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Authors: Peter Blauner

Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #Hard-Boiled

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BOOK: Slipping Into Darkness
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“He lawyer up yet?” Francis watched the boy through the one-way glass.


“No, but he’s thinking about it,” said his sergeant, Jerry Cronin. “He’s no dope, this kid.”


The boy’s fingernails drummed on the wooden tabletop, a little lopsided rumba beat. Hearing the echo in the empty room, though, he stopped and stared into space again, vaguely aware of being observed. His slender shoulders rose and fell in his maroon parochial-school blazer, sagging with the weight of accumulating time, two small red scabs on his chin plainly visible.


“Sully get anything out of him?”


“You know Sully.” The sergeant made a hissing sound. He was a small tight man, rapidly becoming smaller and tighter. “He’s got a touch as soft as John Henry. He came on hard and tried to put the fear of God in the kid. It was mutually decided another approach was needed.”


“So you giving me the keys or putting me in the rumble seat?”


“You’re getting the keys. With conditions.”




“Grown-ups are watching.”


Francis saw the Bosses gathering in the office down the hall like crows on a phone wire. Al Barber, his father’s friend from the First Dep’s office, talking to Robert “the Turk” McKernan himself, the chief of the department. No longer creatures of the street, but products of administration. Reflexes dulled, bodies thickened, eyes shrinking as they became more adept at spotting threatening memos than concealed weapons.


Francis locked eyes with McKernan for a half-second before the chief closed the door. “He don’t like me. The Turk.”


“Of course he don’t like you,” the sergeant said, shrugging. “Two years out of Narcotics, eighteen months off the Farm? Get the fuck out of here. You wouldn’t even be standing here if it wasn’t for your old man. But I told him, honestly, ‘The kid’s a fuckin’ great detective.’ I reminded him you got the Harlem Meer shooter and the one threw that little girl off the roof. I said, ‘You put Francis in a room with a guy,
he’s gonna give it up.
Best interrogator I’ve ever seen. Great natural talent, like Mantle hitting a baseball or Pavarotti singing opera. We got people talking over each other to tell him what they did.’”


“So he said all right?”


“Fuck no,” said the sergeant. “He still wants you out of there. But Barber and me ganged up on him, and the old man put in a good word. You get one shot.”


“Thanks, Sarge.”


“Don’t thank me. You make me look bad, you will rue the fucking day, my friend.” The sergeant tugged his sleeve. “Francis, one other thing.”




“Sully never got around to reading him his rights. Bosses are a little concerned, Julian being seventeen and all.”


“I’ll dance around Miranda like Fred Astaire.”


Francis brushed past him, picking up a black canvas bag and putting his game face on. Not letting on the fact he was bothered.
Just because the story had led the news for two days running? Just because the mayor and the police commissioner had already both given press conferences? Just because everyone was acting as if he, Francis X. Loughlin of Blackrock Avenue in the Bronx, would be personally responsible for a third of the city’s tax base relocating to the suburbs if the killer wasn’t caught by this weekend? Just because this was his best shot at turning things around after his little stint in rehab? Just because he’d met with the girl’s family and personally promised he’d do right by them? Just because the old man had interceded on his behalf and would probably be up here any minute, looking over his shoulder?


He stepped into the interrogation room and the door closed behind him with a cool unnerving


“Whaddaya reading?”


Julian Vega looked up from the book he’d pulled out of his bag, like a fawn peering out from behind a thicket, and then shyly raised the futuristic-looking silver-and-black cover of a book called
Childhood’s End.


“Arthur C. Clarke. What is that, like, sci-fi?”


“It’s the third time I’ve read it.” Julian looked sheepish. “It’s not the greatest writing, but every time I understand it a little better.”


“What’s it about?” Francis eased himself into a higher seat across the table, knowing the Bosses were lining up on the other side of the glass, ready to second-guess him.


“The Overlords.” The boy’s voice was too husky for his scrawny-ass build. “They’re these superintelligent aliens who just show up and act like they’re going to save the earth from war and disease, but then it turns out they’re running a whole other game.”


“There’s always a catch, isn’t there?” Francis picked up the book and studied the back cover. “I read a lot myself. But usually more like biographies and history books.”


“That’s the past. I like to read about what hasn’t happened yet.”


“Hmm.” Francis let that last phrase hang for a few seconds before he put the book facedown and stared at Julian, establishing the unspoken ground rules:
Your only way out is through me.


“So you know why we asked to stop by here today. Right, Julian?”


“Yeah. The other guy told me. You wanted to talk about Allison.”


Francis took out a yellow legal pad and put it on the table between them. They both took a moment to contemplate the invisible third presence in the room.


In family pictures, she was a little heartbreaker. All wild red hair and smoky eyes, fair freckled shoulders and cloud-parting smiles. You could see why she was still getting carded at twenty-seven. She looked barely older than the kids she was taking care of in the pediatric ER. All the other doctors and nurses he’d interviewed at Bellevue made a point of saying that she didn’t have to stoop much over the examining table. Everything was eye level with her. No matter how much the parents were screaming or freaking out in the doorway, she never raised her voice or resorted to baby talk when she had to put in a stitch or set a bone. She just talked to kids as though she were one of them.


Not that she was any Heidi of the hills—Heidi probably didn’t have expensive black Dior underwear in her dresser or a picture of Keith Hernandez, the ’stache-wearing Mets first baseman, taped to the bottom of her mirror or E-Z Wider rolling papers in her night table. On the other hand, Heidi might not have stayed after her shift with an eleven-year-old boy who had brain cancer, holding his hand and reading inappropriate sections out loud from
And three days ago, somebody hit her so hard with a claw hammer that one of the tongs went up into her frontal lobe.


