Manhattan mayhem new cri.., p.5

Manhattan Mayhem: New Crime Stories From Mystery Writers of America, page 5

 

Manhattan Mayhem: New Crime Stories From Mystery Writers of America
 



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  In the painting, and in real life, too.

  He said, “What have I walked into?”

  The woman said, “You’re to stand still, right where you are, and don’t move until I tell you to.”

  “Or what?”

  “Or you’ll go to prison for interfering with a national security operation.”

  “Or you’ll get fired for continuing with a national security operation after it suddenly got a civilian in the way.”

  “The operation isn’t here. It’s in the park.”

  She looked diagonally across the wide junction, three major thoroughfares all meeting, at the mass of trees beyond.

  He said, “What have I walked into?”

  She said, “I can’t tell you.”

  “I’m sure I’ve heard worse.”

  “Military police, right?”

  “Like the FBI, but on a much lower budget.”

  “We have a target in the park. Sitting on a bench all alone. Waiting for a contact who isn’t coming.”

  “Who is he?”

  “A bad apple.”

  “From your barrel?”

  She nodded. “One of us.”

  “Is he armed?”

  “He’s never armed.”

  “Why isn’t his contact coming?”

  “He died an hour ago in a hit-and-run accident. The driver didn’t stop. No one got the plate.”

  “There’s a big surprise.”

  “He turned out to be Russian. The State Department had to inform their consulate. Which turned out to be where the guy worked. Purely by coincidence.”

  “Your guy was talking to the Russians? Do people still do that?”

  “More and more. And it’s getting more and more important all the time. People say we’re headed back to the 1980s. But they’re wrong. We’re headed back to the 1930s.”

  “So, your guy ain’t going to win employee of the month.”

  She didn’t answer.

  He said, “Where are you going to take him?”

  She paused a beat. She said, “All that’s classified.”

  “All that? All what? He can’t be going to multiple destinations.”

  She didn’t answer.

  Now he paused a beat.

  He said, “Is he headed for the destination you want?”

  She didn’t answer.

  “Is he?”

  She said, “No.”

  “Because of suits higher up?”

  “As always.”

  “Are you married?”

  “What’s that got to do with anything?”

  “Are you?”

  “I’m hanging in there.”

  “So you’re the redhead.”

  “And?”

  “I’m the guy in the hat with his back to us, all alone.”

  “Meaning, what?”

  “Meaning, I’m going to take a walk. Like a First Amendment thing. Meaning, you’re going to stay here. Like a smart tactical thing.”

  And he turned and moved away before she had a chance to object. He rounded the tip of the cowcatcher and headed diagonally across the heart of the complex junction, moving fast, not breaking stride at the curbs and the painted lines, ignoring the DON’T WALK signs, not slowing at all, and finally straight into the park itself, by its southwest gate. Ahead was a dry fountain and a closed-up burger stall. Curving left was the main center path, clearly following some kind of a design scheme that featured large ovals, like running tracks.

  There were dim fancy lights on poles, and the Times Square glow was bouncing off the clouds like a magnesium flare. Reacher could see pretty well, but all he saw were empty benches, at least at the start of the curve. More came into sight as he walked, but they too stayed empty, all the way to the far tip of the oval, where there was another dry fountain, and a children’s playground, and finally the continuation of the path itself, curving down the other side of the oval, back toward the near tip. And it had benches, too.

  And one of them was occupied.

  By a big guy, all pink and fleshy, maybe fifty years old, in a dark suit. Pouchy face and thinning hair. A guy who looked like his life had passed him by.

  Reacher stepped close and the guy looked up, and then he looked away, but Reacher sat down next to him anyway. He said, “Boris or Vladimir or whatever his name was isn’t coming. You’re busted. They know you’re not armed, but they’ve gone ahead and cleared about twenty square blocks, which means they’re going to shoot you. You’re about to be executed. But not while I’m here. Not with witnesses. And as it happens, the SAC isn’t happy with it. But she’s getting pressure from above.”

  The guy said, “So?”

