Location:- Earth 7 New Amsterdam Police Academy.
Date:- March 1938
New Amsterdam was a modern city rising up from the ashes of the old.
Tall skyscrapers of glass and steel stood in regimental ranks like a grasping hand.
But in the shadows of this new metropolis the canker of organised crime and anti Semitism also grew much to the city's shame.
The bright beacon in this darkness was the New Amsterdam Police College where people of all walks of life regardless of creed or colour learn how to push back that darkness.
It was graduation day with all the students line up ready for the march pass.
Stephanie Corrigan stood proudly in line with her nine female compatriots in front of the many ranks of male police cadets, the buckles and shoes of her police blues shining in the early afternoon light.
She was one of an elite group of officers, the first policewomen ever to serve in the Metropolis police department.
A dais had been erected in the parade ground on which the grizzled and greying Academy's Commandant stood with the guest of honour, the Commissioner of Police, Hugh Dennison.
The Commissioner was a tall hansom man in his late fifties, early sixties, with a sad gentle visage that somehow inspired the cadets and officers to do their upmost in their profession.
Hugh had been her fathers partner on that night her parents were gunned down in cold blood.
He arrived moments later to pick up her father for their shift, their duty, to find a screaming child at their blooded bodies, Steffi.
With no near family left alive Steffi was put in an orphanage where only Hugh's visits kept her sane.
The Commissioner tapped the microphone before beginning his address.
"Gentlemen," he paused a moment, "and of course Ladies."
He smiled warmly at the line of women.
"You have succeeded in your training and are about to join the honourable ranks of the cities police force. A police force with a proud tradition of compassion and consideration to the public coupled with a fierce, dogged, desire to bring those that infringe the law to book. Do not let down that tradition.
You join us in troubled times with half of Europe preparing to fall under the Facist Jackboot and Imperial Japan flexing her muscles in Asia.
Congress and the Senate have decided on neutrality but how long this can remain with the old country under threat I do not know. But for now just concentrate on your duties and make the city proud of you, as I am proud of you now.
He stepped back to allow the Commandant access to the microphone.
"Cadet Sergeant Corrigan will lead the cheers and give the Royal Salute."
Steffi took two paces forward.
"Prepare to doff hats." There was the merest of pauses as Steffi like the others took a grip of the their headwear before she carried on. "Doff hats."
The was a ripple of silence as the hats were taken off and held at shoulder height.
"Three cheers to the Commissionaire of Police. Hip, hip, hip. Hooray!"
Steffi's hand drove the hat upward in a proud salute three times.
Steffi , like the rest held her hat and rested it on her shoulder as the Academy band struck up the national anthem.
It was tinny and a little off key which made both Stephanie and the Commissioner winced a little.
"Three cheers for his majesty King George the Sixth." The Commandant called out as the music faded. "Hip hip hooray!"
Stephanie punched her hat up into the air with great pride yelling out the response as loudly as she could.
Before giving the reply. "God save the King!"
She stepped back in line.
The ten young women led the parade passed the lectern for the salute, ready for what ever may come in this male dominated world.
Later at the informal passing out party held in the grand hall, she stood with a couple of other cadets watching the chattering swirling throng.
She sipped at her chilled white wine feeling a little deflated now that the official parts of the day were done.
Stephanie, or Steffi as her small circle of friends liked to call her, was not one for large social events much preferring a more intimate affair with those she liked.
As she took another sip she noticed the Police Commissioner bearing down on her like an icebreaker, the cadets and their families moving out of his way as he ploughed onward.
"Gentlemen," he said when he had reached them, "may I steal this young woman from you for a few moments."
The other cadets treated the request like an order moving swiftly out of the way.
The commissioner led her out in to the relative quite of the balcony where both of them stared out over the city that sparkled in the rays of the setting sun for a few moments.
"Your father and mother would be proud of you Steffi especially your father. He was a fine officer." He told her.
"I'd like to think so sir." Steffi said earnestly.
"Steffi," he pause a moment as if not sure how to proceed, "don't try and use your position to investigate the fire that killed them both, just accept that the police dept did everything it could to find the psycho that started them."
"But you never did, find him I mean. He torched ten buildings over a year killing fifteen people and then stopped for no reason at all and hasn't been heard of since. Someone must know who he is surely." Steffi squared her shoulders. "But what is done is done. It won't bring them back."
Steffi was just eleven years old when she entered the orphanage to suffer under the social workers strict regime. She still had the scars from some of the beatings she had endured.
The only saving grace was the visits by her father's best friend and partner the Commissioner, who was a rookie cop by then.
They turned and looked at the city once more, still alive and vibrant under the increasing neon lights.
"We're going to be at war soon, I can feel it in my bones Steffi." He sighed. "Look after my city for me."
"I will Hugh." She said to his retreating back as he went inside and vanished into the swirling throng.
Date: June 1939
Location: The 10th Precinct House on the corner of 25th street and Dock Road.
Desk Sergeant Stephanie Corrigan looked out over the deadbeats, tramps and prostitutes that were the main clients that frequented this rundown piece of the city and wondered for the umpteenth time if this was what she joined up for.
Take the man that had just entered the lobby. His shoes were scuffed and his trousers threadbare and his overcoat with its upturned collar had seen better days. His fedora was pulled down over his face hiding most of his features.
An informant coming in to collect his fee Steffi decided.
When he reached the desk he took the toothpick out of the corner of his mouth and pushed the fedora up so it rested on the back of his head before giving her a radiant smile.
"Morning Sergeant Corrigan." He said reading the name tag that was attached to her breast pocket. It seemed to amuse him for some reason.
"Can I help you sir." Steffi lifted her head from her paperwork and looked at the man properly for the first time and fell into two stunning violet eyes.
"Detective Sergeant Steve Corrigan homicide to see Chief O'Hare, he's expecting me." He flourished his police badge for her to see.
To cover how flustered he had made her Steffi made a great play of checking her visitors list.
"Yes so I see Sergeant." She looked up and was once again drawn to those eyes. "I'll just telephone the chief and tell him you're here."
The chief was a man of few words, and most of them were expletives, so it was quite a surprise to be summoned to his presence.
"Yes sir I understand." She replied before putting down the phone. "It seems I am to join you Sergeant. Can you give me any clues to what this is about?"
"Nope, no idea myself." He replied running his hand over his slightly stubble chin.
"I'll show you the way. Ben could you take over the desk till Angela arrives or I return please.
"No problem Sergeant." The burly duty officer replied.
"Come in the pair off you and sit down." The Chief indicated the two overstuffed leather chairs facing his desk. "I should imagine your wondering why the pair of you are here."
"I must admit to being intrigued sir especially as this isn't my patch." Steve said with a lazy smile.
