Crime School (Kathleen Mallory Series #6)by Carol O'Connell
Police Detective Kathleen Mallory recognized the crime scene: victim hanging, hair in mouth, fire burning. It happened twenty-one years ago, when Mallory was a child. She also recognized the victim... See more details below
Police Detective Kathleen Mallory recognized the crime scene: victim hanging, hair in mouth, fire burning. It happened twenty-one years ago, when Mallory was a child. She also recognized the victim...
“Fascinating…Once hooked, readers will gladly surrender to O’Connell’s narrative wiles.”—The Denver Post
“A standout among modern mysteries…Mallory is the most interesting fictional detective I’ve come across in years.”—San Jose Mercury News
Read an Excerpt
GREENWICH VILLAGE HAD LOST ITS EDGE LONG AGO, becoming a stately old lady among New York neighborhoods. One of the grande dame's children stood beneath the great stone arch in Washington Square Park. The boy wore trendy camouflage pants, all dressed up for a revolution-should one come along the way buses do.
A guitar case lay at his feet, open to donations from passersby, though no one slowed down to drop him a dime. People marched past, sweating and cursing the heat of August, hurrying home to cold beers and canned music. It would take spectacle on a grander scale to get their attention tonight.
An unmarked police car crawled by in air-conditioned silence. Detective Sergeant Riker rolled down the passenger window and listened to a ripple of melancholy notes on soft nylon strings.
Not what he had expected.
Evidently, the teenage musician had missed the point of being young. Thirty-five years ago, Riker had been the boy beneath the arch, but his own guitar had been strung with steel, electrified and amplified, ripping out music to make people manic, forcing them to dance down the sidewalk.
What a rush.
And the entire universe had revolved around him.
He had sold that electric guitar to buy a ring for a girl he had loved more than rock 'n' roll. The marriage had ended, and the music had also deserted him.
The window closed. The car rolled on.
Kathy Mallory took the wheel for every tour of duty, but not by choice. Torn between drinking and driving, her partner had allowed his license to expire. The detectives were nearing the end of their shift, and Riker guessed that Mallory had plans for the evening. She was wearing her formal running shoes, black ones to match the silk T-shirt and jeans. The sleeves of her white linen blazer were rolled back, and this was her only concession to the heat. If asked to describe the youngest detective on the squad, he would bypass the obvious things, the creamy skin of a natural blonde and the very unnatural eyes; he would say, "Mallory doesn't sweat."
And she had other deviations.
Riker's cell phone beeped. He pulled it out to exchange a few words with another man across town, then folded it into his pocket. "No dinner tonight. A homicide cop on First Avenue and Ninth wants a consult."
The jam of civilian cars thinned out, and Mallory put on speed. Riker felt the car tilt when it turned the corner, rushing into the faster stream of northbound traffic. She sent the vehicle hurtling toward the rear end of a yellow cab that quickly slid out of the lane-her lane now. Other drivers edged off, dropping back and away, not sporting enough to risk sudden impact. She never used the portable turret light or the siren, for cops got no respect in this town-but sheer terror worked every time.
Riker leaned toward her, keeping his cool as he said, "I don't wanna die tonight."
Mallory turned her face to his. The long slants of her green eyes glittered, thieving eerie light from the dashboard, and her smile suggested that he could jump if he liked. And so a nervous game began, for she was watching traffic only in peripheral vision. He put up his hands in a show of surrender, and she turned her eyes back to the road.
Riker held a silent conversation with the late Louis Markowitz, a ghost he carried around in his heart as balm for anxious moments like this one. It was almost a prayer, and it always began with Lou, you bastard.
Fifteen years had passed since Kathy Mallory had roamed the streets as a child. Being homeless was damned hard work, and running the tired little girl to ground had been the job of Riker's old friend, Louis Markowitz, but only as a hobby. Lost children had never been the province of Special Crimes Unit, not while they lived. And they would have to die under unusual circumstances to merit a professional interest. So Kathy had become the little blond fox of an after-hours hunt. The game had begun with these words, spoken so casually: "Oh, Riker? If she draws on you, don't kill her. Her gun is plastic, it fires pellets-and she's only nine or ten years old."
