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From the Publisher“Cook has shown himself to be a writer of poetic gifts, constantly pushing against the presumed limits of crime fiction.” —Los Angeles Times Book Review
“Cook writes piercing thrillers.” —Daily News
In Thomas H. Cook’s first novel, a weary detective tracks a blood-crazed psychopath
Blood seeps into the gutters at the children’s zoo in Central Park. Two deer have been slaughtered, one stabbed fifty-seven times and the other slashed across the neck. Normally it would be a case for the Parks Department, but these are no ordinary deer. The pride of the small menagerie, they were given to the zoo by a ...
In Thomas H. Cook’s first novel, a weary detective tracks a blood-crazed psychopath
Blood seeps into the gutters at the children’s zoo in Central Park. Two deer have been slaughtered, one stabbed fifty-seven times and the other slashed across the neck. Normally it would be a case for the Parks Department, but these are no ordinary deer. The pride of the small menagerie, they were given to the zoo by a prominent socialite who cannot afford bloody headlines. The NYPD hands the case to Detective Reardon, star of the homicide squad.
A recent widower at fifty-six, Reardon has seen too many human victims to care much about the two butchered animals. He resents being taken off other pressing cases for the sake of politics, but soon another killing snaps him to attention. Two women are found dead in their apartment, one stabbed fifty-seven times and the other with her throat cut. Surely this vicious parallel isn’t a coincidence.…
“Cook writes piercing thrillers.” —Daily News
Watching it from his window, Reardon saw the city only as an immense patchwork of random sound and directionless movement. It had not always been like this for him. In his youth he had walked the streets in his dark-blue uniform with shining badge as a protector of a wild and famous city. He had not forgotten that what he felt then was a rapture so heedless, asking so little, that even the loss and butchery he saw in the course of his duties could not permanently overwhelm it. He had been a serious protector, one who must love what he protects.
He lit a cigarette. The flame gave off a pale, orange aurora in the morning fog. He watched the match burn down almost to his fingertips, then quickly waved it out. He smoked wearily, pleasurelessly. This would be his last cigarette, and because of that he could not savor it. In his mid-fifties now, he had come to fear the slow, strangulating death of lung cancer.
It was cancer that had finally killed his wife, Millie, slowly devouring her bowels inch by inch. Even now, two weeks after her funeral, he sometimes came home to the apartment expecting to find her there and was forced all over again to relive his loss of her. At the funeral he had sat at the front of the church staring at the roses that had adorned her closed coffin. He had ordered her coffin closed because he believed that death was a kind of final privacy, upon which living eyes should not be allowed to intrude. His son, Timothy, had sat beside him, along with his son's wife, Abbey, and their children. Timothy had kept his hands folded ritually in his lap, his face immobile, but with his eyes darting about as if his mind were still busily examining the law cases in his office. And Reardon had noticed that only when his son looked back over his shoulder and saw the head of his law firm enter the church did his face suddenly change its expression to one of mourning.
Now, standing in his living room, Reardon turned from the window and glimpsed himself in the full-length mirror on the opposite side of the room. He had become much more conscious of his body recently, conscious that it was slowly taking him through that process of things that pass away. He was still powerfully built for a man of ordinary height and weight, but now, staring at himself across the room, he could detect the first curving downward of his shoulders and buckling of his knees.
Quickly he turned from the mirror to the window. Below he could hear the traffic cutting through the wet streets like long knives slicing into melons. He remembered a psychopath he had arrested almost twenty years before. When asked why he had butchered his victim so wantonly the man had replied he was looking for seeds. "You know, like in a watermelon."
Reardon tapped his cigarette and watched the ashes tumble toward the street. He estimated the distance from his window to the street at about eighty feet. He had heard of infants surviving falls of even more than that distance, but never an adult. Babies survived because they relaxed all the way down. But adult human beings, terrified beyond comprehension, stiffened every muscle, locked every joint, stretched every tendon taut and ground their bones like sticks of chalk into the sidewalk.
