Authors: James Patterson
Bear Kupchek; Central Park
BEAR KUPCHEK ENTERED
Central Park at the black stone gates that lead to the pass-through at Sixty-third Street. He had seen other complex murder cases break open simply and suddenly. He hoped this would be one of those cases. And that it would crack open tonight.
The broad-shouldered, heavyset detective slumped toward the Wollman skating rink, where he was to meet the secretive witness from the murder scene at Allure. Kupchek checked his wristwatch as he entered a tunnel running underneath the ring road. Twenty feet above, cabs and private cars were streaming north through Manhattan.
It was 10:11
, so he had four minutes to make it to his appointment. The detective whistled lightly, some half-familiar rhythm and blues tune. He’d been confident about their chances of catching some kind of break in the investigation. But in the middle of Central Park? At night?
Kupchek had been born in Manhattan, forty-two years before. Michael Christopher Kupchek, of West End Avenue and 106th Street. He remembered Central Park in times when nobody would have walked there at night—not even a hefty detective with a Colt Magnum in his shoulder holster. These days, people routinely jogged and bicycled through the park at night. Ironically, it had been the ineffectual John Lindsay who’d made the park safe. Lindsay had put in sodium yellow street lamps, probably because they looked pretty from the penthouses on Fifth and Park avenues.
Kupchek was about halfway through the tunnel when he heard a voice up ahead.
“Who are you?” Bear Kupchek stopped walking immediately.
His right hand instinctively went to his shoulder holster and the Magnum. His eyes strained to locate an upright shape in the darkness.
“I’m looking for Kupchek,” the voice came again. It was muffled and hollow-sounding. It echoed against the damp stone walls.
This time, Kupchek reached inside his shoulder holster. He carefully withdrew his revolver.
“I guess you’ve found him,” he called back into the darkness. “I’m Kupchek.”
Then Kupchek saw movement. He heard a rustle of leaves, maybe papers, to his left. The sound was about ten feet farther up the tunnel.
“Don’t be jumping around,” he called ahead. “Now who are
? What’s up? Come on out so we can talk.”
A revolver suddenly flashed inside the tunnel. Not his revolver, either. The gun made a hollow pop, the kind a dumdum can produce. The revolver flashed a second time.
Kupchek grabbed his chest. He nearly toppled over.
Sweet Mother of God.
He’d never felt this kind of pain before. He’d been shot twice, up in Bedford-Stuyvesant and at Long Beach. It was nothing like this.
His chest felt caved in, brutally crushed. He felt a cold wetness. The sensation of air whistling through his lungs.
It hurt terribly. Intense shooting pains were knifing through his chest and arms. He felt woozy. He thought he might be going down, right there in the pitch-black tunnel.
The second shot exploded inside him—a punishing dumdum round.
The power of being hit was sickening, physically nauseating. He was victim to the ability of a small metal projectile to so easily penetrate flesh and bone.
Bear Kupchek did the unexpected. He was working on instinct, nothing else. Survival was his only conscious thought. The handgun fired again, shot number three. The gunman missed.
Suddenly Kupchek ran straight at the man. Except that he swerved past him, out of the tunnel in a low, hurdling crouch.
And in that confused instant, Kupchek recognized the gunman. The man was a cop. Someone he knew. A detective. He’d been set up and shot by another policeman.
His mind was reeling, completely out of control as he rumbled up a steep hill that seemed all thorny branches and protruding rocks.
His lungs were sloshing liquid, filling up much too quickly with blood. Run. Just run, he told himself.
He made it to a bus-stop bench out on Central Park South. He barely made it.
He had to sit. It didn’t matter how dangerous, how exposed he was.
He’d been shot by another cop.
Bright lights were spinning every which way around him. He wanted to yell out to somebody.
But no. They couldn’t help him, not these people innocently walking around the perimeter of the park: Plaza Hotel guests, tourists, a few neighborhood women walking their dogs. Then Bear Kupchek was angry, mostly with himself. He struggled to his feet. He began to weave away.
He shuffled toward the street and the bright, splintering lights of streaming traffic.
He flagged down a Checker cab, stepping in front of the off-duty taxi. Brakes shrieked up and down Central Park South. Drivers shouted through their open windows.
Kupchek waved his detective’s shield at the driver; otherwise the cabbie might have run him down.
“Drive where I tell you. Police business, let’s go.”
He was slurring his words. Blood was dripping onto his sport coat, his shoes, the inside of the cab.
John Stefanovitch; East Eighty-first Street
STEFANOVITCH HAD ARRIVED
home at his apartment a little earlier than he’d expected.
He could work out for twenty minutes or so. Maybe do a few Nautilus exercises; something he’d been neglecting since the investigation began.
Stefanovitch was fumbling for his keys when the elevator doors opened. He started out into the hallway.
He stopped the wheelchair. Dear God, no… no. His mind was a shrill scream.
