Authors: Warren Adler
Exposed to public scrutiny, they knew they would look ridiculous. The obsessive attraction they felt for each other was baffling. And yet at this moment in time, it was the most cataclysmic event that had ever happened to either of them.
Luther Hodges, Chief of Homicide, was having one of his depressive moments, a frequent occurrence these days. Behind his back, for reasons lost to career history, he was known as “the Eggplant.” To characterize him using this insulting but stubbornly persistent sobriquet made Fiona sometimes feel guilt stricken. Unfortunately, it was inextricably involved in the way that she thought about him, which was not meant to be debasing but affectionate in an odd way. Of course, she would never call him that to his face.
He was not an “eggplant” in the derogatory Italian sense, meaning someone that was not the sharpest knife in the drawer. He was often irascible and cantankerous and occasionally, dictatorial and ruthless in the treatment of his subordinates, but his keen intelligence, insight and investigatory skills trumped his other less-attractive traits. And yet, despite the fury of their occasional battles, she knew that beneath it all, although never articulated, they admired and respected each other, not only for their police skills but for their insight into human behavior from each of their perspectives, as well.
They were both outsiders. He was married to a woman who was part of a family of the aristocratic and snobbish blacks whose antecedents and achievements predated the Civil War, and to whom “old family” meant status in the world of Gold Coast Negroes who were at the top of the pecking order of that society. To them, the achieving whites that surrounded them were lesser in every human trait and accomplishment.
His home life, she suspected, was a perpetual ordeal because he had chosen a profession that was considered beneath the aspirations of this group who were mostly doctors, professors, and in other prestigious careers. Only the title of Police Commissioner could vindicate this choice. So far that appointment had eluded him.
Although he had the qualifications, education, and brainpower far above his peers, he lacked the required diplomatic skills, and he was incapable of suffering fools, both above and below him. Ironically, family connections kept him secure in his role as Chief of Homicide.
Fiona's own credentials were more conspicuous. She was the lily-white princess in this den of macho black cops. Daughter of a former senator, financially independent, raised in the precincts of the white-establishment of the capital's power elites, she was deeply connected with both; the cave dwellers or the permanent cadre of Washington high society, including the political, diplomatic, and media high rollers, and decision makers who came in and out of the capital's revolving doors. Her career choice was more than simply an aberration. It baffled everyoneâthat is, everyone but herself.
To the question of why she had chosen such a high-risk, blue-collar, race-sensitive career, she would respond using the same coy answer offered by the mountain climber, “Because it's there.” Nobody who knew her well ever asked the question again. Who could possibly believe that she felt becoming a homicide detective was her natural calling?
“Turnover,” Chief Hodges sighed. “We can't compete with the expanding need for security by the private companies. We're losing too many good people.”
“Not us, Chief.”
Fiona knew he had spurned offers at twice or three times his policeman's salary by these very same companies, and unlike many of their coworkers, the early pension was not the real lure. She, too, had had her share of offers.
“We both know why we stay, Chief,” she told him gently, which was not the tone of her usual response in the heat of homicide business.
“Because we're idiots,” he sighed.
“It's because we dig the bullshit,” Fiona said. It had become a rationale in her head. “We love being harangued, insulted, and assaulted by the bad guys. Love being abused by our superiors. Love the long hours, the stupid paperwork, the repressive expectations on addressing race, religion, and gender. Best of all, we love beating up on the lying scumbag killers who think they can get away with murder. There's where the real high comes from, that and unraveling the puzzles. Because, Chief, say what you will, it's fucking fun.”
“Fun?” He lowered his voice and offered a rare non-sarcastic smile, and she knew the cloud was passing. “Sure,” he said, with an ironic chuckle. “Getting our kicks mucking around in the blood of dead people. Like being addicted to horror movies.”
“That's make-believe, Chief. We get into the picture like the old Woody Allen movie where the guy steps out of the frame. Only the reality is reversed.”
“Are we now into the meaning of life, Fitzgerald?”
