Homicide Detective Spencer Gray knows he should feel grateful for the lack of work due to The Silence—two weeks without a murder in Manhattan. But he misses the action. More, something feels off. When one of his colleagues suggests a wager to see who can close the strangest case on his or her desk, he knows just the one. But solving this case might mean uncovering answers he’ll wish he hadn’t found.
“The Silence” by Kristine Kathryn Rusch is free on this website for one week only. The story is also available as a standalone from Amazon, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, and other ebookstores.
Kristine Kathryn Rusch
IT WAS THE city’s fifteenth day without a homicide. The tabloids blared the news, almost daring the crazies to break the streak. I worried too, worried that there were deaths we weren’t seeing, worried that something had turned, something was different, something was making the world into a strange and unrecognizable place.
I missed the mayhem. I didn’t want to admit it, to myself or anyone else, but I missed the uncertainty of walking into a murder scene, of feeling that edge of violence still lingering in the air. Not that there wasn’t violence. In New York, violence is as common as air—maybe even more common—but during the last fifteen days, it didn’t lead to anything. People got mugged, just like always, beaten just like always, but no one seemed to have the urge to haul out a gun and fire it at someone else.
And they should have. That’s what got me. It was August—hot, stinking, humid August—and we’d just come off a full moon. The lunatics should have been out in force, and they weren’t.
For the first time in years, I wished I was a flatfoot and not a member of the mayor’s special homicide task force. I wanted to ride in a car, have a partner, walk a beat. I wanted to bust up a few fights, threaten a few crackheads, rescue a kid from a tree.
I wanted something, anything, except the old cases in front of me, the ones whose trails were so cold that the ice on the files was thick and blue. On day three of the Silence, as the Daily News was calling the strangeness, the chief called the entire Homicide task force into his office and gave us options: We could assist some other task forces—Narcotics or Robbery or, god forbid, Missing Persons—or we could close some cases we didn’t have time to close. Me, I thought closing would be good. It would keep the task force together, and I thought the task force was one of the few things from the mayor’s anti-crime initiatives that were working. Closing would also prove what I had always said, that a good cop could solve any case given enough time.
A man should carry a tape recorder around to know how fatuous he sounds when he makes pronouncements like that. Then he wouldn’t have to eat his words twelve days later when not one cold case had turned hot, when not one file, iced open, warmed shut.
I didn’t even have anything promising: not the Puerto Rican wife stabbed fifteen times in her apartment; not the street thug shot once through the heart and left inside a dumpster on 42nd; not even the bloated naked fish-belly white corpse that had floated up the East River one July afternoon. On him, I couldn’t even get an ID.
So it didn’t seem strange when Evelyn sauntered over to my desk, wearing a light brown suit that made her look as if her mother had dressed her in her older sister’s clothes. She slapped her hand on the gray Formica surface, and the sound echoed in the nearly empty House.
Three other Homicide detectives looked up. They were surrounded by stacks of files, just like I was. Only the five of us remained. The others in our task force had scattered like the winds, knowing early the need for action was much more important than the need for closure.
“I say what we need is a wager.” She leaned against my desk because I was best known as the task force’s betting man. I’d wager on anything legal, and even some things that weren’t, given Vice didn’t hear about it.
Because I was intrigued and because I didn’t want to show it, I gave her a good old-fashioned up and down. “What do you need a wager for?” I asked. “You got court today. That’s enough excitement for any person.”
She snorted through her nose, an unladylike habit that somehow made her more appealing. “Shows what you know,” she said. “I got an interview on WPIX about the Silence.”
“What’s the wager?” Bob asked. He was a skinny man with too much hair and a deceptively relaxed air about him. Beneath it was one of the best detectives I ever knew.
“First one to close a case buys a round?” she said, although she sounded uncertain.
“Hell,” Weisburg said, tugging on his coffee-stained yellow jersey, “the way things’ve been going, the first one to close should get a medal.”
“Yeah.” Hawkins slammed a hand on top of his files. “These things are colder than a witch’s tit.”
I would have expected a cliché from him, just like I would expect him to lose the wager. Hawkins was a political appointment who rose in the ranks because he knew how to play the game—and how to take more credit than he was due. He’d done that to me once; he wasn’t ever going to do it again.
“Glad to hear I’m not the only one having trouble closing,” Evelyn said.
“Maybe this is part of the Silence,” Bob said, introducing a silence of his own. We all stared at each other. Cops were just superstitious enough to worry about such things. This dry spell, this Silence, or whatever you wanted to call it, was making us nervous; to think our own inability to close was tied to it only made us even more nervous.
Finally it was Hawkins who broke the mood. “Yeah,” he said. “Tell that to the chief.”
And we all laughed not because he was being funny—he wasn’t—but because we needed to.
“Whatcha working on, Spence?” Evelyn asked, leaning over my desk.
“Nothing great. How ’bout you?”
“Same,” she said. “You guys?”
The other three shrugged in unison. It almost looked as if they’d planned the gesture.
“Narc arrests are up,” Bob said.
“Vice arrests are down,” Hawkins said.
“None of our people went to Vice,” I said.
“There you go,” Evelyn said with a smile. “What we gotta worry about is when all them missing persons get found.”
This time we matched her smile, and meant it. “So what’s going wrong here?” I asked. “Did only the incompetent ones vote to remain in Homicide?”
“That’s what the chief’s gonna think,” Hawkins said.
Bob shook his head. “Chief knows these cases are cold.”
“You’d think at least one would break, though,” Weisburg said.
“You’d think,” Evelyn agreed.
I pushed my chair away from the desk. “Maybe we’re going about this wrong.”
“You up for the wager?” Evelyn asked.
“Maybe,” I said. “How’re you approaching cases?”
“Traditionally. Newest to oldest.”
“Yeah, man, me too.”
I sighed. “And me too. Maybe that’s what’s wrong.”
“Go again?” Evelyn said.
I leaned forward. “What’s your favorite case?”
“Weirdest, strangest, most intriguing. Most unsolvable. I don’t give a damn. Whatever rings your bells.”
She didn’t even have to think for a minute. “I got a shoe on 53rd, middle of the damn street. Some bike messenger picked it up, was gonna give it to his girlfriend, I don’t know. But it’s full of blood. He don’t drop it. He carries it to the curb and uses his cell to call the cops. They show up, order a DNA on the blood, find it matches the interior of a bloody car found on Lex three days before. Car belongs to a young married couple over Central Park West. The wife’s been missing two weeks. She takes 50 grand in cash and disappears, and the husband don’t think nothing of it.”
