Thomas Morningstar was on traffic duty that month. He didn’t mind the eight-to-four shift, but unlike most of the cops he worked with, he preferred a night foot patrol. Being stuck in a car for most of the day just made him antsy. When you walked a beat, you still felt as though you had some connection to the world around you. The stars kept you company, distanced only by the haze of lights that the city cast up into the darkness. The wind knew where to find you.
The blue-and-white patrol car, with the gold badge of the Newford Police Department on its doors, was too confining. The squawk of the radio, trapped between metal and glass, was a constant irritation. Looking out at the street through a windshield was too much like observing the world through the glass screen of a television set.
But he could be patient. This was his last day on traffic. Two days off, and he’d be back to hoofing it once more: evening shift, walking a one-armed post along Grasso Street. But before that he had to go up to the reserve to see his father.
Big Dan Morningstar was the elected chief of the Kickaha Reserve. He considered Thomas, his eldest son, to be his only failure.
“You want to be a cop, why don’t you join the Tribal Police?” he demanded at least once on every visit Thomas made. “But no. You want to pretend to be a white man. You want to marry a white girl. You’re ashamed of your people and that brings me shame. Why can’t you be more like your brother?”
John was unemployed and still lived with their parents, but that was never brought up, because his politics were correct. Still, he, at least, understood Thomas’s position.
Thomas wasn’t ashamed of his heritage; he just didn’t want to live on the reserve. That was the reason he had entered law enforcement, but not simply to escape. He truly believed that the only hope for his people to find a prosperous future was for them to meet white society on its own terms, to have a say in the making and keeping of its laws, while still maintaining links with their own traditions. And was it his fault that the woman who stole his heart was white? Why should it make any difference what color Angie’s skin was so long as they loved each other?
He would sit on the porch of his parents’ house with those thoughts in mind, but he no longer voiced them. He would keep his face stoic as he listened to his father, and he wouldn’t argue. He’d long since given up trying to change his father’s mind.
His mother had never expressed her feelings on the subject, but she didn’t need to. Thomas could always sense her unspoken approval. It was to see her and John that he tried to come by at least a couple of times a month. Angie never drove up with him.
He thought of Angie now as he headed north on Williamson, where it cut through the Tombs, and was only half paying attention to the driver in the vehicle ahead of him. The radio squawked, and the dispatch receiver informed all units of a possible domestic over in the Rosses. Thomas was close enough to catch the squeal and reached for the microphone, but another unit beat him to it.
Just as well. He hated catching a domestic. You never knew what you were going to walk into—a normal argument that had escalated a little too loudly and caused the neighbors some concern, or some wacko standing there in the hallway, waiting for you with a sawed-off shotgun.
As Thomas straightened in his seat, some sixth sense made him pay closer attention to the occupant of the car in front of his own. The man kept glancing back at him in his rearview mirror, then quickly shifting his gaze to the road ahead. He seemed jumpy, more high-strung than was normal, even taking into consideration the nervousness that all citizens seemed to feel in the proximity of a police officer—whether they were guilty of something or not.
Thomas made a mental note of the license plate number and started to apply his brakes as the lights at MacNeil up ahead turned amber. In the car ahead of him, the man’s gaze met Thomas’s in the rearview mirror, holding it for a beat. Panic flickered in the man’s eyes and he suddenly stepped on the gas.
His car shot across the intersection and just narrowly missed being struck by an eager motorist jumping the light. With a squeal of tires, he sped off. Thomas hit his lights and siren. He waited long seconds for the cars on MacNeil to let him through, then set off in pursuit. Steering with one hand, he hooked free the microphone and called in to his dispatch receiver.
“This is Charlie-car; in pursuit of a brown, late-model Buick heading north on Williamson through the Tombs.” He gave the license plate number and the few meager details of description he had of the driver.
“Copy, Charlie-car,” the dispatcher replied. “Do you require assistance?”
“Wouldn’t hurt. I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”
“Backup’s on the way. Ten-four.”
Thomas dropped the microphone. Letting it dangle loosely from its cord, he concentrated on the pursuit. He’d seen the Buick make a sharp right two blocks north of MacNeil as he was signing off, but when he made the turn himself, the car was no longer in sight.
Siren blaring, he gunned the engine and raced up the deserted street.
This part of the city was nightmare country. The Tombs stretched for what seemed like endless blocks of derelict buildings, rubble-strewn lots, abandoned cars, and refuse. It was home to junkies and biker gangs, homeless squatters and runaways. Citizens’ groups had been screaming for years to get the city to clean it up, to no avail.
Thomas slowed down at each cross street he came to, looking sharply left and right, but the Buick seemed to have vanished into the jungle. He killed his siren, but left the cherry lights strobing as he continued on. He could hear the approach of the backup patrol cars, wailing in the distance. From the broken windows of the abandoned buildings on either side of the street, faces peered down at him as he passed. Street rats, in uniforms of ragged jeans and T-shirts, lounged in doorways, their studied nonchalance ready to be replaced by flight should his attention turn to them.
