They call Mickey Donovan “the Wraith.” A sometimes-rogue NYPD Deputy Inspector who knows the city top to bottom, he clashes against the police brass and the mayor’s office as he haunts the streets searching for his heroin-addicted daughter, Dillon. But now a truly bizarre serial killer is forcing Donovan’s mind back into the cop game. A very efficient murderer has been targeting the umpires and referees of a variety of sports, both pro and amateur, whose only crimes seem to be questionable calls. Initial suspicion falls on hotheaded tennis star Ginny Glade, who lost a tournament title thanks to a now-deceased line ump’s errant call. Donovan, however, has his doubts—and suddenly a vengeful maniac is causing the deputy’s personal and professional lives to collide in very dangerous ways.
The only foray into crime fiction from Pulitzer Prize–winning newspaper columnist Mike McAlary, Sore Loser is a razor-sharp, lightning-paced winner—rich in atmosphere, insider knowledge of New York, and pitch-perfect urban speak—that respects the time-honored conventions of the police detective novel while reconfiguring them in wildly imaginative ways.
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A Mickey Donovan Mystery
By Mike McAlary
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1998 Mike McAlary
All rights reserved.
Home Plate, William Tweed Field, the Bronx
The red-clay base paths were blocked off with the powder-blue sawhorses stenciled with the words "New York Police Department." A lieutenant from the crime scene unit, Brenden Bailey, stood over the body, writing furiously in a worn red notebook. He wore a black Burberrys suit, a white carnation in his jacket lapel, and severely polished black shoes. He had topped his practiced, funeral-parlor look with a neat black homburg. Occasionally, he would stop writing and sniff the white flower.
"This one's over five feet, too," Bailey said, whistling. He was adding figures on a palm-size page. The detective working over the body rolled his eyes as a civilian wearing a tweed jacket over a kellygreen sweatshirt walked up to them.
"I'm John Francis Xavier Cummings Junior," the man said, offering his hand. "I am the athletic director at William Tweed College and a personal friend of the mayor."
"Are you now?"
The academic offered a soft hand to the serious man who studied it over his bifocals, as if it were a bug, and continued writing. The insult was practiced.
The school's athletic director, a sweaty man with a nervous eye on the television cameras, took a step forward and studied the body. Bailey nonchalantly wiped the dust from his black loafers against the back of his black slacks, and asked, without looking up from his pad, "Was Miss Size Twelve here a friend of the mayor, too?"
"Then kindly step back toward the dugout, sir. The undertaker will contact you about visiting hours."
"What does the woman's size have to do with it?" he asked.
"Nothing," said the cop. Lieutenant Bailey looked up from his worn red book and waved his pen hand at the intruder, shooing him away like one of the black flies beginning to investigate the corpse.
"Can you put a blanket over her or something?" The nervous administrator sniffed, jabbing a thumb over his shoulder in the direction of the reporters. "It looks bad for our school."
The cop returned to his book and snapped his tape measure closed. The inscription on the tape could be read easily: "Compliments of South Brooklyn Casket Company."
"By my measure, this one is seventy-two inches long," Lieutenant Bailey replied. "The last five have all been better than sixty-five inches. Jeez, I'm on a roll."
"Sir?" the athletic director said. "I don't understand."
The cop smiled and placed his notebook back inside his jacket. "This makes an even four miles for me," he explained.
"Yeah," Bailey continued. "I keep track of them. Sometimes it's pretty easy. But sometimes, say when the killer saws his victim's leg bones in half or stuffs the torso in an oil drum, it's hard to be accurate."
"I don't think I need to know this," the athletic director said, stepping backward.
"Oh, sure you do," Bailey said warmly. "Kids are the worst, especially the ones under two feet. And we had this Colombian hit man in Jackson Heights a couple of years ago. He used to melt his victims with sulfuric acid in his bathtub and then fold them into Pampers boxes. Maybe he killed fifteen people. I lost twenty yards with him."
