THREE

For the briefest of moments Doyle experiences a surge of excitement. This city isn’t the murder hot-spot it once was. In fact it’s become pretty tame lately. A homicide landing on one’s desk these days is almost a cause for celebration for an NYPD detective.

So when he looks up and finds the square-jawed face of Lieutenant Cesario pointed decidedly in the direction of the only other two detectives in the room, his disappointment is almost enough to make him cram his gold shield into his mouth and swallow it.

He knows he shouldn’t be surprised. It has been like this for months. Ever since the events of last Christmas. Cops died then. Other people died too, but the cops are what matter most to the members of this squad. They lost colleagues, friends, partners. Doyle himself lost his partner. He went through hell that Christmas. It almost seemed worth it when he came out of it to a hero’s welcome. But of course it didn’t last. Questions started to get asked about his involvement in the case. Even the cops who had at first applauded Doyle started to wonder about his integrity, especially when there were certain officers who had never been slow to spread poison about him. All the media attention he was getting didn’t help matters either. For some, this was pure jealousy: they had worked their asses off for twenty years and still never seen their faces on Fox News.

In his logical moments, Doyle realizes he can’t blame the other cops. Not really. He tries putting himself in their shoes. He tries picturing a cop who is a relative newcomer to a precinct, who arrived with a prior history involving the death of a female partner, and who has now just been at the epicenter of a series of events that has taken out several more cops. Whatever that officer does to redeem himself, whatever explanations he provides, he will always be remembered as the man associated with members of service losing their lives. Death taints in that way.

I wouldn’t work with me if I were them, he thinks.

He hopes it will all blow away eventually. With that in mind, he has tried to stay below the radar. His superiors haven’t argued with that. The new lieutenant hasn’t really known what to make of Doyle, and so the man has played safe. All the low-key cases have come Doyle’s way. Cases nobody else can be bothered to spend any time on. Cases like that of Mrs Sachs.

So, for now, he puts aside his hopes and turns his attention to his current DD5 report, trying to remember how to spell ‘pseudonym’ and then giving up and changing it to ‘alias’, trying to ignore the voice of Cesario as he summarizes what little he knows, trying to block his mind to the detectives behind him tugging on their coats and moving toward the door, trying to convince himself that it will be a crap case that he wouldn’t want anyway.

Out of the corner of his eye he sees the legs of Cesario as they turn and propel him back toward his office. But then they stop. Cesario’s shiny shoes twist around to point at Doyle.

Doyle’s gaze moves up from the shoes. Over the sharp gray suit. Onto the dazzling teeth set into a tanned face beneath a fringe of perfectly sculpted gloss-black hair.

He wonders what the man’s flaws are. Nobody is that perfect. He looks too much like a movie star playing the part of a cop. Maybe if I yell ‘Cut!’ Doyle thinks, he’ll relax into his normal self. He’ll start calling everyone darling before mincing off to adjust his make-up.

And who the hell has a tan this time of year, anyway?

‘Go after them,’ Cesario says.

Well now you’re just being too nice, Doyle thinks. You can’t even do me the courtesy of allowing me to hate you. What kind of spiteful behavior is that?

‘Go,’ Cesario urges. ‘The more bodies we have on this, the quicker we get it off the books.’

Doyle almost smiles. Cesario is throwing him a bone. But he’s also trying to come across as not being a soft touch. This is purely an operational decision, he’s saying; don’t go getting all teary-eyed on me now.

Doyle takes it. It’s the best he’s going to get. And who knows? Maybe this is the start of something. Maybe this isn’t a homicide at all, but a subtle way of getting him to a surprise party where the police commissioner will jump out of a cake and welcome him back into the fold.

Yeah, right, Doyle thinks as he grabs his coat.

It’s messy, all right.

Blood everywhere. It never ceases to amaze Doyle how much blood there is in the human body, and how far it will travel once someone opens the faucet. It’s on the floor, it’s on the books, and — yep — it’s even on the ceiling. And the source of all this mayhem? The pale crumpled form of a young girl. She looks small and unreal — a mutilated mannequin.

