"You loved that balloon," said Riker, insistent.
Mallory ignored him.
He looked down at his scuffed shoes, lowering the brim of his hat against the strong light of morning sun. He was feeling the slow onset of pain. Nostalgia always brought on a fresh spate of grief during the holidays. He missed his old friends. Sweet Helen had died too soon, too young. And following another untimely funeral, Inspector Louis Markowitz had been buried beside his wife.
Privately, Riker believed that Lou Markowitz had not gone to his eternal rest, but was probably having a very tense death. Sometimes he could almost sense the old man's spirit hovering near Mallory, trembling in wait for his foster child to revert into the feral creature found running loose on the city streets.
As if she had changed all that much.
Woody Woodpecker grandly sailed down Central Park West, dwarfing every tree and tall building along the boulevard, and Riker was reliving Kathy Mallory's first parade. That day, he had gamely volunteered for midget duty-police code for keeping an eye on the brat-so that Helen and Lou could say hello to old friends in the crowd. Her first year in foster care, Kathy could not be introduced to innocent civilians, lest they lose a hand while patting her on the head. It was fortunate that Helen had bundled the child so well, for this had restricted Kathy's movements and slowed down her tiny hands. That day, it had been easy for Riker to catch the baby thief boosting a wallet from a woman's purse. Forgetting whom he was dealing with, he had bent down low to scold her in a tone reserved for small children-real children. "Now, Kathy, why would you do a bad thing like that?"
The little girl had looked up at him with such incredulity, her wide eyes clearly stating, Because stealing is what I do, you moron. And this had set the tone for their relationship through the years.
He shook his head slowly. Lou Markowitz must have had a heart attack when his foster daughter quit Barnard College to join up with the police. Now Riker looked down at the magnificent coat she had given him to replace the old threadbare rag that more closely fit his salary-and hers.
He turned to face Mallory with another idea for needling her. "The papers said the old guy wasn't even a real magician. Just a nobody, a carpenter from Brooklyn. Maybe Oliver Tree didn't know how-"
"Charles says the old man performed with Max Candle. So I figure he knew what he was doing." She turned away from him, a pointed gesture to say that her mind was made up; this conversation was over.
So, of course, Riker went on with it. "The man was in his seventies. Did you consider that his timing might be a little off?"
"No, I didn't." Her voice was rising, getting testy.
Good. "Like you're the expert on magic?"
"Magic is a cheat," she said. "There's no risk. He shouldn't have died."
Was she pouting? Yes, she was. Better and better.
"No risk, huh? Never? Charles didn't tell you that." The younger cousin of Max Candle owned more magic illusions than a store. "You never even asked him, did you, Mallory?"
No, of course you didn't. He leaned in close for another shot at her. "What about senility? Suppose the old guy was-"
"There's no medical history of senility." She turned her back on him, as if this might prevent him from having the last word.
It would not.
Riker would bet his pension that she had never seen a medical history on the dead man. He knew for a fact that she had not even read the accident report. Mallory liked her instincts, and she ran with them.
Reprinted from Shell Game by Carol O'Connell by permission of G. P. Putnam's Sons, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright © 1999 by Carol O'Connell.
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