The precinct bustles with commotion. A steady parade of marching feet and voices shouting orders over the constant clatter of ringing telephones, clacking typewriters, and murmuring electrical fans. Directed to a bench beside the communications counter, Cavanaugh tells me to wait while he checks to see if the captain is available. I sit, take in my surroundings. A large, tiled room filled with rows of paper stacked desks, a water cooler, a coffee maker, and nearly a dozen fire extinguishers. There are doors on every wall that open to offices, interrogation chambers, public interview rooms, and a hall leading to the prisoner lockup downstairs.
Unthinkingly, I begin clicking my tongue. A pair of raised eyebrows from the woman at the counter invites me to stop. I do. Legs bouncing on the balls of my feet, I cast my gaze across the room.
In the far corner, a female officer stands pointing an accusing finger at her partner who has his arms spread wide as if to say, ‘There was nothing I could do.’ A veteran cop rests a heavy hand on his younger partner’s shoulder as the junior detective stares skulking at the floor. Past them, a husky looking sergeant rubs his eye as he makes his way toward the coffee maker. An empty mug dangles from his crooked index finger.
Near the back wall, a man moves his arms as the woman he’s conversing with plays with the second button of her blouse. Another officer sits reclining, hands clasped behind his head, legs crossed, one foot kicking the air as he stares up at the ceiling. Two desks down, a plain clothes officer with a vein streaked forehead puzzles over an open file, head resting in his hands.
At the same moment, a pair of uniformed detectives enters from the front, making their way past me. They’re already deep into a conversation of which I catch only the tail end.
“Do you think we should have treated that guy’s statement the other night a little more seriously?”
“I think some of these people are so starved for attention they’ll do or say anything.”
Shaking his head, “Yeah, but claiming to have witnessed a murder out your window is a hell of a way to go about getting attention?”
“You saw the video case I picked up off the DVD player, right?”
“Hitchcock’s Rear Window, wasn’t it?”
“You don’t find it strange that a guy who falls asleep watching a movie about a man who witnesses a murder out his back window, suddenly wakes to find himself witnessing a murder out his back window?”
“It’s certainly doesn’t help his credibility that he says he saw shadows and not the actual killer who he could identify in a line-up.”
“He strikes me as the type of guy likely to wind up naked and unconscious in a stranger’s bathtub, covered in shaving cream and…?”
Their voices trail off as they disappear around a corner. At a desk near that same corner, a stern featured cop reclines in his chair as his partner talks. Eyes narrowed, head jutting forward, he presses his hands together, thumb to thumb, index to index, pinkie to pinkie probing his partner over steepled fingers.
The man at the coffee machine rubs his eyes for the second time. Back at her desk, the woman with the earlier fascination with the buttons on her blouse, brushes a strand of hair behind her ear as the man continues the demonstrative presentation of his story.
I approach the woman at the counter. “Is there a drinking fountain around here?”
“End of the hall,” she says, directing me down the corridor.
A handful of uniform cops pass me in the hallway, none of whom I recognize. At the water cooler, I tug a cup from the dispenser. I’m about to fill it when I see a face I do recognize. His name is Dykstra. Fat, sloppy, and not exactly known for great insight, he was the truth behind the bummer sticker stereotype of cops and donuts.
In another glaring example of weak insight, someone had gone and paired him with a rookie.
“You’re not going to find any bourbon in there,” he says.
I acknowledge his attempt at humor with a nod. “Lenny.”
“You see this?” he says, directing his partner’s attention to me. “You can take this as Exhibit A for why they should have never repealed prohibition.”
His partner chortles.
“Can I help you with something?” I say, feeling my face grow warm.
“I got a page from the captain, he says he’d like to speak with you.”
“Huh, so you’re the captain’s new personal secretary?” I say, scratching at my chin. “For some reason, I was picturing a blonde.”
“You see, that’d be funny if it wasn’t coming from a guy whose badge is made of plastic.”
“If you didn’t think that one was funny, you’d hate to hear the one about the guy still carrying the rank of corporal after thirty years.”
Dykstra’s eyes flicker with what might have been malice. “You think I can’t promote?” he says, trying to work up the rage to go with the strong words. “How do you explain being asked to head up the new homicide investigative taskforce?”
“I don’t know, maybe after months of showing the captain ankle you promised to go all the way.”
“Speaking of going all the way, I heard you had yourself a little trouble down at the strip club the other night.”
“I was working a case.”
“A case of herpes, maybe.”
This elicits another chuckle from his partner.
