A Good Day to Die - Stephen Solomita - ebook

A Good Day to Die ebook

Stephen Solomita

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Two cops hunt a serial killer, and a young blind woman fights to stay alive. Crossing Flatbush Avenue is never easy, and for Lorraine Cho, it's the most dangerous part of her day. Her job as a medical report transcriber is on the other side of Flatbush - and Lorraine was blinded in an accident several years ago. She is waiting to cross one evening when a stranger offers to help. Just before they reach the safety of the sidewalk, Lorraine's benefactor shoves her into the back of a van and speeds away. Across town at police headquarters, Roland Means toils in purgatory. A street cop with a violent streak, he's on ice in the ballistics lab, waiting while the New York Police Department tries to decide whether he's a psychopath or a thug. Lucky for him, a serial killer has been terrorizing New York, and Captain Vanessa Bouton needs a tough detective. Bouton wants evidence to prove a cover-up theory, and Means is willing to be cannon fodder just to get back on the street. Though neither of them knows it, Lorraine Cho's life is in their hands.

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Contents

Cover

About the Book

About the Author

Title Page

Copyright Page

Dedication

One

Two

Three

Four

Five

Six

Seven

Eight

Nine

Ten

Eleven

Twelve

Thirteen

Fourteen

Fifteen

Sixteen

Seventeen

Eighteen

Nineteen

Twenty

Twenty-One

Twenty-Two

Twenty-Three

Twenty-Four

Twenty-Five

Twenty-Six

Twenty-Seven

Twenty-Eight

Twenty-Nine

Thirty

Thirty-One

Thirty-Two

Acknowledgments

Looking for more suspense?

Cover

Begin Reading

About the Book

Two cops hunt a serial killer, and a young blind woman fights to stay alive.

Crossing Flatbush Avenue is never easy, and for Lorraine Cho, it’s the most dangerous part of her day. Her job as a medical report transcriber is on the other side of Flatbush - and Lorraine was blinded in an accident several years ago. She is waiting to cross one evening when a stranger offers to help. Just before they reach the safety of the sidewalk, Lorraine’s benefactor shoves her into the back of a van and speeds away.

Across town at police headquarters, Roland Means toils in purgatory. A street cop with a violent streak, he’s on ice in the ballistics lab, waiting while the New York Police Department tries to decide whether he’s a psychopath or a thug. Lucky for him, a serial killer has been terrorizing New York, and Captain Vanessa Bouton needs a tough detective. Bouton wants evidence to prove a cover-up theory, and Means is willing to be cannon fodder just to get back on the street. Though neither of them knows it, Lorraine Cho’s life is in their hands.

About the Author

Stephen Solomita (b. 1943) is a prolific author of thrillers. Born in Bayside, Queens, he worked as a cab driver before becoming a novelist in the late 1980s. His first novel, A Twist of the Knife (1988), won acclaim for its intimate depiction of New York’s rough patches, its gritty style, and its dark vision of urban terrorism. This debut introduced Stanley Moodrow, a disaffected New York Police Department detective.Solomita wrote six more novels starring Moodrow, moving the character into a PI practice, and concluded the series with Damaged Goods (1996).

A Good Day to Die

A Novel

Stephen Solomita

 

BASTEI ENTERTAINMENT

 

Bastei Entertainment is an imprint of Bastei Lübbe AG

 

Copyright © 2015 by Bastei Lübbe AG, Schanzenstraße 6-20, 51063 Cologne, Germany

 

For the original edition:

Copyright © 2013 by The Mysterious Press, LLC, 58 Warren Street, New York, NY. U.S.A.

 

Copyright © 1993 by Stephen Solomita

 

Project management: Lori Herber

Cover adaptation: Christin Wilhelm, www.grafic4u.de

Cover design by Erin Fitzsimmons

 

E-book production: Jouve Germany GmbH & Co. KG

 

ISBN 978-3-95859-444-9

 

www.bastei-entertainment.com

 

All rights reserved, including without limitation the right to reproduce this e-book or any portion thereof in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of the publisher.

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

for Paul Goldstein traveling still

ONE

LORRAINE CHO KNEW IT was five o’clock when Melissa Williams switched off the radio in the middle of Andy Williams’ version of Moon River. Leaving poor Andy to come off sounding like a sick cow.

Moooooooooooooo … click.

Melissa always turned the radio off at five o’clock. Even if the waiting room was crowded with patients who’d been given three o’clock appointments to see one or another of the doctors who owned and staffed the Downtown Brooklyn Medical Center. The clinic’s official hours were 9:00 A.M. to 5:00 P.M. and that, as Melissa had told Lorraine on more than one occasion, was that.