“You think the husband did it?” Hawkins asked.
“I think we got strange breaks in the case. The DNA on the blood for one. Who’da thought there’d be a match?”
“Who thought to look?” Weisburg asked.
“I did,” she said. “I figure you got a blood-filled shoe you gotta have other blood-filled items.”
“The problem is,” I said, “how’d the shoe get to 53rd, full of blood, three days later?”
“Give the man a cigar,” she said. “That’s the most interesting case to me.”
This last she said almost as a topper, as if she dared someone to do better. Of course, Hawkins tried.
“I got that torso found in the 110th street station.”
“Some jumper,” Weisburg said.
“Yeah, they probably couldn’t find the rest of him ’coz it was mashed against some subway car.”
“I think it’s more than that,” Hawkins said.
“Why?” I asked, more to find out how Hawkins’ brain worked than any real curiosity about the torso.
“Because the cuts was real neat. Jumpers, they get ragged shear. This looked like it was done with one of them surgeon’s knives. And the skin was clean too. No dirt, except where it was on the floor. And no blood.”
“When was this?” Weisburg asked.
“May. About the 5th. You know, that freaky rainstorm?”
“No wonder I didn’t hear,” he said. “I was Upstate with the kids.” Weisburg usually got the body parts.
“Well, I think it’s damn strange,” Hawkins said.
Weisburg leaned forward a little. “A torso with arms or a torso without?”
“Without. What do you think, I’m some kind of idiot? I’da known to run the prints.”
Weisburg shrugged. “I’ll look at it if you want.”
Hawkins looked at me. “If he helps me close, does that make it his case or mine?”
“What are you looking at me for?” I asked. “The wager’s Evelyn’s idea.”
“But you’re the one who mentioned favorite cases,” she said. “Right, Weisburg?”
He scrunched up his narrow little face. “I think having favorite homicide cases is sick.”
“Yeah, like you didn’t just get jealous that Hawkins has a torso and you don’t,” Evelyn said.
I leaned back in my chair. “Come on, Weisburg. You must have a case that intrigues you.”
“It’s not a favorite,” he said, a bit defensively.
I shrugged. “I phrased it wrong.”
He ducked his head, and I could have sworn that he was blushing. “It’s the puppies.”
I’d never heard of this one. “The puppies?”
He nodded, raised his head, and sure enough, color in his pasty white cheeks. “Outside the Port Authority Terminal in April, you know that really sunny stretch around tax time?”
We all nodded. Who could forget that weather?
“Some woman calls animal control because there’s eight German shepherd puppies, about six months old, just sitting curbside. They’re well behaved, ain’t doing nothing, but they was there all day, and this lady got worried. So Animal Control shows up and finds they’re sitting in a ring around this corpse. Now you’d think the guy was homeless except for the dogs. They’re purebred, or so the pound tells me, and they have on expensive collars, but no tags. It took Animal Control a long time to round ’em up, too. They was guarding this guy, so they were attached.”
“What happened to the dogs?” Bob asked.
Weisburg grinned. “I gave ’em to my daughter.” His daughter had married money and had a country house near the Catskills. “They’re great dogs.”
“Nothing on the guy?” I asked.
“No missing breeders, no nothing. We didn’t even know it was a homicide for two days.”
“What was it killed him then?” Evelyn asked.
“Choked?” Bob asked.
Weisburg nodded. “On some woman’s left index finger.”
We let that sit for a few minutes, then Evelyn said, “Bob?”
“I ain’t got nothing to compare to that.”
“But you have a favorite case?”
He shrugged. “I got one that bugs me. But it’s just simple.”
“Simple how?” I asked.
He shrugged again. “Or maybe it’s not so simple. I don’t know.”
“Bob,” Evelyn said.
“Okay,” he said. “Husband and wife in the Village are having this argument. They live in a walk-up and their fights are always interesting enough to draw the neighbors. This time, the wife has had it, and she grabs a gun, tries to shoot the husband, but before she can pull the trigger, he grabs her arm and they flail around. Of course, the gun goes off and one of the neighbors gets it smack in the face. Dies.”
“Seems straightforward,” Hawkins said.
“Don’t it?” Bob said. “Until you come to find that the neighbor, in his will, owns the apartment building and he leaves it to the couple. Now everyone swears they didn’t know he owned it, and everyone swears that no one knew the contents of that will.”
“You think it was deliberate?”
“I know it was,” Bob said. “Just can’t prove it. At least, not enough to get the D.A. to look at the case.”
Evelyn shook her head. “See? Impossible cases, all of them.”
“Yeah, but I’da said it was impossible for there to be no murders in the Big Apple for one day let alone fifteen,” Weisburg said.
“So what are you saying?” I asked.
“I’m saying maybe this is our chance. Maybe we can solve these things.”
“So what’s the wager?” Evelyn asked.
“One week,” Bob said. “We get one week to solve our baby or we gotta trade it to someone else.”
“If they solve it, we’ll look like a putz,” Hawkins said.
Bob grinned and pointed at him. “You got it in one.”
“Don’t get all excited,” Evelyn said. “We ain’t heard from Spence yet.”
I held out my hands. “You guys get all the interesting cases.”
“And you’re holding out,” Evelyn said.
Indeed I was. But she caught me. I felt the color rise in my cheeks.
“Ah, he’s got an embarrassing one too,” Hawkins said.
I shook my head. “It’s the image that got me, not the case.”
“Image?” Evelyn asked.
I took a deep breath. Sometimes revealing yourself to your colleagues wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. “There’s a doll hospital just north of Bloomies—”
“A doll hospital?” Hawkins asked.
“Yeah,” Weisburg said. “A place you can take favorite toys to be repaired.”
“Or antique toys,” Evelyn said.
“Anyway,” I said, feeling the heat deepen, “they had this guy. They called him the wiz because he could fix damn near anything. You’d bring in a turn-of-the-century Steif, no stuffing, no arms for godssake—”
“Stiff?” Hawkins whispered to Weisburg.
“Steif,” Weisburg said.
“It’s a collectible stuffed bear,” Evelyn snapped. “Now shut up and let him talk.”
