Authors: C. J. Carpenter
Tags: #fiction, #mystery, #mystery fiction, #megan mcginn, #mystery novel, #thriller, #police, #nypd
C. J. Carpenter
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To Mary Ellen Carpenter, my mother and best friend.
She knew when to be the first and how to become the second.
To my agent, Doug Grad, a huge thank you for your tireless work, the countless phone calls, emails, and especially your guidance. Actually, perhaps more so for your patience! To my editor Terri Bischoff and the great team at Midnight Ink for giving me the opportunity of taking a dream of over fifteen years and making it a reality.
To the authors who were so generous with their time and wisdom as I began this insane journey: Reed Farrel Coleman, SJ Rozan, Dan Judson, Jason Starr, Sarah Weinman, S. P. Lee, Todd Robinson, Bernard Whalen, J. D. Rhoades, and Terrence McCauleyâand yes, I know I'm missing some people, please forgive my brain freeze. A very warm thank you to Otto Penzler for your candidness and generosity over the years. Larry Gandle, I would be lost without your sarcasm and dark wit; you're the best. Laura Lippman, Ken Bruen, Ali Karim, R. J. Ellory, Brendan DuBoisâthank you for the wonderful advice you've shared with me.
Before the acknowledgments become longer than my prologue, thank you to my family and friends. I must point out a few lifelong friends I've been honored to have in my life: David Sonatore, Ani Nappa, Enza Golden, Amy Winner, and Susan Olsen. I thank you for your support when I'd throw myself on my couch and scream, “What am I doing?!” Thank you, Tony Duino Black, for giving me the actual tools: my desk, computer, pen, pencils, and paper.
It took a village to make this happen, and I'm very grateful.
His last kill was
ite. He thumbed through the article with anticipationâuntil he was rudely interrupted by another patient's untimely demise. The soon-
to-be-departed was named Roger.
Roger mounted a chair to turn the channel on the television. Roger's favorite show had been interrupted with a special news report, so he opened his own vein.
“You son of a fucking bitch! Bitches! All Goddamn bitches!”
The disappointment had been too much for Roger. Two orderlies and a nurse ran over to him, covering his neck as blood sprayed out, but it was too late. Seconds later the show resumed with the exception of one viewer; so much for the Nielsen ratings at Hudson Psychiatric Center.
Fintan glanced over, ambivalent to Roger's self-inflicted expiration date as he searched for the continuation of the article. They'd crowned him The Executor. He was proud of that moniker. Eight people of different ages, sexes, ethnicitiesâall dead through his doing. Since his capture, the only enjoyment he experienced was in perusing the articles, viewing the evening news for his accomplishments, and hoping to see an interview or a ten-second clip of the formidable woman responsible for his capture. He didn't hate her. If anything, he viewed her as a worthy opponent. After all, she'd caught him when no one else was looking in his direction.
The patients in the common area were being told to go back to their rooms. Fintan didn't understand the big deal; it's not as though the man bleeding out on the floor had anything to offer the world. Roger was nuts, crazy off his ass. He thought the walls spoke to him. He would talk to the invisible little man on his shoulder and smack him off when he felt agitated. There was one week when Roger thought he was a Rockette and started kicking the staff while singing show tunes.
One definition of insanity is to be in a state of mind that prevents normal perception, behavior, or social interaction. Fintan wasn't insane. FBI profilers would write books about him, he'd be added to the list of Bundy, Gacy, and the like. Yes, his atrocities, his motives, would be hypothesized over for years to come, and that would amuse him because the diagnoses would be incorrect. And he'd be the last person to
offer any reasoning for his actions. There was only one four-letter
word that would be appropriate to describe Fintan D. Worth:
Fintan turned to the last page of the story, and there was her picture next to his. Captor next to captured. Deciding too much time had passed, he tiptoed around the pool of blood, stopped at the nurses station, and asked for paper and pen.
“Did you give my
mother a sedative this morning?” Megan whispered to the nurse. The nurse nodded and crossed her fingers as a sign of hope in answer to
her question. Megan's mother, Rose McGinn, sat next to her in front of the casket, staring blankly. Michael Murphy, Pat McGinn's best friend and partner in Homicide, was speaking of his life knowing Pat. It spanned over thirty years. He reminisced about standing up for each other on their wedding days nearly thirty-eight years ago. Megan avoided looking at her mother, knowing there would certainly not be a glint in Rose's eye.
, she thought.
leaves a brain with nothing more than remnants.
So fucking unfair.
She'd looked around at the number of people in attendance. She was hardly surprised to see so many paying their respects in their full dress uniforms. They had traveled from church to cemetery. Her father would have done the same for every person there, if he'd been given the chance.
