In valor there is hope.
     – Publius Cornelius Tacitus (AD 55-117) -

   Monday, April 17

  “He’s out here.”

   Kay Delaney eased the unmarked police car through the amber at Franklin. In the passenger seat, Bobby Curran balanced his double latte, saving his tailor-made suit as the Lumina’s tires took a pothole.


   “I tell you, Kay, no dealer’s gonna be dogging the streets this early in the morning.”
She ignored his comment. Kept scanning.
   Two years as a deputized agent with the Redrum Unit — a special gang squad working with DEA — Bobby Curran knew a thing or two about the streets. But when it came to murders, Kay thought, the former Bostonian and the newest detective on her squad was a rookie.
  “Trust me, he’ll show,” she said again, turning onto Edmondson.
  “Wasting a lot of time and gas for a dead drug dealer,” Bobby added. “Texaco was just another slinger. If Dante Toomey hadn’t put those .45 slugs in his brain, someone else would’ve. Welcome to the lifestyle of death.”
   Bobby had a point: What was another dead dealer in Baltimore City? With convictions in drug murders no better than a coin toss, with witnesses too afraid to talk or, more often, taking the law into their own hands, with the system clogged, the result for a killer like Dante was usually a walk. At best, a plea. Why not let one dealer finish off another?
   But for Kay, this one was different. Texaco, the dead dealer Bobby was referring to, had a kid brother. And she’d made that kid a promise.
   Under a gunmetal sky, Baltimore’s Harlem Park was a bleak stretch of despair, owned by dealers at night, and haunted by crack-addicted ghosts during the day. Last night’s freak snowfall had blanketed the city with a pristine camouflage, but now the streets were gray again.
   Kay slowed the car, passing a couple homeboys, their hoods drawn up for warmth as they shivered next to a public bench. On the back of the bench, the rampant slogan ‘Baltimore: the city that reads’ — a dying memory of the former mayor’s Literacy Campaign — had been altered with spray paint to read ‘the city that bleeds.’
   She’d done patrol here in the Western a decade ago. Back when the neighborhood wasn’t so bold. When a shield meant something.
   “Look, I know Dante’s crew,” Bobby went on, licking foamed milk from his lip. “They don’t crawl outta their cribs till noon.”
   “Dante’s got murder warrants on his head. He’s hardly keeping dealer’s hours anymore.”
   Kay had driven these streets a dozen times in the past three weeks, usually at night, the streets ripe with drug activity. She’d cruise it as if she were working a grid on a crime scene, while teenage dealers scowled at the unmarked and gave the ‘five-oh’ to their hand-to-hand men on the corners to signal police.
   “Well, if Dante is still around, then that dumb-ass must be filling his prescription for Stupid Pills at the Eckert,” Bobby said.
   Kay smiled. If nothing else, riding with Bobby Curran, babysitting the rookie through his first homicide, had replenished Kay’s stock of one-liners.
   “It’s not about stupid, Bobby. It’s nature. When a homeboy like Dante’s feeling insecure, last place he’s headed is out of town.”
   Just past Harlem Park Middle School three boys dragged their sneakers through the slush, fists jammed into their pockets. They knew she was police. In the rearview mirror, Kay saw one give her the finger.
   “Dante needs to feel safe,” she said to Bobby. “Needs the security of his own turf. He’s here.”
   “Then let Fugitive flush him. ‘Sides, the longer Dante Toomey’s out here, the more chance someone else’ll pop a bullet in him.”
   Kay steered north off Edmondson and spared Bobby a sideways glance.