Slowly his eyes followed upward the line of windows in the building facing him. He had answered many calls there, mostly inconsequential: family bickerings, lovers' quarrels, evictions, disorderly conduct complaints, general nuisance behavior; only once a murder. Finally his field of vision passed the highest landing and over the roof, where, in the distance, half blurred by the early morning fog, a sign blinked its certain message that Jesus Saves.
"Got a freako for you this morning, Reardon," Sergeant Smith said from behind his large wooden desk as Reardon entered the precinct house. For Smith, human crime was divided into three categories: ordinary criminal acts — such as theft, simple battery, rape and common murder — for which no specific designation was required; "bloodies," which were particularly gruesome murders or assaults; and "freakos," crimes so bizarre that Smith could not comprehend their source.
"What is it?" Reardon asked.
"Piccolini will tell you," Smith said teasingly.
"You can tell me."
"No, let Piccolini. It's a little different, you know what I mean?" Smith winked at Reardon. "It's something they think only Detective Reardon can handle. Something they need an expert for." He motioned toward Piccolini's office door with a grand, mocking gesture. "You may enter, sir."
Piccolini sat at a gray metal desk. Each wall was lined with file cabinets and the window behind Piccolini featured a view of the rear alley. Piccolini's desk was covered with files, and he was furiously applying himself to a stack of papers in front of him when Reardon entered.
"Smith says you want to see me," Reardon said.
Piccolini did not look up. "Sit," he said.
Piccolini did everything with the single-minded purpose and intensity of a worker ant. Details were his passion. He believed that if a social security number was recorded incorrectly it could lead to general disorder. For Piccolini great upheavals were nothing more than the accumulated consequence of millions of smart mistakes.
Reardon's eyes roamed Piccolini's office. It was a habit of his, looking for evidence even when there was no crime. A small metal bookshelf stood in a corner opposite the door. The books were arranged alphabetically by title. There were codes of conduct, commission reports, manuals of procedure and handbooks on administration: the rules of the game. Places were marked in some of them, Miranda warning cards used as bookmarkers.
"Want coffee?" Piccolini asked without looking up.
"No," Reardon said.
"Be through in a minute. Just relax. I have to get all this out every Monday morning."
Reardon did not know very much about Piccolini even though he had known him for years. He knew he was a devout Catholic who believed in an absolute fate, his own and everybody else's. This, Reardon believed, explained his generally acknowledged fearlessness. Otherwise Piccolini was an enigma. Reardon knew that he was married, but not whether he was happy in that marriage. He knew that he had children, but did not know if they loved their father. He knew that Piccolini drove an expensive car, but he did not know if it was paid for.
Piccolini finished signing the last paper and looked up at Reardon. "I suppose Smith told you we have a bloody for you this morning."
"He called it a freako," Reardon said.
"Where does he get those classifications?"
"I don't know."
"They always give me the creeps."
Reardon said nothing.
Piccolini leaned back in his swivel chair and put his hands behind his head. "Have you ever been to the Children's Zoo?"
"Sure," Reardon said.
"Well, you remember a few years back when Wallace Van Allen donated two fallow deer to the zoo? It was in all the papers. It was a big event, you know? On television and all that."
"I remember it."
"Well, we have an embarrassing situation here," Piccolini said. "It has to do with those same deer."
"What about them?"
Piccolini cleared his throat and shifted slightly in his seat. From the earliest days of their association together Reardon had noticed that Piccolini was seldom unnerved by seeing the results of a crime or by the brutal details of investigating it, but that he did not like to describe a crime to others. Rendering it into language removed it from that remote spot it occupied in his mind. It was only in describing a crime that Piccolini seemed compelled by its reality.
"Somebody killed them," Piccolini said.
Piccolini shook his head. "No," he said, "hacked them to death."
"Hacked them to death?" Reardon had never heard of such a thing.
