01: Stepping in it

A House in Disarray

01: Stepping in it

blackroses

My Story isn’t pleasant,
it’s not sweet and harmonious, like the invented stories;
it tastes of folly and bewilderment,
of madness and dream, like the life of all people
who no longer want to lie to themselves.
Hermann Hesse

Em ignored the sleet lashing the windows, the rattling glass nearly overwhelming her voice. She curled her hair around her finger as she listened to the phone. The unsettling weather portended a more severe approaching storm.

“So how about we get together tonight? Say a nice dinner, a little wine; maybe a little romance?”

Em hoped an incoming low pressure system pelting the windows would create a temporary respite in homicides, her occupational specialty. But she knew death waits for no one. The mix of rain, sleet and lightning it created produced anger and frustration, and malice directed inward turns domestic. This storm, like the momentary lull in her personal life, was but a harbinger of bigger things to come. But for now, as the storm outside settled into a steady downpour, it was nice focusing on friendlier diversions between her other assignments.

Em was about to respond when another officer waved from the edge of the room. Putting her hand over the receiver, she motioned him forward.

“Emma, the Lieutenant wants to see you when you’re done. And as you know, whatever the Lieutenant says is the rule.” Detective Simmons laughed at his own pun, turning away before she could respond.

Detective Emma Rules growled under her breath and was struck with a shooting pain in her right jaw. The dentist warned her about this. She had to stop grinding her teeth when upset. Paul knew she hated her given name, yet he continued to use it. Everyone called her “Em” unless they didn’t know her or, like Paul, were complete asses about it. And jokes about her surname were … infantile.

“Tell him I’ll be there in a minute.” Em removed her hand from the receiver as she worked her jaw, continuing her conversation. “That’s wonderful, sweetie, I’m looking forward to it. I’ll wear something sexy,” she said as a smile crept across her face, images of the night to come dancing across her imagination. “But I’ve got to go. Something’s come up.”

“Something always comes up. You need to find yourself a regular job, either something eight-to-four or one where you make your own hours.”

“Hey,” Em protested, “I do. Detectives have more latitude than regular officers.”

“Twelve-hour days isn’t choosing when to work, it’s avoiding a social life.”

“You’ve got me all evening. Be glad for what you’ve got.” Em smiled over the familiar exchange. “I’ll see you tonight when I get off at six. That’s a normal hour to start a social life if I’ve ever heard one.”

“I’ll be there with bells on,” her date promised before signing off.

Em was standing when the phone rang again. She checked for anyone else to respond, but the others in the small department were occupied. Shrugging, she picked up the receiver. After all, it might be a lead in one of her cases. Witnesses often don’t call back if they feel an officer isn’t receptive.

“Hello, Detective Rules.”

“Em? This is Francine. I … I did it. I … we finally left Jeremy.”

Em rolled her eyes. She knew she couldn’t leave her sister-in-law hanging in the wind at this juncture. It had taken her too long to reach it. Pulling her chair out with her foot, she sat back down. “So Becky is with you?”

“Yeah, she’s right here.”

“Are you still at home?”

“No. You know your brother. If I stayed he’d either try to sweet talk me or threaten us.”

“Yeah, Jeremy can be a real jerk.” Em and her brother had a long and unpleasant history and had nearly come to blows many times. In fact, her relationship with her brother fractured the already tenuous relationship with the rest of her family. She rarely had contact with them now. “Are you somewhere he can track you?”

“No, we’re not.” Francine hesitated. Emma waited for her to continue, knowing you can’t rush someone at this stage. “We’re hoping to stay in New York. I figured the last place he’d look for us was in his sister’s apartment.”

Em laughed, a deep guttural chuckle. “Yeah, he knows I’d put him down. We’ve never gotten along. He realizes I don’t take his shit lightly.”

“Can you put us up? I don’t have much money. I can’t survive long without using my credit cards.”

Don’t use them, or even check into a motel for the night. If you do, he can track the activity on the card. He’s a crafty one and the information is easy to access. It’s part of the ‘creepy guys’ instruction manual’. Tell you what; I’ll be busy for some time. We’ll work something out. I’ll call around. I’m sure I’ve got a friend who can put you up for a while.”

“Em, we’d really rather stay with you. You know your brother. He doesn’t give up when someone takes something he wants. He may not want us, but he doesn’t want anyone else to have us either. He’ll hurt us if he finds us. The only one who can stop him is you.”

