NYPD Detective Chiara Corelli wasn’t surprised to see the men and women in blue waiting in front of the station to welcome her back. She’d expected them. Just not so many. And not the media. Even a block away, the excitement of the crowd was palpable. She took a deep breath, which at seven thirty on this oppressive August morning, was like inhaling steam. Then, as before any battle, she took a minute to psych herself, straightened her already military-straight back and marched toward the maelstrom.
A shout. “Corelli.” Her name passed through the crowd, becoming a chant. Her heart sped up, her hand found her Glock, but she ignored the impulse to draw it. She’d fractured the blue line and doing that had consequences. But knowing intellectually there would be anger and hatred and danger was one thing, seeing and feeling it was…unnerving. And disheartening. She steeled herself. She’d never let them see her hurt and her anger at their betrayal. Or her fear.
Head held high, Corelli fought the urge to favor the leg injured in last night’s attack and maintained the steady pace she’d set for herself. At the opening she ignored the bright lights and shouted questions of the press and plunged into the funnel formed by hundreds of police officers with their backs to her, hissing her name. The heat, sweat and cloying sweetness of the colognes and perfumes from so many bodies crammed together nauseated her. Her gut clenched but she didn’t miss a step. Nor did she miss the calls of traitor, whore and bitch that underscored the hissing that followed her, or the elbows and kicks that connected. And, though she didn’t turn to look, she felt the heat of the TV lights and heard the shouted commentary of the TV reporters describing the reception provided by her brethren in blue.
After what seemed like an hour, she reached the door and stepped into the familiar bustle of police business. The air was fresher and she had space to breathe but she was not immune here. “Shame on you,” said the first officer she encountered face-to-face, a man she’d known for years. Shocked by the hatred on his face, she braced for an attack, but instead of spitting in her face as she expected, he pivoted and stood with his back to her.
Still ignoring the pain in her leg, she continued on. She’d been told the squad was up a staircase toward the back of the station house. By the time she hit the first step, the only sounds were the ringing phones, the rat-a-tat-tat of her heels, and the shuffle of feet as her colleagues swiveled to show her their backs. Funny, it felt as if their eyes were piercing her back as she climbed the stairs.
She braced for more of the same in the squad room, but the few detectives present studiously ignored her and carried on their conversations. She scanned the room, not knowing which, if any, desk was hers.
She turned toward the voice. Detective Ray Dietz. She hadn’t known he was at the oh-eight.
A smiling face. “Over here.” Dietz pointed to a desk in the corner.
“Dietz, I thought you’d retired.”
“Couldn’t see myself farting around the house.” He frowned. “What’s with the limp and the fucked-up face?”
Corelli tucked her swollen hand into her left armpit. Her other hand brushed the abrasion on her face.
“A pickup truck charged me last night. My red cape was at home so I couldn’t wave it in front of the truck to distract it. I tripped, scrambling to get out of its way.” She didn’t mention the foot that had smacked her already injured knee as she made her way through the morning’s gauntlet.
He wrinkled his nose. “There’s lots of bullheaded pricks around here. Better keep that cape handy.”
She lowered her voice. “How come you’re talking to me?”
“Showin’ my respect.” He tipped an imaginary hat. “Because you got a lotta balls takin’ on such a risky job.”
“Safer to stay away from me, Dietz.”
He cracked his knuckles. “Let the bastards try something.”
She sat behind the desk and Dietz dropped into the side chair.
While they chatted, she scanned the room, found a few familiar faces, but none were welcoming. One figure, silent and watchful, caught her eye.
She lifted her chin in the direction of the slender, chestnut brown woman standing near the coffeepot. “Who’s the fashion plate by the window?” The sophisticated haircut, the tan designer pantsuit, the red silk shirt, and the fancy leather bag slung over her shoulder were more appropriate for a high-priced law firm than the rough-and-tumble life of a detective. But her eyes, the almost imperceptible bulge at her waist, and the sensible black shoes said cop.
Dietz spoke softly. “Detective Penelope Jasmine Parker. Rich girl and former assistant district attorney turned cop, saved a Harlem family of five from a crazed shooter and made detective a couple weeks ago.”
“Jeez, I hope she didn’t break a nail.” Parker. Shit. Chief of Detectives Harry Broderick had set the terms for her being back on the job. Either be glued to the hip with a new detective, P.J. Parker, or be chained to a desk. No contest there. Parker won hands down.