Lorraine Cho had always considered Melissa’s abrupt termination of Lite FM’s afternoon programming a clear case of blaming the victim. The doctors allotted twenty-three minutes to each patient. They’d reached that figure after a weekend conference on The Modern Medical Practice, given in Vail, Colorado, by a manufacturer of business software systems. The simple fact that they, the doctors, were usually out making rounds in one of the affiliated hospitals until nine-thirty or ten didn’t enter into their calculations. Nor the fact that, two or three times a week, hospital emergencies had the staff scurrying to reschedule appointments. The conference had shown the partners how to maximize their profit by increasing efficiency. To, for instance, have patient number three get undressed in an examining room while patient number two was being asked to cough and patient number one urinated into a plastic cup.

Lorraine paused for a moment. She removed her earphones and let her fingers drop from the typewriter to her lap.

“The natives are restless,” Melissa whispered.

“As usual,” Lorraine replied without raising her head. She could hear the low buzz of the patients in the waiting room, but she couldn’t see them. Nor could she see Melissa Williams. Lorraine Cho was blind.

“You ready to leave?”

Lorraine smiled. Melissa had already pulled on her jacket. “I’ve got a few more reports to do. I’ll be fine.”

“I don’t like you going home by yourself.”

“It’s only a few blocks.”

Lorraine sighed. They went through this little ritual whenever she had to work late, despite the fact that she lived in a group home on Lawrence Street, less than a half mile from the clinic. Once upon a time, Lorraine had tried to explain the meaning of independence. About how easy it was to fall into the habit of dependence. How easy it was to surrender. Melissa had replied with a characteristic snort.

“Girl, you have to cross Flatbush Avenue. Are you fool enough to think those fool drivers give a damn about your independence?” Another snort, this one even more contemptuous. “Not to mention the animals out there. Those animals see you comin’, they won’t be thinkin’ about your independence. What they’re gonna think is ‘easy pickin’s. Knock you down, snatch your purse in a heartbeat. And it might be they’ll snatch more than that. If you take my meaning.”

Lorraine hadn’t bothered to argue. Melissa Williams had as good a heart as anyone Lorraine knew, despite her assertion that, “Being as I’m a black woman in a white man’s world, I can’t afford to be soft.”

For Melissa, not being “soft” meant leaving the Downtown Brooklyn Medical Center at five o’clock on the dot. No matter how many unmailed insurance reports lay on her desk. The medical staff—the nurses and the techs—could stick around until six or seven. They really didn’t have any choice. But the clerical staff was under no such obligation. Melissa had a husband and two children waiting in a condominium on First Avenue and Thirty-eighth Street in Manhattan. Their needs came first.

Lorraine sat quietly for a few minutes, listening to the hum of her IBM Selectric. Remembering Melissa Williams’ patience when faced with the prospect of training a blind typist. Lorraine Cho knew her employment may have been a spontaneous bit of charity on the part of the doctor who decided to “give her a chance,” but for Melissa Williams, Lorraine’s “chance” meant long months of reviewing each report Lorraine typed, of quiet corrections and explanations.

For Lorraine, on the other hand, mastering the unfamiliar jargon that poured through the earphones attached to her mini-recorder was just one more battle in a war that had begun five years earlier when she’d gotten drunk at a friend’s house and plowed her car into a pillar supporting the tracks of the Roosevelt Avenue el.

The pain was the easiest part. In the beginning, the pain kept her from thinking about what her mother described as “your condition.” As long as her face was covered with bandages, she could pretend the bandages were the cause of the darkness. That one day in the future, Dr. Marren would gently unwrap those bandages and her eyes would open to a painfully blue sky filled with soaring doves. Just like in the movies.

The only thing was that she didn’t have eyes. (If it weren’t for reconstructive surgery, she later realized, she wouldn’t have a face.) But the funny part was that the fantasy persisted, even after the bandages were removed, even after they weaned her off the Demerol, even after she went home to her parents’ apartment in Kew Gardens.

Organize and memorize. A place for everything and everything in its place. It took months to get it right. Until she could move from the kitchen to the bedroom without cracking her shins against the corner of an end table. Or brush her teeth without sending the toothpaste and the plastic cup on the sink crashing to the floor.

The effort to learn that tiny piece of the world represented by the six rooms of her parents’ apartment was enormous. But once the effort had been made, Lorraine was content to rest, to revel in the safety after so much insecurity and physical pain.

