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Authors: Hugh Sterbakov

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City Under the Moon

BOOK: City Under the Moon
7.57Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Hugh Sterbakov


Copyright © 2012 Hugh Sterbakov

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living, dead, or undead, is purely coincidental.

All rights reserved. This eBook is copyright material and should not be copied, reproduced, transferred, distributed, stored in a retrieval system, leased or licensed in any way except as allowed under the terms and conditions under which it was purchased or as permitted by applicable copyright law.

Lon’s quote from Ovid’s Metamorphoses: Ovid,
, Bk I:199-243. (A.S. Kline, translator). Ann Arbor, MI: Borders Classics, 2004.

Published DRM-free, but sharing is not always caring.

A free sample is available at all online publishers.

Cover Art: Rob Prior

Cover and Book Design: Katrin Auch

Published by Ben & Derek Ink Inc.

Print Version ISBN: 978-0985245610

eBook ISBN: 978-0985245603

eBook Version 1.1

On Twitter: #CityUnderTheMoon

Contact: [email protected]

Please visit
for supplemental material.

Even a man who is pure in heart

and says his prayers by night

may become a wolf

when the wolfbane blooms

and the autumn moon is bright.

The Wolf Man
screenplay by Curt Siodmak


— Michael Jackson



Greenwich Village


December 30

8:29 a.m.

Brianna Tildascow was shocked awake by a bass-heavy club beat pinballing through her skull. Her eyes came to focus on a framed poster of a silicone-infused woman lounging on a Lamborghini.

They still made those posters? They still made guys who hung them?

Yep. And that guy had a bass-heavy club beat as his ringtone.

She fell back onto her pillow. There were her mother’s soft features, shiny blond curls and big blue eyes. So perfect, so delicate, so
her mother

…staring back from a sex mirror over the bed.

At age 33.

This was going to be an epic walk of shame.

“Absolutely. Of course, sir,” said Mister Right Now into his phone as he fretted over a mark on his silk sheets.

She’d gone home with
this guy?
Was the club
desolate last night? And was he really flexing his biceps while holding his phone?

“Yes sir, right away.” He ended the call and whipped his eyebrows into a dramatic frenzy. “I have to go.”

“Okay.” First good news of the morning. Now to start the esteem-choking process of gathering clothes. But that was gonna require the world to stand still.

“It’s a national emergency.”

“Alright,” she muttered. She’d faked enough last night.

“The thing about working for the CIA is that your job never stops, day or night. So the vigilance can never stop.”

“What do you do for the CIA?” she asked.
Of course
she’d snagged the zipper of her
open for business

“I’m a courier.”

“So you drive things around?”

“It can be very dangerous work.”

“It can be very dangerous work,” she repeated. Just to hear it again.

“I never know when I’ll be able to come out from under cover. Leave your number and I’ll call if I can. You’ll have to show yourself out.”

Wow! But the place was almost the size of a double-wide shoebox! How would she ever find the door through the haze of Kenneth Cole Black?

Another ringtone on the attack:
Bang your head! Metal Health will drive you mad!
Tildascow found her BlackBerry on the night table, next to the—ugh, the K-Y jelly. Caller ID read “Mr. Snuffleupagus.”

“This is Tildascow,” she answered. The minister of cologne listened while fastening his two-pound watch. “Yes sir, Mister Director. I’ll be there in 15 minutes. Thank you, sir.”

She ended the call and sighed. No time to whip her mother’s blond curls into some semblance of professionalism, and her jacket was too flimsy to cover the slutty nonsense she’d worn last night. She needed to have a serious conversation with herself.

“Who was that?” asked the courier.

“The Director of the FBI, with an assignment from the Attorney General’s Office,” she said while retrieving her gun from under the bed. “I have to go.”

“You work for the FBI?”

“Yes. Where are my shoes—“ Yep. She’d worn her strappy stiletto fuckpumps.

“What do you do?”

“I hunt people. And usually kill them. It can be very dangerous work.”

“Can I get your number?” he asked.

“Watch out for potholes.”


First Avenue at 44th Street

December 30

9:04 a.m.

The morning glare felt like a punch in the eyes as Tildascow stepped out of the taxi. First Avenue was the last of New York proper before United Nations Plaza at the very eastern edge of the island. There were no skyscrapers left to shield her from the cruelty of unfettered sunlight.

