This is a companion piece to author Angilbas's story Mrs. Greevey, which appeared in the Spring issue of apocrypha. See if you can spot the connection!
Wednesday, September 1: Detective Rey Curtis guided the plain Ford cruiser east along 119th Street in Spanish Harlem as the streetlights turned on. Too many unsupervised kids, he thought. His older partner, Lennie Briscoe, scanned the sidewalks and crossings. They were looking for a homicide witness named Jaw-Ja. One of his favorite places was an overgrown vacant lot called Wright's Jungle, which was one block ahead and to the right. Every cop in the 27th Precinct knew about the Jungle, which was notorious for its rank, crime-concealing vegetation.
As they waited for the light, a dark young man, too stocky to be Jaw-Ja, ran from the direction of the Jungle. He stopped at the intersection and looked around frantically. He saw the cruiser and yelled, waving and gesturing. When the cross traffic thinned he sprinted. Lennie put the bubble up.
The young man shouted in a Caribbean accent, "Hey, we need help! There's a kid in those woods not breathing! My girl's doing CPR. Hurry!"
"Jump in!" said Lennie, who called the appropriate code, then got the young man's name -- Hammond Currie. Rey turned on the siren and drove around the stopped cars. His head snapped left and right until he found a gap in the traffic. He gunned the car through and kept driving until Hammond shouted, "Stop here! This way!"
The detectives pulled out their guns and entered the Jungle, which had dense thickets of sumac and buckthorn beneath thirty-foot Tree-Of-Heaven.
Hammond yelled, "Atlanta! I've got help!" A dog barked not far ahead. Rey saw it -- a huge Alsatian tied to a tree -- and then he saw the scene.
A thin sweaty teenage girl was doing chest compressions on a plump child with budding breasts. Rey froze as he pictured his Olivia one or two years older and 30 pounds heavier. Someone had covered the child's crotch with a jacket, but the legs were splayed. The child's flesh looked ghostly white in the fading light and the bruises on her face and neck stood out. Her soft belly shimmied with each compression. Atlanta finished her series, then put in two breaths.
Lennie showed his badge and felt the child's neck. "There's a pulse! Rey, call the medics and CSU. Now!"
As Rey snapped out of his trance and used his pocket phone, Atlanta breathed into the child, who belched loudly. Atlanta recoiled, coughing and retching, as a fountain bloomed from the child's mouth. Still gagging, she began to turn the child. Lennie helped. The child's hands were cuffed behind her back. Rey saw her buttocks; she had defecated, but even in the bad light he felt dreadfully certain that some of the stains were blood. Atlanta scooped out the child's mouth, but before she could breathe again her own stomach rumbled. She turned away and let her latest meal leave. Lennie grimaced and was just a little hesitant to start mouth-to-mouth. He got four breaths in before his treat came.
While Lennie and Atlanta took their turns, Rey spoke into his phone and walked around. Garbage was everywhere: food wrappers, beer bottles, diapers, needles, condoms. He remembered the time last year when his youngest, Meghan, had thought that a used condom was a balloon and put it to her mouth!
Behind a screen of buckthorn, he saw something white. It looked like a life-size marble statue laying on its back, but Rey knew with dreadful certainty that he'd found another victim.
It was a lean, big-boned woman in her late teens or early twenties. Her eyes were open with huge pupils. A strip of cloth, probably a necktie, was constricting her throat; in addition, there were bruises similar to those on the younger girl. Her hands were beneath her back and her legs were wide apart. Almost certainly she had been done around the same time as the child.
Rey yelled to his partner, used his penknife to cut the tie, and began CPR. After a few minutes, the woman burped up a few droplets, but Rey wasn't very hopeful. It sounded like a post-mortem reflex; also tasted like one, thought Rey as he gagged. As one instructor had said, "The dead can grunt, puke, piss, fart and shit. They can do everything but live."
The Emergency Services and CSU people arrived about ten minutes later. The younger girl had a stable heartbeat, but her breathing was feeble and she was deeply comatose. The medics took over from Rey and found 'asystole.' As homicide detectives, Rey and Lennie knew what that meant: Almost certainly a new case. Close by, Atlanta wept and hugged her boyfriend.