   “When exactly did you stop caring, Bobby?” she asked.
   As he started to respond, Kay slowed the Lumina and pointed out the windshield. “Bingo.” And the first shot of adrenaline licked through her.
   Kay spotted him two hundred feet down the block, shuffling past crumbling stoops and boarded-up doors in his $200 Nikes, and wearing the same Jamaican Rasta hat their witness had described.
   “That ain’t Dante.” Bobby tipped his disposable cup at her target.
   “No, Detective Curran, that’s Tyrel Squirl. And my daddy always says if you’re aiming to catch the big fish, sometimes you gotta follow the little ones.”
   Kay tossed the police radio into Bobby’s lap. “Call it in.”
   Then Tyrel Squirl turned. In the three seconds it took Dante Toomey’s main runner to case the situation, Kay slammed the car into park in the middle of the street and was out the door.
   “Hey, Squirl!”
   Squirl ran. And so did Kay.
   At five foot eleven, Tyrel Squirl covered more ground in those flashy sneakers. Still, Kay gained on him, swallowing up the littered sidewalk behind him.
   She heard Bobby behind her. But Kay’s eyes locked on Squirl’s back, his arms pumping in the oversize hoodie and those dreadlocks flapping wildly in the air behind him.
   Her heart was beating fast, her senses jacked up. Twenty yards between them. Squirl’s sneakers smacked through the icy puddles.
   Nineteen yards. Eighteen. Then Squirl skidded. She hoped he’d trip. Instead, he veered left, headlong into the side alley.
   By the time she reached the alley, Kay’s hand was on the grip of her nine. Behind her Bobby dodged traffic.
   She couldn’t wait.
   Drawing a breath, she ducked around the corner, her eyes adjusting to the dark.
   And then, through her halo of breath vapor, Kay spotted the hat. The red-and-yellow Rasta bobbed at the end of the alley, and there was the clash of chain-link as Squirl scaled the fence.
   “Son of a bitch!” She was running again, negotiating trash cans and greasy pools of refuse. Kay threw herself at the fence, and when she hit the top, she swung over too fast. She landed hard, almost winded as she slipped on soaked cardboard.
   At the end of the alley he cut right, bounding into the light. When she hit the street, Squirl was zigzagging through traffic.
   So close now she could hear his breath, smell his sweat on his slipstream. When Squirl ducked into the next alley, Kay didn’t enter as cautiously. And she regretted it the second she did.
   Kay caught the flash of gold on Squirl’s wide, black fist and ducked. No time to draw her gun. Instead, with one sharp kick to his knee, the sole of her duty shoe met delicate cartilage. She heard his cry and wished she’d aimed higher.
   He staggered, swore, almost went down, as Kay snagged a fistful of his hoodie and tried to wrestle him to the ground. But in a heartbeat Squirl wriggled out of the oversize shirt and turned. Too fast. His hands on her. Grabbing.
   Kay brought her elbow up in a hard, well-aimed swing. Felt bone and saw a stream of blood and spit fly from Squirl’s mouth, spray red against the grime-slicked wall of the alley.
   Rage flared in the runner’s eyes. “Crazy-ass bitch!”
   And then there was Bobby. “What did you call her, Squirl?”
   When Bobby spun him around, he followed the question with a smooth upward arch of his knee.
   Squirl buckled, then faltered, one hand skidding along the sidewalk. And just when Kay thought he was at last going down, Tyrel Squirl kicked back. Pain knifed up her leg and she had to catch herself on the alley wall. Then Squirl was crawling, scurrying to get his feet under him, crab-walking toward the street.