He snorted. “Give the kid a break. She’s got enough to deal with. Her father is Aloysius T. Parker.”
“The Aloysius T. Parker? US Senator Aloysius T. Parker?”
“Man, I thought I had baggage.” Senator Parker was the most vocal and vicious critic of the NYPD, constantly demonstrating and holding press conferences accusing the department of racism, some real, some imagined.
“Kid’s a loner, never connected at the two-nine in Harlem and probably wouldn’t have made detective if she hadn’t saved that family. Parker is waiting for Captain Winfry too.”
What the hell was Broderick up to, saddling her with a fashionista whose father was NYPD’s number one critic? Though, if she really was an unconnected loner, it might mean she could trust Parker. But could she trust Broderick?
Corelli studied Parker, trying to get a sense of the tightly coiled woman. Parker stiffened, scowled at Corelli and quickly looked away. Should she talk to Parker now? No, better wait to talk to Winfry. Maybe Senator Daddy got her assignment changed.
Dietz tapped the folders piled in the center of her desk. “The captain wanted you to review these cold cases and see what you can pick up. I gotta follow up on some stuff. See ya later.”
“I’m on it.” Easier said than done, though. She could only sit still for fifteen or twenty minutes. She was up and down so often that the detectives in the squad and the uniforms downstairs began to grumble at having to stand and turn their backs every time she dashed outside to pace and breathe and then again when she reentered. Some pretended they didn’t see her. And after a while most of the detectives in the squad ignored her, except Parker. And, while Parker didn’t turn her back, she watched her every move. It was irritating.
After three hours, Corelli was in a rage. Fucking civilians snug in their comfy offices, not worried about shelling or IEDs or suicide bombers, had no sense of urgency. Either Winfry was giving her the cold shoulder or he had forgotten she was waiting. Neither was acceptable. Fucking Winfry. Fucking bureaucratic bullshit. Fifteen more minutes and she was out of there, job or no job. She’d been contemplating signing on for another tour in Afghanistan and going back was looking better and better.
She grabbed the next cold case folder and read the first page. Someone had left a love letter for her. In an instant the agitation was replaced by the familiar calm focus and alertness she always felt in the face of danger. She read it again.
TRAITOR—a person who betrays another, a cause, or any trust.
JUDAS—one who betrays another under the guise of friendship.
RAT—a despicable person, especially one who betrays or informs upon associates.
RATTED—to betray one’s associates by giving information.
RATFINK—A person regarded as contemptible, obnoxious, or otherwise undesirable.
PUNISHMENT—One dead + Many ruined = Death
She scanned the room. Nobody was watching her. She studied the computer-generated page, thought about fingerprints but knew there wouldn’t be any. She’d known investigating other police would have serious consequences, known there was a good chance she might not survive, known if she survived she would be ostracized. But, just back from Afghanistan, she hadn’t cared much about living. Now, home four months and no longer undercover, she was thinking that living was better than dying and her death no longer figured as a positive in her equation of consequences. They, whoever they were, would have to work hard to get her.
She accepted responsibility for the results of her undercover investigation. One officer she’d exposed ate his gun and a number of others were facing serious jail time, but they were the bad guys, not her. It wasn’t easy but she would live with the guilt just as she was living with the killing she’d done in Afghanistan and Iraq. She put the paper in her pocket and checked again to see if anyone was watching. Parker quickly averted her eyes. Could Ms. Fancy-Pants Parker be the writer?
“Corelli.” Dietz’s voice broke into her musing. “Captain’s ready.”
“About fucking time.”
The room went silent. Fuck. She hadn’t meant to say that aloud.
“Whoa.” Dietz put a hand on her shoulder. “Better take a deep breath before you go down.” He looked into her eyes. “The brass dropped in. He had no choice.”
She eyed his hand. He stepped back, taking his hand with him. Shit. Threatening her only friend. “Sorry, Dietz. It’s been a long morning.”
She flipped a half salute and moved toward the steps accompanied by a symphony of scraping chairs as the detectives stood and gave her their backs. It hurt. But damn if she’d give them the satisfaction of knowing that. She strode, as much as her achy leg allowed, through the squad, down the stairs past the blue backs and muttering that followed her as she made her way to the captain’s office. She took the deep breath Dietz had recommended and knocked.