By 9:25, Atlanta Willow was calm enough to tell her story, although her hands were still trembling. Ham had already told about the uniformed man they'd met while retrieving their dog from the Jungle. This man had ordered them out of the Jungle, citing the need to preserve a murder scene, but Atlanta (who had applied to become a NYPD 'Blue' and already knew some procedures) didn't believe that he was a cop. They'd sneaked back in and found the child.
Now they sat across a table from the detectives in the cafeteria of Metropolitan Hospital Center. All four were nursing coffee but no one had even looked at the food. They knew about the young woman and were waiting for word about the child.
A lean bald man in doctor's smocks approached their table. His tag read DR. G. AVOLA. He said, "She's out of coma. Her name's Chelsea Patterson. So, who pumped her chest?"
Atlanta raised a shaky hand.
"You broke three of her ribs. And I think you pumped a beating heart!" Dr. Avola gazed for one more second, then smiled and said, "Good job. With a really still ticker, you've almost always found a turnip or a corpse."
Rey looked at the doctor and said, "How is she? Can she tell us what happened?"
"Maybe. We're worried about her breathing, she's blind, and her mind's not all the way back yet, but she came out of coma a lot faster than we thought. Has to be a drug, something that wears off quickly. You get in a coma deep as hers looked just from a choke, more likely than not you're down for keeps."
He gave Rey a folder and led the way to a cubicle in the ICU. The child was on oxygen. Her body was festooned with restraints, tubes, and leads. She moaned horribly. Rey fought back nausea as he looked at the pain-wracked little girl. He let Lennie introduce himself in his soothing grandfatherly tone.
Chelsea wept and said in a very hoarse voice, "I can't see. Where's Barney?"
Lennie asked, "Who's Barney?"
"My pony...I fell." Tears streamed as she whimpered. Young for her age, thought Rey.
Lennie said, "Chelsea, please listen to me. Where do you keep Barney?"
"Oyster..." Suddenly her eyes flashed with terror. She cried, "No! We didn't take...Fallon!" This was followed by the most horrible coughing and wheezing Rey had ever heard. An alarm sounded as the O2 SAT display on the monitor turned red. Her heart rate soared above 160. Dr. Avola quickly moved to her side, listened for a few seconds, then used an inhaler to vent medication to her lungs. For several frightening seconds the O2 SAT fell even further, then it rebounded. When it reached 92%, the display turned yellow and the alarm became silent. Her heart rate fell to a more tolerable 120.
Dr. Avola said, "She'll be fine. It's not uncommon for blindness, confusion, and breathing troubles to be temporary effects of a close call." Rey sensed that the doctor had said this for Chelsea to hear, but her terror showed no sign of easing.
The doctor called in a nurse to watch Chelsea, then led Rey and Lennie well away from the ICU and said, "Sounds like she has asthma, and the choke aggravated it. That's on top of the damage to her larynx. And there's no telling what the rape has done. So you'd better catch the fucking asshole who did this."
Lennie said, "That's what I like about you, Doctor. You speak good American English." But no one laughed, and Rey couldn't lose his thousand-yard stare.
They took Ham and Atlanta to the 27th Precinct headquarters. As Detective Morris LaMotte worked with the two witnesses, Rey and Lennie conferred with their boss, Lieutenant Anita van Buren.
"Semen tests for both girls were negative," Rey said as he read from the open folder. "Vaginal tears and abrasions in the younger girl consistent with forced intercourse." He felt sick again. Not since his early days with Lennie four years ago had a case hit him so hard. His mind's eye kept looking at that blind, confused little girl in agony. The CSU people had found what were probably her clothes not far away. Panties, jeans, and a T-shirt with a cartoon girl (member of a cartoon family which Rey didn't let his kids watch) blowing her horn to the caption, "I PRACTICE SAFE SAX!"
"My guess is the perp wore a condom," Rey said. "CSU found quite a few in the area, but I doubt if any are from our guy."
"Make sure they all get analyzed," Anita said. "And check all the garbage bins in the area. I want..."