The scene was on the south side of 44
Street, a dozen yards from First Avenue. NYPD had blocked off the courtyard next to the UNICEF Building, Number Three UN Plaza. The crowd had spilled outward and was choking the entrance to the Millennium United Nations Hotel on the other side of the street. Law-enforcement officers were shooing looky-loos; the news crews had already been kicked to First, where they were congesting southbound traffic.

Tildascow pushed her way through the pedestrians, loving the odor of New Yorkers in their natural habitat. Her badge got her under the police tape and into the dense crowd of law enforcement officers: UN Peacekeepers, NYPD uniformed and plainclothes, and reps from the Department of State. No better way to screw up an investigation than to add another clownpack of law enforcement officers. Best news of the morning was that she didn’t have to deal with any of them; her briefing had been delivered to her BlackBerry.

The victim was Holly Cooke,
Deneen, Caucasian, age 52. Her husband, Archibald “Archie” Cooke, had overcome his unfortunate name to become the US Ambassador to Italy and San Marino.

Holly Cooke was a world-class socialite, on the job at black-tie fundraisers, international balls and state dinners. She was naturally gorgeous—a stunning brunette who’d had the sense to let herself age gracefully. But Cooke was no trophy wife; she had a PhD from Harvard in Political Economy and Government. She was also a cousin of the First Lady.

Archie Cooke had recently retired at age 61. He was in the process of wrapping up his affairs in Italy in preparation for a transition to New York, where he would assist the Department of State when his diplomat friends visited the UN. The Cookes had recently adopted a child in Italy, where the process was much smoother than in the US. This was their late shot at a “normal” family.

Holly Cooke had arrived ahead of Archie and begun shopping for a home in the City, according to the briefing. And then something happened.

The courtyard that Tildascow saw was littered with bloodstains. Most were ancillary footprints that came in the aftermath of the attack. The major pooling occurred near the ivy-covered back wall, where they’d found Holly Cooke. A child’s stroller lay toppled a few feet away, in the shadow of a Littleleaf Linden tree.

Last night around ten, Cooke had taken her son for a walk. Odd timing, Tildascow thought, but Cooke might’ve been jetlagged. She’d emerged from the General Assembly Building on UN Plaza, crossed First Avenue, and proceeded west on 44
. She was attacked less than twenty yards down the street, and now she clung to life at Bellevue. Prognosis was grim. And the child was missing.

Tildascow took a moment to figure out how to squat without Sharon Stone-ing the crowd of predominantly male LEOs. Settling on the path of least comfort, she put her knees on the freezing concrete and sat in
, her meditation position.

The crime scene photographers’ dual flashbulbs strobed off the UNICEF Building’s wall. Forensics were documenting a backspatter stain that looked like it’d come from the backswing of the assailant’s weapon. A spatter guy wielding a tape measure worked to determine the angle of impact.

But it was the stroller that told Tildascow most of the tale.

A forward spatter across the canopy marked the first impact, which had sent Cooke reeling toward that back wall. An expiration pattern on the handle’s crossbar suggested that the stroller had remained upright during the melee.

But something wasn’t right.

Tildascow peeked over her shoulder, keeping her eyes below any conversation-sparking contact with the other officials.

The attacker had come from the direction of the hotel and swept up on Holly Cooke from a low position. The weapon cut into her, but it also had a blunt component that pushed her backward. A cast-off stain on a pillar a few feet away indicated that the first swing had had some serious velocity.

Cooke had landed on her back, close to the base of the ivy-covered wall—about eight feet from where she was initially struck. The assailant then stood over her and attacked again. It was the backswing from this second assault that had cast that spray on the UNICEF Building.

The backspatter had landed in three streaks, suggesting a pronged weapon. The angle wasn’t right for a rake or a pitchfork. And the hospital report said the wounds were too ragged to be the result of a cutting instrument.

It was an animal’s claw.

Tildascow scanned the various reddish-black footprints: shoes, in looping patterns to and from Holly Cooke’s final position. No animal tracks, not even among the dimmest prints on the outer rim of the scene.

The stroller was another puzzle. The bloodstain patterns indicated that the child had been removed from the carriage after Cooke was neutralized, but the marks on the shoulder straps were…

Tildascow stood up and shook her head. “Excuse me,” she called to a police officer, holding her ID in front of her cleavage. “Has the stroller been tampered with?”

“First arrivers said that’s how they found it.”

Right. What reason would anyone have had to put their hands on the shoulder straps if the kid was already gone?

She reexamined the straps. Blood was smeared on the shoulder guards and plastic clasps, but the lock had been unlatched, not broken. So the child had been taken in a delicate manner.

