Nadal watches for weeks before he first approaches the boy. No matter what Maggie Brown says, he’s sure Matt is his son, and a boy should know his father. After their first confrontation, Maggie should have run. She should have hidden her child. But she underestimated the man who was once her lover. With self-righteous determination, Nadal goes to her house. He demands to spend time with the boy. When she refuses, he reaches for a knife.
By the time homicide detective Richard Christie arrives on the scene, all that remains of Maggie Brown is a bloodstain on the floor. The killer has vanished, and Matt is too scared to remember anything but his mother’s fear. As Christie looks for the killer and Maggie’s friends fight to keep Matt out of the hands of Child Services, Nadal watches the news and waits. A boy should be with his father. He’s going to get his son.
From the Edgar Award–nominated author of Simple and Hideout, this suspenseful tale with “plenty of hometown flavor and characters worthy of investment” is a gritty tale of crime and justice (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette). Entertainment Weekly raves, “If anyone’s writing better police thrillers than George, I don’t know who it is,” while George Pelecanos says, “I look forward to reading anything Kathleen George writes.”
About the Author
In 2009, she published The Odds, a thriller about the drug trade in Pittsburgh, which was nominated for an Edgar Award. Besides writing thrillers, George is the editor of Pittsburgh Noir (2011), an anthology of crime stories set in the Steel City, and several books about theatre, including Rhythm in Drama (1980), Playwriting: The First Workshop (1994), and Winter’s Tales (2005). She is married to writer Hilary Masters.
Read an Excerpt
A Measure of Blood
By Kathleen George
MysteriousPress.comCopyright © 2014 Kathleen George
All rights reserved.
COMMANDER CHRISTIE AND HIS WIFE were sitting at lunch, surprised by the peace. They didn't have the kids this weekend. They were just about finished with the pasta and crusty bread, enjoying the Sunday, when the phone rang. Marina sprang up to get the call. She was lean and suntanned and full of vim and vigor these days, looking good.
In seconds her face fell. "Yes, he's here," she said. Then she handed the phone to him. "A new homicide. Colleen was there. She took the call."
Christie's police partner, Colleen Greer, was a workaholic. She had urged him to stay home, saying she would cover for him.
He accepted the phone. "Tell me."
"You're going to want to do this one, Boss. It's a homicide in Squirrel Hill. Very fresh. Just happened. I understand a child found his mother's body. I just got here."
By then he was digging in the bowl on the hallway table for his car keys. "Where's the father?"
"No father. Mother and son. That's it, I'm told."
"How old? The boy?"
"Seven. Going on eight."
Christie learned in quick sequence that it had happened at an apartment on Morrowfield Avenue, that an ambulance got there even before the patrol cops and called it in, that the patrol cops were there now, but the medics were talking about taking the body to Shadyside Hospital in spite of the fact that they couldn't get a pulse. The victim was a forty-seven-year-old woman, an art teacher. Margaret Brown, known as Maggie.
He paused, looked down at his clothes. He was wearing a blue T-shirt and jeans, far more casual than what he usually wore on a case. Marina, knowing how he thought, brought him the chino sports coat he'd flung on a living room chair the night before. He put it on as he made his way to the car.
Christie's house was in Bloomfield; he tended not to obey speed limits. He zoomed down Fifth, then up Wilkins. As he drove up Wilkins, he heard a siren; soon an ambulance passed him; he thought, That's the one taking the body of the murdered woman to the hospital. They had to try, of course, but it made investigating a bit harder. He avoided Murray Avenue because people would be sluggishly crossing the street with grocery bags or cups of coffee, wearing that stunned Sunday look. He took Shady, banking on its being faster.
When he got to Morrowfield, he parked half over a curb right across the street from the large apartment building where neighbors had gathered outside and in the downstairs hallway.
He had to hope patrol had taken good photographs.
He took the stairs to the second-floor apartment where the murder had happened. Greer was there all right. She wore sandals and she stepped carefully around the blood, which was just inside the door. Like Christie, she hated the booties and preferred to risk her shoes. There was a kitchen knife on the floor and it was bloody.
"Where's the boy?" was the first thing Christie asked.
