Cop Killer

Chapter One

Tuesday

"Hey, Jim!"

A block from the 8th Precinct, Jim ordered Hank to stop and waited for Tom to catch up to him. "Mornin', Tom," he said, when his fellow detective was next to him. "Nice day, huh?"

"Uh – " Tom began awkwardly.

Jim stopped and turned toward him, tilting his head quizzically. "What?"

"Um, it's kinda cloudy, you know, looks like it might rain."

"Oh."

They resumed their walk to the 8th Precinct, Tom silently berating himself for reminding Jim about something he could no longer see. Jim didn't need that – especially first thing in the morning. Neither did he. Never seeing the sky again – he didn't want to think about what that would be like. "Damn," Tom muttered to himself.

As he walked alongside Tom, Jim smiled to himself, remembering why he had stopped commenting on the weather, after he lost his sight. The heat wave that had had the city sweltering in its grip for most of the past week had finally broken overnight. This morning, the cooler temperatures and the breeze that ruffled his hair were a welcome change. To him, that made it a nice day, but his sighted companion only noticed the cloudy skies.

Jim and Tom had just arrived at their desks and exchanged "good mornings" with Karen and Marty when Fisk came out of his office, looking somber.

"Who's up?" he asked.

"I am," Jim said.

"We've got a DOA," Fisk told the detectives, "found in East River Park under the Williamsburg Bridge." He frowned, then added, "Preliminary ID on the DOA is Greg Jennings. He's a cop."

"Damn," Tom muttered.

Jim started when he heard the victim's name, then asked, "Greg Jennings?"

"That's right," Fisk confirmed. "You know him, Jim?"

"I do – if it's the same Greg Jennings. I worked with him when I was at the 3-2."

"When you worked with Phil Krause?" Fisk asked.

"Yes," Jim replied. "He was Phil's partner back then."

"All right. Hit it," Fisk ordered, handing a slip of paper to Karen. He frowned as he watched his detectives depart. When Jim was briefly transferred to Lieutenant Phil Krause's squad three months before, he'd looked into Krause a little. Some of the things he'd learned were troubling. Still, he told himself, Jennings' death probably had nothing at all to do with Krause.

Patrol Sergeant Al Mangini watched as the four detectives approached him, Jim and Hank following the other three as they ducked under the crime scene tape. "Mornin'," he grunted, then continued, "DOA's a white male, his ID says he's Detective Greg Jennings, out of the 3-2. Dark hair, wearing a business suit. Two GSWs to the chest, left side and center. Looks like he bled out here, there's a lot of blood pooled under and around him. Found lying on his back, face up." He gestured toward the covered body. "There's a line of bushes next to the path here," he explained, "looks like he fell back into the bushes after he was shot."

Listening to Mangini's detailed description of the scene, Karen smiled to herself. Not so long ago, it wouldn't have occurred to him – or anyone at the 8 except herself – to give Jim the information he needed, unless he asked. Now, it seemed, even the cops outside their squad were taking Jim's blindness for granted. She knew this didn't necessarily mean they accepted Jim – she still overheard comments now and then, especially from newcomers – but these days, most of the cops at the 8 didn't give Jim's blindness a second thought.

"Who found him?" Jim asked.

"A guy out walking his dog early this morning," Mangini answered, "He's over there – by the bench on the other side of the path." He consulted his notebook. "His name's Barrett Skolnick, lives over on East River Drive."

Following Karen's whispered directions, "About twenty feet, two o'clock," Jim ordered Hank forward.

"Mr. Skolnick?" Karen asked as they approached.

"Yes."

"Detectives Bettancourt and Dunbar. We'd like to ask you a few questions."

"Of course."

Before beginning the interview, Karen quickly sized up Skolnick. Tall and thin with a slight stoop, he appeared to be in his late sixties. His hair was almost completely gray, but Karen could still see traces of its original dark brown color. He was casually dressed, in jeans and a T-shirt. His wire-rimmed glasses looked like trifocals. A large black dog – some kind of Lab mix, Karen thought – sat next to him. The dog started to stand up when he saw Hank, but Skolnick muttered, "sit," and pushed down on the dog's hindquarters. He sat down reluctantly, still quivering with the effort of containing his excitement. Hank eyed the other dog with interest but stayed at Jim's side.

"We understand you found the victim," Karen began, gesturing in the general direction of the DOA.

"That's correct," Skolnick confirmed.

"About what time?"

"It was around six, maybe a little before. It was just getting light."

"What were you doing out here so early?" Jim asked.

"It's my daily routine," Skolnick replied. "Barney here usually needs to go out first thing in the morning – he's almost fourteen – and I've always been an early riser. I'm retired now, but old habits are hard to break."

"Retired from what?" Karen asked.

"I practiced law in this city for almost forty years, young lady," Skolnick told her.

"You practiced criminal law?"

"Heavens, no," Skolnick shook his head and laughed. "Estate planning and probate. This is the closest I've ever come to a criminal case."

"How did you find the victim?" Jim asked.

"I was walking Barney, same as usual. When we passed that bench over there – "

Karen whispered to Jim, "about ten feet up, on the right."

"That's about right," Skolnick confirmed. "Anyway, Barney started acting strangely, pulling on his leash and whimpering. He seemed to want to go over there near the bushes, so I let him. That's when I saw – " He broke off, looking shaken.

"I understand this is difficult, sir," Karen said reassuringly. "What did you do next?"

"I could tell right away the poor man was dead."

"You didn't touch or move him?"

"No, no," Skolnick assured her. "I didn't get within five feet of him. As I said, I knew he was dead, so I grabbed Barney's collar and dragged him back to the path with me. Then I called 911."

"Did you see anyone in the area at the time?" Jim asked.

"No, it's usually pretty deserted at that hour. The sun was just starting to come up."

"OK. Thanks for your time. The sergeant has your information, right?"

"Yes."

"If you think of anything else, please give us a call." Karen handed Skolnick her business card, and she and Jim started to leave.

"I will." Skolnick paused for a moment, then asked, "Detective – Dunbar, is it?"

Jim turned back to face him. "Yes."

"Your dog, is he a guide dog?"

"Yes, he is."

"He's so beautifully trained. I'm impressed. The only thing I ever managed to train Barney to do was not to pull on his leash – and I wasn't very good at that."

Jim smiled briefly, then merely said, "Thanks for your time."

When they rejoined Tom, Marty, and Mangini, Marty told them, "Crime scene and the ME have just arrived. We can cover things here."

"OK," Jim agreed. "We'll head out, then, talk to the widow and his partner."