Valentino Pier (Rapid Reads), page 1
REED FARREL COLEMAN
Copyright © 2013 Reed Farrel Coleman
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced
or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical,
including photocopying, recording or by any information storage
and retrieval system now known or to be invented, without permission
in writing from the publisher.
Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication
Coleman, Reed Farrel, 1956-
Valentino Pier [electronic resource] / Reed Farrel Coleman.
Issued also in print format.
ISBN 978-1-4598-0210-0 (PDF).--ISBN 978-1-4598-0211-7 (EPUB)
I. Title. II. Series: Rapid reads (Online)
PS3553.O47443V35 2013 813’.54 C2013-901879-4
First published in the United States, 2013
Library of Congress Control Number: 2013935304
Summary: PI Gulliver Dowd rescues a street kid’s dog,
but when the kid is found badly beaten the next day,
Gulliver uncovers a new mystery. (RL 2.5)
Orca Book Publishers gratefully acknowledges the support for
its publishing programs provided by the following agencies:
the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund and the
Canada Council for the Arts, and the Province of British Columbia
through the BC Arts Council and the Book Publishing Tax Credit.
Design by Teresa Bubela
Cover photography by Getty Images
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Victoria, BC Canada Custer, WA USAem; text-indent: 1em; text-align: justify; } .txt89other direction
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Gulliver Dowd had one new message on his cell. His guts knotted up as he listened. The woman was panicked. He could hear it in her voice. It was a voice he knew too well. One he had hoped he would never hear again. The woman’s daughter was gone. He had warned her this would happen. And it had.
Nina Morton’s voice was cracking now. She was crying. Begging for Dowd’s help. He had found her daughter once. He could do it again. She just knew he could. He could do anything when he put his mind to it. Hadn’t he become a licensed private investigator? Hadn’t he earned his black belt? Hadn’t he become a dead shot? All of this in spite of his deformed body. And Nina swore she would do anything for him. Even marry him if that’s what he wanted. All he had to do was find Anka again. Gulliver stopped listening. He erased the message.
It wasn’t that Gulliver’s heart didn’t ache. It did. It ached all the time. It would ache for Nina until the day he died. But sometimes you can’t save people from themselves. Nina was like that. She had been Gulliver’s high school girlfriend for two months. Those were the best two months of his life. The names people called him didn’t matter. Midget. Runt. Dwarf. Freak. They couldn’t hurt him. Not as long as she was in love with him. He was Superman as long as he had Nina. It didn’t last. Gulliver knew that nothing good ever lasts.
That was eighteen years ago. He had spent seventeen of those years hoping Nina would come back to him. And last year she had. Presto! Like magic. Black magic. She had betrayed Gulliver. She had betrayed her daughter. She had betrayed herself. And now the girl was gone again. Gulliver didn’t think the girl would ever be back. But he took no joy in being right. He took no joy in Nina’s loss. He knew what it was like to lose someone forever. No one deserves that kind of pain.
His mind went to Keisha. She was gone too. Forever. People don’t come back from the grave. He had been so proud of his adopted sister when she graduated from the police academy. He looked at Keisha’s picture in the frame on his desk. Her beautiful black skin. Her fierce eyes. Her wary smile. All set against her dress blue uniform. Then he remembered seeing her in the morgue. Cold. Dead. Lost to him. He still didn’t get how it had all gone so wrong. How could someone murder a cop in cold blood? How could they do it in broad daylight? How could seven years go by without the killer being caught? How? How? How? Gulliver had asked himself these same questions every day. He got no answers. But it never stopped him. He would find her killer some day. He would never give up. Never. It’s what kept him going.
Now he was crying, his tears bitter as lemon juice. His squat body shook. Sometimes Keisha’s murder made him angry. So angry he could explode. Days like today, he was just sad. Sad for Keisha. Sad for himself. When he was like this, there was only one thing to do. Gulliver dia0">
“What’s up, Gullie?” asked Mandel.
“Have a drink with me tonight, Rabbi.” Gulliver had always called Steven that. He wasn’t sure why. But it fit. Steven was wise and loving. He always had been.
“Can’t. Business. You sound weird. Are you okay?”
“Fine,” Gulliver lied. He did that sometimes. Lied. In that way he was like everybody else. Not much else about him was.
He had to get out of his loft. The walls were closing in on him. He wasn’t much of a walker. With short legs. Uneven legs. He wobbled. At least they knew him around Red Hook. No one pointed. The local kids didn’t giggle. Not anymore. He was like a crack in the sidewalk that everyone had gotten used to.
Gulliver looked up and down Visitation Place. Red Hook was quiet. Kids were in school. It was a day that said winter was finally gone. The sky was so blue it almost didn’t look real. There wasn’t a cloud anywhere. The sun was strong and warm on his face. Gulliver’s face. That was God’s cruel joke. God had built him out of spare parts. Mismatched parts. But he had given Gulliver Dowd a handsome face. A mild breeze blew in off the harbor. It smelled of the salt from the ocean. That’s what got his attention.
