Everything changes for Lieutenant Julia Brennan, NYPD, on a frigid January morning in Central Park. The commander of a Manhattan North homicide squad, she inspects the body of an unidentified young girl. Naked, her skin blue from the cold, her feet cut and scraped in desperate flight, the grim sight of the dead child in an instant turns Julia Brennan's priorities upside down. Julia Brennan is tough-minded and hard-boiled, like the story this taut, chilling novel unfolds. Yet she suddenly finds herself willing to risk her promotion and, if necessary, her entire career to give a woefully lost child a name and to apprehend the parties responsible for an appalling crime. Her search takes her into the world of pedophiles and foreign adoption agencies that sell children into slavery—a world where, Julia begins to realize, someone has the jump on her, and is killing the very suspects she is hunting. Striking a devil's bargain with an undercover cop from the Sex Crimes Unit, a man who himself becomes a prime candidate for the killer, Julia follows a tortuous path until, alone and dismayed, she sees that she has made a terrible, terrible mistake. Now she faces her greatest fear. For Lieutenant Julia Brennan is also the mother of a young daughter.
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When Lieutenant Julia Brennan pushed through a semicircle of uniformed cops to view the body for the first time, the words Little Girl Blue jumped into her mind as if they'd been crouching in her unconscious, patiently awaiting an opportunity to catch her unawares. She brought her gloved right hand to her mouth, though she hadn't spoken aloud, but was unable to withdraw the words, or even to stop thinking them, because the body was, indeed, the milky blue of the winter sky above Central Park. It was the body of a little girl as well, curled into a fetal position beneath the folded leaves of a wintering rhododendron.
"Ain't this a shame, loo? Ain't this a shame?"
Julia turned from the body to find Detective Albert Griffith standing alongside. He was shifting his weight from one foot to another, biting at the edge of his lower lip. Griffith was a deeply religious black man, had been, as he put it "... church-raised by my Auntie Bernice."
Julia looked back at the girl. Maybe eight or nine years old, she wore no clothes, not even shoes or socks, and her hair was matted with dried leaves and clods of dirt. The soles of her feet were also dirty. They appeared to be abraded, as if she'd walked or run some distance.
"You look around?" Julia asked.
"The ground's froze up. There's no trail. Nothin' obvious, anyway."
Julia sighed. "I was hoping for a dropped wallet," she admitted. When Griffith didn't respond, she quickly added, "They'regonna be screaming for blood. The brass, the mayor, the press, the public." A frigid gust of wind rattled the dry leaves of the rhododendrons and Julia instinctively hunched her shoulders. "Us, too," she added. "We're gonna need this one, too."
At five feet ten inches tall, Julia Brennan was able to look her subordinate in the eye. Griffith had been a part of C Squad, Manhattan North Homicide, for the five years she'd been its supervisor. There'd been some friction at first (whether more or less than would have been aroused by an equally young, equally ambitious male she couldn't be sure), but it had disappeared when C Squad's clearance rate, mediocre when she'd come on board, rose to compete with those of the top squads in the city.
"How you think she got here, Bert?" Julia asked.
Griffith caught his lower lip between his front teeth, then shrugged. "Could'a walked. Could'a been carried."
"But not driven."
"Uh-uh, not driven. Can't see it, lieutenant. Not unless there was two of 'em."
Julia nodded. Central Park's nearest east-west transverse road was almost a quarter-mile from where they stood, and Central Park Drive, which traced an irregular ellipse within the park, lay two hundred yards to the west, as did Fifth Avenue, the nearest city street. Because there was no legal parking on any of these roads, it was extremely unlikely that the perpetratorif there was a perpetratorleft his vehicle unattended for the time it would take to carry the girl to where she now lay, then return.
"What about a car? Could she have jumped out of car, maybe coming down Fifth Avenue? What if she was snatched somewhere else, then escaped? If her abductor wasn't somebody she knew, he just might let her go."
Detective Frank Turro, Bert Griffith's partner, came up alongside them. "The ME's here," he announced. New to the squad, Turro was six months short of his third decade on the job. He'd been sent over from Queens Homicide after Julia arranged the transfer of C Squad's most notorious fuckup. From what little Julia had seen of him, Turro could be relied on to do what he was told but lacked initiative.
"What could I say, loo. Somebody must've got him motivated." Turro's breath whitened the air in little bursts. "Also, Chief Flannery's waitin' for you on Fifth Avenue. In his Lincoln."
Chief Linus Flannery was the Manhattan North Borough Commander, a man more at ease with a flow chart than an investigation.
"Is he alone?"
"He's with Clark."
Linus Flannery's protégé, Harry Clark, was the Manhattan North Detective Commander. In theory, he reported only to the Chief of Detectives; in fact, he was a notorious sycophant who sucked up to any superior officer. Thus, if Flannery said, "Bring me a suspect in ten minutes," Clark would check his watch.
