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The Best American Mystery Stories Part 18

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McQueen felt his body relax, and he realized he had been holding himself so tightly that his back and shoulders ached. "May I sit down?" he asked softly.

"Yes, of course."

He slid the too-large-for-the-room chair to the far side of the bed and sat with his back to the windows. He heard rain rattle against the panes and the sound chilled him and made him shiver. He found himself hoping she hadn't noticed.

"I already know pretty much what happened. There's no need to go over it all, really. I just have a few questions. Most of them are formalities, please don't read anything into it. I just need to know certain things. For the reports. And to help us find this guy. OK?"

She squeezed her eyes closed again and more tears escaped. She nodded yes to him and reopened her eyes. He couldn't look away from them.

"This happened about eleven, eleven-ten?"

"Yes, about."

"You had gotten off the train at the Sixty-second Street subway station?"

"Yes."

"Alone?"

"Yes."

"What train is that?"

"The N."

"Where were you going?"

"Home."

"Where were you coming from?"

"My art cla.s.s in Manhattan."

McQueen looked up from his notes. Art cla.s.s? Rizzo's inane preamble resounded in his mind. He squinted at her and said, "You're not originally from Boston, are you?"

For the first time she smiled slightly, and McQueen found it disproportionately endearing. "No, Connecticut. Do you think I sound like a Bostonian?"

He laughed. "No, no, not at all. Just something somebody said to me. Long story, pay no attention."

She smiled again, and he could see it in her eyes that the facial movement had caused her some pain. "A lot of you Brooklynites think anyone from out of town sounds like they come from Boston."

McQueen sat back in his chair and raised his eyebrows in mock indignation. "'Brooklynite?' You think I sound like a Brooklynite?"

"Sure do."

"Well, Ms. Taylor, just so you know, I live in the city. Not Brooklyn." He kept his voice light, singsong.

"Isn't Brooklyn in the city?"

"Well, yeah, geographically. But the city is Manhattan. I was born on Long Island but I've lived in the city for fifteen years."

"All right, then," she said, with a pitched nod of her head.

McQueen tapped his pen on his notepad and looked at the ugly bruise on her temple. He dropped his gaze to the splinted, bandaged broken fingers of her right hand.

"How are you doing? I know you took a bad fall and had a real bad scare. But how are you doing?"

She seemed to tremble briefly, and he regretted having asked. But she met his gaze with her answer.

"I'll be fine. Everything is superficial, except for the fingers, and they'll heal. I'll be fine."

He nodded to show he believed her and that yes, of course, she was right, she would be fine. He wondered, though, if she really would be.

"Can you describe the man to me?"

"It happened very fast. I mean, it seemed to last for hours, but. .. but.. ."

McQueen leaned forward and spoke more softly so she would have to focus on the sound of his voice in order to hear, focus on hearing the words and not the memory at hand.

"Was he taller than you?"

"Yes."

"How tall are you?"

"Five-eight."

"And him?"

She thought for a moment. "Five-nine or -ten."

"His hair?"

"Black. Long. Very dirty." She looked down at the sheet and nervously picked at a loose thread. "It... It..."

McQueen leaned in closer, his knees against the side of the bed. He imagined what it would be like to touch her. "It what?" he asked gently.

"It smelled." She looked up sharply with the near panic of a frightened deer in her eyes. She whispered, "His hair was so dirty, I could smell it."

She started to sob. McQueen sat back in his chair.

He needed to find this man. Badly. "I want to keep this one."

McQueen started the engine and glanced down at his wrist.w.a.tch as he spoke to Rizzo. It was two in the morning, and his eyes stung with the grit of someone who had been too long awake.

Rizzo shifted in the seat and adjusted his jacket. He settled in and turned to the younger detective.

"You what?" he asked absently.

"I want this one. I want to keep it. We can handle this case, Joe, and I want it."

Rizzo shook his head and frowned. "Doesn't work that way, kid. The morning shift catches and pokes around a little, does a rah-rah for the victim, and then turns the case to the day tour. You know that, that's the way it is. Let's get us back to the house and do the reports and grab a few Z's. We'll pick up enough of our own work next day-tour we pull. We don't need to grab something ain't our problem. OK?"

McQueen stared out of the window into the falling rain on the dark street. He didn't turn his head when he spoke.

"Joe, I'm telling you, I want this case. If you're in, fine. If not, I go to the squad boss tomorrow and ask for the case and a partner to go with it." Now he turned to face the older man and met his eyes. "Up to you, Joe. You tell me."