"Next door. With neighbors. He knows them. They babysit him sometimes."
"You talked to him?"
"Briefly. It's ... probably a domestic crime. He says a man came in to talk to his mother. He thinks the man was saying he was the father, the kid's father ... and he wanted to see him. Apparently there was an argument. That's all we know."
"The boy witnessed it?"
"No. He ran out for help and then back. And he found her."
"You said he's seven."
"A couple of weeks from eight."
"Let's go see him. Hopefully there's some relative somewhere in the picture."
A boy that age was going to need something familiar to hang onto. When Christie's father took off, he had the house, his mother, his aunt. And still it was hard to accept the absence. He felt for the kid.
"You saw her? The mother?"
"I saw them loading her."
"Any chance she's going to make it?"
"No, Boss. The EMTs are playing angel games. You know, they want to deliver a miracle."
He sighed. "How many stab wounds?" He tipped his head toward the kitchen knife near the front door, where the body was found.
"It seemed like one stab wound. The heart. That's what the medics were saying. Boss, there's no chance. She was dead."
Greer was good at her work. Going to be great. He'd been her mentor but she was beyond rookie status now. Nobody doubted Colleen Greer these days.
Christie took in the one toppled pan in the kitchen—everything else in order—then the pool of blood by the door.
The patrol cop showed him four photographs on his digital camera. Christie had to keep tilting the camera to get good light. "I'll want these blown up," he said. What he saw in the small rectangle was a woman collapsed on the floor—shocked face, clutching her heart, her back to the door. No apparent wounds or bruises otherwise. Sudden. Impulsive. Effective.
"Let's go next door. You called anybody else?"
"The mobile unit."
"And I called Potocki and Dolan. They're both available. In case you want them."
"Good. Call them back. Pull them in."
"I didn't call Child Services. I thought, like you said, we'd be hoping for a relative."
He nodded. "You can bet we hope for that. Who are these neighbors? You know anything about them?"
"The Panikkars. They own an Indian restaurant up on Baum. It's been there for about twelve years. Daughter lives with them. She has some degrees from Pitt. She apparently babysat many times over the last seven years, so she's taken care of the boy before. Likes him." Colleen straightened her dress apologetically. It was a beige thing, linen, he thought. She said, "My Sunday best. I was hoping for a slow day. How about you?" She smiled, gesturing toward his T-shirt. "Very hip."
The next-door apartment opened to a strong smell of spices. A middle-aged woman, red eyed and clearly extremely upset, appeared from behind the open door. Her hair was bound tightly and she was wearing a sari of orange and gold, a beautiful garment but surely uncomfortable in the heat. Christie could see past the woman and her living room into a kitchen where a lithe, good-looking boy with dark hair and dark eyes sat at the table. He was numbly eating a cookie and drinking milk while a young woman read to him.
Christie wanted to talk to the boy, but he made a decision to talk to the older woman first. Anything that calmed the boy right now was probably a good thing.
Mrs. Panikkar dabbed at her face with a paper towel. It was especially warm in her apartment.
"Could I speak to you in the hallway?" he asked.
Mrs. Panikkar looked behind her to where her husband was emerging from a back room. Christie became aware of the sound of a TV from where Mr. Panikkar came. He was hurriedly buttoning the last buttons of his guayabera. He looked as if he believed he should come to his wife's rescue.
"One at a time," Christie said firmly.
As soon as they got to the hallway, Colleen said, "We don't have to talk here. I've got a neighbor willing to give us his living room. Down the hall."
"You did a lot in seven minutes."
The fast command post Colleen had set up was the living room of a man who looked—by the piles of magazines and papers and the unfolded laundry in a basket next to the sofa in the living room—to be divorced. He had managed to clear a sofa and two chairs. It would do.
The man hovered in the passage to his inner rooms. He had an assortment of things in his arms from his cleaning up. Sweatpants, a book, a file folder. "Should I do anything else?" he asked.
"This is Mr. Holtzman," Colleen told Christie. "Anything else you want from him?"
Christie shook his head. "We'll be as efficient as possible. Has anyone talked to you about what you saw?"
"The cops first. Then her ... Detective Greer? I told her I didn't see anything. Not a thing. I was in the back room reading."