"I have read excellent reports on you Sergeant Corrigan and I know the qualities of my own Sergeant here." The chief said with a thin smile. "The pair of you will be starting up a new small division to be called the Serious Crime Squad. You'll be working under a Captain De Cotsa. I believe you already know him Sergeant Corrigan?"
Unfortunately both the Corrigan's spoke at once causing some confusion for a moment.
"A fine officer Sir?" Steve hesitated a little.
"More suited to an administrative role I would have thought." Steve said carefully.
"Correct but he'll be your liaison with the F.B.I., for the rest you'll report directly to me. We're going after the crime families and we need someone who can make sure there are no loop holes in the evidence." The chief paused a moment before adding crisply. "I want the pair of you to work closely together to create a team of eleven officers and clerks from the two precincts. I want them totally vetted. I want them squeaky clean, nothing those slime balls can use to their advantage. You'll use half of floor four. I want the section up and running in three weeks. Oh and Detective Sergeant Corrigan congratulations on your promotion to Lieutenant. It's effective as from tomorrow. Dismissed."
Date:- January 1940
News paper report:-
'Today the notorious Mafia boss Alfredo De Castillo was sent down for four life sentences for murder, prostitution, gun running and strangely, tax evasion.
All of his family and associates also received hefty jail sentences.
This was due in part to a six month long joint investigation by the F.B.I. and the Serious Crime Squad. Elliot Ness of the F.B.I. stated that the arrests could not have gone ahead without the sterling work of the Serious Crime Squad, in particular Detective Lieutenant Steve Corrigan who testimony sealed the case.
Eye witness accounts …'
Date:- March 1941.
Location:- St Jude's Church.
Steve stood nervously in his dress uniform next to his radiant bride.
"Do you Steven Julian Corrigan take Stephanie Juliet Corrigan to be your lawful wedded wife? To have and to hold, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health as long as you both shall live, so help you God." The preacher intoned in a dull boring voice.
"I will." Steve's nerves were evident in his voice.
Yesterday, Steve thought to himself, they were doing the finishing touches to their new apartment and now here he was like a lamb to the slaughter.
"Steve, get your butt out of that chair and grab a paint brush, this wall isn't going to paint itself you know." Steffi warbled in mock anger.
"And I'm marrying you tomorrow I must be totally mad." Steve joked back just managing to duck the thrown brush that was aimed at his head.
"Do you Stephanie Juliet Corrigan take Steven Julian Corrigan to be your lawful wedded husband?"
"I will!" Steffi yelled with joy which brought a ripple of laughter from the congregation and a wry smile from the cleric.
"I know you are impatient to start your new life together my child but I haven't quite finished yet." The vicar joked.
"Sorry." Her face went quite red.
"Now where was I? Oh yes. To have and to hold, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, as long as you both shall live, so help you God." The vicar smiled broadly at her. "I think we know the answer my child but if you could repeat it just for formalities sake."
"I will" Steffi said a little shamefacedly.
"I now pronounce you man and wife. You may kiss the bride."
A great cheer went up as they complied.
At the reception the now ex Commissioner of Police climbed carefully to his feet.
"Ladies and gentlemen pray silence for Sir Hugh Dennison O.B.E." The toast master bellowed.
"Ladies and gentlemen since I am acting in loco parentis for the bride it falls to me to say a few words. Though used to public speaking I am finding this hard to do, so I hope you'll forgive me if I stumble a little." He gave a deep breath. "I had the great pleasure, no honour, to serve alongside Stephanie's late father. As my partner I got to know him well, and as a friend even more so, and I know he would be proud this evening as would his wife Betty. They would be proud to see how their wonderful daughter not only survived their loss and the orphanage but over came them to become the beautiful talented Police Officer she is today.
They would be happy that she is marrying such a fine young man as Stephen, a young man whose past so mirrors Stephanie's"
He paused again as the pain in his chest increased. The years of whisky and nicotine abuse had taken its toll on him. He was dying a slow painful death as the cancer ate into his very being.
"I hope the bride and groom do not think it remiss of me for wandering away from them for a minute to all of you sitting here today.
Yesterday the United States government declared war on Germany after many months of inertia. I know that many of you young men and women sitting here today will be joining up with a new force, the armed forces.
May you serve with pride and if God is kind come home safe."
He lifted his glass in a toast.
"Keep them flying!"
The assembled crowd repeated his words as they raised their glasses but they did not drink the wine, instead they waited for his next words.
"Now to happier thoughts, I give you the toast, the Bride and Groom, Stephen and Stephanie!"
A massive cheer went up and the toast was replied with gusto.
After all the dancing, and after Steffi had changed into her going away outfit, it came the time for them to leave.
Steve stood at the door of his Lincoln with Sir Hugh watching as Stephanie artfully threw her bouquet of flowers over her shoulder in such a way that it was caught by a middle age clerk who was still waiting for her Mr Right.
"Look after her my boy, don't let her get hurt." Hugh said as Steffi gave kisses of goodbye.
"I would rather die first than let her be hurt sir." Steve said earnestly. "Come on darling we've a long way to go and its getting dark."
Steffi looked like a film star in her beige suit, white gloves and little fascinator hat.
"You haven't told me where we're going yet." She said merrily as she clipped over in her matching high heels.
"No It's a secret isn't it Steve." Bob, Steve's best man, slurred as he drunkenly rested against the wall. "Your secret is safe with me Stevee boy."
With that Bob slid down the wall into a seemingly drunken pile.
"So I can see Bob, so I can see." Steve helped Steffi into the car and soon they had vanished into the night.
"Goodbye Steffi, goodbye Steve." Hugh muttered sadly under his breath before rejoining the others back in the hall.
"So we're going up into the mountains then?" Steffi asked as Steve took the turnpike and began the winding climb into the hills.
"Very perceptive of you darling." He chortled as the rain began to fall. "Sir Hugh's letting us use his cabin for the week. I was hoping to take you to Niagara Falls tomorrow but if this rain continues will have to stay in the cabin instead."
"That I don't mind at all Mr Corrigan." She purred sexily but he didn't reply. "What's wrong darling?"
Steve kept looking into his rear view mirror and what with the shear drop on her side and hairpin bends it was making her nervous.
"I thought a car followed us from the turnpike but I can't see it now." Steve told her.
"It may have turned off darling." She tried to sound confident but couldn't quite make it.
"There are no turnings on this road Steffi." Steve's eyes were back on the road as up ahead he could see the faint light of a vehicle's headlamps coming the other way. "Ignore me, I'm just getting jumpy I guess."
Suddenly the cars interior lit up as the hidden car behind them turned its headlights on full. Steve was blinded as the lights hit his rear view mirror.