Assistant Medical Examiner Solomon Bucevski, a cigarette dangling from his lips, trundled up to stand alongside Frank Turro. Bucevski had only recently immigrated to the United States from Moscow, where crime had skyrocketed after the breakup of the old Soviet Union. Unimpressed with the virtues of democracy at the best of times, he stared at the corpse through narrowed eyes, then muttered, "Whoever does this, you must to kill him."
Ten minutes later, Chief Flannery echoed Bucevski's sentiments. "This scumbag oughta fry," he declared. "They oughta bring back crucifixion for this scumbag."
Julia's gaze lingered on Flannery's tiny mouth. Somewhere along the line, he'd learned to speak without exposing his teeth, as if protecting a toothache. She wanted to ask him if he'd been to the scene, maybe approached the victim, contaminated the search area, but ever mindful of the relationship between discretion and valor, kept her insubordinate tongue in check.
Harry Clark spoke up from the front seat of the Chief's midnight-blue Towncar. "We been to the scene," he announced, "We snuck a peek before you showed up."
"We were in the neighborhood," Flannery explained. "Coming from Mass at St. Pat's. We do it every month." He cleared his throat. "The Holy Name Society."
A rebuke. The Holy Name Society was the largest of the job's fraternal organizations, and though dominated by Irish cops, included Germans, Italians, and Hispanics in its membership. Julia was Irish, at least nominally Catholic, and a member of the Holy Name Society, but she neither attended prayer meetings nor made the monthly mass. Even for a climber like herself, the NYPD's fraternal societies were a bit too fraternal. There were the little digs at the monthly dinners, the offhand references to "femiNazis," the dirty jokes once the drinks began to flow. After a while, no matter how strong your stomach, how thick your skin, it got depressing.
"We can't be sure it's a homicide," Julia finally said, hoping to change the subject, maybe get to the point.
"You think she was takin' a walk?" Flannery's chortle quickly became a phlegmy cough. He lowered the window to his right and spat onto the sidewalk.
"We can't be sure," Julia insisted, "that we're looking at a homicide."
"And what," Clark asked, "leads you to that conclusion, lieutenant? Exactly what?"
"The fetal position. It looks to me as if she lay there for some time, trying to conserve body heat, and the soles of her feet are abraded. I think she might have walked into the park."
"It's January, for Christ's sake." Flannery glanced out the window as if the date was somehow in question. "It's gotta be what out there?"
"Ten degrees," Clark dutifully responded. "Fifteen at the outside."
"I mean, if she was only cold, why didn't she just walk out of the park and ask somebody for help?" When Julia replied with a shrug, he continued. "We want you to brief the reporters."
Clark laughed, "But we don't want you to tell them anything."
"Anything," Flannery corrected, "you don't have to tell them. Understand, lieutenant? We may have a formal press conference late this afternoon."
Released, Julia walked south on Fifth Avenue, from Seventy-sixth Street directly across from the crime scene to the Seventy-second Street transverse road running from Fifth Avenue to Central Park West. Then she retraced her steps and continued on to Seventy-ninth Street and another transverse. The townhouses and apartments on this section of Fifth Avenue, directly east of the park, were among the most expensive in the city. Not only did every apartment building have a doorman, most of them also had surveillance cameras mounted on the outer walls. The doormen would have to be questioned, the tapes viewed. If Griffith wasn't already on top of it, she'd bring him up to speed when he got back to the station house.
There was nothing more to do at the scene, but Julia lingered on Fifth Avenue as the words Little Girl Blue again forced their way into her thoughts. This time, however, she resolutely pushed the words away, telling herself to be a professional. Telling herself, You can't bring them back to life.
When Julia had first come on the job, nearly twelve years before, she'd believed that her sex would protect her from the most soul-deadening aspects of her profession. Now she understood that it was not possible to acknowledge even the smallest part of the misery that pervades a cop's workday. You either harden or find another line of work. That was why cops, though overwhelmingly Christian, have such contempt for bleeding hearts. If cops, including herself, were to allow the slightest tear in the armor that protects their own hearts, they would lose every drop of blood in an instant.
Inevitably, because she hadn't quit, Julia had toughened. Her husband, Sam Brennan, had been first to pick it up. "You look at me," he'd complained, "as if you were trying to make up your mind about something. You look like you're waiting for me to make a mistake."
Poor Sam. He'd married his high-school sweetheart, the compliant blonde who'd cheered his exploits, both on the athletic fields of Bayside High and in the back seat of his father's Cadillac; adjusting to the woman she'd become was beyond him. As for Julia, there was no going back for her either. Instead, in the years following her divorce, she'd advanced from sergeant to lieutenant, from patrol to detective. Only a week before, she'd been notified that she'd ranked twelfth on the captain's exam and was likely to be promoted within the next couple of years.