This time Em didn’t try to constrain her frustrated sigh. “That’s not a good idea. I’m a single working girl, working a cop’s hours in a seedy apartment in the wrong side of town. I won’t be there to protect you anyway. You and Becky would be better staying with someone out in the suburbs. Jeremy would never—”

“No. He won’t, because we won’t go anywhere else. One way or another, he’ll track us. When he does, he’ll wait out anyone watching over us. We don’t have to stay with you indefinitely, but if you’re close, you can at least respond if he tries something. Besides … you’ve got your famous ‘spidey sense’.”

“Okay, I’ll figure something out. I can ask a few people who are fairly close. But don’t stop. Drive all night. Sleep at a truck or rest stop, if necessary. Call me as soon as you reach the city. I should have something worked out by then. But I’ve got to meet with my boss. Apparently I’m in trouble for doing something I shouldn’t have.”

“Thanks, Em. You’re a life saver! You won’t regret it. I’ll—”

“Look, Francine, I’m sorry, but I’ve got to run. I’ve also got to figure out what to do with the two of you. I’ll see you in the morning.”

“Uh…, OK,” Francine answered, sounding like she was afraid to hang up.

“Don’t worry. You’ll be fine. Just remember, bury your credit cards and don’t make any calls. In fact, turn your phone off and remove the battery so it can’t be traced. When you reach the city, ask to use the phone at a hotel. If they balk, tell them you’re calling an abuse hotline. We’ll talk again tomorrow.”

Hanging up and heading to the corner office, Em considered what Lieutenant Anderson wanted. He was normally very direct, shouting new assignments or telling you he was shifting your priorities. Requesting a meeting in his office was unusual. It was typically reserved for dressings down or reprimands. She’d gotten enough of those. She’d been on her best behavior recently, working overtime to close cases rather than allowing them to draw out. The last thing she needed was another complaint on her record.

Knocking on the Lieutenant’s door, Em entered his office. “You wanted to see me?”

“Please close the door,” he instructed, putting his open folder into his drawer. She did so, watching for any signs of irritation. When he turned, he leaned back in his chair and examined her curiously.

“You’re wanted at 1PP. Someone wants to speak with you, and they’re insistent about it. Is there anything I should know?”

“One Police Plaza? Are you sure? The only ones there who’d care what I do are Internal Affairs, and I know I haven’t screwed up that badly.”

“You’re thinking too low in the hierarchy,” her balding, grey-haired boss responded. “There are a lot of departments in the complex. But you’re heading upstairs.”

“Upstairs?” Emma shook her head, trying to figure out what she’d done. “Personnel and Administration are on the lower floors. I don’t know anyone higher up the chain of command.”

“Think big. Twelfth floor.”

“The twelfth floor? I’ve never been there before. That’s exclusively for the high-muckety mucks.”

The Lieutenant smiled, the corner of his mouth tilting up. “The Commissioner himself wants to see you in his office.”

“Wait a minute, who could I have offended enough the Commissioner would call me to the carpet for a personal reprimand? Damn, I’d better change into my dress uniform.”

“No time. He’s sending a car to pick you up. It’ll be here in a few minutes. He specifically said for you to come in your normal attire.”

Em glanced at her clothes, trying to iron out the wrinkles with her hands. Appearing before the Commissioner looking unprofessional wouldn’t help her career. “Did he mention what this is about?”

“No, and he told me not to ask. That’s why I was hoping you’d have some clue.”

Em shook her head, glancing out the window with a dazed expression as if lost in thought. “I’ve pissed off plenty of people, and haven’t saved a busload of school kids lately, so it can’t be a commendation.”

“No, they’d hold a commendation on the street or in the Press Room in front of reporters. This is a private meeting, just you and him. But, in either case, you’ll find out when you arrive. After he called I checked your recent records and nothing stands out, aside from your internal complaints. Commissioner Eddleson plays his cards close to his chest so it could be anything. You don’t want to keep him waiting. Chances are the car is downstairs, so you’d best hurry.”

“Do I take anything? My case notes? Should I tell my partner where I’ll be?”

“You don’t want to delay the big cheese. Just go, I’ll tell your partner. I’m sure if the commissioner needed anything, he would have asked. Now git out of here!”

chainandlock

Exiting the building, Em surveyed the street while bracing herself against the elements. The weather was definitely foreboding, another front approaching. She expected to pick out one police car out of dozens. Instead, there was a huge black limousine parked in front with the seal of the New York Police Department emblazoned on the door. There was no mistaking whose vehicle it was. Em glanced around. Several patrolmen were watching her. She tried to shrink into her collar as she meekly waved before hurrying to the waiting car. There wasn’t any sense prolonging the public spectacle. As Em approached, the chauffeur jumped out, ran around the vehicle and opened the rear door for her. Apparently he was briefed on whom he was picking up.