Unable to see the curve ahead he took evasive measures swinging the car right and left to lose speed, his foot hard on the brakes. But it was to no avail as the car sideswiped the barrier, to balance precariously on the lip over the precipice.
But not for long as the pursuing car pushed it over the edge.
The world spun round in front of Steffi's eyes as the car rolled crushingly down the incline into a tree.
After a few moments of silence to regain her senses Steffi called out to her new husband.
"Steve, Steve, answer me!?"
"I'm here honey are you alright?" Steve groggily replied.
"A few broken ribs I think. You?"
"A broken leg. We've got to get out of the car honey I can smell gasoline."
They both pushed at the doors but only Steffi's opened and then only begrudgingly.
"Get out darling, I'll follow you." Steve didn't get any further as a voice close by said harshly.
"Let's finish this."
Something came through the broken windscreen and landed between them on to the seat. It was a handgrenade.
"Get out!" Steve yelled as he threw himself over it and successfully pushing Steffi out. "I will get you for this!"
"No!" Steffi screamed as the dark night was lit up by a jet of flame, and a force that threw her through the air on to the rocks around the tree.
She could hear Steve still alive screaming as the car ignited.
When she came too she heard British voices nearby but couldn't make sense of what they were saying.
"This ones with the earth goddess Julie, how about yours?" A man said.
"She's still hanging in there. She ain't dancing with the devil yet." A woman's voice said from near her ear. "Troy get out of the van and give us a hand. We need to get her to hospital."
"No way. Death and destruction is bad karma." A spaced out voice replied. "Like it's catching Julie."
"If you don't get out of the camper and give us a hand you'll catch my boot up your lazy tail. Now move it!" The man yelled.
As they tried to lift her the pain made her mercifully pass out.
When she came to she was on a gurney being rapidly wheeled down a corridor with fluorescent lights flashing passed her overhead. She could hear voices calling meaningless medical jargon to each other as they crashed through the double doors into the operating theatre.
"Blood pressure dropping rapidly!"
"Heart failing! Heartbeat erratic and weak!"
"We're losing her!"
This was the night that Stephanie Corrigan died!
Chapter One Pawnbroker of Souls.
Date:- March 1941.
The man watched with hooded eyes from across the street at a small pawnbrokers shop belonging to an old acquaintance, Israel Goldberg, the sunlight glinting off the traditional three balls shop sign into his eyes.
Israel, or Manny as his gentile friends called him, came out from his little office and shuffled in his brown slippers across to his battered old chair behind the counter. A meshed barrier stretched the whole length of the counter.
"Good morning Mrs. Drake what can I do for you." Manny wheezed, starting the monthly ritual off. "Have you come to place your husbands watch in my safe keeping for the weekend again?"
Mrs Drake gave a watery smile.
"If you wouldn't mind Mr Goldberg?" She said shamefacedly as she pushed the watch through the gap in the mesh.
Manny sat and made a great play of examining it even though he knew its value.
"It's a nice piece but you know I can only give twenty five dollars for it. It's quite worn." He looked over his half glasses at her not unkindly.
As usual she looked crestfallen.
"Could you let us have thirty dollars till Tuesday, I'm good for it and I'll be able to pay you back then as my husband's wages will be in." She pleaded.
"If I give you thirty I'd be cutting my own throat." Manny moaned. "But since it's you I'll agree, just this once you understand."
He opened the till and passed the money across.
"How is Mr Drake by the way I haven't seen him for awhile?" He asked as he put a tag on the watch. "Is he still working down the docks?"
"Yes he is, thank you for asking, but not for much longer as he's going to join up tomorrow, if they'll take him." She said surprisingly cheerfully. "We will at least have a regular wage coming in."
She crossed to the door and called back.
"Thank you Mr Goldberg."
Then she left.
Manny sighed. The poor young woman had fallen pregnant at just eighteen and had to marry the father, a young stevedore on the docks. To his credit he works hard to keep his family fed and clothed on what was jokingly called a living wage. But lately the work was getting more sporadic and they were finding it hard to survive.
Manny sighed to himself again as he entered the transaction in his old leather bound ledger.
The doorbell tinkled as someone entered the shop.
"I will be with you in a moment." Manny called as he carefully blotted what he had written.
"That's alright Manny you just take your time, after all I have all the time in the world." The deep voice mocked.
Manny's head snapped up in alarm.
"What do you want Bruno you know the payments not due till the end of the month?" He said trying to bluster.
"I hear you have been doing really well Manny. You haven't been holding out on us have you?" It was the man from outside. He was tall immaculately dressed in a silver grey Italian suit.
His name was Bruno Carlotto, an extortioner and enforcer for the now defunct De Castillo gang. Somehow he escaped the swoop that had swept up the family and most of his confederates. But far from leaving him feeling exposed and alone it gave him the opportunity to take over what was left and start anew.
"Bruno you know I won't have the money ready till the end of the week. As for being busy I'm paying out more than I'm taking in." Manny blustered pulling the shawl tighter around his thin shoulders. "On my life that's true."
Bruno nodded and then calmly pulled out a revolver and pointed it at Manny's head.
"I'm sorry to hear that Manny." His voice showed no gram of sympathy as his free hand plucked a porcelain figure of a knight in full armour off the side table where it sat beside milkmaids and Ladies in crinolines. He casually snapped its neck before dropping it back on the table. "You see you have left me with no option but to warn you. Either I take an extra ten percent every week or I shoot you and take the hundred percent now as a one off payment. Choose Manny, you don't want me angry do you."
"Okay, Okay I'll bring you the money." Manny carefully shut the ledger and tucked it under his arm.
"Leave the book Manny, in fact push it through so I can check it. It's not that I don't trust you, you understand, but it could save you making any mistakes." Bruno waved the gun to emphasis his point.
Manny reluctantly conceded to the request before shuffling away into the backroom office and his safe.
His many pawned clocks began to strike the hour as he knelt in front of the safe.
Bruno pulled the book through.
Manny rotated the tumbler to the first number and felt it click into place under his fingers.
Bruno turned the book to the right page.
The second number clicked into place.
Bruno smiled at the figures and his avarice grew.
Something was behind Bruno.
The last number clicked into place.
Bruno became aware of the presence and began to turn.
Silence, total and absolute silence!
Bruno felt light headed with the absence of sound as he turned to face the intruder. But all he can see was his own shocked visage in the six foot knight's polished armour.
Its sword rose for a strike.
Bruno's gun barked out once, twice but to no avail as the bullets ricochet off the armour.
The knight froze in place as a figure loomed up behind it.
The newcomer was over seven foot tall with a pale greyish tinged skin stretched tight over its bones. It was humanoid but bizarrely wore a pair of large cuffed green gloves and boots, swim briefs and hooded cape of a similar colour.
