Time to make the donuts, Ben thought as he climbed the weathered concrete steps and entered through the doors of the precinct house. The wind was up today blowing thick grey clouds over the harbor and out to sea and he turned his thick collar down once the double doors shut behind him.
The long swishy sounds of wind and traffic were replaced by staccato bursts from a dozen conversations firing from every corner of the first floor. Holidays were the worst, particularly the long weekend variety. People drank too much, acted the fool, and either got hurt or crossed a line and ended up here, in booking.
He flashed his detective shield at the desk sergeant who nodded and jerked his thumb towards the stairwell. “Captain’s looking for you, Franklin,” he shouted before answering the phone ringing to his left.
Ben took the stairs two at a time, his black track shoes moving swiftly to send him up to the second floor where the detective desks were. As he made the landing they squeaked once on the checkered tile floor eliciting some attention and a “nice shoes” comment that Ben ignored. He was impervious to the jibes from his peers today.
He’d just gotten to his industrial metal desk and thrown his coat over the back of his chair when the Captain poked his head out of his office door.
“Franklin,” he called and when Ben looked up he gave a ‘come in here’ motion with his head which then retreated into the office and out of sight. Ben opened his messenger bag, retrieved his laptop, and plugged it into the docking station to star up before trotting over to his boss’s office.
“Good morning, Captain. You need me?” he asked from the door.
Captain Allen wasn’t much older than he was and certainly no smarter, Ben thought, but he was one of those guys with a talent for precinct politics and charisma to make up for his lack of actual deductive skill. Ben had to admit he was likable and not as hard to work for as some other Captains he’d seen. He wore stylish suits and was impeccably groomed which impressed the brass but he had a nose for making solid impressions with the uniforms down at the pub, too. Ben wouldn’t want him in charge of a murder case, but he was a solid administrator and the NYPD needed those, too.
Allen brushed a stray strand of brown hair out of his face and turned it into a gesture at the seat in front of his desk.
“Have a seat.” Once they were both in chairs, Allen continued.
“The captain called. He said the DA thinks they’ve got enough to put this Wickler character away for a long time.”
Wickler was Gary Wickler, a.k.a. the Paper Bandit. He’d been breaking into electronics stores and had made off with a sweet hundred thou in looted smartphones and tablets until Ben had taken him down the day before yesterday. The stores had no idea how they’d been taken. None of the entry points at the crime scenes had been forced and the alarm systems hadn’t been tripped.
Turned out Wickler had a hacker friend who somehow managed to get into ADT’s mainframe and lift the alarm codes securing half the city’s small businesses. Wickler’s contribution was his ability to make himself nearly two-dimensional – one of the more unusual yet thankfully nonviolent gifts Ben had run into. Wickler would slide in through a doorframe and then just disable the alarm from the panel. Then it was just a matter of getting the goods out through a back door or window, locking up, resetting the alarm, and sliding out the way he’d come in.
The perp was a two-time loser and had come up during Ben’s homework as a possible suspect. Following Wickler led Ben to his friend and Ben had put two and two together. After that it was just a matter of figuring out how they were doing it. That had taken patience, a lucky pull off an ATM camera, and some tracking devices strewn throughout the next week and a half’s deliveries from Apple. The last led Ben to their stash house.
“You did good on this one, Ben,” Allen said, smiling.
He slid a copy of the New York Post across the desk. There was a picture of the inside of the stash house and some uniforms affixing tags to the evidence.
“The mayor’s office is making hay with the press, getting some mileage out of it. I made sure you got full credit with the chief.”
“Thanks, Captain,” Ben replied, somewhat taken aback at the free-flowing praise. “I’m just…”
Ben’s eyes narrowed. “Wait a minute. What aren’t you telling me?”
Allen knew he’d been caught and truth be told he didn’t think his best detective was going to miss the change in atmosphere. He grinned and shook his head.
“I think they call it being a victim of your own success,” the Captain explained. “This Wickler success has a lot of people thinking it might be time to expand our little experiment.”
Captain Allen gestured through the glass wall of his office and a young homeless man walked in. Or at least, the impression was of a homeless person but Ben saw through the disguise and recognized who it was.
“No,” Ben said. “Absolutely not.”
