Dead Red by Tim O'Mara is the third Raymond Donne mystery set in NYC about the ex-cop turned school teacher who is dragged back into the criminal world (available January 20, 2015).
New York City school teacher Raymond Donne has no idea how bad his night is going to get when he picks up the phone. Ricky Torres, his old friend from his days as a cop, needs Ray’s help, and he needs it right now—in the middle of the night. Ricky picks Ray up in the taxi he’s been driving since returning from serving as a marine in Iraq, but before Ricky can tell Ray what’s going on, the windows of the taxi explode under a hail of bullets killing Ricky and knocking Ray unconscious as he dives to pull his friend out of harm’s way.
Ray would’ve done anything to help Ricky out while he was alive. Now that he’s dead, he’ll go to the same lengths to find out who did it and why. All he has to go on is that Ricky was working with Jack Knight, Ray’s old nemesis, another ex-cop turned PI. They were investigating the disappearance of a PR giant’s daughter who had ties to the same Brooklyn streets that all three of them used to work. Is that what got Ricky killed or was he into something even more dangerous? Was there anything that Ray could’ve done for him while he was alive? Is there anything he can do for him now?
I NEVER HEARD THE SHOT THAT killed Ricky Torres.
We were talking in the front seat of his cab, when the driver’s-side window exploded and Ricky fell face-first into the steering wheel. I leaned over and the rest of the windows blew apart, sounding like someone had thrown a pack of firecrackers into the taxi.
That’s when everything went white.
* * *
“Jesus Christ, Doc. How mucha that blood is his?”
I tried to open my eyes, but they wouldn’t obey. My head was throbbing. I felt cold and wet all over. I was lying down, not in my bed. Something harder. Somebody was touching my head. Someone else was blowing a dog whistle.How could I be hearing a dog whistle?
“None,” somebody said. “He’s very lucky.”
“His eyes are moving,” the first voice said under the high-pitched whine. “That’s a good sign, right?”
“We’ll know more when he gets back from X-ray,” the second voice said. “Right now, if I had to guess, I’d say he’s suffered a concussion, at the least. There’s also the possibility of a cranial fracture.”
Silence for a few seconds. “You mean he broke his head?”
“Not exactly, Chief.” There was a pause. “Aide?” he called.
Chief? The only chief I knew was my Uncle Ray. Why wasn’t he telling the guy with the whistle to shut up? I could barely make out what these two were saying—
I felt myself being moved. I got my eyes open enough to see the ceiling spinning. Whatever I was lying on had wheels. What the—?
Shit. Where the hell was Ricky?
* * *
“Ah, there he is!” someone said. “Welcome back to the world, Nephew.”
My eyes were open again. They weren’t doing such a good job focusing, but they were open. My ears were working just fine; the damn whistle was still blowing so I could just about hear my uncle’s voice.
“Can somebody shut that guy the fuck up?” My own voice coming out like a two-pack-a-day smoker.
Uncle Ray grabbed my hand. “You talking about me, Ray?”
“No,” I wheezed. “The asshole blowing the damn whistle.”
“Mr. Donne,” another person said from the other side of the bed. I turned and immediately wished I hadn’t. Pain shot down my back into my left foot.
“Mr. Donne. I’m Dr. Watson. It’s best if you keep your movements to a minimum for the time being.” He took my other hand and held the wrist, checking my pulse. “I take it you’re hearing a high-pitched whistle?”
“You mean you’re not?”
“What you’re experiencing,” the doctor said as he put my wrist down, “is tinnitus. From the shooting. It’s perfectly normal and should pass in the next twenty-four hours.”
“Ricky?” the doctor repeated.
“Officer Torres,” my uncle explained. “We’ll talk about Ricky later, Ray. Right now you need to rest.”
“He’s dead,” I said. My vision was returning and I could make out the general features of my uncle’s face. What time was it? “I remember that. He’s dead. I tried to—I don’t know, I tried to—”
“It appears you tried to help him, Mr. Donne. And that is what saved you.”