“Ev’ning, M’am,” he said, tipping his cap.

“Thanks.” She edged into the luxurious back seat, turning to the driver. “Did they tell you what this is about?”

“Sorry, Miss Em. They no tell me ‘nuffin. They jes’ tol’ me to get you back quick.” Making sure she was safely in, he shut the door, jogged around and jumped back into the limousine.

“Please, no ‘Miss’. The title is detective. When I’m in uniform, I’m all police.”

“Understood, Miss Detective Em,” he said, smiling in the rearview mirror. He put the vehicle in gear and pulled away, noticing the glances they were drawing. “You should be glad you ain’t got no escort.”

“I knew there was a reason I liked you. Everyone insists on using my full name. So what’s yours, and how do you know my proper name?” Instead of observing the driver, Em studied the cops milling about. Not one stopped to ask about the limousine double parked in front of the police department. Even without the NYPD symbol displayed on the door, the police knew whose it was.

“Nathan,” the older Irish gentleman replied, glancing back in the rearview mirror.

“Excuse me for asking, Nathan. You look English but sound Jamaican. What’s the deal?”

Nathan laughed, comfortable with the accusation.

“I grow up on de’ Island. My family come from Ireland long ago to serve, but we not wealthy. After Jamaican independence, I pal around with the street kids and everyday people. I pick up their tongue and not my own. I speak Patwa with the best o’ em.”

“Ah, that explains it.”

Seeing a receptive audience, Nathan seemed ready to talk. “So, you seem to be de visiting princess today.”

Em turned to examine the chauffeur as the station disappeared behind them. “Yeah, any idea why? Or at least who initiated it?”

“Commissioner Eddleson sent me. When you need to know something, he tell you. Whatever it is, if he didn’t offer, I ain’t pryin’. After the rush is past, he’ll surely tell me.”

“Well, I’m glad you’ll learn the truth, but it doesn’t help me. I prefer knowing what I’m getting into before walking in the door. In my line of work, you get shot less often that way.”

Nathan smirked. “Don’t worry. The Commish no shoot you, but he no beat around de bush. He no play games. He let you know soon enuf.”

“So does this kind of thing come up often?”

“People get dragged to the Commissioner offen, but this first time I drive one. Technically, I only drive the Commish. I’m not even allowed to drive his family. If I do, he pays for it out of his own pocket, so he must really want to see you.”

Em looked out the window, not seeing anything, her eyes unfocusing again. “Well, that doesn’t answer my question, but it does raise a lot more. He wouldn’t pay to fire or demote me with his own money, and none of my cases have been big enough to receive a public airing.”

“As I said, if he wanted you to know, he o’ told me. He have reason for keeping secret.”

Em cocked her head, taking a different tack. “So what’s the Commissioner like? What should I expect?”

Nathan considered that for several moments as he eased around traffic. They continued unimpeded down the street. It was between the lunch crowd and rush hour, an ideal time for driving through the city. But Em still didn’t know the significance of his sending his private vehicle.

“He honest, very upfront. But if he no want you to know, he either be clever, disguising it with pleasant words, or he say upfront he no tell you. It best deal with him honestly, too. If you no like somethin’, tell him. Don’t hide it. If you no want to tell him, say so and he respect yo’ wishes.”

“Thanks. That’s the best advice I’ve gotten so far.”

“The cops on de’ street respect him. He work his way up and stand by his people. He united de’ force when it struggling with itself. He speak his mind when important, so I don’t know how long the mayor keep him on. But he elegant. When he embarrass de mayor, he smooth it over by saying something to make him look even better.”

“Yeah, I’m familiar with everyone’s view of him. When the city was pissed at us and cops were staging sick-outs, he got everyone working together and got the feds off our backs. I don’t think there’s any danger the mayor will let him go just yet. If he does, the feds will fall on the force like ravenous wolves. That’s more bad press than even he can manage at the moment.”

“He good man. You like.”

“Riding with you is like a trip to the islands. If I didn’t know better, I’d ask you for a joint,” Em teased.

“I’m a cop, just like you,” he reminded her, his accent disappearing in the blink of an eye as he glared at her in the rearview mirror. “I don’t drink on duty or compromise my career. But I get in trouble for me speech. Other cops give me hell. My Lieutenant speak to the Commish and he call me in. He offer me this job. It allow me to remain a cop and support me family, but escape harassment. He like my family ever since. He invite me to daughter’s wedding and attended my son’s.”