And why shouldn’t she? Her parents were invariably supportive. Supportive and protective. “We’ll always be there for you,” they told her again and again. “Don’t worry about anything.”

The Library for the Blind sent her books on tape—sent them free of charge along with a sighted braille tutor. If she wanted fresh air, all she had to do was step onto the balcony and take a deep breath. True, television meant nothing, but the New York radio bands, AM and FM, were crowded with stations offering every kind of music along with call-in shows, public radio stations, religious broadcasting, twenty-four-hour news …

Why should she leave? Ever? What was the point? Sure, if you didn’t have anyone to care for you, to go out and buy the groceries, cook the food, clean the house, do the laundry … then you’d have to venture out into the dark and dangerous world. The world that had taken your sight in the first place. But she wasn’t in that position. Her father was an electrical engineer with a doctorate from MIT. Money would never be a problem for Lorraine Cho.

What I did, she decided much later, was drift, a puffball in a gentle stream. Still expecting my sight to be restored. Still waiting for the cure.

The event that changed her life took place ten months after she left the hospital. With her father at work and her mother out shopping, she reached into the refrigerator for a can of Coke and sent a bottle of grapefruit juice crashing to the floor. Her first reaction was anger. Juice bottles were supposed to be on the left side of the top shelf, not stuck in the middle. How could they be so stupid? Didn’t they know she was blind?

It took Lorraine a full minute to realize that she was standing barefoot on a floor littered with broken glass and her mother wouldn’t be back for hours and she couldn’t call a neighbor because she couldn’t get to the telephone. She would have to deal with it herself.

The first thing she did was squat on her heels and brush shards of glass off her feet. It was the obvious place to begin and the last thing she expected, as she fought the anger and panic, was to find herself transformed. Nevertheless, as her fingertips slid across the linoleum floor, she awoke to a sensitivity beyond anything she’d ever dreamed. Her fingers were alive, searching the floor as if they had eyes. As if she had eyes. She could handle the sharpest piece of glass with no concern for her safety; the jagged shards might have been spilled marshmallows for all the danger they posed.

She cleared a small space around her feet, then dropped to her knees and made her way across the kitchen to the broom closet. Removing a plastic dustpan, she began to systematically clean the floor, brushing glass chips into the dustpan with the sensitivity of a lover caressing the flesh of her beloved. The force of her concentration, as she read the sensations traveling through her fingertips, drove every other consideration from her mind.

When she finished, when she’d emptied the dustpan into the small garbage pail by the stove, she became aware of a mix of emotions radiating just outside her body like the halo surrounding the head of a medieval saint. Overwhelmed, she continued to sit on the floor for a moment, then got up and made her way into the bathroom.

Still bemused, she disrobed, turned on the water, adjusted the temperature, and stepped into the shower. When the water hit her face and chest, it was as if the sensitivity in her fingers had been transferred to every cell in her body. She was aware of individual streams cascading off her flesh, of trickles running along her ribs and down her thighs, of steam rising to envelop her body. She could hear droplets strike the surface of the tub, hear them over the intense hissing of the showerhead.

It was miraculous. And impossible, too. Of course, she’d heard that blind people enjoyed heightened sensitivity as a kind of compensation. But if that was the case, where had that sensitivity been hiding all this time? And, more important, what would she do if it suddenly vanished?

But it didn’t vanish. True, over time, the excitement and emotion diminished. She began to take her abilities for granted, even as they expanded. Within a month, she could identify people she knew by the sound and rhythm of their breathing. Within two months, she could enter a room and know someone else was there, even if they were completely silent. Five months later, she left her parents’ Kew Gardens apartment, entered a group home for the blind, and began to train for the rest of her life.

“I’m leaving, girl. You sure you’ll be all right?”

Melissa’s voice jerked Lorraine back to her little cubicle. “I’ll be okay, Melissa. Let me get back to work.”

She listened to Melissa’s retreating footsteps for a moment, then put on her earphones and pressed the foot pedal controlling the dictaphone.

Focal area of decreased echogenicity in the tip of the spleen. Differential diagnosis would include artifact vs splenic abscess vs splenic infarct vs tumor. Splenomegaly. Cholelithiasis. Phleboliths vs distal urethral calculi on both sides of the true pelvis.

She continued to work for another twenty minutes. The typing was purely mechanical, though it hadn’t been that way at first. In the beginning, her coach, John Tufaro, had set her down in front of an ancient Smith-Corona and said, “If you could type when you were sighted, you can type now. Do it.”