"I have come for you." Its voice was a strange duet of a male and a female that echoed as if spoken in a tomb. "Confess your sins!"
If he wasn't so terrified he would have found it hilarious. It had all the appearance of a comic strip in the papers.
"What do you mean?!" Bruno yelled crossing himself with his revolver.
The figure lifted its head and displayed two grinning skulls reflected in its eyes.
"You killed Detective Lieutenant Corrigan on whose order? Speak!"
"Do you think I would tell you and the tin man here!?" Bruno was suddenly flying into one of his infamous rages. The gun barked twice more as he fired at the figure.
He watched amazed as the bullets hit the figure in slow motion and sunk into the flesh with a pool like ripple.
"You can not kill what is already dead Bruno Carlotto." The figure said calmly.
Bruno panicked and made an attempt for the exit but found he couldn't move. His feet had sunk into the tiled floor as hands erupted out of it to clasp his legs. "Who were you with? Who ordered Corrigan's death!?"
Bruno fired every bullet he had left in the revolver at his tormenter. It swelled in size until only its head filled the room, millipedes and other bugs crawling out of its empty eye sockets, nose and mouth.
The hands pulled him down further into the molten floor.
He screamed and begged God for forgiveness.
"I am the Spectre of Gods vengeance!" The huge head screamed. "I am the Avenger! I am the Seventh Seal. I am judgement."
Bruno screamed out a final plea.
"I don't know who set Corrigan up. I just got the message from Laura to do the hit and half the money up front! " He was yelling at the figure. "I'm telling the truth! Please let me go!"
Bruno heard a clank of metal on metal. He turned just in time to see the knight's sword flash down and take off his head.
It dropped still alive into a pair of disembodied hands that drew it screaming into the tiles surface.
Then suddenly the clocks struck the hour.
When Manny re-entered the shop with the money he found it quite empty and quiet. He opened the wire cage door and went to the main door of the shop and looked outside for Bruno. He shook himself a moment and looking down at his empty hands and closed the door. He adjusted his skull cap and pulled the shawl tighter around his shoulders. Ignoring the screaming face locked in the tiles at his feet he crossed over and retrieved the ledger. He didn't see the porcelain figures on the little table, he didn't see the dried blood on the knight's blade or the headless figure of a man in an expensive Italian suit wielding a revolver.
For a second he thought he saw a woman standing in horror in the corner of the room but when he blinked she was gone.
Picking up the pen he began entering Mrs Drake's transaction in his old leather ledger totally oblivious to a woman's scream filling the air.
A scream that resonated around the Royal Free Hospital echoing of the sterile walls. A voice no one heard.
Chapter Two Detective Sergeant Stephanie Corrigan
Steffi stood in front of Captain De Cotsa listening to the man drone on about how pleased he was that she had returned to the force and to say with false sincerity how sorry he was about Steve's death. Steve and De Costa didn't see eye to eye on most things so his sympathy made Steffi want to punch his lights out, but refrained and gave a polite nod instead.
"I suggest you catch up on our next two targets Sergeant as I'm sure there's a lot of paperwork to file. Dismissed." De Costa waved a dismissive hand.
Outside of his office she was surprised to find Hugo loitering.
"Hello Steffi." He said with a warm smile. His voice was hoarse and his skin looked yellowy, the lose clothes that hung from his body showed clearly that he had lost weight. "How are you?"
"Fine Sir Hugo, a few aches and pains but nothing of note surprisingly."
"Yes you were very lucky. Have you been to the grave yet?" He pulled out a packet of cigarettes looked at them then thought better of it and put them away.
"No, not yet, I can't quite face that, not at the moment." Steffi replied sadly.
"I understand. Do you remember anything that happened?" Steffi shook her head. "Don't use your position here to investigate Steffi. It was an accident, a terrible accident." Sir Hugo put a fatherly hand on her shoulder. "What time do you finish?"
"Around ten tonight, why?"
"Give me a ring and I'll pick you up. Promise me Steffi."
"Alright Sir Hugo I promise." Steffi was embarrassed but couldn't say anything else. "You'll have to excuse me Sir Hugo I have work to do." Having got his consent she crossed over to the incident board where Bob was waiting for her.
For the next hour Bob briefed her on the current investigations, pointing out salient points and the cast of major suspects.
Eventually they found themselves at one of the windows looking out over the city and stood in companionable silence for awhile.
Bob cringed knowing what was coming next.
"Yes Sergeant." He replied trying to keep it more formal.
"Where did they find Steve Bob?" Steffi asked as she looked through the clear glass at a crane off loading a ship in the docks.
"He was still in the car Steffi." He replied quietly wiping away the condensation his breath had created on the window pane, reluctant to tell her that there was little of her husband left after the car had exploded in flame. "You were found by a tree by some British medical students a few feet away. If it wasn't for them you wouldn't be here today. They tried to help Steve but it was too late."
"I'll have to find out their addresses and thank them." Steffi quietly replied looking out of the clear glass to the city beyond.
A little later she was studying the notes that Bob had left her with when she noticed something odd.
"Julie?" She called to a young officer who was hovering nearby doing some filing.
"Yes Sergeant?" She replied cheerfully.
"Since when has Laura Cantrell been part of the Murphy gang she's Bruno Carlotto's girl?" She asked.
"Since he has vanished, he disappeared while you in hospital. She even came here accusing us of holding him." Julie rifled through the files. "Here we are."
She passed over a thin folio.
"Bruno inherited most of the gang's legitimate business and money. Became quite wealthy but then he vanished." Julie told her. "What is odd is that he didn't take any thing with him and hasn't touched the money in the bank."
"I think we will pay the lady a visit. Julie see the dispatcher and get us a car." Steffi voice had become clipped and commanding. "Change into your blues and I'll see you downstairs in five minutes."
"But sarg." Julie flustered. "Women don't go on investigations."
"Well they do now!" Steffi relented at little. "Look Julie you and Bob are supposed to make sure I don't have a, how shall I put it."
"Relapse." Steffi scowled at her young partner. "Am I right?"
"Yes but." Julie protested weakly.
"I need to get some air so you better come along." Steffi grinned.
Julie grinned back.
"Five minutes? Well I better get started then."
Ten minutes later Steffi, resplendent in her blues, stood waiting outside the police house waiting for Julie.
She could hear clearly Steve's voice in her ear.
"It's alright darling you're doing fine. We need to find out who paid her to kill us."
Steffi shook herself to clear her thoughts.
"Am I going mad? Ha I must be, I'm talking to myself now." She muttered as Julie turned the corner in an old Buick green and white. Steffi could see clearly where the roof lights had been removed to obey the black out laws.