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to insult you.”

“Still,” he continued, smiling. “I think pot laws stink! Waste cop’s time, only target blacks and cost a fortune. I’m glad they start legalizing it. On day they legalize it here, I’m lighting up a big fatty. Hope you come join me. Me no think Commish can make it.”

“No, it won’t look good in the press,” she admitted with a laugh.

They pulled into One Police Plaza and Em was surprised the time had passed so swiftly. The large reddish-brown complex was certainly imposing, while still portraying a sense of modernity, separating it from the old law enforcement days of the past. Still, like most cops, she was nervous whenever called to report there. There were a lot of necessary services conducted here, but it was also where many cops got hung out to dry.

“This be yo’ stop,” Nathan announced, pulling up to the main entrance. He turned back and graced her with a beaming smile. “I think you know which office be his. And don’t worry. Whatever he tell you, he be fair ‘bout it.”

“All right. But I’ll tell you what, if I’m unemployed by the end of the day, maybe I light a doobie in your honor.”

He laughed, a deep guttural chuckle. “Don’t do nothin’ stupid. You do well, whatever you do. Never let anger cloud yo’ judgment.”

Nathan walked around the vehicle and opened the door for her. As much as it hurt her sense of independence, she let him. She saluted him as she left, and turned her attention to the job ahead, whatever it was.

Glancing at the building, Em gritted her teeth, instantly regretting it as the pain shot through her jaw. You don’t get far being a woman in a man’s profession by drawing attention to yourself, she thought. But you can’t get out of the Commissioner’s private limousine without attracting curiosity. She took a deep breath and went in.

She expected the usual security delays, but a small woman in a suit waved her over.

“Detective Rules? I’m Nicole Summers. I’m here to guide you to the Commissioner’s office.” The blond woman who offered Em her hand wore no-nonsense black-framed glasses, but they didn’t hide her clear skin or bright smile. “He’s waiting for you.”

Em indicated her holster. “Uh, do I need to check my gun or—”

“No, no.” Nicole waved her forward as she stepped around the special gate a young officer held open for them both. “The Commissioner stressed you shouldn’t be stopped but to come right up.”

Again, the rush and private assistance unnerved Em. She wasn’t used to special accommodations and didn’t know how to interpret them. For most of her career, she’d fought hard just to be grudgingly treated like everyone else.

She followed her liaison as she strode off, her high heels clicking against the marble floors. Em couldn’t help but admire firm buttocks, but noted her badge and dress marked her as a denizen of the Commissioner’s office. Em matched her step for step, walking swiftly toward the elevator. Em couldn’t act on it, but she admired her professionalism, good looks and demeanor.

“Hold the elevator,” Nicole called, and of course, someone reached out and did so. Em grinned, as no one ever held the door for her at her station house, but then, Em wasn’t built or dressed as well as Nicole. As much as Em disapproved of favoritism in the work force, she’d hold the door for her too.

The others in the elevator moved aside as Nicole led Em to the back. As they settled in and the elevator rose, Em considered her situation. Commissioner Eddleson wouldn’t pay to bring her here out of his own pocket, risking condemnation for misuse of government funds to admonish her. Whatever he had planned must be worth the effort, but she couldn’t figure out what he might want.

Nicole studied her charge as people got on and off the elevator. Em was clearly distracted, so she left her alone. The commissioner didn’t tell her why he wanted her, but she noted he passed over the best officers on the force for this unknown woman. She’d reviewed Em’s record, but didn’t discern anything remarkable, other than a tendency to piss off her superiors. She watched the detective, trying to determine what her boss saw in her. Nicole was involved with the higher level administrative police work. She’d observed street cops too, but Em was different. Her mind seemed to operate on a separate level than the other officers. As officers got on and off, Em shifted as necessary, clearly aware of them, but gave no other sign she recognized their existence, her brows furrowed in concentration.

Em’s mind was churning, trying to figure out what this meeting was about. If it was purely administrative, the commissioner would have sent a message through the normal chain of command. She didn’t think she had been involved in anything which would attract notice, so there must be some other explanation. She had no special knowledge or expertise. The commissioner had hundreds of homicide detectives, dozens he’d know and trust more than someone he’d never met.