He was slumped like a sack against Stefanovitch’s front door. Blood had soaked through his work shirt and was visible from thirty feet away.
Kupchek spread his arms and tried to smile when he saw Stefanovitch coming. His eyes were glassy, and they started to roll up into his head. Kupchek looked so
Stefanovitch pushed himself furiously down the hallway. His stomach was falling through empty space.
When he got a few feet away, he saw how bad it was. Right then he knew.
“Worse than I thought,” Bear Kupchek whispered.
Stefanovitch slid down out of the wheelchair. He sat on the floor with his body pressed against the Bear.
a voice whispered inside him.
“Don’t try to talk. I’m going to get you help. Just lie still,” Stefanovitch said.
Bear Kupchek closed his eyes for several seconds. He opened them and began to speak—at least he tried to. A hoarse whisper came out.
“I love you, Stefanovitch…” he managed. That was all.
Right then, it seemed as if Stefanovitch’s friend could go no further, that he had to let go of everything. Bear Kupchek lay very still. His breathing faltered badly, then it stopped. Just like that.
Oh please, don’t let this be happening,
Stefanovitch’s brain screamed.
Oh God, please.
He whispered to the body in his arms.
“I love you, Bear. Oh Christ, Bear. Don’t do this.”
Then Stefanovitch was all alone.
The Sixth Estate
Isiah Parker; Harlem
ISIAH PARKER WALKED
the streets of Harlem without fear. This was his neighborhood. He tried to be optimistic, even though he heard voices and whispers in the darkness: teenagers delivering drugs in Suzuki Samurais, the current vehicle of choice for young dealers; a baby wailing in a tenement building with shiny metal sheets for windows; crack deals going down on every street corner.
As he walked, he remembered his brother: the year and a half when Marcus had been champion; the shocking murder; then self-righteous editorials about the tragedy in every newspaper.
A memorial service had been held in Harlem. That had been on December 30, six months ago. It seemed even longer to Parker, as he thought of it now.
Inside the cavernous Morningside Chapel, he had waited for the noise from his brother’s mourners to quiet down. As he did, Isiah Parker felt that he was standing outside of himself, able to watch the unreal scene from some other dimension.
His voice finally rose, softly at first, then clear and powerful, without any musical accompaniment. He had sung like this at his brother’s championship fight in Madison Square Garden. Bill Cosby and Ali had been there; so had Don King, Dustin Hoffman, Jesse Jackson. The closeness of Marcus and Isiah Parker had been publicized before the fight. Isiah Parker’s baritone singing voice was a discovery, though. In a strange way, it was more emotional than the championship fight itself.
In Morningside Chapel that December, Parker’s voice brought tears. His singing had never been more lilting and beautiful. Grown men and women wept inside the chapel. Cynical observers of the fight game wept; also thousands out on Morn-ingside Drive, many of them in flowing Muslim gowns.
There was something so unjust about this death. Marcus Parker had been twenty-four years old when he died. Marcus had represented so many hopes, so many dreams buried inside the Harlem neighborhood…Someone is going to pay, Isiah Parker had promised himself at those last rites in Morningside Chapel. And someone was beginning to pay. Just beginning.
TWO DAYS AFTER THE
murder of Oliver Barnwell, Parker stopped at a vacant telephone booth on the corner of 125th Street. He had to be sure about what he was doing next.
“This is Isiah Parker,” he said when someone came on the line. There was a hesitation on the other end. It wasn’t quite six
He had woken the Man up.
Finally, he heard a voice. “I was going to get in touch with you. Let’s not talk over the phone, Isiah. Where can we meet?”
“Take your regular New York Central train to work,” Parker said. “But this morning, get off at the One Hundred Twenty-fifth Street station. I’ll be waiting. Don’t worry, nobody up here knows you. Nobody will see us together. At least, not anybody who matters to you.”
Parker hung up the pay telephone. He walked on, proceeding west along 125th, past more steel-gated storefronts, past the Apollo Theatre.
As he walked, he thought he liked the idea, meeting the Man up here in Harlem this time. Twice before, they had met—at large, crowded hotel bars in midtown.
Another time, they’d had a rendezvous in the town where the Man lived, Mamaroneck.
At seven-thirty, Parker was pacing the ancient wooden train platform at 125th Street. He watched several commuter trains arrive at the station, journeying from suburban Connecticut and Westchester, heading toward Grand Central Station. The tracks were built over an ornate waiting room that dated back to the early part of the century.
The platform overlooked central Harlem, with a view to the Hudson River and the New Jersey Palisades. The sun was bright that morning, casting a glow over the desolate buildings and the streets down below.
Isiah Parker had great affection for the beautiful and imposing railroad station. When he had been growing up, his mother and father had brought him and his brother there to embark on day trips—upstate to Bear Mountain, West Point, Newburgh, sometimes New Paltz, or the Catskill Game Farm.
