Authors: Leslie Glass
The Barnes Noble Review
This novel featuring Asian-American detective April Woo is a powerful blend of police procedural and thriller. When the guest of honor, Lieutenant Alfredo Bernardino, leaves before his retirement party's over, he neglects to take the gifts he's been given in honor of his 38 years with the New York City Police Department. His famous protégé, April Woo, follows him with his property, planning to say a last goodbye, but it's already too late. She comes across her mentor's still-warm body in the fog, his neck broken by an unknown assailant. April gives chase and comes close to sharing Bernardino's fate at the hands of a killer whose skills at unarmed combat challenge her own. Bernardino had plenty of friends and more than a few enemies, and the investigation into his murder is filled with complications involving high-ranking detectives, an internal affairs investigation, input from the dead detective's children (a son who works in the D.A.'s office and an FBI agent daughter), plus a hunt for millions of dollars missing from Bernardino's recent lottery winnings – not to mention the search for the source of a series of cryptic threatening phone calls to Bernardino and the killer's other victims. Because of her injuries – and the department's policy against cops who are crime victims investigating their own cases – April's involvement has to be unofficial. At times she must even hide it from her fiancé, Lieutenant Mike Sanchez of the NYPD Homicide Task Force. But still she hunts relentlessly for the cop-killer who is bold enough to seek out new victims amid the ever-expanding manhunt. Sue Stone
The eighth book in the April Woo series, 2003
For Nancy Yost
For six years I had the honor of serving as a Public Member of the Middle States Commission for Higher Education. In that capacity, I worked with many university provosts, professors, deans, and presidents. It was a remarkably collegial group, and as is often the case in my not-for-profit work, I was the only novelist at the table. For years, my colleagues entreated me to write a novel about them and their fund-raising dilemmas-but Dear God, please not anything specific or identifiable about their particular school.
A Killing Gift
is for them and for the wonderful supervisors and Glass fellows from Columbia Psychoanalytic Institute, CUNY Graduate Center, NYU Schools of Law and Social Work, the New School, Adelphi, Derner Institute, Boston University, Emory, and the New York Psychoanalytic Institute, and for others who have been grant recipients over the years of the Glass Foundation. In every case, we at the Foundation always receive far more from our research projects, our students, and their professors than we are able to give to them.
At NAL, thanks to Kara Welsh, Claire Zion, my wonderful editor Audrey LaFehr, and all the good people in publicity and production, and on the sales force who work on and sell my books. And to the art director for the great covers.
And thanks to my children, Alex and Lindsey, to Judy Zilm and Dorothy Harris, and to my friends in the New York City Police Department and the Police Foundation, who give me so much inspiration every day. And last but not least, the York U of my story and its people bears no resemblance to any university or university personnel I ever met. This is fiction.
God answers sharp and sudden on some prayers,
And thrusts the thing we have prayed for in our face,
A gauntlet with a gift in't.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning ,
hat's it. I've had about all the nostalgia I can take." Lieutenant Alfredo Bernardino's retirement party was still going strong when he abruptly pushed away from the bar at Bad and called it a night. "I'm outta here."
"Hey, what's the rush?" Sergeant Marcus Beame, his second whip in the detective unit of the Fifth Precinct, protested. "The night's young."
"Not for me." Bernardino raised two fingers at his famous protégé, Sergeant April Woo. Woo had her eye on him while sipping tea with Inspector Poppy Bellaqua, another girl star. It made him sad. He was going. The girls were taking over. He snorted ruefully to himself about the way things were changing and how he wouldn't be there to gripe about it anymore.
Poppy didn't look up, but April nodded at him.
Coming in a second.
Her body language told him she wasn't walking away from an inspector for nobody. Bernardino snorted again. He hated this girl-ganging-up thing. They were getting to be a pack. Then he smiled and let up on the resentment. So what? It was April's turn. Even if she didn't jump for him now, he knew she was a good girl. She'd planned the event tonight, had chosen his favorite restaurant, made sure that the invite was up all over the puzzle palace so anybody could buy a ticket. Made sure enough brass was there. It was a nice party, and she hadn't even worked for him in five years! Yeah, April was a good girl, and she had a good guy, too.
Bernardino glanced over at Lieutenant Mike Sanchez, April's fiancé for going on a year now. The good-looking CO of the Homicide Task Force was having his third espresso with Chief Avise, commander of the Department's six thousand detectives, who never hung around anywhere for more than a minute or two.
Bernardino was aware that a lot of important people had shown up to give him a nice send-off, but he was feeling drunk and more than a little sorry for himself. He couldn't help feeling that it was all over for him-not just the job to which he'd devoted his whole life, but his life itself.
What does a man think about when he has a premonition that he's on his very last page? Bernardino was a tough guy, a bruiser of a man. Not more than a hair or so over five-nine, he was barrel-chested. Always an enthusiastic feeder, he had quite a corporation going around his midsection. He still had a brush of gray hair on top, but his mug was a mess. His large nose had been broken a bunch of times by the time he was thirty, and his face, deeply pitted from teenage acne, was creased and pouchy with age. He was sixty-two, not really old in the scheme of things. His father had lived past ninety, after all. The lieutenant wasn't as old as he felt.
"Thank you guys for everything. That's about all I can say," he muttered to the detectives nearest him. Charm was not exactly Bernardino's middle name. He was done. He was goin' home. His working life was over. No pretty good-byes for him. He took a quick survey. The dark Greenwich Village hole-in-the-wall where he'd spent many happy hours was so full of old friends that he actually had to blink back his emotions.