I sat up a little—another not-so-good idea—and felt the blood sprint to my head. “I know this is probably stating the obvious, Doctor,” I whispered, “but I have very little idea what you’re talking about.”
“From what we can piece together,” the doctor said, “it seems as if you attempted to help Mr. Torres after he’d been shot.”
“I leaned over,” I remembered. “Everything went white and then I…”
“Lost consciousness,” he finished for me. “Some of the bullets hit the front of the cab, causing the air bags to inflate. Mr. Torres’s head was projected into yours at an impressive rate of speed, causing the concussion and loss of consciousness. On the positive side, the air bag from the steering wheel forced you under and that’s why—”
“The bullets went over my head,” I said. “Jesus Christ. Ricky.”
“He was pronounced dead at the scene, Ray,” my uncle said, his hand still on mine. “There was nothing you could have done. Medical Examiner said he was more or less dead on impact.”
“You get the shooter?”
Uncle Ray shook his head no. “We got lots of manpower out there, but so far no wits. Two o’clock in the AM, not a whole lotta people out. Which,” my uncle said in his stern voice, “brings me to a question I’ll ask you later. When you’re up to it and get some more rest.”
“The shooter … he was moving. Fast.”
My uncle leaned into me. “How the hell do you know that?”
“Ricky’s window. It was the first to break. Then…”
“The bullets hit the front of the cab,” Uncle Ray repeated for me, “causing the air bags to go off. So, we got a shooter in motion. Probably with an automatic. You sure about the driver’s window?”
“I’m not sure of anything, but I think so, yeah.” I reached up to touch my head and pulled out a piece of glass the ER must have missed. I handed it to the doctor. “I don’t know. Ricky called me. Woke me up.” The past few hours— how many?—were coming back to me. “Said he needed to talk. Right away. I’m sorry. Can I get some water, Doc? My throat’s killing me.” I cringed at my choice of words. “I’m really thirsty.”
“I’ll find an attendant,” the doctor said and stepped out of the room.
“What the hell was so damned important that Ricky hadda talk to you at two in the morning, Ray?”
“I don’t know.”
“Don’t know or don’t remember?”
I shook my head. The blinding pain and bright lights reminded me not to do that again. I reached up to feel for any more glass and felt a lump on my head.
“Both, right now. He picked me up outside my place and we drove over to the Southside.”
“What the hell was he doing in a cab?”
“That’s what he’s been doing since he got back from Iraq.” More parts of my conversation with Ricky were coming back. “He said he wasn’t ready to go back to the cops, so he’s been driving his cousin’s cab to help out his mom with the rent and stuff.”
“How much have you talked to him since he’s been home?”
“Just a quick call when he got back. And then last night.”
The doctor came back with a water pitcher and some cups. I guessed he couldn’t find an attendant. He filled a cup for me and offered one to my uncle.
“No, thanks,” he said. “Got anything stronger?”
Dr. Watson laughed, thinking my uncle was joking. He wasn’t.
“Too tempting to keep it around this place.” He gave me the cup. “So, Mr. Donne, as I had expected, you have a minor concussion.”
“Minor?” I downed the small cup of water in one swallow. “Hurts like hell, Doc.”
“Be glad it’s not major, then. Anyway, I’d like to keep you overnight…” He looked at his watch. “Through the afternoon at any rate, for observation.”
I reached up and touched my lump. Impressive. My vision cleared up enough for me to read the clock on the wall; almost four thirty. “You’re saying all I got’s the concussion, right?”
“That’s what the X-rays showed, yes.”
“Then,” I sat up—much slower this time—“I’d rather just go home. No offense, but hospitals give me the creeps.” I flashed back seven years to the week I’d spent in the hospital after my accident. That time it was my knees, not my head.
“I strongly advise against it, Mr. Donne. A concussion, however minor, can still be a serious matter. I’d like to monitor you for at least twelve hours.”
“But I can sign myself out, right?”