A commuter train steaming south from Westchester finally rumbled into the station. A few desperate-looking merchants climbed out of the silver and blue cars.
Most of the passengers didn’t bother to look out at the desolation of Harlem. They didn’t want to deal with black mothers and their kids sleeping on the streets; with eleven- and twelve-year-old drug addicts; with failed urban renewal projects. Especially not at seven-thirty in the morning.
The man Isiah Parker needed to see finally stepped from one of the cars. He gazed up and down the dark wood platform, looking confused. He was neatly dressed in a dark blue suit that was formal for 125th Street.
Isiah Parker let the Man see him. He stepped out from behind a utility pole with a theater ad aimed at the train riders. “‘The Mystery of Edwin Drood’ Is a Musical,” it said.
Isiah Parker walked down a flight of rickety stairs. He stayed thirty yards ahead of the Man. The soot-blackened stairs led to the main railroad station, a Victorian waiting room that had changed little over several decades.
The same old iron railing still went along the grimy walls, the same ornate moldings loomed sixteen to eighteen feet overhead. Probably the same dust was collecting on the walls and a line of faded red telephone booths. Every phone was out of order.
A blue door to the left of the newsstand said “
.” Parker approached the door, pushing the heavy silver bar forward.
The bathroom looming beyond the door was empty, even at the height of rush hour.
Parker checked the foul-smelling stalls anyway. He found no early morning junkies shooting up, no street bums sleeping one off on a toilet.
The Man entered the bathroom a few seconds behind Parker. He stepped up to one of the cracked urinals and began to use it. He was a good manager of his own time. White men were excellent at that, Parker had learned over the years.
“How are you, Isiah?” He was matter-of-fact. For a moment, it almost made Parker angry enough to show his feelings. The Man was humoring him by coming here. He’d found a new way to be condescending.
Go and talk to Parker. Calm that nigger down.
“This has been a hard time.” Parker tried to control his anger, any sign of what he was really thinking.
“I know it has been.” The Man was the deputy police commissioner of New York. His name was Charles Mackey. He had originally met Parker when the detective was being honored for having the most narcotics arrests in Manhattan. That was three years ago.
“If it’s any consolation,” he said now, “we’re almost home. This next one is important, though, very important to us, Isiah. Then our little private war will be over. After that, they’ll be doing the job for us. We’re seeing it happen around the world already.”
“When you approached me,” Parker interrupted, “you said it wouldn’t be much different from regular undercover police work. Well, it’s different. It disorients you. You’re not sure which side you’re on.”
The deputy police commissioner listened and he nodded. Parker remembered that Mackey had always been a good listener, a rabbi inside the department.
“You’re on the right side of the law. You’re still on the side of the angels. Don’t worry about that, Isiah. What the hell choice did we have? What choice did they give us?…They were practicing their goddamn street law. The Colombians had their own brand of the same thing. So did the Italians, the Cosa Nostra. What were we allowed to do in retaliation?
What were we supposed to do?
“We could bring them to court, and not even get a grand jury to hear a murder case. Nine New York cops were killed last year. The street law was working perfectly. We had to do
There were no alternatives left. You know that.”
Parker stared into Charles Mackey’s large and moist blue eyes. He was a white man, a fish-belly, but for some reason, Parker had always trusted him. Something was bothering him now, though.
He couldn’t figure out what it was. Something about the Man was wrong. Something about this undercover work was wrong. The side of the angels? He didn’t know anymore.
“Do you know who murdered your brother, Marcus? Do you know who mutilated your brother’s body?” Charles Mackey continued in an angry and almost self-righteous tone. “Do you know the answer to that?”
who murdered my brother.”
“Are you sure? Are you positive beyond a reasonable doubt? Is there
doubt in your mind?”
“And do you see any case coming up before the grand jury?…I’ll answer that for you—you don’t! For the past ten years, the New York Police Department has been fighting a suicidal gang war. Nearly a hundred officers have been killed in the line of duty. Only we haven’t been allowed to fight back until now.
to fight back.”
Charles Mackey placed a hand on Isiah Parker’s shoulder. The older man seemed weary and drained suddenly. “You have my word that this is going to stop soon. That means you have the commissioner’s word. This is the last time. Alexandre St.-Germain. Traficante. Oliver Barnwell. One more, then we’re out of it. We dissolve your team.”
Parker shook his head. Finally, he smiled. He had no choice but to trust Mackey. “You’ll let me know the details? Who it is? When we go again?”
Charles Mackey seemed to be retreating into prayer. After a moment, he reached out and shook Parker’s hand. “What other choice did we have?” he whispered.
Deputy Commissioner Mackey left the subterranean bathroom. He hurried back upstairs, where he caught another commuter train downtown.
Parker didn’t follow him out of the train station bathroom right away. He waited another few minutes down in the basement. One more time, he thought as he stood in the desolate public bathroom. Then we’re out of it.