"No. I had my iPod on the dock and it—"
"Go back to it then. I'll check with you later."
Colleen ushered Mrs. Panikkar to a seat on the sofa.
Christie said, "Thank you for your time. We need to hear everything you know about what happened. Just tell it from the beginning."
She began to cry. "The little boy came knocking at my door. Calling for my husband. I said he wasn't home because he was in the shower and I didn't want to disturb him. The boy—his name is Matt, Matthew—pulled me to his doorway and I saw the blood. I screamed. I went to get my husband because ... because the boy was crying, saying he needed a doctor."
"Your husband is a doctor?"
"Yes. A podiatrist. But I went to get him out of the shower and I also called 911. The boy ran back to his mother." She began to cry harder. "My husband is not the kind of doctor who saves lives."
"Detective Greer said something about a restaurant you own. Your husband owns it?"
"Yes. He does both."
Christie said, "Ah. Okay. Tell me what you saw, what you heard."
"Nothing. We had the television on because my husband watches the news. I was in my daughter's bedroom, putting clothes away and talking to her. The shower made noise, too. We didn't hear anything."
"Other times before today? Other disturbances."
"Never. If my door was open, I could hear the mother calling to her son or reprimanding him. But only the sound, not what she said."
Christie looked around at the building's good, thick walls that might have helped kill Margaret Brown. "Other visits. People visiting her?"
"Not many visitors and I don't know the names. Women friends, men friends with children. But I know the little boy will know who. He's very smart. My daughter tells me all the time he's smart."
"What did you see when the boy dragged you to the door?"
"A terrible sight." She put her hand over her eyes briefly but even when she removed them, her breathing was changed, panicked sounding. "I couldn't open the door the whole way. She was on the floor. She was dead. My husband said she was dead when he got there. I heard the policeman say she was dead. The boy wanted my husband to do something, and my husband looked at me to say it was no use, but the emergency doctors arrived. My husband sat down with the boy and he told him, 'She's gone. There is nothing I can do for her.' He said all those things people say. He said, 'She died and left this world. She is in heaven now and she is resting.' He thought it was important to tell the boy right away. I don't know."
Christie wished he'd been the one to break the news, but it was done now, too late. He would have left space in the conversation for the boy to ask, to talk, to come to understand it.
Colleen got a call and went out into the hallway to take it.
Christie watched her for evidence of what the call was about as he asked Mrs. Panikkar, "When you saw Ms. Brown—she was near the front door? Her back to the door?"
"I understand you volunteered to take care of the boy for a day."
"Oh, yes. My daughter is very fond of him."
"How well did you know Ms. Brown?"
"Not deeply. Only the way you know neighbors when you want to be private and you know they want to be private."
"Do you know who her relatives are?"
She shook her head. "I never saw or heard of a mother or father or sister or anything like that."
He got a deep pang of foreboding. It would be tough keeping the kid away from Child Services if there were no relatives.
Just then, Potocki and Dolan arrived. Christie trusted those two maybe beyond all others. John Potocki, a reliable, salt-of-the-earth Pole, forty years old, had amassed a solid history of good work, much of it from his expertise with computers. Artie Dolan, a tidy, muscular African American was the uncontested champ at getting confessions. He turned his dreamy brown eyes on suspects and they gave it up, whatever it was. Dolan had been around for almost as long as Christie. They went way back, sometimes partners, sometimes not, always friends.
He told Mrs. Panikkar she could go back to her place.
Dolan entered, saying, "This is going to be a big one."
Christie told him, "Yep. You start on this building. All the neighbors up and down. Somebody saw something. Potocki: Step around the lab techs. Pick up everything of interest. Datebooks, calendars, address books, computer, files. Whatever you can find. We need names. We don't know who was in this woman's life and we're going to need all the names we can get. Comb the place."
Colleen came back into the room. "DOA. It's official."
He told her, "Call Denman and Hurwitz and have them canvas the neighbors in nearby buildings."
Dolan made a half salute. He and Potocki moved on. Potocki touched Colleen's shoulder on the way out, the only acknowledgment that the bond between them ran deep and serious.
