Authors: Kieran Crowley
Print edition ISBN: 9781783296491
E-book edition ISBN: 9781783296507
Published by Titan Books
A division of Titan Publishing Group Ltd
144 Southwark Street, London SE1 0UP
First edition: October 2015
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
Copyright © 2015 by Kieran Crowley. All rights reserved.
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
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On my third day on the job at the tabloid
New York Mail
, I was weaving a quiet, climate-controlled cocoon of predictability inside my beige, carpeted cubicle. When I swiveled toward the window in my chair, I was rewarded with a shiny Manhattan view of the skyscraper next door, like a giant, docked cruise ship, bright with sharp spring sunlight. I watched a flock of dirty pigeons in tight formation wing up from the unseen sidewalk below, shape-shifting past my window, mounting the space between the buildings. As they rolled and climbed as one, maybe toward their never-seen nests, the space between them never changed. Until a brown blur flashed down, making a hole. The blur and the birds vanished like magic, so quickly it took me a few seconds to realize what I had seen. A hawk, probably a peregrine falcon, taking lunch. To go.
I turned back to my desk and sipped some soothing decaffeinated Earl Gray tea from my
New York Mail
mug. I glanced at my screen, where I was making headway on my second weekly feature column. Besides the computer terminal on my desk, I had a flat black letter opener for opening what little mail I got, along with some pens and thin notebooks, and a neatly folded emergency necktie for my collared shirt, in case I needed to dress up. There was a telephone and a set of three interlocked stainless-steel rings, magic rings from my early magician phase in school. As a kid, I was the pest who knew where the rabbit was hidden. That’s the thing about magic, and it was a good lesson. Magic is not magic. It’s misdirection. And planning.
I unwrapped my lunch, a steaming chicken souvlaki sandwich on pita bread, and was reaching for the tzatziki yogurt sauce when I was startled by my desk phone ringing. For the first time. It was loud and annoying.
I didn’t answer it but it kept chirping. I had used it to phone people I needed to speak to for my column. Readers emailed and snail-mailed questions for me to answer, and my voicemail took care of the rest. Up to that point, I had been comforted by the idea that, theoretically, I would never have to communicate with anyone I didn’t want to, while I worked on my other project.
The phone rang some more and I remembered I hadn’t personalized my voicemail message. It might be someone important, perhaps a boss. I let it ring a while longer but it wouldn’t stop. I thought about what might happen if I didn’t answer it and finally decided I had no choice.
“Frank Shepherd?” a young, loud female voice demanded.
“Umm… yeah. F.X. actually. Just call me Shepherd.”
“Hold for Nigel Bantock on the City Desk,” the voice snapped, quickly, over a noisy background of squawking police radios and more ringing phones. Damn. It
“I’m sorry. Who is this?” I asked dead air. She was already gone. The City Desk. Breaking news. One floor above me and a world apart from the sleepy Features Department where I was hiding.
“Bantock here.” A sharp accent. Australian? “Frank Shepherd?”
“Yeah. Call me Shepherd. I’m sorry, what did you say your name—”
“Howaya, Shep? Nice to meet ya, mate. I’m new in town, first day on the desk truth be told, but I hear you’re the best. I’ve got what smells like a good murder uptown. Right up your alley.”
“Uh, great, uh… sir,” I stumbled, wondering if I was supposed to respond with enthusiasm. “What’s the story? What kind of animal is involved?”
“Damn. You’re bloody good. How did you know that? You listening, too?”
“The pooch. Photo just heard over the cop radio a sec ago that some dog is guarding the body. Cops may have to shoot it. Top of the list right now, mate,” Bantock continued without a breath. “You know, ‘loyal pooch protecting slain master?’ Blah blah. Got a runner from the shack on the way with Photo but I need you on this right away. I want an exclusive break on this from you or I’ll know why not,” he concluded in a friendly, threatening tone.
“A good murder. The shack,” I repeated, trying to sound as if I knew what the hell he was talking about.
“The cop shop at police headquarters,” Bantock fired back. “Looks like fun.”