Doyle stares at her for a good while. It’s something he always does at a murder scene, and he doesn’t know why. It’s like he’s trying to make some kind of connection, as though simply looking at her will give him an insight into what kind of life she lived, and therefore why that life was taken away from her.

He is slow to become fully aware of the other people in the bookstore. Gradually he notices the glances, picks up the muttered remarks and the muted snickers.

‘Long time no see, Doyle,’ says a Homicide South detective called Kravitz. The correct name for his outfit is the Manhattan South Homicide Task Force, but Doyle and most of the other people gathered here know it as Homicide South.

Doyle shifts his gaze to the man. He is thin and tall — at least six and a half feet. His hands are buried in the pockets of a black overcoat. Behind him, almost hidden in his shadow, is another Homicide dick called Folger. He is short, squat and balding, and he is grinning idiotically at the barbed humor lurking in Kravitz’s greeting.

‘Well, well,’ says Doyle. ‘If it ain’t Lurch and Uncle Fester. How you doing, fellas?’

This gets a laugh from everyone except the Homicide boys. The amusement in Folger’s smile drops away, to be replaced by something more menacing.

His words are a lot more direct than those of Kravitz: ‘They let you out finally? What, you finished putting all the case files in alphabetical order? You painted the station house walls already?’

‘Yeah, all that,’ Doyle answers. ‘I still got the ladders in the car outside, you want to borrow them to reach something. You must get sick of looking up your partner’s nostrils all day. Say, are you still using a kiddie seat in that car of yours?’

Folger tries to maintain his smile, but it’s clear his muscles are struggling. His mouth twitches on one side.

‘Well, now that you’re here, Doyle, let me explain something to you. This here is what we call a homicide. You see the girl there, all cut up like that?’ Folger slaps a hand to his forehead. ‘Oh, but wait. I’m forgetting. You know all about homicides, don’t you? In fact, they kind of follow you around. You remember that movie, The Sixth Sense? You should get one of those I See Dead People T-shirts, the number of DOAs you get to see in your life.’

The laughing has stopped now. Everyone in the room has lapsed into an embarrassed silence. This has become too personal. Doyle knows that people are expecting him either to start a fight or back off.

Doyle adopts a pained expression. ‘Hold on here. Maybe I overstepped the mark. Am I right in thinking you ain’t happy?’

Folger glares at him, still angry but also looking somewhat surprised. ‘Yeah, you could say that.’

‘Uh-huh,’ says Doyle. ‘So which one are you? Bashful? Dopey?’

The place erupts. Even Kravitz cannot suppress a smirk. And while he smiles, he takes the furious Folger by the shoulders and holds him in check. Both of the Homicide detectives, as well as everybody else in this room, know that Doyle would kick Folger’s ass into his skull if things became physical.

Doyle strolls over to where one of the uniforms is relaying what he knows to the other detectives. The Hispanic officer glances briefly at Doyle, then returns to his notebook.

‘DOA’s name is Cindy Mellish. Twenty years old. She works here at weekends and in college vacations. The owner often leaves her to mind the store — it’s not the busiest of places. Owner’s name is Simon Brownlow. He opened up this morning, stayed for about an hour, then left. He didn’t get back till after two-thirty. He’s sitting in one of the RMPs outside, you wanna talk to him. He’s pretty shaken up, though.’

Doyle listens in silence. He has a million questions he wants to put to Mr Brownlow, but this isn’t his case. Cesario made that clear. The other squad detectives know their job. They’ll get round to interviewing Brownlow, and they’ll do it just as thoroughly as he would.

He drifts away again, itching to get more involved. Soon enough he’ll be given a task. The door-to-door, probably. Maybe later poring over the store’s paperwork for customer details so he can call them up. All necessary work. But tedious background stuff mostly. Not where it’s really at.