Without looking up, Captain Winfry waved her to the chair facing him. “Sit. I’ll be with you in a minute.”
She stared at the top of his shiny head. She still didn’t get why he wanted her under his command when no one else would have her.
He looked up. His eyes widened. “What the hell happened to your face, Corelli?”
She fingered the scrape that covered the right side of her face. “A car tried to run me down last night when I was walking home from One Police Plaza. The incident was reported by Officer Marta Ryan, sir.”
Winfry’s eyes narrowed. His face darkened. Was that a flash of anger?
“Damn it, Corelli. That’s exactly why the chief ordered a bodyguard for you.”
“Yes sir, I’m supposed to meet with Detective Parker this morning.” But you kept me waiting so it hasn’t happened.
“Other than cars gunning for you and running the blue gauntlet this morning, how are things going?”
“Fine, sir.” If you don’t count the kicks, punches, threatening calls or slashing of my Harley’s tires while I was at my nephew’s baptism yesterday. “Ready to be back on the job. Am I going to be working with Detective Parker?”
“Yes. But here’s the thing. Parker doesn’t know she’s supposed to work with you.”
“Chief Broderick said he’d set it up.”
Winfry looked pained. “Well, he selected Parker and told her he had a special assignment for her, but he didn’t tell her it involved you.”
Lily-livered bastard. “Are you going to tell her?”
“Broderick thinks you’re the best person to convince Parker. So, after we’re done you’ll meet with her.”
“Convince her? You mean she can say no?”
“Yes, she can say no.”
Fucking Broderick. “Is the special treatment…I mean the fact that she can say no, because of who her father is?”
Winfry looked amused. “Actually, Corelli, it’s because of who you are. Broderick feels, and I agree, it’s really not a good idea to have someone who doesn’t want anything to do with you watching your back.”
“And if I can’t convince her?”
“If she turns down the assignment, you’re on desk duty until we find someone we feel can be trusted.”
“Jeez.” She bit her lip. It wouldn’t do to badmouth the chief to her new boss.
“It’s unorthodox, but the chief happens to be right. You’re a target right now and you need someone you can trust. She’s smart. Yale undergrad, Harvard Law, and a stint as an assistant DA before joining the department. She’s proven she’s able to keep her head under fire. And she’s safe because she’s unconnected. But the chief didn’t want to order her to do it.”
“He could’ve at least told her she would be working with me.”
“Coulda, shoulda. As I said, Broderick was confident you could make the case.”
“If I might ask, Captain, I’m persona non grata. Why do you want to work with me?”
He straightened the folders on his desk. She waited, knowing if she broke the silence he might feel he didn’t have to answer.
“A number of reasons, some personal that I won’t discuss. Reason one, the blue wall serves a purpose but it’s not right to ostracize an honest cop for blowing the whistle on dirty cops. Reason two, I respect you for doing what you did for the department despite the personal risk while undercover and knowing you’d be ostracized after. And reason three, I get a top-notch detective.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“Dealing with the ostracism is your problem, but anything else—threats, failure by your colleagues to do their jobs or respond as you would expect—I want to know.”
He glanced at his watch. “I have a meeting now so you can use my office to sell yourself to Parker. You have forty-five minutes.” He punched a number into the phone. “Send Parker to my office.” He retrieved the stack of folders and the leather bound notebook from his desk and headed for the door. “Good luck.”
Great. When did her old friend Chief Harry Broderick become a coward? He wants me to be safe, but he doesn’t have the balls to tell Parker I’m the assignment?
Parker must have run down the stairs because Winfry had just left when she walked through the open door. Seeing Corelli, not Winfry, she frowned and started to back out. “Oh, I thought—”
Corelli stood. “Detective Parker?”
Parker took a step back, as if she might be infected if she got too close.
“Don’t worry, it’s not contagious.”
“What?” Parker looked puzzled.
“I’m Detective Chiara Corelli.”
Parker’s face darkened. “I know who you are.”
Oh, oh. Daddy’s little girl is not happy. “We’re supposed to meet this morning to talk about working together.”
“Really? No one told me.”