“Anyway, he could turn it around in a day or two and have the thing looking like it just come off the assembly line. He was a master, the best, they all said that.”
“And he was murdered,” Bob said.
“You got it,” I said. “I’da thought it was simple burglary too—they had a load of collectibles from Sotheby’s that disappeared that night—except for the dolls.”
“The dolls?” Hawkins asked, obviously willing to work for every detail.
“The dolls. When the staff came in the next morning, they found dolls all over him—no blood on them, even though he’d been stabbed in an artery and there was blood everywhere. The dolls were hooded and masked in surgical clothes and they were poised over the body like they was trying to fix him.”
Hawkins snorted and looked away. “Nice try, but you could’ve made up something better than that.”
I stared at him. He slowly looked back at me. Then he frowned. “You mean you weren’t making that up?”
“Nope. They left the body as it was, and the call came in here. I got photos.”
“But no suspects.”
“No suspects, no motive, no nothing.”
“The stolen collectibles?”
“Never were shipped. It was clerical error. Sotheby’s dropped them off the day after the murder.”
“So not even a robbery.”
“Nothing,” I agreed.
“When was this?” Evelyn asked.
“Valentine’s Day,” I said. “I remember because we were having that deep freeze.”
“Oh, yeah,” Bob said.
“So,” Hawkins said. “The wager?”
Weisburg shrugged. “I’m willing to give it a shot. I have a fondness for those dogs.”
“You gonna mind if someone else cleans up your mess?” Bob asked with a grin.
“I figure the Silence is gonna end by tomorrow morning and this is all gonna become moot,” Weisburg said.
Evelyn grinned. “That’s his way of agreeing to the proposition. We all in?”
I glanced around the room. Everyone was nodding. “We’re all in,” I said.
I had never worked on a case that was six months old before. I’d never had the luxury. But as I reviewed my notes, I realized that the case had only intrigued me in hindsight. I would find myself thinking of those dolls, poised over the body like a Lilliputian surgical team, and smile.
Sometimes this job got to me.
I had actually only spent an afternoon on the case, even though, when the dead guy’s family called, long-distance, every few weeks, I would tell them the file was still open. In truth, the next day I got slammed with three drive-bys, a potential serial and a famous floater, and the doll-hospital murder got shoved aside by more pressing—and more easily solvable—cases.
I think that was often the way. We closed about 75% but that was because most murderers were stupid. Think about it: The best way to solve a problem is not to take out a gun and blow someone away. The 25% unsolved were either lost in the shuffle, committed by a professional who knew how to hide his tracks, or done by someone smart who had been thinking of the crime for a long, long time. That’s one thing we rarely tell people: If the killer’s smart, chances are he’ll get away.
The doll hospital murderer had been smart, or in the very least, lucky. There were no fingerprints in the place, except for the ones that needed to be there, and despite all the blood, there wasn’t a decent shoe or hand print either. No murder weapon, and no motive, at least not one I could find.
I stared at the photos. The victim, one Joel Dudich, was slender to the point of gauntness, balding, and had a tattoo of a teddy bear on his right forearm. I took out a magnifying glass and examined the tattoo. The work was fine, even artistic, and bore a vague resemblance to the posable doctor bear who was sitting on the edge of the table, his furry arms crossed as if he were denying the patient treatment.
In fact, the doctor was the only bear, even though I had made a note in my case file that Dudich specialized in bears. The other creatures around him, the ones who were trying to save him, were dressed as orderlies or nurses—no doctors at all. I recognized a ripped Raggedy Anne, an early 1960s Barbie that was missing one arm, and a headless G.I. Joe.
The others had their little backs to me, but I could probably identify them if I tried hard enough. My father had owned a toy store in the small Pennsylvania town where I had grown up, and he had treated each doll and stuffed animal as if it had a presence all its own. He was a good and gentle man, and he had always seemed astonished that his only son had taken to the violence of police work, ending in the most violent side of all—chasing difficult homicides in the mean streets of New York.
I turned the large glossy photograph of the corpse face down, skipped the autopsy photos for the moment, and reread my case notes.
Dudich had lived alone in a fifth-floor walkup that he couldn’t afford. His most recent roommate, a woman, had left him abruptly, at least according to the super, two weeks before the murder. The super figured they were lovers, and there was nothing in the record to confirm or contradict that. Dudich’s name was the only one on the lease, and none of his friends knew who the girl was.
His co-workers found him strange and fey, his habits those of a prima donna in a small pond. They claimed they never spoke to him about his personal life. He came in late, snapped at anyone who interrupted him, and didn’t care who he insulted. But everyone put up with it because his work was so beautiful. Clients came back, asking for him by name: parents wanting their children’s toys repaired; collectors wanting their valuables restored to mint condition; and, in the end, galleries and auction houses taking advantage of his relatively cheap services.
“Could’ve gotten more money,” I had written in the margin. It was a reference to an interview with one of Dudich’s colleagues, who couldn’t understand why Dudich stayed at the hospital when he had been offered a much higher salary with several of the antique shops on the Upper West Side.
I circled the comment and underlined it, thinking it a place to start. But before I went farther, I finished with the file, making sure my memory was jogged. The family was out of state—Iowa—and they confessed that they hadn’t seen him since he graduated from a cow college at which he had shown no sign of his particular gifts. I had covered a lot of ground that first day. It was too bad that I hadn’t followed up on it.
Just before I left the House, I noted that the others were looking more excited than they had since the Silence began. Evelyn had put all her files under her desk. She had gone to her interview, but she had left on her desktop a computer-generated list of all the blood-spattered unidentified objects found in a period around the time her shoe had been located.
Hawkins was on the phone with the forensic pathologist, talking about the possibility of matching a severed arm to the mysterious torso. Weisburg was typing on the task force’s computer, doing an internet search of New York area dog breeders. And Bob was pouring over a copy of the will, making notes and circles and lines, and muttering to himself.
Finally, it looked like a normal day in the task force. We hadn’t had one for more than two weeks.
I walked down the faded wood steps and through the double doors into the city. It didn’t look different. Horns honked, brakes squealed as taxis nearly rear-ended real cars. Pedestrians didn’t even look. They walked, heads high, to their next destination. It was hot, of course, being August, and the men wore short sleeves and slung their suit coats over their shoulders with one hand and clutched their briefcases with the other. Women wore dresses and no nylons and clutched their briefcases too. A car backfired as I reached the end of the block and everyone ducked, just like they always did, thinking it was a gunshot.
