212 – Chapter 1
Tanya Abbott noticed the quiver in her index finger as it pressed the three silver buttons in the rain—9 . . . 1 . . . 1. Listening to the ring, she found herself mentally calculating the number of days that had passed since she had first arrived in New York City.
Tanya had put the number at twenty-six by the time the dispatcher answered the call. It had been three full weeks and another five days.
“Nine-one-one. What is your emergency?”
She’d taken the Amtrak to Penn Station three Thursdays ago, and now it was Tuesday night. Twenty-six days in New York. Twentysix days since she had started over again. Twenty-six days, and already she was calling 911.
“Hello? Is anyone there? What is your emergency?”
Tanya cleared her throat. “The penthouse apartment at Lafayette and Kenmare.”
“That’s your location, ma’am? Tell me what’s going on there.”
The corner of Lafayette and Kenmare was no longer Tanya’s location, but twenty minutes earlier, she had been inside the luxury penthouse perched on top of the white brick building on the corner. She’d sipped Veuve Clicquot from a crystal f lute while leaning against the black granite bar. She had lounged on the low white-leather sectional sofa with her legs crossed modestly as her host pointed out the panoramic SoHo views, temporarily obscured by cascading sheets of rain. She had followed him into the master suite. She had cleaned herself up with a washcloth in the gleaming marble bathroom when it was all over.
“A shooting. There’s been a shooting.” Tanya used her palm to wipe away the drops of water from her eyes, tears mixed with rain. Her attempts were futile, serving only to smear mascara across her clammy cheeks.
“You heard gunshots?”
“Inside the apartment.”
“Ma’am. I need you to use your words. You heard gunshots from inside the apartment? Could you tell what direction they were coming from?”
“There was a shooting. Inside the apartment at Lafayette and Kenmare.”
“I’ve got your location as Lafayette and Bond, ma’am. Did you mean to say Lafayette and Bond? . . . I need you to speak to me, ma’am. Can you tell me if you’re okay? Are you hurt?”
Tanya hadn’t realized that she had run five full blocks before finding a pay phone. She couldn’t even remember crossing Houston. Maybe her heart was pounding because of the running. She found comfort in the thought of some distance between her and the apartment.
“Lafayette and Kenmare. The penthouse.”
“Can you tell me your name, ma’am? I’ve got an ambulance on the way. Just keep talking to me. My name’s Tina Brooks. Can you tell me your name?”
Tanya returned the handset to its cradle and sprinted south on Lafayette toward the subway station at Bleecker. She hadn’t given her name to the dispatcher, and she hadn’t used her cell phone. She could move swiftly without prompting attention from the other pedestrians who were also rushing for shelter.
At the same moment Tina Brooks had dispatched an ambulance to the penthouse, she had no doubt sent a police car to the pay phone on the corner of Lafayette and Bond to search for the anonymous caller who had dialed 911. But before either vehicle reached its intended destination, Tanya Abbott would be long gone, drying her face against her damp sleeve and catching her breath on the 6 train.
Detective Ellie Hatcher and her partner, J. J. Rogan, were soaked. Not damp. Not soggy. Soaked. The rainfall that poured onto Manhattan’s streets that night felt like the kind that meteorologists might measure in buckets per second.
Ellie should have been grateful for the storm. It was the first break in a week-long, record-setting late-May heat wave. For seven consecutive days, the mercury had approached triple digits. Those kinds of oppressive temperatures were never cause to celebrate, but in New York City, atmospheric heat led to an altogether different kind of swelter. Thanks to the combination of heat-retaining concrete and still, breezeless air, the entire city reeked of a unique potpourri of body odor, garbage, and urine. The streets and subways were crowded. People were sticky. People were cranky. People drank more. They stayed out later. And people got dangerous.
In New York City, heat begets violence.
Ellie and Rogan had hoped that the rainfall might wash in their first quiet night of what had been a hectic week. They should have known better.
Their first callout was to the scene of a reported homicide in SoHo. A couple huddled beneath a restaurant awning had made out the image of a man’s prone body in the backseat of a BMW 325 parked on Grand. By the time EMTs found the track marks and Ellie pulled the eighteen inches of rubber tubing from the back passenger footwell, Ellie and her partner were soaked.
They had just reported clear and were looking forward to drying out back in the squad room when the second call came in, this time to a penthouse apartment at Lafayette and Kenmare. As they drove up Crosby, Ellie noticed a small pile of f lowers propped up against a stoop at the corner of Broome, a rain-battered memorial to the late Heath Ledger. It had been more than four months since the actor’s accidental overdose; today, the media had announced the death of Sydney Pollack from stomach cancer. When celebrities died, everyone cared, even though the public knew those stars no better than whatever sad sack Ellie and Rogan were about to open a new case file for.
The address at the condo turned out to be 212 Lafayette, but the blue glass sign on the bright white exterior marked the building merely as 212. Whereas builders had co-opted the American West a century ago with names like the Dakota, the Wyoming, and the Oregon, the latest f lavor was minimalist titles that managed to evoke images of urban perfection with one discreet word: Cielo, Onyx, Azure. And what could be more quintessentially New York than Manhattan’s famous area code—212?
Dishwater gray puddles had pooled at their feet by the time the elevator reached the seventh f loor. The doors parted to reveal a narrow hallway occupied by a uniform officer standing between two slate-colored doors. The officer nodded in the direction of the open one.
“Not technically a penthouse,” Rogan observed as the elevator doors whispered shut behind them. “In a real penthouse, you walk directly from the elevator and into the apartment.”
The foyer alone was twice the size of Ellie’s entire apartment. “I don’t care if a realtor would call it a shanty,” she said. “I’d take it.”