He hobbled along Van Brunt. Down Van Dyke. He ran out of street at Valentino Pier. The pier was a finger of concrete that stuck out into New York Harbor. It was named for a hero fireman. A dead hero. There was no shortage of those in New York City.
Gulliver liked it here. The view was amazing. At the end of the pier, the Statue of Liberty stared back at him. To his left, the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. Staten Island. New Jersey. To his right was Lower Manhattan. The new Freedom Tower rose up above all else. Keisha said she had watched the World Trade Center towers fall from the pier.
It was an odd day. A day to recall sad things. But also a day to take a step back. A day to watch tugboats. Water taxis. Ocean liners. Helicopters. Seagulls. A day to lose yourself in the rush of the harbor. He needed to lose himself. He had been busy lately. He hadn’t slept much. He’d spent weeks in Boston working an art-theft case. He’d gotten the paintings back. And a nice finder’s fee from the insurance company.
Gulliver had once worked almost all missing-children cases. Not anymore. Not in the year since he had found Nina’s daughter, Anka. Nina had lied to Gulliver. She’d told him Anka was his daughter too. He was crushed when he found out it
“Yo, mister. You seen my dog?”
The boy was maybe ten years old. He was already four inches taller than Gulliver. But he was a skinny kid. A street kid. Gulliver knew the signs. A dirty face. Crooked teeth. Underfed. Untamed Faraway eyes. Nervous like a cat. Ready to pounce or to run. Gulliver had spent a lot of time with kids just like this boy. Runaways ended up on the street sooner or later. Even the ones with money would find out iem; text-indent: 0em; Text-align: center; } .crtj88, t doesn’t last too long. When the money runs out, there’s only one place to land. The street. Gulliver often started his searches for runaways on the street. This kid was different. He wasn’t a runaway. He didn’t end up on the street. He came from the street.
“What kind of dog is it?” Gulliver asked.
He shrugged his shoulders. “A dog dog. I don’t know what kind.”
“Big or little?”
“Kinda little, I guess. He’s this long.” The kid held his hands about a foot apart. “And he’s this tall.” He held one hand a foot above the other. “He got kinda a scrunchy black face. His eyes go this way and that. And he don’t smell too good. He got brown and black fur and some white.”
“What’s his name?”
Gulliver laughed. “Your dog’s name is Ugly? I like that.”
The kid smiled. It was a nice smile, in spite of his crooked teeth. But a wary smile, like Keisha’s. Keisha had been in foster care before Gulliver’s parents adopted her. Love and trust didn’t come easy to her. Love and trust didn’t come easy to street kids either.
“How long has Ugly been missing?”
Gulliver wanted to ask the kid a thousand questions. Where were his parents? Had he ever gone to school? Where did he sleep? When did he last eat? But he only asked simple questions. Ones that wouldn’t spook the kid. He knew that once he started asking hard questions, the kid would take off.
“My name’s Gulliver Dowd. I live at Visitation Place. You can ask people about me. They’ll tell you I’m okay.”
“I know. I seen you around. You’re the little man that finds people.”
“I find lots of things,” Gulliver said. “Maybe even dogs.”
The kid smiled again. “I miss Ugly.”
“I bet he misses you too. Where did you see him last?”
“Over by Coffey Park. He saw a squirrel or something and took off after it. I followed him. He’s ugly, but he’s fast.”
Gulliver reached into his pants pocket. “I’m going to get my wallet out and give you my card. Okay?”
The kid stopped smiling.
Gulliver thought he knew why. “It’s okay if you can’t read. You’ll learn. There’s lots of things I learned when I was old already. No one thought I could learn them, but I did.”
The kid pumped up his chest. “I can read. It’s just that the letters get all crazy sometimes.”
Like this kid’s life wasn’t already hard enough. “Here’s my card and twenty dollars.”
That set off alarm bells. “What’s the money for?”
“For food. Some for you. Some for Ugly. You can pay me back someday after I find your dog. Deal?” Gulliver held out his hand to the kid.
The kid took it and shook across the side of his head">“ th! it. “Deal.”
Gulliver wagged his finger at the kid and winked. “Go get something to eat. Check with me tomorrow.”tion/vnd.adobe
Gulliver’s parents had adopted children, not animals. Sharing his loft with Ugly for the night was as close as Gulliver had ever come to having a pet. One night. That’s as long as he figured to hang on to the mutt. No doubt the kid would be by in the morning to see if he’d found the dog. Then he would give Ugly back to his master. He figured finding the dog would earn him some respect. Buy him some time to talk to the kid. Time to ask him the hard questions he hadn’t asked before. At least he could slip the kid some more money.
The dog was asleep on a blanket. He’d had a rough day. The vet had given him vaccinations against all sorts of diseases. Pumped him full of medicines to treat the ones he already had. Even cleaned his teeth. They’d shaved his old fur down to the skin. Flea-dipped him. Bathed him. And bathed him again. Gulliver had to admit the dog smelled a lot better. But even with his ratty fur gone. With clean teeth. The pooch was still as ugly as could be.
