PrologueIcan still see it. The image replays in my mind uncontrol
lably, overcoming me at any part of the day. People say
it will go away, that time will heal the wound and ease the
pain. I know this isn’t true. They don’t know because it didn’t
happen to them. I was one of them, one of most of the population
who never had his or her life changed in an instant.
Unfortunately, I lived too close to it, dangerously too close,
and I guess you could say it was only a matter of time.
His face is still there, in my head, in my dreams, in my
thoughts forever. Worst part about it was killing him wasn’t
really my fault. I’ve concluded that he wanted to die, that he
made me his vehicle in an elaborate suicide plot. Maybe I’ve
done this to make the whole thing easier for me to live with.
I don’t know. I just know that I’ll never be the same, forever
changed by becoming a killer. I’m sure countless men have
gone through the same thing, and I am not implying that my
situation is different, or even in any way special. I just know
that it is my situation, and only someone who has been
through it can understand. I haven’t really found anyone
that fits that bill, at least anyone who I can talk to. Plenty of
guys on the job have killed in the line of duty, and I know a
few of them personally, but they don’t seem to want to talk
about it, instead either shutting themselves off completely or
doing their talking behind the psychologist’s closed door.
I don’t want to go either way. I don’t want to close myself
off or sit in some office listening to a guy who earned his
PhD and now thinks he can solve my problem via a variety
of pre-determined techniques and mood-altering drugs. I
have to deal with this my own way, though I must admit I
haven’t succeeded just yet. People who know me will probably
say I have closed myself off, but then again, they’ve said
that ever since I became a cop. I just don’t like to chatter,
and I find most conversations meaningless trips through
someone’s life and achievements, most of which hold no
importance to me. Hearing about how a guy made VP or
some other empty title promotion is about as pertinent to me
as listening to a lecture on Medieval Drama. Neither has a
chance at holding my attention. I’m not always high on the
invite list for most parties.
Solace is a hard thing to find when you don’t know where
to look for it. I could tell you dozens of places it doesn’t hang
out, most notably the local bar or at the bottom of a bottle.
I’ve looked in both places several times to no avail. That
doesn’t mean I’ll stop looking, only because it’s become
obvious I need some sort of chemical help, and I prefer the
sort that comes in a clear bottle that’s easy to open, instead
of a little brown one that takes effort.
None of this would really matter if I’d had any ability
whatsoever to take advice. I like to think that I listen when
someone throws a kernel of information my way, but the
truth is I listen with one ear and retain nothing. I prefer to
go my own route. I like when I come to something that
works through my own efforts instead of asking for directions.
Yeah, I’m hell to drive with in this game of life. That’s probably
why my passenger seat has stayed relatively empty all
So, I killed someone. In the line of duty. I did my job. No
charges were pressed, no internal investigations were
launched. I had to deal with the same IA bastards that tried
to ruin my life a couple of years back, but they are easy to deal
with when they have no ulterior motives. I even got pats on
the back for my work, along with a certificate from our
glorious mayor commending me on a job well done. The
6 J O H N M I S A K
damn thing is still in the box they gave it to me in, and it’ll
stay that way. I keep trying to find a way to justify this in my
own moral outlook. I might be all over the board with my
views and ideas, and I might give a rat’s ass about religion and
a God who stares down on me with a smirk. Yes, I know I
capitalized the ‘G’. I really have no idea what’s on his reading
list, and I am not about to take a chance. What I’m trying
to say is, though I could be accused of being a moral outcast,
I have strong feelings on what is right and what is wrong.
Murder’s wrong. And I can’t even find a way to allow it in my
moral scope, under any circumstance. I’d never really thought
about it until it happened. I don’t think anyone really does.
Worst part was I didn’t even go for a kill shot.