Too many unanswered questions here. How could a man inflict these wounds? How could an animal unlatch those clasps? Either way, where did they go afterward?

She scanned the perimeter of the blood spill.

And then her eyes crept up that back wall.


Bellevue Hospital Center

First Avenue at 26th Street

December 30

5:12 p.m.

Tildascow watched the sky darken over the East River as her taxi inched south toward Bellevue. She’d spent two hours at the scene only to learn that she wouldn’t be able to talk to anyone from the UN, and it’d taken another four hours and her breast assets to gain access to the Millennium Hotel’s thoroughly worthless surveillance cameras.

She’d also called the Cookes’ adoption agency in Italy. The kid was an orphan and the agency worker who spearheaded the adoption had since retired. They said they’d track her down for a statement, and they’d reassess the paperwork, which had at least been filed correctly.

It’d been a long time since Tildascow had operated far enough aboveground to get caught in red tape, but she hadn’t forgotten the bitter taste. Still, as far outside her anti-terror wheelhouse as this case might have been, the Director’s office had assigned her as per a priority request from at least the Attorney General, maybe higher. If it took a little brushing up on her people skills, so be it.

So far so good: She’d only made one person cry during her first round of interviews.

Cooke had been discovered at 10:15 p.m. by a passing jogger, who immediately alerted one of the Millennium Hotel’s bellhops. The hotel’s manager called 911, and an ambulance arrived ten minutes later. The jogger, the bellhop, and the manager each gave exhaustive statements to various LEOs, never wavering on details.

The jogger was the one she’d made cry, when she asked him to slowly and clearly describe the specifics of Cooke’s grizzly injuries. Maybe she’d pushed the guy a bit far, but she was trying to gauge the likelihood of Cooke’s survival.

The answer to that question didn’t come until close to 5 p.m., when she received word that Cooke was not only alive, but awake. Apparently she’d made a miraculous recovery after intensive surgery.

Tildascow couldn’t get to Bellevue fast enough. She abandoned her taxi, hoofing the last couple of blocks faster than rush-hour traffic was moving.

Bellevue Hospital Center was established as a six-bed convalescent shelter in 1736, and grew into a cluster of buildings now accommodating more than half a million visitors per year. At some point they’d tacked a glass atrium onto the main entrance’s forlorn limestone façade, probably so folks could tell they had that new electricity stuff.

Tildascow’s casework had taken her into Bellevue’s infamous maximum-security psychiatric ward in the past, but that was guarded by the Department of Corrections. She’d never dealt with the actual hospital police, so she had to ask for directions to their office, a glorified closet just off the lobby.

Her badge earned her an escort to Cooke’s room: a petite lad sporting guyliner. He gave her eveningwear a sneering nod of disapproval, so she mentally counterattacked by pegging him as a wannabe female impersonator. Their silent war carried through the first-floor hallway and into the elevator, where Tildascow removed her shoes to give her blisters some air.

The lad hated her stilettos just as much as she did.

Finally, they reached the fourth floor and Barbra Streisman sang goodbye with a ringing “THANK YOU.” It would have been unprofessional for Tildascow to draw her weapon, and she could think of no other response.

The elevator opened to a picture window overlooking First Avenue.

The sun was fully gone; this clawed magician had almost a full day’s lead.

Two plainclothes NYPD detectives were in Holly Cooke’s room, which meant the UN blind-closers hadn’t yet arrived. Tildascow knew she’d lose access to Cooke the moment they did, so she couldn’t afford to politely wait for the cops to finish their business. The FBI and NYPD had a decent relationship, but nobody liked to be sent to the locker room early.

She showed her ID at the nurse’s desk across from 424. “I need to talk to the doctor who saw Holly Cooke last night.”

“Oh God, another?” the half-asleep nurse whined at her badge.

“It’s been a long day,” Tildascow responded. In other words,
Shut the fuck up and do your job.

“That would be Dr. Kenzie,” the nurse said, nodding toward a petite brunette in a white coat.

Kenzie was already fielding questions from a uniformed cop. She looked unkempt and pale: no make-up, no hair product, and dry hands with no nail polish. Like an old woman trying to burst out of her young skin.

As Tildascow approached, she pulled frizzy blond strands from her ponytail. FBI Interrogation 101: “Familiarity mirroring.” Agents are taught to mimic their subjects’ disposition and intonation, creating the illusion of a fundamental bond.
Hey, man, I’m the same as you.

“… I don’t know what else to say,” Kenzie hissed at the cop. “I’ve already answered the other officers—“

BOOK: City Under the Moon
7.57Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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