"This is sick."
A uniformed cop with eagles on his shoulders appeared behind the lieutenant. He had been standing about fifteen feet away, next to a patrolman, listening.
"Good evening, Loo. I see the odometer is still running."
"Salutations, Inspector Donovan. I was just explaining my homework here to this inquisitive college fellow."
"Easy on the customers, Brendan," Donovan whispered.
"Well, Mickey, you know how I endure this wretched work. I've been laying my homicide victims end-to-end for twenty years, now. Thirty-six feet a day was my personal best — unless you count Happy Land. I had four hundred that night, but smoke inhalation doesn't count. As I was just explaining to the gentleman, our lady here is six feet tall. She gets me to exactly ten thousand, five hundred and forty feet of dead decade. That's two miles of bodies in the nineties alone."
"I'm going to be sick," the athletic director said.
"Don't corrupt my crime scene with your footprints," Lieutenant Brendan Bailey said. "And please extend my regards to the mayor."
"You'll be demanding frequent dier miles next, Loo," Mickey Donovan said as he watched the athletic director stagger off. By the inspector's own estimation, he had worked only a few hundred yards of murder cases with the crime scene supervisor.
"Now there's an idea, Inspector."
A couple of cops, who had been watching and listening, snickered. Brendan Bailey and his mileage chart was part of department folklore. Everyone respected his nuttiness so they quickly completed their canvass.
"Whattayagot, Brendan?" Deputy Inspector Donovan asked. As the head of the special investigations unit, an elite, highly secretive force in the NYPD, Donovan's job was to investigate jarring public cases and bring them to a quick close. He oversaw a staff of twenty detectives throughout the city.
"Somebody shot her from the train, I guess," Lieutenant Bailey said. He pulled a bottle of Ice Brut aftershave from his hip pocket. "Want some?"
"No thanks," Mickey Donovan said.
"I still got this taste in my mouth from this floater we pulled from the Gowanus this morning," Bailey said. "He was a ten-gallon ooze stuffed in a five-gallon can." Brendan Bailey brought the bottle to his lips, sipped a bit, gargled, then spit a green stream at home plate through his perfect teeth.
"I remember the first time I saw you do that with anisette at the Palm Sunday massacre in East New York," Mickey said.
"I prefer Stoli," Bailey explained, "but if I was still averaging seven bodies a day like I did when we hit twenty-five hundred in ninety-one, I'd be in the clinic with Boris Yeltsin. Incidentally, what brings you out in the blue bag, Mickey?"
Deputy Inspector Donovan, who normally worked plainclothes in his role as a city-wide detective, touched his seldom-worn blue tunic.
"I was at an honor legion meeting in the Purple Plaza when I got beeped. I had to go upstairs and the commissioner gave me his best hangdog 'Go up there and protect me' look. So here we are."
"We got stupid, but lucky target practice by one of our feral Bronx youth on his way home from school," Bailey said. "Probably riding between the subway cars and pegging shots. My math is rough but it looks like we got a single bullet, fired from thirty feet above the field, that traveled a hundred and fifty yards from a moving train through a five-foot-wide knothole of greasy thickets, broken fences, and barren trees."
"An amazing constellation of chance, Brendan."
"Yeah, and the umpire wound up on the wrong end of a one-million-to-one shot. By the way, Mickey, I'd play her numbers. Four, four, nine, and three. I got 'em from a Lotto ticket she had in her back pocket. I always play the numbers I find on them. And anybody that dies this unlucky, you got to take a chance with them."
"Well, Brendan Bailey," Mickey said, sighing. "Only a few miles to go before you rest."
"If she'd been hipper, she'd still be alive. She dies a fashion victim. In South Jamaica and East New York, kids wear Kevlar shirts or bulletproof hats. This is after that basketball referee in Baisley Pond Park got whacked for his overtime call in a crack dealer's game."