Rogan unbuttoned his trench coat and let it fall to the foyer f loor. Ellie did the same with her black slicker. The last thing they needed was a waterlogged crime scene.
As they made their way to the sounds of voices beyond the living room, Ellie took in the apartment’s condition. Beneath a single built-in shelf, books were scattered haphazardly across the f loor. The empty drawers of a credenza in the dining room were f lung open. Kitchen cabinets, also open.
A pyramid of unlit logs rested picturesquely beneath a mantel sporting a single crystal-framed photograph: a handsome middle-aged man shaking hands with the former president. The man looked familiar.
The person in the picture was not, however, the man they found splayed naked on the white sheets of a king-size bed in the master suite, a used condom knotted neatly on top of the nightstand beside him.
Bullet holes riddled the corpse, the bed beneath the corpse, and the wall behind the bed. The nightstand and dresser drawers were open, as were the doors to two double closets. All empty. By comparison, the adjoining bathroom looked relatively peaceful, with only a stack of towels toppled onto the f loor.
A voice from the living room interrupted their inspection of the disarray.
“Robo? Robo! Where the hell is he?”
“Detectives. I think the apartment owner’s here.” A uniform officer stood nervously in the doorway of the master bedroom.
“Who called him?” Rogan asked.
The officer shrugged. “We called the super. The super must’ve called the owner.”
“Did someone ask you to call the super, Officer?” Above Rogan’s clenched jaw, a vein pulsed at his temple. “Did we ask you to do that?”
“I’ll deal with it,” Ellie said, brushing past the uniform as he muttered a halfhearted apology. She turned in the living room to face a trim, middle-aged man in a black tuxedo and white bow tie. He had closely clipped silver hair and intense green eyes. She recognized him as the man from the photograph on the mantel.
He eyed her up and down, clearly trying to determine how a barefoot woman in a turquoise linen shirt and black pencil-legged pants fit in among an apartment full of uniformed police officers. “Who are you?”
“Detective Ellie Hatcher. NYPD.” She flipped open the badge holder that was clipped to her waistband.
“I take it from your bare feet that two of these many shoes on my Ryan McGinness belong to you.”
“You mean on your rug?” Ellie looked at the patterned area rug separating her from the man in the tuxedo.
“It’s art,” the man said, “but you apparently don’t recognize that. Robo, get this cleaned up. Robo—I called him forty-five minutes ago to deal with this shit. Robo—”
He headed toward the bedroom, but Ellie held her hand up. “I answered your question, sir. Now it’s my turn. Who are you?” She still could not put her finger on where she’d seen him before.
“I’m the man who owns the apartment you all have apparently commandeered. Robo—”
“Is Robo a well-built guy? Brown hair? Sleeve tattoo wrapped up his right arm, leprechaun tat on his left hip?”
He blinked at her. “I don’t even want to process what you’re insinuating.”
“I wasn’t insinuating anything. Assuming you have never seen the tattoo on the man’s hip, the rest of the description fits?”
The man nodded. “Where is he? I don’t appreciate getting called away from an important event by some building superintendent.”
“Unfortunately, sir, the man you’re calling Robo is dead. He was shot in what is apparently your bed. And he was naked in your bed, in case you were wondering.”
The man stared at her for three full beats before the corner of his mouth crept upward. “You’re going to regret this conversation, Miss Hatcher. I won’t ask you to clean up the mess you’ve made lest you accuse me of sexism, but please have one of these lackeys standing guard on taxpayer dollars remove your soggy shoes from what you so eloquently called my rug. It’s worth more than you make in a year.”
“First I need a name and some identification, sir.”
“Samuel Sparks.” He didn’t even feign a reach for his wallet.
“And who’s Robo?”
“His name is Robert Mancini. He’s one of my protection specialists. I’ve been calling him ever since I was beckoned down here about some kind of police emergency.”
“A protection specialist. You mean a bodyguard?”
The man nodded, and Ellie suddenly matched the name to the face: Samuel Sparks was Sam Sparks. That Sam Sparks. Before she scored a rent-stabilized sublet of questionable legality, she had perused countless real estate listings for units in Sparks’s buildings that she could not afford. This was the man who had been rumored to be purchasing the 110-building Stuveysant Town to convert into condos before a rival tycoon outbid him. He was the mogul who had been photographed with so many A-list women that he himself had become fodder for the tabloids and paparazzi, including some who speculated about the sexuality of the self-declared “permanent bachelor.” Ellie assumed those rumors might explain Sparks’s response to her mention of the victim’s exposed hip.
Sparks’s smirk widened into a full-blown smile. “You can apologize after these shoes have been picked up.”
Needless to say, Ellie did not apologize.
“Mr. Sparks, your apartment is now officially a crime scene. I need you to leave.”
“Did you hear my request, sir?”
“Of course I heard you, but—”
“Then I’m ordering you, for the second time now, to leave the premises.” Ellie intentionally used the kind of I-get-high-on-myauthority tone that made a person want to disobey.
“I am not leaving my own—”
“Sam Sparks, you’re under arrest for disobeying the lawful order of a police officer.” Ellie used her index finger to signal to a uniform officer who’d been observing cautiously from the front doorway. The officer removed his handcuffs from his duty belt.
“You want to do the honors, or should I?” the officer asked.
Sparks sucked his teeth and squinted at the officer’s nameplate. ———– “Officer T. S. Amos. I’d warn against taking another step in my direction unless you plan to spend the rest of your NYPD career on parking patrol.”
Ellie snatched the handcuffs from the uniform’s grasp. “Not to worry, Amos. This one’s all me.”