Stan Green is a jaded New York City cop assigned to the most shocking homicide of his career—and he finds only one witness, a neurologically damaged recluse subject to demonic hallucinations. Then the murderer strikes again. Stan’s best hope is a man who claims to be surrounded by ghoulish apparitions. And there’s just a chance this witness isn’t insane, but instead terrifyingly perceptive . . .
Dave Zeltserman’s grisly crime novel is backgrounded by the 2004 ALCS playoffs, when the Red Sox triumphed over the Yankees. A knuckle-whitening, surprising, and compelling trip into Stan’s obsession with a brutal case, this serial-killer mystery is Zeltserman’s darkest, most gripping work yet.
“Zeltserman’s lean but muscular style, so evident in A Killer’s Essence and The Caretaker of Lorne Field, is just as sharply honed here . . . Riveting.” —The Boston Globe
“This eerie thriller deftly blurs the lines between madness and the perception of reality.” —The Star-Ledger
“[A] chilling page-turner attuned to the most discerning of avid crime lovers. Well written and well paced. Recommended.” —New York Journal of Books
“Zeltserman’s signature creepiness is available here and there, but what really drives this novel is the engaging portrait of an honest, hardworking cop who, on the job and off, gives the best he’s got, knowing how rarely it will be enough.” —Kirkus Reviews
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Back in 1972 I was seven years old and always tagging along after my older brother, Mike. This was before the attention you have today on child abductions and pedophiles — that evil existed, shit, it has probably always existed, but it wasn't on TV or the news much, if at all. You didn't have CNN and the Internet to focus on it twenty-four seven, and as a result a lot of parents didn't think about it. Back then it wasn't all that unusual for a seven-year-old and a bunch of ten-year-olds to spend their afternoons hanging around their Brooklyn neighborhood unsupervised. And that was what Mike and his friends and I used to do, at least when he and his friends couldn't shake me, and I was a tough little bugger to shake back then, just as I am now.
This one afternoon it was just Mike and me. We had just spent a half hour in Bob's Drugstore thumbing through the comic books until the owner got fed up with us and told us to buy something or leave. Mike spent a dime on a Sky Bar candy bar. He broke off the caramel piece for me, and we left anyway. While we were walking past the fish market a man came out and offered us five bucks to clean up the backroom. Mike wanted that five bucks, but something about the man made me grab onto Mike's arm and pull him back while shouting "No!" repeatedly as if I were demon-possessed. Mike looked at me as if I were nuts, and I thought he was going to punch me, but that wouldn't have stopped me from what I was doing. A couple of older men from the neighborhood wandered over to see what the commotion was about, and the man from the fish market started to look nervous. He told us to forget it and he went back into his store.
"What'd you do that for, Stan?" Mike demanded, his narrow face taut and angry. "Five bucks! You know what we could've bought for five bucks? Are you stupid?"
At this point I was crying. I couldn't explain to him why I did what I did. I couldn't say it out loud. I couldn't have him think I was even nuttier than he already thought I was. Anyway, all I wanted was for us to get away from there, so I kept pulling on his arm, using every ounce of strength I had to drag us away from that store. One of the neighborhood men gave me a concerned look and told Mike that he should take his little brother home. Mike looked pissed, but he did what the man asked him to. All the way home he kept asking what was wrong with me.
Later at dinner Mike told our folks what had happened and how I cost us five bucks. Pop asked why I did what I did, but I couldn't explain it to him. He shook his head, disappointed-like, and gave me a lecture about the value of money, but left it at that.
The next night while we were eating dinner, Mr. Lombardi from down the hall knocked on our door. Chucky Wilson, who was a year older than Mike, hadn't come home yet from school and he wanted to know if either Mike or I had seen him or knew anything. We didn't. He looked tired as he apologized for interrupting our dinner. Pop asked him if they needed any more help looking for Chucky. Mr. Lombardi thought about it, but shook his head and told Pop to finish his dinner and if they still hadn't found Chucky in another hour he'd let Pop know. After Mr. Lombardi left I told Pop that Chucky was with that man from the fish market.
"That man from the fish market must've promised Chucky five bucks also. That's where Chucky is!"
"Stan, quit talking nonsense," Mom said.
"I'm not! I'll bet anything that's where Chucky is!"
"Stop it now!" Pop ordered. "Christ, I don't know how you get these ideas."
None of us had much of an appetite after that, Mike and me mostly pushing our food around our plates and Pop staring off into space. After a while of that he got up and left the table and then the apartment. He didn't bother saying anything to Mom about where he was going. She looked like she was fighting hard to keep from crying.
It turned out that Pop collected other men from the neighborhood and they visited the fish market. They broke into the store and found the man who had offered Mike and me five bucks. He was in the back room chopping up what was left of Chucky. I didn't learn that part until recently, but that's what they found. It was days after that when Pop asked me how I knew where Chucky would be. I couldn't explain it to him, so I shrugged and told him I just knew.
