Susianne is back! As she says about her latest story, "I was intrigued by Kor's plea of a story from a different perspective in the last issue. Inspired, as usual, by the local news, I sat down to write this story from Logan's perspective. In all my years of L&O watching, I found too many of his personality traits and background snippets that begged for clarification. I searched for a common thread that I hoped would reconcile them." You decide if she's succeeded.
The kids were the ones you always remembered. It didn't matter whether they got killed in a car crash or battered by drug-crazed parents; they always stayed with you. You wanted to follow up on what happened to them, but you never did, because what you'd find would depress you even more. They tell you not to get emotionally involved with this job, but that's bullshit. When you find babies starving and filthy because their mother spends her days on a crack-pipe, or little ones covered with cigarette burns, you know that's impossible. I admit, I'm probably more prejudiced than most cops on the subject. Not all the scars my abusive mother left were visible. Deep down, I know that's why I joined the NYPD. No one should get away with the sort of abuse I had to take in the legal guise of "parental discipline."
I know there's a fine line between a pissed-off parent dealing with a screaming brat and the Marquis de Sade. All it took for my mother was a little frustration and a lot of vodka. Years ago, I had a case where a middle-class coke fiend pounded her little girl, leaving her to bleed half to death on the living room floor. When my partner and I arrested her, she was trying to pour scalding water over her son's hands. If it had been up to me, I would have tossed her out the window and left her there for the garbageman to pick up. Much as you'd like to do things like that, it makes you sicker that you can't. For some people, there is no justice. I went to that woman's trial. When I heard that she had been letting her husband molest that six-year-old child, I had to leave the courtroom. I've seen a lot of abominable shit on the job, but hearing that witch testify about it so calmly actually made me puke. No decomposing corpse has ever done that to me.
It was a slow day at the precinct. I had nowhere to go and no reason for going there, and it was about to drive me nuts. There was always paperwork, so that's what I did. I didn't like hanging around The House anymore, because those who kept the job bearable were gone. My captain and my friend, Don Cragen, had transferred to the Anti-Corruption Task Force, leaving the squad at the mercy of a completely unfit, unqualified woman. When he called me into his office to tell me of the transfer, I felt my heart sink into my gut like a block of ice. I hadn't experienced this kind of alarm and disappointment since my partner left to take an administrative job. In a weird way, I felt abandoned. Just like all those times when my sister Kate and I sat outside on the stoop, waiting for our parents to stop fighting. My job was the only stable environment I'd ever had, and now that was gone, too.
A box arrived, addressed to me in metallic purple marker and bearing a New Orleans postmark. It was from my girlfriend, Simone Broidveaux. She worked Homicide too, and was forever sending me boxes filled with local delights, trying to catch me at a weak moment. Trying to tempt me into moving down there. I found myself thinking more about it than not lately. She sent me pictures of herself sunning on a pink balcony, drinking a flaming purple drink, seemingly without a care in the world. For a girl whose perfume smelled like incense, whose wardrobe came from Soul Train Fashions, and who spoke Vietnamese and Yoruba, a place like New Orleans suited her. I didn't know if the home of cocktails-to-go and crawfish sucking would suit me. She wasn't the prettiest, slimmest, or sexist woman I'd ever been with, but she was very compassionate and understanding. I was crazy about her. It was just so damned hard to admit it.
My partner, Lennie Briscoe, hung up the phone and looked over, interested. "That from Simone?" He was a cynical old bastard, and I found it difficult to adjust to him to where I could trust him beyond doubt. His predecessor was patient and kind-hearted, making me feel like family instead of just another badge. I called him "Big Daddy," just as if I were one of his own kids. He was a father to me more than my old man had ever been. But this one, Briscoe, was a "recovering alcoholic," so you couldn't even stop and have a drink together after the shift. I envied Simone her little Homicide Unit and their good ole boy camaraderie.
I handed over a box of peanut butter pralines, labeled with his name. "At least she's kind to the elderly." I reached into the bubble wrap and fished out bottles of hot sauce, fried pies, idiot-proof microwaveable Creole food mixes, and an endless amount of chicory coffee. The whole squad guzzled it and begged for more. I opened a bag and inhaled deeply. It was damn near close to heaven.
My buddy Profaci, who'd mooch anything remotely edible, was at my side the minute he heard Simone's name and saw the package. He appreciated a flirty, nice Catholic girl in the easy, affectionate manner that Italians have. I would have worried if he didn't have a wife of his own.
"Hey hey, Mikey. What'd we get from Miss Scarlett?" He grabbed the open package of coffee and sniffed it appreciatively. Immediately he saw the stack of fried pies and reached for one. Greedy bastard. I smacked his hand and he looked up at me, a little hurt. "Come on, Mikey. I can't drink this coffee without a little something sweet. Miss Scarlett adores me. She'd want me to have one of them coconut pies."
"Bite me." No way was he getting one of those coconut creme pies: those suckers were priceless. I handed him a peach one to shut him up. There was a videotape at the bottom of the box, simply labeled "Day Off." "What the hell is this?" I wondered out loud.
Lennie shrugged; he had already tucked into the pralines. "Let's go watch it and see. Not much else going on right now."
