- Steve Hamilton, Edgar Award-winning author of Blood Is the Sky.
Tony Annicelli (aka Smokey) retired from the NYPD after he took four bullets in his side trying to settle a domestic dispute. He's asked by a famous model to look for a friend who suddenly disappears — a young model, Angela Bowman (Eve), who a year earlier was working as a teenage prostitute. Eve was taken in and cleaned up by a sophisticated designer named Danielle Gioux. Smokey is smitten the first time he meets her. He finds out Danielle attacked Eve the night before Eve disappeared. Then Danielle goes missing, too.
It was drizzling when my partner Wolf and I got the call. Some joker was smacking his girlfriend. A woman upstairs had the decency to dial 911. Nothing unusual about that, except that it was five-thirty in the afternoon. I remember the time because we were sitting in our car listening to the Yankee game. And the Bombers were losing, which was unusual that season. Mattingly was on the disabled list. McDowell was struggling with a sore shoulder.
The call came in. Wolf threw his coffee cup out the window. It hit the can and splashed all over the sidewalk, startling a fat Hispanic woman who started squawking and waving her umbrella.
“Stick a taco in it!” Wolf said.
He smiled his big wolf smile and sped off, squealing rubber, which sent the lady into hysterics. Wolf was tired. I’d been trying like hell to get him to take a couple of days off. Go fishing or something. Just chill out by himself and figure out his next move.
I was telling him about the new Mexican place on Broadway that I’d taken Amy, my wife at the time, to the night before. But he didn’t want to hear about it. See, Wolf was in a real foul mood. And I could hardly blame him. He suspected his wife of barely two years was fooling around. I mean, he had pretty good proof.
And Wolf didn’t know what to do. He was struggling between just saying “To hell with you!” (which was my suggestion) and doing the manly thing, which to his way of thinking meant confronting the guy and his wife. Two months later, Wolf did confront them. Actually, he came home, saw the boyfriend’s SUV parked outside, went into his own house, found his wife sucking the guy’s tool on the living room
rug and blew them both away. I hear it was real ugly, too. Wolf’s been on the lam ever since. Rumor has it he’s either renting sailboats in Aruba, prospecting for gold somewhere in Venezuela or raising Chihuahuas in the DR. Wherever you are, Wolf, vaya con Dios. Like I said, Wolf was in a foul mood. And I wasn’t doing so great, either. The night before at the Mexican restaurant hadn’t gone well. The food was great, but Amy and I were snapping at each other like a couple of pissed-off turtles. First off, she didn’t like it when I took her into Manhattan. She preferred our little neighborhood in Queens. She said when I was in the city I acted like I was showing off.
The night hadn’t been right and the day wasn’t right, either. And now we had this call. So, we headed up Amsterdam, past the botanicas with their voodoo and Santeria statues, turned right at 108th Street, stopped in front of the building and got out. About half a dozen people were waiting for us, babbling away in Spanish. One old woman pointed up at the fifth floor and rasped, “He got a pistola!”
Wolf, action junkie that he is, was already bounding up the stairs. I could feel the adrenaline pushing him higher, so I yelled at his back.
“Careful, Wolf, he might be armed!” That got him even more excited. I caught a glimpse of that wild look in his eye. The eye of the hunter. Wolf was out for blood.
Me, I wasn’t in synch. My timing or my chemistry or my stars weren’t right. I knew that for certain when I slipped on the second- to-last step and hit my chin on my knee. Stars in my head, blood on my lip, I entered. There was a boldly colored statue of Jesus. I kicked over some candles. A big velvet picture of some bare-chested señorita holding a dog. That got my attention.
What’s up with that? I was thinking, when out of the corner of my eye I saw Wolf smacking the guy in the teeth with his nightstick.
“Wolf! Wolfie, for Christsakes, ease up!”
No dice. The guy’s mouth was a mess of red, white and gold. His upper lip was curled into a scream and he was pointing to a shiny gold tooth on the rug. A little brown dog wandered over with its tongue out. He was just about to lick it when, in the mirrored leg of a table, I saw a pair of naked legs kicking open a door. What door, I couldn’t ascertain in the mix of sharp angles, deep colors and light. I was totally disoriented, still wondering how I could get Wolf to stop.
He was having too much fun. A whack or two I could tolerate. Especially for some boyfriend who liked to rough up his chick. In our book, it didn’t matter who was right or who was wrong. It would take two years and a team of experts to get to the bottom of it. And whatever they came up with wouldn’t mean much in court. So, a whack or two was fine. Even I didn’t mind that. But this was already way beyond that and progressing quickly into a long stay in the hospital and charges of police brutality. I figured the broad was no problem.
