by J. David Liss
Daisy had stopped her bike about 20 feet from Prophet’s. I walked over to her. She didn’t get off to meet me. As I got closer, I saw why. She was chained to the bike. She had a metal collar around her neck that was locked to the handlebars. On top of the gas tank was an electronic box with a blinking red light.
“Frank, clear the crowd! The bike is booby-trapped.”
“Is it on a timer?”
“I don’t know. She had a detonator. She said if I didn’t follow her she’d blow me up.”
SWAT teams arrived. I told them the story and they immediately cleared the street.
When the Squad arrived, they confirmed the bomb wasn’t on a timer. They deactivated the device and the detonator and cut Daisy loose from the motorcycle. I stared at Prophet. She was dead. She was a giant, well-proportioned woman with a bloody helmet for a head. I was very relieved. Very relieved. My shoulders slumped and my head fell forward just a bit.
Daisy filled me in. “She was prepared for you guys to come. If I didn’t follow her, she’d blow up the bike. The bike was all wired up with the bomb and with chains. She wanted her interview. She wasn’t going to kill me until it was done. Oh, the building on Lafayette is wired to blow. Don’t send anybody in there. Just fire a canon at it or something. She thought of everything.”
“Daisy, this must be traumatic. I’ll call Goldberg.”
“I’ll say it was traumatic. All that, and I never got an interview. But I was her prisoner for almost an hour. I’m the only reporter who actually met her. I’ve got to get to a computer.”
Daisy, rhymes with crazy.
Matty had hacked Prophet’s hijack of the street light and restored their regular algorithm. The streets were moving as well as Manhattan streets can move. I saw Arnie Schultz and waived him over to walk back to Police Plaza.
“Arnie, did you shoot Prophet? While I had no idea you were that kind of marksman, it was risky firing into the crowd.”
“Wasn’t me, Frank.”
What the fuck?
We got to HQ and I looked up Mulberry. “Jack, that sniper was amazing. But risky.”
“Snipers were ordered but not yet in position. When forensics gets through, I bet the bullet isn’t one of ours.”
Who killed Anna Prophet?
I stopped off at Matty’s lab. I thought very carefully about what I would say.
“Was she really as good at this stuff as she seemed?”
“She was good, Detective Scott. Just not the best.”
“You seemed to think highly of her.”
“Sure. But she wasn’t as good as she thought she was.”
“What do you mean?”
“Very few people are perfect.”
“Not following you, Matty.”
“Story of your life, Francis. Don’t even bother trying.” He turned back to his console, which I took as a dismissal.
I called Arnie Schultz back at the Organized Crime Bureau. “Arnie, it’s Frank. At the scene, did you see any of your usual mobsters there?”
“Could have been a couple from the Calabria clan. Not sure. The only reason I thought so was because I saw guys wearing red ties and I know the clan likes them because Vinnie wore them. But not sure.”
Why would there be a couple of guys from the Calabria family at the scene?
That night I visited Dad, back at home.
“So what are you thinking, Frank?”
“How? How could they have known where she was? How could they have gotten their best marksman there?”
“Someone told them where to go and helped them get there.”
“How is that possible? Even if someone knew where to send them, how would they get from their club at the pier to Lafayette? That’s half a mile in impenetrable conditions.”
“Who would know how to reach the Calabria’s? Know where to send them? Know how to get them there? And cover his tracks so that no one could trace it to him?”
“You think it was Matty? What are you going to do? Are you going to tell anyone?”
“I didn’t say that. But if it was Matty, do you think I’d squeal on a guy who can hack into my employment file, bank account, personal computer? For that matter, your stuff as well. I don’t think so.”
“Oh… If not Matty, who?”
“How is Detective Dunne?”
“Doing well. She shot him, but a .22 wasn’t enough to kill that guy.”
Three days later, I stopped into Goldberg’s office with a bottle of my favorite single malt, Longmorn. It’s a wonderful scotch that is not in a hurry. It rewards you to hold it on your tongue for a second before swallowing. It tells you things about peat, about smoke, about land and stillness.
“Michael, we have a lot to celebrate. We are heroes. I have brought with me my favorite toast. Let us drink.”
“I don’t really drink a lot, Frank.” I knew that.
“Take a sip, at any rate, and let me toast.”
I poured a small shot for me and a bare sip for him.
“To the team! Our species would never have come so far if we worked alone.”
I watched him. Goldberg put the glass to his lips, let the whiskey touch his upper lip, but never swallowed any.
“I don’t blame you for not wanting to drink, Michael. If you’re not used to it, you can lose control. In your business that wouldn’t be a good idea. Anyway, I’m not sure that toast makes sense for you.”
“Frank, just because I don’t drink doesn’t mean I’m not happy to be part of the team. And this isn’t work. You’re not a patient.”