Although she had been watching us from her office, the lieutenant apparently decided that sitting around with her thumb up her ass wasn't as interesting as one of Simone's care packages. Van Buren came into the squadroom, full of herself as always, carrying the large, African-pattern coffee mug Simone sent her as a sort of "welcome" gift. The two had never met, but because Anita Van Buren had been an undercover narc like herself, Simone tended to take her side whenever I bitched about her. "Payback for you macho Yankee bigots," Simone teased me, "is putting a black woman in charge of your asses." The lieutenant could have given a shit less about me, but she was curious about my girlfriend. There was something about Simone that black women loved. Maybe it was her funky wardrobe. When she was in New York working an extradition case with me, she moved easily throughout Harlem, eliciting more cooperation than even a black detective could. I hated to see her undercover training wasted in Homicide.
"Special delivery, huh? I hope she sent us some more coffee." It freakin' galled me, but I handed her a praline. She leafed through the snapshots, lingering way too long on each one. "I went to New Orleans for the Essence Festival." As if I was too stupid to remember her telling me this before. "You couldn't have found a better place to have a home away from home."
Up yours, sweetheart. Profaci snatched the tape away and inspected it. "What'd she do, tape people flashing at Mardi Gras?"
Van Buren took it upon herself to look, too. It was just a simple videotape, for God's sake. But curiosity got the better of her. "Do you want to look at it, Mike? It's kind of quiet around here today." I shrugged. I hoped to God Simone didn't send me something outlandish, such as 60 minutes of peeling off her Victoria's Secrets. "Come on in my office. We'll turn the VCR on when the coffee's done."
I settled down with a coconut pie and a cup of that delicious, slightly bitter coffee in Van Buren's office. I punched the remote button and prayed that Simone had kept it as tame as possible. When she waved at me from the screen, I nearly didn't recognize her. Her hair was slicked back into one long plait, and her skin was dark gold. I remembered her having soft magnolia skin, so white it seemed fragile. She didn't look like the same girl. Dressed in some leopard print bathing suit and cutoff jeans, she stood on a boat with bright blue water and green marshes in the background.
"Welcome to Pointe à la Hache in the Breton Sound of the Gulf of Mexico," she bubbled. "I'm going fishing on my day off. Put on your shades and come with me."
"She puts on lipstick and paints her nails to fish," remarked Van Buren.
The bitch. "She is a little different than your average female officer." Different as in, some people who get uselessly promoted.
Simone gave video introductions to those onboard, some of whom I recognized by name only as part of her Narcotics days. Most of them had strange, exotic names. A guy named Prieur, who kept a beer in his hand at all times, seemed to be the class clown. Evidently he graduated behind Simone at the Academy, making several funny but crude jokes about it. He said, "Welcome, New York, to the annual Homicide vs. Vice fishing contest." Simone's Texan buddy, whose voice was as tough as his face, snapped, "That's called a ro-de-o, jackoff."
Most of the tape was a bunch of semi-drunk detectives singing along with the radio and reeling in some beautiful fish. Here was a group that grabbed life, determined to enjoy it. The Gulf was warm and inviting -- I wished I could be there to watch the dolphins swim beside the boat or reel in one of those enormous redfish. As they cleaned their catch, they tossed the dripping entrails to hovering brown pelicans and seagulls.
"It's like Wild Kingdom down there," said Profaci, in awe. "The closest I get to wildlife is working here every day."
"Damn, look at the size of those fish." At least Briscoe was impressed.
For everything that New York City had, it could never match such simple, natural beauty. Although it looked hotter than hell, part of me wanted to be there. I felt a stab of jealousy. Simone clearly had a close relationship with these people that most families didn't have. "I wouldn't know how to clean a fish if you paid me."
The lieutenant gave me that smug smile of hers. "It's a cultural thing, Logan."
A large outdoor area, probably a park, came into focus. It was shaded by a cluster of tall oak trees, all dripping with Spanish moss. Somehow, it didn't look real. There were tables full of food, kids running around, and gallon jugs of what appeared to be those blazing red and purple cocktails Simone was always drinking. Nobody could mistake this group, because they were all wearing blue NOPD t-shirts. They were still singing, still drinking, and now eating. We drooled as the camera panned over the buffet line. Van Buren had me pause the tape so she could make notes of which recipes she wanted from Simone. After a steady diet of pizzas, bagels, and Chinese, strawberry cobbler and boiled shrimp sounded good to me.
Simone went around with the video camera, getting everyone to wave at me as she introduced them. I was surprised by the ethnic diversity; I thought they all would have been Cajuns or good ol' boys. Even more surprising was the amount of women. After all, Homicide and Vice weren't the most enjoyable areas of police work. When she was away from the main group, she pointed toward a tanned redhead who held a little towhead boy on her lap as she peeled shrimp. "See that?" Simone stage-whispered. "That's Legendre. She's the department slut."
"No wonder," remarked Van Buren; "that hair came out of a Clairol bottle somewhere."
"She looks better than our department slut," said Profaci.
Briscoe was confused. "Who's that?"
Van Buren choked a little on her coffee. "Logan."
"Hey!" The sons of bitches, they were all having a good goddamn laugh. I knew who the "slut" on tape was. Simone had grumbled about her enough. Evidently this Legendre had an affair with Simone's Vice partner, who was killed by a drug dealer. I'm sure it was vicious jealousy on her part, because why else would she care if this chick boffed her partner and then had a kid?
Later on the tape, there was Simone kneeling beside that little boy, who was maybe three or four years old. He was a pretty child, with the face of some Renaissance cherub. He wore black sunglasses like Simone's and was crawling all over her. It was kind of unsettling, the way she and this kid were so attached to each other: "This is my boy Bubba." She was hardly the motherly type.
"If the mother is a slut, what does she want with her kid?" I suppose questions like that got Van Buren her promotion. I had to explain about Simone's partner, but she didn't buy it. Maybe she lost her loyalty somewhere between sergeant and lieutenant.
