Rompe Almas

Mallory and Gunner made their official debut in Crime and Suspense, an e-magazine, a few years ago.Already, we see Mallory and Gunner's penchant forattracting weird cases. Here's the story offered free in hopes that you will enjoy these detectives and want to read more about them. If so, click here to check out their first novel, City of Woe.


Rompe Almas

by Christopher Ryan

Twenty-five feet from their suspect, and one muffled sound could blow everything. The dingy staircase closed in around Detective Frank Mallory. He adjusted his earpiece, then lowered the radio's volume just a hair more.

***

The original report listed seven missing girls, but Lizabeth Sotomayer had resurfaced a week ago. Detectives from Missing Persons visited the home, questioned her. Traumatized like no victim they’d ever seen, she refused medical attention, psychological counseling, and police protection with increasingly wild-eyed hysteria. As the gold shields left the family's small, beautifully kept apartment, the victim's brother offered the only lead, whispering "Santeria."

That's when the favor bank was tapped. Mallory and his partner, Detective Alberto "Gunner" Gennaro, were sent up from Manhattan Major Case Squad. They protested being taken off their regular cases, but Missing Persons wasn’t hearing it. Despite their best efforts to debunk the rumors, Mallory and Gunner had earned a "Scully and Mulder" style reputation for solving unusual cases, so MP dumped this one right in their laps. They found themselves slogging through the George Washington Housing Projects, along Third Avenue from 96th to 104th streets, tracing no leads, and no useful evidence - except for one single word.

With nothing else to go on, Mallory latched onto that. "As far as I know, Santeria is a religion practiced by Latinos and some Caribbeans. This sucks for us, because the overwhelming majority are solid citizens, often devoutly Catholic, and into "white" Santeria. Basically, they offer a small sacrifice, like placing water or fruit offerings before statues of favorite saints, hoping for blessings in return."

Gunner scoffed. "This ain’t forgettin’ to offer some saint an orange. What's the

flip side?"

"Black Santeria. Not as in race or ethnicity; black suggests intent."

"Cults sacrificin’ animals?"

"‘Cults’ is a bit strong."

"How ’bout society of sphincterheads?"

"Better." Mallory read from his notes. "Black Santeria priests sacrifice to what they believe are powerful, darker beings who they ask to curse, sicken or slay their enemies."

"Yeah, well, if my Ma had wheels she’d be a wagon. Look, alls we gotta do here is track down who do that voodoo, and boom, this case is closed."

It proved far more difficult than Gunner had estimated. Whether people believed in the power of black Santeria was hard to tell, but most refused to talk about it. The few who did swore they had witnessed an uncle get cancer or a cousin fall down a flight of stairs after crossing a black Santeria priest, then they succumbed to nervous silence themselves.

This wasn’t the usual "stop snitching" hood ethics either; it was an observable pattern of discomfort whenever the detectives mentioned the missing girls. Kids showed it, parents, local business owners, even street pharmacists. Everybody knew about the girls, no one was willing to risk talking about them. With each stony stare or slammed door, the detectives’ frustration grew.

Finally, a tiny prune of an old woman pointed the way. She endured their visit to her home by tending to candles burning before an ancient, horrendously chipped, foot- high statue of the Madonna. Too terrified to speak, she repeatedly wrote down one word, showed them, and then burned it in the candle's flame. The word was brujo.

"Spanish for male witch," Gunner said once they were outside.

"We’re chasing a warlock. Wonderful."

Mallory didn’t believe in the supernatural, but he and Gunner were not above exploiting the superstitions of others. They tossed the word at anyone they saw.

"He saves those wild girls," a custodian mumbled to them at the local high school. "After they come back from his place, they ain’t wild no more."

The next day, a well-dressed older man, a local realtor, demanded of the detectives, "Leave him alone. He does this community proud. He worked with my niece almost a year, now all she does is go to school and study. No boys, no going out. The slightest mention of her former lifestyle drives her to tears. Now she knows right from wrong."

No one would provide a name, description, or address. It didn’t add up to Mallory.

"If this guy does such good work, why are so few willing to talk about him?"

"They’re scared," Gunner offered. "And the ones who aren’t afraid are defensive. Every last one of them."

Mallory hesitated at that, then smiled. "Not every last one. Gunner, you’re a genius."

"That's news to me."

***

The old lady was neither pleased to see them nor more talkative. She lit six candles immediately. With no other leverage, Mallory used truth. "Ma’am, time's running out for those girls, and no one else will help us."

Silence.

Gunner tried. "Ma, if he's so good why won’t they let us talk to him?"

The old woman bowed before the Madonna, her hands busy.

Mallory pressed on. "Many defended him, said he's healed girls."

Gunner added, "Yeah, well Lizabeth Sotomayer doesn’t seem healed to me. That girl's spirit's been hurt, ma. And you know who hurt her."

The old lady turned to them, tears cascading down her withered cheeks. She showed them a small piece of paper with an address, apartment number, and two words. She held it up for 30 seconds, and then burned it.

Outside, Mallory dialed the Major Cases squad room, asked for Detective Liz Garcia. "Liz, I need a translation."

"Go."

"Rompe almas."

"Funny. Ricky put you up to this?"

"I’m serious, Liz."

The usually steely Latina's voice quivered. "What have you got yourself into this time?"

"Please just tell me, what does it mean?"

"Soul breaker."

***

The detectives pulled every string available to rush the warrant. Now, in that claustrophobic staircase, Mallory watched as Gunner, a few assisting detectives, and several uniformed members of the Emergency Service Unit moved silently into place. The tiniest squeak of a shoe seemed exaggerated; each creak assured him they would blow the raid. And Gunner wasn’t helping. He leaned in close, performed a mock shudder, "Bru-jojo!"

"Shh."