The telephone buzzed. Anita picked up and said, "Van Buren...yes, he's here." She gave the handset to Rey and said, "Dr. Avola." Rey wrote notes as he listened. He felt elated, but only for a moment. By the time he hung up, his face was more grimly set than before.
"We've got more info," he said. "Chelsea's 12 years old. The dead sister was Fallon, age 19. Parents are Aaron and Mary. They've been notified in Cancun and will be en route in the morning. Looks like young Chelsea has all her marbles now, but she won't be talking again for a while. They had to put a tube in," he said, pointing just below his Adam's apple, "and she's still blind."
Anita sighed, then said, "Lennie, why don't you see how our witnesses are doing." Lennie gave his partner a pat on the shoulder, then left the room and closed the door.
"Rey, I'm not sure I want you on this case. You look like somebody did you on the head."
"Ell-Tee, I remember what you told me on that first case with Lennie: 'Get it solved.'" Rey picked up the folder and slapped it down. "I want this. Don't worry about thousand-yard stares, they mean I'm thinking a thousand yards ahead. If not more."
Anita nodded, almost smiled, and said, "Okay. Just remember, last thing we need is to give some shit-for-brains lawyer something to get his client off."
By 11 o'clock, Rey and Lennie were canvassing the late-night stores and eateries near the Jungle. They carried copies of a drawing Atlanta had done. Just after 11:20, they got a 'hit.' An attendant at a gas bar had seen a man who matched the drawing in a stained security guard's uniform. He'd used the washroom, and filled his green Chrysler minivan which was an early '90s model. The license plate was personalized with the Yankees emblem, but the attendant had noticed only the first three letters: YNO. The van had taken $22.46 of gas, paid in cash. The time was on record as 9:06 PM.
According to the DMV, there were three green Chrysler minivans in New York State with license plates matching the attendant's description, in Gloversville, Basswood Falls, and The Bronx. This last was registered to Royston Kinbasket, who'd been arrested three times for sex offenses. Charges had been dropped in the first two cases; then a year ago a trial for rape had resulted in a hung jury, and the prosecution hadn't retried.
Rey and Lennie drove to The Bronx. At the 51st Precinct headquarters, they met Detective Stan Oromocto, who had investigated the most recent Kinbasket case. He thought the drawing was a good likeness, although the ears were too small and "he doesn't quite have a Kirk Douglas chin." The three of them discussed Kinbasket's alleged crimes over bran muffins and strong coffee. It seemed that the "King's Basket," as Stan called him, was fond of using his security guard's uniform to accost girls and accuse them of shoplifting. Rey thought they had enough to bring The Basket in for questioning right now, but Stan had seen Kinbasket's lawyer in action.
Stan took his visitors on a tour. Their first stop was an average four-story apartment house; Kinbasket lived on the third floor. His van was not in the parking lot. They found it near an all-night Chinese restaurant. All three were hungry. Kinbasket was in a booth by himself, devouring a sweet-and-sour meat dish. The detectives ordered take-out shrimp rolls. Rey gazed at Kinbasket, who noticed him and quickly looked away. Rey thought: You know you've been marked. Good.
Kinbasket pretended not to notice the cops. He drove straight home. It was raining now. Stan parked where he could see the parking lot entrance. The three of them got out to make sure The Basket entered the building and didn't leave through another door. Then they returned to their car, where they ate and watched. After a while, Lennie lay on the back seat and was soon snoring. Rey was tired, but couldn't sleep even though the rain drummed a soft tattoo on the car. The tedious surveillance continued for a few more hours. Then Rey and Lennie returned to their headquarters to review their cases and do paperwork. The chores were routine, but more bothersome than usual to Rey. "We should invest in a tree farm," he growled to Lennie. "We need all the wood we can grow!"
Their shift ended at 4 AM, but Rey didn't go home. Instead, he cruised around the Jungle and adjacent blocks, ready to kick ass at any excuse. He made sure that every cop he saw knew about Kinbasket. He talked to 13 civilians over the next two hours, and asked 10 of them to call if they saw Kinbasket. He told the three 'outstanding warrants' that they had better call. He went to MHC, where Chelsea was under sedation and connected to a respirator. He reminded the MHC people to call him at home if her condition changed.