My partner couldn't resist either. "Maybe Simone ought to trade in her badge for an Easy Bake Oven."
You couldn't get much more subtle than that. "Go to hell."
The remainder of the video showed Simone and her former Vice partners getting "go-cups" on Bourbon Street and making running commentary as they passed these unbelievably trashy strip joints, oyster bars, jazz clubs, and lewd sex shops. She pointed at some wicked-looking steel gizmo in a window: "Hey baby, send me a gift certificate. I want a Clit Clip for Christmas!" The girl was not shy.
The narrow street was so packed it made me claustrophobic. Nobody could mistake these guys for cops, because they all looked like hard-ass drug-dealing scum. To me, anyway. It pissed me off the way Simone hung all over them. I knew she flirted with everything -- men, women, children, dogs, cats, and trees -- but it still pissed me off.
Van Buren must have noticed, because she said, "Undercover narcs aren't like normal people," in what was probably a placating tone for her.
God, that woman really rubbed me the wrong way. "Oh yeah? Then why'd you hang up your fishnets?"
"I was tired of getting used as target practice." Her telephone rang, and I stopped the tape. She listened, making notes the whole time. Finally she hung up, her face serious. She handed me the piece of paper she'd been scribbling on. "Get on over to North General. We've got an aggravated rape that could be an attempted murder." Lennie and I jumped up to go. "Oh, Mike ..." I turned around and she had that little smirk on her face. "I'd be glad to guard your stash in my office for a small percentage." I sighed, and she laughed. By the time everyone picked through Simone's care packages, most of it had been mooched. "One bottle of hot sauce and a coconut pie."
When I showed my badge to the ER nurse, she asked, "Are you here for the rape, the shooting, or the stabbing?" If you stopped to think about it, it would make you crazy. She told me that the victim was in surgery and her family was in the waiting room being counseled by a social worker.
"In surgery? The guy stab her, or what?"
This nurse, who must have seen every possible mutilation under the sun, bit down on her lip as she flipped through the chart for me. She tried to speak normally, but her voice wavered. "Your victim is nine year old Provencia Perez. She's not in good shape, guys. She's in surgery for a torn perineum."
I felt all the color drain from my face. Crimes like this just beg for police brutality. Lennie said, "Shit. Jesus Christ. Who brought her in, the paramedics?"
"No. Her stepfather ... Isidoro Domingo."
Little girl, stepfather, rape. Alarm bells went off. "I'm going to get CSU over here to pick up her clothes, okay? Listen, how did the stepfather act when he brought her in? Was the mother with her?"
"Made a lot of noise. Seemed pretty emotional, yelling about how two homeboys grabbed her." This nurse was no idiot. She'd been around, and tossed me a bone: "Why he didn't call 911 is beyond me. They live over on East 114th."
She wasn't cynical for nothing, and neither was I. I thanked her and walked off to find the girl's family. I was tensed up and ready to kick some major ass from here to Plattsburg. Something definitely wasn't kosher here. I must have looked as pissed off as I was, because Lennie caught up to me and said, "Don't go jumping to conclusions. We don't know anything."
"We don't? That nurse saw something screwy and was telling us not to miss it."
The victim's family was making a racket in the waiting room. The mother, who was short and dumpy with fake red nails an inch long, was holding onto the social worker. She was wailing in Spanish, with mascara running down her cheeks. A little boy sat on the floor at her feet, holding onto her leg. He was terrified. The stepfather was pacing the floor, cursing. Isidoro Domingo was heavyset and muscular, with tattoos on his upper arms, a gold hoop in his ear, and a heavy gold crucifix around his neck. He was Puerto Rican, but knew enough English to swear.
"Those fucking niggers are going to pay for what they done to Provencia!" Apparently he hadn't noticed the racial persuasion of the counselor.
We identified ourselves, and Domingo was eager to tell his story. "Provencia and Juan were on the stoop, sorting out candy boxes. She was selling them for her school. I was in the apartment, watching TV. The children came in and told me that two black teenagers grabbed Provencia and took her in the alley." He covered his face and sobbed. "I wrapped her in a blanket and brought her here."
Damn. This case was ripe for a media frenzy -- rape and racism. I hated it even more. Lennie asked Mrs. Domingo where she was at the time, which made her scream louder, bawling that she had been at the grocery. The boy, Juan, glanced over at the stepfather and then back at me. He was the best witness I had, and he was scared. I knelt down on the floor beside him and spoke as gently as I could.
"Juan, did you see the men who grabbed your sister?" A quick nod. "Did she scream?" He thought a minute, and shook his head no. "How come? Do you think she knew them?" A shrug. "Did you follow them when they took her away?" No again. "Did they drive up in a car, or were they just walking?"
He popped a finger in his mouth and began chewing. "In a car. Old and blue."
I asked if he could recognize the men again, and he said no and began to cry. It wasn't much, but it was a start. Provencia would be in surgery for several hours and we wouldn't be able to talk to her until the next day. We thanked the parents and left to start the investigation. Juan's frightened little face haunted me. I just knew there was something more he had to tell me.
I dispatched CSU to work the alley and the building entrance. Uniforms canvassed for witnesses. After several hours, we had nothing. No witnesses, no overheard screams, no reports of black teenagers in a beat-up blue vehicle, nothing. Nothing except a lot of angry Hispanics ready to beat the crap out of every black male they came across. I sat out on the steps, drinking a Coke, and talking to a couple of uniforms, when something struck me.