I had to shut down Wolf. I made a lunge for his stick. Grabbed it with my right hand, twisted it down and to the right. Wolf looked at me with eyes full of bile. Then I caught a flash of something that I knew was fear. It got my attention because it definitely didn’t fit.
Wolf shouted, “Duck!” He propelled himself like Greg Louganis- on-speed behind a huge bamboo credenza. As he did that, the boyfriend crumpled on my feet. I mean crumpled like a sack of potatoes. So I couldn’t move.
I had to look up. I had no other choice. She was the tallest Latin woman I ever saw. Pretty in a severe kind of way, very tense and holding a piece. A little silver automatic. Might have been a .32. Two things registered in that half-second. One was her bottom lip, which stuck out like a bruised plum and shook so hard it was spraying orange-red blood all over the front of her frilly white blouse. It flashed in my mind, she’s anemic.
The other thing I noticed was that she was completely naked from the waist down. No shoes, no stockings, no panties. Nothing. She had a thick tuft of black pubic hair that had been trimmed in the shape of a heart. I’d never seen anything like that. I think I actually had a smile on my lips as I met her eyes.
An old detective friend once told me that if a perp ever caught me in their sights, lock into their eyes like radar. Don’t blink. Don’t let the surprise or terror push you away. But the juxtaposition of elements—the lip, the orange blood, the girl’s long naked legs and the pubic hair cut into the shape of a heart. I wanted to say something smart. Something like “Won’t you be my valentine?” You know, to cut the tension.
The desperation mixed with hatred in her eyes hit me like a hurricane. I wasn’t prepared. I couldn’t stand my ground. It was the power in them, the power like when a person decides This is where I draw the line.
I flinched, see. I looked away.
The official story, printed in the papers, is that I either froze like a coward or made a move for her gun. As in too many news stories, neither was even half-true. And the iota that was true was totally misleading.
All of this happened in half a second, so I had no time to draw my gun. Like that would have made any difference under the circumstances. I mean, her bludgeoned boyfriend was bleeding at my feet. What was she supposed to think?
She knew this wasn’t a party. She didn’t say a thing. She just pulled the trigger. The moment I heard the first brush of metal, I knew I was screwed. It was bang, bang, bang, bang! Then the searing pain ripping into my side. Both my knees buckled to the left and popped. As I went down there was another shot.
I figured I was done for, but I felt nothing. Whatever the medics shot me up with it worked like a charm. Just flashes of colors, faces and hallways. My head seemed big and rubbery. I distinctly remember someone asking me over and over What’s your name?
I didn’t answer. I couldn’t answer. I remember thinking What’s wrong with this guy? Can’t he read my nametag? I remember some fat guy in the ambulance talking about the girl and how she looked so beautiful when they found her, even though her head had crashed into a tank of goldfish and there was a bullethole in her forehead. But everybody swears there was no fat guy in the ambulance. Who the hell knows?
Weird shit happens. And really weird shit happens when people mess up. Wolf and I had messed up big time. We had messed up so bad we couldn’t even tell our story. And what happens when you can’t tell your story is that the suits swoop in and tell it for you. You become a character in some bad TV cop show you wish you could turn off. You’re watching it unfold numbly before your eyes and you don’t even recognize yourself. It looks like you, but it’s not you, really. Because you would never act like that. No human being would. And the horror is that you find out the thing they’ve created is a lot more powerful than you.
I was so full of painkillers I didn’t have a clue. I had a vague understanding I’d been shot, but my mind was filled with cotton candy. Impressions, faces, bits of conversation, parts of melodies would disperse into the haze before I had a chance to wrap my hands around them. I was gone. On holiday from reality. And a good thing it was because had I known I would have croaked right there.
It was two and a half weeks before I could really latch on to anything. The first thing I saw was my wife. Amy had a puss on her three miles long. I tried to sit up. There were shooting pains in my side. I tried to move my head. It felt as big and soggy as a watermelon. I could barely move my arms, my legs. I was weak. Real weak. But at least my appendages were working.
Amy had her furrowed forehead buried into a batch of what looked like sixth grade homework.
I said, “I thought I was the one here who’s in pain.”
She looked up, squinted, shook her head slowly from side to side, biting the side of her mouth like she does when she’s had it and said, “Right, Tony, right.” Then she started to weep.
“How long have I been lying here?” I asked.
“Over three weeks.” She threw the papers down on a little table, wiped her eyes on her sleeve and stuck a Marlboro Lite between her lips. I thought for a minute she was actually going to light it. I was so amazed and disoriented, I didn’t know what to say.