I’ve seen some strange cases, dealt with corruption, deception,
and just about anything else you’d expect a homicide
detective in New York City to experience. They told us about
the risks in the academy, and they repeated them each step
of the way, each promotion and new assignment. Funny, the
risks were supposed to be ours, how we had to put our lives
on the line every time we put on that uniform or flashed the
badge. You learn to put off those risks, remove them from
your mind so you can operate. No one ever warned me about
taking someone’s life while on the job.
D e a t h Kn e l l 7
1Ilike to read the paper. Of all the activities available in this
entertainment-based world, reading the paper is the
only one that allows me to relax. Even though I find myself
at odds with the thinly veiled intentions of most reporters,
I enjoy sitting at my makeshift dinner table after work,
perusing through the previous day’s events. I’ve made the
paper a few times myself, and though this isn’t half as exciting
as most people think, I secretly look for my name each time
I go through whatever paper I am reading.
As a homicide detective, I of course pay particular attention
to murder anywhere in the country. It’s quite amazing
when you realize how many people are murdered over the
course of a week. That’s not even including the people who
are never listed as a murder, which is a number quite higher
than most people imagine. Murder, it seems, is a matter of
political angling, like just about everything else these days.
On this particular day, I found a mention of a murder in
Central Park. Though not my jurisdiction, Central Park
holds a bit of an allure to me, mainly because, while growing
up, the park had been used by all sorts of lurkers, rapists,
drug dealers, and of course, run-of-the-mill murderers. They
did some cleaning up in the 90’s, and Central Park became
a glowing example of what can be done when politicians,
citizens, and the police force all work together toward the
same goal. To see that a body had been found there caught
my eye instantly.The paper, the New York Post on this day, showed a photo
of a body bag being carted into the back of an ambulance,
Medical Examiner Bryan Coltrain standing next to the open
door, the same empty look on his face that seemed to grace
it perpetually. I could feel the scene myself; I could smell the
distinct odor of the plastic bag. Instantly, I wanted to be
there. I wanted to see the body, search it for clues. I wanted
to dig around the area, question family members and friends
of the victim in the hopes of leading to the culprit. Yes, the
mention of murder excited me. I couldn’t help that. Death
was part of my job, and I enjoyed my job possibly more than
I should have. The same way a restaurateur perks up when
hungry people walk into his establishment, I got a tinge of
excitement when I read about someone passing on, especially
when it seemed that someone else helped them pass on.
I put the paper down and lit a cigarette, a habit that,
looking back, seemed all to perfect for a man who deals with
death. I ran through my mind the detectives who worked
in the Central Park precinct, the homicide detectives that I
met in court, at those stupid fund raisers they make us go to,
and at the bars we all seemed to find ourselves in at some
point in the week. Instantly, I knew who had the case. Marcus
Lay, a middle-aged man who I’d actually worked with for a
short time when I had a beat. He was a nice guy, and he was
black. I’m not saying that there is any relation between the
two. I just have to say Marcus is black because that’s important
to him. I never really found out why, though I suspect
it has something to do with the fact that he made it to detective
when most of the other guys in his neighborhood made
it to jail. Like I said, I liked Marcus, even if he sometimes had
a heavy hand in dishing out opinions and advice.
I thought about the last time I spoke to Marcus, and
realized it was at one of those fundraisers. At the time, he’d
been with his woman of the month, but from what I’d
heard, that one had actually won the Lay Lottery and wore
an engagement ring from him. I couldn’t remember if he’d
actually gotten married, mainly because such news just
D e a t h Kn e l l 9
wasn’t that important to me. I’d recently decided that
marriage was what I wanted, but I didn’t think about that
on a daily basis, and I could have cared less about hearing
the sordid tale of someone else taking the plunge that awaits
most of us.
Marcus lived in the city, not far from where I called home.
He owned an apartment somewhere in the fifties, in a fairly
affluent area, a bit too rich for my taste. To be honest, it was
too rich for my poorly planned budget. Marcus was clean.
