above her head, fiddling with a light fixture.
One of the workers, a handsome guy with lots of curly black hair and a serious cast to his eyes, stood up from where he’d been applying duct tape to run wiring and looked inquisitively at the three detectives.
“Help you?” he asked.
“That’s what you were doing when we came in,” Quinn said. He explained who they were.
“I’m Rusty,” said the man with coal black hair. “We got another four hours’ work here, then the place is all yours. Gotta finish running wiring to where the desks are gonna sit, then put in some ceiling fixtures. It’ll all be crude, but it’ll work and keep working.”
“Like us,” Fedderman said.
“We were told it’s all temporary.”
“Like us,” Fedderman said again.
“You gonna set up the computers?” Pearl asked, thinking she might use her laptop.
Rusty shook his head no. “Somebody from the NYPD’s gonna do all that, fix you up with Internet access, printer, fax machine, whatever. We’re supposed to let him know when we’re done here.”
“It always smell like this?” Pearl asked.
Rusty looked confused. “Like what?”
“Never mind,” Pearl said.
Rusty grinned. “Hope it isn’t me.”
“Not unless you’re flammable.”
His grin widened. “You never know, but there are ways to find out.”
“You don’t flirt with a cop,” Pearl said. “You’ll get run over so flat you’ll never get back up.”
Rusty looked surprised, then thoughtful. Then he nodded.
“We’ll check back this afternoon,” Quinn told him.
“But she won’t have changed her mind,” Fedderman told Rusty, as they were leaving.
Rusty, a fast learner, said nothing.
Quinn drove them to Pizza Rio in Queens, next to where Galin’s body had been discovered in his parked car. Then he assigned Pearl and Fedderman to check with people in nearby buildings to find out if anyone had seen or heard anything unusual the night of the murder—in particular the sound of a shot. Much of this was double-checking, as they’d already read the responding officers’ reports. But that was what police work was all about—double-, triple-checking. Then checking again.
Quinn went inside the pizza joint to see if whoever was in there had been working last night.
It was a small take-out place that smelled great. Quinn thought he might actually be able to reach out and feel the spicy garlic scent wafting from the ovens. There were only three small tables with chairs. They were more for people waiting for carryout orders than for sitting and enjoying a meal. One employee was working behind the counter, a young black guy in his twenties. He was bone thin and had a soul patch growing under his lower lip and a silver Maltese cross dangling from his left ear. He was wearing a stained white apron to protect a stained white shirt. He grinned hugely at Quinn with stained white teeth. The plastic name tag on his shirt said he was Mickey.
“Help you?” he asked.
“Second time today,” Quinn said.
“Help you?” Mickey said louder, thinking Quinn hadn’t heard him over the deafening rap music booming from the kitchen:
“Kill the bitch, do the snitch, got the itch, don’ matter which…”
Quinn smiled back and flashed his shield. “Turn that crap off.”
Mickey looked injured, disappeared into the kitchen, then returned. The abrupt silence seemed to reverberate with a decibel life of its own. “You don’t like rap?”
“Good rap’s okay,” Quinn said.
“Such as what?”
“Second offense, twenty to life.”
“Never heard of ’em. They new artists?”
Quinn ignored the question, since he was here to ask, not answer. “Were you working here last night?”
“Sure was, but I don’t know nothin’ about that cop got hisself shot.”
“How do you know he didn’t shoot himself?”
Mickey shrugged so elaborately it might have been a dance step. “Now you speak of it, I don’t. Did he?”
“How late did you work?”
“Came in at eight, worked till twelve. Do that five evenin’s a week. Go to school durin’ the day.”
“New York University. Gonna make it big in the music industry.”
“Plan to, in court. Gonna be an entertainment attorney. Represent lots of celebrities. Wear loud ties. Maybe get on TV in one of them little squares on talk shows.”
It occurred to Quinn that Mickey might be putting him on. “So tell me how it went the night of the shooting.”
