by J. David Liss
I got to the door of my building right behind Jackie Neal, who looked blondish-grey, middle aged and flustered. She didn’t pay attention to me. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a man in a suit speak into a lapel. He had a wire running to his ear. He wasn’t anyone I knew. I thought of all the names on the list Mulberry had given me. I wanted to run away. I wanted to grab him and beat him. I just put my hands in my pocket where I’d moved my gun and kept walking like I saw nothing.
Jackie got to the elevator and pushed the button. I arrived and gave her the faint smile of a neighbor who barely recognized her. She gave a faint smile back. We got on the elevator. A man who had been waiting in the lobby got on the elevator too — was going to have to speak with the doorman — and the man I saw in the street had jogged in to the lobby and also swung on to the elevator. It was me and Jackie and two of them. The elevator door closed and I didn’t wait. I already had my gun in hand and shot them both. The first guy just fell dead. The second was reaching for his piece when I got him.
Jackie was shaken. “What the hell, Frank!”
Then she calmed herself. “Taking a chance. How do you know they’re Prophet’s? Could just be residents.”
“You know better.”
“Question is, what are we going to find when we get to the 28th floor?”
“They wouldn’t have heard the shots. Have your gun in your hand and don’t worry about the fumbling-for-the-key routine. These guys were told to kill on sight, me and anyone nearby. You saw the list of our people. Anyone else, just shoot.”
“You’re acting funny, Frank. I’ve never seen you like this. Fuck’in bloodthirsty. Never heard that you shoot first, ask questions later.”
I was scared. Bottom line. When I saw her face approach the camera it felt like being stalked by a panther. It left me shaken. I wasn’t used to that. This didn’t feel like a case I was solving. It felt like I was being hunted and needed to kill the predator that was coming for me. Maybe I wouldn’t have felt this way if the Mayor hadn’t said on TV that it was me on the case. But maybe I would have.
There was something else disturbing me. I didn’t want to meet her face to face. There was something terrifying about her perfect proportions, her gigantic size. She was like a creature out of a fairytale, the giant that ate children, the witch in the gingerbread house. And beneath that, something compelling— the witch trying to make Hansel and Gretel want to be eaten. But it wasn’t sexual—at least, I didn’t think so from the video. The way she killed, it was as if people were a lesser species that existed for her to hunt, not to mate with. I wanted to catch her without meeting her. I wanted someone else to kill her. But I wanted her dead.
We were getting to my floor. “Gun out. They may be waiting in front of the elevator or on either side. We need to catch them by surprise.”
“What’s gotten into you Frank? This is not how it’s done.”
“Did you see the video?”
“Mulberry should have made everyone watch it.”
“I was making a collar when it hit the Department.”
“I am not over reacting.”
The elevator doors opened. I aimed right; Jackie aimed left. There was a man there with a gun pointed at me. I didn’t get a chance to shoot. Neither did Jackie. As the elevator doors opened, undercover cops stepped from stairwells, utility closets, and empty apartments and shot, killing both men. This part of the team had clearly watched the video.
I said, “I think there are at least two in my apartment. They would have heard the gun fire. I’ll knock on the door as if I’m one of their gang so that they open up. If this doesn’t work, blow the door apart with the shotgun.”
It was me, Jackie, and 12 other cops. We all took position on either side of the door. I reached over and knocked, trying to knock like a hood who had just done his job. Three bullets came through the center of the door where I would have been standing if I didn’t suspect anything.
“Okay, let’s go.” One of the undercover guys hauled a big ass shotgun and in six shots blew down my door. I groaned inside. I like this apartment. Another cop tossed in a teargas grenade. My place would be unlivable for a month. Whoever was inside didn’t run out, they just started coughing and shooting wildly. When the bullets stopped for a few seconds, the guy with the shotgun came back and used it to sweep my apartment, blasting in a semicircle from the doorway. Was this covered by my insurance?
The guy with the shotgun, a new detective named Covell, ran in first. I was right behind him and Jackie behind me. There were two men on the floor. One was dead. One was a bloody mess, groaning.
I opened the windows and turned on the central air. The place cleared out quickly. I worked hard not to look at the wall over the mantelpiece, where the painting my father had given me was hung. I wasn’t ready to know what had happened to something that beautiful, that expensive.
The man on the floor was too smashed up to attack. I took a good look and recognized Salvatore Albano, whom Arnie Schultz had identified as the son of gangster Irish Albano. I walked up to him.