Rizzo turned away and spoke into the windshield before him. He let his eyes watch McQueen's watery reflection. "Pretty rough for a f.u.c.kin' guy with three days under his belt." He sighed and turned slowly before he spoke again.

"One of the cops in the ER told me this broad was a looker. So now I get extra work 'cause you got a hard-on?"

McQueen shook his head. "Joe, it's not like that."

Rizzo smiled. "Mike, you're how old? Twenty-seven, twenty-eight? It's like that, all right, it's always like that."

"Not this time. And not me. It's wrong for you to say that, Joe."

At that, Rizzo laughed aloud. "Mike," he said through a lingering chuckle, "there ain't no wrong. And there ain't no right. There just is, that's all."

Now it was McQueen who laughed. "Who told you that, a guru?"

Rizzo fumbled through his jacket pockets and produced a battered and bent Chesterfield. "Sort of," he said as he lit it. "My grandfather told me that. Do you know where I was born?"

McQueen, puzzled by the question, shook his head. "How would I know? Brooklyn?"

"Omaha-f.u.c.kin'-Nebraska, that's where. My old man was a lifer in the Air Force stationed out there. Well, when I was nine years old he dropped dead. Me and my mother and big sister came back to Brooklyn to live with my grandparents. My grandfather was a first-grade detective working Chinatown back then. The first night we was home, I broke down, crying to him about how wrong it was, my old man dying and all, how it wasn't right and all like that. He got down on his knees and leaned right into my face. I still remember the smell of beer and garlic sauce on his breath. He leaned right in and said, 'Kid, nothing is wrong. And nothing is right. It just is.' I never forgot that. He was dead-on correct about that, I'll tell you."

McQueen drummed his fingers lightly on the wheel and scanned the mirrors. The street was empty. He pulled the Impala away from the curb and drove back toward the Belt Parkway. After they had entered the westbound lanes, Rizzo spoke again.

"Besides, Mike, this case won't even stay with the squad. Rapes go to s.e.x crimes and they get handled by the broads and the guys with the master's degrees in fundamental and advanced bulls.h.i.t. Can you imagine the b.i.t.c.h that Betty Friedan and Bella Abzug would pitch if they knew an insensitive p.r.i.c.k like me was handling a rape?"

"Joe, Bella Abzug died about twenty years ago."

Rizzo nodded. "Whatever. You get my point."

"And I told you already, this isn't a rape. A guy grabbed her, threatened her with a blade, and was yanking on his own chain while he held her there. No rape. Abuse and a.s.sault, tops."

For the first time since they had worked together, McQueen heard a shadow of interest in Rizzo's voice when the older man next spoke.

"Blade? Whackin' off? Did the guy come?"

McQueen glanced over at his partner. "What?" he asked.

"Did the guy bust a nut, or not?"

McQueen squinted through the windshield: Had he thought to ask her that? No. No, he hadn't. It simply hadn't occurred to him.

"Is that real important to this, Joe, or are you just making a case for your insensitive-p.r.i.c.k status?"

Rizzo laughed out loud and expelled a gray cloud of cigarette smoke in the process. McQueen reached for the power b.u.t.ton and cracked his window.

"No, no, kid, really, official request. Did this a.s.shole come?"

"I don't know. I didn't ask her. Why?"

Rizzo laughed again. "Didn't want to embarra.s.s her on the first date, eh, Mike? Understandable, but totally unacceptable detective work."

"Is this going somewhere, Joe?"

Rizzo nodded and smiled. "Yeah, it's going toward granting your rude request that we keep this one. If I can catch a case I can clear up quick, I'll always keep it. See, about four, five years ago we had some schmuck running around the precinct grabbing girls and forcing them into doorways and alleyways. Used a knife. He'd hold them there and beat off till the thing started to look like a stick of chop meat. One victim said she stared at a bank clock across the street the whole time to sort of distract herself from the intimacy of the situation, and she said the guy was hammering himself for twenty-five minutes. But he could never get the job done. Psychological, probably. Sort of a major failure at his crime of choice. Never hurt no one, physically, but one of his victims was only thirteen. She must be popping Prozac by the handful now somewheres. We caught the guy. Not me, but some guys from the squad. Turned out to be a strung-out junkie s.h.i.tbag we all knew. Thing is, junkies don't usually cross over into the s.e.x stuff. No cash or H in it. I bet this is the same guy. He'd be long out by now. And except for the subway, it's his footprint. We can clear this one, Mike. You and me. I'm gonna make you look like a star, first case. The mayor will be so proud of himself for grabbing that gold shield for you, he'll probably make you the f.u.c.kin' commissioner!"

