For seven days the picture had haunted front pages and small screens. In the overcast haze of a fall afternoon in downtown New York was the eerie image of the wheelchair with its small, lifeless occupant alone on the grass. The photograph had become the symbol of the dangers of a city so preoccupied with its own needs and wants that it ignored or overlooked a killing in its midst, that it passed alongside death and never stopped to look even once.
The City Hall Park Murder, as it came to be called, had promised to be the case of a lifetime, the capping of a career, the most fitting of departures. But that was a week ago. Today Jane Bauer's life was upside down and she hadn't thought of the little figure in the wheelchair for at least eight hours. She looked at her watch once again.
"We'll get there," Det. Martin Hoagland said.
"I know. I just can't help looking."
He was traveling north on Riverside Drive to avoid the problems on the Henry Hudson Parkway, which ran just west of the drive along the river of the same name. At red lights, he edged forward, then shot across. They drove along the western end of the Twenty-sixth Precinct, the Two-Six, her first assignment out of the Academy. Almost twenty years had passed since she had put on her blues, "the bag" as most cops called it, for the first time and reported there in the center of Harlem. Before graduation, still wearing her cadet grays, she rode for a week as the third person in a radio motor patrol car in the Two-Six so that the sergeant in the car could assess her ability to handle "jobs." He had been impressed and she had gotten the assignment at the Two-Six on graduation. Her father had beamed with pride; her mother had barely accepted it with tight-lipped apprehension.
They passed the street where she had seen her first dead body in a fifth-floor walk-up during a twelve-by-eight, a midnight-to-eight a.m. shift, early in her career when she was given the crap details. Just stay with it, kid, the veteran cop on the scene had said as she tried to control her trembling and her queasy stomach. Don't leave till the body's picked up, the area secured, and all the paperwork's done. If the smell gets too bad in here, just light a cigar. Then he laughed and wished her a nice tour.
Looking out the window Jane thought that she could relive her entire career by driving the streets of Manhattan. Who would have thought nostalgia was so easy to come by?
"I'll pull into Emergency and wait for you there," Marty's voice said, piercing her recollections. They were long past the Two-Six now.
"You don't have to wait, Marty. I can take the subway back."
"I'll wait for you."
It was the kind of firm reassurance that tended to settle stomachs in times of less distress. Not much would work this afternoon.
She thanked him in her head, her apprehension growing as they approached Columbia Presbyterian, the huge hospital complex just south of the George Washington Bridge overlooking the Hudson River and, on the other side, New Jersey. Marty turned and turned again, pulling in close to the Emergency entrance.
"Go," he said as the car came to a jerky stop in front of the door at the covered dock, now almost empty of ambulances.
Her heart was pounding as she made her way through the sick and the bored to the woman with the records. "John Bauer. I'm his daughter."
"Yes, Ms. Bauer. Your dad's been admitted. You can go up to see him." She wrote the room number and floor for her on a slip of paper and gave brief but good directions.
Jane ran. Arrows on floors and walls directed her around corners and down halls to the elevators and past frequently visited units. A rainbow of color coding indicated one specialty after another. The elevator took forever to arrive. Then it stopped on every floor. Then she ran again.
Her gun was in her large shoulder bag, which she held tightly to her side as she looked at room numbers. Two more. She slowed, trying to calm herself, not wanting her anxiety to become his.
The door was open and she walked in. A curtained bed stood near the window, and her father, a little pale, rested in the nearer bed.
"Janey," he said, seeing her, his face lighting up. "You didn't have to come, honey. I'm just fine."
"You look pretty good," she said grudgingly, edging up to the bed.
"I'm just fine. I'll be outta here tomorrow."
"What happened? You forget to take your medicine?"
"Nah. I took it just like you set it up for me, one of these, one of those, one of the other."
"Then what happened?"
"They gave me too much is what happened. They overmedicated me," he said, articulating the word carefully. "Doc'll come by; you'll talk to him."
She sat down hesitantly. "You were taking too much?"
"That's what he said. Gave me palpitations. Made me dizzy. Got my stomach all upset. I thought I ought to come in and they decided to keep me overnight. It's nothing, Janey. Believe me."
She started breathing again. "You look pretty good."
"Better'n you look." He laughed. "Like you've seen a ghost. You shouldn'ta come all this way. I'm fine. Really."
"Who's your doctor?"
"Swinson, Swenson, something like that."
"Mind if I go find him?"
"Be my guest. Look at you. You look like you're the one needs a night in the hospital."
She felt like it. She went down to the nurses' station and asked for the doctor. He was there, writing on a clipboard.
"I'm John Bauer's daughter."