But she couldn’t do it. Not at first. What bothered her was the fact that she had no way to check her work. If she made a mistake, she wouldn’t (and didn’t) know it. Not knowing caused her to hesitate, to make mistakes. It wasn’t until after John took her into the lounge and played several cuts from his George Shearing collection that she finally took the hint. Shearing was a blind pianist, yet he never missed a note. In a way, his situation was worse than hers, because if George Shearing made a mistake, he would know it. And so would everybody in the audience.

What she needed, she’d realized, was confidence, and the best way to get it was to bang away at the keys with the abandon of a toddler stacking a pile of blocks. At first, she insisted that John Tufaro check her work. But after a few weeks she discovered that she could tell when she made a mistake. The same fingertips that had guided her over a floor littered with broken glass could differentiate between an l and a semicolon, even though they sometimes pressed the wrong key.

She didn’t know exactly how she perceived this information, but how didn’t really matter. What mattered was that her craft, her typing, was one more step on the road to independence. A road that led from a wrecked car to a hospital bed to an apartment in Queens, to a group home to a …

She had no concrete vision of the next step, but she was sure that each prior step was an expansion, and as long as she kept expanding, she was on the right track.

Half an hour later, Lorraine Cho flipped off her IBM. The waiting room was quiet, which meant the last patient had been taken to one of the screened cubicles that served as an examining room. She sat for a moment, enjoying the silence, then pushed her chair away from the desk, grabbed her long white cane, and stood up. Marching across the floor without hesitation, she took her wool jacket out of the staff closet and put it on. New York was in the middle of a cold spell, and it could easily take half an hour to walk the few blocks to the group home. After all, despite what she told Melissa Williams, she still had to cross Flatbush Avenue.

Lorraine moved quickly through the patients’ waiting room, sweeping the floor in front of her with practiced ease. She knew the territory well, but there was always the chance that some patient had left a surprise for her, had moved a chair or dropped a magazine on the floor. (Stepping on a magazine was like stepping on a patch of ice.) But she found nothing untoward as she made her way out to the street.

A bracing wind chipped at her nose and her ears, but instead of trying to pull her head down into the collar of her coat, she flared her nostrils and sucked in the clean, cold air. She could feel the sun’s heat despite the forty-five-degree temperature and gusty winds. The mix was delicious.

She made her way to the corner of Flatbush Avenue and Willoughby Street, stopping next to the mechanism that regulated the traffic light. The problem with Flatbush Avenue was that its eight lanes led directly to the Manhattan Bridge. At six on a weekday, it was inevitably packed in both directions with bumper-to-bumper traffic. Traffic that, as often as not, spilled back across the intersection when the light turned red, so that even though Lorraine could hear the light flip from green to yellow to red, she couldn’t be sure the intersection was clear. Nor could she be certain that vehicles making the turn from Willoughby Street onto Flatbush Avenue would respect her right to cross the street unimpeded. In New York, pedestrians and drivers seemed to be in a constant state of war, a fact she’d joyfully exploited when she was sighted, ignoring traffic lights and pedestrian crosswalks like any good citizen.

Now she had to pay the price. And there was only one way to do it. One way that didn’t involve a high probability of physical injury. Lorraine walked to the edge of the curb, then stood stock-still and waited for some good citizen to come to her rescue. A traffic agent usually worked this intersection, a man named Joe who guided her across the street whenever possible. Unfortunately, Joe wasn’t on duty. Lorraine knew he wasn’t around because Joe blew his whistle, stopping traffic, whenever the light changed. Lorraine could smell the stink of mixed gasoline and diesel exhausts, hear the animal roar of buses pulling away from the curb and the vicious chorus of car horns that challenged their right-of-way. But there was no whistle.

One day, she decided, she’d have to ask Joe why he wasn’t on duty every weekday at this time. Lord knew it had nothing to do with the volume of traffic. Traffic volume varied in direct proportion to the number of horns blaring at any given moment. The more frustrated the drivers, the louder the symphony. Tonight, she was listening to Tchaikovsky’s cannons.

“Do you need some help, miss?”

Lorraine smiled, relieved to hear a voice, especially a female voice. That was another thing Melissa was right about. The animals who roamed New York City streets looking for prey would respect neither Lorraine’s blindness nor the seeing eyes of potential witnesses. She was the quintessential victim, ripe for a takeoff, and the only surprise was that it hadn’t already happened. Everybody else in her group home had been attacked at least once. Vulnerability was the price of independence; there was no way around it.