"Sorry it took so long sarge but the dispatcher decided to play hard ball." Julie told her as Steffi got in the car. "I had to do some name dropping to get him to even let us have this old thing."
"That's alright Julie I hadn't expected you for another five minutes so well done." Steffi slid in beside her and tried to get as comfortable as she could on the well worn seat. "Tell me about Laura Cantrell?"
"Not much to tell to be honest. She was the original good time girl, working in theatres and low dives as a dancer and singer." Julie carefully drove out into the traffic. "That's where Bruno met her. Laura had rich tastes and he had the wherewithal, they were a perfect match. There were rumours that she preferred female company rather that of men and that she was running Bruno's prostitutes but nothing could be proved. She was adored by Bruno who lavished expensive clothes and jewellery on her as well as taking her to all the swankiest parties. That's what doesn't make sense about him disappearing like that."
"Unless someone gave him a concrete overcoat for old time's sake." Steffi mused. "Where does she live anyway?"
"In an exclusive apartment block of Lexicon and 59th street, apparently she has half the tenth floor."
"My, she has gone up in the world." Steffi sank back into her seat deep in thought for awhile before saying, as they approached the apartment block. "Right, this is how we are going to play this."
The entrance hall to the apartment block was a temple to the art deco movement in its design and furnishings. Steffi hated it as soon as she walked in. Its obvious vulgarity grated on her nerves as did the resplendently fogged doorman that looked down his nose at them.
"Yes can I help you?" His voice was deep and had a strange arrogance to it.
"Can you tell me if Miss Laura Cantrell is at home?" Steffi flashed her badge at him as if he couldn't tell they were officers from their uniforms.
"She is. I will phone to see if she will see you." He made to cross to the telephone on the desk.
"Don't worry her my good man." Steffi said with a smile that didn't reach her eyes. "And don't bother to show us the way we can make our own way up."
"Please don't phone her to let her know we are coming as then I'd have to arrest you for interfering in a police investigation." Julie warned. "Please keep yourself available for questioning."
Both women smiled at each other as they crossed to the lift. The man's face had been a picture.
Steffi carefully adjusted the piece of tape that covered her name ribbon on her uniform hiding it from view. Satisfied she knocked on the door with official sounding raps.
The door opened to reveal a young woman in a skimpy French maid's outfit that was struggling to hold her amply provided bust in place.
Steffi flashed her badge making sure to obscure her name.
"New Amsterdam Police Department here to interview your mistress over the missing person's report she filed." The girl didn't bat an eyelid.
"If you follow me I'll take you to her." She said with a sniff.
If outside was Art Deco then inside was definitely Art Nuevo. A style that Steffi whole heartedly approved of.
The 'Maid' led them into a well lit room with many paintings on the wall and two large floor to ceiling windows.
On a chez long lay a slim woman in a gossamer thin negligee that emphasised rather than hid her naked form.
Steffi coughed to get the woman's attention.
"The police to see you madam." The maid announced from behind them before crossing and draping herself seductively over the other woman's shoulder.
"We are from the missing persons section of the New Amsterdam Police Department Miss Cantrell here about Mr Bruno…"
She didn't get any further as a voice interrupted from behind the easel set up in the corner of the room.
"About bloody time!"
A face appeared from behind the easel.
"With you in a moment officers." She said before adding. "Leonora you can dressed now but can you come back same time tomorrow."
The young woman on the settle swung herself round and sat up.
"Yes that will be fine Miss Cantrell." She breathed sultrily.
As she stood up she casually let the negligee drop to the floor and stretched as if flaunting her beautiful naked form was nothing at all.
"Bella I won't be requiring your services for the rest of the afternoon thank you." The disembodied voice called.
"Yes miss. I'll return at five, miss to prepare your evening meal." The maid replied, with a curtsy to no one in particular before taking the models hand.
"That will be fine. You're dismissed." From behind the easel appeared a very short woman of indeterminate age dressed in a long flowing robe of electric blue and a white turban that didn't quite catch all of her ginger hair. "Well officers have you found the stupid mother?"
"No we have not as yet found him but it is early days of the investigation." Steffi said smoothly. "When did you last see him Miss Cantrell?"
"I told them down at the precinct!" Laura snapped angrily.
"Yes I know but these questions are merely to see if you can remember anything else no matter how insignificant."
"Oh I see. The last I saw of him was at a friends place up in the hills. We were staying for a few days to relax, go walking and fishing that sort of thing." Laura watched as Julie scribbled shorthand into her note book. "We stayed at Sean Murphy's place 'The Blarney Stone' on Anatolia Highs. We drove up there the night of the tenth."
"How did he seem? Was he agitated or depressed at all?"
"Well he certainly wasn't happy about you lot putting all the rest of his family in prison. Even though he was disgusted about what they did they were still his family."
Laura replied showing them to a group of chairs around a low table on which stood a coffee percolator bubbling away. She offered them a cup as she poured one for herself. Steffi refused politely whilst Julie join her. "We had a row just before he left."
"Can I ask what the row was about?"
"I'm pregnant and to a good catholic boy like Bruno that's a sin before marriage even if we were planning to tie the knot in six weeks time." Laura explained calmly. "I know he came home as his case was back in place and so were his clothes. I know he was due to go down Wentworth and Third to visit some clients but who I don't know. I leave all that stuff to him it doesn't interest me."
The questions carried on for awhile before naturally petering out.
"Did you paint all these Miss Cantrell?" Steffi asked pointing at the works of art that decorated the wall.
"Yes, in fact that's Bruno in that one." The picture was very life like and caught Bruno's sartorial elegance and arrogance to a tee.
"Is this one of Madison Park miss?" Julie asked. "I used to play down there as a kid but I don't remember the bridge being so close to the slipway."
"It isn't it's what is called poetic licence officer." Laura smiled an amused smile.
The painting was very fine showing the park in the fall. Ducks swam under the central span of the old brick bridge whilst a colourful little rowing boat bobbed in the slight swell and strained against its mooring beside the slipway. The leaves of the trees were shining gold's, ambers and firecracker reds. The bucolic scene conjured up memories of mulled wine and the sound of the brass bands playing Christmas songs in Steffi's mind.
"You are very talented miss." Steffi said eventually. "I think we have all the information we need for the moment. We will be in touch if we find out anything."
Laura escorted them to the door out into the main lobby.
"Thank you for coming Sergeant Corrigan." Laura paused. "We came passed where the crash had taken place, an awful bend. I'm so sorry."
Steffi nodded and led the way out.
As they descended in the elevator Steffi pealed the tape off her name badge deep in thought.
"What do you make of her Julie?" She asked.
"She doesn't seem very sad at him vanishing and those two women dressed in next to nothing seemed very odd too."
Steffi had to agree. It was a very strange set up indeed, very Bohemian.