I walked to the doll hospital. It wasn’t too far from the House, and I liked to keep a finger on the pulse. The heat was unbearable, and within minutes, I had my suit coat off too. The stink was worse though. New York always smelled bad in the height of summer: garbage sitting on the curbs waiting for collection; the way the exhaust from cars hung in the air; and the general odor of sweaty humans who had no business being this close to each other, but because of the nature of the city, were.
I didn’t have a formal line of questioning ready when I reached the hospital. All I knew was that I wanted to see what had happened since the loss of their star, since Dudich had died on them and taken away so much lucrative business.
When I reached the building, saw the small sign covered with dirt and flies, I had a bad feeling, but it wasn’t until I walked up the narrow stairs, into a growing darkness that I knew.
The hospital was gone. Not vanished-gone, but out-of-business-gone. I stopped at the glass door with the for-rent sign taped in a corner of the window, and peered through the soaping someone had done to prevent just this sort of snooping.
The tables were gone inside, and all that remained was a gray Formica floor covered with thin mid-afternoon sunlight. A doll’s arm lay in the corner, and a high heeled shoe, probably from an early Barbie doll, had a spot all its own beneath a wall. Otherwise, there was no evidence that the doll hospital had been there. The tidy place with the bewildered employees, the ones who had described their job as a happy one until Dudich died, had vanished as if it had never been.
I moved away from the door, and went back down the stairs. The tenant below was a women’s boutique with about 500 square feet of floor space. It probably cost a fortune just to maintain that, even though this wasn’t one of Manhattan’s priciest neighborhoods. I let myself in.
The dresses were all variations on the same theme, a drapy disco sort of dress that I thought had gone out of style twenty years before. Some were decorated with shell necklaces. Others had scarves for accents. The woman behind the small table that served as a counter wore her long hair in a thousand beaded braids. She wore orange lipstick that set off her dark skin, and her inch-long nails, which looked real, were painted orange to match.
“Help you?” she asked in a disinterested New York tone that belied the Jamaican melody in the vowels.
“I was wondering what happened to the doll hospital.”
“Closed.” She hadn’t even looked up yet.
“Ah, March. The last day was the freak snowstorm on the third. I remember because they were setting toys out in the snow.”
“Is there anyone I can talk to connected with the hospital?”
She pulled open a drawer in the table, and, using those long fingernails like pincers, removed a cream-colored business card. “Don’t blame me if she doesn’t get back to you,” the woman said. “She’s the only one now, and she’s working out of her home.”
I took the card. Apparently this boutique got a lot of inquiries about the doll hospital. She hadn’t even asked for my ID.
“Do you have any idea why it closed?”
She raised her eyes to mine. They were magnificent, the stunning centerpiece to what I just realized was a remarkable face. “Why, the murder, of course.”
“Of the wiz boy. The one who could repair anything. They say the dolls surprised him in the middle of the night, but I don’t believe it.”
“You don’t?” I asked in a tone that I hoped didn’t sound patronizing.
“No. If they killed him, why were they found trying to save him now? They were found all around him, like little doctors. But they couldn’t do anything.”
“So, they didn’t find out who did it?”
She shrugged. “I don’t think they ever will. The police have too much to do to look into the death of one pimply faced guy with a fascination for teddy bears.”
Ouch. That one hit too close to home. I took a step away from the table, as if I were getting ready to leave. “Aren’t you afraid to work here, after someone got murdered upstairs?”
She laughed. “Mister, I live in New York. If I was afraid of everything that happened, I’d move to somewhere where nothing happened.”
I smiled in response. “Good point,” I said, and thanked her for her time. Then I left the store, and stepped back into the oven that was the street.
Halfway down the block, I paused and looked at the card. It had a name—Lena O’Dell; an occupation—toy repair; and a contact phone number with a Manhattan exchange but no address. I walked back to the House and used the number to trace the address. She lived in the Village. I thought of calling before I went to see if she were home, but then I changed my mind.
She was the only lead I had, and I didn’t want to scare her away.
Evelyn was just arriving as I was leaving. She had changed out of her power suit and into her usual jeans and blouse. She was whistling as she came up the stairs.
“What’re you smiling about?” I asked as we passed.
“Found the other shoe,” she said.
“Really?” I stopped on the way down.
“Yep. In a dumpster on 50th, same area. Forms a triangle with the Lex. And, get this, there’s a bloody handprint on the back. That’s why the station kept it.”
She grinned over her shoulder at me. “You don’t know the half of it.”
She was close. She had to be or she wouldn’t be in such a good mood. “Give.”
She shook her head. Then she turned and jogged up the stairs before I could ask the next question.
She did that on purpose, of course. I sighed, and walked down the rest of the way, wishing my luck were running the same as hers.
I took my company car to the Village because I didn’t want to hassle a cab. Parking was hell, even on days like this, but I squeezed into a spot on a side street without denting any bumpers. Then I walked around the corner to the address I had.
It was a dilapidated building with a recessed steel door with a 1970s security system. Someone had propped the door open with a brick and I suspected it was often left that way. I glanced at the names penned beside the row of doorbells, and saw O’Dell in Number 3. I slipped through the door into the hallway, and started up the stairs.
The place felt like a sauna. A window on the landing was painted shut, and caked with dirt. Not that it mattered. It provided a view of the building across the back alley and nothing more. I doubted that opening it would provide a breeze.
The second floor smelled of garlic and feta cheese. There was a narrow hallway that ran the length of the floor, and the stairs continued up one side. Apartment 3 was just beyond the railing, the door firmly closed.
I heard a small scraping against the wood as someone peered through the peephole. Then a woman’s voice said, “What?”
I held up my badge. “Miss O’Dell. I’m Detective Spencer Gray. I’m handling the murder of Joel Dudich.”
“God,” she said. “And here I thought you were gonna wait until the Second Coming before you continued your investigation.”
I heard several locks click and then the door opened, sending frigid air into the hallway. A window air conditioning unit hummed in the background.
O’Dell leaned against the door frame. She was slender and barefoot, wearing jeans and a ratty t-shirt that was covered with bits of thread. Her hair was red and curly, her skin nearly as dark as the boutique owner’s.
I didn’t remember seeing her before, but that had been months ago, in a case I normally would have forgotten.