I bit my lip, summoned all my courage and asked, “Am I going to live?”
“If you want to, Tony.” She got up and looked out the door as though she was looking for someone more interesting to pass the time with.
I wanted to feel sorry for myself, but instead I was getting pissed. “What the hell’s going on here, Amy?”
She turned back my way, shut the door gently, ruffled her hair and laughed. It was a hard, dry laugh like shingles falling off a dilapidated house. This time, I noticed the black circles carved under her eyes. She seemed heavier to me. Her face was fuller. Her voice was ripped in places and still not fixed. And she had changed the color of her hair.
Amy had never really cared about her appearance in a this-is- who-I am, schoolteacher kind of way. But her makeup, her dress, the new pocketbook by her feet, the way she wore her hair were all more self-conscious, more planned. Something significant had happened.
I wanted to find out right away. “Are you seeing someone else?”
The moment I spoke the words, it seemed like a totally preposterous thing to ask. But I wanted to find my footing.
“I wish I were,” she answered wearily. She meant it. And in that moment I knew that our marriage was kaput. I didn’t have an inkling why, but I knew it was finished.
I looked at her eyes. Something was dead. Something I had known since we first met in high school. Something I had depended on through summer vacations, dates, night in motels, marriage, struggles to get established, paying bills, raising kids...It was still there taking up space. But while it once sparkled with mischief, lust, envy, fear, hunger, now the lightthe spark, if you willwas out.
Suddenly, I felt tired. Very tired. I said, “Amy, you don’t belong here. I want you to go home.”
I closed my eyes and fell asleep and dreamed of throwing bluefish back into the Sound.
I saw her again two weeks later when she came to visit with her lawyer, a cold creep in a brown suit named Skorman who explained in absurdly circuitous language how Amy needed to get away. How she was taking our two girls and moving to some town I’d never heard of in Florida. How she wasn’t shutting me out. How the whole thing had been an unimaginable strain on her. How she had defended me and taken all the blows while I was sleeping it off in the hospital. How it was more than most marriages could bear.
I just kept nodding at the curly-haired bastard, thinking, What kind of human being can eviscerate a marriage, a sacred pact between two people with such bland, careful language delivered in a flat monotone? Like it meant nothing.
I watched Amy the whole time. She kept looking away. Tending to her cuticles, mostly. I caught her eyes once, fleetingly, over his shoulder. Disappointingly, they were devoid of emotion, too.
Poor Amy, I thought. This has overloaded her circuits. I can’t say I was surprised.
By this time, I knew the whole horror story that had been constructed in my absence. I’d heard it from lawyers and colleagues and from Wolf, too, who snuck in one night at two-thirty in the morning stinking drunk, vowing to “set it all straight” and “stick it to the bastards.” But I could see he was in way over his head.
I saw the headlines in the Post, the ones that screamed “Cop Freezes under Pressure!” “Lover Girl Shoots Cop in Self-defense!” “Veteran Cop Can’t Defend Himself!” “Police Chief Won’t Defend Yellow Cop!” “Disgraced Cop Broke Rules!”
The official version was so convoluted and wrong it took me weeks to fully comprehend. I don’t know what Wolf and the boyfriend actually told them. I mean, they had to tell them something. I mean, they were the only people who were there. Whatever they said, the suits constructed a story that was pathetically self-serving and weak. But everyone concerned—the press, the mayor, the police union, the commissioner, the community—chose to believe it.
It went something like this: the girl, Virginia Alvarez, was suicidal. Her boyfriend was concerned she would kill him and then take her own life. So, he called the police. When Wolf and I arrived on the scene, Virginia had a gun trained on her boyfriend, who she had already pistol-whipped. Wolf suggested we call for backup. But I, against stated department procedure, tried to get her to relinquish the weapon. When she wouldn’t listen to reason, I closed in on her. That’s when she shot me and killed herself.
Every damn piece of it was untrue. I was disappointed. Couldn’t they have come up with something better than that?
Wolf got off clean. Why the boyfriend went along with the story is a story in itself, which stems from the fact he had a record and was facing another charge for assault-and-battery of a bodega owner. I came off looking like either a coward or an idiot, or some combination of both. According to them, I single-handedly managed to get shot and contribute to Virginia taking her own life.
I wasn’t in any condition to fight. I just wanted my health back. I wanted to walk out of that hospital on my own two feet and start my life over.
I got that and more. As a reward for keeping my mouth shut, I was retired from the force with a special disability, a full pension and a large monetary reward. Basically, I would never have to work another day in my life. They wanted me to go away quietly. I couldn’t. I’m not the going-away, retiring type.