"That's right," Piccolini said. "We think maybe some political types did it. You know, Wallace Van Allen is rich and famous and all that. Very visible, if you know what I mean. Prominent. Always on television doing something. Giving money to this organization, supporting that candidate. Big charity types. Social types too. Big Liberals."
"So you think it's a political angle? Political enemies of the Van Allens?"
"Nothing personal," Piccolini said, "nobody who actually knew Van Allen. But it still could have been radical types, some crazy, off-the-wall radical group maybe. You never know what they might do."
Reardon nodded. "And they killed a guard, I guess."
"No, just the deer."
"But I'm in homicide."
"Now look," Piccolini said, "this is a big case. One of the biggest. Some real big people are looking in on this one, interested in it, if you know what I mean. I know you're in homicide, but this is bigger than a homicide right now, and the people downtown want top people on it all the way." Piccolini smiled. "And that means you, John. You were recommended for this case, and you've got it. Solving it could be a big plus."
Reardon was fifty-six years old and a detective; he did not need any more big pluses and was surprised Piccolini could think he did. "I have some other cases to clear up first," he said.
"Forget them," Piccolini snapped. "As of right now this is your only case. It's the biggest case in this precinct, and it may be the biggest case in New York right now, and you're the chief investigating officer on it."
"But what about the other cases?"
"All your cases have been reassigned," Piccolini said. "You can take some time and brief the new guys, but after that, get on the deer. And get on it fast, will you, John? Believe me, the precinct is on the line in this one."
"Sure," Reardon said dully. He had heard that before. Everybody was on the line in every case.
"This one is for real," Piccolini said emphatically. "We need to break this one fast, real fast.
So forget about homicide for a while and concentrate on collaring the guy who hacked those deer to death."
Reardon did not reply.
"Go out and see those deer," Piccolini said sentimentally. "You should see what that guy did to them. And they didn't even have horns to defend themselves with."
Reardon nodded but said nothing.
"Well, okay," Piccolini said, "that's it. Get on it."
"I'll keep you informed," Reardon said dryly.
"Yeah, I want a regular update on this one. I want to know the moment anything breaks."
"Sure," Reardon said.
As he closed the door of the office behind him, Reardon could hear Piccolini returning ferociously to the papers on his desk. It sounded like a rat scrambling through dry leaves.
A number of detectives had already assembled around Reardon's desk in the homicide bullpen by the time he came out of Piccolini's office. As he seated himself behind his desk they mumbled their good mornings, then slouched casually against the desks that surrounded his. With the exception of Ben Whitlock, they were all younger men than he, leaner too and hungrier for advancement: New York's finest wolves. There was not one who might not someday be Chief of Detectives, and there was not one, except Whitlock, whom Reardon trusted. In their presence Reardon felt spectacularly out of place. Their youth aged him and their ambition tired him.
He pulled out a group of folders from a side drawer and laid them on top of his desk. "I guess Piccolini sent you here," he said.
"He said you'd fill us in on your cases," Larry Merchant said, "the ones we'll be handling while you're on the other thing."
"Right." Reardon pulled one of the folders from the stack and opened it. "I'll start with you first," he told Merchant, "but I want all of you to come in sometime and review all these cases, whether they're assigned to you or not, just in case you run across something that might be helpful."
He handed Merchant the folder. "This is the Alverez case. You can check the file for the details, but this is basically it. Maria Alverez was found beaten to death in her apartment on East 71st Street. She was a high-class hooker, not the Eighth Avenue variety. Her pimp was a man named Louis Fallachi. He has a few low-level syndicate connections, but nothing big, nothing fancy. Strictly a ham-and-eggs muscle man, a bone breaker for a few shylocks. We've checked him out closely, and there's no evidence as yet that he had anything to do with the killing. We've tried to reconstruct Alverez's movements the night she died. We know that she wasn't hooking that night. She went to a movie with a girlfriend. The doorman in her building says that she got home around eleven o'clock. So far he's the last person to have seen her alive. The next morning she was dead. We have the weapon, a plain carpenter's hammer. No prints."
