Chapter One: Mallory and Gunner

The corpse came with footnotes.

            That’s what the Lieu said to get Detective Frank Mallory to drag his ass in on his day off, leaving his family and the promise of his in-law’s legendary homemade lasagna. Approaching the crime scene now against his wishes, Mallory pushed his usually swift pace even faster, weaving his way efficiently through gawking civilians, old school aviator shades hiding the frustration blazing in his eyes.

            Let the rest of Manhattan’s Major Case Squad study the vic, reportedly a white male, 19, found bludgeoned. They can figure out why a Brooklyn kid would be way up on 10th Avenue and 215th Street. He wanted that lasagna. A twinge of guilt amended his thought: and family, too. Of course. Loved his family. Loved them. And definitely wanted to be with them. But that lasagna, damn shame to leave that, especially to consult on someone else’s case. Again. No. He refused to get sucked into someone else’s catch. Not this time.

            Not when there’s Sicilian made-from-scratch lasagna at stake.

            Hustling across 215th, Mallory noticed a well-dressed couple carrying fresh palms from Palm Sunday mass ambling toward the crime scene, casually curious. He slowed momentarily, waved them off with a nonchalant hand. "You folks don’t want to ruin your beautiful morning," he said. "Today’s for family, not this." Smiling their little embarrassed smiles, they changed direction obediently.

            Mallory’s partner, Detective Alberto "Gunner" Gennaro, waited for him at the corner, nodding along with the sway of the well-dressed woman’s curvaceous butt as she sashayed away. "I love the girls in their summer dresses …" he sang, kind of. The bigger, sloppier man fell in step alongside Mallory, his immense bulk matching his partner’s near trot effortlessly. "What’s the plan?"

            "Get in, consult, get out quick. Gina’s parents made lasagna."

            "So I’m coming home with you." 

"Might as well. Gina’s gonna put a plate aside for you anyway."

"I love that woman. You ever get killed in the line of duty, I’m marrying her."

"It comes to that I’m shooting you before I die."

They hustled toward the subway entrance where the 1, 2, 3 and 9 lines ran, arriving just as the Crime Scene Unit finally finished. Ever since all those CSI shows hit it big, these guys had become prima donnas. Work that used to take an hour tops now routinely lasted two to three.

A couple of vets smirked as the partners zipped past. "Hey look, Mulder and Scully are on the scene," one cracked.

Another joined in. "Told you it was aliens."

Mallory bristled. Gunner covered: "O’Connor, quit pimping your sisters, Moldy and Skull Fuck. I told ya before, we ain’t interested in no five dollar hoes."

Mallory frowned. "I hate that Mulder and Scully crap. Can’t we just be part of the squad?"

"Aww, they’re just jealous ‘cause we’re so pretty," Gunner smirked. "Anyway, we ain’t  long for this place; look at these all-stars," he nodded toward the paunchy, disheveled, sleep-deprived detectives standing off to the side, a few reading from small reporter’s notebooks, comparing information, most just drinking coffee.  "Clearly, these foot-long studs have the case by the short hairs already."

Mallory and Gunner ducked under the tape, then descended the subway entrance stairs into the crime scene.

Spotlights illuminated the body, one hand melodramatically lashed to a thick, dark metal gate with what appeared to be his belt. The rest of him lay amid garbage: a flyer for Hustler Magazine’s West Side strip club, McDonald’s wrappers, an empty Poland Springs water bottle, and a sodden copy of The New York Post, its headline screaming: DIET CANCER!

Above the body to the right was a billboard featuring a smug Paris Hilton advertising some new fragrance. Another on the opposite wall announced a new CD from some rapper named Playa. A young, equally smug African-American stared out from that ad. Neither Paris nor Playa copped to having seen anything.
Mallory tugged up the legs of his pants, crouching over the victim, then traced the whole body at a painstaking crawl. Flies buzzed around the corpse, other insects crawled across its cold skin. Someone, probably the killer, had poured a sweet substance over the body to attract bugs and vermin. Mallory grimaced, then admonished himself: detach.