“Detective Ben Franklin this is Detective Frank Sigliano from Tenth Precinct,” Allen nearly grumbled. For his part, the disheveled-looking Sigliano smiled with dirty teeth and extended his hand to the other detective. Ben shook his head and looked to his Captain.
“Captain, I’m familiar with Detective Sigliano’s record.”
“You should be,” Allen interrupted, trying to forestall an argument. “Detective Sigliano’s arrest record in his first three years is almost as good as yours was, one of the best in the force.”
“But Captain, all due respect to the detective’s accomplishments, he’s a cowboy. The last thing you want on this job is a cowboy, not with the perps we deal with.”
“Is this a bad time?” Sigliano inquired them with obvious sarcasm.
“Detective Sigliano is your new partner,” Allen declared. “This comes right from the top and the judge signed off. You get him out there and show him the ropes. I want him to know the turf, the players, all of it as well as you do.”
Dropping the formal boss tone, Allen added, “You know if this little experiment of ours is going to work we have to expand eventually. Well, this is it. Make it happen. And take this…”
Allen picked up and held out a file folder from the out box on his desk. “It’s your new case. Homicide thinks they have something worth your while and I agree. Now go forth and multiply.”
Ben hadn’t gotten out of his seat and was still processing the major detour his day had just taken. Frank was already standing and took the folder from Allen.
“Thank you, Captain.”
“Give me that,” Ben barked at his new partner as he snatched the folder out of Frank’s hands. Without being dismissed he stormed out of the office.
“Stay with him, Detective,” Allen told Sigliano. The detective nodded and left, closing the door behind him.
Frank crouched down into a catcher’s stance next to the medical examiner and looked over the body sitting slumped over with its back up against the storeroom floor. It was male, nude from the waist up, and quite dead.
“Tell me a story.”
The medical examiner just shrugged her shoulders and continued her crime scene routine. “What you see is what you get. The guy was standing when he was tased. He fell or was placed here and then that happened.”
She gestured at the corpse’s abdomen where a thin line of red marked a wound. It was a clean cut, almost medically precise, and the blood loss was minimal. Blood stained the victim’s pants and lower extremities but hadn’t been sufficient to pool anywhere.
Frank turned one dead shoulder towards them and brushed at a tiny, almost imperceptible discoloration.
“What does that look like to you?” He asked the forensic medic.
“An injection point,” she asked as much as answered. “How did you know?”
Ben walked over and stood over them holding a small evidence bag. “Is this our guy?”
“Looks like it,” Frank confirmed, gesturing at the body as he talked. “Same M-O, taser to the lower back followed by injection to the left deltoid. Same abdominal wound, too. My guess is he’s short a spleen.”
The med tech gently probed at the wound with two latex-clad fingers for a few moments.
“Feels like there’s a cavity in about the right spot,” she said, hand still half inside the victim. She withdrew her hand with a schlocking wet sound and looked up at Ben. “Are we looking at a serial killer?”
Ben’s and Frank’s eyes met for a significant moment after which Frank stood up.
“Have a copy of the coroner’s report sent to my desk, and keep a lid on it for now,” Ben said to her before he and his partner walked to the edge of the taped-off area.
“What did you find?” Frank asked.
“A small wood shaving.” Ben held up the small transparent bag with the shaving inside.
“Same as victim number three,” Frank recalled.
“If it’s white ash, for sure,” Ben agreed. “We’ll see what the guys in the lab say.”
“Who steals spleens?” Frank ruminated aloud. “Okay, what? Organ smuggling? They got tired of the roofie trip to an ice-filled bathtub?”
“No,” Ben considered. “Spleens aren’t a replaceable organ. It goes, you just remove it.”
“So then what?” Frank repeated. “We got seven victims all done the same way with missing spleens.”
“Ten,” Ben corrected.
“You’re counting the dogs?” Frank asked.
“Of course,” Ben affirmed. “Same M-O, same missing spleen. Just because they aren’t technically homicides doesn’t make them any less relevant. At some point four months ago our perp switched from dogs to people. That means something.”
Canal Street traffic, both automotive and pedestrian, were heavy with Saturday night activity and as the pair stepped out onto the sidewalk they had to step around and navigate the thick throngs of humanity. It was a hard slog just to make the end of the block and when they did so Frank pulled them into a corner bank’s ATM vestibule.