A celebratory dinner with the woman Julia had come to think of as her "rabbette," Deputy Chief Bea Shepherd, had followed the formal posting of the list. They'd met at the Hudson Cafe, then lingered for nearly two hours. As far as Julia could remember, at no point had they discussed the virtues of law enforcement or the historically low crime rate. Instead they gossiped about the job through cocktails, exchanging rumors and anecdotes, then moved on to their ex-husbands, their children, boyfriends past and present.
A sharply spoken "Damn you" drew Julia's attention. A middle-aged man in a cashmere overcoat was shaking his fist at a retreating taxi. The man looked at Julia, his jaw thrust forward as if he expected her to offer some objection to his display, then strode beneath the canopy fronting an apartment building, through a glass door held open by a uniformed doorman, and into the lobby.
As the door closed, Julia became aware of her huddled shoulders. As a general rule weather was something you learned to ignore, but the cold was now reaching down into her chest. Her feet, even in furlined boots that rose almost to her knees, were cold enough to hurt. Still she lingered; still the words rose into her consciousness. Little Girl Blue.
There was a song, she remembered, called "Little Girl Blue," but it was a sad song about someone a lot older than ten, a love song. Plus, there was the nursery rhyme, Little Boy Blue, a very sad poem as well.
Julia stamped her feet. She'd been an ambitious cop long enough to know that high-profile crimes, the kind that make careers, are usually stolen away by even more ambitious superiors. She would have to fight to protect her interests and it was past time to get on with it. As if to confirm her judgement, a FOX-TV news van slid into the bus stop on the Central Park side of Fifth Avenue. A moment later, a CBS van followed. Julia didn't wait for the doors to open. She turned her back and quickly marched off toward Madison Avenue, her unmarked department Taurus, and her cell phone.
At nine o'clock on Sunday morning Julia started the Ford, turned on the heater, and settled down. As she waited for the engine to warm, she watched a man and a woman, trailed by a pair of young girls, march north along Madison Avenue. The family was dressed for church, the girls in hooded yellow parkas and patent leather shoes. The younger of the girls had a runny nose, which she wiped with the sleeve of her coat.
"That's disgusting, Annie," the older girl remarked.
Annie's mouth curled into a defiant grimace. "I don' know whatta do," she insisted.
"Can you spell handkerchief?"
Inside her Taurus, with the heater pushing warm air across her ankles, Julia made two phone calls. The first was to her mentor, Bea Shepherd. Bea listened patiently as Julia explained the situation, then asked, "What do you want here?"
"I want the case."
"There's only two ways you get to keep the case, Julia. You make an arrest within the next seventy-two hours, or your investigation goes nowhere. If it looks like the job's gonna be embarrassed, like the case can't be put away, Harry Clark will leave you to swing in the breeze. Count on it."
"I don't care, Bea. I want the job. If Clark decides to organize a task force, then I want a piece of the task force. What I don't want is to be cut out."
"Duly noted." Bea Shepherd's voice carried a wistful undertone. If Julia chose not to follow her advice, Bea Shepherd would not be held responsible when things turned out badly. "Anything else?"
"Don't get pissed off, Bea. I'm a detective, remember? I asked for the detectives."
"And I advised against that as well."
"True enough." Julia paused long enough to be sure Bea had nothing to add. Despite the negativity, Bea had a vested interest in Julia's remaining with the case. Julia would be Deputy Chief Shepherd's eyes and ears in an environment where knowledge and power were as intertwined as the bodies of copulating snakes. "There's something else," she said, pleased to note that her voice was steady. "I need to reach someone in Sex Crimes, maybe in the DA's office. Somebody I can talk to if I need help."
"Sex Crimes? What makes you think you're looking at a sex crime? Why couldn't she be emotionally disturbed, maybe retarded? Why couldn't she be running away from physical abuse? Why couldn't ... By the way, Julia, do you have a name for this kid yet?"
"Little Girl Blue." Julia was sorry for the words almost before they'd left her mouth. Almost.
"That's good. That'll play alongside Son of Sam. The reporters will eat it up." Bea laughed into the phone, then said. "But you haven't answered my question."
"I don't know where she came from, Bea. And I don't know how she ended up in Central Park. I just want to be ready for anything."
Bea drew a breath, then sighed. "Julia, I have to leave. Keep me up to date."
Julia dug Robert Reid's number from her phone book and quickly punched it into her cell phone. Reid, Julia's uncle, was the dean of New York reporters. His column, My Town, had been running in the Daily News longer than anyone cared to remember.
When Reid answered on the third ring, Julia said, "It's me, Uncle Bob."
"Julia," Reid replied without hesitation, "got something good for me?" After decades of near-legendary boozing, Reid's voice was little more than a hoarse rasp, despite his having cleaned up his act five years before.
"A body in Central Park near East Seventy-sixth Street. A child."
Julia swallowed, then replied, "Yeah, she's white."
"A little girl, maybe eight or nine."
"How'd she die?"
"Don't know yet."
"I'm not getting this."
"She's naked, Uncle Bob, and there's no sign of her clothing."
Excerpted from Little Girl Blue by David Cray. Copyright © 2002 by David Cray. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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