In valor there is hope.
– Publius Cornelius Tacitus (AD
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.
tell you, Kay, no dealer’s gonna be dogging the streets this
early in the morning.”
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
“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
She’d done patrol here in the Western a decade ago. Back
when the neighborhood wasn’t so bold. When a shield meant
“Look, I know Dante’s crew,” Bobby went on, licking foamed
milk from his lip. “They don’t crawl outta their cribs till
“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
“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
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
Kay steered north off Edmondson and spared Bobby a sideways
“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
“That ain’t Dante.” Bobby tipped his disposable cup at her
“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
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
Nineteen yards. Eighteen. Then Squirl skidded. She hoped
he’d trip. Instead, he veered left, headlong into the side
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
“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
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
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
He was almost vertical again when Bobby nailed him from behind,
this time keeping the runner down while Kay unclipped the cuffs from
“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
“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
“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
“Watch those tracks there,” he warned the tech. “We need
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
“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
“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
“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
Durso shrugged. “Not well from the distance I was at.” He
pointed to the backyards of the neighboring houses. “And it was
“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
“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
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
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.
TOP OF PAGE