“Does your dad know you’re here talking to us?” Francis asked, knowing the boy had been picked up by Sully at lunchtime outside the St. Crispin’s School on East 90th Street.


Julian shook his head. “I called, but it’s hard for him to hear the phone sometimes when he’s working in the basement.”


“He’s the superintendent of the whole apartment house, right?”


The boy allowed himself a quick proud smile. “Yeah, he takes care of everything. Seventy-two apartments.”


“Okay, that’s fine. It’s just a formal thing we have to go through whenever anybody comes in to help us. You know, ‘you have the right to an attorney,’ blah, blah . . .”


Francis could almost hear the sigh of relief from behind the glass. Up until a few years ago, he probably couldn’t have gotten away with questioning a high school senior without a grown-up present. But then that little psychopath Willie Bosket murdered a couple of subway riders for the hell of it when he was fifteen and—
presto change-o!
—a new law was born.


“And then we usually say something like”—he dropped his voice into his best mock-
register—“‘if you can’t afford an attorney, one will be provided for you.’ You know, all that bullshit. By the way, did you try calling your mom?”


“She’s dead.” Julian folded his hands on the table.




“Yeah. Long time ago. Cancer.”


“When you were how old?”




“I lost mine when I was nine.” Francis said.


“For real?”


Francis rested a hand on his gut. “I had my First Communion in her hospital room four weeks before she died. . . .”


He sat back and waited. Other guys had simpler ways of getting a rapport going. But sometimes a pack of smokes and a White Castle burger weren’t enough. Real scars had to be displayed. Wound psychology. You needed that shock of recognition to get a man to put his guard down.


“I still pray to Saint Christopher for my mom,” the boy said softly, reaching under his collar and showing Francis part of a chain around his neck. “My father gave me a medal.”


“Same difference.” Francis nonchalantly pulled out the Miranda card for Julian to sign. “I know how it goes. You’re always wanting something nobody can ever give you back. Sometimes you don’t even know what it is. You just
Sign here, please.”


The long lashes fluttered and a shiny spot formed in the corner of Julian’s eye. He sniffed and glanced down at the card in embarrassment.


“But it’s always the same thing, isn’t it?” Francis said, distracting him. “You just want what everybody else has.” He nudged the card. “It’s all right. You don’t have to write your whole name. Just put your initials.”


Trying to clear his eyes with the back of his wrist, Julian scribbled next to the warning, glad to be doing something that looked adult and purposeful.


“I see you’re doing a pretty good job of looking after yourself,” Francis said, tugging his attention back lest Julian start reading too carefully. “You should’ve seen me when I was your age. I was a mess. My shirttails were always out. My hair never got combed. My shoes were always falling apart.” He chuckled knowingly. “You ever do that thing where you have to write your name on your clothes in Magic Marker because you don’t have anybody to sew a label on for you?”


“Sometimes, but I still got my
taking care of me. We kinda look out for each other.”


Francis nodded, getting the picture. The widower and his son living together in the basement apartment. The boy carrying his father’s toolbox, always breaking out the wrench and the pliers before it was time to use them.


He put the Miranda card back in his pocket, mission accomplished. “So Julian. You were working in Allison’s apartment the night before —”






The boy looked abashed. “My parents called me Joo-lian instead of Julio, ’cause they didn’t want me to sound like every other Puerto Rican kid on the block. But then I started getting the crap kicked out of me in middle school, so my dad started calling me Hoolian the Hooligan.”


“I hear
” Francis half saluted. “You can imagine what it was like going to Regis with a name like Francis Xavier Loughlin.”


The peach fuzz mustache jerked. “Really? You went to Regis?”


“Four years.”


“I think we played you in soccer last year.”


“Probably.” Francis humored him. “Anyway. You told Detective Sullivan you were in Allison’s apartment the night before.”


“Yeah. The ball cock wouldn’t rise.”


Francis heard what sounded like a cough behind the glass. “I beg your pardon?”


“The toilet tank wasn’t filling properly. Looked like it was leaking. So actually what I did was, I tightened the jamb nut. Then she could build up some serious pressure and get a nice strong three-point-two-gallon
You could’ve flushed a cat down that sucker.”


“I see.” Francis nodded and reached into the canvas bag he’d brought in the room. “Hoolian, I want to ask you something. This yours?”


He dropped a Ziploc evidence bag on the table between them. It deflated with a slow
revealing the steel claw hammer inside. The cloudiness of the bag obscured fingerprint powder on the black rubber grip and the spots of dried blood on its head.


“Guess so.” Hoolian rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “I must’ve left it in her bathroom. Where’d you find it?”


“In the fire hose storage compartment, downstairs.”


How’d it get there? I thought I left it in the bathroom.”


Francis shrugged, not letting on that Hoolian had just admitted the murder weapon belonged to him. “So you told Detective Sullivan that you stayed and talked to Allison awhile after you were done with the toilet.”


“Yeah, you know, we hung out sometimes. We were, like, you know, friends.”




“Yeah . . .” Hoolian pushed up in his seat, a little disconcerted. “She was . . . a good person. We talked a lot. She was helping me write the essay for my college application.”


“Yeah? Where you applying?”


“Columbia. My father always wanted me to go there.”


“Good for you.” Francis stuck his lip out. “I’m just a Fordham guy myself.”


Slowly the hand came down from his chin, allowing Francis to focus on the pair of dark diagonal scabs.


“Still, seems kind of surprising in your type of building,” he said. “People in Manhattan don’t usually know their neighbors.”


“Oh, I know everybody.” The scabs stretched, revealing tiny cracks. “I grew up in that house since I was three. My father says I’m like the mayor, talking to people on the service elevator, going in and out of their kitchens with groceries. She’d only been there subletting about eight, nine months, but we got tight right away. We were both into
Star Trek. . . .

BOOK: Slipping Into Darkness
10.51Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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