He goes back for another look at the girl. The Medical Examiner, a Chinese guy called Norman Chin, is working on her now. Checking out her wounds. Speaking his findings quietly into a voice recorder.

What’s she telling you, Norm? he wonders. Those cuts whispering secrets to you? They giving you any clues about the psycho who did this? Tell me, Norm, because I want this son of a bitch.

He realizes then that he is already starting to make the case his own. Bad idea, but he can’t help it. This girl needs him. She is staring at him and pleading for his help, and he is going to find it oh so hard to take a back seat on this investigation.

He moves away again, trying to shake the girl’s empty stare from his mind. He sees the door ahead of him. Starts heading toward it, thinking about the cool spring air outside.

‘Got something for you,’ Chin says.

Doyle is not being addressed directly, but he stops in his tracks. He has to hear this. He turns slowly, sees the backs of all the cops leaning in to hear what profound wisdom Chin is about to impart.

‘First of all, the cuts here, they look pretty random, right? A frenzied attack, cuts here, there and everywhere, right?’

He pauses until he elicits a couple of nods from his audience.

‘Wrong! Not random. At least not at first. See the wounds on this arm?’

Intrigued, Doyle pushes through the group for a better look. Norman Chin is staring wide-eyed at the surrounding cops. Actually, he cannot do anything but stare wide-eyed, given the intense magnifying effect of the spectacles he has to wear. On a sunny day, he could laser a hole through steel with those babies, Doyle thinks.

The glasses, together with the black toilet-brush hair, lend Chin the look of a mad scientist — someone who could quite happily experiment with trying to bring corpses like this back to life. But what all the cops here know is that Chin is one of the best in his field. You got a DOA on your hands, then you want Chin involved.

Chin points to the girl’s left forearm with his pencil, and waits for more nods. He’s in his element here.

‘Defense wounds?’ some brave cop ventures.

‘Not defense wounds. These first few cuts are too regular, too parallel. Not like the other cuts. See?’ He indicates other areas of sliced flesh. ‘See how they’ve been done in wide angular sweeps? They’re not as deep as the first ones, neither. Besides, this is her left arm. Most of the defense wounds are on the other arm, being as she’s right-handed.’

He pauses and surveys his class. Waits for the question which doesn’t come. The seasoned detectives here know Chin’s routine only too well.

‘Ask me how I know,’ Chin says. ‘About her being right-handed. Go on, ask me.’

Clearly a glutton for punishment, the same cop plays along.

‘Okay, so how do you know she’s right-handed?’

Chin points again with his pencil. ‘Ink on the fingers. Plus, I sent someone out to ask the bookstore owner.’

He gets a laugh, and revels in it. The cop who posed the question gets jostled playfully by his colleagues.

‘Next question,’ says Chin.

The cops go quiet. Nobody wants to run the risk of asking a dumb-ass question, or even to be made by Chin to look a dumb-ass when posing a perfectly sensible question.

‘Come on, come on. There’s something obvious you should be asking me here.’

When the silence continues, Doyle offers his two cents.

‘The cuts on the forearm. You said they were done first. How do you know the order?’

Chin jabs his pencil toward Doyle. ‘Correctimundo! Excellent question. Give that man a banana.’

Gingerly, Chin takes hold of the girl’s left arm and raises it. ‘There are pressure marks here, right around the wrist, like it’s been held onto, tightly. Also, these smears here are where the blood has been dragged down and over the hand. I’d say that the perp grabbed her wrist while he made the first few cuts, and then she managed to pull her arm away. After that, he just hacked at her any way he could.’

Like every other cop in the room, Doyle is thinking this through, building the picture. The killer didn’t just pull out a knife and start slashing. He grabbed her arm and held on tight while he severed the veins in her wrist. Why did he do that?

Deep in thought, Doyle and the others start to turn away. There is work to be done.

‘Wait a minute!’ Chin calls. ‘You hear me say class dismissed? No, you did not. You want me to earn out the lousy small change the city pays me for this job, you need to listen some more. I was just getting to the interesting part.’