I’m telling you now, bitch. “Yeah, well, Chief Broderick sorta forgot to mention my name.” Corelli put her hands in her back pockets and rocked back on her heels. “I’m your special assignment. The deal is, we work homicides, you watch my back, and I train you.”
“Work with the most hated detective in the department?” Parker laughed. “You must be kidding.” Her voice was harsh. “The chief did say there wouldn’t be any repercussions if I don’t want the assignment.” She glared at Corelli. “And I don’t.” She moved toward the door.
“Detective Parker.” Corelli’s voice was a command.
Parker stopped, her back to Corelli.
“A few minutes, please.”
Parker faced Corelli. “Read my lips. I will not work with you.”
“At least hear me out.”
Parker’s jaw tightened. “How about you hear me? I do not want to be associated with you. What about that sentence don’t you understand?”
What was Broderick thinking? She couldn’t work with someone who hated her. She opened her mouth to tell Parker to go fuck herself, but instead she clamped her lips. Duh. Every cop hated her. But Broderick seemed to think Parker was safe. She needed Parker, so she’d make nice. “A lot of police feel that way about me, but since the chief stressed that you think for yourself, I expected you’d want to hear the facts before you made a decision.”
“I know the facts.”
“Hey, if you’re comfortable passing judgment without hearing from the accused, you don’t have what it takes to be a good homicide detective anyway. So we’re done here.” Corelli waved her hand toward the door. “Go.” Fuck you. I won’t beg.
Parker frowned. Her hands curled into fists but she didn’t move. She seemed to be fighting an internal battle. Corelli held her breath. Even Parker was better than desk duty.
“You’re wrong. I would be an excellent homicide detective. But you’re right that I’m prejudging you based on gossip, innuendo and the media.” Parker’s voice was icy. “But why me? There are plenty of experienced detectives, more likely bodyguards, on the force.”
“I don’t like this any more than you, Parker.” Corelli’s smile was pained. “But as you said, I’m the most hated detective in the department. Chief Broderick feels I’ll have an accident if I don’t have someone who can be trusted to watch my back. And given the circumstances, it’s hard to know who to trust. Broderick chose you. He says you’re an honest, trustworthy cop, who’s proven you know how to handle your gun.”
“And if I say no?”
“I’m tied to a desk.”
Parker nodded. “I see.” She looked out the window and back at Corelli. “Not my problem.”
Corelli felt a prickle of anxiety. She needed this to work. “It is your problem. Unless you’re on the side of the cops in jail waiting for trial and don’t care about an honest department.”
“Don’t be stupid. Of course, I…” Parker chewed her lip. “So talk.”
Corelli shifted the two chairs in front of the desk so they faced each other. “Let’s sit.”
Parker ran her hand over the seat of the dilapidated wooden chair, then sat.
Wonderful. I’m fighting for my life here and Miss Prissy is worried about snags in her fancy suit.
“I know you were promoted because you saved that family, but tell me a little about yourself, where you live, what precincts you’ve worked in, about your experience with the department.”
“This isn’t about me,” Parker said, her voice a challenge.
Corelli leaned in and locked eyes with Parker. “Whatever you might think of me, Parker, I don’t work with strangers. So, either you want homicide badly enough to do this my way or you don’t. Better desk duty than not knowing who’s standing behind me.”
Parker sighed. “I presume you know Senator Parker is my father?”
“Yes, but I don’t hold it against you.” Well, maybe I do.
Parker smirked. “You’d be the first.”
“I’m sure being the senator’s daughter has its good points, too.”
“Of course. I’ve had a privileged life. We lived in a penthouse apartment in Harlem. I went to Brereton Academy, an expensive private school for girls on the Upper East Side, Yale, then Harvard Law. I–”
“I’m impressed. With an education like that, why become a cop?”
“I spent close to two years as an ADA in Manhattan and a lot of the time I was angry at losing cases that I thought could have been won. I blamed the police for not making solid cases.” She raised her chin defiantly. “Now I know how difficult it is to make a case, but then…Anyway, my godfather, Captain Jessie Isaacs, pushed me to stop complaining and do something to change the situation. After graduating from the police academy, I requested the two-nine in Harlem and worked the streets until my promotion two weeks ago. That’s it.”
“Isaacs is a good man.”
Showing the first sign of relaxing, Parker nodded. “The best.”
“Why do you want homicide?”