The deceased was unmarried, the detectives quickly discovered within the first hour, and at age thirty-three, Donovan guessed, probably unloved, too. She'd been a natural-blonde weight lifter with a loathsome mouth, the kids were saying, thunderous thighs, and a black barbed-wire tattoo wrapped around her left bicep, just above the entry wound. The exit wound in her muscled back could have been filled with a regulation softball.
"Any idea on the caliber?"
One of the detectives working with the morgue attendants had been leaning over the body with his own ruler as his supervisors talked. He heard his cue, and coughed. He stood up, offered a practiced, bored look, and snapped off his bright yellow disposable gloves before speaking.
"She was hit with a single Teflon-coated exploding bullet. I found a flattened dime-size slug about ten feet up the first-base line."
"Was it rolling fair or foul?" Mickey asked, smiling.
"The bullet pierced her foam chest protector," the young detective continued, "and I believe, passed through her ninth and tenth rib. I imagine the ME will discover that the bullet tore through her liver, spleen, and lungs. It will look like someone set off a bomb inside her chest cavity, Inspector."
"We'll see," Mickey Donovan said, clapping his hands. "Have your squad fax me all your DD5's to the parish office. Brendan, see you around campus."
And then the cop was gone, as quickly as he had appeared.
Even in a city where mindless, random violence was common, the chance murder of Melanie Morgan stood out. This one was better than when a kid riding another elevated train behind Yankee Stadium pegged a wild shot at the Bronx criminal courthouse and managed to shoot a judge in the ass as he lifted his robe in a bathroom. Detectives from the crime scene unit, the only New York City cops who traveled around in station wagons that could double as hearses, rushed to Tweed Field with their lasers, notepads, and tapes to survey the tragedy. Together with Bronx homicide detectives, in an hour less time than it takes the Yankees to play a ten-run, nine-inning game, they measured and weighed critical distances and interviewed witnesses. Then, the investigators bagged the body and zipped up the mystery.CHAPTER 2
Waiting Room, Dr. Bernard Klobes's Office, East Seventy-eighth Street, Manhattan
The clock was torture. The agony it produced could not be avoided, or endured. It hung above the receptionist's desk in the doctor's office. Each passing moment was announced with a dreadful, metallic click. She imagined it sounded like a revolver being cocked. It was the last sound you heard before you died.
She did not want to be reminded of time. The baby was inside her, she knew, but still only a vague presence. Perhaps she deserved the torture.
It was odd, but when she'd been a kid, sitting in the backseat of a green Volkswagen Beetle on some deserted country road, struggling with a teenager's desire and those impossibly rolled Trojan condoms, she'd thought getting pregnant was easy. Once she'd gotten married, it became impossible. They had worked for six months to get pregnant. In the beginning, when she'd announced that she was ovulating, he had come running. No one was going to call him barren. They'd been married two years before. Sex was great the first year, until they realized it wasn't producing anything.
"Just get off the pill, woman."
"I'm not on the pill."
Once lovemaking became a chore, it lacked passion and affection. The idea of sex as work was brutal and dehumanizing. He once said he had been reduced to shoveling dirt into a hole. Their love withered as his poisonous rage grew. He became limp to her desire.
She'd imagined that this room would be different. It was mauve-colored and kind. There wasn't a single magazine about families or kids on the glass table in the abortionist's office. Women waited to see the doctor while reading Vogue, Vanity Fair, Allure, and Cosmopolitan. She used to see the same magazines scattered around locker rooms in every great tennis stadium in the world. Perhaps, afterward, a woman could lose herself in fashion.
Her husband was a beautiful man to look at. He had a permanent tan, a seriously muscled chest, a stomach as flat as home plate, and a gymnast's high, steel derriere. Their fiery unions were great physical exercise, better than step aerobics. But in thought and conversation, the groom was as dense as one of his ash baseball bats. He worked in a manicured, green, fabled, and perhaps even sacred place where men never heard a clock.
