Suchen und Finden
May 12, 2016
The call came at 7:30 a.m. It wasn’t his cell phone that woke him. Rather his cacophonous parrot squawking from the kitchen.
“Awright, Dexter, I hear you.” Frank Mead swung his legs around to sit on the edge of the bed and grabbed his cell. “Mead.”
The voice of his sergeant, Will Jefferies, was expected but not welcome. It meant another murder in this grand city. His grand city.
“Shit. Ten minutes.”
Frank hustled into the kitchen and yanked off the pillowcase covering the cage of the blue and yellow macaw. “Morning to you, too.”
Dexter awwwped in reply.
“Yeah, yeah. Keep your shirt on.”
In his briefs and tee shirt, his grayish blond hair punked out in all directions, Frank looked a bit less than the illustrious homicide lieutenant of the NYPD. He reached under the kitchen cabinet and brought out bird seed, filled Dexter’s cup and gave him fresh water.
Then he stood a moment staring at his friend. A rescue bird, who, in fact, had rescued him. Frank sighed and hurried to get ready for the day.
Frank found Will Jefferies waiting for him on the street in an unmarked Ford Fusion Hybrid.
“Morning.” Will handed his boss a Venti Starbucks and rolled the quiet vehicle down Prince Street.
Frank noted Will, as usual, wore a pressed suit and shirt, striped tie. In contrast, Frank’s sport jacket was rumpled and his shirt would be embarrassed to accept a tie. He popped the lid flap on the coffee. “What have we got?”
“Don’t freak. It’s an older woman and she lives a coupla blocks from your mom.”
Frank squinted through the windshield. A recent conversation with his mother brought an uneasy prickle down his back.
“Something ring a bell?” Will asked.
“What do we know?”
“A neighbor of the vic came to pick her up for yoga class.”
“Yeah, you know...down dog, up cat, that kind of—”
“What’s the vic’s name?”
Will brought the car up short near several police cars, lights flashing, and a CSI van. The street was blocked off with yellow tape, and several officers kept bystanders away. He whipped out his pocket notebook and flipped through. “Her name was Sophie Hunt.”
Frank let out the air he was coveting. “Fuck.” He jumped out of the car and pushed through the throng of cops to get to the scene. That uneasy prickle had become an unbearable itch.
Will followed at his heels. “What? You know her? Your mom knows her? What?”
Frank didn’t respond, but with trepidation, he approached the first-floor apartment of a three-story. He walked through the door into a bright, airy, recently remodeled apartment to a tableau of chaos. Furniture tipped and upended, books and papers strewn around the room, drawers yanked out of desks, and wall hangings crooked on the newly painted walls.
“Whoa,” Will said. “Ya think someone was looking for something? What the hell?”
Heart beating with fury, Frank stormed to the bedroom. He stopped upon entry and stared at the scene. That cold familiar feeling of grief punched him in the gut. He hated this part of his job. Lives wasted, not just the victim’s but all those the victim touched. Like his mother. Shit. “Sophie was mom’s best friend.”
Will shook his head. “I figured something like that. Jesus.”
Frank plodded closer to Sophie. She was lying on her side on the bed, dressed, eyes closed. She looked like a rag doll with limbs askew. A woman in a blue paper jumpsuit hovered over the body, checking temp and rigor signs.
He looked at the M-E, Serena Oliver, whom he’d worked with for five years. Had she always had that much gray in her hair? She was still tiny, with latte colored skin. And a delight to work with. Efficient, smart, always right, yes always. Not like me.
“Frank?” Serena said. “You’re white as chalk.”
He clamped his jaw.
“You knew her?”
“What can you tell me?”
“T-O-D between ten last night and two this morning. Signs of struggle. There are marks on her arms and wrists as if someone grabbed her. Small caliber bullet to the heart...” she trailed off, thinking, “...close range. Might’ve gone off in the struggle. I’ll call you later today...make sure I get to this one.”
He nodded again, felt like a bobble head, a bobble head in shock.
Will strode up. “Robbery gone bad, maybe. Hard to know if anything is missing. Maybe her family, or friends, well—”
“Yeah, I’ll talk to my mother. If anyone will know, she will.”
“They went to high school together, so, what, sixty years?”
Frank moved to the window, looked out onto Essex Street. Old neighborhood in the process of gentrifying. Still just red and brown brick, a few blooming oaks, their leaves wilting in the heat, and trash cans. Today must be trash day. He wondered absently if Sophie had put her trash out before... What the fuck was he thinking? Trash? He spun around and headed to the front door.
“Talk to the neighbors, check the phones, any CCTV cameras around? Right, cameras, what is this, London? And don’t forget to-”
“Yeah, Frank, I know, I know. I’ll take care of it.” Will followed him to the street. “Go see your mother.” Will handed him the car keys.
“Nah. I’ll walk.”
63 Orchard Street was a three-block walk from Sophie Hunt’s apartment on Essex Street. Frank knew the Lower East Side intimately, having grown up there. He’d left for Washington D.C. in 2000, after his wife died, but returned in 2010 to become the chief homicide detective for Manhattan’s 6th Precinct.
At first, moving back struck him as a failure, laid like a rock in his stomach. Now, he was glad to be home. He’d somehow managed to rebuild a relationship with his daughter, Amanda, and strengthened his bond with Lizzie, his feisty, cop-loving mother over the last few years. All was good. Except for the fact that there was no woman in his life. Still, he had Dexter. Yup, all was good.
The day confirmed it. Blue sky, sunshine, low humidity. Easy to love New York on a day like this. The other bright spot for Frank appeared in the latest Times article he read—about crime across the country. New York City did not even make the top 25 of cities with high murder rates. Yahoo. Not a bad recommendation for his own work in resolving homicide cases.
He walked south on Essex Street and turned right onto Rivington for two blocks. At Orchard, he turned left and came to his mother’s building.
Reluctant to relay the news about Sophie to Lizzie, Frank shoved his hands in his pockets, inhaled the sun-sweetened air, and stared at his mother’s home. The building, more than a century old, five-story gritty brick tenement, sorely needed renovation. Three storefronts: a tiny dress shop at the first level and two below ground; a dry cleaner and a shoe repair inhabited the street spaces. Above, ten units complete with eight sets of tenants. Some families, some couples. The Lower East Side had developed a caché since the Tenement Museum had opened down the street.
He looked around at similar buildings. Quintessential tenements built in the latter part of the nineteenth and early part of the twentieth century. Prior to central heating, these places froze tenants in the winter and roasted them in the summer. Before electricity, darkness pervaded the interiors, particularly the hallways where no windows lit the space. Running water was always cold and sometimes had to be obtained from an outdoor pump. Water closets were situated on each floor, not in each flat. His mind floated back in time to the former Mead ancestors who had occupied the tenement.
Quit postponing the inevitable. He walked to the front door. Lizzie’s apartment took up two units on the first floor, and over the years, large mullioned windows replaced grim interior walls. The place was light and welcoming.
So was his mother until she gleaned his expression. “Frank. It’s early, what—?”
“You gonna invite me in?”
She stepped back and he walked through the door.
“What’s wrong, Frank. I know that look. Someone died. Who? Who died?” The color had blanched from her face.
He closed the door and led her into the living room. “Sit.”
“I don’t want to sit.”
She opened her mouth, closed it, and then sank down on a dark brown velvety sofa. “You’re scaring me, Frank.”
He sat next to her, watched her smooth her blouse and slacks. Always a lady. Steel-gray hair neatly coiffed,...