Two days later, McQueen sat at his desk in the cramped detective squad room, gazing once again into the eyes of Amy Taylor. He cleared his voice before he spoke, and noticed the bruise at her temple had subsided a bit and that no attempt to cover it with makeup had been made.

"What I'd like to do is show you some photographs. I'd like you to take a look at some suspects and tell me if one of them is the perpetrator."

Her eyes smiled at him as she spoke. "I've talked to about five police officers in the last few days, and you're the first one to say 'perpetrator. ' "

He felt himself flush a little. "Well," he said with a forced laugh, "it's a fairly appropriate word for what we're doing here."

"Yes, it is. It's just unsettling to hear it actually said. Does that make sense?"

He nodded. "I think I know what you mean."

"Good," she said with the pitched nod of her head that he suddenly realized he had been looking forward to seeing again. "I didn't mean it as an insult or anything. Do I look at the mug books now?"

This time McQueen's laugh was genuine. "No, no, that's your words now. We call it a photo array. I'll show you eight photos of men roughly matching the description you gave me. You tell me if one of them is the right one."

"All right, then." She straightened herself in her chair and folded her hands in her lap. She cradled the broken right fingers in the long slender ones of her left hand. The gentleness made McQueen's head swim with - what? - grief? - pity? He didn't know.

When he came around to her side of the desk and spread out the color photos before her, he knew immediately. She looked up at him - and the sapphires swam in tears yet again. She turned back to the photos and lightly touched one.

"Him," was all she said.

"You know," Rizzo said, chewing on a hamburger as he spoke, "you can never overestimate the stupidity of these a.s.sholes."

It was just after nine on a Thursday night, and the two detectives sat in the Chevrolet and ate their meals. The car stood backed into a slot at the rear of the Burger King's parking lot, nestled in the darkness between circles of glare from two lampposts. Three weeks had pa.s.sed since the a.s.sault on Amy Taylor.

McQueen turned to his partner. "Which a.s.sholes we talking about here, Joe?" In the short time he had been working with Rizzo, McQueen had developed a grudging respect for the older man. What Rizzo appeared to lack in enthusiasm, he more than made up for in experience and with an ironic, grizzled sort of street smarts. McQueen had learned much from him and knew he was about to learn more.

"Criminals," Rizzo continued. "Skells in general. This burglary call we just took reminded me of something. Old case I handled seven, eight years ago. Jewelry store got robbed, over on Thirteenth Avenue. Me and my partner, guy named Giacalone, go over there and see the victim. Old Sicilian lived in the neighborhood forever, salt-of-the-earth type. So me and Giacalone, we go all out for this guy. We even called for the fingerprint team, we were right on it. So we look around, talk to the guy, get the description of the perp and the gun used, and we tell the old guy to sit tight and wait for the fingerprint team to show up and we'll be in touch in a couple of days. Well, the old man is so grateful, he walks us out to the car. Just as we're about to pull away, the guy says, "You know, the guy that robbed me cased the joint first.' Imagine that? - 'cased the joint' - Musta watched a lot of TV, this old guy. So I say to him, 'What d'ya mean, cased the joint?' And he says, "Yeah, two days ago the same guy came in to get his watch fixed. Left it with me and everything. Even filled out a receipt card with his name and address and phone number. Must have been just casing the place. Well, he sure fooled me.'"

Rizzo chuckled and bit into his burger. "So," he continued through a full mouth, "old Giacalone puts the car back into park and he leans across me and says, "You still got that receipt slip?' The old guy goes, "Yeah, but it must be all phony. He was just trying to get a look around.' Well, me and Giacalone go back in and we get the slip. We cancel the print guys and drive out to Canarsie. Guess what? The a.s.shole is home. We grab him and go get a warrant for the apartment. Gun, jewelry, and cash, bing-bang-boom. The guy cops to rob-three and does four-to-seven."

Rizzo smiled broadly at McQueen. "His girlfriend lived in the precinct, and while he was visiting her, he figured he'd get his watch fixed. Then when he sees what a mark the old guy is, he has an inspiration! See? a.s.sholes."

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The Best American Mystery Stories Part 18 summary

You're reading The Best American Mystery Stories. This manga has been translated by Updating. Author(s): Joyce Carol Oates. Already has 209 views.

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