            The back of the head had been bludgeoned. A broken leg lay at an odd angle, suggesting the vic most likely received the head trauma at the top of the stairs then fell. Blood covered the body. The sweet-smelling sticky liquid poured on the corpse was almost definitely bourbon, and had reduced the neck, arms and hips to a feast for flies, ants, roaches, and rats.  The latter habitually fled when Crime Scene arrived, leaving only disgusting, telltale bite marks including almost the whole pinky on the left hand.  But the bugs had stubbornly remained.  They crawled across the vic’s faded black Ozzfest T-shirt, which featured a circular burn at the chest.

Gunner nudged Mallory.  "C’mon Mal, you said we were in and out. Let’s allow these fine detectives to work their own magic."

Mallory pulled plastic gloves from his jacket pocket, wrestled them onto his hands.

"Mal, we need no part of this dead end.  The Lieu called you — and me as your loyal partner — because he believes you make his headaches go away. But this one is gonna ruin your battin’ average."
"Good." Mallory started checking pockets, swatting the bugs off in the process.

Gunner threw up his hands. "Don’t start, Mal. We got plans, kid. There’s lasagna waiting — your in-law’s homemade, Heaven-on-Earth lasagna. And then I’m goin’ out to the Hamptons to nail this old high school crush of mine I saw at the reunion – Donna Marie Callabuffo. We can’t let someone else’s case keep me from that well-preserved piece of ass."

"Why take the time to pour liquor on this kid after he was already dead? Was someone trying to light this guy up or attract all these bugs?"

"Who gives a flying fuck?  He ain’t our catch. You hate when they call us in like this, the rest of the squad hates when we get called in like this. Think of everyone’s morale, buddy."

            The weather was unseasonably warm for April.  A distinctly warmer breeze came from the subway entrance. Hot, actually.  A dry, thick gust blew out from the blackened grime of the tunnel, greasy and humid. The foul-smelling breeze gave brief life to something directly above the victim. Flapping back and forth in the filthy wind was a once-white concert T-shirt celebrating The Who’s current tour. It was now stained bloody red.  

            "That took some effort," Gunner murmured, "and some balls. Amazing no one saw him tying this thing to the top of the gate."

"You noticed the shirt, huh? Nice detective work. For a change."  A voice from behind. Nasal.  Annoying.  Familiar.  "So, what’s the latest from the Twilight Zone?"

Mallory gazed up at an impossible thin detective smirking under a thick mustache.  He murmured to Gunner, "That’s one."

Detective Edward "Tizzie" Dunn was another member of the Manhattan South Major Case Squad. Due to his penchant for arguing vehemently in an increasingly shrill voice, some sergeant from long ago had warned Dunn not to "fly into a tizzie" and it stuck. "Lieutenant Dan called in his best boy, huh?  Well, all I can say is thanks. I’m glad I’m not stuck with this loser.  It’s better suited to your, ahhh, talents."

Mallory’s mouth tightened into a frown. Gunner barely heard him say, "Two."

"You gonna close this with one of your creep show theories again, Mallory?  Was it another goat sacrificer?"
Gunner smiled, raised three fingers, then patted Mallory’s clenching fist.  "I got this," he said.  Then he raised up his bulk to full height, and looked down on the scrawny, obnoxious sneer of a man. "Detective Dunn, thank your sister for last night.  Best anal I’ve had since your mother moved to Florida. Not quite as good at giving head as your Dad though, is she? Maybe your baby brother can give her some pointers. He’s especially dedicated to knob polishing, I hear. Almost as good as you are."

Dunn spat out consonants, saliva spewing from his lips. "You c-c-can’t--"

Mallory cut him off.  "If we’re done playing the dozens, maybe we can play detective now?  Why don’t you start by filling us in?"

"You — he can’t talk to me like that!"

"I can.  I did.  You lost," Gunner said.