Watson let out a deep sigh. “Yes.” He was disappointed in me.
“Then give me my clothes and show me the dotted line.” He gave me a look. “What?” I asked.
“Your clothes.” he said. “We had to throw them away.”
I closed my eyes. “Because of the blood.” I wasn’t asking. I’d been in the ER enough times as a cop and knew about throwing away stained clothing.
I looked down at the blue robe I was wearing and tugged at it.
“Just get me a matching pair of pants, and my uncle will drive me home.”
“I just want to go on record,” Dr. Watson said, “that I’m advising against it at this point.”
“I hear you,” I said. “And I appreciate it, but I want to go home.”
“Okay.” Dr. Watson left the room obviously frustrated and, I hoped, in search of a pair of hospital pants and the necessary paperwork.
“I can drive you home, Raymond,” my uncle said. “But I don’t got the time to babysit.” He looked at his watch. “Gotta be at One PP this morning by seven thirty.”
I leaned forward and eased my legs off the hospital bed so I could sit up. The room starting spinning, so I closed my eyes. When I opened them again, I said, “I’ll call Edgar.” I gave that some thought. I could call Allison, but why worry her at this time of the day? “What day is today?”
“It’s Saturday, Ray, and just the fact that you have to ask kinda proves the doc’s point, don’tcha think?”
“I can lie around at home just as well as I can around here.”
“You need to be monitored.”
“It’s Saturday,” I said as if I’d known it all along. “Edgar’s off. He can watch me and then we’ll have dinner together. Shit. I’m really hungry. That’s another reason to get out of this place.”
“You got his number?”
“Yeah.” It took me a little while to retrieve it from my memory, but when it came, I gave it to him, proud of myself.
“I’ll give him a call,” Uncle Ray said. “See if he can meet us at your place and stay the day.”
“He’ll do it.”
“I’ll do it,” a voice from the doorway said, and my sister, Rachel, stepped into the room. She had thrown a jacket over some gym clothes and looked as if she were expecting the worst. “I had a feeling you wouldn’t be staying.” She gave our uncle a hug and then stepped over to where I was sitting. She gently wrapped her arm around my lower back. “Hey, big brother.”
I patted her knee. “Hey, little sister. How did you know—?”
“One of the guys phoned Dennis,” she said, referring to her detective boyfriend. “Dennis…” She looked over at our uncle. “… called me.” She took a breath. “I heard about Ricky. I am so sorry, Ray.”
“Yeah,” I said, letting her hug me a little harder. “Me, too … Fuck!”
She quickly pulled her arm away. “Sorry.”
“No.” My eyes started to fill, and I found myself fighting back the tears. I was not going to cry in front of my uncle in a goddamned hospital room. “It’s not you.”
Rachel put her arm around me again. “I know, Ray. I know. Let’s talk about it at your place.” She paused then added, “I’ll make you a nice cup of tea.”
And, just like that, her imitation of our mother made me laugh, causing my head to hurt once more and a few tears to spill down my cheeks. Rachel pulled a tissue out of her bag and gave it to me. That’s when Dr. Watson stepped back into the room, the look on his face more concerned than when he had left.
“Mixed emotions,” my uncle explained. “He’s fine.”
The doctor tossed a pair of blue surgical pants on the edge of the bed. “No, he’s not,” he said. He walked over and handed me a clipboard. “Sign on the bottom line and initial by the X’s.”
“Doctor,” I said, taking the pen from the clip and scribbling my name, “this is my sister, Rachel. Rachel, Dr. Watson.”
They shook hands and Rachel smiled. “Like Sherlock Holmes?”
“Exactly,” he said. Like he hadn’t heard that a thousand times. “I take it you were unable to talk any sense into your brother?”
“Not for the last thirty years. But I’ll take him home, make sure he doesn’t nap for more than two hours, and I’ll get some soup and crackers into him. If his headache gets any worse or he starts to vomit, I’ll bring him straight to the ER.”