For years I convinced myself that none of that happened. That it was a dream I once had, or maybe a story I heard, or something from a movie or TV show that I saw as a kid. After meeting Zachary Lynch, I started remembering more about that day back when I was a seven-year-old kid and thinking that maybe it wasn't just a dream. I found the old newspaper stories about that man in the fish market and what he did to Chucky Wilson, and then dug out the police reports. My pop had died when I was twenty and Mom is in no shape these days to remember anything, but I talked with Mike and he confirmed what happened. All those years we never talked about it, both of us pretending it never happened.
"What did you see that day, Stan?" he asked.
I shook my head and told him I didn't know, and from the look on his face he seemed relieved to hear that. The fact is I did see something. When that man came out of the fish market wearing his stained apron over a pair of dirty khakis and even dirtier T-shirt, for a moment I didn't see a man but something ghoulish, something from out of a nightmare. It only lasted a second, if that, and then he turned back into a balding and scrawny middle-aged man, but for that moment I saw something else.
Later, after talking with Mike, I sat quietly and remembered everything I could about that day and wrote it all down. After all those years I finally accepted what I saw. I still have never told anyone about this other than Zachary Lynch, and he's the only person I know who would possibly understand.CHAPTER 2
Wednesday, October 13, 2004
Bambi stood just inside the doorway, her expression revealing mostly skepticism as I approached the front desk at one of midtown's trendiest boutique hotels. The desk clerk was young, well-groomed, and had those pretty-boy Hollywood looks. The clothes he wore were probably worth more than my entire wardrobe. He gave me a bland smile that just bordered on condescending. With my scruffy looks and cheap suit I probably didn't look like I could afford their twelve-hundred-dollar-a-night room charge. I couldn't. Not even a tenth of it.
"Yes?" the desk clerk asked with a fake politeness.
"My name's Stan Green. Winston called to tell me that my room is ready."
He gave me an empty look, his bland smile showing some strain.
"Winston Harris," I said. "The manager of this hotel. Your boss. How about giving him a call?"
His smile faded. "One minute, please," he muttered under his breath. He turned his back on me to make a call. While I waited I placed my hands lightly on the wood surface of the front desk counter and felt its smoothness. It looked like polished maple but it also had designs made up from darker and richer woods ingrained within it. A lot of detail went into it. The length of the surface ran more than ten feet. My guess was it cost close to my yearly salary, at least after deducting my child support payments. The wall behind the desk contained a full-length built-in aquarium filled with different colored jellyfish. Blue, yellow, orange, red. It was all pretty spectacular the way these translucent creatures floated along, puffing in and out, looking more like colored plastic baggies than living things. Very exotic, and very expensive. Again, the tank and the fish probably cost more than I was worth.
Three weeks ago I had helped the hotel manager, Winston Harris, keep some nasty business quiet. The business involved a favored guest of the hotel caught with a hooker who had been trying to extort more than the agreed-upon price, at least according to this favorite guest. Winston showed his appreciation for my discretion by promising to set me up with one of his rooms for the night as well as room service on the house. I didn't take his offer seriously, and besides, that wasn't my reason for doing it. The hooker turned out to be a young college kid who was desperate for the extra cash. She was in well over her head with the game she was playing, and the john she was playing the game on looked like he was on the verge of a massive coronary, at least if this went on any longer. Add to that that I had already put in a long day with six hours of overtime and didn't feel up to the hours of paperwork that would've accompanied any arrest. So instead of dragging them both through the hotel lobby in cuffs, I lay down the law for them. At the time I didn't pay any attention to the manager's expression of gratitude and further ignored his request for my home number since I didn't expect anything to ever come of it. On this job people say things in the heat of the moment. You can't take it too seriously.
Bambi had left the doorway and was now standing next to me so that her hip brushed against mine. She rested one of her hands lightly on the small of my back, the other on my arm. She gave me a thin smile, then moved her stare back to the desk clerk as she waited for him to get off the phone. I first met Bambi sixteen months ago, which was only a few days short of the one-year anniversary of Cheryl leaving me. When Bambi first told me her name, I thought it had to be a stage name — that she was either a stripper or a wannabe actress — but nope, that was the name she was born with. Why any parents would do that to a kid I don't know, but I checked the records myself. She was absolutely gorgeous. Picture Eva Longoria at twenty-four. If Bambi wanted to she could've made a hell of a lot of money as a stripper, but fortunately she didn't want to, and instead worked as a salesgirl at one of Park Avenue's very ritzy women's clothing boutiques. I keep telling her she should work in a men's clothing store instead. What man could possibly resist buying a suit from her? Or a dozen? She'd clean up on the commissions. Whenever I suggested that she would just laugh it off and tell me she wouldn't want to make me jealous by putting her hands on some other guy's inseams, and besides they gave her a fifty-percent discount at the store she worked at.
After nine months of living together I still hadn't figured out whether it was gratitude or love on my part. A twenty-four-year-old as stunningly gorgeous as Bambi didn't have to settle for some rumpled thirty-nineyear-old cop with bad knees. She could be a handful, though. Putting it lightly. Three weeks ago when I told her about Winston Harris's offer, she damn near tore me a new one. Christ, she was furious.
"You couldn't give him your phone number? One night in a luxury hotel would be such a big deal?"
"It's a matter of principle, babe. Besides, I didn't do what I did in order to solicit a bribe."