   He was almost vertical again when Bobby nailed him from behind, this time keeping the runner down while Kay unclipped the cuffs from her belt.
   “Son of a bitch, Squirl!” She worked the cuffs around his thick wrists while Bobby pinned him. “When are you idiots gonna learn that when you put up a fight, you only go to jail tired?”
   Together, she and Bobby hauled Tyrel Squirl to his feet. Only then did Kay spot the stain splashed across Bobby’s crisp linen shirt.
   “Shit, Bobby. Sorry about your latte.”
   “Dumb-ass ruined my best shirt.” He punctuated his anger by giving Squirl a shove.
   The runner sucked silently at his split lip.
   “All right, Squirl, how about you start by giving Detective Curran here an apology,” Kay said, “and then you can tell us nice where your dawg Dante’s laying his head these days, hmm?”
   Squirl thrust his chin in the air, his mouth a tight, bloody line, when Kay’s cell went off.
   Cleaning her palm on her pant leg, Kay answered on the second ring. “Delaney.”
   “It’s Finn. You busy?”
   “Not at all.”
   “Good, cuz I need you on something.”
   “You catch a case?”
   “You could say that.”
   “Where’s the body?” Kay asked.
   “Well, that’s the freaky part: there isn’t one."




   The first thing Detective Danny Finnerty had noticed when responding to the crime scene in Roland Park a half hour ago was the crows. A turf war had broken out over the narrow strip of woods bordering the west edge of the grounds. The trees were black with the squabbling, quasi-reptilian birds, and the air filled with their shrieks as they circled and dove, oblivious to the police tape and crime scene below.
   The gray mid-April sky pressed down on the sports field of Langley Country School, and the unseasonable dusting of snow wasn’t melting fast. Finn warmed his hands in the pockets of his leather coat and watched the Mobile Crime Lab shoot the scene. What little there was.
   “Watch those tracks there,” he warned the tech. “We need those.”
   Other than their own, only one path in the snow ran east, from the school’s cul-de-sac to the crime scene at the base of a silver-barked sycamore. The rest of the white expanse was unmarred except a trail that branched west, left by the witness who’d made the early-morning discovery.
   Officer Michelle Luttrell had done well in preserving the scene, and Finn would make sure to have a letter entered into Luttrell’s personnel jacket by the end of the week, commending her professionalism on the scene.
   Luttrell was young and blond, with a face that looked far too ingenuous for the job. She shivered slightly in her uniform jacket, made bulky from the Kevlar vest she wore underneath, and when she caught Finn’s stare, she dropped her gaze.
   “So you think that came from a person?” she asked, gesturing toward the tree.
   “I don’t know. ME’s investigator should be able to tell us.”
   She nodded. “You need anything else, Detective?”
   Finn glanced back at the school. Three patrol cars and the Crime Lab’s van lined the narrow drive in front of the columned portico of the main entrance. He shoved a thumb in the direction of the Northern District uniforms lingering by their vehicles. “Yeah. You can keep those knuckleheads off the snow. I don’t want my perp’s prints messed up. And tell your witness I need to talk to him.”
   Luttrell headed back across the grounds, just as Kay pulled in. The young officer waved Kay’s unmarked to the side.
   When Kay rounded the hood of the car, she straightened her jacket over the holster strapped to her small waist. At five-four, she looked tiny next to the uniforms. She said something to them, and one of the officers let loose a deep laugh. Then Finn heard a ‘yes, ma’am’ and they parted for her.
   Finn caught her smile. Over the past year he’d seen Kay’s demons fade, but the memories lingered. There were still times, in the dead of night, when Finn held her sweat-slicked body until she found sleep again.
   Some scars even time couldn’t heal.
   As he her cross the field, the rookie Bobby Curran in tow, Finn noticed her slight limp and the grime on her suit.
   “What happened to you?” he asked.
   “Just brought in Dante Toomey’s main runner,” Kay said.
   “Tyrel Squirl? I’m impressed.” He nodded at Bobby then and at the rookie’s stained shirt. “And who d’you arrest this morning, Slick? Your coffee cup?”
   He only imagined the look Bobby shot him from behind the Oakley, wire-framed sunglasses.
   Finn motioned to the tree and as Kay fell in step beside him he lowered his voice. “I missed you this morning.”
   When he’d woken to the empty bed, Finn had wondered how Kay had managed to slip out before dawn. After a weeklong shift of midnights, they’d used their one day off yesterday to take the boat out onto the bay for the first sail of the season, not docking till well after dark.
   “You get enough sleep?” he asked her.
   “Sure. I don’t need my beauty rest.” She shot him a smile. “So, what have you got?”
   “Whatever it is, it tops the scale of weird.” He stopped them several feet from the base of the sycamore. “I haven’t talked to the witness yet, but the responding officer says the guy saw someone dump this.”
