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‘Chase’ Chapters 5-8


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Illustration by MAIYASHU

CHAPTER 5

I FINALLY ARRIVED back at my apartment that night around five.

A message on the fridge said Mary Catherine was out to get the twins from cheerleading practice and Ricky from soccer, and instructed me to put the lasagnas in the fridge into the oven at 5:30. Bennett situation normal, I thought as I cracked open a can of Corona Light and took a gulp. Busier than the control tower at LaGuardia.

Mary Catherine is my kids’ nanny, and also my girlfriend. I’m a widower, so it isn’t as sleazy as it sounds. Or maybe it is; I’m not an expert on these things. At least that’s what I tell myself whenever my Catholic guilt taps me on the shoulder.

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“Dad! Look, look! It came! It came!” My daughter Shawna rushed at me with a large tan envelope as I walked into the living room. It was from the Schenectady Chamber of Commerce.

There were half a dozen pamphlets inside, as well as the Daily Gazette newspaper.

“Mary Catherine said after dinner I can cut out some of the pictures for the poster board.”

“Hey, that’s awesome, Shawna.”

“No, it’s not, Dad,” said Trent, coming in behind her with his arms crossed. “It’s not fair that Miss Goody Two-shoes got all this great stuff for the project and I didn’t get anything. Mine’s filled with just stupid printouts off the internet.”

Oh, no. Here we go again, I thought, sharing a smile with Eddie, who was on the couch simultaneously reading a paperback and watching ESPN with the sound off.

With ten adopted kids, drama on the home front is to be expected. The latest brouhaha concerned two of my youngest, Shawna and Trent, who were in the same fourth grade class and were both doing projects about New York State.

Competitively, of course. Shawna was assigned the city of Schenectady, a metropolis whose factoids we had been regaled with for the last two weeks.

Trent had nearby Rome, New York, which—in addition to being the place where the country’s first cheese factory was founded—was the nation’s current 140th largest city.

Who knew? We did. That was who. Whether we wanted to or not. No one was in a more rabid New York state of mind than the Bennetts.

“Hey, look, guys. Quick. On TV. Look there,” Eddie said, pointing quickly at some news footage of a car on fire. “This is just in. Schenectady and Rome, New York, just both suddenly exploded. They’re both gone, and now your projects are gonna really totally stink. Darn. I’m so sorry.”

“D-A-A-D!!!” Shawna and Trent yelled in unison.

 

CHAPTER 6

AFTER PUTTING ALL fighters back into their respective corners, D-A-A-D had to make a call from his bedroom.

“Hey, Chief. It’s Mike,” I said to Fabretti.

“Mike, please tell me some good news on this jumper,” he said. “My boss keeps calling me every five minutes.”

“Okay, here we go,” I said, putting my beer on my nightstand as I fished out my notepad. “Seven o’clock yesterday, a thirty-something male in a dark silk suit checks into the Index House Hotel under the name of Pete Mitchell, pays in cash, and shows them ID.”

“What do you mean, under the name of?”

“Turns out, this ID, a Delaware driver’s license, is a fake. There actually are a number of Pete Mitchells who live in Delaware, but based on age alone, it’s pretty clear that none of them are our dead guy. His license is a good fake, though.”

“Oh, here we go. No ID. An actual suicide whodunit?” Fabretti said.

“That’s not all. This guy gets a room, drops off his stuff, comes back down and has a drink at the bar. About ten minutes after that, he goes to the restroom and blows chunks. Then he goes up to the roof through the stairwell, and they find him the next morning in the worksite beside the hotel.”

“What?”

“Exactly. Weird, but it gets weirder. In a drawer in his room, there’s one of those fanny packs. The fake ID is in the pack along with a ton of cash in twenties and fifties, almost ten grand altogether. Beside the pack is a box of condoms in a CVS bag and that’s it. No luggage, no deodorant, no tighty-whities. Nothing.”

“So you’re saying our guy is some kind of John Doe?”

“Yep. Even the Pete Mitchell name seems like a fake. I looked it up online. It’s the name of Tom Cruise’s character in Top Gun.”

“How does this make sense? He’s a drug dealer or something? Grabs some prophylactics and hits the Big Apple for a night in funky town but instead jumps off the roof? Is that the way you’re leaning? He jumped, right?”

“I’m about seventy-five percent there. But with this guy’s fishy ID and the dough in his room and the fact there’s no video on the roof, we can’t be positive yet.”

“Medical examiner run his prints?”

“In process. Still waiting to hear. You know latent prints at the ME’s office. It’s a bottleneck unless they get some heat. Especially if it looks like a suicide.”

“All right, I’ll make some calls there. Hit me the second you hear about the prints. By the way, how does the press look on this one? Any more rabid than usual?”

I frowned as I held my phone. This is the kind of stuff I’m always leery of in Major Case. I am a cop, I felt like reminding him. My job is to solve homicides, not to do PR errand-boy work for politicians and the rich, connected people who financed their campaigns.

“Not that I really noticed, Chief,” I fibbed, and hung up.

 

CHAPTER 7

AT TEN FIFTEEN the next morning, I walked through the front doors of the office of the Chief Medical Examiner on East 26th and First Avenue.

With its low ceiling and rows of stark blue metal tables, the autopsy room at the back of the first floor always reminded me of a pool hall—the least-fun game hall of all time.