By the time he got home, his family was up. The kids were quiet, and Deborah was displeased. Those were sure signs of trouble. Olivia had broken the lead crystal decanter Rey had bought for their anniversary two years ago.
"I'm sorry, Daddy, it was an accident."
"Hey! There are places in the world where people who have accidents go to prison! Make no mistake, young lady, you are in big trouble! You're grounded for two months, minimum! No allowance, no TV! Now go to your room!"
Rey followed her. There was something else. "And no boom box!" He dashed her radio to the floor and stomped it to bits. Then he marched to the nearest closet, got a dustpan and broom, and returned to Olivia's room. "This place had better be spick-and-span by the time I come back or so help me I'll blister your butt!" Olivia trembled and sniffled.
His rage vanished as suddenly as it had erupted. He was appalled at what he had done; in a way, he was not much better than people like Kinbasket. His wife's face showed disapproval. Perhaps he should hug Olivia and apologize. But he could not back down. Olivia had done wrong, and a prolonged grounding would greatly reduce the risk of her ending up like Chelsea. With a firm pull, he closed her bedroom door.
Deborah said wearily, "I don't care what gets broken next, I don't want you to threaten our children like that again."
"I won't. I promise." Dear God, her remission's ending. Deb's motions looked normal, but she never sounded tired at this time of day unless her MS was flaring up. Soon she would have difficulty with her limbs. This was no time to argue with her.
But the kids would have to learn. Almost certainly a long series of very tough years awaited. Olivia would have to be his good right hand, set examples for the other two, and take exemplary punishment when necessary.
Just before 3 PM, Deb brought Rey out of a poor sleep and handed him the pocket phone. Dr. Avola told him that Chelsea had her sight back and was rapidly improving. The news failed to clear the gloom from his mind, because Deb didn't sound any better. Rey called his partner, who arrived at 3:18. The girls hugged their Uncle Lennie and Olivia tried to act cheerful. Lennie sensed that not all was well -- Rey could read his face -- but said nothing about it. The detectives telephoned ADA Abbie Carmichael and arranged to meet her at the hospital in three hours.
Dr. Avola told them, "Easy. She knows." It was 6:33; Aaron and Mary Patterson had arrived an hour earlier and informed their surviving child.
Chelsea's face was a horrible rainbow of bruises and one eye was swollen shut. The other was red and teary. She was no longer connected to a respirator, but the tube was still in place. She was just strong enough to be on her feet with the support of her parents, and Rey was chillingly reminded of his wife's MS. Mary had fury in her eyes, and the atmosphere was thick with grief.
The three visitors gave their condolences, then Rey got to business. He asked Chelsea to study "our scrapbook," and there was no mistaking the look in her eye and the way she stabbed a finger at Royston Kinbasket's 'mug.' Several more questions verified that Kinbasket had worn a uniform, aimed a handgun, used handcuffs and forced the sisters to take a drug. The detectives looked at Abbie, who nodded.
The Basket was arrested in his apartment. Uniforms, handcuffs, neckties, drugs, and a .44 Magnum were among the items taken as evidence. Discarded condoms were found in his garbage.
The case looked open-and-shut, but Abbie Carmichael and Jack McCoy approached it carefully. Atlanta and Ham missed more than a few of their early college classes due to meetings at the D.A.'s office. Chelsea's writing skills (she could not say many words at a time because of her damaged larynx) were honed as the ADAs sought to make her statements letter-perfect. There were conferences with the detectives (by mid-September, Rey had backed a little and allowed Olivia to attend choir practice, but he continued to scrutinize her closely). Other victims came forward. There were headlines. Many New Yorkers were angered, and executive D.A. Adam Schiff was pressured to demand the death penalty.
The trial began on Tuesday, October 5. Judge Gary Feldman presided. Atlanta and Hammond were the first witnesses to testify. Dr. Avola said that Chelsea's temporary blindness was a sign that she'd almost suffered permanent brain damage. Chelsea told her story (her larynx was better but by no means healed). Defense attorney Bill Salisbury tried to discredit Chelsea by citing her choice of clothes, her past behavioral problems, and the possibility that the doctors had missed signs of continuing brain damage. McCoy was angry, but Judge Feldman hadn't forgotten his handling of a fatal drunk-driving case two years earlier.
