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Authors: Peter Blauner

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

Slipping Into Darkness (29 page)

BOOK: Slipping Into Darkness
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Come on, God of Small Things, give us a hint.
A partial print on a water glass. A bloodstain on a carpet fiber. A speck of Hoolian’s DNA on one of Christine’s washcloths. Not that he was angling for any particular result this time.
I’m through playing God,
he told himself. The hours are no good and the benefits are lousy.
Just help me get it right this time.

 

The phone rang before he could press the Playback button. He snatched it off the cradle, hoping it was Rashid calling with good news from the warehouse, and growled, “Yo.” But there was only a hiss cresting and fading, like snow falling in a stiff wind.

 

“Anybody there?”

 

He looked down at the caller ID box on the phone and saw the word “Unavailable.”

 

“Look, whoever this is, I don’t need your shit right now. I’m off the clock. You got a beef, call me at work with all the other assholes.”

 

He heard the pressure of a light breath coming through the line and noticed the room suddenly seemed chillier.

 

“All right, fuck you then.”

 

He hit the Off button and tossed the phone on the bed. Then thought better of it and tried to *69 the number, without success.
Okay by me. I ain’t afraid of no ghosts.
He went to the window to see how much daylight he had left. The glass under his fingertips was cool and lightly fogged, as if someone had just been breathing on it from the other side. Clouds hung low over the river, bits of gray matter half shading the Manhattan office towers. And from the other room, he heard water dripping from the ceiling and splattering in the sink at odd intervals.

 

 

31

 

 

 

HOOLIAN WATCHED THE rain come down like a hundred thousand fishing lines and then crouched before Zana’s bathroom again, still trying to hang the door for her.

 

“Whoever did this before must’ve been smoking angel dust,” he said. “Look how the hinges are lined up wrong.”

 

“Hmm.” She stood a few feet away, hands tucked under her armpits, watching him with those wide brown eyes, probably hoping he wouldn’t make things worse than they were already.

 

She lived on the second floor of an old unrehabilitated building in Red Hook, a waterfront neighborhood cut off from the rest of Brooklyn by the expressway. Cranes and cargo loaders loomed like dinosaurs along the piers. The streets had cobblestones and names like Pioneer, Verona, King, Beard, Coffey, and Visitation Place, and there seemed to be someone lingering in a warehouse doorway every block or two, suggesting he do things that probably weren’t in his own best interest. Even in the rain he could see part of the Statue of Liberty through her window, and every once in a while a tugboat sounded its horn as it passed through Buttermilk Channel nearby.

 

Zana had done what she could with the place, hanging brightly colored scarves in the open doorways, lighting candles everywhere, covering holes in the walls with black-and-white cartoon panels she’d drawn of stark little figures wandering intrepidly into canyonlike alleyways and paintings of babies in jars, which on closer examination turned out to be the same woman at different stages of life, always suspended in formaldehyde.

 

“You don’t have a drill by any chance, do you?”

 

She went into the other room and came back with an electric Black & Decker, a quarter-inch bit already in it.

 

“Why is it that you got all these tools around and no idea how to use them?” he asked, plugging it in and watching the wall outlet carefully to see if sparks came out.

 

“He was a carpenter.”

 

“Who?”

 

“The man I was with previously. My husband.”

 

“Your
husband?
” He almost dropped the drill. “What’s that? How come you never mentioned him before?”

 

“He’s irrelevant to the circumstances. We’re no longer married.”

 

“Uh-
huh.
”

 

He gunned the drill twice and looked at her, trying to figure out what to say. He felt like he’d just caught another man going through the things in his cell. He turned and started boring a new hole in the jamb, busying himself before he did something stupid.

 

“He was from my town,” she explained. “My parents knew his parents. You know how it is. They thought he could take care of me after what happened back home. But then we come to America, and he can’t even take care of himself.”

 

He put the gun down and blew sawdust out of the hole, trying to see how deep it went. “How do you mean?”

 

“He is big-time asshole,” she sighed. “There’s nothing more to say about it.”