“You’ve done this before?” he asked, sounding somewhat impressed.
“My boyfriend plays rugby,” she said.
“You got your car?” my uncle asked.
“Then let’s get a move on.” Uncle Ray offered his hand to the doctor. “Thank you, Dr. Watson. You ever get pulled over for speeding in the tristate area, just mention my name.”
“I’ll keep that in mind, Chief.” To me and Rachel he said, “Anything out of the ordinary, I want him in the ER immediately. If not sooner.”
“Yes, sir,” Rachel and I said in unison.
I stood up—the floor felt wonderfully cool to my bare feet—swayed a bit, and sat back down. I counted to ten and tried it again. Better, but I needed to hold on to Rachel to get into my new pants.
“There’s a big boy,” Rachel whispered.
“Yeah,” my little sister said. “He’s gonna be fine.”
“The nurse will be by with a wheelchair in a few minutes,” Dr. Watson said. “That,” he said, holding up his hand like a traffic cop, “is nonnegotiable. Hospital policy, Mr. Donne.”
“Thanks, Doc. Hey,” I said. “Where’s my stuff?”
He pointed to a plastic baggie on a table by the window. My uncle walked over to get it. As the doctor left the room, the nurse came in with the wheelchair. I had to admit it felt good to sit down again. Uncle Ray put the baggie on my lap. As we made our way to the elevators, he said, “You both have my cell number.”
“Any changes”—he pressed the elevator button—“you get his ass to the ER like the doc said and then call me. You hear?”
“I hear you, Uncle Ray,” Rachel said.
“Raymond, I’ll be by around six tonight. We can order in some dinner. Then you and I are going to have a talk.”
“Don’t I need to talk to the detectives or something?”
“That’s one of the things we’re gonna talk about. I worked it out so I’ll be the one taking your statement.”
“I don’t know how much I’ll be able to tell you, Uncle Ray. I don’t—”
“We’ll have a long talk,” he repeated as we entered the elevator. “See what comes up.” Nobody said another word until we got to Rachel’s car.
* * *
Ten minutes later, Rachel pulled up in front of my building. The thought of walking up the four flights to my apartment made my stomach hurt. The thought of going back to the hospital made that pain subside. Rachel got out of the car and came around to my side. She opened the door, held out her hand, and helped me out. She gave me the baggie with my stuff.
“I saw a parking spot back there,” she said. “Can I leave you for a minute to go around the block and get that space?”
“Yeah,” I said and made my way to the streetlight and leaned against it. “Just make it quick, okay? I need to lie down again.”
She kissed me on the cheek. “I’ll be right back.”
She drove to the corner, made an illegal right at the red light, and sped off. I grinned, put one arm around the lamppost, and closed my eyes. I needed to get horizontal soon. I considered vomiting right there on the street—hell, there was no one around to see me—but figured I could hold out another few minutes. Wow, I thought. All the side effects of getting drunk without any of the fun. I focused on my breathing.
In—count to five—Out—count to five. I was on my fourth round when someone grabbed me from behind, spun me, and shoved me into the post.
“Hey, Asshole,” Someone said. “The fuck do you think you’re doing?”
“HEY, SHITHEAD!” I HEARD MY SISTER scream.
My assailant turned, and I heard the sound of something being sprayed. Some of it got onto my lips, and it tasted like last week’s chili. Pepper spray. My eyes opened just as the guy’s hands left my shirt and covered his face.
“Jesus Christ!” he yelled, spinning completely around toward Rachel.
“Fuck you,” Rachel said. “Yah!”
My vision was still blurry, but I heard a sound like a bag being punched. Then the guy groaned, and I watched as his shape dropped to the ground. Rachel pulled her leg back and shot it into the guy’s side.
“Goddamn it, Ray!” the guy moaned. “Call your bitch off.”
“I am not his bitch,” Rachel said. “I’m his fucking sister.” She punctuated that with another kick.
“And I’ve got a fucking gun,” the guy said. “Kick me again and I swear to Christ I will shoot you.”