  Reacher said, “So, here’s my good deed of the day. If you want to turn yourself in to her, I’ll walk with you. Every step of the way. You can tell her what you know, and you can get three squares a day in prison for the rest of your life.”

  The guy didn’t answer.

  Reacher said, “But maybe you don’t want to go to prison for the rest of your life. Maybe you’re ashamed. Maybe suicide by cop is better. Who am I to judge? So my super-good deed of the day is to walk away if you tell me to. Your choice.”

  The guy said, “Then walk away.”

  “You sure?”

  “I can’t face it.”

  “Why did you do it?”

  “To be somebody.”

  “What kind of stuff could you tell the SAC?”

  “Nothing important. Damage assessment is their main priority. But they already know what I had access to, so they already know what I told them.”

  “And you’ve got nothing worthwhile to add?”

  “Not a thing. I don’t know anything. My contacts aren’t stupid. They know this can happen.”

  “Okay,” Reacher said. “I’ll walk away.”

  And he did, out of the park in its northeast corner, where he heard faint radio chatter in the shadows announcing his departure, and a deserted block up Madison Avenue, where he waited against the limestone base of a substantial building. Four minutes later he heard suppressed handguns, eleven or twelve rounds expended, a volley of thudding percussions like phone books slammed on desks. Then he heard nothing more.

  He pushed off the wall and walked north on Madison, imagining himself back at the lunch counter, his hat in place, his elbows drawn in, nursing a new secret in a life already full of old secrets.

  LEE CHILD was fired and on the dole when he hatched a harebrained scheme to write a best-selling novel, thus saving his family from ruin. Killing Floor was an immediate success and launched the series, which has grown in sales and impact with every new installment. His series hero, Jack Reacher, besides being fictional, is a kind-hearted soul who allows Lee lots of spare time for reading, listening to music, the Yankees, and Aston Villa. Visit LeeChild.com for info about the novels, short stories, the movie Jack Reacher, and more—or find Lee on Facebook.com/LeeChildOfficial, Twitter.com/LeeChildReacher, and YouTube.com/leechildjackreacher.

  THREE LITTLE WORDS

  Nancy Pickard

  Priscilla laughed hysterically when her doctor told her she had only a few weeks to live.

  When she saw the shocked dismay on his handsome face, she waved away his worry and kept guffawing like a four-year-old who had just heard the funniest knock-knock joke on earth. And, being a preschool teacher, she knew knock-knock jokes and four-year-olds.

  Knock, knock. Who’s there?

  Not me!

  Of course, she had a rare, virulent, quick-killing cancer.

  Of course, she did! It had been that kind of week. Month. Year. Death could only improve my life, she thought, and giggled wildly again.

  When she finally came out of her initial hysteria and started crying the other kind of tears, her doctor handed her his box of tissues and a long thin notepad. She grabbed both but held up the notepad as she blew her nose.

  “What’s this for?”

  “Some of my patients like to make bucket lists.”

 
Oh, God,” she said, rolling her eyes up to stare at him. “You keep a bunch of these pads in your desk? Sucks to be you! It’s life’s little ultimate to-do list, isn’t it? Buy bananas, but not too ripe. Pick up the dry cleaning, but what for? And forget the super-sized laundry soap.”

  She giggled and sobbed at the same time.

  “I can’t die, Sam!” She’d been his patient for a long time; he’d seen her through regular checkups and emergencies. If he called her by her first name, she’d long ago made it clear that she’d call him by his. “I don’t even have a prearrangement plan with a funeral home!”

  He didn’t laugh.

  “It’s not too late,” he said carefully.

  “There just won’t be much ‘pre-’ to it, will there?”

  “No,” he said even more gently.

  “It’s funny, isn’t it?”

  “No.”

  “Yeah, it is. I’ll be the girl with only one thing on her bucket list.”

  “What?”

  “Live longer.”

  He looked as if he might cry.

  “I’m sorry,” she said, feeling bad for him. Her humor was normally softer; incipient death had given her an edge. “It’s not your fault.”