 

Drugs, he figured, trying to stay cool. That seemed to be the answer to about one out of three questions that came up on the outside as well as inside. “At least he left you some of his tools.” He picked up the tape measure she’d given him, pretending he wasn’t that bothered.

 

“Among other things . . .”

 

She looked out the window, more interested in the weather than in this topic.

 

“So you divorced now?”

 

“Naturally.” She waved at someone outside. “I see him with as little frequency as possible.”

 

“You must’ve been young.”

 

He held a hinge up to the jamb and made a mark for where the second screw would go, telling himself that this was how mature people on the outside dealt with these things.

 

“Everyone is young. This only excuses so much.”

 

He picked up the drill and started making another hole. He thought of all the other things he should’ve been doing right now to help himself. He should’ve been doing more research; he should’ve been looking for more alibi witnesses. At the very least, he should’ve been looking for another job or writing more letters to his father’s union, to see if he was entitled to any benefits. But here he was again, Hoolian the sucker, unable to resist a woman in need.

 

“So how long you lived here anyway?” he said, releasing the trigger and letting the shrill whine die away. “Doesn’t seem like you have a lot of family or friends around.”

 

“Just a few months,” she said. “Before, I am up on Pelham Parkway in the Bronx, but that was almost like being back home. All these people who know my family—I couldn’t stand it. I had to move. My mother cries and cries, but I say, ‘
Meme,
why you bugging? We’re in America.
Shtendosem.
Chill.’”

 

“Yep. Can’t blame someone for wanting a clean start.”

 

“So you think you can fix this door? This would be good, to have privacy.”

 

“Yeah, I think it’ll be all right.” He measured the distance between the upper and lower hinges, glad to have his hands occupied. “But who did this work over here? I see somebody just tried to put on some wood putty. It still hasn’t dried.”

 

“My husband. Everything he does is off by a few inches.”

 

He turned around slowly. “I thought you never saw him after you moved from the Bronx.”

 

“He comes over sometimes. But only by necessity.”

 

“I see.” He let the tongue of the tape measure snap back into place and dropped it on the floor.

 

It dawned on him that there were a couple of other rooms in the apartment she hadn’t shown him yet. He sniffed and glanced into the bathroom, as if he could pick up the scent of another man living there. His muscles gathered in as he thought of what he would do if it turned out he was being played for a chump again.

 

“Well, next time you see him, tell him he should leave a tool alone if he doesn’t know how to use it.”

 

But instead of listening to him, she’d abruptly left the room, drawn by the sound of keys in the front door.

 

The jangling went straight to his nerve endings as the door closed. He heard her giggling and talking to someone in a high playful voice she’d never used with him.

 

He got down on one knee and tried to line up the lower hinge, realizing he’d been used again. He should just walk out and leave her without a bathroom door, he told himself. Let some other fool deal with her problems. Or he could start running his mouth and sticking his chest out when his rival walked in, knowing he had a drill in hand as a weapon. But instead, he decided he’d finish the work, the way Papi would have, just to show up his rival. Say,
see,
this is how a man would do it. And then turn around and walk out, like the gunfighter riding high in the saddle.

 

“Hey, you wanna get me a screwdriver so I can finish this shit?” he called out, dropping his voice a half-octave to let the interloper know he was here.

 

“A moment, please,” Zana answered, before she started whispering conspiratorially to her guest.

 

It was too much, he decided. He couldn’t stay. He hadn’t survived things that would’ve killed other men ten times over just to be treated with this much disrespect. He half rose from his crouch, bracing for a head-on collision.

 

But then the curtain between the two rooms moved and instead of the stoned oaf he’d expected, a little boy emerged, no more than four or five years old. He moved with lurching eager haplessness, as if the arches of his feet weren’t fully formed and the size of his head was pitching him forward. His eyes were a little too big for his face and his skin had that familiar, potato-pale sallowness. Hoolian looked back at Zana behind him, confirming the mother-son resemblance, only then registering that the kid was bringing him a flathead screwdriver with the point aimed down at the floor.

 

 

32

 

 

 

THE MOON WAS packed in heavy clouds when Patti came up through the hatch and found Francis on the roof in near-total darkness, his flashlight slowly moving across the tarred seams.

 

“Crime Scene Unit?” she asked.

 

“That leak above the bathroom sink again. Driving me crazy.”

 

She went over and huddled against him. “You’re cold. You weren’t out here when it was raining before, were you?”

 

“I caught some of it. It’s supposed to rain more later.”

 

He turned toward Manhattan, the lights as dim and blurry to him now as underwater lamps. He remembered how he used to love to come up here and look at them, knowing that each illuminated window was part of the city’s vast genetic code, a pattern that only gods and urban planners were meant to understand.

 

“Don’t you think it’s kind of hard to find a leak in the dark?”

 

“The best time to look is right after it rains.” His beam wandered aimlessly. “Water could be coming in from anywhere.”

 

A passing bus below sighed, sagging with the loneliness of late-night riders.

 

“So, what’s going on?” she asked.

 

“You know how I been going nuts about this weird-ass thing that happened at the lab?”

 

“Yeah, you were looking for Julian Vega’s DNA and found samples from the same female on both victims instead.”

 

“Exactly. So I got a sample off Eileen Wallis, just so we could eliminate her daughter, Allison, as the source.” He skipped telling her about the subterfuge with the handkerchief, knowing that as a former prosecutor she’d bust his balls for it.

 

“But why do you need to do that? She’s dead, isn’t she?”

 

“Of course, but we still have to go through all the steps to make sure nobody screwed up and mislabeled the victim’s blood.”

 

“And?”

 

“I just got a call from David Abramowitz at the ME’s office on my cell.” He took a deep breath, still trying to absorb what he’d been told. “The results came back. Eileen Wallis is the mother of the woman whose blood was found at both crime scenes.”

 

“What?”

 

“You heard me right. It’s her daughter.”

 

“Wait.” Patti touched his shoulder. “Explain this to me.”

 

“Okay. There was blood under the victim’s fingernails in the ’83 homicide, like she scratched her assailant. So at first, we thought that might be Hoolian’s DNA. But when we compared it with some blood of Allison’s that was left on a pillowcase, it turned out to be a match, both from her.”

 

“I’m with you so far,” said Patti. “She bled all over the place.”

 

“Fine. It happens. The problem is that Dave had already done a comparison with DNA scraped from under Christine’s fingernails just the other day. I’d asked him to do it, thinking it would turn out to be Julian in both cases and we could nail him that way. Instead, the scrapings matched the female DNA on Allison’s pillowcase.”

 

“Uh-oh.”

 

“Right. So then we realized we needed to go back and be sure that the blood that was labeled Allison’s on the pillowcase really belonged to her in the first place. Otherwise, we’re just proceeding from a false premise. So we get a sample from her mother, and what do we find? Not only is it her daughter’s blood on the pillowcase, it’s also her daughter’s blood under Christine Rogers’s fingernails.”

 

“Wait a minute, wait a minute.” Patti waved her hands. “I thought she had only one daughter. I didn’t know she had any others.”

 

“She just told me she doesn’t.”

 

“Oh
shit.
”

 

There was a loud pop and they both jumped. Boys’ laughter echoed up from the bodega on the corner, and Francis realized someone had just set off a small firecracker on a metal garbage can lid.

 

“I’m lost, Patti,” he admitted. “I am totally fucking lost.”

 

“But how is this possible? You’re telling me that you found Allison Wallis’s skin cells under Christine Rogers’s fingernails, twenty years after her funeral?”

 

“It does appear that way.”

 

“And what’s the margin for error?” she said, starting to think analytically again after all these years away from the DA’s office.

 

“None, unless there’s an identical twin.”

 

“Somebody’s messing with you,” she said.

 

“That’s a given.”

 

“I mean, somebody’s
really
messing with you. I’ve never heard of anything like this.”

 

He nodded grimly. “I’ve got this kid from the one-nine I’m working with, Rashid. He’s back out at the warehouse tonight, looking to see if he can come up with anything else that has Allison’s blood on it. His sister is friends with a girl who works the lobster shift. But truthfully, I don’t know what I’m going to do if he finds another match that proves it’s Allison’s DNA under Christine’s fingernails.”
BOOK: Slipping Into Darkness
13.04Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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