“Gray,” she said. “You were there asking questions when they took Joel’s body away.”
I nodded. I guess I had seen her.
“You wanna come in, or you gonna interrogate me in the hall?”
“It’s not an interrogation, Miss O’Dell. I just need information.”
She stepped away from the door. I went inside, glad for the icy air. Her apartment was a clutter of books and spider plants, with plush toys on every available surface. A coffin-like box stood against one wall. It was filled with broken toys, like the ones I had initially seen in the hospital. A thick wooden door was braced on cinder blocks and on top of it, were several stuffed dogs, all missing the right leg. A series of half-finished legs sat in a row beside them.
She took a doll off a caftan covered armchair, and asked me to sit. I did and nearly sank to the floor. The chair had no springs. I tried not to show my surprise.
“What happened to the hospital?” I asked.
She glared at me, then sat on the blanket-covered couch, next to a group of limbless dolls. “It didn’t go without Joel.”
“One employee couldn’t be that important.”
“He had a talent, he did, and everyone came for him. When he died—.” She held out her hands and didn’t finish the sentence.
“What kept him at the hospital? I heard he could have worked for Sotheby’s or any of the antique stores at a much higher rate.”
Her face softened. She had been a beautiful woman once, several years of stress ago. “The kids,” she said.
“You had children in the doll hospital?”
She nodded. “They came with their parents, mothers usually. It took some work to get men to come into a place devoted to dolls.” And then she looked at me like that was the reason I hadn’t finished the investigation. “Joel liked watching their faces when he gave them the fixed toy. Said it made his entire week.”
“Know anyone who would want to kill him?”
“Just about everyone,” she said, and her answer surprised me. Then she looked down at her hands. “Except the customers, of course.”
“Of course,” I said.
“Look,” she said. “He wasn’t the nicest guy. I think he hung out with dolls because he didn’t much like people. There was something in his past, in his childhood, he never talked about, and he said he could get the sweetness he was denied then when he looked at kids’ faces. That’s the part of Joel I like to remember.”
“And what’s the part you want to forget?”
She flinched, then smoothed the faded denim on her jeans. “He had a temper,” she whispered as if, even now, he could hear her.
“He ever inflict it on you?”
“On anyone who wasn’t as good as he was. Or as quick.” She glanced up, her dark eyes haunted. “I didn’t like him much, and at first, I was glad he was dead.”
I waited again. She would say more if I just gave her enough time.
“Then I learned how much I had come to depend on him. Closing the hospital was the toughest thing I’d ever done.”
I nodded. “Where were you the night he died?”
“You asked me that the first time,” she said.
“Tell me again.”
“Here.” She closed her eyes and leaned her head back against her couch. “Unfortunately, I was here. Alone.”
“And your other employees?”
“You’ll have to ask them.”
“Do you have a list of names?”
She nodded, seemingly grateful to get off that couch and be busy. I took the moment to scan the apartment more carefully. There were no photographs behind the spider plants, no signs that anyone except O’Dell had ever been in this apartment. After a moment, she handed me a carefully lettered piece of paper with six names on it.
“All but one are still in the City,” she said.
“And where’s the one?” I asked.
She shrugged. “She disappeared the day after Joel was killed.”
News of the disappearance should have excited me, but it didn’t. Not really. It was too easy for one, and for another, it was too convenient. Not that murders ever go the way you want them to. But when I heard about the employee that got away, I didn’t feel those stomach butterflies that usually told me things were going well. I felt a shiver travel down my spine, so strong that I wondered if O’Dell had seen me shake.
The disappeared was named Melanie Glisando, and she had been Dudich’s on-again off-again lover, something none of the employees had bothered to tell me in the first investigation. I didn’t yell at O’Dell for that. I also didn’t yell at her for failing to tell me that Glisando hadn’t shown for work on the day of my investigation. I would save the rougher emotions for later, in case I needed them.
Instead, I had her tell me more about Glisando, and from what I heard, she was Dudich’s perfect match—a woman who was interested in toys, a woman who could repair even the most stubborn of tears, a woman who didn’t mind spending her days on a pursuit most considered frivolous. She had kept an apartment two buildings down from O’Dell, although she rarely used it. I stopped at the apartment after I left O’Dell’s, and the Super mentioned that he had thrown Glissando’s things away just the month before.
“Hard to tell whether she was really gone or not. She had this lover, see, and she spent time there, and you know how it is. This place gets to be where she stores her stuff. Not that she had a lot of stuff.”
“Did she take anything with her when she left?”
The Super had shrugged. “How’m I supposed to know? I don’t case my people’s places, you know? I don’t compare before and after.”
“Anything unusual in her apartment?”
The Super wrinkled his nose. I braced myself. “Naw,” he said. “Not unless you count all them toys.”
“Yeah.” His grimace grew. “They was posed all over the place. Little scenes, like you’d find in store windows.”
Scenes. I should have felt the butterflies then, but I didn’t. Something was off with this case, something intangible.
“What did you do with the toys?” I asked.
“I was gonna toss ’em, but the missus, she said no, kids would want them. I gotta listen to her, you know how it is, so I take ’em to one of them specialty shops and they was glad to have ’em. Made a few bucks off ’em, and put that against the rent.”
He told me this last as if it would shock me. It didn’t.
“What shop?” I asked.
He told me, and I made a note, although I wasn’t sure I would go.
“How’d you know Glisando was gone?” I asked.
“No rent in the mail,” he said. “That’s the one thing she was good at, paying her rent.”
“When did the payments stop?”
“Last month,” he said.
I blamed my growing depression on the heat. The pieces of information I got were the kind a detective wanted to have, the bits of another person’s life, the fragmented details that constituted part of a puzzle, the part that led me to believe I could solve this. The House was even hotter than the street, and, as I came in, our Sarge informed me that the air conditioning was out, and they already had someone upstairs working on the problem.
I wiped the sweat off the back of my neck with a handkerchief that had seen better days and then I went up the stairs, expecting to be the only detective in that steamy place. Instead the entire crew had gathered, bottles of water in a bucket on the floor, like someone was holding a party without the booze.
Everyone looked as down as I felt.
I picked up one of the water bottles and held it to my forehead. It felt like a blast of frigid air. “Who do I have to thank for this?”
“Hawkins,” Evelyn said.