My vision was coming back now, and I saw a large guy with a blond crew cut reach into his jacket with one hand while the other kept him from going down to the sidewalk. Without thinking, I pushed away from the lamppost and threw my body into his midsection. I ended up sitting on the guy as he flattened out. My whole body was thumping with pain.
“Goddamn it, Ray,” he coughed up some phlegm onto the cement. “Enough already. I get it. I got my ass kicked by the Donne family. Now get the fuck off me.”
He managed to turn over and, for the first time, I got a good look at his face.
I held my hand out to Rachel, and without saying a word she pulled me to my feet. She looked down. “You telling me you know this shit, Ray?”
“Nice mouth, sister,” Jack said.
Rachel’s leg went back as if to kick the guy again. I put my hand on her shoulder. “It’s okay, Rache. Yeah.” I looked down at my former partner, who my sister and I had pretty much just beaten up. “I know him. His name’s Jack Knight. What the hell, Jack?”
“Oh, yeah, thanks Ray. I’m fine.” He got to his knees. “Jim Dandy.” He turned to Rachel and said, “I think you broke my fucking rib.”
“Oh, I remember now,” Rachel said, her breathing heavy. “This is Jack, whose favorite word is ‘fuck.’”
Jack stood up slowly, grinned, and spit out a mouthful of blood. “Same kinda wiseass as your brother, girlie. Could get you in some trouble one day.”
“Who’s holding his ribs and spitting out bodily fluids?”
“Okay,” I said. “Okay. Both of you shut up.” I looked at Jack. “What the hell, Jack? I don’t see you for … what? Two years and then—”
“What the fuck were you doing with Ricky T, Ray?”
“That’s what this is about?” My head started spinning again. “Can we talk about this upstairs?”
Can we make it upstairs?
Jack shook his head and rubbed his eyes. “Yeah,” he said. “I need to use the john anyway.”
I reached into the hospital baggie, took out my keys, and handed them to Jack. “Lead the way. Fifth floor, no elevator.”
“This could take a while,” Rachel said.
“Fine,” I answered as I grabbed my sister’s arm. “School doesn’t start for another … two weeks.”
Jack opened the first of the two doors and held it open for us. When it clicked shut, he walked around us, lost his balance, fell into the mailboxes, and cursed again.
Rachel stiffened. “You trust this guy in your apartment, Ray?”
Jack caught his breath and opened the second door. “It’s okay, little sister. Big brother here owes me one.”
Whatever else Jack had said or done in the last few minutes, he was right about that.
* * *
After washing the pepper spray out of his eyes in my bathroom, Jack announced, “Nice digs, Ray,” then eased himself down onto my living room futon. I was already leaning back in my recliner. He put the wet cloth my sister had given him up to his eyes, looking like he had the world’s worst case of the flu. “All this on a teacher’s salary, huh?”
He moved a pillow to his side, where one or more ribs may or may not have been broken, and leaned back gingerly. I caught a small smile on Rachel’s face as she came back from the kitchen holding two glasses of water.
“Boys,” she said, handing us each a glass.
“My landlord likes cops,” I said. “Even ex ones. Gave me a break on the rent. I shovel when it snows, replace the occasional lightbulb in the staircase.”
Jack took a long sip of water and closed his eyes. “That’s something you and I got in common now, isn’t it?”
“We’re ex-cops,” he said and registered my surprise. “Don’t tell me you didn’t hear I put in my papers, Mr. Donne. I thought you knew everything that happened at the nine-oh, and what you didn’t know your uncle’d tell ya.”
“I guess I missed the newsletter, Jack.” I put my glass against my forehead and then moved it up to the lump. “What made you qui—put in your papers?”
“Take a fucking guess.”
“Oh, I bet I know,” Rachel said, sitting on the ottoman but leaning forward and raising her hand like a sixth grader. “You figured out with your people skills you had a better chance of winning the lottery than making detective.” She paused to give Jack a smile. “How’m Ifucking doing, Jack?”