"She was lying about the argument I'm sure." Steffi lifted her head up and became more business like. "Julie interview laughing boy downstairs about Bruno's movements then meet me in the car. I think we'll see if any of his clients remember anything."
The cold air played over her face refreshingly as she walked over to the patrol car.
"You're on the right lines darling." Steve's voice said in her ear making her jump. "They argued about Bruno joining Murphy's gang."
Steffi swung round in panic expecting to see Steve standing there behind her with his irritating lopsided grin but there was nobody there.
Shakily she got in the car and slumped down in the passenger seat wishing with all her heart that she could see that lopsided grin once again.
A few minutes later Juliet joined her and they drove toward the area which Laura gave them.
Steffi close her eyes and wondered for her sanity unaware of the caring eyes that watched over her.
Manny was sitting in his usual place behind the grill leafing through the Jewish Chronicle for the umpteenth time when he heard the shop bell tinkle. Looking up he saw two female police officers entering the shop and with an exaggerated sigh beckoned them in.
"Oy Vay." He said increasing his Jewish accent. "Can't a person run a business in peace? I suppose you're here to check my stock for stolen goods again?"
For some reason Steffi warmed to the man instantly.
"No sir we are here on a different matter entirely." She walked forward and stepped on to Bruno's screaming face locked in the floor tile, the heels of her shoes inflicting fresh agonies. She had a sudden shiver as if someone had walked over her grave.
"Are you alright Sergeant?" Julie whispered.
Steffi gave a slight nod and continued.
"We are conducting a missing person's investigation on a Bruno Cantrell and wondered if you could help."
The face in the tile screamed silently at his name making Steffi shiver once more.
"So someone has killed the bastard at last." Manny stopped and looked at Steffi with concern. "Pardon my language ladies. Where are my manners, officer will you lock the door and turn the sign round then come through to the back? I have some tea brewing and the pair of you look absolutely frozen."
Soon the three of them were huddled around the log fire grateful for its heat as Manny poured out steaming black tea for himself and Julie from the silver samovar.
"Are you sure you won't have a cup Sergeant Corrigan it will warm you up?" Manny asked with concern.
"No thank you. I don't mean any insult but I'm not that keen on tea." She replied with a warm smile.
"I have some liquid coffee if you would prefer?"
Steffi shivered at the thought of drinking the French chicory concoction but didn't want to appear rude so she accepted the offer.
"You don't have a high opinion of Bruno I take it?" She asked as the little man busied himself at the little sink.
"He is, was, whatever, a thug. Don't let the fact that he wears expensive suits and has a charm about him fool you. He's a vicious extortioner who would sell me his own grandmother if he felt it would profit him." He said vehemently.
"You're the only one on this street who has even acknowledged knowing him no matter agreeing to talk to us about him." Julie said taking a sip of her steaming tea. "This is beautiful by the way, the best tea I've ever tasted."
Manny turned and beamed at her.
"Why thank you child, the secret is allowing it time to brew." He paused before adding more seriously. "I am not surprised the others would not talk to you they fear reprisals you see."
He passed Steffi the coffee.
"And you don't Mr Goldberg?" Steffi asked with a nod of thanks.
"The name's Manny my dear, as for Bruno I don't think you will find him. Not unless you intend to dredge the river for him."
"Why is that Manny?" She asked taking a sip of what surprisingly turned out to be an excellent cup of coffee.
"Bruno was an extortioner. He sold he's own special kind of insurance to all of us on this street. You pay and nothing happens to your business." Manny took a deep breath to calm himself. "He upset many people sergeant, especially the girls he ran down in the docks. I have to pay more often than others on the street because I'm Jewish. Bruno is a follower of Benito Mussolini I'm afraid. But he has missed three collections, something he has never done before, so it's not to much a stretch of imagination to consider that he is dead."
For awhile the conversation turned to the technicalities of times and events before with a final sip of coffee Steffi stood up to take her leave.
"Thank you for all your help Manny. Is there anything we can do for you?"
He took her hand in both of his and looked deep into her eyes.
"No I'll be fine but you take good care of yourself Sergeant." He said warmly. "You're welcome for a cup of coffee anytime my dear, but here take these gloves to protect those cold hands of yours."
Out of politeness she pulled them on puzzled why her hands should feel cold to others but not to her.
She paused at the door noticing the collection of porcelain figures on the little table.
"A nice collection of figures Manny they remind me of the couple of German ones I had as a wedding present." She smiled as she picked up one turning it delicately in her hands. "If no one comes back to claim these Manny I'll have them, except for the broken one. Why would anyone want to pawn a broken one?"
"You'll be surprised what people bring." Manny said with a sigh. "I sometimes think I'm a lost property for all those lost souls out there."
With a last shake of hands the girls left and Manny shut the door.
A shadow coalesced into a tall man dressed in a dark suit and white roll neck sweater, his face in shadow from his fedora.
"She doesn't know does she?" Manny asked.
"Apparently not, this is of concern for us all." The man's deep voice was rich and warm. "Unchecked it will cause untold havoc. I think an intervention by another of our number may be necessary."
"What about Bruno?" Manny ask respectfully.
"You are safe Israel Emanuel he will bother you no longer. He is beyond all help now." The man laid a comforting gloved hand onto Manny's bony shoulder. "Thank you for your help Emanuel.
"I owe you Stranger for getting my family out of Germany before that lunatic got his hands on them. Not that I see much of them these days, to busy with their own lives apparently?"
As he said that there was an enthusiastic knocking on the front door.
"Grandpapa, grandpapa are you there?" A child's voice called.
"Easy Becky Granddad wants his door intact." Manny's daughter, Ruth, voice floated through the door.
Manny's old voice creased with pure joy as with fumbling hands he unlocked the door.
"Grandpapa!" A little girl barrelled in and leapt into his arms.
Manny stole a furtive glance around the room but the Phantom Stranger had gone, back to wherever he came from.
Such was his joy he didn't notice that the headless figure had gone.
"Becky stop stamping on that flag stone!" Becky's mother chastised her daughter as she gave her father a cuddle.
"I don't like his face!" She squealed.
"Becky!" The child stopped and ran over to the others. "Come on Dad and pack your bags you're coming home with us."
Steffi smiled as she sat in the car watching the family's arrival.
"Where too Sergeant?" Julie asked reluctant to break Steffi's good mood.
"Back to the Precinct house please Julie to face the music." Steffi laughed unaware of a woman watching intensely from the shadows as they pulled away.
"I will meet you soon Sergeant, not yet, but soon." Her face turned into a grinning skull for a moment. "But will you want to meet me?"
Manic laughter filled the air as she turned into mist and blew away.