  “It’s not anybody’s fault,” he said, shaking his head and pulling out a handkerchief to wipe his eyes.

  Nobody’s fault? She wasn’t so sure about that.

  What about the pollution she breathed, the chemicals she drank? And what about stress? Couldn’t that kill you? Well, yes, it looked as if it could, though she probably couldn’t prove that to her stressful employer, her stressful parents, her stressful sister, her stressful boyfriend, the stressful parents at DayGlow DayCare with their screaming stressed-out children, the stressful woman with the stressful dog in the next apartment, the stressful man at the food cart with her favorite hot dogs, not to mention all the pedestrians who bumped into her on streets and taxis that honked at her in intersections.

  And doctors who told her she was going to die.

  He said, “If drugs aren’t going to help you, or surgery, or radiation … what do you want to do with the time you have left, Priscilla?”

  “I’m only twenty-six,” she whispered, all her laughter used up now.

  “I know.” His eyes filled again, but he forced an encouraging smile. “So your list ought to be a lot more fun than the one my hundred-year-old patient just drew up—”

  “A hundred years old?” she said wistfully. “I wish.”

  “It’s not so great. Her big moment was drinking cranberry juice in spite of being allergic to it. Go for it, Priss. Go for more than cranberry juice. Don’t hold back. Who knows? Maybe happiness will cure you.”

  He didn’t believe that.

  She didn’t, either.

  But as a way to kill time for the next couple weeks, before time killed her, it did beat shooting herself. She said as much to Sam, which made him grimace.

  “May I use your pen?”

  He handed one to her and then watched her write three words at the top of the pad. She printed them with force, going over each letter multiple times, so that even from across his desk he could see the thick black letters.

  She held them up for him to read:

  TELL THE TRUTH

  His eyebrows shot up. “I was expecting something more along the lines of, ‘Ride a roller coaster’ or ‘Fly to Paris.’ ” He gestured toward the pad. “That could cause some damage.”

  “It could do some good,” she countered.

  As she left his office, he asked her to check in every day.

  “For pain control? Or to know when I ought to go into hospice?”

  “Yes,” he said, and then he hugged her.

  She clung to his white jacket for a moment. “Thank you for telling me the truth,” she whispered, and then she bravely walked away.

  She called him on each of the next three days.

  On the fourth morning, Dr. Samuel Waterhouse’s tearful receptionist brought in a newspaper that explained why they wouldn’t get a call that day.

  The night before, Priscilla Windsor had been stabbed to death as she walked—running was no longer possible—in the late cool twilight along Riverside Drive. The redbud trees would blossom into mauve by the next morning, but she wouldn’t see them. She had hoped to live long enough to see spring, but she had also been afraid of seeing it, fearing that it would fill her with unbearable longing for more life. On the night she died, the buds were still wrapped tight as tiny boxers’ fists, as if they didn’t want to pound her with the bittersweet pain of seeing them open their petals.

  Witnesses saw her stumble near the dog park, saw a person in sweats and a hoodie stoop to lift her up, saw them huddle for a moment, saw him set her upright, saw him prop her against a tree, saw him pat her shoulder, saw him continue on his own run. They thought, Aw, nice guy. They smiled toward his unidentifiable back as he ran faster than before. When he turned a corner, they remembered to look back at the woman he’d so kindly helped.

  They saw her sway, and then slide down the tree, and not get up again.

  “Oh, my God,” a woman said, pulling her dog closer on its chain.

  Other people hurried to check on the fallen woman; there was shock when they saw blood, horror at the knife, then confusion as they figured out who among them should call 911. The Upper West Side of New York City was a neighborhood, and even if they didn’t personally know this young woman, they knew they wanted to help her.

  “Are you sure it was a man?” one of them asked as they compared notes on what they’d witnessed. “I really thought it was a woman.”

  “But we’re all agreed he was white, right? Or she was?”

  But they weren’t agreed on that, either. Nor on tall or medium height, or stocky or thin build, or even whether the perpetrator had come up to the woman after she stumbled or had in fact caused the stumble. The hoodie was black, gray, red, or navy. There were fifteen eyewitnesses, and the cops joked later that you’d have thought they were all looking in different directions at fifteen different women being killed by fifteen different perps. One eyewitness swore there might have been two people who stopped to “help.”