I opened my eyes. Hawkins didn’t even bring in donuts on his assigned day. The man was cheaper than any skate I’d ever seen.
He met my gaze, then looked away, as if he knew what I was thinking.
“What’s the occasion?” I asked, thinking this was almost as strange as the damn Silence.
“No occasion,” he said.
“He found one of the arms what matched that torso,” Weisburg said.
“Got an ID?” I asked.
Hawkins took a swig of his water, making me think of booze yet again. Only in a heat wave could a man approach water like it was wine.
“That’s the problem,” he said. “I been wanting to talk to you guys. Any of you think that maybe we shouldn’t solve these cases?”
I rolled my eyes. Evelyn sat down behind her desk so hard that the wheels on her chair moved and she spun. Bob shook his head ever so slightly. Only Weisburg didn’t move.
“All right,” I said. “I give. Why shouldn’t we solve these cases?”
“Because,” Hawkins said. “Maybe they’re what’s causing the Silence.”
“So, lemme get this straight,” Evelyn said. “If we solve these cases, the Silence ends and we got a new crime wave on our hands.”
“Hell,” I said. “That means we’re directly responsible for all future homicides.”
“You know,” Bob said, “I knew you liked slacking off, Hawkins, but I didn’t think you’d go to these lengths.”
“I’m serious,” he said. “These’re all strange cases, and what if they’re the key?”
“Yeah,” I said. “Sure. It’d be our cases, not the ones at the 106th or the ones in Brooklyn or somewhere’s else. And out of all the unsolved we got, we’d just happened to pick the five that were the cause of the Silence, and if we solve them, then well, sorry New York, it’s business as usual?”
Hawkins flushed. “Put that way, it sounds kinda funny.”
“Yeah, it does,” Bob said.
“So you think I should solve the jumper?”
“Isn’t that what we’re here for?” I asked. “Or are we really the waste of funds the tabloids been saying we are?”
“I was just thinking maybe—”
“That’s the problem,” Evelyn said. “You were thinking.” She grabbed a water bottle. “Thanks for the refreshment,” she said, and left the floor.
Bob closed his file and left too. After a moment, Hawkins shuffled off in the direction of the men’s room. That just left me and Weisburg. Strangely, he had said nothing.
“You don’t buy that argument, do you?” I asked.
He shrugged. “It’s as good as any. I mean, we ain’t never seen nothing like this. Anything could be causing it. I think maybe if Hawkins believes it’s our unsolveds, then maybe he’s right. If the tabloids think it’s the heat, maybe they’re right. If I believe maybe the city’s hit its personal limit, maybe I’m right. You know, in unusual situations, you can’t close your mind.”
“It’s not logical—”
“It’s not logical for a man to choke to death on a woman’s finger outside Grand Central in the presence of his very expensive dogs and not have identification on him or the animals.”
“Unless it was a smuggling operation,” I said.
“Shit,” he said and sat up straight. I couldn’t believe he hadn’t thought of that.
“You see?” I said. “There’s got to be a logical explanation for anything.”
“The finger?” he asked. “He’da had to bite it off in the presence of witnesses.”
“Maybe he didn’t. He had dogs.”
“And what, he picked it up like it was a sausage?”
“Was there bread around him, a bun maybe?” I was wondering how far I could yank him.
Apparently not that far. Weisburg winced. “You’re disgusting, Spence.”
“I’m just looking for logic.”
“In all the wrong places,” he said and stood. After grabbing his own water, he too, left me alone.
For all my talk of logic, the conversation with Hawkins left me unnerved. Maybe there was something that we were missing, some tie, some reason that things had gotten so strange. Or maybe the ancients were right, and life revolved around the phases of the moon. I know my ex-wife’s did. Why shouldn’t a city be the same?
That morning’s Times had some scholar saying things like this happen before every millennium. Some twerp in the Daily News was saying that New York had entered its own alternate timeline, a parallel timeline to the one in which Berlin found itself over ten years before when the wall suddenly came down. And the guy on the street corner outside my building was yelling that we were all victims of some secret government experiment in behavior control.
Those ideas were as plausible as Weisburg’s, certainly more plausible than Hawkins, and I didn’t buy any of them. We had just hit a statistical anomaly, that was all. The odds that no murders would take place couldn’t be calculated accurately by looking at the entire city. Each murder was its own event, with its own probability. Or, if you wanted to look at it another way, each country had its own murder rate, and just because no one was dying by a human being’s hands in New York, didn’t mean it wasn’t happening in L.A. or New Orleans or D.C. In fact, at that moment, I would have laid money on the idea that the national murder rate was the same as it had ever been. The murders just weren’t happening here.
I didn’t want to think about it. The Silence made me nervous enough as it was. Thinking about its causes was worse.
I took a sip of that delicious cool water that Hawkins had tried to bribe us with, and then I realized what I had missed earlier. I picked up the phone and called the Super for Glisando’s building.
“You said that Glisando paid her rent up to last month,” I reminded the Super, “but that she was never in the building. Where’d the money come from?”
“I dunno where my tenants work,” the Super said.
“No,” I said, clarifying. “Where did she send the checks from?”
“Upstate,” the Super said. “Her parents’ farm.”
Normally, I don’t like to leave the City, but in August, especially in a record heat wave, I was glad to leave the island of smog and tall buildings for the fresher, and somewhat cooler air upstate.
Glisando’s parents had what might once have been a working farm in Gatsby country, but what was now called a farm only out of tradition. The house had been restored by some Architectural Digest wannabe, and the barn had been remade into a guesthouse more beautifully apportioned than most of Manhattan’s hotels. I pulled up in the clearly regraveled driveway, probably kept that way for “authenticity” and headed straight for the barn, which was where some folks in the nearby town had told me I’d find Glisando.
They weren’t lying. She came to the door barefoot, her hair gone and her face so skeletal and covered with melanoma that it was clear she was dying. Mom and Dad, apparently, had decided to take her in and give her what little comfort they could in her last year of life.
“I’m sorry,” I said, after I’d introduced myself. “If I’d known I wouldn’t have bothered you with this.”
Glisando shrugged a bony shoulder as if to say that questions like this no longer mattered. She led me into the coolness of the barn and its lovely central air, and led me into the living room. The chairs were leather, obviously part of the decor, but someone had put in a ratty fabric sofa, on which was an Amish quilt. Dolls decorated all the surfaces. The television was still playing directly in front of the sofa, and as we went into the room, Glisando grabbed the remote and shut the set off.
