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It begins when New York Police Department Detective Second-Grade Christie Opara arrests a man on the subway for indecent exposure. Within hours, Murray Rogoff, a burly giant, his crazed stare concealed behind thick glasses, is out on bail. Soon after, the body of a young dancer is found stashed behind the stairway of a Bronx apartment building. The girl was brutally raped and strangled, and a clue links her with two previous murders. The killer takes a signature trophy: a hacked-off lock of the victim’s hair. A few days later, Christie starts to get strange, late-night phone calls. Although Rogoff never spoke when he was in lock-up, the detective’s instincts tell her that Rogoff’s the serial killer they’re hunting. With the reluctant approval of her boss, Assistant District Attorney Casey Reardon, Christie prepares to become the bait of a deadly psychopath.
This ebook features an illustrated biography of Dorothy Uhnak including rare images from the author’s estate.
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About the Author
Dorothy Uhnak (1930–2006) was the bestselling, award-winning author of nine novels and one work of nonfiction. Policewoman, a memoir about her life as a New York City transit police detective, was written while Uhnak was still in uniform. The Bait (1968), her first novel, won the Edgar Award for Best First Mystery Novel. She went on to hit the bestseller lists with novels including Law and Order (1973) and The Investigation (1977). Uhnak has been credited with paving the way for authors such as Sue Grafton, Sara Paretsky, Patricia Cornwell, and many others who write crime novels and police procedurals with strong heroines. Her books have been translated into fifteen languages.
Read an Excerpt
A Detective Christie Opara Mystery
By Dorothy Uhnak
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1968 Dorothy Uhnak
All rights reserved.
Christie Opara sat in the small seat outside the empty motorman's cab of the nearly deserted, post-rush hour, downtown IRT local. Her shoulder was pressed against the warm steel wall and her long slim legs, bound by faded green dungarees, tensed against the pitch and sway of the train. Her bare feet felt moist and itchy in the ragged black sneakers as they pressed against the floor. Her hands rested lightly on her schoolbooks and she felt herself becoming part of the motion and monotony of the all-encasing speed which, unmeasured by landscape or anything else framed by the small dirty window facing her, gave no feeling of speed.
The train jerked to an unanticipated stop and Christie's right hand shot out to catch the shoulder bag which slid off her left arm. She caught it before it hit the floor, then biting her lower lip in annoyance, she leaned forward and collected the books and papers which had fallen between her feet. Although the shoulder bag hadn't opened and there was not the slightest possibility that anything had fallen from it, Christie's fingers automatically slid into the bag and identified each item: the small makeup case, the wad of tissues, sunglasses, ball-point pen, the rough textured butt of her .32 service revolver, the collection of keys on her rabbit's foot chain, the small spiral notebook, then, finally, beneath everything else, the small leather case that held her detective shield.
She snapped the case open within the depths of the bag and through habit, her fingers traced the embossed lettering: New York City Police Department, then sliding over the word "Detective," she lightly touched the four numbers "4754" which were cut into the small rectangle at the lower edge of the shield.
Christie dropped the leather case and pulled her hand free. Absently, she pushed the long, dark blond bangs from her forehead and her fingers wandered through the thick, short hair. It was a fruitless attempt to look a little less disheveled and actually, she looked exactly the way she was supposed to look for this assignment.
At twenty-six, Christie Opara, with her slight, flat-chested, long-legged and almost hipless body and still freckled face, devoid of any makeup except for an excessive amount of white eyeshadow and black eyeliner, appeared to be the bored, desultory twenty-year-old college student she was impersonating. It hadn't been too difficult for her to edge her way into the group at City College. Christie had a talent for picking up not only patterns of speech and gesture, but the more subtle attitudes and postures which could make her an almost faceless, yet vaguely accepted and unsuspected member of any particular gathering. Her presence at City College was for the purpose of identifying and arresting the source of LSD-saturated sugar cubes. This morning, in a particular corner of the school cafeteria, Christie and certain other students with whom she had established a casual and easy rapport, were prepared to purchase these cubes at five dollars each.
It had been a long investigation, requiring over four weeks of careful, tedious work and she was glad it was coming to a climax. It had been even more tiresome and routine for the four other members of the squad working with her, for as Christie supplied them with names of the students involved, they had to check each suspect's background from the exact moment of birth up to and including the present day.
Ordinarily, this would have been a routine case for Narcotics, so the mere fact that it was being handled by the D.A.'s Special Investigations Squad meant that one of the students was "somebody's" son or daughter and that meant things were to be handled tactfully. The arrest this morning was to be effected so discreetly that the prospective purchasers would not even be aware of what had happened to their supplier.