Nicole observed Em’s head lift and a smile cross her lips. Of course, Em thought. It’s incidental. Someone indirectly associated with one of my current or past cases must have done something which drew the commissioner’s attention. Maybe a relative shot a criminal or had a standoff with the cops. But try as she might, she couldn’t think of any likely candidates. There are many incidents of ‘suicide by cop’, but she couldn’t think of any family members upset enough to take such actions. With most of her recent cases, the relatives were too grief-stricken to act drastically. Still, that was the only sensible alternative. It was possible an older case finally broke, but she wouldn’t know until she had more information.

She felt reassured at having identified the problem. She may not have the specifics, but at least she knew what she was facing and was equipped to face the city’s top cop. Finally noticing her surroundings, she noted they were alone on the once-crowded elevator. The elevator chimed the final stop, the 12th floor, and Em stepped forward, trying to straighten out her suit with her hands.

Nicole smiled, intrigued by Em’s fascination and concentration. It renewed her faith in police work that someone could exclude everything but what she was working on. It was clear she’d resolved whatever she’d been working through, and the fact there were still criminal cases that relied on a cop ‘figuring things out’ without extensive leg work reassured her. That, surely, was the missing element the commissioner noted in the otherwise easily overlooked detective. When the elevator doors slid open, Em strode confidently out, and Nicole trailed her, studying her every move just as Em had studied hers earlier.

“Good. You’re here,” the commissioner’s secretary said as Em preceded Nicole into his office suite. “Commissioner Eddleson’s waiting for you. Go on in.”

Nicole paused. “Emily, this is Stefanie Mathews. She’s Mike’s private secretary and right hand.”

Instead of answering, Em nodded in Stefanie’s direction, noting how powerful men always seemed to have attractive women working for them. Still, if she was considered his ‘right hand’, she must be more than just arm candy. Stefanie nodded to Em in return, smiling as she did, the three women sizing one another up.

Em entered the civilian head of the New York City police department’s office, not waiting for Nicole to lead the way. Once inside, she paused and waited to be acknowledged.

Mike Eddleson glanced up, surprised at the intrusion. Most people knocked before entering, and waited to be recognized. But he smiled as he saw the stocky woman. She clearly looked like a cop, ready to wrestle anyone to the ground who got in her way. She had clear eyes and a determined disposition, with brownish hair in what Mike thought of as a ‘policewoman’s haircut’, a short bob cut off at collar length.

“I’m glad to finally meet you, Detective Rules.” He stood and walked around his desk until he was facing her. “I’m Commissioner Eddleson, as I’m sure you already know, but I want you to call me Mike.”

Em nodded in acknowledgement. “If it’s the same to you, sir, I’d feel more comfortable calling you Commissioner.”

Eddleson smiled, cocking his head as he considered the detective. He nodded to Nicole. “You can leave us alone, Nicole.”

Nicole smirked. “I think I’d rather stay and watch. This looks like fun.”

“Sorry, but I think we’d both prefer to keep this conversation private. But I’ll remember to include you the next time we square off. If you’re lucky, maybe we can all have drinks together. You should enjoy that.”

“Pleased to meet you, Emma,” Nicole said, shaking her hand and staring her in the eyes. Em noted something in the look and in how long she held her hand. “I’m looking forward to meeting you once I learn what this is about.”

As Nicole departed, Em watched the commissioner, noting he smiled watching her leave. While she was certainly attractive, he had something up his sleeve. His attitude was more of a patriarch. No, he was amused at the situation with Em herself.

The commissioner waited until the door latched shut before he began. “I assume you have questions?” Eddleson prompted.

Em tilted her head, considering him. “I think it best if you fill me in. After all, I haven’t the slightest clue.”

The commissioner wandered around Em, studying her as much as she kept her eyes on his every move. “You may wonder why I asked you here, but you’re not a complete mystery to me. I’ve studied you for some time. I’ve gotten reports on you: how difficult you can be, how bull-headed and belligerent. How you’ve been reprimanded multiple times and even asked to transfer to different departments.”

He glanced past her, out the window for a second. “Your Lieutenant Anderson is an excellent manager. He closes cases, which is good for the department and the relatives of the victims. He’s got an exceptional record. Yet you continually delay cases, often with little justification.”

Em scowled. “We don’t always agree on the progress being made on a case.”

“No. You don’t. If Anderson doesn’t see a case closed, he’d prefer you close another. He’d rather see progress than waste resources. That’s why I’ve watched you. You’ve got a perverse doggedness I admire, but never knew how to utilize.” He turned and regarded her again. “I think I’ve found the perfect use for your particular … qualities.”

Em cocked her head, studying the man’s expression. “Pardon me?”

