“Be with a leader when he is right, stay with him when he is still right, but, leave him when he is wrong.”
Joe caught sight of Greg Hughs, hunched over and crossing against traffic a half a block before he walked into Il Sole, at 4:53 p.m. on a wet Thursday. It was full two hours before Joe even hoped to see him.
Joe had set up camp in the restaurant’s far corner against the cold, rain-splashed window, able to look out at the buildings surrounding him. Before today, those buildings seemed solid, but that was an illusion, veneer.
Joe felt the calling to public service, passed down from father to son, mentor to student. He had believed in New York, its people – some bad, most indifferent, but many good. However, she opened his eyes. Now he saw the rot that could riddle every man-made construction – every bank, apartment house, store, warehouse – anywhere. His perception had been stripped of filters and faith. He could see. No one was safe from the decay that threatened his city, from the poorest kid in Harlem to a rich-girl A.D.A., to maybe the most influential developer New York had ever produced. The possibilities seemed endless.
There weren’t any other customers in the restaurant that evening, just staff waiting for a dinner rush that Joe suspected wasn’t coming for this unremarkable Italian place in a city full of them. He could smell the soups on slow simmer, the encompassing aroma of the bread being delivered late, hear his cousin yelling at the prep cooks in his uncle’s financed-to-the-eyeballs kitchen. At Joe’s table a whiskey and a paper lay before him on the new white cloth, both untouched. When he spied Greg, he motioned for another drink from the bored waitress who might have been happy for something to do, but instead looked annoyed that Joe’s request interrupted her conversation with the beefy bartender.
Greg stepped in and surveyed the empty restaurant from just inside the rain-sheltered front door. Joe waved, catching the detective’s attention, and motioned for the soaked man to take the seat opposite him.
Under Greg Hughs’ left arm was a filled brown paper bag.
“Joe.” He held out his free hand in greeting “Thanks for the drink,” he said, almost a whisper in his sandy, Hell’s Kitchen-bred and -roughened voice.
“Greg.” Joe took the detective’s proffered hand for a quick shake. He felt hard-edged and restless. He hadn’t expected Greg so soon, and he was both relieved and disturbed at his friend’s early appearance. Waiting for word had been impossible, maddening, but it was all he could do. Now, faced with news of Cathy’s fate or the prospect of just another dead end, he wasn’t certain he could handle either, but he had to know. “Did you guys find anything?”
“Did we find anything?” Greg looked to the ceiling, feigning thought. “Yeah, you could say we found some stuff.” Hughs put down the bag next to his own chair, pulled off his wet coat, and hung it from the back before he sat down. “I took a couple of the guys last night and we looked into the building. That was quite a tip, Joe.”
Less than a day ago, just last evening – only one night? It seemed a lifetime of doubts and second guessing, hope, worry, and regret wrapped up in one sleepless night – Joe had found the note in his mu-shu pork and eggroll take-out bag. At first, his brain couldn’t get past the incongruity of a note-wrapped sandwich, like the ones that wiseass sandwich vendor brought to the desk lunchers at the office, in with the Chinese. Once his brain caught up, Joe threw down his dinner, pulled out the sandwich – addressed to “Joe” in handwriting he could only pray he knew – and ripped open the short letter. It read:
1900 6th Ave.
It’s where Moreno and his boss kept their secrets.
Everybody has secrets.
If you find any, I hope you know what to do with them. – R.
It was Cathy’s handwriting, he was sure of it. He’d seen enough of her scrawled notes on forests’ worth of legal pads to know. It looked as if, against everyone’s predictions and even Joe’s diminishing hope, she might be alive and implicating Moreno. But on forced leave, Joe couldn’t investigate, not officially. He was punching Greg Hughs’ home number into the phone before he realized he had the receiver in his hand, begging him to get a warrant from O’Connell, telling him what he needed, explaining it had something to do with Cathy.
In the scorching light of her few words, Joe could begin to see the rot that may have infected Moreno. Joe’s mentor, the man who believed in him, gave him a shot, bore the symptoms, hidden before, even from his chief assistant.
Faith was a fragile thing, he had come to realize, as the late-night traffic changed into to early morning traffic, as he read the words all at once, then one at a time, over and over until they re-formed, each word, each letter of the infuriatingly short note taking on a dictionary’s worth of meaning. Joe’s trust had been lost somewhere between Moreno and his boss. Too many tests, too many signs, too many truths – forced leave for Joe’s “own good,” to “clear his head,” defeat and obstruction when Moreno would have never given up before, especially on one of his own – and faith could snap like a dead stick underfoot. Moreno knew Joe couldn’t stop trying to find Cathy, but maybe it was more concern for what Joe could find than concern for Joe that led to the suspension.
