Zach had been assigned to the Forty-second Precinct in the Morissania Section of the Bronx straight out of the academy. That first day, Sammy had come up to him. “I hear you're a good cop.”
Zach couldn't imagine who'd said that or what anyone had to go on to make that type of statement. He hadn't had a chance to prove much of anything to anyone yet. But he knew who Sammy was. A smile sneaked across Zach's face at the compliment. “Yeah?”
Sammy gave him a once-over that suggested whoever had given him the good word had lied. “If you want to stay alive, you'll ride with me.”
Zach laughed to himself in the confines of his car, remembering. That was Sammy, as much as he gave, he could often taketh away. But Sammy had taken him in hand, as if it were his personal mission to school Zach in the way of all things. For a kid whose father had died and whose siblings ignored him for the most part, that was a big thing.
They'd been partnered about six months when Sammy made the pronouncement that Zach should come to his house for dinner the following night. Had he been asked, Zach would have turned him down. It was his day off, time to think of something more fragrant than the smell in the sector car and softer than its upholstery. But nobody argued with Sammy; at least nobody won.
Given Sammy's over-the-top personality, Zach had assumed his daughter would be more of the same. He hadn't expected the girl who opened the door to him. Tall and skinny, dressed in a navy shirtwaist dress with a white collar, her hair styled into two braids that hung past her shoulders, she struck him as an older, darker yet equally morose version of Wednesday Addams. She'd stared up at him with huge, dark eyes that assessed him, and worse, found him, in some way, wanting. Or maybe she'd simply been dismissing him as a nine-second curiosity and nothing more.
During the ensuing meal of roast beef, mashed potatoes and gravy, and string beans, she hadn't spoken one word and fled the table as soon as the last morsel of her food passed her lips.
After she'd left, Sammy had turned to him, his face split with a grin of fatherly pride. “So what do you think?”
Zach shrugged. What was he supposed to make of an unsmiling, utterly silent girl who looked at him like he was as welcome as a case of chickenpox? “She always so talkative?” he asked finally.
Sammy lifted one shoulder as he shoveled another forkful into his mouth. “She'll come around.”
Zach shrugged again and focused on his own food. Even if she did, what difference would it make? He didn't plan to make a habit of dining here.
He didn't see her again, until after he bid Sammy good night later that evening. He'd walked out to his car and looked back at the house. She was standing at the window on the second floor. Without thinking, he lifted a hand and waved to her. In reaction she lifted her hand and gave him the finger before retreating. He shook his head and laughed. Maybe there was a bit of Sammy in her after all.
She hadn't wanted anything to do with him then, and it looked like they were back where they started. Part of him wished he could do what she wanted and leave her alone, but he knew he wouldn't do that. He had a case to solve, and more than that, an opportunity to make right what he'd messed up so long ago.
Sammy had taught him well. He wouldn't give up until he got what he wanted, both personally and professionally.
He smiled to himself as a plan formed in his mind. He'd worn her down once and he could do it again. “This isn't over, Alex,” he whispered to the night air, started his car, and pulled away.
The following morning, Zach was waiting for McKay when he came in to the station. Zach leaned back in McKay's chair, with his feet propped up on the desk, his eyes closed. He was tired and testy, having fought a losing battle in the bid for sleep the previous night, but neither his lack of sleep nor his mood was responsible for his posture. He hoped to annoy McKay, put him on edge.
He knew he'd succeeded when McKay stomped to a stop next to the desk. “You got something for me already?”
Zach opened his eyes and focused on the other man. He did have something for him, but not the way McKay meant. After the meeting broke up yesterday, Smitty had told him about the way the rest of the meeting had gone. He said Alex had held her own, but she shouldn't have had to. McKay had been hoping to rattle her with his little slide show and had gotten exactly what he deserved for that: nothing.
On top of that, word had it that McKay had been assigned the case right after the first body was found. He hadn't done much with it until the councilwoman's daughter turned up. Apparently some vics were worth the effort in McKay's book and some weren't.
Zach adjusted his position, but didn't move off, as McKay obviously wanted him to. “I heard about how you sandbagged Alex Waters to get her here yesterday.”
McKay scowled. “What's it to you? Just because you used to partner with her old manâ”
Zach cut him off. “She's not a suspect and you can't believe she knows where Thorpe is.”
“Why can't I? For all I know he's camped out in her basement. We all know none of those cars was the primary crime scene. Thorpe has no known address. He'd need somewhere secure, where he wouldn't be disturbed, and someone he knew who wouldn't turn him in. At the very least, he called her. If she's keeping his whereabouts a secret, that's obstruction of justice.”