"You guys find any candy boxes?"
"The little girl was selling candy for her school," Lennie explained. "She and her brother were sorting through it out here."
The uniform shrugged. "In this neighborhood? Probably got stolen."
I crumpled the can in my fist. "Or it was never there."
Briscoe looked sick and weary. "Ah, God. Let's go check the apartment again."
The super let us back into the apartment, and we looked around for more than bloodstains this time. By the time we finished, my hands were shaking. I was so outraged, I could barely speak. "There's no candy," I told Lennie. "God damn motherfucker."
"Now I remember why this shitty job drove me into a bottle. Hey," he called to the uniforms, "get CSU up here."
It was late when we finished canvassing and returned to the precinct. It would be days before the forensics reports returned, but I couldn't drop it and go home. I wanted to run the stepfather and find out if Provencia's school had a candy fund-raiser in progress. The local news had the story and was running it at full tilt. Reverend Sharpton and several wannabees were screaming racism at the Hispanic community and claiming harassment by the NYPD. I couldn't figure that out, because we hadn't arrested anyone yet. The Hispanics were yelling that the NYPD didn't care about a Puerto Rican child and were pandering to the black community. All the world was a damn stage, I guess.
Van Buren had already run Domingo. "Twenty arrests, six of them felonies, three convictions." She kicked off her high heels a long time ago and was sitting on the edge of Briscoe's desk. "There's one for assault that never went to trial. The rest of them are all for larceny or writing bad checks. Just the kind of guy you want to marry with two little kids at home." She rubbed her eyes, smearing what makeup was left. "The girl got out of surgery about six o'clock. She was there for about seven hours. God. I don't even know why we want to fool with this fucked-up city any more. Every special interest and the press is burning the commish's ass, and now they're burning mine. What have we got?"
"We won't know anything until Forensics checks in," Lennie said. I waved him off, certain that there would be no evidence to back up Domingo's story. "The family says two black teenagers did it, but we've got no witnesses, no screaming, no blood."
"And no school candy," I finished. "Listen, that little girl was tore up pretty bad. Don't you think she would have left some visible blood in the alley, on the steps, or downstairs? I want to get Domingo in here and work on him."
"Come on, man. There's nothing in his file about child abuse."
"There doesn't have to be. I looked at that little boy and knew it." I heard my voice rising. "You think I can't tell a kid's scared to death of an abusive parent?"
Van Buren cut in on this, her voice calm. "How can you tell?"
"Because I've been through it." I got up. "I'm going to the hospital and see if she's awake. You coming or not, Lennie?"
We argued Domingo's possible guilt all the way to the hospital. I knew I wasn't being objective, and didn't care. I couldn't shake the fear I saw in Juan's eyes, because I grew up with it in my own.
A nurse said we could talk to Provencia, but not for long. Her family had deserted her, which I found odd. I had no kids of my own, but I knew there was no way in hell I could leave my daughter's side if something like this happened. A tiny little girl lay in bed, an IV feeding her glucose and a unit of blood. Her olive skin was almost chalky. She bit her lip nervously when she saw us.
I wished Simone were here. My Spanish sucked. "Hola, Provencia. Habla ingles?"
She nodded timidly. Briscoe put on his soothing grandfatherly voice and smiled at her. She relaxed a little, but looked up at me with big, sad eyes. "We want to catch the men who hurt you. Can you tell us anything about them?" She could barely speak above a whisper, but repeated the same story Juan told, two black teens in a blue car. He asked gently for more details, but they didn't sound genuine. I know she was hurting and doped up, but I didn't believe her. I think Provencia knew that, too.
I spent the rest of the night at my desk, eating pralines and coconut pies, making notes of what I needed from Forensics, and questions I needed answered. Lennie pored over what mediocre statements we got during the canvass. We found a time discrepancy between Domingo's statement and the hospital admission. He said the rape happened at 9 am, but the hospital had the admission time as 9:10. It took more than ten minutes to drive from 114th to 123rd. Circumstantial, considering the stepfather's upset, but it was another strike against Domingo.
The circumstances began adding up the next morning. Provencia's school told me there was no candy fund-raiser underway. CSU found no blood on the either blanket used to transport the child to the hospital or on the underwear she was supposedly wearing. We asked for Domingo's phone records and ran a check on the mother with Child Welfare. I wanted Domingo in interrogation right away. Van Buren disagreed. She wanted to wait on the forensics report, because we were stuck with the victim's testimony. I took a nap in an interrogation room before driving back to the Domingoes' for another interview.
Both parents were defensive, especially the mother. "I was at the grocery! Isidoro watches my children carefully!" She got up in my face. "I trust him."
"Good for you, Mrs. Domingo. I'm glad you have such a wonderful marriage," I said dryly. I wanted to smack her.
Briscoe was more tactful than I. "Nobody's blaming you for going to the store, Mrs. Domingo." He turned his attention on the spouse. "Why was Provencia sorting out candy on her way to school? Shouldn't she have been at the bus stop?"
"She was taking her candy to sell on the way," he sneered. Jesus. Lying wasn't one of his vocational skills. "I was upset when I found her. I mean, what would you do, if you saw her bleeding and crying? I could be wrong about the time."
I'm sure you are, asshole. "Could we talk to Juan for a minute? He might be able to remember something else."
"No," said Domingo, and the wife just stood there. "He's scared enough. We don't want you scaring him more, or getting him to change what he saw. You're afraid to go look for those niggers, aren't you? Afraid they'll riot like in Los Angeles."