"Glad to meet you. Dr. Swenson." He offered a slim, pale hand. "Good thing he came in when he did. We're cutting down his medication. That should do the trick. You're the police officer?"
"I guess he talked about me."
"Didn't talk about anything else. He's fine, Miss Bauer. Officer. Once we get the medication straight, he'll be fine."
"He said he was taking just what he was told to take." She wanted to hear him say it, that they had made a mistake, that it wasn't her father's fault, that they had put her father's life in jeopardy by prescribing the wrong amount of drugs.
"He probably was." The doctor looked at her directly. He was a thin, bony man with pale gray eyes behind large thick glasses. "Sometimes the medication needs a little fine-tuning. This should do the trick."
"Thank you." She went back down the hall to her father's room.
"You get the whole story?" he said. He seemed in a good mood, just missing his usual robust color.
"Confirmed every word you told me. I'll come by in the morning and pick you up."
"Don't bother, Janey. Madeleine'll come for me. She's got nothin' better to do. You go to work. You got a big case to work on."
She considered letting it go by. He had been so excited when she was picked for the City Hall Park Murder team. She could tell him another time but he was sharp; he would pick up on the delay and be hurt that she hadn't taken him into her confidence. "I'm off the case, Dad."
He stared at her, shaking his head as if to push away spiderwebs that had clouded the transmission. "What's that you said?"
"They took me off the case. I just got the word yesterday. A telephone call and I'm on a thirty-day assignment as of this morning. I'm on a steal with a new task force."
The phrase captured his attention, his eyes widening. "What kinda task force?"
"The mayor wants to clean up old unsolved homicides. We got a lot of briefings today. Tomorrow I'll get to look at a file."
"That's terrible, Janey. It's a waste. They need you on that City Hall case. Who cares about an old murder that happened in the Dark Ages? Some cases are so old they got whiskers, for cryin' out loud."
"Too many unsolved homicides, Dad. Someone's got to give them another look. Get the averages up."
"They know you're pullin' the pin?" He loved cop lingo.
"You shouldn'ta said anything. You should've kept it to yourself. You'd still be on the case."
He was probably right. "Don't worry about it. Just rest; get a good night's sleep. Marty's downstairs waiting to drive me home."
"Thanks for comin', honey."
She smiled, then bent and kissed his stubbled cheek. He hadn't felt well enough to shave this morning. "I'll call you tomorrow. Take care of yourself."
"You too, darlin'."
She had Marty drop her off at the new apartment. It was closer to where he was going anyway, and she felt like seeing it again. She had taken possession only two days ago and had the key with her. It was down in the West Village, south of Fourteenth Street, not far from Abingdon Square. The building was old, what was still called "prewar" more than half a century after that war had ended, with beautiful floors that would be scraped and refinished before she moved in at the end of the month, thick walls that kept sounds within them, fine details in the moldings, and, her greatest joy, a working wood-burning fireplace.
As she got out of his car, she thanked Marty again. It wasn't so much that she entrusted her life to him; it was a long time since either of them had drawn a weapon. It was that when the ordinary miseries of life exploded, he was there. That was what partners were all about.
She turned the key, pushed open the heavy door, and went inside. There was an echo of emptiness as she walked, the smell of fresh paint. It was clean, had just needed the paint and the work on the floor. The kitchen had been updated recently and the appliances were nearly new and actually filled the space as though designed for it. All four burners of the gas stove worked. That would give her a third more firepower than she had in the old place. When she got some money together, she would change the floor, maybe put in some fancy tiles with a little color. She was almost forty-one. It was time to live like a grown-up.
There were two bedrooms, the smaller one perfect for an office or a den or a guest room. Dad would enjoy staying over, helping her hang curtains and pictures. She walked over to the windows, moved them up and down, then locked them.
The master bedroom was exceptionally large, with a closet she would have trouble filling. The apartment was expensive but worth it. The new job would pay just enough more than this one paid to cover what it would cost. It was the kind of job she had occasionally dreamed about, an office of her own with a door that closed, a full-time assistant, an hour every day for lunch, not when you found a minute to stuff a sandwich or a piece of cold pizza in your mouth. That elusive quality called dignity.
She stepped into the bathroom. This was where you sensed the age of the apartment. The floor was a mass of white hexagonal tiles, the door on the medicine chest painted over so many times that it no longer closed. She wrote notes on a pad to leave for the workmen. The mirror was slightly wavy, making her look as though she had just stepped through the glass and hadn't completely re-formed on the other side. She smiled and her mouth smiled back in two sections. Time to go home.
Excerpted from Murder in Hell's Kitchen by Lee Harris. Copyright © 2003 by Lee Harris. Excerpted by permission of Fawcett, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.