“A fun murder. Great. But I’m not sure why I—”
“It’s a good nabe, mate, um, Clinton area, Upper East Side near Central Park, and it’s indoors. Google Earth shows a bloody townhouse. Good bet it’s RWPs,” he assured me, rapidly reading out an address and repeating it so I could write it down. “Male dead on the scene, hacked to death. Crime Scene and Homicide are there. Get up there and get us a lead for the web, pronto, amigo. Cheers.”
“Yes, sir. Have a nice day,” I lied.
He was gone before I could ask him what RWPs were. Maybe this guy thought he was doing me a favor by sending me out on breaking news? Apparently, at the
New York Mail
, when they had a good murder, a fun murder, they emptied the office. I thought about it for a while. Maybe I should have told him I wasn’t a reporter. Never did it once. Probably a bad idea. It was the dog. I couldn’t say no to a boss on a pet story, not on my third day at work, and this might help with my little side project. My mouth was watering as I looked at my souvlaki sandwich, with its aromatic grilled chicken and shredded lettuce and tomatoes. I also had a cold can of soda, only because I figured I couldn’t get away with a beer at work. I glanced at my folded tie but decided not to wear it. My lunch was too messy to take with me. I wrapped it back up and left it on my desk. Hoping to hell this was a rare thing, a quick thing.
I left my breached cocoon. It was a warm, sunny, magical day in May but I was not a butterfly. I took a cab.
It was my first time in a New York City cab, a change from the bus and subway. A bulletproof plastic barrier between me and the driver had a pay slot, a credit card machine and a flat screen TV playing lame infomercials. The last cab I was in, in another city, had none of those things and definitely wasn’t bulletproof. I liked this one better. The view was also nicer. Young women in short dresses and high heels, out to lunch, laughing, gossiping in the sun. The only thing similar about this cab in this city was the Baluchistani music the driver was playing.
Bantock was right. It was a good neighborhood: gourmet restaurants, boutiques and fancy townhouses with shiny brass plaques on them, a spot where people were rich enough to have lifestyles, not just lives. It even seemed sunnier. My empty stomach growled. A crowd of TV crews, photographers and reporters were hanging out behind baby-blue NYPD sawhorses on the sidewalk on East 72nd Street. I went up to two uniformed male cops, one black and one white, standing behind a tightly stretched yellow plastic
CRIME SCENE DO NOT CROSS
tape, which blocked the roadway. Behind them, emergency vehicles and cop cars were clustered in front of a brown townhouse in the middle of the block. As I approached, I heard the chattering of motorized camera shutters from the photographers, who were all pointing their cameras at me. They had no idea who I was and were shooting first and asking questions later. This could be useful.
“I’m Shepherd. I’m here about the dog,” I told the cops.
They both giggled at my name.
“Give me a break,” I said.
“No vehicle, Shepherd?” the black cop asked.
“No,” I replied. “But I think our other guy, the one from headquarters, is coming in one.”
“You think?” the white cop chimed in.
“Sorry. I’m new. Third day on the job,” I tried.
“Okay,” the black officer said, with a shrug, lifting the tape. “I’ll take you down.”
As we walked, the cop, whose nametag said
, looked at my face. I got that look people gave me when they were debating whether or not to ask me about the scars on my left cheek; a dark, gnarly one, flanked by two fainter ones that missed my blue eye and vanished into my sandy sideburn and hairline. I was used to it. Everybody saw it but most people pretended they didn’t. I could see the curiosity, the revulsion. The cop went for it.
“Pit bull get ya?” he asked, pointing at the claw-like lines.
“You guessed it.” I smiled at him but he wasn’t convinced. “You should be a detective.”
“Thought you were new?” he asked.
“Happened the first day. Second day, I took off. So far, today looks okay. So, you have one dead guy inside?”
“Yeah, a homicide. Some famous fag.”
I let it go.
“What are RWPs?” I asked, as we walked. The cop smirked.
“Something my boss said. What’s it mean?”
“Rich White People,” he said with a big grin.
“Oh. I just heard it today. Like I said, I’m new.”
And my first assignment as a reporter would hopefully be my last. We sidestepped a dirty young Bradford Pear tree struggling out of its square hole of dirt. In the spring breeze, the tough sapling gently snowed white petals onto the filthy pavement.
“What’s your first name, Shepherd?” the cop asked, smiling.
“It’s not German,” I countered, anticipating the joke.