Thirty-eight years on the job could make a man a lot of buddies who wouldn't want to call it a day, or a lot of enemies who'd barely stop in for a free feed. Bernie had been surprised to see that he'd collected the former. At eleven forty-five on a Wednesday night the speeches were long over. His awards were sitting on the bar, and the buffet of heavy Italian favorites- the lasagne and ziti, the baked clams and calamari fritti, the eggplant parmigiana-had been picked clean and cleared away.
A lot of the guys had gone to work or gone home, but the pulse of the party was still beating away. More than two dozen cronies-bosses and detectives and officers with whom Bernardino had worked over the years-were eating cannolis, drinking the specialty coffees, the vino, beer, and Sambuca. They were hanging in there as if there were no tomorrow, telling those stories that went back, way back to when Kathy and Bill were just kids and his wife, Lorna, had been a beautiful young woman.
Bernie shook his head at what time had done to him. Now Kathy was an FBI special agent, working Homeland Security out in Seattle. She couldn't make the party. Bill was a prosecutor in the Brooklyn DA's office. He'd come and gone without either stuffing himself too much or drinking more than half a beer. With Becky and the two kids at home and court tomorrow, Bill was out the door in less than an hour. A real straight arrow. But what could he expect? Bernie couldn't blame his son for turning out to be a grind just like him. He'd wanted to take off with his son. The party was like a wake-everyone reminiscing over his life as if he were already dead and gone to Florida.
"Hey, congratulations, pally. You watch yourself in West Palm." His successor, Bob Estrada, patted him on the back on his way out. "Lucky bastard," Estrada muttered.
Bernie snorted again.
Yeah, real lucky.
Lorna had won the lottery, literally, then died of cancer only a few weeks later. You couldn't get any luckier than that. Lorna had finally gotten the millions she'd prayed for all those years so they could retire in the sunshine and spend time together. Then she had to go and die and leave him to do it alone. What was Florida to him without her? What was anything?
He slipped out the door, thinking about all the others who'd passed before they should have. In thirty-eight years as a cop he'd seen quite a parade of death. Each former human who'd passed away too soon had been a little personal injury for him that he'd covered with macho humor.
The worst of all were the officers and civilians, the bodies all over the place in the World Trade Center attack. Smashed fire trucks and police cars. And the fire that had gone on and on. You couldn't get the smell of smoke and burned flesh out of your nose in Chinatown for months. Refrigerators in apartments down there had to be replaced. Thousands of them. The smell wouldn't fade. And that was the least of it.
When the unthinkable happened, Bernardino had been CO of the detective unit in Fifth Precinct on Elizabeth Street in Chinatown for over a decade. Too close to Ground Zero for comfort. Everyone in the precinct worked around the clock because nobody had wanted to go home or be anywhere else. They'd stayed on the job twenty-four/seven for weeks longer than absolutely necessary. People who'd retired years ago came back on the job to help. And they came from other agencies, too. Retired FBI and CIA agents manned the phones, directed traffic. Whatever had to be done. He shook his head thinking about it.
All through those long, long days, the cops who worked the front lines waited with the rest of the world for the second shoe to drop. They'd responded to hundreds of bomb threats a day, telling themselves they were fine. Doin' okay. But the truth was none of them were okay. The worst for Bernie was that he'd let Lorna down. He'd been out fighting a war on New York and hadn't been home for her in her last year of life.
Amazing how one thing could tip a person over. He hadn't been there for Lorna long before she'd gotten the cancer. That was what ate away at him. He hadn't been there when she was well. Then as soon as things were back to "normal," people were out the door. Retiring left and right. And now he was out the door.
Bernardino was a retired cop on the street on a humid spring night, and he was immediately enveloped by a deep warm fog. He looked around and was startled by it. You didn't see real pea soup in New York that often anymore. The thickness of it was like something in a movie. Downright dreamy. While he'd been inside, the haze had dropped low over the Washington Square area, blurring figures, lights, and time. Maybe that was what got to him. Bernardino dipped his head, acknowledging to himself the spookiness of the night. But maybe he was just drunk.
He shuffled his feet a little as he headed north on a side street he knew as well as his own home. He'd parked his car on the other side of Washington Square. He walked slowly toward it, muttering his regrets to himself. Lively, funny, rock-solid Lorna had faded in a few short months. He remembered a social worker's warning to him at the time: "Denial isn't a river in Egypt, Bernie."
But he just didn't believe she would die. The smell of Italian cooking followed him down the block. He was a warhorse, a cop who'd always looked over his shoulder, especially on really quiet nights. But tonight he wasn't a cop anymore. He was done. His thoughts were far away. He was feeling sluggish, old, abandoned. All evening his buddies had punched and hugged him, told him they'd visit. Told him he'd find a new honey in Florida. He'd be fine. But he didn't think he'd ever be fine.
Out of the fog came an unexpected voice. "Hey, you're number's up, asshole."
Like a blind dog, Bernie turned his big head toward the sound.
Who the hell…?
Then he burst out laughing. Harry was pranking him.
His old partner from years ago following him to his car to say goodbye. His number
up-his retirement number.
"Harry, you old devil!" Bernardino had been unnerved for a moment but now felt a surge of relief. "Come out here where I can see you." He spun around to where he thought the sound originated.
"Nopey-nope. Ain't going to happen." An arm snaked around Bernardino's neck from behind and jerked hard.
Bernardino didn't even have time to lean forward and flip the guy before the grip was set. Despite his size and heft, he was positioned for death with very little effort. After only a very few panicked heartbeats, his neck was broken and he was gone.