“Sally Albano.” Through his pain he looked up at me. “Your dad would be so disappointed in you. Working for Prophet, turning your back on the family.”
He didn’t bother to answer. He was in pain.
“Sally, where’s Prophet? He was muttering something that I could barely hear. It might have been fuck you.
“Sally, how do I explain to you this is life and death?” I went into my kitchen. It was ruined; everything in the house was ruined. I went to the fruit bowl on the counter and got a lemon. I like to cook and it’s good to have lemons around. Then I got a paring knife and carried the knife and the lemon over to Sally.
“Your friends in the elevator went for their guns and I blew their brains out. There were six of you and you’re all dead except for little Sally Albano. Where’s Prophet?”
I found a huge wound on his stomach made by the buckshot. I sliced the lemon in half. With the tip of the knife I spread the opening of the gut wound and squeezed lemon juice in. Sally screamed. I found a cut on his face and squeezed in lemon juice. He screamed again.
“Tell me where I can find Profit or I’ll keep watering your holes until you’re unconscious from pain, then I’ll kill you.” I squeezed lemon into the cut near his left eye.
“What’s he doing?” I heard one of the cops whisper.
“Trying to stay alive,” another answered. “Didn’t you see the video?”
I took the small paring knife and slowly started opening the gut wound, poking the peritoneum lining the inside of Sally’s stomach. He screamed some more.
“Call her and tell her mission accomplished. If you don’t, I’ll kill you and 13 other cops will say it was self-defense. Take out your cell phone and call her.”
He said his first words, assuming that screams aren’t language. “Pocket. It’s in my jacket pocket.” I went back to the kitchen and got two pair of tongs. Dealing with Prophet, I wasn’t going to take a chance that there was a poison needle in the jacket pocket. I used the tongs to fish around Sally’s jacket. But his phone had been smashed by the shot he took. I called HQ. “Jack, how quickly can you put a trace on my home phone?”
“We’ll need a warrant. This will take time.”
“For Chrissakes! It’s my phone. You have consent.”
I waited five minutes, then handed him my house phone. “Use this. Call Prophet. Tell her you killed me or I’ll kill you.”
He hesitated about 4 seconds and took the phone. He dialed a number and I hoped HQ was getting the trace.
“Anna, it’s Sally. We got him.”
“Why are you calling me on his phone line?”
“My phone was destroyed. I got hit. I’m hurt.”
“Where are the others?”
“I don’t know. Dead or wounded.”
“There were six of you. What the hell happened?”
“I don’t know. Me and Tony were in the apartment in case Scott got past the elevator and the hallway. He was hurt, it took him a long time to open the door. His gun was in his hand when he walked in. He shot Tony and I shot him, but he got a shot off at me and it hit me in the chest.” I was amazed at how creative Sally Albano could be. Or how terrified. He made up quite a story about how I could be dead, and so could five of the six sent after me.
“One man couldn’t have gotten six of you.”
“He’s dead, Anna.”
“Kill yourself, Sal.” She hung up. Without any apparent thought, Albano reached for his chest holster. I believed if he would have found a gun he would have killed himself. Then he seemed to lose it all and fell unconscious.
I turned my focus away from Albano and realized that all the other cops in the room had backed away from me, were staring at me. I pulled out my cell phone and called Mulberry. He said, “We got a location.”
“I don’t think anyone will be there when we arrive. Have the bomb squad go first. It will probably be booby-trapped. But we may find some clues after everything blows up.”
The trace actually led us to a brothel on the upper East Side that the former governor, the one that came after my father, was said to frequent. It was a joke. She knew we were tracing the call. Doctors were working on Sally Albano; if he lived, we would try to get some answers.
I got back to headquarters and sent an e-mail requesting a palaver with Mulberry, Goldberg, Moran, and Matty. I thought briefly about asking Matty to shower before coming to the meeting, but decided I was going to need him at the top of his game. The rest of us were going to have to deal with it.
We met in a conference room next to Moran’s office. I turned up the air-conditioning.
Mulberry started. “What do we have?”
“She didn’t kill me and she’s down six men.”
Moran: “She didn’t kill you yet.”
Matty: “You should have asked me to set the trace on Francis’ phone. Give me access to the coding of the trace.”
Mulberry: “We didn’t get anything. It was a wild goose chase.”
Matty: “I’ll learn something from analyzing how the trace was baffled. But it’s going to take some time to figure it out.”
Matty left to go back to his lab and practice whatever witchcraft he employed.
Goldberg: “I had a thought about a woman who is 6’4”, a genius, and is immensely violent. So I searched Ivy League application records.”