After her capture, the child had rolled back her thin shoulders, drawn herself up to her full height of nothing, and insisted that she was twelve years old. What a liar-and what great dignity; Lou Markowitz could have crushed her with a laugh. Instead, with endless patience, he had negotiated her down to eleven years of age, and the foster-care paperwork had begun with this more believable lie.
Now Kathy Mallory's other name was Markowitz's Daughter.
The old man had been killed in the line of duty, and Riker missed him every day. Lou's foster child was taller now, five ten; she had upgraded her plastic gun to a .357 revolver; and her partner was not allowed to call her Kathy anymore.
The homicide detectives were speeding toward a crime scene that belonged to another man. The East Side lieutenant had sweetened his invitation with a bet, giving odds of "Ten'll get you twenty" that they had never seen a murder quite like this one.
Revolving red and yellow lights marked the corner where police units and a fire engine blocked the flow of traffic along the borderland between the East Village and Alphabet City. All the action was on a side street, but the fire escapes were crowded with people hanging off metal rails, as if they could see around corners of brick and mortar. Cars honked their horns against the law, and hollered obscenities flew through the air.
Mallory's tan sedan glided into the only clear space, a bus stop. She killed the engine and stepped out onto the pavement as her partner slammed the passenger door. Riker's suit was creased and soiled in all the usual places, and now he loosened his tie to complete the basic slob ensemble. He could afford dry cleaning, but he was simply unaware of the practice; that was Mallory's theory.
The sidewalks were jumping, buzzing, people screaming, "C'mon, c'mon!" Crime made do for theater in this livelier part of town. Young and old, they ran in packs, off to see a free show, a double bill-murder and fire. And these were the stragglers.
The detectives walked in tandem toward the spinning lights. The uniforms behind the police barricades were doing a poor job of crowd control. The street and sidewalks were clogged with civilians chomping pizza and slugging back cans of soda and beer.
"What a party," said Riker.
Mallory nodded. It was a big production for a dead prostitute. The East Side lieutenant who owned this case had not provided any more details.
They had waded ten heads into the fray before the harried policemen recognized them and formed a human plow, elbows and shoulders jamming taxpayers. The uniforms yelled, "Coming through! Make way!" One officer pulled back the yellow crime-scene tape that cordoned the sidewalk in front of a red brick apartment building. Riker moved ahead of his partner. He descended a short flight of steps to a cement enclosure below the level of the street, then disappeared through the basement door.
Mallory waved off her entourage of cops and remained on the sidewalk. Soon enough, she would be barraged with information, some of it wrong, most of it useless. She leaned over a wrought-iron fence to look down at the sunken square of concrete. Garbage bags and cans were piled near the basement window, but the bright lightbulb over the door would not give an attacker any cover of shadows. The arch of broken glass had no burglar gate-a clear invitation to a break-in.
In the room beyond the shattered window pane, local detectives were getting in the way of crime-scene technicians as they slogged through water in borrowed firemen's boots. Riker, less careful about his own shoes, splashed toward the dead body on the gurney, and dozens of floating red candles swirled in his wake.
The corpse wore a high-collared blouse with French cuffs, and her long skirt was tangled around cheap vinyl boots-strange clothing for a prostitute in the heat of August.
Mallory recognized the chief medical examiner's assistant. In the role of God Almighty, the young pathologist lit a cigarette despite the waving arms of an angry crime-scene technician. And now he ambled across the room to finally have a look at the body. After pressing a stethoscope to the victim's heart for a few moments, completing the belated formality of declaring death, the doctor showed no curiosity about the short tufts of blond hair, evidence of a crude attempt at scalping. He seemed equally unconcerned about the clot of hair stuffed in the woman's gaping mouth.
Mallory wondered why the firemen had not removed it to attempt resuscitation; it was their nature to destroy crime-scene evidence.
A police photographer made a rolling motion with his hand, and the pathologist obliged him by turning the corpse on its side, exposing the silver duct tape that bound the hands behind the dead woman's back. The noose was removed for the next shot. The other end of the severed rope still dangled from a low-hanging chandelier of electric candles. The East Side lieutenant had not exaggerated. Beyond the era of lynch mobs, hanging was a rare form of murder. And Mallory knew this had not been a quick death. It would have taken a longer drop to break the woman's neck.