Mickey did his little dance shrug again. “Been sayin’ an’ sayin’, I was workin’ the phone-in orders as usual, passin’ ’em on to the delivery guys, when I noticed some commotion outside.”
“People standin’ around talkin’. Some of ’em pointin’ toward the side of the building. Boss man wasn’t here, so I figured I was in charge. Went out, seen this guy sittin’ in his car parked in the alley. Walked closer an’ seen how he was slumped over. Went to talk to him through his window and seen the window was up. Then I looked in closer, through the windshield, and saw he was dead.”
“Didn’t seem so at the time. But I seen dead before, an’ I knew he wasn’t jus’ nappin’.”
“Where’ve you seen dead?”
“Iraq. Fourth Infantry.”
“Good enough. You touch the car?”
“Naw. I watch TV an’ know better’n to mess with no possible crime scene.”
“You ever seen the victim before?”
“Naw. He wasn’t no customer that I know of.”
Quinn watched Mickey’s face carefully. No change. He figured he was getting the truth here. “You didn’t call the police.”
“No reason,” Mickey said. “I could see that some citizen with a cell phone already done that. I came back in here an’ took some pizza orders, is what I did.”
“You did right,” Quinn said. “One thing, though: you said you were here when that cop got himself shot. He was an ex-cop. How’d you know that?”
“Tha’s two things.”
“I guess it is, technically. You got two answers?”
“Yeah. One: I read about it in the papers, seen TV news. Two: ain’t really no such thing as an ex-cop.”
Quinn chuckled down low in his throat. Mickey looked alarmed, not quite sure what he’d heard was laughter.
“True enough,” Quinn said.
He talked with Mickey a while longer, making sure his story correlated with his earlier statement, then went outside, where it wasn’t quite as warm as inside but didn’t smell as good.
A couple of Hispanic teenagers were hanging around a bike rack at the opposite side of the building from where Galin’s body was found. The bikes chained to the rack were beaten up, looked identical, and had oversized wire baskets attached behind their seats. Quinn realized the teenagers were waiting for instructions from Mickey, addresses where they should deliver pizzas.
“Either of you guys working last night?” Quinn asked.
“Depends if you’re a cop,” said the shorter of the two. He grinned and bounced around as he talked, in a way that suggested he had to do it. Lots of energy. Might have been on batteries.
Both boys wore baggy and low-slung gangbanger pants, but this one had what looked like a dirty athletic bandage around his right ankle, holding the voluminous pants leg in tight so it wouldn’t snag in the bike’s chain. The other boy said nothing. He was as tall as Quinn, wearing filthy jeans, a wifebeater shirt, and a sensitive, somber expression. He had coiled snakes tattooed on both skinny arms. Quinn didn’t think he’d want either of these characters delivering his pizza.
“I’m a cop,” Quinn said “but nobody’s in trouble here unless you guys shot someone.”
shot someone?” the grinner asked. Then he bobbed around some more. “Jus’ jokin’, officer.” He had a Spanish accent he laid on heavily to project a certain pride that came across as arrogance. Quinn understood it and didn’t care.
“You see what happened here last night?”
“Guy gettin’ shot? Never seen it happen. Or even heard it. I came back from makin’ a delivery an’ there was this buncha people.” He put his hands on his hips and struck a mock indignant pose. “I tol’ another officer all this.”
“That’s okay.” Quinn looked at the taller boy, thinking he resembled the old movie actor Sal Mineo. “How about you?”
“I left right before the guy was found. What I know’s what I seen in the papers next mornin’.” His accent was lighter, or maybe he just wasn’t hiding behind it so much.
“See the victim’s photo?”
“Sure. Front page.”
“Ever see him before?”
“No. I don’t think he was from around here.” Quinn saw something change in the liquid dark eyes. Only for an instant, but it had been there.
He’s lying. He knows something.
“Dead guy used to be a cop, right?” the short boy with the attitude said, possibly trying to change the subject, protect his friend.