You can’t trust a politician, Joe, his father had told him. When was that? Probably at the kitchen table, eating as much eggs, toast and homegrown tomatoes his mother would make. Maybe when Ted Kennedy had run from his guilt and left a girl to die. They aren’t evil, just following their nature. A scorpion can’t help but sting. There would be more scandals, in New York and in the White House, but his father hadn’t lived to see them, and despite quoting him, Joe hadn’t really believed the advice, at least in John Moreno’s case. Moreno was brought up on the same streets his father patrolled. He worked for justice. He wasn’t like the others, Joe believed, and it was the truth. Moreno wasn’t like the others. Everything now pointed to him being much worse.
If what Cathy was saying was true, if Moreno had a boss that wasn’t the citizenry of New York, they’d have to invent a new circle of hell for him. He sinned doubly against loyalty: by handing Cathy over to his “boss,” and for making Joe second guess himself for doing everything to find her.
Cathy was one of the best DAs – hell, one of the best people – Joe had ever known. Late into the night, after a few drinks, he would even admit that he was a little bit in love with her. During the light of day, his only motives in his search remained admiration and friendship. She had been a victim, and she had come back from it, changed her life from one of privilege to service. Lightning shouldn’t strike a person twice, especially one as good as Cathy. And the worst thing, the thing that kept Joe up drinking those stiff drinks, was that he was to blame. That stupid book…goddamn Patrick. Cathy should have sat on it, it’s true, but he should have known what type of investigator she was when he asked her to take it. How many times had he thought that since the fall….
The waitress brought over another whiskey, and Greg took a small sip after thanking her, waiting for the young woman to go back to the bartender and out earshot before continuing.
“The whole building’s a crime scene. We were there all night. You need to send some flowers to Patty. I missed dinner with her parents.”
“Done,” promised Joe. “So, what did you find?”
“Well,” Greg continued, his voice even softer from lack of sleep, “I put a rush on the lab work and got the fingerprints back about thirty minutes ago.”
“And?” Joe couldn’t wait for any long explanations.
“Well, the Chandler missing persons case? It just got turned into a murder investigation,” he said gravely.
“Oh…God.” Joe leapt from the table. “No…Cathy!”
Hughs put up his hands and motioned Joe to sit again. “Yeah, I’m sorry, Joe,” he added, a smile creeping onto the detective’s face, “but it looks like your top A.D.A. just killed the highest-ranking drug lord this side of Colombia. We think he goes by the name Gabriel, but that’s just one of ‘em.”
“Wait…what?” Joe was confused. Cathy wasn’t anyone to irritate in a courtroom, but murder?
“Happened maybe two, three days ago. Gotta wait on the labs to find official time of death, but it was bad – neck wounds, stabbed repeatedly. She really did a number on him. Since you said it might have something to do with her, I had the guys run her prints against the ones we found. They were all over the murder weapon. It looks to be her footprints, too, barefoot, and some really big guy’s boot marks in the office where we think she offed the sonofabitch.”
Joe was speechless. He couldn’t think. Cathy killed this guy? Used-bookstores-in-the-Village Cathy? Symphony-tickets-and-Bergdorf-Goodman Cathy? She really killed a man, in cold blood? This was crazy.
From the note she sent, he didn’t know if she was asking him to out Moreno’s secrets or keep hers – maybe both? Clearly, she had a kept a lot from him. She’d never been chatty about her personal life, but until he began sifting through everything, he hadn’t realized how much she’d withheld, even from friends like Jenny. When he’d done a sweep of her apartment, he’d found notes from a guy dated from just after the time she’d started working with the D.A.
The questions that had assailed him for months rose again unbidden but now colored with the new information. She had been a hell of a lot more than, less than truthful. Who was this Vincent guy? What was his role in this? None of her friends knew him. She never talked about a boyfriend until right before she was taken. Why? Did he threaten her? Was he involved in her disappearance? And now a murder investigation? She would have known her prints were on file. She was a field investigator. They would have to keep them to check against crime scene contamination. She didn’t take the weapon, so that wasn’t the secret she might be worried about … or maybe it was, and she wanted him to cover it up? No, she wouldn’t want that. Jesus, how much worse could this get? His introspection was mercifully cut short when Greg continued.