“Nice mouth,” he said, opening his eyes. “You blow Dennis with that—”
“Hey!” I yelled, sending another wave of pain to my head. I put my water on the coffee table carefully. “She’s my sister, Jack. Cut it out or leave.”
Jack looked like he wanted to argue the point, but I think his ribs reminded him that he’d be better off where he was for the moment.
“Let’s just say,” Jack said, barely moving his lips, “I decided my future lay on a different career path. So I put in my fifteen and left.”
“To do what?” I asked.
Jack smiled. “I’m private now. I hung up my badge and hung out my shingle.” He reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out a card. Like a magician, he flung it at me, hitting me in the chest. Fucking Jack.
I picked the card off my lap. It had a picture of a horse on it. “Jack Knight,” I read aloud. “Private Investigations and Security.”
“Have Dick, Will Travel?” Rachel asked.
Jack ignored her. “See the horse? It’s a knight. Like in chess.”
“Very clever. How’s business?”
“That’s what I wanted to talk to you about.”
“But you decided to assault me instead?”
“I lost my temper,” he said. “The whole thing with Ricky T, y’know?”
“How did you find out about that so quickly?”
“You think you’re the only one with friends? I gotta call from a buddy at the precinct. By the time I got on scene, you both’d been taken to the hospital. I drove over,” he swallowed hard, “got the word about Ricky, and waited for you.”
“What the hell for?”
He looked over at Rachel and then at me. “Can we talk? Alone?”
“If you think I’m leaving you alone with my brother, you’re dumber than you look.”
Jack squirmed and looked like he wanted to get up again. “Ray?” he said.
“Easy, Rachel,” I said. “I do want to talk with Jack.”
“What the hell am I supposed to do?” asked Rachel.
My stomach growled. “Go on down to Christina’s. Please. Pick up six egg sandwiches with kielbasa and—”
“I don’t want kielbasa for breakfast.”
“— and something for yourself. You can take some cash out of my wallet. It’s in the baggie from the hospital—”
“I can buy breakfast, Raymond.” She took two steps toward the door and turned. “The coffee should be ready. You boys can get that yourselves.”
“Thank you, Rachel.”
When the door shut, Jack got right to the point.
“Ricky was working for me,” he said. “Has been for a few months now.”
“I thought he was driving the cab.”
“At night, yeah. During the day, I had him doing some of my light work.”
“Light work?” I repeated. “Light work that doesn’t get you killed?”
“I know. You don’t think that’s the only thing on my mind the last coupla hours?” Jack got up slowly and walked to the window. He looked out at the Manhattan skyline, the early morning sun casting an orange glow on the buildings. When he turned around, I couldn’t tell if his eyes were showing emotion or still suffering from my sister’s pepper spray. “But, I swear, Ray. It was light work.”
“Jack. Sit down before you fall down.”
He stepped back over to the futon and sat. I let him get comfortable before speaking again.
“Explain,” I said, as if talking to one of my students.
“I needed someone to do a few building inspections for me,” he said. “Most of my work—over ninety percent—is for insurance companies. Someone gets injured or’s the victim of a crime in one of the buildings they cover, the company’s gotta send an investigator, do a report. Check the stairs, door locks, the carpeting, lighting. All that shit. Talk to the super. See if the accident and/or crime was preventable, how much the surroundings contributed.”
“You mean see how liable the owner and the insurance company are.”
He nodded. “Yeah. It brings in the big bucks, but I do a fair and honest inspection, Ray. Victims’ got people on their side trying to make a buck, my guys got me.”
Jack sounded like he was auditioning for his own commercial.
“And you got—had—Ricky?”
“He was good at it, man. All those years as a cop, writing incident reports and shit. He did good. Never forgot the report might end up in court someday. Concise, objective.” He took a breath. “And I gotta tell ya, having a Spanish guy going into the buildings the companies cover, that ain’t such a bad thing.”
I looked at Jack’s midsection. “That why you still carry the piece?”