“Say, that reminds me of a joke. What do you tell a stripper with two back eyes?”
The partner shakes his head.
“Nothing. You’ve already told her twice!”
The guffawing grows louder.
“Or how about this one,” he says. “What do a stripper and a bowling ball have in common?”
My scalp tightens.
“For one thing, you can throw both in the gutter and they’ll still come back. Not to mention you can fit three fingers—”
Before Dykstra can deliver that last punch line I hit him square in the teeth and I don’t mean a slap, I fucking pasted him, hard, and follow that love tap up with another that puts him on his wallet. His partner leaps onto my back, but before he can lock his fingers in a Full-Nelson, I grab his right wrist and spin out of the hold. With a firm grip on his wrist, I torque his arm behind his back. Something in his shoulder pops. His arm flops to the side. Next, I spin him around, level my forehead into his nose. Afterwards, I gather up a handful of shirt and use it to begin checking the wall for studs. A trickle of officers exiting a nearby conference room sees the fracas and comes charging down the hall.
From across the desk, I watch as police captain Peter Dobbs scribbles furiously on the piece of paper in front of him. A short, squat, bull-shouldered man with a spare tire and a face, grey, flushed and infinitely tired, his eyes bleed from a lack of sleep. From the metal holder on his desk I lift a card, study it. Embossed in gold lettering it carries his name, rank, and two different phone numbers. Tucking the card into my wallet, the back of my hand scrapes against the rough material of my coat. Looking down, I notice a pair of nasty teeth marks bunching the skin around my knuckles.
“You cast an unpleasantly dark shadow,” he mutters, without looking up. “Now, what’s this I hear about a man dying in your office this morning? Who is he and why was he there?”
“It beats me,” I say, brushing the skin back over the colorless grooves.
“Does it now?” Dobbs asks, looking up and eyeing me hard.
“Your guess is as good as mine,” I tell him.
“And what were you doing up so late?”
“I was finishing up paperwork on a case I’d been working.”
“So, you weren’t sleeping off the alcohol you’ve been swimming in since you got headlined in the Metro section?”
My neck swells. “Don’t try and shame me, Pete.”
“You do plenty well on your own. Now, what’s this business about the strip club? Were you working a case or just looking for a way to extend your fifteen minutes?”
Sinking back in the chair, I explain, “Three days ago, a girl named Mary Angelis went missing, last seen leaving the strip club where she works. The morning after her disappearance, her best friend and co-worker, Jennifer Corjette, who so happens to be my neighbor from across the hall, attempted to file a missing persons report, but was told by your people that she’d have to wait forty-eight hours.”
“I’ve always hated that policy,” Dobbs admits.
“Yeah, well, afterwards, she apparently remembered having seen the sign on my door stating my occupation and figured if the police weren’t willing to help, at least, I would.”
“And these women, they’re both strippers?”
“Jennifer’s a stripper, been doing it for years. Mary, on the other hand, well, her story’s a little more complicated. Seems she started out as a waitress, but wasn’t making much money. You see, the club has two shifts, 6pm-10pm, and 10pm-2am. There’s more money in the late shift, but priority is based on seniority unless a waitress is willing to put in a little time on the pole. Needing some extra cash, but not comfortable enough with her body to take to the stage, she apparently started accepting solicitations.”
“Is that what happened,” Dobbs asks, “she went home with someone the night she disappeared?”
“Jennifer said she wasn’t sure. She knows Mary worked that night and that she got off at ten o’clock. But that was just as things were getting busy and Jennifer admits she didn’t even see her friend leave let alone who with.”
“What night was that?”
Dobbs nods. “The night of the Policeman’s Ball.” Then, as if returning to his earlier train of thought concedes, “So, you have no suspects?”
“No,” I admit. “Though, mention was made of a boyfriend or rather, an ex-boyfriend.”
“What do we know about him?”
I shake my head. “Not much. Jennifer says she never met the guy, though she did see the two of them arguing outside Mary’s apartment building a few nights prior. Unsure whether to hang back or come to her friend’s defense, the man hauled out before Jennifer could decide what to do.”
“Did she get a look at him, his face?”
“I was hoping to have her sit with a sketch artist, but from what she did tell me I gather he was a bit older, a bit overweight, and not particularly handsome, which, according to Jennifer, matched perfectly Mary’s type.”
“Sounds like daddy issues to me,” Dobbs says. “What about a name?”
“Raymond. No last name.”
“Not much to work with, is it? What was the argument about, or did she say?”