Christie noted his jealousy flare up at that touch. It was a human emotion and he had to live with it. He couldn't have all the women. He couldn't, being the person he was, even have two. And he couldn't help it that he and Colleen had some kind of connection. She was Marina's opposite in appearance with that tousled-on-purpose– blonde hair. Marina was exotic with long, dark brown hair, almost black. He loved Marina, no question. But Colleen—also no question—crackled the air around her.
He'd been planning to call in Dr. Panikkar next, but he decided that a very smart kid was probably the better bet. He had the picture pretty clear. The doc was king in his household, not easily interrupted, watched CNN around the clock when he was home, expected his tea on time. Happened to be in the shower when he was called for and not so good at saving lives anyway. "Bring the boy. Matthew."
Colleen went out and came back with Matthew, accompanied by the young woman who had been reading to him. The young woman wore jeans and a cotton top that had probably been made in India—it had decorative stitching and tiny beads that sparkled. She was pretty, both westernized and not, interesting. "My name is Oopale," she said. "I've known Matt since he was born."
"Will you hang on over at your place? I'll want to talk to you."
"I will be there."
"Hi Matthew. How about you sit on the sofa with me? I'm a detective and I think you can be very helpful."
Matt came to him and slid up on the sofa. His face was tight. His hands were clenched tight. Christie wanted to hug him, to break through, and it was hard to hold back, but he needed to get the boy's trust first. "Your next-door neighbor seems pretty nice. Is she?" he began with Matt.
"Do you like staying with her?"
Christie looked to Colleen Greer with a silent question: Am I gentle enough?
"Are you hanging in there all right?"
"Okay. You said a man came into your apartment this morning? Did you see him come in?"
"No. I was in my room."
"How did you know someone was there?"
"I could hear voices a little bit."
"Ah, good, okay. Is that when you came out of your room?"
"No. I was just playing a game on my TV. I didn't know anything was wrong."
"You kept playing? A video game?"
The boy winced and looked down. "Yes," he said in a low voice.
"Well, that's okay. You didn't know anything was wrong. Did you see the man later?"
"No. Well, I saw him just like from the back. My mother was yelling at me. She said to leave, run, and so I did."
"You were afraid of him?"
He hesitated. "I guess."
"Did you hear what he was saying?"
"No. But ... he bothered my mother before. So I think it was the same thing."
"You saw him before?"
"You're sure it was the same guy?"
"I think so."
"How many times before?"
"Um ... one time is all I know."
"Is that why you told Detective Greer the man said he was your father? Because that's what he said the other time?"
"Do you know who he is? His name?"
"Do you remember when that was? That you saw him?"
"At the grocery store. He yelled at my mom."
"When? Can you remember?"
"I don't know."
"It was ... it was nice weather out."
"This summer maybe?"
"I think I still had school."
"June?" He looked up at Greer. Some guesswork needed here. "What did this man say exactly? Can you remember?"
"Stuff like why didn't she tell him and he had a right to see me because I was his son."
"Was he angry when he said it?"
"Um ... yeah, I guess."
"Tell me. Angry and what? Something else?"
"Surprised. Was he looking for you, waiting for your mother, or was it—do you think it was an accidental meeting?"
Before he could revise the question, Matt answered, "He was surprised. Like shocked."
"Did your mom ever talk about him before?"
"No. Only after. She said he wasn't my father."
"Can you think of anything else?"
"She told him to do math."
"Uh-huh." Christie looked at Colleen. "Anything else?"
"She told him I wasn't even eight years old."
"Uh-huh. You seem to have a very good memory. Anything else that could help us?"
Matt shook his head. But then he said, "I think he had a reddish car. Dark red. I think it's called maroon."
"He was in a car? Driving?"
"He was leaning on it."
"Did you ever see him in the car?"
"Where did all this happen?"
"At the store."
"Do you happen to remember which store?" Christie saw suddenly that the boy was trying not to cry. "You're doing really well. You're helping us a lot. Do you want to take a break?"
"No. It was a grocery store. A big one. It's called ... it's something fancier than our Giant Eagle here—"
"Whole Foods?" Colleen interrupted.
"No. The next one near it."
Excerpted from A Measure of Blood by Kathleen George. Copyright © 2014 Kathleen George. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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