“And you’re not a psychiatrist. Or maybe you are. But you’re not just a psychiatrist.”
“What are you talking about, Frank. I earned those degrees on the wall.”
“I’m sure you did. In fact, you’re an amazing psychiatrist. You instantly scoped out Anna Prophet, predicted what she was thinking, how she would act. It was amazing. And you’re a detective too, tracking down her parents. That was brilliant, checking college applications to the Ivies.”
“You don’t sound grateful.”
“I visited Olga’s parents, the ones who you tracked down. I guess maybe godparents would be a better term.”
“Yeah. They wouldn’t say a word to me. They were big and threatening, but very quiet. After the cold shoulder they gave me, I was amazed at how much they shared with you.”
“We learn how to get people to open up in psychiatry school.”
“Do you know where their paychecks come from?”
“The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency—DARPA. They were involved with the government’s genetic soldier program. It’s why the CIA facilitated their escape from Russia.”
“Where would you come up with that?”
“I’m a detective, Michael. People don’t like to talk to me, but I find things out anyway.”
“What else have you found out?”
“There are limits to how super a superman is.”
“Not following you, Frank.”
“Funny, I said the same thing to a superman just the other day. I knew the conversation was over when he turned from me to his computer. Sound like any supermen you know?”
“Frank, as a psychiatrist, I’m thinking you need a break. Your conversation is disjointed and you’re sounding like you need a rest, which is perfectly understandable after the strain you’ve been under. Take that bottle home and do it justice. Take tomorrow off. It’ll do you a world of good.”
“Michael, I’m thinking if I go back to my dad’s house, where I’m staying while my place gets fixed up, and I drink this bottle of scotch, I won’t be alert enough to deal with the visitors who will be stopping by.”
“I’m going to add paranoia to stress for this diagnosis.”
“How did you get such startling insight into Anna Prophet?”
“I’m good at my job.”
“How did you do the research into the Ivies? You couldn’t have made so many calls and gotten so much information in the short period of time we had.”
“Ah. Computers. Let’s hold that for a minute. It was you who identified Anna Prophet as Olga Olinskia, a 16-year old girl who built a sophisticated criminal enterprise starting at age 11. How could Olga’s parents have applied to colleges when their daughter didn’t have a high school transcript?”
“They sent letters to the admissions offices.”
“Those wouldn’t be in the universities’ admissions databases. The databases only hold standardized information that is scanned from admission forms. They have notations if letters are received, but not the contents of the letters. You couldn’t have done a computer search of the Ivies’ admissions databases and there wasn’t time for you to call the universities and speak with their admissions offices. So you knew about Olga Olinskia already.
“But I agree, Dr. Goldberg, you are good at your job. I checked your performance at each of the institutions that issued those degrees on your wall. Medical school, your residency and fellowship — every mentor you had thought you were brilliant. Everyone expected you to go into academic research and practice.”
“I liked forensics.”
“Lucky for the NYPD. And lucky for you that you received military scholarships for your education. Except, no matter how hard I looked, I couldn’t find any record of military service. But I did learn that DARPA gives scholarships. DARPA doesn’t give birth certificates, unfortunately for you. They do keep a record of home addresses of the students whom they fund. And what a surprise to find that your home address was in Brooklyn, at the house owned by…”
“Okay Frank. Nice work. Serge and Sophia told me you visited, but I didn’t know about the rest of your research.”
“Surprised, aren’t you. Why didn’t Matty let you know? I’m guessing that people like you and Olga don’t get surprised very often.”
“You’d be amazed. Olga surprised her parents. Shit, that’s what America is all about, isn’t it! You come from the old country and think your kids will follow the same patterns that you did. And then damn, the kids go and marry outside the religion, or don’t go into their parents’ business, or won’t go to college, or disappoint you in some way you’d never expect. Olga was truly an American, she rebelled against everyone.”
“And you’re telling me this because…”
“Because you’re not going to survive past tonight, Frank, which I really regret. I like you. I like working with you and I like talking to you more than any other nomod I’ve ever met. And I love working at the NYPD. I really do like forensics. I like the idea of helping you folks and working for justice. I hate everything that’s going to happen next. But the government can’t allow its program to go public. I was personally rooting for you not to discover us, but that was something that had been considered. It’s going to be hard for you to stay alive, so it doesn’t matter what you hear now. Damn.”
“Non-modified. It’s what we call you people. Whatever you think you’ve done with Matty, I assure you he’s not your captive, and if he is, you’ll be hearing from Washington very shortly telling you to let him go. Matty found the bug you left in my office. I deactivated it before speaking.”
“That right, superman? Where’s the bug?”
“Between the top drawer and the frame of my desk.” He pulled out the drawer and detached it from the desk, reached his hand into the frame, felt around, and pulled out a listening device. “Again, I’m sorry Frank.”