“Every day, Chief. Only it's the meaning of death.” She shook her head. “I'm beginning to sound like Izzy.”
Sergeant Isadore Silverman was her new partner. Talk about outsiders, she thought smiling. Now there was an anomaly, a black Jewish cop. She suspected that the Eggplant had done it deliberately, his idea of a joke. Actually, she was beginning to warm up to the arrangement, although Izzy drove her crazy with his Judaic slant on every aspect of the job.
“Is it working?” Chief Hodges asked, unwrapping another Panatela.
“We're adjusting,” she admitted. She sorely missed some of her old partners, but the realities of attrition, and the lure of higher salaries had taken their toll. What was left were the truly dedicated and committed, like her, Chief Hodges, and Isadore Silverman. Izzy could be infuriating with his penchant to philosophize with obscure Talmudic references. So far they had handled only the routine and mundane. Nothing controversial had come their way in the two weeks they had been together.
“He's a good man,” Hodges said. He put the unlit Panatela in his mouth and bit down. The telephone rang, and he picked it up, looking out the window. She got up and went back to the squad room.
The call came in about an hour later. A man had jumped or fallen in front of a subway train at Metro Center. The whole system would have to be delayed until the police got there.
“Bad choice,” Izzy said, as they sped toward the station. “With high-rises and bridges everywhere, why throw yourself in front of a train?”
“Maybe he was pushed,” Fiona grunted.
“Suicide is against God's plan. He owns our bodies, and no one has a right to deliberately destroy it.”
She looked toward him and made a face with good-natured admonishment.
“Leave God out of it, Izzy.”
“Not possible. Although that concept is more Christian than Jewish.”
He was gaunt with high cheekbones and a strong chin, and at certain angles he struck her as movie-actor handsome. His complexion had a mahogany sheen, and against his premature graying hair, white teeth, and hazel eyes, which in bright light turned green, he had a look that was decidedly different, it hinted at some pure but obscure African bloodline. Despite that she had heard there were pockets of black African-Americans who considered themselves Jews, she had never met one and was having difficulty getting used to the phenomenon.
She was, of course, curious about his unusual background, but refused to pry. She didn't have to. Knowing he was an anomaly, he offered Fiona occasional information about his unique background, noting that he was inspired to enter police work by Reuben Greenberg, the much honored and revered black Jewish Chief of Police of Charleston, South Carolina, who had transformed that once crime-ridden city and created a model for outstanding police work.
Izzy was in his late thirties with two children and a wife who was an analyst in the Department of Education. She had converted to his faith and both had joined the Anshe Emet Temple off Connecticut Avenue. Raised in Harlem in the tight, tiny, black, self-proclaimed Jewish sect, he had earned a Master's degree from New York University, and nearly ten years with the New York City Police Department when his wife was transferred to Washington. He was deeply committed to his work. Izzy was awkward with camaraderie and slightly standoffish, which was often interpreted by his fellow officers as snobbery. He knew exactly where he stood in the societal pecking order: a natural target for triple bigotryâreligious, racial, and class. Thankfully, he had a healthy sense of humor and a talent for investigative insight.
Izzy's insufferable Judaic comparisons aside, he had a rigid moral streak in him that eschewed vulgarity. He was one of the few people in the department who never said
and who avoided using the ghetto slang endemic among his colleagues. He knew it, of course, but resisted its use, unlike Fiona, who had mastered the idiom and could haul it out when required. Fiona wasn't certain he would make a good partner and was leaving that verdict open. They were now in the honeymoon period of the bonding process.
The police had cordoned off the entrances to the subway station and kept frustrated commuters at bay, much to their noisy chagrin. The victim was a male. One car of the train had passed over his torso, which lay in a pool of blood, and his glasses had been smashed.
Fiona and Izzy did a cursory inspection of the body, reaching into his pockets. They were startled to find no evidence of identity, no wallet, no keys, just a nonârush hour subway ticket to exit some station down the line and two hundred dollars of folding money. The platform on which the man had stood was heading north, and the ticket indicated the distance that the man had planned to travel: enough fare for the end of the line.