  It had the earmarks of a random killing by a random crazy person, people said. She had been in the wrong place at the wrong time. It was the very randomness of it—in a public place, in front of lots of people, on a lovely evening—that made it so frightening. The truth was, they would have felt safer if the killer had specifically, and with malice, set out to kill this particular woman, instead of just stumbling onto the easiest person to stab.

  Sam Waterford rarely attended the funerals of his patients, and he felt nervous about going to this one. At one such ceremony, years ago, he’d been screamed at by a family, and he didn’t want that to happen again. The family filed a malpractice suit the next day. They lost because he hadn’t done anything wrong. But ever since, he hadn’t wanted to remind other grieving families of his failures, or what they perceived as such.

  The church on West End Avenue was packed, reflecting the social status of Priscilla’s parents, who were the head of a famous brokerage firm (her father) and the head of an even more famous charitable foundation (her mother). He paused at the back of the sanctuary for a moment and then walked down the center aisle so that he could slide between two couples in a pew near the front. When he glanced to his right, he didn’t recognize the stylish couple who had made room for him. But when he faced left, he found a very tanned older woman already grinning at him.

  “Dr. Waterford,” she said, “do you recognize me with my clothes on?”

  “Mrs. Darnell,” he said, smiling as if he hadn’t heard that joke a million times before. Her first name was Bunny, but he didn’t use it to address her. “How are you?”

  “I suppose you’ll find out at my next appointment.”

  He smiled again. She was as rich as chocolate torte and as thin as someone who never ate it, which was how she fit into her black Chanel e
nsemble, a perfect funeral suit.

  “Poor thing,” she murmured, meaning, he supposed, the deceased and not him.

  Then the organ music swelled, and the service began.

  He spent it staring at the family and feeling anxious.

  He could see them clearly in profile from where he sat. It was easy to pick out the elegant mother, the portly middle-aged father, the older sister who looked like a harder version of Priscilla.

  They are remarkable, he thought.

  In a packed sanctuary filled with the sounds of soft weeping, the air thick with the awareness of tragedy, they sat rigid and dry-eyed. Mr. Windsor did not put his arm around Mrs. Windsor. The mother never looked at her daughter. None of them wiped away a tear. It was hard to imagine anyone disliking Priss, but it appeared that either her own family was holding in torrents of emotion, or else they loathed the daughter and sister they had lost. He had seen this posture before—in hospitals, on the deaths of patients whose families did not love them.

  At the close of the service, Mrs. Darnell said, none too quietly, “Well! Wasn’t that just the oddest funeral you’ve ever attended?”

  A woman in front of them turned around.

  “Strangest ever,” she said.

  Startled, Sam looked questioningly at his patient.

  “What? You didn’t notice? They hardly mentioned her! Barely even said her name! Such a lovely girl, so giving and generous, and not a word about any of that. Nothing about her childhood, or even her education—and she went to fine schools, believe you me. I’ll grant you, too many funerals these days go overboard into a dreadful sea of sentimentality, but this went too far onto dry land. There’s restraint, and then there’s looking as if you don’t give a damn about your own child! When is the last time you went to a funeral where fifteen distant cousins twice removed didn’t get up to speak about how close they were to the deceased, telling all those family stories that nobody else gives a hoot about?”

  She was right, he realized. He’d been so wrapped up in theorizing about the Windsors that he’d barely noticed the entire service was nothing but hymns, Scripture readings, prayers, and a quick stiff homily from a minister who didn’t seem to have even met Priscilla. That was explained when Mrs. Darnell gossiped on, saying, “This isn’t even their church, you know. Maybe they couldn’t get in when they wanted to, but I’ll bet you this church now has a nice endowment for a new set of choir robes. Or something. But what an impersonal service! Why, even my church lets people get up and lie flatteringly about the deceased, and we’re Episcopalian!”

 

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