He was much bigger than me, but I was pissed enough to take him on. I gave him my coldest stare. "I don't care who hurt your daughter, Mr. Domingo. I'm going to lock them up no matter who they are."
We interviewed the closest neighbors again, and talked to the hospital staff. The admitting doctor said it looked as if someone had bathed the girl prior to admission. There were no torn clothes, no semen stains, nothing. We thought that sufficient for a search warrant of Domingo's car and one for the building's basement. Our riding DA, Claire Kincaid, listened to us in the lieutenant's office as she chewed on a praline. This lovely young woman was still a little awkward being a tough ADA. She could be fierce, but she was still a little hesitant sometimes, afraid of her own authority.
"We can't do that. It will look like harassment. Both the victim and her brother say two men assaulted her."
"Because they're scared of the stepfather, dammit."
"You don't know that. The mother has never complained to Child Welfare. I see no sex offenses on Domingo's sheet."
I didn't want to beg her, but I was going to. "Claire, there's something wrong in that house. I know there is. You have to get Domingo away from those kids."
She twisted her watch around her wrist. "If you don't get one of those kids to change their story, any law student will get it dismissed. As long as the victim insists it was two black men, we can't touch the stepfather. Not without forensic corroboration."
"You realize he's going to scare that girl into not changing her story, don't you?" asked Lennie.
Claire thought. "Let's put a guard on her door. We'll say it's to keep the press out. Maybe it'll rein Domingo in."
I bugged the hell out of Forensics the rest of the day, but still no results. Lennie and I called everyone we possibly could, so I went home about 5 pm. I was too wound up to eat, so I took a shower, opened a beer, and fell into bed. One way or another, I had to get one of those kids to tell me the truth. I lay there for a long time, trying to come up with the right words to say. All I kept thinking of was that child undergoing seven hours of surgery and all those tubes sticking out of her little arms.
I wished Simone were here, if for no other reason than to take comfort from feeling her soft body snuggled up to mine. Emotionally, she was so much stronger than me. She had seen her partner die, shot four drug dealers, and gave up a decorated career in Narcotics for Homicide. Yet she still had compassion for victims and a dedication to her job, which paid next to nothing in New Orleans. There was no way I could have left the two-seven for a division full of strangers after my partner Max died. I could be wrong, though. I always thought my sister Kate, who I called Cooey, endured our childhood hell much better. She ended up becoming an alcoholic, like my mother. Unlike my mother, however, Cooey recovered.
I picked up the phone and dialed. Simone had this incredible phone voice that would have made her a million bucks on a 1-900 number. I didn't say much, and let her gush. It felt good to hear her quirky accent.
"I been working a red ball, me." I heard her lighter click. "Some tourist got blown away on Chartres, by da Cabildo. You know, if you're not gonna hand your money to a mugger with a gun, at least have the sense to run, for Chrissakes. Stupid folks deserve to get shot."
I had to laugh. "Did you get him?"
"Damn sure did. Can't have tourists getting whacked like everybody else. I got him up by Central City, in this bar by South Liberty. Me and that slut Legendre took him. Normal white people don't go up in that neighborhood, you know? So I pulled out one of my old hooker outfits and got her to dress up like one, too. Hah. Like that's a stretch for a whore like her. We took him down at the bar, before he had a chance to order. He never knew what hit him. It was faboo." I told her what I was working on, and she gasped. "Oh baby, I'm so sorry. You've got to talk to that little girl and get the 411. Ya'll got any special laws for something like that? 'Cuz here, if you commit certain acts against folks under 12 and over 65, you can get the death penalty."
"We're too civilized for the death penalty, remember? Stupid liberal fuckheads up in Albany. This case is driving me crazy, Simone. It's been a while since a case lit me up so bad. I feel helpless. I know that bastard is guilty, and the DA is tying my hands."
"Aw, sugar. You don't want to have some PD throw it outta court, do you? Try to relax, honey. Forensics will tell all. You sound like you need some sleep, dawlin'. Either that or one of my big 38C hugs." And then she whispered seductively, "If I was there, I could sing you to sleep and give you one of my illegal-for-cash massages."
"I wish." I really did. We talked for a long time, until I relaxed and felt myself beginning to drift off. She told me she'd asked for Christmas off, if I could fly down there and be with her. Holidays were the last things I had on my mind, but I promised her I would call the airlines and ask for the time off well in advance.
"You go to sleep now, baby. I'll light a candle to St. Expèdite for you over by the church. It'll be okay." She paused. "I love you, Mike."
Part of me wished she wouldn't say it, because I couldn't. "Yeah ... me too, babe." And I hung up.
I laid for a long time in the dark, worrying about what was happening in the Domingo household. Did the mother know? Did she at least suspect? I thought of Provencia, alone and afraid in the hospital. I had to get her to tell me what happened. Somebody had to reach out to her. I made a mental note to call Liz Olivet, our consulting psychiatrist. She had a soothing voice that maybe Provencia could trust.
Maybe I was so gut-angry was because I understood why Provencia kept her mouth shut. My mother had whacked me with belts, shoes, hairbrushes, hand mirrors, brooms, and even burned me with her cigarettes. I hated her, but if the cops had come around, I would have kept my mouth shut out of fear. My old man was a cop, and I should have known better. But I was still a kid, with a kid's mentality. Every now and then I caught a case where the line between my own life and that of the victim's blurred together. Maybe that's what pissed me off most of all. I couldn't let go of the anger of my childhood. Saving all the abused kids I found was the only way to do it.