“I hate Chinatown,” he sighed. “I, ah…” Something among the neon and steam across and a few doors down Elizabeth Street caught his eye and he paused, thinking.
“What?” Ben queried.
“I’ve got an idea,” Frank answered with an uncertain grin as he led them once more out onto the sidewalk and towards what he’d seen.
Three minutes later the pair of detectives walked through the doorway of a shop neither knew the name of as neither could read the Mandarin characters stenciled on the doorway. They knew the type of business it was from the various glass jars, bottles, and bulbs of strange herbs, dried animal parts, and other assorted oddities and ingredients. They were everywhere in the dark store, covering every shelf and surface. Some looked as old as Chinatown itself, as old as the woman who entered through a beaded curtain from a back room.
She looked curiously at the two non-Chinese customers until they displayed their badges.
The woman shook her wrinkled and grey head from side to side and chittered something in Chinese.
“No trouble,” Ben tried to reassure her and failed. She only seemed more agitated and kept right on saying things about which they had no clue whatsoever. She held her hands up.
“No, ma’am, you don’t have to do that,” Frank tried with an attempt at a disarming smile but he didn’t do any better. “N-Y-P-D… Police… we’re cops…”
“Tell her why we’re here,” Ben suggested. Because I have no damned idea, he didn’t add.
“Dude, I don’t speak Chinese,” Frank answered back.
“Well how about a little help? You’re supposed to be showing me the ropes, so…”
“I am not a language tutor, I am a detective. Or maybe you hadn’t noticed.”
“Yeah, but you could at least—“
“At least what? Speak Chinese? Maybe if you fill me in on your bright idea—“
“Hey!” A young man in a black button-down and blue jeans stepped through the curtain. His eyes flashed in anger underneath short black hair.
“What is going on here. Get out of here before I call the police.”
“We are the police,” Ben tried to calmly explain and he once again showed his detective’s shield to the young man, as did Frank.
“I’m Detective Franklin, that is Detective Sigliano.”
“Well, what do you want?” The young man asked while trying to comfort the old woman.
Ben looked over at Frank and made a ‘a little help’ gesture.
“You sell holistic Chinese medicine, right?” Frank asked. “Animal parts, organs, herbs, stuff like that?”
“Yes,” the young man confirmed warily. “It is all perfectly legal.”
“No, no…” Frank tried to communicate the misunderstanding in a gesture and said, “Spleens – you sell spleens?”
“Spleen… You know what a spleen is, right?”
“I’m not stupid!” the young man angrily replied.
“Nobody thinks you’re stupid,” Ben tried to explain, figuring if Frank had already set the kid off he could try playing the good cop. “Maybe ask her,” he suggested, pointing to the woman who looked back at Ben as if he had just offered to buy her.
The kid was obviously not on the same wavelength as they were but all the same he turned to the old woman and spoke a bunch of Chinese to her, one time indicating his spleen with his hand.
“Ahhh…” The light bulbs went off in the woman’s head and she began to speak in a less agitated if still rapid-fire Chinese to her… grandson? Ben wondered.
“Yak spleen,” the boy finally said to the two detectives when she had finished. “She has it. You need some?”
“What is it used for?” Frank asked as Ben figured out why they were there.
“Yeah, why would someone take yak spleen?” he asked.
There was another exchange of Chinese between the boy and the woman – she much calmer now – after which he explained.
“For injury, broken bone or bad wound, or after surgery. Makes healing much faster. We have some if you want to buy.”
Ben and Frank looked at each other and nodded, and smiled.
“…has been found to contain in its reserve half of the body's monocytes within the red pulp. These monocytes, upon moving to injured tissue, turn into dendritic cells and macrophages while promoting tissue healing…”
Franklin leaned back in his chair and rubbed his eyes. He’d spent the past hour researching the spleen and what he learned was that the kid in the Chinese medicine shop had been right – the organ played a key role in the body’s self-repair system. That had to mean something. But what?
“Hey…” Frank put a coffee down on Ben’s desk while he sipped one of his own. “Give it a rest, dude. You’ve been at this since I left to get dinner and that was two hours ago.”