Shane Dale Heath played right field for the New York Yankees. Behind his back, the other players called him "The Schemer," chiefly because Shane had no conception of baseball strategy or method. This was jock humor, sort of like calling the slowest guy on the team "Bullet" or the skinniest fellow "Tubby."
Unfortunately, Shane was only an average major-league player, a journeyman outfielder. One writer pointed out that although the words "Dale" and "Heath" were listed next to the word "field" in a thesaurus, this guy was a big-league talent in name only. Still, what Shane Heath didn't have in talent, he made up for in conceit. The rockhead was convinced he was on his way to becoming the next stone marker in Yankee Monument Park.
They'd met when he was still playing in the minor leagues, and human decency was possible. She'd been playing an exhibition match in Columbus, Ohio, at Ohio State University. Shane was playing for the Yankee triple-A farm after three years in Nashville (double A) and three years in Albany (A). Some guys who do five years hard on the bus become readers. Others just pick up the books left behind. Shane had been carrying a popular novel, A Confederacy of Dunces, when she first saw him. That made him an intellectual in her sporting world. The book, a delightful absurdity, was scary, too. Ginny knew that the writer, John Kennedy Toole, never wrote another novel. He'd committed suicide, at age thirty-two, before the book had been published. She'd watched Heath thumbing through it in the dugout between innings. She was delighted that a jock even knew about the book. It was her favorite work of fiction, too.
At dinner that night, they'd joked about naming their first child Ignatius Reilly after the book's main character, a hilarious genius. Shane was a corker, too, she felt. But as they began to date more and more, the ballplayer read less and less. He measured out his life over coffee while reading the box scores. He had no patience for anything deeper than USA Today. He was a six-paragraph man, tops, and joked in the clubhouse that he got through college without reading anything longer than a miniature baseball bat. But Shane read every box score of every printed game in every league and spoke in his sleep of going four for four with six runs scored and eight ribbies. Shane played that dream box-score combination — four-six-four-eight — as his daily lottery numbers.
She had a clock pounding in her head and the guy was likable enough. In the beginning, Shane was decent and caring. He made her loneliness disappear. By the time she realized she had been tricked by the vacuous ballplayer simply playacting the role of misunderstood genius, they were married.
"Why did you carry around that book?" she once asked at the end of an argument.
"One of our pitchers who played in the Ivy League said it got him laid," Shane admitted. "Chicks are crazy for jocks who can think."
"Maybe," he said, snickering. "But I shagged you."
He cursed at her the same day, and they were never really right as a couple again.
Once Shane was called up to the bigs, or "The Show," as the minor leaguers called it, he was ruined as a husband. In the Yankee clubhouse, Shane unpacked his gear, putting it in an open wooden stall next to the petrified Plexiglass-enclosed locker of the great, dead, Yankee's catcher, Thurman Munson. Steadily, like most legitimate ballplayers, Shane became callous to life beyond the ballpark. By midseason, the baseball writers all agreed that Shane was a world-class prick.
He quickly tired of his own strikeouts. The fertility business was a maddening and humiliating secret. It was like a major-league curve-ball for him, a confounding mystery.
"Why do I want kids anyway?" Shane had sneered one night, curling his lips in disgust. "Kids are so fucking common. Shit, fans have kids."
He suffered through the indignity of the fertility tests, too. On the sultry summer morning the night after hitting his first major-league home run in the Bronx, but well before anyone really could recognize him as a Yankees' star, Shane Heath rode the subway to the doctor's office on the Upper West Side. He had a bottled sperm specimen in his front pocket. The doctor had told him to keep the sample warm. When a transit cop spotted him, nervously shifting the plastic red-capped vial from one pocket to the other, he walked over and asked Shane for some identification. The cop suspected the vial contained a popular new liquid herbal drug, one nicknamed Passion.
Excerpted from Sore Loser by Mike McAlary. Copyright © 1998 Mike McAlary. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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