Christie adjusted her body against the hard wicker seat and tried to figure out which student was "somebody's" offspring. She gave up the attempt in irritation. Although she was instrumental in this investigation and was to be credited with the arrest, Supervising Assistant District Attorney Casey Reardon did not see fit to tell her exactly which student's presence in the group had caused the case to be bucked to the D.A.'s Squad. After nearly a year of working for Reardon, Christie knew she should be able to accept the way he ran things: he asked the questions, his people supplied the answers. Period. She knew Reardon considered his selection of her as the only female detective in his squad of sixteen men a very great compliment. It was the only compliment he had extended to date. No matter how competently she accomplished any of her assignments his reaction was always the same: she did only what was expected of her.
Christie hadn't noticed the sound of the door between the connecting cars slide open or even felt the rush of air, but the door was slammed shut with a loud metallic clanging at the same instant that a shrill, piercing voice streaked through the car.
"In-the-midst-of-Life-we-are-in-Death! I-am-the-Resurrection-and-the-Light! I-am-God-and-you-shall-know-me-or-you-shall-perish!"
Startled by the sound and then by the presence before her, Christie looked up directly into the angry, somewhat glazed eyes of the small man. He was dark and the bones shone through the tightly stretched skin of his face. His body was covered by a huge, dirty white sandwich board which was emblazoned in jagged red and blue lettering: "Repent! His Day is at Hand! I am Life! I am Death!" He whirled around sharply and before her eyes was a terrible Christ-head, badly drawn and colored in furious streaks of poster paint and yet, incredibly, the face was his: the thin bony cheeks and dark glaring eyes.
The man spun about again, his words now a spate of hissing Spanish. A thin brown hand, roped with blue veins, was thrust from beneath the sandwich board as though to conduct the cadence of his words. Christie sought his eyes but they were focused on some far-off vision of his own. The train lurched to a stop. The doors slid open. A few passengers boarded the car, warily eyeing the now silent and motionless little man and his sandwich board. They carefully found seats at the far end of the car and bent over their morning newspapers.
When the doors closed, the man, as though a switch had clicked inside of him, issued forth with a terrible wailing sound. His hand rose up again and his eyes, burning with frenzy, saw no one. As though he did not exist, no one seemed to see him. He stopped speaking as abruptly as he had begun. A smile pulled his tan lips and his eyes narrowed over some secret which seemed to give him great pleasure. His right hand disappeared beneath his board, then emerged waving a small American flag with a golden tassel. He clicked his heels together smartly, nodded his head twice and marched down the length of the car.
After a moment of silence, his voice ripped through the car again in his steady, high chant, "In-the-midst-of-Life-we-are-in-Death! I-am-the-Resurrection-and-the-Light! I-am-God-and-you-shall-know-me-or-you-shall-perish!"
Christie Opara's fingers tightened along the edge of her textbooks and she tried to force the insistent words from her brain. She didn't need anyone to tell her about death. Not today. Not on Friday, May 6: Mike's birthday. Thirty years old. He would have been thirty years old if he hadn't been killed when he was twenty-five years old.
She forced her teeth together and raised her chin so that her face was tilted toward the dim light overhead. She breathed the words into her lungs: in the midst of life. Mike was not in the midst of life: he had been life and now he did not exist. Christie closed her eyes tightly but that did not ease the reopened wound anymore than her resolution not to notice his birth date each May. She strained against the darkness of her eyelids forcing all images away, trying not to try, just to let it come to her: the fullness of him. But only a flat photographic likeness, unreal and untrue, engraved into her memory by hours of staring at black and white snapshots, appeared. Not the essence of him, not the feel, touch, sense, life of him. She felt a wave of panic. She could not remember what her dead husband looked like.
At twenty-six, Christie was older than Mike had ever been or ever would be. She had become a member of the Police Department because of him. Together, Mike had said, they might become the Department's first husband and wife team. They could make a real contribution in the area of preventive work among juvenile delinquents. Now, nearly five years after his death at the hands of a juvenile narcotics addict, she was a second-grade detective on her way to an assignment involving addicts. Christie shook her head; no. They're not addicts. Reardon had explained that LSD users were not addicts in the true sense of the word.
Christie inhaled sharply and opened her eyes. She was being studied by a middle-aged woman seated diagonally across from her. She was a heavy woman, obviously encased in bulky corsets beneath her two-piece navy-blue crepe dress. The woman regarded the torn black sneakers, the long slender legs covered by taut faded green denims, the black cotton turtleneck and finally the face of the young woman, with that particular expression middle-aged people reserve for the new and terrible generation. The woman's eyes, when they met Christie's, encountered an expression of such cold and unanticipated hostility that her lips twitched compulsively and her head ducked back into her Reader's Digest.
Christie stood up abruptly and walked into the vestibule of the train, leaning her narrow body hard against the steel panel. She stared, unseeing, through the smudged window as the tunnel wall raced past and by a conscious, deliberate and fierce act of will, forced herself into the reality of the moment. She glanced at her wristwatch and tried to remember whether it was running four minutes slow or four minutes fast. Not that it really mattered; she had plenty of time. Nine-fifteen, more or less.