He just kept his head when it came to finances. In the mess
I called my kitchen, I found the phone book I rarely used and
got Marcus’ number. I don’t know why I felt compelled to
call. Something about that body caught me, and I had to
have some details.
Marcus answered the phone on the second ring. It was
only eight at night, so I knew I wasn’t disturbing him. “Yeah,”
“Hey Marcus, John Keegan here.”
“Keegan,” Marcus said, “what could you possibly want?”
He knew. I didn’t doubt that for a second.
“Wanted to hear about how the other half lives,” I said.
“We live fine.”
“You’ve got the Central Park case, don’t you?”
“I might. Is this a business call, or do you just want to hear
all the steamy details?” Marcus asked.
“Steamy details. You know I am a sucker for them.”
“Not much to tell right now,” he said.
“Keeping a tight lid?” I asked.
“Lot of outside influences on this one. Gonna be the sort
of thing that we have to carry out carefully.” That meant
either someone prominent was tied to the victim or just that
the media had an interest. I figured the latter. Finding a body
in Central Park caught the attention of the media just as it
“Well, I’d like to hear what you can tell. Busy?”
1 0 J O H N M I S A K
“Not really,” Marcus said.
“Meet me at Donovan’s,” I said, naming a place that was
as low profile as I could think of. I figured Marcus didn’t
want to meet at a cop hangout. Too many questions to answer
“Fine. See you there in a half-hour. Just understand that
I’m only going for a free drink, not because I have so much
I can tell you.”
“I’m sure you’ll find a way to entertain me.”
I must admit I was excited. It had been a few months
since I was involved in any way with a case of substance. I’d
worked a few stiffs since my last real case, and that last case
had been a doozy, to say the least. Maybe premonition had
something to do with why I wanted information on this case
as bad as I did. Of course, I can’t explain that. If I did, I’d be
giving up way too much too soon, and there is absolutely
no fun in that.
I found Marcus sitting at a small table toward the back of
Donovan’s. As its name implies, it was an Irish joint, complete
with Guinness on tap and the same wood bar that seemed to
be in all Irish-influenced watering holes. The place was busy
for a Thursday night, with what seemed like a bunch of regulars
seated at the bar watching a soccer game on the three
televisions behind it. I walked past them and over to where
Marcus was sitting. I noticed he wasn’t drinking anything.
As if he’d read my mind, he said, “Person getting the information
gets the drinks.”
I had no problems with that, even though I have been
accused of receiving far more drinks than I bought. “Still
drinking that single-malt sissy crap?” I asked.
Marcus smiled. “Good taste never changes. Glenlivet,” he
“On the way.”
I walked over to the bartender, a surly man who stood
somewhere in the mid-sixes, with a protruding beer gut and
D e a t h Kn e l l 1 1
bright white hair. He noticed me—actually, he noticed the
twenty I held in my hand—and walked over.
“What do you need?” he asked in a heavy Irish accent.
“Dewar’s and soda and a Glenlivet, neat.”
He gave me a sideways look; this probably stemmed from
my ‘neat’ statement, and then went to get the drinks. I could
smell Southern Comfort around me somewhere, a scent that
almost immediately gives me the gag reflex. I met Southern
Comfort at a bachelor party in my twenties and we certainly
didn’t hit it off. To tell it right, Southern Comfort kicked
Thankfully, the bartender was quick with the drinks and
brought them over. He took my twenty, trading it for a five
and two singles. Thirteen bucks for two drinks in a run down
Irish bar. I left him a single and walked back to Marcus.
I handed Marcus his drink and he took a sniff first, then
a small sip.
“Nothing tastes better than a free drink,” he said, smiling.
“I can think of a few things,” I said.
“Yeah, but some of us have never had to pay for such
“Not from what I hear. Rumor has it a woman is walking
around with a rock that put a dent in your checking account.”
“She’s got the gold band to match it now,” Marcus said.
I raised my glass. “Congratulations, as odd as that sounds.”
We clinked glasses. “Thanks,” Marcus said. I caught his
eyes. There was something there I hadn’t noticed right away.