“No one’s ever talked to me about Joel,” she said as she sat on the couch and wrapped the quilt around herself. “At least, not officially.”
“According to your landlord and your employer, you’d disappeared right after the killing.”
Glisando laughed. It had the empty quality of a once-hearty chuckle, only now she didn’t seem to have the energy to go full strength. “I hadn’t disappeared at all. My doctor’s in the city, and I kept using the apartment off and on until last month. I just stopped going to work. I couldn’t. Not after Joel died.”
“You were evicted, did you know that?” I asked. “Your landlord sold all your things.”
“Joel’s things,” Glisando said, and she didn’t sound sad. “I hadn’t the strength to move them.”
“Why didn’t your parents help you move?”
Her smile was small. “They didn’t even know where I was until I showed up here in March. I didn’t want them to see how I’d been living.”
“So Joel had AIDS.”
Glisando shook her head. “He was one of the lucky ones. He never got infected, no matter how many times he was exposed. He was a carrier only. A researcher was going to use him as a test subject and then—” her lower lip trembled, and she stopped, swallowing hard.
“It must have been hard to lose his things.”
Glisando looked at the dolls, then back at me. “Do you ever feel watched, detective?”
“No,” I said.
“I do. These are Joel’s. It’s like they see right through me.” She coughed, then pulled the blanket tighter despite the warmth of the room.
“What do they see?” I asked her.
“I was so angry at him.”
I felt the hair on the back of my neck rise.
“He didn’t get sick and I did, and when we found out, I thought it wasn’t fair. Why did he get to live and I didn’t?”
I waited. I threaded my fingers together, wondering in this time of strangeness if something even stranger would happen: a confession.
“And then we had that cold spell, remember? So cold that the air felt brittle.”
I did remember. It had been a memorable weather year.
“He didn’t come home. They said on the news there had been a rash of killings that night. Like a full moon. Everyone had gone berserk.”
I nodded. Most were easily solved. Husbands killing wives, wives killing husbands. A video store clerk shooting a client who looked like he was pulling a gun from his jacket when actually he had been trying to return a tape.
“My father—” Glisando shivered slightly when she mentioned her father—“he’s into weather. He said that those kinds of killings usually happen only in hot weather. But now the papers say there’s been no killing at all.”
A response felt appropriate here. I tried to keep it short. “We have had a reprieve.”
“So you can investigate old cases.”
She closed her eyes, leaned back. “I don’t remember that night. God’s truth. I woke up unable to remember going to bed.”
She swallowed. “But positioning the dolls.” She opened her eyes. “It was something he used to do for me after I got sick. Only they didn’t make me better.”
There was fear in her eyes, fear I didn’t dare assuage. She said nothing more. Finally, I said, as carefully as I could, “You know that makes you a suspect.”
“To everyone,” she said. “Including myself.”
In the end, I didn’t take her in. I thought about it, but I needed to back up my suspicions with physical evidence, and I wasn’t sure I was up to the task. Not in this case. Because once I’d seen Glisando, I realized that whatever I did wouldn’t really matter. She would die a horrible death. I’d find another case to pursue, something easier, something that would show the captain that the task force still had it, that we could still solve the old cases. It wasn’t time to disband us yet.
I thought about all that on the drive back to the city. The light over Manhattan was hazy and thick, and as I drove into it, I felt as if I were driving into soup. I went to the precinct, thinking that I would type up my notes, and then double-check forensics in the morning.
When I got in, I discovered Weisburg at his desk, hands in his hair. Bob was packing up, heading home for the evening. Hawkins, apparently, hadn’t returned. Evelyn was following a lead.
I didn’t say much to Bob or Weisburg. I started typing my notes, unable to shake the uncomfortable feeling in my stomach.
Here’s what I know: I know that anyone can kill, given the right circumstances. I know that we all have it in us; it’s bred into the genetic code. We do it when we’re threatened, when we need to survive, when we need food. There are sick fucks whose genes are malfunctioning, guys like Speck and Dahmer, who like to kill for the hell of it. And some folks, well, the civility gets trained out of them, and they become soldiers for hire, assassins or worse. And then there’s the folks who kill accidentally, at least the first time: they’re beating their wife or their boyfriend, and the whole thing gets out of hand. The death wasn’t planned. It was, literally, a crime of passion.
Killers. They all have a look, and you learn to recognize it when you’ve been in the business as long as I have. Folks who’ve killed to survive never think of it again. Or, if they have a finely tuned conscience, they spend lots of money on therapy or booze, but at first glance, you can’t tell them from you or me.
Then there’s the sick fucks, so clearly abnormal that you can feel it when you come into a room. I don’t know how they lured their victims. Maybe those folks had poor survival skills or were good at denial or simply didn’t have the time to defend themselves. I always bet on the latter, that twisting feeling in the stomach when you realize you’ve made a mistake and there’s no way out.
And then, finally, there’s the crime of passion folks. Most of them don’t meet your eyes. Most of them, they carry this little thread of guilt in them, and if you look hard enough, you see it: in their posture, in their gestures, in the way they look away at the very last moment, the deep moment, when you can really see inside someone’s soul.
Glisando wasn’t a sick fuck, and she didn’t look like a person who had killed to survive. In fact, it was hard to believe that, even a few months before, she had the strength to kill anyone. Oh, she said the right things; that comment about the dolls was close, but it was what she said later, about suspecting herself. No guilty person would ever give that much, dying or not. She had the guilt though, but it was the guilt of a person who’d thought of killing another and then that other died. It wasn’t the guilt of someone who’d actually committed the act. Glisando really and truly didn’t remember, and it tore her up.
It was bothering me too. It just didn’t fit, somehow.
Nothing did. Nothing seemed to work the way I understood it at all anymore.
The next morning I arrived at the House late, deciding to treat myself to coffee at an expensive restaurant just so that I could cool down. As I walked upstairs, I heard raucous laughter accompanied by someone pounding on a desk.
I came in to see Evelyn playing the desk like a tom-tom and laughing as she did so. The others were crowded around her.
When she saw me, she stood up and grinned. “Pay up,” she said.
“You solved it?”
