One hand had gone to her hip, opening the blazer for just a tease, a peek at what she had hidden in her shoulder holster, a damn cannon that passed for a gun.
"Move," she said, and move he did.
Kathy Mallory had a detective's gold shield, but she rarely used the badge to motivate civilians. Listening to angry tirades on abuse of police power was time-consuming; fear was more efficient. And now she drove her tan car into the hastily vacated parking space. After killing the engine, she never even glanced at the black van.
It was her day off and this covert surveillance was the closest she could come to an idea of recreation.
The routine of the van's driver was predictable, and Mallory was settling in for a long wait when a large white Lincoln with rental plates rounded the corner. This motorist was less enterprising, settling for double-parking his car across the street from the vehicle that so interested Mallory--until now. The driver of the rented car became her new target when he craned his neck to check the black van's plates. His head was slowly turning, eyes scanning the street, until he located the deformed figure of Johanna Apollo walking down the sidewalk in the direction of Columbus Avenue.
Mallory smiled, for this man had just identified himself as another player in the mother of all games.
The company uniform was stowed in Johanna Apollo's duffel bag along with the rest of her gear. She never wore it when meeting the clients. The moonsuit was far more unsettling than the sudden appearance of a hunchback at the door.
A man her own age, late thirties, awaited her on the front steps of a brownstone built in the nineteenth century. He wore a flimsy robe over his pajamas, and, though his feet were bare, he seemed not to mind the cold. When Johanna lifted her head to greet him, his face was full of trepidation, and then he nearly smiled. She could read his mind. He was thinking, Oh, how normal, so glad to see her conventional human face. He adjusted his spectacles for a better look at her warm brown eyes, and he took some comfort there, even before she said, "I'll be done in an hour, and then you can have your life back."
That was all he wanted to hear. Relieved, he sighed and nodded his understanding that there would be no small talk, not one more chorus of I'm so sorry, false notes in the mouth of a stranger.
Johanna followed him into the house and through another door to his front room. It was decorated with period furniture and smeared with the bloody handprints of an intruder. She recognized the spots on the wall as a splatter pattern from the back-strike of a knife. The chalk outline sketched on the rug was that of a small, lean victim who had died quickly, though her blood was spread thin all about the room, giving the impression that the attack had gone on forever. She wondered if anyone had told the husband that his wife had not suffered long. Johanna turned to the sorry man beside her. It was her art to put disturbed people at ease; she did it with tea.
"You don't have to stay and watch. Why not wait in the kitchen?" She pulled a small packet of herbal tea from the pocket of her denim jacket. "This is very soothing."
The client took the packet and stared at it, as though the printed instructions for steeping in hot water might be difficult to comprehend. He waved one hand in apology to say that he was somewhat at sea today. "My wife usually handles these--" Suddenly appalled, he lowered his head. His wife had usually handled the messes of their lives. How could he have forgotten that she was dead? His hands clenched tightly, and Johanna knew that he was silently berating himself for this bizarre breach of etiquette.
The murder was recent, and she would have guessed that even without the paperwork to release the crime scene. Judging by the growth of stubble on the man's face, only a few days had passed since his wife's death. Unshaven, unwashed, the widower walked about in a stale ether that the bereaved shared with the bedridden. His head was still bowed as he edged away from her and ambled down a narrow passageway. Upon opening a door at the far end of this hall, he raised his face in expectation, perhaps believing that he would meet his dead wife in the kitchen--and she would make him some tea.
From Dead Famous by Carol O'Connell, copyright © 2003 Carol O'Connell, published by G.P. Putnam's Sons, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., all rights reserved, reprinted with permission from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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