“You better believe it,” Jack said. “Had to pull it a few times on some of these … citizens.” When I worked the streets with Jack, the word “citizen” meant any nonwhite member of the community. “Made sure Ricky carried his, too.” Jack put his arm on the back of the futon and turned more toward me. “What the fuck were you doing with him, Ray?”
“He called me. Told me he needed to talk and it had to be right away. He picked me up and drove me over to North Seventh and Kent.”
He closed his eyes again. “Why the hell would he drive all the way over there?” he asked. “He’s at his mom’s on the other side of the expressway.”
“It was two in the morning, Jack. I was more concerned with what was so important, not the location.” But now that I thought of it, it was a good question.
“So you didn’t ask?”
“No.” Then something came back to me. “I do remember him saying he was working more hours and that he wanted to show me something.”
Jack leaned forward. “Something on that block?”
I reached up and felt the lump on my head. I picked up my glass and pressed its cool condensation against the lump. “I don’t remember. Something he was doing for you?”
“There was nothing he was doing for me that’s worth talking about at…”
I’ve never known Jack Knight to start a sentence without finishing it. Now it was my turn to lean forward.
“What is it, Jack?”
He shook his head. “Nothing,” he said, but not very convincingly.
“Jack? If you know something, my uncle’s coming over in a few—”
“No. It’s just that Ricky was doing such a good job for me, and he said he needed more hours. The cab thing wasn’t pulling in enough bucks, so…”
That was twice now with the unfinished thought. “Jack?”
“I let him do some grunt work for me on a case,” he said. “A real case.”
“What’s a real case?” I asked, and then remembered what he’d said about most of his business. “The other ten percent?”
“Yeah. A buddy of Ricky’s works out in Nassau County now, lucky bastard. Their patrolmen pull in as much as our sergeants do.”
“Get to the point, Jack.”
“This buddy, he puts me in touch with this family. Rich white folks. Live on the water out there in Nassau. Guy’s a big shit in PR in the city. About a month ago, their daughter goes missing. You probably saw it in the papers.”
“Rich white girl from the Island disappears? Yeah, Jack. I think I saw it in the papers. And on TV. Folks got a website up with a reward, right?” It took a couple of beats for me to come up with the name. “The Goldens?”
“Right. Angela Golden. Look her up on GoldenGirldotcom. That’s where I come in.”
I brought my glass down from my head and took a sip. “Maybe it’s my head, Jack, and all the shit I’ve been through the past few hours, but you’re gonna have to go through that part for me real slow.”
“Every time a debutante goes missing and the family puts out a reward, the crazies start coming out like diarrhea. That’s why the cops hate fucking rewards.”
“Virtue being its own, right?”
He gave me a look like I was speaking Latin. “Huh?”
“Never mind. Keep going.”
“Me? I love rewards. I get to bill by the hour for chasing down every halfway-credible lead that comes in to the website. The closest thing to a clue the family could provide was that the daughter recently hooked up with a new friend. Puerto Rican, Dominican, they’re not sure. The one thing they are sure of?”
I waited. “Yeah?”
“Parents said their kid tells them her new running buddy’s from the Willy B. I hear that, I get Ricky T to do a little double duty. While he’s out doing my accident reports, I got him asking around about ‘anybody see this chiquita.’”
“And let me guess…”
“That’s right,” Jack interrupted. “I get to bill two clients at the same time and split the fees with Ricky. Called that a nine-point-one on the RicTor scale.”
The RicTor scale was Ricky Torres’s rating system on everything from Spanish food to music to the girls we’d see out on the streets during our patrols. A breakfast burrito from Mickey D’s was a one. My uncle being Chief of Detectives, a nine-point-five.
“How was he able to look for this ‘chiquita’?”