Megan returned her attention to the eulogy. She couldn't think of anyone better than Uncle Mike to give the tribute. She listened as he spoke of their time together as partners in Homicide and how their friendship had quickly turned into a brotherhood. It was nice to listen to him reminisce about all the summer vacations the families shared. Uncle Mike was a sky-scraping, first-generation Irish-American. His ruddy complexion, due more to his lifestyle than anything else, displayed uneven dimples and a Jack Nicholson mischievous grin. His head was a mop of previously black hair now speckled gray. Megan was sure his smile and playful demeanor managed to land him more than his share of fleeting romances. Before he'd settled down with his wife, Maureen, of course. Megan knew there were far more devilish stories to be heard than the ones he was relating, and someday she hoped he'd share them
with her. It brought a small smile to her face before she felt a quivering hand over her own. She turned to find her mother staring at her in a way she hadn't in some time.
“He's gone, baby girl. I've lost my husband.”
Megan squeezed her mother's hand. “I know, Momma.”
Rose turned toward the casket, slipping back into oblivion
while tears fell over her cheeks. Megan turned to look at her older brother, Brendan, standing behind Rose's wheelchair. They shared a painful glance knowing they truly had lost both parents.
As Uncle Mike continued, Megan's thoughts trailed back to the moment she'd found her father. She'd called him last Wednesday morning to confirm their weekly dinner: one large pizza with extra cheese and sausage accompanied by a few cold beers at her parents' house. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary when they spoke that morning. Pat said he was going to take Stubbs out for his morning walk and then run a handful of errands early. Stubbs was a black-and-white mutt Megan had adopted from an animal rescue shelter for her father when he retired, not knowing how fast her mother would spiral into dementia. Pat refused to send the dog back even though just taking care of Rose was a full-time job. They managed to arrange for a day nurse to visit and do the majority of the care: the bathing, feeding, organizing her medicines.
The time gave her father a level of reprieve, and he enjoyed
spending it with Stubbs. Pat gave him the name because his tail was docked too close to his rump. When he got excited, the thumb- sized black stump would wiggle but not wag. Pat thought everyone had their own cross to bear in life, even the furry among us.
Megan always knocked before letting herself in, followed by yelling, “Hey, McGinn, I'm home,” but that afternoon she was met by a locked front door and silence. The only sound was Stubbs's barking. But it wasn't the excited bark she knew, the one dogs let out when visitors knock. It was a frantic, high-pitched squeal. She walked around the outside of the house to look in through the side window. She could see Stubbs in the living room, panting and nervously walking in circles. Rose stood motionless at the opposite window.
Megan had banged on the door. “Mom! Mom! It's Megan.
Open the door and let me in!”
Megan dug out her set of house keys. When she turned the knob and opened the front door, the foul odor she was far too accustomed to assailed her senses. Her hands began to tremble as though it were a cold winter night, not an autumn day.
She ran over to Rose, who'd soiled herself multiple times.
Where is that fucking nurse?
“Mom, it's Megan. Where is Dad?”
Rose pointed to the living room. “He's asleep.”
No. Please. Please let me be wrong
. “Mom, you stay here. Don't move. Do you hear me?
e.” Her voice trembled as she called out, “Dad?”
Megan had no idea why she called out for her father. Clutching at straws was the only reason she could offer herself in the days that followed. Stubbs ran over to Megan and raced back into the living room. He did this twice before actually tugging at Megan's pant leg for her to follow him. She did.
Pat McGinn was slouched to one side in his recliner. His reading glasses were lopsided on the end of his nose, and he still wore his morning slippers. Crime-scene photos lay in his lap; one even remained in his hand. Megan knelt down before her dead father and took the photo from his cold grasp. She released an exasperated sigh. “Right up until the end, huh Dad?”
“You fucking asshole!” Rose yelled at the casket.
Yanked from her unpleasant trot down memory lane, Megan swung toward her mother, bending down and saying, “Momma! Please!”
“Don't talk to me, you little bitch.” Rose slapped Megan across the face.
Brendan bent over to hold Rose's arms before she took another swing. “I thought you said she'd be sedated so this wouldn't happen,” he snapped at Megan.
“She was supposed to be.” Megan glared over at Rose's nurse for assistance, ignoring the searing pain spreading over her cheek.
“When is she going to be put in a hospital? You were supposed to have taken care of it by now.” Brendan was a delegator, not a doer. It never dawned on him that
could have looked into a hospital for their mother, or at the very least asked his spoiled wife, Jill, to do so. As far as Megan could see, Jill's only commitment to the family was spending Brendan's money
Jill apparently viewed Megan as a source of competition, having a tight brother-sister bond with Brendan that, although tested at times, always survived. Megan just had zero patience for gold-digging trophy wives.
Still, Megan and Jill had long shared a white-flag distanceâup until the moment, only
after Pat's death, when Jill asked if she and Brendan would get the family lake house and pontoon in upstate New York.
Hence the demise of the white flag.
“Are you fucking kidding me, Brendan? You're bringing this up now? Give me a breakâI had to make all the funeral arrangements the last few days. Let's just get Mom out of here.” Megan was exasperated. “Okay Momma, it's time to go. Say goodbye to Dad.”
“Why do I have to say goodbye?” Rose's confusion mounted, her anger now completely forgotten.
Megan began moving Rose's wheelchair around. “Because he's dead, Momma. Dad's gone,” she whispered in her mother's ear.
“I'll take her. You guys stay here.” The voice came from behind Megan's seat. It was her partner, Detective Sam Nappa. “Stay. I'll take her to the van.”