“People get murdered. Their families lose a mother or father or child. They suffer. Society suffers.” Parker looked down at her hands folded in her lap. “And I’ll be damn good at finding their murderers.”
“Confident, aren’t we?”
Eyes narrowed, Parker studied her. “You need me, yet you’re you trying to alienate me. Why?”
Corelli shrugged. “What do you know about me?”
“As I said, scuttlebutt and what I read in the newspapers.”
Lost in thought for a moment, Corelli reached for her braid and gently tugged it. “Some of this is confidential.”
“I’m betting on it. Right after I got back from Afghanistan, I was recruited by the FBI and the Chief of Detectives to go undercover to investigate an alleged ring of dirty cops in my old precinct.”
“The FBI?” Parker looked skeptical. “Everything I’ve heard and read said you were dirty, a member of the ring who got cold feet and blew the whistle on your friends to save yourself.”
“You’re the daughter of a politician. Is everything written about your daddy true?”
Parker’s eyebrows shot up.
“Right. Anyway, I was undercover for three months. Like Afghanistan and Iraq, I was surrounded by the enemy. Unlike those war zones, I was on my own and my friends and acquaintances were the enemy. Their greed and self-righteousness, their violence astounded me. Yet, I had to act like them or be murdered.” She searched Parker’s eyes looking for understanding. “I vomited a couple of times every day, partly from fear, partly from repressed anger and partly from disgust. I was throwing up in the bathroom so often that a couple of female detectives asked if I was pregnant. It was grueling.” Her leg began to vibrate and she stood to quiet it.
She resented having to justify herself to this dilettante, but Parker was her ticket to working homicides. She sat again and looked Parker in the eye. “I’ve never killed anybody on the job. I killed in Iraq and Afghanistan because I had to. But anyone earmarked to move up in Righteous Partners, the group of renegade officers I was trying to take down, had to kill to prove their loyalty. In fact, it was when they ordered me to murder a drug dealer and his wife and three kids, that I aborted the operation. I had a lot of names, but not all of them, and none of the top echelon. So it was all for nothing. I failed to get all of them. I failed to get any of the leaders.
“When I told the FBI I was walking, they said they had to protect the investigation and would deny any involvement. That didn’t surprise me. But I was shocked by the department’s pathetic denial of a story about me being one of the bad guys, a story, I might add, leaked by an unnamed source, presumably Righteous Partners. She studied Parker, hoping she hadn’t lost her, and was happy to see her listening, but the look of disdain on her face was not encouraging.
“It doesn’t make sense. You were just back from Afghanistan, so why would you accept such a risky assignment? You must have known how dangerous investigating other police would be. Didn’t you worry about them killing you, about being ostracized?”
“I went undercover for all the honest cops like me—and you. I knew I might be killed. I knew I would be ostracized, that it would be hard, but I knew I was doing the right thing.” Besides, at that point I didn’t care if they killed me.
Parker snorted. “Very noble. You sound like you’re running for office.”
“Remind you of your daddy, do I?” Corelli flashed a Mona Lisa smile. “As smarmy as it sounds, it’s the truth. I believe in God, country, family, and doing the right thing.”
The intensity of Parker’s gaze transfixed her. It felt as if Parker was trying to peer into her soul, to pierce her mind and suck the truth from her bones. Corelli tore her eyes away. “And speaking of doing the right thing, I’d better warn you that working with me won’t be easy. Not just because I’m a pain in the ass but because of the baggage I carry. Word on the street is that they want me dead. I get telephone threats every day, and they’ve already come after me twice. This love note was in one of the cold case folders I was given this morning. Take a look.” She handed it to Parker. “You need to think long and hard about whether you want to be enemy number two on the Righteous Partners’ hit list and whether you can deal with being ostracized along with me.”
Parker scanned the note. She looked at Corelli. “Is this your way of making the job attractive?”
She reached for the note. “Just tellin’ it like it is.”
“Are the damaged face, swollen hand, and limp, by way of Righteous Partners?”
“They tried to run me down last night.”
Parker nodded slowly, as if considering the implications. “Not an accident?”
“No doubt in my mind or the witnesses or the chief’s, which is why he insists I need somebody to watch my back.”