The tables were thankfully empty this morning. Doing my best not to peek into the lab’s scales and buckets and glass-doored fridges, I crossed the white-tiled room to the office of Assistant Medical Examiner Dr. Clarissa Linder.

Dr. Linder was a genial, nice-looking woman with short dark-blond hair. I’d worked cases with her before. Before becoming an ME, she had a lucrative pediatrician practice on the Upper East Side. But when she’d turned forty, inspired to do something more challenging, she had traded in Band-Aids and lollipops for psycho killers and floaters.

Her door was open and she was standing behind her desk, thumbing at the Fitbit on her wrist.

“You have one of these stupid fitness things, Mike?” she said. “They’re addictive. If you have nine hundred steps, you find yourself walking in circles around the room just to get to a thousand.”

“No, I don’t,” I said, and sat in the chair in front of her desk. “But I’m certainly no stranger to walking around in circles. Speaking of which, what’s going on with Mr. Mitchell? Or I suppose Mr. Doe is probably more appropriate. Unless we’ve heard from latent prints?”

She raised an eyebrow as she handed me her file.

“No such luck on the prints, Mike. As usual, the wheels of death processing grind slowly.”

“So what’s your take on Mr. Doe?”

“Where do I begin?” she said. “Did you see the amazing shape of this guy?”

“He did seem pretty trim. Worked out some, did he?”

“He looks like an Olympian. Jacked, as the kids say, with a body fat percentage in the single digits.”

I shook my head. This case just kept getting weirder. “Anything else? Cause of death was the fall, right?”

“Yep. Massive bruising and impact contusions on the skin and muscle, especially to the head and upper chest. The bones in his face were completely pulverized.”

“Anything in his bloodstream that would have made a healthy person like him suddenly want to throw himself off a roof ? Like flakka or something? Crystal meth? We have some indication that he might have thrown up prior to the fall.”

“No, nothing,” she said, surprised. “A little alcohol in his blood was all. You think he threw up? I don’t know about that. He had food in his stomach.”

“Is that so?”

“Yep,” Dr. Linder said. “Food and this.”

She lifted a plastic evidence bag on her desk beside the autopsy report. There were two items inside of it. One of them was yellowish and thin and looked like a deflated balloon. The other item looked like a thin slip of paper.

“What the hell is this?” I said. “How was this in the guy’s stomach? A piece of paper in a condom?”

“With numbers written on it,” the doctor said. “They seem random. I counted them twice. There are twenty-four of them altogether.”

“That’s just—”

“Yep,” Dr. Linder said.

“Like the way people sometimes smuggle drugs,” I mumbled, turning the bag over in my hand.

“The same exact way,” Dr. Linder said. “Have you ever seen something like this, Mike? Because this is a first for me.”

 

CHAPTER 8

“SO TELL ME, Una. Mary Catherine was a nut when you guys were teens back in Tipperary, wasn’t she? Remember, I’m a cop, so don’t try to lie. I’m highly trained in the art of truth detection.”

“How did you know, Mike?” said Una, a very funny, heavyset forty-something with long black hair. “Oh, Mike, she was just mad, so she was. Closing down discos, out-drinking full rugby teams, all the lads chasing her. She was a sheer panic of a woman, a true holy terror in high heels.”

“I knew it,” I said and smiled at Mary, blue-eyed and blushing beside me in the van.

I was driving down Broadway in Midtown, on chauffeur duty for Mary and Una, her cousin visiting from Ireland. They were going to see the new musical School of Rock at the Winter Garden Theatre, then to drinks and a late dinner at my good buddy Emmett O’Lunney’s joint across the street. I’d already called ahead and told Emmett to pull out all the stops, the full red carpet treatment. Not so much for Una, but for Mary, our house martyr. The kids had insisted that she enjoy herself without us in her hair for once, on a much-deserved girls’ night out.

I stole a glance at Mary again. So heart-swellingly pretty, done up in makeup and a little black dress. I remembered a line from an old drunk cop at a retirement party I’d taken her to over the holidays.

“Your wife, Mike,” the former emergency services cop said, with a drunkenly wistful and old-fashioned earnestness, “your wife is an Irish beauty.”

I’ll say, I thought, as I watched Mary blush even more under my gaze. Though, technically, she wasn’t my wife.

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And why not, Bennett? You complete idiot! came my interior Catholic. Funny how he always sounded sort of like Grandfather Seamus.

“Penny for your thoughts,” Mary whispered, squeezing my hand as Una took a call on her cell behind us. “As if I don’t know.”

“You want to know what I’m thinking about right now? You really want to know?” I whispered back.

“Yes,” she said.

“I’m thinking about dropping Una off at the next corner,” I said.

“And then?” she said, stifling a giggle.

“What are you two whispering about up there?” Una called out. “I’m not interrupting anything, I hope.”

“Una, we were merely conferring about how best to honor your visit here, upon the shores of this fabulous free and just land,” I said, gesturing at the insane snarl of traffic. “Mary thought the Empire State Building might be nice, but I said no. We first must book you some ice time at the Rockefeller Center rink.”

“Oh, was that it?” Una said. Mary gave me a wink.

“I may not be as highly trained in the art of truth detection as you, Mike,” Una said after a beat. “But we from the Emerald Isle do know a little something about ripe blarney.”

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