   “Holy Christ,” Finn heard Bobby behind him. “Is that . . . is that someone’s heart?”
   “Very good, Slick. You were one of those brainiacs in science class, weren’t you?”
   Kay squatted, visually examining the heart.
   The fist-sized organ glistened dully. Smears of blood caked the exterior membrane and stained the snow around it, and where the aorta and arteries had been severed, the ragged edges appeared to be drying.
   “What the hell?” Kay said under her breath, then scanned the open field, the school, and the tracks. When her gaze came back to the heart, she leaned in closer. “Look at the snow around it. It’s melted.”
   “I know, like the heart was still warm when he dumped it,” Finn finished for her. “Christ, Kay, you ever see shit like this before? Is it some kind of cult thing?”
   She shook her head, seemed a little pale as she stood.
   “Maybe it’s from a transplant clinic or something,” Bobby suggested.   “Or from some Johns Hopkins cadaver.”
   “No,” Kay said. “Look at the cuts. They’re not surgical. This heart was butchered out of someone.”
   “Well, maybe it’s not even human. Maybe it’s some pig’s heart from the school biology lab,” Bobby said.
   “It’s not from a pig, Detectives.” The witness that accompanied Officer Luttrell was a small man with nervous eyes spaced too close together and set too deep. He pushed a pair of glasses farther up his nose and shifted his weight from one foot to the next, his suede deck shoes soaked from snow.
   “This is Jonathan Durso,” Luttrell introduced.
   “Dr. Durso. And that is not a pig’s,” he repeated, hugging himself from the cold. “In a porcine heart the left atrial appendage is of comparable size to the right. You can see that’s not the case with this one. Also, the shape is wrong. That, Detectives, is human.”
   “Officer Luttrell says you saw the person who dumped it?” Finn asked.
     Durso shrugged. “Not well from the distance I was at.” He pointed to the backyards of the neighboring houses. “And it was dark.”
   “What time?” Kay asked.
   “A little after five.”
   “And what exactly did you see?”
   “First just the flashlight’s beam across the grounds. Then a man squatting at the base of the tree. I didn’t know for sure it was a man until he stood and walked to the school.”
   “Did he have a vehicle?”
   “Not that I could see from my kitchen window. But there may have been headlights.”
   “And what made you come and check it out?” Finn asked, sensing the doctor’s impatience even before the man checked his Rolex.
   “It wasn’t until daybreak that I could see for certain something had been left. I became curious, Detective. My son attends Langley. Call me overprotective.”
   “Thank you, Doctor. We appreciate your time.” Kay nodded toward the heart. “And your expertise. Officer Luttrell has your information?”
   “Yes. Am I free to leave?”
   “Absolutely.” But Kay stopped him once more. “Of course, Doctor, you know we’d appreciate discretion in this matter.”
   A final nod, and Durso left them, making his way across the wet field to the back of his house.
   “This is too freaky,” Bobby said, still staring at the heart. “How do you work a homicide with no body?”
   “You work with what you’ve got,” Kay said, but Finn knew she was as spooked as the rest of them.
   He watched as she waved a technician over.
   “You have any dental stone?” she asked. “Can we cast those prints?”
   The technician shook his head. “You won’t get anything from those. There’s not enough snow, and the ground isn’t muddy enough. You got tire tracks though. Looks like a vehicle came up on the lawn. Could be your perp’s.”
   “Good. Get on that before we lose it.”
   Finn could see the intensity brewing inside Kay.
   “We need a cadaver dog out here,” she said. “And a team from the Academy. We have to grid this entire area and sweep the woods.”
   “Man” — Bobby looked across the sprawl of Roland Park — “you think there’s more body parts?”
   “I hope to hell not. But it’s just as important to know what’s not on a scene as what is. Bobby, I need you to organize those uniforms and search around the school. Dumpsters, garbage cans, any nook and cranny. We can secure the fields, but” — she checked her watch — “in less than an hour we’re going to be overrun by students.”
   Taking one last, uneasy look at the excised organ, Bobby headed across the field.
   Finn scanned the area again and wondered what kinds of horrors might await them in the woods.
   “What kind of person carves a heart out of a body, and then leaves it in the middle of a play field?” he asked.
   Kay shook her head.
   He hadn’t really expected any answers. In a city where 90 percent of homicides were either gang- or drug-related, where it was Poopy shooting Stinky in a back alley over a $20 rock of crack, it was the weird cases that got to you. And Finn knew Kay wouldn’t admit it, but she too was disturbed by the thought of a body, somewhere, cut open and minus its heart.



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