“What about on the other side of the frame? The drawer on the right?”
Goldberg looked surprised. He pulled out the drawer on the right and found another device.
“What about under your seat?”
He felt under his seat and pulled up another bug.
“There’s also one in the light fixture. Maybe a couple of others.”
“What did you do to Matty?”
“Before I say, let me just check to see if our conversation carried. Let me make a couple of calls.” I took out my cell phone. “Hello Jack, did you get it? Good”
“That was Mulberry?” I didn’t answer Goldberg. I hit speed dial again.
“Hello Daisy, did you get that? Good.” I hung up.
“What the fuck! Daisy Stein? Are you out of your mind!”
“You tell me, Doctor. You asked about Matty. Matty’s on board.”
“What do you mean?”
“He didn’t like being part of the experiment. He didn’t want to breed with Olga. Honestly, I understand that completely. She was beautiful, but she was horrifying.”
“You have no idea. My God, she’s magnificent. It’s not just that she was beautiful. No woman feels like her to touch. No woman smells like her. Every ounce of her drives me wild with the desire to breed with her. I was furious that Matty was picked, that it was going to be his germline that would breed the next generation. We all have variations, it’s part of the project. Matty’s was deemed superior to mine. Olga was everything that any of us wanted. The urge to breed with her was something we all felt.”
“Imagine a male black widow spider that was a self-aware genius. It shouldn’t be hard for you, Michael.
“That fat, pulsing, black death machine turns you on, but you don’t want to get eaten. That’s how it felt to Matty.
“You all lost control of Olga. Matty realized it. He didn’t want to get eaten. He even realized that Olga may not have even wanted to breed with him. Like I said, you all lost control.”
“We lost control.”
“And Matty likes police work. Like you.”
“Of course he does. We were created to be smarter than everyone else for the purpose of war. But America isn’t in a war right now. And a lot of us thought about our destinies and didn’t like them. We’re not machines; we’re people. Matty and I both felt lucky to be sent here to keep an eye on New York, the biggest point of entry into the U.S., for the really nasty criminals. It’s challenging work and gives us purpose. We’ll miss it.
“What now, Frank?”
“Depends on you. Mulberry likes you. The Homicide guys like you. Hell, I like you. Matty let your handlers at the Pentagon know where they stand. We like having two super geniuses in the NYPD. It helps raise the average IQ of the Department. You really did earn those degrees. It’s not your fault that you’re only 16, Michael. How many jobs are available to psychiatrists that have a pension? The way the City calculates retirement benefits, you’ll be able to retire on almost full salary in 39 short years at the age of 55. If you want to stay we want to have you.”
The Commissioner could not be more upset about the media coverage I got. And I got plenty. But not from Daisy Stein. She was an all-star after her eye witness story. The News couldn’t sell enough copies. But every other paper and TV network only had me as a source and they made the most of it. The Commissioner personally requested that the Mayor not throw a tickertape parade for me. When I was interviewed, I was as modest as a baseball player who hit the walk-off grand slam but just talked about the team effort. In this case, though, it really was all about the team.
The Pentagon called Matty and Goldberg in for a debriefing, but the military learned a lot less from them than the two of them learned from the military. Goldberg filled me in when he returned. “They questioned us about what went wrong, what the signs were. I spoke about unpredictability. We’re genetically modified, but we are human, with human foibles. They didn’t hear a word I said. They started planning for the next generation of mods. They like the Olga Olinskia pattern — which they’re now calling the Anna Prophet model— and are going to make one of the replicates active, but less blood thirsty this time. I tried to explain that bloodthirstiness isn’t a trait on the genome, but they were deaf to me. They had a question about you that I couldn’t answer.”
“What was that, Michael?”
How did you get so smart?
“Compared to what?”
“Put it this way, they’d like to breed you with the next Anna model.”
I shuddered. Goldberg observed that. “Don’t knock it. Once you get passed that different species thing, it’s incredibly hot.”
“There are more!”
“I have a number of brothers and sisters, Frank. Olga was the only one who could turn into an Anna Prophet.”
“Have those fucking idiots at DARPA ever seen a science fiction movie!”
“I’m going to try not to take that personally.”
“This is a conversation for another day, Michael. I have another interspecies fight to take on now.”
I was referring to the eternal battle between cops and reporters. I had to get together with Daisy for the next round of fighting her to make sure she didn’t write the story about government-created super humans gone wild. Our deal was that I would let her in on the story of the century but she couldn’t publish it. I needed her for an insurance policy. She had to write the story, attach it to an e-mail, get ready to hit send if she didn’t hear from me, and delete it if she did hear from me. Predictably, she did not want to delete the story. But she hadn’t pushed send yet either. At least as of now, the experiment was a success; she was still listening.
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.