Zach did stand then, topping McKay's height by a couple of inches and his weight by a good fifty pounds. “Are you ready to charge her with that?” Zach asked, though he knew the answer.
McKay seemed to shrink even more. “No.”
“Then leave her alone.” Zach had said all he came to say. He'd enjoyed putting McKay in his place, but he had better things to do. He turned to walk away.
But apparently McKay wasn't finished yet. “You might want to warn your girlfriend we're releasing Thorpe's name in a press conference this afternoon.”
Zach turned back to face McKay slowly and purposefully. What idiot okayed that? He wouldn't bother to address that girlfriend comment, since McKay wouldn't believe him no matter what he said. But now he thought he knew the man's game.
Zach advanced until the men were only inches apart, forcing McKay to look up. “Enjoy the spotlight while you can. We both know you don't have the juice for the boys upstairs to let you keep running this thing. Your new boss will be remembered as the one who cracked the case and you'll be the complainer that never wanted it in the first place.”
Seeing color rise in McKay's cheeks, Zach knew he'd hit his mark. He winked at the man. “You have a nice day now.” Without waiting for a response, he turned on his heel and left.
Alex stood at the window to her office staring down at the goings-on on Tremont Avenue, but seeing nothing. Despite what she'd told Zach about not revisiting the past, she couldn't seem to focus on much else. One memory in particular seemed to haunt her, the reason for which she couldn't fathom. It was a nothing memory, nothing important, but still it pulled at her.
It was maybe the fourth or fifth time Zach had been over. Her father had taken to dragging him home like some stray puppy in need of a meal. As usual, she'd escaped from the dinner table as soon as possible. She was as interested in all their cop talk as she was in ice fishing in Siberia. All that macho posturing, and for what? She knew her father liked the adrenaline rush of being on the streets. They'd tried to give him a detective's shield a few times, but he always turned them down. She didn't know what Zach's problem was.
She'd been in the living room, reading, her refuge. She didn't have to be poor old Alex Yates anymore; she could be anyone she wanted, travel anywhere she chose. So she was not happy to sense someone's presence in the doorway or to look up to find Zach standing there.
He leaned against the door frame, lazy. His face bore the sort of curious, smiling expression adults reserve for children they don't know how to handle. “Whatcha reading?”
She'd been lying on her stomach. She immediately rose to a sitting position. “A book.”
“No kidding.” He took a step into the room, walking toward the fireplace they never used. “I thought all girls your age liked to read was
If that was supposed to be an attempt at humor, he ought to have his funny bone checked. Couldn't he tell she didn't want him here, not only in this room but in her house? She didn't trust him, couldn't remember trusting anyone absolutely aside from her mother. She watched him closely as he stopped at the mantel, picking up one of the pictures that rested there.
“Is this your mother?” he asked after a moment. He gazed over his shoulder at her. “You look like her.”
“That's what they tell me.”
He sighed, and she acknowledged his frustration with her. He was trying to be nice. She was sure his comment was meant as a compliment. But she didn't need him to tell her whom she resembled. And if her surliness bothered him, good. Maybe then he'd leave.
He settled the picture back where it belonged. “My mom died when I was twelve, too.”
He wasn't facing her then. His attention was still on the photograph. She narrowed her eyes, studying him, wondering if he'd said that merely to capture her sympathy or if it was true. But even seeing only his profile she saw the melancholia in his expression. “I'm sorry.” The words escaped her mouth before she had a chance to stop them.
He turned to face her. “Me too.”
She knew he was referring to her loss, but she couldn't bring herself to say the obligatory “Thank you.” Instead she frowned, letting her shoulders droop. “Anything else?”
He actually laughed, which surprised her. “Your father asked me to tell you we got called back in. He's upstairs changing.”
She shrugged. She didn't mind the prospect of having the house to herself, but something major must be happening for them to be called in so soon after signing out. “Have fun.”
Shaking his head, as if in defeat, he turned to leave, but almost immediately turned back. “If my being here bothers you ...”
She lifted her book and pretended to read it. “I don't care what you do.”
“Then why do you disappear every time I come around?”
She lowered her book and rolled her eyes. “All that cop talk. Do any of you guys ever tell any stories that are true?”
He laughed again. She bit her lip to disguise the fact that she liked the sound of it. “I remember thinking the same thing about my dad,” he said.
“He was a cop, too?”
“A c.o., a corrections officer.”
She didn't need him to explain what a c.o. was. She shrugged. “Same crap, different uniform.”
The words were barely out of her mouth when she heard her father's heavy tread on the stairs. And then they were both out the door. She'd risen to her knees and turned to look out the window to watch Zach climb into her father's car.