His face, frozen in an expression of baffled surprise, looked vaguely familiar, but Fiona couldn't place him. A closer inspection revealed that his moustache was pasted on, which startled her, but she left it in place, pending the medical examiner's inspection. His body was a bloody mess, but the head was clearly identifiable.
They determined that the man had jumped, fallen, or been pushed, at about two fifteen in the afternoon, which was when the train headed into the station. There were no signs of scuff marks at the edge of the platform that could have indicated a struggle. A small, wizened old lady was the only witness. She had seen his body fall from, as she put it, “the corner of her eye.”
“It happened so fast,” she kept saying.
Since headquarters was close by, they had arrived swiftly, just a few minutes behind the uniforms who were quick to corral the few people who remained on the platform as potential witnesses. It was an off-peak time on the subway system, and although the crowd was sparse, the event had happened at the extreme end of the station where only the first car had gone over the body.
The train operator, who was merely a live backup for a computer-operated system, said he was not certain he saw the man fall, not that he could have stopped the train in time. He was a youngish black man, very nervous and upset. His lips trembled as he spoke, and his eyelids blinked repetitively.
“We were just pulling in, slowing down. We were no more than fifteen feet from stopping. I didn't see him until he passed in front of the cab. This is awful. It's never happened to me.” He brought a trembling hand to his face and shook his head. “The thought of itâ¦.”
“Did you see his face, his expression?” Fiona asked.
“All I saw was a blob right in front of me. It happened so damned fast. There was no warning, damn it. There he was, this person falling. Unfortunately, you can't stop these big babies on a dime.”
He shook his head in genuine despair. Fiona noted that he was sweating and breathing heavily, a certain candidate for posttraumatic stress disorder.
“Never happened before. I wish there was something I could have done.”
“Don't blame yourself,” Izzy said.
“Why would someone choose such a terrible way to die?” the young man mused. “I jumped down to see.” He shook his head vigorously. “Blood everywhere. I'll see this in my mind forever. If onlyâ¦ but, you see, there was nothing I could do.”
“And you saw nothing else, just the man falling? A blob, you said.”
“This moving lump.”
“Did you see his face? Hands? A detail of clothing?”
“Only this falling object. Likeâ¦ it just fell in front of the car.”
“Did anything catch your eye, arrest your attention on the platform? Someone standing there? Any movement? A flash of anything?”
He hesitated. His brow wrinkled, and he appeared to be straining his memory.
“I can't really remember,” the operator said, shaking his head. It was typical of a witness to sudden violent death. “Nothing registered that I can remember. Just that body passing in front of my eyes andâ¦.” He shook his head.
“And what?” Fiona pressed.
“A flash of something. I dunno. A color maybe.”
“I can't, not now. I'm too shook up.”
The man was trembling. A nerve twitched in his cheek. It was obvious that he was in shock, and they didn't press him further. His name was August Parsons. Izzy wrote it down and gave him his card.
“If you can think of anything helpful, give us a call.”
Parsons took the card indifferently and slipped it in his pocket. By then a group of officials from the subway system had arrived. Fiona and Izzy learned from one of them that as a general rule, the first car did not attract as many passengers as the others.
“Guess people think that the first car might take the brunt of a head-on crash,” Izzy speculated.
“Logical,” Fiona agreed, acknowledging that it might cross people's minds.
They interviewed those who were still assembled on the platform. No one had seen the man go over. People on the station didn't realize that there had been anything untoward, since the train actually stopped at its usual point and the doors had opened, letting the passengers out. It was not until the train did not move again, and all passengers were asked to exit, that anyone knew someone had been killed at the front end of the train.
Those who remained on the platform could not, of course, have seen the man go over. By the time the passengers were disgorged and went about their business, it was difficult to determine who was on the platform at the time of the incident and who was not. Nor was it possible to determine if anyone had noticed who left the station between the time the man went over and the arrival of the police. With the exception of the old lady, no one had seen anything, and even the old lady's explanation was not helpful.