"You’re not spooked by this Santeria stuff, are ya, Mal?"

"It's not Santeria, I’m telling you: it's a con game pitting his ego against people's fears," Mallory took in the dozen cops waiting for him to move. He continued his whispered protest. "If he was a dealer, we could justify going in this hard. We are about to deliver a show of force for some little doofus in a Harry Potter costume."

Gunner smiled a wide expanse of carnivorous white that pushed his chubby jowls aside. "We find this guy wearing round glasses and lightning bolt scar, I’m buying dinner."

Mallory gestured for a uniform to hand him a small red and white can of 3-in-1 oil, which he used to quietly lubricate the access door's hinges. The department had used WD-40 until about a year ago, when a young Scarface wannabe recognized the hiss of aerosol and shot up a hallway full of Narcs.

He passed the can back, lifted his chin in a single nod signaling it was time to move, then opened the door, listening intently for the first hint of squeak. None came. A good sign.

The detective eased himself through the open doorway, Glock held in a standard grip in front of his chest. He scanned the south end of the hall, then the north. All clear.

He slipped out, inching forward, pressed against the oatmeal-colored wall. Gunner tip-toed his bulk next, moving with impressive lightness for a big man. A line of ESU cops followed.

Mallory received almost inaudible words in his earpiece: "Target was just seen pacing with a large weapon. Repeat: subject is armed."

He rushed silently to 7G, the suspect's apartment, pressed himself against the wall to the right of the door. Gunner crouched down on the left. Two ESU gorillas approached quickly, swinging a small, black, powerful-looking battering ram at the thick metal locks.

The door exploded inward. Mallory charged in first, Gunner next, ESU, other detectives swarming in right after them.

"POLICE! DO NOT MOVE!

The brujo stood in the center of the apartment, his scarlet silken robes in striking contrast to the entirely black room. Dozens of candles glowed around an elaborate altar, illuminating him as he loomed over an unseen sacrifice, raising a huge curved scimitar high over head.

Gunner advanced, his own weapon raised. "Okay, Conan, drop the sword."

Instead, the man stretched to strike.

Mallory moved so he could see the brujo, and be seen by him. The detective aimed the Glock right at his fiercely intense eyes. "Do not swing that sword anywhere near the—" He glanced down, afraid he might already be too late to save the -

"Goat."

A dozen highly trained members of the NYPD had just saved a farm animal. The scared creature wriggled against the ropes holding it down.

The brujo lowered his weapon, furious. "I am a licensed member of the clergy! You have invaded my temple! Disrupted this sacred ritual! You are violating my cultural and religious rights!"

Gunner stepped up behind the perp, knocked the sword from his lowered hands. "Nah, we’re just interfering with kidnapping." The priest bellowed, "Of whom?" The EMU gorillas rammed through a bedroom door. A small voice shrieked. Gunner smiled, "Of her, you prick." Beyond the rushing officers, the detectives

could see a naked girl chained to a wall, barely sixteen, very pregnant. Gunner slammed the would-be warlock onto his altar, beside the struggling animal, then frisked him roughly. "As I hear it, she's one of many." "She is in my care! Her family asked for my help! I am conducting a blessed ritual! A healing ceremony!"

Mallory glanced at the bewildered, struggling goat, then the girl. One officer covered the bawling kid with a blanket while the other used thick metal shears to free her.

"Chained to a wall? That's no healing ceremony I ever heard of, not even in this

town. At the very least, we’ve got you on endangering the welfare of a minor -" Gunner cut in. "Definitely unlawful imprisonment —" Mallory rolled with it. "Possession of an illegal weapon -" Gunner pushed the brujo's face into the goat's quivering neck. "And cruelty to

animals there, Uncle Voodoo." The gorilla brothers threw a book case to the floor with a huge crash. "We’ve got

another room! Sealed! Car fresheners wedged at the threshold!" They splintered the door. The smell of unwashed flesh overpowered the room. Mallory's stomach tightened; the missing girls were naked, in various stages of

pregnancy, and chained up. All were wild-eyed and screaming, just like Lizabeth

Sotomayer had been. At the altar, the brujo rose, spat guttural sounds: "Correllius ornnah aremallia…" Mallory slammed a elbow into his jaw, ending the recitation demonstratively. Gunner looked surprised. "I thought you weren’t spooked by this Santeria stuff?" Mallory snapped cuffs roughly around the dazed perp's wrists, "This isn’t

Santeria, it's, it's —"

Tizzie Dunn, one of the other detectives, looked up from papers he had pulled out of a filing cabinet. "Some kind of adoption farm." He raised the files. "He's got orders … due dates … names … prices."

Mallory's stomach clenched. "He's raping these girls, harvesting the babies for the black market, using his brujo rep to scare them into not talking."

"Why not just kill them?"

Mallory tightened the cuffs, the perp yelped. "This bastard gets off on the fear."

Gunner pulled Mallory away, leaving the fake holy man with Tizzie. "So he was a neighborhood-scammin’ rapist kidnapping baby-seller. But he's outta business now. And at least he's no brujo."

Mallory eyes grew dark, his face contorted. "Gunner…"

"Alls I’m saying is you were right, Mal. There's no 'dark beings' at work here."

Mallory sneered, jabbing a finger toward the hysterical victims. "What would you call someone who could do all that?"

The bigger detective's voice grew quiet. "Awright, pal, awright. But we got him. We won."

Mallory moved, but his body didn’t seem to know where to go. His arms hung at his sides, raised aimlessly, wandered back down. "Those girls… they’re never going to be …never going to … Gun, they were just … just kids…" He looked at his partner. "And you think we won?"

Gunner patted his partner's arm, barely whispering. "I know, buddy, I know."

Copyright © 2007 Christopher Ryan

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Christopher Ryan

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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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