“I got a picture from the Goldens.” Jack reached into his pants pocket and pulled out his cell. After pressing a few buttons, he handed the phone to me. I was looking at a blurry face of an obviously dark-skinned girl with a smile that could sell toothpaste, but the quality of the picture made her barely distinguishable from hundreds of other good-looking Hispanic girls around Williamsburg. “That’s a blow-up,” Jack explained, “of a not very good photo they found in Angela’s room.”
“Ricky get any hits off this?” I handed Jack’s phone back.
“Nah, but he was out there trying.” He put the phone back in his pocket. “All billable hours, man.”
“How nice for you.”
“And for Ricky. I told you, he wanted more hours. I guess he needed the cash.”
“He ever say for what?”
“Cost of living? I don’t know. Guy didn’t have to shell out much green over in the Middle East. Makes ya forget how expensive the big city can be when ya get back home and gotta start paying for shit again.”
“So you don’t think doing your light work—or grunt work—had anything to do with Ricky being killed?”
“Ray, if I thought that, you and me would not be having this conversation. For all I know, maybe you were the target.”
I hadn’t even considered that and didn’t want to do so now. But Jack did have a point. Why would Ricky need to involve me if he already had a photo of Angela Golden’s Latina friend and his own connections inside Williamsburg?
“So,” he said, “you never told your little sis about our adventure with your boy Frankie, huh?”
“Oh, yeah, Jack. I tell her every time I break the law. Maybe I’ll mention it to my uncle when he swings by for dinner tonight.”
“That’s some funny fucking shit there, Raymond.”
I closed my eyes and leaned back into the recliner. “You ever think about it, Jack?” I know I did.“ I mean, it was a good shoot, but not exactly by the book.”
“I didn’t read the book as much as you did, Ray. That’s why I was there that night. But, yeah, I fucking killed a guy. A guy who was about to kill you and who kidnapped your student, by the way. No one’s ever gonna accuse me of being Mr. Sensitive, but you think a day goes by I don’t think about it?”
I waited for him to say more. When he didn’t, I said, “And…”
“And better him than you or the kid, okay?” he said. “Don’t read too much into that. You and me were never meant to be friends. Ain’t nobody who knows us don’t know that. But on the street, if it’s between some asshole with a gun and a brother cop? That’s one of them no-brainers we learned about in the academy.”
I was about to remind him I wasn’t a cop two years ago, when the door to my apartment opened. Rachel came in holding two bags of the best-smelling Polish food this side of Warsaw.
“Breakfast, boys.” She placed the food on the coffee table. “Don’t get up.” The sarcasm again. I needed some of that. “I’ll get the plates and silver.” She looked down at the table. “And the coffee, I guess.”
“We were talking,” I explained.
“I got it.”
She went into the kitchen, and someone’s cell phone went off. It wasn’t mine, and the way Jack just sat there I figured it wasn’t his. Rachel stuck her head into the living room holding my baggie from the hospital and said, “Ray. Your phone. You wanna let it go to voice mail?”
The ring didn’t sound right. “I don’t think that’s mine, Rache.”
She opened up the baggie and pulled out the ringing phone. It was not mine. Mine was—where? She stepped over and handed it to me as the ringing stopped—just reaching for it hurt my shoulder—and something else came back from last night. Before everything went all to hell, Ricky had handed me something.
Jack and I looked at each other. I pressed the phone’s home button, and the screen lit up. “Fuck me.”
Jack slid over to the edge of the futon. “What?”
I handed Jack the phone, and he looked at what I had. “Fuck me hard.”
“Boys,” my sister said. “We haven’t even said grace yet.”
Jack reached into his pocket, pulled out his cell, and punched some buttons. He put his phone next to Ricky’s, studied them both for about ten seconds, and then turned them to me.
There, once again, on Jack’s phone was the blurry picture of the girl with the great smile. On Ricky’s was an in-focus image of the same girl.
Copyright © 2015 Tim O'Mara.
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Tim O'Mara, author of Crooked Numbers and the Barry Award—nominated Sacrifice Fly, is a teacher in the New York City public-school system. He lives in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen with his wife and daughter. Dead Red is his third Raymond Donne mystery.