When the forensic reports came in, they were a mixed bag. There was no blood where there should have been, and not much else. While it exonerated the fictitious homeboys, it did nothing to incriminate Domingo. The press was still having a field day. Mrs. Domingo suddenly turned into Mother Teresa, staying at Provencia's side like a pit bull. She refused to let Dr. Olivet or anyone else talk to her daughter. Lennie and I didn't give a damn. We went down there anyway.
"Why don't you leave Provencia alone?" she screamed at us. "She's been through enough! All of you ... go away!"
Provencia looked up at us. She was crying weakly. I needed to talk to her, but didn't want to cause a scene that Mama Domingo could take to the evening news. Lennie and I gave up and collared a doctor instead. He gave us an in-depth report on her condition, and even offered to have a nurse call us when Mrs. Domingo went home.
"Whoever did this to her had to be a mighty big man," he said casually. Like he didn't notice that the stepfather probably weighed about 275. "Her progress has been very slow. Eventually, she may need more surgery. Off the record ... when you guys catch him, I'd like to volunteer my scalpel."
"Get in line, doc," Lennie told him.
I went to the hospital alone about 11 pm, after both a nurse and the uniform at the door beeped me. When I opened the door and looked in, Provencia was awake. Poor little thing, she was so alone and afraid. Even if she never told me the truth, I didn't want her to be scared. So I stopped at FAO Schwarz and bought her a teddy bear. Someone had sent her a huge bunch of balloons and tied them to the bedrail beside her. She could pull on the ribbon and bring one down for a closer look. Her little face was so pale, but she smiled at me. When I handed the bear to her, she hugged it tight, but remained silent.
I asked if she was feeling better, and she shook her head. I told her not to worry, that she'd be going home soon, and she hid her face in the stuffed animal. "Don't you want to go home?" No answer. "Provencia, I know you're scared. I know what it's like to be scared, too. If I sent who hurt you away, you wouldn't be scared anymore, would you?"
She debated this awhile. "No."
"Can you tell me who hurt you?"
The tears began. "Two ... black ... boys."
Shit. I stayed with her until she cried herself to sleep. Out of curiosity, I opened the card attached to the balloons. There were no flowers, no cards, because of her anonymity. I didn't understand the note, because it was in Spanish. But it was signed "Simone."
We had nothing solid to link anyone to this crime. It drove me crazy. Lennie and I tracked down Domingo's ex-girlfriends, ex-wives, and their kids, looking for any molecule of molestation. Nada. I couldn't sleep and kept Simone on the telephone half the night constantly, even while she was at work. Once she actually got some detectives from Child Abuse and Sex Crimes on the line, too. She was the most incredible woman I'd ever met.
I walked into the precinct one morning after actually sleeping through an entire night. Anna, our PAA, was making coffee. We had gone through our latest chicory stash in record time. She offered to take up a collection to have Simone send us a truckload. Van Buren opened her door and waved me over. I followed her into her office. She looked at the floor for a second and then up at me. "The hospital called. Provencia Perez died last night. Acute peritonitis."
For a second, I couldn't breathe. I couldn't even take in what she was telling me. I was enraged. "Fuck!" It was so unfuckingfair, and Domingo was safe forever. I wanted to grab him by the throat and squeeze the miserable life out of him. Blindly, I slammed my fist against her office door, just to have something to hit. The glass shattered, falling everywhere. "I'm sick of this politically correct bullshit, Anita. I'm going to bring that greasy cocksucker in here right now."
She grabbed my arms. "Go home, Logan. Don't even think about going up there. Go home now. Don't make me put you in the cage."
I shook the blood off my stinging hand. "I can at least talk to her doctor." I turned around and the whole damn squadroom was staring at me. I took a deep breath, trying to slow my heart. Briscoe handed me some paper towel, because I was bleeding like a son-of-a-bitch. "Sorry about the door, lieutenant."
"Yes," she said calmly as Briscoe and I walked out. "I shouldn't be slamming doors with PMS."
"There's nothing we could have done any different," Lennie kept telling me as we sat in traffic. "We'll just haul in the whole damn family and see which one breaks first. Without you breaking their faces, of course." He meant it as a joke, but I wasn't in the mood.
We talked to the doctor and the attending nurses. They tried to be professional, but they were shaken up, too. The nurse who beeped me that one night noticed me bleeding everywhere, and bandaged me up. "I know you're upset, but you done way more than most folks would." She was a black woman who could have been either 40 or 60, with an accent that sounded vaguely Southern. "I got something for you." She came back with the goddamn teddy bear. "This made that little child so happy. Them spics weren't even decent enough to take it with her. You done more than your job, detective. Don't feel bad."
I felt like shit.
I went home and opened the whiskey bottle. I hated it that women could simply cry and feel better. I had only cried once as an adult, the night my partner died. I was somewhere between hurt and anger when I called Simone.
"I'm off today," she sang. "I'm flying to Vice to do some undercover work. They're shorthanded. I'm so excited! You at home, honey? What --"
There was a loud squeal of "I wanna talk onna phone!" right in my ear. I nearly dropped the receiver.
"What the hell is that?" I wasn't too polite about it, either. It sounded like a kid.
"It's Donnie Lee. You know, Bubba. My partner's boy."
I could hardly hear her over his babbling. "Oh yeah. The slut's kid. What the hell is he doing there?"
Jesus, this was getting worse. "What do you mean, 'babysitting'?"
"Babysitting, doofus. Wait." I heard her wrestling for phone control with the kid who kept babbling at me with, "Who's dis? Momma? It's meeeee, Bubba."