"Any witnesses?" Merchant asked glumly.
"Not so far," Reardon said, "but this happened only a couple of days ago. The area is still being canvassed. Somebody might turn up who saw something. The main thing at this point is to find out everybody she knows and check them out. She may have known the person who did it, because he probably came through the front door, and there's no evidence of forcible entry."
"What'd she look like?" Merchant asked with a grin.
"What difference does it make?" Reardon said coldly.
Merchant shifted his body nervously to the left. "Just curious, that's all."
"There are pictures of her in the file," Reardon said.
"Right," Merchant said. "I'll get on it." He ducked out of the group and quickly marched upstairs to the file room.
Reardon did not know why he disliked Larry Merchant. He thought the reason might be the easy way Merchant took up his cases, as if they were just so many used cars he had to clear off the lot before the Saturday shipment of new ones, or the fact that he took his pay and ran off to the suburbs to spend it, leaving the city to wallow in its squalor like an old whore — used, abused, forgotten.
Reardon picked Charlie Darrow for the David Lowery case because David Lowery had been six years old when he was murdered, and Reardon knew that the killing of a child was a crime that shot Darrow up to a high adrenaline range. Darrow would be relentless in his pursuit, tireless, utterly oblivious to the distinction between being on duty and off duty.
"David Lowery was last seen alive by a few of his playmates in an alley off East 83rd Street," Reardon began. He handed Darrow the folder. "Three hours later his body was found stuffed in the trunk of an abandoned car on 122nd Street. He had been strangled with a jump rope and his body had been sexually abused."
Darrow's face hardened. "How old did you say he was?"
"Six years old. He was a small child for his age. Not quite three feet tall."
"Jesus Christ," Darrow said.
"The car had been sitting on 122nd Street for a few days," Reardon said. "The owner is a grocery store manager up in Yonkers. He reported the car stolen quite some time ago. He's being checked out. He seems to be clean."
Darrow nodded. "Nothing funny in his background?"
"Not that we've been able to uncover yet. Everything that we know about him is in the file. A few people in the neighborhood of 122nd Street saw a man and a boy around the car, but nobody saw the child's body put into it. There's also this: two days before the boy was killed the desk sergeant received an anonymous complaint about noisy kids playing in that same car in the afternoon. For now, that's it."
"Not much then," Darrow said disappointedly.
"Not much," Reardon agreed, "but there's never very much in the beginning."
"Sure," Darrow said, and walked away from Reardon's desk.
Reardon turned to Wallace Chesterton. "The next one's for you."
"All right," Chesterton said.
Wallace Chesterton was a large, ponderously built man with a fiery temper, a bully who had been formally disciplined several times. He believed that the best way to approach either a witness or a suspect was to assault him, sometimes verbally, sometimes physically. So Reardon gave Chesterton the closest thing he had to a routine gangland killing, because he knew it would probably never be solved. Chesterton would know that too and be less inclined to rough up somebody for nothing.
"This one is strictly by the book," Reardon told him. "A routine gangland rubout. Clean. The victim is a guy named Martin Scali. He was found in a parked car near the East River with one bullet through the back of his head. He had two hundred and thirty-eight dollars in his wallet. He has all kinds of gangland connections. As usual, no witnesses. Nobody heard or saw anything. You've got a guy with a bullet in his head and that's it."
Chesterton frowned. "Shit."
"Do the best you can." Reardon handed Chesterton the folder. "There's not much in it."
Excerpted from Blood Innocents by Thomas H. Cook. Copyright © 1980 Thomas H. Cook. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Posted January 18, 2014
As a fan of Thomas H. Cooks' work from The Chatham School Affair on, it's great to finally have a chance to read his early book I can't find anywhere.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.