“I’ll give it a rest when our spleen thief does,” Ben replied. He had to admit that Frank was making good faith efforts to get through Ben’s original misgivings about having a partner, but the guy’s laid-back style just didn’t sit right with the more senior detective.
“The spleen’s involved in the endocrine system, the circulatory system – it’s like a utility infielder.”
“It’s the Luis Sojo of internal organs,” Frank commented. “So what?”
“Exactly, so what? Why would somebody want another spleen?”
“You said it works to help people heal themselves. Maybe someone is using them to keep themselves healthy.”
Ben considered that. It was a good thought. “But how do you know that unless you’re a doctor or a medical student or something.”
“Food for the profile,” Frank remarked and Ben nodded as he added ‘knows medical purpose of spleens’ to the suspect profile.
“So we’re looking for a doctor,” Frank added.
Ben’s phone rang and he replied, “Maybe,” before answering.
Frank’s cell phone rang while Ben listened to his call. Both men hung up simultaneously.
About five minutes later the pair of detectives were climbing out of Ben’s unmarked sedan and joining a small group of uniformed cops standing around in the light from a street lamp outside some yellow tape. The tape was stretched all the way across 23rd street and it looked like an entire section of the block was cordoned off. Blue and white lights reflected from metal and glass throughout the area courtesy of a NYPD vehicle at the other end of the scene that still had their flashers going. Crowds thick with tourists milled around, shepherded by more NYPD uniforms making sure nobody went where they weren’t supposed to go.
“What a zoo,” Frank commented while surveying the scene. He signaled to Ben that he was going to take a look and trotted away into the middle of the crime scene to talk to other cops doing other jobs. Ben nodded and took a moment to chat up the cops nearest.
He showed his badge and asked, “What happened?”
“Boom Box hit the jewelry store,” one young cop answered while nodding her head towards a store front down the block in the taped-off area. Frank was standing near it talking to other cops. Ben looked about the area, noted the shattered glass everywhere and the random property damage and knew what happened before she finished.
“A patrol car rolled past and peeped him. They tried to make the arrest and he resisted all over the place. Last anyone saw he was heading uptown.”
“The officers who tried the arrest?”
Ben shook his head. “Shit.”
“Gonna put that fucker down if I see him,” one of the other cops commented. “Fuckin’ sparks – just cause they ain’t got a gun – I don’t care. Same as shooting a cop, man.”
“Hey!” Ben addressed his angry response to all of them. “You spot him, you follow procedure. You hang back, call it in, and wait for ESU. That’s for your own and the public’s safety. You got it?”
There were some reluctant nods and a “yes, sir”. Ben knew they didn’t get it, not like he did. They were tough and full up on cop machismo but some of these jokers were a hundred times as dangerous as any gun. That included Boom Box.
Frank was getting back by then. “You should see inside the place,” he said, clearly impressed. “Dude redecorated with gusto. The safe looks like someone worked on it for a month with a sledgehammer to get it open.”
“Compressed sound,” Ben remembered from his file on Boom Box. “He—“
Ben was interrupted by a sudden loud noise in the distance. It rose quickly above the ambiance of Chelsea at night and faded just as quickly.
“What was that?” one of the uniforms asked.
Everyone on the street had heard the same thing and were looking around for the source. It came again, not a sound but a few seconds of song, played incredibly loud from somewhere in the distance.
“Was that… Safety Dance?”
“That came from Hudson Yards,” Ben said. He pointed at the female cop and barked, “That’s him! Call it in, now!” before running for his car.
Frank climbed in fastened his seatbelt. “Safety Dance? Really?”
“I love the Eighties,” Ben growled as he floored it, made the back tires spin, and turned them westward.
They were flying through traffic on West 30th, Ben dodging cabs and pedestrians too stupid to heed the siren and grill flashers, when they both saw it. They could clearly hear the Safety Dance playing since they crossed 11th Ave. The volume jumped sharply for a second or two accompanied by a shimmer in the air about half a block away near a large parking lot.
Boom Box wasn’t much for style. He dressed in a cranberry-colored track suit with white stripes down the sides of his arms and legs. His white high-tops looked new as did the white baseball cap pulled sideways on his head and the white fanny pack in his lower back. He was the source of the sound that could be heard with amazing fidelity despite no obvious device playing it.