He reached for the dangling mike to call in his position, then realized he didn’t know where he was. Street signs here had long since been torn down or vandalized beyond recognition. All he knew was that he was somewhere in the Tombs and he’d lost the car he’d been pursuing. He brought his hand back to the steering wheel and started to brake for the next cross street.
A flicker of sun on metal caught the corner of his eye, and he found himself hauling on the steering wheel and squealing around the corner before he was consciously aware of making the decision to do so. The patrol car shot down the side street, slaloming around the hulk of an abandoned station wagon, orange with rust, and the rotting mass of a box spring that someone had left in the middle of the road.
When Thomas reached the next cross street, he was in time to see the Buick slide around another corner. He’d closed the gap between his own vehicle and the Buick by almost three car lengths, he estimated as he leaned against the driver’s door to make his turn. He burned rubber up the length of the block, his own tires squealing and sliding as he followed the Buick’s lead.
He pumped the brakes as he came around the corner. The patrol car slid sideways across the buckling pavement before it came to a jerking stop that threw Thomas against his seat belt. Halfway up the block, the Buick had crashed into the back of a derelict pickup truck. The driver of the car was on foot, running across the debris-covered lot that lay between the two old tenements fronting the scene of the accident.
Thomas snapped free his seat belt and rolled his car down toward the lot. He was out of the car almost before it came to a full stop.
“Police!” he called after the driver.
The driver was almost at the far side of the lot. He was overweight, definitely out of shape. Thomas didn’t think he’d have any trouble running the man down. But when the driver turned at the sound of Thomas’s voice, he had a gun in his hand.
Thomas ducked, scrabbling for his own service revolver, as the first shot rang out. The No Parking sign above his head, with its spray-painted graffiti, rang with the impact of the bullet and showered him with rust. The sound of the shot boomed and echoed between the buildings.
Thomas’s heartbeat kicked into overdrive and his training cut in. He could almost hear his instructor’s voice at the police academy ringing in his ears: “Don’t aim; point like you’re using your finger.”
The revolver bucked in his hand and he saw his assailant drop. A heap of rubble hid the man from his sight.
Was he dead, or just wounded?
Thomas moved cautiously forward, giving himself plenty of cover, but it wasn’t necessary. By the time he reached the downed man, he could see that the driver wasn’t going to be leading any car chases ever again. He was sprawled on his stomach, the back of his head a bloodied mess. It looked as though he’d fallen backward against a low wall, but then pitched forward. His gun lay by his hand, where he had dropped it. Thomas’s bullet had caught him in the face and taken off most of the back of his head on its way out.
Thomas moved forward, the adrenaline rush still whining through him. He kicked the man’s gun a little farther from his hand—procedure, though it seemed stupid. This guy wasn’t going to be reaching for anything.
Thomas stared at the body, his gaze caught and trapped by the gory exit wound in the back of the driver’s head. Slowly it sunk in. He’d just killed a man.
This wasn’t the body of some victim he’d come across in the line of duty, when he would seal off the immediate area so that the suits and Crime Scene Unit could conduct their investigation. The man was dead because he’d shot him. He’d pulled the trigger. And all the poor fuck had been doing was speeding.…
He turned away and heaved up the fast-food lunch he’d eaten a couple of hours ago. Leaning weakly against another part of the stone wall, he stared down at the undigested remains of a burger and fries. His mouth tasted like a sewer. His hands trembled as he tried to reholster his revolver. It took him three tries to get it back in.
He thought about what his father would think to see him like this. Warriors were stoic. At a moment such as this a warrior would let nothing of what he felt show in his features.
Fuck the warriors, Thomas thought.
Numbly, he pushed himself up from the wall and made his way back to his car. The first of the backup patrol cars arrived just as he was calling in to dispatch.
* * *
Although detectives from his own 9th Precinct were in charge of the investigation, Lieutenant Jacob Brewer, a Homicide detective from Headquarters Division, was also present at the scene of the crime. He was a big white man, almost as big as Thomas’s father but with none of the fat. His drooping eyes gave him a sleepy look, but the look was a deception.
He divided his time between observing the investigation and talking to Thomas.
“You had no choice,” he told Thomas at one point. “The guy pulled on you.”
Thomas nodded. “I know.”
There’d be an investigation anyway, but Thomas’s own lieutenant had already assured him that there’d be no problem. It would only be a formality.
Tell that to the dead man, Thomas thought.
He and Brewer were leaning against the hood of Thomas’s patrol car. The lot between the buildings was no longer deserted. Detectives, the lieutenant on duty from the 9th Precinct, an assistant DA, the medical examiner, detectives from the Crime Scene Unit, a police photographer and even some off-duty men who had just dropped by to catch the show were crawling all over the rubble. Both ends of the block had been cordoned off. The street was littered with police vehicles and an ambulance. Beyond the cordons, television crews, photojournalists, reporters, and the curious were all jostling for the best view.
