Marvin Argus had grown smaller in her rearview mirror, only insect high when she rounded the corner.
The young detective slouched down behind the wheel of her tan car and watched the black van speed away. Her eavesdropping device was picking up a clear conversation between the van's driver and the radio dispatcher for Ned's Crime Scene Cleaners. The vehicle was heading for the company parking lot in Greenwich Village.
Mallory reached out for the small silver camera on her dashboard. It contained a photographic record of the hunchback's meeting with the driver of the white Lincoln. After downloading the new images into her laptop computer, she admired the array on the glowing screen. No public record had such clear likenesses of Johanna Apollo. The blurry portrait on a Chicago driver's license had been, in Mallory's view, deliberately sabotaged by the subject, who had moved in the moment the picture was taken. A perusal of prep school and college yearbooks had been of no help either, for the camera-shy hunchback had always been absent on the days when school photographs were taken.
The last photograph was the best of the lot, for the wind had swept the hair away from Apollo's body. With one red fingernail, Mallory traced the outline of the hump that rode the woman's back, bending her spine and bowing her head. This was the soft spot.
With a tap of keys, her computer returned to another file and an official portrait of the man in the double-parked Lincoln. Not content with running the rental plate and billing for his car, she had spent the past hour acquiring a dossier on the renter, Marvin Argus from Chicago, who now smiled at her from the glowing screen. His brow was fringed with ludicrous bangs, but she did approve of the double-breasted blazer and the tie.
Argus was the solid connection that she had been waiting for-living proof.
The detective closed her laptop and set it on the passenger seat where her partner used to ride. Riker had been a constant fixture in her life since she was ten years old, but now he would not return her phone calls. And he was never home to her when she came knocking on his door, looking for a word with him alone. But that would change when he read her report on the hunchback. It mattered nothing to Kathy Mallory that this case belonged to federal investigators, that it was well outside the purview of a New York City cop. This was a national contest, and anyone with the stomach for it could play the game on the radio five nights a week.
Marvin Argus slid behind the wheel of the white rental car and drove off. Detective Mallory's vehicle eased up the street at a discreet distance, then crept into the southbound stream of traffic on Central Park West, following the man from the FBI.
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.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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