She turned around to face the crowd and saw a man who had once been a uniformed cop in her own precinct. Six minutes away from losing his job, he had decided to quit NYPD, and now he was a fireman. "Zappata? Who broke the window, you guys or the perp?"
"We did." The rookie fireman sauntered toward her. His smile was cocky, and Mallory thought she might fix that if she had time. He would not look up at her face, for this would wreck his delusion that he was the taller one. He spoke to her breasts. "I need you to do something for me."
Not likely, you prick.
Aloud, she said, "Only one engine turned out?"
"Yeah, not much of a fire. Mostly smoke." He pointed to a young man with electric-yellow hair and a dark suit. "See that idiot dick trainee? Go tell him he doesn't need statements from everybody on my damned truck."
"He's not with me. Talk to his lieutenant." And, of course, Lieutenant Loman would rip off the fireman's head-less work for her. She turned back to the window on the crime scene. "So your men cut the body down?"
"Nope, the cops did that." Zappata was too pleased with himself. "She was stone dead when we got here. So I preserved the evidence."
"You mean-you left her hanging."
"Yeah, a little water damage, some broken glass, but the rest of the scene was cherry when the cops pulled up."
This was Zappata's old fantasy, running a crime scene, as if he had the right. Mallory searched the faces of the other firemen, a skeleton crew gathered near the truck. There were no ranking officers in sight. If Zappata had not been an ex-cop, the rest of these men would never have followed his lead. An ambulance would be here instead of the meat wagon parked at the curb. And now she understood why three departments had converged on the scene at one time. "You made all the calls tonight?"
"Yeah, I got lucky. The meat wagon and the CSU van were only a few blocks away. They showed up before the detectives." Zappata grinned, awaiting praise for assuming powers that were not his-police powers.
She decided to leave the fireman's destruction to the reporters hailing him from the other side of the crime-scene tape. Cameras closed in on Zappata's face as he strolled up to a cluster of microphones and a rapt audience of vultures from the press corps. Now he shared with them every rule and procedure he had personally violated to run the show tonight-and run it wrong.
Mallory walked down the steps to the cement enclosure and stood before the basement window. From this better angle, she could see one end of the rope anchored to a closet doorknob. The floor beneath the chandelier was clear of any object that might have been used for a makeshift gallows.
She could picture the killer placing a noose around the woman's neck and pulling the other end of the rope to raise her body from the ground. The victim's legs were not bound. She would have struggled and tried to run across the floor, then kept on running, feet pedaling the air until she died.
The murderer was male-an easy call. This hanging had required upper-body strength. And Mallory knew there had been no passion between the victim and her killer. When a man truly loved a woman, he beat her to death with his fists or stabbed her a hundred times.
She was looking at her partner's back as Riker bent down to grab something from the water. When the man turned around, his hands were empty, and he was closing the button on his suit jacket. If she had not seen this, she would never have believed it. Riker was a dead-honest cop.
What did you steal?
And why would he risk it?
Riker joined the others, and they moved away from the body. None of them noticed when a young man entered the basement room. Zappata's nemesis, the rookie detective with bright yellow hair, approached the gurney and leaned over the victim. Mallory saw a wet wad of blond hair come away in his hand as he removed the packing from the corpse's mouth.
That chore belonged to a crime-scene technician.
What else could go wrong tonight?
The young cop blocked Mallory's view as he leaned over the dead white face, as though to kiss it.
What are you doing?
In the next moment, he was straddling the body.
The fool was pumping the victim's chest, performing emergency first aid on a dead woman. Now he grinned and shouted, "She's alive!"
No! No! No!
Three detectives whirled around. The horrified pathologist moved toward the gurney. Riker was quicker. Hunkering down beside the victim, he held one finger to her nostrils. "Oh shit! She's breathing!" In a rare show of anger, Riker's hands balled into fists, and he yelled at the younger man, "Do you know what you've done?" Unspoken were the words, You moron.
Too much time had elapsed since the woman's death. An inexperienced cop had just turned a perfectly good corpse into a useless vegetable.
--from Crime School by Carol O'Connell, Copyright © September 2002, Putnam Pub Group, a member of Penguin Putnam, Inc., used by permission
and post it to your social network
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews >