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Authors: Jason Starr

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BOOK: The Craving
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Geri wasn’t a cat person. She’d gotten them only because there had been a mouse problem in the building, and the brother of a cop she knew told her about a friend in the Village who had some cats to give away. Geri didn’t think it was fair to have just one, with her usually gone all day, so she’d gotten the pair.

 

At first Geri had regretted getting them, hating having to change the litter and chase them out of her bed at night, but she’d gotten used to having the little guys around. They were good cats and didn’t
demand much from her. They liked to be fed, petted once in a while, and then they left her alone. As Geri sometimes joked to her friends, “They’re the perfect men.”

 

Actually the cats had been the only males in Geri’s apartment lately, but she didn’t have a problem with that. Unlike some single women who were afraid to be alone, Geri was perfectly content not being in a relationship, and she intended to keep it that way. At work, she used to get hit on all the time by cops, lawyers, prosecutors, even judges. Geri didn’t want to get involved with anyone she worked with, so she blew off all the guys, and then rumors started going around that she was a dyke. Men and their egos—if a woman wasn’t interested she had to be gay, right? But Geri didn’t mind. If she told people she was straight, she’d be hit on constantly. Besides, the gay rumor gave her more time to focus on her true love—police work.

 

Geri came from a family of female cops. Her grandmother, God rest her, was a prison guard at Wallkill in the sixties and seventies, and then her mother was a cop in the Bronx, where Geri grew up. Geri always knew she’d be a cop one day, but she had bigger dreams—to be a detective. She’d seen the glass ceiling hold her mother and grandmother back, but she was determined not to let it stop her. She worked her ass off, working OT, determined to be the best patrol cop in the city, and volunteered to work in narcotics. Three years ago, when she’d been just thirty-four, she’d made detective at the 34th Precinct, and then last year she had moved up a grade to homicide detective at Manhattan North.

 

Geri’s job was her husband. Even when she wasn’t working, she was thinking about work or dreaming about it. When she was in the middle of a case nothing else mattered; it took over her whole life. She barely had time to sleep or eat, so how was a man supposed to fit in?

 

After Geri fed Willy and Wonka and gave them fresh water, she got ready for bed. Washing her face—she didn’t wear much makeup; just lipstick, a little blush—she had an unsettled feeling that she got when she had unfinished business. Was it the incident with the kids at the diner? No, they were just a couple of punks and Geri wasn’t concerned about them. The Washington Heights murder case was frustrating because she hadn’t been able to get Carlita Morales, the only known witness, to cooperate with the investigation, but she didn’t think that was it either. Then, when she got in bed, it hit her—it was the phone conversation she’d had earlier with Robert Mangel from the 19th Precinct, the detective in charge of the Olivia Becker disappearance case.

 

Olivia Becker was a successful thirty-eight-year-old woman who lived on the Upper East Side and owned her own graphic design company in midtown. About three weeks ago her co-workers had reported that after “behaving oddly” at work one afternoon, she hadn’t shown up the next day and they’d been unable to contact her. The police had opened an official missing-person investigation but hadn’t made any progress in the case. There was no credit card activity and no evidence that she’d left the city. After that afternoon at work, there was a report that she’d been seen at a bar on Thirty-fifth Street, and there was a possible sighting downtown, near Chinatown, but aside from that it was as if she’d disappeared.

 

Geri wasn’t working the case, and it probably wouldn’t have caught her interest at all if it weren’t for one detail. A couple of weeks before she’d disappeared, Becker had started dating a guy named Michael Hartman whom Geri had questioned as a possible witness in a couple of strange wolf-related deaths in the New York City area. Hartman wasn’t a suspect in the cases, but he had given an alibi to a person of interest in the case, Simon Burns, an ad exec who lived on
Columbus Avenue on the Upper West Side. While the police had cleared Hartman in Becker’s disappearance, his possible involvement had caught Geri’s attention. The way she saw it, she’d questioned this guy and then a few days later his girlfriend disappeared. Coincidence? Maybe, but it still made Geri feel unsettled.

 

Getting updates on the investigation hadn’t been easy. The first time she’d contacted Mangel, he hadn’t even bothered to return her call. He could’ve been busy, hadn’t gotten around to calling back, or it had slipped his mind. Or maybe he had a problem with another detective, especially a female detective, moving in on his turf. Not that Geri was actually moving in, but still.

 

A couple of days later, after Geri had left Mangel another message, he finally called back and they spoke for the first time. Geri mentioned that she’d spoken to Hartman recently and filled Mangel in briefly about the wolf deaths, and Mangel said, “Wolf deaths?”

 

“Yeah,” Geri said. “Remember that case last year? A Manhattan man was found mauled to death in Brooklyn?”

 

“No, I don’t remember.” Geri couldn’t tell whether Mangel sounded distracted, sarcastic, annoyed, or all of the above.

 

“Then I was involved in another investigation,” Geri said. “A man in northwest Jersey was found mauled to death outside his house. There was a person of interest in the case living in Manhattan, and Hartman was his main alibi.”

 

“Mm-hm,” Mangel said.

 

“Is there a better time to have this conversation?” Geri asked, not bothering to hide that she was pissed off.

 

“I don’t get what you want me to do.” Now Mangel was definitely annoyed. “Hartman isn’t a suspect in the Olivia Becker case. He isn’t a person of interest either.”

 

“So what do you think happened to Becker?”

 

“The investigation is ongoing,” Mangel said. “But if you’re asking me to guess, I think she killed herself. She was unstable, had been acting bizarrely before her death.”

 

“So where’s the body?”

 

“I said the investigation is ongoing,” Mangel said. “Is there anything else, because I’m kind of in a hurry now?”

 

“Yeah, can you let me know if there are any new developments?” Geri said.

 

“I’ll be sure to do that,” Mangel said. If he was trying to hide the sarcasm in his voice, he wasn’t doing a very good job.

 

Over the next couple of weeks, Geri continued to follow the progress of the Becker investigation. She didn’t have any further contact with Mangel, but through the department grapevine she heard that the police didn’t have any major new leads in the case. There weren’t any stories in the papers, or even online, and investigators were sticking to the theory that Olivia Becker had committed suicide. Geri wasn’t satisfied, though. She couldn’t shake a feeling that something was off. A happy, successful woman suddenly starts acting bizarrely and kills herself? Yeah, people sometimes have sudden psychotic breaks, but there’s usually a life event that triggers it, like a divorce or getting fired. What was Becker’s life event? She’d apparently been happy and successful with no history of mental illness. And why had Hartman been dismissed as a suspect? If they’d been dating seriously, at least he should have been able to supply what the life event could have been that had triggered Becker’s sudden meltdown. Geri wasn’t doubting whether Mangel was a competent detective. She was sure there must’ve been a good reason why he wasn’t focusing on Hartman. Still, she wanted to know what Hartman’s alibi was for the night Becker had disappeared, and if this were her case she would have at least explored whether there was any connection to any of the wolf
killings. While Geri understood that none of this was really her business, that didn’t stop her from wanting to know the details. God knew some parts of her life weren’t perfect, but when it came to police work, she was an obsessive control freak.

 

So Geri kept pursuing Mangel. He hadn’t returned a couple of her recent calls, but she had gotten through today. She asked him about the case and he said, “We’re on it.” When she pressed for details, he wouldn’t give her anything substantial and then pretty much hung up on her.

 

Yeah, it was definitely the call to Mangel and the Olivia Becker case that was keeping her awake. The only thing Geri hated more than getting dissed was being kept in the dark. Geri had a feeling that Mangel wasn’t “on” anything. After three weeks, the leads had probably gone cold, and he was willing to accept the likelihood of the theory that Olivia had committed suicide. While it was certainly possible that she had killed herself, Hartman’s connection to the case still bothered Geri, and she knew she wouldn’t have an uninterrupted night’s sleep till she got some answers.

 

“Y
ou shouldn’t’a put his head in the pea soup,” Geri’s partner, Detective Shawn Phillips, said to her.

They were in an unmarked black Charger, Geri driving them up to Washington Heights. Geri and Shawn were opposites in practically every way. He was a large black man—six five and over three hundred pounds—who had played college football at Rutgers and now lived with his wife and two kids in Queens. When they were together it looked like Shawn could squash Geri, and he probably could, but when it came to detective work Geri always took the lead, and Shawn
was fine with it; he preferred being in the background. While Geri was emotional and always spoke her mind, Shawn was cool and quiet and rarely lost his temper. When they did the “good cop, bad cop” routine, Geri was always the bad cop.

 

“So what was I supposed to do?” Geri said. “Let a couple of punks molest me in public?”

 

“I thought only one of them grabbed you,” Shawn said.

 

“One or two, what difference does it make?” Geri said, going along Fort Washington Avenue, under the overpass to the GW Bridge.

 

“Yeah,” Shawn said, “but you provoked them.”

 

Geri felt confused. “You’re kidding me, right?”

 

“I’m just saying,” Shawn said. “I mean based on what you’re saying to me, I don’t think putting his head in the pea soup was the right way to go.”

 

“So what was I supposed to do?” Geri said. “Just sit there calmly and smile and go, ‘Excuse me, would you please remove your hand from my ass and leave the diner?’ Give me a break.”

 

“What if somebody had a camera?” Shawn said. “What if it wound up on TV?”

 

“Nobody had a camera,” Geri said.

 

“You don’t know that,” Shawn said. “These days, everybody has a camera, man. Anybody with a phone can put you on YouTube.”

 

“There was nobody else in the diner.”

 

“What about the guys in the kitchen? Or what about the security camera? You think that wasn’t caught on film? You want to see yourself on the ten o’clock news? Or, wait, I got the headline in the
Post

COP O’SOUP
.” Shawn laughed. “Cop O’Soup, get it? That’s funny, right?”

 

“No, it’s not funny,” Geri said, hitting the gas to make a light.

 

“I’m just saying,” Shawn said. “Sometimes you gotta think of all the consequences before you act.”

 

At the next light she braked hard, and she and Shawn jerked forward a little.

 

“Okay, let’s just drop it,” Geri said, partly because she didn’t like how Shawn was judging her, and partly because she knew he was right.

 

“Oooh, somebody’s testy,” Shawn said. “What’s going on with you anyway?”

 

Geri didn’t feel like answering.

 

They didn’t speak again till they got to the apartment building on 184th Street where Carlita Morales lived, and Geri said, “You don’t have to come.”

 

“What,” Shawn said, “you gonna leave me in the car like a dog? Keep the window open a crack so I can breathe?”

 

Shawn smiled; Geri didn’t.

 

Together they went over to the tenement and buzzed Morales’s apartment. They had already spoken to her a couple of times but were hoping the third time was a charm and she’d give them some useful information. There had been violence in the neighborhood lately by a Dominican gang called DDP—Dominicans Don’t Play—and the shooting the other night was almost certainly drug-related as the victim, Orlando Rojas, had had a long rap sheet with multiple arrests for dealing and possession. It wasn’t surprising that Morales didn’t want to talk—not very many people wanted to get involved in ratting out drug dealers—but Geri still hoped she could wear her down.

 

“Si?”

 

The visit was unscheduled, which was probably why Morales had bothered to answer her intercom.

 

“Policia, Detectivos Rodriguez y Phillips.”

 

Now Morales probably regretted answering the intercom big-time.

 

There was no reply. Geri was about to ring again when Morales buzzed them in.

 

On the second floor of the tenement Morales—heavyset, in her fifties, with bushy gray and black hair—was standing in front of the door to her apartment when Geri and Shawn arrived on the landing.

 

“I told you,
no se nada
.”

 

“Cálmate, cálmate,”
Geri said. “We just have a few more questions for you.”

 

“Last time you had a few more questions,” Morales said. “How many times’re you gonna have a few more questions?”

 

Thinking,
Till you start talking
, Geri said, “I promise, it won’t take long. Can we come in?”

BOOK: The Craving
8.89Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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