Doyle cannot help but smile as he focuses on Chin again. You gotta love the guy, he thinks. What a showman.

Chin picks up a small flashlight and shines it on the inside of the girl’s wrist. ‘There’s something written here in pen. Looks like a telephone number. Before I tell you what it is, you need to know it was written before the girl was killed.’

A snort of laughter from the audience. ‘Be a neat trick if she did it after she was dead. Unless she’s a ghost writer.’

Chin whirls. He shines the flashlight directly into the eyes of the joker. Doyle almost expects Chin to send the guy to the principal for detention.

‘Who says it was written by the girl?’

‘Well, wasn’t it? I write stuff on my arm all the time.’

‘My opinion, it’s a wonder you can write at all. Now listen and learn, knucklehead. Some of the blood has run down over the numbers. If the writing had been done after the attack, the killer would have had to wipe the blood away first, and there’s no sign of that.’

The cop persists. ‘That still doesn’t say the girl didn’t write it.’

‘Upside down?’

‘What?’

‘When you write things on your arm, do you do it so you can read them, or so that other people can read them?’

Now the cop goes quiet.

Chin continues: ‘This number was written by someone facing the girl, and it’s right next to the site of what I think was the first incision. I’m not saying it was put there by the killer, but my guess is that the girl probably didn’t get out of bed with this on her arm, and she probably hasn’t met a substantial proportion of the city’s population working in a place like this. Maybe it’s important, maybe it’s not. If you want to check it out, here it is. Notebooks at the ready, guys, because I don’t think your meager brains are capable of retaining something as complicated as a phone number.’

As Doyle listens to the sound of pages being flipped, his mind is racing ahead with possibilities. Did the killer write that number? If she let him, that means she trusted him. And that means either she knew him, or she had a thing for him. Was he hitting on her? Did he offer to give her his number? And if she was willing to allow a perfect stranger to write on her skin, to invade her personal space so intimately, what does that say about someone who could charm her in that way?

‘All right,’ says Chin, examining the girl’s wrist with his flashlight again. ‘Area code is three-five-three.’

The cops look at each other.

‘Anybody know where that is?’ asks Kravitz.

He gets shrugs and headshakes.

‘Next,’ says Chin, ‘we have three, six, and I think it’s a two.’

Coincidence, thinks Doyle.

‘And finally — check your lottery tickets — we got. .’

The first of the remaining four digits reaches Doyle’s ears. Then the second. No, he thinks. Surely not. Coincidence is one thing, but this. .

When the third digit falls neatly into place, Doyle just knows what’s coming next. A four. It has to be a four.

‘A six,’ says Chin.

Doyle blows air. Jesus. For a minute there-

‘Scratch that,’ says Chin. ‘It’s a four. Definitely a four.’

What? WHAT?

For a moment, Doyle sees the funny side. ‘Hey, guys,’ he wants to say, ‘replace that area code with two-one-two and you got my home number. How fucking freaky is that?’

But he keeps quiet. There’s something else about that number. Something that tells him this isn’t entirely coincidental.

Chin is still talking, breaking into his thoughts.

‘Now ask me how tall our killer is.’

The area code, Doyle thinks. It’s familiar. Have I dialed it before?

‘All right, Norm. What’s his height?’

Shit! I know this. I have definitely used this area code.

‘How the fuck should I know? You’re the detectives. Do some fucking detecting!’

The audience breaks up, streams around Doyle. He stays rooted, staring at the body of the girl but not seeing it.

And then he gets it. He dialed it not so long ago when his great-uncle died. Three-five-three. Not an area code. At least not that he knows of. It’s a country code. The number you dial to specify a foreign country when you’re making an international call.

Three-five-three is the country code for Ireland, the place of his birth.

It could still be coincidence, he tells himself. But his inner voice is weak and lacking in conviction.

A few minutes ago he was wishing he could play more of a role in this case. Now he’s beginning to fear that he could be center stage.

Be careful what you wish for, Doyle.

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