“You’ve had a lot of trouble with your bosses, haven’t you?” he continued, changing the topic. “You’re … temperamental, lousy at office politics and don’t pull your punches.”

Em sighed, shifting her stance, knowing this would take a while. “You already know the answer to that.”

“For one who so successfully ticks off her supervisors, you could use someone sticking up for you. An individual who can intercede on your behalf, who could speak up for you, or if things don’t go well, can make recommendations if you find yourself on your ass.”

“What are you suggesting?” she asked, narrowing her eyes.

“Just that a friend would be beneficial.”

“And what would such a friendship cost me?”

He resumed his circular track around her. “The reason I admire you is you stick to your guns. You don’t back down, even when you know it’ll cost you. If you feel in your gut that an investigation has legs, you’ll follow it to the end, even if you can’t demonstrate any results. That’s because you respond to instinct. Something an administrator, however skilled, can’t evaluate. Despite your troubles, you’ve got an excellent closing rate. You certainly don’t close the most cases, but you solve a higher percentage of your cases than any other homicide detective I know.

“What’s more, you’ve also risen from the ranks. You started when this department had few female cops, and from what I’ve heard, you busted asses whenever necessary. You know how to work the streets, how to cross your t’s and dot all your i’s. You know how to earn respect through hard work, but also how to relate to victims. You not only console relatives, wheedling clues out of them, you’re a shrewd interviewer, worming confessions out of clever criminals. You’ve got a terrific mind and know how to wield it.”

Commissioner Eddleson had completed a full circle around Em. She knew enough not to watch him the entire time, facing forward, but she knew where he was every moment. A talent Eddleson was keenly aware of. She knew not to betray distrust or suspicion, but she also knew the importance of observing someone’s reactions for clues to their intent. He felt sure he’d made the correct decision.

He leaned against the edge of his desk and the two studied each other. “I’ve got an interesting case, one I can’t turn over to just anyone. I need someone to check under every rock to discover every clue. What’s more, I want someone who’s not afraid to hurt their career in pursuing the truth.”

He paused, letting her wait for him to continue. When he didn’t, her curiosity got the better of her. “What’s the case, and why would you want me to jeopardize my career?”

“Because it involves me.” He turned and reached across his desk for a manila folder sitting in front of his chair. Turning back, he held it up as he spoke. “A city councilman, Adrian Adams of the Fourth District, was killed in his townhouse last night. If you’re not aware, Adrian was the head of the Economic Development Committee. The maid, when she discovered his body, knew to call this office. Which is just as well, since I’ve been having an affair with his wife, making me the prime suspect.”

Em’s head jerked back, her eyes widening. The commissioner waved his hands to forestall her response. “I know, I know. I’m a happily married man. Fooling around with someone who could make my job a living hell is incredibly stupid, but sometimes life throws you for a curve. I’m not asking for forgiveness. I’m looking for someone who can be brutally honest.

“I want someone who’ll leave no stone unturned. Who’s not afraid to ask embarrassing questions, but is smart enough not to expose her hand unnecessarily. As you can guess, I’d prefer this relationship didn’t reach the press. But more importantly, I don’t want it to leak to any police sources. If it does, Internal Affairs will take over the investigation. As I’m sure you know, they’re a skeptical bunch, and tend to assume the worst from the word ‘Go’. Once they get ahold of the case, it’ll be front page news and I’ll never get a fair hearing. My marriage and career will be destroyed even when the evidence proves me innocent, as I’m confident it will. Instead, I want someone who won’t take the easy out and jump on the most obvious suspect.”

“Wait? You want me to investigate you? Do I look crazy to you?”

He handed her the case file. “Don’t worry. I’ll issue strict instructions. You’ve got carte blanche. You can do whatever you want, talk to whomever you please. I’ll post these orders immediately and write out more explicit ones I won’t make public until it’s absolutely necessary.”

Em stepped back, opening the folder and leafing through the few pages while still watching the commissioner.

“What’s more, I’m not about to interfere. My entire future rests in your hands. While I’ve worked in the force for years, I’m more like your lieutenant. I’m an administrator. I don’t have what it takes to bury myself in a single case to the exclusion of everything else. I promise not to peek over your shoulder, though I’d like to be notified before anything gets revealed, even if you’re forced to arrest me. I won’t cause any trouble, but I’d like time for my press secretary to prepare a response.”