Gulliver was half-asleep on the couch. The tv was on. There was a knock at the door. Ugly didn’t like that. He stirred. Walked to the door. Growled a low, steady growl. Gulliver didn’t like it either. It was nearly three o’clock in the morning. And you had to ring the loft from the lobby. Then you had to wait to be buzzed in. Gulliver wrapped his oddly shaped hand around the butt of his Sig. Then relaxed. It must be the kid, he thought. Probably couldn’t wait to see if Gulliver had found his dog. Street kids don’t live by the clockre you doing hereanurz. They also have ways of getting into places without following the rules. The street has its own rules.
“One second,” he called out. He pulled back the door.
It wasn’t the kid. Of course it wasn’t. The dog wouldn’t be growling if it was the kid. But what did Gulliver know about dogs? Two big men stood in the doorway. Both had blue-and-gold NYPD detective shields hanging from their jacket pockets. One of them looked familiar. He was in his forties. He had thinning reddish hair. Some of it was gray. Blue eyes. A sad mouth. Gulliver couldn’t remember where he knew the detective from. The other guy was a blob. Fat. Double-chinned. Bald. Older. Cold gray eyes in tiny slits.
“You Dowd?” the re d - h a i red detective asked.
“Gulliver Dowd. Yes. Why?”
“We’ll ask the questions,” said the Blob.
“I’m Detective Sam Patrick. This is my partner, Detective Rigo.” He nodded at the Blob.
“What can I do for you, detectives?” Gulliver asked. Then he turned to Ugly. “Go back to your blanket and lie down.” The dog listened. Nestled back down on his blanket.
But kept his bulging eyes on the cops.
“Ugly dog,” Rigo said.
That pissed Gulliver off. “You always this pleasant? I wonder what the dog thinks about your weight.”
“Listen, you little freak. I’m gonna—”
“Enough,” snapped Patrick. He held out a plastic bag. “Is this your card?”
Gulliver took the bag. One of his business cards was inside. It had specks of red on it. His heart thumped in his chest. “Yeah. It’s mine. Where did you find it?”
“It was recovered from a crime scene an hour ago.”
Gulliver felt like he’d been punched in the gut. “Oh, shit. The kid. It’s the kid, right? About ten? Skinny? Dirty T-shirt? Crooked teeth? About this tall?” He held his hand a few inches above his head. “Dark brown eyes?”
The Blob said, “We don’t know about his eyes. They was shut at the time.”
“Nah,” Patrick said. “He’s not dead. He’s hurt bad though. They don’t know how bad yet. He’s at Brooklyn University Hospital.”
The Blob poked Gulliver in the chest. “Why’d you do it, Dowd?”
“Do what?” Gulliver turned to Patrick. “Tell your partner that if he does that again, I’ll break his fingers.”
“I’d like to see you try.” Rigo went to poke him again. “You little—”
Gulliver grabbed the fat detective’s thumb. Twisted it. Rigo fell to his knees. He was red-faced. He winced in pain.
“Now that we see eye to eye, Detective Rigo…”
“You’re assaulting an officer,” Rigo said through gritted teeth.
Patrick laughed. Then commanded, “Let him go. She had betra
Gulliver let go of the fat man’s hand. Rigo got to his feet. He rubbed the feeling back into his hand.
“How did this kid come to have your card on him?” Patrick asked.
“He was my client.”
Rigo snorted. “Get outta here.”
Gulliver pointed over his shoulder with his thumb. “That’s the kid’s dog. He asked me to find the dog. I found the dog. I knew he was a street kid. No home. No phone. I gave him my card so he could check in with me. I thought it was the kid at the door just now. You can ask Juan at the bodega on Van Brunt. Heyman Jones at Coffey Park. And Mia at Dr. Prentice’s vet clinic on Union Street. They’ll tell you I spent the day looking for and taking care of the dog. There’s a video camera outside the building that will tell you when I came into the building. It will show you I haven’t left since.”
“And you did this thing with the dog out of the goodness of your heart?” Patrick asked.
“Yeah. I was sad today. I was missing my—” Gulliver stopped midsentence. He suddenly remembered how he knew Detective Patrick. “You used to be in uniform at the Seven-Five in East New York. Didn’t you?”
Patrick tilted his head. “That’s right. But how—”
Gulliver had spent many days at the Seven-Five precinct house in the year after his sister’s murder. And he never forgot faces. He turned. Went to his desk. Got the picture of Keisha in her dress blues. He showed the framed photo to the detectives. “That’s my sister, Keisha,” he said.
Rigo shook his head and laughed. “You got some strange genes in your family. A dwarf and a—”
“That’s enough, Rigo,” Patrick shouted at his partner. “I’ll handle this. Go wait in the car.”
“Suit yourself,” he said. Turned. Went down the steps.
“Keisha was a good cop,” Patrick said when he was sure Rigo was gone.
“That was a bad day when they found her like that.”
“All I’ve had are bad days since then. Come in. Tell me what happened to the kid.”
Detective Patrick sat down on the couch across from the desk. Gulliver handed him a beer. He had one himself. That thing about cops not drinking on duty is bullshit.