Marcus was one of those guys who let just about everything
slide off him. He’d seen his share of problems, that I knew,
but he never let it get into him. Something had penetrated
that defense, and I hoped he’d tell me what it was.
“Alright, I paid the price of admission. Spill it,” I said.
Marcus looked around the room, an automatic reaction
when you’re about to discuss a case. “Like I said, not a lot to
1 2 J O H N M I S A K
“Well, you’ve got to give me some value for my dollar.
Make that seven dollars.”
“Price you gotta pay,” Marcus said. “You know they found
the body yesterday?”
“Girl. Woman. Thirties.”
“Rape?” I asked.
“Looks that way. Dirty job, too. Couple of scratches here
and there. Knife wound. What did the final job seems to be
a heavy, blunt object. This was an angry kill, if you ask me.”
I could tell there was more behind what Marcus told me.
We homicide boys have strong stomachs or we wouldn’t be
doing what we do, so when something gets us acting strange,
it sure can’t be pretty.
“Go on,” I said.
Marcus took another sip of his drink. “They caved the
whole left side of her head in. Guys at the ME office don’t
think the first few shots did her in, and they think the last
few were for posterity. Some of the rape might be the same
“Nice to know we have such upstanding people in the
“They weren’t smart, and if you ask me, they wanted to
send some sort of message. Leaving the body in Central Park’s
gotta mean something too, but I just can’t figure it out.”
“Little early to be worrying yourself about that,” I said.
“Now, why the tight lid?”
“She’s the daughter of someone with some clout,” Marcus
“What sort of clout?”
“Dollar-sort. Her father does some pretty good numbers.”
“Someone I know?” I asked.
Marcus shook his head. “Doubtful. Doesn’t make the
papers or the celebrity list, but he’s made a name for himself
in his own sector.”
D e a t h Kn e l l 1 3
“What sector is that?”
“Science. Works with some sort of physics. Engineer sort
who turned an idea into a windfall. Keeps a low profile,
“You meet him yet?”
“No. He’s out of town, out of reach. Supposed to be back
tomorrow. I don’t even know if anyone’s told him yet. Gonna
be a tough one to take,” Marcus said.
Marcus still looked preoccupied. I knew better than to
press. He was the sort that would tell me in due time if he
wanted to. We were the same in this respect. I think it is
why we got along. Marcus was one of those people you tell
yourself you should hang out with more but never do. At
least, that’s how I felt about it. He might have thought I was
a complete moron.
“Worst part, being the one who has to tell him.”
“I won’t be doing that,” Marcus said, “That’s the wife’s job.”
“How’d she take it?”
“Initially, in stride. Think it was shock. Couple of hours
later, I hear she’s at the ME office, demanding to see the
body again. They let her in, then had to haul her out.
Probably got her on something to kill the pain.”
Drugs. For some reason doctors give them away like candy
during such times. Guess they figure it is better than letting
someone grieve in their own fashion. Can’t let people do
things for themselves. There’s no money in that.
Marcus finished his drink. “Need another?” I asked.
“No. You know what they say about cops hitting the hard
“Yeah, it gets them drunk.”
Marcus laughed. He had a deep voice and a deeper laugh.
If you don’t know him, the laugh can actually be frightening.
Coming from a guy who stands about six-two with a face that
looks like it is carved from stone a laugh like his can go right
through you. I thought it was funny.
1 4 J O H N M I S A K
“How’re things going for you, Keegan?” Marcus asked.
“They haven’t killed me and they still let me carry a gun.”
Two of the atrocities of life. Any action by you?”
I assumed Marcus knew about what I’d been through a
while back, so I didn’t recount the story for him. “Dead.”
Marcus laughed again. “I’d be turning down cases if I
were you. You seem to always get the bad ones.”
“The others just aren’t enough fun,” I said, finishing my
drink. If Marcus would have gone for a second, I would have
done the same. I really wasn’t in the mood for drinking, so
the fact that he didn’t was welcome.