Moran: “You found out where she went to college?”
Goldberg: “She didn’t go to college. But her parents thought she should.”
Goldberg: “Picture two Russian immigrants in Brooklyn. Married after they met at the genetics lab where they were both scientists. Brilliant, frustrated by the Russian controls on research, concerned that their work would only be used for warfare, they easily figured out a way to leave the country and come to the U.S. Here, they had a child. I don’t know if she was so extraordinary because both of her parents were extraordinary, mentally and physically, or if these two geneticists were…experimenting with their own child. But she turned out to be amazing. Smarter than anyone around her. First dazzling, then surpassing her teachers. By the time she was 13-years-old it was clear she had nothing to gain from further schooling, even college.
“But her parents disagreed.
“They came to America to send their child to Harvard or one of the other Ivies. It wasn’t about knowledge or connections. It was about status and ego. Their supervisor in the genetics lab in Russia wasn’t bright enough to understand their work, yet he was their boss. He had the job at the lab because, stupid as he was, his parents had connections and the money to send him to America to attend college at NYU. His parents’ money and the American credential landed him the job. He spoke incessantly about his education in America, how superior it was to anything available locally.
“The girl’s parents had counted on sending her to a better school than NYU and rubbing the old boss’ face in it. It’s petty. It’s small. I can’t explain how two such brilliant people were motivated by something so absurd. But it was their central motivation.
“Imagine their anger and disappointment when their prodigy announced that she wasn’t going to go to college but was ready to move on! So they ignored her wishes and sent out college applications. Not wanting to take any chances, they described her athletic prowess, great size and strength, and pointed out how she would be the anchor of any sports team at the university.
“She never knew they had done that. She left home before a single acceptance envelope returned. So she never knew that she had a trail to erase. Olga Olinskia did whatever she had to do in order to become Anna Prophet. The girl from Brooklyn, by way of Russia, is our game.”
Me: “What are the parents’ first names?”
Goldberg: “Serge and Sophia. Why?”
Me: “For when I file my report.”
Moran: “When did this all happen? Prophet looks like she’s in her mid to late 30’s.”
Goldberg: “She left home five years ago. She’s 16. A girl who was 11 built a criminal enterprise in 5 years.”
Moran: “That’s impossible, Dr. Goldberg. The woman on that video isn’t 16. She’s at least in her late 20s. You got the wrong suspect.”
Goldberg: “She has matured unbelievably quickly. I don’t know if that’s a function of genetic manipulation or psychosomatic stimulation of the maturation process.”
Mulberry: “If you’re right, we may be dealing with a genetically enhanced superwoman.”
Goldberg: “Her parents said that she wasn’t genetically enhanced. I can’t tell if they’re lying.”
Mulberry: “Michael, we may be dealing with someone who is smarter than all of us. What the hell are we going to do?”
Goldberg: “No, Jack. She may be smarter than any single one of us, but she’s not smarter than all of us put together.”
“I’m starting to believe it’s a mistake to let Daisy Stein do the interview.”
“You’re right Frank,” Mulberry said. I pulled out my cell phone to call Schultz, but it was dead. “I don’t get it. I charged the thing this morning.”
Everyone pulled out their phones. All were dead. Then my phone rang, scaring the shit out of me.
“It’s Matty. Prophet is beginning the Citywide hack. Shit is going to start blowing up.”
“My phone was dead. How are you getting through?
“I can construct an alternative IP route using the internal IP Protocol and…never mind. I can make our phone work. But only the phones on our account at HQ.” I told the others in the room.
“And Francis, I learned something from deconstructing her trace baffle.” Dramatic silence followed.
“She’s in a phone company central office building.”
“How do you know?”
“The ease with which she was able to multiplex a POTS-based access call to a digital cross connect would require…”
“Okay.” I cut him off. “Where?”
“Manhattan, south of 57th Street. Best I could do. But that was a pretty neat bit of work, don’t you th…”
I cut him off again and turned toward the folks in the room. “Matty says she’s in a phone company central office in Manhattan, south of 57th.”
Goldberg said, “I’m thinking where she grew up in Brooklyn.”
“She walked out on her home and parents, but maybe she needs to prove that she can be the best in the house, the best in the neighborhood, as well as the best in the City.”
“Could she be in a central office in Manhattan that overlooks Brooklyn?”
“Looking down on the old neighborhood from a perch higher up the mountain. That sounds right to me.”
“Verizon has a central office on Pearl Street that overlooks Brooklyn and almost all of Manhattan.”