She nodded. “Kid named Jack Davis was the shooter, and he came clean the moment I found him. He was hired by the husband to kill the wife. Which he did. The problem was, the family dog attacked in the middle of the shooting, so he had to shoot the dog too. Tore the kid up, too. Seems he likes dogs. But being the little psycho that he is, he blamed the husband for making him shoot the dog. And he knew better than to shoot the husband too, so he started leaving clues all over the city. First thing he said when I brought him in was ‘Shit, bitch, I was beginning to think I needed a friggin’ neon sign.’”
I laughed like I was supposed to, but it made me uncomfortable. “Contract killers usually don’t advertise,” I said.
“The kid’s a flake,” she said. “But even he admitted his behavior was a bit strange, although he attributed it to something else. He said he never missed. He shoulda been able to shoot the wife, and leave the damn dog alone.”
I turned to Hawkins. “I thought you were going to be first.”
“Arm matched,” he snapped. “Hand was missing.”
“Does this mean the rest of us give our cases to Evelyn?” Bob asked.
Weisburg shook his head. “We said a week.”
“You guys at least owe me a round,” she said.
“Seems like a round is small payoff for solving that one,” Bob said.
“We didn’t agree to a round,” Hawkins said. He stood. “I’m near closing too. I got one more lead to follow.”
He hurried out the door. Evelyn’s grin widened. “Touchy, touchy.”
“He hates to lose,” Weisburg said.
“He should be used to it by now,” I said.
“Hell, I think that’s the problem. He’s always losing,” Bob said. “At least on the things that count.”
“Excuse me.” The voice came from the stairs. A middle-aged couple stood there. The wife had artificially blond hair that didn’t match her sun-wrinkled face, and the husband had his arm around her protectively. “We’re here to see Detective Gray.”
“That’s me,” I said. The group silenced behind me and went to their desks. “How can I help you?”
The man looked at the woman. He cleared his throat. “I’m Nic Glisando, and this is my wife Anne.”
I didn’t let the surprise I felt show on my face. “Let’s go somewhere private,” I said.
I took them to one of the interview rooms and closed the door. They stood inside as if the place were disgusting to them, and it probably was. Glisando’s polo shirt had a designer label and his wife’s hands were covered in jewelry worth more than I’d earn in the next fifteen years.
“We’re Melanie’s parents,” Mrs. Glisando said as if I hadn’t already put that together. “She’d told us you’d been to see her.”
“Yes,” I said, not sure how this related to me. I hadn’t taken Glisando into custody and I wasn’t planning to. But the parents were clearly frightened.
“When I heard that, I told my husband Nic that he had to talk to you.” She turned to him. “Nicky. Please.”
Glisando wiped his hands on his trousers, then glanced at the tape recorder in the center of the table. “That’s not on, is it?”
“No,” I said. My heart was pounding. I didn’t know what I had stumbled into.
“What I have to tell you is in the strictest confidence. I could get fired for revealing this to anyone.”
This was good. I pointed to the chairs. The wife sat, and then her husband. I sat too. “I’m not really in the confidence business.”
“If I tell you something, and I give you documentation, will you promise me you won’t say where it came from?”
“Why would you do this?” I asked.
“So that you don’t charge my girl. She’s dying as it is.” Glisando said that as if he’d had practice, but his wife looked down. They traded strengths in this family.
I sat still for a moment, thinking. Then what Glisando said registered with me. The parents thought that my charging Melanie with Dudich’s murder was a foregone conclusion.
I sighed. I had already made up my mind about Glisando. She wouldn’t be killing anyone else, not in her condition, and what she had already done would soon be taken up between her and her maker. I didn’t have to tell these folks that, of course, but I didn’t have to leave them hanging either.
“Tell you what,” I said. “If I think the information you have is compelling, I won’t charge your daughter.”
“And you won’t tell anyone where you got this?”
Glisando nodded and then handed me a computer disk.
I took it and slapped it against my palm. “You want to tell me what’s on it?”
His eyes met mine. They were a pale blue, almost clear, and the whites around them were lined with red. “I used to work at Columbia. Meteorology. Then I got hired by—”
“Nic,” his wife said warningly. He nodded to her.
“—I got hired by a private company that has a defense contract. We’ve been working on this project for years, but we’ve been doing field work since January.”
I waited. I didn’t see how this fit in.
“Experimenting. In Manhattan.” He stopped then, as if I should understand. I didn’t.
“How does this relate to Melanie?” I asked.
“No one’s been murdered in the City in three weeks.”
“Yes,” I said.
“It’s the heat.”
“Beg pardon,” I said, “but usually heat causes people to go crazy, not to stop going crazy.”
“I know,” Glisando said. “But we’ve been studying the effect of weather on the human killing impulse.”
“It’s a defense contract,” his wife said softly as if I hadn’t heard it the first time. It was all I could do not to snap at her. She apparently thought public servants didn’t have the intelligence of a gnat.
“As a rule, human beings don’t kill each other when the temperature goes below zero,” Glisando was saying, “even if they can’t leave the house for days. It just doesn’t happen. But if the mercury is above 90 for a long time, murder rates climb. We thought if we could isolate the impulse, we could negate it.”
“We,” he said. “I can’t go into all of this. I don’t understand much of it myself. I was there to be the forecaster, and the predictor, and to help develop computer models on weather patterns. But to make a long story short, we thought we’d isolated the impulse—we had in lesser mammals—so we field tested on Manhattan.”
That woke me up. “Manhattan?”
He nodded. “It’s an island, which means it’s controllable, and it’s got fairly predictable weather patterns. We knew, for example, there’d be a long heat spell this summer. We just didn’t know when.”
“So you’re not causing the heat?”
He laughed, a mirthless sound that was more a reaction to my ignorance than any amusement on his part. “No. Of course not.”
“You’re causing the murder rate to go down?”
“Actually, my colleagues are. They’re biologists and psychologists. I simply worked on the weather aspects of it.” He’d said that already. I just hadn’t understood it before. Maybe I did need Mrs. Glisando as an interpreter.
“And they do this through—?”
“A combination of chemicals and hormones that have to do with the brain. I don’t understand much of this myself, but it’s in the disk.”
“So they’re spraying the city with some kind of chemical?”
“It’s not that simple, detective,” he said. “Like I said, it’s on the disk.”
“The disk is in my hand, not the computer. You can explain it to me.”
Glisando shook his head. “I’m not here to talk science. I want to get my daughter cleared.”
The man was loony, and