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high in the sky, apartment windows were smudges of grimy yellow, and this passed for starlight in New York City. Loud Latin rhythms from a car radio drifted down First Avenue. The sedan turned sharply, brakes screaming, narrowly missing a small blond girl with fugitive eyes. The child stood on tiptoe, poised for flight, arms rising like thin white wings.
A book was knocked from the hands of a woman on the sidewalk as the little girl sped past her in a breeze of flying hair and churning legs, small feet slapping pavement in time to the music of a passing boom box-a rock 'n' roll getaway. The eyes of the running child were not green, not Kathy's eyes, yet the startled woman saw her as a familiar wraith rocketing through space and years of time.
Fifteen years, you fool. And Kathy Mallory was not so small anymore, nor was she dead-not the makings of a ghost.
Sweat rolled down Sparrow's face. If not for the stolen book, would her mind have made that stumble? Again, the woman looked back the way she had come, but there was no sign of the man who had followed her from the bookshop. She had circled round and round, taking the long way home to lose him, and he had not hurried his steps to keep up with her. He had moved with inexorable resolve to the measured beat of a march. His body had no language, no life.
If a dead man could walk.
Sparrow's hands were clammy, a sign of anxiety, but she blamed it on the weather, so hot and muggy in this gray hour after sundown. And she blamed her costume for the stares from other pedestrians. The mutton-sleeve blouse and long skirt were too bizarre for a twenty-first-century heat wave. A match flared close beside her as a man, a harmless type, lit a cigarette, then passed her by. Her heart beat faster, and she rationalized away the second warning, taking it for guilt.
If not for the book-
She looked down at her empty hands and panicked-then sighed. The precious paperback lay on the sidewalk at her feet, and she bent low to snatch it back. On the rise, another figure, quiet as smoke, moved alongside her in the half-dozen mirrors of a drugstore window. She could still be surprised by these chance encounters with herself, for the surgically altered face needed no makeup to cover a history of broken bones and ravaged skin. The blue eyes of her reflection looked back across a gap of seventeen years, fresh off a Greyhound bus from the Southland.
Sparrow nodded. "I remember you, girl."
What an unholy haunted night.
She hid the book behind her back, as if a tattered novel might be worth stealing. In fact, she planned to burn it. But the book was not what the stalking man wanted. Sparrow looked uptown and down. He would be so easy to spot in this crowd of normal humans. Apparently, she had lost him at some turn of a corner. Yet every inch of her prickled, as though a thousand tiny insects crept about beneath her skin.
She hurried homeward, not looking back anymore, but only paying attention to a voice inside her head. Fear was a good old friend of hers, who broke into her thoughts to say, Hello, and then, Ain't it gettin' dark? And now, Run, girl!
greenwich village had lost its edge long ago, becoming a stately old lady among New York neighborhoods. One of the grande dame's children stood beneath the great stone arch in Washington Square Park. The boy wore trendy camouflage pants, all dressed up for a revolution-should one come along the way buses do.
A guitar case lay at his feet, open to donations from passersby, though no one slowed down to drop him a dime. People marched past, sweating and cursing the heat of August, hurrying home to cold beers and canned music. It would take spectacle on a grander scale to get their attention tonight.
An unmarked police car crawled by in air-conditioned silence. Detective Sergeant Riker rolled down the passenger window and listened to a ripple of melancholy notes on soft nylon strings.
Not what he had expected.
Evidently, the teenage musician had missed the point of being young. Thirty-five years ago, Riker had been the boy beneath the arch, but his own guitar had been strung with steel, electrified and amplified, ripping out music to make people manic, forcing them to dance down the sidewalk.
What a rush.
And the entire universe had revolved around him.
He had sold that electric guitar to buy a ring for a girl he had loved more than rock 'n' roll. The marriage had ended, and the music had also deserted him.
The window closed. The car rolled on.
Kathy Mallory took the wheel for every tour of duty, but not by choice. Torn between drinking and driving, her partner had allowed his license to expire. The detectives were nearing the end of their shift, and Riker guessed that Mallory had plans for the evening. She was wearing her formal running shoes, black ones to match the silk T-shirt and jeans. The sleeves of her white linen blazer were rolled back, and this was her only concession to the heat. If asked to describe the youngest detective on the squad, he would bypass the obvious things, the creamy skin of a natural blonde and the very unnatural eyes; he would say, "Mallory doesn't sweat."
And she had other deviations.
Riker's cell phone beeped. He pulled it out to exchange a few words with another man across town, then folded it into his pocket. "No dinner tonight. A homicide cop on First Avenue and Ninth wants a consult."
The jam of civilian cars thinned out, and Mallory put on speed. Riker felt the car tilt when it turned the corner, rushing into the faster stream of northbound traffic. She sent the vehicle hurtling toward the rear end of a yellow cab that quickly slid out of the lane-her lane now. Other drivers edged off, dropping back and away, not sporting enough to risk sudden impact. She never used the portable turret light or the siren, for cops got no respect in this town-but sheer terror worked every time.
Riker leaned toward her, keeping his cool as he said, "I don't wanna die tonight."
Mallory turned her face to his. The long slants of her green eyes glittered, thieving eerie light from the dashboard, and her smile suggested that he could jump if he liked. And so a nervous game began, for she was watching traffic only in peripheral vision. He put up his hands in a show of surrender, and she turned her eyes back to the road.
Riker held a silent conversation with the late Louis Markowitz, a ghost he carried around in his heart as balm for anxious moments like this one. It was almost a prayer, and it always began with Lou, you bastard.
Fifteen years had passed since Kathy Mallory had roamed the streets as a child. Being homeless was damned hard work, and running the tired little girl to ground had been the job of Riker's old friend, Louis Markowitz, but only as a hobby. Lost children had never been the province of Special Crimes Unit, not while they lived. And they would have to die under unusual circumstances to merit a professional interest. So Kathy had become the little blond fox of an after-hours hunt. The game had begun with these words, spoken so casually: "Oh, Riker? If she draws on you, don't kill her. Her gun is plastic, it fires pellets-and she's only nine or ten years old."
After her capture, the child had rolled back her thin shoulders, drawn herself up to her full height of nothing, and insisted that she was twelve years old. What a liar-and what great dignity; Lou Markowitz could have crushed her with a laugh. Instead, with endless patience, he had negotiated her down to eleven years of age, and the foster-care paperwork had begun with this more believable lie.
Now Kathy Mallory's other name was Markowitz's Daughter.
The old man had been killed in the line of duty, and Riker missed him every day. Lou's foster child was taller now, five ten; she had upgraded her plastic gun to a .357 revolver; and her partner was not allowed to call her Kathy anymore.
The homicide detectives were speeding toward a crime scene that belonged to another man. The East Side lieutenant had sweetened his invitation with a bet, giving odds of "Ten'll get you twenty" that they had never seen a murder quite like this one.
--from Crime School: A Mallory Novel by Carol O'Connell, Copyright © 2002, G. P. Putnam's Sons, a member of Penguin Putnam, Inc., used by permission.