“I'll do it. I'm her son,” Brendan said, glaring at Nappa.
“Brendan!” Megan snapped.
“I was just trying to help,” Nappa said with an apologetic look.
“I'm sorry. He's not handling things well
,” Megan whispered.
Rose started to sob like an overtired child who needed a very long nap, except that Rose's mind had been dozing for over a year. The nurse took over the duties of the wheelchair once they reached the van parked on the road near the interment site. Megan then returned to her seat, but not without noticing more than a handful of astonished faces. Sheepishly Megan answered their stares with, “Alzheimer's.” She then refocused on her father's casket, covered in the green, white, and blue police flag.
The priest ended the ceremony with a prayer and information regarding the wake being held at Uncle Mike and Aunt Maureen's house in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn. People were leaving the service when the bagpiper, requested in Pat McGinn's short will, began to play
Megan found she couldn't move. It started to sink in that she'd never see her father, her mentor, ever again. People touched her on the shoulder as they passed, offering condolences. It took all of her strength to acknowledge each mourner. Minutes later Uncle Mike and Aunt Maureen approached.
“Meganator,” Uncle Mike said in a soft voice. “We'll give you a few minutes and then meet you at the limo. Okay with you, kiddo?”
“I guess Rose won't be coming to the wake.” It was more a comment than a question from Aunt Maureen.
Megan cringed. “Oh, I don't think that's a good idea.”
“I'm sorry, sweetie. Take as much time as you need. Brendan is going in the van to take your mom back home with the nurse. He'll come over to the wake after she's settled.”
Megan nodded, then waited for the rest of the people to leave. She hesitantly walked up to her father's casket and put her trembling hand on one end. “Hey, Ginty. This
can't be happening. I thought there'd be more years ahead of us before this day came.” She looked up at the sky, not wanting to confront the tears welling up in her eyes. “I'm going to miss our morning phone calls. I already do.” The lump in her throat felt like a horse pill lodged in her larynx. “R
emember? You'd call me every morning before work to tell me to watch my back. And always ending with a âLove you, kiddo' before hanging up?” The tears were now flowing full force. Megan was embarrassed by her own rare show of emotion. She released an awkward laugh. “I love you, Dad. I love you so much.” She patted the casket. “I'll take care of Mom
ma, okay? Maybe every once in a while I'll bring you a Guinness, and we'll catch up.”
She started to walk toward the limousine, but not without taking one last look back.
The limo ride to Brooklyn was silent, allowing Megan to gather her thoughts. She was glad for the bit of quiet time. She knew she wasn't going to get it later because Irish wakes are anything but silent. And that was exactly what Megan would needânoise and people and laughter and, oh yes, alcohol. One of the first people Megan saw upon entering Mike and Maureen's home was Nappa. His face was a welcome relief.
His Italian-Hungarian heritage practically begged for the clichÃ©d “tall, dark, and handsome” description. Park Avenue socialites would give their husband's last dime to have his high cheekbones and sharp jaw line. His dark brown eyes, set deep within his chiseled features, were softened by dimpled cheeks and an I've-got-a-secret
boyish grin. His ordinary presence brought her solace on this difficult day.
“Nappa, thank you for trying to help earlier. I guess Momma just snapped. Do you think many people noticed?”
He looked to the side to see if anyone was listening. “Well, you know those foam fingers people wave at football games?”
“That would have been less conspicuous.”
This put an awkward smile on Megan's face, and she let out a small laugh. “Great.”
“Don't worry about it.” He looked intently into her eyes. “How are you holding up?”
“I'm fine.” But her red, puffy eyes couldn't hold out the lie she'd just told. “Really. Now, make yourself useful and get me a drink. I have to get into hostess mode for all these people.”
Brendan snaked through the crowd. “Baby sister.”
Megan smiled. It was true, she was younger, but not by much. She and her older brother were Irish twins, born ten months apart. Brendan was closing in on thirty-five, and Megan was thirty-four. Two months out of the year, they shared the same age. It felt comforting, she was never sure why; most likely because very little else ever did.
Megan knew an apology was coming, which meant the funeral bitch-fest was nearing an end.
“I'm sorry. I lashed out at you for no reason. It was wrong. I miss him.”
Megan nodded in agreement.
“You're the one who has had all the parental responsibilities. You've been helping out with Mom. You're the one who found â¦ I'm sorry.” He was sincere, and Megan knew that. Having only two or three real fights their entire lives, they were as close as a brother and sister could be. Megan could never figure out why the few fights they'd had were over their mother.
“Still my kid sister?”
“I don't know. Still going to lend me money when I need it?”
He smiled. “You're living virtually rent-free in my Upper East Side apartment, that's not enough? I thought you were making the big bucks now that you're a high-profile detective.” He smiled. “Look, once I got Mom back and settledâwhich wasn't easy, believe meâI realized I was wrong.”
Megan gave her brother a small hug. “Thanks.”
Nappa returned with a drink for Megan.
“Nappa, I'm really sorry for how I acted back at the cemetery. I was a jerk,” Brendan said.