“There’s more, and it is strange. We found an examination room filled with medical equipment, maybe Gyno. stuff – at least Gasko thought so.”
Joe knew Sharon Gasko from reputation only, as Greg’s sometime-partner on the bigger cases. Until Greg mentioned her name, Joe hadn’t realized how many people this was going to pull in, mostly good, but possibly on the take. How was he going to keep any of this under wraps until he knew what he was dealing with? Was he stupid to even try?
“We also found three more bodies throughout the building, all with their necks broken. I called in Nick from Homicide, but I know Cathy didn’t do these guys unless she’s grown about a foot and started takin‘ steroids. Maybe the big-boot guy from the office?”
Joe put his hand to his forehead and pushed back his hair. God, he hoped she’d gotten away somehow, gone into hiding.
Suddenly grave, Hughs went on, “I think we found where they kept her- a little room near the top floor. Her prints were all over it. The door was busted in just like one near where we found ‘Mr. Blood and Guts.’ We found her footprints leading away from the body. She got out, Joe.”
Jerked in opposite directions by both hope and dread, Joe was rendered immobile. Against all odds, she was alive – at least, she was a few days ago – but held by a mobster for six months? Why? Why did he keep her alive? It didn’t make sense. And medical equipment? Jesus, Joe didn’t want to even think what a guy like that could have done to her for all that time…
“I did like you asked.” With his foot, Hughs pushed the bag under the table to Joe. “Anything we could find – files, security footage, disks, papers – we just took ‘em. They’re all here. There wasn’t a lot, considering how many offices this guy’s operation took up. It looks like he really knew how to cover his ass, but that fits the M.O.” Greg looked at the crumped bag as if it held a pit viper. “Moreno’s already left me five messages about this case, asking for this stuff. It’s hot, Joe.” Motioning to the sack, he added, “I hope this doesn’t bite us.”
“Yeah.” Joe looked down at the bag, now next to him. “Thanks, Greg. I owe ya…big, and I’ll keep this really quiet, I promise, for Patty’s sake.”
“As far as I’m concerned, this is your case, no matter what Moreno says. Between leaks to the press, and…otherwise…we can’t take chances. Cathy’s one of ours. They can take my pension. Besides, what’s my wife gonna do with it after the pipes play for me, huh? Probably just spend it on clothes and our new pizza guy she can’t stop talkin’ about.” Greg laughed caustically.
He finished the rest of his drink in one long pull and got up to leave.
“Joe…Gasko and I really hope you find her,” he said as he wrapped his still wet coat around himself and put up his collar.
Joe’s tired eyes looked up at his friend, assessing the man he could call on a moment’s notice. They didn’t hang out much – they worked too many long days for that – but Joe trusted him over just about anyone else in the force. Greg was clean, Joe would have bet his life on it, and he needed to be right. He might be betting Cathy’s.
“Yeah, Greg, me too…”
Greg motioned a goodbye with a flick of two fingers, and headed towards the door. He barely opened it before the wind blew it wide, and he stepped into the wet city to go home to his pissed-off wife and some rest.
As soon as the front door closed, Joe’s focus turned to the bag under his feet. As the toe of his shoe pressed into the yielding, paper outside, he could feel the hard shifting plastic of multiple tapes, square corners of thick files. Should he call Greg back, have him put everything into evidence right away, follow the rules?
He had heard rumblings of this Gabriel guy, but never linked to Cathy, just hints from witnesses too scared to really talk, or from people, like Patrick, who ended up dead, or disappeared before anything concrete could be found. This guy could stay below radar; he wasn’t showy like Gotti or Martinez, and worse, if the rumors were true, he had his dirty fingers in a lot of pies – crack, heroin, payoffs, extortion, money laundering, murder – all high-powered, and all completely unprovable in a court of law. Ruthless, opportunistic, and knew how to cover his tracks, in blood if need be. It was a blessing if Cathy had killed him, but why and how was she still alive to do it?
Cathy Chandler was even more of a mystery now than she’d been a day ago.
Joe shook off his thoughts just enough so he could move again. He finished his whiskey and pulled a couple bills from his wallet and placed them on the table in spite of the fuss his cousin would make later. He threw on his coat and grabbed the bag, with all the bombs that might sit undetonated inside. Cathy needed him. He had to figure this out.
Joe left the restaurant to a half-hearted “Thanks for coming” from the hostess. He took his unread paper and held it over his head as he started walking in the icy rain towards his apartment. There he would need to gather his courage, open the bag, and continue his sifting through Cathy’s life.