“I’d surely appreciate it,” Lorraine answered. She waved at the unseen vehicles. “They don’t seem like they’re about to stop for me. Or for anything else.”

“Well, I must say that I’m new at this. If you will tell me what to do, I’ll be glad to help you.”

Lorraine listened closely, knowing the woman through her words. The accent was definitely southern, the voice young but serious, the phrases oddly separated. Well, I must say … that Ah’m new … at this, if you will tell me … what to do … Ah’ll be glad … to help … you.

“Let me take your left arm. Then walk normally.”

“All right.” As the woman moved around her, Lorraine caught a trace of flowery perfume. Lilac predominated, but there were other scents as well. The perfume reinforced Lorraine’s sense of the woman’s rural origins. Lilac was definitely not New York. “Are there any potholes?” Lorraine asked.

“Well, the road is bumpy, but isn’t that just like the roads in New York? There is a crew—I believe they are from the telephone company—workin’ on the far corner, but we can pass around them. Are we ready?”

Lorraine took the woman’s arm, noting the slender limb and the underlying muscle.

“I did have an auntie,” the woman said as they stepped off the curb, “who was blind. But that was back in Atherton? In Mississippi? She surely did not have to worry about streets like this. And everybody did know her, so they would stop and help. I think it’s just awful that you should have to go out on your own. But isn’t that typical? Of New York City? It is such a cold place. Back home, people care about each other.”

Lorraine paid little attention to her Good Samaritan’s chatter, saving her concentration for the task at hand. She knew, from bitter experience, that small imperfections in the road, imperfections a sighted person wouldn’t notice, could send her sprawling. Nor could she entirely rely on the judgment of her benefactor when it came to larger obstacles. On one occasion, a well-meaning stranger had run her into the tail pipe of a small truck. Between the collision and the deep burn, she’d been hobbled for the better part of a week.

“Only a few more steps, miss, and we will be on the sidewalk. We just have to go around this truck.”

Lorraine stretched her left arm out to gauge the distance between herself and the truck. She didn’t want to insult the woman, but she could hear the truck’s motor running and she knew she was very close to it.

Her arm reached out into empty space, and it took her a moment to realize the truck’s rear doors had to be open. Then a hand grabbed her wrist and yanked her forward, smashing her knees into the truck’s bumper as she flew through the doors.

“Close ’em and go. Fast.” A man’s voice, tight and urgent, followed by slamming doors and a fist smashing into the side of her head. “Shut up, bitch. Shut the fuck up.”

She didn’t react; her mind was spinning too fast to fashion a response, though she was aware of everything. Aware of the odor of wood smoke and pipe tobacco clinging to the man. Of the sudden jerk as the truck pulled away. Of her benefactor’s tinkling laughter. Of the man’s hand thrust into her crotch. Of his finger poking at the glass orbs filling her eye sockets.

“Damn, Baby, looks like we got ourselves a keeper. A slanty-eyed slope with good tits and no eyes. A definite goddamned keeper.”

TWO

BY THE TIME MY savior made her appearance, ramrod straight in her starched uniform, I was near madness. The preachers claim that salvation is a vision of light buried in the invisible depths of one’s darkest moments. Captain Vanessa Bouton didn’t fit that image, either. Mahogany skin, short and carefully styled black hair, widely spaced brown eyes—she was anything but a willowy spirit descending out of a backlit cloud. Nevertheless, the plain truth is that Vanessa Bouton saved my sorry little ass.

“Roland Means?” she said. “Detective Roland Means?”

I was standing at a workbench in the ballistics lab at the time, peering through a microscope at pairs of .22-caliber shell casings. Comparing, believe it or not, extractor marks.

This is not a fun way to spend your working days. Especially not for a street cop, which is what I’d always been and always wanted to be. Extractor marks are nothing more than scratches. Scratches made by the slide mechanism of a semiautomatic weapon as it loads and ejects cartridges. The official line is that extractor marks are as distinctive as fingerprints. Well, I’ve never thought much of fingerprints, either. There’s a line in a song—I forget the name of the singer; most of them are as alike as the lands and grooves on a spent slug—it goes like this: It was the myth of fingerprints/I’ve seen them all and, man, they’re all the same.

I’m going too far, here. Ballistics is a science, and on those rare occasions when I got a match, the exact nature of those little scratches jumped out at me like a grouse breaking cover. No matter how many hours I spent in the forest (or peering through a microscope), I was never ready for it.

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!