"Yeah, no kidding. You let those two go because you were too effing lazy to fill out the paperwork!"
That stung because it was partly true. That's the thing with Bambi — when she wanted to she could be ruthless at zeroing in on whatever it was you were most sensitive about.
"It was my discretion," I said. "I thought I'd give them both a break. If I arrested them that girl would've gotten kicked out of college and probably would've resorted to hooking full-time. I think I was able to scare her from trying it again, and I'm pretty sure I scared the john just as badly." Trying to joke, I added, "Besides I think it was more my burning desire to be back home with you than laziness."
"Yeah, right. Stan, for once use your head! How would it be a bribe if you didn't ask for it? For Chrissakes, he was offering it to you! You don't have to be so effing squeaky clean all the time!" "It still would've been a bribe," I argued stubbornly.
She was too mad to say another word. She stood glaring at me for a long moment, her lips mouthing something not very nice. Then she turned on her heels and made sure to slam the bedroom door behind her hard enough to shake the apartment. Needless to say I slept on the sofa that night. And the next two nights.
The desk clerk finished his call. He turned back to me with his false smile again and told me that the bellhop would show us to our room. Bambi gave my arm a squeeze. When Winston Harris had called earlier to tell me that he had a room available, I wondered for a few seconds how he had gotten my cell number and then realized that Bambi must've taken it upon herself to call him. So far she hadn't let on to that, acting as if this was all a big surprise to her. She can put on a hell of an act when she wants to, just like her look of utter skepticism from a few minutes earlier. Or maybe that look was real. Maybe she couldn't believe I was actually going through with it. Anyway, I decided what the hell. What harm would one night of luxury do, especially after she'd had to put up with my spartan Brooklyn apartment all these months? I still didn't feel right about it, though, and had a queasiness working its way into the pit of my stomach over the thought of accepting the room, but I also wasn't feeling up to incurring Bambi's wrath — and I knew she'd find out about it if I turned Harris down. I told Winston Harris that this wasn't a bribe, that he wasn't buying any future favors from me, but if he still wanted to offer me the room as an act of generosity I'd take it. He stammered out that he did. After that I called in a favor from my partner, Rich Grissini, to cover for me. We were shorthanded as it was, with Mills and Derocher calling in sick, Gifford, Coleman, and Shattleford all on disability, and Lahey on maternity leave. Normally my shift was eight to five, but with the recent manpower shortage my shift overlapped with my partner's, so for the last few weeks I'd been working eleven to eight. I knew there was little chance that Phillips would've let me take personal time on this short notice.
The bellhop appeared, and he and the desk clerk had a private conversation before he offered to show us to our room. He was a smaller pear-shaped man in his fifties. He avoided eye contact with me but couldn't keep from ogling Bambi. I couldn't much blame him on either count.
The room he took us to was on the third floor next to the elevator. I could tell Bambi wasn't happy that we were being given one of their undesirable rooms, but the tightness forming around her mouth disappeared once we were shown inside. Saying it was pretty damn nice would be an understatement. What had to be at least a fifty-inch plasma TV hung on the wall opposite the bed, and the furnishings were all very modern and chic, stuff you might expect to see in a contemporary art museum. Lots of rich woods and plush cushions.
Other than a small overnight bag that Bambi had brought, we didn't have anything for the bellhop to carry, but he still made a show of walking us around the room and showing us its features. At the end of it, I gave him ten bucks, which from his sour expression was what he had expected. After he left, Bambi plopped down on the bed with the room service menu looking like a kid in a candy store. I turned from her so I could lock my service revolver in the room safe, and while I did this Bambi read me some of the menu items and their prices, two of the more extravagant items being a three-hundred-dollar sevruga caviar and lobster omelet and a fifteen-hundred-dollar bottle of Champagne.
"All on the house," I said somewhat nervously, not quite sure that Winston Harris meant for his generosity to extend that far.
Bambi grinned, her green eyes dazzling brightly. "Maybe I'll order one of everything," she said. Her grin turned more into an impish smile as she asked, "What do you want to do first — eat or get naked?"
My cell phone rang. Without looking at the caller ID I knew it was Phillips calling.
"Green speaking," I said answering the phone, wishing I had turned the damn thing off.
"Where the fuck are you?"
"Nice talking to you too, Captain," I said.
"You didn't answer me, Green. I know you're supposed to be working now. I know that because I can see your name on the board. What I don't see is you at your desk. So where the fuck are you?"
"On a personal errand, Captain. Grissini is supposed to be covering for me —"
"Grissini got clipped crossing Seventh Avenue. Right now he's at St. Vincent's with a concussion and a broken hip. So he's not going to be doing your job for you."
"Fuck," I said.
"That's exactly what I said when a call came in for a homicide and I found one of my detectives absentee while his name is written in big bright letters on my board. Where the fuck are you?"
"Get your ass over to the corner of Chambers and Church Street. I needed you there ten minutes ago. And with Grissini out of commission, starting tomorrow you're back to eight to five."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "A Killer's Essence"
Copyright © 2011 Dave Zeltserman.
Excerpted by permission of Abrams Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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