Em slowly paged through the thin case file, her eyes scanning each line searching for details, before halting. “I see what you mean about risking my career. You realize, if I find you’re involved, I’ll be implicated in an attempt to cover up the crime as well. And if I clear you, you’ll probably punish me for pursuing it and turning up the heat. What’s more, you’ll never trust me again, as I’ll know things which could comprise your career. Even if you don’t intend to, you’re likely to hold it against me.”

Turning, he picked up another folder. She stepped forward, taking and examining it. “It’s a letter I’ve drawn up with my lawyer. Give me the name of your lawyer and I’ll send it in a sealed envelope. He can open it the moment the case goes public. It’s a personal recommendation for you. The word of the Police Commissioner of New York will go a long ways in guaranteeing you a job any place you apply.

“Believe me, although I understand your nervousness, I’m not about to stab you in the back. I realize this is the only way to save my ass. What’s more, hearing how you deal with victim’s families and handle interrogations, I know you won’t reveal anything you learn unless it impacts the case itself. I already trust you implicitly.”

She closed the folder, leaning forward to look him square in the eyes, observing every flicker, blink and twitch of his face. “Still, if I arrest you, I’ll be the most hated person on the force. No one will trust me. If you come out as clean as a whistle, everyone will question what deal we concocted.”

“Which is the other reason for the personal recommendation. With it, you can apply for another job whenever you wish. I’m even authorizing you to reveal the details of the case, even if they’re not stated in any police documents. I’m trying to protect you here. That’s what I meant about watching out for you. I know how treacherous this is. What’s more, in case this gets ugly, I’ve mailed the recommendation to some of my colleagues in Boston, Chicago, Atlanta, Miami and Las Vegas. If this blows up or turns on you, you’ve got an easy out.”

Em continued leafing through documents, not responding but watching the commissioner. After the silence grew oppressive, the commissioner tried another approach. “Not to sound pleading, but there’s more to this than my reputation. As you probably know, I was appointed to this job after a series of police shootings of unarmed minorities. In the ensuing response by the public, the unions got in a huff and cops starting staging sick-outs, thinking everyone was after them. Since the grand juries found them not guilty, the Feds threatened to step in by filing federal charges against the cops, which would have made matters worse.”

“Yeah, yeah. I’m familiar with your history. Your first action was to reassure the unions and the cops that no one was seeking to hurt them. You emphasized that, to restore confidence, you needed to change how we deal with the public. That the issue wasn’t overt but ‘involuntary racism’ they had little voluntary control over.”

The commissioner grinned, pleased she knew so much of his history. “Exactly. It’s not that they weren’t responsible for their actions, they weren’t aware of how they were making their decisions. No one really bought in, as it were, but since they felt I wasn’t after them, they gave me time to institute changes. However, my recommendations haven’t had a chance to be implemented. If I’m implicated in this, and especially if I’m forced from office in a major controversy, all that work goes right out the window. The public will demand reform, the feds will initiate a series of criminal prosecutions, and the police force will view the entire world as ‘us versus them’. The city will grind to a halt, nothing would get accomplished, and the city would earn a horrendous reputation, just as we were close to solving most of these problems. Frankly, I know what I’ll do after leaving office. I’ll work as a political consultant. I don’t care whether I’m considered a hero or a villain, but I refuse to see my name and every cop in this city tarnished because we weren’t allowed to finish what I started.

“If I’m successful, not only will we all look good, but every city across the country will duplicate my approach. We can prove ourselves as a leader in race relations between the police and the public. That’s too vital to surrender without a fight.”

“Hmm.” She continued studying him, weighting the case folder in her hand. “What about a partner? I can’t do this on my own. I’ll need someone to watch my back, check out details and interview other witnesses. Am I on my own, or do I have to work with one of your handymen?”

“No. As I said, I already trust you implicitly. Your sense of professionalism and duty will keep you on track, even if things don’t go well. You’re free to pick whoever you want as your partner. Though you’ll have to decide for yourself what you’re willing to tell them.”

“When did the murder occur and who examined the crime scene?”

“As I said, they called me directly. You’re the only officer appointed to the case. However, I know samples have to be taken while they’re still fresh. I’ve assigned a top crew of crime scene investigators to examine the site. I’ve also told them they’re only to report to you for the duration of the case, and to clear it with you before they run any samples. They’re my best people, so they’re unlikely to leak any results. They never have in the past, and they’re … fairly loyal to me. However, like you, they’re not so dedicated they’ll abandon their responsibilities to the truth.”

“OK, one of my men, a handful of yours.”

“Technically, two men and one woman. You’ll like them. They’re as driven and as single-minded as you.”