“It would appear Mary had neglected to tell her boyfriend about her accepting solicitations. Poor bastard had the unfortunate experience of walking in on her mid act.”
“Can’t say I blame the guy for wanting no part of that,” Dobbs says. “So, what now?”
“I don’t know,” I say, leaning back, cracking my neck. “I’d sure love to speak with the boyfriend.”
“Supposing you do find him—and that’s a big suppose, considering all you have is a first name—what if he’s not the guy? What if the real culprit is one of the Johns? You’re certain no one saw who she left with that night?”
“I asked around to all the girls and the bouncers, but no one could say one way or another. Though, I do have a petition in with the district attorney for a copy of the surveillance footage your people seized in the raid that’s made me so famous.”
A grimace sours Dobbs’ face. “About that,” Dobbs says. “It seems there was a bit of a mishap in evidence yesterday. One of the new custodians failed to properly catalogue the footage, went and placed it next to a large neodymium magnet confiscated a few days earlier. Damn thing erased everything.”
“Erased?” I say, shaking my head as if tuning my ears for better reception.
Dobbs shrugs his shoulders. “The guy swears he remembers placing it in containment, but no one is listed as having checked it in or out.”
“What the hell are you doing with a magnet in the evidence locker anyway?”
“A member of the cleaning staff at the Knickerbocker had been using it to break into and raid hotel safes.”
“It’s not just your case that’s been sabotaged. It’s ours as well.”
“What were your people doing at the club that night anyway?”
“Preliminary evidence suggests trafficking,” Dobbs says, “underage-girls from Crimea.”
Dobbs nods, “Refugees escaping the Russian occupation. Hell of a way to welcome them to the land of the free.”
I’m still reeling from the news of the erased footage when Dobbs asks me about my neighbor.
“Did you say you were going to put this Jennifer girl with a sketch artist, see if she can’t provide a composite?”
“That was my plan, except after being released from interrogation Wednesday morning and upon returning to my apartment, I walked in to find her lying in a tub of warm bath water, about ten minutes or so after she’d run a razor blade across each of her wrists.”
“Jes-us!” Dobbs leans away from his desk.
“It looked like Jackson Pollock’s studio in there, blood all over the floor and the walls.”
“Good grief!” Dobbs says, massaging the side of his face.
Propping an elbow on the arm of the chair, I let my eyes fall to the ground. “For two years, we’ve lived five feet away from each other, and until two days ago, I didn’t even know her name. We had barely even said hello in passing.”
“This isn’t on you,” Dobbs says, wagging a chubby finger in the air. “Suicide is a choice, and a selfish one.”
“That’s just it,” I say, shaking my head. “I looked into it. This girl wasn’t disaffected. She wasn’t on meds, no history of depression, no prior attempts.”
“How else do you explain it then?”
“I don’t know,” I say. “But I’ve got the feeling there’s a link there.”
“Between the suicide and the missing friend?”
“The friend, the suicide, the dead guy in my office, this shooting in the subway. It can’t all be coincidence.”
“Forgive me for asking,” Dobbs says, “but what’s in it for you, Sphinx?”
“Do I need a motivation?”
“Need, no. I’ve just never known you to do anything that didn’t, in some way, benefit you.”
“Call it a new leaf.”
“I’ll believe it when I see it,” he says, picking up a folder as he begins shuffling papers around his desk. “Meanwhile, stick to the missing waitress if you’d like, but as for the guy in your office, that’s strictly police business now. I don’t want you meddling around in it. And if I find out you have been, I’ll have you cited for obstruction. Do you hear me?”
“You can’t bully me, Pete. My license and the laws of the state allow me to conduct parallel investigations.”
“You should really consider engaging your brain before activating your mouth! Your license comes up for renewal in just under a month. All I have to do is name you as a person of interest in this investigation and it’ll be weeks before you can operate again.”
“How do you know when my license expires?”
“I’m the Mahar-fucking-Raja,” he says. “It’s my business to know!”
“No, you listen!” he hollers, coming out of his seat. “My wrists are hurting, my head is throbbing, my eyes are blurring, and I’m in danger of repeating myself. I’d like to go home, go to bed, maybe say hello to my dog so she remembers my face, but instead, I have to sit here listening to some washed-out dick, running around with half-cocked theories that are jeopardizing both my patience and the investigation of real police detectives.”
At five-foot-ten Dobbs puffs himself up as best he can, drawing a heavy breath and pushing out his paunch.
“Have it your way,” I huff. “But if I find the two are related, there’s nothing you can do, short of having me rubbed out, that’s going to keep me from doing my job.”