“I fucking hate this song,” Frank had to shout as the pair of detectives exited the vehicle with guns drawn.
Both men carefully made their way closer using cars and mailboxes and lamp posts for cover. Boom Box was throwing blasts of sound at something in the parking lot, the music bursting louder and somewhat twisted like a groan with each shot. His tarte was still out of their line of sight. All at once, he backed up a few steps and yelled, “Fuck!” – belted out as though through a bullhorn.
The criminal turned and dove to his right as he tried to avoid a motorcycle that flew from inside the lot across the open space, twirling around like a Frisbee as it sliced through the air. It clipped Boom Box in the leg just enough to trip him up and send him sprawling on the blacktop.
Right behind it, running hard in brown cowboy boots, was a tall long-legged woman. Luxurious long golden blond hair trailed behind her along with the brown trench coat she wore open. She wore a nearly-black dark brown bodysuit over a curvy figure that had several rips in it. The rips looked recent. The blonde looked pissed as hell.
With the music playing loud it was a surreal night scene, even by Manhattan standards. She hadn’t quite reached Boom Box before he could regroup and from his knees he leveled her center mass with a cannon broadside of Men Without Hats.
“Unnngh!” She grunted loudly and she flew back at least fifteen feet, landed roughly, and rolled to a stop on her front, down on the sidewalk and not moving.
“Freeze! NYPD!” Frank stepped out at that and leveled his gun. Boom Box looked over and snarled.
Ben tackled his unthinking partner into the street right before a wave of focused sound shattered the front end of the car behind where Frank had been standing. Headlights and windshield shattered like Hollywood explosions while the metal rattled and wrinkled chaotically from the intense vibrations.
“Stay down!” Ben yelled at Frank. Boom Box was getting to his feet. The cops had just enough time to scramble behind another car before another focused soundwave ripped up the macadam, missing them only slightly and peppering them with sideways-ripping pieces of asphalt.
It sounded like the end of the world decided to go to a concert and the two of them were trying to think of a next move when they heard a yelp of surprise from Boom Box followed by a dull but hard-sounding thud. The music had stopped lending an errie quiet in the sudden audial vacuum. They looked up over the trunk of the car they were using for cover to see that the woman had Boom Box by the back of his jacket. It looked like she’d slammed him on the ground and while they watched she swung her arm violently and threw him into the side of a nearby van as easy as if he was a stuffed animal.
The impact was enough to cave in the side of the van. Boom Box rolled into an unconscious heap on the ground, one leg looking like it was angled not quite right. The woman stopped down over him to pull an iPod out of his pocket which she crushed into a deformed mess of metal and glass.
Frank brought his gun up as they approached but Ben put his hand on it and made him lower it with a disapproving glare.
“You okay?” Ben asked the woman.
“Good to see you, Franklin,” she replied, breathing only slightly hard. Close up Frank could see she was their age, mid-thirties, and pretty in a girl-next-door way, although there was definitely an edge to her.
“I couldn’t get near the son of a bitch,” she said, wiping her nose with her sleeve and checking for blood. “He kept knocking me away. Thanks for the distraction.”
“You two know each other?” Frank asked warily.
“Detective Frank Sigliano, meet Mustang Sally.”
“No shit,” Frank breathed. More directly he said, “Mustang Sally... You know there’s an outstanding warrant on you? Several, actually.”
“You going to arrest me?” she asked him just as directly. The question was posed calmly, almost pleasantly like a friendly dare, but Frank could see the woman’s eyes promised violence if he tried.
Frank considered better but tried to maintain the advantage. “Maybe not today,” he answered, nodding his head as if to indicate he was letting her off this time.
The sounds of sirens and speeding police cars and maybe a helicopter started to intrude on their little moment.
“Get out of here,” Ben said to Sally. “We’ll clean up.”
“But my hat…” she protested, turning towards the parking lot.
“I’ll get it,” Ben assured her. “Go on before my partner changes his mind.”
The tall blond looker smiled a roguish grin and squeezed Ben’s shoulder affectionately before she gave Frank a wink and dashed off down the street towards the West Side Highway. She ducked into a brown Mustang and sped off, turning north and out of sight at the end of the street.
