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Wednesday, 02November, 21:47:03
26th Precinct Station House, Manhattan, NY


I had been staring at the case files again when the call came. I had read the words so many times the ink felt like it was smeared across my retinas and all of the crime scene photos were starting to look the same. I had the entire puzzle put together: I had all the evidence, the matching MOs, the identical ballistics, the victim patterns... All I needed was my perp, and that last piece of the puzzle had been a gaping hole in my case records for the past two years. It was infuriating. How could he have evaded me this long? It just wasn't possible--it was like he wasn't even human. The power he had over the precinct office was astounding; everyone knew this guy, and everyone was in awe of his ability to cover his tracks.

It had been my first case. The captain said it would be a cut and dry homicide case, like a thousand others that came across the desks; it would be a piece of cake, even for a rookie. Some vigilante type had taken matters into his own hands and murdered a piece of underworld scum; it was straightforward and simple, or so we had thought. I don't think the captain ever expected it to become the bloated multi-incident file it had. I knew that when I caught him, the hold he had over the station would then be mine. I would have that power and command that sort of reverence and awe, and I wanted it terribly.

The phone rang again, jarring and intrusive. Tearing my eyes from the manila folder, I reached for the phone and lifted it from its cradle.

"Zavattoni."

"Sir, there's a situation." The voice was thin, worried, too strained. It was one of the newer detectives from my precinct; a rookie just a few months out of the academy. He insisted on calling me sir, which wasn't necessary, considering I outranked him on seniority alone, but I wasn't going to stop him.

"Salazar? Didn't you leave the office half an hour ago?" I asked, glancing at my watch; it was nearing 10pm. "I thought you'd gone home." There was a shuffling sound, and I could hear sirens in the background. "Salazar, what's going on?"

"No, sir, I was headed up to the Bronx following up a lead, and..." Salazar grunted like he'd been shoved, and then there were angry voices telling him to step back and get out of the way. "I think you should just come up here."

I didn't understand what his case could possibly have to do with me, but he seemed so insistent I figured it had to be something serious. Salazar was no-nonsense and firm, which was something I appreciated about him, so maybe it was okay to give him the benefit of the doubt just this once. He couldn't stay a screw-up rookie forever.

"All right, where are you?" I asked, rising and grabbing my long coat from where it was draped over the back of my chair.

"Larry Iron Works, Lincoln and East 134th," he replied.

"I'm on my way," I said, and I cast one last glance at the open file on my desk before closing it and hanging up the phone. The last thing I wanted to do was drive my car across the 3rd Street bridge--taking a Lexus into The South Bronx was just asking to get carjacked, but I wasn't going to waste money on a cab when I knew 85% of the cabbies in the city were illegal. That was just condoning their behavior. Wasting time on the train wasn't really an option, either, if Salazar was honestly in a bad situation.

The fact that he had clearly not wanted to disclose details on the phone only fueled my assurance that something was seriously wrong. Salazar wasn't really my problem; I wasn't a babysitter, but whatever he had found had been enough to warrant a phone call, and that was enough to tear me away from pouring over the same damn files I'd been staring at all evening. It wasn't like I was making any progress just looking at them for the thousandth time.

Sliding my coat on, I retrieved my blade from the rack at the side of my desk and slid it through my belt and then headed for the door. Stepping back quickly as I saw a figure approach through the glass, I reached out and pulled it open when I recognized the sergeant, his heavy fingers closed around the upper arm of a skinny blond woman who really wasn't dressed for the weather.

Sergeant Christopher Langdon was a tall man with shaggy brown hair and a grin that didn't belong on a police officer. He put too much effort into acting cool and likable, in my opinion, which wasn't something a cop needed to really concern himself with. I would have had a hard time respecting him if he weren't so good at his job.

"Leaving so soon, Vergil?" he asked as he nodded a thanks for holding the door. "It's not like you to head home this early. Run out of midnight oil?"

"Hardly," I replied, raising my voice only enough to be heard over the struggling and raving of the skinny woman, who was busy calling the sergeant a filthy pig. "Salazar called; said he wanted me to come see something up at Lincoln and 134th."

"Salazar?"

The sergeant sat the woman down in a chair near the door and shook a finger at her: a silent order to stay put. She spat at his feet. I curled my lip and looked away. We really did deal with scum in this job; how a woman could flaunt herself like that, degrading her body and her spirit so? It was appalling.

"I thought he was working on something out in Queens," Christopher said, shaking his head. "And what's he want with you?"

I shrugged. "He just seemed urgent," I said. I didn't say it, but I was wondering if he'd found something that matched my open case file's MO. I really couldn't think of any other reason he would have called me specifically. I gave the sergeant a look then, still pointedly ignoring the prostitute in the chair. "My paperwork is done for the evening, so I supposed it wouldn't hurt to... indulge him this once."

Christopher laughed, that broad grin still looking out of place between his pronounced cheekbones and stern, narrow eyes. He clapped me on the shoulder and pulled the whore up out of her chair, tugging her back toward the interrogation room.