Now, in the present, Alex sighed. She wondered what it was about that memory that haunted her. Perhaps, because it was the first time she'd felt herself softening toward him, felt even the most tenuous of connections. He'd been through some of what she had. But unlike her, he'd gotten along with his dad. She heard that in the few simple words he'd spoken about him. She'd envied that.
But any peace between them hadn't lasted long. The next time he'd come, he ventured into the living room where she was watching TV. She would have preferred to lock herself in her bedroom, but that far away and with the door closed it would have been impossible to gauge how much her father had been drinking.
Without preamble, Zach said, “I bought you something.”
She'd looked up, wariness in her gaze. He held a book in his hand that he extended toward her,
Sense and Sensibility
by Jane Austen.
She bit her lip, not knowing what to make of this unexpected offering. He was giving her a gift? She didn't want it. She'd never received a gift that didn't eventually cost her something. “What do you want?”
The smile didn't fade from his face, but she sensed his exasperation as he tossed the book onto the table. “I noticed you were reading
Pride and Prejudice
before. I thought you'd like it.” He turned and walked from the room.
She leaned forward and picked up the book and hugged it to her chest. She did want it. Every book she read came either from school, from the library, or from the meager allowance her father gave her. Most times she got them from the used bookstore on Fordham Road to make the most of her money. A brand-new book was a treasure.
Still, she went to her room, to the secret compartment in the base of her bare jewelry box where she kept her money and everything else she didn't want her father to find. She took out two dollars, enough to cover the cost of the book. Later that night she sneaked it into his jacket pocket along with a note that said
Now we're even.
The intercom on Alex's desk buzzed, startling her. “Tall, dark, and dangerous just showed up,” Alice said.
That's all the warning Alex got before a knock sounded at her door. An instant later, the door pushed open. “Alex?”
Alex took a deep breath, swallowing down the emotion the memories had dredged up. Her gaze traveled over him. Damn, he looked good. She didn't know why that thought had to pop up in her head. Probably all the damn reminiscing.
She crossed her arms. “What can I do for you, Zach? I thought we said all there was to say last night.”
He stepped farther into the room, closing the door behind him. “I told you if I wanted to talk to you about Thorpe I'd come here.”
So he had, but she'd thought he meant that he'd come to her home on personal matters, not that he intended to show up here with more questions. “And you know I can't tell you anything.”
He reached into his breast pocket and pulled out a sheaf of blue-backed folded papers. “I thought this might help.”
She crossed the room and took the papers from his fingers. She unfolded them, but she knew what they wereâa subpoena for her files. She'd expected they'd get around to it eventually, but not this soon. They didn't have anything on which to base a warrant, at least she didn't think they did. She scanned to the bottom of the page to see who'd signed off on it. Judge Franklin Roberts. No wonder. Roberts treated the Fourth Amendment as if it were a guideline instead of the law.
She refolded the papers and dropped them onto her desk. “I'll see that my secretary gets them to your office.” She expected him to say that wasn't good enough, but he surprised her.
“In the meantime, why don't you tell me why you don't think Thorpe is the guy?”
She leaned her left butt cheek against her desk and refolded her arms. For a moment she thought of refusing him, but nothing she was about to say wasn't already part of the public record.
“You and I both know what kind of man you're hunting forâa Ted Bundy, a John Wayne Gacy. Men with no conscience, no fear, a lust killer, excited by his own violence. Thorpe wasn't violent. He coerced women into submitting to him with the threat of discovery by their children in the next room. None of the women wanted to risk having their children walk in on that scene, or worse, having him select another target. He even apologized when he was through. In my opinion, they're trying to make Walter Mitty into Hannibal Lecter and it just doesn't fly.”
“You never saw that degree of pathology in him?”
“Frankly, no. He never even admitted to committing the crimes. If you'll recall, he said the mirror did it.”
“Wouldn't that point toward a diagnosis of schizophrenia?”
She knew what he was getting at. Many serial killers faked hearing voices or alternate personalities, anything to try to convince their shrink or their friendly neighborhood jury that they weren't responsible for their actions. It might mean the difference in sentencing between a maximum-security prison and a mental hospital. The latter was more desirable, since there was a chance of faking a miracle “cure” and tricking some fool doctor into releasing them.
“If you believed him, it might. I didn't.”
Honestly, if it hadn't been for his semen in the girl's body, she would have had a hard time believing he committed the crimes at all, a fact the prosecution used to their advantage. Thorpe's major life problem was his impulsivity. He'd go into a rage over something minor, a fact that had cost him more than one job, even though he'd go docile and apologetic the moment his pique faded. He'd swing from mania to depression with no apparent provocation for either, which made interpersonal relationships impossible. He swung from ideation of and contempt for the one constant in his life, his sister.