“That’s the place.”
Mulberry: “How we gonna get there? Look out the window.”
The streets were already chaotic. It was the street lights. They all turned green in every direction at the same time. Everybody went.
“Shit,” said somebody. It could have been me.
At this, Arnie Schultz walked in.
“We tailed her like you said. We found her.”
“The phone company central office on Pearl Street?”
“No. Why would you think that? She’s a block away.” I heard Matty cursing over the phone.
“Matty, do you think Arnie is wrong?”
More cursing. “Matty?”
“No motherfucker. I don’t. Wait a minute.” Silence, then, “Fuck. Here it is. A recursive loop inside the secondary pathway. She fooled me.” More silence. Then again, very softly, “She fooled me.”
None of us ever thought we’d hear those words coming out of Matty’s mouth. The fooled me, not the motherfucker.
Arnie chuckled, looking pleased. “By the way,” he said, she took Stein. I was close enough to hear the stooge say he was with Prophet and that she was being summoned for the interview. I remembered what you said about her not being in danger of getting kidnapped and I didn’t blow the tail. Dunne followed. I came here.”
Goldberg said, “Shit.” I immediately knew why.
Goldberg: “The game has changed. She didn’t kill you Frank. I don’t know that she’s ever been outdone in anything. She wanted you dead; six of hers are gone. She’s going to switch to a short-term strategy. She’s going to kill Daisy Stein and beat it.”
Me: “Arnie, do you know her address?”
“Okay. Call Dunne, tell him to get back here. Jack, we need an army that can walk through the mess out there.”
Mulberry: “On it. But I won’t be able to get the heavy equipment to the site. Not with the streets locked down like this.”
Me: “Double edged sword. We can’t get assault vehicles there, but she can’t escape in this mess.”
Schultz: “Dunne’s not answering.”
Me: “Dunne may be dead. I’m going now. They’re escaping on foot. Jack, get the back-up out there as soon as you can.” I started running to 16 Lafayette. Schultz was running too, just a lot slower. In about 5 minutes a SWAT phalanx would be following and within 15 minute helicopters would be in the air. It took me seven minutes run four blocks. The whole time I was dodging people, stopped cars, and confused dogs held by upset dog walkers.
Then I heard the engines.
She was prepared to be discovered, prepared to get away. Twenty motorcycles were weaving their way through the blocked traffic. They made no accommodation for pedestrians, running down whoever was too slow to get out of their way. And they were getting away. Coming roughly toward me was a bike with a giant woman. There wasn’t any red hair coming out from under her helmet, but her size and the way she dominated the bike marked her as Anna Prophet—Olga Olinskia. I didn’t dare try to take a shot at her in this crowd. Behind her was a small figure on another motorcycle. I had no doubt it was Daisy Stein and I thought to myself, What is that crazy woman doing, following Prophet? Why the hell is she still alive? And while I couldn’t explain it, I knew that she was still alive because she was following Prophet.
I was certain that I was going to lose Prophet when a shot came from somewhere in the crowded street. The shot missed Prophet but hit her motorcycle which veered and went over on its side. Who the hell would fire at her in a crowd? Prophet came up with the .22 pistol in her hand and aimed in the direction of the shot and fired. I heard someone grunt, but didn’t see who, didn’t see where he fell. I was getting close to her now and had my gun out. Her men were heading in different directions; no doubt that was their plan to escape. They hadn’t realized their boss was knocked off her bike. She must have signaled to them for assistance, because they all turned and tried to join her, though the crowds that they had created by screwing with the traffic light sequences was a sticky trap for them too.
I heard more motorcycle engines. But these were cops. Mulberry had seen and reacted. SWAT teams were arriving by foot and six helicopters hovered while SWAT teams lowered by rope to the floor.
Prophet looked around. She was brilliant, smarter than any one of us. But she was inexperienced and had never dealt with defeat. She had her gun in hand and turned toward Daisy.
I screamed, “Olga!”
She turned, almost looking startled. Saw me and smiled.
As she spoke she lifted her gun but never had a chance to fire. Another shot came from the crowd. It was closer. It shattered her helmet and splattered the street with red. I turned in the direction of the shot, ducking and pointing my gun. But I didn’t know who to shoot.
In 1984 J. David Liss received an MFA from Brooklyn College. Trained in writing, inclined to politics, he worked as a speechwriter and lobbyist for causes that allow him to earn a living but are worthwhile. Liss published poetry and fiction in a number of places, including a recent anthology from Between the Lines Press.