I was about ready to hang up. "I have to talk to you, Simone."
"Okay. Hang on." When she came back on the line, I managed to tell her that Provencia died. "Oh, baby. I'm so sorry, honey. You done all you could, sugar. Maybe the DA will let you scoop that man now."
"Maybe. Shit, she shouldn't have died. She was so little. That woman should have known something was up. If you even suspected, wouldn't you Bobbittize him?"
"You know I would. I'm so sorry, baby. You know I'd fly up there right now if I didn't have this u.c. detail. I wish I could stop you from hurting so much, honey."
"I know, I know. Christ, I hate catching a child abuse case. This dumbass lieutenant is clueless. Donnie knew how I was ... he tried to keep as many of these cases away from me as he could. I can't handle them at all, Simone."
"I know it's hard, baby, but you have to try not to take it so much to heart. You know you'll get eat up if you take it so personal."
"I can't get over what people do to their kids. That nurse at the hospital, she sees this shit all the time and just says 'don't feel bad.' That's bullshit. Don't they understand? Is it just me, or what?"
"No, honey, it ain't just you. I understand. You got such a big heart under that badge. Maybe nobody else can understand why." She was crying. "I love you so much, Mike. I don't want you to be so hurt."
I knew I should probably hang up and drive to La Guardia. But I didn't. "I'm glad you're here," I said at last. "I'd never make it without you."
Claire's boss, Ben Stone, sat in Van Buren's office, listening to us. A carpet cleaning business rang to tell us they'd received a call from Domingo. With the time discrepancy and other bits and pieces, we hoped to convince him that we had a case. Stone had a conscience and a sense of moral outrage that was pretty damn hard to find in most lawyers. He was someone you could trust to do the right thing.
"I'll get a search warrant for the carpet. For now, arrest the bastard. And get the wife while you're at it. Obstruction and Child Endangerment."
We got some backup and went to the apartment. Mrs. Domingo's face turned to stone when she saw us. "What do you want now?"
"You, sweetheart." Lennie grabbed her arms to handcuff her. "Where's --" he began, but she started screaming for her husband.
Domingo burst into the room, roaring like some bull alligator. He was yelling in Spanish, and coming in my direction. I trained my .38 right between his eyes. "Make my day, motherfucker." He stopped immediately and put up his hands. God, how I wanted him to make a sudden move so I could blow his head off! I don't know how long I stood there, gun drawn. Finally I noticed that two of the uniforms were covering him, so I went to cuff him. I made it as brutal as possible, too. His wrists would be numb and bleeding by the time we reached the precinct.
The pair of them swore in Spanish all the way down the stairs. They wanted their lawyers. They wanted this, they wanted that. Domingo told me, "If that little bitch said anything about me, she lied!" I couldn't restrain myself any longer. I gave Domingo a push, sending his bulky body off-balance. He tumbled down a few stairs. I reached him when I damn well felt like it. He was lying on his stomach, yelling, with a bloody nose. I grabbed the steel of the handcuffs and pulled him upright by the wrists. If it dislocated his shoulders, I didn't give a rat's ass. I snatched a handful of his greasy hair and slammed him face-first into the wall.
"And resisting arrest."
Back at the precinct, we put them in separate interrogation rooms. I couldn't wait to get a hold of Domingo. I was going to crucify him. Claire smiled at me before I went in. "Try to restrain yourself. I don't want to call Simone to bail you out."
I laughed and walked into the room. Domingo, who was still cuffed, spit in my general direction. "You pig!" I gave him a good whack across the back of his head. "I ain't tellin' you nothin'!"
"Fine." I towered over him and lowered my voice menacingly. "Then maybe you can tell a jury what you did to Provencia. How you ripped her insides apart because you're so disgusting, your wife wouldn't even screw you. Tell them how stupid you are, that you couldn't even keep the time that you raped her and the time you took her to the ER straight."
"Look ... when I saw her bleeding, I gave her a bath to wash off the blood. There's nothing wrong with that."
"Yeah there is. It's called obstruction, genius." I walked around and stood directly across from him. I put my hands on the table and leaned forward, looking right into his miserable eyes. "Why don't you tell me about the candy boxes that never existed?"
He started to reply, then sat up straight. "I want a lawyer."
"Good," I said. "You're gonna need one." I really needed a drink when I left the room. "No offense, Ms. Kincaid, but the 'L' word should be removed from the English language."
At least she still had her sense of humor. "In a case like this, I agree with you. The wife lawyered up before he did. Let's hope there's something incriminating on the carpet."
"Let's hope some slick PD doesn't get half our evidence thrown out," said Van Buren. For once, I had to agree with her.
A judge remanded Domingo until trial, and his wife couldn't post bail. Juan's father, a Luis Melito, appealed for custody. By the time the Domingoes got to trial, Forensics found a good quantity of Provencia's blood in the carpet. Because the carpet was dark brown, it was relatively easy to wash over the stain and hide it. That is, until CSU started making regular visits. Stone got a court order to let Dr. Olivet examine Juan. The boy finally broke down and confessed that he saw Domingo rape his sister. He told Liz that he hid under the kitchen sink, afraid he would be next.
Mrs. Domingo's lawyer, that god-awful obnoxious Shambala Green, made a lot of noise about her client's ignorance of the whole attack. "Should she be punished for standing by her husband?" she asked Stone. Claire told me he didn't even bother to look at her when he replied, "If that includes keeping quiet about the rape that led to her own child's death, a jury will think so." Shambala could have backflipped into a pool of jello off the World Trade Center -- there was no way she or Domingo's lawyer was getting a deal. You had to respect a man who stood up for his principles and refused the easy way out.