Nine-fifteen. That meant Nora and Mickey would be on their way to Mr. Stone's house for their guitar lesson. Christie's eyes traced the image of her small, round mother-in-law against the flat green panel in front of her. Nora Opara, white-haired and pink-faced and filled with as much vitality as her tireless little grandson. Christie smiled at the thought of her son, Mickey, biting his lip in concentration as Nora guided his small, inexperienced hands over the chords.
Again, she looked at her watch. She was getting a little tense, which was good, because that meant she was getting involved and that was essential. She pushed her feet out along the scarred floor, the base of her spine supporting most of her weight. She lowered her head and stared, expressionless, into the car. She began to feel the character, build the mood, go along with it, so that by the time the subway train would arrive at 23rd Street, she would emerge completely transformed into the particular identity required of her. She would be ready to play it.CHAPTER 2
Murray Rogoff stood on the subway platform and pressed his shoulder hard against the lumpy steel rivets which protruded every six inches down the length of the black-green pillar, trying to concentrate with every fiber of his body and mind on just that one sensation: that one uncomfortable physical contact, because concentrating on just one particular sensation, he could slow down the steadily building panic which must not be allowed to control him. He visualized the impressions that were being dug into his shoulder and down the hard muscles of his long arm: they would be concave and white at first, the blood forced from the area and then, later, if he pressed hard enough, there would be small reddish-blue bruises at the center of each point of contact. He forced his shoulder cruelly against the pillar but the pain did not stop the questions: how had he come to be here on this station? How long had he been standing here? Why was he here?
Why was he here? That, of course, was the question he must destroy with the strength of his body. His strength was so great, his body so powerful and so responsive to the demands he made on it that Murray considered for a moment what would happen if the steel pillar could no longer resist his efforts. Shifting his body, Rogoff pressed his hip and thigh and calf and foot against the pillar and a small grunt escaped his lips. He could feel within himself a low growling sound, a steady rumbling sound which started at the soles of his feet and vibrated upwards through his body. He slowly realized that the sound was not coming from himself. A subway train was echoing far down the black tunnel and the sound changed: it grew and swelled and the long shining tracks reflected the light which preceded the entrance of the train into the station.
Rogoff backed around the pillar and stood behind it, easily flattening his body so that he was part of the steel which held the station together. He pulled the plaid peaked cap down firmly over his forehead, feeling the leather band constrict the steady beating pulse at his temples. Hearing the subway car so close to him, emitting strange noises like some huge animal, breathing and gasping, Rogoff impulsively came from his hiding place and bent forward and through his thick glasses he saw a face staring blankly out of a window. It was a sleepy, vacant, dazed subway-face, but the eyes, confronting him, suddenly blinked rapidly and were alerted by a strange and urgent alarm. The doors of the train slid closed and the face inside the train gaping at him—it was an old man's face—triggered within Rogoff an anger and he lurched toward the window and pressed his face against the sticky warm glass and the old man recoiled in terror, as though some missile had been hurled at him. The train, moving from the station, flung Rogoff back against the pillar and he stood, hunched now, breathing shallowly, trying to fill his lungs, to hold down the pounding anger within his chest.
He yanked the cap off his head, jamming it under his armpit, and rubbed a calloused palm over his thick-skinned naked skull. His eyes ached and burned beneath the safety of his glasses. He took them off and, knowing he would only make the pain worse, he dug his fingers into his unprotected eyes anyway. With the edge of his dirty tan cotton-knit shirt, he scrubbed at the lenses, then at the special plastic sides which fitted firmly to the contours of his temples, like a welder's eyeshields, helping to build essential moisture inside his lashless and tearless eyes.
There was a clattering of running feet and the excited laughing voices of a young couple. Murray watched them, concealed behind the pillar. They were holding hands and gasping and pressing and bumping their bodies against each other. He wondered what the boy was whispering into the girl's ear. Or was he merely nuzzling her, tasting her, getting the smell and feel and breath of her? She was fat and cinched in at the waist by a narrow belt and her hips were lumpy, but the boy, skinny and sharp-boned, dug his hands into her flesh eagerly.
Murray locked his eyes within the enclosure of his glasses but he could not close out their sounds: heavy, thick obvious sounds. He jammed his cap over his ears, then pressed his hands against the fabric, listening only to the hollow roar within his head.
All he had to do now was to let himself fill completely with the craving he had tried to hold down. Let it rise upwards through him from his loins with the sharp tentacles of need wrapping around his stomach and clenching like tight fists over his heart and lungs so that his breath came painfully hard and his heart throbbed in sharp stabbing bursts. His mind dissolved fully into his body as it had so many times before, bringing him into the night-quiet streets where the shadows would conceal him; into parks, where he could hunch his body behind shrubs in some lonely spot and watch and wait.
Excerpted from The Bait by Dorothy Uhnak. Copyright © 1968 Dorothy Uhnak. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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