On Wednesday, October 20, the jury deliberated for five hours. Kinbasket was convicted on all charges. Six days later, the Court reconvened for sentencing. Rey and Lennie were present, as was Atlanta. Before Judge Feldman pronounced sentence, there were three victim impact statements.
Mary Patterson spoke first: "You have no idea, do you, Mr. Kinbasket, of the bonds that exist between members of a family. And when a loved one is taken, especially when taken as viciously and horribly as you took our firstborn, our Fallon, the whole family is affected forever." She was weeping now, but her eyes still held the fury that Rey had seen earlier. "And you took much from our Chelsea. She wanted to be a singer, but you've damaged her voice. And so much more. When I saw how badly hurt our baby was, I wanted to do terrible things to the guilty party just for that!"
Aaron said, "Words can't describe what you've done, mister. You killed a very good and brilliant young lady. Fallon was going to be a lawyer, not for the big bucks, but to help others. To let people of all income levels have their good day in court. She was so special to so many, there should be ten times as many impact statements here." He blew his nose. "If you get just one privilege in prison, let that be access to newspapers. Provided you study the 'Obituary' and 'In Memoriam' columns. Maybe then you'll understand that grief stays on long after the beloved have been put to rest."
Chelsea said, "You and I have something in common, Royston. We're not angels. I'd scribble in Fallon's diary, make rude noises while she was on the phone with her boyfriend, and do all sorts of other bad things." Her eyes were watery, but to Rey, her voice was surprisingly well-modulated. "But Fallon put up with me, as did my folks. No matter how bad I was, the slate would be clean next day. That's how my family works. And last year, I grew up. A little, anyway. Enough to learn how wonderful Fallon was." Her voice was becoming more raspy, and tears were flowing, but Rey knew that she was using her singer's training to project as clearly as possible. "She'd help me with homework, and play games, and take me shopping, all cheerfully. We became best friends." She sniffled. "One good year. There should have been many more."
Rey was certain that he would never hear a more heart-wrenching victim's statement. Most of the other people in the courtroom looked as if they felt the same way.
Kinbasket had shown no emotion during the three statements, and this did not change as Judge Feldman delivered a death sentence in one of the harshest tones that the courtroom regulars had heard from him. Afterward, the atmosphere became quiet as the three Pattersons and their relatives gathered and hugged.
Chelsea said to Abbie, "There was a lot more I could have said, but..."
"You have a good closing instinct."
Chelsea said, "Exactly. I'll be going into law. I helped Fallon with her homework by reading questions from her law books. I know I can do it. I'm going to be a prosecutor, maybe a judge, and I'm going to be the best."
Rey was reminded of a Friedrich Nietzsche quote: "That which does not kill you makes you stronger." This seemed to be true for Chelsea, but Kinbasket's crimes had ended her childhood. She would always have physical scars, and some of her schoolmates treated her as a sex object. And she'd just told the Court of her worst hurt.
Two days later, Rey was awakened by the shrill voices of his arguing children. It seemed that someone had colored in someone else's book. Rey would have to be the peacemaker and disciplinarian, as Deb's illness was indeed reasserting itself. His footfalls brought silence as he marched to the rec room.
"Hey! I warned you about fighting! Didn't I!" Rey kept hands on hips as he glared at the three. Normally he would demand that the instigator come forward, then give one good firm smack and banish all parties from the rec room. But today, the time had come for a different approach.
"Gather around," he said softly, and sat cross-legged on the floor. "I just got off a case where a girl less than a year older than you, Olivia, lost her sister. And what hurts that girl most is knowing that she spent much of her life fighting her now-dead sister. She's sorry now and will be sorry for the rest of her life. She will always regret not having more good times with her sister. I don't want this to ever happen to any of you. Now let's have clean slates all around -- sealed with hugs and kisses. I love all of you so much, and that's been true even when I haven't shown it."
Rey saved his best hug for Olivia. "Your mother is ill, and we are going to have to be strong together. She needs our love -- our united love." He hoped that his voice did not show the fear he felt.