Mallory edged passed Gunner, stepping uncomfortably close to Tizzie.  "Embrace the life lesson, Tizzie."
Dunn’s lips twitched.  "Somebody needs to teach your partner—"  

Mallory and Gunner turned as one, walked up the stairs.  Mallory made sure he spoke loud enough for the other detectives and the brass to hear.  "Detective Dunn, of course we will respect your desire to keep investigating this case alone—"

Tizzie’s voice became shriller than usual.  "I welcome your assistance, detectives. Here’s what we know —"     

The partners listened. 

"We believe the victim, identified from his driver’s license as William Hill of Brooklyn, received a fatal head trauma from behind, fell down the stairs during which he received several other injuries.  Torso was then burned, and subsequently soaked with liquor, probably post-mortem. Other wounds include numerous vermin bites to neck, and arms."

Mallory nodded. "What’s the story with the T-shirt flag?"

The annoying detective glanced at it, then back at Mallory.  "That’s one of the reasons the Lieu called you. Yeah, I know I’ve got to sign off on this case because I’m technically the primary, but this one’s made for you."

Gunner glanced from the flapping T-shirt to the body then to Tizzie.  "He go to the show?"

"How did you know —?"
Mallory pointed up, Gunner answered.  "The Who played the Garden last night.  He was there, right?"
Tizzie laughed.  The sound was harsh, like glass breaking close to the ear.  "Who told you?  The stiff? A voice from beyond?"

Mallory sighed. "Stick to the facts or we’re out."

Gunner picked an evidence bag off the stairwell ledge which held a complete ticket.

Tizzie shrugged.  "Ticket’s whole. So he didn’t make it. Detective work, baby."

"You gotta get out more often, Tizz. They don’t rip tickets at the Garden anymore, they scan’em."  Gunner held up the ticket, pointed to a bar code.  "More efficient.  And fans get a collectible.  I have a box full of ripped-in-half tickets at home from the good old days.  Zeppelin.  Dylan.  The Who.  If they were whole, I’d probably frame’em."

Mallory smiled at his partner.  "What, you too old to go to shows these days?"

"I saw Led Zeppelin for eight bucks.  Now concerts cost over a hundred.  Forget that."

Tizzie waved the discussion away. "Look, whatever with the ticket." He turned to Mallory, conciliatory. "We all know the Lieu thinks you’re Babe Ruth on these cases, but, sorry pal, this is a dead end."

            Mallory shrugged.  "Nothing I can do about it.  Lieu said the call came from the commissioner’s office."

            Tizzie nodded, smirking.  "Mayor stuck his head up his ass bragging about how safe the subways are, then this hits the fan? I hear he went nuts.  Wants an arrest immediately.  I’m sorry, man, it was out of my hands before I knew it."

Mallory shrugged again.

"You got everything you need to work your weird mojo?"

Mallory bristled. "I don’t work mojo, I work cases. To do that on this one, I need to confirm this kid’s name, home address. Who knows if the license is legit?  And I need the names of any friends with whom he might have gone to the show."

"‘With whom.’ You crack me up."

Mallory and Gunner stared at Tizzie until he cleared his throat, started up the stairs.  "On it. I got no problem handling that end of the investigation. I just don’t want any part of the weird bullshit. That’s all you."

Mallory looked around. Seemed like a run of the mill murder to him.  He, then Gunner, followed Tizzie up the steps, to the street. "What are you talking about? You’re freaked out by the T-shirt?"

Tizzie smiled, held up another evidence bag filled with index cards. "Nah, this is what shoves this case officially onto your turf." He handed the bag to Mallory. "From what we could tell reading them where they were laying, observations, bits of an account of what happened."

Gunner was unimpressed.  "From?"

Tizzie theatrically washed his hands.  "They seem to be from the killer, narrating the victim’s last moments, up to andincluding his death.  Except at that point, um, the cards actually have the vic telling the story.  Then it goes, um, a little beyond."

Mallory lowered his eyes to the index cards.

"Don’t," Gunner said.

Mallory opened the evidence bag anyway.

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Christopher Ryan spent eight years as an award-winning Bronx crime and politics reporter, winning awards as Best News columnist (NYS Newspaper Association), Journalist of the Year, and a DeWitt Clinton Masonic Award for Community Service, among others.
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