Em cocked her head, her brow furrowing. “How the hell am I supposed to reach this crime scene and return home tonight? After all, I left my car behind when you abducted me.”

“Simple. Nathan will drive you there in my limousine. And so I won’t have to continue paying for the privilege, I’ll ride with you and sit with Nathan while you do your business. By the way, which detective do you dislike the most in your office?”

Em twisted her head, studying him again before committing. “Detective Paul Simmons.”

“Excellent,” the commissioner said, rubbing his hands together with diabolical delight. “I’ll call your lieutenant and have Paul personally drive your car to the crime scene. He’ll hate every moment of it, feeling like your errand boy, having to drop all his cases to ferry your possessions around.”

“Are you sure that’s wise? I have enough enemies, I’d rather not make any more if I can avoid it.”

“Don’t worry. You’ve already been promoted well above his pay grade. Secondly, once he discovers he’ll ride back in my limousine with me, he’ll forget any personal grievance. He’ll see it as the high point in his career: a chance to brown nose with the commissioner. He’ll think you walk on water after this.”

Em frowned, turning away and glancing out the office window, the excellent view of the park obscured by the driving rain outside. “That’s unlikely to last.”

Eddleson shrugged. “It won’t matter. Once he realizes he’s not the golden boy, you’ll have a better career position or another job entirely. What’s more, if I’m forced out of office, he’ll be relieved I never granted him any favors, and glad you didn’t force the issue.”

Em walked to the window, glancing down at the cars, cops and pedestrians scrambling through the rain thirteen floors below. “You’ve thought of everything, haven’t you? That’s a lot of plans in a short time. Are you sure you haven’t been planning this for some time, even if not consciously?”

The commissioner laughed a hearty belly laugh. “As I said, I’ve been watching you for some time. I like your style and I knew you’d come in handy someday, even if I didn’t know how to utilize you. I knew, however I capitalized on your skills, it would take some finesse. So yes, I’ve planned what it would take to get you to take whatever ugly job I stuck you with. So I’d figured out most of the details, just not the circumstances it would be under.”

Running her finger along the streaked glass, tracing a falling raindrop, she considered the proposal for a few seconds. “I know I’m going to regret this, but I accept. It’s too intriguing to turn down, and I’m dying to see how the case turns out.” She turned around, favoring him with a crooked smile. “But you knew that, didn’t you?”

Smiling, he turned and reached for his desk phone. “I think you already know the answer to that. You’d better call your partner and have him meet you. I’ll contact your boss, telling him the two of you no longer work for him and to reassign your existing cases. After you’ve examined the crime scene, you can brief your coworkers on your current caseload tomorrow. I can assure you, they won’t go unpursued. It’s your personal style which got you here and I’m not about to compromise it now. Once you’re done, we’ll ride down to my limousine and possibly invite Nicole out for a drink later. If I’m not mistaken, I thought I detected a little spark there.”

“Is every detail about my private life in your records?”

“No, not every one. But you’ve been exceptionally brave, never hiding or apologizing for who you are. Besides, I know Nicole, and I’ve been around her long enough to pick up when she’s interested in someone. Call it my gaydar by proxy. I feel the two of you will hit it off.”

Em laughed. “Another one of your people?” She pulled her cell phone from her pocket and accessed her partner’s number. “Maybe, but not until this is over. I’ll be in enough trouble if this comes to light. If I’m romantically linked to someone from your staff, I won’t be able to get a job digging latrines. I know how to keep out of trouble and when to steer clear from distractions. I don’t think I can afford such entanglements for some time to come.”

“I’m already glad you’ve taken this case. You’re exactly what I was hoping for. By the way, now that I can’t demote you without exposing myself, will you relent and call me by my name?”

“Sure, Mike. This commissioner nonsense is for the birds.”

He laughed again. “You say that now, but wait until you’re in the job yourself. You may not have the administrative and political skills yet, but I have a feeling you’ll go far; even without my help.”

“I certainly hope so. Or else this might be the shortest non-official promotion on record. But don’t worry about this situation being too drastic. Unless you know something I don’t, being caught with your pants down won’t implicate you. Chances are it’s a simple break-in. Once we catch who did it, we can bury the whole sordid mess and I can return to my own thankless job.”

“I hope it’s that straightforward, but I have a bad feeling about this one. It just … feels wrong.”

“Still, there’s no sense panicking prematurely.” However, Em’s jaw got another piercing pain and her stomach felt unsteady. The man knew police work well enough to know when things weren’t right.

 

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