"Just don't make a habit of indulging people, Vergil," he chided, "or you'll end up with a reputation like mine."

"Perish the thought," I replied flatly, dusting off the shoulder of my coat.

"Oh, is the captain out?" he asked then, and I turned back to look at him, watching for a moment as his frame shook gently while the prostitute yanked against his grip for all she was worth.

I shook my head. "Yes, he left about an hour ago," I said; "said he had to follow up on something and that he would probably be back late if at all." I pointed to the closed door of the captain's office. "The door isn't locked, though; you could leave him a message. Unfortunately, you know he never answers his cell phone when he's out."

"That's management for you," he said. "See you in the morning, then."

"Right."

With a halfhearted wave over one shoulder, I turned and pulled the door open, heading out into the chilly night. It probably wouldn't be too long a drive to the Bronx by this time of night, especially on a Wednesday. I only hoped I wouldn't end up having to bill Salazar for paint damage if my car got keyed indulging him. Paperwork was such a hassle, after all.



I would never understand the romanticizing of New York City. In a way, I supposed it was indeed the city that never slept, but it certainly wasn't the center of the universe as its nickname suggested, nor did it even remotely resemble an apple, regardless of the size. Truman Capote had said once that New York was 'the only real city-city', and much as I respected the man as an author I had no idea what he meant by that.

New York was grungy and sick: bad posture cast in cinderblock and colored in shades of sepia to hide the stains. It was an open wound too dirty to heal and so it festered, stinking of rot and infection and oozing the filth of humanity. The Upper East and West Sides did a decent job of covering for the rest of the city's detestable health problems, as it were, but they didn't change the fact that there were days that even the fine china and clean lines of my corner apartment couldn't get my mind off the blood and sweat and track marks that tarnished New York's skin.

As I crossed the 3rd Street bridge into the Bronx, I was reminded all over again why I rarely left Manhattan. If New York City was the armpit of the state, then The South Bronx was an ingrown hair. Turning onto East 134th, I could already see the flashing lights of the squad cars and emergency vehicles that had responded to the scene already. Blue and red and gold flickered on building facades, shuddering and casting sharp, irregular shadows through the fire escapes. Putting the car in park, I stepped out and approached one of the officers standing at the crime scene tape barricade.

"Sir, we need to keep this area clear," he said.

"I'm detective Zavattoni, from the 26th," I said. "I was asked to make an appearance." He frowned when I showed him my badge, as if my not being in uniform somehow made me less allowed to be there, but dutifully lifted the string of tape. I ducked beneath it, approaching the small cluster of EMTs near the ambulance parked along the side of the tall, flat building of Larry Iron Works.

I held up my badge again as one of the EMTs raised her eyes to me, and then she stepped back with a shake of her head.

"Sir!"

Before I could step into the spot she'd vacated to have a look at the victim, however, a voice broke through the diffused murmur of radio chatter and hushed discussion, and I looked up in time to watch Salazar rush toward me. His foot caught on the edge of a pothole in the asphalt of the parking lot and he pitched forward almost comically, and I watched, mostly disinterested, as he peeled himself up off the pavement and scrabbled toward me again.

Alejandro Salazar was a compact man, with close-cropped ink-black hair and a thin mustache that always appeared to be a little uneven on his upper lip. He was a little rumpled, as usual, thought it was never because he was lazy or didn't care about his appearance; he was just in a constant state of uptight, almost to the point of perpetual encroaching heart attack. He was tiring to look at.

"Sir, I'm glad you're here," he said, dusting off the knees of his slacks. "Here, come with me." He headed for the spot the female EMT had vacated, and I found myself wondering why he had assumed I wasn't capable of figuring out that was where I was supposed to go myself. "I was in the area nearby when I heard a call on my radio that something had happened here, so I responded. I was... so surprised... when I saw what happened," he said, but I wasn't really listening. Stepping in front of him, I peered into the circle of emergency personnel milling about and then approached the fallen body on the ground.

I dropped to a crouch, reaching for the pale blue sheet that covered the victim's head, and paused only long enough to glance back and note the look of horror on Salazar's face. Why was this so upsetting? It wasn't like he'd never seen a dead body before. People always said that it never got any easier to look at a corpse, but I disagreed: if you'd seen one corpse, you'd seen most of them.

Nothing could have prepared me for what I saw when I pulled that sheet back, however, and I actually gasped, dropping the fabric and watching it crumple almost too heavily on the victim's face. His face. ... The captain's face. My captain's face. Suddenly Salazar's alarm made more sense, but whereas his concern probably lied more in the fact that our commanding officer was dead, mine was rooted in why he was dead here, in an empty parking lot in The South Bronx. What exactly had he been following up on that had led him here? What sort of trouble had Jonathan Arkham discovered that had gotten him killed?

"Let me through! Get your hands off me--I said let me through, dammit!"