Chapter Three Further Investigations
Back at the Precinct house Steffi added what they had learned to the file on Bruno.
She sat deep in thought a moment ignoring the telephone ringing on the desk.
Julie picked it up.
The new lieutenant Jay Moore crossed over to her desk.
"A penny for them." He had been introduced to her earlier on and for a moment she resented him being their instead of Steve but that soon faded.
Jay was a pleasant open man who listened to anyone's idea's no matter how stupid they sounded.
"I think she knows more than she's letting on about Bruno. I think she is somehow linked to his disappearance." Steffi's reply was carefully worded.
What she meant was she was somehow linked to Steve's murder.
"I think I need to have another word with her."
"You better hurry." Robin said putting down the telephone. "We have just had an incoherent message from her apartment from her maid.
Something about an attack."
Steffi spun into action.
"Julie with me! Get the dispatcher to give us a decent car." She turned to four others.
"Tom, John I need you to get ready to collect the scene of crime officers. I don't care what you do to get them ready just do it."
"I'll follow in my own car." The lieutenant called.
"Appreciated. Donna, Margret sit on the phones ready for any messages."
The room was in controlled chaos.
They screeched to a stop just outside the apartment block and dashed into the foyer.
The doorman lumbered up to them.
"Ladies I've a set of spare keys should you need them."
"Thank you." Steffi said as he threw them to her.
She caught them deftly spinning round to enter the elevator.
They were soon at the door of the apartment.
The door was ajar and they could hear uncontrolled sobbing from within.
"Hello!" Steffi called as she led the way in. "Its the police."
Gun in hand she pushed open the door to the lounge.
The maid was sitting on the floor rocking to and fro the telephone held loosely in her hand.
She wasn't so much crying as being in hysterics.
Steffi put away the pistol and crossed over to where the maid sat and sat down beside her.
"It's alright." She said softly. "We're here now. Try and tell me what has happened."
The answer came in great gasps. The only words she understood was skin and wall.
With a frown Steffi looked up to see something stretched along one wall.
"Oh my God!" She said when she recognised it.
It was human skin, and more importantly the skin of Laura Cantrell.
It was then that the stench hit her, the stench of blood.
"Take her to another room?" Steffi told Julie as she looked around for the source of the smell.
Everywhere was spotless. You wouldn't have known that a person had been flayed.
She crossed to the easel and what she saw stopped her in her tracks.
"Julie stay where you are." She yelled unhooking her pistol out of her holster.
"Look at the painting." Steffi said before exiting the room.
Julie walked over and looked at the image on the canvas.
A bowl of blood sat at its base with the blood soaked brush across it, dripping on to the floor.
The image had been changed since the last time.
It depicted the young woman cut open and displayed like a medical dissection. The image of Steffi was depicted looking over the body.
Julie dash out of the room pass the still hysterical maid and into the bedroom on the right to see the image in the painting duplicated in real life in front of her.
She wanted to throw up but tried to control it by taking deep breaths.
Mistake, a big mistake.
The smell hit her so hard she had to dash out of the room and vomit down the toilet.
White faced Steffi came out of the room.
"What have we got Steffi?" The lieutenant asked as he came into the apartment. He took in the shocked white face and decided to take a gentle approach.
"A double murder by someone who's sick in the head." She took a shuddering breath. "He's cut the skin off Laura Cantrell and hung it on the wall. We haven't found the body yet.
In there is the body of her model surgically opened up like an autopsy.
He knew I'd be back. He painted using Laura's blood me discovering the body."
He put a hand on her shoulder and gave it a squeeze.
"Can you show me?" He asked gently.
She nodded and took him first into the main room, showing him the skin and painting, and then into the bedroom.
Once outside the room the pale Lieutenant offered her a cigarette.
She shook her head.
He paused before putting them away.
"Yes I know a filthy habit." He crossed to the phone and called up the precinct. "Get the forensic down here pronto."
He listened a moment.
"Yes thank you. When? Where?
I see thank you."
He slowly put the phone back on to its cradle.
"Scene of Crime are on their way.
They have found Bruno."
"He's dead isn't he?" Steffi asked as she crossed over to the painting which Julie noticed earlier.
"He was dumped out side the Precinct house minus his head." He told her.
"Lovely." She wiped a hand over her face. "So that's three murders?"
"Yes I think so.
I've got to go back to the Precinct house to sort it out. Can you manage here till forensics come?"
"Yes." Steffi said distractedly as a grey looking Julie entered the room.
"Stay with the Sergeant." He looked her up and down. "I don't suppose there's much chance that you haven't contaminated the evidence."
He sighed and shaking his head he left.
The poor maid had been simply left to her own devices through all this.
Steffi crossed over to sit by her side and took her hand and uttered soothing sounds.
"It's alright we're here. Nothing can hurt you now."
The young woman took a sobbing breath in an attempt to calm herself down.
Slowly, carefully with many tearful steps she obtained the statement of the maid.
She had not a lot to tell them. She and her girl friend, the model, had gone out to a restaurant two blocks away.
After their meal Leonora noticed that she had left her door keys back at the apartment.
"So she came back for them?" Steffi asked.
"Yes." Was the tearful reply.
"And you didn't come back with her?"
She had come back with her but decided to stay down stairs talking with Patrick the doorman.
When she hadn't come back Bella came up to find the scene as they have found it.
By this time the forensic team had arrived and the ambulance crew took her away to hospital suffering from shock.
"Shock! I'd think anyone would be in shock after what she's seen." Julie said with some venom.
"Don't blame yourself for being sick I nearly joined you and our esteemed Lieutenant didn't find it as easy as he thought."
Steffi was staring at the painting of central park with a frown.
There was a figure in the distance that she didn't remember being there before.
Suddenly the figure rushed toward her making her take a step backward.
Hanging crucified before her was the skinned body of Laura. Horrifically she was still alive.
An eyeball rotated in its socket and stared at her.
The lips parted and a thin weedy voice full of agony spoke.
"It's going to kill Kieran Murphy. You've got to stop it." It screamed as it dwindled back to where it was in the painting.
Steffi shook herself.
"Are you alright Sergeant?" Julie asked obviously oblivious to what had happened.
"Yes. You said you knew this place. Could you take us there?" Steffi asked.
"Yes. Yes, I think so, but can I ask why?"
Steffi pointed at the tiny figure in the painting.
"Because our killer may have left us a clue."
Julie stared at the extremely detailed figure. A cold sweat ran down her spine.
"Come on lets go." They left the apartment issuing orders right and left.
"Wendy follow the ambulance and make sure the girl is alright. Tom stay here with forensics." Steffi told two of her squad as they came in.
"John if the Lieutenant calls in tell him that we have gone to Central Park by the Lock Bridge. We think we know where the body is." Julie added.