I attended as much of Domingo's trial as I could. Domingo was too chickenshit to make eye contact as I testified against him. His lawyer didn't have many questions for me. I'm sure he could tell I would bite his head clean off if he tried any of that wiseass legal crap with me. Stone's closing argument was, as usual, a poetic call to justice. The man was damned elegant about it, too. "Should Isidoro Domingo be given his freedom, simply because his tiny victim took the fear of him to her grave?" If Stone tossed a rope into that jury box, they all would have jumped up to lynch him.
Domingo got twenty-five years in Attica. After his first prison shower, he was going to have all the payback he could stand.
My sister's birthday fell around the end of trial, but I missed it because of a homicide. On my next day off, I drove to Englewood to see her. Simone sent me so many pralines and Zapp's crawfish potato chips during the trial, that I could never eat them all. The coconut pies were a different story. I brought Cooey the residuals. After all, she had two kids.
Every bit of her house was crammed with some sort of Celtic decoration. She was a rabid Irish nationalist who gave her kids Celtic names, kept Enya records on the stereo, and sent contributions to groups like Friends of Sinn Fein.
She had a fit when I handed her all the Creole junk food. "You trying to make me fat, or what? The closer you get to 40, the harder it is to lose." She ate half a praline in one bite. "I tell you what, my old man won't find one crumb left when he comes home." Her husband was a software engineer, whatever that was. He worked for IBM. "I saw all about your trial. Why you still want to do that disgusting job is beyond me." She stood at the stove, stirring her famous chili. I ignored her and got a Coke out of the fridge. "You're just as bad as daddy."
"Beating up scum for a living beats teaching third grade, Mrs. Fallon." She flipped me off. "Where's the kids?"
"Brendan's playing baseball. Donal's at her special summer daycamp. It's just you and me. We can run with scissors and everything."
Fetal alcohol syndrome was the official cause of Donal's retardation, but we never talked about it. She was so simple and openly adorable, but she required a lot of patience. Cooey was eaten up with guilt over the girl's birth defect, but at least it sobered her up. Donal loved stuffed animals, so I brought her Provencia's teddy bear. I didn't know what else to do with it.
"You are so sweet," said my sister, and kissed me. "And here I been calling you an asshole all these years."
"That's because you're such a bitch." I handed her Simone's videotape. "You wanted to see the Creole Queen."
"Ooh, yeah. I can't wait to see this chick. I hope she's disease-free. Dare I hope she even bathes?" I left her laughing at her own wit and turned on the VCR. She chowed on potato chips and watched quietly. She bugged me about Simone for months. Since Cooey wasn't a cop and relatively normal, I was curious as to how she'd take a nice Catholic Southern girl who practiced voodoo. "How come all girls with big tits have big mouths?"
"Yeah? What's your excuse?" I dodged a flying sofa pillow.
"Your little girlfriend sure does drink a lot, Mick."
I got defensive. "Does AA make you paranoid? Everybody drinks down there. That's why they have drive-through daiquiri shops."
"I think she's very lively and funny. A lot of liquid consumption just bothers me, that's all."
"That's your problem and the old lady's problem. Don't make it my problem. People do drink, Cooey. Especially in this job. Just because you can't handle it, doesn't mean everybody else is waiting to climb the Twelve Steps. I think you can't separate your drinking problem from anybody else enjoying one without a problem." She looked ready to cry. Me and my big damn mouth. "I'm sorry, sis. I didn't mean it. You know I never learned to think."
"Yeah, I know it." She tried to smile. "It's just that sometimes you pick up on things other people do, and you remember your own experience. I mean, I didn't exactly think of mom every time I picked up a vodka bottle, but I should have known. I'm sorry. I guess I get a little too preachy."
"Don't worry about it. You know I'm not one to listen."
We talked about Domingo's trial for a long time, because it interested her. She could also tell I was still upset by it. Finally she said, "You have to let go of your anger sometime, Mick."
"You sound like Obi-Wan Kenobi."
"I'm serious. I learned to let go of mine a long time ago. Make fun of me if you want, but AA helped me reconcile a lot of things." She unwrapped a praline. "I took some flowers up to mom's grave on Mother's Day."
I nearly gagged. "What the hell for? The only thing I want to do to that grave is spit on it."
She reached over and took my hand. "Oh, Mick ... I don't condone what she did. I was tired of it eating me up inside. I'm just saying I understand her more, having been through it myself."
"Bullshit ... you never heated a metal hairbrush and whacked your kids, did you?"
"What I'm saying is, you can't let every child abuser tear you up, just because of her. If you can't let her go, then she still has power over you."
"How very zen."
She opened her mouth to continue, but got up and went into the kitchen.
The two of us ate alone, our mood much more restrained. I was still pissed off that she actually thought I should forgive our mother. After dealing with the likes of Domingo, I still felt child abuse was unforgivable. I left her house earlier than I probably should have, using traffic as an excuse. She was right about one thing: the Perez case was still eating at me. Maybe it was that damn teddy bear.
Or maybe it was because she was still so alone.
I went to Provencia's funeral, so I had a good idea of where she was buried. I hunted around the general vicinity, and finally found her simple grave marker. On the way home from Cooey's, I stopped and bought a very small stuffed bear. I set it atop the metal plate. I knelt in the grass for a long time, my mind slowly emptying. At last I crossed myself and got up.
I felt better knowing that she wasn't alone any more.