By: Ed Mcbain

The 87th Precinct

The city in these pages is imaginary.

The people, the places are all fictitious.

Only the police routine is based on established investigatory technique.

The phone was ringing as Carella came into the squad room The clock on the wall read 11:45 P.M.

'I'm out of here,' Parker. said, shrugging into his overcoat.

Carella picked up. 'Eighty-seventh Squad,' he said.

'Detective Carella.'

And listened.

Hawes was coming into the squad room blowing on his hands.

'We're on our way,' Carella said, and hung up the phone. Hawes was taking off his coat. 'Leave it on,' Carella said.

The woman was lying just inside the door to her apartment. She was still wearing an out-of-fashion mink going orange. Her hair was styled in what used to be called finger waves. Silver-blue hair. Orangebrown mink. It was twelve degrees Fahrenheit out there in the street tonight, but under the mink she was wearing only a flowered cotton housedress. Scuffed French-heeled-shoes on her feet. Wrinkled hose. Hearing aid in her right ear. She must have been around eighty-five or so. Someone had shot her twice in the chest. Someone had also shot and killed her cat, a fat female tabby with a bullet hole in her chest and blood in her matted fur.

The Homicide cops had got here first. When Carella and Hawes walked in, they were still speculating on what had happened.

'Keys on the floor there, must've nailed her the minute she come in the apartment,' Monoghan said. 'Unlocks the door, blooie,' Monroe said.

It was chilly in the apartment; both men were still wearing their outer clothing, black overcoats, black fedoras, black leather gloves. In this city, the appearance of Homicide Division detectives was mandatory at the scene, even though the actual investigation fell to the responding precinct detectives. Monoghan and Monroe liked to think of themselves as supervisory and advisory professionals, creative mentors so to speak. They felt black was a fitting color, or lack of color, for professional Homicide Division mentors. Like two stout giant penguins, shoulders hunched, heads bent, they stood peering down at the dead old woman on the worn carpet. Carella and Hawes, coming into the apartment, had to walk around them to avoid stepping on the corpse.

'Look who's here,' Monoghan said, without looking up at them.

Carella and Hawes were freezing cold. On a night like tonight, they didn't feel they needed either advice or supervision, creative or otherwise. All they wanted to do was get on with the job. The area just inside the door smelled of whiskey. This was the first thing both cops registered. The second was the broken bottle in the brown paper bag, lying just out of reach of the old

woman's bony arthritic hand. The curled fingers seemed extraordinarily long.

'Been out partying?' Monoghan asked them.

'We've been here twenty minutes already,' Monroe said petulantly.

'Big party?' Monoghan asked.

'Traffic,' Hawes explained, and shrugged.

He was a tall, broad-shouldered man wearing a woolen tweed overcoat an uncle had sent him from London this past Christmas. It was now the twentieth of January, Christmas long gone, the twenty-first just a heartbeat away but time was of no consequence in the 87th Precinct. Flecks of red in the coat's fabric looked like sparks that had fallen from his hair onto the coat. His face was red, too, from the cold outside. A streak of white hair over his left temple looked like glare ice. It was the color his fear had been when a burglar slashed him all those years ago. The emergency room doctor had shaved his hair to get at the wound, and it had grown back white. Women told him they found it sexy. He told them it was hard to comb.

'We figure she surprised a burglar,' Monroe said. 'Bedroom window's still open.' He gestured with his head. 'We didn't want to touch it till the techs got here.'

'They must be out partying, too,' Monoghan said.

'Fire escape just outside the window,' Monroe said, gesturing again. 'Way he got in.'

'Everybody's out partying but us,' Monoghan said.

'Old lady here was planning a little party, that's for sure,' Monroe said.

'Fifth of cheap booze in the bag,' Monoghan said.

'Musta gone down while the liquor stores were still open.'

'It's 'Saturday, they'll be open half the night,' Monroe said.

'Didn't want to take any chances.'

'Well, she won't have to worry about taking chances anymore' Monroe said.

'Who is she, do you know?' Carella asked.

He had unbuttoned his overcoat, and he stood now in an: easy slouch, his hands in his trouser pockets, looking down at the dead woman. Only his eyes betrayed that he was feeling any sort of pain, He was thinking he should have asked Who was she? Because someone had reduced her to nothing but a corpse afloat on cheap whiskey.

'Didn't want to touch her till the M.E. got here,' Monroe said.

Please, Carella thought, no par

'He's probably out partying, too,' Monoghan said. Midnight had come and gone without fanfare.

But morning would feel like night for along while yet.

To no one's enormous surprise, the: medical examiner cited the apparent cause of death as gunshot wounds. This was even before one of the crime scene techs discovered a pair of spent bullets embedded in the door behind the old woman, and another one in the baseboard behind the cat. They looked like they might be thirty-eights, but not even the creative mentors were willing to guess. The tech bagged them and marked them for transport to the lab. There were no latent fingerprints on the windowsill, the sash, or the

fire escape outside. No latent footprints, either. To everyone's great relief, the tech who'd been out there came back in and closed the window behind him.

The coats came off.

The building superintendent told them the dead. woman was Mrs. Helder. He said he thought she was Russian or something. Or German, he wasn't sure. He said she'd been living there for almost three years. Very quiet person, never caused any trouble. But he thought she drank a little.

This was what was known as a one-bedroom apartment. In this city, some so-called one-bedrooms were really L-shaped studios, but this was a genuine one-bedroom, albeit a tiny one. The bedroom faced the street side, which was unfortunate in that the din of automobile horns was incessant and intolerable, even at this early hour of the morning. This was not a particularly desirable section of the city or the precinct. Mrs. Helder's building was on Lincoln Street, close to the River Harb and the fish market that ran dockside, east to west, for four city blocks.

The team had relieved at a quarter to twelve and would in turn be relieved at seven forty-five A.M. In some American cities, police departments had abandoned what was known as the graveyard shift. This was because detective work rarely required an immediate response except in homicide cases, where any delay in the investigation afforded the killer an invaluable edge. In those cities, what they called Headquarters, or Central, or Metro, or whatever, maintained homicide hot lines that could rustle any

detective out of bed in a minute flat. Not this city. In this city, whenever your name came up on the rotating schedule, you pulled a month on what was accurately called the morning shift even though you worked all through the empty hours of the night. The graveyard shift, as it was familiarly and un affectionately called, threw your internal clock all out of whack, and also played havoc with your sex life. It was now five minutes past midnight. In exactly seven hours and forty minutes, the day shift would relieve and the detectives could go home to sleep. Meanwhile, they were in a tiny one-bedroom apartment that stank of booze and something they realized was cat piss. The kitchen floor was covered with fish bones and the remains of several fish heads.

'Why do you suppose he shot the cat?' Monroe said. 'Maybe the cat was barking,' Monoghan suggested.

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