“You’d fight for this case if it was in your juri, wouldn’t
you?” he asked.
I shook my head. “Nah. I don’t believe in tipping the
“Bullshit. You called me as soon as you found out, didn’t
Nailed. “Only because the park interests me. I think if I
worked in your spot, it would have lost its allure a while ago.”
“Maybe,” Marcus said.
“You request this one, or have it stuffed in your hands?”
“Little of both. I was next on call, but Witherspoon told
me he knew I wanted it, so he lobbed it my way to avoid any
“You flying solo?” I asked.
“No. Cooper’s with me. Know him?”
Paul Cooper went to the academy with me. He was a
vanilla type, so middle-of-the-road that I had absolutely no
opinion about him, which was a rarity.
“Not a bad guy,” Marcus said.
“About all I can say about him.”
“I’ve worked a few with him. Good paperwork, decent
ideas, and he never fights his position strong enough to piss
you off. Sort of like not having a partner.”
D e a t h Kn e l l 1 5
“Wish I had someone like that in South,” I said.
“Calhill back?” That’d be Rick Calhill, my sometime
partner and friend.
Marcus shook his head. “Amazing he came this far.”
“He’s doing it for the kids,” I said. Calhill had to go
through a tragedy unlike any I could have ever imagined.
He lost his wife, almost lost his job, and got a suspension to
boot. I was one of the few that gave him even the slightest
chance to make it back to the job.
“Gotta hand it to him. They pair you guys up again?”
“Not yet. Think it’s coming soon. He’s different. I think
I’ll even like working with him this time around,” I said.
“Calhill’s a good man,” Marcus said, “and a good detective.
I’d work with him any day.”
“A year ago, I’d have told you to take him. Now I just
hope I can help.”
“That’s big of you,” Marcus said sarcastically.
“I’m not all asshole. Just part of me.”
“More than one part.”
“What else is going on with this case?” I asked.
“Not much else. Got nothing in the way of motive.
Despite the dirty job, the scene was empty. They knew what
they were doing, if you ask me. They might have been stupid,
but yet they seemed to have a handle on this sort of thing.”
“Father involved you think?”
“Doubtful. He’s a scientist.”
“What does the mother do?”
“Runs a small bookshop on the east side. Nothing there
“What do you know of the girl?”
“Out of work. Took some time off to write. Was an editor
for a magazine for six years. Think she might have burned
“Yeah, magazine writing’s gotta be tough.”
1 6 J O H N M I S A K
“Just a hunch on that one. She ran a feminist magazine.
Well, they didn’t call it exactly, but that’s what was implied,”
“They never have any good pictures in those rags.”
“I guess they do if you are a feminist.”
“What do they like to look at, men with needles sticking
out of their dicks?”
Marcus laughed again, and this caught the attention of a
few people at the bar. This made me laugh, something I
never do, so you know.
“Been reading them lately?” Marcus asked.
“Your wife left one at my apartment the other night.”
“You could never satisfy my wife.”
“Hey, I do have some Italian in me,” I said in my defense.
Marcus chuckled. “I didn’t mean it that way. She needs
someone to talk to. You probably just roll over and go to
“Sometimes I fall asleep right on top of them. Keeps their
upper body in shape when they have to push me off.”
“Your sickness knows no boundaries.”
“Some, but not many.”
I could tell by Marcus’ mood that he didn’t want to talk
about the case anymore. I’d gotten what I came for, some
details to go along with the pictures in my mind. I needed
them. I really don’t know why. I guess it really doesn’t make
a difference. Something drove me to meet Marcus.
We talked about nothing for a little while, and then he said
he had to get back to his wife. I walked out with him and
decided against taking a cab back to my apartment. Judging
from the extra layer around my stomach, I needed a little
exercise. The walk home cleared my mind.
D e a t h Kn e l l 1 7