It was a circus, and next to the dead man, Thomas was its star attraction. The numb feeling had gone, as had the nausea, but he was left with a kind of cold emptiness inside that all the noise and crowds weren’t helping. They just seemed to accentuate the sense of dissociation that he felt.
“It gets worse,” Brewer said.
“What do you mean?”
“This guy you took down wasn’t just some speeder.”
Thomas glanced at the man’s car. He’d noticed the investigators popping the trunk earlier and a lot of hubbub going on around it, but he hadn’t paid much attention to what was happening. He pushed away from the hood of his patrol car and started over to the Buick. Brewer caught his arm.
“It’s bad,” he said.
Thomas nodded. But he had to see. He had to know that he hadn’t just taken out some guy who’d maybe had an argument with his wife or his boss and gone a little wacko—panicking at the police car behind him, pulling a gun he’d probably never fired off a firing range. He had to know. But when Thomas got to where he could get a view of the trunk’s contents, he realized that he should have left well enough alone. What he saw then he knew he’d carry with him for the rest of his life.
Inside the trunk of the Buick was a tangle of bloodied limbs and bodies. Small bodies. The bodies of children. There were maybe three or four of them, but it was hard to take an exact count from his perspective because of how they lay entangled. The guy had just dumped them in there.…
Thomas turned away.
He got the details later. The man he had killed was Teddy Bird, a pedophile; he was unemployed, lived in a basement apartment near Chinatown. He’d been married, but his wife had left him because he’d been abusing both her and their daughter, since the girl was less than a year old. There were three dead children in the trunk of his car; evidence in his apartment linked him to at least six other missing person reports, all children; the oldest was nine.
Thomas hadn’t killed a man; he’d killed a monster.
Teddy Bird was buried in a pauper’s grave at the expense of the city. There was no graveside ceremony, no one else present at all except for the two men filling the grave. And Thomas.
He stood and watched until the men were finished with their work; then he finally turned away. Lieutenant Brewer was leaning against Thomas’s car, smoking a cigarette, when Thomas left the graveyard and stepped out onto the street. He lifted his eyebrows at Thomas’s approach.
“I had to see them put him in the ground,” he explained.
Brewer nodded. “I know the feeling.”
Neither man spoke for a time. Thomas looked skyward. At night, the stars didn’t seem close anymore. They seemed, instead, to be the eyes of Teddy Bird’s victims, the ones whose bodies hadn’t been found; they seemed to be the eyes of all victims who, for one reason or another, would never know peace.
It was still midafternoon, though. Thomas wouldn’t see those eyes for hours; maybe he wouldn’t see them at all if the present cloud cover continued. But he didn’t need to see them to know that they were there.
Walking a beat didn’t satisfy him any longer. A cop on the street did what he could, but all too often he got there too late to do any good. The detectives at least had the opportunity to track the bastards down.
Thomas had the opportunity of making first-grade detective coming up, but he knew it was a long shot. Racism wasn’t a part of official department policy, but Newford had never had a Native American working plainclothes, and from comments he’d overheard from time to time over the years, Thomas knew there were many who wanted to make sure the department never would. No matter how well Thomas did in his upcoming exam, he needed somebody up there with the brass pulling for him. He needed a rabbi to look out for him if he wanted to get anywhere.
Brewer’s presence here gave him hope.
“I went over your record,” Brewer said, finally getting to the point of why he was here, “and I liked what I saw. I could use a man like you in my squad.”
He took a last drag from his cigarette. A car went by, and both men followed it with their eyes until it turned the far corner.
“Interested?” Brewer asked without turning.
“What do you think?” Thomas asked.
Brewer shook another cigarette free from the crumpled pack he carried in his suit coat and lit it from the butt of the one he’d been smoking. He flicked the butt away, watching it arc and fall to hit the pavement with a flare of sparks. Only then did he look back at Thomas.
“You’ve got a rep for being a loner,” he said.
“I can be a team player.”
Brewer smiled. “I’ll put the word in, then. Might take a little time.” He took a drag on his cigarette, thinking. “There’s an opening for Detective First Grade at the 12th. Put in some street time there and I’ll work on getting you transferred to Homicide in a couple of years. If that’s what you want.”
Like he had to ask, Thomas thought.
“Whatever you can do,” he said. “I appreciate the help.”
Brewer gave Thomas a friendly bump on the shoulder with his closed fist.
“Better ace that detective’s exam,” he added as he walked away.
For the first time since that day he’d shot Bird, the tightness eased in Thomas’s chest. He got into his car and drove home, where he spent the rest of his day off studying.
Copyright ©1992 by Charles de Lint