In the Starr Labs hospital annex a concerned voice called out to another.
"Sugar levels risen along with adrenalin and cordecil."
"It seems our patient is going to flee or is going to fight. I wonder which." John Jones replied.
Chapter Four Dark Times.
The room was full of shadows as the smoke of the incense candles drifted pungently to the ceiling.
Manny entered and crossed to his habitual seat overlooking the beautiful rose garden.
"I think we can begin." A husky Hispanic voice said from the shadows between two incense burners. "Tell us what worries you Israel?"
"It paid me a visit Monday morning. I lost thirty minutes off my life clock." Manny explained. "And there is a residue of something left behind."
He looked around at the strange group of people around him.
But there was one he could not see. A figure in a red skin tight circus leotard with a high open collar with a black 'D' on his breast. His skin was white as bone and was accentuated by the hairless face and head.
Boston Brand the famous circus aerialist The Deadman lent forward and touched Manny's temple.
"Do we have any idea as to what it did while there." Manny spoke Deadman's words.
"No. No idea I'm afraid." Manny replied in his own voice as the ghost of Boston sat back.
There was only one person present who could see the ghost that was Boston Brand and he, the Phantom Stranger, was keeping his thoughts to himself.
The owner of the husky voice lent forward to reveal itself to be a stunning woman in her late twenties. Her Latin good looks would make many a young man weak at the knees.
And then they would see her eyes, milky white and blind.
"We believe he is connected to the disappearance of a petty mafia war lord called Bruno Carlotto."
"Madam Xanadu we can not be sure of its gender at the moment."
The evangelist and immortal Jason Blood, was a handsome man with saturnine good looks that made him look the very antithesis of what he was.
As the receptacle of the demon Ertigan he was well experienced at sharing his life with a malevolent force, having had to carry the burden since Roman times.
Against the wall lolled a powerfully built blue skinned devil called appropriately enough the Blue Devil.
He was a film stunt man and was dressed in the Blue Devil costume for a film when an accident trapped him, the leading lady and two starlets under a prefabricated film building.
As life slipped away he prayed that he had the real strength of the Blue Devil to save the women.
An Angel heard his cry and appeared before him.
The Angel fused the costume to his body and gave him all the powers of the fictional creature.
He saved the women but became the Blue Devil in reality.
The Blue Devil, David Daniel Cassidy, was the most impetuous of the group.
"Why are we sitting here then come on lets get over to Manny's place and team handed trap it."
"You can not trap it as if it was some rabbit in a field!" Jason snapped.
"Stranger can you hold it?" Xanadu asked.
"We are the same and yet opposites. The Spectre is the spirit of Vengeance while I am the spirit of Reconciliation.
Yes I could hold him for a time as he could hold me. If we have a host I can hold it long enough, with your help, till it is bound to them."
"We must find a host for it soon." Jason cautioned. "Without a host it is free to destroy all in its path!"
"At least it can't touch anyone." Cassidy said.
"It doesn't have to." The Phantom Stranger reminded them, putting an evilly twisted figurine of a nude woman on the table before them.
He passed his hand over it and it screamed in heart stopping agony as her body twisted further to the sound of tearing muscles and popping bones.
He passed a hand over it again and it became still.
"Who is she?" Xanadu asked.
"A prostitute, the first stepping stone on the route to anarchy."
"I have a possible candidate in mind, a lonely woman with death in her eyes." Manny said.
"Tell us about her Manny. What makes you think she is suitable?" Madam Xanadu lent forward her clear startlingly green eyes sparkling in the candle light. "Tell us more."
Central Park was the verdant green lungs of the city running down the centre of the city touching nearly all the boroughs. It was a place were the denizens of New Amsterdam came to walk, sit, eat and play. A place where tennis and badminton courts rub shoulders with bandstands, gardens and little café's.
It was where black magic festivals were performed.
The Green and White screeched to a halt and sat for a moment rocking on its springs before the two police officers clambered out in a hurry.
"Which way Julie?" Steffi yelled franticly. "Come on come on!"
"It looks so different in the dark." Julie yelled back as she turned round to get her bearings. "This way Sergeant."
Julie led Steffi at a fast trot.
Soon the sight of the brightly coloured rowing boats bobbed into view.
"The bridge is further down." Julie pointed ahead.
The series of Italian Venetian style bridges linked little islands in a romantic pathway loved by many a beau and his girl.
As they clattered over the nearest they could see in the shadows on the other side a figure with its arms outstretched from its sides.
Laura Cantrell hung there crucified.
Muscles, sinews and blood vessels were exposed to the elements as the skinned body hung their.
An eye opened and swivelled to look at them making both officers step back in shock.
She couldn't be still alive surely.
The lips parted and a hoarse but recognisable voice spoke to them.
"To late for me." Laura said with an asthmatic wheeze. "He's going for the Murphy's and going to make them pay one by one."
"Do you know where and when?" Steffi asked.
"No." She wheezed once again. "Sorry I killed your husband Steve, sergeant. He was a good man. It was nothing personal, just a job."
"What?!" Steffi exclaimed.
She stood there her mouth open in shock not wanting to hear the rest.
"I was contracted to kill Stephen and you. I got Bruno to do it with some of his boys." The eyes flickered and the voice dropped to a whisper. "You were causing us too much trouble so you had to go just like your parents."
Her body shivered and then became still.
Steffi grabbed the body getting her hands smeared with blood in the process, and tried to shake the woman.
"Who contracted you, who?!" She screamed in anguish.
Julie took her shoulders and pulled her away.
Steffi's feet seemed to be tangled up for a moment in what was at the bottom of the cross.
Julie saw the explosives lying there and tried to drag Steffi further back.
"Steffi no!" She yelled in her Sergeants ear. "It's a booby trap."
Steffi looked down at where Julie pointed and reacted automatically. Bundling Julie to the floor and dropping over her.
And not a moment to soon as the devices exploded with a roar.
Magnesium flares ignited with blinding white light. Phosphor sprayed the victim and cross with burning hot fragments that stuck to the flesh before igniting.
The figure on the cross screamed and writhed as the fires took hold.
The incendiary devices had done their job well. Turning a living breathing woman into a Roman Candle.
She screamed as her flesh was consumed. She was being kept alive so she could suffer.
There was nothing the officers could do save watch in horror.
The Lieutenant and two of their group pounded up to where the women lay.
Without a word they helped the women to their feet.
"I take it that was …" The Lieutenant didn't finish what he was saying. He watched as the charred remains fell apart and the woman's screaming skull rolled to his feet.
"Julie take Steffi back to the precinct, the pair of you have done enough today."
He wasn't one to call officers by their first names but he knew when to make an exception. "If you can do a first draft of today's events before you go home."