"So who is this guy?"
"He's the Judge," was all Ben was willing to say just then, perhaps out of some residual spite of having to take on a partner.
"Judge of what?" Sigliano pressed.
Ben sighed and stopped at the large carved oak doors to which the wide cement steps from the sidewalk had led them.
"The Honorable Judge Randolph T. Rockefeller, formerly of the State Supreme Court."
"He's retired, or he was until our unit was formed."
Ben took his hand off the door and let his body language convey some extra seriousness. If he was going to explain it he was going to do it once.
"The only way the Governor was willing to sign off on our charter was if we had impartial oversight by a member of the courts. The Judge sets the boundaries and keeps us honest and all he has to do to shut us down is make a phone call, so when you get inside you play nice. None of this class clown routine, please - he's enough of a pain in the ass as it is and he does not suffer fools. Don't speak unless spoken to and when you do say something be direct and to the point. Can you handle that?"
Frank looked pissed at the tone directed his way but he only said, "Yeah, I got it." Then he opened the door himself and walked inside.
Ben realized then he probably didn't have to be so dickish to his partner. He'd have to apologize later.
"Shit," he muttered with self-directed anger before he followed Frank inside.
"So he wants to cut a deal, eh?"
The Honorable Judge Randolph T. Rockefeller flipped through the police report and interrogation sheet from Boom Box, a.k.a. James LeGrand. He poured a glass halfway full with water from a matching pitcher on his desk and sipped as he read.
"He crippled two cops with plenty of witnesses," Ben replied. "Even a public defender knows what that means."
"I suppose. What's he offering?" the Judge asked without looking up from his papers.
"He claims there's a movement afoot to organize some of the bad element in the spark community. He's willing to give us what he knows for a reduced sentence."
The Judge did look up at that bit of news. His grey eyebrows drew together sternly and he directed no small measure of intensity along with the point of his question.
"Do you believe him?"
Ben hesitated but nodded affirmatively. "Yes."
The judge blew out a long sigh and leaned back. He stared at the ceiling for a pregnant moment and then turned to Frank.
"What about you, Detective Sigliano?" the Judge asked. "You've been awfully quiet, no doubt because your partner told you to keep your mouth shut." The old man's eyes flicked annoyance at Franklin before returning. "What do you think?"
Sigliano shifted uncomfortably in his seat at being put on the spot so, but managed, "He seemed credible and he does have a strong motive to cut a deal."
"But?" the Judge probed.
"But... well, I've never conducted an interrogation by text before, sir. I mean, Your Honor. I mean... I'm used to reading body language, eye shifts - you don't get that through a keyboard."
The Judge pushed his wheelchair out from behind his desk and rolled it closer to where Ben was seated.
"Your honor, I was getting to that." Ben started.
"All unusual incarcerations require my approval in advance!" the Judge thundered. "You know the rules!"
"Yes, sir, unless there is a clear and present danger to public safety and in this case I felt justified." Ben did a brave job standing his ground.
"Where is he?" the Judge demanded.
"He's in an airlock at the New York Aquarium, under guard."
"At the Coney Island boardwalk?" The Judge didn't look like he was liking where this was going.
"Yes, sir," Frank offered. "You see, this guy turns any ambient sound into a weapon. The only way we could figure out how to keep him from using it was to put him in a vacuum. See, sound can't travel in a vacuum."
"You see those?" The judge stabbed a finger at several degrees hanging on the wall to the left of his desk. "I did have to take a science class at some point to get one of those," he noted crossly to the junior detective. "How does he breathe?"
"Specialized SCUBA gear. I included the paperwork for the incarceration warrant with the report, Your Honor," Ben finally added.
"An airlock." The Judge seemed to deflate as he thought about it. "You boys aren't just flirting with cruel and unusual, you're fumbling with her bra strap."
"He's got more square footage than a holding cell downtown, all the same facilities, three squares, and a view of the ocean," Ben said. "And I wouldn't have done it if the danger wasn't real."
"No, I suppose not," the Judge relented. He got thoughtful again for a moment and then said, "If the information yields results, I'll consider revising his sentencing. Otherwise he better get used to breathing out of a tube."
(To be continued...)