I glanced up from the captain's body when a woman's voice pierced the quiet drone of the crime scene, and watched as the crowd split apart violently. She was not tall, with dark hair that feathered around her face and a thin scar across the bridge of her nose. The first several buttons of her collared shirt were undone and the sleeves were rolled back to her elbows, her smart slacks had a plaid pleated miniskirt inexplicably layered over them. She was wearing obnoxiously red boots that didn't match anything, and as usual refused to wear a coat despite the fact that it was barely 40 degrees outside.

"Mary."

Her name left my lips before I even realized I'd recognized her--Mary Arkham. It had been a while. Her father had been one of my mentors at the academy before I was assigned to the 26th Precinct to work under him. I had met Mary during the academy graduation ceremony; she had been working narcotics at the 17th Precinct for a few years already, and when she learned that her father had recruited me for his own precinct, she decided she was going to have to keep an eye on me. I wasn't sure whether that was a good thing or not at the time, but despite having too much temper on too short a fuse, Mary was a good cop, and a real weapons expert. As much as I didn't care for guns, it was interesting to watch the way she could wield them. It was a little nostalgic.

She pushed another EMT out of the way and sort of stumbled into the cleared circle of asphalt, and her eyes swung to me. For half an instant there was accusation in her eyes, like maybe it was my fault her father was dead, like maybe I should have been keeping an eye on him, but it was gone as soon as it was there, and she dropped to her knees beside her father's fallen form, pulling the sheet back and staring at his face a moment. Her eyes seemed to trace the lines of the old burn scar that covered half of his face. He'd gotten that working a case shortly after my induction; a bust of an alleged gang house had been rigged, the location riddled with flash bombs. The guys back at the precinct had teased him about it--called him Two-Face, like the villain from the Batman comics. Mary had always gotten so angry when they'd called him that, her eyes smoldering with an unspoken fury.

Pulling the sheet back further, she looked at me, her mismatched eyes narrow.

"Who did this?" she asked, her voice low, and I shook my head.

"I don't know. I was just called here myself."

She tossed the sheet aside, revealing a bloody stain on the front of his shirt, and Mary scoffed in disgust.

"Bastard got himself stabbed?" she snarled. "After all this, he gets himself stabbed." I found myself wondering what she was so angry about. Obviously, she should have been upset that her father had been killed, but the anger at the method seemed a little displaced. Her eyes met mine again, all fire and steel, and she pressed her lips together. "Are you taking this case?" she asked, and I hesitated.

Was I? Homicide wasn't really my department; I usually worked in the circles that made busts of suspected gang hangouts. My team was an undercover mafia reconnaissance squad, combing the city's underbelly for signs of mob presence. Mary knew that.

"Do you think this is gang-related?" I asked her, and she gestured at the stab wound.

"This was made with a large, likely serrated blade," she rattled off quickly, "and there's no sign of the weapon anywhere. He's got contusions all over his head and face, indicating he was significantly roughed up before he was stabbed, and there's no blood trail, indicating he was killed right here, in this parking lot, in an area that has several established gangs." She folded her arms, and I frowned at the way her collar and throat was so visible, with her shirt unbuttoned like that, the way her breasts pressed together above her folded forearms. Such impropriety.

She scowled expectantly at me, and I sighed. I supposed I owed her father this much.

"Fine, I'll talk to the head of the four-oh and see if I can take custody of the case," I said. "It's technically on the 40th's turf, but he's my captain, so I can probably take it over."

"See that you do," she said tersely, rising to her feet again and straightening her unnecessary skirt. "I'll see you tomorrow morning."

"Wait, what?" I stood up and frowned at her. "Even if I take this case over, you're in the 17th."

"And he's my father, and I'm working this case with you, Vergil."

I could have insisted she was already too close to this case to face it reasonably. I could have told her that it was against protocol to pair up with cops from other precincts. I could have just said no. But nothing ever seemed to deter Mary when she really got something in her head, and I had a feeling no matter what I said she would find a way around every roadblock I attempted to erect in her path.

Kneading my forehead, I sighed. "Fine, I'll see you in the morning," I said, and then pointed a finger at her. "Don't be late."

"I'll bring donuts," she replied snidely, then turned on her heel and stalked off. I cast one last look at the captain's body, then glanced back at Salazar, who was looking two shades too pale and like he was trying not to vomit.

"Salazar, go home," I instructed, adjusting the lapel of my coat and waving a hand at him. "I'll take this from here." He scurried off, almost too relieved to be dismissed, and I headed back to my car. I was going to have to make a trip down to the 40th Precinct station house and talk to their captain about taking over the case. Hopefully the fact that it had been my captain who was killed would be enough to swing the case transfer, because other methods would end up being so much messier.

I wouldn't have wished an angry Mary Arkham's wrath on anyone.

[Next Chapter -->]




Uhm... hello, readers! Welcome to our fic. :D We are Freya and Kari and we are very happy to be here writing this fic and sharing it with you. We love feedback, so if you have any comments, please don't hesitate to make them! All updates will be made to this journal, so if you would like to know when the story has a new chapter, you are welcome to friend and follow. Thanks for reading!
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