“Why would they try to kill—”
“We’re talking scumbag police, Parker,” Corelli said, impatient at having to explain. “Police who crossed the line, who think ripping off drug dealers isn’t stealing and working for the drug king Salazar and killing dealers who compete with him, is acceptable behavior. And worst of all, police who will kill other police to protect their scam.”
“But you’ve already turned them in.”
Corelli fought to keep her voice even. “Duh. Are you paying attention, Parker? I didn’t get them all and the ones I missed seem to think I know something that will send them to jail.”
“Don’t condescend to me. I may be a new detective but I’m not stupid. You dump this thing on me and now you’re grading me? I’ve listened but I don’t need you or this special assignment.”
Shit I thought I had her, but now she’s pissed again. “What about homicide?”
Parker stood. “I’ll think about it and get back to you tomorrow.”
“Captain Winfry wants this resolved by the time he gets back.” She glanced at her phone. “In ten or fifteen minutes.”
“In that case, the answer is no. Excuse me, I need the ladies’ room.” Parker walked out.
Corelli stared after Parker. She’d sure done a whiz-bang job convincing her. Damn. She hated being dependent. But desk duty was deadly. Maybe she should follow Parker and grovel. She stood, then thought better of it. If she was any judge of character, Parker would be back. And if not, she would grovel later.
Parker dashed into the ladies’ room, glad to find that it was private. She locked the door and leaned against it, her breath coming in quick bursts, the sweat tickling her shoulder blades. She splashed cold water on her face and pressed a wet paper towel to the back of her neck. Damn. Why risk her career and her life dealing with Corelli’s shit? So she’d be on desk duty, big deal. God, country, family and doing the right thing were important to her too, but she didn’t go around sticking her nose in hornets’ nests. She leaned toward the mirror and looked herself in the eye. Except isn’t that what she’d been doing at the precinct? Preaching to cops about building better cases, cops who’d been on the job since she was in elementary school.
Coward. She believed Corelli and it offended her sense of right and wrong that the department hadn’t protected her reputation, hadn’t vigorously defended her. So why was she hesitating to say yes? Not getting cooperation? Nothing new there. The assholes at the two-nine never gave her the time of day. The danger? Being a cop is dangerous. Being an outcast along with Corelli? She was already an outsider. The ostracism? It wouldn’t be fun, but if Corelli could walk the gauntlet and endure the abuse, so could she. No, it was Corelli’s attitude. Instead of groveling so she could make the grand gesture, Corelli had acted like she didn’t need her.
Parker straightened. Put your pride aside. Trust your gut. Corelli’s a good cop and exposing those dirty police was a good thing. You became a cop to nail the bad guys, and bad cops are very bad guys. She took a deep breath. Even people who trash her say Corelli is a crack detective. This is your opportunity to get into homicide and learn from the best. If it means putting up with her attitude and being ignored and shot at, so be it.
Decision made, she went to face the dragon. Detective Corelli was sitting in the same position, straight as a soldier, but with a fuck you sneer on her face. She wavered. As she sat and faced Corelli, she considered telling the bitch to shove it, but then she reminded herself that her goal was homicide. And she always met her goals. She cleared her throat. “I’m in.”
The smile that Corelli flashed belied the antagonism that Parker had observed. “You surprised me, Detective Parker. Are you sure you have the balls to walk the gauntlet with me?”
“Damn you. Are you always like this? I’m already regretting it.”
Corelli grinned. “You’re doing the right thing. Time will tell whether you’ll regret it.”
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Copyright © 2018 by Catherine Maiorisi
Bella Books, Inc. P.O. Box 10543 Tallahassee, FL 32302
Catherine Maiorisi lives in New York City and often writes under the watchful eye of Edgar Allan Poe in Edgar’s Café near her apartment. A Matter of Blood, featuring NYPD Detective Chiara Corelli, is available in ebook and trade paperback at Bellabooks.com, Amazon and B&N. Her recent short story, “Love, Secrets, and Lies” is included in Where Crime Never Sleeps: Murder New York Style 4. Two other shorts can be found in prior Murder New York Style anthologies published by the New York/Tri-State Chapter of Sisters in Crime – “Justice for All” in Fresh Slices and “Murder Italian Style” in Family Matters. Both Catherine’s romance novels, Matters of the Heart and No One But You, and four of her romance short stories are currently available at bellabooks.com, Amazon and Barnes and Noble.